Saturday, May 31, 2014

102 Floors in 14 Months

Newspapers in Bangalore had a breaking news on 26th May, 2014.  "Bharata Ratna" Prof. C N R Rao underpass, near Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore was inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Karnataka and was ready for use by the public. On the next day, my taxi driver took this route to reach Bangalore International Airport.  We entered the underpass with the hope of turning towards Mekhri Circle. The entry towards Mekhri Circle was blocked with barricades and we had to drive around an extra four or five kilometers to get to the airport road!  For the record, the underpass was completed, inaugurated and in use.

The work on this underpass was scheduled to begin in 2008.  Estimated project cost was 300 million rupees.  The estimated time for completion was 18 months.  Work actually started in 2010. Commencement of the work itself was six months after it was expected to be completed.  As soon as the construction work started, the connecting roads were partially blocked  to enable construction work to progress smoothly.  Blocking progressed quite fast but not the construction.  The general public suffered silently, but they truly believed that this is a way of life.  Two Chief Ministers changed and third Chief Minister inspected the progress(?) of the work in October, 2013.  He set a new deadline of December 2013 for completion.  Since the work was not complete by that time, naturally a new deadline of March, 2014 was set.  The work continued even after this date. Fortunately, the work was reported as completed before another deadline was given. After 52 months from commencement of the work, it was declared completed.  Time overrun was only a very low 289% and not allowing it to cross 300% was no mean achievement.  Labor problems and conflict between two contractors were cited as the reasons for the short delay.  Cost overrun is not disclosed, but interest costs alone would be a significant amount.

Bangalore's cricket stadium, known as KSCA's Chinnaswamy stadium was constructed in the mid 70s.  Mumbai's Wankhade stadium was also constructed around the same time.  Construction of KSCA stadium progressed at a snail's pace due to shortage of cement in those days.  S K Wankhade was Education Minister in the Maharashtra government at that time and the Mumbai stadium, though started afterwards, was completed much before the Bangalore stadium.  Wankhade stadium has since been renovated as well and its seating capacity has also been increased. KSCA stadium stands today as if it is a relic from the past and despite the entry fee for matches going up steeply, spectator amenities are woefully inadequate.  Clubhouse and corporate stands are no doubt maintained luxuriously.   

Last month (17th April 2014), another interesting news item was flashed across many newspapers.  A new  Ford Mustang was placed on the 85th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building in New York, USA.(Picture given alongside is taken from the internet).  This was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a similar event that took place in 1964.  As the elevators in the building were not big enough to hold the car, it was broken into six individual assemblies and carried to the 85th floor observation deck.  The deck is open to public to view the Manhattan skyline and the New York city buildings from 8AM till midnight 2 AM (18 hours).  The six assemblies were assembled on the observatory during the six hour interval!

In the background of inordinate delays in completion of projects and ever extending deadlines, the story of construction of the Empire State Building makes a very interesting reading.  This building with 102 floors and standing 1250 feet tall was constructed in only 16 months time.  Construction was done in the year 1930-31 and the technology support in construction industry and civil engineering was nowhere near what is available today.  The building was constructed during the period of "Great Depression", a period of severe worldwide economic distress that started in 1930 and lasted for nearly a decade.  Second World War started in 1939 and "Great Depression" was forgotten in its pressures and fury.

The Empire State building stands on a site area of 83,860 square feet and was constructed after demolishing the Waldorf-Astoria hotel that stood there before construction of this building.  Demolition of the hotel building was  done in 9 days, during the end of January 1930.  Construction of the Empire State Building took only 16 months from that time.  Actual period of construction from foundation laying to 102 floors and inauguration of the building was only 14 months! Construction speed was 4 to 5 stories per week and 3,400 workers were used at the peak construction time.  The building was completed four months ahead of schedule. Actual cost of construction was 25 million dollars against an estimate of 41 million dollars.  Thus there was neither cost overrun or time overrun.  The depression helped in reducing construction costs.  There are 1,860 steps from the ground level to the 102nd floor.  But the 73 elevators in the building moving at the astonishing speed of 600 feet to 1400 feet per minute carry occupants of the building and over four million visitors each year in a flash, to the observatory on 85th floor and beyond.

Time and cost overruns can be curtailed only if there is strong resistance and expression of public sentiment against them.  Otherwise, delays and escalating costs coupled with untold misery to the general public will continue to be an accepted part of life.         

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Varanasi and Annam Bhatta

Varanasi, also known as Kashi, is continuously in the news for the past few weeks.  As Varanasi goes to polls tomorrow,  tensions run high.  It was a high profile and big decibel campaign and everyone is looking expectantly at the future.

The first I heard of Kashi (Varanasi) was as a child when someone in our town went there on a pilgrimage.  With no communication facilities except a post card that might be received after several days, those going to far away Kashi and returning after the darshan of Kashi Vishweswara and Annapoorneswari were considered extremely lucky and achieved a coveted goal in their life. When returning from Kashi, they usually brought the water of the sacred river, Ganga stored in sealed copper containers. After a few days rest, they would make another trip to Rameswaram and fulfill the second part of the pilgrimage.  The Ganga water brought from Kashi would be used for the "Abhishekam" of Lord Rameswara.  Thus the twin trips of Kashi and Rameswaram was the dream of many a devout elders.  After completing this ambitious pilgrimage, they usually arranged for a grand function.  The occasion was addressed as "Kashi Samaradhane" or "Ganga Samaradhane". A pooja was followed by distribution of some more copper containers filled with Ganga water to the invitees and relatives.  This was an occasion for celebration and a grand feast used to be the highlight for the youngsters in the locality.  The sealed copper containers with Ganga waters in them, received thus by others would receive pooja in their respective houses everyday. The container would be opened and Ganga water offered with due respects, as the last drops of water and tribute to a family member moving away to the heavenly abode.

Another context in which I had heard of Kashi as a child was with reference to the city being a great center of learning.  It is said that Kashi is one of the earliest inhabited city in the world and its history dates back to several thousand years.  Any scholar from other parts of our country was considered as a true pandit only when he went to Kashi, lived there for sometime and pursued higher studies.  Just as "Foreign Returned" was a distinction some four or five decades ago, "Kashi Returned" was considered an achievement for centuries.  Benares Hindu University (BHU) founded by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya exemplifies this spirit even today.  BHU will be celebrating its centenary year two years from now.  The rigor of stay and studies at Kashi was symbolically alluded to with the quotation "काशी गमन मात्रेण न अन्नं भटटायते द्विजः", (Kashi gamana matrena na annam bhattayate dwijaha), meaning "A scholar does not become Annam Bhatta merely by going to Kashi".

Who was this Annam Bhatta?  I enquired with some elders but did not receive a satisfactory reply from them.  Many quotations are often used without understanding their actual meaning and this is probably one such.  Many families in the districts of Kolar and Bangalore have the names of Annam Bhatta for generations.  The full name of Annam bhatta is actually Annadana Bhatta, meaning one who generously feeds others. These families have a common Gotra, Haritasa.  On enquiries with them, it is learnt that these families have migrated to these districts from Kurnool area of the present Andhra Pradesh or Rayalaseema. There was a practice of naming a new born after the grandfather or great grandfather and Annambhatta was probably an ancestor of these families.  (Please CLICK HERE to read about "Family Tree" of these families).   Sometime ago, there was a music concert near our house and traffic on the road was closed to accomodate the concert.  i went there to see what was the nature of the concert.  As we were waiting for the artistes to arrive, I saw one girl reading a Sanskrit book in dim light of the street.  I borrowed the book from her and read for a few minutes.  This was a book by name "Tarkasangraha" by Annam Bhatta.  It was a very interesting book on Logic, the science that deals with the principles governing correct or reliable inference. Motivated by this, I studied the book later on and was fascinated by the simple and lucid style followed in the book and yet its scholarly treatment of the subject.

Annambhatta lived in the 16th century and came from a family of Advaitavidyacharyas.  Raghava Somayaji was a well known ancestor of this Telugu speaking family.  He was the son of Tirumala Acharya, and author of several commentaries on "Nyaya Shastra" and Grammar books.  He lived in the golden period of 16th century.  This era is well known for a number of stalwarts and their works.  This period was a very active span of time in philosophy and literature as well with the confluence of masters of all the three schools of thinking; Dwaita, Advaitha and Vishishtadwaita.  Rajaguru Tatacharya was a known Vishishtadwaita stalwart representing the Vishishtadwaita school during the Vijayanagara period.  Vijayendra Tirtha and Vadiraja Teertha were the torch bearers of the Dwaita school in this era. Appaiah Deekshita and Bhattoji Deekshita were acknowledged scholars of the Adwaita school. Annam Bhatta holds his own special place among the luminaries of this distinguished period.

"Tarkasangraha" is a primer and an introduction to "Nyaya System".  An English translation of the book (46 pages only) by Balwant Narhar Bahulikar (1903) is available on the net.  "Dipika" is a commentary on "Tarkasangraha".  A reading of the book makes the meaning of "One does not become Annambhatta by just going to Kashi" very clear.  Annam bhatta did not become a great man by merely going to Kashi.  That many could do.  He worked hard there and came out with very valued works on Logic and Grammar.  he is remembered for the outcome of his visit to Kashi.

Who wins in Varanasi in the election tomorrow is not the issue.  What the winner does thereafter is the moot point. Annambhatta went to Kashi to pursue higher studies.  That was only the beginning.  He spent his time with dedication and succeeded there.  He gave us works like Tarkasangraha and many more.  He became famous and is remembered today not because he went to Kashi, but due to his achievements there.  The one who wins in this election in Varanasi will not be judged on mere emerging a victor in the election.  He will be judged based on what he does or does not do thereafter.