It never ceases to amaze how openly Indians have welcomed computers into their lives. We embrace those little boxes as symbols of efficiency, venerate them as dispensers of knowledge, even worship them. That’s why it’s completely normal that the author talks about taking “darshan” of an ageing, giant IBM mainframe at Osmania University in 1962. “The prasadam we all got was a set of punched cards,” he adds in all seriousness. Quaint—but remember, there were very few computers those days (1,000 systems in all for the entire country in 1977). That’s precisely why this book scores: it explores the terrain before the garages, barsatis and two-wheelers today’s software czars started off with, and nicely details the government’s “benevolent hand” in the birth of India’s IT industry.
Research and import-substitution were the first driving forces that aimed at building a local, self-dependent computer industry. But not much came of it—we missed the hardware bus. The real trigger was the end of IBM’s 25-year-old tenure in India in 1977. Sharma tackles this crucial phase well, arguing that IBM’s ouster was necessary and ended up giving a crucial boost to local computer fledglings like CMS and CMC. Then came the fundamental shift thanks to Rajiv Gandhi’s “computer boys”—computers were seen as serving consumers, not just as research tools. That set the stage for everything miraculously falling into place. Great research (Sharma has clearly taken his cue from Ram Guha) makes for a fascinating journey, well told.