November Ninety


S. Ainavolu

11/22/2021 5 min read

November Ninety - The on-boarding to embeddedness reflection

November month is on now and it was the month exactly one and thirty years ago this person spent first time as full month employee. It was August during 1990 that the professional alma mater of mine called for interview on seventeenth to Delhi. It was the first visit to national capital and it commenced on the Independence Day. Connaught place gave the Raj reminisces and Nehru place interaction gave the first job that was joined in. Technically the first job offer was given by Steel major for Bokaro but joining happened with Power major at Delhi.

For a small-town boy who only saw the pre-independence years’ academic campuses of state government that desperately called for repairs, the SCOPE complex presented the eye-full. The auditorium was awe inspiring. Then Power secretary Mr S. Rajgopal inaugurated the “ET batch” of 123 size on a mid-week day which was October 25th. All board of directors of the company were present along with many senior officials from Corporate Office. There was a sense of achievement and almost visible pride on the faces of many trainees.

We were told that we were the jewels that got selected from over 16,000 applications and we owe the commitment to the Power sector which is the prime driver for the economy. Having grown up on a campus that was electricity deprived and every evening the dinner had to be over early as there were no lights, I could fully appreciate the issue of lack of power and the cascading problems it causes.

Then stalwarts of the sector and future ones addressed the batch during the orientation program. Lecture on working of the gas power plant by Mr SMC Pillai and the process of commercials & contracts explained by Mr Venkatraman (both grew to be the board members), were commanding full attention. Power packed and possible the best orientation one can have, I still feel. All gamut and nuances of power value chain were covered by successful and senior employees, each of who must have spent two to three decades in the process they were explaining. Big picture was imparted and interlinkages were appreciated. One felt one got married to the sector for life. It is true for many.

Then the action ground shifted to India’s first “Super Thermal Power Station”, as the proclaiming welcome board at the helipad of Singrauli used to invite the landing guests. Was told that here is the training institute that specializes in Control & Instrumentation, as there needs to be a specialized lab for the purpose. It was the best gift for self, as Instrumentation was taught to us by the best in the field at that time, Prof. GR Sarma, senior batches Ph.D. of IITB, what more to get trained in a specialized centre for the area.

End of Oct. ’90 landed at the picturesque hillock top training institute, isolated enough to help trainees focus on learning. But for the occasional siren of dedicated trains fetching coal for the plant that used to pass by the hostel, there were no other sounds. Small but good library was there on the first floor. Still remember the first book I read there, borrowing from that training centre library, The Law.

November Ninety thus was the first full month to be spent on the rolls of the company. Intense inputs on theory and practice of the power plant systems were waiting. It was the right balance between theory and practice. Sessions were taken by plant engineers who could connect with the young batch as they themselves were such trainees only a few years ago. Many looked like walking encyclopaedias on the systems they were teaching. Role models, yes many.

Singrauli had both 200 and 500 MW units, so exposure to different technologies was possible. The learning package was the best, covering both technical aspects and managerial processes. Still remember the session on Project Management by second batcher Mr Rao, who we were told that lived there from first month of the project when they had to clear the high grass to make way for residential tents. Mr Sandhu, training gold medallist of a senior batch that wasn’t long before ours, took many sessions where literally he could appear to be knowing minutest of the details of any and every aspect of the equipment or process, he was talking of. Am told that he moved on and was heading an engineering company in eastern part of the globe.

Backward linkage was and raw material supply came from the nearby open cast coal mine of coal major of India that produced then ninety percent of national output. Inquisitive of knowing the “outside the boundary” part of the value chain of generation, we visited the loading place on one of the first Sundays. Purely of intrinsic motivation and aim was, not to miss the learning. Lage silo’s system feeding the rakes that were moving at 0.7 kilometer per hour slow speed was very impressive. It was supposed to be an automatic loading with sensors detecting the rake movement and position, but that day it was being manually done. Was disappointed a bit, as the underlying technology pertains to Instrumentation area.

Today the climate change discussions and sensitivity imparting on minimizing fossil fuel usage give a negative view of coal. But then in a power-starved country, coming from load-shedding making summers very long, there was an admiration and respect in self’s eyes for the “coal to commercial” value cycle of power. Four times the Qutub Minar height chimneys, 200 mesh powdering requirements to maximize the surface exposure to ensure full combustion, seventeen-degree limit on the sliding angle else the roll-back happens for coal pieces, all impressed my engineering batchmates, when I briefly visited back the home town during mid-training for a family exigency.

Prof. Granovetter entered my life much later, but I realized that economic actions are embedded in social context and it was first felt there at Singrauli. The sense of ownership and commitment displayed by the earlier batches there at the location made a deep impression on the way this person conducted professionally during subsequent decades, both inside the company and later outside of it too. The camaraderie and bonhomie that existed between people who flocked there for career purpose, lived in artificial township settings and faced many difficulties (especially while travelling out) was noteworthy. Their deep sense of embeddedness impressed the then still young mind. Especially, for one who grew up believing that industrialization is the path to prosperity and the real worship happens at the “temples of modern India”, spending time there was a lifelong impressive and impactful.

My way of showing the gratitude for the quest for learning I received there was to replicate the training program inspired by legendary Mr DV Kapoor and trying to go for internal capacity building in a major start-up during 2000s. Systems and processes that were clearly defined, the transparency that existed and the approachability of then leaders, all impressed and very deeply. These got infact etched forever. Later pulled out of the company for pursuing higher education but the company still remains in the heart. The prime reason is the quest for learning it provided to an aspirational young professional and the opportunities it gave that helped further blossoming. Thank you, my company, you put me on the upward learning spiral and you are in me. I owe you.