Borrowed from Avalokana – for the 10th Anniversary Special Issue – Interviews section. This one is of Dr Prahlada Ramarao, 1969 Mech.
Dr. Prahlada Rao is an Indian missile scientist, former vice chancellor of Defence Institute of Advanced Technology and a former director of Defence Research and Development Laboratory. It was during his tenure as the director, DRDL initiated projects such as Astra, air to air missile system and Long Range Surface to air missile system for Naval application.He was honoured the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2015. Being an eminent person he is, his humble words & kindness truly inspire us.
Team Sampada: What inspired you the most to get into engineering and the research field?
Dr. Prahlada Sir: Inquisitiveness is a basic quality of a child and if it is not curbed, the child will continue to be so throughout its life. In fact, that is what stays with me even today. I am inquisitive and would like to know about all the new and old things. How they change and how I can influence the changes. I continued this pursuit of inquisitiveness from the younger days and it turned out to be research in the older days. I always was interested in new language, newer modes of communication. The way things take new shape, change and evolve. Even today I consider myself a small child as far as learning is concerned. I continue to be like that.
Talking about Engineering, today you just open your eyes and there is technology everywhere. Right from being at a kitchen working on the new products or on a latest washing machine, whether we are at a cinema hall or a shopping mall, travelling in the automobile with a power of running 200km per hr. There is engineering everywhere and it is evolving every day. Naturally you would want to be a part of this engineering or into research and development of these products. So, I have always been pursuing Engineering and research through inquisitiveness. It’s part of my DNA and of course, there are so many people in this world who love doing this.
Team Sampada: What are your unforgettable memories of engineering at UVCE?
Dr. Prahlada Sir: I did my BE Mechanical during the year 1964-69. Somethings are deeply ingrained in me as a UVCEian. First thing is the technical learning. I had very good friends, who were more intelligent than me and who used to score better. They were good at sports and english. Their understanding and analysis used to be far superior to me and I was always amazed at their capabilities to know and learn many things. Relatively, I wasn’t that well read or good at communication considering my parents and their economic background. I was just an ordinary student.
I remember, my colleague and friend Dr MS Padmanabhan who joined ISRO as a scientist and my friends Prabhakar and Panduranga. I can never forget all my buddies from engineering who were my thickest and closest friends and would like to cherish them throughout my life.
Some of my other fond memories are; I used to love the annual day celebrations where many students used to showcase their talents. Big pandals were put up and the evening functions used to be quite grand. I can never forget those annual days though I was never an active participant. I also remember the survey camps and the All India tours. We used to go by trains and it would be a very tough journey. Today, I can never withstand such a train journey even in my dreams.
During my college days, I used to stay near City Market and almost for a year I would walk from there to the college. My father was gracious and kind enough to buy me a Rally Cycle that costed him nearly about a 100 rupees in those days. For me it was such a big thing because I could go to college and come back easily. It was actually, sort of an incentive for me to study well. I used to get a scholarship at UVCE called Merit cum Mean scholarship. I vaguely remember it to be around 600 Rupees per year. At the end of the year, I used to get back all the fees and expenses incurred and also some additional cash. It was kind enough of the Govt to have provided me the scholarship based on my economic conditions and reasonably good cores in the classes.
Those 5 years were a God’s gift and I have to mention about the workshops. It was tough for all of us wearing the khaki dress and doing Smithy, Filing, Fitting. For the chain surveys, we used to go on streets in Bangalore pulling chains and surveying them. In addition to all this, I had also joined NCC and would go on NCC camps as well.
Team Sampada: Being a recipient of a great honor as Padma Shri, how was the journey to reach there and what hardships did you face in your research career?
Dr. Prahlada Sir: It is very interesting. At DRDO, my only job was to work on Project Akash based on the inspiration given by Dr. Adbul Kalam. It is a surface to air missile system which was developed by Indian scientists at DRDO. It had to be indigenously reated without any imports from outside and developed by Indian Engineers to meet the requirements of Indian Army and Air Force and we were given 15 years to develop. Dr. Abdul Kalam was my boss and he was the Program Director and later, he made me the Project Director. I was only about 37 years at that time. He said to me, “You are the Project Director and have to get the missile developed.”
Well, I had no big experience in developing a missile but I knew aerodynamics, control systems & Mechanical Engineering. I had also developed sensors and actuators development. I also had reasonable exposure to defence systems as I did my Masters in Aeronautical Engineering at IISc Bangalore. I had specialized in rockets and missiles. So, Dr. Kalam thought that I was the right person to be the Project Director. I was probably too young to take up the role because all other Project Directors in the missile Programs were in their late 40’s and 50’s while I was the only one is 30’s and hence, was a little overwhelmed. But Dr. Kalam needed a much younger person as this project might take 15 years or more. So, I agreed to it.
My Goodness! It was a long journey with a lot of challenges. I was myself only 37 and my colleagues in the project were much younger to me. I had to work with various other laboratories like LRDE, CRDE, VDRE etc. The project was given a sanction of about 230 Crore Rupees, and finally the project went up to 500 crores. For 15 years, we worked round the clock. I had to work with such an ecosystem where nobody believed this Akash missile project will succeed. But all thanks to Dr. Kalam and his support, who got us the required help from Professors and Experts as and when needed. Finally we took 20 years against 15 to complete the project. Today, this is one of the biggest success stories in the Ministry of Defence and the Govt of India. The indigenously developed missile system Akash has been inducted by both Indian Army and Air Force.
It was a pleasant surprise when I was considered for the Padmashri Award in the year 2015. At that time, Dr. Kalam was no more. I am very grateful to the Govt. of India and also, thankful to all the people who supported me by placing their trust & faith in me.
Team Sampada: How important do you think it is for us to uphold the heritage of our college, UVCE in this present world of new structures growing everyday?
Dr. Prahlada Sir: There are some colleges and universities in the world which are over 150 years old. We need learn about what ticks them and how they have not vanished. Today there are newly formed colleges getting closed within few years. Whereas UVCE is going beyond the centenary year. What is the strength of this college? How has it lived so far and how will it continue to live? We should respect the heritage. It is a long-standing life and decades after decades, it has fostered young engineers. UVCE has got its own DNA, its own Ecosystem. People have commitment towards the college and we love our classrooms, the location of UVCE. We shouldn’t forget our culture, history or our own ethics. The college is every UVCEians own DNA which made us into an Engineer from nowhere. How can anybody neglect a college of such stature. In our days UVCE students used to be highly respected in Karnataka. This cannot be bought by money or other incentive but can be only drawn back by reinstating the glory for which we as alumni should work.
So I feel all of us should come together, take UVCE to greater heights. That’s all I can say. I get goosebumps looking at our Republic Day Parade and the Akash missile marching along the Rajpath. Similarly when I enter the college campus at UVCE it gives me the same feeling. This is my temple.
– Dr Prahlada Ramarao, Avalokana