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Long Revolution is The Outsourcer
By Suneetha

When veteran tech journalist and currently Fellow, Centre for Media Studies, Delhi, Dinesh C Sharma, penned a history of IT in India in 2009, titled ‘Long Revolution’, it detailed every milestone in India’s IT sector. Dinesh is back with a reinvented form of the same book, meant for an international audience, and under a new title ‘The Outsourcer’,  published by the MIT Press.

Techgoss met up with Dinesh C Sharma to know how and why a new take on the book was required. We had covered the release event of the book in February 2009 by ace telecom man Sam Pitroda.

Techgoss (TG): Your 'Long Revolution' was a pioneer script, what improvements and additions have you done to the text to make it over to The Outsourcer? How long did it take? Could you detail on the journey from LR to The Outsourcer?
Dinesh C Sharma (DS): The Long Revolution was primarily written for Indian audiences, as an elaborate history of India's information technology revolution. It was exhaustive narrative running close to 500 pages. The book filled a gap in the understanding of this important sector of India's economy in the post-independent era and helped dispel several myths about this sector. Given the anecdotal response that I got about the book from foreign academics and those engaged in India studies, I was encouraged to bring out an international edition of this book. First, I had to reduce the size of the book - now it is down to about 275 pages. Second, this edition includes pictures of early computers, companies and entrepreneurs - something that was missing in the Indian edition. Third, I had to rewrite the narrative in a way that would make it accessible to people who did not know much about the Indian IT sector, and put it in an international context. I have added several new references which became available after the first edition was published. All this took about 3 to 4 years.  

TG: The Outsourcer is a curious name, what's the idea behind this title?
DS: The title actually reflects how Indian IT sector is seen and perceived globally. For us in India, the sector may symbolise a great achievement or success in a knowledge-driven area. It was a significant achievement indeed, particularly at a time when physical infrastructure was poor and domestic market was yet to develop. However, the world, particularly North America, began to notice India in a significant manner only after it emerged as hub of outsourcing business in the past 15 years or so. While the title, The Outsourcer, reflects this perspective, the sub-title points to the core of the book -"The Story of India's IT Revolution".

TG: Why did you choose MIT to do the honours in this revised and enhanced edition?
DS: I chose MIT Press for publication of this book - and I am glad it accepted my proposal - because it has a tradition of publishing scholarly titles that deal with broader theme of technology and society. This approach matched with central theme of my book which is not a technical book on computing or IT. The MIT Press has been a major publisher of books on history of technology and history of computing. Its "History of Computing" series is edited by two leading experts on technology historians - William Aspray and Thomas J Misa. Some of the most authoritative titles on history of modern computing, the internet, software and computing pioneers have been published under this series. It is indeed gratifying to be part of this hall of fame of computing history, especially for someone like me who is neither a computer scientist nor trained historian.

TG: Is the book available in India now?
DS: Yes, the book is going to be available in India very soon - both online and physical stores - as MIT Press now has global rights for it including the Indian sub-continent. ‘The Long Revolution’ is not available in the market anymore. I am also exploring the possibilities of bring out translations in Indian languages, particularly Hindi and Malayalam. 

TG: You have mentioned the sad lack of archives in many of our IT companies, and even the Government agencies, as you went through research. Have you really lost data? Was there anything you wanted to lay your hands on but couldn't because there was no quality archiving processes followed?
DS: It is a genuine problem for independent researchers like me in terms of accessing sources like the National Archives or the parliament library. Secondly, archival information about subjects like technology, health and science covering post-independent era is not available. For instance, I wanted to access officials papers relating to the exit of IBM from India in 1977. These papers are not available because the Electronics Commission which dealt with it does not exist any more and the Department of Electronics too does not exist because now it is Ministry of Information Technology. These files have not been deposited with the National Archives. If they are with the electronics ministry, then they have to be cataloged and made accessible to researchers. In private sector too, we dont have a culture of archiving with some exceptions. When I contacted the Tatas Archives in Pune for material relating to early days of TCS and use of early computing machines in Tata Steel, they said they have no files on this subject. 

TG: Is there a follow up to the book/ Is there another book in the pipeline?
DS: I plan to start researching soon on a book about scientific and technological history of Hyderabad. The book on IT history does not deal with development of technology clusters like Bangalore and Hyderabad. A few good books have been written on how Bangalore developed into a technology hub. Hyderabad is much less talked about though it has had a glorious tradition in science - which is why it could emerge as an IT hub. It is interesting to investigate how Hyderabad developed as a modern state in early part of the 20th century. For instance, why did Muslim rulers take to modern science and Western medicine in late 19th and early 20th century, despite presence of Unani and other Arabic traditions or why was a chain of industrial research labs planned in Hyderabad state on the lines of CSIR. All these developments are central to Hyderabad becoming an IT hub a hundred years later.

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