Maj Gen Balasubramanian was a key player in the first four decades of computing in India. He had graduated from the College of Engineering, Guindy, Madras, in the fifties, and went on to serve in the Army Corps of Signals. He was one of the founders of the Computer Society of India (CSI) and had served as the first Hon. Secretary of the Society. That was during 1965-69. He then took over from Prof R Narasimhan, the founding President, with whom he had worked closely. Brig Balasubramanian, as he was popularly known in CSI for over a decade, served as President CSI during 1969-72. I will refer to him as Brigadier in the rest of this article; that is the way my memory works!
The Government of India established the Department of Electronics (DOE) in June 1970 and the Electronics Commission in February 1971. Prof M. G. K. Menon served as the first Chairperson of the Electronics Commission. Brig Balasubramanian served the commission as an Officer on Special Duty at first and as a Director later on, playing very significant roles in the EC/DOE. Those were the days when all imports had to be tightly controlled due to a shortage of foreign exchange. Brigadier had the tough job of managing the pressures from a whole variety of computer users who came seeking Government approval for their imports. The Electronics Commission was active in creating R & D institutions in India in the electronics area, and in promoting Indian companies. National policy gave primacy to public sector companies, two notable ones in the computer area being the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd, and the Computer Maintenance Corporation of India Ltd. (later CMC Ltd). Brigadier worked very closely with Dr Prem P. Gupta, the first Managing Director of the Computer Maintenance Corporation, particularly after Dr Gupta took over as Chairman of the Electronics Commission. They had also worked together a lot to build CSI.
Brigadier continued to be active in the CSI, handling among other things coordination with the International Federation for Information Processing, and encouraging a number of initiatives by the Society.
Brigadier was a warm and friendly person; I have never seen him tense, irritated or upset during all the time I have known him. He was diplomatic in dealing with user pressures that any regulatory department has to face. DOE had the hard task of having to play the regulatory as well as promotional roles. The regulatory role he played was not an easy one, as he had to implement government policy shaped by the economic and political situation of the country. Many of those who went to him asking for permission to import a computer did not get the computer they wanted; committees set up by the Dept. scrutinized the requests and often suggested a smaller or cheaper configuration. However, the Brigadier was always available to meet the applicants and treated them with courtesy. He was a good listener and was willing to understand and consider the views of the visitors. In the Computer society too, his mature and dignified style of leadership played a major role in getting people to work together.
I guess it was his military life and his disciplined ways that gave it to him – he was always as fit as any officer on field duty, despite living in Delhi. He enjoyed and supported Carnatic Music, a passion his family shared with him. His daughter is a talented dancer.
Computer Society of India has lost an officer and a gentleman. It is a loss to all of us, who have known and worked with him.