by Varsha Chidambaram

Down Memory Lane: Sridhar Saranathan, Vodafone Business Services

Nov 03, 20132 mins

S. Sridhar, AVP Technology, Vodafone Business Services and Wholesale Business, narrates how, a team of three young geeks broke a technology world record in 1987.

The clock struck 12 am on October 1987. It was a chilly night with temperatures almost falling below zero degrees, in the sleepy little town of Solan, Himachal Pradesh. At the parking lot of Mohan Brewery, there were a few tents pitched. Inside I, along with a few geek volunteers, was rattling on the keyboard with my freezing fingers.

It was the time of the prestigious Himalayan Car Rally, the toughest rally challenge in Asia Pacific, in the 80’s. A few of us, with HAM (amateur radio) licenses and Pascal programming skills were volunteers for computing the results every evening, which extended into the wee hours of the morning. We had to compute the ranking of the cars and publish the starting order for the next day.

It was the last day of the rally. The last car had arrived at 10 pm. Almost all the data for 36 time controls for 76 cars had been done. There were 10 more to go. As soon as the last car arrived, the arrival and departure times were entered in three minutes and the results computed in another two minutes. This data was then transferred to Delhi through a modem. We wanted a minimum 14.40 kilo bots per second connection, but we got a connection of 600 bits per second! Yet, we managed to connect and transferred the data over RS232 Port to be printed at the Delhi media center.  This was then faxed by the media center to the BBC London and Mitsubishi’s head office. In flat seven minutes, the results of the rally had reachedLondonandTokyo.  At that time, we had no clue we had just broken a world record.

Next day, a few people called us from Delhi to ask if we indeed captured the last car arrival data properly. It was then revealed that we had just broken the world record of publishing rally results in record time. The citation was: “Seven minutes from last car arrival at Solan, rally results published in Tokyo and London”.

All this with rented PCs with 640 KB memory, 20 MB hard disk, Hayes 56 (with maximum possible speeds of 56 kbps, practically delivering a maximum of 9,600 bps over the BSNL leased lines), transported on Omni vans sponsored by Maruti overnight during the rally.

It really felt great. Both computer magazines and auto magazines carried the story. For the team of three geeks, the oldest one being me at 26 years, it was unbelievable.