All revolutions have unsung heroes.
The Green Revolution may be synonymous with M.S. Swaminathan, but the men who did the actual, behind-the-scenes varietal breeding work — D.S. Athwal, S.P. Kohli and V.S. Mathur in wheat, and G.S. Khush for rice — are all but forgotten.
The same goes for the White Revolution, whose visible face is, of course, the one and only Verghese Kurien. Not many remember the other central characters: Tribhuvandas Kishibhai Patel and H.M. Dalaya.
The former is better known, as the founder of the original Kheda dairy cooperative in 1946 that went on to become Amul. It was Patel who saw potential in Kurien, and inspired the latter to invest his talent in bettering the lives of ordinary dairy farmers, rather than companies with promoters in Geneva, London or New York.
But Dalaya, who studied dairy engineering in Michigan State University with Kurien, is the one who provided Amul the technical backbone. When Kurien decided to make Anand his life’s calling, he turned to Dalaya.
Dalaya was originally from Karachi, where his family owned a dairy farm with over 300 cows. His return from Michigan coincided with the Partition, in which his family lost all it had. A dejected Dalaya contemplated going back to the US. That was when he met Kurien, who convinced him to come to Anand “just for a few days”.
The biggest challenge the Kheda dairy faced then was that it had no takers for the surplus milk supplied by its farmers during the ‘flush’ winter months.
As Kurien recalled later, during an interview he gave me: “The Milk Commissioner of Mumbai was unwilling to buy this extra milk, despite my complaining that it is not possible for us to plug the udders of our buffaloes. The only option left was to have our own powder plant that would convert all the surplus flush season milk to powder, which could be recombined into milk during the lean summer season.”
However, there was no technology to produce powder from buffalo milk, which was the mainstay of farmers in the Kheda region. The prevailing technical opinion was that only cow’s milk could be converted into powder — something that all experts, including the Director of New Zealand’s Dairy Research Institute, William Riddet, subscribed to.
Dalaya, however, thought otherwise. He had once seen a small experimental milk powder plant at Larsen & Toubro’s factory, and was keen on acquiring it to test out his ideas. But that particular plant had been sold to Teddington Chemical Factory at Andheri, Mumbai.
Dalaya and Kurien managed to locate the company and persuade its manager to loan them the machine, which they used to produce buffalo milk powder for the first time. Dalaya subsequently visited Denmark to study powder plant designs and operations.
These efforts resulted in the Niro Atomiser, the world’s first sprayer-dryer designed for buffalo milk, installed at Kheda dairy in October 1955. Today, not only powder, producing even cheese or baby food from buffalo milk is no big deal.
The original credit goes to Dalaya — something that Kurien always acknowledged, and reiterated when the former passed away on September 12, 2004.
While Patel dealt with the farmers, and Dalaya took charge of the technical and internal affairs of the dairy, “my role was only in marketing, external affairs and handling politicians, bureaucrats and other establishment people,” the ever-frank Kurien admitted at the time.
In Anand, it was said that if Patel was the Father of Amul, Kurien was the Son, and Dalaya the Holy Ghost.