A Torchbearer Of Concrete Technology Of India


Indeed, I am very fortunate to interview a great personality from the field of concrete technology today – Prof M. S. Shetty. He is fondly referred to as the Father of Concrete Technology of India. Prof Shetty is the author of a gem of a book “Concrete Technology” which is still shining like a lighthouse and has been since the past 38 years – guiding us all who walk on the path of the Civil Engineering. In this interview, we are going to discuss about how his valued book took birth. We will try to understand the process of writing a book, the labour pains that he must have gone through as the genesis of this book took place. I am indeed grateful that Professor Shetty has agreed to spend his time and share his thoughts with us about how this book came about. I am indebted to Ms. Anuja Sabnis from Pune who was the technical coordinator for this interview. She had professionally recorded this long interview and has got the transcript done by herself. -Mukund Joshi

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Mukund Joshi: Thank you very much Sir for being with us here today. To begin with I would like to ask one question, what motivated you to write this book?

Prof. Shetty:
Thank you Mukund, for such nice words you have spoken about me. Regarding your question, what motivated me to write this book is very difficult for me to express in a crystallized form. But I can tell you that when I passed out of high school, I wanted to become a Kannada Pandit! Because that was my interest and I was good at it. But my father thought that I should become an engineer -- a very wild dream someone 60 years ago. There were only 4 engineering colleges down south, in undivided Madras state. Getting into one of those was very difficult. Those seats were distributed based on community and based on the number of MLAs in the government. In Mangalore, in South Kanara District, we belonged to a caste called Bunts. Shettys are called Bunts. We were allotted only 2 seats for the entire community. These seats would go to those standing 1st and 2nd. For a 3rd person, it was almost impossible to obtain a seat.

But in the late 1940s, an engineering college was started by Annamalai Chettiar, a philanthropist. In that college, a few seats were available if one had influence or was related to Annamalai Chettiar. My father thought he would venture into getting the seat under that category. I was not a very good student. My rank was about 18th among Shettys. Out of 25 people who got the first class, I was 18th. So it was a very wild dream for anybody or for any father to think of getting an engineering seat during those days, about 64 years ago. My father was a person who was doing well but due to some court litigations he lost a lot of money. He borrowed 200 Rupees and he took me to Madras from Mangalore to try for the seat under that category.

Nobody could ever think of getting an engineering seat. Any father would have thought to settle on making his son a teacher. But my father was different. Without any financial assistance, except 200 Rupees which he borrowed, he worked very hard to get me a seat. What my father did was something laudable and something unimaginable in our part of the country at that time.

When I became an engineer, I thought of it as a repayment for all the sacrifices he had made on my behalf. Of course, it was at the back of my mind, although not a clearly spelt out thought, that I will write a book to further repay his love and affection and his determined efforts to make me an engineer.

I worked in Madras PWD, Indian Railways and then I started working at MES at the College of Military Engineering. I happened to do my M.E. also. There were hardly 4 or 5 MEs in the entire department of MES. The College of Military Engineering was such that, it had lot of facilities left by the British. There were very good laboratories too. I got a quick promotion, may be because of my luck. I became the head of Construction Engineering.

One day, a person from Delhi, from S. Chand and Company, a marketing person visited me and gave me some books because I was the Head of the department. While he was sitting and making a small talk with me, I happened to show him the lesson plans and lecture plans that I had drafted. In the College of Military Engineering you could not give a lecture just like that – without planning it. You had to write what you were going to say. You even had to write the questions that you were going to ask the students. And the answers to those question had to be written in advance. It was known as a lesson plan. When I was a junior lecturer at the class-1 post, all my students were army captains and majors. They were very senior and had been selected after an all- India competition. Hence, they were of high calibre.

Because of my own deficiency, I had to put in a lot of efforts to teach the senior course to these very bright Engineering officers. I took a great deal of pain over my work, writing good lesson plans. They were vivid, clear, and accompanied by sketches illustrating the testing of concrete, cement etc. and in my own beautiful hand writing. I showed all this to the S. Chand marketing person and he said, “Sir, you have written so methodically. If you put it in a book, it will become a good Concrete Technology book.” If I remember right, his name was Mr. Dogra. I told him that I have also written 5 – 6 papers but I thought they had not much value. But when he read them he said that if you put these papers and lesson plans together, it would make a good book on concrete technology.

Immediately he took out a contract form from his bag and made me sign it then and there and took it to Delhi.

Mukund Joshi: This was in which year?

Prof. Shetty:
That was in 1978. I forgot about it for nearly 6 months to a year. But from time to time S. Chand and Company kept prompting me, asking what happened to the book. Even after a year, I was scratching my head and said oh what happened to my book! I had forgotten. But they did not leave me alone and kept up the pressure. There was no option but to begin writing the book. In 1979, I became very serious about it. I was living in a big bungalow at the time, with 40 feet long veranda. First thing I did was to make a separate room for me to write the book. I closed off part of the veranda and made the room, with a good seating arrangement. Then I collected all my reference books from the CME library, which contained so much relevant literature, probably available only in a few other places at the time.

When I began writing, I did not know where to start and where to finish. I started handwriting the chapters but because it was very, very slow, I hired one youngster named Vijay, from Kerala. I told him that I would give him some money for taking down notes in short hand, getting them typed and bringing them back to me for revision. He was a very sincere boy and worked very seriously for me. I gave him my own motorcycle. My son and daughter recall that he used to come at the right time and take dictations, and then he would type and bring it back to me on the next day. After some time, he got another job. When he left, I hired a librarian from SEMT (Soil Engineering Material Testing); I have forgotten his name, he took on the job of typing there onwards. For a few months he worked for me, taking my dictation in long hand and then typing them.

Sometimes it was interesting that when I was deliberating on what to say, he used to go to sleep. Often, I too would fall asleep while thinking about what to write next.

It went on like this for a while. The typing was poor. Xeroxing facility also was unavailable. You had to go for a stencil cut. It’s possible that today nobody would know what this technique is. In any case, the book slowly moved towards completion in this way. It was challenging to make drawings and sketches of the testing methods of cement or the aggregates, all those tests, apparatus and equipment were part of that. I somehow drew a few paper sketches and gave them to the draftsman at CME. He put it on tracing paper and then we made blue prints. Nowa- days I don’t know if anybody does blue prints either. They are very thick. We made all the sketches this way and finally we completed the first draft, then the second draft, the third draft and the whole book finally came into shape. The manuscript was about 5 inches thick. I sent it to S. Chand and Company. They saw it and thought it was going to be a good book. They approached the National Book Trust. They also thought that it will be a good book for the engineering students. At that time there were hardly any Indian books on Concrete Technology. The only book that I recall was Quality Concrete published by ACC and dating from the British era. This prior book was of great help for me in writing my own. The National Book Trust liked mine so much that they asked me to produce 6 copies of the same. I was working through S. Chand and Company. Again, I had to resort to stencils and produced 6 copies more that were each 5 inches thick and stiff bound. Binding was also done by the College of Military Engineering free of cost. I was so fortunate that I had so many facilities. Later I came to know that National Book Trust sent those 6 copies to 6 different professors in various universities of India to take their opinion whether the content and scope of the book met the requirement of the BE degree course. Later, I found out from the Professor at Suratkal engineering college, now known as NIT, that those 6 well-known professors recommended this book.

National Book Trust published the first copy of my book, though my contract was with S. Chand and Company.

Mukund Joshi: It must be an honour to publish your first book by National Book Trust, which is a nation-wide top institute in publishing the books.

Prof. Shetty:
I did not know at that time what the National Book Trust was or what its role was. They told me that this book was going to be published by National Book Trust. That is how my first book came out. The wife of one of my officers had drawn the gel structured building, which you can see on the cover page of the first edition.

Mukund Joshi: In which year did this book come out?

Prof. Shetty:
The first edition came out in 1982. I had started writing in 1979. I took nearly 3 years to bring it into the shape and get it published.

Mukund Joshi: How many hours per day did you work on this book?

Prof. Shetty:
I have really worked hard. I was not a book worm. I had been in my service as a good executive. I was interested in many things, including sports and drama. I played every game. I was an outdoors man. I worked 3 – 4 years in the Madras PWD and Indian Railway. I was not a very good student when I studied. But when I joined the department, I knew that I was more diligent than many of my colleagues. As they say, perspiration is more important than inspiration. What I wanted to say is I took several years to complete the book. During that time, I gave up all my social activities. You must be knowing, in the army it is a common practice to visit somebody or somebody visits you all the time. You have social conversations over a drink in the evenings. Such socializing is very common.

I left all those things. I stopped visiting others. Naturally nobody came to me either. Every day I worked from morning 7 till 12 at night. The only companion for me was my little dog, Bobby.

Those days, computers and other facilities were unavailable. But, CME had given me a lot of help. And finally, my first book came out in 1982, though they must have mentioned 1983 on the book. This hard-bound book had about 500 to 550 pages. The cost of this book was 21 Rupees. The cost would have been more. If it would have been published by S. Chand and Company, then the cost would have been around 40 or 50 Rupees. But just because NBT published it, they set the price as low as Rupees 21 to help every upcoming engineer in the country by making education available at very low cost. When they kept the price low, it was hard on my royalty. To compensate for that, they paid me Rs 14,000 for the first print. That was a very big boost to my finances. I was very happy. Terrific! However, I did not write the book for money. In fact, I didn’t even know then that one could get money for writing a book! So, when I got this amount, it was a big thing. Next year onwards it was a lot of money. Of course, I wrote the book to repay what my father had done for me.

You were asking about the motivation behind it; this was the real motivation.
In the beginning I did not write it at all for money. Then it went on and I started earning money over the years.

Mukund Joshi: This book ‘Concrete Technology’ by you is one of the most favourite books for civil engineering students. Since the publication of this book, every civil engineering student who has passed out has learnt a lot through it.

Prof. Shetty:
It is very hard Mukund. I am embarrassed in such situations. I think second print came in 1986. Then after every 1 or 2 years, it kept coming. I retired in 1989. After my retirement I was taken as a consultant to MC Bauchemie India Pvt. Ltd. After 1 year sometime in 1991, I became a consultant to Grasim Industries, which was known as Rajashree Cements at that time - an Aditya Birla Group Company. Being a consultant to these big boys gave me immense opportunities to travel all over India, conduct courses, training their officers in the field of Concrete Technology and giving lectures at various places all over the country. A lot of people would attend my lectures or training

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courses. It is because of my association with MC Bauchemie and Grasim Industries that I was able to travel and gain a lot of recognition for my book all over the country.

Wherever I went, nobody knew M. S. Shetty. But when people introduced me as Prof. M. S. Shetty, the author of the book Concrete Technology, then everybody knew. So, this was a kind of admiration, not for me, but for my book.

Mukund Joshi: There are very few books which not only benefit students but also help practicing professionals. Every practicing engineer like myself must have referred to your book hundreds of times during our career – to get clarity on some topic or to understand how some tests are carried out. Normally we say that books for students are completely different than books, which are referred by professionals. But this is one unique book that is a Bible for all us civil engineers. And if you compare the one edition from the other, it is completely revolutionary in many aspects. You keep introducing so many new aspects. So, can you share something about these revised editions, how they came about?

Prof. Shetty:
In the first edition a lot of the sketches were not readable. They were not precisely drawn. Then I got some professional help. And then the blue print and reproduction of the sketches became better and better. I shifted from PSI system to MKS system. And, my knowledge improved by reading various journals and continuously teaching advanced courses. I thought I will have something better to put in. To start with, Indian Standard Method of Mix Design was not there in the first edition. When it came about, I introduced Indian Standard Method of Mix Design IS 10262 of 1982 in the second edition. I wrote a lot on the topic of admixtures, the one subject, which has created revolutionary change in the art and science of making concrete. Beyond 1960 or 1965, the strength of the concrete all over the world was limited to M40, with a few exceptions. It was because modern admixtures were not available. There were no means to bring down water-cement ratio to increase the strength.

It was somewhere in 1965 that the Brookhaven National Laboratory worked extensively in the field of Naphthalene based and Melamine based Admixtures.

But this knowledge had not advanced much into India and other countries. Slowly we started understanding this new revolution. In 1985 Fosroc was the first company in India to disseminate the information on Naphthalene based and Melamine based Admixtures, particularly with the plasticizers for reducing the water content and making stronger concrete. And my association with MC Bauchemie India Pvt. Ltd. gave me lot of information about German technology and other things which I wanted to include in the second edition. It was in this way that more modern practices and newer ideas entered the newer editions of Concrete Technology. I made my second edition, slightly better one. I wrote everything in my own words.
Honestly speaking, in these 500-550 pages not a single page or a line was written by somebody else. Everything was from my handwritten notes.

Mukund Joshi: Second edition came in which year?

Prof. Shetty:
I do not exactly remember but maybe it came out in 1987 or 1988. Fourth edition came out in 2000. The fifth edition is the most significant one. Till that time not many copies were sold in a year, maybe about 8,000 or 9,000 copies of this book were sold annually. The cost of the book started with 70, 75 and the highest was 125 for the fourth edition. But students were happy about the book for one reason: whomsoever I met, they told me, “Sir, your book is very simple and easy to understand.” There are many other great books in the world, my book was nothing compared to those books. There were many classic books which were 100 times better than mine. But, our Indian students, they were not able to understand their English and their way of expression. Indian students found my book easy to read and understand. That is the fundamental reason for the popularity of this book.

Mukund Joshi: So, when we talk about number of copies sold over the year, can you give some idea how it went? For example, the first edition in 1983, how many copies were sold?

Prof. Shetty:
I must fill some gap to answer this question. IS 456 was revised in 2000 after 22 years. This brought in a lot of new things. IS 456 has been an excellent Indian Standard, which emphasizes the importance of durability of concrete. In the year 2000, a shift had taken place from strength to durability. The new philosophy was STRENGTH THROUGH DURABILITY and NOT durability through strength.

So, the IS 456:2000 emphasized durability factor as has been the case elsewhere in the world. In America, highway development took place in 1940s. But in about 40 to 50 years, highways were shattered, cracked and became completely unserviceable. This was because they had used only OPC - Ordinary Portland Cement-- with the conviction that higher the cement they use, stronger will be the concrete. They gave importance to the strength of the concrete. But over the years, it was realized that it was not the right approach.

So, through IS 456, in-line with the developments in the western world, worldwide advances in concrete technology are being disseminated in India. And IS 456:2000 gives a lot of importance to the durability of the concrete. This completely changed many factors and what I had written earlier seemed to have become outdated material. The coming of IS 456 in 2000 changed my old parameters. For example, earlier it was Compaction test. IS 456 changed it to Slump value. Under the British influence, we were working on the compacting factor with respect to workability rather than on the slump. Now, I had to revise my earlier concrete technology parameters to synchronize them with IS 456 of 2000. I took more than 2 years to just revise the book along these lines. It was almost like a new book which I wrote in 2000. It came out in 2001, because I had to start from the draft copy. In 1998-99 draft was available to me, so based on that I wrote the manuscript. Later I made changes where ever required. At the end it was an entirely different book. Size and printing were also different. This was still a black and white one. You were asking about the number of copies, so I would like to tell you Grasim Industry purchased about 3000 copies of it. Not only to distribute to all the engineers and task people but also whenever they held a technical meet, all the architects, structural consultants, builders and all the people who were concerned with concrete were presented with this book as a gift. This kind of promotion had been taking place. After that the number of books sold jumped more than twice. Then in 2005 the 5th edition came out. It was popular in neighbouring countries as well. They started pirating the book. S. Chand and company caught them. To avoid that system, they wanted to make the book multi-coloured. But I was not happy as they wanted to reduce the royalty. I had become money-minded. But, they forced me so much and I had to agree to make it into multi-colour. It was not my requirement, but it was their insistence.

At that time, I was told that it was the first Concrete Technology multi-coloured book in the world. There were coloured magazines etc., but as far as Concrete Technology text books are concerned, it was the first multi-coloured book. It gave me a big boost. Cost was increased but sales of the book also increased. Large numbers of copies were sold, not only in India but also in other countries. 4,000 or 5,000 books were sold to other countries per year. The decision of S. Chand and company proved to be right.

In the 6th edition also I included lot of new things. With the various advances in concrete technology that took place over the years, naturally my knowledge too expanded. When some organizations wanted technical people to attend lectures on their cement advances, they started inviting me and huge audiences began attending the lectures. This is how I got more and more publicity for my book.

Mukund Joshi: Yes! And particularly your contributions towards Pozzolans; the book really supported the use of Pozzolans in a great way.

Prof. Shetty:
Yes Mukund Joshi, I know! I have been a strong advocate for the use of fly ash in concrete. I convinced myself, I worked a lot. I did a lot of mix designs with and without Pozzolanic material. This Pozzolanic material is the one, which has become the primary cause of the advancement of concrete technology. Particularly the mineralized mixture you are talking about be it fly ash or GGBS or Surkhi, Silica fumes, meta kaolin - these kinds of Pozzolanic materials, which were used by Greeks and Romans have again been revived now and become important materials in the development of concrete technology.

Mukund Joshi: Sir, I know that you have a very special relationship with concrete. Instead of blood probably, concrete flows in your veins. Please tell us something about this relationship.

Prof. Shetty:
You are right that I have a special relationship with concrete. It is a relationship that has evolved over the last 64 years over all these years sometimes day and night I read, taught, and worked with concrete on concrete. Early in 1962, I worked with air-entraining agent to make concrete flow with lower quantity of water. Later I put in a considerable amount of time into making concrete flow with different kinds of plasticizers. Since 2002, I’ve worked to make concrete flow almost like water through my efforts to popularize self-compacting concrete in India. A chapter in the 2005 edition of my book is another significant effort to make concrete flow like water. Despite all these efforts, I could not make this happen – I could not make concrete flow in my veins, but I did succeed in making modern concrete adhere to the brains of lakhs of civil engineers in our country.

Mukund Joshi: Sir, in the end, what message you would give to the concrete engineers of India?

Prof. Shetty:
Concrete is an all-pervading material for construction, which is the backbone of development in any country. Modern concrete has proven to be a versatile construction material without competition from any other material known to contribute to human development over the last 200 years. Indian civil engineers have lagged those in many advanced countries. We are however catching up fast. It is my hope that people in authority – university professors, national laboratory directors, heads of construction projects and engineers working on concrete – will all strive hard to make the concrete produced and used in India achieve the same level and quality as in more advanced countries. I have best wishes for the bright future of the concrete engineers of India.