Eye on England

Herman Narula and his Improbable story Dear Dad Abir's sequel Tittle tattle

By AMIT ROY
  • Published 21.05.17
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Herman Narula and his Improbable story

Tech sonny: (Top from left) Peter Lipka, Herman Narula and Rob Whitehead; (above) H.S. Narula and wife, Surina

Herman Narula was the toast of the technology world last week when Improbable, the firm he established with two friends in 2012, was valued at $1 billion following an injection of $502 million from Japan's SoftBank.

Unlike his two elder brothers, Anhad and Manhad, 29-year-old Herman chose not to go into the family's construction business, DSC Ltd, which is headed by his father, Harpinder Singh Narula.

Herman's mother, Surina, who runs a charity for Indian street children, was the one who persuaded her husband to sponsor the Jaipur Literature Festival for many years.

Herman was born in Delhi, came to the UK when he was three, and attended Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School. Even as a small boy, he revealed a gift for writing computer codes.

Surina tells me, "Herman wanted to set up a company when he was 14 but I stopped him - 'no, you must finish your education first.'"

Herman is now the CEO of Improbable, which he set up with Rob Whitehead, 26, whom he befriended at Cambridge University while studying computer science, and Peter Lipka, 28, a graduate from Imperial College London.

The firm, which focuses on "virtual simulation", can create games in which a thousand people can join in but is also "exploring applications in city management, infrastructure and logistics, cyber security, transportation and traffic control, medical applications and economic modelling".

Herman predicts: "In 10-20 years, I think we will have simulations of entire cities, which allow for testing and modelling, but will also have the ability to respond to changing real-world conditions. So, if the city was hit by a power cut, or gridlock or a snow storm, it would be possible to simulate multiple responses quickly and use the insight from those simulations to select the best response."

Perhaps he will be able to model what happens to a particular citizen in, say, Belgachia when a political demonstration creates chaos in Calcutta.

Dear Dad

Well loved: Maneck Dalal’s daughters, Suzy (left) and Caroline

A commemoration service was held last week at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in London to “celebrate” the life of Maneck Dalal, one of the “legends” of the Indian community who died on March 6 at the age of 98.

Maneck, formerly of Air-India and Tata Ltd, was chairman of the Bhavan for 38 years until he stepped down in 2011.

His was a life "well lived", said several of the 18 distinguished speakers. From India, Ratan Tata sent a message.

Maneck's wife, Kay, to whom he was married for 70 years, was not well enough to attend but his daughters, Caroline and Suzie, rounded off a "truly memorable evening".

"As a Parsi he enjoyed the strong ties he had with the Zoroastrian Association for so many years," said Caroline. "Growing up as he did in pre-Independence India and living in Delhi through Partition and Independence, our father was also a fiercely proud Indian - he wanted India and Indians to showcase the best.

"Of course, our father loved this country where he lived for so long with our mother," added Caroline. "Over the years of attending church with her, he became a Christian... our father put his head and his heart into anything he undertook and his heart was definitely in the Bhavan."

Suzie said: "He was very proud of his Indian roots and of being a Parsi but not only did he work for Indian concerns all his life, but until the 1980s and the Thatcher years he retained his Indian nationality... he was a loving and kind father and I was hugely proud of him."

Abir's sequel

As promised, a little more on Abir Mukherjee's second novel, A Necessary Evil , which will be published in the UK by Harvill Secker (£12.99) on June 1, a sequel to A Rising Man.

This time, Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee of the Calcutta Police "find themselves investigating the assassination of the son of a maharajah," says Abir. "Their enquiries lead them to the fabulously wealthy state of Sambalpore.

"I wanted to write about the Indian princely states," explains Abir, a thoughtful writer who is certainly due an invitation from a literary festival in Calcutta.

"What particularly surprised me was the role played by women - the princesses and maharanis - in maintaining the traditions and culture of the kingdoms," adds Abir. "This is something that has been overlooked by history."

Tittle tattle

Nikhiya Shamsher, 14, from Bangalore, was one of 20 "outstanding young people from across the world" presented the Princess Diana Inaugural Legacy Award last week at St. James's Palace by Princes William and Harry for embodying their mother's "qualities of kindness, compassion and service".

According to the citation, Nikhiya "has played a crucial role in changing the lives of nearly 6,000 underprivileged children... through her (educational) initiative 'Bags, Books and Blessings'".