G.D. Naidu: An innovator for all seasons

Published - March 04, 2022 11:18 am IST - Coimbatore

A photo of physicist C.V. Raman with G.D. Naidu in Coimbatore.

A photo of physicist C.V. Raman with G.D. Naidu in Coimbatore. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“It would need an abler pen than mine to sketch in a few words a picture of the remarkable man that Mr. G.D. Naidu is and to indicate his great character and most varied achievements,” wrote the Nobel Prize-winning physicist C.V. Raman in 1950 about Gopalsamy Doraisamy Naidu, who carved himself a unique place in the history of Coimbatore and Tamil Nadu through his relentless innovations and entrepreneurship.

Born on March 23, 1893, to a farmer named Gopalsamy at a village called Kalangal, around 26 km from Coimbatore, young G.D. Naidu did not show any interest in schooling. He even ran away from school after throwing sand on a teacher’s face, according to the biographical book, Appa, authored by Sivasankari and updated recently by Naidu’s son G.D. Gopal. He worked in the agricultural fields in the mornings and read Tamil books in the evenings to become a self-taught man.

At the age of 20, he saw a motorbike in his village for the first time driven by a British official and was fascinated by “how it could move without any external power such as horses or bullocks,” Mr. Gopal writes in the book. Thereafter, Naidu did odd jobs in Coimbatore, including that of a waiter at a restaurant and saved about ₹400 in three years to purchase a two-wheeler, which he dismantled and reassembled by himself to understand its mechanism.

In 1915, he joined the kitchen of British entrepreneur Robert Stanes, who was staying in Coimbatore. There he managed to learn English. Impressed with Naidu’s work, Stanes sold one of his buses to him in 1921, which Naidu operated between Pollachi and Palani, according to the book. By 1933, he established the United Motor Service that had a fleet of 280 buses.

Around this time, Naidu visited many foreign countries. While visiting Belgium, he experimented with fixing a motor from a toy car to a shaving razor, which led to the birth of ‘Rasant’ electric razor. Having patented it in Europe, he manufactured the razors on a larger scale by importing motors from Germany, casings from Switzerland and steel from Sweden. ‘Rasant’ razors sold around 7,500 pieces in the first month of its introduction in London and American magazines even carried advertisements for Naidu’s device in the 1940s, Mr. Gopal writes.

At the time of World War II, Naidu indigenously manufactured mica capacitors and carbon resistors in Coimbatore, which he supplied to the British Army. In collaboration with industrialist ‘Textool’ Balasundaram, he manufactured electric motors by the time the war ended. Other devices which were a product of his innovations were vote recording machines, orange juice extractors, coin-operated phonographs, electronic calculators, lathes with German collaboration and 16-mm projectors. Naidu also experimented with constructing low-cost houses for the urban poor that could be built in a day.

“While Father’s inventions were greatly appreciated and welcomed abroad, they did not receive due respect within the country. Many plans had to be aborted at the inception stage itself due to the non-availability of licences,” Mr. Gopal says in the book. “In the early days, the British Government created various obstacles for him because they did not desire his or India’s growth in any sphere. After 1945, when he started having trouble with the income tax department, the Indian government also chose not to support him. His stubbornness and proud nature that prevented him from seeking help from others and the lack of perseverance in engaging in rolling out production in large scale were possibly a reason too.”

Naidu cultivated the friendship of eminent personalities, including C.V. Raman, former President of India V.V. Giri, Dravidar Kazhagam founder Periyar E.V. Ramasamy and seven past Chief Ministers of the State — P.S. Kumaraswamy Raja, C. Rajagopalachari, K. Kamaraj, M. Bhaktavatsalam, C.N. Annadurai, M. Karunanidhi and M.G. Ramachandran. He died on January 4, 1974, at the age of 80.

G.D. Rajkumar, son of Mr. Gopal and grandson of Naidu, says the DMK government has approached the family to build a memorial in Coimbatore. “They have discussed it with us twice. Our role is to give material support to create the memorial, but the memorial will be done by the government,” he says. Talks are on to finalise a location.

There has been a renewed interest in the life and works of G.D. Naidu in the past five years or so, particularly in the digital space, with new documentaries and other written material being released, Mr. Rajkumar says. The “learning by doing” approach to education advocated by Naidu is “extremely relevant” in today’s world as only practical learning would ensure sustained innovations, he says. “The practical link is missing in [India’s] education system.”

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