1953 (age 66–67)|
Kuzhithurai, Kanyakumari district
|Alma mater||Christian College, Marthandam|
|Organization||River Valley Technologies|
|Known for||Setting up of Indian TeX Users Group and Free Software Foundation of India|
|Free software and open access publishing|
Chandroth Vasudevan Radhakrishnan (ചന്ദ്രോത്ത് വാസുദേവൻ രാധാകൃഷ്ണൻ) aka CV Radhakrishnan aka CVR (born 20 January 1953), is an Indian free software developer, entrepreneur and the Founder of River Valley Technologies. He is also one of the leading proponents of free software in the world and a founding member of TeX Users Group in India. Diagnosed with perennial muscular dystrophy at the age of 25 and told that he had just five more years to live, he turned to computers as a way to distract himself from the grim prognosis. But soon he developed a passion for it and set himself to master the art of typesetting. Starting his business as a one man typesetting unit for scientific journals, he then grew it into a company that now employs over 150 people and is today rated as one of the best by Elsevier in the field of journal typesetting.
The eldest of four children, CV Radhakrishnan was born on 20 January 1953 in the village of Kuzhithurai in Kanyakumari district, now part of the state of Tamil Nadu, India. He studied in Anducode High School and graduated in Chemistry from Christian College, Marthandam in 1972. He dropped out in 1973 while pursuing the masters program in SN College, Quilon.
Radhakrishnan started his career at the Indian Telecom department where he worked briefly for six months in 1973. From there, he moved to Delhi and joined the Ministry of Shipping and Transport in August 1973. In 1978, he experienced a weakness in his leg muscles and was diagnosed with a neurological disorder known as perennial muscular dystrophy. Given the nature of his disease, where the muscle mass gradually wears away, and informed by the doctors that he could not expect to live beyond five years, he quit his job immediately and decided to spend the rest of his days in Kerala with his parents. On his return, he joined the administrative department of Kerala University. He continued there for the next fifteen years until he quit in 1993 to set up River Valley Technologies.
TeX and Free Software
CV Radhakrishnan began to learn about computers during his stint at Kerala University. Having no formal training in them, he took it up as a way to distract himself from the travails of his disease. He started by buying an XT machine and began experimenting with it. He also spent his evenings helping students at the University prepare their thesis and research papers. It was during this time that the job at the University fortuitously made him come across Prof. KSS Nambooripad from the Department of Mathematics. The professor, an ardent TeX lover, was just back from a visiting assignment in Milwaukee University in the United States and had brought with him the TeX program in 14 floppy disks. Discovering the fascination CVR had for data presentation, Prof Nambooripad introduced him to the TeX language and insisted that he started learning it. Taking heed, CVR diligently mastered this classical and complex text processing language and soon started exploring possibilities of making a living out of it. Beginning with research papers of the students, CVR went on to apply TeX in typesetting Entomon, an entomology research journal of the Department of Zoology. Soon his services became hugely popular within the university and it became difficult for the work to be handled single handed. Thus, encouraged by Prof Nambooripad again, CVR decided to set up River Valley Technologies in 1994 with the support of his two younger brothers (CV Rajendran and CV Rajagopal).
At this time, CVR was not familiar with the philosophy of Free Software and TeX was the only free software he knew. However, two turn of events in close quarters propelled him deep into the free software movement. The first was the inauguration of the Indian TeX Users Group at Trivandrum in January 1998. CVR played a pivotal role in its formation by organising the first ever meeting of like minded TeX programmers in India on 16 December 1996. Prof. Nambooripad was chosen as the first president, and CVR became its first secretary. This brought him closer to many free software communities in different parts of the globe. Moreover, under the TeX Users Group, India, he played a key part in the preparation and publication of ‘LaTeX Tutorials – A primer’ under the GNU Free Documentation license. This comprehensive tutorial on the basics of TeX usage was very well received by the academic community and is considered even today, to be one of the best training materials available on TeX. All this popularity in TeX circles led him to be acquainted with several prominent activists like Karl Berry of the TeX Users Group and Sebastian Rahtz of the UK TeX Users Group which further exposed him to the Free Software philosophy.
The second event was the incorporation of FreeDevelopers.Net. A commercial company based in Washington with proposed branches all over the world and with Richard Stallman as its Chief Ethical Officer, its prime aim was to function as a democratic entity that stood for the development of free software. CVR and his younger brother CV Rajagopal, Anil and Rajkumar of Linuxense and Arun of Space-Kerala who were instrumental in the formation of the Trivandrum GNU/Linux Users Group were active members in it. FreeDevelopers.Net initiated a very serious discussion among its members about the philosophy of free software, its ethical stance and its fitness for commercial activities. A consequence was the setting up of the Indian chapter of Free Software Foundation.
River Valley Technologies
River Valley Technologies came into existence on the premises of the Software Technology Park (STP) in Trivandrum on January 1st, 1994. Started as a proprietary concern dealing with software and IT enabled services and registered under the STP system, River Valley had an export target of one million dollars in the first five years of its operation. The firm quickly gained popularity in the text-processing industry and began providing services to such publishing giants as Academic Press and Institute of Physics that provided enough work to meet the initial target. This gave Radhakrishnan the necessary confidence to register a new private limited company which came into existence on August 17, 1999 as STM Document Engineering Pvt Ltd (STMDocs) that carved a new path in the academic text processing world.
Working completely on free software, the company was CVR’s befitting reply to all those who claimed that proprietary software was necessary for commercial grade text processing companies to be successful. Today, STMDocs is one of the main suppliers to Elsevier, the world's largest academic journal publishers and has been adjudged the best by them for quality, technology and adherence to schedules. Sprawled across a lush green stretch of four acres, the main campus of the company is located at Malayankizhu, a rustic village located 15 km from the city of Thiruvananthapuram. Very particular that his company shouldn’t fit into the trappings of a profit oriented corporate culture, CVR has designed the campus to be an eco sanctuary that houses a range of bio-diverse species from exotic trees to birds and bees. Running on renewable energy and rain water harvesting and actively practising organic farming, the company encourages its 150 odd employees to feel part of a self-sustaining community. This coupled with a non-compromising attitude towards quality in service delivery has transformed STMDocs into a unique company.
Radhakrishnan supports philanthropic efforts through non-profit projects spearheaded by the Sayahna Foundation, a virtual community set up by him to promote open access publishing and collaborative digitisation of all contents that enrich humanity, culture, heritage and history. Under its aegis, a digital archive of over two hundred Malayalam books has been created. The books included are those whose copyright has already expired or the ones where the authors themselves have come forward to publish under open license. Some of the major works are Kerala Panineeyam, all the works of renowned critic, M Krishnan Nair (including ‘Sahithyavaraphalam’), all the works of famed novelist E Harikumar, and a history of Malayalam literature in five volumes by Ulloor S Parameswara Iyer. An elaborate listing of the entire welfare schemes of the Government of Kerala is also a part of the archive. Radahakrishnan out of his ardent love for fonts and typography wanted to popularise the use of the beautiful fonts Rachana, Meera, Uroob and Keraleeyam, all created by KH Hussain in Malayalam typesetting, and all the books published by Sayahna are typeset in Rachana. He has also been instrumental in setting up the Rachana Institute of Typography along with KH Hussain and KV Rajeesh. Recently, a new opentype font namely, Sundar, has been released for free download and usage.
Radhakrishnan is married to Vidhya and they live in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
- The Hindu, The Tug of Opportunities, Jan 1, 2010, Life and Style.
- Sebastian Rahtz, Inaugural meeting of TUGIndia – A report, TUGboat, Volume 19 (1998), No. 1 (Report in pdf format).
- Linux Today, FSF-India and FreeDevelopers-India To Be Inaugurated at Freedom First! Conference, July 19, 2001 (Report).
- V. Sasi Kumar, The Origins of FSF India, Linux For You, December 2007, pp. 34–35. (Read the interveiw here).
- KG Kumar, TeX Helps in Timely Publication of BSNL's Trivandrum Telephone Directory, TUGIndia news, 2003 March.