comic books

Long before Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’, a comic was transporting Indians like me to the darkness of WWII

‘Achtung Attack!’ and ‘Gott in Himmel’ were the first German phrases I ever learned from the sepia-toned Commando comics.

I have mixed feelings about director Christopher Nolan’s films – I loved Insomnia and The Dark Knight but hate his dystopian films, like Interstellar where nothing green seems fated to survive. So it was without any great expectations that I went for the night show of Dunkirk. The film had been running for a while, and when I went to the theatre the cavernous hall was nearly empty – only a handful of young people were present.

The background score was insistent and half an hour in, I felt my nerves jangling. Was it the hobnailed boots pounding on cobbled pathways, the adrenaline-pumped audible heart of the young actor beating rapidly, the staccato harshness of gunfire, the waves crashing and receding? I don’t remember being so affected by the music of any other film recently, it ratcheted up the tension to a nail-biting pitch.

Something strange was happening to me. Gripped by the stories unfolding in such grim reality, I was simultaneously free-falling back into the past, back to my childhood and summer holidays at my Didima or grandmother’s house, where time was slow like honey. It was as though every ascending note of the pounding music pushed me further back in time – a strange sense of déjà vu overtook me, as I appeared to know exactly what would befall the soldiers on the screen.

I looked around the hall surreptitiously. Most of the audience was munching calmly on their popcorn, my young son was sitting beside me, checking messages on his phone. No one had noticed that I was travelling back in time.

Summer holiday afternoons were convivially female and reserved for reading in Dida’s bedroom. We would all lie down replete and drowsy with what can best be described as a gargantuan repast of rice and fish. My mother and grandmother on the high ornate bed, and my unmarried aunt, my sister and I on cool madurs or reed mats spread on the marble floor. Since my grandmother was a published Bengali poet, most of the books in the house were in Bengali, apart from the leather-bound classics that belonged to my grandfather, who loved Forster and Chekov. For light reading there was a huge collection of Commando comics, which belonged to my mother’s younger brother.

Image credit: Suresh Ramasubramanian‎/via
Image credit: Suresh Ramasubramanian‎/via

Each volume of those comics had been purchased through the late 1960s and 1970s. My uncle had taken the trouble to bind them into sets of four. The binding in blue and white stripes, was too tight – as is often the case – and made it difficult to read the inner edge of the comic.

My uncle worked in another city, so he had no idea that every afternoon his female relatives aged nine to 33 travelled back to World War II, all thanks to his collection of comic books. The stories were already quite old, and perhaps that’s why my convent school friends, preoccupied with Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew, seemed largely unaware of them. I suppose it was also a strange past time given that there were practically no women characters in the comics, just as there were none in the film Dunkirk.

“Achtung Attack!” and “Gott in Himmel” were the first German phrases I ever learnt, as I flipped through the sepia-toned pages on those afternoons. Commando comics were small – about five by seven inches in size, had realistic black and white artwork and resembled a precursor to the graphic novels of today. The stories were told completely from the British point of view, and the characters were patriotic to the point of jingoism. I still remember my shock, when a neighbour named his little pup Jerry – the title was entirely suitable for a Dachshund, or perhaps the dog named after the cartoon mouse – but all I could imagine was the cruel and icy Nazi from the comics, snarling “Die schweinhund!” as he shot a young soldier named Tommy, (who fell to his death groaning, “AARGHH!” in a darkened font). Schweinhund, incidentally, means pig-dog in German.

Image credit: Suresh Ramasubramanian‎/via
Image credit: Suresh Ramasubramanian‎/via

During the interval of Dunkirk, I turned eagerly to my son, “Remember Commando comics? The dog-fights between the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe were exactly the same!”

But of course he didn’t remember. His reading didn’t touch remotely on the Great Wars, it was dominated by wizards and mythological creatures inhabiting a fantasy world. Dunkirk made me realise that those comics were so well-researched that they ignited an interest in military history even in a pacifist like me. Patton tanks, the Battle of the Bulge, Normandy Landings, the Mole in the film, I knew them so very well. In fact, when my son murmured that he thought the Mole referred to a spy, I shook my head impatiently at him.

Unlike my son’s, my childhood heroes belonged in the real world, burdened with military gear, rifles, fatigue, hunger and extreme hardship. I wished I could give the comics to my son, but Dida’s house had long been sold. A hospital stood in place of the sprawling colonial bungalow, my uncle had passed away tragically early, and undoubtedly, his treasured comics had been sold to the kabadiwallah.

Image credit: Brian Boulnois/via
Image credit: Brian Boulnois/via

Dunkirk the film was almost over, and I recited Winston Churchill’s most stirring speech almost verbatim in that dark hall: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender!”

My voice grew louder and louder, until it rang out in the hall.

“Calm down Ma, it was 70 years ago!” admonished my embarrassed son. People were staring.

Selina Sen is the author of Zoon (Tranquebar), A Mirror Greens In Spring, and Gardening in Urban India (DK, Penguin Random House).

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The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

The manufacturing industry across the world is seeing major changes, driven by globalization and increasing consumer demand. As per a report by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd on the future of manufacturing, the ability to innovate at a quicker pace will be the major differentiating factor in the success of companies and countries.

This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

Along with innovation in products, the transformation of manufacturing processes will also be essential for companies to remain competitive and maintain their profitability. This is where digital technologies can act as a potential game changer.

The digitalization of the manufacturing industry involves the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing processes across the value chain. Also referred to as Industry 4.0, digitalization is poised to reshape all aspects of the manufacturing industry and is being hailed as the next Industrial Revolution. Integral to Industry 4.0 is the ‘smart factory’, where devices are inter-connected, and processes are streamlined, thus ensuring greater productivity across the value chain, from design and development, to engineering and manufacturing and finally to service and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

The process industries benefit from Integrated Engineering to Integrated Operations by utilizing a continuous data model of the entire lifecycle of a plant that helps to increase flexibility and efficiency. Both offerings can be easily customized to meet the individual requirements of each sector and company, like specific simulation software for machines or entire plants.

Siemens has identified projects across industries and plans to upgrade these industries by connecting hardware, software and data. This seamless integration of state-of-the-art digital technologies to provide sustainable growth that benefits everyone is what Siemens calls ‘Ingenuity for Life’.

Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

Cipla needed a robust and flexible distributed control system to dispense and manage solvents for the manufacture of its APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients used in many medicines). As part of the project, Siemens partnered with Cipla to install the DCS-SIMATIC PCS 7 control system and migrate from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. By establishing the first ever flow Chemistry based API production system in India, Siemens has helped Cipla in significantly lowering floor space, time, wastage, energy and utility costs. This has also improved safety and product quality.

In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

The above solutions helped the company puts its entire product lifecycle on a digital platform. This has led to multi-fold benefits – better time optimization, higher productivity, improved vehicle performance and quicker response to market requirements.

Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.


The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.