Boy Grocer to Director, NIT


As a student of leadership, I am always looking for answers on where such people get their capacity from - why is it that many people fail while one individual comes in and creates alignment and energy in offices, corporations and educational institutions.

So, this week I am taking you to Trichy, the 2300-year-old, historic South Indian city that has been witness to dynasties like the Cholas, the Pallvas and the Hoysalas – not to forget invaders like the Moguls and the British and the French. Situated by the banks of the Cauvery, Trichy bears testimony to the rich learning and cultural heritage of the region. This is where we have the impressive campus of the National Institute of Technology (NIT) where we are headed today.

NIT, earlier known as the Regional Engineering College or REC, is where MindTree Co-founder Srinivasan Janakiraman comes from. This is where the son of a village postmaster, a young Janakiraman, took his graduate degree in technology before heading off to the Indian Institute of Technology for a master’s degree. Sometime back, Janakiraman (or Jani as we call him) was felicitated as outstanding alumni.

Today, we are visiting NIT with a purpose. We want to actually spend time with a group of NIT alumni who have established a primary school. It serves the needs of villagers nearby on whose land NIT was set up. The members of the alumni association have raised money to upgrade the makeshift school to an impressive building which is being constructed at an estimated cost of Rs. 70 lakhs. Jani and I are here to see how MindTree Foundation can get engaged with the school as our way of saying “thank you” to NIT for giving us the likes of Jani.

By the time we reach NIT, it is past nine in the night. After a quick meal, I lie down on my Spartan bed at the Guest House. I love the bare essentials in such places – University Guest Houses are clean, friendly and functional – sometimes very historic too. For all I know, a Nobel Laureate has slept on the same bed as I. That thought itself makes me feel wonderful and relaxed and before I know, I am asleep.

I wake up early in the morning. The Youngman who brings me tea explains that the Director would be coming over to meet us for breakfast at eight. Now that is a surprise, we came to visit a primary school and of course I am talking to a bunch of students and faculty of the MBA course in the afternoon, but that does not warrant a meeting with the Director. But what choice do I have now? He, Dr. M. Chidambaram, wants to have breakfast with me and Jani!

The NIT Trichy is one of the Nation’s 20 NITs, ranked among the best places of learning, is home to 5000 students and faculty on an impressively laid out and well-maintained 800-acre campus. I believe that managing such an operation itself calls for great capability. Jani fills me up with some details – despite its great past, the institution did fall into some feuding and decay until the current Director took charge. Under his leadership, NIT has seen the restoration of its past glory and gone further ahead.

I am getting curious, what mettle is Dr. Chidambaram made of, I want to know. As a student of leadership, I am always looking for answers on where such people get their capacity from – why is it that many people fail while one individual comes in and creates alignment and energy in offices, corporations and educational institutions. Sometimes that power comes from later-life experiences. But the foundational capacity to lead is often built through one’s early-life experiences.

At eight sharp, Dr. M. Chidambaram appears. For a man who has taught at several IITs before taking over as Director here in 2005 and for someone who has guided 9 PhD scholars, 4 MS thesis and 30 MTech projects, he looks very young, the salt and pepper hair not withstanding. Remarkably understated, the Professor has a child-like simplicity that makes him approachable and also gives him the capability to simplify complex issues. “Tell me your story”, I ask him over breakfast.

Dr. M. Chidambaram was born to a small grocer in Salem in Tamilnadu. He grew up watching his mother sell kerosene and rice and other such things from the storefront at the back of which was the living quarter. “I never knew what a full meal looks like until I became an engineering student and lived in a hostel. Because my mother had to quickly rush inside the house and cook something between two customers when the business was a little slow. So, invariably, it was just rice and one other dish”, he recounts.

Some distance away, was another small store managed by his father. Before he was born, his parents had four girls in succession and someone suggested that his mother do a penance – to tie her hands behind her back and eat off the ground to appease the Gods, only could that demonstrate her determination.

So strong was that determination that she was blessed with not one but four more children – all of them sons. Dr. Chidambaram’s education in life started as a little boy while helping parents at managing the two stores – running between the two stores and gradually learning to mind the storefront. “I remember selling small quantities of kerosene for twenty five paisa”.

As a juvenile businessman, he says, he watched the brisk transactions on the street; he got to know who is who – from the customers to the cart pushers who formed part of the eco-system. He liked the energy. From there, he grew up to one day to become not only the first engineer in the family but to become the first ever to graduate from any college.

I look at the man in complete disbelief. Doctorate from the Indian Institute of Science, authority on areas as vast as Controller Tuning to Relay Feedback Tuning to Multivariable Controller Design and Periodic Operation of Reactors.

Now I begin to understand where the quiet confidence comes from with which he builds speed without sacrificing harmony, how he prods alignment among students, teachers and staff who together constitute this sacred space called NIT, Trichy. We finish our breakfast and shake hands, it is time for me to visit the school where hundreds of small boys and girls are waiting for us and in them, I am praying a few more Dr. M. Chidambarams!

Write back dear readers and tell me what you felt. I will see you again next week. Until then, Go Kiss the World.

Subroto Bagchi

Comments
Tuesday September 23rd 2008

Nice writing style. Looking forward to reading more from you.

Chris Moran

Lubna Says
Tuesday September 23rd 2008

Dear Subroto,
If this gets posted again, apologies. I seem to have lost my first draft in cyberspace.
Well, Dr Chidambaram did provide a shining example, that it is essential for us to be sure of who we are, and to be comfortable in our own skins. Simplicity is so important.There is no need for pretence, irrespective of whom we are interacting with. Quite often people behave not as themselves, but differently with different sets of people – this sucks big time!
This post reminds me of Kiplings: “IF”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!
Your blog has been addictive, ever since I discovered it. Looking forward to your next post.
Best regards
Lubna

HR Puri Says
Wednesday September 24th 2008

Dear Subroto
The shining example quoted confirms that the journey – without getting stuck in any of the many ruts etc that ‘re encountered -from one’s origin and the current positioning is what makes a person.
with respects
~harsh puri

~Harsh

Subroto Bagchi Says
Wednesday September 24th 2008

Thank You, Lubna for sharing those beautiful lines from Kipling. I am so glad I could share Dr. C with all my readers.

Subroto

Cyrus Says
Wednesday September 24th 2008

Dear Subroto,

Dr. Chidambaram seems to be one `real’ human being who is not shy of his background nor puts up appearances. I do hope that you are able to see potential Dr. Chidambaram’s within the kids who will benefit by this school being set up.

At times today when our privilidged kids complain just about everything that they `dont’ have….I sometimes wonder why such real life hero stories never get published and put into the curriculum of students all over India.

Apart from just the degree, they need to learn what `life’ is all about and get to know many such stories of real people who have made a difference against all odds. They need to count their blessings.

I am very tempted to send over my copy of GKTW for your signing. Let me know if it’s okay to send it over to your office address.

BTW, you look very much the same except a lil age on your face.

Cheers
Cyrus

Nikhil Mittal Says
Wednesday September 24th 2008

Hi Subroto,

I am quite young to provide my comments on this piece of writing but to some extent this has impressed me a lot. Kudos to your way of expressing entire journey of life in few short paragraphs.

But apart from that, this miniature biography has pour various question in my mind. I am not sure to what extent my thinking in this manner is correct.

Does struggle for living in early stage of life makes one mature and humble? If it’s true then how can we rely on young “GenNext” youngsters who struggle for getting materialize things like latest electronics gazettes and etc and never come to know the exact meaning of “Struggle for life” which Dr. Chidambaram knows very well.

Hope your views will clarify my doubts.

Regards,
Nikhil Mittal

Vivek Says
Wednesday September 24th 2008

Dear Subroto,

It is such a wonderful experience to read all these posts. I must confess that I am getting equally addicted to all your thoughts. My current read is your latest book (Go! Kiss…) and I am propagating it to every person whom I meet, as I personally feel the book encapsulates your life experience in a fantastic way. It is such a pleasure to see through your eyes, people like Dr. Chidambaram, who are making stirring changes in many a soul and the society at large. Eagerly awaiting your next post. And yes! I am your fan :)

Wednesday September 24th 2008

Very interesting writing! I wish to meet you in Bangalore, if I can get an appointment!

Hats off to you, for a very nice book “Go Kiss the World”.

Regards
Vijayashankar

    Thirumani Says
    Thursday September 25th 2008

    Hi Subroto,

    Reading your blog posts has become a ‘Must Do’ activity in my list. It feels wonderful to learn from the experiences that you share through these posts and most important to get to know about many unsung heros.

    In today’s world where contributions to an educational institutions are sadly not the preferred career option among people, we definitely need more and more Dr Chidambarams.

    About your view on capacity to lead, I believe that change can happen at any time. Such is the beauty of human mind. While it is true that brain develops significantly during the formative years of one’s life (scientifically proven), it does retain the ability to change itself all through. It is obviously easy to lay the foundation in the early years as, if it is done later, one has to first un-learn stuff before changing track.

    Regards
    Thiru

Debachou Says
Thursday September 25th 2008

Sycophancy, pretensions, hypocrisy are the buzzwords in to days world and people get sucked in to it from very beginning and tend to forget their own past. We are part of this system. Those who keep heads high and do not forget the past rather take lessons from it and respect value system like Dr Chidambaram or you , really meet success at the end. I am not sure how we can teach our children to these values . They do not even bend and touch feet to convey their respect but send SMSs . I am distressed.
Sorry for the feeling.

    Cyrus Says
    Friday September 26th 2008

    Dear Debachou,

    I could not agree with you more. Having said that I think the parents need to continue their parenting and mentoring of children. Times surely are changing and so are social attitudes. At times kids say hurtful things as ‘just because you had a hard life why should I’ and stuff. But still one cannot give up.

    Today I find that many parents trying to be `friends’ to their kids [not that its bad] forget that they are parents. Certain ground realities need to be explained as non-negotiable.

    Cheers
    Cyrus

Aveek saha Says
Friday September 26th 2008

Dear Subroto,

Each time i read your articles it seems that i am seeing the world through a different lens , which is much bright which is much colourful and through which you only seem to see the bright aspect s.
Even when you talk about extreme poverty sufferening loss pain its seems that these emotions should also be experienced like wealth and happiness . Such emotion if not be looked forward to should not be shyed away from .
keep writing and keep inspiring and let us see how beautiful this world is through your eyes.

Aveek

Neha Hathiari Says
Friday September 26th 2008

Dear Subroto sir,
Hats off to you for such a wonderful book.GKTW really inspires to develop an attitude of Go kiss the world in upcoming professionals like us.

prasanna Says
Friday September 26th 2008

Dear sir,

Your article on Director, NIT, Trichy inspires me. Though sir is from reticent family background (considering his present position) his achievements are estimable. One has to adore the director his simplicity, sincerity and genuineness. Almighty will bless all his actions.

Friday September 26th 2008

Dear Mr. Subroto,

It has very nice interacting with you the other day in our Campus.

Read this blog – Boy Grocer to Director, NIT
which Mr.Ananthakrishnan has forwarded to me.

This has come out very well, we never knew so much about our Director, thanks for bringing these kinds of stories to the public domain. Looking forward to such similar posts.

Pradeep Kandaswamy
NIT Trichy

kool kal Says
Friday September 26th 2008

Hi,
I am the publisher of the Inner City Times in Atlanta, and I would like to review your book in my newspaper. I thank you for your inspiring stories.

My newspaper and blog are meant for “Inner City” low income residents of Atlanta, and our mission is to “educate, inform and inspire”.

I would love to publish a review of your book, and wd like to obtain a complimentary copy. Wd it be poss to get an autogr copy mailed out to me in the US?

Thx.
S. Suresh
aka kool kal
Inner City Times
Atlanta GA

PS: Is your blog tempate available?

prasanna Says
Saturday September 27th 2008

Your article on Director, NIT, Trichy inspires me. Though sir is from reticent family background (considering his present position) his achievements are estimable. One has to adore the director for his simplicity, sincerity and genuineness. Almighty will bless all his actions.

Satya Says
Saturday September 27th 2008

I have always wondered:

– What makes some Institutes great and some mediocre?
– What makes some alumni really attached to their college and some i-do-not-give-a-damn attitude?
– What makes an IITian or NITian better than other ones?

And again here is the proof. It is the Institution.

Institution is like a family that is built by its founders, directors, staffs and students. They say – “charity begins at home”. I’ll add to it – “…and foundation of character for the real world is built at an institution.”

In the same vein, when you visit IIT you find a relentless spirit for excellence, for greatness, which is not at the cost of killing each other, but intense competition via real co-operation. There is a say – “If you think you are the best in the world, you have to give the best to the world”. And of course, the reverse sounds true for Institutions who create candy professionals.

Unfortunately, with India’s economic boom around the corner, we see a lot of professionals with only degrees (most of them from 3rd rated Institutes with vulgar amount of money being paid as donations) and getting a job in IT has never been easier! And more unfortunately they are the mass of new emerging India, because of which we see so much degradation in today’s society.

We need more people like Dr. Ramachadran. And more institutions like NIT, IIT and the like.

Satya Says
Saturday September 27th 2008

My apologies.

I put Dr. Ramachandran inplace of Dr. Chidambaram.

Sunday September 28th 2008

Dear Mr. Bagchi,

There is a common thread between Dr. Chidambaram’s story and the purpose of your visit to Trichi – namely Eduction.

Every family I know of has ‘come up’ in life because of a man/woman ,who, at one time or the other in th epast, chose to get eductaed or was educated.
Whatever else, corporate giving involves or not – it should involve education at all levels. Trust the politicians to do it and we are doomed!

Debachou Says
Tuesday September 30th 2008

“Professional for the future ” — simply outstanding and mind boggling. The art of clarifying a mind through the lens -unforgettable. Perhaps , to me ,one of the best article I have ever read. Kudos to u. Pl keep us enlightened . Your pen or finger to press key board should not stop genearting ideas for people like us . Regards Debachou

Lubna Says
Tuesday September 30th 2008

Dear Subroto,
Not diving deep into your post on – Professional for the future, well not very deep.
I am just narranting what my lense thought of me, as we sat on the rocks in Pondicherry to photograph the “sunset”. We waited and waited and darkness suddenly enveloped us. The lens gave out a loud chuckle. “Frog in the well existence, does not pay”, I was told. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Only a Bombayite would think that the sun sets in the sea (just because the Arabia sea that surrounds Bombay is in the west doesnt mean you can capture the sun setting in the sea from anywhere and everywhere, the lens explained). I was quite stumped – especially since I have always considered myself to be a smart alec!
Well, the lens taught me a lesson – about adaptability! Perhaps quitting is not professionalism either, but more on that later.
This was a very interesting read!
Best regards
Lubna

AM Says
Monday October 6th 2008

Very humble man he is, Dr. Chidambaram. He is unlike any prof we have seen.

malu Says
Tuesday October 7th 2008

Dear Subroto,
Thank you so much for helping us know about our director..yup he is such an energetic and dynamic personality..make God bless him.

Vivek Shah Says
Wednesday October 8th 2008

I have renewed respect for our Director after reading this article.

Well written and nicely brought out the points.

kaushik ram Says
Saturday October 11th 2008

Dr.chidambaram puts NITT on fast track from good 2 great !

Prema Says
Friday November 21st 2008

Reminded of your words, last Saturday, that it is acts of volunteerism that changed the world, and that the corporate sector needs to learn this from social entrepreneurs. So true. There is growing desire & recognition that things have to be done differently, but it is so easy to go & do it the same way.The schisms between these 2 sectors need to close if we seek a better world.Suggested your blog to Charles Holmes who’s convening Connecting for Change workshop in 09 .Hope you will continue to inspire ! and connect ……………

Aditi Says
Sunday November 23rd 2008

Dear Subroto Sir,

I have been reading your articles for some time, after I read your book ‘Go Kiss The World’ which was gifted by my father.

Your article above has definitely inspired me and I am sure there are more people like Dr. Chidambaram in our society who reach to certain level in there life irrespective of all the struggles. This definitely makes one things very clear that if person is clear in thoughts and determined to work hard success in life comes eventually.

I might be the youngest person in here who wrote but after reading everybody’s thoughts I definitely feel more enlightened! Thank you to all of you.

Baskaran R Says
Wednesday November 26th 2008

Dear Sir,

Nice article. I am alumini of NIT, Trichy. Its nice to see the news about our director here.

Shankar Says
Monday December 8th 2008

Dear Mr. Bagchi,

Greetings!

I came to know about person named Subroto Bagchi after my friend gifted me a book for my birthday. The title of the book is same as that of this blog. I have not yet completed the book (a quarter at least left). But there were so much that I could learn from it. It rejuvenated me. I am a person who tell things right at people’s face. Once I told my H.O.D that I feel he is just repeating the book and there is nothing that interests us (I am a NIT Trichy 2006 pass out). But after entering the corporate arena I have had my hard lessons. Doing the same to my manager had adverse effects! To the extent that my career at the firm might be jeopardised.

And then, I read your book. It has so many instances where you had done what I did early in my career and which I stopped for the fear of losing out my career. But sir, I must say, your book has given me new hope that the corporate world is not all that wrecked as I thought to be or as it is precieved to be by me. I have also read the book you had so strongly recommended (Jonathan Livingston Segull). It has been a delight as well. Kudos to you, your attitude and simplicity.
About this blog, this is my first visit and could not find a better way to communicate to you. When I saw my alma matter being mentioned, could not resist but vent all my thoughts. She has given me so much in life! Our batch passed out just when Dr. Chidambaram took charge and even in the short span we saw a lot of change in the campus. He used to walk around the campus and report light failures, over grown trees to the estate maintenance dept then and there. Such was his simplicity and duty-boundness.

Thanks for the space, hope to interact with you more.

shankar
an aspiring entrepreuner

Karthik Says
Thursday February 19th 2009

Dear Mr. Bagchi,

Great to read about Dr. Chidambaram. Amazing blog! Hope to hear from you sometime in Bangalore on leadership & parameters that result in success. ( As in Dr Chidambaram’s case: Was it that he was destined to do well / is there some finer points that we can take away that differentiated him from let’s say his other siblings).

bighnoraj Says
Friday March 20th 2009

dear sir

your writing inspries the mind to try for the zineth in the face of every hardship.
bighnoraj

Gauthaman MS Says
Tuesday July 14th 2009

Dear Subroto
I’m a student of NIT Trichy. It was nice to see an article on us. Though NIT Trichy is one of the top 10 engineering colleges in India, it doesn’t enjoy the brand value which the IITs do. It hurts us a lot. It is worth noting that not a single IITian was working in the chandrayaan project. They are lured abroad by handsome dollars. And that proves that the competence of students cannot be judged by the reputation of the institute.

Anil Says
Sunday November 17th 2013

We just entered to nit guest house room no 204. The care taker even not changing the bed sheets pillow cover. No drinking water. Even we asked to change. The reply was we don’t have bed sheets. Please mention in your website that anybody coming to stay in guest house please arrange your own bed sheets drinking water hangers. Request management to take steps against this corruption in this prestigious institution.
This is what the reality of guest house.

JITHU NARAYANAN K Says
Friday August 19th 2016

Great work!
My greetings!
This is actually true….Being a student(internship) of Dr.M. Chidambaram I feel really proud. From your article, these following lines are perfectly matching and you wrote it in a very different way “he looks very young, the salt and pepper hair not withstanding. Remarkably understated, the Professor has a child-like simplicity that makes him approachable and also gives him the capability to simplify complex issues”. Continue your writings, may joy and peace with you.

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