XLRI faculty member Prabal Sen with Verghese Kurien at his residence in Anand, Gujarat, in 2007. Telegraph picture
Steel’s loss was milk’s gain.
Verghese Kurien, architect of India’s white revolution and builder of the Amul brand who breathed his last on Sunday at 90, was a fresh-out-of-college, 23-year-old mechanical engineer in 1944 when he joined Tisco (as Tata Steel was then known) as a graduate apprentice.
His autobiography I too had a Dream makes a mention of this achievement.
“I was selected by Tisco as a graduate apprentice in 1944. This was considered as a very prestigious selection then because the company took only 10 A-class apprentices,” he wrote.
Curiously, his name could not be found in Tata Steel’s archives or the records of Shavak Nanavati Technical Institute (formerly Jamshedpur Technical Institute from where he had undergone technical training).
But in the winter of 1946, the young Verghese bade farewell to Jamshedpur for the US to study in Michigan.
He would come back to India, but this time to Anand in Gujarat, where he would start the work that changed the face of dairy development in India — Operation Flood.
It is not known if Kurien kept in touch with other graduate apprentices of Tisco during his stint. Even if alive, they would be well into their nineties now.
But a much younger Jamshedpurean who had the good fortune of knowing Kurien personally, shared nuggets of the remarkable life.
Prabal Sen (60), a professor of economics at XLRI, got woken up at 5.35am on Sunday with a terse SMS.
“Dr V Kurien passed away at 1.15am due to ailments related to old age, he was 90 years old.”
The sender was P.A. Joseph, Kurien’s secretary and right hand.
“I was close to Kurien as I had worked with him as a professor for about six years at the Institute of Rural Management at Anand (IRMA) between 2001 and 2007. I was shocked. We have lost one of the greatest men of our times,” he said, adding that he expressed his condolences to Molly, Kurien’s wife.
Recalling the legend who brought dairy farmers closer to the market, made milk powder from buffalo milk unlike Europeans and created the cult brand Amul, Sen said: “He was unassuming. Completely so.”
The economist who also heads XLRI’s Entrepreneurship Development Centre added that it was a privilege to work “like his financial consultant”.
“Dr Kurien always liked me to present my quick appraisal of the Union Budget to him within an hour of the finance minister’s speech every year without fail. It was an annual ritual. The last time I had the opportunity of doing so was for the 2007-08 Budget.”
He had a heart in the right place too.
“He presented me his autobiography I too had a Dream with a personal inscription ‘kind regards to Prof. Prabal K. Sen’ on June 7, 2006. Three days before my departure from Anand, on March 4, 2007, he invited me and my wife to spend some time at his home. One really got to see his affectionate side then,” recalled the senior XLRI faculty member.
Sen met him on July 10, 2011, when he had visited Gujarat in connection with a teaching assignment at the IIM-A.
“He may have been close to 90 then, but the great mind was ticking,” smiled Sen.
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