I was only 20 years old when I landed at IRMA (Institute of Rural Management, Anand) one hot afternoon in June. I had come in pursuit of a management degree, my ticket to a job that would make me a career woman. This was the first time I was going to live away from home; I was a city-bred girl with no clue about rural management or the co-operative sector. I only knew two things, IRMA had a really cool campus and it was set up by the man who founded Amul.
As I reached IRMA I felt I had landed in a foreign country. The campus was lush green with mounds of grass, which were being watered by automated sprinklers. The grey hostel buildings stood out in stark contrast to the greenery all around. It was love at first sight with the place that was going to change my life in every way.
In the next two years I would fall in love over and over again. With a young man who would become my husband, with Gujarati food, navratri and garbha, with the idea that business can be a force of good, with the belief that one man with the right intentions can change the destiny of a country, but mostly with the assurance that big dreams can come true.
I had come there to get a management degree but I ended up getting an education.
I owe all this to one man – Dr Verghese Kurien.
Every morning when we drank a glass of rich, fresh Amul milk at the breakfast table in the mess we were reminded of the folklore – how Dr Kurien braved tremendous odds to set up Amul and created the milk revolution that ended up taking India from a milk deficient nation to a net exporter of milk.
We studied the co-operative model until it became ingrained in our brain; we understood the composition of milk, like we know the alphabet. To this date when I look at the milk packet, I turn it around to see the fat and the SNF (solid-non-fat) content in the milk.
It is fashionable today to talk about a double bottom-line, about shared value. But it was Dr Kurien who first taught us that a business could make profits and also benefit the society. Amul lifted millions of farmers out of poverty, and while the model could not be replicated by anyone, including Dr Kurien, every time we traveled to the villages of Gujarat we saw for ourselves the huge transformation that Amul had managed to bring.
Dr Kurien was a terror on the campus. We saw him a few times in those two years, at our induction, sometimes when an important visitor would come to the campus, on occasional visits to NDDB (National Dairy Development Board) and then for the last time at our convocation.
But he lived in spirit and essence on the campus.
His name was taken in reverence, in awe and in fear. He was a tyrant and a dictator, and he was extremely proud of IRMA’s beauty. We were ordered not to walk on the lawns, or go near the flowerbeds because Daddu (as he was called on campus) didn’t like it. We were told not to dry our clothes on the balconies because he hated that. He liked order and discipline and the price of breaking that was severe.
This year in January as our batch headed back to the campus for our 20th reunion, we noted that IRMA’s beauty had faded. The grass didn’t look so green, and the campus looked a bit run down. Dr Kurien had long retired and although his presence on campus could still be felt, it was very feeble now.
As we stood under The Amul Chimes for a final group photograph, bidding farewell to each other and the campus, all the memories of the two greatest years of my life came rushing back to me.
Goodbye Dr Kurien, you were The Institution.