Dr. V. Kurien and I

Dr. V. Kurien
26 November 1921 – 9 September 2012

I was at crossroads that December of 1982. Newly married, I had taken a short break as Editorial Assistant at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad to accompany my husband who had just joined the Institute of Rural Management at Anand. My dilemma was whether I should return to the assured position in IIMA or resign and, living in Anand, pursue the still fluid plan of becoming a creative writer. I decided to find out by writing an article on Dr. Kurien, the famed Milkman of India. He was kind enough to give an appointment and I went fully prepared to take his interview. For that whole one hour, he spoke and I listened, wide eyed and mouth half open in complete awe. At the end, he asked me if I would like to work in his office at the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). My dilemma ended, solved by a completely unexpected third option.

Dr. Kurien around the time when I first met him

I joined Chairman’s office as Junior Executive in February 1983. Almost immediately, my senior colleague left on maternity leave and I held the fort alone, seeking help constantly from Dr. Kurien’s personal secretary, Mr. Krishnamurthy. I needed all the assistance I could get because I had never met anyone like Dr. Kurien. The office timing was from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. I would reach a good half an hour earlier to prepare for the day that invariably ended only by 7.30 p.m. He would come early too, take out a slip of paper from his pocket on which he would have jotted down the important tasks to be done and shoot a fusillade of instructions. He ended up doing far more than any list could contain. At the age of 62, he had a punishing regimen. He was a perfectionist and a taskmaster who expected the same from his subordinates. I could match the hours he put in but it was impossible for me to think of 20 steps ahead or to look at an issue from so many angles like he did.

Dr. Kurien worked all seven days though NDDB followed a six-day week. At the end of the year, the employees received a card on which the days of their absence were marked. Mine, in the first year, showed one day marked red. I was sure I hadn’t taken any leave and checked the calendar. It turned out that I had indeed applied for and taken one day off – a Sunday. A year or so later, through Mrs. Kurien’s intervention, Dr. Kurien agreed not to come to office after lunch on Sundays. I was able to leave too though invariably it would be 3 p.m. or later.

The graceful Mrs. Molly Kurien

Occasionally, after finishing work, he would ask me to accompany him to the IRMA campus which was coming up next door. He took great pride in the project and inspected the hostel buildings, the auditorium, office complex and the faculty and staff quarters. He once stopped in front of a house at the end of a line and asked, ‘What do you see, Madam?’

I looked closely and saw nothing amiss.  

‘The switch box is not straight!’ he snapped.

Once I worked up courage and asked Dr. Kurien for a day off for Diwali. I wanted to invite some friends over for lunch.

‘What cooking do you know? What special dish will you make?’ he asked.

‘A payasam at least,’ I replied, standing my ground.

‘It better be good,’ he said. ‘I’ll come to taste.’

Oh yeah? I thought but didn’t dare say it aloud.

By then, we had moved to the spacious IRMA campus, ironically to the very same house with the ever so slightly tilting light switch that Dr. Kurien had got straightened.

The next morning, my husband and I bustled around cooking and cleaning the house. Around 11 a.m., the doorbell rang. Interrupted from chopping vegetables, my husband opened the door. Mrs. Kurien stood outside and wished sweetly, “Happy Diwali!”

She didn’t blink an eyelid at my husband’s appearance, checked lungi, bare chested and knife in hand. Dr. Kurien was sitting in the car with a distinct twinkle in his eyes.

Dr. and Mrs. Kurien with their grandson, Siddharth

Only those who worked with him knew the softer side of his personality which surfaced unexpectedly. One evening he peeped into my cabin as he was leaving office and said, ‘You know I’m going to Trivandrum tomorrow morning. Do you want me to tell your parents anything?’

‘It’s all right, Sir. Don’t bother. You’ll be busy and won’t remember.’

He insisted that I give him my parents’ telephone number. Even before he returned from his travel, my father called in great excitement to say that Dr. Kurien had telephoned him, enquired after the family and had said that I was doing well!

Dr. Kurien worked harder than anyone I knew but he also took the time for basic courtesies such as replying to letters promptly or thanking people, especially those who had met or hosted him during his travels. On his first day back in office, he would dictate a letter of thanks to his secretary, Mr. Krishnamurthy, addressed to each one of them and invited them over so that he may reciprocate their kindness. He was a stickler for punctuality and demanded it of others. Like all leaders, he had the gift of the gab and I would see visitors come under his spell like I had the first time I met him.  Working with a legend like Dr. Kurien was a privilege not given to many. I just happened to be one of the lucky ones. Perhaps not so fortunate because other than the rich experience and very many memories, I do not have a single photograph with Dr. Kurien. I regret this with all my heart.

Photos courtesy: Ms. Nirmala Kurien.

P.S – in case you are at all curious to know why I resigned from his office – I did so to be a full time mom and to keep writing.  🙂

Published by Usha Rajagopalan ("Lakeika")

I am a writer, translator and lake conservationist based in Bengaluru, India.

60 thoughts on “Dr. V. Kurien and I

  1. I had heard about the Legend but for the first time, I’m hearing it from someone who knew and worked for him. You indeed are a blessed soul 😊🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent write up. Indeed one has to be really lucky and worth to be associated with this great man.
    Usha your writing has always been my favourite

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Usha,

    Loved the lucid writing. The experience of working with Dr Kurien must have been very rich. He was an amazing individual, we do not fully understand his contribution to India’s white revolution & the milk cooperative movement. Men like him are rare. Thanks for giving us a peek into his work & life. If possible, write more about him, may be a book, in your wonderful style ? That will be a great gurudakshina i guess, and we will get to know more about this great man & guru

    Regards,
    Bhaswati

    Regards,
    Bhaswati

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ushaji, a very insightful and informative piece. While, we all know the man behind the success of Amul, we know so little of the man himself. Your picture gives a human touch to the legend. And it also sheds light on the possible reasons that he was able to achieve, what he eventually did. It was through his sheer hard work and focus that made him the person that the we know, and not chance, luck or serendipity.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Usha, You have recounted your memory working with the great legend. You are one of the persons, fortunate to work with Dr. Kurien Sir.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Tks very much for giving us a ringside view of Dr. Kurien in your own inimitable way. No wonder you have imbibed the qualities of hard work, attention to details, and perseverance from the Legend who brought In the white revolution and became the architect of the Indian dairy industry against all odds. Working with him, you blossomed into a “Doer” and have made a mark for yourself as the saviour of the Puttennahalli lake. I am proud to have known you and to consider myself as one of your friends. God bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Smt. Usha Rajagopalan. Congratulations on the excellent presentation and a view of the Great , inimitable Dr. Verghese Kurien. You are indeed fortunate to have had the opportunity of working closely with him. God Bless. Vaidyanathan

    Like

  8. Beautifully articulated ! You may not have a photograph with him in your hand but the memories are so so precious and it’s so good to accompany you on your journey with him .

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a lovely experience, one of the fortunate ones. I am sure it must have been hard to leave your position and leave working with such an illustrious person.
    I am sure the experience is well embedded in you. I can see that with your work with the Lake. You also inspired me to teach underprivileged children in our neighborhood.
    A number of them have done well and are in colleges pursuing higher studies.
    Their college education is also supported by generous donors.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A befitting tribute to a colossus of a human being and deservedly by someone who had such privileged access to him. A photo would have definitely complemented the vivid imagery that these words spun for the readers.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I have enjoyed your writing very much. As others have already mentioned,you were blessed to work with Dr.Kurien. I too had taken good number of important Visitors to him after their visits to Amul, SAG etc. He used to keep the visitors spell bound with his unique style of narration.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Amazing write up. I have always been in awe of Dr. V Kurien and the phenomenal work he did. It is indeed wonderful and inspiring to read about him from a person who has worked with him. Lucid writing of course.

    Like

  13. Dr. Kurien is well known for the creation of a unique business model and his rigor in establishing it. You have also brought out his magnanimous nature. You are very fortunate to have known him and to have worked for him. Fond rememberences indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Usha you are really lucky to work under such a great visionary. Great tribute to the great mind behind India’s “dhavala viplavam”.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Usha, it was a delight going through your above article. Very interesting and informative. You have paid your tribute to Dr. V. Kurien Sir. The pictures chosen are also wonderful. After reading your brief I became quite nostalgic and remembered Sir and my working with him. A great visionary . Thanks for sharing. Regards.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Many of you have commented on how lucky I was to work with Dr. Kurien. Yes, indeed. It was providence that led me to seek an appointment with him that day in 1982. I think I was luckier still to have worked with him for so long because he had set such high standards for himself and for everyone who worked with him. Anyone below par was promptly given the boot. I was a hard worker but nowhere near his legendary foresight, capabilities or acumen.

    A few months after I began working in his office, I made a terrible, for me, mistake. What exactly this was I don’t remember but I vividly recall how petrified I was about how he would react. The then MD of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, Mr. J. J. Baxi, happened to come by to meet the Chairman. As was his wont, the jovial and friendly Mr. Baxi came in to greet me first and saw me in shambles. After listening to what had transpired, he said, “So what if you made a mistake? It only shows you are human. Dr. Kurien won’t chop off your head. He’s human too!” That day I learned to accept myself, warts and all.

    Mr. Baxi must have reported this to Dr. Kurien for, after listening to my confession, my boss merely looked quizzically at me and moved on to other matters. I learned another lesson – worrying serves no purpose other than destroy one’s time and peace of mind.

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  17. Usha, Dr Kurian is a legend and a true hero of independent India who liberated the village women of Gujarat. He is also the first one to give dignity and a earning member status to them those days. His co-operative was mainly a women’s liberation movement and talk of the country. He is an inspiration for generations to come.
    And, you are one of the rare blessed persons in the world to have worked with him.
    One big namaskaram to the legend and another one for you also.

    Like

  18. Wow, a ringside view of the indomitable Dr K. Sitting at the other end of the corridor as you, we guys could feel the electrifying energy of his presence when he just stepped on to the corridor.
    You certainly would’ve had a hi- voltage stint at NDDB. Nice write up Usha.

    Sundar

    Like

  19. What an understated piece of writing! Not a word about how tough it must have been for you – new place, new job, new husband, new everything! Thank you for sharing this – felt like a lot of things got “righted” while reading this.

    Like

  20. Usha Ji,
    Thankyou for sharing with us all your wonderful memories about working with Dr. Kurien. Excellent article, truly from the heart ! It must have been such a great feeling to have worked with and learned from such a legend.

    Regards
    Meenal

    Like

  21. Reading this outpouring of understated awe and affection for the bossman, showed me that my friend can bring back ordinary events to life again. Thanks U.

    Like

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