LKP still holds romance
Professor Smita & Professor Prem Chander
Prem FPM 1985
Rakesh mentioned that the next issue of the Alumnus will be on couples – those who had found their partners at the Institute. It brought back memories of June 1980 when I first met Smita. It was preparatory programme time at IIMA and somehow I found myself invited to their outing into rural Gujarat. Having nothing better to do I tagged along. After that brief outing we went back to our books; me to finding FPM courses in the Finance area (which in those days were as rare as ducks teeth,) and Smita to braving the onslaught of the first term faculty and the 120 Fs in MANAC. We kept running into each other at various places on campus which was not surprising considering that the campus was considerably smaller than what it is today. Whenever we bumped into each other she seemed very full of life – obviously she was bearing up to the strains of the first term a lot better than what I remembered as my own experience. She seemed so full of life and her exuberance was infectious. Yet I never thought of her as anything more than a cheerful acquaintance.
During the vacations between first and second terms I visited my uncle and aunt in Delhi, sharing the dates with Smita a step totally out of character for me. She came to see me off at the New Delhi railway station in a floral salwar kameez. I was surprised, and if my Uncle and Aunt were, they had the good grace to smile keeping their thoughts to themselves. I thought about Smita all the way from Delhi to Ahmedabad – fortunately the newly minted Sarvodaya Express took about 18 to 20 hours between Delhi and Ahmedabad as against the 26 hours which was par for the old stately Delhi mail. I was attracted to her vivacious outgoing nature but having spent all my growing years in an all-boys school followed by an all-boys college I was at a loss.
The garba season of the second term was a welcome opportunity for me to exhibit my understanding of the city’s cultural mores. That we got kicked out of every garba location except the one at IIMA was fortunately overlooked by Smita.
Professor Ifzal Ali was the first to spot us together, a fact he commented to a number of my colleagues in the FPM batch. It must have been a rare accurate forecast by an economist. Sometime between the garba season and the start of the summer vacation, I had proposed to Smita and to my great surprise she accepted. We spent a little time together at Tilonia strengthening the relationship and I was introduced to her lifelong passion – which I had mistakenly thought would be me.
As the new term of the second year began Smita was laid low by a serious diarrhoea offering me an opportunity to impress on her my abilities at ministering. This incident escaped the attention of Gabriel Garcia Marquez otherwise the title of his book published in the mid-eighties may have been different.
A long day journey through Ajmer to Jaipur changing buses at various places brought me face to face with her parents. I was surprised that they agreed so readily and suggested a wedding in January before she finished her programme, a suggestion that we accepted although it was before she completed her programme. We have always had a nagging doubt that they were in a hurry to make us give up a life of sin. We made the trip to Mussoorie to meet my parents.
It was a short wedding and immediately after we returned to Ahmedabad, she to finish her term end examinations and I to prepare for my comprehensives. A small wedding reception was held on the terrace of D-16 for our friends including some of the faculty. Louis Kahn would not possibly have imagined that his finely crafted Dorm would also be used for a wedding reception. In keeping with the solemnity of the environment, there were no lights or loud music – we could not afford it on my FPM stipend. The fare was very frugal by current standards – tea, wafers, samosa and rasagulla (from Rasranjan no less) was all that was served.
Smita, PGP-SPA, 1980-82:
When I joined IIMA I had no idea that I would find my life partner there. I was asked to come early for remedial… all other students were to arrive a week or two later. We started work and I needed stationery, I was told there is a cooperative store run by students, and went there to buy a long note book.
It was there that I met him, in a white lungi and shirt, on a Sunday morning, doing duty at the Coop store. Little did I know we would become good friends, and life partners. Fellow programme students had arrived early too, and he was a senior. I became part of the FPM group, going for walks with them after dinner. We were part of a group which was fond of nick names and teasing: I named him TDH: Tall, dark and handsome. It was a term I had carried in my head, probably from the immature Delhi University days… once I attached it to him, he became TDH for our small group of friends, his D 16 fellow mates.
Looking back, I think it was the friendship and respect that brought us together. I was ill during the first term, all my batch mates were in classes, his schedule was more flexible, and he brought me fruits and medicines. He sat for long hours, we discussed literature, women’s position in society. His belief in equality was a lived one; mine was imagined, my lived experience till then was one of subordination and exploitation.
We used to have Sunday mornings free, and we would go out on his bike. I loved to visit temples. We went to two large compounds near the campus. They looked sprawling then, today they look tiny. We would sit there and talk, and we would lose track of time. I don’t remember anything about our conversations, just that time stopped every time we were together.
Then we would wake up from a stupor… IIMA mess would have closed. We would go out and have dosas somewhere in the city. I would meticulously keep accounts. He protested once, but then let me share, he did not accept payment for the petrol. Once more, the respect of distance, of equality; it was important for me to establish this, and he recognised it.
He invited me to see garba in October, we went out on his bike. We were out till well past midnight. We went to every cross road, and the temple near the garba. He would wait outside the temple, I would go in. He warned me about the two things we may not be compatible about: One was that I liked visiting temples, and he did not believe in God, and the other was that he was a non-vegetarian and did not want to give it up. The differences seemed immaterial to me. We never spoke about all the values we shared: they were just there. Only once when we were coming up for placements, I spoke to him about the fact that I wanted to do rural development work, engage with poverty reduction issues. He said we should follow our will, live our personalities to the full. We have never looked back from this decision.
I balanced paid and unpaid work all my life. He moved from industry to academics to industry. Research, practice and knowledge sharing has been a part of our lives. We negotiated the financial crossroads of our lives with ease; we simply did what we wanted to do.
Even when we think we are socially independent, are we really? The first introductions from his side were to his dearest friends: his IIMA and SBI friends, all of whom welcomed and accepted me. We had two get-togethers for our batch mates, for our engagement and marriage, their acceptance made us very happy. Our professors attended too, although Samuel Paul did point out that climbing up to the top of D16 was a bit of a feat for him and his wife. For a couple who were willing to defy parents (we didn’t have to, in fact, as they quite willingly accepted our decision), it’s funny that we did not see the contradiction that we did seek social acceptance from peers.
IIMA has always stayed a reference point. Our friends have become professors, not only at IIMA but at several institute across the country and the world. At the invitation of Professor Samir Barua, Prem returned to IIMA to teach, for six years from 2009 to 2015. These were golden years of our lives too. Beginning of career, ending of career, at IIMA. I teach an elective course for the past six years too. Connecting with youth, to have the benefit of their questions, innocent and wise, and the feeling of contributing to their lives is so valuable. The red bricks of the campus, the LKP. We walk past it together, and it still holds the same romance, every time. The steps where we sat at 2 am one night and talked about our future today. Well, that future is with us now, and I would not have wanted it to be different.
We live in Bangalore now, Prem is Director of Bangalore Education Center, and also associated with KEMI, and me too, with development and empowerment of women and young people. He has been the backbone of my courage as a feminist and development professional. Without Prem, I could not be the person I am.
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