REMEMBERING PROF T MADHAVAN
With profound sorrow we share with you the news of the demise of Prof. T. Madhavan (May 3, 1941 – June 21, 2021). Prof. Madhavan had a strong association with IIMA as a former doctoral student (1975-80) and faculty member (1980-2003). He was in the P&QM Area at the institute from 1980 to 2003 when he superannuated. He will be remembered for his sincerity, availability at a moment’s notice for addressing student difficulties, and a warmth with which he interacted with colleagues and institute officials.
Prof. Madhavan expressed during the Silver Jubilee Reunion of the Class of 1985 (December 25-27, 2009), “I would like to say a shlok which is pertinent to management ….. What is burden to the skilled? What is distance to the industrious? What is an alien country for the well-educated? Who is a stranger to the sweet tongue? The poet has crisply summarized the attributes or profiles of the manager. All these ideas can be taken to the paractising field, thanks to Bill Gates & technology. It is possible to revolutionize and bring professionalism in management. One can excel with Excel. No one needs to worry about recession or going back. One can always go ahead.”
Here, we share a collection of tributes to Prof. T Madhavan (1941-2021).
Prof Jahar Saha shared, “Prof T Madhavan had an MSc degree from Madras University. His first job was as a lecturer at PSG College of Engineering, Coimbatore in the Department of Mathematics. While he was with PSG College, he came to IIMA as a participant in a summer programme in Operations Research. He drew the attention of the faculty as a very suitable candidate for FPM. At the suggestion of the faculty members, Madhavan applied for the FPM. He was selected, and he joined the Fellow Programme in 1975. If I remember correctly, he joined the Institute in 1981 as a faculty member. Initially, he joined as a member of the Center for Management in Agriculture, and later on, he became a primary member of the P&QM Area.
Madhavan worked on the optimal location of facilities in the context of rural development, particularly with more than one objective. He came up with a way of handling the problem and designed a computer programme for the method. Madhavan was a wizard in Mathematics. Whenever anyone faced any problem in the subject, Madhavan was there to help. It was amazing how he remembered any complex mathematical formulae or theorems.
Everyone would recall Madhavan as a very helpful soul. As a student, he used to help those who were dreading MSM courses. He would help any campus children wanting help in Mathematics. Despite his own academic pressure, he took over the operation of the students’ store. He decided to open it up to the entire campus community. He added newer items to the store. One could ask for any item, not in the store, and Madhavan’ Students’ Store would procure it. A big help to the community because those days, there was hardly any store around the campus. If my memory is right, he initiated the computerisation of store operation to improve its efficiency.
Madhavan shied away from anything which would improve his “biodata”. I used to ask him to publish his thesis for publication. With his characteristic smile, he would tell me, “You know Professor Saha, I do things because they have to be done, not to gain anything personally.” I suggested that he should go to international conferences and make presentations on some of his own work. He said, “What is the point?”. Prof Mote could convince him to be his co-author for the book ‘Introduction to Operations Research’. The teachers would remember him for this book.
Madhavan was a Sanskrit scholar. He had read many of our scriptures and knew them by heart. On the Saraswati Puja day, Madhavan would come to our house for the Puja and recite the Saraswati Vandana. It created a very serene atmosphere. Many a time, Prof Mote would ask him for a shloka, Madhavan would give one which would aptly suit the emotion Prof Mote had in mind. He is unparalleled to most I have known.
Madhavan believed in a modest living, and he practised it. Some said he was saintly. I would say he was a very religious and pious person.”
A personal remembrance by Prof. Samir Barua, “We were neighbors residing in adjacent houses on campus, with the front and the backyards, separated by a hedge. As I shut my eyes and remember Madhavan, memories flood my mind.
We were contemporaries at D16, the dormitory that housed the doctoral students at IIMA. We belonged to the same area, known those days as Production & Quantitative Methods (P&QM) Area. Madhavan was my senior, having joined the doctoral program a year before I did in 1976.
My interaction with Madhavan were limited in student days. In addition to being a wizard in statistics, I knew him as a person who managed the students’ store on campus largely by himself. On numerous occasions I would see him get down from an autorickshaw and carry heavy bags filled with goods up the path and the stairs to the store on the first floor of a Dorm. He would never ask for help to lug the bags but would accept help offered with a smile, gratitude written all over it. Words were so unnecessary.
We joined the institute faculty in 1980, within months of each other. While I joined the P&QM Area, Madhavan initially joined the CMA (Centre for Management of Agriculture) and later took a transfer to the P&QM Area, where he truly belonged. My first professional association with Madhavan came when we served on the Admission Committee for the PGP (Post Graduate Programme) in Management. Madhavan and I were put in charge of framing questions for the Quantitative Methods and the Data Interpretation sections of the CAT (Common Admissions Test). In no time I realized that Madhavan was a fountainhead of ideas. He would conjure up questions that would truly test the understanding of the candidates. My contribution to the process was soon relegated to one of wording the questions and the suggested answers properly and removing some questions that I felt tested the understanding of the candidates a little too much! The two years I worked with Madhavan on admissions added to my ability to see the world through quantitative reasoning.
Though we were neighbors, we would rarely run into Madhavan. He came home only to eat and sleep. Rest of the time, he would be either in his office or minding the students’ store or helping some hapless students with intrigues of Mathematics and Statistics. We will have to coax him to join us sometimes for a meal. He would come punctually, have his meal, and leave immediately. There would be little socialization. On occasions I would try to hold him back by requesting him to sit for a while. However, I soon realized the futility of holding him back. He would sit with me due to my insistence but say nothing. Finally, I asked him why he was in a rush all the time. With a disarming smile, he said, ‘There is so much to do and so little time.’ We soon accepted him as a wonderful person, with a charming smile, and with little conventional social skills.
As neighbor, I vividly recall one episode. Early morning one day, we heard Madhavan scolding someone loudly enough to be heard by us. As it was so unusual, we (Alka and I) went out and found that the newspaper boy was being scolded. After the boy was permitted to go, we asked Madhavan what had happened. We learnt that despite instructions to the contrary, the newsboy had stopped delivering Economic Times (ET) as the boy had realized that Madhavan was away (on his annual summer vacation). The newsboy’s defense was that after being able to shove the papers under the front door for several days, he was unable to do that any further as the papers inside had clogged the opening under the door. Madhavan’s argument was that instead of stopping delivery, he should have shoved the papers under the huge backdoor to the living room or the kitchen door. I was curious about why Madhavan wanted to ensure uninterrupted delivery of Economic Times. When asked Madhavan confessed that he rarely read the paper. He however subscribed to the paper as a repository of primary source of data on stock prices and companies. Surprised, I asked, ‘But why would you need that data? You have no interest in stock market or finance.’ He said, ‘I store them as the editions of Economic Times kept in the library are frayed and are difficult to extract data from. I can supply the old ET to anyone who may need them.’ He invited me to see his stockpile of neatly stacked editions of ET that occupied the living room, part of the kitchen and the bedroom! As I worked on capital markets, I knew where to go if I was looking for data on companies and stock prices. I benefited on several occasions from Madhavan’s stockpile.” Full tribute can be followed at this link.
Prof. N Ravichandran expressed, “I met Dr. Madhavan in 1980, for the first time, before I came to IIM Ahmedabad. This was through a common colleague of Madhavan from PSG College at Coimbatore who was pursuing a PhD in IIT Madras at that time. In some sense, Madhavan is responsible for motivating me to apply for a faculty position at IIM Ahmedabad. He personally carried my CV to the institute. We met at the PhD student hostel of IIT Madras when he visited his former colleague and friend. I was then introduced to Madhavan who had just joined as a faculty at IIM Ahmedabad. Madhavan was very receptive to the idea, proposed by his friend, of carrying my CV to IIM Ahmedabad to explore suitable employment opportunities.
I was subsequently offered a faculty position at IIM Ahmedabad. It was Madhavan who came to the train station to receive me when I reached Ahmedabad. He made sure that my first few days in the institute were very comfortable. He helped me carry my large trunk from the basement of the dormitory to the third floor where I was given a room for a few days. Madhavan was a constant source of encouragement in all academic matters related to teaching Mathematics and Statistics for management courses. He was always available to help me in terms of academic matters, but he also ensured that my dependency on him was minimized and therefore, he encouraged me to be independent and self-supporting.
As mentioned by several others, he was a humble and simple person. For him, what mattered more was work and not necessarily, the rewards. He was at ease with working in many doyens in the institute starting from Professors. Nitin Patel, V.L Mote, M. Raghavachari, A.H Kalro, P.M Singhi and several other next generation faculties at IIMA.
He started his career in IIM Ahmedabad in the Centre for Management of Agriculture (CMA) area and eventually moved to the P&QM area. He was a constant companion to Professor V.L. Mote in all his academic endeavors. His hard work and dedication are seen in the book authored by V.L.Mote and Madhavan on Operations Research. This book is one of the outstanding books on the topic in the Indian context.
Madhavan co-taught (with Raghavachari) the course on Statistical Methods and Data Analysis, a second-year elective course. After Raghavachari left the institute to settle down in the U.S.A., Madhavan took over the course and did whatever was possible to make the course exciting and useful to the students. As an extension to this, he got involved in an Executive Education connecting data analysis with market research which was coordinated by Professor A.K. Jain. Unfortunately, I did not have the privilege of collaborating with him on any project. I have been a beneficiary of his wisdom, knowledge and technical abilities on many occasions.
Madhavan was a computer geek. He knew everything about technology. He had mastered the features of the technology. His housekeeping was remarkable. If you went to his office, you would find that every file and book was properly kept in its appropriate place. In order to keep the electronic files on his computer intact, he would spend hours and hours organizing them.
If I ever called him on his phone and said, “I want to come to your office to discuss something”, he would immediately say, “Please don’t come; I will come to your office.” Within a few minutes, he would be in my office, ready to provide the help that I needed and then he would quietly vanish without making even a reference to it.
Madhavan regularly participated in the social gatherings organized on the campus on Saturdays to recite Vishnu Sahasranama. At the end of the recital, there would be a short religious discourse. Madhavan did this every Saturday. He would come meticulously prepared for this religious discourse. He would have handwritten notes ready and he would read out the speech from those handwritten notes.
During one of the convocation ceremonies at IIMA when Pradip Khandwalla was the Director, there was an unexpected thunderstorm (which lasted a few minutes) when the convocation procession started from the dorms to Louis Kahn Plaza. As a result, many arrangements that were made for the ceremony were disturbed and impacted. Although the thunderstorm lasted only for a few minutes, there were several volunteers who had gathered to restore Louis Kahn Plaza for the convocation. Madhavan was the first person to get hold of a broom and started sweeping the floor at Louis Kahn Plaza. I very vividly remember this scene even today and I cannot imagine anybody who can be humbler than him.
Apart from his expertise in Statistics, Management, Computer Science, and Sanskrit, Madhavan was well versed in Astrology and he occasionally shared his insights on this subject with close friends.
Madhavan would do anything, for his students, for his subject, for IIM Ahmedabad. Such personalities, I think, are very rare.
The passing of Madhavan is a huge personal loss to me. He will be very fondly remembered by the members of my family. I have lost a mentor, advisor, guide and a friend.
May his soul rest in peace.”
Mrs Snehlata Mote, wife of Prof VL Mote shared, “Prof Madhavan was so often in our house, helping my husband with researching mathematics problems. He was a great Sanskrit scholar and Prof Mote would often ask him to find some obscure shlokas. Prof Madhavan would read complete volumes of various epics and find the shlokas. He was a dedicated teacher and taught my daughter (Sharmila) Mathematics, but also Chemistry which was not his subject. He ensured that she studied when he had to travel to Chennai by creating up mock exam papers for her. He also helped Bhagyashree with her Computer courses. Prof Madhavan helped my husband with income tax and created an excel sheet which Dr Mote really appreciated and always used. He was a very simple person. Even when Dr Mote said he would help him with a car and driver to work with Income Tax consultants, he insisted on going by auto rickshaw. Prof Madhavan remained a non-smoking teetotaller in spite of Prof Mote trying to get him to change his mind every day for over 30 years. Prof Madhavan was a dedicated teacher, a great friend to my husband, a kind and humble person. He will be missed.”
The passing away of Prof Madhavan unleashed a lot of grateful memories from his batch mates with whom he had the first year of the PGP in common.
Rajni Sarin (PGP 1977) expressed,
“How very sad a loss!
He gave me very many tutorials in Maths. I had only done Elementary Maths in ICSE. Such kindness, patience and generosity of time!
At one time soon after the term began (and our one-to-one coaching), he was so much in demand that he asked me if it was okay to form a group for the lessons. I balked and confided to him that I had so much to catch up on that, I’d feel too dumb and embarrassed even asking the many questions I needed to. You can’t imagine my gratitude when he just dropped the idea. That is the level with which he could give of himself! Yet, I worried endlessly how he would ever complete his FPM if he kept up with such empathetic indulgences! He seemed older than the other FPM students! Yet in my troubled conscience, when I raised this issue of my unease, he just smiled (and I saw saintliness!) and told me he could adjust to accommodate the time commitment. That sure accelerated my learning curve to release him from my dependency on him.
He was the calmest teacher for one so in need of calming!
RIP dear dear Prof Madhavan!
Some debts, as those to teachers can never be repaid!”
Meenakshi Nayar (FPM 1980) posted, “Mr Madhavan, my classmate, was the best teacher I ever had!! Ever so grateful to him for removing my fear of calculus, building my confidence, counseling, cajoling, and relentlessly working with me to do something I believed was irrelevant for an FPM in OB. He helped me stay on. He helped change my life”.
Freda Swaminathan (PGP 1977), also of the same batch, writes “Dear Madhavan, you understood computers when this puzzled the best engineer. Best of all, empathised with those knowing no Math.”
Prof Rama.Bijapurkar (PGP 1977) also remembers attending Prof T Madhavan’s MSM tutorials, with lots of people crowded into his room.
Brian Pinto (PGP 1976) “I learnt only after receiving an email from The WIMWIAN asking for memories of him that Professor T Madhavan had passed away on June 21.
I got to know Professor Madhavan after I graduated in 1976. I was visiting the old dorm while working in Jawaja with Professor Ravi Matthai and bumped into Madhavan, who insisted I stay in his room. Not only that, but he insisted that I sleep in his bed while he slept on the floor–which embarrassed me greatly, because he was in his late thirties and I, in my early twenties.
He was truly a saintly man, something Professor Jahar Saha (an esteemed teacher of mine) alluded to in his tribute, with zero ego, who used his talents to help others without expecting anything in return. The only thing that irritated me slightly was Madhavan’s refusal to acknowledge his own brilliance. Once, he helped me with a probability problem, introducing me to Chebyshev’s Inequality, which he wrote down in his very precise and neat hand. When he finished, I exclaimed, “Madhavan, you’re a genius!” which he promptly laughed off, saying, “No, I’m just average.” And nothing could dissuade him from that position even though he was definitely in the far right tail of the frequency distribution of intelligence.
I can’t remember the last time I met Madhavan. But I still have a Christmas card he sent me years ago. In typical Madhavan fashion, it had been carefully selected, with a picture of Baby Jesus with his parents and a beautiful verse of greetings. The card serves as a bookmark in a precious volume of Shakespeare’s plays gifted to my mother by her teachers, which I inherited. To quote the bard, Madhavan was “gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘This was a man.'”
So here’s a toast to you, dear Madhavan: “May your gentle soul rejoice forever in Heaven! And may we all be fortunate enough to be just average like you!”