Breakfast with Ron

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At the Distinguished Service award ceremony at IIT Kharagpur in January 2019, Prof. Partha Pratim Chakrabarti, Director, IIT Kharagpur, laid bare a fact that should have been pretty obvious but, as usual, had not occurred to anybody else. While talking about IIT KGP alumni’s contribution to the Institute, Prof. Chakrabarti referred to the recent hoopla over the donation pledge of Rs 25 crore undertaken by the alumni of a particular IIT and pointed out, “Among several batches, more than Rs 50 crore has been given by the Batch of 1970 alone.”

There are, of course, other batches, which have donated close to that amount, but the Batch of 1970 has always been a frontrunner among the Alumni. When they had to collect only Rs 50 lakh to become a Founding Endowment Batch, they collected – what in the words of a popular ad can be called ‘bari araam se’(with great ease) – more than Rs 1 crore to become a ‘Super Founding Endowment Batch’. And this is only one example of the way the Batch functions.

Ron (Ranbir) Gupta is one of the leading figures of this batch, one of their chief coordinators, their ‘go to’ man, shall we say. When the batch wanted to have a special Grand Reunion in 2015 (“We had lost so many of our batch mates that we decided to do an early reunion… and not wait for 50 years of graduation. We could do one again later,” explained Arjun Malhotra, another illustrious alumnus of the batch), they went to Ron, who, willingly obliged by doing the ground work and liaising with the Institutional Development office of IIT Kharagpur. The batch is once again pinning their hopes on Ron for a fantastic meet in 2020, their golden jubilee year. And they know Ron will deliver.

That is one of the reasons why Ron was on campus during the Spring Fest this year. There is every chance the Golden Reunion would coincide with the Spring Fest of 2020, and Ron being Ron had to see that things went without a hitch. And so, he has begun work a year ahead of time.

When I catch up with him at the International Guest House, he is having breakfast with two general secretaries of the Students’ Alumni Cell. During the conversation, his work on the Grand Reunion takes a backseat as his work as President, IIT Kharagpur Foundation of USA, takes priority. He prods the two youngsters to come up with ideas on how the Foundation can better serve them and the Institute.

Having taken over as President of the Foundation since 2017, Ron has built up a tremendous momentum. Where did he think he has made the most difference, I ask him. Without prevaricating, he tells me, “I have tried my best to make things smooth and systematic. I insist, for those who are donating to the Institute, to make it clear where they wish to commit their funds.”

Not surprisingly, 2017-18 has seen a slew of Chair professorships and student scholarships being instated by the Foundation. Ideas, such as the Foundation’s support for the foreign internship of IIT KGP students, have concretized. There have been novel initiatives as well, particularly from the second generation of IIT Kharagpur alumni in the US, who have come forward to support the passion of their parents for their Institute. Ron was at the forefront of the campaign that gave the campus its first state-of-the-art ambulance. As the Foundation chief, he personally oversaw arrangements for the facilitation of the IIT KGP’s delegation’s visit to the US, where the delegates, including the Director, visited universities for collaboration, met with prospective faculty, and held alumni meets.

Though exhausted from his late night meeting with some of the top administrators of the Institute the previous day, Ron brought a lot of energy to the table during his interaction with the students at breakfast. Could he see to it that information about what the IIT KGP Foundation USA was doing could be more widely disseminated among students? Of course, said Ron, who was surprised that the students had not heard of the fact that the Foundation has arranged for foreign interns of IIT to get a credit card worth $500 immediately on arrival. “I ask the Alumni to drop everything and go and attend to visitors from IIT KGP, to make them comfortable and see to how they can be helped,” said Ron.

For the students – who listened wide-eyed as he recounted how an almost dehati young boy grew brave and confident and how he attributes his success to everything he learnt at IIT KGP – he had one request. They had to make sure that ADDA, the meeting space close to the main building of the Institute conceived and constructed by his batch, turned out to be a success. “I have communicated our ideas about ADDA to the Institute, but it is up to you to see that it works.” Batch members were not happy with the previous structure constructed, but that has been sorted, explained Ron. Adda now is a bold red emblem staring out from the greens bang opposite the Tata Sports Complex, inviting the passer-by to spare a moment to loll amongst the ferns that grow with abandon around it. But for that you have to make it more accessible from the road, I pitch in. “You are right. I have already spoken about that to the Director,” said Ron. How could I have expected he would not?

There was another immediate concern for Ron – the Clock Tower. The IIT KGP Alumni in USA, particularly the Batch of 1970, has pushed hard for the Alumni Clock Tower project to start in the second circle on the main road. “The Clock Tower will serve as a beacon and welcome those visiting KGP!” reads an IIT KGP Foundation USA post. No surprises again that work has started on it in full swing, as many will have already noticed. It will be there, right at the centre, where the arterial roads take off to snake around the campus, standing tall and bright when the Batch of 1970 walk in to celebrate their golden jubilee. Ron had been here to ensure that.

Ranbir (Ron) Gupta is President, IIT KGP Foundation of USA, President of Gupta Associates, and former Chariman of SIGMA7 Design Grou. He has been in leadership role for almost 30 years, developing his expertise in architecture into a successful business enterprise that has handled projects such as nuclear plants, data centers, and high-tech facilities. Gupta completed his B.Arch from IIT Kharagpur in 1970 with a Silver Medal. Under his patronage, IIT Kharagpur established the Ranbir and Chitra Gupta School of Infrastructure Design & Management 2008. He has also endowed the Udai Agnihotri Chair Professorship and contributed in myriad other ways to his alma mater.

By Chirosree Basu

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