Professor B. R. Handa
A Benevolent Soul
As the report about the terrorist attack at
ORSI conference at IISc. Bangalore started pouring in with shocking news of
Prof. M. C. Puri being killed in attack; I went into the state of disbelief as
my mind refused to accept the news as reality for some time. A spate of email
messages from some friends, ex-colleagues and students the next morning spoke
about the volume of loss that we had incurred. A few read like this: “We have
lost a noble soul.” “We needed him more than God.” “A hub of activity
suddenly closed.” “Puri sir was a true guardian to me.” “Imagine ORSI
conference without him?” “Sweets on Wednesday will be dream now.” “But for
sir’s help and encouragement, I couldn’t have managed the present position.” I
received these messages because people felt that I was very close to him.
True, indeed he was a very
dear friend and an adorable colleague of mine at IIT Delhi. I still feel his
presence around, as I need for realizing many ideas that we exchanged on
spending a meaningful retired life.
Prof Puri’s contributions as
an academician to the field OR and his impact in promotion of OR activities
will be remembered in times to come. But I always valued and admired other
aspects of his personality more than his academic contributions.
To my mind one of his main
contributions has been in encouraging and motivating the students that made
them recognized their potential. More often even an average student who sought
his guidance gained confidence to perform better. Irrespective of whether or
not a student in the department had any association with him, he or she could
approach him for help and advice on personal as well as professional matters
and never would he/she come out of his room disappointed. He had an admirable
patience to listen to his students and he truly acted as a guardian to many of
them. He always showed concern about arranging scholarships and placements for
the students of the department and used his personal contacts, which he had
maintained in large numbers, to see that our students got the good deal.
Prof. Puri had a tremendous
power of accommodation with the result he acted very calmly even in explosive
situations. I can’t recall any incidence where he entered in heated exchange
with anybody - colleagues or students. He saw to it that his language and
actions didn’t hurt other’s feelings. But all this did not mean that he
compromised on quality and discipline.
Prof. Puri preached
discipline among students and colleagues, and himself practiced it arduously.
Come what may, he would reach his class punctually and would announce a make up
class in case some unavoidable contingency arose. I saw him taking classes with
high running temperature. Unbelievable, when his mother expired, next morning
he took the class before taking her body for cremation.
As a colleague one could fully trust him for
any job. When he undertook a job he would put his best efforts to accomplish it
with perfection and within the time frame provided. He would work out its
minute detail and seek cooperation from others even from those not very
favorable to him, so that there are no last minutes surprises.
His views about IIT students
were that they being the best in the country there was no room for indiscipline
in matter of studies. Though otherwise he was very tolerant and liberal but was
very rigid in imposing discipline among students in matters of their attending
the classes and seminars. He made his projects students to make regular weekly
presentations religiously, even if the day fixed fell on a holiday.
He spent time in preparing
his Ph. D. and project students for viva-voce by making them rehearse several
times before final examination. During his tenure as PG-Coordinator and
Chairman, Department Research Committee, he regularly monitored each and every
student of M. Tech. and Ph. D. of the department with regard to their
seriousness in performance of department duties allotted to them and took
stringent action against faltering students when persuasion failed to work. No
Ph.D. student dared to miss the department seminar during this period.
Prof. Puri was a cheerful and
lively person. He had a huge stock of jokes to make you laugh at informal
gathering of friends. One of his heart’s desire was that colleagues should take
out a few minutes from daily routine everyday, chat and laugh together. He
would take initiative to collect colleagues, even spend for snacks and sweets
from his pocket to attract them, all this with no selfish motive but only to
see colleagues with relaxed and smiling faces for some time. He had no
inhibitions or egos. As a result of this he could maintain very good human
relations with colleagues and friends.
Every morning he would
prepare a list of persons who are to be given courtesy calls to enquire about
them and their families’ well being. When he just sensed that a friend needs
help, if possible he would either himself or through his contacts extends the
help, often without the friend’s asking for it. After Prof. Puri left IIT, he
never felt comfortable with the routine teaching work that he was doing to keep
himself busy. He often talked of some options close his true self. His
altruistic inner self was urging him to devote the rest of his life for some
other social cause, which could make a few poor and honest persons live with
dignity in the society that is living in fears and various kinds of
Alas, the person who could
have brought smile on some more faces, himself became a victim of hatred and
cruelty of some. But his benevolent soul lives on through many whose lives were
influenced by his generosity.
B. R. Handa