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Tributes

Tribute by
Professor B. R. Handa
Department of Mathematics
IIT Delhi

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 exploitations.

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.

 

Professor B. R. Handa

Department of Mathematics

IIT Delhi