Dr Verghese Kurien - A personal tribute

It is fashionable today to talk about a double bottom-line, about shared value. But it was Dr Kurien who first taught us that a business could make profits and also benefit the society.

Mitu Jayashankar
Published: 09, Sep 2012

I'm a Delhi girl who managed to embrace the quirks of the South Indian way of life after moving to Bangalore. A sceptic but not a cynic, I'm lucky to have been a part of the Garden City’s journey from a sleepy paradise to a bustling high-tech metropolis. I'm interested in technology and business, education, social entrepreneurship and philanthropy. I began my journalistic career at A&M and passed through the portals of Businessworld and The Economic Times before coming to Forbes India.

I was only 20 years old when I landed at IRMA (Institute of Rural Management, Anand) one hot afternoon in June. I had come in pursuit of a management degree, my ticket to a job that would make me a career woman. This was the first time I was going to live away from home; I was a city-bred girl with no clue about rural management or the co-operative sector. I only knew two things, IRMA had a really cool campus and it was set up by the man who founded Amul.

As I reached IRMA I felt I had landed in a foreign country. The campus was lush green with mounds of grass, which were being watered by automated sprinklers. The grey hostel buildings stood out in stark contrast to the greenery all around. It was love at first sight with the place that was going to change my life in every way.

In the next two years I would fall in love over and over again. With a young man who would become my husband, with Gujarati food, navratri and garbha, with the idea that business can be a force of good, with the belief that one man with the right intentions can change the destiny of a country, but mostly with the assurance that big dreams can come true.

I had come there to get a management degree but I ended up getting an education.

I owe all this to one man – Dr Verghese Kurien.

Every morning when we drank a glass of rich, fresh Amul milk at the breakfast table in the mess we were reminded of the folklore – how Dr Kurien braved tremendous odds to set up Amul and created the milk revolution that ended up taking India from a milk deficient nation to a net exporter of milk.

We studied the co-operative model until it became ingrained in our brain; we understood the composition of milk, like we know the alphabet. To this date when I look at the milk packet, I turn it around to see the fat and the SNF (solid-non-fat) content in the milk.

It is fashionable today to talk about a double bottom-line, about shared value. But it was Dr Kurien who first taught us that a business could make profits and also benefit the society. Amul lifted millions of farmers out of poverty, and while the model could not be replicated by anyone, including Dr Kurien, every time we traveled to the villages of Gujarat we saw for ourselves the huge transformation that Amul had managed to bring.

Dr Kurien was a terror on the campus. We saw him a few times in those two years, at our induction, sometimes when an important visitor would come to the campus, on occasional visits to NDDB (National Dairy Development Board) and then for the last time at our convocation.

But he lived in spirit and essence on the campus.

His name was taken in reverence, in awe and in fear. He was a tyrant and a dictator, and he was extremely proud of IRMA’s beauty. We were ordered not to walk on the lawns, or go near the flowerbeds because Daddu (as he was called on campus) didn’t like it. We were told not to dry our clothes on the balconies because he hated that. He liked order and discipline and the price of breaking that was severe.

This year in January as our batch headed back to the campus for our 20th reunion, we noted that IRMA’s beauty had faded. The grass didn’t look so green, and the campus looked a bit run down. Dr Kurien had long retired and although his presence on campus could still be felt, it was very feeble now.

As we stood under The Amul Chimes for a final group photograph, bidding farewell to each other and the campus, all the memories of the two greatest years of my life came rushing back to me.

Goodbye Dr Kurien, you were The Institution.


  • Vasantbhai Modi

    Very nice tribute to Dr. Kuriensir.

    on Nov 27, 2013
  • gn mewada

    I missed the word HERO in my coment. I am sorry. I worked with Banas Dairy for 10 years, hence i know the value of .dr,kurien saheb. I have seen him vibrating . I should not coment on crecators but the Nation is at wrong in not considering such personality for Bhart Ratna. His empact will remain in Dairy world for long. Regards,

    on Nov 26, 2013
  • gn mewada

    He is real of the Nation. He has shown the way, how poverty can be removed. He was very much Indian farmer rather than technocrate. He dreamed wealthy villages, and it is reality atleast in Gujarat. I respect him utmost a national visionery. It was not easy way for him, while working at Amul and NDDB, but he successed in all respect.

    on Nov 26, 2013
  • Rajesh kumar dubey

    the lady who has written such kind of tremendous lines .she is toooo lucky. and all sentences are showing her interconnection towards that institute.

    on Dec 4, 2012
  • Peter Rego

    The only one time I entered Dr. K's Office for whatever..... Good Morning Sir, I am Peter Rego. You called for me. The immediate response.. I'm damned if I know you. ...Sit Down. It was something about some dairy project I was handling.. Meeting went off well.. In the NDDB that I can remember- everyone was accountable - nothing slipsod. Only perfection was expected. We worked more like a private company. Yes Dr. Kurien was the driving force. He drove his Directors and that followed right down the line. He will be forever remembered through the dairy world. If it were not for his initiative - we would not see Amul Ghee - Amul Shrikand here in New Zealand and other parts of the world today. An incredible man Dr. Kurien. May his soul rest in peace

    on Sep 13, 2012
  • Anirban Mukerji

    Thanks so much for writing the tribute, Dr. VK changed my life also, the comments are also wonderful

    on Sep 13, 2012
  • Gouthami

    Thanks, Mitu - you have put down what many of us city-slickers felt after going through IRMA.

    on Sep 12, 2012
  • ashok koshy

    Reading Ms Jayshankar's piece on Dr Kurien proved a nostalgic trip. Between 1969 and 1974, I was initialy Executive Assistant to Dr Kurien (in his capacity as Chairman of the National Dairy Development Board) and later as Director (Afministration and Finance) of the NDDB. I had just completed two years as Assistant Collector at Anand when Dr Kurien hauled me out of sarkaridom into the fascinating world of Operation Flood. Those were the early years of OF and the lessons one learnt at the grand old man's knee were to stand me in good stead for the remaining three decades and more of government service post NDDB. Dr Kurien's dictat was all pervasive, like a ghost who walks but is seldomm if ever, seen. He loved the idea of being a dictator but was in fact the gentlest lamb this side of the Suez. Suspected of typhoid, he moved me into the guest room of his lovely home and with his wife beside him, watched over me like no parent might have. Often, opening fevered eyes, I would find him sitting quietly beside my bed with an anxious expression upon his face. And like every great man, there was a solid woman behind his every blink, his wife, Molly Kurien. My mentor will be missed by two generations of grateful admirers - the good Lord just does not fashion clay in Dr K's mould any longer. R.I.P. Sir. Ashok Koshy

    on Sep 11, 2012
    • Mitu

      Not many would know this side of him, thank you Mr Koshy.

      on Sep 12, 2012
  • Brian

    Touching tribute to the great man, Mitu. Great read!

    on Sep 11, 2012
  • M Rafi

    Extremely well written Mitu. The class of 2000 was fortunate to have interacted with Dr. K between sessions..as he put it to me ..he was summoned by us !!..and wanted to know the reason. Being the CR i was extremely nervous as i led him to the seminar room...Questions popped up on whether IRMA had lost relevance..as i sat tensed ..waiting for him to explode...but the 2 hours with him..was perhaps my best experience..as he clearly outlined why he chose to set up a Rural Management Institute & not an Urban Management one !!..simply because there were too many already catering to the needs of the Urban Market..It all seems like yday, so close & clear..with his customary tapping of his knuckles..to explain his point..RIP Dr. K..

    on Sep 10, 2012
    • Mitu

      Good one Rafi!

      on Sep 12, 2012
  • P C Surana

    Very nice tribute to Dr. Kurien.

    on Sep 10, 2012
  • Rohit Regonayak

    Very nice tribute to Dr. Kurien. My dad worked at NDDB in Anand for many years. I've had fond memories of growing up in the lush green campus in Anand. Though I was too young to remember him, over the years, I have often heard my dad speak of Dr. Kurien with such reverence and pride of having worked with him setting up dairies in Gujarat.

    on Sep 10, 2012
  • Sujay Ojha

    You have encompassed so many things in this small note, that, those who would have experienced him any any manner whatsoever, will be able to identify it. This one touches the heart, and probably for every person who got to experience a slice of Him. I got an opportunity to work for more 15 years with his organisations, and also got a chance to experience this Institution, as you have aptly summed up. There will never be another you, Dr Kurien, and you will be missed in solitude.

    on Sep 10, 2012
  • Bikram Duggal

    Extremely well written!RIP Dr. Kurien.

    on Sep 10, 2012
  • Hemlata @ indiamarks.com

    Dr Verghese Kurien, the father of India’s ‘White Revolution. He deserved Bharat Ratna. Every indian proud of Mr. Kurien.

    on Sep 10, 2012
  • Meeta Sengupta

    From Ahmedabad, Anand was just over an hour away. The miracle of milk - and chocolate was part of the learning that all good schools embedded. Each child, at least once, towards the end of primary school went on a school trip to the Amul chocolate factory. You could smell it for miles, and knew that something good was happening here. For us city children, it was the first time we met farm and industry in the same shed, vats sparkling, pipes purring with the gorgeous chocolate that we saw poured into molds. We saw what our trips to the ancient textile factories had not shown us - the order, cleanliness and sense of purpose - the smell of success. The meeting of process and market. All driven by Dr. Kurien. I wonder if we realised it then, as we clambered into our buses, munching the bars of Amul chocolate each of us was given to hold, to have, to remember.

    on Sep 10, 2012
    • Mitu Jayashankar

      Hey Meeta, what a wonderful story. Brings back memories of my first visit to the Amul plant. Thank you.

      on Sep 10, 2012
  • Jerusha

    What you have said is so true.. Every Indian is indebted to this great man..he thought beyond making a career for himself..instead brought up the nation's poor. I do hope that we will be able to express our gratitude by being responsible citizens and impact our country in the areas where we work.

    on Sep 10, 2012
  • Rajnish

    Great tribute Mitu to a great man. We were fortunate to have worked for him during the GCMMF days. He taught us so much about business strategy, business excellence, product quality, consumer focus and competing hard and fiercely. He was also a great story-teller and had immense personal charisma and could tell a joke with a straight face. He was a proud Indian and saw now reason why we could not be world class in everything we did. He lived very simply but with great elegance and personal style. Adieu Dr Kurien. Will miss doing the monthly Product Planning cycles and quarterly business reviews. But above all will miss your deep humanness and dignity and strength.

    on Sep 10, 2012
  • Tribute to Dr. Verghese Kurien, Last of India’s Nation Builders | | ulaarulaar

    [...] after I hit the publish button, I came across this beautiful personal tribute from Forbes India’s Mitu [...]

    on Sep 9, 2012
  • Preete

    very nicely written....we all have our stories of influence from younger years. You did justice to yours!

    on Sep 9, 2012
  • Dinakar

    A lovely, thoughtful tribute... Thanks, Mitu!

    on Sep 9, 2012
  • Aravind Thodupunoori

    Sounds exactly like my IRMA story. The final words of the article truly sum up what Dr. Kurien was. He was the Institution. RIP Dr. Kurien. You will continue to live on in our thoughts and hearts. You will never be forgotten.

    on Sep 9, 2012
  • Raj Gyawali

    Well put, Mitu... really enjoyed the read and totally agree with you... Dr. Kurien's vision shaped what we are today! Those two years in IRMA were the most formative years of my life. RIP Dr. Kurien!

    on Sep 9, 2012
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