Remembering M.S.S.R

A Dharmic Life

Life

M. S. Srinivasa Ramanujan was born on 21 05 1945. For the first five years of his life, he lived with his paternal grandmother in his ancestral village home. He returned to Coimbatore to get ready to go to school in 1950. His schooling was in the local municipal school and as in those days, his main medium of instruction was in Tamil.

Always conscientious, he excelled in his studies and after completing his P.U.C (Pre-University-Course) in 1963, he joined the Coimbatore Institute of Technology to study Mechanical Engineering with a scholarship. Not content to just take care of himself alone, he felt responsible for his family as well and undertook to coach younger students to bring in some extra money to help.

He remained an extremely sensitive person all his life – keenly aware of the heartaches that people without privilege go through. So even as a young teenager, he took into his heart the motto of not being a burden to anyone and would walk long distances to avoid taking a bus in order to save some additional money out of his allowance. Caring and loving, when his beloved grandmother died during the third year of his undergraduate college, he gave his father all his scholarship money to pay for her funereal on finding that his own father had none set aside for the funereal.

But he was not all sensitivity and conscientiousness. He was very good in team sports and had a lifelong passion to play games that involved precision.  He played football passionately and cricket in the position of a wicket keeper. He had the chance to play in the cricket team for the university but fate played a dirty hand when he fractured his knee ligament that year. Of course, like the good son who wanted to remain unobtrusive, he never told his father about it for fear of worrying his father who was just recovering from a hernia operation. With a self made bandage around his knee, MSSR cooked and served his father as his mother was away from home briefly at that time. During that time of hardship, MSSR did not even go on the college excursion as that would mean an additional expense to his father.

In 1968, his life took a turn towards new horizons when he got admission in prestigious Delhi IIT in 1968 in the Industrial Engineering group.

MSSR always said that going to Delhi really broadened his vision. All his young life, he had been born and brought up in Coimbatore and his ancestral village. Coming away to a cosmopolitan city and a sophisticated and prestigious institution gave him just the touch he needed to launch him to his career. He also made some very good friends there. Aside from his hard work at his studies, coming as he did from a background of local schooling in Coimbatore, he worked very hard to improve his spoken English. He would listen to BBC radio and Voice of America to get the correct accent and modulation on his spoken English. A lot of people who heard him later in his lectures and talks would have never guessed that he acquired his diction and delivery by his own sheer will and hard work as he made it look all effortless.

In 1970 when he graduated, as all newly graduated young people, he had some tense months before he found his first job in Bombay. He then moved out of his home to live there. Even then he showed interest in the still new field of computer science. His family – traditional as they were, had some misgivings about his interest in Computers and attempted to discourage him from pursuing it as a career option. But as we know, passion and people are hard to part – especially when it is life-long. Inexorably circumstances and decisions pointed MSSR towards eventually having his own way.

After a few months in that small firm he joined Air India as Systems Analyst. Here he had his first stroke of good fortune. He met Mr.Subramaniam who mentored him and under his guidance, MSSR absorbed new knowledge and did a wonderful job. He had office in Nariman point and computer systems were in Santa Cruz. Never the one to shirk hard work, he would work at the office during the day and go to the computer site at night to test his programmes and got to his apartment early the morning, only to get ready and to go the office to begin another normal work day. His enthusiasm for learning was unquenchable as all who knew him would attest.

In October 1974, just a month before his marriage, he got a job in Bharat Gears ltd as Executive Assistant to the General Manager in factory site at Mumbra. But his expectations from the job didn’t meet actual situation. Being an enthusiastic young person raring to take part in decisions and learn, he chaffed at the passive position of observation and reporting that it offered. He was finally able to find another position – one much more appealing to his sense of entrepreneurship. He joined National Institute for Training in Industrial Engineering (NITIE) in Dec1975 as a Professor. This was very satisfying to him as he had both teaching and consultancy work to challenge and appeal to his sense to mentoring and allowed him to explore his analytical skills at the same time. His teaching skills came to the forefront and his training programmes for executives were very popular. The most notable among the consultancy work that he did was for Bombay Port Trust and OCS  (Overseas Communication Center).Looking back, it does seem that he really enjoyed his time there which provided the opportunity to spread his wings and find his true calling.

Towards the end of 1979, for personal reasons he decided to quit the job and start on his own. He started his own consultancy office in Madras on Jan 1st 1980. He didn’t have much financial capital or powerful family backing or even a typewriter then. But he did have faith in himself and in the future of the IT industry. He had earlier met Ratan Tata through another friend and had impressed him so much that he was offered a retainer ship in Nelco in Madras. This is all that he had when he started and that is how MSSR Softwares came to being, though it would not be known as such for another few years. He slowly made progress and impressed people and made more contacts and found assignments. His sincerity, hard work, enthusiasm and belief in his ideas carried him through very tough times .He went on to become a consultant to very important companies as the list would show. All his professional life, he never advertised and people came to him, seeking his expertise by the quality of his work and by references only. Of course being who he was, MSSR would never have had it any other way.

He started around the same time as Infosys but his ideas were different. He deliberately kept his organization small and did not want to grow beyond a point. The office was like a second family to him. He took care of everybody who worked for him and their personal problems .He helped them gain higher education and gave financial help when needed. He never referred to them as people working under him, but as his colleagues, however junior that person may be. .He would never let them down even if it was a matter of confrontation with somebody important.

He started Training classes way ahead of NIIT or Aptech. He took pains to see that the people who attended his classes understood the basics no matter what their background was as those who attended his classes would testify.   He paid personal attention to each person to see he or she understood everything.  Money or fame never mattered to him .Teaching alone was supreme to him.

The most important thing he demonstrated to those around him was that a business could be run without compromising Dharma and Sathya. He would not send a bill to an organization for services rendered unless they expressed satisfaction and asked him to send the bill. There were some occasions in the earlier days of his consultancy he did not claim his fees at all because he felt the organization had not done justice to his ideas. He believed in paying taxes honestly. He never over charged any one and claimed only what he thought he deserved.  For charitable organizations he did work without charging fees with equal enthusiasm. His enthusiasm and energy was unquenchable and he was the kind of leader and teacher who lead by example. He was always approachable and even when he was busiest, he made himself available to everyone who needed his help.

He had completed just 25 years of independent consultancy work and was still raring for more, when he was snatched away from us on 18 June 2004  His is a loss that gets felt everyday by the people who knew him and cherished him in one way or another. His love for the work he did, his enthusiasm, optimism and sense of humor is most remembered by his colleagues. Five years on, he is still sorely missed, and the people who had the gift of his presence in their lives still nurse an aching heart.