An Ex NDDB foot soldier pays tribute to Dr. Verghese Kurien

On a wintry evening in 2005 I had just arrived at Vadodra airport for the flight back to Delhi after finishing a meeting with a top (arrogant) gun at NDDB in Anand. I was in for a bad news when it was suddenly announced that all flights moving out from Vadodara were cancelled because of some unforeseen air force exercise in the vicinity of airport. While the passengers harangue with airline staff continued I sat sulking in the corner with the book I had purchased from Delhi airport in the morning.

Suddenly I saw silhouette of an old man with a slight limp with a hand on a young girl’s shoulder coming inside the departure lounge. Though I was too tired to ponder upon old men and young girls… when, lo and behold! Old man turned out to be Dr. Verghese Kurien himself. What a nice and pleasant surprise!

Despite the circumstances at airport, his presence somehow cheered me. I spoke to myself – here’s is the man who was responsible for making me, the only son, leave my home town, quit a well-paying State Government job and least of all make my father very angry and anguished for years to come.

Dear readers, you might be wondering how a renowned man like Dr. Kurien could act and behave in a way which is very much unbecoming of a gentleman. Read on…

We were following Americanized trimester system of education at Punjab Agriculture University, PAU for short – my alma mater. In fact trimester system was a misnomer because there was always summer session at the end of last trimester, each year for four years. This summer break was reserved by University for practical field trainings and study visits and of course many extracurricular activities.

One such study visit during summer break of 1975 took us, the young impressionable minds, to Anand to visit Amul and NDDB campus. By virtue of our coordinating professor’s brother, a senior official at NDDB at that time, a small lecture by Dr. Kurien, the then Chairman NDDB, was arranged for us. The lecture lasted for not more than 20-25 minutes but at the end of discourse I was so much impressed (or should I say corrupted) that there and then I decided that after completing my studies at PAU if I ever get an opportunity to serve directly or indirectly this gentleman called Kurien I will grab same no matter what ever the consequences.

During those years, pseudo intellectualism, the pop music, new found love for existentialist European literature and of course Ayn Rand had steered my mind in such a way that Dr. Kurien’s words “I always keep my resignation in my pocket” kept haunting me for long. Dr. Kurien had actually pulled out a piece of paper from his shirt pocket when he was extolling the virtues of integrity and trust in one’s own judgment in front of us.

I got this opportunity in 1980 and joined NDDB as an Executive Trainee meant for seconding in Punjab, my home state. To state that I got the opportunity would be an understatement – I was a serving Inspector, a prestigious and powerful Government post – and best of all stationed at my home town in my home state. Moreover, I was sitting on an offer to join as a Probationary Officer with State Bank of India, another prestigious offer which my father, an accountant by profession, would have loved me to accept. But dear readers, confiscating adulterated fertilizer and sanctioning fat loans was not for me – my destiny had already been written by man called Dr. Kurien.

I continued to serve NDDB and its affiliates like Milkfed, Mother Dairy, Safal and Safal Market till 2006. My exit from NDDB was also somehow programmed by Dr. Kurien.

Getting back to the Vadodra airport where I started this post, I could not stop my urge to meet Dr. Kurien and seek his blessings for the new Safal Market project that we were about to commission in Bangalore. I put up a cheerful face and reached the bench where Dr. Kurien was sitting motionlessly in deep thoughts. After excusing myself for the unsolicited interruption I introduced myself, my current project and also cheerfully narrated the above story of my joining NDDB. In addition I praised him profusely for having done so much work selflessly for the farmers and the country. Dr. Kurien kept listening patiently. While I was about to leave, he suddenly pulled me down towards himself and suddenly said, albeit out of present context “they are intent on throwing me out”. Such an anguish and pain could come only from a proud man. Knowing fully well the ongoing power tussle going on at IRMA and NDDB I humbly agreed to his point and moved back to my seat. However, that was the precise moment when I decided to call quits at NDDB. Enough of NDDB. Kaput. I reasoned that NDDB has lost its raison d’être and the pillar it was standing on.

I encashed the first opportunity Ravi Subramanian, the CMD of Subhiksha, gave me when he asked me to handle Subhiksha’s first ever fresh produce multi outlet retail venture in Delhi and other Sates of Northern India.

“I always keep my resignation in my pocket” kept haunting me for long. These powerful words still echo in my ears as I lay reading tributes paid to this gentleman who is no more.

Though Dr. Kurien was no longer part of NDDB since last so many years, but I am sure NDDB will continue to reap the goodwill created by Dr. Kurien’s and his charisma for time to come. Dr. Kurien’s legacy, placing the marketing tools in the hands of farmers and Amul’s legend will continue till the time people like me continue to replicate and perpetuate the Anand pattern though their work and consulting assignments.

Long live milkman of India!

India needs a hundred Kuriens. Any volunteers!