Portrait of a philanthropist : The Tribune India

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Portrait of a philanthropist

Portrait of a philanthropist

Photo for representation. File photo



Arun Kumar Grover

IN 2002, I sought a meeting with Sudha Murty to thank her for her contribution towards the PhD scholarship support fund of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). In 1962, the legendary Homi Bhabha had pegged the honorarium for PhD students at Rs 450 per month, which was above the basic starting salary of Class-I officers. The arrangement was reversed after Bhabha’s demise in 1966, and it worsened to reach a level of less than half the basic starting salary in 1997.

The TIFR Alumni Association (TAA), which came into being in 1999, approached one of the founding members of IIT’s Heritage Fund through entrepreneur Kanwal Rekhi to institute an endowment account for augmenting the scholarship for PhD students. He agreed to do so on the condition that one-third of the endowment fund be raised by the TAA. Rekhi gave us Rs 11 lakh as the first instalment, and we had to raise a matching amount before becoming eligible for a second one. However, the TAA could raise only Rs 6 lakh. Recalling that one of Murty’s cousins was our contemporary at the TIFR Graduate School, we approached her, and she readily agreed to make up for the shortfall. The scheme ran for about four years, and nearly 300 students received Rs 1,000 every month.

I first met Murty in July 2002 as she was preparing to take a flight to attend the swearing-in ceremony of President APJ Abdul Kalam at his invitation. As I apprised her of the TAA’s activities, she readily offered to institute a reward of Rs 10,000 for every Indian student winning a medal in mathematics and science Olympiads over the next five years.

She spent a day with the Olympiad medallists at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education in Mumbai in December 2002. She asked us to submit a financial proposal so that such events could be conducted periodically. An event is still organised every year on Srinivasa Ramanujan’s birth anniversary (December 22), celebrated as National Mathematics Day, marked by expository lectures and conferment of awards. Eight years down the line, she got the endowment enhanced so that the cash reward was increased to Rs 15,000.

When I was the Vice-Chancellor of Panjab University, I received a call from the Infosys’ Chandigarh centre that Murty would be at its guest house in connection with the proposed construction of a serai for the relatives of patients at PGIMER, a project the IT company was supporting. She was as gracious and humble as ever when I joined her for breakfast. The 300-bed serai with modern facilities was inaugurated in January 2018 by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in her presence.

Last year, PU Vice-Chancellor Prof Renu Vig took the initiative to bestow Honoris Causa (DLitt) on Murty at its 70th annual convocation ceremony. She interacted with students and faculty during her visit to the campus. Now that she has been nominated to the Rajya Sabha, her presence there is expected to ensure that the young generation gets due attention.


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