Prof P.V. Indiresan, former Director of IIT Madras, and a current columnist of Business Line passed away in Pune on Sunday morning. The end came for this endearing teacher of electronics and electrical engineering in his hotel room, hours before he was to chair the Election Commission’s technical committee meet on EVMs. He was 85, and is survived by his wife Jaya, two daughters and a son.
My first introduction to Indiresan was as a starry-eyed young reporter in 1982, as I listened in awe to his address at the IIT Madras convocation, which I was covering for my newspaper. At the meeting where the chief guest was President Zail Singh, quietly but firmly the little professor told the President and the rest of India that the proper way to get SC and ST students into higher education was not through quotas but through quality education from primary school itself. There was a furore, he was dubbed “anti-reservation” and responding to the clamour for his resignation, he did offer to step down but his offer was rejected.
Later, Indiresan would go on to write in his CV that he was proud of having been reprimanded before Parliament for this speech! Quietly and using his own funds, he organised teaching camps for SC and ST Class XII students at the IIT campus, to prepare them for the IIT entrance exam.
A graduate from the Indian Institute of Science, Indiresan did his doctorate from Birmingham University and began his teaching career at Rourkee University (now an IIT). After serving as Director, IIT Madras, for five years (1979-84), he stayed on as a Professor at this IIT for a year, before going to Germany on a teaching assignment for another year. He then moved to IIT Delhi where he retired at the age of 65 after teaching for 40 years.
The quintessential teacher, it was amazing to witness his energy levels and organisational capacity. He would regale me with stories of his meetings with politicians and bureaucrats in Delhi. At one such session, around 1999, I persuaded him to start writing regularly for Business Line, which he did till the end, under the column Vision 2020.
A highly respected thinker, Indiresan was a member on countless GOI committees; he was given the Padma Bhushan in 2000. Every Prime Minister from P.V.Narasimha Rao onwards would seek his advice and respect his views even though he had been critical of each one of them in his writing. Perhaps that was because there was no rancour in his dissent.
He was extremely close to A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, before, during and after his Presidency. Kalam was a passionate votary of Indiresan’s pet programme PURA (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas), which he felt was the only way to decongest our cities. With a lot of passion he would tell me how it was so easy to implement his scheme and many of his Business Line columns discussed his PURA dream in detail.
Several prominent politicians invited Indiresan to their constituencies to start a PURA project. According to his wife Jaya Indiresan, Baba Ramdev visited their home only three days ago. “One of Indiresan’s students brought him; he said he wanted to do something for his village. He was fascinated by the project, they talked about starting several schools and Indiresan had decided to visit his village on March 4.”
An eternal optimist, after the meeting he told Jaya: “I now have some hope that Pura will finally be implemented”. In fact, one of Jaya’s priorities is now to cancel his appointments and inform countless people that her husband won’t be able to make it to those meetings.