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Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Anup Sahay remembers...

Prof Bhandari was very soft spoken. And there used to be pin-drop silence in his classes, as no one wanted to miss out on what he was saying. There was always a sense of participating in a great and deep discovery, so insightful were his comments on the case studies and the related discussions. He rarely bothered with discussing the basics, or going thru the theory; he was always probing the next level, thinking of the next ‘why’, and presenting different perspectives. I remember a case study in which we were discussing the results of a statistical analysis called multi dimensional scaling when applied to consumer preference data. The technique gives a perceptual map of consumer behaviour; the data is seen on certain axes. The results seemed straightforward and without any new insights or twists, and who were we to question a sophisticated statistical tool……… After some discussion, Prof Bhandari said what if we turn the axes by 90deg (or maybe 180deg I am not very sure), and when he did that there were new insights on the problem. It was like eureka! I remember this incident probably because I am not sure that mathematical rules allow such ‘manipulation’, but Prof Bhandari could step outside the world-space of received knowledge and discover a lever that worked, that took our understanding to another dimension.

And sometimes, he would do this with humour as well. I remember a case discussion on shaving blades. At one point the discussion was probably around how to influence demand, and one student mentioned that people with lower incomes cannot buy blades. Prof Bhandari quipped, “So all men below the poverty line have long beards!”

He was predominantly a serious person, but could slip-in a humourous remark with equal seriousness that often caught us unaware. There was a discussion around an advertisement in which a bare-backed woman was sitting at a table. Prof Bhandari asked a question, everyone thought there must be a profound answer, but we were not willing to risk an answer, and stared at the ad looking for some clues. After a while, Prof Bhandari said, “However hard you look, she is not going to turn around!”

His classrooms were always full. He was one of the few professors whose classes were never missed. His reputation extended to other IIMs. The annual inter-IIM festival was held at Ahmedabad during my time there. Prof Bhandari’s classes were the only ones that were attended by students visiting from other IIMs. The word was out beforehand, and those of us who knew, went early to class, as seats were limited. And I remember that many students sat on the stairs and even attended standing for want of a seat. There are a very few teachers, in school or college, of whom students will say that they are ‘god’. – Labdhi Bhandari is one of them.

*Anup Sahay was a student of LRB

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