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Wednesday, 29 April 2009

R. Balachandra remembers...

I first came across Labdhi at IIM Ahmedabad around 1967 or so (I don’t exactly remember the year). He was a student in my first year Operations Management course. I was a very young professor – not much older than Labdhi. There were 120 students in the two sections. Even though Labdhi was one of the youngest (or probably the youngest) in that group, he stood out. He was very thoughtful, serious and put in plenty of hard work. My course was more quantitative, and he had always some difficulties with math type courses. But, he never gave up; instead he was able to master the topics to the extent that he was able to contribute well in the class discussions. But his real forte was to see through the clutter of the cases and focus on the real issues. His comments in the class were always to the point; I remember him as a student who contributed well to the discussion in class. During this time, I did not know him well. I knew him only as a very bright student.

Then came our journey to Columbia University Business School in September 1972. He had joined IIM as a faculty member. He and I were both admitted to the Ph.D. program. I got an apartment as a married student (my wife had stayed back for the first year) at Woodbridge Hall and Labdhi became my room-mate. I enjoyed his company for almost nine months till my wife and son joined me.

I got to know Labdhi a little better during this time. We shared tasks around the apartment; I would cook most of the time, and he would do the dishes etc. Both of us studied hard to get through the courses and the exams. I had a slightly easier time because of my background (engineering) but I had difficulties with some of the behavioral courses. Labdhi excelled in those while he had some difficulties with the quantitative courses. We helped each other out, though he complained much about the math-type courses we had to take. We used to kid him about his obsession with these
courses and try to get him into a good mood. But by sheer persistence and hard work, as before, he was able to master those courses and get good grades in those.

Focusing on the studies left us very little time to socialize. We had a group of Indian students in the Business School and in the Economics Department. We used to meet often for dinners at each other’s apartments. Labdhi was a very serious person most of the time, as he constantly worried and complained about his relative difficulties with some of the courses. However, he would not be so serious that he would avoid social get togethers. Vinay Pandit (he was in a university in Buffalo, NY) and Prakash Apte (Ex-Director of IIMB) were two good friends of Labdhi in our Ph.D. days at Columbia.

From the second year on (when he moved out of my apartment) he had a much easier time in the courses as he was focusing on his field – marketing. He was very good at that as well as in the behavioral courses. His experience with Hindustan Levers gave him a strong foothold in his marketing courses. My interaction with him lessened considerably after this as I had my family with me. My wife and I had him and a couple of other Indian students for dinner a few times during our stay in New York.

Labdhi was a very generous person. I remember the time when he took us all out for a nice Indian dinner in a fancy restaurant on Central Park. It cost him quite a bit, but he felt he had to celebrate his completing the course work.

He was a very good friend. Once during our stay together I was going through a very difficult time. Labdhi helped me get over that. He was there like a true friend when I needed him. He never judged me or my actions, but gave me his full support and understanding. I will always remember that.

I completed my Ph.D. earlier (in three years) and I moved away to Boston for my job. I stayed back in the USA, and did not return to IIMA. My contacts with Labdhi became less and less. There was no email in those days. I knew he went back to IIM and got married. When I visited Ahmedabad in the early 80s I did visit him in his house on the campus, when I met the family.

Being in the US, I learnt about the airline accident in the newspapers, and I also saw that Labdhi was one of the passengers. It broke my heart. I felt that a bright light had been snubbed. I heard that he was a great teacher and sought after by many companies for his advice. I can only speculate what heights he would have reached and what he would have accomplished.

It has been a long time, and I often wondered how his young wife coped with the tragedy. I had no contact. It appears that she has done a fine job raising the children.

*R. Balachandra taught LRB at IIMA in the late 1960s and was later a fellow PhD student at Columbia University. He is now a Professor at Northeastern University.

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