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A Talk with Titans

Manipal has been home to a large number of students over the past 60 years. Despite the different paths their lives might take, each and every student looks back at Manipal with fondness, acknowledging the major role MIT played in shaping their lives. The occasion of MIT’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations brought 3 of the college’s most distinguished students of the batch of 1984 – Mr. Anant Talaulicar, Mr. Sachin Menon and Mr. Thomas Cherukara, back to MIT. Mr. Anant Talaulicar is the Chairman and MD of Cummins India Ltd. Mr. Sachin Menon is the MD of Menon Pistons Ltd. And Chairman of Kolhapur Institute of Technology. Mr. Thomas Cherukara has worked as ED and CEO of the MGF Group, and is now the CMD of the CBC Group.

33 years after they left college, these eminent alumni made their way back to MIT to see the campus once more, relive their memories and interact with the students. We got a chance to engage in a freewheeling chat with them about their experiences in Manipal, and their message for the young aspiring businessmen in the college.

Now that you’ve seen the college as it is today, what are the changes that stand out to you? Are there any things you think are better now, or were better in your time?

“The main quadrangle hasn’t changed much, so that brought back a lot of good memories”, said Mr. Talaulicar. “The rest has changed dramatically, the labs, hostels – the hostels seem like hotels now”, he added. Mr. Talaulicar felt glad that things were simpler during his time here, however, as he feels it made him a stronger person. “I was brought up in Mumbai, with a good standard of living. I was a protected child, the eldest of the family, and got lots of attention.”

Coming to Manipal was a culture shock. Back then, it didn’t have many facilities and it was in the heart of rural India. Experiencing a simple way of living and eating what was kept in front of us in the mess, really helped me in life. Now, even though I live in five star hotels, I can still eat and sleep anywhere. When I go abroad, I have no problem adjusting to the food and the culture.

According to Mr. Menon, he sees an urgency in the faculty and management today to create a link between the college and the industry. “During our time, the teachers just had to finish the curriculum”, he said. “Today, the concern and sense of urgency to achieve that connect between the industry and the students is quite evident in the interactions I have had with them. They want to give students a better exposure, because that is how they believe the institution will be remembered.” People can build buildings, create extensive curricula, but the experience that a good college can give, apart from the education, is what sets it apart.

Mr. Cherukara feels they had more freedom during the time they were in college. They could get back to the hostel quite late. “Of course, an 11 pm curfew is quite good compared to many other colleges”, he quipped. “We had our comforts, but we took the hard way, not many things were handed to us.” He felt the professors during their time were excellent, adding that they rarely missed classes. “However, the success, or pass ratio during our time was quite low. Nothing like the pass ratio you have nowadays”, he added, to which Mr. Talaulicar joked, “We had some students who were professional students, so to speak.”

What are the things in your life that you think were shaped specifically by your time at MIT?

Mr. Talaulicar mentioned that he was quite lost, spiritually speaking, when he first came to Manipal. Growing up in a Hindu household, and having Muslim and Christian friends at the same time, he would observe all the religious habits people around him had. “I noticed three common things across religions”, he said. “One was fear based spirituality, the second, guilt based spirituality, and the third, blind faith. I struggled with all of them.” When he came to Manipal, he would read all kinds of spiritual books in his spare time. “I would study hard, occasionally party with these guys, but I practically read all the religious books when I was here. That left a very deep impact on me, and I would ascribe that to Manipal.” He thinks we should worship our work, give ourselves totally to it and not expect material results.

“All of us experience great joys and successes, as well as sorrows and failures in life. The poor leaders are those, who get carried away by either.”

Manipal has a vastly diverse student community, and everyone has their own group of friends. This is another important aspect of college life. Mr. Menon feels that there were a few fellow students, mostly batch-mates and seniors, who he remembers many a times. “These are the people who taught me things like being fearless. It may have been a strike we did for postponing exams, in which I would observe the student leaders in front of us. I would wonder what drove them, I started analysing.” He had one of the most important pieces of advice he could give. “These four years, you should keep your eyes and ears open. Do not judge whether things are good or bad right now. Ten, twenty years down the line, when you look back, everything will fall into place.”

You talked about the advantages of diversity in MIT. On the flip side, when you are one among so many, one may feel like one has lost his way, since it becomes harder to make a mark. I’m sure it’s like that in the business world as well. How does one attain that self-satisfaction to get above all this?

The answer to this question was pretty clear. Mr. Talaulicar said, “If you think this life is about competing with others, then you’re going down the wrong path.” It is essential for all of us to know our purpose in life, to find something worth putting in all the effort. When we start doing that, we automatically expand our sphere of influence. Mr. Menon and Mr. Cherukara agreed, saying it is important we stay grounded in who we are. We are all unique in our own way, and knowing your own strengths and faults, and working on them, is a life-long journey. Years from now, you’ll learn from your experiences, and find your balance in life.

You have all been in business for a long time now, and many students here aspire to do the same. What advice would you give to those who want to make the transition from engineering to business?

To this, Mr. Talaulicar reiterated what he had said at the Diamond Jubilee inauguration. It’s really important for each and every one of us to find our own calling, and not go by a herd mentality. We hear a lot of voices, a lot of noise that comes from everywhere, and if we start believing those, very soon, we end up unhappy. “What really is the purpose of this life? What are your personal values? What energises you?” When we get our own unique answers to these questions, we will be happy, and we will find our own path.

Life is all about finding a balance between work and your passion. This was the underlying message of the conversation. Times change, the infrastructure changes. The values we imbibe, however, remain the same, regardless of when we come to college. These four years in college are the formative years of our lives. In a college like MIT, it is important to not restrict yourself to academics, and make the best use of the freedom we get. These are the years to make lasting relationships, to pick up essential values, to create new experiences and above all, to find what you would love to do with your life. As Mr. Talaulicar said, “If you discover your own dharma, all the answers become clear.” It is good to try and teach these things, but at the end of the day, they come only through self-reflection. Some may realise this faster than others, but we’re all on our own journeys in life.