Ms. Shantha Sheela Nair’s three narratives bring out different aspects of Dr. Kurien’s persona-his ability to navigate through power dynamics with commitment laced with humour to influence decision makers.
Marketing is when you sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo
The first was, the first time I saw the legend. It was in 1979 or so – I had been appointed special officer for the oil seedMission, but transformed abruptly, Dr. Kurien had came to Chennai. I had not met him yet.
There was a meeting with the Chief Minister – Dr. M.G. Ramachandran. I was a very junior officer but was summoned to be present, as I sat in the back row.
I saw the two greats exchanging pleasantries but still a bit strained and formal. The meeting started and Dr. Kurien at his eloquent best spoke about Operation Flood and then came to oilseeds.
While MGR was quiet with talk of the Dairy Revolution, he did not seem too convinced with the oil seed agenda. Dr Kurien then spoke about packaged edible oil and how it was to be leveraged. MGR was least impressed.
Then Dr. Kurien hit a sixer, he gave an example of the importance of marketing and said – “you should be able to sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo – that is marketing!” MGR was bowled over and warmly shook Dr Kurien’s hand. The deal was done and I was introduced by the Chief Secretary as the one to implement the project!
Though that morning I had been transferred. Dr Kurien said “I haven’t met the lady, but you give and take away”. The Chief Secretary said she will do both jobs and MGR nodded.
MGR was quite a tough one to deal with but I saw the elan with which Dr. Kurien worked his way around him, his body language and words were absolutely charming and delightful.
War hero in the game of favourites !
I had worked on the oil seed mission for a while and then went as Collector Trichy and because of my association with Dr. Kurien got my district included in Operation Flood. A few years later, MGR died and there was a change of Government.
The”favorites” of the MGR years as assumed by the new Government, needed to be put in their place. I was one of them and was among only 3 officers banished from Chennai. Two others being the personal staff of MGR.
I was sent to Salem and was languishing when Dr Kurien came to know of it. He didn’t speak to me or contact me but asked the Joint Secretary, Dairy in the Agriculture Ministry in Delhi. Shri Parthasarathy who was from Tamil Nadu cadre to find out whether I would like to come to Delhi.
I jumped with delight. Dr. Kurien went out of his way to pull me out from the hostile environment, I was in.
His friend and sparring partner was Shri. T N Seshan then Cabinet Secretary. I had worked with Seshan too when he was Agriculture Secretary in Tamil Nadu. Dr. Kurien told Seshan that he wanted me in the Dairy Technology Mission in Delhi! Seshan too was mot helpful and wanted to please Dr. Kurien.
After much wrangling with the State Government and Seshan at his best succeeded in getting me out of Salem and posted in Delhi! I Suddenly looked like a war-hero but my General was Dr. Kurien!
Aya Ram, Gaya Ram, and now Jai Ram !
When I was in Delhi in the Technology Mission. Shri Sam Pitroda and Shri Jai Ram Ramesh were the two driving all the Technology Missions.
Dr. Kurien was often at meetings in Delhi with Sam Pitroda and the Secretary of the Agriculture Ministry. At one of the stormy meetings where Jai Ram Ramesh was holding the floor with his aggressive rendering of how the Technology Missions should be run, Dr. Kurien was loosing patience and he was waiting for his turn to speak.
When finally Jai Ram Ramesh calmed down, Dr.Kurien made his opening statement – “I have seen “Aaya Rams” and Gaya Rams” now I have to deal with Jay Ram”! Sam Pitroda and everyone else exploded with laughter and it was Dr. Kurien day after that!.