|Prof. S. Sadagopan,
Director - Indian Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore
Leave aside dates; it would suffice to say that mathematics had its roots in India over 4000 years ago. The concept of zero, algebra, algorithm, the rudiments of geometry and so on are very much Indian. Historians have recorded these facts that are chronicled in various essays and articles by renowned masters on these subjects. Two significant conclusions emerge considering that the world has recognized India's strengths in Information Technology. Firstly, the technique of calculation - the algorithm - is the basis for software programming and computers. And secondly, who can understand this better than we do.
One such mathematical genius was Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujam born in the tiny hamlet of Kumbakkonam, in Tamilnadu. He made substantial contributions in the field and was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of London and later, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. So, when we drive across to Whitefield for our meeting with Prof. S. Sadagopan in the 24,000 sq. feet air-conditioned space that houses the Indian Institute of Information Technology, of which he is the Director, little did we know of a coincidence that would strike us. Prof. Sadagopan was also born in Kumbakkonam. Strange, but somehow the Tamilian Iyengars and Iyers have a way with numbers. "How come" we asked?
"In Tamilnadu, an average family goes through a certain level of discipline which forces them to get the best out of their physical asset called body," he says, attributing socio-economic reasons as being the prime factor for their exemplary performance. Driving home the point, further he makes an interesting comparison, "Look at the productivity of a typical Chennai life. The city is up and running at four in the morning. In Bangalore life starts at seven. Three hours gone. Imagine, three hours, every twenty-four hours, for the next hundred years, is lost. That's unproductive." The inference is obvious. Self-discipline is important for the brain machinery if it has to perform at peak levels. And in today's dog-eat-dog world, if one cannot come to grasp with this aspect of reality, it's the doghouse for sure.
He has what he calls the "Temple Town" effect having grown up in the spiritual atmosphere of the famous Mylapore temple in Chennai. Schooling was in P.S. High School, engineering from Guindy Engineering College (1968-73), short working stint in Engineers India, Delhi and then to Purdue University for his Ph.D. (1976-79). End 1979 he joined IIT-Kanpur and taught there till 1995. Later, he taught at IIT-Bangalore (1995-1999), and in 1999 he moved over to IIIT-B as Director. He's been visiting faculty in many universities in India and abroad, including Rutgers, MIT and Stanford. He says, "I've taught in most places than others would have, because I just love to visit and teach. I don't think I can do anything else."
A strong believer in teacher-student relationships, Prof. Sadagopan and his colleagues find "nirvana" in teaching. He says, "India is still a "Saraswathi" country whereas America is a "Lakshmi" country. A Harvard professor is more valued because he makes more money. But in India, cultural values bond the relationship and not the color of money. "Teachers were once worshipped by students as sort of demigods. Materialistic flavors may have changed perceptions but Prof. Sadagopan is confident that our cultural values won't alter drastically, though some "will go over temporarily to the other camp but eventually will come back".
The IIIT-B focuses on education and research, entrepreneurship and innovation with a vision to contribute to the IT world. It has a unique model of education and the Post Graduate Diploma in Information Technology (PGDIT) is a three-semester broad-based program in IT going beyond traditional computer science. "This is an institute for the future. Rather than have an undergraduate program, a Graduate School is more focused and this institute is an extremely economical one. Everything that we have done here is low-cost and in the process we created a new paradigm," explains Prof. Sadagopan.
Teaching is his passion and his life. No doubts on that. But now, he has to perform the role of an administrator as well. But then, intelligence has this uncanny knack of getting around. Despite not having a university education, Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujam became a mathematical genius. There's no doubt that Prof. Sadagopan will succeed too.
After all, both hail from Kumbakkonam.