This memorial website was created in memory of our loved one, Dr. Venkatram R. We will remember him forever.
Posted by Vidya Vaidyanathan on May 26, 2021
We will be conducting a virtual memorial for R V Sir on 29th May, 2021 beginning at 9:30 pm IST.

Please RSVP to receive the zoom link to the event

Please join and share this with friends and family who would love to reminiscence Dr. Venkatram.

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Recent Tributes
Posted by Vidya Vaidyanathan on May 26, 2021
We will be conducting a virtual memorial for R V Sir on 29th May, 2021 beginning at 9:30 pm IST.

Please RSVP to receive the zoom link to the event

Please join and share this with friends and family who would love to reminiscence Dr. Venkatram.
Recent stories

A life of humor, joy and intentionality

Shared by Somik Raha on May 30, 2021
It was sometime in my first year in 1996 that I met RV sir. I remember his sweetness, always being interested in what a student had to say, and really enjoying our company. It was a familiar sight to see him in the canteen surrounded by students, cracking everyone up with his famous sense of humor.   

When you can’t convince, confuse
He would often say, "When you can't convince, confuse." I remember trying to convince a professor of something - it may have been to move an exam or something. I had made a strong set of arguments, and RV sir was walking along this professor — and just when I was done talking, the professor was stressed and Rv sir said, “sir, Somik has learned my lesson well, when you can’t convince, confuse.” And we all started laughing. I don’t remember exactly what the decision was, but I remember the humor.

Letting students lead
A pivotal memory was the organizing of Mriga Trishna. I think it may have been end of our first year or the beginning of the second when I might have complained to him how much I thought the inter college festivals sucked. He then did something strange — he asked me to write up a vision document on how it could be done differently. I wrote it up in two pages and brought it to him. It has things like - no fashion shows, all technical focus. No judges from BIT - all judges from the industry. First prize would be a job interview from a company. And the next thing I knew, he declared that we were going to do it. For an 18 year old, to have an adult say that meant a lot. Looking back, my current profession of product management, that felt like my first Product vision document. He then opened a wide tent and in such an inclusive manner brought such amazing talent in - many of us continue to be in touch. He just knew what someone’s strength was and put them in a position where they could deliver. Charles leading us, and all of us enjoying ourselves so much as volunteers will remain a special memory. It was the first time we all learned that money follows vision, and not the other way round.

Being at stake
One important memory of was how we got official approval. We went to the principals cabin in a big group  and RV sir. The principal looked at all of us and said, “I know what’s going to happen here. You will go ahead and create a big bill that I will have to pay. The only way we will do this is Rv sir and Aswath sir personally backfill from their pocket if something goes wrong.” Both of them immediately gave a personal undertaking. This hit me really hard and I decided to take up the sponsorship responsibility and teamed up with Sojan, vidya and many others to keep hitting the ground hard.

Values matter
In is important to appreciate how we raised money. It wasn’t that you could sell any part of the campus for banners and raise money. RV sir and Aswath sir together laid out the framework - we would not have screaming banners anywhere and lower the dignity of our college. Instead, they were going to sponsor because it was the right thing to do. There would be a separate pavilion for company booths and that was extra that sponsors had to pay for. They would get space in our magazine as sponsors. There was a purity of purpose in our approach. I remember we got our first break through Vidya’s efforts with Wipro and then there was no looking back. 

Still, there was a point when we were shy of our goal and worried. At that point, somehow a shady character got into our orbit and he made a ridiculous offer which took an arm and a leg. I wasn’t in favor and was very upset, but I needn’t have worried - the moment this shady person came in RV sir’s orbit, he was instantly fired - there was no question of compromising on our values.

When we couldn't convince,...
RV sir rarely used his network — he wanted to give us the experience of struggle and building our own muscles. But sometimes, when we felt defeated, he would step in. I really wanted Microsoft as a sponsor and especially get them to commit to prizes of Visual Basic licenses for our competition winners. These were the days when you could just go to the multinational company, tell the guard you wanted to meet the head honcho, and if you were patient, you’d be able to. I met the top guy at the office and je grilled me - why of all places would I support BiT. I left pretty deflated and told sir that I really wanted their participation. I don’t know how he convinced Microsoft but that same head honcho ended up sponsoring and flagging us off, and even sending his top technical leader for a brilliant talk.

Finding the best in others
Time and again, we found ourselves being supported in the purity of our purpose. Many students who weren't initially involved saw how hard we were all working, and more people joined in - it was so inclusive. It brought a feeling in us that this was our college and we were so happy to be doing this together. At one point, my hostel roommate who used to initially make fun of Mriga Trishna (which translates to Mirage, and so he would joke that this would be a mirage), realized it was really going to happen. He told me one day, "Hey, how do I get involved?" I asked him to see RV sir. I then heard that he had been appointed the accountant of the entire festival as he was good at it. He did a stellar job of keeping us organized with our bills. Sir just had this knack of seeing people and finding what they would enjoy doing. 

Then there was this guy who we were really struggling with - he wasn’t getting anything done, and he wanted to be involved. Sir had such a graceful way with this - when we brought it to him, he said, "Leave it to me." I was amazed to learn that he had been made sir’s assistant and would accompany him everywhere. Sir had found a way to involve this student and keep him out of trouble.

Toward the end, the tough elements in college felt left out. They had ignored the festival because the usual events they would normally pay attention to like the fashion show and the rock show were missing - this was a technical festival after all. So now, they saw these special badges being made for the volunteers and felt left out. They confronted RV sir, saying they wanted a badge too. He related this to me later, and I see this as yet another example of how he practiced karma yoga, which is skill in action. He said it to me in his usually humorous style, when you can’t convince, confuse. He asked them — hey which badge do you want? The blue ones or the brown ones?  Now they were confused — what do the colors mean? I still think sir invented it on the spot; he created a color for security and invited them to provide security for the event. These guys were thrilled. What could have been an unnecessary confrontation was avoided, and the tent was made even wider, and we all valued their services — with their presence, no one dared create any trouble.

A Watershed Moment
The festival was a watershed moment for us. It gave us confidence that we can dream big and bring our dreams to reality. We had managed to arrange three leased lines and were publishing the results from each event on a specially made website for the event. This was 1997. The Times of India agreed to announce our event. And, we managed to raise not only enough money to cover all our costs, but also had left over change to buy a computer and printer for the placement center. Today, a computer and printer is easy to afford, but in those days, it gave us a sense of pride -- we were contributors, and not just consumers. It meant a lot to us. I believe all of us involved with that effort still carry a lift from it. I will never forget the magic of that partnership b/w RV sir and Aswath sir.

One day I heard that an alum had come back to campus and punched RV sir. He had been thereafter beaten up by the staff. I was worried about RV sir and rushed off to find him. He had a swollen lip, and had been knocked out by the blow. It turns out that this alum had mental health issues and had gone off medication. The effect of that was he somehow felt RV sir was responsible for breaking up a relationship with a girl he loved, and so he had come to find him in anger. I remember that RV sir not only had no grievance for being targeted when he had nothing at all to do with this person, but he was deeply concerned that someone with mental health challenges needed services, and instead had gotten a beating. Latha Madam shared with us that he even proceeded to counsel this alum and his mother to be careful and not miss the medicines.

The other life
Many years after graduating, I came to do Probability workshops for the Ayurveda research scientists in India. That is when I learned that sir had an entire life outside of BIT. He had started a yoga research organization with his siblings, and this institution had by then contributed peer-reviewed research on Yoga to journals for three decades. He invited me to come speak there (at SVYASA) and then have his world famous dosas at his home. He also joined research scientists in the Ayurveda workshops.

I remember in my workshops - he was the one asking the most questions and deeply understanding the mathematics. He was fascinated just like I’d known him to be when he could see a new idea with potential, and we talked of collaborating to build inference models with SVYASA’s yoga therapy approach using Panchakosas. I still remember our car ride back, and his usual humor. I tried to figure out what exactly he did, and didn't quite get a clear answer. So I asked him what his title was. He responded, “every time I am here, I discover they have given me some new title. These days it is..” and we were all in splits. He never took titles seriously. Alas, before we could get our research collaboration off the ground, he had his aneurysm and surgery. 

The Deepest Side
After his surgery was when I really saw the deepest side of him. I visited him with Aswath sir, and at first it was heartbreaking to see him without hearing his speech. But then I realized that he was communicating at another level altogether. He had figured out how to express himself with the loving support of his family. After two hours, I could start to pick things up. And the conversation invariably went toward the spiritual direction. I remember him communicating that the goal of all work should be spiritual. And after that chat, he fed me with so much love, making sure I had seconds and thirds.

I met him once more after that — this time I just declared that I was going to join him for lunch. I really enjoyed meeting him. He was able to walk slowly now. It was again a great blessing. I was sharing space with someone who was at peace even though outwardly you might think so much was taken from him. That peace still comes flooding back when I remember those meetings. Being able to accept one's situation with grace, and take full ownership of one's response to life is something he taught us without words. As I look back, he always had so much love for us, but the words could sometimes distract us from noticing it fully. When he was without words, his love was unmistakeable.

I was planning to see him this summer and had my tickets booked for Bangalore right before this current wave hit. I was deeply saddened to hear of his passing, but now I will remember his spirit, his love and his blessings, which he always gave to all his students.

Sir was very fond of the Gita, and lived according to the dictum of equanimity in life’s ups and downs. He was not numb, but deeply compassionate. That to me is the ideal — can we retain our full feeling faculty and still be equanimous in the face of life’s great challenges. He exemplified for me the sloka 2.38

Sukha dukhe same krtva labha labhau jaya jayau
Tato yudhaya yujyasva naivam papam avapsyasi

Responding in the same way to joy and sorrow, gain and loss, victory and defeat,
Responding to a conflict with such a yogic perspective will prevent a return to papam (poor decision making that causes future suffering)

It is only after his passing that we are learning about sir's life in more depth. We learned that sir had, with great intentionality, made two monumental decisions that would affect every one of his students. After a PhD from IIT, he could have had a great career anywhere. He decided that he would come as a teacher for undergraduates because that is where he could serve where he was needed the most. A little support and encouragement could change the trajectory of our lives. That is why he came to BIT -- to support our journeys. Toward this end, he made another big decision with his wife, not to have children. He told her that it would distract from their joint goal of service. He wanted to give all his attention to his students, and she would also be able to give full attention to her patients as a doctor. They would have the added advantage of retiring when they wanted to, although there was no sign of retirement - RV sir just loved supporting students, right up to the end. He asked her to join him in seeing all of us as their family, which so many of us were privileged to experience. In essence, we, his students, are his impact. This is what he wanted to focus on, and he did it.