RU40: Batch of 1981’s 40th Reunion Bash


RU40: Batch of 1981’s 40th Reunion Bash

Forget the Fountain of Youth. The real secret to staying young is going to your 40th "Ruby" Reunion at IIT, Madras. That's what the Class of 1981 did in December 2022, and we had a blast. Nothing like being physically on campus and hanging out with your old buddies to make you feel forever 21-ish. And to top it off, we had the opportunity to interact with current students and faculty and see how IIT is building the future. Throw in a couple of days at Fisherman's Cove partying and visiting the popular tourist sitesand you have all the ingredients for the best reunion ever! We loved every minute of it.

While our class was on campus, we had the privilege of being able to present the Institute our class gift of ₹10 Crores (US$ 1.2 Million) to fund the replacement of the current diesel bus fleet with e-Buses. The gift will also fund research related to e-mobility. We continue to drive to add another ₹2.5 Crore (US$ 300,000) to plant a seed for the planned Advanced Health Technology Center. It is truly a testament to our batchmates’ commitment and passion for the advancement of our beloved alma-mater in both an environmentally friendly campus as well as advance cutting-edge research.

Reunion Days

The 3 days of the reunion were a whirlwind of good feelings and activity. Many of our spouses were in attendance, and it seemed like they were having as much fun as we were. Starting out with the welcome dinner hosted at his beachside house by our batchmate V Raju and followed by exciting formal and informal happenings.

Most of our class would probably point to the unstructured time available for hanging out with old friends and boatloads of catch up as the highlight. It is amazing to see the years fall away before your eyes as people begin to look and act as they did 40 years ago! Apart from these periods of informal gathering, we also had some structured programming for the alumni and for their spouses over the 3 days.

Some of these structured events on campus included:

  • A formal meeting of the class with the Director and Deans at which one of our classmates, Yogesh Gupta, was awarded a Distinguished Alumnus Award. This meeting was also where we announced the legacy gift.
  • Tours of the campus, both by bicycle and by bus. The bus tours included visiting the '81 Lounge in the new Quark, the Centre for Innovation (CΦ, which was seeded with a gift from the Class of 1981 at our Silver Reunion in 2006) as well as the new home of CΦ and the Nirmaan startup incubator, the Sudha and Shankar Innovation Hub.
  • A focused tour of the newly updated Heritage Center including a screening of IIT Madras: A Journey of Eminence in the newly inaugurated '81 Theatre.
  • A tour of the IITM Research Park that included a tea where Prof. Jhunjhunwala described the history, status, and outlook of that organization. We also got to meet some of the startups located there and experience some demos of innovative technology.
  • Nature Walks around campus led by Prof. Suzy Varghese and a Mylapore Heritage Walk in the city.
  • Given that it was the music season in Chennai, there was a Carnatic Music concert which we attended in our logo-ed traditional dhoti, shirt & angavastram ensemble for the men and saris for the women. Of course, the concert was followed by a fabulous traditional Sabha Canteen tiffin lunch!

While we participated in campus activities such as visits to the Research Park and the fabulous new Mandakini Hostel, our spouses were off soaking in the rich cultural heritage of Chennai with a temple tour, museum visit and some shopping. We got back later that evening for a fabulous dinner at the IITM Alumni Club, where we roasted and toasted all the volunteers who did an amazing job putting it all together. The highlight was the presentation of a caricature of our Distinguished Alumnus, V. Shankar to V. Shankar who did the bulk of the planning for the event, from his vantage point in Chennai. Of course, no presentation is complete without a poem- an Ode written by our own Arvind Rajan.

Some of the structured activities from Fisherman's Cove were:

  1. A lovely beachside banquet with entertainment provided by a Mentalist followed by dancing under the stars!
  2. A guided tour of Mahabalipuram as well as a tour of Dakshinchitra, a cross-cultural living museum of art, architecture, lifestyles, crafts and performing arts of South India.

What a wonderful 3 days they were! We had a jolly good time reconnecting with our old friends, reminiscing and enjoying the beautiful campus of IIT Madras. From the welcome dinner to the farewell breakfast, every moment was filled with laughter, joy, and nostalgia. We played bridge, sang songs, danced, and shared stories. We also learned about the amazing achievements of our fellow alumni and the current students. We are so proud to be part of this great Institute and this amazing batch of 1981. We hope to see them all again soon at our Golden Reunion. Until then, we'll stay in touch and keep the RU40 spirit alive!

The Back Story

It all started with a phone call from my classmate Kamal in October 2021 suggesting that we start planning for our 40th reunion on campus (since dubbed "RU40"). We settled on December 2022 for this event so that we would have enough time to organize a memorable event and find, inform and motivate people to attend.

We ended up with a core organizing group of 8 volunteers with different strengths, a range of backgrounds and experiences representing our batch today. Having people located in Chennai and who had strong local ties to IITM was extremely key to the success we had.

The core organizing group started meeting in early December 2021 with video conferences fortnightly initially and weekly for the last 4 months before the event. We divided up the work into sub-areas such as "Marketing" or locating classmates and motivating them to attend, Program, Entertainment, Food, Fundraising and Project selection (for the legacy gift) and Yearbook. We also took the "pulse of the people" on a variety of decisions via our class WhatsApp/Signal groups, online polls, and individual conversations to ensure that what the small group was planning met the needs of the class.

The Legacy Gift

We set a fundraising target of US$ 1.5 million for our class legacy gift to be presented to the Institute at our RU40. We started working fundraising immediately since the 15 months to the reunion would let us approach potential donors in two successive tax years. Thanks to steady campaigning in our WhatsApp group and the generosity of our batchmates we have raised $1.3 million (and counting) as of June 2023, from over 110 donors, and we’re still at it.

Allocating US$1.5 million to the right project is not an easy decision for one person, let alone a diverse group of over 150 opinionated IITM alumni! To make the best group decision possible, we set up a process for the selection of candidate projects, advocacy of them, and a consensus-building process to finally select the funded projects.

Anyone from our class or from IIT could suggest a candidate project for funding. However, for it to be presented in the final selection vote, it had to meet minimal criteria:

  1. There needed to be a "Champion" for the project who would ensure that it was represented fully and fairly to members of our class.
  2. There needed to be a "Sponsor" within IITM, typically a faculty member, who would take responsibility for implementing the project if it were selected as the Legacy Gift. The Sponsor would also support the Champion in educating the class about project motivation, goals, and implementation plan.
  3. There needed to be a clear means of acknowledging visibly that the project was made possible by the Class of 1981.

Of the half-dozen or so ideas presented, 3 made it to the final round of selection: (i) a Sports Center, (ii) an Advanced Health Technology Centre; and (iii)replacement of the campus buses with e-buses along with some research in e-mobility.

Once the candidate projects were selected, there was an extended advocacy period where the Champions and the Sponsors worked together to educate the class on the need and importance, the plans and how the money would be used. We had several international Zoom sessions where we brought together the project teams with members of our class for this purpose.

To make the final selection of the project that the class wanted to support, we set up an online election using ranked choice voting. The major benefit of this method is that the finally selected project would have more than 50% support from the class based on their preferences. Also, prior to the vote all Champions and die-hard proponents of each project made a commitment that all would abide by the tabulated election result. With all this preparation, I'm happy to tell you that there was no objection to the finally selected project and the entire class has committed to support its successful implementation at IITM.

The Book of Us

Inspired by the success of a Photo Book for an earlier mini-reunion, the early planners of the RU40 thought a memorabilia in the form of a Yearbook would be appropriate. But what was initially just a loose collection of ideas morphed into a full-fledged project. Much like every other aspect of the reunion, we set our bar high for the output from this project too. We studied other alumni yearbooks, figured out basic parameters and then set about collecting content from every member of the graduating class of 1981, regardless of whether they were attending the Reunion or not. Nearly 200 of our graduating class submitted content and recent family photographs. To our surprise, we had several MTech., MSc, PhD students also participate in this.

In addition to collecting a one-page writeup from every member, we also managed to pool together over 200+ precious photographs from our days at IITM. Yes, those days, cameras and casual photos were not in vogue, which made this a very special element. We decided to engage a professional designer for designing the yearbook, as well as digital print a coffee table format book. This was a huge hit – we printed a total of 150 copies and nearly all of them were grabbed by the group.

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