(23 Sep 2019) Farewell to Guru

Guru’s farewell

23 September 2019

Dr Guruswamy (Guru) is leaving CSIR-NCL and joining IIT-Bombay as Professor of Chemical Engineering.


I am here today with a lot of mixed feelings. On one side, I feel sad that NCL is loosing yet another excellent scientist, thinker and leader. He will also be away from his family in Pune. And I will not have an old college friend and colleague by my side. (While we could never really get down to recreating our old sporting days, I will still miss his exhortation to try doing it again!)  On the other hand, I am happy for Guru since this looks like a good time in his career to build new programs at IIT-Bombay, leverage the brand, ecosystem, academic community and alumni networks at IIT-Bombay. I am also happy that Guru can now focus on new things with help of new leadership. I am also happy for IIT-Bombay (alma mater of Guru and me) and its students who will benefit from his knowledge, talent and energies. Outstanding individuals with vision and courage shape the world —- NCL is losing one such individual today because (unfortunately) we have not learnt how to help such people flourish and reach their full potential!

I will not talk about his wonderful scientific work and accomplishments today but I want to use this occasion to highlight a few of his traits and efforts that I really admire:

  • Guru is one of the most rigorous and thorough scientists I have known. If he has led a project, carried out a piece of work or trained somebody, one can just close one’s eye and trust the quality!
  • For him, there are no short cuts, no fads and fashions to ride on, no gimmicks, no mincing words, no pretense, no sucking-up to, no space for “grey” between black and white and no lobbying!  He knows that it comes at a cost but then there is an internal compass that one has to live up to — and that internal compass is very strong in Guru.
  • Guru has been phenomenal network in academia and industry — all built on foundations of respect and credibility and not just on immediate convenience.
  • Guru’s contribution to setting up and implementing systematic mechanisms for hiring Group IV scientists through almost a 10 year period at NCL cannot be under-emphasized. He kept the process on track and all of us honest!
  • We have done many things together — hockey at IIT Bombay, Asha for Education in Pune, Exciting Science Group — and thoroughly enjoyed it.  In particular, Exciting Science Group was fantastic idea nurtured with patience by Guru for more than a decade. The impact of this decade long activity will be visible in the years to come when the young people who attended those sessions flourish as scientists and engineers. A couple of years back, a bunch of kids ran to meet me at the Pune Airport and told me that they had seen me at the Exciting Science Group event and how it has influenced them — what a wonderful feeling!
  • The Complex Fluids and Polymer Engineering Group (CFPE) was such an interesting experiment that Guru, Ashish and I tried.  Here were multiple PLs truly working as a group (especially remarkable when each of us a very different world view on what is worth pursuing!). The earliest pitches we did for projects and funds together, the aeroplane/ train/ road journeys we did, the projects we ran together, the people we trained together and the group celebrations and treks were remarkable experiences.
  • Many people may not know that Guru also developed some nice plans for the NCL Library based on global best practices and foreseeing the future. His viewpoint was crucial when we developed the PSE Roadmap document — in fact, I knew upfront that I will get the most critical comments from Guru but I also knew that is what would make it special. Unfortunately, we could not translate these plans and make them happen in practice!
  • Guru was also key in setting the norms and standards for the Featured R&D articles on NCL’s website. He himself would edit those articles and each piece became a reference point for others writing such popular write-ups on science. He also mentored several young people on popular science writing and presentation of their work to the common public.

I hate to see valuable colleagues leave! I am sure this decision to leave NCL was a difficult decision for Guru! I hope he will look upon his time at NCL with some fondness as well.  I only want to wish him the very best for the future and I hope we can keep interacting, discussing and collaborating irrespective of who employs him formally!