With CPI of almost 10 in B.Tech. at IITK, he could have had any job or admission to any university. He declined all offers of job, admission, or scholarship to pursue one goal – Service to Society.
With 2nd All India Rank in JEE and his almost 10 CPI in BTech (he got only one “B” grade), he could have had anything that he wanted. He was all set to make a materialistically enriching life, which millions aspire. With three sisters, he is the only son of his parents, and the entire family along with many of his batch mates, begged him to study abroad. A batch mate on a blog wrote, “I occasionallymocked his convictions and told his parents that he would eventually succumbto the lure of dollars, just like several of his batch mates.” But, he couldn’t be deterred from his single-minded pursuit of serving humanity. He would explain, “Just like Silicon Valley, social sectors too desperately need intelligent people.” He declined all offers of admissions and scholarships from prestigious universities and continued his Ph.D. at IITK. His goal: Service to Society
After his B.Tech and Ph.D. from IITK some 25 years ago, Dr. Ramesh Misra, now Swami Ramananda or popularly known as Ramesh Maharaj, teaches at the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University at Belur Math [Name of the alumnus has been changed at his request]. Unmarried, he has dedicated his entire life towards a social cause – education for the masses. He continues to positively impact the lives of the poorest of the poor. Recently, he helped save the life of 12-year-old Sarita, who developed a hole in her heart. Ramesh helped raise funds for her operation. Though many were doubtful of meeting the goal of raising Rs. 3Lakhs, Sarita was back home after a successful surgery, making his IITK classmate and next door neighbor in the hostel, put his faith in Ramesh’s words that , “there are a lot of good people in the world, we just need to reach out to them.”
As a student at IITK, through Vivekananda Samiti, he taught several of the mess workers’ children, besides other poor employees. He also stood for the cause of mess workers for their rights which irked the administration that wanted to take disciplinary action against him. However, the support for Ramesh from Computer Science department was too much to take any action. It is believed that as a revenge for his actions he received the only B-grade of his student life in Sociology course, thus denying him a chance to win President’s Gold Medal. Once again in 1993 at IITK, a construction workers’ cooperative was fighting for the right of full minimum wages to workers and against the contractor system. Workers had decided to organize a fast since the administration was reluctant to take any action. A professor of Computer Science Department and Ramesh joined the fast in solidarity.
24 Karat Pure Gold
Ramesh is 24 Karat pure brilliant gold! This is how one of his batch mate and now an IPS Officer recollects, “In IIT Kanpur and later on in the police service as an IPS officer, I had the privilege of meeting many sharp and intelligent people. But no one ever came anywhere near the pure brilliance this unassuming and simple boy (this is the way I last saw him in 1989 when we graduated from Kanpur) had. To give an example, those of us from Engineering stream know what kind of problems in Physics by I.E. Iredov has. Very few of those who make it to the IIT and other Engineering colleges are able to solve more than 30-40% of these problems on their own without the guidebook. Ramesh could do them all at the time he entered IIT.”
Another batch mate wrote, “I consider myself lucky to have been Ramesh’s batch mate at IIT-Kanpur. Personally I have never met a more gifted person, intellectually and spiritually, in my life. He was able to produce outputs with minimum input and was able to solve problems from all the engineering disciplines (not just computer science). His approach to problem solving is very refreshing and he makes even difficult problems look absurdly simple. If he explains, everyone understands faster and better than what our professors could do.”
This is what one GSV, who was an MTech student when Ramesh was doing his PhD wrote, “Ramesh lived above my room at IITK. I was amazed by the flock of PhD students from all departments standing in line outside his room waiting to see him and solve their thesis problems. He would get up after a long sleep and when asked, he would answer that he was busy teaching and playing with children in the neighboring village previous night. What an outstanding selfless humble personality! Then some students would take him to the Hall 5 mess buy him food and meantime he would crack the students thesis problem (including Mech. Engg.). We all looked at him like a superhuman above every other living student at that time. I knew that time that he could get any job in any country that any other student would desire (including me) but he would not have got the satisfaction that he had right now. We will never understand the bliss and satisfaction that he has right now, because to understand we need to elevate ourselves to that level which is rare to happen. I am proud that a highly intelligent fellow Indian is using his skills to improve the quality of education and future of India’s children.”
Doing your Best is what Matters Most
Ramesh never cared for any award or recognition. He did not get upset when he was denied President’s Gold Medal at IITK due to one B-grade in a course which everyone thought was due to no fault of his. He did not get up in arms when his B.Tech project work became a paper in ACM journal (ACM is the highest research society for computer science the EE equivalent is IEEE) but the reviewer of the paper, a renowned professor in computational geometry in Canada, without any contribution to the paper added his name as the first author and his student’s as the third author, putting Ramesh’s name in the middle. Nor he complained when his project partner was showered with accolades for best project in which Ramesh did all the work. In recognition of his outstanding contributions to the society at large, Ramesh was conferred with the Distinguished Alumnus Award by IITK and is among the top 50 most influential alumni.
Ramesh’s father was GM at Bhilai Steel Plant and mother a professor of Electrical Engineering. Ramesh grew up with three sisters – all engineers. Ramesh was not only clear of what he wanted to do in life; he wanted to do it in the most inexpensive way. This is how a classmate of Ramesh from NIT Raipur where Ramesh did his 1st year BE after 10+1 before joining IITK remembers him, “He had only two pairs of payjamas and kurta. With a cotton hand bag on the shoulder, he used to go to the slum behind our college to teach students. Her mother used to request us to persuade Ramesh to buy some pants and shirts or at least few more payjamas and kurtas. But he wouldn’t listen.” He remained austere at IITK as well. A batch mate from IITK wrote that he managed to pass four years with just a pair of white kurta-pyjama. His child like simplicity still continues. On one occasion, a fellow monk’s computer was having some problems and he knew that Ramesh Maharaj could fix it. He called Ramesh Maharaj. Ramesh Maharaj replied that he was quite busy. The fellow monk then told that he will give him a bottle of Thumbs-Up if he comes. Ramesh Maharaj was excited like a child to hear that and quickly turned up. The computer got fixed but, he forgot to drink the Thumbs-Up. “Ramesh is like a kid” – he told.
Courage of Conviction
Many of us wonder but one of his batch mates from IITK point blanked asked Ramesh, “Did you know what you have done? How on the earth could you abandon all that and take up a monastic life?” He laughed. Throughout our discussion he maintained that it was not a sudden decision. It just grew over him. At the end of my direct question, he told me, “You know, I did not make much of renunciation. It is actually you, who did it. I left lesser stuff for something better and you left the better things to dwell over the mundane matters. Now tell me, who actually renounced?”
“Ramesh’s story is beyond inspiration, recalls his IITK class-mate and next door neighbor in the hostel. When I look around at my batch-mates, many of whom head companies, I consider Ramesh the biggest success story of IIT. His story should be a catalyst for all those who want to bridge the social abyss created by market forces and government inaction.”
Another visitor after meeting Ramesh, reflecting during his journey back home wrote, “Looking outside the bus window I could not help but reflect that Ramesh Maharaj is a wonderful example of an indomitable spirit, undaunted courage of conviction and above all, loftiness of character. In a world where much of our activity these days is nothing more than a cheap anesthetic to deaden the pain of an empty life, Ramesh Maharaj stands tall with his head held high. Ramesh’s example is a testimony that while there might not be anything wrong inherently, in pursuing our goals, whether materialistic or not, at least some of our life needs to be spent for the upliftment of others who might not be that well-endowed or fortunate. Perhaps it need not always be with money but maybe some of our time, or maybe partially if not in full measure, no matter how small or insignificant the effort might be. I am reminded of Rabindranath Tagore’s quote – Life is given to us, we earn it by giving a part of it to others. It leads me to conclude that the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s apathy.”
Alumnus featured here wrote to us, “I am usually very shy of any kind of publicity. I have to humbly say that actually I don’t like it at all. It increases one’s ego meaninglessly which is bad for one’s spiritual and psychological makeup.” Although this is a true story, to honor his wishes and to avoid unnecessary publicity we have changed his name. Please feel free to post your comment / questions on the blog.We will pass your comments/questions to him.