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Vol. XXXI No. 13, October 16-31, 2021

Our Readers Write

Remembering Dr. Bala

I met Dr. Bala V. Balachandran, the J.L. Kellog Distinguished Professor (Emeritus in Service) of Accounting and Information Management when he was about to receive an award at the ITC Grand.

Prof Bala, as he was known, was the founder, chairman and dean of the Great Lakes Institute of Management in Chennai. In a matter of 10 years, under his stewardship, the school had grown into one of the top management institutions in the country. It received global accreditation from the Association of MBAs (AMBA, UK) in June 2014 for its postgraduate programmes, becoming the youngest business school in India to receive this top international accreditation and one of the youngest globally too.

I was doing a profile for one of my columns. He was avuncular but very sharp and precise when he told me about his journey as a teacher and an academic entrepreneur which began in 1960. He had been with the Kellogg School of Management for more than 4 decades.

Prof Bala began his teaching career in 1960 at the Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu. In 1967, he moved to the University of Dayton and in 1971, to the Carnegie Mellon University, where he taught management courses while working on his doctorate. In 1973, he joined the Kellogg School of Management faculty. His work earned him scholastic honours, awards and fellowships. He provided consultancy and executive education for various companies and governments in the US and across the globe.

Prof Bala was keen on setting up a business school in India which became a distinct possibility after the country opened up in the 90’s. When Manmohan Singh was the finance minister, he wanted IAS officers to be trained by management professors from leading American universities, to deal with foreign investments and MNCs.

Prof Bala was chosen for the assignment.

At the same time, he started toying with the idea of captains of Indian industry joining hands to create a world-class business school in India. He started discussing his ideas with Rajat Gupta, who was his neighbour in Chicago. Gupta thought it was a great idea and started working on the project immediately. He was confident that he could get the support of the Indian government and investments from American and Indian corporations. Dr. Bala was given the task of crafting the business school programme. Prof Bala was generous in his praise for Gupta.

The then chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, N. Chandrababu Naidu, saw the potential and offered land and facilities to set up the ISB near Hyderabad. Prof Bala knew Naidu quite well as he had been consulting with his government. When the ISB became functional, Prof Bala took the first class on the first day. The institution had to raise additional funds, which did not happen. The tuition fees had to be raised steeply within three years of inception, which was not acceptable to Prof Bala.

In 2002, he had to undergo quintuple bypass surgery when he was thinking of ending his association with the ISB.

Hid good friend, A. Mahendran – the former CEO and managing director of Godrej Sara Lee – who was attending a management programme at Kellogg, put an idea in the professor’s head. He had suggested that the professor start a management school in Tamil Nadu. After all he was brand Bala who could attract talent and students to make a success out of it.

In spite of his family’s misgivings Prof Bala went ahead. Although J. Jayalalithaa – who was the chief minister of Tamil Nadu then – was most supportive of the project and offered government land at subsidised rates, there were delays in clearing the land. Prof Bala sold his huge house at the upmarket East Coast Road (ECR) in Chennai and raised funds for the institution. Great Lakes was set up in 2004. He told me, “Everyone was worried about the placement prospects of the new school. As it happened, companies such as Infosys and TCS recruited our students on par with their other hires from IIMs and the ISB. The 100% placement record in the very first year attracted even more students.” Great Lakes’ flagship PGPM is now among the top-ranked one-year executive programmes in the country. Its faculty includes many management professors from top American universities who, in fact, are Prof Bala’s friends and colleagues. “ My network is my Net worth,” he said.

They don’t make them like him anymore.

Sushila Ravindranath

Mylapore in time and space!

This is with regard to your report that the Government has decided to demolish all single storied structures that are owned by the temple in Mylapore to make way for structures of two or three floors.

Can valuable historic cores and heritage assets be integrated into an aspirational metropolis without losing their unique identity? Sadly this important aspect of planning lies unanswered in Chennai and many of its heritage precincts (including Triplicane which was in the news earlier) are sought to be destroyed under the guise of modernisation and urbanisation.

Religion was the dominant factor that led to building these wonderous temple structures. The temple then led to the early urban temple towns in its vicinity and greatly influenced the settlement patterns that grew around it. Temples also functioned as the nerve centre for economic activities and trade and thus communities who served and serviced the temple lived in its close proximity. To this day, there remain signs of this pronounced influence that the temple precincts have had on their immediate and early surroundings even as the city or metropolis has enveloped them and as urban planning rules have sought to make them indistinguishable from newer areas of growth.

To quote Dr. M.D. Muthukumaraswamy, Director – National Folklore Support Centre, “Celebrations at Kapaleeshwarar temple are reminiscent of the folk culture prevalent in the pre-colonial villages that made up Chennai… The Arubathumoovar festival, beginning with a puja to the village goddess and hoisting of a flag, is a reminder that the city has not forgotten its roots of being a collection of villages, being part of a precolonial agrarian order, and being a society of small communities within the larger urban structure. It is an enactment of its talapuranam (site history), assertion of the temple’s relationship with the village deities, and a recognition of its social network of devotees and patrons spread across the villages surrounding Chennai… The sight is a telling visual of the rural folk culture asserting itself over the metropolitan façade of Chennai.”

Even today there is (an unwritten) acknowledgement of people’s sentiments of the role of temples by the local civic administration and special arrangements (including the erection of temporary pandals, pedestrianisation of Mada streets, change in bus routes or providing additional buses, water supply, street cleaning, etc) are made during festivals.

The economic systems of these temple precincts emerged, and still thrive, through activities of and related to, the temple. It is the traditional community around the temple – priests, traders, musicians, flower sellers, small vendors, daily and frequent visitors who are emotionally attached to the temple – that helps define the individuality of the place; if they are displaced, this unique identity will doubtless vanish along with them.

Communities who traditionally are linked to the temple and its traditions will in the short term also find themselves in conflict with the urban dwellers who replace them through the modernisation and densification that is envisaged. Gentrification will eventually kill the historic and people centric character of the locale.

Your report says that owners will be compensated. Is everything to be assessed only monetarily? Do not lifestyles emerge from housing styles? Are our sensitivities not developed from our visual surroundings? Do we not pause to wonder at the skill of artisans that have put bricks, wood, tiles and plaster together and has stood the test of over hundred years? What of the colour and vibrancy of Mylapore? Are our other senses to be denied and children not to know the scent of flowers, camphor, sandlewood, turmeric and kumkumam as they visit the temple? What of the flower sellers and those who sell archanai items and of garland makers who make floral decorations each day for the moolavars and stone deities inside and different seasonal combinations for the utsavars during festival processions – will they have to move out and their products ordered online?

In the case of Mylapore, we have already seen the slow erosion of cultural traditions and domination of materialistic values. If left unchecked through land planning and other measures, commercial growth will soon overwhelm its temple tradition.
Jane Jacob’s description in 1969 of cities as “engines of growth” has been monstrously distorted by international funding agencies and accepted by our governments as “cities as engines of economic growth”. Economic development has thus been prioritised over cultural needs and created binary opposition between the two. The question has to be asked if this prioritisation will spell the death knell for our heritage settlements.

From 1995, when the Draft of the Second Master Plan for Chennai was put out for public response, individuals and organisations have brought to the notice of the Government and the Planning Authorities of Chennai the need to regard heritage buildings and precincts as cultural assets and to have specific regulations for these areas. What more is required of the public to convince the Government and the Planning Authorities of Chennai that heritage precincts need to be recognised, identified, protected, notified, conserved, restored, upgraded and cherished and not modernised, gentrified, transformed and mutilated? For almost 25 years now this issue lies unresolved and it is likely that no change will be made in the Third Master Plan that is to come out in a couple of years.

Developing Mylapore by demolishing its heritage structures and altering its character, is like replacing all the centuries old metal artisan-made idols with 3D printed “used in space shuttles” Aluminium Alloy statues!

Is anybody listening?

-by Tara Murali

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  1. calicut krishnan subramaniam says:

    I boarded a train at Nagpur to go to Chennai. In the bay having 6 seats, there were 4 tamil elderly people who were on pilgrimage, were coming from Mathura. When I entered I was asked whether I am a Tamizhan and my affirmative answer met with pure joy. One old Pattimma (grandmother) said that God had brought a Tamilzhan in our midst. In our conversation, I told them that I am a Christian, that did not change the way they treated me. That is the speciality of Tamil Nadu. When you speak Tamil, all other identities disappear.

    When they were ready for lunch, they asked me to share their food. I said them that I had it at home. But many times they said,” please eat little, we feel it is not correct to eat when you don’t. That is the special hospitality of the Tamizhan. I have travelled all across the country, but have not seen such identity with the language and hospitality else where

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