Dr. Dilip Veeraraghavan (1958 - 2009)
I returned home on the 5th of February to a single new e-mail message in my inbox.
The subject line simply said "Dilip", and I was momentarily stunned.
He had been in my thoughts just minutes earlier. I opened the message to read
that he had passed away that morning.
The memories came flooding back as the tears welled up.
I never took any of Dilip's famous courses. However if you spent any time on the IIT Madras campus, you just knew Dilip. Everyone did. And if you spent any time with Dilip, you were always amazed at his chirpiness and sense of humour. Not once in the fourteen years I had known him, did he even vaguely touch upon the circumstances that had robbed him of his eyesight. There was no bitterness about anything; just a desire to enjoy a simple life, exude optimism, make friends, and help as many people as he could. I can honestly say that he is the most selfless, socially conscious person I have had the privilege of knowing.
Dilip's phenomenal acuity is legendary. I will never forget how he always called me by my nickname even as I took a few soft, seemingly silent steps into his office in HSB.
"Vaa da Bombay. Okkaaru."
Or, the many times he pulled a phone number out of the blue even as I was struggling with only a vague recollection of the same. And the times when he has reeled off with facility the branch, batch, project guide, app record and more for a student who graduated a decade or so before. Or the shelf on which to search for a particular book in his large collection.
"Why don't you check if Kalyanaraman is back in his office before going to meet him? May save you a few minutes. Here, let me dial his number for you." He was always looking out for others. The little details.
Dilip's memory was all the more amazing for its sheer breadth. He held views on just about everything under the sun, and was quick with good advice when asked. Sometimes, even when not asked. And I mean this in a nice way. Often, when there was too much confusion or laziness to arrive at the correct decision, Dilip was there to gently prod you in the right direction. Just a mild suggestion.
"Why don't you do this instead? It will nicely resolve all your constraints."
And he loved to meet people. Directly. Face to face. As I recall, every phone conversation with him was extremely brief. Even if I were calling him after a year or more, having just landed in Madras.
"Nee innikki paththu manikki ennoda office-ku vandhudu. Appo nannaa pesalaam."
["Come to my office around 10:00 today. We will talk in detail then."]
It is difficult to express just how much of an impact Dilip has had on me over the years. When I look back, I realize he simply taught by example. You just got sucked into his way of thinking. When he presented his quick arguments, you were often left feeling that it was all so obvious to begin with. It was easy to want to think and live like Dilip. And extremely hard to actually do so.
A few months ago, totally oblivious to his battle with cancer, I had e-mailed him about my plans to visit Madras in March. I assumed that his lack of a response was due to something harmless. It would be fine, we'll talk briefly on the phone and then just meet in his office and catch up like all my previous visits. Only this time, as it turned out, my trip will be about a month too late. Emotions wash over me every time I think about him now.
I have just the one photograph taken with Dilip and his family at his K.K.Nagar home shortly before I left for grad school in the US back in 1999. But the memories, the vision and the values of a remarkable human being will always stay etched in me.
Dilip, you will forever be missed.