I have been a huge fan of Dr. Varghese Kurian, who died two days ago, at the age of 90.
Many years ago, in one of issues of THE BLOOM (a Dawn Club inspirational magazine), we had run a long cover-story on Dr. Kurian in our ‘The Great Motivators’ series. We had sent some copies of this issue to Dr. Kurian’s office at Anand, Gujarat, and, promptly, we were sent a letter of appreciation by the great man himself. We were also asked to send some extra copies. We were more than delighted to do that.
The life of Dr. Kurian is an inspiring story. Born in a Syrian Catholic family in Kerala, he studied in the famed Loyola College of Madras. Later, he went to the US on an Indian-Government scholarship to pursue Engineering in the Michigan State University, where, he completed his Mechanical Engineering. On his return to India, as per the Bond signed by him, he had to take up an assignment in Gujarat creamery. Dr. Kurian took it up half-heartedly. Never had he imagined that this ‘reluctant choice’ would, soon, revolutionize not only his own life but that of the state and the entire nation.
Shri. Tribuvandas Patel, a Gandhian and a charismatic social worker, had started the Co-operative movement among the downtrodden and socially-exploited farmers of Kaira village in Gujarat. Most of these farmers were Harijans and lived at the mercy of their village Sarpanch and the middlemen. So, the Co-operative movement had brought a unity amongst these farmers and the collective strength of the milk-movement was making waves all over Gujarat.
The young and rebellious Dr. Varghese Kurian, was hugely inspired by the work of Shri. Tribuvandas Patel; and, before he knew it, he was drawn close into the fold of the charismatic revolutionary.
Dr. Kurian’s life was forever changed, since then.
It was through this young man, Dr. Kurian, that the vision of Shri. Tribuvandas Patel was to eventually unfold not only across the districts of Gujarat but through the length and breadth of our country.
Undoubtedly, ‘AMUL’, is the most visible brand created by this Co-operative movement which had quietly sprouted in the remote Kaira district…
There are a hundred other reasons, less visible or popular though, why Dr. Kurian’s leadership is phenomenal in its contribution.
A few individuals have caused such a massive economic and social revolution as Dr. Kurian - who had been fondly re-christened as ‘the Milk-man of India’ - has. The beauty lies in the way the Co-operative movements run… so simple, yet so mighty! Only a visionary and a leader like Tribhuvandas Patel or Dr. Kurian could unleash this power and harness it into such colossal creations.
‘Operation White Flood’… ‘The White Revolution’… these are just two of the famous phrases, often, used to describe the mass movement set in motion and propelled valiantly by the genius of Dr. Kurian.
I had just turned 18, when, back home in my hometown, Mangalore, I watched the inspiring Shyam Benegal-directed movie – ‘Manthan’ (the churning). It was 1976. I did not know, then, who Dr. Kurian was and what a mammoth social and economic change he had brought about. The movie was the hair-raising saga of this Co-operative movement… the power of simple individuals... How, under inspired leadership, these scattered, simple individuals can come together and build something that can stand like the invincible Rock of Gibraltar!
“United we stand; divided we fall.”
Well, if we need a fine story
to support this old saying,
we have this movie to show.
Rather, the saga of
Dr. Kurian’s movement to show.
Perhaps, you may not know this: the story of this movie was partially written by Dr. Kurian himself. Vijay Tendulkar had written the screenplay. Govind Nihalani had done the cinematography. Girish Karnad had played Dr. Rao (Dr. Kurian), and there were those amazing actors – Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patill and Kulbhushan Karbanda. And, you certainly won’t believe this: the production of this movie was majorly funded by 5,00,000 farmers of those remote districts of Gujarat… They had chipped in Rs. 2 each, there by, making themselves ‘Producers’ of this Bollywood movie!
That also reminds me of another such simple yet revolutionary idea set in motion by Shri. Tribhuvandas Patel, Dr. Kurian’s mentor. When Shri. Patel chose to voluntarily retire from the Chairmanship of AMUL and hand over the baton to Dr. Kurian, the grateful members of Gujarat milk-Cooperatives handed him a purse of Rupees Six Lakhs… put together by contributing one rupee by each member! Mr. Patel used this hearty endowment as seed money to start the ‘Tribhuvandas Foundation’, which, today, carries out some stupendous work of charity!
Yes, this is the power of an idea!
Dr. Kurian, a Keralite, who had landed in that remote village of Gujarat almost against his wish, was destined to transform it… and, eventually, spend his entire life-time there… And, yes, finally, breathe his last, too!
Even though his legacy will be referred to as ‘Operation White Food’… or, ‘The White Revolution’ in our History books, the legend has it that, Dr. Varghese Kurian – ‘the Milk-man of India’ - did not like to drink milk, at all!
Good-bye sir… The churning will keep us inspired for a long, long time. Thank you.
Pics.: Vivek D'Cunha