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Ratnam Mama

Ratnam mama to us, Dr. C. V. S. Ratnam was a loved uncle who inspired me in many ways. As I grew up, my interactions and impressions of him were constantly evolving. I am very happy to be writing about him in his centenary year.

Portrait by Sridevi Dutt

My childhood was spent in Neyveli, where my father was working. Ratnam mama was also working there. He was working in the B & C plant (Briquetting and Carbonisation) and Fertilizer plant. He was a respected chemist and developed various technologies that resulted in marketable by-products of NLC. He left NLC and relocated to New Delhi as the Chairman of NRDC in the early seventies. My interaction with him was limited during that time. Later, he became the Director of RCTT, a part of ESCAP, UNO, with Bengaluru as the headquarters. At that time, my sister Jyothi and I were studying at Mysore, and would often visit with him. After retiring from RCTT, he was a visiting professor at IIM, Bangalore. He was a consultant in many government bodies, but I do not know the details. He took every opportunity to contribute to the betterment of society and his neighbourhood. So, I can say that except for a few years, I have had a long and continuous interaction with Ratnam mama.

While he was working in Delhi, I did not have much interaction with him. But my father used to go to Delhi for office work quite often and we used to get news about them.


While he was with RCTT in Bengaluru, Jyothi and myself were studying at Mysore. So, we had a lot of interaction again. We would visit with them during the long weekends. Also, whenever we went to Neyveli for our semester vacations, we used to go to their house on the way. There was something to learn from him each time. He used to take time to interact with us. Whenever they came to Mysore, he would make it a point to come to our hostel, take permission from the warden, and take us for an outing and dinner. I remember visiting Chamundi Temple, KRS dam and Brindavan Gardens with Atha and Mama.


Mama used to subscribe to Time magazine and collected the old volumes. It was a rare and luxurious thing. Whenever I visited their house, I asked for the old volumes and went through them. Mama would guide me about the articles to read and also tell me about the current world political scenario. His knowledge of current affairs and his analysis were unique. Those interactions gave me a sound foundation of general knowledge.In fact, Mama was a voracious reader. There was a book stand in the toilet of his house and many magazines were kept there. It still is a rare practice in India.


Once, we went to see the movie ‘The Big Bus’ (I think around 1976-77). We enjoyed it thoroughly. During our dinner that night, he asked us what was unique about it. After getting our reactions, he went on to tell us about the geography of the USA (from New York to Denver, the route taken by the bus in the movie), nuclear energy and its future, and about the cast. He would freely share his thoughts with the kids, educating us in the process.


During that time, Art Buchwald wrote a column in the Sunday Hindu newspaper. I could not understand his brand of humour, but Mama would explain it to me patiently.


A very big international conference was being held at RCTT. Mama asked us to volunteer for the same. It was our first exposure to such an event. I saw, for the first time, international delegates, their translators, lecture sessions, workshops, forums, etc, and how they worked. It has made such a lasting impression and I still remember it. I guess, even now, it is quite an honour to volunteer for any event at the UNO!! RCTT was a beautiful campus with huge lawns and gardens.

While I was studying at IIT, Chennai too, he used to visit me at the hostel, taste the food in the mess, etc. He would interact with my friends and ask them about their research work. He would give useful suggestions to them. And also try enquire about the latest work going on in different subjects. He was the one who explained what a patent is and what is its importance in research and technology. He used to be put up at the VIP Guest House on the IIT Campus.

My late husband Dutt was a student at IIM, Bengaluru at the time of our engagement, where Mama was a visiting professor. Dutt too used to fondly recall his interaction with Mama and Atha during that time. Ratnam mama was a brilliant person and believed that children are the future of society. He was a philanthropist and has helped many people and organizations. A thorough gentleman, and a scholar, he never missed a chance to learn and to educate others. I am honoured for this opportunity to write about my remembrances.

Sharing some photographs of Ratnam mama with our family.

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