Tuesday, February 7, 2023

‘Sundi’ was always focused: IIT batchmate


By Sirshendu Panth
Kolkata, Aug 12 (IANS)
Sundar Pichai was completely focused even in his student days, and very sure of what he wanted to do in his personal and professional life, says the new Google core business CEO’s batchmate at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.

Pichai, whose friends still call him by the nickname “Sundi”, was apparently shy and more at ease with small groups than big ones. However, the external shyness camouflaged a rocksolid determination, said his batchmate.

“One quality that I saw in him was that he was very focused from day one that he wanted to go abroad for higher studies, to US,” Phani Bhushan, a noted civil engineer, told IANS over phone from Mumbai.

Pichai and Bhushan belonged to the same 1989 batch of IIT, Kharagpur. While Pichai – full name Pichai Sundararajan – studied metallurgical and materials engineering, Bhushan was a student of civil engineering.

They both spent their four years in the prestigious institute as residents of the Nehru hostel. For half of the time, they put up in the same wing.

Armed with a B.Tech from IIT-Kharagpur, Pichai in 1993 went to the US and earned an MS from Stanford University and an MBA from Wharton School of Business.

“In whatever he did he was very clear about what he wanted,” said Bhushan, who is the founder of Anant Computing Platform.

Pichai fell in love with a batchmate from chemical engineering Anjali Haryani, and later the duo tied the knot.

“Just imagine, for four years, we were spending hours together every day. Yet we had no inkling that they were in a relationship. After passing out, when they decided to marry, then only we came to know about their relationship. Such was Pichai,” Bhushan said with a chuckle.

“And those days, the ratio of boys and girls in the institute was 10:1. So you can easily understand the competition among the boys to date a girl. We used to say it is easier to get into IIT than date a girl there. But he did that, and did that absolutely silently.”

Pichai was never a bookworm, but studious, he revealed.

“He was not an avid sportsman, but played indoor games like carrom and table tennis. We used to go to the town for movies on Friday nights. Those were mostly south Indian films dubbed into Hindi. And Pichai was also fond of them,” he said.

“Like any other young man of his age, Pichai was jovial. We always pulled each others’ legs. Both of us enjoyed the banter,” said Bhushan, who simply dotes on his friend.

And the relationship has endured over the years. However, the last meeting was 10 years back, when Pichai came to Mumbai. “After that, we have been exchanging mails. But over the past five years, he has become really busy. Now I communicate mostly with his wife.”

Pichai has worked at Google since it went public in 2004, most recently as the senior vice president of products.

He is the second person of Indian origin to head a major IT company after Hyderabad-born Satya Nadella who became CEO of software giant Microsoft in February 2014, succeeding Steve Ballmer.

Asked what he would tell his friend now after his latest success, Bhushan said: “I can’t tell you. May be, we will go back to our IIT days.”

“But right now all of us are proud of him. You are talking to me because of him. He has proved merit can take you anywhere.”

(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at [email protected])

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