Welcome to Alumni & Corporate Relations

Campus Musings

Campus Musings

42 Rites of Passage

42 What’s in a number? Well, 42 happens to be the answer to life, the universe, and everything, as Douglas Adams proclaimed in his novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. Coincidentally, the eponymous TV series debuted in 1981, the year I graduated from IIT Madras (BTech, Mech). I concur with Adams, because…

42 happens to be the number of years that have passed since 1981, when my batchmates and I, callow yet supremely confident youth, passed out from the cloistered campus of our beloved alma mater into the rudeness of the surrounding galaxy. The intervening years have bounced us, buffeted us, changed us. I am now almost 63. I was reminded of the number 42 quite excruciatingly as I arrived with my gray-bearded, bald-pated visage in March 2023 for the annual day of the IIT Madras Heritage Center, where both my age and that of the Institute were on full display. Looking around, I realized that most of these old fogeys were in fact younger than me. By the end, going around the nostalgic displays and realizing that the institute had aged far more gracefully than I had, I was subconsciously reaching for my figurative walking stick.

42 indeed represents four decades of great dynamism and growth for the institute. There has been growth in size, reputation, and stature, as the institute has piled up awards, rankings and recognition as the best engineering institution in India and many other distinctions. Vastly expanded faculty and graduate and postgraduate degree programmes, combined with selectivity in admissions even more stringent than when we joined have preserved its elite status. IIT Madras has also managed an exceptional placement record and forged great industry partnerships, especially through its Research Park, which fosters a number of startups. 42 is the number of startups launched + national/international awards won so far by the CFI ( Centre for Innovation), one of the best examples of the entrepreneurial spirit at IIT Madras. This was evident at the recent 2023 annual event, held at the new CFI building recently inaugurated by India’s Vice President, the Sudha and Shankar Innovation Hub. The event showcased an astonishing range of student projects in diverse fields, most spanning multiple engineering disciplines. Each project typically had a booth and a demo, and teams varied in size from 3 to 40. These projects are entirely voluntary and extra-curricular, with funding and structure by the Institute. I saw projects ranging from high-profile ones such as Abhiyaan (autonomous vehicles), Anveshak (Mars Rover) and Avishkar (Hyperloop) to a variety of smaller inventions across a large range of subject areas. Everywhere the pride and optimism of the young participants were evident. I couldn’t help thinking how far the place had come since my own senior year project, which was a (not-quite-functioning) currency counting machine.

42 is also shorthand, for me and my fellow alumni, for over four decades of personal development, career trajectories and family and life stories. After that hypersonic launch from IIT Madras, most of us rocketed off, albeit not always in predictable directions. With “degree pedigree”, much luck and some hard work, we have learned how to love, raised families, found ways to contribute professionally, serve with distinction in a variety of fields, run companies, build businesses, and even, I dare say, done a bit of engineering! One may even hope a jot of wisdom has been granted to us.

42 represents the middle two quarters of our lifespan for my batch, as most of us were 21 when we graduated. These decades have choreographed a diversity of dreams, paths, and outcomes for me and my fellow alumni. Lifelong friendships were fostered among us. The bonhomie and closeness we alumni feel for one another is a tribute to the stamp left upon us by the institution and our formative years there. A few, sadly, have left us. And now, at the age of 63, most of us have arrived at approximately the three-quarters point. And with it, arrives the question: what will the next and last quarter bring, physically and metaphorically?

42 years, though, is just a flash in time, less than a moment, during which nothing has changed in the universe. It is a mere pirouette, a passing glimpse into the great dance of time and space. Last month, as a guest lecturer in the Management Studies department, I stood before a class of IITM third-year undergrads. They are enrolled in Quantitative Finance, a newly introduced dual degree interdisciplinary program whose curriculum I had the good fortune to be asked to help design. We had a very enjoyable interactive session on the pitfalls of applying engineering principles to finance. But the magic moment for me was when I swiveled, at one point, mid- sentence, to meet the rapt gaze of the 35 or so students and felt an indescribable thrill. Here I was, and here they were, brought together in space and time! And reflected in their eyes, I saw, as in a mirror, the hope, the fears, the confidence, and the questions of my 19-year-old self. My eyes shone, as if with tears, and I think they saw it too.

42 years later, we have the opportunity to give back to the institution that shaped us in so many ways, launched us, and which still evokes a certain thrill as we drive through the verdant winding road to Gajendra Circle, as deer graze peacefully and students cycle along to their classes, as if nothing had changed. Many of my batchmates were at our (belated) 40th reunion on-campus in December 2022, when we decided to donate a fleet of electric buses to IIT Madras, and to support research into mass transport EVs to accelerate their public adoption. This is both a nod to the past and a salute to the future. It felt wonderful to give back, albeit in a small way, to the place that has meant so much to so many of us, and I am glad we were given the opportunity.

42 years have we had, to live, to love, to reflect. To reflect on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. To reflect on what has changed and what hasn’t, on what about our lives and about IIT Madras is transient and what is worth preserving, about who we have become and what we will leave behind, and yes, about what we can do, individually and collectively, to make the coming years the best years yet, for us and for IIT Madras.

In love and peace,

Arvind Rajan
B.Tech., Mech Engg., 1981

About the author:

Arvind Rajan, PhD, is a Managing Partner of Basis Point Global Solutionswhich he founded in 2020, providing analytical solutions for algorithmic Trading and asset management. His areas of expertise include Algorithmic Model Trading,  Emerging Markets, Fixed Income, portfolio management, macro analysis, proprietary trading, quantitative research, derivatives, artificial intelligence, and risk management.

From 2011-2020, Dr. Rajan was International Chief Investment Officer/Head of Global and Macro at PGIM Fixed Income, the investment management arm of Prudential Financial, with over $900 Billion in assets,. He  headed the FX, Global Bond, EM Debt, Investment Strategy and Macroeconomics teams. From 2008-2011, he was Head of Quantitative Research and Risk Management at Prudential.  From 1994-2007, he was at Citigroup / Salomon Brothers, leading a Proprietary Trading team, CoHead of Fixed Income Strategy, Head of Structured Credit Research, and Head of Emerging Markets Quantitative Research.

Dr. Arvind Rajan worked at AT&T Bell Labs (1987-1994) and taught at Rice University (1985 -1986). He received an MS and PhD in Operations Research from Northwestern University. Last but not least, Dr. Rajan received a B.Tech. in Mechanical Engineering from IIT Madras in 1981.