While writing an article on the failure of reforms over the last two years — exactly the kind of topic that would warm the cockles of Professor Suresh Tendulkar’s heart — Sanjaya Baru called to say that Suresh was no more. Some time ago, he had re-migrated from Delhi to Pune, the city of his youth where he studied and topped his bachelor’s degree; had taken ill and was hospitalised a week earlier; and at 72 years and bit, had breathed his last. At least 10 years before his time.
As a student of economics in the early to middle 70s, you had to read different works of Suresh, covering various lacunae of India’s planning process. In particular, I remember some papers of his of the time: the so-called Tendulkar-Chenery model of growth with domestic and/or foreign exchange resource gaps; and papers on the Fifth Five-Year Plan which focused on growth, removal of poverty and income redistribution. These extremely well-written pieces came with a huge bonus: If you used these cleverly in your BA finals or MA answers, with appropriate references to the author, you were sure to get excellent marks. That’s how Suresh entered my life in my student days.
He entered yet again when I joined the faculty of the Delhi School of Economics in late 1982. Our offices were close to each other. And, there was a well-defined ritual five days a week — of pooling lunch together and having an hour-long adda with Suresh, K Sundaram, J (‘Kicchu’) Krishnamurty, and other sundry bearers of food and conversation such as Pulin Nayak and V N Pandit, later to be often joined by D’School’s ultimately brilliant bête-noire, Sanjay Subrahmanyam.
From August 1978 to February 2004, come hail or high water, Suresh, along with Sundaram, taught the course on Economic Development and Planning in India to MA students of D’School; and in the later years, also lent his shoulders in teaching Industrial Economics. He was recognised as an outstanding teacher. I remember that sometime in the mid-80s, the students conducted a poll on the best and the worst teachers. Suresh was very much on top — something that must have pleased him no end, because he felt that at a teaching institution you must be a teacher first.
I could write reams on the various tasks that Suresh undertook: Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council; member of various expert groups of the Planning Commission and the Central Statistical Organisation; chairman of the National Sample Survey Organisation; and author of 80-plus published articles. But I shan’t.
Instead, here are my thoughts about the man. Suresh was simple in the truest sense of the word — in dress, demeanour, speech and his love for the scooter that he rode till he had an accident and lost an eye. He was a liberal who encouraged debate and dissent. He cared for his colleagues. Was honest to the core. And never looked covetously at others. An old-fashioned, committed academic that rarely exists any more. Those who knew him will miss him. Greatly.