June 21, 2021
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Verghese Kurien, India's Doodhwala, R.I.P

Verghese Kurien, India's Doodhwala, R.I.P

He created the taste of India. He created wealth too, and that too in millions of small, poor homes. India's doodhwallah (milkman) Dr Verghese Kurien and his organisation Amul transformed the life of humble cattle farmers throughout the country. It's thanks to him that India is the world's largest producer of milk today, and Amul its biggest brandname. But the father of India's white revolution's real contribution lies in empowering the poor and initiating constructive social change in rural areas—the Amul revolution directly benefits more than 10 million dairy farmers. In the 1980s, he repeated what he did for milk in edible oils, with Operation Golden Flow. Apart from the Padma Vibhushan, the pugnacious visionary was also a Magsaysay awardee for Community Leadership (1963), and a winner of the World Food Prize in 1989.

Writing in 2005, Khushwant Singh wrote:

Kurien was born in 1921 to a well-to-do Syrian Christian family of Calicut. A bright student, he was with the Tatas after graduating in science and engineering from Madras University.

He applied for a government scholarship for higher studies abroad, hoping to return to his job with added qualifications. One question put to him by a member of the selection panel changed his entire career.

He was asked, "What is pasteurisation?" He answered correctly that it was processing milk to make it last longer. He was told he'd be sent to Michigan State University in the US to study dairy farming and milk production. He was flabbergasted but accepted the offer.

If he changed his mind after he returned to India, he would have to repay the government Rs 30,000. He did not have that kind of money. So a very sulky young lad found himself in a dusty little town—Anand—in Gujarat to ensure continuance of milk supply to Bombay.

He could not speak Gujarati, was a beef-eating Christian and a bachelor. No family in Anand was willing to have him as a paying guest. He converted an empty garage into his home.

It did not take him very long to befriend locals, chiefly farmers who owned buffaloes and sold milk to earn their livelihood.

He found two stalwarts to support him: Tribhuvan Patel and Miraben, daughter of Sardar Patel. He formed the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producer's Union, better known after its butter, Amul.

Luck was on his side, or so he believed. Professing to be an unbeliever in the occult, he had his fortune read by the length of his shadow at noontime. The shadow reader told his past accurately: he did not like his job and would leave it in a month.

Also, "your career is set for a phenomenal rise—the kind you can never imagine". Kurien told his biographer, "In hindsight, it could not be truer." He quit the government creamery and joined the Kaira cooperative. The rest is history.

The Anand milk cooperative was modernised. When President Rajendra Prasad came to lay its foundation stone, a mouse came out from nowhere and jumped on the stove. "The entire gathering was overcome with joy," says Kurien, "because the mouse is seen as Lord Ganesha's vehicle." So, with the blessings of Ganesha, the lord of auspicious beginnings, began Kurien's meteoric rise to dazzling heights.

Read the full piece: Utterly Butterly

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