Religious leaders, musicians, chess players too pass out of IITs


He is a pioneer in playing traditional Carnatic music on guitar. Popularly known as ‘Guitar Prasanna’, he had studied naval architecture at IIT-M…reports Venkatachari Jagannathan

Not only scientists, technologists, industrialists, businessmen and top executives have passed out of the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M).

Religious leader Nirmalanandanatha Swamiji, Carnatic musicians — guitarist R. Prasanna and vocalist S. Sowmya — and chess players S. Kailasanathan and M. Ramesh, among others, too are distinguished alumni of this prestigious institution.

Founded in 1959 with German assistance, IIT-M, an institute of eminence, is a residential institution with nearly 550 faculty, over 10,000 students and more than 1,250 administrative/support staff.

Located in about 250 hectares of greenery in the heart of Chennai, IIT-M boasts of major names in various fields as its alumni, such as Prem Watsa, Founder-Chairman, Fairfax Holdings; Kris Gopalakrishnan, one of the Founders of Infosys; Anand Rajaram and Venky Harinarayanan, Co-Founders of Cambrian Ventures, Kosmiz, Junglee Corp (acquired by Amazon); Gururaj Deshpande, Founder, Sycamore Networks; T.T. Jagannathan, Chairman, TTK Group, and several others.

Here are thumbnail sketches of well and not so well-known IIT Madras alumni who have made a mark for themselves in their respective fields.

S. Kailasanathan, Managing Director, Microsense Group

Seventy-year-old S. Kailasanathan, Managing Director, Microsense Group, won the Tamil Nadu chess championship as a student of IIT-M. He also has the distinction of playing chess for West Bengal and Delhi.

Microsense is majorly into offering WiFi connectivity in major hotel chains and residential apartments, among others. The group will be entering the Middle East market soon.

After getting his business degree from IIM-Calcutta, Kailasanathan began his career with the Electronics Trade and Technology Development Corporation. In 1980s, he founded the Microsense Group.

Sponsoring several young chess players, Microsense also organised coaching camps for upcoming Indian players, roping in two chess legends — former world champion GM Vladimir Borisovich Kramnik and GM Boris Gelfand.

Nirmalanandanatha Swamiji, Head, Adichunchanagiri Mutt

An M.Tech of IIT-M, Nirmalanandanatha Swamiji – born as Nagaraj Gowda – was appointed as the head of the Adichunchanagiri Mutt.

Prior to joining IIT-M, he had completed his Diploma from a Government Polytechnic College and BE in civil engineering from the National Institute of Engineering, Mysuru.

In 1998, he became a ‘sanyasi’ (saint), renouncing worldly life, and in 2013 Nirmalanandanatha became the head of the Adichunchanagiri Mutt.

R. Prasanna, Guitarist

He is a pioneer in playing traditional Carnatic music on guitar. Popularly known as ‘Guitar Prasanna’, he had studied naval architecture at IIT-M.

Now based in the US, Prasanna says he got interested in guitar at the age of five when he saw his neighbour at Ranipet play the instrument. He says that Carnatic music is part of his DNA and thanks his mother for making him learn it.

Later, as part of rock bands, he toured different parts of India.

Guitar Prasanna (Wikipedia)

Deciding to focus 100 per cent on music, he quit his software profession and majored in Jazz and Classical Composition from the Berklee College of Music.

Prasanna has composed music for several movies, besides playing for the soundtracks for music directors like Ilaiyaraaja, A.R. Rahman, Harris Jayaraj and others.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, Co-Founder, Neeva Inc

If one were asked to name the Indian heading a search engine company, majority of the time the answer will not be Sridhar Ramaswamy, but some other Tamilian name.

After spending several years as SVP Google in the US, Ramaswamy, a 1989 IIT-M pass out, is the Co-Founder of Neeva Inc, a search engine. That too a paid one. The USP being it will be an ads-free search engine for $4.95/month.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, Co-Founder, Neeva Inc (Wikipedia)

He had partnered with Vivek Raghunathan, ex-Vice President, Monetisation, at YouTube, and a graduate from IIT Bombay.

Interestingly, Neeva in Tamil ‘you come’. The venture of the two ex-IITians that crosses swords with Google has begun recently and one has to wait for the results.

Sridhar Vembu, CEO, Zoho Corporation

Padma Shri Sridhar Vembu graduated with a B.Tech. degree in electrical engineering from IIT-M in 1989 and secured his doctorate from the Princeton University in 1994.

After working in Qualcomm, Vembu joining hands with his brothers and friends co-founded software product company AdventNet, which was later renamed as Zoho Corporation.

Eearlier this year, Zoho Corporation launched Arattai, an instant messaging app, as a rival to WhatsApp.

As a policy, Vembu avoids funding by venture capitalists and the public.

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