At the Heritage Centre

Edited by: Sharayu Shejale

On the 12th of September, the Heritage Center of IIT Madras had a ‘historical’ evening planned with the inauguration of a new exhibit at its premises. The event started with the Director, Prof Ramamurthi, unveiling portraits of three professors instrumental in setting up the Centre: Prof Natarajan, former Director (1996-2001), Prof M S Ananth, former Director (2001-2011), and Prof Ajit Kumar Kolar. Mr Kolar was present on the occasion. “You have unveiled your own photo!”, joked someone in the audience. 

The unveiling of new portraits

The Director then inaugurated the new photo exhibition, titled, “Eight (!) Decades of IIT Madras”. He went around the room, accompanied by Prof Nagarajan and Mr Ajit Kolar. The rest of the crowd – mostly alumni and their families, and a few students – followed. The alumni inevitably fell into reminiscing about their college days. For instance, some old Campastimes copies make Mr.Thomas, an alumnus from ’69 batch, remember, “Back then, I used to be a writer for the Campastimes. The college was our world and this paper is what gave access to it. We had no phones, no Internet and it was pure fun reading and writing it. Happy times, in fact”. 

Prof Nagarajan then addressed the hall with his welcome speech. Talking about the plans for the Heritage Center, he focused on the thematic exhibit that would happen every month. Starting with the decadal walk-through of IITM, further exhibits would be linked with events going on campus. The Sports Heritage in December (for Inter IIT) and Cultural Heritage in January (for Saarang) are some of them. He requested the contribution from Alumni for photos.

It was time for the Director to address the gathering. He highlighted the initial difficulties in establishing the Centre and how long it took for the foundation to be laid. He added, “There is a lot of value in looking at these records after some time and see patterns emerge. Not only will archives help in attaining a validated history of IIT Madras but give clues about the trends in the future”.

The Director addresses the gathering

Now, the man of the moment, Mr Ajit Kolar, was invited to share his few words and boy, he had much to tell. At the outset, He expressed gratitude to our Director for unveiling the portraits. For a man who fancies history and culture as much as being a professor in Mechanical Engineering, it was on March 24, 1998 – he remembered – that Director Natarajan invited him to be the professor in charge of the archival information system of IIT Madras.

He was assigned three tasks: collect archives, showcase the most important pieces and continue these activities by adding on other archival material. With help from the Registrar’s office and Admin block, they collected about 60 albums of black and white photographs that he found to be astonishing. “They were of high quality and it can be seen even to this day. These initial findings gave us the boost to dig for more,” he emphasized. The work majorly took off in 2004 and just the next year(2005) December, and the centre was finally inaugurated on March 6, 2006. 

Mr Ajit Kolar retired a few years back and now the Center is in the safe hands of Mr Kumar Sathasivam and Ms Mamata Dash. Ms Mamata commented, “We all still get inspired by Mr Kolar’s passion towards IIT Madras and its heritage, and hope his support always remains”.

Mr Ajit Kolar and Ms Mamata Dash

Now, it was time for Prof Roland to prime the audience about the Archival project. Being a Professor of Science and Technology from Germany, and well versed in the Indo-German history of IITM, he was convinced IIT Madras needed an archive. He introduced Archivist Dr.Ponnarasu – Doctorate in anthropology and specialized in historical anthropology – who is working on the project along with him. Dr.Ponnarasu explained, “Our mission is to organize and preserve the historical records available in IIT Madras. This will help faculty, students, and anyone willing to access the history”. 

The sun was setting in and it was time for Mr Kumaran to deliver the vote of thanks. He thanked all the people who made this event possible. He concluded, “Above all, it gives us the greatest satisfaction when people turn up for such programs. We get the feeling that we are meeting the objective of Heritage Center – to not just collect items of value but present them as well”. 

The Heritage Centre’s story took 18 years ago and involved three Directors to make it happen. Speaking with Mr.Kumaran later and asking why the present generation must celebrate Heritage, he clearly explained, “Campastimes ran for 30 years and then stopped due to changing trends. I see students now read it saying, “This is so good. we should do it again”. So, occasionally there are great things in the past which get forgotten. They set standards for the present day. Similarly, talking about the Inter IIT sports, our Institute won it a record 18 times and that’s something we all should be proud about”.



Special thanks to Ms Mamata Dash for the arrangements and helping it out with the coverage. 


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