Kalpa Gopal graduated from College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG), Chennai, India, in 1969. Her career is amazingly rich with product design, marketing, banking and technical finance, and entrepreneurship. Her passion to be of service to the less fortunate is a second parallel track of creating, managing and helping multiple non-profit organizations. She infuses everything she does with the joy she derives from her fun activities. Renaissance woman is an apt term to describe Kalpa.
Kalpa was born in Chennai in November 1947, the youngest in a family of five daughters. Her father S.Ramachandran worked for Mahindra & Mahindra. He was well versed in multiple languages, was a sportsman, and had a modern and liberal outlook. Kalpa’s mother Seethalakshmi came from a big family. Kalpa remembers her as beautiful, talented, a great cook and artist. She remembers how well she managed everything with grace and poise. An entrepreneur, she ran a small boutique and was an insurance agent. She was also a social worker who helped many people from all walks of life. She is Kalpa’s role model.
Kalpa’s parents believed in education and encouraged all five daughters to study as much as they desired. After attending Lady Sivaswami Iyer Girls High school in Mylapore, Chennai, Kalpa completed the SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) exam and then the Pre-University Course (PUC) at Queen Mary’s College, Chennai.
The death of her eldest brother-in-law, who was a brilliant engineer, and mentor, prompted Kalpa to think about studying engineering. With her parents’ blessings, Kalpa applied for admission, but the director of technical education turned her down because she was from a forward-community and suggested she complete her undergraduate education elsewhere and apply to the three-year program later. Dejected, Kalpa enrolled in the undergraduate statistics program in Presidency College, Chennai. However, two months later she was thrilled to receive late admission and entered CEG in 1964.
At first, Kalpa was overwhelmed by the amount of work she missed over two months, as well as the commute, and the sprawling campus, and wondered how she was going to complete five years of the study. She was pleasantly surprised to find her schoolmate Chandra and her PUC classmate Mallika as her classmates and was soon engrossed in the curriculum.
Kalpa says she liked the two years of civil engineering course, and the month-long survey camp was a lot of fun. She also liked the mechanical engineering classes, but the male students there seemed to think the girls didn’t belong there. Spending the day alone in those classes when other girls were absent was intimidating and Kalpa couldn’t get through the day fast enough! The electronics and telecommunication department was a welcoming environment. Kalpa appreciates that she had a number of fine teachers. The women students looked up to Principal K.S. Hegde for support and encouragement.
Kalpa used to enjoy eating with all the girls in the Lady’s room. She remembers the nice sandwiches Mallika used to bring and the crispy toasts Praba, her senior, provided. Whenever classes were cancelled, she and Mallika would go to see movies.
Kalpa graduated from CEG in 1969 with an undergraduate degree in electronics & communication engineering.
Soon after graduation, Kalpa joined the Madras Government Polytechnic for Women, now known as Dr.Dharmambal Women’s Polytechnic (WPT), Chennai, as a lecturer in the electrical engineering department. Though she was there only for six months, she remembers that she and K.S. Babai (CEG 1966) were selected by the Minister for Industries to speak in Tamil about their fields in a technical seminar. This led to another speech in a national handloom exhibition, sharing the stage with the great orator and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, and Union Textile Minister Mr.Bhagathram.
In 1970 Kalpa joined the Indian Telephone Industries Ltd. (ITI) in Bangalore in the Research and Development section. As the only lady engineer there, working at ITI was very lonely. Kalpa remembers working on a challenging project on pulse code modulation. This project was memorable for more than the challenge it presented. It was originally handled by Gopal, Kalpa’s future husband who delegated it to Kalpa before moving to Japan for higher studies.
After a year, Kalpa received an offer from DCM data products division to work in their New Delhi office. In India, for the first time, digital calculators were being manufactured by DCM. Here Kalpa developed production test equipment for automatic testing and gradually moved on to telecommunication projects. In 1973, she moved to Bangalore after her marriage and consulted for a year on calculator designs.
In 1975, the birth of her son led to a break in her career. The spirit of entrepreneurship propelled her to get a post-graduate diploma from the Center for Electronic Design and Technology (CEDT) in Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, a joint development program with the Swiss government. Kalpa developed a digital wave analyzer, and also had the opportunity to collaborate with a student from National Institute of Design (NID) on packaging and ergonomics. During this time, she had the privilege of meeting J. R. D. Tata. Kalpa says: “He walked casually into the lab and asked me, ‘What are you working on?’. I said logic circuits. He responded jocularly with, ‘Women & logic?!’ My former professor B.S. Sonde remembers this even today.”
In 1978, Kalpa’s husband’s job required them to move away from Bangalore to Palakkad and Kalpa followed. After the birth of her daughter in March 1979, Kalpa decided to do her MBA in finance at the Indian Management Academy (IMA), New Delhi, using distance learning. During her program, Kalpa was offered a position at the Indian Overseas Bank to manage industrial finance because of her technical qualifications. She was posted to their regional office in Bangalore responsible for financing in Karnataka state. The whole family followed her to Bangalore. During her MBA, Kalpa took on one of the large-scale industries as a project under the Identification and Rehabilitation of Sick Industries program. Her experience with this project helped her serve her banking customers better. In 1997, when faced with a transfer to Hyderabad, and unclear career progression, she quit her job with the Indian Overseas Bank and started an entrepreneurial consulting practice guiding individuals and industries.
The next chapter in her rich career tackled marketing, brand building, and infrastructure management. Her venture on eco-friendly pest control for houses, offices, hotels, and business establishments started off with the introduction of herbal repellents safe for humans and pets. Kalpa developed an herbal spray in collaboration with other entrepreneurs and introduced it in the corporate world. The herbal spray Nomos is available around the world. The success of this company and the brand Biligiri led to their acquisition by a Swedish company. Kalpa enjoyed managing customers and responding to their needs at the national level until 2007.
Purpose Beyond Career
A desire to help her developmentally challenged niece led Kalpa to get involved in the Spastics Society in Indiranagar, Bangalore. She took on the task of helping them build a diagnosis and research center for special-needs children. Thus began her parallel non-profit career of working with Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs). From 1987 to 1997, Kalpa was instrumental in forming the Spastics Society of Karnataka, establishing the center, fundraising, spreading awareness, working with specialists in the field, and project execution.
In 1997 Kalpa got involved in rural eye-care in an effort to help a close friend Dr. Sundar Ram Shetty realize his dream in setting up Globe Eye Foundation. Kalpa was the treasurer of this NGO and helped build a hospital in Hosekote, twenty-five kilometers from Bangalore. The foundation expanded to three more hospitals in Chintamani and Kolar, with the fourth one in progress at Tumkur. The foundation operates by charging the wealthier patients a nominal amount, and using this revenue to serve the poor, thereby providing exceptional eye care facilities in the rural areas for all. The foundation has done more than 75,000 free operations and is still going strong.
From 2007 to 2014, Kalpa was back at the Spastic Society of Karnataka to help with its administration, finance, and infrastructure projects. She is its Founder Secretary and a life member and continues to help that institution. The society works to mainstream special-needs children as much as possible, in addition to giving them vocational training.
For the past twenty years, Kalpa has been teaching mathematics to children in the evenings at a facility run by another NGO.
Since 2007, as a part of YWCA, Bangalore, Kalpa has been involved in training young women in using computers, spoken English, life-skills and job placement. As part of the community development program, about two thousand students have been trained.
In 2004, Kalpa started learning the game of bridge and got hooked on it. She started taking part in tournaments run by the Karnataka State Bridge Association (KSBA). She has won many state and national level tournaments.
She is on the Executive Committee at KSBA and also a teaching faculty for bridge where they call it Game for Life. She also plays regularly at the Bangalore Club. Playing bridge has brought her in touch with all types of people from all over India. With bridge being recognized by the Olympics along with chess, there is a movement to introduce this at the school level and encourage all age groups to take up the game. She gets to meet her former CEG classmate Mallika and her husband Chellappa at times in tournaments. Kalpa gets excited mentioning that she has translated an app for bridge called Kida in Tamil!
Kalpa’s artistic talents find outlets in works of batik, Thanjavur painting, stained glass work, and crochet. She is part of the group that crochets blankets and raises funds for girl’s education with an NGO called A Hundred Hands.
Classical music classes twice a week, and long walks and yoga every day, keep Kalpa happy, healthy and young!
Kalpa’s four sisters are all well accomplished professional women. Her eldest sister Lakshmi Raman was a social welfare officer at the Integral Coach Factory in Chennai. She retired in 1974 and moved to the USA where she continued her studies and services in social work winning many awards for community services. Kalpa’s second older sister Rajam Narayanaswamy was a well-known mathematics teacher at Good Shepherd Convent, Chennai, and is the author of several mathematics books. Kalpa’s third older sister, Sarasa Parameshwar, taught at the Catering College in Chennai, and after many years of teaching, retired as the principal of The Institute of Hotel Management, Catering & Nutrition, Pusa, New Delhi. Kalpa’s immediate older sister Kamala Chandrashekar, studied at the London School of Economics, and worked for the Export Credit Corporation and now is an independent consultant. An avid athlete and outdoorswoman, Kamala was amongst the first Indian women to ascend various peaks in the Himalayas.
Kalpa met her future husband Gopal when they were both working at ITI. He is a graduate of National Institute of Engineering (NIE) in Mysore, Karnataka. Originally an electrical engineer, he later switched his focus to telecommunications. As theirs was not a traditional arranged marriage, they had great difficulty in getting the approval of their families. Nevertheless, they got married in November 1973. After thirteen years in government service, including heading the ITI unit in Palakkad, Gopal moved to head a unit of Kothari Electronics. Later, he established a Philips India factory in Bangalore. He then went on to have his own consulting firm and manufacturing unit. He is now retired and is enjoying tennis and golf. He also teaches physics to high school children in the evenings.
Kalpa’s son Jayanth is an architect. After receiving his master’s in architecture in the USA and working there for thirteen years, he returned to India and consults on his own. His wife Louise is a trained yoga teacher and an animal lover. She is a linguist and has a practice in listening therapy to help those with special needs.
Kalpa’s daughter Vidya studied in the USA and has a master’s in developmental economics and finance. After managing National Geographic Magazine’s digital products and marketing, she moved to India in 2014 and is now an independent consultant. In addition, she promotes India’s traditional weaving and handmade products and is passionate about giving credit to Indian artisans. Her husband Josh Gojer is a visual designer for IBM’s Apple Garage.
Kalpa feels very fortunate that her children moved back to India after being away for seventeen years. The families live in the same housing complex and enjoy each other’s company on a regular basis.
A Renaissance Woman
Kalpa grew up in a family where education was prized; her mother, an entrepreneur, and a versatile woman is her role model. Kalpa’s sisters set the pace excelling in whatever they undertook. Building on such a strong foundation, Kalpa not only had a successful career leveraging her education from CEG and beyond, but applied all her skills to help the disadvantaged and to excel in everything she undertook. She says “Life has been an interesting journey for me. I have taken things as they came and still enjoy every day with the new experiences that come my way. I have touched many people’s lives in different walks of life! Their love keeps me going! That is the legacy of my parents! Just enjoy life! That is my advice.” Great advice and I wish Kalpa more rich experiences in the future!
My sincere thanks to Kalpa for sending me her life story in a well-written document, and also supplying me with all the pictures in the article. Her attitude to life and enjoyment came through loud and clear in the way she expressed her experiences. The hard part was condensing her rich experiences down to this short article.
This is the seventeenth write-up in my ambitious journey of chronicling the life and work of the early CEG alumnae. If you like what you read, please “like” and share.
My goal is to encourage more girls to study engineering and science, enter the workforce and be equal partners with men in shaping the future of our world. Women face a lot of critical moments in their lives that make them want to leave the workforce. I am hoping the stories of the CEG women will inspire them to stay in it.
I will be writing more such posts here and will be collecting them into a book for publishing.
If you have information about CEG alumnae from the 1940s to the 1960s, please contact me to help make these posts complete.