“Sometimes the people whom we’ve know for only a short amount of time have a bigger impact on us than those we’ve known forever.” – Maya Angelou
I have known Prof. Natarajan only since the end of May 2020. He had just been appointed the Dean of the College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG) earlier that month. The CEG alumni had compiled the results of a student survey and wanted his permission to share it with the students and alumni.
I reached out to him on WhatsApp with this message:
He agreed after a careful review of the results, leading to my refining the way the charts were presented so that there was no ambiguity. He then agreed to participate in a discussion with the alumni about improving the students’ experience at the CEG campus. The CEG Betterment project was born with facilitators from alumni, faculty, and students.
Prof. Natarajan participated in the virtual monthly review meetings, which were conducted on Saturdays in the evening (to accommodate alumni like me who live on the west coast of United States) and offered his input and support. He personally owned a number of initiatives and executed them. He participated in the WhatsApp group for the project, and offered his updates and campus news. He made sure the initiatives such as the English communication skills program were exposed to the first-year students.
In all my dealings with him, two leadership qualities that impressed me the most were his humility and the spirit of collaboration. I addressed him as “Dean Natarajan” and he said to drop the Dean title. He was immensely approachable, a quality that is hard to find in many leaders. I began to consider him as a friend, an ally who wanted to advance the same causes as the alumni did. He held himself accountable for the responsibilities of his position. He was enthusiastic about the future of CEG and what can be done to make it shine. He was passionate about making CEG a green campus and was very proud of the electric-vehicle initiative. I heard from many alumni who were fortunate to have interacted with him during their CEG years about how interested and supportive he was in their success after graduation. I was not surprised.
He was unable to attend the CEG Betterment monthly meeting on December 5, 2020. I sent the meeting minutes to the team and had indicated he had an action item with regards to network connectivity. In his prompt email response, he provided updates and said:
“Sunday, today also we are working. UG final year Students are reaching here to take hostel admission and to start their classwork from tomorrow.”
I responded, thanking him, saying:
“I see your work is 24×7 – please make sure you take care of yourself, too.”
Within two days I would hear he is no more, taken away at such a young age by a massive heart attack. My heart is filled with deep sadness, and I can only imagine the immense loss his family must be feeling.
Professor Natarajan’s WhatsApp profile was a picture of Buddha, with this saying:
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
He certainly lived every moment of his life wisely and earnestly.
CEG has lost a leader and teacher who is irreplaceable, and I and the alumni have lost a friend.
Rest in Peace, Natarajan.