It was late one night in 2013 when professor Sanat Kumar Roy was woken up by the shrill ringing of his phone. A journalist from the US wanted to know something about a person he insisted was a former student of his. “It was only after some enquiries that I realised that the person he was referring to as Sundar Pichai, then a senior vice-president in Google, was ex-student Pichai Sundarajan,” says the retired IIT Kharagpur professor, with a laugh.
That’s how IIT Kharagpur remembers one of their most famous alumni – Sundar Pichai, current Google CEO – who graduated from the premier institute’s metallurgical engineering department in 1993, 25 years ago. The list of toppers that hangs on one of the walls in the department, bears his name as the topper of his batch. Indranil Manna, who had been Pichai’s B.Tech thesis guide, still has a copy of his work.
Both professors remember Pichai as “shy, quiet, but extremely intelligent” in class. “He was not diffident, just very focussed, Whenever he was asked something, he was never found wanting. He was always willing to participate in various student activities, especially within the department,” says Manna.
Manna also remembers his “big handwriting”. “If you ask me today whether I had known then that he would be the Google CEO one day, I will say a leader for sure, a thinking man… He was bright, had a star in his eyes,” says Manna.
Manna was in contact with Pichai till he finished his masters from Stanford. “I had expected him to go in for a PhD …” He adds: “If I remember right, he didn’t have beard while he was here. But that apart, he hasn’t changed much.” Over the years, Manna lost touch with Pichai. His next conversation with Pichai was after he had become the Google CEO. “I met another former student, a batchmate of Pichai’s and was enquiring about him and he encouraged me to write to him and assured me he would reply. I was at IIT Kanpur at the time and the students were also keen to have him on the campus for some event. Pichai did reply to my mail, but did not say anything about visiting the campus,” says Manna with a laugh.