Institutional Campuses: Biodiversity Havens

Those who sanctioned academic, scientific and other national institutions in the days of yore, were generous in their land allocation. So you have such organizations sitting on tens, and sometimes even hundreds of acres of land.

Some institutions have built up on much of the land. But in others, the land is either landscaped, or left wild. Or a witting or unwitting mix of the two. Any which way, a boon in today’s rush for land development. Often, because these institutions are under-funded, they are not able to maintain lawns etc. and let the land go wild, which is also a good thing. These campuses are like havens, where both green cover and biodiversity thrive.

To take just one example, I go back to the campus of IIM Ahmedabad (see also my blog of last week, ‘Living in a Louis Kahn’).

I had commented in that piece that there was no landscaping to speak about on the campus. I was mistaken, as comes out from this personal communication from Prof. Marti Subramaniam, eminent academic, in a comment on the piece:

‘The high point of my contact with Kahn’s work was when I spied him with Kasturbhai Lalbhai, early one morning, walking right outside the house where we lived as students.  I quickly followed them to overhear their conversation which went roughly along the following lines:

Kasturbhai: What trees should we plant here, Louis?

Kahn: Of course, in one line they should all be of the same species.  Otherwise, how would they talk to each other?’

So in fact it seems, a lot of thought had gone into the landscape! My ignorance indeed!

IIM A campus is a mix—from the manicured lawn of the Louis Kahn Plaza, to the utter wilderness on the edges. And this mix, it seems, has given rise to a good deal of biodiversity. And the great thing is, that as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Institute, these have been captured and documented in coffee table book called Natural World at IIMA.


A work of love and passion indeed! Close to 200 pages of colour plates, documenting the flora—trees, shrubs, climbers, sedges, grasses and herbs; as well as the fauna—birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, spiders, butterflies and moths.

One hears of pressures on several institutions to ‘not let the land go to waste, put it to use.’ Or worse, institutional lands being taken away for other uses, including commercial uses. We need to resist any such diversions. These are among the few remaining islands.

And documenting and disseminating these in the form of books, databases etc., helps to communicate the value of this diversity, and is the first step in making the campus itself an educational resource. And a matter of pride and joy for alumni.

Here is to large, unmaintained campuses, and books on them!


Business as Usual

 “Business history gave me the opportunity to look at the experiences of individuals. Individuals who built organizations; individuals who built companies, individuals who responded to situations and responded to change. Then I began to have some kind of understanding of what Indian society is like. What are the forces in the Indian society that egg people on to certain things” said Prof Dwijendra Tripathi, Kasturbhai Lalbhai professor of Business History at IIM Ahmedabad, and the founder of the discipline in India.

Like any historian, he believed that studying the past led to a better understanding of the present. Today, India wants to ‘Make in India’. It wants every graduate and school dropout to be an entrepreneur, a job creator rather than a job seeker. There cannot be a time when it is more critical to study Indian business history.

India was fortunate to have a pioneer like Prof Tripathi who laid the foundations of this discipline way back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But even today there are few Indian Business Schools which teach the subject. I wonder if there are any pure history departments which teach it at all!!!

His passing away on Sept 5 this year has led to a flurry of articles and pieces (including this one). Maybe it will also lead to serious debates on the place of the study of Business History for the development of Indian Business.

Some things change, some don’t! It is up to us to learn from the past to plan for the future.

‘Another disincentive to movement was a network of customs barriers. According to Moreland, these barriers–chowkies, as they were called-existed in 1600 and later. Most likely, they existed even earlier. As a result, the cost of transportation over a distance of 200 or 300 miles doubled the price of the commodity. The harassing and corrupt practices of the customs authorities added to the trials and tribulations of the situation’.

Indian Entrepreneurship in Historical Perspective: A Re-Interpretation Author(s): Dwijendra Tripathi Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 6, No. 22 (May 29, 1971)


For me, Prof Tripathi was a gentle presence on the IIM-A campus, a ready smile for anyone he met.