A Second-Generation Indo American Donates Two Crores to IIT Kharagpur

Asoke Deysarkar (left), Ruma Acharya and Shion Deysarkar

Asoke Deysarkar (left), Ruma Acharya and Shion Deysarkar

By Manu Shah

HOUSTON: Shion, a data scientist from Carnegie Mellon and the CEO of Datafiniti, grew up listening to his parents swap stories about their alma mater – IIT Kharagpur.  He observed their sense of pride and passion for education as they walked him through the campus pointing out their classrooms, dorms and even Chedi’s Chaiwala.

Three weeks ago, Shion, 35, told his parents Asoke Deysarkar and Ruma Acharya that he’d like to donate $300,000 or 2 crore rupees to IIT KGP. The money would be utilized to set up three Chair Professorships in Geology and Geophysics, Chemical Engineering and Chemistry/Mining Engineering.

According to IACCGH Executive Director Jagdip Ahluwalia, this first-of-its-kind gesture of generosity from a second generation Indo American, who hasn’t even studied there, is laudable and inspirational.

What prompted this? Shion says the family is always looking to “fund projects that will have a catalytically effect” – in this case, the money will go towards bolstering faculty which in turn will improve the program and attract more students. There’s also the fact that “dollars can go further in India than the US.”  

However, this isn’t the first time the Deysarkars have opened their checkbooks for their alma mater. Ruma donated $25,000 to improve the amenities at the Sarojini Naidu Girls hostel, Asoke funded a project in the Geology Department, a biodiesel research grant and in 2013, and the couple announced a donation of one million dollars to start a Center for Excellence in Petroleum Engineering at the prestigious Institute.

Asoke, 69, says the jump from a small mining town called Gua in Jharkhand to IIT Kharagpur – India’s premier technical college, sparked a huge transformation in his outlook and made him believe “he could conquer the world.” Ruma, on the other hand, was a “city girl, born and raised in Kolkata” and the only girl in her family to date to become an engineer. They were both students of IIT Kharagpur and although they never met there, Ruma says she knew of Asoke because he was “a topper.” After their Masters in Chemical Engineering, the two scored full scholarships and headed to the University of Greater Manchester in England for their Doctorates. It is here they met for the first time and within days realized they wanted to be together for the long haul.

With a Chemical Engineering background, the Deysarkars needed a place where they could both find their niches. Houston seemed a good bet and they moved here in 1980. After successful stints at Dresser Industries and Pennzoil Products, Asoke gave into his entrepreneurial spirit and started Products for People (PfP) in 2003, a Houston-based Company that provides chemical solutions to the oilfield and gas industry worldwide. Today PfP is a Top 100 Company in Houston and Asoke chalks this success to “right timing, luck, tenacity and hard work.”

Meanwhile Ruma was running her own show – Ground Technology, an Environmental Services and Geotech company for 20 years during which she bagged contracts with HISD, TxDot and Kroger Company. She recently sold her company and is currently overseeing a personal project on a 14 acre plot bought by her husband. The Tagore Center Foundation, as it is named, will include an open air theater, Center for Performing Arts and a Montessori school. She is also the force behind the installation of the Rabindranath Tagore statue in the Ray Miller Park.

IIT’s, which offer world class education, seek private funding for three reasons: it allows them to be more independent, offer better programs and the government matches the private funding they receive.

Shion’s parents are understandably proud and happy with their son’s thoughtfulness and hope the day comes when institutes don’t require any funding from the government. Asoke strongly believes this can be done if more alumni pitched in.

In the meantime, the Deysarkars and now, son Shion are certainly doing their bit to make this happen.