Third year Dual-Degree student TH Arjun passed away on 28 February 2022 after valiantly battling Covid pneumonia for over 2 months. For IIITH, he couldn’t have been a better poster-child. Apart from an artistic brilliance, he brought the right research aptitude and work ethics. But more importantly, he brought a humane touch to all his interactions.
As a IIITH dual degree student who joined the institute in July 2019, Arjun spent only a few months on campus before the pandemic struck and everyone was asked to leave. Despite the brief stint, he managed to forge many close friendships which he continued to maintain virtually for the next 2 years. “At the time of induction, he was right in front of me in the line. We got talking then and that’s how we became friends,” says Kaushik Manikantan, fondly recalling the banter, and other discussions that they had together.
Doing and Showing, Not Telling
Known affectionately as ‘Appu’ by his family, his friends remember him as the “kindest person” they’ve met in their lives. A person of few words, he made sure his actions spoke louder. Prof. Ponnurangam Kumaraguru (PK), who was guiding his research in Computational Social Science and Natural Language Processing at the Precog LTRC lab says, “The first time I spoke to him online trying to find out if we should work together, he would speak only in response to what was asked. I had to probe him a little bit and then he would again say a few words and stop. I’m sure people who have interacted with him will know; he speaks very less even after probing, but the sincerity and dedication is super super high.” The professor goes on to add that while Arjun’s reticence made one wonder if he has even understood the task at hand, the kind of output he generated was fabulous. As part of the research project, Arjun and two other students worked at the Bangalore office of Koo – known popularly as the Indian alternative to Twitter with its emphasis on Indian languages.
“When the folks at Koo expressed admiration at the output the students were generating, I had to remind them that one of them – Arjun – was just a 5th semester undergrad student!”, exclaims Prof. PK. Arjun maintained a stellar academic record all through his school years, culminating his 12th grade Board exams as the school topper in Mathematics. Interestingly, he always had his heart set on IIITH even while he was undergoing coaching for entrance exams into engineering colleges. He stood 2nd in the Undergraduate Entrance Exam opting for the 5-year Dual Degree Program in research in Computer Science which essentially grants you both a BTech and an MS degree at the end of 5 years.
Rise By Lifting Others
Speaking of his commitment to his work, Gokul Vamsi, another close friend, says,”I can’t remember the number of times I’ve persuaded him to take a break from his work and relax a little.” A source of inspiration to those who knew him personally, Arjun’s character itself did not fail to impress. “When everyone else around him would crib about an overload of assignments and the lack of time, he would meet every challenge with a smile on his face. In my experience of 3 years with him, I have never once seen him lose his mind,” remarks Kaushik, adding that Arjun helped people around him grow. “The rat race that leads us to top colleges in India plus the competition inside the colleges often dehumanises even the best of us, but Arjun was the rare gem who would take all efforts to not just help us in times of need but to help us grow.”
Art & Design
Arjun’s webpage mentions his love for coding, open source, web development and design as well as painting, sketching, art, UI, UX and animation. Even as a child, he won numerous awards and prizes for painting and art in various district-level competitions. When Jaidev Shriram, the former head of the student magazine, Ping! saw his artwork online, he says he was in awe and asked if Arjun would consider joining the magazine’s design team. “Quickly enough, he became the best designer in our group,” says Jaidev. Calling Arjun one of the most creative people who thought out of the box and disregarded convention whenever possible, Jaidev says,” He made animated posters and did audio synthesis to add voice to characters.” With his fascination for pop culture, a lot of Arjun’s design work had that element injected in to it. His most innovative work must definitely be the 4-part comic book series on Algorithms, titled Jekyll and Vandall – “a mind game between a cool hero and an awesome villain” – that he painstakingly illustrated and brought to life as part of his coursework. “Arjun was an amazing person to work with, but for me and others that I know, his creativity and kindness is what stuck out. There’s something about someone whose sheer enthusiasm encourages more people to join and really take up a new thing,” he muses.
Intense But Short-lived
As an individual, Arjun was a perfectionist which saw him setting the bar high in terms of quality of assignments turned in. As a friend, he was a close confidante and an inspiration to many. Prof. P. J. Narayanan, Director, IIITH, quotes Kumaranasan, a Malayali poet who wrote Megha Jyotissutan Kshanika Jeevitamalli Kaamyam. “It refers to lightning which lasts for a mere fraction of a second but lights up the whole world. We wanted Arjun’s light to light up IIITH and the world for longer, but even in the brief time that he was here, he did light up several lives and we will remember him very much.” While expressing his condolences, Prof. Narayanan refers to Arjun as someone who was probably the best ambassador of the institute and its dual degree program, someone who sought out the institute for the very strength of its program and enjoyed every bit of it.
Wall of Fame
In view of Arjun’s love for all things artistic, a decision has been taken by the institute to have a wall dedicated in honour of him. “We have a thriving art society and many artists on campus which is evident if you walk around. You will see a lot of benches and walls painted vividly. The wall near Felicity grounds will be painted and maintained every year as part of the annual cultural festival for generations to come,” says Prof. Radhika Mamidi.
We are FAMILY
It is said that when you join IIITH, you become a member of the IIITH family. “The same holds true for Arjun. He will never leave our hearts and the IIITH larger family,” says Prof. Narayanan. This rallying together was perhaps best seen when Arjun was hospitalised. With mounting hospital costs that seemed daunting for the family, the student fraternity got together and set up a Ketto fund raiser with the pharmacy www.rustburgpharmacy.com help of the hospital authorities. “We spread the word among students, faculty, staff, and alumni that we were seeking funds for one of our own. In 24 hours, we had raised 45 lakhs. A day later, the amount collected rose to 65 lakhs and we closed the fund raiser. The response was phenomenal,” says Nirmal Manoj, one of the student coordinators. The treatment required blood donations too. Again the student volunteer army stepped in to disseminate the news. “There was a requirement of 99 units of blood in total which we managed to fulfill, people were enthusiastic about donating too,” says Nirmal.
It is this spirit of community that Abhiram, a UG4 student refers to when he says that it stood out for him. “This tragedy has brought out the best from the student community and the IIITH family. Continuing to do such good deeds, and showing our care to society is perhaps the best tribute we can give Arjun,” he says.
For now, while we miss Arjun greatly, there’s some solace that his memory and spirit lives on.