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A classic dreamer: Ranjan Das

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Who was Ranjan Das? If I posed this question today, I would hear a myriad answers. Someone who knew him during his adolescence would say “Ranjan Das was a brilliant boy from Uzanbazar, Guwahati who received full scholarship to do his Bachelor’s at MIT.” Those who first encountered him in the San Francisco Bay area would remember his education at Harvard Business School followed by his meteoric rise up the ranks at SAP, peaking as the CEO of SAP, India. While these are extraordinary milestones in the life of a brilliant man, there is one common thread that ties all of them together. And that is the undeniable fact that Ranjan Das was a classic dreamer.

Lofty dreams he always had – only the world’s best engineering or business school would do. It was however not his sheer brilliance alone that got him there. Stories related by Sanjay Saikia, his roommate in Delhi, about Ranjan-da’s struggles to get into MIT can bring tears to your eyes. Back breaking financial demands of aspiring for a foreign education and lack of access to resources called for personal sacrifices that only a person with a steely resolve could make. In the closed India of the 80’s that many of us have lived through, Ranjan-da stumbled and fell, picked himself up, persevered and won. This audience is filled with dreamers which makes him one of us. But what catapulted him up to the stratosphere was his ability to not limit himself every time he hit a new milestone.

Running a marathon, publishing short stories, driving fundraisers, scripting a movie all while founding a new business unit for SAP or taking its India operations to be labeled the “Jewel in the Crown” of SAP globally – everything speaks volumes of Ranjan Das, the eternal dreamer. His depth of knowledge in literature, fine arts, movies, politics and any other sphere of life always made for great conversations. He was Assam’s son and a global citizen in the same breath. Bhupen Hazarika and Pink Floyd, Bhabendranath Saikia and Akira Kurosawa equally inspired him. But most impressive was his intense curiosity about what was going on around him, in our lives and the generosity with which he and his wife, Roopa Barua, shared their personal resources and talent to serve the community they called their own – be it in Boston, Bay area or Mumbai.

Ranjan da never forgot his beloved Assam and contributed to community development projects ranging from primary education, tackling the menace of floods to media fellowship programs with India-based NGO’s like C-NES to improve the image of northeast India. As the CEO of SAP, India, he had grand plans for Assam and the entire northeast to generate employment opportunities and get the region out of its economic morass.

Yes indeed - Ranjan da was the pride of the global Assamese community and a role model for many who aspire to reach the heights he did at such an incredibly young age. His fans range from youngsters like Pritam Sarma to women in their 30’s like me. Strange but true. In summer 2007, when I learnt from Roopa ba that Ranjan da was going to lead SAP’s India operations, I felt as though a matchstick has lit up an oil field. The fire inside me burned intensely and every grain of doubt was sealed and locked away. If an Assamese boy from a regular middle class family could overcome all barriers and do it, I can too. This very thought convinced a mother of two kids in her mid-30’s with a full-time job to pursue an MBA. Although I don’t have his brilliance, I can still get somewhere, I thought. Whenever the frustrations were high, I looked up to Ranjan da and pinched myself every time I read about his success as the CEO of SAP, India. “I know this guy”. And my heart would swell with pride and get inspired to continue struggling.

Ranjan da had so much more to give. What a tragic loss for his young family, all who knew him and were yet to know him !! People like him do not come by often. There will never be another Ranjan Das – the first global corporate leader son of Assam. The void his untimely demise has left will take years if not decades to fill. We were all fortunate that his brilliance touched our lives. And if he were here today, he would ask all of us to keep our options open, work hard and never stop dreaming.

We will miss Ranjan Das at many levels – as a friend, an uncle and a mentor - and on many occasions - during Rongali Bihu celebrations, birthdays and future graduation parties of our children. He brought glory to our community and for that we will forever remain indebted to him. The best tribute we can offer is to follow his example and live life to its fullest potential. Our thoughts and prayers are with Roopa ba, their children and the entire family in Assam.

Rest in Peace, Ranjan Das.

In bereavement, shock, fond remembrance and celebration of your extraordinary life, Jonaki - The San Francisco Bay Area Assamese Community
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Memorial speech by Monalisa Bora
November 21st 2009, Fremont, California