Born in Belur in 1958, Sumana SV has worked at IISc for 38 years. Although she completed her BSc in the Chemistry, Biology and Zoology (CBZ) stream from MES college, Bangalore and a post-graduate diploma in Industrial Microbiology from Central College, Bangalore, she has spent most of her time at the Institute in the Budget section under the Finance and Accounts section. She recounts her experiences of working at IISc and her diverse volunteering interests.
IISc has felt like my home ever since I was young. Right from when I was eight years old, I have spent time walking and playing on campus, attracted to its atmosphere. I always dreamed of working at the Institute so that I could spend more time here.
At home, we were eight children, six boys and two girls. All of us were technically qualified, as my parents always valued education. My father worked as a superintendent engineer in the Military Engineering Services, and served in military bases all over India. While he was travelling for his job, my mother stayed with us in Bangalore. Both of them supported our education and encouraged us to study well. I remember my mother once pledging her jewellery at the end of the year to pay our fees. My brother pursued his MSc in Civil Engineering at IISc, under Prof Shiva Reddy (sadly, my brother passed away a few months ago). I recall that we both used to come together to the Institute and go home for lunch as our house was on 15th cross, Malleswaram.
Although I got permanent job offers in government organisations such as PNT, I opted to join the Institute because of my technical qualifications. Initially, I joined as a lab assistant on a temporary, contract basis, in the Department of Biochemistry, from 1980 to 1985. I applied for the position after seeing an advertisement in the newspaper. More than 150 candidates were present for the written test, 50 qualified for the first round of interviews, 16 for the second, and finally, I got selected with five other candidates.
I have worked with Prof PS Sastry, Prof T Ramasarma, Prof PV Subba Rao and Prof Kurup in the Department of Biochemistry. My job was mainly in the ‘allergy lab’ with Prof Subba Rao where I was doing allergy tests – even for outsiders – when needed. Prof Subba Rao provided me the opportunity to get trained at the Health Centre for doing the allergy tests. During the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of the Institute, I recall doing allergy tests in the lab for visitors.
From lab assistant to lower division clerk
Since mine was a temporary position, I applied for the ‘Lower Division Clerk (LDC)’ position, which was an administrative and permanent position at the Institute. Prof Ramasarma instructed me to undergo the required training, and so, I took courses in English Senior Typing. When I was in Prof Subba Rao’s lab, he had given me the opportunity to take a clinical lab technician course.
I remember typing up publications for Prof Subba Rao, Prof Ramasarma and Prof Kurup, and also the thesis drafts and papers for students like Nandini, Vipin Chakravorthy, Usha, Lalitha, Patoudi and many more. I was happy to be assisting technically in the lab and at the same time helping with administrative work.
In 1985, I applied for the LDC position and got selected. Initially I had some regrets about not continuing in my qualified profession, but later, after I realised that I could stay and work at IISc – my favourite place since childhood – until the age of 60, I had no regrets. I learned to enjoy my job in the Finance and Accounts section where I spent the next 33 years.
When I reported to my first supervising officer, Mr Sheshagiri Rao, Deputy Financial Controller in the Finance and Accounts section, he saw me and said, “A scientific staff member posted to the Accounts section? It is very difficult to train you people as you don’t understand anything, and by the time we train you, it takes a lot of time.” I was surprised by his concern. Since I had no clue what to do, I immediately asked if he could send me to another department. He was in turn surprised by my reply, and then smiled and asked me to report to the Budget section. I learnt all about the Institute’s accounts from my senior colleagues, who were very helpful and enthusiastic in teaching me. Mr Gangadhar in the Budget section was especially helpful; he taught me each and every thing that the section does.
When computerisation was first introduced in the Finance and Accounts section, all of us were curious and passionate to learn how to use the computers. The first programme installed in our Finance and Accounts section was COBOL in 1987.
My job involved receiving project proposals from the faculty members and departments, getting the sanctions from the funding agencies such as UGC, MHRD, DST, DBT, CSIR and ICMR for development projects, bifurcating the funds as mentioned in the proposals, creating a debit head for each grant, and finally submitting the utilisation certificates to the agencies. Almost all the employees in the Finance and Accounts section were permanent employees.
I was frank and bold in expressing my views if we had any issues in the section, and initiated discussions with the officers to get the work done. Sometimes, I was branded as “straightforward” which was not seen as good, but later when the issue was resolved, the officers formed a good opinion of me, which encouraged me to do more work.
I was grateful for being involved in projects worth Rs 100 crore which were given to IISc, as the work was challenging. We used to do stencil cutting and making copies of the Annual Accounts for the Council meetings; working extra hours and on Saturdays, we all became friendly with senior colleagues. In the Bills section, the work was different; the nature of the bills was payments for building works, travel of faculty members, journals and conferences, visitors, even confidential bills. I was processing an average of 300 travel bills each month. I never sat without work for even a single day during my tenure in the Budget and Bills sections from 1985 to 2018. I don’t remember anybody asking me for their pending bills; I had the habit of completing all the work on a day-to-day basis.
In those days, faculty members and officers were very friendly with the administrative staff, but by the end of my career, I felt that was missing.
When the crèche was opened on campus, it was a boon for working women. Maternity leave was only for three months in those days. Since I had no help at home, I was forced to bring my three-month-old baby to the campus. She grew up until the age of 14 in the crèche, and even used to assist the caretakers and younger children as she grew older. When she got a job, she went and met the caretakers there, Uma and Lalithamma, and shared sweets with everyone. My office staff also supported me a lot in taking care of my daughter whenever needed.
I worked as a committee member in the Kannada Sangha, the Union Office, the Tata Memorial Club (TMC), the Women’s Forum and also in the Employees Housing Society. I also served in the Board of Directors of the IISc Housing Society for two terms. Working in these associations gave me the opportunity to meet people from varied fields and backgrounds. It helped me with my personal growth as I evolved into a more confident person with a thirst to explore and learn new things. My most favourite memory was being part of the drama group where I got the opportunity to bring various characters to life.
With the Kannada Sangha, I helped in organising many programmes and competitions. I also won several prizes in debates, ‘pick-and-speak’ and games. We arranged Kannada classes to teach Kannada to the campus community. Due to this initiative, staff members and students developed a very close friendship with us. As a member of the Tata Memorial Club, I have volunteered for the Science and Technology Day quiz programme every year during the month of February. I helped to select books for the club library, start a gym room for staff, and arranged sloka classes for employees and their family members. I was the President of the Women’s Forum for two terms, and helped to arrange several cultural programmes.
During my tenure at IISc, I had the honour and privilege of meeting late Dr Abdul Kalam and discussing women’s empowerment with him. I also feel honoured to have met Mr Ratan Tata during my time as a committee member of TMC. These are some memorable events that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Apart from these, I have also volunteered in many organisations like the Bharat Scouts and Guides, Vedanta Bharathi, and in many temples as well. I joined the National Social Service (NSS) in my college days. In 2006, I completed the basic course and qualified as a Ranger Leader in the Bharat Scouts and Guides, and started my Ranger team with the name ‘Spoorthy Ranger team’. I used to train Rangers (girls between 16-25 years). For nearly 16 years, our team performed voluntary service at the Tirumala Tirupati temple. I also completed the advanced courses, became a Leader Trainer and I am presently working as a Head Quarters Commissioner for Karnataka. In 2019, I represented Karnataka at the World Jamboree in West Virginia, US, through the Scouts and Guides programme.
In 2006, I also became a life member of the Indian Association of Secretaries and Administrative Professionals (IASAP). I have attended both national and international conferences, which helped me tick off a lot of places from my travel list and explore new places. This organisation has provided me with a holistic development and pushed me to achieve higher. I am also a volunteer with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and helped with the distribution of groceries to the needy during the pandemic.
I always like to keep busy and multi-task. Whichever group I joined, when I say I am from IISc, I have been recognised and respected. The Institute feels like my home. It has supported me, and I have cherished my life here.
As told to Kavitha Harish
Kavitha Harish is Personal Assistant to the Assistant Registrar (HR, Council)