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In Memory of Ranjan Das - My friend, who died so young!

Ranjan Das, President and CEO Indian Subcontinent of the software giant SAP passed away at the young age of 42. It is almost impossible to describe in words his multitude of talents and qualities. Apart from being a brilliant individual and a top notch professional, Ranjan was a wonderful human being with firm family values rooted in humility and compassion.


Ranjan was born to Khagan Das and Malati Das from Hengarabari, Guwahati and completed his early schooling at Dispur Government school and Gopal Boro school.


I first met Ranjan at my mess in Delhi University in 1987 on a dry and hot summer afternoon. Having completed high school from Daly College Indore, he enrolled in the undergraduate program at Hans Raj College and had come looking for a place to stay. Although a few years my junior, we got along almost instantly, and ended up sharing the mess accommodation for the next 12 months. Herein began our 22 year friendship that came to an abrupt and premature end on October 21st 2009.


As we got to know each other, he asked if he could use my single room while I was at class. I agreed and soon discovered that he was skipping classes at college. One day I confronted him about it and he looked me in the eye and said – “Sanjay da, I want to go to America and study at MIT. I also want to study at Harvard someday”. While I was somewhat skeptical of this young lad’s lofty goals, I remember the steely resolve in his eyes. Every evening as I returned, I found him cocooned in the room, immersed in a pile of books. We spent the next several months, studying, talking, eating, joking and on hot summer nights sitting on the terrace discussing Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, extraterrestrial life, or just listening to Bhupen Hazarika, Jayanta Hazarika, Jim Reeves and Englebert Humperdinck. Through our myriad of discussions, one thing remained constant – this young man’s resolve to make it into MIT.


At the time all the odds were against him. Given his financial situation, the high application fees for US universities, SAT tests, TOEFL tests, ACT tests was a huge challenge. He had no contacts or references, scarce funds, limited exposure to the US education system and virtually zero access to any of the prep resources. All he possessed was an unflinching resolve to make it into MIT. During power failures, he would setup a makeshift table from bricks and a wood plank under the street lights on Ring Road in Delhi’s Derawal Nagar where we lived. As the application process began I remember Ranjan skipping meals to save money for the application fee. Soon his test scores came back – he had scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT and a near perfect score on the TOEFL. He submitted applications to MIT and 4 other Ivy League schools (Cornell, Dartmouth, Brown, Princeton). When I questioned him why he did not apply to any of the lesser known colleges, he replied – “If I cannot get into MIT or an Ivy League then there is no point in going to the US”.


Four months later, he received a letter of acceptance to MIT. It was a joyful day, and I remember his smile fade away as he was reading through the letter. There was one key element missing - there was no mention of any financial aid. Without financial aid, attending MIT was no more than a mere dream for him. He insisted that we contact the admissions office at MIT. The closest place to make an ISD call at that time was the GPO at Eastern Court in Connaught Place. We both changed three DTC buses to get there from Delhi University that same night. Ranjan was so anxious that he asked me to make the call to Mr. Sam Jones who was the Associate Director of Financial Aid at MIT at the time. As I spelt Ranjan’s full name, Mr. Jones said, “Yes, Mr. Das has been awarded full scholarship for the entire 4 years.” Not only was this a triumphant day for Ranjan, it has been one of the happiest days in my own life.


Three months later his Dad (whom I fondly called Khagen Khura) and his mom came to Delhi to see off their son at the IGI Airport. As simple middle class parents this was a day of great rejoicing for them as they bid goodbye to their son. We all held hands and said a short prayer as Ranjan boarded the British Airways jet to London en route to Boston.


During one of his subsequent visits to India, he wanted me to meet someone special. We agreed to meet at Fujiya – a favorite Chinese restaurant for us both on Malcha Marg in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi. This special person was Rajashree Barua (Roopa) his fiancée. They had met in Mumbai where Roopa was pursuing her Masters and from the start they made a perfect couple. That partnership and trust grew and became stronger over time as Roopa continued to support Ranjan through his many dreams and aspirations.


After excelling at MIT in his B.S. Computer Science and Engineering he worked for two local software firms in the Cambridge area. Ranjan then joined Oracle Corporation and moved fast up the corporate ladder. Keeping alive his dream he then attended Harvard Business School to complete his MBA program and started his own venture named Patkai Networks. At Patkai he pioneered an innovative B2B collaboration solution. Subsequently, he joined the global software giant SAP where he co-founded SAP x-Apps that enabled the company to effectively address the mid size marketplace and thereby catapulted its revenue and client base to new heights. Throughout all his endeavors and accomplishments there was one person firmly rooted in the ground silently supporting him while raising their two wonderful little boys – his wife Roopa.


Ranjan’s meteoric rise at SAP was not surprising. He lived, breathed, and dreamed work and was a rising star with tremendous technical and business acumen as well as amazing people skills. His appointment as President and CEO for Indian subcontinent during the worst economic crisis since the great depression was no accident. This was an endorsement of his capability, his innovation, his genius and his commitment. He gladly took on the challenge, agreed to relocate with family from the San Francisco Bay Area in the US, and defied the prevalent economic trends to grow his company’s customer base and revenues many fold.


Despite the numerous achievements and accolades, Ranjan remained that same simple person I came to know 22 years ago. Gentle and kind, soft spoken and always sporting a smile, he would make every effort to keep in touch. He would remember the minutest of details from conversations and follow through on them. During one of my visits to the Bay Area, he and Roopa insisted that I have dinner at their home. I remember the Shillong style garden in their backyard that Roopa so painstakingly cared for and the wonderful dinner we enjoyed while reminiscing old memories. While visiting the NY area, they made it a point to stop by our home to have dinner and catch up. He would never miss an opportunity to say Hello and make you feel good and welcome.


His love for his birthplace Asom, his passion to contribute to the growth and development of India was his genuine desire. I recall his excitement on the phone soon after he accepted the position to lead SAP India. He was so happy to be back in the land that shaped his childhood. His contributions are evident from the results he achieved in past two years while based in India.


At a very young age, Ranjan accomplished what others struggle to do in an entire lifetime. I only wonder what heights he would have soared to in the future. Asom and India has lost one of its brightest stars.


Today I sketchily remember portions of the Essay that Ranjan wrote as part of his MIT undergraduate application in 1987. He had asked me to review it before submitting. The application instructions said -If you just finished writing a book of 100 pages, please reproduce below what would be in page 81. Ranjan’s book was to be an Autobiography about his work in the business technology area and his subsequent years as a Professor at a world renowned university. He had envisioned that Page 81 will detail the day after his retirement at the university - getting up early as usual, workout, shower, dress up and start to knot his tie at the dressing table ……. just when he notices through the corner of his eye a red rose in the vase with a farewell note from his longtime assistant at university. It then dawns upon him that he does not have to go to work again, and becomes restless and anxious as he cannot imagine giving up active work.


Ranjan, I am pretty sure you would have returned to Harvard or MIT as a faculty and how wonderful it would have been to compare Page 81 from of your essay of 1987 to page 81 of the real book that we will now never have the opportunity to read. Ranjan, I will always remember you as a genuine, honest and sincere friend. While you parted from us at such an early age, we will always remember your smile and your indomitable spirit to never give up. Your passion for the pursuit for excellence in any endeavor and your qualities as a wonderful human being will forever inspire us. May your soul rest in peace.


Sanjay Saikia, New Jersey, USA



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Comments

G.P. Baroowah's picture

It is a good piece of article informing the active dedicated life of Ranjan's from childhood through youth. Alas! in our society such devoted persons are scarce. GPB
MoniSankar Chakraborty's picture

A great inspirational real life Journey of a great assamese Hero...Its a big loss for our country as this hero died so young.But I wish that more and more heros like Ranjan Das will emerge out of Assam and make us fell proud. My thanks to Mr. Sanjay Saikia for letting us know about the life of this Hero..... My Salute to this Genius.
Uttanka Hazarika's picture

Salute to the Genius and his deeds...huge loss..
Ghanashyam Das's picture

Really,what a personality he was.Its a tremandous loss for an Assamese & Indian Society for his sudden demise.Surely, his life history will become a influencial for others. I would like to thank Mr. Sanjay Saikia for letting us know about his life chapter.
Utpal Barman's picture

Every Assamese should take pride on Ranjan da. We should take this inspiration and make a difference to ourselves and to our community.
Raja Gogoi's picture

Thank you Mr. Sanjay for sharing Rajan's brilliant journey of life which is very much inspiring for all of us for sure. His premature demise left a vacuum in our society. It is very sad to have him no more with us, may the departed soul be in peace. I am also sad to see not much comments on this article.
Noyon Jyoti's picture

Wish i could do half of what he did! He is a true inspiration!
Pramathesh Borkotoky's picture

He is an inspiration to all of us.
Nazeeb Ehsan Ali's picture

It was truly inspiring to read about Ranjan and his achievements, and for a fellow assamese it makes me very proud. May god bless his soul. Nazeeb Ali Dubai, UAE
Ajit Baruah's picture

Thanks Sanjay for making us know more about Ranjan. Its indeed a great achievement for a person like Ranjan, who belonged to a middle-class family and the financial constrains he had. A great loss for the Country and specially for Asom. Irony is, we didn't know much of him, when he was alive atleast to make ourselves proud of being an Assamese.
USG's picture

Yes it is an awe inspiring short life of 42 years. But he made every second count and it is his grit and motivation for Karma that made him what he was. More about his life and endeavours should be shared with youngsters in India.. May India find more such Ranjan and Sanjays too!
Kaushik Barua's picture

Thank you, Sanjay Da for sharing this truly inspiring life story of Ranjan Da. I have been hearing so much about him in the past few years and was hoping that someday I would get an opportunity to meet him in person. But alas, fate has snapped him away from us all at such a young age. But the legacy of his dynamic personality and meteoric rise to such professional greatness will live on in our hearts and will continue to inspire us in the days and years to come.
Debajit's picture

Thanks Sanjay for this lovely article on Ranjan. Truly this proud son of Asom is an inspiration to all of us.
Abhilekh Kalita's picture

Thanks Mr. Sanjay for the article. Actually, SAP has put up a Tribute Page for Ranjan Das in its web-site - http://www.sap.com/india/about/tribute/index.epx. They have also provided a link in the site page, an email id - SAP.tribute.ranjan@sap.com with a Subject line of "Tribute to Ranjan Das" wherein one can share their thoughts and condolences. If you so desire, you can forward this article to SAP also.
Pranjal Saikia's picture

Sanjay da, Many thanks for sharing with us such a motivating and inspiring life. Feels really great that some one from such a background can rise through the echelons. A great loss for the whole of Assam no doubt. And ironically its true that we never knew about him when he was alive. May his soul rest in peace. Pranjal Saikia Amsterdam The Netherlands.
krishna das's picture

Role models being so few and far between for us assamese youth, ranjan das was a huge inspiration. his demise, an extremly unfortunate event, should fire our motivation.
Sandip's picture

This is wonderful piece, Mr. Saikia. It tells us how inspired he was. It is sad that Asom and India lost such an wonderful person, prematurely. But your story has made it alive, for me. Though a generation older, I wish your story will make possible, Tagore's wonderful lines: Je phool na phootite, padila dharanite, Je nadi marupathe haralo drara, Jani he jani tao hai ni hara. Your short piece will make it possible. It was specially interesting to me to know that he was a teetotaler. Rare at this level of success. My condolences to Roopa for this irreparable loss.
Manjit Nath's picture

By far, the most successful asomiya in corporate India
Arnov Hazarika's picture

A really nice article depicting the early life of Ranjan. Many thanks for sharing your memories with the great Assamese icon. It is really a great loss for Assam & Assamese people that Ranjan left us at such a young age.. but I would believe the teaching from Ranjan's life would be able to inspire thousands.. I am sure his indomitable spirit & urge to excel would be something the next generation would like to follow
Meena's picture

Very inspiring! Ranjan lived his long life very short.. God bless his soul..
Rashmi's picture

He lives forever in hearts of young indians !
sandeep bhatnagar's picture

Very well written. Ranjan was a few years junior to me in Daly College. He was very well liked. In fact some of the teachers from Daly College, who are currently visiting US, called me to confirm this sad news. Facebook forums of the school were full of this news and a lot of upset school mates remembered him very fondly.
A. M. Chandarana's picture

I really greta guy. I feel today's youth can draw inspiration from this life sketch. Truely great achiever. True tribute to Ranjan would be for us to tell this life story to our children and youth to kindle fire in them to achieve hights undreamt of.
Raisul Hussain's picture

All I can say, you have inspire 100s of us today. 'A life lived...'. May your soul rest in peace.
madhur jaiswal's picture

my tributes to this man who made my school" THE Daly College " & my country proud
Nabaneet Bora's picture

Great shock for me on reading this very wonderful piece. I read about Ranjan Das in the latest issue (Nov 20) of Forbes India and stupidly never knew he was from Guwahati, even though I keep myself pretty updated. I feel a sharp pain going thru me about the loss of such a fantastic leader who could have inspired the youngsters of our state given the scarcity of such beacons from our dear Assam
simanta jyoti barman's picture

why great , Genius people die so young? he will remain a source of inspiration for we all young minds. thank you Mr.sajay saikia for letting us know about this great soul of Assam
Ramanathan Bala's picture

Lovely write-up, Sanjay, thanks for giving us the true story of Ranjan, i wish lots of youngsters will learn-hard work and honest approach can bring miracles in life !! God bless Ranju's family.
bonbon's picture

A lovely piece on Ranjan Das. We all Assamese people will always be proud of him. I guess good people leave this planet early, maybe God requires them too. God bless his soul
Mahuwa's picture

A really inspiring real life story. But i m curious to know what caused his premature end.
Afreen Rahman's picture

I remember our days together in Daly College, Indore. May you rest in peace....
Rakesh Natarajan's picture

To see a young, charming man holding the Dataquest trophy and to know that this person is no more is like recognizing the sun and its majestic power after sunset. I wish to emulate Ranjan Das. May his soul rest in peace!
BCKalita's picture

Extremely happy to know the brilliant journey of Ranjan. It is real inspiring for all of us.
Kaushik Barua's picture

I chanced upon this on the internet and what a moving story..People like him need to be the role models of Assamese Society and the youth. Do keep on spreading the word
george22's picture

hi it is absoultely true that he was a legend for us and his character is the solid foundation for us if we coppy him
Rakesh's picture

I had goosebumps while going through Ranjan Da's journey..awe inspiring. It has been reconfirmed that hard work , determination and the never say die attitude can make turn one's dream into reality. Makes me feel immensely proud as An assamese and a Guwahatian that such modern day jewels rose from my land Asom. Ranjan Da's life will inspire the Assamese youth ..thats for sure.Salute a n Assamese hero!
subhankar nandy's picture

Thanks Sanjay for letting us know about he early life and career of Ranjan.It is enormously creditable of Ranjan to attend MIT and then Harvard B School,finally reaching to the topmost position in SAP INDIA given his humble background in Assam.He is really admirable.
nayan jyoti das's picture

 i miss u Ranjan mama...your nephew , jadu
srinivas's picture

you did a great job – really nice article
Vijay C's picture

Very inspiring article, great read.

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