What started as a chance meeting with the principal of the erstwhile College of Technology at the Hubballi train station completely changed the trajectory of his life to become a narrative of perseverance, hard work, and success.
Born on 2nd March, 1925, in Sishuvinhal near Hubballi in Karnataka, Shreenivas Gururao Deshpande is a man of strength and determination. Having lost his parents early on in his childhood, he had faced hardships only a few of us can imagine, overcoming them with great gusto and emerging a better version of himself.
After completing his eighth grade in a one-room school in the village, he moved to Dharwad to continue his education. Twelve years of school education came to an end, and he finally got admission to Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in 1946. A twenty-one-year-old eager to pursue higher education, he sold his share of the inherited land to fund his education at BHU.
In 1948, as the entire country was celebrating one year of its independence from British rule, Deshpande was overjoyed also because of his graduation from the College of Technology in first class with a B.Sc. in Industrial Chemistry. His two years in Banaras were as eventful for him as they were for the country. With the joy of independence still fresh, the country was also reeling from the loss of two distinctive personalities: the death of the founder of the Institute Bharat Ratna Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya on 12th November, 1946, and the loss of Mahatma Gandhiji on 30th January, 1948. In the procession to immerse Gandhiji’s ashes in Triveni Sargam, Shreenivas got a chance to see Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
He emerged a grown man after his two years at college. Packing up memories of his hostel days and the teachings from his professors in a bag, he returned to Karnataka and founded a company that manufactured and distributed malaria medication. Unfortunately, it had to be shut down within a year after a disagreement with the co-founder.
He then went to work for the Indian government in Mumbai, where he stayed until 1956. After the state reorganization, he moved back to Karnataka and continued to serve the Karnataka Government in the labor department. The next 24 years were spent working in the public sector, with eventual retirement as the Joint Labor Commissioner of Karnataka in 1980. During this time, he was posted to Calcutta University in 1958, where he earned a social work certificate, and then to the United Kingdom in 1971 to study the workings of the Labor Department.
In 1980, he retired, marking the end of one chapter and the beginning of a much longer and more illustrious career that now spans 42 years. Settled in Hubballi, the place where it all started, he continues to work as a Social Entrepreneur. In 1983, he met Swami Chinmayananda, an educated journalist on his way to the Himalayas. Shreenivas spent 35 days with him in Siddbari, taking notes of his discourses on the Bhagwat Gita. He then proceeded to serve the Chinmaya Mission in Hubballi for 25 years in various capacities. He was the President of the Chinmaya Mission and played an instrumental role in the revitalization of his hamlet as a Board Member. For 15 years, he has also served as Chairman of the Sharieff Trust. His works and service have truly been the inspiration for the Deshpande Foundation's work in Hubballi.
With a vision to take the place of his origin to greater heights, Shreenivas Deshpande has co-founded the Hubballi-based Deshpande Foundation whose operations have made a significant impact thanks to his active involvement. On the campus of the foundation, thousands of men and women, who were previously unemployed, have been trained and are now working. Micro-entrepreneurs have been upskilled, their businesses growing multifold; a few have even grown ten-fold. Farmers have managed to double or triple their annual income. The benefits of these projects also extend to students who have been able to extensively develop their leadership skills. Alongside this, multiple companies have been incubated, which now flourish and provide numerous employment opportunities.
“BHU has come a long way since I left in 1948. It is now very advanced in technology and is having a profound impact on our country. I hope, true to the vision of our founder Pandit Malaviya, this institute will continue to train students who will move our country forward in the 21st century.”
He has firm beliefs about the importance of education, which, combined with his experiences at BHU, laid the groundwork for his successful life. He has witnessed the Institute's evolution from the independence era to its current status as an IIT.
After 74 years of his graduation, Mr. Deshpande still remembers and cherishes the days he had spent here. Seeing his love and devotion towards his alma mater, his son, Dr. Desh Deshpande, and his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Jaishree Deshpande, have made a generous donation of US $1 million to the Institute. This gift was given with the hope that the present and future students would be able to soar to great heights in their life while also making a positive contribution to society. In recognition of this noble contribution, the Institute will be naming the library as the “Shreenivas Deshpande Library” in his honor.
This article has been written by Anushka Chopada (PHE '25) and Garima (CSE '25), Content Team, SAIC, IIT (BHU), Varanasi.