A Renaissance Man whose extraordinary vision lives on at the new Vision-Aid Center in Pune

It is said that “leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality” and thus was the life, journey and legacy of Dr. R.S.Ayyar, former Dean of IIT Bombay. Dr. R.S. Ayyar, passed away on Tuesday, February 12, 2019 in San Jose, CA. He was 87 years old. He is survived by his wife, Parvathy, daughters Ranjani and Jayashree, his sons-in-law, Anil Saigal and Ganapathy Kumar, and his three grandchildren, Amrita, Arun and Meena.

 Born in a very poor family, in a remote village in Kanyakumari District (Tamil Nadu, India) he overcame an incredible number of challenges including visual disability to achieve excellence in everything he aspired to achieve. He never used his disabilities or challenges as an excuse to not achieve his potential.

 Dr. Ayyar was the founding member of IIT Bombay. He joined the department of Civil Engineering in 1958. He held several administrative positions at IIT Bombay, including Dean of Academic Programs and Head of the Department of Civil Engineering. A beloved professor, an exceptional teacher, he was the favorite of so many students in the civil engineering department.

 “It is indeed a sad occasion to mark the passing of Professor R.S. Ayyar, a stalwart in the field of Structural Engineering and a remarkable human being” wrote his former students (the 1978 batch of Civil Engineering students from IIT Bombay) wrote about him – “We were just in awe of his indefatigable energy, boundless enthusiasm and love of subject. He was like a virtuoso violinist, delivering every lecture to perfection, flawlessly hitting all the right notes in perfect symphony, illustrating the greater principles while pointing out the subtle nuances. Professor Ayyar towers in our memories as one of the most gifted and respected professors from whom we had the gift of learning. Many of us regarded him as the single best professor we ever had, or our favorite faculty member — or both! Over time he became far more than a teacher to us. He was our guide, our mentor, an inspiring coach, and ultimately our friend, motivating us to achieve the most we could, to strive for great heights, and to excel, no matter which path we chose. And he did it all with grace and humor that we can only hope to emulate.

 Dr. Ayyar was a stalwart in the field of Structural Engineering. One of the first projects he worked in the final year of his college was to design the Gandhi Samadhi in Kanyakumari. He was tasked to ensure that the sunlight lights the Samadhi on Oct 2. He made significant contributions to the growth of Civil Engineering Department at IIT Bombay in its formative years. As Dean of Academic Programs, he was instrumental in introducing several far-reaching policies regarding the academic system of IIT Bombay. He was passionate about teaching and each student had a very special place in his heart. Students from IIT Bombay have had a transformational impact on the world at large and he felt fulfilled.

 A renaissance man, he felt strongly about empowering women through education. In the early 70s, he supported his wife, Smt. Parvathy Ayyar, who was only a high school graduate at the time of her marriage, to further her studies and helped her realize her ambition of becoming a professor of English. Despite his busy schedule at IIT and his deep commitment to his students, he always took a keen interest in his daughters’ and grandchildren’s education and encouraged them to study engineering. Passionate about the arts, he also encouraged his daughters to study music and dance.

 He helped guide the first Vision-Aid production of Ramayana, created by his daughter, Ranjani Saigal. A socially conscious teacher and researcher, he was also a gifted painter, poet and orator.

 Dr. Ayyar’s legacy lives on through Vision-Aid. 

His message – “Work hard, think positive and do not let anything stand in the way of attaining your God given potential, lives on today with the legacy created by his family in the form of a new Vision-Aid center in Pune, India in 2020. The family (Anil Saigal, Ranjani Saigal, Amrita Saigal, Arun Saigal, Parvathy Ayyar) said “We hope the gift we give in his name will allow many others who are visually challenged to unleash their unlimited potential.

 Mr. Puran Dang, Chairman of Vision-Aid reminisced fondly – ” When I entered IIT Kharagpur in 1955, Dr. Ayyar was a Lecturer there but soon after he moved to IIT Bombay. I wish I was his student. Later, we became very close to him and Ranjani’s mother. As and when they visited Boston, they made it a point to meet with me and Kamlesh. They gave us so much love and affection which always stays in our hearts. Dr. Ayyar is a shining example of courage and self-confidence. Despite his deficient eyesight, he rose to the high position of Dean of the Institute. What influenced us most about him was his Himalyan knowledge, deep learning and holistic view of life. During our discussions, we happily realized that this man of God had a spiritual awakening of rare sort. He and our Bahen Ji, Parvathy, produced two most amazing daughters, Ranjani and Jaishree. When I think of Dr. Ayyar, I fondly wish that more such persons are gifted to mankind so that this world may become the kindest ever known before. I deeply miss him. “

Vision-Aid centers like the new one in Pune follow the Vision-Aid model, which has 16 programs designed to enable, educate and empower the visually impaired. Visual impairment can range from low vision conditions to complete blindness.

Vision-Aid’s model offers a comprehensive range of programs ranging from early intervention services for infants and children to skills training programs for visually impaired adults including training in Computers, Spoken English, Mobile Technologies and over a dozen other programs, each customized to the specific needs and circumstances of the individual.

 The Vision-Aid team welcomed the launch of the new Pune Center with warmth and excitement. Syed Ali Rizvi, President of Vision-Aid said “‘Prof. Ayyar’s life is an inspiration. He gave back to society all his life. His rich legacy continues through this center dedicated in his name at Pune from our dear Ranjani Saigal and Anil Saigal, in the memory of Prof. Ayyar through Vision-Aid”. Vision-Aid Founders Revathy Ramakrishna and Ramakrishna Raju said “Dr. Ayyar and the entire Saigal family are an inspiration to us at many levels. We feel really blessed and delighted to have an opportunity to work on this new project at Vision-Aid.”

 The new Pune resource center which was slated to begin its first phase of operations in April 2020, had to hit the pause button due to COVID, but will resume as soon as the situation returns to normalcy.

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