“Packaging is a celebration,” Mr Prabuddha Dasgupta is reported to have said while addressing a seminar in Mumbai on 23 August 2017.
Speaking about the packaging of food, Mr Dasgupta said, “It is the last thing your bread gets into from the baker’s oven and it is the first thing that it comes out from, on your dining table. Between the two lies the story of packaging.”
Indeed, the ‘story of packaging,’ for most people outside the profession, is as simple as that. But for stalwarts like Mr Dasgupta who pioneered their services for the industry in the 80s and 90s and worked indefatigably to introduce new technology and innovation, the story has been long and twisted.
Starting out as a graduate from IIT, Bombay, Mr Dasgupta entered the packaging profession with a Diploma from the Institute of Packaging, UK. His early stints were as Head of Packaging in pharma companies such as Wockhardt and Ranbaxy Labs. When he left to join the raw material supply side of the industry at VFC, Vadodra, I was fortunate to be appointed in his place at Ranbaxy and somehow fulfill the big role he had created for his position. Needless to say, I was grateful to have the confident support of departmental colleagues who had already been painstakingly mentored by him.
Speaking of their early years together in Ranbaxy, Gagandeep (who later joined him in HUL) says, “I had the fortune of working with Mr. Dasgupta when I started my career in Packaging Development, way back in 1985 at Ranbaxy Labs, Delhi. Since I had no formal training in the subject, he was almost like a teacher and guide to me – to explain all the intricacies of the field. His passion for the domain was palpable and his face would light up every time we went to him for some clarification or for clearing a doubt. He would make sure that we understood the basics of whatever we were doing.”
Sandeep Goyal (now heading Sanex Packaging Connections) also speaks fondly of how Mr Dasgupta nurtured his growth in packaging as an intern and later by appointing him at Ranbaxy. He also speaks of Mr Dasgupta’s genial nature and generosity with his time to share and explain the intricacies of packaging materials and technology. He recalls how Mr Dasgupta was freely willing to give his time to anyone who asked and it often resulted in more than one person turning up to meet him at the appointed ‘9:00 a.m.’ time he had given! He also recalls how Mr Dasgupta instilled in him an abiding curiosity for knowledge way beyond packaging and allowed him the opportunity to learn computers when they were still a rarity.
As Mother Teresa said, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” This statement seems to hold particularly true for the life Mr Dasgupta led. Almost everyone he worked or interacted with has spoken of his passion to learn things from the basic principles and to do every job with commitment and love. Everyone remembers his welcoming smile and on occasions his jovial laughter which had the power to diffuse the tension in critical office meetings.
As Manjeet Sahu of Kellogs, who was his colleague at HUL, has said, “Anyone who worked with him will miss his ready smile. His vast storehouse of knowledge made him a ‘go-to’ person for many and he always had something to give.” In the same way Gagandeep says, “Later (after leaving Ranbaxy) during my career at Hindustan Unilever, I worked closely with him as a colleague. He was extremely proud that I had grown as a professional in my own right and had been able to achieve what I could based on the foundations and training that he had imparted. For me he always remained a mentor and guide – A ‘go-to’ person whenever one needed help.”
At HUL’s Innovation Centre, Mr Dasgupta leveraged his position and resources to straddle the packaging industry landscape like an intellectual giant. His work on bulk packs of tea or oxygen scavenging crown-cork liners for ketchup was comprehensive. His contribution to the improvement of flexible packaging specs for easy-tear and improved barrier properties helped benefit the entire industry. His work was recognized by the numerous and frequent Worldstar and Indiastar awards that were received by the company as a result of his efforts. No doubt the work impacted not only the packaging industry but extended much beyond, to improve the quality and availability of packaging used in the country. In fact, the most notable contribution of his life’s work may be that it helped to create recognition for the role of professional packaging technologists in consumer brand companies. It helped to ‘open up’ the profession and create career opportunities.
As a result of this there was a bit of Mr Dasgupta everyone wanted – everywhere! He was in great demand as a speaker in conferences and seminars. Speaking at one such conference at Plastindia 2015, he said, “In international markets or at Duty Free shops overseas and in India as well, Indian packaged food is very difficult to find on shelves. The primary reason appears to be lack of high-quality packaging solutions. With the increased use of technology which has provided high quality and safe plastic for various applications in the Indian food industry, the industry can become more pervasive and competitive and gain cost effectiveness.” In this regard, during his later years, after retirement from HUL, his interest in plastics for safe and effective packaging of food for wider distribution was well known. He combined it with a missionary zeal of imparting knowledge and education to anyone who was willing to listen.
In the words of Benjamin Fairless, a prominent American CEO of the nineteenth century, “What is the recipe for successful achievement? To my mind there are just four essential ingredients: Choose a career you love, give it the best there is in you, seize your opportunities, and be a member of the team.” Perhaps this describes Mr Dasgupta’s career most aptly. It was apparent he loved his job from the core of his heart and cared deeply for those he considered ‘his team.’ At the same time he could be very discerning about the people he came in contact with and chose his allies well.
Amidst all his vast and varied contributions to the field of packaging, in the end perhaps a statement made by him while visiting the Manjushree Museum of Packaging in Bengaluru, best sums up all that he stood for. He said, “I ensure that brand managers from HUL regularly visit the museum to look at new additions to the collections. It helps to look at the past and have concepts for the future.”
For many of us today who continue to work in this profession, and for future generations of packaging technologists to come, it will help if we too look closely at the past legacy of Mr Dasgupta’s vast body of work and seek concepts – not only for packaging but a way of life in the profession.
He truly deserved to be called the Dada (as many called him) of Indian packaging. Live on, Dada Prabuddha, wherever you are in the Cosmos, to continue improving lives – from basic principles!
– Deepak Manchanda