Chronicles of KGP: Nostalgia — Memories of the Formative Years of my Life
I was talking to a friend this afternoon at lunch and I realised that I had quite a casual approach to my higher education after high school. I knew I wanted to be an engineer because I did not want to dissect earthworms, cockroaches and frogs in High School. In those days, there was little hype about engineering education in IIT, at least in my circle of friends, and other engineering colleges like BITS Pilani, VRCE, Nagpur, REC Trichy and REC Suratkal also being considered to be good enough choices for an engineering education.
I must have applied for about a dozen colleges and also appeared for the JEE exam. I was ably coached by the teachers at the SN Dasgupta college on Pusa Road in Delhi, where my father’s friend was the Principal. The strategies we were taught at SN Dasgupta included scanning the question paper to figure out what questions we could easily answer, and which would require an effort. We were encouraged to try to solve old question papers, with the emphasis on correctness rather than speed.
Thanks to the teachers of SN Dasgupta College, I got a chance in the second list for IITs and I went for the counselling session in IT-BHU in July 1975. I was being offered Mining Engineering, Agricultural Engineering and all MSc courses at IIT Kharagpur (all other IITs had been filled up) and all branches in IIT-BHU. With my father posted in Calcutta at the time of the interview and hearing about the problems on campus in BHU, my father and I discussed that Mining engineering at IIT Kharagpur should be my first choice. The Director of IIT-BHU at the time was Dr. S.S. Saluja, who was a Professor in Mining Engineering and he remarked, “You can take Mining Engineering in our campus”, but our minds were made up, so I picked up the papers for IIT Kharagpur and left. While we were walking around campus, taking care of the formalities, I saw a young man in a full shirt and large bell bottom pants seriously smoking a cigarette and striding purposefully towards one of the administrative buildings. When I finally reached IIT Kharagpur and started attending classes, I saw that he had also joined Mining Engineering with me and started a lifelong friendship with him, Indra Kumar Singhal (also known as Ikes)!
So, when I joined Kharagpur, I did not feel that I had achieved something great. I was just happy to be in an engineering college. The history of IIT Kharagpur slowly grew on me, but at the time that I joined, the important piece of history was how my uncle, Dr. T. Rammohan, was encouraged to join as a student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering IIT Kharagpur as part of the first batch in 1950. He had also taught there in the department before moving to Osmania University. I remembered visiting him in Kharagpur when I was young and had had a small accident when we were in his house! That was the history that was important to me at that time!
Before traveling to Kharagpur, I also had occasion to meet Murari Mukherjee, who had just graduated from IIT Kharagpur from RK Hall. His cousin was one of my friends. Murari (or MuMu as he was called in RK Hall) told my father that RK Hall was the best hall and that his friends would be there to help me settle down (ya, right! They ragged me well in A-Block and then released me to the rest of the hall!)
The first few weeks were hectic with my time spent between classes (8 am — 11.30 am in theory classes and 2–4 pm in practical classes and workshop) when we were not in class, we were in the company of our seniors who made sure we told them all we knew and learnt that we were not smart (“CALLED” is pronounced kaled or salad!). We visited new places like Darjeeling, Andaman and Mussorie several times with several seniors, often several times in a day! We played word games, grammar games and mathematical games as well as participated in quizzes several times during the night and each time we gave a wrong answer, we had to give up a little dignity (article of clothing!). Our resilience was tested, but we were provided support just before we lost it (how did they know? Experience?).
At the end of two weeks, we were all formally introduced to the senior residents of RK Hall in an exciting program call the Freshers’ Intro, where we were allowed to show our skills at singing, dancing, acting, etc. After the program was done, we found we had made several friends — our own batchmates, who had endured the weeks together, and our seniors, who we no longer had to call “Sir”. Ragging was officially prohibited, and the experience we went through made us stronger and made us friends. It was never taken to an extreme (unless you consider being stared by a smoking, smiling Partho Swami as an extreme — but he became a good friend from whom several of us learnt a lot!).
While in Kharagpur as students, we enjoyed the learning experience (our teachers were knowledgeable and caring for the most part). We enjoyed the nicknames for the professors and the quirks that made them famous (or infamous). We had good teachers and poor teachers and we learnt a lot from our classmates and seniors. Most of our teachers were passionate — about teaching and about the industry that they were preparing us for. And they taught us life lessons, without pontificating. Many of them gained our respect because of it, not out of fear of the Teachers Assessment grades.
The main library was a learning hotspot, as were the different canteens and coffee shops (like Chedis). The most important learnings were of course during the hall events, inter-hall events, the inter-IIT events and of course Spring Fest. We learnt organization, planning, management, lights, cameras, sound systems, backdrops, etc. The teamwork was never forced on us, we looked forward to being a part of any and all events, either in the foreground as performers or in the background as organisers.
We talked and shared, we laughed and cried, and somewhere along the line we grew up from schoolboys to adults. We fell in love, endured heartbreak, fell in love again. We read a lot of rich fiction and cheap fiction (aka pondies!). We learnt new words in different languages and created some endearing terms with which to refer to each other. Ah, it was a time well spent, just writing about it brings a smile to my face!
All this brings me to the present. I am really looking forward to seeing all my friends again. I know we have all changed and grown (in size as well!). We have had other experiences of life and I would like to continue my learning experiences with them. Our time together at the Alumni meet will bring back memories of the past and help us connect with each other again and prepare us for the journey ahead.