When I came to IIT Kharagpur from Bangalore in 1964 as a sixteen-year-old boy, I was still an unlicked cub. I hardly knew anything about anything, leave alone knowing about life or the ways of the world. I knew a little (and understood less still) of even Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics beyond what I had learned till my one year of Pre-University. But I was a happy-go-lucky boy since, fortunately, I was completely ignorant of even my wide ignorance which must have been like large areas of darkness where no light had ever fallen.
How much of a greenhorn I was can be gauged from the fact that I never went to a movie with friends or by myself. I didn’t have any idea how beer looked: I had thought it looked like buttermilk! I had never seen even a boiled egg, leave alone chicken, fish, or mutton on a plate! The only language I could speak fluently was Kannada. English, I could manage with difficulty since though my English wasn’t too bad, I had never ever conversed in English — except with the guy who travelled with me to Kgp! I had never ever heard Bengali or Oriya spoken. Tamil and Telugu I could recognise, though not understand. At that time, Bangalore was still a sleepy small town, better known as pensioners’ paradise because of its clean air, gardens and laid back life. How much could a sixteen-year-old boy from such a place be expected to know? The only window to the world I had was the six-page newspaper, of which I never read anything except the sports page. There was no TV and the only news that was in the air at home was the AIR English news at 9 pm. The only three “events” I knew anything about was the India-China war of 1962; the assassination of Kennedy; the death of Nehru.
So, I must say, whatever I learnt to really grow up from a wet-behind-the-ears boy into a fairly well-informed youth was at IIT Kgp, a little in the classroom but a lot more outside the classroom. I learnt something about India. There were many guys who knew a lot about Indian History and the freedom struggle. The could make the stories of some of our freedom fighters come alive with their passionate and dramatic narrative. My heart burned with pride when I learnt about the Hijli jail being transformed into the old main IIT building. At that time the Chemical Engineering and Naval Architecture Departments were housed there. I felt I had come to a place which was not just an Engineering institution but a part of our history.
I learnt something about life — and something about myself too — in the five years I spent at Kgp. I made friends with a lot of guys from all over India: guys who were much much smarter than I was. They were not only guys bubbling with ideas and enthusiasm but also served as a sounding board for me. I was not a good student — far from it. Somewhere along the way, I had lost sight of the basic fact that I had joined IIT to study and become a good engineer! I did a lot of other things which I found interesting and enjoyed my five years stay. I can’t complain. Time is a fixed resource and if you spend it on what you enjoy doing rather than on what you ought to be doing, the price gets automatically charged to you. That’s a fair deal!
What (if any) was my strategy for survival in Kgp?
Honestly, I had absolutely no strategy. I just dealt with each situation that arose as best as I could handle it. I muddled along. And came out of IIT Kgp, a happy guy though bruised and with absolutely no fear of facing life, even though I really had not honed any skills. I didn’t expect to achieve anything but get along with my life, just as I had come through the hoops at Kgp. If I had to go back to my five years at Kgp, I would have done many things differently. I would have developed some kind of a focus to set a few worthwhile goals and work towards them, rather than drift along and be happy that I had not hit a rock. But life doesn’t allow us to recapture the time that has passed. As the philosopher, Kierkegaard has put it so well: “The tragedy of life is that we can understand it only backwards but we have to live it forwards”.
— Ravi Pandit | CE/69 Azad Hall.