My interpretation of what interests and confounds me ....

Sunday, March 24, 2013

College Silver Jubilee Reunion - Bald pates, salt-n-pepper, beer bellies, love handles, and loads of back slaps, hugs & nostalgia!

It's been a long time away, therefore a longish piece. This was penned to commemorate the Silver Jubilee Reunion of NIT Raipur, my alma mater, and the first home away from home, as the title suggests.


Tribute to a stellar alma mater, its talented faculty, and a remarkable set of chums, all of whom, have wittingly or unwittingly shaped the author’s life

Here I was, on a dull and humid July morning of 2012, attending the counseling session for my elder son’s admission to the Delhi College of Engineering, when I got a call from Bidyut (Mazumdar) regarding the Silver Jubilee Reunion (SJR) of the Class of 87. The enormity of the coincidence didn’t escape me! It was a similar dull and humid July morning, a score and a decade back (in the year of the lord - 1982), when I stepped tentatively, for the very first time, into the hallowed portals of what was then interchangeably referred to as the Government Engineering College (GEC), Raipur and/or the Government College of Engineering and Technology (GCET), Raipur*. Having being informed by the morning newspaper (Navbharat Times, Hindi edition, Raipur) of the momentous event of qualifying the Pre-Engineering Test (PET), the reason for my pilgrimage was to ascertain the veracity of the information (newspapers those days, as today, were rather notorious for typographical errors that could have earth-shattering consequences!), and if possible, determine which engineering institute beckoned me with an offer. I had just finished schooling from Bhilai, and Raipur, being the closest city (to my town) with an engineering institute, it was presumed that all such inputs would be offered on a platter there.

So off I went, to board the Jharsguda-Dongargarh passenger train (popularly known by its iconic acronym JD, with which, later, I was to have an extended romantic association for five long years!), in what was the maiden journey from Bhilai Railway Station to the unofficial Engineering College Station (the authorized Saraswati Nagar Station came much later, as we passing out from the institute). If I remember correctly, I had Sagar (Mohbe), Mantha (Vishwanath) and G Srinivas (Rao) for company that day, among others.

Getting back to the business on hand, Ek who din tha, aur ek aaj ka din hai! The institution has never disappointed. For, pasted on the walls of the imposing foyer of the institute, were computer print-outs, on stationery now reminiscent of a bygone era – papers with holes on the sides, to accommodate the pins on the spools of dot-matrix printers prevalent those days – neatly displaying the results of the PET. Having established that one had indeed figured in the merit list, my young and imaginative mind leapt with joy, and drummed up a flight of fantasy, that of leading an independent life, sans the constraints imposed at ones abode.

Eventually, I did land up at GEC Raipur, spent five eventful years in its precincts, and grabbed a degree in Electrical Engineering. But, that statement is too simplistic and bland to encompass the trials and tribulations, the welter of emotions, and the whale of a time that I had, while there. How do I capture for instance, the excitement of the first taste of freedom, the first General Goal (GG), the first swig of beer, and several other firsts that would remain in the nooks and crannies of my mind as long as I am alive (Alzheimer’s notwithstanding)? And, what, of the exhilaration and hullabaloo at the annual events like the College day, Elections, Hostel day etc.?

While I don’t intend dispensing justice to each and every event that stood out during the extraordinarily life-changing existence at GEC (R), I guess, I do have the liberty of recounting some, that would capture uss samay ka maahaul. So, fasten your seat-belts, ladies and gentlemen, and ready yourself for a roller-coaster ride, as I navigate you through a trip down memory lane, in random alphabetical order. Bon voyage!

J – JD. JD was the lifeline for home-to-college commute, for the five long years that I spent at Raipur. The journey, per se, was a learning experience. For instance, JD exposed me to Keynesian economics in all its glory, through first-hand enlightenment on abstruse concepts like the “social welfare state”. What else would you call a dispensation that, day in and day out, for years at a stretch, permits the practice of allowing students to travel free of charge (ticketless) for pursuing the sublime cause of education? Also, thanks to brilliant tutors like Burman (senior by a year) and Bidyut, one picked up the art of getting the train to screech to a halt at precise locations (through manoeuvres that went by the arcane names of pipe marna and key kholna), with an accuracy, which could give the trained drivers, a run for their money.

T – Teeter. Much before PETA entered Page 3 vocabulary, and a wide variety of birds were declared endangered, making it unlawful to hunt them, teeter (partridge) meat was a delicacy. It was savored once in a blue moon (read once a year), at the end of all examinations of the year, and just before one proceeded back home for vacations. Guys with vehicles were in great demand, and could often wheedle a free treat in exchange for ferrying the less fortunate to the venue (a Dhaba), which if I recall correctly, was quite some distance off, on the National Highway.

A – Akhand Bakar. More popularly known by the addition of a colourful expletive at the end of the second term (Bakar). While my pyaare dost aur sahapathi would need no prodding, I refrain from disclosing the expletive, since this piece is meant for the consumption of a family audience. Akhand Bakar… (AB), refers to the ritual of unending chat sessions, on anything and everything under the sun (girls, of course, being the most favoured), that often stretched into the wee hours of the morning. It was religiously practiced, on the night after every examination. AB would commence at several hotspots, almost simultaneously. Most preferred destinations were the terraces of the hostels, since mattresses were spread permanently here during the summer (to beat the heat while sleeping in the night), and one could crash immediately at the end of AB, or as and when nidra would strike. Veterans in this trade included (in no particular order) Amol Athawle, Devendra Verma, Pravesh Sharma, Madhu Babu, Bhupinder Singh, Sanjay Khare, Sarjeet Pathak, Jitendra Vikram Singh Gaur, Rajeev Singh, Sanjeev Kasliwal, et al. (to name a (very) few).

N – Netas. Mention netas, and the names of Yogesh Sharma, Inderjit Dhillon, Shaji Philip, et al., pop up. So too, do names like Devvrat Taran, Subhash Gupta and Simon Eipe, though they don’t belong here. The netagiri of these netas would be in full flow during college elections, those jamborees, when classes would be the last thing on ones mind, and ‘kidnapping’ and intimidation of the ‘opposition’ the order of the day! With amazing alacrity, the netas would organise free booze (for those so inclined) and movies (that one wouldn’t dare view in the company of respectable persons!), to wean the electorate into their fold.

S – Strikes. The punctuations, often welcome to the students at large, in an otherwise serene (boring?) state of affairs at college. It could be induced for a variety of bona fide, honourable reasons, for instance, to prove a point, to extend the vacations, to assuage a hurt ego, to postpone the exams, because Pappu hit Kallu, Hostel ‘B’ lost a cricket Match,…. I guess you get the drift! The modus operandi of precipitating a strike usually involved an ST Bus (thanks to its constant availability in close proximity at the ST Bus Depot, contiguous to the college boundary), and would range from the mundane (stoning an ST Bus), to the bizarre and dramatic (making a bonfire of an ST Bus).

H – Hostel. The hostel is ones first exposure to a live-in relationship; sadly they permit only members of the same gender to experiment! Be that as it may, it teaches you the impossible art of sharing, and caring for a bum chum (wrong choice of phrase there, can’t help that!).

Life in the hostel is one of devil-may-care existence. No fixed timings here for waking up, having a bath, going to the loo, eating food, or hitting the sack. In fact, a day in the life of a typical hosteller, is a succession of disjointed events. But, there is a method in that madness. For, despite all the foot-loose mannerisms, the hosteller eventually does learn valuable lessons in independent living.

In our case, as with any other hostel, there were all kinds of inmates. Allow me to offer a sample (my perception, entirely). The padhaakoos (dedicated to the cause of knowledge attainment – Ajay Duggad, Abhay Salpekar, Kinshuk Roy, et al.), the intelligent types (never needed to touch their books, but always came out with flying colours in the exams – Madhu Babu, Navin Shetty, Pradeep Singh Raghav), the erudite (professorial types – Alok Singh, Deepak Deore, Samir Bajpai, Manoj Arora – surprisingly all Civil Es!)), the irreverent (pooh-poohing all doctrines and philosophies – Satish Sharma, Gautam Moitra), radical, left-wing socialist ideologues (US baiter P Lalu, with his Das Kapital/ Paul Samuelson in tow), the entrepreneurial variety (never one to let go of a business opportunity – Bidyut Mazumdar, Paul Koshy), the arty types (mostly in a world of their own – Saket Shrivastava), the gyaanis (who disbursed gyaan irrespective of whether the receiving end was tuned-in or not – Deepak Pandya, Ashok Dixit, Jaideep Mukherjee, et al.), the patriotic types (who watched war movies and imagined joining the Fauj – Sriramakrishnan, Sanjay Sharma), the sincere kind (always prim-n-propah in behavior and etiquette – Rajesh Bharadwaj, PK Swain, Devendra Patel), the tensed types (stressing out their buddies as well – Vineet Thakur, Harjeet Gill), the nonchalant, happy-go-lucky types (completely indifferent to stressful situations – Kuldip Mathur, Raman Marwaha), and what have you. There were also the suave debonairs (well-dressed and given to smooth-talking!), and the nocturnal types (raat ke humsafar, they would only be seen and heard after sunset!), and I will leave it to the imagination of my friends to conjure up names for these categories. The best part was that while the differences were debated, it was also celebrated.

R – Ragging. That dreaded college initiation rite, purportedly to loosen fresh-from-home prudes. While there exist many hilarious episodes amongst our classmates, the one that stands out in my experience relates to six of us viz. Indranil (Mukherjee), Sagar (Mohbe), Kuldip (Mathur), Shaji (Ravindranath), R Ajayan, and yours truly (quite an eclectic group there!). At the risk of earning the wrath of the other five, let me narrate the story that the world needs to know. The setting – an apartment in Samta Colony, close to one that the six of us had rented in our 1st year; the time – close to 2300 hrs; the occasion – our first meeting with one of the most fearsome and dreaded seniors, Sunil Mohre [3rd Year Civil/Chemical(?)], as part of an all-night ragging session; the outcome – anti-climax at its rip-roaring best! Now, the narrative. Each of us was expected to start with a song, as a way of introducing ourselves. Thanks to a palatable vocal chord, I finished off uneventfully. Next, it was the turn of Kuldip. Though melody wasn’t his forte, he was a master of lyrics and went through a full song, without batting an eyelid. The baton was then taken up by Sagar, who, in his inimitable style, managed to pass muster. The trouble started with Ajayan’s performance. Our man (Sunil Mohre), by this point in time, had realized that things were not going along expected lines, and was starting to get unsettled. By the time Shaji picked up the cue for his song, one could fathom that Mohre hadn’t bargained for this kind of an assault on his senses. Indranil’s rendition was the last straw on the proverbial camel’s back. It ruined Mohre completely! He was never the same again. In the face of such an onslaught, he bade us goodbye, and beat a hasty retreat! The session that was supposed to be an all-nighter, was over in a trice. The next day, we were heralded as victorious champs, the intrepid guys who had survived an experience that was expected to be worse than a four-hour Bollywood balderdash starring Zayed Khan and Dino Morea in the lead, ably(?!) supported by Arjun Rampal and Himesh Reshamiya. However, we too, suffered collateral damage. The emotional strain and suspense broke Ajayan and Shaji. They retracted from our apartment, never to come back. That prompted the move of the remaining four of us, to a rented accommodation in Tatibandh. But, that’s another story.

D – Dirty Jokes, also Day Scholars. What’s college life without dirty jokes! What amazes you however is the sheer inventiveness and creativity of the jokes. As for the depravity of content, the less said the better! There used to be an unending stream of these from some stalwarts like T Paul Koshy, Nirmal (TNS Plaha), Dhillon, Anurag Rajvanshi, et al., who could rattle them non-stop! Wonder what their source was!

Day scholars were a different kettle of fish. There was a love-hate relationship, a tacit war of sorts, always on, between the hostlers and day scholars. It used to reach a crescendo when haggling for a General Goal (GG - see entry above), the latter’s crib being that having travelled all the way from their homes to the college, it was unkind of the former to inveigle them to cut classes. The love part of the relationship stemmed from the fact that the day-scholars were quite liberal in passing up goodies that they brought from home, to the perpetually starved hostlers. Should add the fact that I shared some great vibes with this breed including (in alphabetical order) Abhay Tarnekar, Ajay Bangad, Dipen Shah, Prashant Shrivastava, Sajeet George, Santosh Surana, Shailesh Chandak, (to name, but a few).

U – Uniform. The white-black combo of upper and lower garments inflicted on the first year students, so that they stood out for special treatment from the seniors.

E – Educational Tours. Those carefully camouflaged visits to tourist destinations. For what would you expect to be educated on, at such exotic locales as the Sun Temple, Konark (3rd year educational tour, purportedly to the Hirakud Dam Hydel Power Station), or to Goa and Bombay (4th year, apparently to visit Goa Capacitors, and Crompton Greaves Fan factory at Mumbai).

Personally, the Sun Temple educated me, through its explicit carvings, on the convoluted preferences of our ancestors in matters physical/sensual, and corroborated the fact that my tastes and likings on the subject were far from deviant. As regards Goa, there are dime a dozen anecdotes, including that involving Paul and Bhatia, when I first understood the term “p**s drunk”. The night that I, Verma, Paul, Moitra (I forget the rest) spent at a bus stop, having missed the last ferry to our hotel, is indeed unforgettable. Goa also gave me my very first experience of Pina Colada, Fish Pomfret, Kaju Feni, and ‘Sex on the Beach’ (I refer of course, to the Vodka and Peach Schnapps based drink, you perverted souls!).

G – General Goal (GG). Bunking classes en masse. While it is the most enjoyable event in the lifetime of most students at GEC (R), the effort involved in convincing the girls (and a few day-scholars) about the virtues of GG could be herculean. Some (like Paul, Bidyut, etc.), had perfected the art of influencing people to such an extent that they could offer Dale Carnegie and his tribe, tutorials in their core competence.

B – Babulal Gali. For those in the know, it needs no introduction; for those who don’t, it’s too late to know, and therefore, I prefer to leave it at that!

P – Project (Final Year). Ajay (Duggad), Anupam (Pandit), and I were the teammates for the final year project titled “Thyristor–based Speed Control of Motors”. Having finished with the literature survey and simulation exercises, it was time now for the Real McCoy – the Demo. The components were rigged on a breadboard in the Electronics Lab, and the Guide was invited to view the functional prototype. Duggad was the most enlightened amongst our project team in these aspects, and he was therefore offered the privilege of choreographing the show. Having ascertained that everything was in order, the system was switched on with a prayer in our hearts and fingers crossed. And lo and behold!, the whole contraption went kaput! It was preceded by a flash of lightning on the thyristors, and succeeded by the familiar smell of burning copper, a sure-fire indication that the thyristors were beyond redemption. As luck would have it, despite the presence of four electrical engineers (that included our erudite Guide), no one noticed that the feed to the board was supplied directly from the mains, instead of through a stepped-down, rectified supply. Two extenuating factors absolved us from the crime, and the need to set up an alternate prototype; (a) the fact that the incident happened right under the nose of our venerable Guide, and (b) that it was the fag end of the academic session, leaving us with no room for a repeat fabrication.

F – Faculty. Well, how does one even begin to thank a breed of ladies and gentlemen who made you, what you are today! We were indeed blessed to have been accorded the privilege of everlasting contribution from a gamut of exceptional individuals who comprised the faculty. I have had the good fortune, later in life, of being taught by some really illustrious intellectuals at IIT, Bombay (during MTech) and at IIM, Lucknow (while pursuing Executive MBA). However, I can state with complete conviction that the untiring, selfless, passionate approach to pedagogy of our instructors at GEC (R), compensated for whatever lack of pedigree (if any!), they suffered vis-à-vis the high-brow academic blue-bloods at IIT (B) and IIM (L).

I am sure I would be forgiven for rendering this section, a tad too lengthy. Also, I run the risk of being labeled as biased and unjust, if I name only a few of the faculty in a piece such as this. However, I feel the transgression would be graver if I fail to honour, at least some of them, who have left indelible impressions on our lives. So, off I go! The first and second years at the college are a haze, but peeping out of that misty fog are the visages of three outstanding educators. The first, that of a ruffled gent, with the unmistakable demeanour of a man on a mission – Prof Babu Lal Gupta, the Maths teacher. With his disheveled hair, loose, ill-fitting attire and, if I remember correctly, a propensity to chew paan (or was it the famed gutka?), he would have been a caricaturist’s delight. But, give him a chalk and a blackboard, and he was a wizard non pareil. The toughest of the problems in the Engineering Mathematics text-book (BS Gerewal, was it?) would be reduced to putty in his hands. We would be ever thankful to the maestro for having laid the foundations of a subject that is the mainstay of engineering. Hats off to you, Sir!

Next, it’s the deadpan, impassive demeanour of the (then) Head of Electrical Engineering (EE) faculty – Dr. Nigam. That he took upon himself the task of exposing the rudiments of EE to 2nd year students, speaks volumes of his vision and strategy of ‘tapping them young’. Of course, the fact that Deepshikha, his daughter was in our course, may have influenced his decision. However, if his intent was to motivate students into opting for EE, post the 2nd year, I guess, it was achieved in ample measure. Many a hard-core Mech/Civil/Met/Min/Chem guys were impressed by EE, and influenced enough, to take to bijli as a career option.

Finally, who can forget the calm disposition of the exceptionally talented Prof. ML Dewangan, as he painstakingly explained to the Applied Mechanics class, the tricky nuances of Statics and Dynamics. It’s an image that would stay till eternity.

As for the EE faculty, Dr. Khandelwal (Head of Faculty) was awe-inspiring for his sheer breadth of knowledge. Whether it was Circuit Theory or Control Systems, he could pontificate with ease on the concepts and aspects of the subject under discussion. He had the calibre to instill a fire in you to ignite your imagination. He also had the calibre for extended, interminable class sessions that could evoke a sense of resignation at the inevitable! Then, there was the flamboyant Dr. Zadgaonkar, a man for all seasons. He could preach any subject with the practiced ease of an upcountry salesman. Prof Thoke was as inscrutable as they come; if you could follow him, you could follow the Upanishads, in Sanskrit at that! Prof Gune, Prof Baghel, et al., were invaluable cogs in the wheel of education who have helped uplift us from the morass of ignorance, and placed us on the pedestal of the civilised and the cultivated. Last but not least, Prof. Kale (God bless his soul!) He was intelligence personified. Blessed with poise, impeccable manners and a great sense of humour, he was quite clearly ahead of his times. By establishing the very first Computer Lab in our college when we were in the 3rd year, and guiding a few (misguided) souls like me into the (then) esoteric art of computing sciences, he taught us how to embrace change. Thank you, Sir, for having sown the seeds of interest in a domain that is now my profession, and giving us our first lessons in Change Management, long before it became a corporate mantra, or “Who Moved My Cheese” became a runaway best-seller, and the Harvards, the Yales and the Whartons institutionalized and structured it into their curriculum.

V – Vachchani Dr.. That dapper Principal we had for a short stint. I guess, we were in the second year when he took over. A natty dresser, he was never without a tie, in an age and place where wearing one could have reduced you to a laughing stock, if you didn’t have the panache to carry it off. He was also a holy terror, as he prowled the corridors sniffing out, up-to-no-good mischief-mongers.

I – Imtihaan. The dreaded annual event that evoked cold sweat and terror in the hearts of even the most prepared for the event. As for the less (or not) prepared, there was always “The Ventures“ thematic super-hit from the eponymous movie – ‘Come September’

X – XXL. The size of the heart (collectively and individually) of the Class of 87, GEC (R), and the reason why we would be there, in large numbers at the SJR.

C – Campus. Nestled in an area of (round about) 70 acres, the campus was encircled by the railway line to its North, the National Highway to its South, and the ST Bus depot to its West. The cluster that called itself the Choubey Colony, boxed it from the East. There was nothing remarkable about the campus; at the same time there was something to it that captivated us. To be fair, several campuses, both within the country and outside, that I have had the privilege of visiting, or being a part of (later in life) have their USP. Some stand out for its expanse (IIT, Bombay for instance), others have far more history (IISc Bangalore, ISI Kolkata, take your pick!), or are far more picturesque (the one at Santa Barbara in Los Angeles takes the cake). But thank you, Ivy League; nothing like our good old GEC (R) campus. Maybe it’s the length of the time that one spent there that tethers it closely, maybe it’s the company that one had there, that reminds you of the good times. Whatever it be, the campus had a certain vibrancy to it, a vivacity beyond what you would imagine an inanimate patch of land, with its infrastructure would be expected to have, a kind of life produced by a heart-beat, as it were.

W – Workshop. Located in the aft section of the institute, this is where one learnt the rudiments of Machining, Fitting, Welding, Carpentry, Moulding, Blacksmithy, etc. - the core trade skills that sends your adrenalin pumping, the first time you wield the tools, since you believe (at that tender age that), that’s what engineering is all about. Soon, however, zest gives over to fatigue, and zeal to lethargy, as every arduous lift of the hammer, to hit the puny piece of heat-reddened metal on the anvil, breaks your back, bit by wee little bit.

M – Masterji. The Rajesh Khanna-Sridevi starrer released while we were in the 3rd (?) year, that prompted a GG (see entry for GG), and en masse attendance by the “Electricals” at its screening; the pitch being that such a move would be entirely noble, since it was our way of paying tribute to our Gurus in college. It’s another matter that far from being anything remotely close to a tribute, the movie was an explicit display of the lead heroine’s oomph. Guess, the guy who suggested the idea (T Paul Koshy, Rajeev Puri, Sanjeev Bhatia, Srinivas, - take your pick), had an inkling of what was in store!

Well, guys, that brings us to “The End”. Some alphabets have been left out, not for want of anecdotes, but owing to the imposition of time and space; ‘time’, that I had, to complete this “assignment” (that term is a grim reminder of college), and the ‘space’, allowed to me in the Souvenir by the Editor(s). Also, while no effort has been spared to capture the factual parts of the narrative correctly, poetic license has been resorted to, at places, to fill in details that have been erased from the author’s memory, partly due to an early case of senile dementia, and largely due to the vintage of events. Finally, my heartfelt apologies to the girls of the Class of 87; they have been given a short shrift in this piece. It is a sign of the times that we grew up in. Despite their presence hanging on in the campus like the proverbial will-o’-the-wisp, interactions with them were not really as close, and as often enough, as one would have liked it to be, to capture the spirit of their existence in college. If it’s any consolation, here’s a collective confession from the boys of the Class of 87 (with due apologies to Elvis Presley and Pet Shop Boys) – you were Always on our Minds!

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