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Memoire

1966 to 1971 – Those Anecdotal Five Years …. – The First Year – 3 – Pleasantly Interesting, or Path Determining….!?

In the last episode, we have had two different points of view – from the seniors to our batch – in so far as the experiences of First Year are concerned.

But Ashok Thakkar[1] has very interesting point of view of why he joined engineering, which he captions as ‘That one sentence which changed the direction of my life’:

When I graduated from high school (SSC) in 1965, I got 78% marks and became a state scholar. In those days, unlike today, the guy who stood first in the SSC Board had received 86% marks (today, the top scorer gets 100%). The social norm was such that with such high marks in SSC, you would either become an engineer or a doctor. I was very rebellious from childhood and very interested in literature and art. So, I had decided that I would go for a degree in Arts.

But my father (whom we called “Bapuji”) had different thoughts. He had nothing to do with his son becoming an Arts graduate. The only two options I was allowed to pursue were engineering and medical education, for which one had to join a science college. So, reluctantly, I enrolled in Science in the St. Xavier’s College in Ahmedabad. The year was 1965.

When I passed Pre-University Science in 1966, I was thinking, I would pass one more year in the St. Xavier’s College and then enrol in the local medical school. If I were allowed to go into Arts line, I wanted to become an Economist. If not, my first preference in science would be to become a physicist and second preference, a doctor. But engineering was not much of a preference. Bapuji never wanted to entertain any thoughts about Economics or Physics. So, the only remaining option was to be a doctor.

When Bapuji found out that his son was contemplating being a doctor, he solicited the help of his older cousin Tribhuvandas Thakkar.

Now, it would be appropriate to take a short detour and talk about Shree Tribhuvandas Thakkar, whom we called “Dasbapa”. He was no doubt a very loving, respectable family elder with a distinguished life story.

Bapuji and Dasbapa were actually third or fourth cousins. But no matter. Even today, their mutual love, respect and friendship inspire awe. Everyone always referred to these two as “brothers”. The word “cousin” was never used to describe their relationship.

The two brothers had their bungalows across the street from each other in the Prakashnagar Society in Ahmedabad’s Maninagar suburb. Every morning around 7:30, Dasbapa would cross the street and come to our house. My father would wait for him to drink the first cup of tea. Dasbapa was a man of few words. So, they did not talk much. They would read the newspaper while sipping tea. After approximately half an hour, Dasbapa would get up and leave. No words, no formalities exchanged. But we would all be very sad if Dasbapa skipped a day or two for any reason.

Dasbapa had hardly 6-7 grade education. No one asked about his education level. I have no idea if he knew the English language. He had polio in childhood and therefore was always limping. Ever since I remember, he always walked with a cane.  He joined Sastu Sahitya Vardhak Karyalaya (also known as “Sastu Sahitya”) at the age of seventeen as an “Office Boy”. The founder of Sastu Sahitya, Swami Bhikshu Akhand Anand had personally chosen him. Bhikshu Akhand Anand has been mentioned in Gandhiji’s autobiography “My Experiments with Truth”. Tribhuvandas worked very hard with extreme honesty. Down the road, he became the Editor of Akhand Anand Magazine and General Manager and Trustee of Sastu Sahitya.

It was under Dasbapa’s leadership that Akhand Anand became the number one Gujarati magazine and Sastu Sahitya published scores of books on Hindu Scriptures, Mythology, Vedik knowledge, Bhagvad Geeta as well as Ayurveda. He was also instrumental in the creation of the Ayurvedic College near Bhadra in Ahmedabad. When Dasbapa retired from Sastu Sahitya at the age of 88, people were estimating that he might have created a world record by working at the same place for 71 years. In his 93-year life, he never took any non-Ayurvedic medicine.

The late Gujarati author and poet Shree Karsandas Manek was Dasbapa’s close friend. At Dasbapa’s invitation, Karsandas Manek would travel to Ahmedabad from Mumbai once every month (on Full Moon Day), spend two nights in our home and would deliver an amazing musical treatise on Hindu religion.

Now we return to my story.

One fine morning, while having their morning tea, both brothers cornered me. My father: “Dasbhai, Ashok wants to become a doctor. What is your opinion about it?”

Dasbapa invited me to sit there and asked me “do you know who becomes a doctor?”

Suspecting a conspiracy of sorts and bewildered by the very nature of the question, I just angrily stared at him without uttering a single word.

So, he continued:  “Only a monster becomes a doctor”.  I just sat there watching the two elders toying with my future. Very angry, I just snuck out into another room. I might even have cried. But there was no thought of hating them. I simply loved and adored them too much.

Subsequently, I secured admission in LD College of Engineering in 1966 but hated engineering none the less. It was a five-year degree course. I secured around 58% marks in the first two years of Engineering and got an ATKT (Allowed To Keep Term) in the third year. This meant that I would advance to the fourth year, but with a blot on my otherwise stellar student career. I was very upset. For an entire month before the final exam, I struggled with the idea of quitting engineering. My family was distraught – partly because they saw me very depressed and partly because their son would perhaps quit engineering studies.

Ashok Vaishnav, Atul Desai and a few other close friends were quite supportive in persuading me to stay on. I finally realized that it would be stupid to run away at the first sign of trouble. Success and failure are but two sides of the same coin called “life”. If I quit this time, I would never be able to manage future failures. So, I decided to continue with engineering studies with double the effort. The fact that I was forced to go into engineering was not justification enough to run away. When life gives you a lemon, you have to learn to make the best lemonade instead of yearning for a sweet mango!

Just like Lord Buddha attained enlightenment under the Peepal tree, I achieved my enlightenment under the ATKT tree. Soon after, I formulated two rules for my life:

    • Accept and enjoy every situation; and
    • Whatever happens, happens for the best.

After that I worked hard and graduated in Mechanical Engineering (1971) with first class. There have been many ups and downs in life ever since. But after the ATKT in BE3, I never got discouraged by failures and faced every single failure head on with unwavering faith in the above two principles.

Now let us get back to engineering.

It was as if I got life’s magic pill with the engineering knowledge and skill. Engineering has provided the skill to analyze and solve life’s problems. Thank you Dasbapa, thank you Bapuji! My eventual global rise in the world of quality in the fields of Supply Chain Management, Zero Defects quality and expertise in managing global manufacturing are a testament to this magic pill. And yes, about ARTS:  I also became a documentary producer, an internationally published author, a singer, an occasional poet and acquired decent knowledge of Economics!

I also realized that regardless of our educational background (or the lack thereof) and regardless of the ranking in the school, we all possess solutions for all our problems. The trick is to persevere and dig those solutions out from the depths of our inner selves. Happy Engineering!

I would finally present my the story of MY experience of the First Year in the next episode.

[1] Ashok Thakkar, well settled in USA for over three and half decades, was a very close friend then, and remains fairly closely connected even now. Even though core of our upbringing, beliefs and temperament are quite different, we shared  similar approach to major issues then – and as we have recently discovered, continue to do so now, after 50 years as well – and to a fair extent, even now.