1966 to 1971 – Those Anecdotal Five Years …. – The Practical(s) : The Encounters with Practical Electrical Engineering

As I started writing down this piece, I had had quite serious introspection about what would have happened if I had to continue my studies for the graduate degree of Electrical Engineering.

I must candidly admit that my introspection remained at the surface level only, One reason perhaps is that, at the back of my mind, I always thought that I am writing memoirs here, not the treatise on how I should, or should not, have taken up my studies. Another reason seems to be the fact that electrical engineering has always remained an abstract subject with me, even when I had had occasions to deal with the subject later in my career, so why to rationalize , or justify, that rightly or wrongly perceived abstractness!

So, rather than digressing into not-so-relevant areas, I will come back to the subject –

As I started ruminating into my memories of the electrical engineering practicals, the first thing strikes me even today is the awe that large swathe of space that the electrical lab presented, every time stepped into the lab building. Even today, I do not have any rational explanation for that feeling, because I already had had sufficient acclimatization with huge expanse of the LDCE campus, that of very large classrooms, large library and such other infrastructure as compared to my previous experience with the environment that I had had experienced at the schools.

I will take the help of experiences that Dilip Vyas has shared to build the base of my narrative:

“For me Electrical lab was a mysterious and a little scary place. My earliest memory of an experience with electricity was at about seven years old when during a Vastu – house-warming – ceremony at my Mama’s (mother’s brother) newly constructed home in Rajkot, a relative touched some switch and was immediately thrown off on the floor. People said Ramnikbhai was lucky because Rajkot had recently switched to AC current from DC, otherwise he would have been stuck to the switch and may have died!

“With that childhood traumatic memory, I walked into large Electricity lab on the east side of campus with some awe and lot of trepidation. Fortunately, our instructors also were either aware of our awe and inexperience or were scared that some stupid guy touching something and burning him or a machine. (By the way, it was all HIM at that time. No HER. ) And so, they were very insistent on not turning anything up without someone from staff did the final check on wiring connections and, even then, instructor will be the one who will do the honour of flipping the switch. I don’t know about the others, but I was more than OK with that arrangement.

“I do not recall any major up or down incident during Electrical lab sessions.

“There was also, just like CIVIL subjects, little bit of lack of interest (may be a smudge of disdain ? ) for ELECTRICAL. After all we were the chosen Mechanical branch students!! Though in reality, Electrical was on par with Mechanical and some students with better marks were opting for it with their choice. ( In fact, by the time of graduation, Civil Eng. Jobs were easier to find than other branches in those socialist time when Government was the biggest likely Employer of engineers. )

“Another contrast that I felt was that most staffers, and not just lab related demonstrators but department in general, on Mechanical side were more ‘fun’ than the Electrical side.”

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Simultaneous with our electrical engineering lab practicals, in the First Year, we were being inducted into the basics of theory part of the electrical engineering with topics like ‘parallel’ and ‘series’ circuits and electrical devices like motors, transformers etc. Till then, my exposure to ‘the electrical’ was limited to switching off or on the lights only. I even did not any occasion to see even a water filling pump!

However, like the other ‘engineering’ subjects that also we were learning for the first time, I had started to mentally accept ‘circuit diagrams’ as one of the basic tools of communication in the electrical engineering and recognizing the symbols of resistors or motors etc and those for the way they relate to each other in a circuit.

However, at the electrical lab, my encounter with the same real, physical, objects of so much of a different dimension somehow added to the awe that I felt with abstractness of concepts of ‘current flowing into the circuit’ or ‘voltage applied to the circuit’

Here there were boxes lined up across one wall of the lab. Each box had several light bulbs fitted in slots in different rows. As we went closer to the box, we could see that each had several electric bulbs with different wattages. We could, at least, make out that sum of bulbs in different rows would give us different total wattages. We were informed that these are the resistors.

Then as we looked around, we could also see that there were copper-wire-wound coils lined up in different shelves. We were told these were “inductors” of different inductance capacities. I was so naive at that stage, even when I physically see these coils I failed to comprehend that the copper-wire-winding when charged with electrical current, it would ‘induce’ a magnetic field, and hence the name – inductor. I do not actually remember when this knowledge had lighted up in my mind, but today when I think back, I could see how inadequately I was geared up to take up the practicals as the structured medium of learning.

And then came up the most revealing part of the electrical lab experience – connecting the actual circuit. what could be easily squeezed in less than a quarter page of a notebook, was now spread here all across the lab. Between the two objects there were long electrical wires in place of a short line of the circuit diagram, anything from one to three boxes (of electric lamps) for one symbol of a resistor,  a couple coils at a different table as ‘inductors, and so on. And top of all these, the switch was a ‘big box’ with a handle, which we were strictly not permitted to put on or put off!

It therefore can hardly be any surprise that it took me quite some good exposure during the actual career that I could get the real difference between a squirrel cage and a slip ring motor! But, more surprising is the fact that I was already seeing the motors powering the machines in e Workshop practicals, and yet it never struck me to apply the knowledge of motor classification in identifying which type of motor is used for a particular machine!

By the time I had undergone a few more of such experiments, it seemed to me that whatever little I was able to understand in the theory had evaporated in the lab.!

However, before I came up to stage of seriously taking on the fight with that big bull of perceived fear of abstractness of electrical engineering, providence offered me a short cut! Before the end of the First Year, a notice was published that all the students of the First Year desiring a change into another branch can apply for such a change.

I immediately put my bet on the Mechanical Engineering – partly because that was the ‘in-thing’ at that time and partly because I could get respite from studying the electrical engineering for all five years. Early into the second year, lady luck smiled at me, and I got the transfer to Mechanical Engineering.

As I look back, it seems quite clear to me that I must have felt so relived then that I never ever gave a second thought to the possibility of how good (or bad) an electrical engineer been I had to continue with the Electrical Engineering.  Or for that matter, even was I a good enough material for the rigors of mechanical engineering?

I have a confession to make today – I am happy that I do not have to answer that question now !!?

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Author: ASHOK M VAISHNAV

In July 2011, I opted to retire from my active career as a practicing management professional. In the 38 years that I pursued this career, I had opportunity to work in diverse capacities, in small-to-medium-to-large engineering companies. Whether I was setting up Greenfield projects or Brownfield projects, nurturing the new start-ups or accelerating the stabilized unit to a next phase growth, I had many more occasions to take the paths uncharted. The life then was so challenging! One of the biggest casualty in that phase was my disregards towards my hobbies - Be with The Family, Enjoy Music form Films of 1940s to mid-1970s period, write on whatever I liked to read, pursue amateur photography and indulge in solving the chess problems. So I commenced my Second Innings to focus on this area of my life as the primary occupation. At the end of four years, I am now quite a regular blogger. I have been able to build a few very strong pen-relationships. I maintain contact with 38-years of my First Innings as freelance trainer and process facilitator. And yet, The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.

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