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Memoire

1966 to 1971 – Those Anecdotal Five Years …. – Commuting – to and from the college : The Cycling Perspective

Cycling mode of commuting had its own glory and glamour, apart from it being a conveniently available mode of intra-city transportation. Many of the contemporaries of our (government servant) parents used to cycle to and from commuting to the office. Primarily because it saved the ‘cost’ of bus travel, which was not that insignificant ‘saving’ in comparison to theirs the then take-home salaries. Moreover it saved the commuting time and was also useful aid for shopping other day-to-day domestic requirements.

On the other hand, during the years of my 10th and 11th standard years, at Gujarat Law Society High School (GLS), Ahmedabad, we had at least two classmates who were sons of millowners, one was son of a newspaper baron and two were son /daughter of the leading legal luminary, who easily could have used cars for commuting to the school, but they rather preferred the cycle option. Maybe it was the glamour factor of bicycle riding, even when the bicycles were simple vanilla design variants.

Purchase of a cycle, perhaps his/her first independent possession, as the son /daughter steps into the college life was certainly a moment of pride for the parents and the ward too. However, for the college going students it was a very convenient mode of maintaining communication link with their partners of budding love relation. Occasions to manage surreptitious double ‘sawari’ pillion ride had their own charms. Even the films of those days used cycle to depict developing love story between hero and heroine. In fact, the songs filmed with cycle as love-carriage do happen to be some of the most adorable romantic songs of Indian Cinema.

Apart from mine, the other two other very interesting variations in the way we got our first bicycle, by the way, are perhaps the classic case studies of acquisition of a cycle in the then middle-class family.

Vasant Pujara[1]  had one bicycle in the family. The priority over its use was obviously for his father, for commuting to the office as well as for other domestic purposes. Moreover, the shortest route from his home, near Sharda Mandir Bus Stand on the South-westerly corner of Gujarat College, those day was via Gulbai Tekra (Tekra is a small hill in Gujarati). He found it difficult to manage the uphill journey in that passage. So, he opted for commuting by bus. However, in spite of some the rare luxuries of those days, perhaps the difficulties – over-crowding during college timings and additional time in waiting for the bus to arrive – he “got tired of bus journey in two years, got company to go by bicycle and luckily father got transferred to Education Dept. at Gandhinagar. So, I switched over to bicycle journey. …. It was nice company of a two-years junior student of mechanical branch of our college, who wanted to learn engineering drawing. In three years of cycling my legs got stronger. Moreover, as an add-on bonus, I learnt complete dismantling and assembling the bicycle, especially to know the construction of freewheel.”

Aside trivia: One of our co-travellers of pedestrian mode of commuting to the college, and one of my other three chums friends, (now late) Mahesh Mankad, joined a factory at Naroda after completing his studies. Soon he purchased a Rajdoot motorcycle.  He had formed a practice to open up one or other assembly of his motorcycle every Sunday c during his self-service routine. Of course, most of the time, the motorcycle had to be taken to a mechanic to refit that opened-out component and put the motorcycle back to normal working condition!

However, his never accept any failure spirit led him to rise to the level of IAS cadre in his career. We always saluted him for his never-say-die spirit!

However, there were many families in our social strata those days where the cycle would a first major purchase as the son (to the best of my memory, not the daughter, normally those days,) would enter college study level. Even as it was considered a prized possession, the actual purchase was not that easy, as is so vividly narrated by Dilip Vyas:

“When I was in SSC, my parents had told me that if I get percentage over 70% and get into Xavier’s, they will get me a bicycle. Well, I did secure more than 70%, and I got admission to Xavier’s as well. Butt in those days, it was not easy to manage ‘huge’ payment of around Rs. 275 or so needed to buy a bicycle. So, when college started, I had to decide. I tried commuting by AMTS for the first couple of days but it did not make any sense because one had to walk to Sachivalaya bus stand, wait for bus and travel standing, and then walk from University to Xavier’s. So, I decided to walk and save 10 paisa as well to enjoy a packet of Chinai sing (salted ground nuts)! Walking was not much of a problem but since I had no one else to walk with, it was a drag. And then a miracle happened.

As you might remember, Bhavan’s college had opened that year. But for some reason that I can’t remember now, their science side got disapproved by the University just before commencement of the term. Therefore, to accommodate Bhavan’s batch of some 200 first year students, University approved four other existing science colleges in the city to add 50 students each over their limit. So, H-L Colony friend Girish Makwana luckily got in to Xavier’s with 55 %! Now I had company. More importantly, he had a bicycle. So, we commuted ‘double Sawari’ – two-seater ride on bicycle – for most of the year. Just before the end of the year, my parents finally managed to get a bicycle for me and then we commuted together for next year. When I got to LD, it was again just me commuting by myself but now on bike.

Just before BE, another miracle happened. My father had for some reason registered for a scooter under government quota (those good old quota days !! ) many years ago and his name came up. After debating what to do, he applied for a loan and we bought a Vespa! My father never even learned to drive but me being Prince of Wales in the family got the first dib on it. Commuting to college was not allowed because petrol was very expensive (I still remember Rs. 1.75 per litter. Including oil.) but I managed to sneak on to it, occasionally, to commute to the college”.

In my case, several other factors played the role of the final push for purchase of the bicycle.

We had opted for Gujarat Government’s loan scholarship scheme – Rs. 850 per year – to finance my engineering course education. During the first year,

I got my basic study instrument aids like drawing board, the drawing toolbox, the slide rule etc. from my uncle (husband of mother’s sister) and a few textbooks from the free-to-rent-study-books scheme being operated by the association of our community. So, halfway through the second term of the first year, we could see that there was some surplus from the first installment of the loan scholarship, and no major expense appeared in the horizon till the next installment would be received next year. So, one day, my parents decided to purchase a bicycle for me. And lo, that evening I was riding my own bicycle to home from Pankor Naka, the (only) market where goods like bicycles were available those days, through THE traffic of Ellis Bridge.

I started using the cycle in the normal course of commuting to the college only next year, because our preferred commuting mode was walking – which I will deal with a little later.

Apart from the benefits of commuting by cycle, there were a few more, fringe, benefits, at least, as far as I was concerned. But these will have to wait till I link them up later with the relevant main story

I would end with the present part with a very pertinent observation made by Ramesh Doshi – now settled in USA – while we were returning from our reunion luncheon of Ahmedabad-based LDCE71M batchmates in November 2011. Just  as we passed the present BRTS bus stand of ‘L D College’ he spontaneously recalled that those days this track was heavily laden with fin-dust, ground under the repeated crushing under the tyres of the AMTS buses. He then seemed to sleep into reverie of those days as he said: the movement buses had created two, relatively, clean tracks. It was a challenge to drive through that track as we used to continue talking among each other, in the company of others, while riding the cycles. It was not uncommon to get the wheel of the cycle stuck in the dust, get down, lift off the trapped wheel back on to the track, and commence the ride again, While the victim got his act together, the others had to ride on, for if they would stray off a look at what had happened, they also will be down to the dust.”

I do not recall if Professor Kellogg, of Machine Design, who would not tolerate getting late to the class – his was the first period of a day – unless supported by a reason, other than the time-worn excuses like bus got late or the cycle had a puncture etc., accepted this reason for the late coming!

Do You? If the reasons not accepted and reasons accepted could come up live presently, that itself would have been an episode in itself!

[1] Vasant Pujara is one of the key active links in reuniting the LDCE71M batch after a good 48+ years. It was his catalytic role that prompted Ashok Thakkar to prepare our “Selected Life Stories-LDCE Class of 1971-Mechanical”. That has further promoted me to collate the present memoir.

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Memoire

1966 to 1971 – Those Anecdotal Five Years …. – The First Year – 2 – Confusing, Frightening …?

Continued from previous episode :The First Year -1

Even though one would easily presume that all those who join the engineering as a discipline for graduate study would have done so because that was their field of interest. Oh well, some may also have joined the course because was the most obvious thing for someone who was considered a ‘bright’ student to do. To some more, it was the aura of prestige of the degree in engineering that also had been a good motivation.

How would all the entrants have felt when they came face-to-face with realities of the studies of the engineering, is the question that simmered up in my mind, when I went reminiscing what I was feeling then.

Before I come back to my own feelings, it seemed a good idea to look at what feelings the other students had at that juncture.

Fortunately, I have three different experience available now to share. Two of the experiences come from the then students of three-year duration – course where one joined the engineering degree course after completing F.Y. B. Sc (or inter-science as it was known earlier, and one form my own batch-mate.

Suresh Jani[1], has very vivid recall of his ‘first’ year. To someone who, has gone through many more cycles of ‘firsts’ now, he seems to be viewing that young novice more objectively, and as such has chosen a third person form of narrative, an arms-distance approach, to refresh his memories of first day at the college in June 1961 –

“June, 1961 ……

Suresh Jani, on that memorable day, you had set your foot in the lecture room of the first-year engineering at LD College of Engineering for the first time. You were lucky to get admission in Mech. Engineering. branch in the prestigious engineering college at Ahmedabad – your own native town. Your other friends were not that lucky. They had to compromise with the branch of engineering. or the town of the college.

“But you were not feeling the joy for this feat. You were deeply engrossed in your much coveted subject of nuclear physics for the entire year of your study at Inter-science class of Gujarat College, Ahmedabad. Your love for this subject had blossomed in the company of two friends who too had similar interest. Your highly cherished dream was to be a renowned scientist like Einstein or Heisenberg.

“Alas! You had to put a full stop to that dream, due to pressure from family members to make you understand that your wishful thinking would, in fact, land you to become a mere science teacher. You had succumbed to the pressure, but your conscience deeply grieved with the pangs of the thorn of remorse and lack of courage to resist that pressure.

“The first lecture in an engineering was, of course, in English. You could not understand a single sentence, since you were used to lectures in the science college classes in Gujarati only. Your pain of having come to a wrong place magnified. Though your command over reading and writing in English was reasonably good, you were not well acquainted with spoken English. When you returned home, you were almost in tears. virtually weeping.

“Gradually, over the next few weeks, that grief subsided. But it did have an unexpected side effect on your health, in the form of a common cold that refused to go away. The common medicines at home failed to control it. In a very short period, it worsened into an attack of bronchitis. You had to stop going to the college. Medicines from a specialist doctor did control it, but the side effects of the medicines had made you very weak.

“After a long lapse of three months, you could resume the college in its second term.”

Though technically a ‘senior’, my good friend, Dilip Vyas[2] shares his experience in this regard more logically, from a very interesting angle. He states:

“I had absolutely no reason to be in LD other than the conventional thinking prevalent in those days that If you are a bright student you go to Science (college), then if you do well (there), you go to either Medicine or Engineering. It was also wrong place for me for another reason. When I passed Pre-Science, the new Engineering course had just opened with limited seats. After passing over the chance to get admission in Civil (only bottom ones go for Civil !! ) after my Pre Science, as you probably remember, I went in to old course after F.Y. B. Sc. Now old Engineering course had become somewhat of a stepchild because new course had all the bright, or brighter, students and old course was just going to run its course and so it did not get the typical attention. This was especially bad for me.

“Until that point, I had studied in so called elite institutions. My primary education was in a public school in Rajkot. From 5 to 8, I went to Virani High School, which was best high school in Rajkot at that time. More importantly, it was so strict that even when commuting to school you were watched by prefaces and if you wander around, you can get punished! Then we moved to Ahmedabad, and I went to CN (Vidyalaya) for three years. It has high reputation in terms of its education and discipline. Then it was on to St. Xavier’s college, where just for missing two periods of Physics, parents received a letter from Father Braganza. After first bi-monthly test, Father D’Souza used to come to the class with a giant book, filled with subject-wise marks. He would make each and every student get up and present that student’s progress, or lack of it, in most caustic and warning tone.

“Reason for this long discourse is to give an idea about why when I got into old engineering course where attendance was almost voluntary, I was ripe for complete melt down as far as discipline was concerned. Being an above-average student, I had never had any reason to work hard to get good (enough) marks. In any case, I never had any ambition to get to number #1 position! This combination was recipe for disaster which sure enough resulted in to failing in F.E. Miraculously, even then that was in only two subjects with 5 or so marks short.[3] Rest of the years at LD in S.E. and B.E. passed similarly without any interest or effort.”

Many of our batchmates also had come from, more or less, similar situations. As such, they may have had similar feelings in their first few weeks. However, because of the undercurrents of partly our individual, as well as collective immaturity, partly ‘ that happens when you study engineering beliefs and partly our (so-called) above-average calibre, we never had any reason to talk with each other, then and later.  On such feelings.

…. whether these were pleasantly interesting and direction-orienting or were direction determining? I have an interesting view form my own batchmate, Ashok Thakkar and my own point of view on the matter.

However, it would be better if we take these up in next episode…..

In the meanwhile, I do long for some more responses or recollections to enrich this journey….


 

[1] Suresh Jani has had a very successful stint at (the then) Ahmedabad electricity Company after his graduation. He has subsequently settled down at USA.

However, it is our post-retirement hobby of ‘blogging’ that brought us together as contributors to Web Gujjari, has cemented our common bond of being LDCEian alumni

[2] Dilip Vyas has since settled well in USA, was student of the ‘last’ batch of three-years ‘old’ degree course, which had passed out two years ahead of our graduation in 1971. Our friendship was because of the common residential colony where we (the families of Government of Gujarat service staff lived. As can be expected that easily had created highly, informal, if not very close, friendship bond among all the ‘boys’ of around five-years age difference group of contemporaries.

[3] When I reflect on Dilip’s observation that ‘an above-average’ student had to face a failure in the first year, I do recollect that some of our batchmates also did face such uncomfortable situations. I, too, couple of occasions where I had almost hit that ‘red-line’. However, my recollections are in somewhat different contexts. So, I propose to take them up at more opportune moment.