1966 to 1971 – Those Anecdotal Five Years …. – The First Year – 4 – Direction-Orienting or Direction-Determining….??

Thus far, we have had three quite divergent experiences/ views, ranging from dazzling to frightening or even or confusing, about the first year. However, very rare must be a case who would have given up the pursuit of graduation engineering study for such reasons.

I am on records, in the earlier episode of these memoirs, that I to had joined engineering studies more because I could, rightly or wrongly – I would never now know, foresee that I was not possibly a good material for study of medical sciences.

My admission to the engineering was in Electrical Engineering. In those days, that was considered as the second choice, the first one being mechanical engineering, I believe that reason simply was the possible career prospects. To me, at that point of time, that hardly mattered, I was happy to be in ‘engineering’, whether it was mechanical or electrical or for that matter x or y or z. As it is I had next to no knowledge of what any of these disciplines meant in so far as the studies are concerned or the kind of work that one would take up after the studies. I did have two maternal uncles – husbands of sisters of mother – who were civil engineers, but I had never seen what kind of work they did when at office. Till that phase of my studies, there never was on occasion where I would have sought their guidance, or they saw ant need to offer me some.

Our subjects for the theory part of mechanical engineering were the fundamental like strength of material, applied mechanics, and even Engineering Drawing. On the other hand, on the practical side, at the Mechanical Workshops, there were carpenter’s tools like chisel or (carpenter’s) hacksaw or a half-a- pound hammer or there was a rough file, a smooth file, a or a right-angle for ‘fitting’ or there were lathes or shapers and some kind of cutting-tools to be used along with these machines. Or at The Engineering Drawing Hall, there were pencils with numbers like 2H or 4H (which I was to know later on that these were numbers designating the hardness of the graphite material used in a pencil). We were told what is to be done and if we asked, we were also told what to use and if further asked, we were also told how to use them, however we neither asked nor it was explained as to why this had to be done.

In so far as Electrical Engineering was considered we started learning the theoretical aspect of connecting a resistor, an inductor and/or a capacitor in ‘parallel’ circuit or a ‘series’ circuit.  If we were taught why a resistor was a resistor or an inductor an inductor, I perhaps may not have comprehended that aspect. I even do not now remember whether we did study that aspect even as part of the study of Physics in the earlier years. However, in the electrical engineering lab, I could ‘see’ that a resistor was a bank of incandescent lamps, an inductor was a sleeve wound with wires and I do not even remember what a capacitor actually looked like then. However even bigger surprise was the fact that what was seen juxtaposed in a small circuit diagram was actually strewn across the large floor space of the lab.

Somehow, that realization led my mind to compare electrical engineering with medical science – if one needed creative imagination to envisage what the reality would like when seen on a diagram, the other one required great deal of memory power that can instantly recall names of medicines for so many diseases.

As a result, for the first time, I was now worried – how will I be able to surmount the challenges of learning the further detailed advances of theory of electrical engineering and put that learning into practice with my so weak connecting link of imagination?

Somehow, I had a feeling that I may be more comfortable with mechanical engineering, even with my known poor record of performing art at the Industry or Drawing classes at Virani High School. I had harrowing time to pull out a cotton thread with the help of hand-held spindle or was a t total loss to draw a boy flying a kite (I could not even draw a kite in that picture!).

On almost a parallel track, the importance of another very basic feature of true learning was to get imbibed in my unconscious self.  Immediately after, my admission to the engineering was confirmed, I had gone to my maternal uncle who was Chief Engineer, Western Railway at Baroda (as it was then called) to collect various tools like engineering drawing board and related accessories and a slide rule. These were the instruments which his elder son had used during his study of civil engineering and now I can use them too. During a very informal chat, he told me that in next couple of years when I had studied enough of electrical engineering I should explain to him, in pure layman’s language, how a circuit having a power source and a few resistors was able to light a lamp and how a similar circuit was able to run an electric motor or how a similar circuit made a radio work. He further explained what his query was with the example of his own field f engineering wherein they- the railway engineers- were able to explain to their uneducated labourers some very basic issues of the work which they were expected to perform, without committing any error.

At that time, I had thought that he is simply checking what I had learned. But after the above narrated experience at the electrical Lab and such similar occasions later on, I realised that he was really emphasising the importance of understanding the basics well if you really want to gainfully apply your knowledge to any practical challenge in the real world.

So, unconsciously, I was to gain two insights – one related to the importance of ability to translate your knowledge into the practice, and vice versa,  and the second was developing ability to communicate about your knowledge-based expectations and requirements with the other person who may happen to be from a totally unrelated field or culture and also to conversely convert other person’s expectations and requirements as source of enhancing your knowledge..

Also, unconsciously I was to realise that first was the area where I was inherently weak and second was the area that I should always strengthen in my all pursuits in the future.

There was, thus, a direction set out for the future, but not the aid*s) that can help me chart a path in that direction.

However, I did have a ray that did give me some hope – that I could physically see what I was learning and clearly understand what I was not able to learn.

The lady luck also turned a benign eye towards me. By the end of first year, we had a window of in the form of opting for another branch. I grabbed that chance and opted for mechanical engineering… and even could succeed in securing berth in that discipline.

So, I was now destined to become a mechanical engineer, after all!

My experiences with the practical side of the engineering studies during these five years of studies is a chapter in itself. So is the story of how my career path took a definitive turn – in the last year of engineering. However, I propose to take them in little later.

I plan to take up the subject of Commuting – to and from the college- next.

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.

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.

1966 to 1971 – Those Anecdotal Five Years …. – The First Year -1 – Dazzling . . ..!?

At the very outset, I would like to submit that I have planned to include a wider view of the experience of studying the engineering degree course, by inviting views of some friends who were senior to us at LD – even though they happened to be in the ‘old’ course of three-year studies for earning an engineering degree. As such, these memoirs will be not simply recounting our memories but also will be retrospectively reflective as well – with that proverbial a pinch of salt that would make the nostalgia a bit tasteful, and meaningful, as well!

When I started recollecting the memories of the First Year of our five-year graduate engineering course @ LD College of Engineering, I thought that looking at it from so far-off (time) reference point, I should be able to see it in a clearer perspective than I indeed did see it then, from the very-close reference point of the present that we were actually living in. But as I try to put down more and more memories of that year here, do I see such a difference? When I started putting down my memories of events of the first year, I perceive that some events ought to have dazzled us or confused us or frightened us. Some of those events certainly were pleasantly interesting, whether direction-orienting or direction-determining or not, at least, then.

As such, I plan to organize these reminiscences of our first year in the three-part posts. Grouping them under the titles of these experiences that living those events that we felt or should have felt.

Dazzling . . ..!?

The very first thing that was ‘new’ to us was the semester system. However, our initial understanding that instead of five annual examinations, to be conducted by (Gujarat) University, we will now have ten examinations. I think we all accepted that ‘fact’ ‘as is’, since we did not have any reasons to think beyond that.

We also knew that we have entered a new field of studies. So, the titles of subjects, in our first semester timetable like Engineering drawing -1 or Workshops or Strength of materials – 1 etc. also we accepted ‘as is’, perhaps subconsciously knowing that we will have to cross many such ‘new’ bridges, so be it.  However, seeing the familiar nouns like Mathematics, Chemistry, with the prefix ‘Engineering’ also did not cause any crease of curiosity on almost anyone of us.  Possibly because, we, all, have been trained well to learn new ‘what’ and ‘how’. without ever thinking why we need to learn that ‘what’ and ‘how’. [In fact, I was to understand and appreciate the importance of ‘why’ almost two decades later, when I had to address the mechanism to assess the effectiveness of the training as part of the portfolio of ISO 9001 related activities.]

In the retrospect, it seems to me that in the natural course of development, a child gets conditioned to learn ‘what’ and ‘how of new things without questioning the ‘why’. However, during the schooling phase, if our education system had instilled the faculty of ‘why’ things are they were and then learn ‘what’ and how’ of it, then perhaps the questions that these issues would have raised in our mind or the answers that we may have got should have been of the dazzling magnitude.

I do not remember whether there were any discussions on such issues among the then first-year batchmates, primarily perhaps because getting to know ‘new’ mates had occupied all the space of our collective minds.

I will correlate this abstract looking thought with my personal example. At my personal level, I had had serial experiences of dealing with (totally) new environments that perhaps had conditioned my auto-adjustment system to get activated to adapt to any new situation. My first major face-off with ‘new’ environment was when I entered Virani Highschool, midway during an academic year in the 5th standard. Landing into Rajkot from Bhuj itself was a major change, both in terms of the first ever exposure to the ‘outside’ world and in terms of a totally new social culture. Then two and half years later, we again shifted to Ahmedabad, again leading to getting acquainted to life in a major city, that too in a new social milieu. Two more years later, we shifted the residence from a government colony located in a predominantly blue-collared working-class area in East Ahmedabad to a government colony in a middle-upper middle class solely residential area in West Ahmedabad. And then, I was required to study my Pre-Science course by staying at a hostel in Vallabh Vidyanagar, Anand. On the whole each of the change certainly had helped my overall development, one of which my auto-conditioning to adapt to a change. Of course, its should be certainly noted here that all these changes were because of factors beyond our control, and hence we had no reason, to ask ‘why’.

However, the entire batch of first year would not have had similar conditioning. By and large, everyone had as normal upbringing that every child gets through the adolescence. Therefore, more logically, lack of feeling any major surprise at the new academic environment can better be attributed to the possibility that we were (unconsciously) ready to tread a new path that would lead us to the engineering degree now that we had finally made it to the course. [The basic role of the first few days of first year was to induct us to the course that we become aware of what was in the store in the future and how does the course design is going to help us meet those challenges, and how the first year was going to provide that base. However, whether we did expect that we should have known such aspects or whether we were given to understand these issues or whether we could appreciate such issues is not relevant to the context of the present memoirs.]

Apart from the academics, one aspect that surprisingly did not apparently did not seem to have made significant impact on my (and so with most of the other students) was the vast, sparsely populated, but very-well laid out, campus of LD with imposing buildings, as it was then.

It seems it would be good idea to look at what feelings the students who had joined old – a 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 see if they had had any other types of experiences in the first year that still remain fresh in their memories now.

Please permit me to take a pause at this juncture and regroup my recollections……Till such time that we meet again next month, I would request my LDCE71M batch-mates to share their recollection on the subject.

Continued till the next episode ….