By G. S. Sanyal
(Based on an interview with Dr. Siddhartha
My early days at IIT Kharagpur
I was a lecturer at the Calcutta University (CU) when I applied to U.P.S.C. for a job at IIT Kharagpur in early 1954. Some of my friends were here, from whom I heard about IIT and wanted to come here. The job of an Assistant Professor with pay in the 600-1150 scale (no DA) was quite prestigious those days. Overall, the faculty cadre began from Assistant Lecturer, followed by Associate Lecturer and Lecturer, rose through Assistant and Associate Professor, finally to Professor and then Sr. Professor. The service was part of a service called the Indian Educational Service (IES), similar to the IAS/IFS/IPS, etc. However, all that went almost in vain as I was rejected because of my myopic eyesight. The doctor was so sorry to disqualify this young man who had secured such a fabulous offer, but he was helpless. So I was debarred from a post in the permanent cadre. However, Prof. S.R. Sengupta said that I may be taken on in the temporary cadre on a year-to-year basis and I finally joined the institute in 1954.
At that time, Electronics & Electrical Communication Engineering Department was more like an Electronics wing of Electrical Engineering. IIT itself was like a village, with muddy roads, snakes in every ground floor room and without a market.
But even at that time IIT Kharagpur was different. For example, only after coming here did I hear of the word 'consultancy'. Never before had I heard of it when I was in CU. Even at that time the tradition was that everybody had to do research.
Overall I was given to understand that we are leaders and we have to be generators and provide leadership in the technical education in India. Perhaps people boasted somewhat more than what they really achieved, but all the same, everybody used to feel high.
During the early years, there used to be only eight teachers in the Electrical Engineering department. So there used to be a lot of load on them. The EE faculty used to be very strict with students. We used to give a lot of home-work and insist that students submit these. These were evaluated for internal assessment marks. Everybody believed that role of IIT teachers is an integral one made of several elements -- teaching, research, consultancy, etc. Everybody felt even those days that IIT belonged to a separate category.
Social Life in the early days
Social life in the IIT was colourful. Many evenings during the week there used to be functions of some sort or the other by students or faculty. Sometimes I used to be vexed because Mrs. Sanyal wanted to attend those functions, but I had to prepare notes for next day's lecture. People like Dr. Dilip Kr. Sengupta of Geology, Dr. D. Sen of Humanities, Dr. Nihar Mukherjee of Mining, Dr. Dilip Dasgupta and Dr. I.K. Kaul of Geology, etc., used to organize these programs. Functions of various kinds, organized by Departmental Societies / Gymkhana, parties, etc., used to be there.
Gradually, the physical infrastructure of IIT started getting better. During this time the concept of research projects come up. The Visakhapatnam Ship Yard offered one of the early projects. For me the first research project came unexpectedly. Once I was visiting IIT Delhi on some academic business when I met the Director, Prof. Dogra. Suddenly he said, "I know the real reason why you have come". I said, "What do you mean by real reason? I have come to the Electrical Engineering Department". He said, "No, you are competing with us about this research project". I said, "What research project? I know nothing of it! Brig. Bose did not tell me any thing". Then he said, "Oh, really! But then you should submit a project too. We have all done it, all IlTs and IISC Bangalore. You will be left out if you don't. Tomorrow there will be a meeting in which things will be decided". I said, "But I have my air-ticket booked for tomorrow". He said, "Cancel it. Go back to Nalanda House (Guest House of IIT Delhi) and write a proposal. Make it big! Come to my office at 8 in the morning and I shall have it typed. The meeting is at 11.30". 1 got the scare of my life. What to write? It had to be for the whole department. Anyhow, I toiled hard till late at night and produced a proposal for Rs. 3 crores! Remember, this was 1971. As a Senior Professor my pay scale was 1600-1800. At one time, as the Head of the Department I had to deal a lot with purchase and this experience came very handy, since I knew most of the prices. To end the story, we finally received Rs. 2.2 crores and my prestige in the institute soared overnight.
Research as an integral Part of Teaching
It is while doing research along with my colleagues, Prof. B.N. Das, Prof. B.K. Sarap, Prof M. Singh, Prof. A.K. Mallick, Prof A. Chakraborty and others that I realized how it helps teaching. I used to teach Electromagnetic Theory. I understood Mathematics, and I was known to be a good teacher -- but when we wanted to make a horn antenna it wouldn't work right! But I had to do it in my research and through this the physics of it came to me and I was thrilled at the elegance and simplicity of it. It is then that I fully realized those pages of Prof Guillemin's book where mathematical concepts like the 'curl' were explained elaborately. In this way I got introduced to the facts and ways of the life of an academician. Even in the earlier period of IIT Kharagpur's existence, we were involved with research and teaching, along with sponsored projects and consultancies.
Today there is an oft-heard question as to whether to do teaching or research or consultancy -- which comes first and whether all are necessary for an individual. Such thoughts did not exist in the early years of IIT.
Teaching was important but research was considered like the other side of the coin. It was said that the objective of IIT was to turn out scientist-engineers.
Ever since its inception, the Institute has flowered in the areas of handling big research and consultancy projects, continuing education, industry / IIT interaction, entrepreneurial development, placement of our students, better linkage with our alumni. Indeed the Institute is gearing to become more self-reliant for strengthening its resources. It is heartening to know about a number of important projects of national importance, which are being carried out by the faculty members of the Institute. Also I find a number of projects of social relevance have been undertaken in the Institute. I am sure that all this will be contributing towards building our nation.
The most important achievement is that the IIT has shown the way for better engineering education. This arose out of the flexibility of our system of technical education. Secondly, the IIT has shown that engineering research is possible and useful even in the Indian context. It has made a name in handling even big research projects. Thus IIT Kharagpur has fulfilled the original objectives mentioned by the Sarkar Committee, which called the IlTs Higher Institutes of Technology (HIT). Interestingly, all old personnel files in our Establishment Section still include the term HIT in their references. However, there is always scope for being more proactive and sensitive to changing directions and foci in technology. As for failures, I cannot identify any major failures though there are areas where we could have done better. We need more publicity. We should be seeking opportunities more actively and market our strengths more vigorously.
We must help others to grow
I would like to mention another point in which I believe strongly. A great institution not only must excel in teaching, research, and consultancy but also help actively in the growth of other institutions. For example, budding institutions in the region say at Haldia or Kolaghat should be helped in every way possible. This is our moral responsibility since we call ourselves "Institute of National Importance" and flout it everywhere from the convocation speeches to meetings for securing national mission projects.
Moreover, it is a fact of history that when IIT Kharagpur started its journey way back in 1951, it started from the zero line. At that time BE College, Sibpur provided whatever help we needed. Our laboratory setups were built in their workshops. Even some of the classes were held there. It used to take seven hours to travel to BE College by steam loco and therefore a round trip could not be made within a day. BE College always provided accommodation whenever our teachers needed. At that time Prof. S.R. Sengupta was the Principal of BE College, but obviously, he had no idea that his next destination would be IIT Kharagpur.
Most notably, we not only received their help but we expected them. We expect them even today. We expect collaboration form Ecole Polytechnic in France, from Harvard in the US or Oxford in UK. We say we have a baby management school and people should help. So we must remember these and help other institutions which need it too.
I have lofty expectations from the IIT faculty. I consider them brilliant just as I considered myself when I joined. Look at Richard Feynman's case. You would agree that his time was more valuable than any of ours. But he used to have an open door policy. You could just walk in and tell him that you would like him to give a lecture in your local school and it was very likely that he would agree and give you a date.
We have a set of brilliant people here. Then why don't you collaborate with the Institutions with lesser privilege? Again, I am not suggesting that everyone must do this but at least one must recognize that this is a job.
Need for strengthening Technology Foundation
This is a major point for attention. Particularly so when you want to be self-reliant. Suppose there is somebody in the industry, who is an expert on prime mover design. If we call him to take part in our research programmes we form linkages. These linkages may be utilized to get various kinds of support in terms of funding, equipment, data, etc. We can become much more prosperous this way. We can build very effective relationships through our students. And they are so happy to visit us. In the US, all universities have a Foundation to further this goal. For Princeton, 35% of their alumni care for their institute by donating money. If you ask me there should be a distinct thrust in this area. Not just a temporary one because we are celebrating our golden Jubilee. At the moment, IlTan's interest in the Technology Foundation is very low. This has to be changed.
To conclude, I should stress upon one thing. I have a very strong conviction that the advancement of learning by faculty and students with a guru shishya relationship ideally is the core objective in an institute of national importance like ours. We must work towards achieving that and then only we can justify calling our Institute as one of National Importance.
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