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The Golden Years : Musings of an Old Alumnus
By Kailas C. Sahu

On a rain soaked July afternoon in 1953, I reached the bare looking vast IIT campus as a fresher a week after classes started. I had the hard choice between well-known old colleges and the not much known Hijli IIT. 'Indian' was the deciding attraction. I have hardly taken a better and more far-reaching decision in my life.

Azad Hall was in the making for our (third) batch. Till Puja holidays, we got cramped into Patel (#1), Nehru(#2) and even into the Bachelors' flats. As each block / floor of our Hall got completed, our resident assistant warden would announce in classes names of students who can move in by the simple process of matching our roll numbers to room numbers. We got a place and identity of our own. I remember the first day the mess opened with great fanfare with shining new steel trays and tableware. Tempo was high even with primitive facilities.

The first and second batches would remind us of great hardship they had gone through in still earlier days, with rudimentary infrastructure, which seemed to have given them the pioneer aura, and a great community feeling for the other constituents -- the teachers and staff and their families who suffered still more deprivations. We soon were a part of that very spirited lot almost enjoying the process of building new traditions and cultures in Halls, Gymkhana and in classes.

We had distinguished international Professors through UNESCO and Commonwealth and matching outstanding Indian Faculty members. The administrative staff was experienced and very helpful -- a tradition which still continues substantially. Spirit of partnership prevailed.

The driving force of course was our first Director Dr. J.C. Ghosh, the visionary philosopher, scientist and humanist who laid the solid foundations of concrete and more importantly and enduringly, of culture. Very few anywhere in the world have so fundamentally and significantly changed the accepted education system, and affected lives of so many for years to come in a span of just 3 years as Sir JC has done by founding the basics of not only IIT Kgp but the IIT system as a whole. When he left towards the end of our first year to become the VC of Calcutta University, we represented to the mighty Dr. B.C. Roy, the Chief Minister, and at Delhi and went on a mass hunger strike. Only Sir JC, after joining us at fasting, could talk us out of it.

Fortunately Dr. S.R. Sengupta, the able administrator, strict disciplinarian yet full of immense love and commitment to the young Institute and its core values consolidated and added activities and glory during his long stewardship.

To start with, the entire Institute was in old Hijli Jail building. Each room was a department. The library was there too. In fact between classrooms on the first floor was the Director's office with doors open. The great 'hangar' housed workshops along with few hurriedly built tin sheds. Few old buildings, the bachelors' flats and few faculty houses amidst vast 1400 acres of wilderness was the campus. Classes and examinations were held in cramped rooms and even corridors sometimes on a shift basis till late evening.

However, literally and figuratively, a great institute was being made at a very fast pace. The entire main building was at foundation level in July 1953 when we came. In next July, most activities were housed there. We the Mechanicals, felt left out but later enjoyed our splendid isolation in the history-rich hallowed old building for many years. Much later, on February 9, 1973, when the then Director offered me a space in first floor of the old building for the newly created Industrial Management Centre, I felt proud and happy to move in. As its Head, I had the good fortune to sit in the same room which Sir JC used as the Director.

The academic philosophy which was refreshingly different and even daring centred on faith in individual teachers in the entire teaching and examining process. The teachers experimented with syllabus, selected mode of examination (open or closed book) and the details of the continuous evaluation process. Mind expanding humanities and social sciences integrated with science and technology. Synergy of undergraduate, post-graduate and research was realised. Interaction with industry, agriculture and commercial sectors were planned through advisory bodies, practical training and placement services. It got reflected in very strong teacher-student interaction on and off the class. We had 8 students in tutorials, sometimes held in the evening in the Halls of Residence itself. The system aimed to develop "dispassionate objective outlook" together with "principles of social justice to impart in students initiative and capacity to invent" and to "use resources with maximum enterprise, intelligence and vision" as well as to "create new knowledge". All quotes are from the speech of the great visionary, Dr. JC Ghosh on the first birthday of IIT KGP on August 18, 1951. MIT was the spelled out benchmark and becoming a world-class institution was the clear aim. Rarely before and since for an Institute of our type, policies, objectives and tasks have been so clearly articulated and more importantly so effectively and completely translated into enduring actions and results.

In the completely residential campus, in its Halls and Gymkhana, the other dream of the founding fathers was being honed through traditions, programmes and action. The melting pot was creating the 'Indian' perspective -- free from all narrowness of province, language, creed, caste and religion in its composite Halls and common mess. Latent creativity and managerial capabilities developed during intense inter Hall competitions in the fields and stages. Hall Days besides putting Hall talent on stage culminated in huge sit down dinners meticulously planned with seat numbers for nearly the entire campus. We even had, a couple of times in a year, the common dinners for the entire Institute in the Institute premises. Perhaps the last one I remember in this series was the one during silver jubilee special inter-IIT meet. The entire campus community was invited and involved in all Gymkhana activities in fields and auditoriums. It was the 'our IIT' feeling even in campus ladies and children at inter-IIT meets and spring fests. The doors and hearts of campus community were always open to students and fellow members of community. We never had a culture of hierarchy within and outside the institute.

The 25 years from inception put our Institute firmly in the hearts and minds of people in our country as well as a place of honour in the academic community the world over. Based on the strong common basic values, sister IlTs were carving out niches on their own -- nationally and internationally. Under great leaders in BOG, Institute and Departments, the IIT system reached the pinnacle of glory. There has been no looking back since then.

Besides the obvious cream of nation input, the best teachers and administrative support and infrastructure the country can afford, the basic value and cultural system at IIT creates this extraordinary range of flexible attitudes and talents, in students enabling them to make all around contribution to nation and world building. No wonder, an IlTan is at home anywhere in India or the world in terms of living, human interactions and work. There are those who have migrated kilometres away to being entrepreneurs, administrative officers, publishers, journalists, musicians and even bonsai specialists. Of course IlTans are the hard core of science and technology in the country making waves from Bangalore to Silicon Valley. An old IITan like me meets familiar faces almost anywhere in the wide world. When we meet, we talk about good old days and of course about the Halls and current tempo in general.

I joined IIT as a young teacher in October 1960. I had the good fortune to have played many roles as assistant warden and warden (of my old Azad Hall), the founder head of the Industrial Management Centre, President of Gymkhana, later Dean of students, and a senate elected member of BOG. Each experience made me realize the basic strength of the structure of our system and wisdom of its pioneers and offered me opportunity to make my small contribution in this sacred institution building process. When we left IIT campus in August 1996, looking back, it was a life full of excitement and growth on all fronts -- professional, social and family -- all because of the charming campus and great community which has made it so rich. We came to campus as a young newly wed couple. All our children were born and raised there, deriving all their knowledge and values from its wide, tolerant, all-inclusive humanitarian culture and had the good fortune to learn under great teachers of IIT, my alma mater. Their strong value base is the enduring contribution of IIT Kharagpur and its campus.

As we enter the millennium, the golden years will turn diamond, platinum and still more precious. The future is just great for IIT Kgp and the IIT system. We must remind ourselves of our strong foundations of values and policies, and keep on modernizing programmes and activities based on the basic values. The reciprocal of faith and freedom are self-inflicted responsibility, sincere and devoted hard work. If all sections of IIT community perform in this spirit, the Institute will keep on contributing still more significantly to mother India and to the fast shrinking global village -- the space ship mother earth. May God bless us in this noble endeavour.

Do not forget our emblem and the IIT song based on that: 'Yogah Karmasu Koushalam'. Let the TMS present it on all significant occasions. It inspires!

 

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