A Time Warped Perambulation Through IIT
By T.S. Lamba
In this article I will describe a few events pertaining
to the dozen years (65-76) leading to the Silver Jubilee of IIT Kharagpur. These events
all happened, though the names of the persons involved have been expunged to avoid
embarrassment to various people. This was a period when we had a lot of colourful persons
among the staff and the students.
To begin with, I must mention the Indo-Pak war, when standing on the roof of IIT's main building we saw large flames and heard loud noises in the direction of Kalaikunda. We were told by the 'bosses' that the Air Force was carrying out target practice (in the middle of a war, if you please!). All doubts were dispelled when we saw the ensuing dog fights.
Later in the day some hardy students cycled down to Kalaikunda -- and got caught in the middle of another air raid! That was the day when IIT students jumped into dirty ditches face down. They also brought back some mementos -- parts of Pakistani planes shot down, their pilot's diary and a hand smeared in his blood. An aftermath of this incident led to the only time that an IIT student marched into the Director's Office with a machine gun. Just to return it, though.
Those days the Halls (and other buildings) had to be blackened out, but one student used to climb to the roof of his Hall and shine a torch in the sky. "To help the Pakistanis close the Institute", he said.
War leads to torture and torture reminds one of ragging, which was then an accepted practice. Freshers were sent to the Andamans (below the cot) or asked to go Mussoorie (climb up to the loft in the room). One notorious ragger from Patel Hall took a fresher to his room, bolted the door, took off his belt and twirling it around, spent the next half-hour describing what he had done to other freshers. After that half-hour he opened the door and asked the fresher to leave. Believe you me, that fresher was hardly able to crawl out of the room.
At yet another time a fresher found that his Hall had a very senior research fellow who was not doing any ragging. Furthermore no fresher who was talking to this senior was called away by other 'junior' seniors. This fresher then decided to latch on to the research fellow, one Saturday afternoon, only to find him going out for a stroll. Willy-nilly, the fresher went along for the walk - all the way to Salua and back. Some relief from ragging, would you not say? Other student activities have involved snakes. There was once a snake kept as a pet in a Hall room (against the rules, I suppose, but I could not find the rule concerned). A student had his life saved by being pushed out of his chair during a TT match, all because he had carefully put a realistic looking rubber snake behind himself in his chair.
All this should not imply that only the students could generate fun. Every 18th August there used to be a fancy dress football match between the staff and the students. Fancy that! You could see the Institute Director made up as an Arab sheikh, another faculty member as a portly sadhu or a student dressed as Long John Silver.
Talking of the wooden legged Long John Silver, I may mention that once during the summer vacations you could see someone (a staff member?) going to the institute -- even climbing stairs -- on stilts.
Then there was this absentminded professor of mathematics who ran to his friend's home, requesting help since his house had been burgled clean out. His friend went with him, checked it out and reminded him that as he had shifted his house the old one was naturally empty. This worthy person once went to the library and wanted to buy some stamps. On being told of the infeasibility of buying stamps in a library he exclaimed, "Oh no! I have then posted the library books I had brought to return".
Explaining the concept of limits to a bunch of starry-eyed freshers, this same teacher said that a limit was a value you could approach but not reach or cross. As an illustration he said that the classroom door was, for the time being, his limit and going towards it, crossed it and went out. The students waited for some time and then left for the canteen. On being asked in the next class about his departure, he replied, "Oh, I crossed my limits". Was this intentional? I wonder.
Other teachers have also got results not quite as intended. One Electronics teacher, who was famous for his body-building and weight-lifting had the foible of wearing a 'Kara' on his right hand (no, he was not a Sardar). When he first joined as faculty he set about teaching with great gusto. At the end of the first class he rolled up his Kara with the left hand, flexed his right biceps (17") and growled in his deep bass voice, "Any questions"? Naturally, there were none.
Another Electronics teacher covered a large amount of material in his class, which in those days covered a full year and not just a semester. One year, in a fit of enthusiasm he set an extremely tough paper and expected everyone to do badly. Rather to his surprise everyone did very well. "How did the paper get leaked", he mused. What had happened was that the various students of his class went to him individually and asked for important topics. Being a kind-hearted teacher, he gave each of them a list of topics to study, taking care to include the topics set in the question paper. A neat little Venn Diagram and none of the students had need to study very much.
One teacher of the Mechanical Department had a first hour class on Saturday morning. In those days Saturdays were half working days. One particular Saturday was sandwiched between two holidays, and the other teachers had agreed to leave off their classes. When no student attended his class that Saturday, he started asking each student the reason for his absence when he took the roll call the next time he took class. The first five students had overslept and the fifth got a shouting, "All of you overslept"? The next few students had therefore been unwell and it was obvious that the next unwell student was in for a ticking off. So, the next student said, "Sir, I had acute coryza (common cold, that is)". "Oh. Oh. How are you now? Feeling better?", was the teacher's sympathetic comment.
One of the traditions of those days was for every Hall to hold a Hall Day once every year. Almost every student and teacher (along with family) was invited by someone or the other. The Hall residents put up a makeshift stage using room and dining hall tables, and entertained their guests using local (Hall) talent. Dinner was served usually in packets, but once VS Hall (then a regular UG Hall) arranged a seated dinner for all the guests with the room cots improvising as serving trays. Often in these functions, some select teachers were quizzed in a humorous style. Like when a professor of civil engineering had to explain (in a pseudo-scientific manner) why the ash of his cigar formed a cantilever instead of just failing off, and what limited the length of the cantilever. A professor of Naval Architecture was often asked to speak because of his penchant for mixing up his sentences. After one dinner, which he and his wife had attended, he thanked his hosts, saying, "I enjoyed the chicken and my wife too".
To close, let me go back to an even earlier period of time when the Head of Electronics Department was also in charge of the Netaji Auditorium and also warden of Azad (or one of the other Halls in the old campus). The students of the Hall went to him at the TFS with an application for issuing out some audio equipment for a Hall function. "This application should be routed through your warden", said this professor. "But Sir, you are the warden", said the students. "Not here", was the reply. The students took the application to him later in his Hall office and found him marking it as 'recommended'. Happily they approached him again only to find him marking the paper, "This matter is dealt with by the Head, Electronics Department". Once bitten twice shy, these students went back to the Hall, wrote another application, got it recommended by the warden and took it to the Head, E & ECE. To their dismay they found the head writing, "Sorry, the equipment can't be given". One man, three chairs and three caps!
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