Monday, March 16, 2009

Back to IIT Kharagpur after 5 years

Kolkata experience (15th March 2009)

After coming out of the Netaji Subhash Chandra airport I started having a feeling that I have landed in the middle of a very crowded city. Usually the airports are bit far from habitation but wasn’t the case at the airport (It was my first visit to the city through air route). Kolkata, after 5 years, seemed more congested than ever.

Trip to Kharagpur

I got filled with nostalgia by taking the local train, we used to take the same one during college days, and bought peanuts & ‘jhalmoori’ from the local vendors. What a feeling! It was as if I am going to Kharagpur after my summer break! 

Finally at Kharagpur

Luckily the train took less than 2.5 hours from Kolkata station but the whole journey from Kolkata to Kharagpur took more than 3.5 hours, substantial more than the flight from Ahmedabad to Kolkata. Why don’t we have at least a domestic airport at Kharagpur? I reached KGP campus at 10:30 pm in the night. I expected lot must have changed but nothing seemed so. After a disappointing experience at the technology guest house, which forced me think whether I was right to come back to my alma mater, I was overwhelmed by the reception by the VP-Gymkhana (Arnav). I went to stay at the guest house in the Azad hall and it was the best rooms available in the hall but wasn’t up to the standard it should have been given the status of IITs. What has happened to the place? Arnav told that it is the election time and I could see it as soon as I entered the hall. Way of campaigning has changed a bit. The ratio has worsened since I left the institute. Arnav’s batch out of 700 students 30 females & non-males!! Phew! My non-IIT friends will realize in what situations the guys live for 4 years. But as per Arnav the quality of girls in the subsequent batches has improved. Have the girls started studying harder for JEE exams? I don’t have the answer.
After saying good night to Arnav I went to the canteen, with the G Sec – Soc & Cult & one more guy, and the canteen guy is new. I later came to know that Bisu da has left and his nephew had got killed in a train accident 2-3 years ago. I ordered one ‘aaloo paratha’ and one plate magi. It was half cooked but the paratha was quite good. Had chat with the Hall Cultural Secretary for close to an hour. A nice chap from Bhuwneshar, department Thoka. In the erstwhile TV room music practice was going on. The guy told me that GC is on and we have a chance to win that’s why so much of practice!! I came to know that the no of students has increased substantially to around 9,000 & in next few years the plan is to increase to 15,000-20,000!!! I also came to know that now the system in the halls has changed and even first years are also staying at the hall. Now in 1st and 2nd year two students have to stay in the same room!! At my time we used to find the small rooms just adequate for even one person!! New floor is being constructed over the existing 3rd floor and now the hall will have four floors. Lot of apprehension about placements & internships. Now there is a G Sec – Tech to handle the events like Kshitz. I parted with the feeling that this things need improvement.

Next day (16th March 2009):

I went for breakfast at 7:30 am……yes still I follow the schedule! I could find that almost all the mess staff is same. It was a pleasant surprise to know that they could all identify me!  I was a regular visitor to the mess and 95% of the time first guy to reach for the breakfast. They had served poha & asked me not to pay anything. Every body was there Govind da along with the fat guy fellow who seemed getting fatter after being with the mess for so long…etc. etc.
I went to Ashok da and he was quite happy to see me. He could also recognize me. I asked for a bicycle and he told me that I can easily get a motorbike. I wanted to relieve the experience of college days so I insisted on a bicycle and he got me his bicycle, still in good condition. The bicycle stand hasn’t changed much except the entrance gate which now looks quite decent with new structure. The access strip to the hall corridor has also been rebuilt. I started my journey and suddenly went back 6 years back in time. I could feel the sense of urgency and curiosity as a student but wasn’t able to get into ‘tech mode’….may be getting too old for technical things. I like managerial roles much more now.
As I was approaching towards the campus I realized there is some yellow colored building on my right side. When I went near the building I realized it is the new girls’ hostel. It has quite good look from outside and looks quite appealing. I had appointment with few professors so I didn’t explore it further and headed for the institute.

Visit to the academic area:

I parked my bicycle at the electrical engineering department. Nothing has changed. I went to the offices and most where closed. I saw my watch and it is still 8:30 am. I am quite early. Why not explore the classrooms and Profs’ offices. I first went to my project guides’ room and as always he was away. It was always very hard to find him in his room even when I was doing project under him. He will even forget that he has given me some work to do and it had become my duty to ask him to give me to work on something. It is not that I like writing reports & working but when you have to present something to a panel of professors, to the likes of Prof. S K Das & TKB, it is more than desirable that you go with something substantial otherwise you are going to be humiliated and made to feel that you are a worthless creature. Later I realized that those moments had its own importance as they make you kind of shameless & emotionless and you can take criticism in a much positive way.
I went to the CC lab to check my email as I used to do but now with a laptop. I was not able to connect to the wi-fi network of the campus, it is available only in the academic area, but quite a substantial change. I exited out of the lab and it was 9:00 am. I gave a call at Prof. Patra’s house but he was in shower and his family member told me that he will be at the office after 10-15 min. I thought let us go to the library, a place where I spent substantial amount of time of my life at KGP. As soon as I entered the place I was shocked! Have I come to a wrong place? The place seems less like a library and more like a corporate office. One of the most modern libraries I have ever seen! Touch screen panels & expensive woodwork. Issue counters like professional ticket counters in Europe. It seems most of the academic fund has been diverted towards the modernization of the library. It is a must place to visit when you visit to the campus. I went inside and was pleasantly surprised to see quite good sofas to relax and study. I spend almost half an hour moving around in the library. I met Azad Hall librarian Choudhary da. We chatted for quite some time and he told me about the need to donate more books to the hall library. I came to know that two more centers – one related to IPR & one related to medical field – have come up which will also increase the no of students on the campus. He was distributing election ID cards as almost half of the library staff has been asked to go on election duty. I told him we will meet at the hall library in the evening and parted to meet few faculties at the electrical engineering department.

Electrical Engineering department

Prof. Patra still hasn’t turned up. What to do next? I saw one room open. Oh! It is Prof. N K Kishore. Gem of a guy & always enthusiastic. I went into his room and he was quite excited. He invited me to shake hand with him and started asking what I was doing. He was pleasantly surprised to know that I have started my own firm. I mentioned him my desire to attend one of the classes in the department in order to relive the experience. He went on to his computer panel and pulled out schedules of 2-3 of the professors and told me the slots. One class, by Prof. Sen has just started 5-10 min back so he advised me to go and attend it. I thanked him and went to room no F 244. The class was already going on and Prof. Sen was quite busy in giving lectures so I thought of not disturbing him and returned to the department.
Well not much to do then why not meet the HOD, Prof. A K Sinha. I went to his office and he was bit confused to see this young guy. I have a habit of giving surprises. When I introduced myself a smile came on his face. He asked me to sit down and we started chatting. He asked me for tea but I took a glass of water. He asked about what I was doing and was pleasantly surprised to know I have started my own firm. He mentioned few of the IIM A students who passed sometime ago. Then Prof. Pradhan came for some discussion and Prof. Sinha introduced me to him. After few minutes Prof. Mukhopadhyay came, a former student from KGP and one of my favorite teachers. He always speaks of his mind and a damn brilliant fellow. I mentioned on his face that I remembered him as he had thrown me out of the class once. He looked at my face with a confused expression. The Prof. Sinha then said it is required once in a while then I realized that the Prof. may have taken it in a negative sense. I then explained that it was just a statement and not any kind of criticism. All four of us started chatting about the education system and etc. The Profs. where quite open. I told them the purpose of my visit, the conference and my five years of life after KGP. Prof. Mukhopadhyay as usual went on to the right point and the need to build more of industry linkages as just writing some research papers and publishing them may give mileage to faculties interested in becoming just Professors but will not do much value addition as far as careers of students is concerned & resource generation is concerned. He also mentioned about lack of appreciation from top when somebody does something related to industry linkages. He had a deadline for the submission of a research paper at 12:00 am and at 10:45 am he was chatting with us. The guy is super cool. He also invited me to discuss with him things related to higher education, at my convenience, and told that there is multi billion dollar opportunity in higher education. During the course of discussion he also mentioned that B. Tech. education has become kind of illiteracy removal program rather than imparting some quality education. After sometime I thanked them for their time and came out of the room. Was I the same person who 5 years ago used to get knowledge with these professors and now talking business with them and is at ease talking to them like a friend? The five years have changed me a lot it seems.
Then I saw professor S K Das and I wished him. He was quite confused that who I was. When I introduced myself he stared smiling and a sense of pride came to his voice. He congratulated me in my venture and was happy that in some way I was contributing to the growth of the country. I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the guys from my batch will try to avoid him as much as possible, one of the most feared professors, but I had a glimpse of his goodness during those 4 years which I had spent at this place. Once in a class he was grilling me for the solution of a problem after some time when I got frustrated & I told him that I don’t know anything he explained the things coolly. And now standing in front of him and getting words of praise made me feel proud. He extended his hand and shook with me with great enthusiasm. He doesn’t seem strong in his features now. He has more grey hairs than ever and his face shows an aged person but still with enthusiasm. He doesn’t look so imposing. Time has made his features more soft or we where under illusion 5 years ago & he was always like that. I can’t say at this moment. I have changed as much I had never been before.
I went on to attend a lecture by a professor Dr. Prabodh A quite young faculty around 30-35 years old. M. Tech. from IIT Delhi and Ph. D. from IIT Kanpur in energy system. He introduced me to the class and when I went on to give my introduction I could see appreciation and pride in the students’ eyes about this not so well endowed alumni of this college and department. I sat their and attended the lecture for half an hour. It was a review session after the mid-term exam so not the best time to attend a class. I also dozed off during the lecture for some time. I hope the professor didn’t notice me. I didn’t care though.
I also met Prof. Patra during my journey through the corridors and he was taken aback by my forwardness. He still has the looks of a management college professor rather than an engineering college professor. A gem of a person & quite well mannered. He wasn’t feeling well so we have scheduled a meeting for tomorrow afternoon.
Rest of the day I cycled for 2-3 hours through the campus and it seems that my navigational skills have improved much more after my visit to Europe. I went on to see Tech market, TSG, HJB & JCB. Things haven’t changed much in these five years. I came back to the Azad Hall and after lunch studied for sometime. I did bit more of traveling and then came back and slept. I woke up at the time of dinner and after dinner I went on to see the hall.

Again at Azad

I went to Sameer da’s small shop, by the side of the staircases. He has lost lot of hair but his manner of speaking still remains the same. He still swears but has feelings for the students. He talks about how the no of students has been increased and everybody is making money by introducing more and more students. The students are not being well taken care of and many have yet not got the placements. ‘Sab chor hai idhar…..keval paisa banata hai’ in the typical Bengali accent. He told me to take care of things as much as I can. He was finding fault in everybody and I was surprised that how much knowledge this guy has accumulated that he has opinion on everything. I wasn’t able to give any reasonable explanations to him. Knowledge doesn’t come by just reading books but by observing your surroundings as well.
The taste of food hasn’t changed in those 5 years in the mess. Still the chicken tastes the same with poori and the pulav is not completely cooked. The caterer has changed though but things haven’t changed.

At the hall library

I am writing all this by sitting in the hall library, a place which I used to love due to availability of fiction books rather than non fiction books. I can hear swearing by students outside, the music practice and think will it change ever. How will we be able to contribute to the change of hostels which are not just the leaving places but also the learning places? While walking through the corridors I can see students watching movies, guys sleeping with open doors and remember my days at this place. It needs to change substantially in the changing environment.
Today I still sleep at Azad Hall in a much better room and much well maintained.

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