TORONTO: Ask the first M. Tech graduate from the IIT system of India what has made the IITs a global brand today, and 84-year-old Kashinath Patil (standing in the centre in the above picture) quickly says: students who are called the cream of India.
How about India’s first prime minister Pandit Nehru who conceived the idea of IITs as the `temples of modern India’ and Dr J.C. Ghosh who steered the country’s first IIT as its director?
“Yes, the IITs were Nehru’s idea, well executed by Dr Ghosh. However, neither of them deserve credit for the success of IITs. Very well qualified students properly trained deserve the credit,’’ says Patil in an interview from Houston in Texas where he lives with his family after retirement.
Getting nostalgic about the time he spent at IIT Kharagpur for his M.Tech, he says, “I was in the first batch for M.Tech at Kharagpur in 1954. In all, there were five or six M.Tech students.’’
According to Patil, it was his chance meeting with IIT director Dr. J.C. Ghosh at the 40th Indian Science Congress in Lucknow in 1952 which brought him to Kharagpur.
“After completing my B.Sc in first class from Pune University in 1951, I was doing research when I went to present a research paper on kinetics of decomposition of chemicals at the Lucknow Science Congress. Dr Ghosh was there. He was impressed by my paper and gave me direct admission to M.Tech. Not many people knew about IIT Kharagpur at that time,’’ recalls Maharashtra-born Patil.
Not only was he given admission, but also awarded a full scholarship. “So I never paid any tuition to study at IIT Kharagpur. Everything was paid by the IIT for the graduate students. I was there one and a half years,’’ he says.
Patil says during his long train journey from Pune to IIT Kharagpur he was thrilled at the prospects at the new IIT. “But the first journey to the new IIT ended in a sort of anti-climax as I had to endure a rough rickshaw ride from the Kharagpur railway station to the IIT campus,’’ Patil laughs.
Once on the campus, he says, his life became very busy. “We had no sense of time. There was so much to study.’’
He says initial ragging was unpleasant for freshmen. “I didn’t like ragging of the new students. But otherwise it was a very friendly atmosphere. The food used to be nice and students were well-disciplined. Everybody would stand in the queue waiting for their turn for meals. All undergraduate students used to give us respect because we, as M.Tech students, were seniors to them. The IIT campus was a very pleasant place. But it was a male-dominated place. One hardly saw any women except daughters of our professors,’’ Patil says with a laugh.
Continuing down memory lane, he says, “For our classes, we used to walk or use bicycles or hitch rides with other students. And students were invariably very nice to one another. I didn’t have a bicycle, or even know where to go to buy it.’’
Patil, who has never been to Kharagpur since 1956, says, “The Kharagpur campus was a full-fledged place or town in itself. The IIT was three to four miles from the city of Kharagpur. In between, it was all barren from Kharagpur to the IIT. Students used to go to the city only if they had something very urgent to do. There was no real contact between Kharagpur and the IIT. I don’t think I ever went to Kharagpur city. The IIT was not dependent on Kharagpur.’’
He says faculty members had well furnished accommodation on the campus. “There were about 300 professors, associate professors and other teaching staff, including some foreigners sent by UNESCO. Even most of the Indian professors were trained abroad or from the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. As I said, food was very good, and there was never any problem with water and electricity.’’
Patil says the intensity of his M.Tech course provided little time for anything else. “My one and a half years just flew. Practical training at the IIT workshop taught us so much. I also had two months’ training at the Sindri Fertilizer factory which was one of the best industries in India at that time.’’
He recalls how students were excited when they came to know at their graduation time that Prime Minister Nehru would be the chief guest at their graduation ceremony.
“But the ceremony was delayed by a year, and we got our diplomas from Nehru in 1956. There were lots of dignitaries at the first graduation ceremony. By that time I was married and took my wife along, but they had no accommodation for couples. So we had to stay in separate dormatories’’ he chuckles.
Giving his impressions of Dr J.C. Ghosh, the first IIT director who had picked him up for M.Tech course, Patil says, “Dr Ghosh was very well known as he had been the director of the great Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore – once headed by the Nobel laureate C.V. Raman. That’s why he was picked up to head India’s first IIT from the IISc. I am sure Nehru must have known of this choice. When Dr Ghosh joined the IIT, he brought about 30 professors and other staff with him from the IISc. ’’
While Dr Ghosh came to the IIT from the IISc, young Patil went from the IIT to the IISc. “I was the first IITian to join the Indian Institute of Science upon completion of my M.Tech, with high-pressure technology as my area of specialization. After one and a half years there, I moved to the Sindri Fertilizer factory where again I spent one and a half years.’’
Then America beckoned.
“During my tenure at Sindri, I came in contact with American Prof E. W.Comings who had done a book on high-pressure technology. He offered me a scholarship. So I landed in the US in 1958 to join Purdue University in West Lafayette in Indiana state. Later, I went on to work with many large companies as well as receive some patents. ’’
Patil, who has three children and two grandsons, has been settled in Houston for the last 37 years.
As the IIT system completes its diamond jubilee celebrations in Kolkata in December, Patil says, “I am so glad that IITs have become so famous. IIT students have a big reputation here in the US. We have a 40,000 to 50,000-strong alumni association.’’
He says he is eager to go back to his alma mater one day and see the things for himself.
“Though our family has been going to India quite often, I could never find time to go Kharagpur because we go there only for a few days. But I want to be there one day.’’
Hope that day comes soon.