It was August 1994. Ragging was still not banned in Andhra University. As a junior here, everyday before and after each class, whenever there was free time we were subject to bantering from our seniors. This was supposed to be an informal way of knowing your seniors :-). These seniors were from all departments of engineering and sometimes from the arts and sciences too. One thing palpable, after being subjected to this routine everyday, was I never got to know who my real seniors were, as I never encountered anyone from the EE department.
One Friday afternoon, just when I thought I could escape the prying eyes of seniors, my fast pace home was interrupted by two seniors. I knew this was going to be another of those long Friday afternoons. I gave them my SD (Self Definition/Sontha Dabba), which was a standard practice, and part of which said I joined the EE branch. From there this talk went into unchartered territory as they started asking me about Thevenin's theorem, Norton's theorem. This was very unlike the ragging I had encountered earlier where you are at times subjugated to phyiscal and mental humiliation. But this was turning out to be not one of those. This was one of the most interesting talk I had with anyone on the campus and probably in retrospect I could say that this was the start of a four year long endearing memories.
That talk in short says all about the EE department and its students. This department had earned a reputation of being rigid, stern and highly disciplined. This department had in its faculty, members like Prof. Ratnam, Prof. Govind Rao, Prof. Sitaramam, Prof. Ramamurthy and Dr. Bapi Raju to name a few. You could easily see the demarcation as to how the classes and labs were conducted and how the students of these department were. It says a lot about the institution that these people built. It rose above mediocrity (that is not to take away anything from the other departments), often times challenging the entire university apparatus. It takes a lot of courage to rise above the average and then make everyone else believe the same. It takes a lot of character to set higher standards and then follow them under all adversity. I am sure these Professors had endured a lot of flak while building the institution, at times from their peers and others from their very own students (and they still do). What I saw, during my four years there, must have been the result of years of unperturbed dedication.
Today, when I look back, I realize how fortunate I am, to have done my undergrad from that department. I feel very proud to say that I did my undergrad from the EE department of AU. It is no mere coincidence that this department within a span of two years had produced the GATE topper twice (one of whom is a very dear friend of mine) and one GATE second ranker (one of the two who ragged me and was probing my understanding about Thevenin's theorem). This is, again, not to take away anything from those rankers. They thoroughly and richly deserved it. It couldn't have happened to any more brilliant people, but I am sure they too would acknowledge the sleight of that wonderful faculty.
Alas, those achievements turned out to be just like an earthern lamp which when lit gives light all around, but then it also exudes its full brilliance right before it starts to wane down. On my last visit there, I could see first hand how the department had slipped down. We met some of the older faculty members who have since moved to private colleges. It was a sorry plight to see the once revered department being run by people who interpreted their seniors way of running it all wrong. While the Professors before them believed in always setting the bar high up, with emphasis always on attaining higher learning (transient state to steady state by Prof Govind Rao), exploring beyond the realm of text books (any of Prof Ratnam's lectures). They sometimes seemed a bit stretched, especially, when you saw themselves in the context of students from other departments. We had been asked to leave 7 lab's at a stretch when we couldn't answer a seemingly innocous question What is voltage rise ? , or were made to look like idiot savant's for not knowing the meaning of moron :-). I am sure much of this was intended to get us out of our shells and to disband any preconceived notions we might have had about how our next 4 years would be like. Unfortunately, the part which caught on with the junior professors, readers and lecturers was the nagging part. They just thought that they could have their way and keep us under leash by always keeping us on our toes. This was a classic case of Lost in Transition. One group of people were looking to liberate us and the other trying to restrain us.
Today, AU is being considered for conversion from a University to an IIT, a rare honor for any Indian university. How I wish, the UGC could have woken up atleast 5-8 years earlier, that is when they would have seen this department (I cannot speak for the university) in its full splendor. Even today, if I still haven't forgotten some of the lectures, terms, and the process which I had learnt there, it is because of the quality of teaching. I am not sure how different IIT's mode of teaching is, but I am sure they too would have admired the EE department of AU and would not have found it wanting in any respect.
How happy they will be in seeing the institute graduate from a BE to BTech. It would have been a fitting ode to the distinguished faculty to have seen their hardwork, dedication, vision pay off this way. But then they didn't work for this honor right, because no work can be as resplendent as this when driven by the fruit. The fruit should always be the by product of karma, not the guiding light.