Friday, November 11, 2005

Graduating from B.E. to B.Tech

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.


ramakrishna u said...

I cannot emphasize how much I empathize with each sentence, word, heck even the punctuation in this wonderful post of yours.

Considering about the transition in the faculty: our batch was lucky in the sense that we could see the difference between the good and the other faculty. Our juniors, I think, could never feel that they were in classrooms where the essence of EE was taught in a couple of lectures.

This reminds me of an anecdote about the Network Analysis course in 2nd year. Recently, I had commented that Prof. Govind Rao that he did not teach too many classes. This was true. However, he was so good that he taught all that was required for network analysis in one class by giving three kinds of signals (impulse, step, ramp), two kinds of generators (voltage, current) and three kinds of circuits (pure resistor, pure inductor, pure capacitor) and asking us to show the output signals of each of these. It is my feeling that I got the most out of that course in that particular lecture. A saying from Telugu: Gangigovu palu garitedu chalu ... aptly fits in (I can quote similar examples from other Professors too!).

This is, but one example of how you can learn from the masters of the knowledge. I donot find some of those teachings different from the teachings religious masters give in a pithy way.

I think we were simply lucky!

sj said...

I took a cue from your blog and had to write this. I just had to vent this out. I know we had discussed many of these things during our last 11 years (heck, its been a long time) but even today their approach continues to be misunderstood often.

How, my heart, still wishes we could go back and attend Prof. Govind Rao's lecture you were talking about, Prof. Ratnam's adhoc lectures. Even better we could have preserved them in digital format so that the whole department could benefit from it. They were truly the masters of their art.

A lot of times I draw inspiration from these Professors. I owe them all a bunch for whatever I am today.

We were indeed, lucky.

ramakrishna u said...

>subject: IIT~status~for~7~tech~institutes

Q: Where did you did your undergraduation?
A: Andhra University

sounds charming enough. doesn't it? why? there is magic in the 'Andhra' part of the university. I always felt so.

I would have preferred the new name to be IIT-Andhra instead of IIT-Vizag. Somehow, IIT-Andhra gives the feeling of coming from the best university from Andhra. The 'IIT' prefix is good, it gives a (inter) national status, but if we lose the name 'Andhra', I believe, we are losing something.

Would like to know your thoughts.

sj said...

My PC was down with virus for more than a week (it couldn't have chosen a better time since I am devoid of any of my PC tools).

Anyway getting back to the topic, first thing first "Congratulations AU", you deserved this graduation. This one was a long time coming.

Now given a choice, I graduated from IIT Andhra sounds more gratifying than IIT Vizag. But then the contentious issue is what will Osmania, the other IIT from Andhra, be called. If we can maintain the austerity just as IIT Bombay and Madras did, then it makes perfect sense to stick with Andhra, else its better to stick to the standards set by the others.

sj said...

Andhra University College of Engineering (autonomous) received the award of all-India Best Government Engineering College, instituted by the Star News.