Sunday, August 26, 2012

In retrospect

Prof. M. N. Faruqui (1952 -56 IIT Kharagpur student; 1958 – 1990 Faculty at IIT Kharagpur) left his mortal frame yesterday (24.8.2012) at about 11:40 AM. SMS, Email, Telephone, Meeting at the corridor - the message got spread. The Dept. gathered in the afternoon to pay homage. Senior faculty members remembered him as one of the second generation leaders who led the Dept., specially in the field of communication engineering. His students, drawn from teachers and visitors to the institute, remembered the teaching style he introduced for new PG programs. He used to give currently published good journal papers as text material, asked students to study that for few days and then involved them into discussion on that topic. Prof. S. L. Maskara, a close associate of Prof, Faruqui wrote in his message, "All those who ever came in contact with him immediately bonded with him. He had a towering and charming personality with a generous heart and ever smiling face. He embodied Wisdom, Vision, Compassion, Courage, Patience and Confidence. His breadth of knowledge in various subjects and analytical skills to go in depth with strong reasoning power displayed on all occasions of crisis. People rushed to him for solutions to their problems. He could easily win over even his opponents."

During my B.Tech. days, I found him as Deputy Director here. I studied the book, 'Basic Electronics' authored by him but did not have any opportunity for class room interaction. 
The Prof. Faruqui I know is a thinker, a person candid with his expression, with immense love and zeal for education sector in India and he is an IITian by core. A prolific writer that he was, we can find his wisdom, his IIT experience in various articles he left behind. Excerpts from some of his write-ups are presented below. Section heading added by me to improve readability. The mortal frame is no longer there but he continues to live through what he left behind in our mind space.

The following is from 'Down Memory Lane' published by  Nehru Museum of Science and Technology, IIT Kharagpur in 2001.

Arrival at IIT Kharagpur as student (Year 1952)

It can easily be said that if the Indian society was undeveloped, the opportunities open to a young man in a small mofussil town like Ballia of UP in the l950 were also extremely limited. Obtaining a First Class with distinctions in two subjects and 75% marks in science subjects in the Intermediate Science examination of the UP Board that year did not open any doors. Engineering degree options available were at BHU, AMU and the College at Roorkee. BHU won't have me and my father was against AMU for reasons I will not go in here. Roorkee was beyond his means -- the monthly charges alone being Rs 260 per month. B.Sc at Allahabad was very attractive and there I spent two years of my life. Here it was that we heard of a new engineering college being opened by the central government at some place called Kharagpur in West Bengal. I applied for admissions here, was interviewed in the office of the Vice-Chancellor of Allahabad University and was selected.

I joined the Higher Institute of Technology, Hijli, Kharagpur in August 1952 The authorities wanted that we must have six half-sleeve shirts and six pair of khaki trousers and one mosquito net when we arrive here.

IIT Kharagpur, The melting pot : Another First (very important but not much talked about)

I believe that Kharagpur was the first educational Institution in India where 300 boys stayed together and ate in a common mess -- disregarding the caste considerations, vegetarian and non-vegetarian issues, religious issues and finally distinctive tastes and eating habits of people coming from all corners of the country and assembled in one place and under one roof. It was remarkable to say the least. I had some experience of other cosmopolitan universities like the Benaras Hindu University and Allahabad where number of messes were established and one could join any one of those. Brahmins, Chhatriyas, Vaishyas and others had naturally segregated into homogenous groups of their own. For example Brahmins and Chhatriyas from Ballia had separate messes. The students would hire a cook who would prepare the food of their liking and taste.

The Building of IIT Culture:

The independence, the camaraderie, the mixing of people from all over the country, the responsive and supportive Faculty and Staff and the opportunity of developing an individual's talent and character was unique at Kharagpur. The other IlTs copied it and the products coming out of these portals have made India proud. The shaping of the destiny of this IIT owes much to Sir J.C. Ghosh the founding Director and Dr S.R. Sengupta who followed in his footsteps.

Examination (Open Book, Closed Book):

The number of experiments in the academic and administrative processes that Sir JC tried is amazing in retrospect. We had then a yearly system with two terminal examinations in between and a final examination that theoretically covered the whole year's teaching. In the second year we had 23 examination papers in the terminal examination. In 11 subjects we had a 2-hour closed book examination [7 to 9 AM] followed immediately by a 2-hour [10 AM to 12 noon] open book examination. Only the English language paper had no open book component. In another terminal examination no dates for the examinations were given and the teacher could, after entering the class, declare that that day he was going to have a 1-hour examination instead of the lecture. These unannounced 1-hour examinations were the toughest since we all were totally unprepared, so much so that a student could be casually absent and miss that examination altogether. I suppose the scheme finally did not work and was abandoned. Short tests of 15 to 20 minutes were a different kind of thing. I suppose we lost the fear of examinations altogether. In my first year the Tutorials in Physics and Mathematics were held in the Hall after 7 PM and each tutorial class consisted of 8 students only.

Was it mandatory to pass all subjects?

To be promoted from one year to the next and to get a degree from this Institute one did not have to pass in all subjects. There was a Results Review Committee that decided the maximum number of subjects that a student could fail and the aggregate marks that he must have to be promoted to the next higher class. Naturally in such a system no grade cards were issued and one would only obtain a certificate indicating that such and such had passed with Honours in First or Second division. The trouble started when the American universities insisted on getting a grade card with letter grades. Of course students who were promoted despite failure in subjects were not the ones applying for studies abroad. I feel that the system was quite okay since the opinions have now changed and even Secondary schools are not insisting that a student must pass in all subjects in order to pass out of the school system.

The following is from the article "Failure in in Engineering : Remarkable Success Elsewhere" (Link) where we see the teacher-administrator in him in his dealing with a student of special kind. Also, this shows how one can never be a loser if he / she is sincere in his / her pursuit of dream and does not give up. Finally, how compassion and soft core of a teacher leave behind apparently harsh and duty-bound self of an administrator - with no love lost between him and the student. A lesson for all!

Not his cup of tea!

Tejinder Singh got into Engineering at IIT Kharagpur through the toughest Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and showed that he was, that year, amongst top 2000 students in India. His career started well and was noticed in Hall activities like Dramatics, Music and other activities. But by the time he came to second year he was in the wrong company. I was Dean of Students and his problems landed on my table. His father was employed in Railways and posted at Kharagpur. By and by his plus points were getting lost into failure in examinations and numerous ‘reported’ troubles. He had to repeat the year. Naturally his parents were very upset and his mother met my wife and me repeatedly. I tried my level best to get him to perform but it did not help him much. He could not go beyond the third year and had to leave the IIT as a failure. I used to tell him that unless he studied and got out of the company of his ‘friends’ he would be good for nothing. He would be found selling peanuts at the Kharagpur railway station.
In front of me he was always very polite and submissive, though he admitted once that he was not finding interest in Engineering. He always promised dutifully that he would make all efforts and would do well next time. That next time never came and he had to say goodbye to Kharagpur.
Journalism, Not Engineering
A few years later I came across him at Howrah station concourse at 12.30 in the night. People who have been to Howrah station beyond midnight may be knowing that once the local trains have left the station concourse is taken over by thousands of large size rats. It is quite a sight. They even jump over people sleeping on the floor. I was waiting for my wife whose train from Lucknow was 2 hours late. I was surprised to see him and asked him about what were his current activities and what was he doing at this time of the night at Howrah station. He said he was working in the well known Telegraph newspaper in Calcutta in the editorial department. I asked him whether he liked what he was doing and he said that he has now found out that journalism was his actual interest. We sat down on a bench amongst the rats all around and chit chatted about his job and about IIT.
The tea available at the station is undrinkable because it is prepared from the Hooghly water that is salty. I said as much but he said that he knows a tea stall outside the station that serves tea made from good well water. Despite my protests he went out and brought two cups of good quality tea. I felt happy that he was enjoying his work at last. It was really a chance meeting and completely out of the way.
Getting Settled!
Last year,  I was at Lucknow when I got a call from a student at IIT Kanpur that a gentleman named Tejinder wants to meet me and wants to know whether he can come and meet me at Lucknow. I was overjoyed to hear him and he did drive down from Kanpur to Lucknow – a drive of two hours. He is a Sikh but now he had lost all his hairs and is bald. He was now in Brussels and Chief Editor of an International magazine. He could hardly stay for an hour because he had to drive back.He was still the same Tejinder but now was a European boss of an organisation.
Failure vs. Success
Boys at IIT Kanpur had compiled a list of IIT students who could not complete their studies at their Institution but had done well in later life. These boys had hit on his name and had invited him to Kanpur. He jokingly said that my prophecy about selling peanuts was wrong. He always felt obligated to me though I really could not do anything for him finally. I remarked as such but then he said that out of the whole lot of people at Kharagpur I was the only person who listened and even sympathised with him though I fired him many times. From another angle through his struggles and hard work he succeeded in a career of his choice. I will call him a ‘Success’ story though he gave lot of worries and heart burn to his parents and well wishers in the beginning. Finally he made us proud of his exploits.

I shall conclude this post with excerpts from his article titled "Lament for IITs" (Link) published on June 06, 2011 where we see an educationist, an analytic IITian and a visionary who projects past to future. Also, we find here one whose heart bleeds for his beloved institute.
IIT and World Class
The lament that the IITs, IIMs and the Universities are not world class is not justified when one measures the low output, of at least the five original IITs, in terms of Research and Development over the past six decades or so. I joined IIT Kharagpur in 1952 as a student when that first IIT was only one year old and was functioning from an abandoned jail building. The WWII had ended a few years back and even the mighty American Universities and Colleges did not have much of engineering research. 
Around the same time India became independent and looking around our political leadership found that the country needs ‘world class’ engineering colleges to produce Engineers that would drive the country forward.  .. There was no emphasis on research and all the effort was to teach things that would be useful to the industries. In the initial stages teachers were recruited from the industries and there were practically no Doctorates in engineering departments at Kharagpur. We had Professors from UK, Germany, Russia, France and USA in engineering departments but all the research was confined to the Science Departments. Things started changing from 1964 onwards when the first Indian PhD in Civil Engineering was awarded by IIT Kharagpur.
Benchmark was acceptance by “our industries” and not research
It is possibly forgotten that in the decades of 1960-80 there was no Internet, no Xeroxing facility and only a very cumbersome cyclostyling facility was available in offices. Very few journals existed and even in IITs there was no funding for research by the Government till 1970-1 when the first good research grant was given by the Ministry of Defense to all the five IITs . The IITs and the government expected that the IITs would produce B Tech graduates comparable to the best in the world and everybody was proud of our product all around. From personal experience I can say that whenever we reviewed our performance the benchmark was acceptance by “our industries” – a fiction no doubt. Our students were highly successful in research and development orqanisations world over, something that made all of us Indians happy. We were blamed off and on for “brain drain” and that we were producing graduates that did extremely well in the USA and UK. Teaching and curricula had to suit the requirements of the Indian industries there. Despite all of this the faculty at the IITs did commendable research and we did exceedingly well there. In certain areas the publications in esteemed foreign journals from the IITs was higher than those produced by MIT, UCLA and Stanford. The Indian industry by and large was NOT interested in these research outcomes.
The blunder it was and the lack of  industry support 
If the requirement was research then we did a colossal blunder in concentrating on Under Graduate education  and that is persisting even today. The industry said we are good and the measure used for judging was “placement”.  Do we serve the industry or do some “not wanted” research. Our industry-controlled and run for the profit motif is full of “so called” industrialists who buy CKD and SKD goods from abroad and sell it in India. Where were the famous “industrialists” who are interested in any technical development? Research had become purely abstract like in science research and no industry was wanting it or bothered about it and actually had any use for it. It is easier to import the product and sell it rather spend money on developing it where the success rate of 10 percent return on investment is extremely good. Even if we take mass produced and consumed items like cell phone, fridge, refrigerators television sets, computers, laptops etc. we find that they are all foreign make. It appears that we have taken a vow and resolved that we will never produce mass consumption items like the ones cited above in our country. Naturally there is no need to do any research in items where major profits are made by Europeans, Americans, Koreans, Japanese, and lately Chinese. Maybe the Swiss Bank odyssey of our people is kept alive by such policies.
AND now suddenly we discover that we are nowhere in the Industrial development scene in the world and that IITs should have been doing industrial R &D but pray for whom.
The Malaise within
I hope it is understood that large number of B Tech would never take us forward in R & D.  We were busy getting our children admissions in IIT failing that in other look- alike and sending them abroad later if possible.  More than one hundred thousand students go abroad for education and not brain drain. ‘Satyanas’ of education was written when “Coaching” stopped all creativity avenues for a 14 year old Indian. His Nose to the grind of 4 hours coaching over and above the school hours and learning by mugging has taken away fun from school. His total focus is in getting admission into IIT or a good Medical College – failing that in a good engineering college. Again despite this urge the ordinary Indian family dreams of Indian Administrative Service because of “power”, money and prestige it gives to a society accustomed to a “ruler”.
Suggestion for future
An out of the box suggestion for making major changes in the IIT system is as follows.
  1. We change our system and make IITs to offer a 5 year M Tech (no B Tech) and an option of 7 year PhD programme for students who qualify in JEE. It should be attractive enough to get the best into it by offering good scholarships and freeships. If a student chooses the 7 year programme his entire 7 years should be tuition free plus a good fellowship. The IITs do not offer a B Tech programme but other colleges are free to do so. They could offer a five year M Tech plus PhD programme after the B Tech with attractive fellowships and freeships.
  2. Good number students getting in this IIT system should be given free tuition for all the seven years. Scholarship / fellowships of say 25,000 rupees or better to start with. (Medical education in USA follows this pattern) .
  3. Teachers in the IITs should have no fixed pay scale. Salaries to depend on his total commitment to research, publications, teaching ability, projects handled and consultancy. Such a Professor is treated as an asset.
  4. All industries are forced by legislation to spend 2 percent of their profit on relevant R and D.  Tax relief be built in the legislation. They be asked to fund for research in R & D areas of their activities.
  5. Like most of the countries that have a ‘certification for engineers’ we should have a compulsory legislation for certification of our B Tech qualified engineers. M Tech may be exempt.