Scholars’ Avenue catches up with Mr. Sandipan Deb while he’s in town for the Careerz Fest. Here’s what we bhaated about…
# Prima facie, your opinion of Scholars’ Avenue?
Really nice, I must say. Very good! For me, a Kgp alumnus, to get to know about Tarapada and Cheddi da was more than enough (from the Foundation Day issue).
#Sir, has anyone ever mentioned to you that your face is very similar to that of Netaji?
LOTS OF PEOPLE!! You know, when Shyam Benegal was making his film on Netaji, I was wondering if he would contact me!!!
# We’ve heard there was a mess strike in Kgp & that was when Veggies was born. Is that so?
From where do you people find out such things!! Yes, this was right before our final examinations. The mess workers went on a strike, but their demands were quite valid. They worked on contract for the govt. but didn’t get any benefits like PF and gratuity. So someone would work here for 40 years and go back to his village in Andhra with almost no savings.
Mr. Russi Modi, chairman of TISCO, was the chairman of the Board of Governors at that time. He sent back all students except the final years, so that they would pass out in time. TISCO canteen took over the food supply here. Every morning, trucks would come here from Jamshedpur with armed guards. The gymkhana became the mess for all final years.
Mr. Modi refused to negotiate with the mess workers until they ended their strike. The MP from Kgp, Narayan Pande, who had been winning for some 20 years from here, went on a hunger strike at the main gate in support of the strikers. But then he found no one was paying any attention to him and went home!
The strike broke and Mr. Modi issued tenders for restaurants in the campus. That was when veggies happened. Russi Modi negotiated with the workers and we believe most of their demands were met.
# What were the popular hangouts of your time?
Umm… Chhedis never closed. The only time it closed was after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Harrys was much smaller then. It was just a small tea- stall with three benches or so. This guy has really expanded since then. Ram Das stall was really popular for its nimbu shikanji. On holi, he used to give kulfi with bhang!
# Talking about Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination, were there any fallouts of the riots in Kgp?
There were no fallouts here as such. Rajiv Gandhi was in Kgp at that time addressing a meeting. It so happened that we had a class that morning… some mechanical subject… and we all decided to en masse bunk that class. Someone wrote on the blackboard ‘ we are going to see the next PM of India’ referring to Rajiv Gandhi. By afternoon, we got the news of the assassination, Rajiv Gandhi flew to Delhi and by evening, he was PM!!
There were no riots or anything, but there was academic chaos because IIT didn’t know how to handle such a situation. Consequently, we had holidays for 3 – 4 days.
There were Sikhs among us… one of them was an Architecture final year and these people had to go for a 6 month training in their 9th sem. This guy had his training in Delhi at that time and when he came back, he was without hair and beard as a protective measure.
# What was the most memorable incident during your stay here?
Umm… Prof G. S. Sanyal was the director in my 4th or 5th year. He was the best prof I have ever come across.
He loved teaching so much that even when he was director, he took a subject of ours called Electro Magnetic theory… bloody toughest subject in the world. He taught it so well…
From him, I learnt something about being a teacher… sometimes, he’d miss a class because of some work and send a substitute but then he’d apologize in the next class.
# When you initially started out in journalism, did you ever feel that you would have been better off with a degree in arts?
NOT AT ALL! I enjoyed Kgp thoroughly. Just to spend some time in a campus with so many bright people is great. I don’t consider my time here as wasted at all. The friendships you make here last for life.
As you grow older, there are no families like cousins and uncles as such… but the friends you make here… if I am ever in need… cancer or I need money or even if I need to have my daughter dropped somewhere… even if I haven’t been in contact with a friend for 5 – 6 years, I know he’ll be there for me.
You know, when I was writing my book, I went to the US… and when I met my friends there, it was as if we were just meeting after a weekend… as if nothing had changed!
# Talking about your book, the book focuses on the IITians who have made it big and are famous. But what about the not-well-known IITians…
Umm… the average IITian… see there’ll always be the bell curve… the normal distribution… (draws the curve in the air)… there are some people who are famous and are disproportionately talked about… then there are those at the other end of the bell curve… those who don’t do well…
These are people who stop growing after leaving IIT… for whom getting into IIT or becoming the g. sec so-cult was the highlight of their life…
Then, there is the middle group… lots of them do good work… keep the economy going… they own businesses and employ 100-200 people but are unknown. There are lots of non-flashy IITians who are just content with doing their work…
Of course… there are lots of losers too!!