September ’05 Issue: Q & A Avenue

I happened to visit ISM Dhanbad only a few days back to attend a symposium organized by the Society of Geoscientists and Allied Technologists (SGAT), Bhuvaneswar. One of the most memorable things at the place, apart from a podium finish for two teams from IIT Kharagpur, was the rendezvous with Prof. B.K. Mohanty.

Prof. Mohanty is a member of the first batch that graduated from the institute in the year 1956 and is Ex-Director of Mining & Geology, Orissa and currently the Advisor, SGAT. Its rather rare that we come across people from the very first batch. What was more interesting was the kind of energy and agility that he showed. Presented below are excerpts from a little chit-chat we had with him.

#Sir, which department were you in?

I was in the department of Geology and Geophysics as you might have guessed by now. Back in the fifties we had a 5 year B. Tech. course. Most of our classes were held in the old Hijli building. The new building, that you see today, had just begun to come up and was completed before we left.
(This new building was designed by a Swiss architect Werner M. Moser)

#Which hall were you in and any special remembrances from your stay there?

I was in the Nehru Hall. As a matter of fact we had only three halls then. Azad, Nehru and Patel, the PAN loop as you call it today.

#How is it that you know that we call the three halls as PAN loop today?

(Smiles) Well, are you surprised…you needn’t be, I was at the institute for the two Alumni Meets and am even looking forward to the upcoming Alumni Meet. Yeah, coming back to the halls. I do not specifically remember any such event but one thing… the water crisis. We had indeed a tough time dealing with it! You see, there wasn’t much of infrastructure then, the place was mostly overgrown. The Hijli station was there but very few trains halted there. There is something even more interesting… IIT had just one official transport, which it used to bring the guests from the railway station to the institute, guess what?… (we guessed it as a car) it was a truck, something that we today refer to as the “daala- tempo”.

There were not many departments then, Civil, Geology and Geophysics, Mechanical, Naval Architecture, Electrical and so on. The mechanical department however was very popular.

#What was the approximate strength of the students then?

Well, I cannot exactly give you the number but I can still tell you that there were 13 people in my department. But, Mechanical I can still recall had the highest strength at around 60. Most of the professors then were foreigners; you see IIT had been established with the help of the US. Almost all the Head of the Departments were from different countries. My head of the Department for that matter was from the University of Illinios.

What kind of facilities did you have then… like the mess, for example? How was

We did not have all the facilities that you people enjoy today. At our time, affording for a cycle was too big an ask, so we had to travel on foot all the way from Nehru to the old building, which is still some 250 meters further inside. I had seen students ride on motor cycles when I visited the campus last…a lot has changed since then! Today we have the internet and the Xerox machines…but we had to spend hours taking down notes in the library.

As far as the mess is concerned, care was taken to ensure that people from all over the country were satisfied with the food offered. So we had three varieties of daal. I still remember… once there was a huge paucity of wheat in the country and we were served only rice for the whole year!! Even the mess bill was very less.

#Any eating hangouts?

Yes, there was this Pal’s shop which served snacks just outside the Hijli Gate.

#What did you do when you were not studying?

We used to play a lot, table tennis and carom. We loved to go around Kharagpur on a bicycle, we really enjoyed it. As I said, not all of us had bicycles. We had to ‘double-up’ on a cycle, taking turns to ride the distance. We even had inter-department sports where Civil, Electrical and Mechanical were clubbed together as a team. I used to captain the ‘Rest’ team comprising of all the other departments.

Some even took to music like my friend Shantanu Mohapatra, who had composed the Institute Anthem. He went on to become a music director. We even watched a few movies which were screened in the halls itself.

It was indeed wonderful talking to you sir. It’s very rare that we come across people from the first batch, ones who flagged off the cruising ship which we today refer to as “The IITians”

Yeah, I can understand, it’s either believed that we must have already been sleeping the eternal sleep or that we have become very old, even unable to talk(laughs).

The entire room was filled with laughter and we took leave from Prof. Mohanty on a happy note.

The interviewing team comprised of Nishant Kumar (RP) and Rakesh Kumar Sinha (AZ), both from the Dept. of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering.

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