In the College

 

 

†††††† After writing my Higher Secondary Board examination I went to Simla. Pitaji had taken over as the Chief Secretary of the UnionTerritory of Himachal Pradesh. When I reached Simla he was living in a flat in the Annexe of the Grand Hotel. Its location was central as the Scandal Point on the Mall Road was less than 100 m from there. Simla is a ridge town. The Grand Hotelwas on the highest point of the ridge. On a clear day it commanded an uninterrupted view of the snow covered Himalayan ranges. I wastold that this flat was a temporary arrangement and soon we will shift to the Chief Secretaryís bungalow in Bemloe.

 

††† Jiji had gone to Pondicherry to bring back with her Radha Jiji, who, I understand, had completed the school stage of the Ashram School there. During Jijiís absence I took over the responsibility of running the household. Once I purchased a tin of Rath Vanaspati because it came with an offer of a free packet of sugar cubes. Pitaji asked me why I had bought Rath Vanaspati. He was satisfied with my reply that I was attracted by the free offer but advised that I should buy only the standard grocery items. As Jiji was away we ate eggs for breakfast. In the flat below ours in the Annexe of the Grand Hotel lived Ranga Saheb. He was the Accountant General. He had two sons and a daughter. The older son Ram was of my age. I used to play cards with Ram and his sister Bharati.I invariably lost when playing with them. The mystery of my losing game after gameswas solved when my sister who knew Tamil told me that the brother and sister were revealing their cards to each other in Tamil.

 

††† Pitaji was concerned about my sisterís marriage. He called a photographer home for taking her picture. She got suspicious and protested against getting herself photographed. The photographer suggested to Pitaji to tell my sister that he had come to photograph all the children and not her alone. We were made to stand together with Radha Jiji in the middle. Photographer extracted out from the group Radha Jijiís picture. From the old photographs I can easily pick out that picture.

 

††† Tauji-Taiji came with Amit to Simla fora vacation. Amit had recently undergone Yagyopavit (the thread ceremony). As a brhamachari he wore a dhoti for his evening prayers. He looked like a mini Vinoba Bhave to me. With my Baby Browny camera I took Amitís photographs in the pose of Vinoba Bhave and Mahatma Gandhi. During Tauji-Taijiís†† Simla visit,Jiji-Pitaji met a holy man who was mute. He could only make sounds like pai-pai and so we called him 'pai-swami'. Pitaji asked pai-swami to bless me with good health. Pai-swami asked me to come to him each day with a plate of salad vegetables which he would bless with prayers and I was asked to eat that for lunch instead of the regular meal. I am not sure whether this treatment helped me in gaining weight but it did me no harm.

 

††† Before the summer was over Pitaji received the result of my Higher Secondary Board examination. In spite of my poor performance in English andGeometrical and Mechanical drawing I was saved the ignominy of passing the examination in the third or the second division. I was rescued by my performance in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. I had passed in the first division. I was neither disappointed nor elated by my result and was ready to move to Delhi for my higher education at the University of Delhi.I was sixteen years old. Pitaji did not think it necessary to accompany me for getting me admitted in a college in Delhi. I am not sure whether even the course of study I should choose for higher studies was discussed by him with me. Bedding was packed for me in a holdall and my clothes were packed in a trunk. I made an overnight train journey to reach Delhi from Simla. From the Delhi Railway Station I may have taken an auto rickshaw for reaching Rouse Avenue where Tauji-Taiji lived.

 

††† Tauji was the chief secretary of the Union Territory of Delhi. I told Tauji that I wanted to join the St. Stephenís College and study B.Sc. (Physics Honours). Tauji spoke to the Deputy Commissioner of Delhi. I think his name was Shri Dube. I went to Rajpur Road to the residence of the Deputy Commissioner. He gave me a letter addressed to Professor Raja Ram, Principal, St. Stephenís College.

 

††† I met Professor Raja Ram. He asked me to show him my marks sheet. He looked at it and said that he can admit me to B.Sc. (Mathematics Honours). To my request that I wanted to do Honours in Physics, he said, ďI have denied admission in Physics Honours to applicants with more marks than you.Ē I returned home disappointed. Tauji found out that his friend Mr. Virendraís son Sudhir and nephew Ashok were in the 2nd year of the B.Sc. (Honours Physics) course in the Ramjas College. I met Sudhir and Ashok in the Ramjas College. They told me that the hostel of the college was good and it made no difference which college I joined because teaching was common for all students of the course and took place in the Department of Physics of the University. I met Shri B. B. Gupta, Principal, Ramjas College. He readily admitted me to the B. Sc. (Honours Physics) and asked me to meet Mr. B. N. Kaul, the warden of the hostel. Mr. Kaul was a pleasant person. His subject was philosophy. My first contact with him turned into a life-long relationship. I was given a single room in the hostel. My admission to the course was subject to approval of the Faculty of Science. Before long I checked that my name was on the list of students admitted to B. Sc. (Physics Honours) and was 110th in the list of 120 students admitted to the course that year.

 

††† Settling down in a hostel is a challenge of nerves for new entrants as it involves going through a tortuous rite of passage. Anthropologist Verrier Elwin had observed rites of passage in aghotul held by the Gond tribe for its youth.Ghotuls are dormitories in which youth of both sexes live together for sometime under the guidance of tribal elders and are prepared for married life. What takes place inside a ghotul as part of rites of passage is farmore civilised than what boys are subjected to by their seniors under the guise of ragging in hostels of colleges. I was saved from the crude and cruel indignity inflicted by the seniors because I was under the protection of Sudhir and Ashok. I could not protect myself from a similar rite of passage from adolescence to boyhood carried out by my class bully when I was in the Harcourt Butler School. The bully took it upon himself to educate me on man-woman relationship and he did so using the crudest possible language and images. In my school we boys were bound by an unwritten code of conduct that we will not squeal against our classmates to teachers in the school and under no circumstances to our parents or those of our tormentors. So the class bully would bring girly magazines and even pornography, which was freely circulated and read with keen interest during the school hours.

 

I will mention here an incident that I have not been able to forget even after more than fifty-five years. My school shared a boundary with the Birla Mandir. One day some women entered the school mistaking it for a passage to the temple. We were waiting for Mr. S. Lal, the Principal, as he taught English to us. As the women passed by our classroom they received whistles and lewd comments from the boys in my class. Mr. Lal was witness to this atrocious behaviour of his students. In extreme anger he entered the classroom and straight away confronted me. He said, ď I know you were not involved in this irresponsible act. All the same you have to identify the culprits.Ē I kept on looking down and did not utter a word. He was furious and asked for his cane. He decided to cane the entire class. He asked me to stretch both my hands and hold them still. On each hand he hit me with full swing of the cane and each time I received the cane my hand banged against the desktop. His cane broke before he finished with the first three students. The rest of the class felt relieved by this unexpected breaking of the cane. But the relief was short-lived. The school bus was sent to Connaught Place and more canes were obtained. Caning of the entire class was carried out. I had bruises on my both hands. There were visible marks and cuts where I was caned. My problem was how I would explain bruises on my hand if I got caught at home. I was advised by a classmate to explain that my bruises were caused by a fall from the bike on gravel. I was to apply vaseline on palms on reaching home. If vaseline was not available I could rub regular hair oil over my bruises. My good luck was that I managed to keep it concealed from my mother.

 

††† After spending the first night in my room in the hostel I went to the dining room for my breakfast. Aloo paranthas wereserved with ketchup. I could shift to the non-veg mess for breakfast, which I did. When I went for lunch I could not eat a morsel because the entire cooking was done using onion and garlic with vengeance. I had been raised on a diet free from onion and garlic. The evening meal in the hostel was no different. There was no one to complain to. If I wanted to stay in the hostel I had no choice but to eat whatever was served without grumbling. By the time I joined the college I was a big boy and big boys do not cry! There was no ceiling fan in the room. The first purchase I made was a table fan. It was not a luxury but a necessity. I brought my Hind cycle to the hostel. I needed it if I wanted to return to the Department of Physicsin time for the afternoon classes after taking my lunch in the hostel.

 

††† I was told that one other student in B.Sc. (Physics Honours) was also in the hostel. He was given a special room overlooking a garden by the warden. Supposedly he came with a high reputation of scholarship. His name was Parthasarthy Dasgupta. He was brusque with me. He told me that he had joined the Ramjas College because it was the only college of the University of Delhi which offered statistics as a subsidiary subject. I had not even heard that there existed a subject called statistics. I did not speak to Dasgupta again. I am told that he shifted from Physics to Economics after doing his B. Sc. (Physics Honours).

 

††† I recall the names of some of my friends from the hostel. One was a tennis player. His name was Gopal Banerjee. He had gone to England to play in the junior Wimbledon in July 1959. The other was Shankar Shivalingappa. He was from Mysore and spoke Kannada. He had to struggle to teach me the geography of Southern India to point out that not all those who lived South of Vindhyas were Tamil speaking ĎMadrasis'. I came to know that there were four distinct regional languages in southern India: Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. Shivalingappa came to visit me when we were living in Mysore. I visited him twice in Paris as he worked with UNESCO.Another friend was Rajrup; he was two years senior to me.Chaman Lal was a postgraduate student. We became close friends because he was a follower of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Later after teaching in the Motherís school in New Delhi Chaman Lal moved to Pondicherry andbecame an ashramite.

 

††† My life as a student was moving smoothly. There was no co-ordination between the teaching of physics and mathematics courses. A physics teacher started to teach vector calculus because he needed it for teaching electrostatics whereas we had not learnt elementary calculus in mathematics. My two subsidiary subjects were mathematics and chemistry. I liked mathematics but developed extreme dislike for chemistry. In the chemistry laboratory I could not stand the smell of hydrogen sulphide. In doing experiments on salts it was essential to pass hydrogen sulphide in test tube containing the dissolved salt to precipitate its compound. Hydrogen sulphide generator was kept out inthe open outside the lab but it smelled worse than rotten eggs. Also, the inorganic chemistry was taught without using the atomic model and it turned out to be an exercise in remembering lots of facts. Learning metallurgies of iron, zinc or aluminium made no sense because I could not visualise the industrial processes. I preferred organic chemistry as I could play around with the rules of carbon bonding and understand the chemical structure of complex organic molecules. As I was losing interest in chemistry a viable alternativewas to change my subsidiary from chemistry to statistics. I did not share my problem with anyone and so missed out on a possible solution. I continued to study chemistry. The other two subjects that were part of curriculum but only qualifying in nature that I studied were History of Science and Scientific Method and General English. Performance in these two subjects was not reflected in the marks sheet of the course. For the preceding batches of physics honours students subsidiary subjects were also qualifying in nature and their marks were not added with the physics marks in determining division or rank in the examination. As usual I was cavalier in my approach in handling learning of chemistry.

 

††† Learning physics was exciting. We were a privileged batch of students as Professor D. S. Kothari who was on leave of absence from the Department of Physics and was then the scientific advisor to the Ministry of Defence decided to teach us once a week. We used to wait for the arrival of his car which had several stars on its number plate. We enjoyed his teaching because his teaching method was unconventional. He would argue out that most of the formulas of physics could be derived using dimensional analysis. Once heestimated the value of Jouleís mechanical equivalent of heat in the classroom by performing an unconventional experiment. He asked one of the students to volunteer and come forward for the experiment. One boy who was unusually fat volunteered without realising what he was in for. Professor Kothari took his temperature. He had brought a thermometer and a weighing scale. The volunteer was weighed. Now Professor Kothari asked him to do 50 pushups. He told the class not to laugh as we were witness to an important physics experiment. Those times were different. The volunteer did 50 pushups before the class. As soon he finished the pushups volunteerís body temperature was measured. Professor Kothari said that let us assume that the volunteerís entire weight is that of water. By estimating the heatgained by the body and equating it with the work done against gravity in pushups the mechanical equivalent of heat was estimated. I have narrated this incident to illustrate the unconventional physics teaching by Professor Kothari.

 

††† After the first four weeks in the hostel we had a special dinner. I do not remember the occasion but can recall that it was held in the open in the hostel quadrangle. Perhaps, it wasthe wardenís welcome to the new inmates of the hostel. I remember the menu. We had tomato soup with croutons, matar-paneer, choley, raita, puris and fruit cream for dessert. I shared the details of this special meal with Jiji by writinghera letter.My letter was read out by Pitaji to his friends which included among others Mr. Raghunandan Joshi, who was then the Director of the institute for the probationers of the Indian Audit and Accounts Service in Simla. I came to know of it from Joshi Uncle when he met me at Taujiís home during a visit to Delhi.

 

††† As a 16-year-old I now enjoyed unprecedented freedom. I was free to go anywhere without reporting to anyone as long as I was back in the hostel before 10 pm. I used this freedom in seeing some Hindi films. When I lived with Jiji-Pitaji we were allowed to go to Sapru House to see films made by the Childrenís Film Society. I was curious to see an adult film. There were two adult films playing in theatres in Connaught Place. One was Psycho and the other was The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I was told that I would not be allowed in the theatre for seeing Psycho. I neither had hair growth on my upper lip nor hair on my face. Some seniors took me along to Rivoli theatre. I was asked to stand in the middle between two seniors and enter the movie hall with confidence. As the luck would have it the usher at the entrance to the theatre singled me out and said, ďYou cannot see an adult film!Ē I argued out that I was a college student. But it did not cut ice with him and I had to return disappointed without seeing The Hunchback of Notre Dame!

 

††† I was to go to Simla for the Dusshera vacations.Pitaji asked me to bring with me Mausi and Yogi to Simla. Yogi was less than three years old. When I reached Delhi Railway Station Mausaji, Mausi and Yogi were already there. Mausaji was happy to see me. He was keen that Mausi, Yogi and I travel by the Rail Car from Kalka to Simla. I was excited by this responsibility that was assigned to me. The fate made it my last meeting with†† Mausaji as he died in a tragic motorcycle accident when Mausi was in Simla. We did not know then what the future had in store for us. We travelled by the Rail Car from Kalka to Simla.The year was 1959. Systems placed by the British for their comfort were still in existence. The Rail Car stopped for a breakfast break at the Barog Railway Station, which is midway between Kalka and Simla. We went to the restaurant for our breakfast. I ordered non-veg breakfast. A sumptuous English breakfast was served to me. In spite of Mausiís suggestion I could not muster the courage to eat mutton cutlet. Jiji-Pitaji were still in the flat in the Grand Hotel Annexe. When we arrived Jiji was not at home. She had gone to escort back home Radha Jiji from the Auckland House School. She made her appearance in smart school uniform. I was told Jiji carried Radha Jijiís school bag from school to home. As I am writing from my memory incidents which took place fifty-five years back there may be inaccuracies but these are inadvertent slips, if any.

 

††† On my return journey by the Kalka Mail I got down at the Sabzi Mandi Railway Station and took an auto rickshaw to reach my hostel. By now I was well adjusted to my life as a student living in a hostel. The first academic year came to a close. I was to write qualifying examinations for the courses on History of Science and Scientific Method and General English. I went to the college office for collecting my hall-ticket. I was told it could not be given to me because I had not submitted the Certificate of Higher Secondary Board of Examination. From the college office I went to the Harcourt Butler School. It was perhaps past 4 pm when I reached the School. PrincipalS. Lal was happy to see me. He asked me the purpose of my visit to the School. I told him that I had come to collect my Certificate. The Principal said that as the school office was closed I should return tomorrow morning and meet the Head Clerk of the School. The Head Clerk looked for my certificate but it was untraceable. All the other students who had passed out with me had collected their certificates by October 1959 and I had come for it in March 1960. The Principal was supportive. He prepared a certificate for me giving details from school records and offered an apology for misplacement of my certificate by the school. Principal S. Lalís certificate was accepted and I was given my hall-ticket. But my problem was not solved. I had to obtain a new certificate from the Board and I did not know how to go about it. My friend Rajrup mentioned my problem to his classmate Ranjan. Ranjanís father was the Principal of the Air Force Higher Secondary school and was then on deputation to the Board of Higher Secondary Education. I went to his residence in the school premises near the Ashoka Hotel. Ranjanís father took details from me and asked not to worry. Within a week I received a certificate from the Board though it has duplicate written on top of it. I am recalling all these incidents because I am yet not seventeen years but am able to solve my problems.

 

††† I will mention a couple more incidents that come to my mind even today. For the summer vacation I went to Simla. Now Jiji-Pitaji were in the Chief Secretaryís bungalow in Bemloe. We had many visitors at home that summer. Swami Shantanandji and Mataji were there and so was Shri Vidyavratji, a famous photographer from Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. I was keen to learn photography from Vidyavratji. He allowed me to use his Rolleiflex camera. I took Swamijiís picture and processed it in a darkroom under the direction of Vidyavratji. That photograph in a steel frame has a prominent place in Jijiís puja room. Pitaji asked me to escort Mataji to Kalka for taking the train to Calcutta. That in itself was a normal task but I felt disappointedwhen I came to know that during my absenceeveryone went with Swamiji tothe Retreat for meeting Babu Rajendra Prasad, the then President of India.

 

††† Some five or six hostel mates came to Simla on vacation. I offered to take them on a hike to Narkanda, which is about 40 miles from Simla. We covered the hike in two days. On our return all my friends came home to meet Pitaji. Pitaji asked us to set our target in life. I understood that what he was telling the group was essentially addressed to me. He wanted me to get into civil services and make that as an objective for me to study for. I did not accept it.

 

††† After the summer vacations I returned to the hostel for studying the second year of the course. I was making good progress in physics. I continued to avoid chemistry practical classes without worrying that it was essential that I obtain a pass in the examination to be held at the end of the academic year.

 

††† The other important event that took place in my life that year was my visit to Mussoorie with my grandfather. He took me along with him to meet his friend Dinanath Babaji who had come from Calcutta with his family to Mussoorie for the Puja holidays. It was an enjoyable vacation. I spent part of my time with a hostel mate whose father was the bursar of a prominent Christian School in Mussoorie.

 

††† I wrote my final examinations of the subsidiary courses at the end of the academic year. I was quite comfortable with mathematics and did well in it. My performance in organic chemistry bailed me out from my performances in inorganic chemistry and the chemistry practicals. The punch line of this narration is that my performance in physics was outstanding. I was ranked second in the group of 120. In two years time I had moved from the 110th position to the 2nd position. I was awarded the science exhibition by the Faculty of Science for my performance in physics. Science exhibitions were book grants and were given to students for outstanding performance in science subjects. I continued to receive science exhibitions each year till I completed my postgraduate studies in physics. This was the turning point in my life. I had successfully left behind all that I did not like to study and under performed.I could see now see a research and teaching career in physics for myself.

 

 

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