Ashok Khanna, is the Co-Founder and now the Vice Chairman C&S Electric Ltd. (formerly Controls & Switchgear Co. Ltd. & Group Companies). He graduated from IIT Madras in 1967 with a B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering. Meet him at his talk ” Entrepreneurial Success of 2 IITians in setting up an enterprise” on November 25th at 5pm in ICSR auditorium.
How I joined IIT Madras
To begin with, I had no intention of coming to study as far as Chennai from Delhi and in 1962 my first choice was obviously to go to Kanpur which had just begun its new campus. IIT Delhi didn’t exist at that time. My 2nd choice was to go to IIT Kharagpur because my brother had just graduated the same year from IIT Kgp. As luck would have, on account of the delay in receipt of the interview call and the persuasion by Prof. Sampath and Prof. Ramakrishnan at the interview in IITK, I was convinced to stay with my choice of doing Mechanical Engineering. IIT Madras was the best choice they said, where existed enormous facilities, laboratories and workshops equipped with German machines and equipments which were outstanding in every way- along with outstanding faculty.
Looking back, I have no regrets and I do not think I could have done better than pursue my engineering studies at IIT Madras. Besides the curriculum and the equipment, I feel fortunate in having had fabulous teachers all through and even experienced the German teachers in some subjects- particularly Prof. Koch for Physics- he made complex things so simple!
The Hostel Life (Narmada & Krishna)
For the first two years starting mid 1962, I was assigned to stay at Narmada hostel- I stayed in room no. 120. Throughout the 3rd to 5th year I stayed at Krishna Hostel. The memories are embedded so deep and varied that these can never be forgotten and I guess its true for everyone since this is a period in life when you are growing, discovering yourself as well as the world around and starting to live independently. There were no stringent rules in the hostel and the first month was indeed a riot.
1962 was a year of National Integration observed by the IITs and consequently there was a mix of students from all the states and as such we had a large group of people from the Northern part of the country at Chennai. We were so noisy that within a month, the Director- Prof. Sen Gupta called us in to give us a talk and explained that he found that we were the rowdiest batch in the institute, and reminded us that despite the freedom given, we must observe a certain discipline.
Due to the mix of students from all over the country, English was the spoken language. Thinking back, I regret having lost the opportunity to learn Tamil beyond the essential for talking to the Mess server, dhobi and bus conductors etc.
Amongst other distinct events I remember, the young lecturers who were Assistant Wardens of Narmada hostel were having a tough time to keep us in check. They had to bear with sudden burst of crackers outside their windows since these had been hung with strings from the terrace with a cigarette butt to act as a timer! I must admire the sporting attitude which eventually won us over and we were friends with the young lecturers who were our assistant wardens.
It was a time to make new friends and consequently we ended up chatting with each other for long hours, some played cards and we even went out on cycles those days to watch movies or eat out when were were fed up with the hostel food.
Unique Sport Opportunities
Close proximity to the Riding School (behind the Raj Bhavan) and the Adyar Boat Club which provided concessional fee for the students was a tremendous opportunity for me to pursue totally different and new sports. For 3 to 4 years i.e from 1963 to 1964, I remember getting up early morning to go for an hour’s ride, cycling through Saidapet village to return for a quick bath and breakfast before start of the classes. Likewise, as soon as the day ended we cycled back to change and cycled to the Adyar Boat Club, parked the cyle across the river and hailed for a boatman to reach the club. We rowed till we were dead tired and yet cycled back for dinner and a little bit of studies thereafter. I along with some friends won a Regatta in Pairs and Fours. This helped us in being relieved from the compulsory NCC after classes in those days.
Among other things, I recall the system of 2 or 3 periodical surprise tests each week in addition to the half yearly and the final exams. Eventually weightage of all these in the final results appeared impossible to cope up with, but being regular helped in quick learning and taking these tests in our stride.
I remember having gone for movies even during the final exams. The Sunday movies in the Open Air Theatre were fun and the Annual Day of the Hostel was very special. Once again, being attentive during classes and a bit of daily work made it possible to enjoy life as well.
I am sure for students today, things are the same or even better. I also know that when one is going through the rigors of the IIT, everything does not seem as wonderful as one may recall that to be several years later. This is so because when people say “good old days”they say so because they do not have to live through them again! I am sure you will do likewise one day.