On completion of my M Sc examinations in Nagpur in the summer of 1954, I went to stay with my parents in Manendragarh (In the north western district of Koria in present Chhattisgarh), where my father worked as station master. On reaching there, however, I found my father had been temporarily transferred to Shahdol, hundred kilometres west on the Bilaspur Katni branch line of the railway. My mother and younger siblings had shifted to Shahdol. My brother Jaganmohan who was in final year in Government Engineering College at Jabalpur joined me in Manendragarh.
We had for company, Sri Tejomurthula Venkata Rao, a distant relation, who was a railway train guard. He had been an active freedom fighter until he left the independence movement under family pressure and sought a job on the railways. He had been District Secretary of the Congress Party and had also been jailed by the British. He was on familiar terms with many senior Congress leaders including some in the central cabinet. We enjoyed visiting him because he had many stories to tell us. When the Deputy Labour Minister visited Manendragarh, TV Rao garu met him and introduced us as his nephews. The minister was an unassuming person, sans bodyguards, rude followers and hangers on. He greeted Rao garu like an old friend and was kind and courteous with us.
Mohan and I used to visit the station book stall for the newspaper for my results. The stall used to get a Hindi newspaper published in Baikunthpur. The news would be three to four days old. When the results came, they were hidden in a corner of the newspaper. My name was on top with a first division, but I had tied for the first place with PP Godshalwar. I went to Shahdol immediately to share the good news with my parents.
My father asked me to go to Nagpur to look for a job. In Nagpur, I met my classmates and my teachers to chalk out the line of action. Our college principal advised us to submit applications for the job of lecturers to the education department of the government of Madhya Pradesh (After the British left, CP and Berar was renamed Madhya Pradesh). I visited the secretariat and personally handed over a hand-written application to the Deputy Secretary, who received it courteously and promised to intimate me when the need rose. Later, one of my classmates took me to meet some people in ICI but the effort came to nothing. British Companies like ICI, Levers and ITC preferred persons from well-connected families, irrespective of their academic achievements, while Tatas were known to be partial to Parsis and Birlas to Marwaris.
Towards the end of July, I got a letter from the MP government offering me the post of a lecturer in Chemistry in Mahakoshal Mahavidyalaya at Jabalpur. My friends congratulated me but felt sorry that I had to teach in MMV as the students there were reputed to be unruly and rough. Their opinion was based on the inter-collegiate encounters our college sports team had with the teams from that college, in which our players were badly bruised by their opponents ignoring all rules of fair play. I was left with a feeling of apprehension as I prepared to go to join my first job.
Early in August 1954, I took the morning bus from Nagpur arriving at Jabalpur after 2 PM. The Engineering College was in the outskirts of Jabalpur. A long cycle rickshaw ride took me to Mohan's hostel about ten km from the bus station. On the following morning, I reported to the Principal, Mahakoshal Mahavidyalaya. In those days, all faculty members wore suits in the college, irrespective of the season. I had never worn one until then. I got a grey coloured cotton gabardine suit stitched in Nagpur for the purpose and Mohan borrowed a tie from one of his well to do hostel mates. It took a while to get the tie knotted as I had no clue and Mohan was still learning the trick. It was also a pain to wear shoes. My injured heel had forced me to avoid shoes and wear only chappals right through my school and college. But now it could not be avoided so I bore the pain and emerged self-consciously from the hostel and headed for my college.
The Principal of MMV was Dr NG Shabde, a professor of mathematics who had taught earlier in College of Science, Nagpur. He received me courteously and got the formalities completed for joining the college as a temporary lecturer in chemistry in Class II (Lower Grade), on a salary of Rs 225 plus Dearness Allowance of Rs 40 only.
Dr Shabde was transferred out within a year of my joining the college. He was kind-hearted and ever polite but had no memory for names, so you had to re-introduce yourself every time you met him. Many were the stories told about his forgetfulness. On one occasion, he had to introduce his faculty members to a visitor but could only recall the names of the HODs. The rest were introduced as Mr Reader, Mr Asst. Professor, Mr Lecturer and so on! Even more amusing was an incident in which he was introducing the Vice Chancellor, who had the mouth filling name of Pandit Kunjilal Dube, to the audience. “It is my proud privilege to introduce to you” he began, “our beloved Vice Chancellor Panjit Kundilal, er.... Kanjit Pundilal, sorry..... Kandit Punjilal....” He carried on with various permutations except the right one until the agitated dignitary grabbed the mike from him and bawled out his name into it to silence the giggling audience.
In the chemistry department, I reported to Prof HW Patwardhan, who completed the paperwork and took me to the staff room to introduce me to the other faculty members. Dr TC Jain was a Reader, while SC Bose was Asst. Prof; the rest, namely MV Karbelkar, WA Marawar, RP Tiwari and RR Shrivastava were Lecturers, as was BA Mande, whom I was to replace on his transfer to Amraoti. I noticed that all of them were more than a decade older than me. When I told them that I was staying with my brother in the Engineering College hostel, RR Shrivastava offered to help me find a better place to stay.
“I will take you to meet your namesake” he said, “He is a bachelor with a big bungalow all to himself.”
Dr MS Ramarao was Reader and Head of the Dept. of Geology. He was a fast talking Andhrite whose full name was Manthena Sri Rama Rao. He had just returned to India after completing his Ph D from Glasgow.
“The accident of birth took place in a Brahmin family” he told me, while showing me around his sprawling bungalow. He said I was welcome to stay with him. In later years I was to meet his youngest brother Krishna Rao who had joined the Indian Railways after topping in IIT Khargpur.
Later that day I met Prof Ganesan, Head of the Department of Physics. His son G Bagavant was my classmate in College of Science doing B Sc (Hons) in chemistry. Prof Ganesan struck me as an honest and sincere person with great integrity. He took me to his house, another sprawling bungalow, introduced me to his family and invited me to stay with them. Dr Ganesan was related to Nobel Laurates, Dr CV Raman and Dr S Chandrasekhar.
When I returned to the staff room, Prof Patwardhan talked to me about my teaching schedule and asked me if I was willing to teach post graduate classes that had just commenced in MMV. The college had only undergraduate classes so far and the faculty, barring Dr Jain, had no experience with post graduate teaching and were also out of touch with the latest developments in the subject. I had no objection, so he assigned me theory classes and made me Dr Jain's deputy for the post graduate lab. But my elation was soon dampened when Prof Patwardhan assigned me to take the chemistry theory classes for B Sc (Previous), also called third year. I knew that it would be a tough class to teach. When students enter college premises for the first time, they are overawed by the atmosphere, and miss the close teacher-student relationship they are used to in school. As they make the necessary adjustments, they find themselves in the second year, at the end of which they face a university examination and they remain docile and studious. Those who return to college in their third year have either failed to make it to engineering and medical streams or don’t care about them. They are now seasoned and carefree as they face no University exam at the end of the session. I kept my fears to myself and nodded in consent.
I prepared diligently for my first lecture, making notes on small pieces of paper that went into an easily accessible pocket of my coat. When it was time for my lecture, I picked up a liberal supply of chalk sticks, stuffed them into my pocket and strode firmly to the chemistry lecture theatre. As I entered, I had a quick look at the young eager faces before me. Most of them wore a look of expectancy but a few boys high up in the back benches looked back at me with amused expressions. The two girls in the class, one of them fair and good looking, sat demurely on the first bench. I opened the roll call register to record the attendance but after one look at the first name I closed it, realising that the name had a similarity with an object that could arouse mirth and could well throw the class out of my control. I decided to finish my lecture first. I rattled off my lecture, meant to last for the full period of forty minutes, in 30 minutes flat without pause and without referring to my notes. The class listened in silence, appearing dazed by the time I finished. Then I took the roll call but there was still time left and as I waited for questions several boys shouted “introduction”, “introduction” in a chorus. I introduced myself briefly and quit the theatre with still a few minutes to go. When I returned to the staff room, I was accosted by my HOD, “What? finished so quickly? Did the boys trouble you?”
“No, Sir” I replied, “I finished my lecture too soon.” He looked relieved. It seems he was also tensed up for my first class.
I had also been assigned lab classes both with first and second year, Intermediate Science, and the B Sc previous class I had taught in my first lecture. When I went to take the practical class for these students on the following day, the boys crowded around me and told me that they hadn't followed a word of my lecture because I spoke English too fast! I replied that since I had no previous experience of delivering a lecture in a class, I must have been carried away. I thanked them for the feedback and promised to make my lectures easier to follow. Indeed, this feedback helped me to mould my style and better my communication skills for the rest of my short teaching career.
Two days after I joined MMV, two new entrants joined our department as lecturers, CB (Champalal Biharilal) Gandhi and GD (Gangadhar) Tewari. Gandhi was my classmate in M Sc in College of Science, Nagpur, while Tewari had done his M Sc from Allahabad. The results of the HSC examination had thrown up a bumper crop of students aspiring to join colleges, particularly in the science streams leading to engineering and medical courses. The government decided to meet the demand by increasing the number of seats in intermediate science classes, adding extra sections in the first year of Intermediate Science. Additional posts of lecturers were created to strengthen the faculty. Gandhi and Tewari were recruited to fill these posts. It was a relief to get colleagues from my own age group and we became friends immediately. Gandhi was staying with Sri Mayaram Surjan, the editor of a local Hindi daily newspaper called Navbharat and Tewari was with a friend. Both were looking for a place to stay at the earliest. I told them about my exploratory efforts, and we all agreed that it would be more convenient to stay in the city. We learnt about a place in Wright Town that provided rooms for bachelors. It was called Dube's Quarters, but we learnt that all rooms were in the lodge were occupied. Mohanlal Kandhari, a kind-hearted man, whom everyone called Babuji, was the owner of an eating place called Raj Restaurant in the same property. Babuji prevailed upon the owner to allow the three of us to share a room located behind the Restaurant in the interim. We lost no time in occupying it. The bus terminus was only a short walk from our abode. There was a bus to the ordnance depot in Khamaria that went past our college. It was a convenient way to commute.
Soon, our day to day life fell into a routine. For want of lecture halls, classes for the new sections in I Sc were held in the mornings. Tewari and Gandhi would leave early and return in the afternoon, while I would go to college at the normal timing from 10 AM to 5 PM. We joined Raj Restaurant for meals on monthly payment basis but made our tea in the room itself. In the evenings, we explored the city and got to know each other.
One of my chores in the morning was to collect the post and leave the letters for the other two on the table for them to pick up on return from college. About a fortnight after we began staying together, I collected the post as usual and as I proceeded to sort them out my glance fell on the last line of a post card to Tewari from one of his friends. “My regards to your dear wife” it read. Gandhi and I knew each other from our college days and were sure of our single status. Tewari had so far behaved as if he was a bachelor too. This information, therefore, came as a surprise. I decided to play a trick. I knew that Gandhi returned earlier, so I put this post card close to Gandhi's pile of letters in the hope that it would catch his eye too. When I returned from college Gandhi gave me a knowing look. The ploy had worked. That evening Tewari had much explaining to do. We ragged him to tears and made him apologise profusely for what we both considered a breach of confidence. At the end of it, however, we forgave him and helped him to find a place to set up house. A short while later, we got separate rooms in Dube's quarters, and Tewari found an apartment in Napier Town.
Fresh recruits joined in other departments too, so the college had a crop of young men freshly out of college on the faculties. Naturally, we became closer amongst ourselves than with the older guys who, as I mentioned earlier, were more than ten years older. BG Dhande, SG Patil and K Premasagara Rao in the Physics department, MG Paithankar, another of my former classmates in Geology and MN Keskar in Maths. There were two young men in Geography, one of whom insisted we call him Murli. LN Patki, who had a slight stammer, in Botany and in Zoology, Namita Choudhury the only woman amongst us. She was my contemporary from College of Science. Following the mores of the time, our mutual interaction was limited to a distant hello if we ran into each other, in the corridors, in the library or elsewhere.
With the men, though, it was different. We bonded with each other immediately, the degree of closeness being determined by our proximity at work as well as residence. Many of us stayed in Wright Town. Dhande lived on our street and Premasagar at the end of the same street. Prof. Marawar too lived nearby. He had a younger brother, Sridhar, whose nickname was Madhu. He was Dhande's classmate in B Sc, had completed M Sc Geology and was waiting for a job. Keskar and Paithankar had rented a place close by and Prof G Subbarao of Geology too lived in Wright Town. We often met several others in Raj Restaurant. I took many pictures with a Kodak Box camera.
We got together for picnics around the city, including visits to Bhedaghat. A boat ride in the Narmada on a full moon day through marble rock gorge was an experience of a lifetime. The experience is now lost with the construction of a barrage across the Narmada at Bargi resulting in higher level of water in the gorge and lower height of the Dhuandhar falls.
Mahakoshal Mahavidyalaya, located in Gokalpur, in the outskirts of Jabalpur consisted of several buildings inherited from British days, when it was called Robertson College. One large building was now occupied by the Government Engineering College. In fact, the entire premises, including hostels had been allotted to the Engineering College and MMV was to be shifted to a new building in Pachpedhi. The Chemistry and Physics departments were housed in the two wings of a separate building. It became a practice for us to meet in the Physics lab in our free time. In the evenings, Patil, who lived in Ganjpura, would cycle down to Wright Town to meet us and we would chalk out our plans for the day, visiting someone, having coffee and dosas in India Coffee House, served with knives and forks - a novelty for us, seeing a film or simply chatting away.
My salary was Rs 265, including a dearness allowance of Rs 40. I had promised my father that I would take care of the needs of Mohan so long as he was in the engineering college. I had, accordingly, earmarked 100 rupees for him and used the rest for my own expenses. It was more than enough for my needs that included boarding and lodging, transport and entertainment in the form of movies, of which we were all very fond. I managed to save enough to buy myself a Favre-Leuba wristwatch costing a princely sum of Rs 175 and, come winter, stitch for myself a woollen suit costing Rs 150, in addition to the cotton suits I had to acquire to augment my wardrobe.
Tapas Kumar Das (John), one of my friends from Nagpur, was employed in the Gun Carriage Factory (GCF) near Jabalpur. He would turn up on Sundays and we would adjourn to the Madras Restaurant nearby, for his weekly dose of Masala Dosas. He would gorge on them eating 10 to 12 dosas before washing them down with coffee. My other friends were not much impressed either by his apetite for dosas or his cynical observations and would leave me to entertain him all by myself.
Another such isolated soul was RV Bansod, who was my classmate in Hislop College in 1947-49. Studying for M Sc in Mathematics, he lived alone in a rented room and was a boarder in Raj Restaurant. He was a bit of a genius and his conversation and views were on a different plane, which most people failed to grasp and so treated him as a madcap. I was the only one who would share his table when he came to dine. The conversation would range from English literature to history, to philosophy and general knowledge. I never ceased being amazed at his wide range of reading and his grasp of subjects so far removed from his core subject of mathematics. He made things worse for himself by oversleeping on the day of his exam and losing a year thereby. He was always short of money and ran up huge bills in Raj Restaurant. On top of that, he borrowed money from the owner of the joint, playing on Babuji's kindness. The latter confided in me and I tried to comfort him, but we were in for another surprise. Bansod suddenly vanished. No one knew where he had gone. It was rumoured that he had used borrowed money to get a suit stitched. Was it to attend some interview? Someone vaguely recalled that Bansod had said something about appearing for IAS. But Mohanlal Kandhari lost over a thousand rupees in dues and loans. Sad and dejected, he decided to write off his losses, ruing the day he had befriended this intelligent looking, glib young man with keen, darting eyes in the vain hope that he would make good one day and rise well above his present standing in society. Others, who had shunned him so far began to wear the I told you so look whenever the topic turned to the truant. A bad egg is a bad egg, everyone said, and with that he was dismissed from our thoughts. In course of time it was discovered that Bansod had been selected for central services, but no one had any clue about the service he was allotted or his place of posting. But we hadn't reckoned with Bansod's ability to spring surprises. Several months later, Babuji received a money order. It was from Bansod to clear all the dues as well as the loan amount. There was also a letter. Bansod was an officer in the IA and AS, posted in Mumbai. Bansod apologised for the delay in clearing the debt. He had to save from his salary and raise a loan from the co-operative bank in his office. “No words can adequately express my gratitude to you for helping me out in the time of need. I am what I am today because of the faith you reposed in me” he wrote. Babuji wiped a tear from his eye as he read out the last sentence to me. His faith in human beings had been restored.
The faculty members of chemistry department would meet for tea during the recess. Treats were ordered on Wednesdays by the secretary of what was called the Wednesday Club. RP Tiwary was the secretary when I joined the college. Since we were located far from the city, the only source of tea and snacks was the college canteen. The quality of the tea was very poor, and the oil used for frying samosas was so bad that they were referred to as mobil oil samosas. When the senior faculty asked me to be the next secretary, I decided to do something about it. With the active assistance of Gandhi and GD Tewari, I was able to organize to cart sweets and potato chops from a Bengali sweetmeat shop in the city. Wednesday Club welcomed the change and thanked us.
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