The unforgettable first experiment in hydraulics lab
- Prabhat Kumar Rai -
I was admitted to the erstwhile BCE in 1969 and did my graduation in Electrical Engineering from the great temple of learning. In those days, the Institute offered courses in only three main branches viz. Civil, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. In the initial years of 5-Yr integrated Electrical Engineering course, we were taught rudimentary subjects of Civil and Mechanical Engineering as well. Civil Engineering Department was considered as ‘royal’ department – more equal among the equals – as it boasted of sizeable faculty, spacious labs and rich infrastructure. It enjoyed the pride of place as it was predominantly ensconced in the imposing main building of the College. Most of our classmates would flaunt and brag with supercilious air about their studying Electrical Engineering, albeit it was relatively small department, owing to the subjects being quite abstruse. It was conceivably difficult to conceptualise and conjure up the invisible electricity mired in the maze of equations and plethora of mathematical treatments. The concept of ‘flux’, ’field’, ’vector’ and ‘wave’ – to quote few dreaded terms – appeared truly incomprehensive and at times, confounding. They thought they were pursuing a superior course than their counterparts in Civil and Mechanical Engineering. This feeling of superiority resulted in harbouring some sort of disdain for the subjects of Civil and Mechanical Engineering which were taught to us. The contemptuous neglect for those subjects was reflected in lack of attention and seriousness in such classes including the laboratories and the sessionals. An undesirable feeling that these are not our core subjects gripped most of us which also had rebarbative effect. We thought it worthwhile to maximise our perseverance in pursuing our own core subjects conveniently forgetting the importance, interrelationship and interdependencies of the subjects of the various branches.
I vividly remember the first day of Hydraulics Lab which turned out to be quite eventful. Prof Santosh Kumar of Civil Engineering Department, who was quite youthful, energetic and reputed for didacticism was in charge of the lab class. The hydraulic machines and appliances of various shapes and sizes installed in a big hall appeared intimidating as we ushered in the lab. Prof Santosh Kumar, after a brief interaction, took us round the lab and shown us the nooks and crannies to broadly familiarise us with the experiments which were to be performed in the successive classes. During the familiarisation session, the Professor repeatedly told us to be attentive as disinterest was writ large on the faces of most of us. I listened to the Professor intently throughout session. Most of us surmised that being the introductory, non-formal class, no formal report will be needed. But, much to our discomfiture, it proved to be erroneous. At the end of the session, the Professor instructed us to bring a write-up in the next class on whatever has been learnt, observed and experienced in this first class treating it as the first experiment. All of us were horrified and taken aback. Most of us were non-serious and inattentive during the class, paid precious little attention on what the professor exuding sincerity of purpose expounded in a didactic manner. It was by far an extremely difficult task. Most of our friends consulted seniors who gave some tips and also books dealing with the experiments in the Hydraulics lab. Most of us copied mercilessly the paragraphs from the books which were certainly incongruous as they were not mentioned in the class by the Professor. The seniors advised us to write the sessional report with abundant care, in fine calligraphy and also embellish it with eye-catching diagrams so as to impress the Professor which will in turn fetch high marks. The first impression was likely to be the last impression; hence, we were extra cautious while preparing the first report. Somehow the method adopted by my friends did not appeal to me. I was not convinced of writing anything beyond what was intended by the Professor. Some of my friends, I still remember, described Bernoulli’s equation, determination of energy loss for pipelines in case of steady flow, head loss coefficient for an orifice meter, comparison of head losses through different size pipes at the same flow rate, determination of pipe friction factor etc. which were neither covered in theoretical classes by that time nor described by the professor in the first, brief session. Few unrelated paragraphs were lifted from the Fluid Mechanics books to adorn the pages of the report to make it technically impressive.
I prepared a report which was broadly non-technical. I let my imagination have its way and expressed my feelings and impression right from the entry into the lab till the end of the session. I described the morbid dread which the long hall of the laboratory with high ceiling interspersed with odd equipments evoked. The musty torpor of the lab was tellingly described. I mentioned about the defective components and spares lying haphazardly on the floor, water oozing out of the leaky flange joints and suffused on the floor, insufficient light, plenty of cobwebs in the neglected corners, paints on the machines wearing off etc. I did include sprinkling of what the Professor had told during the introductory session while taking us round the lab. In a free-wheel generation of ideas, I had also given some suggestions which occurred to me during the brief but eventful visit to the lab. I had suggested some measures to spruce up the lab. I was mortally afraid my non-technical report might not pass the muster as it paled into insignificance given the pretentious and highly technical presentation embellished by diagrams by my friends. The budding engineers were expected to follow standard specifications with regard to report writing.
Apprehensive as I was, I did show my report to my classmates. All of them, without an exception, ridiculed my write-up and belittled it as a non-technical essay rather than a technical report expected of would-be-engineers. Some of my friends tried to persuade me to copy their reports which were in a proper format methodically outlining objective, theory, anticipated results, apparatus, procedure, results, discussion, conclusion, critique, references, appendix etc. They emphatically cautioned me to change over to their format of technical report which has been Okayed by the seniors and insert few diagrams which are essential ingredients of a good sessional report. As was wont those days, write-up on fine papers in neat calligraphy placed in a glossy cover prominently depicting the characteristic monogram of BCE apart from usual details of the student, roll no. and topic etc. formed the report. We used even multi-coloured tags to give it outwardly attractive look.
I was not in favour of going beyond the ambit of what the Professor had prescribed for the first experiment. In the next class I submitted my bland and rather lack-lustre report apprehensively and got down to the next experiment. After about 5 days, when Electronics was being taught in the lecture theatre on the ground floor of the main building, a peon entered with an errand asking me to meet Prof Santosh Kumar. It was quite uncommon those days to be summoned by a Professor while the course was in session. My friends blurted, ‘ you have ignored our advice and submitted thoroughly unimpressive and non-technical report which might have provoked the professor and now you have to face the wrath of the professor.’ I was quite uptight and petrified. I walked to Professor’s chamber gingerly & tiptoed into the room with trepidation. Seeing my report in the hands of the professor, I was sure my worst fears were soon to come true and severe dressing-down would follow.
The Professor looked at me tentatively and appeared visibly trying to size me up. He asked, “Are you Prabhat Kumar Rai ?” “Yes Sir”, I replied feebly. “Where did you do your schooling from?” “I did my matriculation from the village High School and Pre-science from the Science College, Patna.” “Have you written this report yourself or taken assistance from others?” “I have written the report on my own based on your description of the lab and my firsthand experience.” Happiness gleamed through the face of the Professor and he mentioned eloquently that he was quite impressed by my unconventional report. “You have hit the bull’s eye. You have written exactly what I intended for this report. Your report stands out among the bunch covering plethora of technical jargons and expressions which have neither been taught so far in the theoretical classes nor intended by me for the report on the first experiment.”
I heaved a sigh of relief. Much to my pleasant surprise, the Professor quipped,” I have co-opted you as member of the Magazine Society and also on the Editorial Board. I am confident you will leave an imprint of quality. The next annual number of our College Magazine is particularly important as our college would mark 5o years of its existence. Please associate yourself fully with the team to bring out the Special issue.” I was thrilled to hear the amazing offer . I was puffed up by the compliments of the Professor which was totally unexpected. I nodded in acquiescence and thanked the professor profusely. I came out of the room beaming with confidence.
I proceeded to the canteen where some of my meddlesome and clamorous friends were idling over a cup of tea. They were eagerly waiting for me to know the ordeal which I had to endure for my stubbornness in not listening to them as regards the report. Seeing me from a distance in unusually hilarious mood and walking sure-footedly and confidently towards them, they were dumbfounded and taken aback. I narrated the whole conversation with the Professor in minutest detail to stun them into silence. My friends were crestfallen and dismayed that they would not get good grade as their conventional reports had not withstood the stringent scrutiny. They very well knew the overriding importance of the first impression.
I seriously involved myself under the guidance of the Professor for the special issue of the College Magazine to be brought out on the Golden Jubilee of our alma mater. After a great deal of persuasion and pursuance, we were able to get good number of articles of all hues from the collegians. I along with my close friend, Shri Nath Narayan Vasudeva, who was actively associated with the publication of the magazine, spent long hours in the University Press. Late K. C. Kuruvilla, the then Superintendent of the Press, helped and guided us enormously all through. We assiduously carried out the strenuous, fatiguing and repetitive exercise of proof-reading to make the magazine error-free. The result: the Golden Jubilee issue was brought out in time. Special features such as News & Notes, In Memoriam, Lest We Forget! & Who Said It? etc. were incorporated befittingly. The get-up and quality of articles as well as cover page design (imaginatively done by Mrinal Chatterjee, my roommate and bosom friend. Sadly enough, he is no more in this world. RIP! ) drew tremendous applause from the academic circles at large. Bringing out the magazine exposed me to various stages of conventional printing processes which were quite laborious, toilsome and time-consuming in contradistinction to the desk top printing and present day state-of-the-art printing. The choicest quotations in sync with the theme of the articles were inserted as the end-pieces. At the back of the cover-page, the following quotations in tasteful colour appeared:
“All that is beautiful shall abide, All that is base shall die.” - Buchanan
“There is so much good in the worst of us, And so much bad in the best of us, That it hardly becomes any of us, To talk about the rest of us,” - Hoch
After graduation in Electrical Engineering, I had a brief stint in erstwhile TELCO, Jamshedpur. Later, I joined Indian Railway Service of Electrical Engineers (IRSEE). I was posted mostly in South Eastern Railway. Being away from Bihar and the alma mater, I had almost forgotten the anecdote. Time & distance as well as compulsions of professional life certainly took a heavy toll .But, a sudden twist of events rekindled the old memories after more than four decades and the above episode came live from the inner races of my mind.
By sheer force of circumstances, I joined the erstwhile Bihar State Electricity Board (BSEB) on deputation on 29.12.2009 as Member (Distribution, Generation & Rural Electrification) and later I was elevated to the post of the Chairman of Bihar’s gargantuan Power Utility. In 2012, the Vishweshraiya Memorial Trust selected me for prestigious Vishweshraiya Memorial Award in recognition of efforts made to improve the power scenario in Bihar and ginger up the functioning of moribund organisation. The award giving ceremony was organised in the auditorium of the Abhilekhagar Bhavan at Patna. Professor Santosh Kumar happened to be the patron and an important functionary of the Trust. In his introductory speech, he cited the anecdote in great detail in his characteristic manner which I had almost forgotten with efflux of time and exigencies of long and pressing professional career. I was astonished at the prodigious memory of the Professor. The whole sequence of events danced before my mind’s eyes and ignited the memories of good old days like a flashback.
The first experiment in the Hydraulics Lab which was quite eventful will ever remain etched in my memory.
Former Chairman of Bihar State Electricity Board & Former Chairman-cum-Managing Director Bihar State Power (Holding) Co. Ltd. . Presently Energy Adviser to Hon’ble C.M. Govt. of Bihar . Distinguished Alumni of Bihar College of Engineering ( Now NIT , Patna ) Patna University. First Class First with Distinction in B.Sc.(Electrical Engineering). Alumni Association GOLD MEDALIST from IIT, Kharagpur , adjudged as the BEST M.TECH. STUDENT.
Administrator and Technocrat of International repute and a prolific writer . His writings depicts vivid pictures of socio-economic scenario of developing & changing India , projects inherent values of the society and re-narrates the concept of modernization . Writing has always been one of his forte, alongside his ability for sharp, critical analysis and conceptual thinking. It was this foresight and his sharp analysis of developments during his time gives him an edge over others.
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