Kindlers of the Flame
'It is easy to carry on but difficult to start fresh;
It is easy to hold on, but difficult to move ahead.'
Excellently resonating not only with the duties of an educational leader but this quote is also concurrent with the roles that the directors of our institute have been playing since its commemoration. Be it holding-on hard our motto of imparting knowledge, or be it creating a collaborative, inclusive learning environment with an exemplary vision, our directors have done it all with unrelenting passion. Have a good look at some of the unforgettable directorial experiences of our campus.
Few but the odd trivia enthusiast may know that the first Director of IIT Bombay was Brig. Sisir Kumar Bose. An army man, best remembered for his penchant for discipline and his radical decisions that often led to a rather amusing set of events in the insti’s early years, Bose was rightly regarded as a human dynamo, generating sparks without heat. A balding burling man of fifty-three, his role was indispensable for anchoring and consolidating the institute’s tumultuous infancy years.
Witnesses will testify that little has changed with regard to students’ perspective of attendance in lectures over the span of six decades. Presuming students “guilty until proven innocent” of the intention to bunk, instead of the other way around, Bose committed to annihilating truancy altogether and imposed stringent, if not radical, militant style attendance policy! Having taken the charge of a budding institute with students he presumed as “uncultured”, the “Brigadier” specified a seating arrangement wherein the students were to be photographed initially, and then the attendance was taken daily by mapping face to position to eliminate a chance of proxy: a crude yet effective model of today’s SAFE app, if you will.
But the eccentricity doesn’t halt there! Well-versed with the psyche of students, he emphatically resolved to tackle the problem of their apparent lack of reverence for faculty from another angle. Prof N. Swamidasan of the HSS Department reminisces fondly, the time when Brig. Bose conveyed to all faculty members that they must conduct lectures in gowns “Oxford-style” as a mark of their high status and for instilling discipline in the classes. Extrapolating his directive to a point of overdoing it, at the next faculty meeting, the exemplar even came to the Lecture Theater dressed in a gown and declared “This is how we should go to our classes, it’ll help us look more impressive”.’ Sensing the unequivocal lack of consensus when no faculty member, not even the HoDs, acceded to this bizarre proposal, the Brigadier went red, flung his gown aside and exclaimed, “If you don’t want it, I don’t want it either!”
Often described working with an imperious and authoritarian style, his disciplinarian ways, which were imperative for providing an impetus to the vision and working culture of the institute, were nonetheless highly vital. With even the faculty members not spared by his reforming touch and some even reprimanded for punctuality, Bose’s presence and demeanour did, however, invoke a feeling of paternal affection and fatherly figure owing to his seniority and endearing nature.
Carrying the baton forward, Prof. B. Nag who held the directorship of the Institute for a decade during its adolescent years from 1984, was best described as the epitome of ‘impatience and irascibility’. With a methodical diet that consisted of cigarettes and tea followed by some more tea and cigarettes, his assertive and imposing personality was ample to induce stutter and anxiety in even the most confident of his visitors. Recounting his audaciousness, Prof Hazra of IDC remarks how when confronted by numerous bottlenecks spawned by the governmental regulations in regards to the administrative redesigning of the institute, Prof. Nag exclaimed, "We know we’re doing it in the institute’s best interests, and that is what it matters. And I’ll be signing all the papers, so if you go to jail, I’ll be going with you!”
Aggressive and impatient for even activities like faculty recruitment, Nag used to do the unthinkable by actually financing foreign trips and funding hours of international phone calls (an expensive affair in those days), just to prioritize the quality of the intake! Handed over the reins of the institute at a difficult phase, he has also been well known to rebuke and openly condemn the students taking up ‘second-rate jobs in the US industry’ and contributing to the brain drain that was plaguing the country in his opinion. To quote his remarks to the ‘Illustrated Weekly’, he reprimanded the majority of alumni settling abroad, “About 30 or 40 students who go every year do excellent work. The others have gone so that they can get their house and two huge cars. We have little to regret if they stay on in the US.”
Not even the institute unions were saved from his obstinacy as he felt personal that their demands were unreasonable. Reminiscing one such incident, former registrar Ghosh recounts that once there was a huge ‘morcha’ in the early 90s with about a thousand people in the lawn, who even snapped the telephone and electricity lines. When the union entered Nag’s chambers, unfazed by such a development and with an air of utter indifference, Prof Nag told a contingent that was already agitated to simply "get out"!
Despite his intrepid nature, Nag’s colleagues’ still credit him for the unwavering trust and support he gave to them, whenever bestowing them a responsibility, giving much-needed pushes and assistance for every initiative. Sharing a huge passion for cricket, Nag would love to discuss the nuances and statistics of the game, and has often been heard to remark that there is no better sight than "to see a fast bowler running in with the new ball from the Maiden End at Eden Gardens, Kolkata on a cool winter morning at the start of an innings.”
Nurturing the institute has always been multi-faceted, requiring a strong vision and a committed staff to iron out all the wrinkles in the journey, however without a robust and proactive central leadership to pivot and steer them in the right direction, it would have been impossible for the institute to reach its current stature; for which the contribution of these two visionary and farsighted personalities can never be discounted!