A Reminiscence of Days Gone By


It was the year 1974. I was a student of 1st year B. Sc. Physics at
Ravenshaw. Despite the fact that I had managed to become the University
topper in the Pre-University exam the previous year, I had developed
an inferiority complex having attended a one-month Physics Summer
School in BITS, Pilani organized by the NCERT.

I was virtually fresh out of high school then and was completely
overwhelmed by the knowledge of the fellow summer schoolers such as
those from Delhi U., Madras, BHU, and other similar prestigeous places.
On my return home, I had decided to study extra stuff at home so that
at the summer school the following year I could hold myself on my own.

On this back drop, when Utkal University acquired its first computer
(yes, in 1974!) and offered evening computer courses, I managed to
convince Prof. B. B. Deo to let me take the course, even though I was
a mere B. Sc. student.

The problem was to commute between Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. The cost
of the train ticket was enormous, Rs. 2 or so each way. After
much trepidation, I decided that I should travel WC (without ticket)
for the full six months of the course. Else, I simply could not afford
it and, besides, travelling WC was the "in" thing to do, practiced
by many of my macho-type friends.

Although I never was a macho-type, I always surrounded myself by a
few of those types, an excellent survival instinct, I suppose, and
sometimes wanted to try stuff that they would routinely do. I should
mention that it turned out that I was caught just once travelling WC
and was made to pay a hefty Rs. 28 fine. None of the tricks my
macho-type friends had taught me worked!

The other problem was that there was no train station near Vani Vihar
those days and one had to pay some Rs. 5 to the Richshaw to go to
Vani Vihar from the BBSR  station. That would be a wastage of time and
money, money I didn't have. Fortunately, it was a routine affairs that
a bunch of people would get off the train near Vani Vihar. As soon as
the Vani Vihar boundary wall was visible while coming from Cuttack,
somebody would pull the chain bringing the train to a stop. If no
chain was pulled, people would just jump out of the running train
and once you learnt how to do it, it didn't seem too difficult for
a budding teen-ager to accomplish. However, the train driver was
aware of the situation and would slow down the train at the
prescribed spot, even if no chain was pulled!

Those days computers ran on cards and it was not an easy task to
get off the running train with a loose pack of cards in hand. Sometimes,
while jumping off the train, the cards would land on top of some
undescribable animal or human byproduct on the side of the train
tracks and the homework was gone!

I never understood exactly why some human beings
would use precisely the same spot where I used to get
off from the running train as their favorite place for the morning job.
Proud am I though that I always managed to avoid landing on
the byproduct myself. "Better the cards than me," I could hear myself
saying and move on.

The computer course went extremely well. I would impress my physics
lab professors at Ravenshaw with the computer data analysis that I
introduced to my lab reports at every excuse! So much so that when
I became the University Best Graduate, my competitors claimed,
probably correctly, that I was as big a fool as they were, and I
managed the accomplishment only because of the too much "impression"
marks in the final lab exams given to me,
with so much computer outputs sticking
out of my lab records. "Lord alone knows," they would say, whether
there was anything substantial in those computer outputs or I was
just plain bluffing, since nobody, neither the students nor the
examiners, knew anything about those cryptic FORTRAN statements!

Little did I know then that computer was to become a key
tool in my research career!

============================================================ For those of you who had the patience to read thru my ramblings this far, here is a piece of poetry extracted from The Rubayyat of Omar Khayyam. Hope, you enjoy! "Lo: some we loved, the loveliest and best That time and Fate of their Vintage prest. Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before, And one by one crept silently to Rest. "Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss'd Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, are thrust Like foolish Prophets forth; their Works to Scorn Are scatter'd, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust. "Oh, come with the old Khayyam, and leave the Wise To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies; One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies; The Flower that once has bloomed forever dies." --- The Rubayyat of Omar Khayyam ============================================================

Your comments are always welcome...

Sashi Satpathy

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