Miscellaneous: my job situation, the Tatas, and taking a break…

The Diwali is here, already!

This year’s Diwali isn’t going great for me. I am still jobless—without reason or rhyme. It is difficult to enjoy Diwali against that backdrop.


As you know, engineering colleges affiliated to the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU for short) have been telling me that my Metallurgy+Mechanical background isn’t acceptable, even though the rules have changed to the contrary, and say that I now qualify (in my interpretation).

Recently I attended an interview, and it seems like I may be able to obtain a clear-cut answer on my eligibility (i.e. the equivalence of Metallurgy and Mechanical) from SPPU.

The thing is, SPPU has been having no Dean for its Engineering faculty for about a year or more by now, because the Maharashtra state government hasn’t so far undertaken the procedure to elect (or select) the next Dean.

This recent interview which I mentioned above, was for a Principal’s post, and I was short-listed. As is the common practice here, the short-listed candidates were all invited at the same time, and thus, I had an opportunity to interact with these other, senior-level professors.

These senior professors (some of them already active as Principals at other colleges) told me that it isn’t just SPPU, but all the universities in Maharashtra. They all are currently having only an in-charge or acting Dean for their engineering faculties, because the procedure to appoint the next set of Deans, which was due to occur this month (October) has once again been postponed by yet another year.

Policy decisions such as the Metallurgy and Mechanical equivalence at SPPU have been pending, they told me, because the acting Dean can easily say that he has no powers to do that. Though the other universities are clear that I would qualify, if a genius running an engineering college under SPPU thinks that I don’t, then the matter normally goes to the Dean. If the Dean is not official, if he is only acting, he doesn’t want to take “risk,” so he takes no decision at all. Not just the equivalence issues, there are certain other policy decisions too, which have been pending, they told me. The in-charge Deans have been processing only the routine work, and not taking any policy decisions. The next set of Deans were expected to get appointed by June 2016, and then, after postponement, by October 2016. (“achhchhe din!”)

Now that the appointments have been officially postponed by one whole year (“achhchhe din,” again!), the colleges themselves have begun going to the universities for obtaining the professor’s approvals, arguing that faculty approvals is a routine matter, and that they cannot properly function without having approved faculty.

Thus, the university (SPPU) has begun appointing panels for faculty interviews. There has been a spate of faculty recruitment ads after the current semester got going (“achhchhe din!”).

The particular interview which I attended, these other candidates informed me, was with a University-appointed panel—i.e., of the kind which allows approvals. (Otherwise, the appointments are made by the affiliating colleges on their own, but only on a temporary, ad-hoc basis, and therefore, for a limited time.)

Please note, all the above is what I gathered from their talk. I do not know what the situation is exactly like. (Comments concerning “achhchhe din!,” however, are strictly mine.)

But yes, it did turn out that the interview panel here was from the university. Being a senior post (Principal), the panel included both the immediately past Dean (Prof. G. K. Kharate) and the new, in-charge Dean (Prof. Dr. Nerkar, of PVG College, Pune).

During my interview, if the manner in which Prof. Kharate (the past Dean) now said things is any indication, it means that I should now qualify even in the SPPU. This would be according to the new GR about which I had written a few months ago, here [^]. Essentially, Prof. Kharate wondered aloud as to why there was any more confusion because the government had already clarified the situation with the new rules.

I took that to mean that I qualify.

Of course, these SPPU geniuses are what they are, and therefore, they—these same two SPPU Deans—could very well say, in future, that I don’t qualify. After all, I didn’t ask them the unambiguous question “With my Metallurgy background, do I qualify for a Mechanical Engineering (full) Professor’s job or not? Yes, or no?;”  and they didn’t then answer in yes or no terms.

Of course, right in the middle of an on-going job interview couldn’t possibly have been the best time and place to get them to positively confirm that I do qualify. (Their informal indications, however, were clearly along the lines that I do qualify.)

Now that the Diwali break has arrived, the colleges are closed, and so, I would be able to approach Prof. Dr. Nerkar (the currently acting/in-charge Dean) only after a week or so. I intend to do that and have him pin down the issue in clear-cut terms.

At the conclusion of my interview, I told the interview committee exactly the same thing which I told you at the beginning of this post, viz., that this Diwali means darkness to me.

But yes, we can hope that Prof. Dr. Nerkar would issue the clarification at least after the Diwali. If not, I intend to approach Prof. Dr. Gade, the Vice-Chancellor of SPPU. … I could easily do that. I am very social, that way.

And, the other reason is, at the university next door—the Shivaji University—they did answer my email asking them to clarify these branch-equivalence issues. The SPPU is the worst university among the three in the Western Maharashtra region (the other two being, the University of Mumbai and the Shivaji University Kolhapur). [I want to teach in Pune only because it’s my home-town, and thus convenient to me and my family, not because SPPU’s standards are high.]

Anyway, I now do have something in hand to show Prof. Dr. Gade when I see him—the letter from the Shivaji University staff. … At the Shivaji University, I didn’t have to go and see anyone in person there—not even the administrative staff let alone the acting Dean or the Vice-Chancellor. The matter got clarified just via a routine email. There is a simple lesson that SPPU may learn from the Shivaji and Mumbai universities, and under Prof. Dr. Gade, I hope they do.

… Of course, I do also hope that I don’t have to see Prof. Dr. Gade (the Vice-Chancellor). I do hope that meeting just Prof. Dr. Nerkar (the in-charge Dean) should be sufficient.

If they refuse me an appointment, I will get even more social than my usual self—I will approach certain eminent retired people from Pune such as Dr. Bhatkar (the founder of C-DAC) or Dr. Mashelkar (the former Director General of CSIR, India).

Here is a hoping that I don’t have to turn into a social butterfly, and that soon after Diwali, the matters would get moving smoothly. Let’s hope so.

And with that hope in my heart, let me wish you all a very happy and prosperous Diwali. … As to me, I will try to make as much good of a bad situation that I can.


Still, I don’t find myself to be too enthusiastic. I don’t feel like doing much anything. [In a way, I feel tired.] Therefore, I am going to take a break from blogging.

I have managed to write something more on the concept of space. I found that I should be able to finish this series now. I had begun it in 2013; see here [^].

Concepts like space and time are very deep matters, and I still have to get enough clarity on a few issues, though all such remaining issues are relatively quite minor. I should be able to get through them in almost no time.

From the new material which I have written recently, I guess it would be enough to write just one or two posts, and then the series would get over. What then will remain would be mostly polemics, and that part can be taken on the fly whenever the need to do so arises.

I may also think of giving some indications on the concept of time, but, as I said, I find myself too lacking in enthusiasm these days. Being jobless—despite having the kind of resume I have—does have a way of generating a certain amount of boredom in you, a certain degree of disintegration at least to your energy and enthusiasm, even if not to your soul.


So, let’s see. Let the Diwali vacations get over, and I should come back and resume my blogging, telling you what all transpired in my meeting/interaction with the in-charge Dean, and the related matters.


Since I am not going to be blogging for some time, let me note a couple of notable things.

One, the US Presidential elections. I am not at all interested in that. So let me leave it aside.

Two, the Tata Sons issue. It does interest me a bit, so let me write down a bit on it.


I was not as surprised as some of the newspaper editorials and columns say they were. The days of JRD are long gone. The Tatas already were a changed company when Cyrus Mistry took over from Ratan Tata.

Once I returned from the USA in 2001, despite my resume, I never got a chance with the new Tatas (either at TRDDC or at TCS). Such a thing would have been unthinkable during JRD’s times. … Even keeping it aside, what all I observed about the Tatas over the past 1.5 decades was enough for me not to be at all surprised by something like the current fiasco.

No, Prof. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, reading things from where I sit, the Tata fiasco doesn’t do any significant harm to the social legitimacy of Capitalism in India. People—common people—have long ago observed and concluded what had to be. If what the common people think were to be caricatured, it would look like the position you ascribe to the “cynics”. But no, IMO, this position isn’t cynical. To carry realistic impressions about hallowed icons is not quite the same as being a cynic.

Yes, as Harsh Goenka astutely pointed out in his comment in today’s ToI, Ratan Tata’s tenure coincided with the semi-liberalization era: 1991–2012. Whenever you come to compare Ratan Tata with Cyrus Mistry, you cannot overlook that broad context.

I have always thought that JRD left too big shoes for any one to fill in. But, with due respect to Ratan Tata, I still would have to say that no one could possibly entertain thinking in similar terms, when it comes to Ratan Tata’s retirement.

Looking at the facts and figures reported this week, I don’t think Mistry was doing a lousy job. Reading through his letter, I in fact marvel at how well he understood his job—and for this reason, I speculate that he must have been doing his job pretty well. …

Realize, the letter was written within a day or two after an unceremonious removal from the top post of a 100+ years old Indian icon, a $100 billion behemoth. Seen against this backdrop, the letter is extraordinarily restrained; it shows an unusual level of maturity. To expect any more “restraint” is to actually confess ignorance of such basic things as human nature and character. (Sadhus, let me remind you, are known to kill each other in their fights at the Kumbh Mela, just for the priority in taking the Shahi Snaan. Keep that in mind the next time you utter something on nobility of character and culture.)

And yes, I also had come to think that the Nano project was doomed—I just didn’t have the sales and profitability figures, which got reported only today. My reasons were simple; they were purely from an ordinary consumer’s point of view. If you are selling the Nano at around Rs. 2.5 lakhs, just think of the alternatives that the consumer has today: you could get a used car in a “good enough” condition, not just Maruti Alto but even a somewhat more used Toyota Innova, at roughly the same price.

Anyway, I don’t understand these corporate matters much, so let me shut up.


But, yes, knowing the house of Tatas and their brand managers, I can predict right away that in the near future, you are going to see the Tatas announce a product like “Tata Quantum Dot,” or “Tata Silicon Dot,” or something like that. … Why do I think so?

I started writing on quantum mechanics, and roughly around the same time, the cable-less Internet, based on the electromagnetic waves (mobile, Wi-Fi) was getting going in India. So, the Tatas came out with the Tata Photon. Yes, “Photon”. The Tata Photon. … It meant nothing more than the usual Internet dongle (2G, and then 3G) that everybody else was already supplying anyway. (And the Tata Photon never worked too well in areas other than in the Mumbai city.)

Then, the USA was abuzz with the catch-words like nano-technology, and the Tata brand managers decided to do something with that name, and thus came the Tata “Nano.” By now, every one knows what it means.

Today, the USA and other countries are abuzz with words like “Quantum Supremacy” and things like that. You can only expect some Tata brand managers to latch on to this buzzword, and launch a product like, say, Tata Quantum Dot or Tata Silicon Dot—or both!

Tata Silicon Dot, I predict, would signal the arrival of the house of Tatas into the business of supplying the sand required for civil engineering construction.

Tata Quantum Dot, on the other hand, would mean that the house of Tatas had taken an entry into the business of plastic dart toys. Or, the business of the “bindi”s that ladies wear. That is what the house of Tatas would mean by the name Tata Quantum Dot.

And here our policy analysts think that something happening to the house of Tatas is going to affect the credibility or social legitimacy of Capitalism itself in India! Oh wow!!

Ummm…. Does any policy research center in India have any data on the proportion of the private business in the overall Indian economy (including both the organized and the unorganized sectors) over the years, say starting from 1930s? Also, the quantum of the government expenditure in the Indian economy, and its proportion in the national GDP over the same period? Would they care to share it, please? Or is it that they don’t have to look at such data for their policy research purposes? … As to me, I have been on the lookout for data like that for quite some time now, but never could see it compiled anywhere. That’s why the request. Please drop me a line if you spot a reliable source.

OK, bye for now.


A Song I Like:

Since I won’t be blogging for a while, let me give away the “other” song right away, I mean the song which had somehow happened to strike me as being similar to the song “too laali hai savere waali”; see the Song I Like section here [^]. This other song is:

(Hindi) “bhigee bhigee raaton mein…”
Music: R. D. Burman
Singers: Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

I take the “raaga” of the earlier song (“too laali hai”) as “pahaaDee”—or at least that’s what I got from an Internet search. The “raaga” of the current song (“bhigee…”) isn’t listed at any Web site. Assuming it’s not “pahaaDee” (or a variant on that), the question becomes, why the two songs might have struck at least somewhat similar to me—why, humming one song, I very naturally and casually happened to remember the other song.

It would be interesting to see if Data Science can be used to spot (and quantify) similarities in songs. The traditional music theory puts too much emphasis, IMO, on “raaga” alone. But there can be other bases for similarities, too. The sound patterns of musical pieces, I think, don’t get exhaustively (and at times not even essentially) characterized by the idea of the “raaga” alone. Talking of these two songs in particular, the similarity I caught might have been connected with certain ups and downs in notes with a somehow similarly sounding tempo. The style of the tunes sounds similar. Guess Data Science might be able to shed some light on things like that…. It would be interesting, to look into that, no? That’s what I had thought…

I mean, I had thought. … But then, these days, as I said, I am unable to work on this topic, too…  I just don’t have any enthusiasm left. Honest. I somehow finished this post, only because I won’t be posting for a while…

So, there. Bye for now, take care, and best!


[E&OE]

 

Summer, boredom, city skyline, etc.

Boredom. That’s what my life has become of late. … Boredom. … Pure boredom.

Life is boring.

Nothing interests me. Don’t feel like writing anything.

No, it’s not called a writer’s block. To have a writer’s block, first you need to be a writer. And my problem is that I don’t even want to be a writer. Not even just a plain reader. Both are boring propositions.

Life, somehow, has become boring to that great an extent.

Summers always do that to me.


While at IIT Madras, we (a few friends of mine and I) had begun using a special term for that: (Sanskrit) “glaani.”

Usage pattern:

“Did you work out those lab calculations?”

“.” [No answer from me.]

“Ajit, did you complete those lab calculations?”

“.” [No answer.]

“Machchaa…”

“.” [Still no answer.]

The fellow turns around, lethargically. [He, too, doesn’t have much energy left to pursue anything; the heat has been that bad…] … Begins to drag his feet back to his room.

“glaani.” [One attempts some answer, some explanation.]

The fellow does not even care to look back.

The use-case scenario is over.

Currently, it’s summer time, and this year in particular, I am finding it even more lethargy-inducing and boring than it usually is…


Here is an idea I had. I wanted to expand it in a blog post. But since everything has become so summer-ly boring, I am not going to do that. Instead, I will just mention the idea, and let it go at that.

How do you visually estimate the water requirements of a human settlement, say, a city? Say a city with skyscrapers, like Mumbai? (Skyscrapers? In Mumbai? OK, let’s agree to call them that.)

Start with a decent estimate of per capita water requirement. Something like, say, 135 liters/day/person. That is, 1.35 \times 10^2 \times 10^{-3} = 1.35 \times 10^{-1} cubic meters. For one year, it translates to 0.135 \times 365 = 49.275 \approx 50 cubic meters.

An average room in an average apartment is about 10 feet X 12 feet. With a standard height of 10 feet, its volume, in cubic meters, is: 3.048 \times 3.6576 \times 3.048 = 33.98 \approx 35 cubic meters.

Of course, 135 liters/day is an estimate on a slightly higher side; if what I recall is right, the planning estimates range from even as low as 50 liters/day/person. So, taking a somewhat lower estimate for the daily per capita requirement (figure out exactly how much), you basically arrive at this neat nugget:

Think of one apartment room, full of water. That much volume each person needs, for the entire year.

If one person lives in one room (or if a family of four people lives in a 2BHK apartment), then the volume of that apartment is their yearly water requirement.

Hardly surprising. In the traditional water-harvesting in Rajasthan, they would have single-storied houses, and roughly the same volume for an underground reservoir of water. Last year, I blogged quite a bit about water resources and water conservation; check out tags like “water resources” [^].

So, the next time you look at a city skyline, mentally invert it: imagine a dam-valley that is just as deep as the skyline’s height, containing water for that skyline. That would be the residential water requirement of that city.

Of course, if the population density is greater, if one apartment room accommodates 2, 3 (or even more number of) people (as is the common in Mumbai), then the visualization fails. I mean to say: You then have to imagine a deeper (or wider) dam valley.

… I used to be skeptical of residential water harvesting schemes. I used to think that it was a typical NGO type of day-dreaming, not backed up by hard data. I used to think that even if every 3-story apartment building covered its entire plot area (and not just the built-up area) with a 1 to 2 story-deep tank beneath it, it wouldn’t last for even a couple of months. But when I did the actual calculations (as above), I became convinced of the utility of the residential water harvesting schemes—if the storage is big enough.


Of course, as one often hears these days, if common people are going to look after everything from electricity (portable gen-sets, batteries and inverters), water (residential water harvesting), garbage (composting in the house/terrace garden), even security (gated communities with privately paid watchmen), then what the hell is the government for?

If your anger has subsided, realize that only the last (security) falls under the proper functions of government; the rest should actually be services rendered by private businesses. And if government gets out of every thing but the defense, the police and the courts, the economic progress would so humongous that none would bother reading or writing blog posts on residential water conservation schemes—there would be very competent businesses with private dams and private canals to deliver you clean water very cheaply (also via private trains, if the need be)… But then, I am not going to write about it.  Writing is boring. Life is boring. …. So, just look up Ayn Rand if you want, OK?

… Yawns. Life is boring.

BTW, did you notice that boring also means digging, and I was somehow talking about inverting the skyline, i.e., imagining wells and valleys. Kindaa double meaning, the word “boring” happens to have, and I happen to have used it in both senses, haven’t I?

Oh well. But really, really speaking, I meant it only in the simplest, most basic sense.

Life is boring. … Yawns….

[E&OE]

 

 

From the horses’ mouths

My first choice for the title was: “From the Nobel Laureate’s Mouth”; I had spotted only the opinion piece by Professor David Gross in yesterday’s Indian Express [^]. Doing the ‘net search today for the URI link to provide here, I found that there also were three other Nobel laureates, also joined by one Fields Medalists. And they all were saying more or less the same thing [^].

… That way, coming from a Marathi-medium schooling background, I had always had a bit of suspicion for the phrase “from the horse’s mouth.” It seemed OK to use in the news reports when, say, a wrong-doer admits his wrong. But purely going by the usage, I could see that the phrase would also be used in the sense: “from the top-gun himself,” or “from the otherwise silent doer himself.” This guess turns out to be right [^]. Further, since there were as many as five “horses” here, the word to be used would have to be in the plural, and if you say it aloud: “From the horses’ mouths” [go ahead, say it aloud, sort of like:“horseses” mouth) it really sounds perfect (for something to be posted on the ‘net).

So, that’s how comes the title.

As to the horses’ thoughts… Ummm…

[But please, please, give me just a moment to get back to the title again, and congratulate me for not having chosen a title like: “From Dave Himself.” You see, Professor David Gross had visited COEP in 2013, and I might have been, you know, within 50 meters of where he was sitting. I mean, of all places, in the COEP campus! Right in the COEP campus!! [^]. Obviously, you must compliment me for my sense of restraint, of making understatements.]

OK. As to their thoughts… Umm….

I think these guys are being way too optimistic. Also naive.

Without substantial economic reforms, I see no possibility of the Indian Science in general undergoing any significant transformation yet again. And substantial economic reforms aren’t happening here any more. In fact, no one is even talking about it, any more. [Check out Arnab’s hours, or Sardesai’s, or Dutt’s, if you want to find out what they are talking about. [I don’t, because I know.]]

It was the 1991 that could propel, say a Mashelkar into prominence several years later, and help transform the 70+ CSIR labs from something like less than 100 patents a year, to thousands of them per year—all within a matter of a few years [less than a decade, to be sure]. If the same momentum were to be kept, the figure should have gone up to at least tens of thousands of patents by the CSIR labs alone—and with a substantial increase in the share of the international patents among them. Ditto, for the high-quality international journal papers.

Why didn’t any of it happen? Plain and clear. The momentum created by the economic liberalization of the early 1990s has been all but lost. Come on, face it, 1991 was twenty-five years ago.

To an anthropologist, 25 years is like an entire generation! More than enough of a time to lose any half-hearted momentum (which, despite the hysterical Indian press, the liberalization in the early 1990s was).

It’s been years that we entered the staleness 2.0 of the mixed economy 1.0. Even today, the situation continues “as is,” despite a change of regime in New Delhi. Yes, even under “Modiji.” [I am quoting Professor Gross—I mean the word.]

But, yes, the five gentlemen were also being realistic: Each one of them emphasized decades.

Decades of sustained efforts would have to go in, before the fruits could begin to be had. [But you know that decades isn’t a very long period—just recall what was happening to India’s economy some two decades ago—in the mid ’90s.]

Talking of how realistic they actually were being, Haroche even pointed out the lack of freedom in China [obvious to any one outside of California], and its presence in Europe [I don’t know about that] and in India [yeah, right!].

But anyway, it’s nice to hear something like this being highlighted after an Indian Science Congress, rather than, say, “vimaanshaastra.”

Both happened during “Modiji”’s tenure. So what is it that really accounts for the difference? I have no idea. (It can’t be a “pravaasi” whatever, to be sure; they would be too busy booking the next Olympics-size stadium.)

Whoever within the organizers of the Congress was responsible for the difference, compliments are due to him. (Hindi) “der se kiyaa lekin kuchh achhaa hi to kiyaa.”

In the meanwhile, bring out your non-programmable desk calculators and do some exercises: 0.8 \times \dots, 2.7 \times \dots, 4.4 \times \dots and 2.1 \times \dots. Oh well, you will have to refer to the ‘net.

OK then. Find out also the R&D spending by, say, (i) Baba Ramdev’s pharmaceutical industries, (ii) the top or most well-established five industrial groups in India (Reliance, Tatas, Mittals, whoever…), and (iii) the top three (or five) Indian IT firms. Compare them to those in the advanced countries. Let your comparisons be comparable: pharma to pharma; oil, steel and engineering (and salt!) to oil, steel and engineering (and salt!); IT to IT [engineering IT to engineering IT]; overall (GDP) to overall (GDP).

And, never forget that bit about freedom. Don’t just count the beans “spent” on research. Think also about whether it is the government spending or the private spending, and where the expenditure occurs (in private universities, private labs, independently run government labs, public universities in a country with a past of a private control, etc., or in the in-service-pensioner’s-paradises with something like “laboratory” in their titles).


But why didn’t the “horses” cite any specific statistics about how many Indian students go abroad for their graduate studies, and choose to permanently settle there—their trends?

Obvious: Nobel and Fields laureates (and in fact any visiting dignitaries to any country (and in fact any visitors to a foreign country)) generally tend to be more polite, and so tend to make understatements when it comes to criticism (of that host country). That’s why.


A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “kahin naa jaa…”
Music: R. D. Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Singers: Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar

[E&OE]

What are the rules for hiring?

There is a matter of a suspense which should break by the time I come back for my next post. Here is the story. (Narrated, as usual, tortuously and at a length. (Don’t read if such posts turn you off.))

The mechanical engineering professors in the Savitribai Phule University of Pune, as you know, have been pitted against hiring of people with a background like mine: BE and MTech in Metallurgy; PhD in Mechanical. “You must have had at least one of the pre-PhD degrees in mechanical, why didn’t you?” they have been respectively saying and asking (in a probing manner).

Most people occupying the working of the faculty of engineering in this university these days, in fact have come not from the University of Pune (or the University of Poona) itself; they have come from other universities. Typically, they have come from Aurangabad, Amaravati, and Walchand—but not from IITs or IISc or the better ranked universities in the UK/USA.

In my experience (i.e. with the exception of the late Prof. Dr. S. R. Kajale, who did have has UG degree from Amaravati), all of them carry faulty notions about the traditions at this university. In the Pune (or Poona) University, these professors have tried to explain to me, in a tone consisting of a feeling of an utmost certainty as arising from a superior educational experience, the ordinary exasperation arising after not being understood, an abstract projection of an abstract feeling for the acute concerns of the jobless-ness of the person sitting across the table, as well as, all in all, a very definite sense of their own unquestionably high moral and intellectual superiority, that there always has been this policy. [They have never felt it necessary to enjoin in their comment their own experiences or knowledge of their undergraduate universities/colleges. They were in the University of Pune, they knew what they were talking about, the matter ended there, as far they were concerned.]

Wrong. Factually wrong.

The other universities might have historically had this problem, but not the University of Pune (i.e., barring a few well-known personality-related issues concerning the Mechanical and Metallurgy Departments at COEP—the only engineering college this university had, for a long time).

IIT Bombay (with a heavy institutional-cultural influence of the Russians that lasted for too long a time) also have had this problem (concerning branch-“jumping”) but rather in an off and on manner; the University of Mumbai, to my knowledge, never (not at least concerning the specific branches of Metallurgy and Mechanical).

IIT Bombay did have this problem in the mid-1970s; they were against this particular branch jumping (even while promoting their interdisciplinary research centers). Then, during the mid-1980s, they didn’t have this problem. (I could have got an MTech in Mechanical Engineering at IIT Bombay (I had enough of a GATE score to be competitive back then); it’s just that I chose not to pursue anything at this IIT—this IIT was too strong on hype and too low on the academic freedom to the student concerning mixing courses from different departments.) Then, over a period of time, by the time I was applying for PhD admissions during the early naughties, IIT Bombay had once again gone back to having a problem about branch-“jumping”. I don’t know which way blows the wind of their whims, as of today.

So, historically, other universities might have had problems with “branch-jumping,” but not so, for a long time, the University of Poona/Pune. Certainly not before the people from Amaravati, Aurangabad, Shivaji etc. began rushing in to fill the ranks of professorships, in this university. (Surprisingly, the University of Mumbai carried on their more liberal policies concerning the metallurgy and mechanical branches, despite a similar trend of demographics occurring also at its affiliating colleges; I don’t know the reason why. It’s possible that they, too, weren’t being too liberal; it was just that they didn’t have a separate branch of Metallurgy, and so, the issue of the turf-battles and the academic self-inflations of the Mechanical departments, never arose.)

In contrast, COEP and University of Poona actually had no issue admitting BE Metallurgy graduates to the ME Mechanical program—the only requirement was a first class at BE Metallurgy. (And, a higher second, if the BE was in Mechanical itself. Also, vice-versa: For ME in Metallurgy, a first class would be required from the BE Mechanical graduates, and a higher-second from BE Metallurgy graduates.)

How do I know? Because I myself had taken admission to ME Mechanical program at COEP once, back in 1989/1990 (I have forgotten precisely when). Having decided to pursue computational mechanics, I had taken admission to ME Mechanical at COEP, just as a fall-back option to my US applications, back then, I think. And, yes, even back then, I was interested only in computational mechanics. I had just an interest, no real idea of what all this sub-field involves. I in fact didn’t even know programming at that time. But, by that time, I had already spent 1.5 years on the IIT Madras campus, gotten some idea about FEM and computational modeling, and after spending some time in industry now had come to realize that computational mechanics was the field of my life’s calling. That’s how, I had taken an admission in the Mechanical department.

Actually, I had forgotten about it—I mean this admission of mine. I was reminded of it when, starting mid-2002, I tried to get admission at COEP, now for a PhD in Mechanical (with a thesis in computational mechanics, on a topic of my choice).

By the time it was April 2003, after having going through 12+ guides (all of who declined to be my official guide), and after having been declined by IIT Bombay (for branch-jumping issue), I finally was accepted by a professor at COEP. And then, the then director of COEP, Ashok Ghatol, kept my application in abeyance for more than six months.

During this time, one day in mid-2003—mid-2004, I received a letter from the COEP library threatening me with a legal action. The letter said that if I didn’t return the books I had borrowed, I would face action by the police. Yes, police, it had explicitly mentioned. The letter was delivered not by ordinary post (the way such letters usually are), and in fact not even by registered post (with the acknowledgment-due slip), but, as far as I remember it, by SpeedPost. Further, it noted that until the matter was legally resolved, I would be barred from many things such as: issuance of any certificate from COEP, applying for a job at COEP, and applying for admission for any further studies at COEP.

I first went through the collection of my books to locate this book, but couldn’t find it. (I in fact didn’t even recognize the book by its title, back then.) Until 1990 (when I went to the USA, and so, some of my habits here broke away), I would keep an excellent record for all the books I had. The book mentioned in the letter was not there in this list. (I would maintain this list in an old 80-page notebook, not in a PC database.) So, I visited the COEP library to figure out the issue. After some four/five visits to the administration building and the library on some six/seven separate days, I finally gathered that the book was supposedly issued to me not when I was a BE student, but when I was an ME student there!

Oh yes! Then the bulb lit up!! I was once a student of ME (Mechanical), at COEP! I had never attended a single class, but I had officially registered for the program, anyway.

Ashok Ghatol, the Director of COEP in 2003–04, it would seem, was being very conscientious. How else could the administration of my alma mater wake up about this library book only now—after a few months after my acceptance by a PhD guide? After all, as far as this library book went, they had never sent a single letter any single time over the earlier 12+ years. But, looking at my PhD application with this guide, they did somehow think of it. Conscientious, nay, very, very conscientious, COEP had turned, in the decade+ time that had elapsed when I was a student here last (in 1989/90).

As would be very easy for anyone to predict, it turned out that the record of the books borrowed by me were, indeed, very meticulously kept also in the COEP library. However, the signature for the last entry on my reader’s card—the entry for the un-returned book—was not mine. It did look somewhat like mine, but it wasn’t actually mine. At least I had a hard time identifying it as my signature. I could convince the library folks about my doubt, but only after not only repeatedly signing in their presence but also bringing and showing my passport to them. Finally, they yielded, and acknowledged the possibility of the existence of a doubt.

But what/who was the source of this extra line? I don’t know. I still don’t. But no, I didn’t even think of accusing the COEP folks with any malpractice. A far more likely possibility here was that some other student (say one of my co-students at ME, or, friends in the Metallurgy department, or a student whose ME project I had informally guided in the late 80s—he had won a University Gold Medal for that project) might have borrowed my library card, and might have used it to borrow a book for their use. (This used to be a common practice at COEP. The number of books to refer could easily exceed the number of books allowed. So, people would freely use each other’s cards, often without knowledge of which book had been checked out on one’s name.) And then, probably, he had forgotten to return the book. Possible. And, of course, there could be other possibilities, too; I don’t know. (The book was not on a topic of one of my own interests back then—viz. computational mechanics.)

Anyway, even as I became very well aware of Ghatol’s utmost conscientiousness by this time, I also, by this time, was a sufficiently grown up educated Indian to be well aware of the way that Indian governments work. I would be asked to pay a fine, I was sure. And the fine, I was sure, would be within a few hundred rupees. It would have to be only a fine, not a book-replacement. Two reasons: (i) There would no possibility of book-replacement for the COEP library. The missing book, I think, was an old one, and so the possibility of finding a replacement was remote. Further, this being a government college, a policy of book-replacement would, in principle, go against the policy of procurement of any of the library holdings only in the bulk and only by the college itself, not by a student, and only from one of the approved list of book vendors. (ii) The rules for the fine would refer only to the original cost, not to the current market price, or the price arrived at after accounting for inflation. The settlement of issues via the latter route would not only violate the principle behind the procurement policy, but it would also require making a reference to the State Accounting and Finance Department in Mumbai, and there in fact would be no precedent or a policy on how to make this reference—none would even know what category the outward register’s entry should note.

I didn’t divulge the above two reasons to the COEP staff; I merely let them decide. Of course, it took a few visits to the COEP library and the main administration block, before the whole issue could be settled. The end result was, I ended up paying a fine, I think an amount less than Rs. 500. (Yes, I had to write an application, get it endorsed from two different people each in the administration block and the library, fill four copies of the challan, get them endorsed, and then go to that World Famous branch of the SBI on the COEP campus, to make the payment of this fine.) But yes, this part of the institutional objection against my PhD admission was, thereby, cleared.

[I had shown my willingness to get them a replacement copy, but this request of mine was politely declined. Apart from that feeling of guilt (who knows, had I checked that book myself and signed in a hurry?), it anyway would have been the fastest action towards properly closing the issue. Naturally, I was requesting them to let me see if I can find a replacement for the book. But they said no. Apart from the procurement policy, they were well aware that books do undergo change over editions. And, they were sure, that “the government” would always be able to find some way to source the replacement of the same edition as lost, some time later, according to its proper procedures. (I don’t know, but it is possible, that they had another copy of the same book with them anyway, stored sufficiently out of the reach of any student(s).) On the other hand, a patiently and friendly talking Distinction Class alumnus’ PhD admission could not now be held in abeyance forever, in their better judgment. Also, in their judgment, sufficient time had elapsed that even the most conscientious of the most conscientious Director could not point an accusing finger in their direction, should the matter ever come up for a review. Quite a few months (could be more than six months) had elapsed since my PhD admission application had gone in, and questions from the other side could also be raised: why had this issue come up only now, after 12+ years? Wouldn’t conscientiousness also go in the other direction? So, they let me go with a fine. Exactly as I had predicted, while explaining the matter several months earlier, to my mother. (She was unnecessarily aghast, once she read this mention of the police, on that letter.)]

But of course, obtaining the library clearance took sufficiently long time that, COEP, under Ashok Ghatol, had in the meanwhile revised the list of Emeritus Professors in the Mechanical Engineering Department, and thusly, the only guide who had accepted me as a PhD student (after a search for a guide lasting for one year and going over 12+ guides), was now denied a continuation of his Emeritus Professorship. He was declined an extension at COEP despite his having retired from COEP as a HoD, despite his being active in the field of education—including being on the board of an NIT, and despite the national level Fellowship which he had at the same time been granted by the UGC/AICTE at New Delhi. He still was declined an Emeritus Professorship. With no active professor at COEP available for guidance (it would be some months before I would approach Prof. Kajale), the matter had come back to square one at COEP.

BTW, in case you don’t know, the current dean of the Savitribai Phule University of Pune, Gajanan Kharate, has done his PhD under the guidance of Ashok Ghatol.

But of course it would be too much to expect that Gajanan Kharate could possibly be aware of the kind of institutional memory that the institutions under the University of Pune are capable of keeping: being aware of such possibilities requires a finer and longer experience with institutions in general.

Therefore, it would be too much to expect of him that the same University where he currently is the Dean, would, as recently as in 1990, in fact allow the mixing of the metallurgy and mechanical branches—even at the ME level, not just the PhD level (where the rules are anyway more relaxed).

This better practice was stopped only some time later, roughly around the same time that the IIT Bombay changed its whims in their regularly irregular course. It was the same time during which the hoards of the even more enlightened souls from the Amaravati, Aurangabad, and Walchand/Shivaji universities (but not those from IISc or IITs or foreign universities) had joined the ranks of the Approved Professors at the University of Pune. It was also the same time during which COEP’s name was slapped with the “Government” prefix, to make it fall in line with the similar Government-run colleges elsewhere in the state. If COEP had later dared to drop this part of its moniker (which, too, happened during this same period), then its alumni couldn’t possibly be relied upon to know about the better practices concerning engineering education elsewhere. Conscientiousness would be a key value to keep, especially during those troubled post-liberalization times, and especially in respect of the more exceptional ones among the COEP alumni—at least those who thought of themselves as being exceptional, anyway.

Now, cutting to the present, as far as this branch-“jumping” issue goes, there were many people wanting to go back to the (somewhat) better times, of course. (I know of at least one past Dean of Engineering of the University of Pune who did. In fact, two.)

Some other people were really not aware of the better times, but they simply faced the practical inconvenience of not getting a Government Job, and so were trying very hard to persuade both the university as well as the state government. The Maharashtra state government could only be sensitive to the representations if these were made in a democratic manner, and it would only be willing to review the mere technicalities involved, but of course, according to its own time-table—as a part of its ongoing Plans for a further expansion of the state expenditure.

Thus, while the efforts of these other people at the Savitribai Phule University of Pune didn’t at all bear fruit—I suspect that something other than conscientiousness might have come in their way—their tenacious representations to the state government certainly did. Over a period of some three years (give or take a few), the Mantraalaya finally did come to the point of concluding its ongoing reviews, and thus come to the point of issuing a GR.

It was thus that, in mid-2014, the Maharashtra State government came out with a GR affirming certain new eligibility criteria for the hiring of professors in the Government-run colleges in the state, as well as for the non-aided colleges in the state. These new criteria included allowing the graduates of the production, metallurgy and materials science branches (as also certain other new branches such as CAD/CAM, CFD, etc.) to become (full) Professors of Mechanical Engineering, if the candidate also had his PhD in Mechanical. (If he has a PhD, but if his PhD is not in Mechanical, the candidate now can still be hired, but he can now become only an Associate Professor, not a Full Professor. But at least, he can now get a job in any university falling under the jurisdiction of the Maharashtra State, now. More importantly, he can get a Government Job.) Including at the very highly conscientious university that is the Savitribai Phule University of Pune, Pune.

The GR had come out in the mid-2014. However, I didn’t know about this development. In the University of Mumbai, none was aware. None of my numerous friends (more than 10) working as Professors, HoDs, and Principals, in the private engineering colleges in the Savitribai Phule University of Pune, knew about it. Not a single one of them. And, Gajanan Kharate, even if he sure would be aware of the development, did not clarify the matter in response to the emails I sent (keeping him on the cc field for my application for a Principal’s position). In fact, he sent no replies at all—not even to the other email I wrote; this email was addressed to my friend’s friend (and a COEP alumnus), one who is a Principal at one of the (better) engineering colleges in Pune, and whose ad I was responding to. The Dean didn’t deem it fit to clarify the matter to a Principal of a leading engineering institute in Pune.

So, how did I come to know about the GR?

Only by accident, and only around mid-June 2015, i.e. one full year after it had originally been issued, while idling browsing the Web site of COEP. … You see, I have been looking for an opportune time to show them—the current COEP professors—down, and so, I sometimes do check out their Web site, esp. their recruitment section. For their latest recruitment advertisement, COEP had now put up this GR on their Web site. That’s how I came to know of it.

But, by this time—mid-June 2015—professors’ posts at the leading colleges in Pune had already been filled. (I saw all their advertisements in the Pune papers during April and May, but ignored all of these, concentrating my efforts instead only on the colleges in the better run University of Mumbai, because Mumbai had no issue concerning the metallurgy-to-mechanical branch-“jumping.”)

Anyway, the point is that after mid-June, I began applying to (and indeed also sporadically interviewing at) the private engineering colleges affiliated to the Savitribai Phule University of Pune.

The current status is that chances are high that I would get a job offer at at least one engineering college in Pune. I have been offered a position by phone and I have confirmed my acceptance by phone, but I have not received the offer by email. Once the latter happens, I will update this post when that happens.

I also want to see if this blog post goes against my getting that job offer (or any other job offer). No, not exactly for fun, but I do want to do that. … It’s just me, you know… I am just so talkative. And, readative. And, also, writative. Blogative, in fact. … I just can’t help blogging…. And so, it’s quite natural to want to see if (my) blogging habits come in the way of (my) getting job offer(s). Check back for any updates concerning this aspect.

Update on the same day (2015.08.11, 5:30 PM): Yes, I have received the job offer by email. I should be joining the college right this week. More, later. [The section on a song I like has returned immediately, however; check out below.]

 

[Some editing, as usual, is due, and I may effect it, but I am not in a hurry. Done. I may go out of town for something other than the job-related matters, too, in the meanwhile…. Either visit a friend, or go on a short trip driving in the mountains, or something like that… Check back after a couple of days…]

 


A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “ashkon ne jo paayaa hai …”
Singer: Talat Mahmood
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Music: N. Dutta
[E&OE]