Monday, October 11, 2010

Limitless Ladder: Part 3. Comparing Early Years of IIT-K with Those of the New IITs

CNR joined IIT-K in April 1963 as an associate professor. Here are a few snippets from Limitless Ladder about IIT-K's toddler years:

The campus of IIT Kanpur was still in the making. ...

The Institute itself continued to function in the Harcourt Butler Technological Institute (HBTI) in the city. The HBTI building had primitive facilities and there was no place even to enjoy a cup of tea. ...

When the new academic session of 1963 started, I began giving lectures to the new undergraduates in a make-shift lecture hall. The laboratory classes were held in the workshop ... There were no facilities worthy of mention in the campus, and one had to travel to the city several miles away to buy salt or sugar. ... It was a campus without roads or lights.

... Although there were no amenities, there was hope and idealism. [p. 49-52]

Did you get a sense of nostalgia in these descriptions? Now, let's fast forward 47 years, and see what CNR has to say about the eight new IITs that were created in the last three years:

... I have chaired the standing committee of the Council of IITs for sometime. ... I was taken by surprise when eight new IITs were suddenly announced in 2008 and students were admitted without proper discussion in the standing committee or elsewhere. There was neither a campus nor a director for any of the new IITs, even a year after the students were admitted. [...]

Interesting contrast, isn't it? [I don't want to sound as if I like the haste with which the IITs were set up; I simply take this unseemly haste as a rational response by state governments because they were not sure they would still have the IITs after the elections; what if the next government chose to shift these IITs to some other state -- like it happened with IISERs after the 2004 elections? They had good reason to fear policy uncertainty. CNR doesn't say anything about whether he had a role in the IISER-shifting episode in 2004-05; but he certainly was the Chair of SAC-PM during that time, and it certainly happened under his watch].

While all that was about the disconnect between perceptions about the old and new IITs, I want to point to yet another disconnect. And this one has to do with IISERs for which, I think, CNR would like to claim credit.

I worked closely with the Ministry of Human Resources and Development in 2005-2007. The minister (Mr. Arjun Singh) and the secretary (late Mr. Sudeep Banerjee) were highly cooperative in establishing the new IISERs ... [p.128]

CNR doesn't say anything in Limitless Ladder about the state of these new institutions during their early years, but he has said elsewhere that the IISERs "have been extremely well planned." It turns out that the IISERs' toddler years were not particularly different from those of the new IITs.


  1. Wavefunction said...

    As a chemist I am quite intrigued by CNR's memoir and have ordered it from Amazon. Have you seen his extensive interview on the Vega Science Trust website? The total series is more than an hour. Maybe it has stuff not noted in the book. The snippets are nice and include some endearing ones of him and his wife and him cooking in the kitchen. Here's the link: