Sunday, December 27, 2015

Osmania University College of Engineering Global Alumni Meet 2015 - A Trip Down Memory Lane

So after almost three decades after passing out of the Osmania University Engineering College we were invited to a large scale Global Alumni Meet. Vijay was driving it and he put in a lot of effort. There were alumna from 1951 - to the last batch. About a 1000 showed up. The program was well organised and was a resounding success. I met many old mates - Choudary  and I went together, Sanjay came with us as did Chandu, Vijay was on the dais, Srinivas Reddy, Sriman, Ravikanth, Subramanyam, Balaswamy, Pradeep Mannam, Srikanth Iyengar, Dhananjay Goud, Jitender, Amarender, Sridhar, Rajkumar and on and on. I met Prof. Shamraj too, dapper and fun as always.
Dec, 2015, Koni, me and Chandu at our favorite place - the steps, Sanjay went missing at the critical time as always.
Among the things I did was write a piece about our days in college for the souvenir. I think it might just be appropriate to share the same here now because it does recount our times then with as much detail as I can remember. Will also place a few pics - from then and now.
Feb 1988, Three of us in this pic too  - Chandu standing, Sunil Jyoti, Ali Mumtaz, Aquel Husain, Koni, Sanjay (partly hidden), me (foreground) and Subbu

The article then.

 “What They Don’t Teach You at OUCE But What You Can Get to Learn if You Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open”
Harimohan Paruvu
Civil, 1984-88

When Vijay first asked me to write about our years at the Osmania University College of Engineering I was naturally apprehensive. Any realistic account of my years at the engineering college would be suicidal of course. There were things that had to be done which I did not while there, and there were things that should not have been done which had done. Hence, my rising app. But I decided to go ahead with it in the interests of recording history and, as governments the world over do, present a slightly watered down version of those years.
Me and Srikanth Iyengar - part of the winning Vizzy Trophy team for South Zone 1991
I had no clue about what engineering was about when I joined the course (I found out two years after I left the college what that word meant). I had precariously low knowledge of maths and physics and chemistry. My only expertise was restricted to the cricket field. I sneaked in to the college through the sports quota and once I got there faced, what certainly appeared to be a formidable challenge to my mental faculties for four years (or more). I felt like a total fraud going into this center of learning with my appalling credentials – but then truth be told - I feel like a total fraud going though life itself. But like most things in life, I knew we could always solve the big problems when they showed up. 
So I put my chin up and walked into this imposing building they called the Osmania University College of Engineering.

Between then and the final year, much changed inside of me. Not all of it was because of what was taught inside the classroom, so let me try and tell you “What They Don’t Teach You at OUCE But What You Can Get to Learn if You Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open”. (My last book was a self-help book and I have still not got out of that mode.)
Aboard the Nancowrie 1986 -  Cruising the Bay of Bengal on the way to Port Blair (Sanjay, Subbu, me and Sydney on far right)
To walk into a room full of colleagues who knew their maths, physics and chemistry inside out, with nothing more technical sounding than the angle to hold the seam to bowl an outswinger (and that too on occasion), was a daunting task. Everyone looked like a scholar, seemed to know the time table, the subjects, the way to navigate through this ocean. I looked around desperately and found equally desperate eyes of fellow sportsmen. Kindred souls. But my cause was not helped by my hobnobbing with my fellow sportsmen (the sportswomen turned out to be a smarter lot and hobnobbed with the toppers). We realized that after sweating it out on the fields we had little gas left for academic pursuits. We spent much time at the canteen where there was no threat of being called by the professors to answer academic questions in class, the answers to which we did not know then or will never know ever – why they asked us I could never figure out. If the same professor had come to bat without knowing that the cricket ball would hurt, I don’t think I would have revelled in bowling the shiny cherry at his head and indulged in mocking at his lack of ability. The classes then were not the place where I would learn I decided. It had to be elsewhere. That is how it panned out anyway.
End of Pot Pourrie I guess 1988 - chai at Hilton after an exhausting day of doing nothing
The first of the great lessons I learned at the OUCE was that there was a place for everyone in the world. Like many wise men say today, diversity is the way forward and this came through at the college. If we were not really wanted in the classroom we found that we were welcomed with open arms at the canteen. It was filled with free spirits who did not think much of classes, who had ready wit, who loved movies and were constantly making plans of breaking some law or the other. We drank much chai, discussed movies, pondered over the pros and cons of falling in love with most of the girls who visited the canteen and went home rich and content with this new knowledge. We found solace for our troubled hearts in these wonderful centres of tolerance and acceptance. Lesson one – we had a place in the world too. Just as any parliament has a place for all sorts and not just those who knew maths, physics and chemistry, I found I belonged too.

Any education worth its salt has to be about finding our legs, our feet and ourselves. I was hopelessly purposeless when I walked into college (now I am hopefully purposeless). My insecurity grew many times thanks to my seriously academic friends who had alien aspirations like GRE, TOEFL, US, foreign Universities, I20s, MS degrees and stuff like that. Where these guys had their entire lives planned out right down to their foreign cars, jobs, universities, types of girls to marry, children to have, what universities to send them to etc - I could not see beyond the day, did not know what all these words meant and had no idea why anyone would want to leave home and go to a cold country full of foreign people. They appeared to be brave souls with great clarity and I admired them secretly. As opposed to them and their clarity of purpose I hoped something would happen to me and I would end up somewhere in between a rich and opulent life and a mediocre life. Hopefully a normal life like in the advertisements – with a house, a car, a wife, children and a dog. A farmhouse, a house in the hills would be welcome of course. I however, was hazily aware that I needed something to hold on to. It was then that my weakest link became my strongest. I found that there were a lot of people who seemed to like the fact that I could play cricket well. Playing first class cricket for the state, getting my pictures in the newspapers and magazines every once in a while was not bad achievement in a world full of geeks and I started feeling a bit more confident of standing on my own two feet. That is something I am immensely grateful for –that we are all enough with whatever we have. Even the knowledge of how to bowl fast which I believed had limited application in this world. How wrong I was! But that was lesson number two – I was good enough with whatever I had.
Life at the college canteen - Seth in the red coat and Vijay to the extreme right
The next thing I found after settling down was that people were easy to get along with if you had the capacity to smile, to greet and be genuinely fake. People of all hues and backgrounds came into my life and I got along well with most. I made friends in the table tennis rooms, in the canteen, in the hostels, in the cricket fields, inside and outside class rooms, in seniors and juniors, among all sexes. Soon life was like being in some heady high all the time. Imagine being suffused by love all the time, not a care in the world despite empty pockets and all the hope the world can offer. It was an incredible high. Lesson number 3 – that if the heart was open, friends walked in by the droves. And so many of them are still in touch sharing jokes and wisdom on whatsapp (which I discontinued a few months ago)!

It was quite clear that sooner than later the dreaded academic side would catch up with me and put me under stress. That was when I learned another lesson – that if we asked there were many who wanted to go out of their way to help. Apart from the core group of fellows who made it their life mission to distract me from any meaningful work, I remember Prof Shamraj who helped all sportspersons with the same generosity that he exhibits even today, Fakeer Mohammed saab who was our PD and then Venkat Reddy who joined as the PD later. All of them in their own way helped me and all sportsmen in general in every way and made our journey more bearable in terms of internals and attendance and other scary, academic stuff. There were also a myriad souls who were willing to help with our academics – those who took time out and cracked their heads trying to explain basic stuff to us. All we had to do was ask and there was help in every way possible. Lesson number 4 – if you need help, ask. I was surprised at how much help I received by merely acting and looking helpless. (That’s when I got the realization that women are really smart)
After an inter-faculty game of cricket
Where I was limited by my knowledge of maths and science, many others were limited by language itself. I soon realized that if I could understand a bit of subjects (not mathematics which used a different language) and convey it well in English, I had a better chance of scoring higher than a guy who knew the subject but could not convey it. So I filled my papers with tons and tons of prose with all that I knew – from the introduction of the book to the bibliography, all that was English was my field. I learned that everyone has a weakness - and it is how we use our weaknesses and strengths to achieve our goal that matters. My aim was not to get a gold medal – I merely wanted to pass. So this use of English to argue my case worked fine. It probably served as early practice to write stories too – I used lots of additional papers as I stretched my tiny one line answers many times over across eight or nine drama-filled pages. Lesson number 4 – work within your limitations, don’t beat yourself up and find a way to use your limitations well.

Once in the second year we were faced with a sudden and unfair change of rules – from 24 backlogs which would have ensured smooth passage to the final year without studying at all - it was brought  down to a mere two backlogs. So one fine day, after I had missed an entire semester exam owing to cricket commitments, I was told that I needed to clear 16 of my 18 exams compulsorily in about 25 days or repeat the year. Somehow for me, failing was an option, but repeating an year was not – it seemed like a terribly boring thing to do. I pulled in all the resolve I had, set myself down to learn from all sources, waylaid the best in the business at the library, and picked off the subjects off one by one. A whole month of taking it ball by ball, session by session, paid off and I did manage to scrape through all 18. It was an achievement I pride myself on in retrospect – I could do anything if I set my mind to it I felt. I appreciate now my survival instinct in seeking help from everyone – profs to colleagues. More importantly I realized the importance of a good teacher. The subjects taught by Ram, Vinod and Krishna Reddy in short classes in the library that lasted not longer than 20 minutes resulted in scores of 70% and above for me – me who had no clue about those subjects. The lucidity of concepts taught by a good teacher sank in and I reproduced the same almost verbatim the next day. Lesson number four – a good guru can sort you out in a few minutes and explain stuff in simple terms. Get those mentors you all.
On our trusty steeds, some missing

One of the most important lessons I learned during those years was the importance of ownership and what it takes to win. It was on the cricket field that I fully understood what it takes to win. This happened after many painful losses of course. There were games that I played both for college, university and state when I made up my mind that we would not lose and I did all that I could to ensure that. That mindset helped me many times and I knew that if I accessed that mindset, I could not lose or not give less than what I could. I had to commit and prepare, and be ready for the consequences of wanting to reach out to a higher world. We won hard fought championships with severely compromised teams that ran on nothing but passion. Lesson number five – the importance of preparation and ownership, the commitment to win.

In the same breath I realized how much I gained as an individual if my team won. This was something that the cricket field taught me again. Every time I did something to help my team win I found that I was recognized for my part in the win, even with lesser performance, and was rewarded suitably. I understood how important it was to work for the team, how important for everyone to feel the same way in every one’s own benefit. I did use this learning to be of some help to all those who mattered to me, to play my part in that team and I am not much worse for that.
Picking some prizes for Civil 1988 - Venkat Reddy, our PD, in the background
As I progressed towards the final year, I found that girls were people too and not angels on a heavenly mission to mess our minds. So when they donned their human avatars, I found it easier to know them and speak to them. However for some reason I think I was under the popular illusion that if one kissed a girl one had to marry her so I avoided going past holding hands (which is not crossing the marriage limit by any standards). Time passed, women passed. Lesson number five was more important than any – tis better to have tried than never to have tried at all. It remains one big regret that so many lovely ladies never knew of my wonderful intentions towards them and probably never will. However as a lesson I carry that forward, and pass my love freely these days.

It was not that I spent my time at college learning boring self-help lessons. They happened by some mistake and sound better in retrospect. What really happened was a complete waste of time with some excitable, adrenalin junkies that I made as friends. Choudary, Sanjay, Subbu, Ali, Ram, Sunil Jyoti, Chandu, Vijay, Gautam were some who remained constantly in damaging distance through those years and shared many mad moments.
Somewhere inside the college, but outside the classroom (From left - Aqueel, Subbu, Sanjay, Chandu, Ali, me and a junior of ours)
Once we took off in Choudary’s jeep on a hunting trip – saw nothing but a rabbit’s tail - and on the return journey got the driver excited enough to take a sharp turn. The jeep keeled over and tumbled on to its side with all of us inside. How we jumped out and put it back on its four wheels in a minute was a mystery and save for V who suffered some damage, all was fine. Yet another time we travelled on the flimsiest set of two wheelers to the famed dhabhas of Medchal and were chased on the way back by lathi wielding cops on Bullets. Luckily I was on a bike that was faster than the one at the end of the line. To spice things up there were politics and elections, enmities and friendships, wins and losses. There was love, and quiet visits to the ladies hostel. Once I walked into an exam to answer a paper on Geometrical Drawing and realized I did not even know how to fix the drafter. A helpful neighbor fixed it for me and unfixed it later. Full marks for courage but what was I hoping for I did not know. Perhaps I expected the drafter to draw on its own once it was fixed – I was always an optimist you see.
Aqueel and Koni on the bike, Seth posing as if he does not belong, outside the canteen
I found some amazing ingenuity like a friend who bribed a clerk to get an internal question paper. So busy were we celebrating this coup that we failed to prepare and were more unprepared than we would have been if there was no question paper in hand. Also I found great improvisations with which our friends would copy – highly scientific methods using the angle of light and a particular kind of ink. I found that our toppers had no qualms in copying too, if it added a mark or two. And once we went and submitted the wrong assignment – a civil structures assignment to the steel structures Prof - the strictest Prof in the department. There were late night revelries in the hostels, movies, bread omelet at the late night canteen run by Sattar who they say finally went off to the USA himself. The day canteen was run by a moustachioed gentleman who went by the simple name of Seth – some said he was a rich landlord who lost his land. Seth was a kindly soul but knew nothing of how to make chai till the last day.

There was cultural upliftment. Music for example. We listened to music in the eclectic students lounge which I found was an advanced concept. It had a record player and some fine records chosen by someone with good taste. I heard America there for the first time– “Magic” and “Horse with no name”. One chap would play music on request there. Luckily, in those days, people could sit by and chat without getting beaten up for listening to some kind of music or sitting in a particular style those days – people were a bit more tolerant then. We also had these western music nights during annual day celebrations where a group called ‘Katalog’ came and played dangerous stuff like ‘Cocaine’, ‘Smoke on the water’, ‘Money for nothing’ and stuff like that while we recreated our own version of Woodstock.
Informal cricket - Subbu diving away (for the pic I suspect) 
There was our own cultural festival ‘Pot Pourri’ which we could never pronounce right. The good news was that the festival brought in good looking girls to the college voluntarily so we did not have to go searching for them. The bad news was that these good looking girls found people who matched their intellect and wandered off with them. We found a way to get our own back at these cultural festivals which excluded us sportsmen – we were culturally challenged you see – so we started a cricket game called informal cricket which was a one bounce, hostel corridor version. It became a big hit with an all-girl team participating in it too. I use those same games to explain team work and leadership to companies these days. So I did learn something at college that provides me a livelihood after all!

What good is a good college story if there are no cops. After one cultural festival one of our excitable friends got carried away and imbibed a bit too much culture. Unfortunately there was a skirmish during the festival that warranted police presence. We were desperately shifting our drunken friend to the hostel before the cops caught us and would have had too, had he not insisted on stopping the bike and proclaiming his love for each one of us individually. In the middle of his ballad arrived the constabulary and we were all carted off to the police station first, the hospital next for medical examination and finally thanks to some intervention by a political bigwig, let off from the police station with stern warnings after midnight. Our friend, a middle distance runner, decided to celebrate his freedom by taking off on a run at a pace that was too hot for us even on bikes. We searched for him all over and when we returned in a state of despair found him cosily snuggled in his hostel room oblivious to all that happened.

In one another incident we found the same hero at the receiving end of some abuse by a conductor. Offended by the conductor’s abuse, the temperamental young lad garnered some support from the hostel, stopped every single bus that returned on that route and proceeded to id every conductor. When the erring conductor was produced it was a hell of a scene – buses stopped for miles on either side while the conductor was gently reminded of the advantages of being polite. Once again he made use of his runner legs and sped away before the constabulary arrived. For a long time after the session on good conduct, bus conductors on that route behaved with utmost respect to the engineering students. Good education always helps.
Pic from Endeavour - Sanjay (bearded) just back from a basket ball game chatting with Koni and some pals from CBIT
There was this Inter-Engineering college sports meet called ‘Endeavour’. I led our Engineering college which was the favorite to win until the semis and then left for a state commitment. When we won the game against CBIT in an inter-college game there was that classic college moment when the prettiest girl from CBIT was gracious enough to seek me out in the dressing room and congratulated me. When she shook hands, many hearts around me burned and I swear I could see smoke go up in the air. Perfect filmy stuff. It made a lot of my friends wildly jealous. But it remains a wonderful moment. In a revenge match the CBIT guys, all good friends, called us over to their college, and once again lost. This time we were supported by the prettiest girls from our college who had become good friends with us by then!

A moment of great pride for me was being part of the Ranji trophy team that won the prestigious trophy for only the second time in its history (and the last time since), and the vice chancellor invited me over for tea at his lodge. That remains a high point in my two years on campus. Tea with the VC? It was bigger than the tea with the Chief Minister for me. It was a fine gesture.
Chief Minister NT Rama Rao presenting me with a certificate and a cheque for being part of the winning Ranji team, 1987
There were bike trips to Goa, feni and extreme drunkenness (funnily I never drank in those days). There was a ship cruise to the Andamans to visit our friend Ali – where sleeping on the deck and watching the stars, watching the sea and sky merge as flying fish flew by were great memories. There were movies by the dozens, some classics and some utter trash. Ditto for biryanis and cheap Chinese lunches at Alex’s Kitchen and Chin Ling. There were table tennis matches that won us many lunches on days when we had no extra money. One trip to Nagarjuna Sagar with the Electrical batch which is best forgotten except for a twilight walk on the dam listening to the Beatles sing ‘Paperback Writer’ and ‘Hey Jude’ thanks to Subbu’s small tape. Friends turned into foes and scooter dickies filled with cycle chains. As the final year grew closer we occupied the immense halls of the main library building that served as a great base to study alongwith our many well wishers who taught us how to survive exams.

As our time at the college shortened I could see the energy of the US dream engulfing more than half the class. The other half was planning for a life of higher academics or jobs. I realized I had not yet gained any special ability and needed to set my academic career right before I proceeded further. I gave up on my Engineering which had been severely compromised and focused on getting myself an MBA. But first things first, I needed to clear my engineering.
Outside Minerva Coffee Shop - where we used to cram for our exams (Subbu, Koni, Sanjay, Ali and me)
In one way or another, classroom or outside, the transition from gawky, unsure teenager to bearded, unsure young man did happen. I learned what I could, and to me, it was enough. If education was about finding self esteem and a confidence that one can get along in life using right principles, I did walk off from those portals with some semblance of those learnings. Along the way it was a great bonus to have found the love and appreciation of so many friends.

Now when Vijay asks me to write about those years, I can only look back at that period with great fondness. It was a time of celebration, of youth, of follies and fun, of learning and openness. It is a time that is still clear in my mind. Today older and wiser I can appreciate the goodness of all those who showered me with their love and understand the limitations of mine and all those who were found wanting in certain circumstances. We were all evolving and learning, work in progress. All is now forgiven and when we meet now, older, wiser and greyer, I know most of us have evolved into leaders who are fighting the good battle well. There are so many luminaries in that batch doing wonderful work in the government, in industry, in education, in arts and culture and many other fields. Too many to mention but one would like to believe, as every batch does I am sure, that this was a special batch. Forget the heroes, even the villains were spectacular.
Serious stuff - prepping for the finals at the Main library (Koni, Anand and Subbu)
For those who may want to know more about the gaps in my story, here goes. The path was messy and continues to be. After the engineering degree I acquired an MBA from Osmania College of Commerce and Business Management. Those two years were spent slightly more purposefully in terms of acquiring academic knowledge and credentials. I landed jobs serially in petroleum, airlines, exports and finally a development bank (which I preferred to call an investment bank because it sounded better than a development bank). Many years later I decided to chuck it all and live life on the edge – chasing my passions. Of course I had two passions cricket and writing and so I combined the two and started writing on cricket. The first book, a novel titled ‘The Men Within’, took a while in coming but when it did, it was made into a Telugu film ‘Golconda High School’, the second was a romance titled ‘If You Love Someone” and was not made into a film and the third is a self-help book on cricket titled ’50 Not Out’. Some more books are on the way as I navigate my way through this writing world. I flirted a bit with cricket administration and served as Chairman of the Senior Selection Committee for the Hyderabad Cricket Association before retiring into my peaceful life again. Since I use some management jargon and also need to pay bills – I do some work with corporates on leadership and team building. I have a wife who is equally footloose and has not a thought about tomorrow. We have an eight year old daughter who is exactly the opposite and who is fully grounded so we are back to the classroom again.
Sunil Jyoti, me, Ram, Anand and Ali - returning to college 
The lessons that began at the University continue in the University of Life.

P.S. Let me put on record a love affair I never acknowledged before. If for nothing else but its grand looks and strength of character, I would never trade those four years of engineering for anyplace else. It was all I could imagine of a university; stately buildings, huge halls, sweeping staircases, endless corridors, expansive steps, lawns, libraries, the dignity and history, it was marvelous. I hope someone puts a picture of the building in this edition. I was very much in love with the way my college looked and feel proud that I belonged there.


Hmmm said...

Wow. That's some writing - let me not spoil it by trying to describe it. (P.S. Hopefully Anjali doesn't read this and realize that 'technically' you are just a dog away from life you had hoped.)

Harimohan said...

Haha. Thanks Hmmm. Can't hide things for too long you know!

Anonymous said...

Touche. Solid arguments. Keep up the amazing spirit.