Tuesday, August 31, 2004

An Inspirational Speech by Dr.V.GoplaKrishnan- IITM 1969

Albeit a bit long, this is a very inspirational speech made by Dr.Gopalkrishnan of IITMAA-1969 Btech- Mechanical, to an assembly of students at the Mookambigai Engineering College at Tiruchi,TamilNadu earlier this year. You may read this article if time permits. If you read it carefully you can read into the mind of the author, his dreams, his vision and his passion for a few things he holds close to his heart.

While we were batch mates I did not really get to know Gopal. In the last yearI have found out a lot about this silent achiever Dr.Gopalakrishnan is the GM, Products -Boilers at BHEL-Tiruchi,TamilNadu and is a member of the IITMAA-Global Group and my consultant astrologer. He has his own Fortran program for Astrological predictions and believe me he is a real Guru at it. Ramboaus
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This is what he wrote in his recent letter to me while I was in UK.:

Your idea of a global group is excellent. My own ideas are fairly close. I feel that each individual can do something on his own - using the local resources - for the society. My pet idea is to put Tiruchi on the IT map, leveraging BHEL's strengths and my personal contacts. My score card so far reads -1..

A Satellite earth station, functioning now from the Regional Engg College, Tiruchi2.. The finishing School on ' Computational Engineering'.3.. DSL technology for our township, using a start-up company, created by Prof. Jhunjhunwallah of IIT,Madras.4..

I am also trying to get the local kids interested in chess.5.. As for my SELF, apart from Astrology, I am learning Vedas, Veena and am visiting Tamilnadu's Heritage temples & developinga web-site on them. From Quality, recently I have moved into a product area - Boilers -with a turnover of 1000 crores per annum.

I have refused an offer to move to Delhi, to head a proposed subsidiary of BHEL on IT.
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I wish I had learnt in my younger days...
By Dr.V.Gopalakrishnan

Annual day speech, Mookambikai Engg College, Tiruchi, TamilNadu,
Dated 21 03 2002

INTRODUCTION :
Your Principal Sri Venugopalan should take the credit (or the blame)for this funny sounding topic. When he invited me for this lecture, he didn't suggest any topic. HE KNOWS AND I KNOW WHAT IS USUALLY SPOKEN ON SUCH OCCASIONS. But when I got the official letter, it said something like "Give an inspiring talk". That was a tall order. Mundane talks meant for annual days are rarely inspiring. I thought that at least I will choose an odd topic, for that gives me a fighting chance to meet his expectations, at least half way. Often we give the word experience to what is basically existence. Experience sounds more soothing to the soul. I have thirty plus years of existence or experience in the industry. In my case, it is from the same factory and so it is really thirty times one year experience. A by-product of this experience is hindsight, which is always perfect. Based on the hindsight born of experience, I have some strong opinions about my early education at IIT and elsewhere and what it should have been.

The trigger came from my e-group - the 'IITMadras-69' e-group. It is said that small minds gossip about people; better minds follow events and great minds discuss issues.

We generally gossip about ourclass mates. We resort to nostalgia. Once in a way take up some useful topic. This was one such. What I present below is a kind of consensus we had arrived at - what we wish we had learnt in our younger days- which would have either made us better engineers or better men or both. When I say better, I do not necessarily mean successful in a worldly sense. Why I say that may become clearer as we go along. I am not that egoistic or optimistic to think that what I am going to say will have an impact on the syllabus in IIT or Mookambikaior elsewhere, in the near future. Some of the suggestions may also be superfluous if IIT or somebody else has possibly implemented them. The modern curriculum is more dynamic than what I have seen in my days. In any case, let me march on with my speech or advice, because I have to fill up the time allotted to me - the very purpose for which I have been invited.

Educating or entertaining or inspiring you is purely incidental.
1) The first topic may surprise many of you. During my early days in IIT, I used to wonder about the difference between engineering and technology or more specifically between a BE and a B.Tech. Yesterday my son asked me the very same question; he has just finished his school and is applying for some engineering courses. The best answer I could give him was that technology was applied engineering while engineering was applied science. I do not know better nor I am satisfied with the answer. Incidentally Louis Pasteur says that there are no such things as applied sciences - only applications of sciences. I realized then that I ought to know how the word technology came into existence and how it evolved. To know about, I should perhaps start with the evolution of Science. I wish I had learnt in my college days a little more about the evolution of Science and technology from the first Neanderthal man's stone-tool to the gadgetry of the21st century.

How did SCIENCE evolve? It simply evolved with mankind. The first man who began to use a stone was probably the earliest Scientist. The bow is the first machine that man made and its maker, the first mechanical engineer. The taming of fire and the inventionof the wheel are among the greatest achievements of mankind to date and are comparable to the landing on moon and the PC. After all, discovery is seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what no body has thought. This definition is equally applicable to the Stone Ages. At every stage of the evolution, somebody has used the sciences of his times to meet practical needs and such persons are called engineers and technologists. They liberated humans from the drudgery of hardlabor. They made humans mobile and conquered distances; they harnessed the energy locked up in natural elements. They thus supported the growth of civilisation and enhanced the quality of life.

Rewind Earth, by say, two hundred years ! No electricity, no airplanes, no cars, no TV, no cinema, no CD players, no computers, no antibiotics, no vaccines, no space travel, no fast food, no Mookambikai engineering college, no annual days! Believe me, engineers are behind all these. My first class at IIT, Madras was on Corioli's acceleration in Physics by a German professor, with poor English. I couldn't followa bit of it. As days went by, there were other topics and other subjects and the experience recurred with sickening regularity; But not one course gave me a perspective on the professional life I was about to embark on - save some subject like Production Management, taught in the final year. There should have been a course right in the first year on the Historic Importance of Engineers as liberators of human beings. Engineering that way would appeal to anybody's youthful idealism!

I will now go to a related topic. It would have been inspiring to have known about of some of the greatest engineers that ever existed and about the surviving masterpieces of antiquity. How many of us have wondered about the Civil engg aspects of Thanjavur Temple or Grand Anicut or about the metallurgical aspectsof the Great Iron pillar in Delhi or the bronze statues of Nataraja from in and around Kumbakonam! At least, why not some colleges,think of project works on these topics?

1 b) I sometimes wonder whether the 'brick and mortar' engineers have any role models at all! I mean of the Einstein or Bill Gates class! It is a moot point whether students of BSc. Physics get excited about Einstein or CVRaman being a physicist! But see it in a different way! Why do the students prefer IT today? Forget its present tribulations; IT has captured the imagination of the youngsters through its excellent role mode ls likeNarayana Murthy, Azim Premji , Sabeer Bhatia and Desh Deshpande- all Indians, ideal role models comparable to Sachin Tendulkar and Viswanathan Anand, who have made it big at the international level- enough to have deeply influenced the youngsters. Then there is Bill Gates of USA. Where are the role models in other branches of Engineering? Tata, Birla and Ambani in India or Jack Welch and Percy Barnevik globally? (I prefer Westinghouse, whose biographyI have read). But for your information, Jack Welch came last in a popularity poll for celebrities in USA and reported in Time or Newsweek - I don't remember which; Bill Gates, came first, ahead of cine stars, sports heroes & politicians. You can drawyour own conclusions!

1.c) I also wished that I had learned about the limitations relating to several popular laws - like the laws of mechanics by Newton or the limits of Euclidean geometry in representing physical laws. I learned later, to my horror, that Newton's laws are only approximate - when it comes to the planetary motions, leave alone atomic physics. While talking about Bohr's model, somebody should have told me about quarks and mesons. Only when I went into spherical trigonometry later on my own that I learnt that the sum of the angles of a spherical triangle is a variable and it is always greater than 180 degrees! Only much later did I learn that it is the customary fate of scientific truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions. Even Einstein had difficulties in accepting Quantum Theory when it was first proposed! He couldn't accept the concept of Probability in Physics and declared that God does not play dice with the Universe! He was proved totally wrong later!

In effect, every student should early on know what are the limits and puzzles of laws that engineers use in their profession. A good course on what we know about physical laws and the known controversies would have been useful. So, these are the thoughts that came to my mind when I mentioned about the history of Engineering!

2) Now I go on to the second topic, namely ethics in Engineering. It is interesting to note that Osama Bin Laden had studied engineering and two of the terrorists responsible for the destruction of World Trade Center in New York were engineers.You young engineers, you are about to acquire knowledge that endows you with power to either benefit or destroy mankind. You are something like an L-board driver, who has a huge weapon in his hand with which he can kill people, albeit unintentionally! I wish the students are taught about ethics and morality in the practice of engineering early on. It is high time engineers take an oath similar to the Socratic oath of medical professionals. Something like, ''Above all do not cause harm to my fellowmen ''or its equivalent.

Enron and Arthur Anderson episodes have lessons to teach to syllabus framers. One is an American corporate icon collapsing amid charges of fraud; in the process the other - one of the world's most respected audit firms - gets tainted. There is a predatory, corrupting side to the new corporate system, which is not based on social responsibility. And this new theory of greed is getting promoted in the world's best business schools. I will come back to Business schools a little later. While in college, I implicitly learnt -but nobody taught me -that engineers are morally neutral in matters of inventions and innovations. If an engineer has used his talents in developing a Neutron bomb, well, he has no views on that.

Today I realise thatwhat is called for is not a neutral stand but a positive stand. I should have been taught that Engineers are to be responsible members of a civil society - they must at all times put their professional integrity and ethics above pecuniary motives. Professional oaths offer no guarantee against evil but it provides an explicit standard for an engineer with a good conscience in dealingwith Ethical issues from corruption to projects of mass destruction.

3) I now move on to Environmental issues. It is Technology which led to pollution, poison gas, Ozone depletion, Greenhouse effect, depletion of fossil fuels, and non-degradable plastics! Reason? Industrialisation without an integrated approach! We Engineers as a collective lot are responsible for all these. No one should approach the temple of science with the soul of a money changer -an analogy given in Bible. But that is precisely the problem.Then what is the solution? We ourselves again! Every engineer must know and intimately understand the first principle of Ecology, that is, ''You can't do just one thing alone''. It affects the rest of the system. Whether one builds a nuclear power plant or a dam or a highway, he or she is responsible for understanding the extraneous consequences and risks. Every student should be taught to think holistically about every project they are about to embark on professionally. In design, scale and appropriateness becomes paramount. Our engineering graduates should be able to apply their knowledge to solve problems right in their own backyards, such as a design of Rain Water Collection Systems or a solar power system.The possibilities for projects in local communities are endless.Technology should always be used for human welfare. It should be used to solve poverty and starvation and unemployment.

"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind" said Albert Einstein. Here we can take the word religion as a broad concern for the welfare of humanity.

4) Next, I believe that in this age of rapid technological change, an average engineer could easily become obsolete within five to six years without continuing education. Many of us in Govt services and public sectors get away with it, but that cannot be generalsied. Technological obsolescence had been the bane of India from time immemorial and we don't seem to have learned our lessons.When Alexander invaded India with his swift horses, we had only slow elephants to fight him with. We learnt no lessons from our defeat at his hands. Centuries later, we lost again to Babar becausewe were still loyal to elephants! Further, we had only muskets to counter Babar's canons! That defeat is not to be forgotten by creating a controversy about Babar's Masjid. Even in 1962, the Chinese humiliated us because they had modern arms and we had none. Why we built temple halls with a thousand pillars a millennium after others had mastered the design of the arch ? Why we built the great sundial in Jantar Mantar in Delhi long after telescopes had become commonplace? Why we were manufacturing only Ambassador and Fiat cars, till into the 90s? We blame our cricketers for their poor fielding, but do we provide them with good turfs, where they can afford to dive like Jonty Rhodes? We blame our hockey players, but how many regularly play on Astro turf? Today, even a chess player needs a computer and a clock to improve. We want to teach Java and Visual Basic to school children without computers or with old 286s. I am only trying to explain that excellence in any filed has a technological component.Why do we stick to obsolete technology all the time, unmindful of the consequences? It is then important that every engineering graduate should anticipate the pace of change and acquire skills of self-studyand lifelong learning that will come in handy in their future

5) I next move on to Management . We the practicing managers cynically say that the first myth of management is that exists. Ultimately, Management is nothing but common sense, whatever the professors may say. But common sense is not very common. Speaking of Personal Experiences, when I graduated from IIT, Madras in 1969, it was a dream to join IIM A or C for further studies. The mission? To specialise in marketing and join Hindustan Lever or Colgate and sell soaps and tooth-pastes for the rest of your lives! Should a mechanical engineer be wasted in selling toothpaste and soaps? But the salary in those days forMBAs was more than twice that of engineers. BHEL ETs used to geta princely Rs 400.p.m. So jealousy for IIMs and MBAs continues in my heart even now. And jealousy is the best form of praise. One of the facts of professional life is that after a few years every engineer becomes a manager of sorts - sometimes of projects or even of companies. One-third of all CEOs of Fortune-500 companies in the US is made up engineering graduates. Thus it is imperative that engineers learn within the four or five year span of educationa little bit of entrepreneurship, project management, finance, economics, and the basics of creating and managing teams.

It is really onerous and expensive for a BE graduate to go on to get a Management Degree by going to IIM for an additional two years. Much of what one learns in management and finance courses should be relatively easy for any BE student. Why do you want to become a manager? Is it because of the extra salary, the perks and the social status? Nothing wrong in that. But what motivates a real manager is something else. When you become a manager, you can at last control your own work - not all of it,but most of it. You can change things. You can do things differently. You can influence the way in which your staff work. You can shape your own work environment. Is it not exciting? If so, you have the makings of a real manager. A course on management also prepares a student to face the ever changing economic scenario with more confidence. This year, business schools are reporting a dismal placement season.

Lesser mortals grapple with lay-offs, a shrinking market of "secure" jobs and foreign competition. The ultimate in management is managing yourself!

6) Next I move on to VALUES in life.
To me this is more importantthan all other aspects. No course is likely to teach it, but somekind of extra-curricular approach is welcome. I had already touched upon ethics- I will take up a few other topics - patriotism for example ; The other day, I was reading the biography of Sir CV Raman, who incidentally was born in Tiruchi. But there is no monument for him in Tiruchi nor many know where he was born. He was after all only the first Asian Scientist toget the Nobel prize! He was not a Neta - not a minister or an MLA or even a councilor! Raman says that Patriotism does not flow from chorus sounding the National anthem, but through "love of the earth that bore us, feeds and sustains us". He was against relying on foreign technology. Science can and shall advance in very simple ways.

We often payRs. 50,000 for something, which can be made for only Rs. 5,000. The balance in difference we pay for our ignorance, he used to say.

I would like to touch upon another topic, related to patriotism. In my humble opinion, there is a threat of a different kind to independent India and other developing countries, who are far too willing to give up their "long-cherished" work and business ethics to embrace the promise of future well-being held out by the West in the name of market economy. The recurrent global crises in East Asia and Latin America, coupledwith the recent economic crisis in Argentina, raises questions about the economic management paradigms enforced by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The ethical dimension of business does not mean seeking unlimited profits, like Enron.

There is great danger that self serving Western societies put down the developing nations as banal, corrupt or worse in order to improve the West's own self-image. A certain model of westernization is being imposed on the global community and the dissenters are virtually beaten into compliance or jeered into submission. India must stand up to that. India should develop its own philosophy on management relations that should lead to wealth creation and equitable distribution of wealth. We must strive for a convergence of business interest, people's desire and expectations of the masses and retain our culture of "solid ethical core". It may not be easybut at least the goal should be clear.

7) I move to another value - appreciation of nature or finer things in life. Study, examinations, books, lectures etc are but a very little part of a student's life. Education is imperfect if one does not realize that man does not live by bread alone. The finest things in life are music, color, flowers, beauty, aesthetic sense and the satisfaction derived from those. Tamilnadu has great traditions of music, dance, art and culture, for example, which makes many of its citizens take to these things.I only have sympathy for a person born in Tamilnadu but without a taste for music - not necessarily of the classical music of theCarnatic kind. It is those finer things in life that make lifeworth living.

A small advice to you; Don't be visiting only hotels and theaters in your spare time. Do a bit of trekking across the forests and mountains. One need not go to Himalayas for this. Ooty and Kodaikanal will do. Occasionally visit the Heritage sites- Temples and Forts.

Studying in IIT amidst those forests deer and snakes is something I will remember long after I have forgotten my Theory of Machines and Thermodynamics. As CV Raman says," Nature is the supreme artist; she creates forms of beauty, loveliness and color, unsurpassable". Nature is the inspiration not only for artists, painters and sculptors , but also for engineers and scientists. I can go on and on. There are other things I wish I had learned much earlier in my life - no matter where - but they are personal and subjective. It includes subjects like literature -Tamil, Englishand Sanskrit, history, music and mystisism . I have made a late start in some of these areas but age tells while learning. But I think I am approaching the point of diminishing returns. So, let me now quickly come to the CONCLUSION.

You are still students, but soon you will become responsible citizens - you will be achievers - engineers, scientists, industrialists, professors, leaders, businessmen. At that time, repay your debts to your family, your society , your country, your city, your alma mater in a million ways. Incidentally Sir CVRaman is not the only scientist to come fromTiruchi. Dr. Abdul Kalam is an alumni of St. Joseph college, Tiruchi. The great Ramanujam is from Kumbakonam, not far off from Tiruchi, on the banks of the same Cauveri. There could be many more, but my knowledge is limited. I am sure that out of this gathering, a few Ramans, Ramanujams and Abdul Kalams are going to emerge and do Tiruchi proud in the days to come.

I have read about one Nobel Laureate in literature, who was a dullhead in the school. But one teacher had faith in his literary talent. She once casually told the boy that when he writes a book later in his life, he should dedicate it to her! He did precisely that. One of you will surely win a Nobel prize, another will write a great book, yet another will start An industry, and a fourth will build a great temple . I have more faith in the younger generation than in our generation. I will tell you a small anecdote.

A well-known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $ 100-note. He asked the audience,"Who wants this $ 100 note?" All hands went up. He then crumpled the note and then asked, "Who still wants it?". Still the hands were upin the air. Then he dropped it on the ground and ground it into thefloor with his shoe. He picked it up, now all crumpled and dirty."Now who still wants it?" Still the hands went into the air.

He explained then the moral of the story - No matter what he did to the money, everyone still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $ 100. Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by our own wrong decisions and by circumstances and by others. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value. Each one is special in his own way- Don't ever forget it! Never let yesterday's disappointments overshadow tomorrow's dreams.

Dr.V.Gopalakrishnan
IIT Madras 1969 Batch