surendra foto ed

‘THE HIATUS’ a short story by TS Surendra

Editor’s Note.

THIRUVAZANDUR SRINIVASA SURENDRA, or TS Surendra joined the NDA in July 1962. His given name was a bit tough for his buddies, so he permitted them to call him ‘Tejinder’.  Academics was his forte. The Army spotted his strength when he won the Gold Medal on the Degree course. He was deputed to go to IIT Delhi in 1975 for his Post-Graduation in Power Apparatus & Systems and by the time he completed his M Tech, it was clear to him as also to every one else that he was intellectually cut out for Industry and the Academia. He left the Army soon after completing his minimum pensionable service and after a very successful stint with the nascent photovoltaic solar energy industry, he completed his PhD in engineering and joined an Engineering College, where he rose to become the Director. All along, he has nursed a desire to spin yarns and tell them in his own inimitable style. He has not earned much from his foray in the field of writing fiction, but when at the IIT his story telling ability won him a priceless reward. (You will have to approach him for the details; it is a closely guarded secret). Nearly all his stories are based on real life experiences. He has chosen to share one with us which he appears to have picked up from an Engineering College campus.

*

The Hiatus

Yes. It was the last day and it  was also the final session of the four-day techfest  aptly titled ‘Innovacion en tecnolgia’, which was  conducted annually in the engineering College. The students invariably prefer a Spanish, French or Greek title for such events – whatever the reason. What made the finale an engagement of far-reaching importance was the ‘do or die’ nature of the denouement for the two main competing teams who were till then tied on points. It  was a  crucial competition -‘importantisimo competition’ as the flexi poster outside the auditorium screamed. The battle lines were clearly  drawn with no holds barred  for this ‘izzat ka sawal’ slug-fest. – question of honour and prestige.

All eyes were trained on two  students from opposite camps who were  pitted against each other in the ‘debate of the decade’, as the students put it, that stood between the Overall trophy and  the Departments in engineering – Electronics and Instrumentation vs Electrical and Electronics, E & I vs EEE.  The rival camps’ aspirations, nay dreams, were riding on these two principal contestants. ‘Innovation in technology’ was the topic. Each speaker representing his or her Department would get thirty minutes for the talk and an additional ten minutes for questions and answers. The focus really shifted primarily to the two antagonists – Namrata (E & I) and Arvind (EEE) – the principal speakers of their respective Departments. The distinguished panel of judges included Dr Steve Allison, Professor Stanford University, USA and the Directors of BITS PILANI, Hyderabad Campus and  IIT Hyderabad.

Both the students were intelligent, class toppers and could pride themselves on a holistic development of their faculties – academics, sports, communication skills, team work  etc. Namrata was the daughter of an IAS Officer, then posted at Hyderabad, as Secretary, Energy Department. She had completed her schooling at the  Lawrence School, Lovedale. Arvind was the son of an Army Brigadier posted somewhere in the Eastern Sector. He had studied at the Hyderabad Public school and was an excellent sportsman – squash, tennis, cycling, basketball, football and so on. He was good at studies, too. These were two extraordinarily talented individuals but were as different as chalk and cheese.  

They had joined College on the same day, took an intense dislike for each other from day one and competed with unprecedented vigour and with  a rare  intensity reminiscent, in a way,  of Kane and Abel in the Jeffery Archer novel.

Getting back to the debate touted as the event of the year,  Namrata ascended the stage first amidst thunderous applause and commenced her talk after the customary introduction of speakers and the reiteration of the rules of the contest. She struck the right chord straightaway and articulated her ideas cogently and with conviction. “ We live in a kind of ‘future shock’ scenario. What is current today will be obsolete tomorrow or even as I speak! This would call for invention, innovation and thinking out of the box at all levels, particularly from all of us”. She proceeded to talk about innovation in the fields of energy, storage and computers: hybrid batteries – battery plus super-capacitors, internet of things, molecular electronics and devices such as the two-armed robotic exoskeleton that provides therapy to patients with spinal and neurological injuries. She concluded her talk by emphasizing that the way forward for India, in general,and the educational institutions, in particular,  would be to create the requisite facilities and infrastructure for promoting research. She was able to handle with aplomb the questions raised by the distinguished panel of judges. There was again a high decibel applause from the audience that even included her detractors. E & I Department students were convinced that the trophy would be theirs.

When Arvind walked up to the rostrum, there was again a deafening applause. At the outset, he complemented Namrata on her talk but asseverated that any innovation while leading to a better quality of life should also reduce costs. India being a country where more than 70% of its 1.3 billion people lived in the rural sector, innovation should primarily address this sector – agriculture, farming, irrigation, water shed development, pumping etc.  He appealed to the Government to set aside requisite funds to promote relevant research. Clean environment and reduction of the carbon foot-print were indispensable. He talked about innovation in irrigation by using soil sensors and the mobile phone alert to farmers. He talked about innovative technologies to harness solar power and how it could impact the lives of people in India. He also talked about 3-D printing and the fabrication of a  3-D printer attachment that could turn  smart-phones into  sophisticated microscopes. Infra-red LEDs were being tried to boost the available Wi-Fi bandwidth tenfold. He concluded his talk with a quote from Peter F. Drucker:  “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old. Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship… the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth”.  Arvind was able to handle all the questions with his characteristic flourish and panache.

The debate had indeed gone down to the wire. It was a very difficult decision for the judges. There was no concept of a super over here! It took them half an hour to decide. One of them mooted the idea of joint winners. But the majority felt they should decide one winner. It was finally decided to nominate Namrata as the winner. Dr Steve Allison announced the winner saying it was very tough call and she had won by a wafer-thin margin.  The auditorium exploded. Dr Allison made an offer to both  Namrata and Arvind to work in his laboratory at Stanford  during summer. He had an interesting project relating to wireless electricity. Arvind walked up to Namrata and congratulated her extending his hand. She did not reciprocate but walked away but he overheard her telling her friend : “I don’t think I deserved to win”.

How did their animosity sprout? Arvind reminisced. On the first day of College he had just entered the portals, walking on one side of the road when a Government vehicle sped past him almost knocking him down. He asked the driver to drive with his eyes open as he was driving  inside the campus. Seeing Namrata seated behind, he asked her to pull up the driver for his rash driving. Namrata asked Arvind to shut up. She went to the Administrative Officer to complain about Arvind and his rude behavior. Arvind was promptly summoned and given a ‘dressing down’. But some other people who were witness to this incident stood up for Arvind and faulted the driver. The matter was closed there but  Namrata was shown her place by the A.O.

Dr Allison was shocked to hear that Namrata was not prepared to work with Arvind but would go it alone. Arvind told the Professor that Namrata could have a person of her choice if that was acceptable. The Professor returned disappointed unable to fathom the pathological hatred the students had towards each other.

A few days later, it was campus-recruitment time in the College. A large team from Siemens AG, headquartered in Berlin and Munich, visited the College with their India counterparts. They were on the lookout for the most suitable candidate (male or female) for their Industry Automation Division of the Industry Sector. They had earlier visited other Institutions such as IIT, IIIT etc. and selected candidates for their other sectors/divisions. A comprehensive written test was conducted first followed by detailed interview of the candidates who had qualified in the written exam (only six out of two hundred).. After grilling the six students for hours, two were finally shortlisted for the final round – Namrata and Arvind. It took the panelists another hour or so to pick one candidate. But in the panel of 10 experts, the opinion was divided – four  giving the edge to Namrata and six to Arvind. The Chairman of the panel, Dr Gottfried Kleiber, called in Namrata first to inform her that both she and Arvind were equally good and asked her to put herself in his shoes and select one of the two. Namrata replied that she didn’t know much about Arvind. It would hence be unfair on her part to pronounce anything ex-cathedra. All that she would like to say was that she would stay with Siemens  for a long time  in the research, design, manufacturing or services segment. She would give her best. The panelists appreciated her candidness. Arvind was then summoned and asked the same question. He was told that he had a slight edge but wanted him to wear the interviewer’s hat and make the final selection. Without batting an eyelid, he said Namrata was probably the person they were looking for. She had interacted with many energy companies as her father was the Secretary Energy of the State Govt. She was more focused in his opinion. He had also applied for the Indian Army and would join the Armed Forces, if selected.  The panelists were closeted for some more time with a majority liking Arvind’s body language and frankness. Dr Kleiber finally said they would take Namrata as what Arvind said tilted the selection in her favour. But she should owe her selection to Arvind. They would apprise her of  that  development at the appropriate time.

*

Twenty nine years later, Namrata Iyer was the Head of the Industry sector of Siemens AG at Munich. Her husband, Dr Chidambaram Iyer was a Professor  at the Franhaufer Institute of Technology Trends.. They did not have any children. One day when she was in her office, she summoned her Secretary to find out whether her travel schedule to South East Asia was finalized. The Secretary brought her schedule for approval. She then informed Namrarata that a very capable young candidate, who had just graduated from MIT with an MS in Robotics, was interviewed by a Panel which found him suitable for a position in their Division. Would she like to meet him if she was free. Namrata asked for the bio-data of the interviewee. Namrata was happy to read his CV – Arjun Mehta, studied at Hyderabad, India and IIM Ahmedabad and later graduated from MIT, USA with an MS in Robotics. His father was one Arvind Mehta. “Oh God” she exclaimed to herself. “This is the same Arvind of EEE- from my batch and from my College to whom I owe this position”. Dr Kleiber had told her everything. She summoned  Arjun Mehta and welcomed him into their fold. She enquired about his interests and ambitions. She then enquired about his father. She was shocked to hear the reply.  “My dad and mum unfortunately died in an air crash off Malaysia last year. He was a Brigadier in the Indian Army”. “  I am deeply pained to learn of this accident, Arjun. I want you to know that Arvind and I were batch mates from the same College. He was from the EEE Branch while I was from the E & I branch. I must admit that I had learnt a lot from him. He was an all-rounder full of talent, humility and kindliness.  To be honest with you, I owe my present position to him. How many siblings do you have?”. “None. I was their only son” replied Arjun. “Where are you put up Arjun?” asked Namrata. “ I am looking for a suitable place. I expect to find one soon” he replied. “You may stay with me Arjun if you do not mind – for as long as you wish. Arvind means a lot to me though we kept fighting all the time, maybe because of my ego. In retrospect, I can never forgive myself. What a charismatic person your father was, Arjun” she lamented. Arjun  took an instant liking to  Namrata.

“Thou art gone from my gaze like a beautiful dream

I seek thee in vain by the meadow and stream”

*

 

 

 

  1. Neeraj Varshney says:

    A lovely story. Life has its own ways to pay debts. Namrata had to repay the debts of Arvind through his son.

  2. Joseph Thomas says:

    Thanks. An interesting story.

  3. Brig BJS Oberoi says:

    Very interesting & lovely story.Thanx a lot for sending it.

    Bhupi Oberoi

  4. Col Parminder Singh says:

    Surjit,

    Do please keep sharing such lovely stories with us!
    Parminder

  5. Maj Gen Vijay Krishna says:

    Hi Sir ,

    TSS & I have also served together . Could u send me his email id .

    Thanx , Vijay

  6. Mahavir Jagdev says:

    Sir,

    I like reading your blog but the constant changing of fonts, italics, bold to normal and colours is not very appealing.

    Best wishes,

    Mahavir Jagdev

  7. Surinder Kaur says:

    Surendra,
    The story is soft and gentle. Just like you!
    The twist in the tale at the end is a fitting climax, and the denouement is succinct. All in all it leaves a very touching effect on the mind of the reader.
    Do send more stories!
    Surinder

  8. A brilliant story from TSS…my namesake. He was always brilliant and this was expected from him.

    I do hope he writes more often for amolak.in.

    We meet every time there is an EME reunion and so I look forward to the next one.

    Surinder

  9. Col TS Surendra says:

    Sir,
    A small correction.
    Latha was a Ph.D in CHEMISTRY from IITD (not engineering, though she does all the engineering work at home right from fixing a fuse to carpentry work to repairing a washing machine!!).

    With best regards

    Tejinder

  10. Lovely story Surjit. Thanks

    With best wishes

    Colonel Ram K Sharma,
    CEO DAKSHANA FOUNDATION
    M: +91.98603.06485

    T: +91.20.2685.3485

    F: +91.2685.5344

  11. Col Vinod Bahl says:

    Beautifully written, like all your blogs, Surjitji.

    Vinod Bahl

  12. Brig KN Hari Kumar says:

    Thank you Sir.We meet Surendras often socially here.
    regards
    Hari

  13. Maj Gen K.P.Deswal says:

    Hi Surjit,
    Having been posted at No.1EME Centre earlier than you I had the privilege of welcoming TSS in the centre on his posting. Two youngsters were posted at the same time Anil Bhatia and TSS.We nick named TSS as Charlie and Anil as Jimmy.At that time both of them were full of life and Charlie had a flair of spinning yarns.I still remember Charlie had a flair in English Language also as he drafted a reply for me when an explanation was asked for by the Commandant. Charlie did the twisting of words and the Commandant told me that what I had mentioned was pretty confusing but he accepted it. Charlie was a welcome guest in our house when he was at IIT Delhi.
    Regards
    Deswal

  14. Sriram Jaisimha says:

    Dear General,

    A leader, a company called Sakti3, in solid-state Li-ion batteries are Anne-Marie Sastri and Samir Kaul. You may read more on there profiles at http://sakti3.com/?page_id=48. It may yet form a fit finale to Col. Surenra’s story – the India origin of state-of-the-art batteries. Sakti3 has partnered wit Dyson. a British company, to produce these batteries (2x capacity for same volume as current Li-ion batteries).

    You may want to pass this on to Col. Sahib.

    Warm regards,

    Sriram

  15. Anuradha Dua says:

    I simply loved it. I can visualize it as a beautiful bollywood movie

  16. AVM RP Mishra says:

    Dear Surjit,
    A nice read. Thanks
    RP Mishra

  17. Sriram Jaisimha says:

    Dear General,

    I have been visiting BVRIT regularly for the past 7 years. I wonder how I missed Col. Surendra. I will make enquiries.

    It is an interesting story he wrote – only an Indian can figure out the “context” of its irony.

    Warm regards.

    Sriram

  18. yogi says:

    Such a sweet and sublime story- so skillfully crafted! Loved it.

    • Surjit Singh says:

      Dear Gen Sharma,
      By a very happy coincidence, Col Surendra lives in Saket. And I think that is not more than six km from your house!
      If you run into him, I think you will like his company. Last year, he retired from active life, and has taken to hobbies like golf and writing.
      And if I have another life, I would like to spend the evening of my life in the South. I do not know the reason, but more than half the addresses in my mailing list are of friends from the south!
      Surjit

    • Col Surendra says:

      Thank you Sir. Regards – Col Surendra

    • Col Surendra says:

      Thank you Sir for your appreciation. Regards – Surendra

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