Vignettes of History: Abhay Bhushan reminisces (Part III)

The third and final installment of the reminiscences of Abhay Bhushan, IIT Kanpur’s first graduate, is here! You can have a look at the first and second parts of this fascinating tale before moving on.

My Undergraduate Years at IIT Kanpur – Part III


Abhay K. Bhushan, BT EE 1965, Roll No. 60001


At the start of our third year, the Kanpur Indo American Program (KIAP) had started with Prof. Norman Dahl from MIT and Robert Zimmerman from Ohio State University coming from the U.S. I specially remember Prof Zimmerman, as he had brought with him a Polaroid camera, and it was marvelous to see instant photography for the first time, pictures appearing right before our eyes just after they were taken. The system of education at IITK which was already rapidly changing in the second year got a bigger boost with the introduction of fresh ideas from the American faculty.

Indian and American professors from some of the best universities in the U.S. including MIT, Princeton and UC Berkeley, came to IITK starting in 1962 with the start of Kanpur Indo-American Program (KIAP). These men inspired us with their can-do enterprising spirit. We had many firsts, including the first digital computer, the first airfield, and many state of the art labs. I also remember a sign on Professor Charles Dryden’s desk, “When your grades are low and rewards are few, remember the big oak was once a nut like you.” These intellectual giants, both Indian and American, inspired us with their vision for the future, their passion for excellence, and their relentless action to make it all happen. These eminent men went on to change the face of education in India, and through example showed us the importance of working with our hands as well as our brains, and treating every one with dignity and respect, especially the poor and the illiterate people who did manual work. The Indo-US cooperation was so successful, that John Kenneth Galbraith, US Ambassador to India in the 1960’s remarked, “Of all the contributions of the United States to the Indian economic, social and cultural endeavour, the Indian Institute of Technology is perhaps the outstanding case.”

Towards the end of our third year at IIT Kanpur, we moved to the new Campus in March of 1963. Not many buildings completed by this time. Only Hall I and Workshop were ready. So our first classes in the new Campus were held in the Workshop. After our summer vacations were over, when we came back in our 4th year, the lecture hall complex was completed, the Computer Center within this complex was being established, and new labs and facilities were coming up. There was also a basketball court, and Prof. Holt Ashley Aeronautics professor from MIT had brought several American basketballs with him. Holt, as Prof Ashley liked to be called was am imposing personality, about 6 feet 4 inches tall, but very warm and friendly. He gave us some basketball lessons and soon we had a team practicing and playing every day. We also played football (soccer), hockey, cricket, volleyball and tennis. During our Annual Sports Day, we had inter-year competition, and in December 1964, we went to our very first Inter-IIT sports meet at IIT Kharagpur.

As we were now some distance from the City of Kanpur, it was not convenient to go to see a movie in the city of Kanpur, so we formed a film society, and brought films to be screened within the campus. We also invited guest artists and musicians, holding the event in the quadrangle of Hall 1. We also had our annual cultural day with plays and variety show, which was always a hit. As there were no girl students, the boys dressed up as girls for the plays, and they made quite a hit with the other students! The only girl around campus of high school age was Kavery Muthana, who happened to be the Deputy Director’s daughter, so practically off-limits for us. She later graduated from IIT Kapur.

During our summer vacations, we would go for all-India tours to visit industry and for sightseeing. These tours, organized by departments, were quite educational and fun and led to all of us bonding together more. We also had NCC camps during our summer vacations, and these were fun too.

The Student Gymkhana was also formed during the start of our fourth year, with the Deputy Director Dr. M. S. Muthana as its first President and Ram Jag Prasad, our class mate as its first Vice-President. At that time the President was a faculty member, and the Vice-President a student.

Then came July of 1964, and we were in our final year. We started the student guide program with the final year students mentoring the first year students. There were more American professors, new equipment and new labs, and the computer center was flourishing. The airfield was also ready with Prof. Ashley’s guidance, and a gliding club was started with preference given to Aeronautical Engineering students.

Soon it was spring of 1965 and it was time to graduate. Jobs were scarce and Brand IIT was not yet established. Very few of us had any job offers by the time we graduated. Eventually all of us found jobs or went for higher studies, mostly abroad to US and Canada. I was fortunate to have been accepted at M.I.T. and given a Research Assistantship. Our education at IITK had prepared us well for the challenges at M.I.T. and the semester at Bell Labs in 1966, working on the world’s first color picture phone for my masters’ thesis. In 1969 at M.I.T., the ARPAnet, the forerunner of the Internet was starting, and I was fortunate enough to get involved and connected M.I.T.’s Multics system to the Net (Node #4), designing and building the hardware myself. Being part of the very first Network Working Group with Vint Cerf, I chaired the File Transfer Protocol Working Group, and ended up authoring the FTP and early versions of the Email standards. What is important in life, which was reinforced at IITK, is to show up and take the initiative. Success is often being in the right place at the right time. However, one has to seize the opportunities both visible and latent.