An inspiring journey of a Civil Engineer, who won Rajasthan Sahitya Academy Award…
In this episode of “MBM Stories” we have brought the story of a versatile personality, whose accomplishments in vastly different fields are remarkable. In addition to his impressive achievements and specialization in the technical field, he is an accomplished Hindi littérateur, who has authored books and has been honored with the Sahitya Academy Award for his books, writes on various subjects as enunciated in ancient Sanskrit scriptures like Vedas and Upanishads, listens to Hindustani classical music, is a painter, was a radio artist, has traveled the world over, lectured in universities and conferences, received international awards, and has published extensively. During his college days, he was a champion of Badminton, Captain of College and Jodhpur University Teams, a poet, published stories, was senior editor (Hindi) of the college magazine, member of college orchestra, and was selected for Permanent Commission in the Corps of Engineers (Indian Army) during ME studies. We are talking about our distinguished alumni of the 1967 Civil batch, Er. Kamala Nath Sharma.
Early Life, Schooling:
Born in a family of traditional Sanskrit scholars, Er. KN Sharma’s scholarly ancestors were invited from Andhra Pradesh by Sawai Jai Singh II of Amber/Jaipur (who was himself a great connoisseur of art, literature, astronomy, and a warrior) to settle in Jaipur at the time of the founding of Jaipur, the Pink City. His father Late Bhatt Mathura Nath Shastry was an epoch making Sanskrit Poet and scholar of 20th Century, after whom an era of Sanskrit Literature has been named), and his elder brother Devarshi Kala Nath Shastry is a much decorated and much published Scholar of Sanskrit, English and Hindi, honored by the President of India.
Er. Sharma had his primary and middle school education at the Residency Middle School, a Govt. school in Jaipur. His close and only childhood friend and classmate Arun Kumar Gupta, who retired as Chairman and Administrator of Rajasthan Canal also studied in this school. He then studied at Shri Mahavir Digamber Jain High School and passed the High School Examination of Rajasthan Board in 1959 from there at the age of 13 years. To join an engineering college that time minimum age required was 16 years hence, he decided to join he prestigious Maharaja’s College, Jaipur thereafter in Pre-University.
In 1962, Er. Sharma took admission in B.E. in MBM Engineering College, Jodhpur in the Civil branch. He obtained BE (Civil) degree in 1967 with a first division. The job prospects in 1967 were rather bleak, so his friends who had already sought admission for ME Degree at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani suggested him to immediately apply for one vacant seat in the Hydraulic Structures branch. He thus, took admission for ME Degree in 1967 at BITS, Pilani and completed it with First Division. The degree offered courses and specialization in Irrigation, Hydraulic Structures, Hydrology etc.
Selection in the Indian Army
While Er. Sharma was in the final year of ME course at BITS Pilani in 1968, an advertisement for permanent commission in the Army for different branches like EME, Corps of Engineers, etc. appeared for which students of BITS were appearing. All his class fellows also decided to take mass leave and appear for selection in Corps of Engineers at the SSB in Meerut. This was perhaps 36th or 38th Graduate Course – Er. Sharma tries to remember. There were 400 candidates and they were put to all routine rigorous physical, mental, psychological, problem solving, observational, speaking, leadership… exercises for selection. In that whole batch only one officer – Er. Sharma was selected!
When he joined Engineering College as Lecturer, he received the proforma to be filled up for measurement for his uniform at IMA, Dehradun, which could be completed with great difficulty, as no tailor in Jaipur, except one, was able to understand what measurement was sought. The measurements were sent, but due to family pressure (and his own hidden wish of staying with the family full time after 7 long years of home sickness, as he confides), and despite a personal meeting later with a Brigadier at the Army Headquarters, Delhi who depicted a bright future for him and insisted that he join, Er. Sharma could not join the Army and continued with the teaching profession. He regrets not joining Army, but consoles himself that in other ways he tried to be useful to the country.
Beginning with teaching
Er. KN Sharma has had a professional journey of over 41 years. Soon after ME from Pilani, Er. Sharma got selected for a teaching position in August 1969 at the Malaviya Regional Engineering College (MREC), Jaipur, now Malaviya National Institute of Technology (MNIT) in the Department of Civil Engineering. He taught subjects like Hydropower Engineering, Hydraulics, Architecture & Town planning, and Hydrology to undergraduate and post-graduate students. Around 1971 or so, the University Grants Commission (UGC) had introduced a scheme for enrolling senior academicians for writing higher-level technical books on specialized engineering subjects in which there were only a few books available, mostly by foreign authors only. The Head of Civil Engg. Deptt., Prof. MM Dandekar was offered the project by the UGC to write a book on Water Power Engineering. He selected Er. Sharma in 1972 to write the book with him and so, next 3 years he devoted full time for this project. The first edition of this book on Water Power Engineering was published in 1979 by M/S Vikas Publishing House. It is quite popular throughout the world and is also prescribed as a textbook in many universities like AIT, Bangkok. He also published several technical papers during this time.
Selection for Prestigious Ford Foundation Fellowship
In 1976 January, a friend in the Irrigation Department of Govt. of Rajasthan jokingly gave him a copy of the application form for Ford Foundation Fellowship that the friend himself had also sent. Why jokingly? Because this was for only two positions from a vast technical field and large geographical area! Applications had been invited from technical field professionals, teachers, and researchers of Africa, South-East, and South Asia in various subjects, including water resources, soil engineering, crop science, irrigation, agriculture, etc. Er. Sharma also filled up the form and sent it. He was selected for that coveted Fellowship in Water Management at the University of California, Davis (USA). The other person selected was a Chief Engineer from Sri Lanka. This prestigious fellowship opened an opportunity for him to communicate with top field professionals and professors in various American universities (like Prof. Ven Te Chow), do research work, attend many conferences, and visit several prestigious Universities and National Institutions, Laboratories, Govt. Departments like USDA, NRCS, USEPA etc. throughout the USA for about a year and a half during 1976-77.
After the return from USA he also took up consultancy work together with his teaching assignment and was involved in few projects, including World Bank-supported irrigation projects in the states like MP. Around 1978-79, he was also part of the consulting team for comprehensive resources appraisal and management for the State of J&K for its Five Year Plan. Water Resources appraisal and plan provided by him was adopted by the State for that Plan to a large extent. He had interesting interactions with the then Chief Minister of the former State of J&K, Shaikh Abdullah at that time.
Painting and Classical Music
While in the teaching profession, Er. Sharma could find enough time to pursue his own interests and hobbies. He painted (mostly in acrylic/oil), however, he laments that he kept gifting all his paintings to friends. Later life hardly spared him any time to pursue this hobby. He is very fond of listening to Hindustani classical music. As a member of the famous ‘Shruti Mandal’ in Jaipur, which assuaged the taste of the connoisseurs of Indian classical music, Er. Sharma attended concerts by almost all the renowned Hindustani classical musicians like Pt Ravi Shanker, Pt. Nikhil Banerjee, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma, Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Pt. Ronu Majumdar, to name a few. He would not miss such concerts even while being abroad if he came to know about them. He remembers that when he had gone to present a paper in Paris in 1998, he happened to meet the Indian Ambassador to Unesco, who invited him to the concert of Smt. Gangubai Hangal, the doyen of Hindustani classical music of Kirana Gharana (same as that of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi). He was so happy to meet the great lady there. In Delhi also, he would try to catch up with concerts of classical artists.
Hydro-power Sector in Govt. of India
After about 12 years in teaching, he wished to do more challenging work where his acquired knowledge could be better used practically. Knowing his wish, one of his students and a junior colleague (who retired as Chief Secretary from Rajasthan Govt.) procured a form from National Hydroelectric Power Corporation, Ltd (Now NHPC Ltd.), a Govt. of India Undertaking for a field position of Executive Engineer in a project that was to be constructed by the Organization, got it filled by Er. Sharma and then mailed it himself to be sure. Er. Sharma received the call for an interview at Corporation’s Head Quarters, then in Delhi. While he was being interviewed, suddenly the Chairman and Managing Director dropped by and watched the proceedings. When he came to know that Er. Sharma was a trained hydrologist also, the CMD looked quite thrilled and asked Er. Sharma, if he would accept another offer and not the field position that he applied for. And on his acceptance, Er. Sharma was given the challenging task of setting up a new Department of Water Resources and Hydrology in the Corporation. As we know, for any hydel project, a judicious assessment of water resources availability and variation, floods, sedimentation, etc. is the basic requirement. Hitherto fore, the Water Resources appraisal, planning, and design of all big and small hydropower projects of the Organization were being done by the Central Water Commission of the Govt. of India, which was a specialized organization. Thus, Er. Sharma became the Founder and Head of the Water Resources Department of the Organization.
In that capacity he was involved with detailed hydrological, water resources, floods, sedimentological, and glaciological studies, planning and design or review of several big hydropower projects including Chamera Stage-I (HP), Salal (J&K), Baira-Siul (HP), Trisuli (Nepal), Dhauliganga-I, Goriganga (then UP) etc. Besides studies and design, he established gauge and discharge sites and meteorological stations for measurement of rainfall, flood levels, sedimentation, etc. at several sites of new projects and augmented the old ones. Some stations, like in Mizoram had to be set up in difficult conditions of insurgency and lack of personnel. The instruments and manpower could be handled only with the help of helicopters! During field visits, there arose tricky and dangerous life-threatening situations also, such as a bomb blast in Kathmandu (Nepal), drowning in river Sewa in HP, etc., “however, that was a part of the job”, he says. He was also involved in bilateral negotiations for some NHPC projects with the concerned Governments of Canada, Sweden, etc. His meritorious services were duly recognized by the Chairmen and Managing Directors of the Organization through certificates of appreciation.
To International Level
In May 1989 Er. KN Sharma moved on to international arena and joined the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID), a non-government International water-related organization with a network of more than 115 Countries of the world in all the continents, initially on deputation from NHPC Ltd. He got absorbed in its services a year later. This is the only international organization having headquarters in India at Chanakyapuri, New Delhi. His responsibilities encompassed, inter alia, day to day Administrative, Financial and Technical management of the Head Quarters of ICID at New Delhi and Technical work of workbodies and National Committees of member countries.
The 21-year long period in ICID gave Er. Sharma a unique opportunity of interacting with the top experts from all over the world in various fields like Irrigation & Drainage, Flood control, environment, capacity building, sustainable development, resource planning etc. He also interacted with technocrats, bureaucrats, planners, Ministers, and Prime Ministers in the governments of various countries regarding I&D projects, food security, drought, and environmental planning, etc. Er. Sharma worked in collaboration with several international organizations like FAO, UNESCO, IWMI, IWRA, UNDP, Global Water Partnership, International Water Association, IPTRID, etc. in various important Strategy Dialogues. He was also drafted for evaluation of the International Network on Irrigation and Drainage in countries of UK, The Netherlands, and France. He represented ICID in several international initiatives of GWP (in Sweden, Vietnam etc.); World Water Forum in Japan (Kyoto), Mexico (Mexico), and Turkey (Istanbul); WWF (Switzerland); World Agricultural Forum (St. Louise, USA); World Water Council (Montpellier, France), IPTRID (UK, The Hague,), etc.
Er. Sharma travelled extensively in connection with his official obligations and visited almost all the countries of the world. This exposure enabled him to understand the ground situation of irrigation, drainage, floods and droughts, soil and environmental degradation, global food security and hunger etc. to devise appropriate mechanisms in association with FAO, World Bank etc. He also worked on several International and National Technical Committees, such as those of ISO, viz., TC 30, TC 113, BIS (India) (BDC-46, River Valley Schemes), etc., besides having Fellowship of some professional bodies like Indian Association of Hydrologists and Indian Water Resources Society.
During his stay with ICID, he produced many important technical documents, edited several books on Indus Basin, Danube Basin, Historical Dams, country-specific documents and books etc., and was Editor/Chief Editor of ICID’s Newsletter and Annual Reports. He was responsible for producing Agenda and Reports of ICID’s annual International Executive Council meetings held in different member countries each year, in which he had to be present as the main organizer along with the concerned National Committee of that country. One of the pioneer works he undertook was to revise ICID’s Multilingual Technical Dictionary, edit it, prepare new chapters/coin definitions, and coordinate effort of other authors. This technical dictionary is available in many languages like Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, French, Hindi, besides English.
Er. Sharma was honoured with Citation Plaque for his “exceptional contributions to ICID and Global Food Security” at the World Congress on Irrigation held in Monreal (Canada) in 2002. He was also awarded Citation Plaques for “eminent leadership and enduring contributions to the worldwide advancement of the science of irrigation and drainage” at Sacramento California (USA) in 2007 and at New Delhi (India) in 2009.
Er. Sharma retired as Secretary of ICID in the year 2010.
A different horizon: Work on Vedic and Upanishidic Literature
A versatile Er. Sharma inherited interest in Sanskrit, and ancient scriptures like Vedas, Upanishads, Samhitas, Aranyaks etc. However, during much of his service tenure, his official technical duties and responsibilities did not allow him to pursue his interest in the field of this totally different area. But one paper on this subject that he presented rekindled his interest. This paper titled “Status of Water in Ancient Indian Literature” presented at UNESCO’s “International Conference on World Water Resources at the Beginning of the 21st Century” in Paris (France) in 1998, received wide interest and appreciation, which motivated him to devote more of his time to research into the invaluable resource of ancient India.
Er. Sharma has done research related to the fields of water, environment, ecology, hydrology, sustainability, etc. as contained in the Vedas and Upanishads, and presented papers in conferences. Springer, the leading global scientific, technical and medical books publishers have included Er. Sharma’s articles on water and environment based on Vedic concepts, in their “Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures“. His papers have also been published in the International Water History Association (IWHA) proceedings. He had occasion to interact with a couple of western astro-physicists in USA on the Vedic science and vedic theory of the origin of universe. He plans to write a book explaining the vedic concepts and shattering the myths surrounding God element, Maya, Jiva, deities, comparison of the Western and Vedic hypotheses of the birth of universe, etc. He has also delivered lectures on the principles governing water, environment, ecology etc.in Vedas, in China, Germany, and Indian universities like IIT Delhi, IIT Roorkee, and Rajasthan University. His papers/articles have also been published in the editorial and ‘The Speaking Tree’ columns and blogs of The Times of India and can be accessed on internet.
An accomplished Writer in Hindi
Er. KN Sharma, who writes in Hindi with his first name Kamlanath (कमलानाथ), is also a known name in Hindi literature and his satires and stories have been appearing in various literary magazines of India during about last five decades. He had the talent of writing right from the college days and he regularly published stories and poems in the college magazine. He was also Senior Editor of its Hindi Section. After college, he started writing satires also along with short stories and published in various literary magazines of the country.
His passion for writing, however, had to take a long break when he moved to Delhi from Jaipur in 1981, and joined NHPC Ltd. and later ICID. After a literary hibernation of almost 30 years, he happily lit the hidden sparkle into a fire immediately after his retirement in 2010 (which he looked forward to for this very purpose and had declined another extension even on the top post). Since then he has published 3 books of satire collection (titled – ‘Sahitya ka Dhwani Tatva urf Sahityik Big Bang’, ‘Moorakh To Ekahi Bhalo’ and ‘Ek Shaam Hari Ghaas Par’), one story collection (titled ‘Bhaunrya Mo’) and one ‘novella’ (titled ‘Laapata Chehron ka Bhugol’) in the form of two long stories reminiscing his interesting childhood years. His satire collection – “Sahitya ka Dhwani Tatva urf Sahityik Big Bang” published by Ayan Prakashan, New Delhi in 2015 was awarded ‘Kanhaiyalal Sahal Literary Award’ by the Rajasthan Sahitya Academy for the year 2018-19. Another satire compilation and a story collection are ready for publishing shortly. Many of his stories and satires can be accessed on internet by his first name- कमलानाथ.
Er. KN Sharma’s profile is included in several Who’s Who and World books, such as those published by Biographical Center (England), American Biographical Institute, Raleigh, North Carolina (USA), Institution of Engineers (India), LinkedIn (USA), Encyclopedia of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine in Non-Western Culture (Switzerland), and Wikipedia (both in Hindi and English).
A keen Sportsman of sorts
Er. KN Sharma reminisces that his passion in his early days had been All India Radio and Badminton. As a child radio artist in Jaipur, he broadcast regularly with another artist – comedian Asrani, and was a part of several dramas with such great artists as Pinchoo Kapoor, Om Shivpuri, Sudha Sharma (who later married Om Shivpuri and became Sudha Shivpuri, who played the character of ‘Baa’ of a popular TV serial ‘Ghar ghar ki kahani’), Mohan Maharshi etc. Later, when his voice ‘changed’, he also did several Sanskrit plays, broadcast radio talks and wrote satirical skits/dramas for AIR while at Jaipur until 1981.
As a junior, he was a member of the prestigious Ashoka Club where he practiced and played badminton everyday. This club was patronized by His Highness Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur, who used to play tennis and polo. As a junior badminton player, Kamlanath won many championships including Jaipur, Ajmer and Rajasthan Badminton Championships. He also represented the Rajasthan State in the National Championships of Badminton. He watched top players of that time both from India and abroad, play while being a member of Ashoka Club and in championship matches.
When he came to MBM in 1962, the very first year, he beat all senior players and won the college championship in Badminton. Throughout his stay at MBM, he was the undisputed champion of Badminton. He became the Captain of MBM Badminton team in 3rd year, started representing Jodhpur University in the Inter-University championships, became the Captain of Jodhpur University Badminton Team in 1964 and regularly represented the college and University until 1967.
The sportsman spirit in him motivated him to participate in many of the activities like, dramatics and music also. He would play Sitar in the college orchestra. He remembers that in one annual function, the orchestra, under the ‘direction’ of good guitar-playing musician Er. KS Kalsi (Electrical, 1967), played the film song ‘O mere Sona re Sona re Sona.”, sung by Asha Bhonsle.
Er. Sharma mentions wittingly that his participation in various competitions, sports etc. gave him much respite from studies. All these also fetched him so many small and big trophies (‘cups’) each year that after the first year, he struck a ‘deal’ with Bhansali Sports (who were supplying the trophies to MBM) to take back the trophies from him at 50% or 60% of the cost!! “This arrangement came handy for his stationery expenses to some extent” – he said.
During his MBM days, he wrote poetry also. Now he does it only occasionally. As Er. Sharma remembers, from 1964-65 onwards, he received some prize or the other in poetry competitions at the college. Amongst the other ‘poets’ were mainly his batch mate and friend Ram Singh Nirjar ji and senior Jeevan Ram Sharma ji (Mechanical, 1966, who took Sanyas and became Samvit Som Giri ji, immediately after graduation) who shared the 1st, 2nd or 3rd prize in rotation, almost every year. Mostly, Prof. DP Sharma used to be one of the judges in the poetry competitions.
Professors at MBM
“In our first year, a strict disciplinarian Prof. VG Garde was the Principal. The uniform code was white shirt and white pant for all classes and khaki uniform for workshops. No student could flout the code. He also always wore white shirt and white baggy trousers. There would be a prayer at 8 a.m. sharp, after which no one will be allowed even if late by a minute. There will be a siren to indicate time for the prayers and every student whether in the campus or outside on the road, would have to stand still until the prayers were over. Once a young lecturer who had just joined the college, was a little late in the prayers and was not in ‘uniform’. Principal Garde scolded him for his ‘indiscipline’, but later let him go when told that the individual was not a student, but a teacher” – Er. Sharma reminisces.
Prof. SC Goyal. Dr. S. Diwakaran, Prof. Alam Singh, Prof. Chari, Prof. Jagdish Chandra and Prof. DV. Talwar used to be amongst the favourite and respected teachers in the Civil branch.
Prof. Jagdish Chandra was a handsome teacher (and a bachelor for a very long time) who inspired awe while in the class, but was very affectionate outside the class. He was the patron of the college magazine in which student Sharma used to publish stories or poems regularly. Er. Sharma became Sr. Editor of the Hindi section also, in which connection he would often have an opportunity to interact with Prof. Chandra.
Er. Sharma remembers with a smile – “Once I wrote a story in which perhaps I did a lot of ‘experimentation’ (inspired by a novel ‘Nadi ke Dweep’ by Agyeya, which I had finished reading shortly before) with the result that the story contained some ‘adult’ stuff. Prof. Chandra had read my story and called me in his office and asked with a grin if I would like to revise some content in it. I was also feeling embarrassed, but then said – ‘Sir, as a writer I would not like to revise the story, but as the Chief patron you had all the right to do so. Kindly take action as you feel appropriate.’ Prof. Chandra was not angry. On the other hand he gave a big smile and nodded. Of course, later he removed or modified the ‘objectionable’ material from the story himself, before it was published. That was so encouraging! Many years later, when once he visited MR Engineering College, Jaipur he was kind enough to mention that my book on ’Water Power Engineering’ came very handy while teaching the subject in some University abroad, where he taught for a while on foreign assignment. I was so humbled by his graciousness!”
Message to Youngsters
“Perfection is the mantra that must always be remembered in any profession. We must always strive to give our best, such that even after many years down the line, when we see our past work, we should still feel happy about it. Hard work always pays. Be a good and fast learner. A person, who is shrewd when judging his own work will always perform better, so scrutinize your work dispassionately. Remain proud of your alma mater.”
Team MBMstories wishes Er. K.N.Sharma , a happy, healthy and blissful life.
Yodhesh Chouhan: Yodhesh is a gold medallist of the 2011 Electrical Engineering batch. Presently he is a civil servant working with the government of Rajasthan. Before clearing RAS 2013 he worked briefly as an inspector with the Central Board of Excise and Customs in Mumbai. His multidimensional skill sets include story writing, website creation, etc.