Dr. S.Divakaran – A Professor Par Excellence
In this edition of MBMStories, we are talking about a teacher extraordinaire, an academic and a human being par excellence. Yes, he is none other than Dr. S.Divakaran who taught structural Engineering in the Civil Engineering Department of MBM Engineering College from as far back as 1953. He is an eye witness to systematic growth story of MBM even from the days the college did not have its own building! His memoirs of those days are a testimony to the hard conditions in which the teachers then toiled to discharge their pious duty of educating students and stood as a rock in building the image of this college and enhancing its reputation. Though not an alumnus of the college, Dr. Divakaran’s reminiscences are the pages which may become an integral part of the history book of MBM.
Early Education :
Dr. Divakaran was born on 29th September 1931 in Nerur village in Trichy district of Tamil Nadu and had his primary education up to 4th standard in the village only, staying with his uncle, who was popularly called Gandhi Iyer. Later he moved to Salem with his parents and joined a Municipal School from where he appeared at the SSLC examination in 1945. However, his result was initially withheld, he being underage. The minimum age for admission to Madras University then being fourteen years and a half, he had to take a break at home. He utilized this one year period in learning shorthand and typing and attended a Veda pathshala.
Engineering Education :
In 1948 he was one of the only two candidates selected from Salem district for engineering education. However, he was allotted Kakinada College in Andhra Pradesh, which was about 1000 km from his hometown. His first day in the college was very interesting. He reminisces with a broad smile – “I went to the college in my small veshti and reported to the Principal of the college”. In the second year, he secured 96% in Electrical Engineering. The Professor and Head of that department wanted Dr. Divakaran to migrate to Electrical branch, but around 1952, the job prospects in Electrical Engineering were bleak, so he chose Civil Engineering branch only. He topped in the university and obtained bachelor’s degree with Honors, in 1952.
Joining MBM :
After graduation, he joined the Madras PWD Irrigation department in Edappadi, near Salem and worked there till middle of 1953. While in Kakinada, his professor had suggested him to join MBM Engineering College, Jodhpur. He also received a hand-written letter from Prof. VG Garde at Edappadi to apply for a teaching position in Civil Engineering Department of MBM. Being interested in the teaching profession, he applied for a teaching job in MBM and was invited for interview in Jaipur. Jaipur is severely cold during winters, but Dr. Divakaran appeared for the interview in a cotton suit. The interviewer was one Shri LL Joshi, who asked him why he was wearing a cotton suit in winter? Dr. Divakaran replied – “Sir, I have only one suit and it is this!’
He joined the college in mid-1953. The college did not have a building then. One Ugam ji’s building, which was opposite Rathi Book House at that time, was serving as the makeshift college and the classes were being conducted in its rooms and sometimes outdoors. Dr. Divakaran was living in a room in Hostel No. 1 till a quarter was allotted to Prof. Alam Singh in Residency by the then Superintending Engineer BD Mathur. Dr. Divakaran at that time shared this accommodation with Prof. Alam Singh.
HIGHER EDUCATION :
Dr. Divakaran competed for the Central Services, appeared at the examination in 1955 and secured All India 14th rank in the merit list, but his poor eye-sight of 6/36 prevented him from joining the Military Engineering Service. However, in 1956 he was selected by the UPSC as Asstt. Engineer in Cochin Port under the Central Government.After he got married in April 1956, he left Cochin and joined back MBM where he taught until 1962.
Dr. Divakaran has mentioned about a very interesting episode of 1954. A committee from the Institution of Engineers comprising Shri SB Joshi, famous structural engineer of Bombay and Shri Ziauddin Ansari, Principal of Osmania Engineering College visited MBM to ascertain whether the college had capable teachers and also for recognizing the college. Dr. Divakaran and Shri PP Mowli were designated to deliver the lectures in the class where the committee members sat. After their classes were over, the team members were highly satisfied and provided their recommendation for recognition of the college.
When the new building of the Mining department was inaugurated, Shri Govind Ballabh Pant, the then Home Minister, was the Chief Guest and Prof. VG Garde was the Principal who welcomed him. Shri Pant was known for his repartees. When the question of allocating more funds for the college cropped up, Shri Pant quipped that the college faculty had a good number of young and energetic teachers already, therefore old dodderers were not needed and so more funds were not necessary!
Prof. Divakaran applied for a Commonwealth scholarship in 1962 for higher studies and was selected for the McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada to pursue Master of Engineering. He then moved to University of Toronto in Canada to obtain Ph.D. degree in 1966 and returned to MBM in August 1966.
Those were the days :
In his memoirs, another legendary professor of Civil Engineering in MBM – Dr. Alam Singh writes –
” Prof. M.L. Mathur. Prof. Kanti Swaroop ( Electrical ), S.Divakaran, Pratap Mowli and I would cycle to Sojati Gate every Saturday evening, for a change. to see some people walking or going on a cycle or Tonga leisurely. The dinner was off. In front of Bata Shoes Company, there was the famous Jagdish Hotel, where milk boiled in a big Kadhai was served with a thick layer of malai. M.L.Mathur, Kanti Swaroop and I always ordered for one glass ( It was a Punjabi glass of about 600 ml capacity) of milk. For cooling the hot milk, it was kept in two utensils and was dropped from one to another from a height of about one yard. Divakaran and Mowli used to say that we took one yard of milk. They were content to have only 200 ml milk. We also indulged in mawa ki kachori and mirchi bada”
Silver Jubilee of the college and Emergency :
The year 1976 was a very tumultuous one. This was the Silver Jubilee year of the college and also the dark year when national emergency was declared. For the celebrations, no politician was willing to come, except Shri Mathura Das Mathur. An IAF Commandant was the Chief Guest at the function. On this occasion it was decided to form an ‘Old Boys Association’ and Prof. Alam Singh was proposed to be the first president. But he declined and the onus of presidentship fell on Prof. Divakaran, a non-alumnus of the college!
Dr. Divakaran mentions the state of affairs during the emergency period when all sorts of restrictions on people were imposed. He recalled that in a function organized by ABVP to honour the boys and girls who secured highest marks and which was presided by Justice Chhangani, he (Dr. Divakaran) was asked to be the key speaker. The text of the speech was written by the editor of the publication ‘Panchajanya’, the mouthpiece of RSS. He read it out, with the result that the Central government’s agency RAW listed him as a ‘Sanghi’. Many faculty members of Jodhpur University represented to the Collector to arrest Dr. Divakaran, though without success. His friend Dr. Sarda Saran Singh ( Mining ) was arrested and put in jail for a year. While others were either afraid of arrest or indifferent, only Dr. Divakaran, his wife and son visited Dr. SS Singh. Dr. Divakaran’s phone was being tapped, as secretly told by a south Indian operator at the Telephone Exchange. In a public meeting where the main speaker was Prof. VV John, Dr. Divakaran also spoke, but his speech was immediately reported to the Vice Chancellor Prof. SC Goyal. Dr. Divakaran laments that one of his own colleagues filed a case against him and other colleague whom he helped for his Ph.D. degree did not help. However, by the time of his retirement in January 1991, the differences were reconciled.
Teaching in Iraq and Ethiopia :
In 1983, Prof. Divakaran took up a teaching assignment as Professor in the Military School of Engineering at Baghdad run by the then President Saddam Hussain, where he taught blast resistant structures. Conditions in Baghdad were also volatile. On one occasion his brother-in-law, who was also living there some miles away and working for a sewerage project in Baghdad, invited Dr. Divakaran’s family. There he met an elderly Arab gentleman who was introduced as the manager of that firm. Next week, Dr. Divakaran received summons from the Chief of Security of a deadly wing of Saddam Hussain accusing him of violating terms of his agreement by helping an Indian company. He sought all details of his brother-in-law before he was released. “However, Arab families there were quite cordial and hospitable” – he remembers.
In 1987, Dr. Divakaran fell seriously ill and had to terminate his contract. He developed TB infection, but was treated successfully. He rejoined MBM and retired from there in January 1991.After retirement he again took up a teaching position in southern Ethiopia at the Arba Minch Institute of Technology. Prof. Jagdish Chandra and Dr. CP Nag and Shri ML Kalawar were also there already. During his tenure, Dr. Divakaran recalls that the Marxist dictator of the country was dethroned and a democratic regime was installed.
Visit of President Of India:
Dr. Divakaran reminisces about a very interesting episode. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, President of India visited MBM in 1954-55 and was accompanied by High Highness Sawai Man Singh, the Rajpramukh and Shri Mathura Das Mathur, Home Minister of Rajasthan Government. During this visit the President was witnessing a ‘tensile strength’ test on a steel bar being conducted on the Universal Testing Machine in the Civil Engineering Block by Dr. Divakaran. His Highness was requesting the President to leave quickly due to shortage of time, but the President said – “Is test ko poora dekh kar hi jaoonga’ (I will go only after witnessing the full test). And yes, he did wait for another full 10 minutes until the finale of the test when the rod specimen broke! “How humble!” – Dr. Divakaran exclaims on the President’s simplicity.
Dr. Divakaran also remembers that in 1961, Principal Garde wanted MBM to join the Jodhpur University. In a meeting in the chamber of Prof. RD Singh, in which Prof. RM Advani and Dr. Divakaran were also present, he (Dr. Divakaran) pleaded with Prof. Garde not to opt for the University. “Fate overtakes man!”- said Dr. Divakaran with exasperation.
Illustrious Career of Children :
Son Ajay is alumnus of MBM Engineering college, who did his BE(Electronics & Communication) in 1984. He got a research assistantship in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Troy NY where he obtained his Ph.D. For 10 years he was with Mitsubishi Electric Research Institute in Cambridge Massachusetts. In 2010 he moved to SRI International Princeton and now he is Senior Technical Director. His wife Padma is also Ph.D. from RPI and works for a bank in Jersey city. Elder daughter Dr. Sita is MA from JNVU and Ph.D. in Econometrics from Chennai University. After stint in Public Affairs Centre in Bangalore, she is now Consultant for Orrisa Government. Younger daughter Meena, did M.Sc. (Child Development) from MS University, Vadodara. She has run a day care Centre for Infosys in Electronic City Bangalore.
Backbone of College Infrastructure:
Dr. Divakaran supported and helped in the creation and development of other departments in the college. In 1973, when a computer center was established, he was appointed as its first Head. A separate Department of Electronics & Communication Engineering was proposed to be created for a long time, but it could be possible only in the year 1982 with the support of Dr. Divakaran, the then Dean of the Engineering Faculty in the University.
These are only few instances of the tremendous amount of support that Dr. Divakaran provided in the development and strengthening of academic structure in the college. The college owes a great deal to Prof. Divakaran. Team MBM Story is thankful to Dr. Divakaran for sharing the inputs and photographs for this write-up.We all wish him a long, healthy and peaceful life.
About Author :
Er. Kamla Nath Sharma is 1967 batch alumnus of Civil Engineering branch and and an international expert in Hydrology, Water Resources, Irrigation & Drainage and Hydropower Engineering. At present, he is based in Mumbai. He is also an author of research papers on scientific subjects involving water, environment ecology etc. as contained in the ancient Indian literature like Vedas and Upanishad and is a literary writer of stories and satires .Team MBM Stories is thankful to Er. Sharma for preparing this write-up.