By Nava Thakuria
The shocking news broke from Tezpur in central Assam with the demise of well-known educationist Aparna Kumar Padmapati on 16 September 2016 at his ancestral home. Professor AK Padmapati was 82 and left behind his close relatives along with a huge number of engineering students and well-wishers.
A small news item but it had enough intensity to sadden me. I was one of his direct students and I had a comfortable relationship with the composed, determined and caring Principal of Assam Engineering College (AEC). As a student of the Mechanical branch in AEC Jalukbari, I had the opportunity to attend some of his classes on automobile engineering. It was my extra paper, but somehow I grew interest on it, which was appreciated by Padmapati Sir.
Prof AK Padmapati was a role model for me as a passionate teacher, strict administrator and visionary thinker for the student community.
Coming out from a middle class family, run by a committed school teacher turned social reformer, in a remote village under Nalbari district, I personally found a mentor with comforts in the isolated college premises.
I was put as a boarder in hostel no 7 in the eastern front of AEC campus which was adjacent to the Government Ayurvedic College and opposite to the hillock of Gauhati University. Thus Jalukbari, in the outskirt of Guwahati, became my second home for many years.
My usual stay was shattered in the second year when a new comer to the hostel no 7 leveled an allegation of ragging and it was not confined to our college campus alone. A prominent newspaper made a front page news item with the headline of ragging menace in AEC and made the entire situation clumsy.
The news, I presume still today, was little bit exaggerated. Our senior hostel mates got annoyed with the news and decided to lodge a protest against the newspaper in the city. Soon the decision spread across AEC and many other hostel boarders joined us. After assembling in front of our picturesque hostel, we moved to the office of the newspaper in a college service bus.
Till we arrived in the newspaper office, the editor (I should not mention his name) was busy preparing his editorial. Irritated with our repeated claim that he should withdraw the news, the editor exclaimed, ‘Do the engineers believe that they are the kings? I am not going to follow your diktat.’
We were not prepared for the answer and felt pained and exhausted. But one of our seniors took some time and replied with the same temper, ‘Do you, the editor-journalists, pretend to be kings?’ Without waiting for his next reaction, we left the newspaper office.
The entire route we talked only against the editor and also fantasized that we would print a newspaper from the city to condemn him. No doubt, it never happened, but the destiny put me in that profession even though I duly completed BE (Mechanical) course from the AEC. I am sure, the editor still has no idea that I was in the group of Aecians in front of him on that afternoon.
The ragging issue did not settle down, as the then education minister tried to intervene on the matter. The State minister (I avoid identifying him) directly called upon Padmapati sir and wanted a briefing about the incident. He also intended to come to the college urgently.
But Padmapati Sir requested him not to come immediately as the classes were going on in full swing. The minister got furious and declared that he would visit the college immediately. The response from Padmapati Sir was equally sharp, ‘I will ask the chowkider to shut the main gate (of the college campus in the eastern front).’ Following the reply of Padmapati Sir with a firmed voice, the minister cancelled his decision. Neither had he turned up later to my best memory.
But the issue did not end there for us. Padmapati Sir soon summoned few boarders of hostel no 7 to his office. I was also among them. We arrived in a group. He asked the chowkider to shut the office door and started almost rebuking us (Do you know what you are doing, Is it the reason you are here in the hostel, Do your parents know your activities, Should not I expel you?
For some time, we remained silent and went on digesting his words. Padmapati Sir, along with us was also standing. We knew there was no point of arguing with him at that moment. Finally after few minutes, when he stopped, I dared to put a question in my sweetest voice, ‘What should we do now?’
Padmapati Sir changed his mood. Took his seat and said, ‘Ok, from now, there must not be any incident of ragging in the college. So does in your hostel. Now go and console the first semester student. Comfort him as one of your younger brothers at home.’ We returned back to our hostel. Talked to the student and tried to console him with all our capacity and creativities. Slowly the situation turned into normalcy. And everybody became busy again with their study works with an aim to earn excellent marks in the semester examinations.
For records, Padmapati Sir was born on 23 October 1934 to the family of eminent lawyer Annada Kumar Padmapati and Kanakprobha Padmapati based in Tezpur and also died there silently and peacefully amidst all his close relatives.
A brilliant student since his school days, Padmapati Sir completed his early education from Tezpur government school and came to Guwahati to study in Cotton College. After completing his B. Tech in Mechanical engineering from IIT Kharagpur in 1958, Padmapati Sir went to the USA to pursue Masters in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Arizona.
Padmapati Sir joined in AEC as a faculty and later got promoted as the principal of the esteemed technical institution. For some time, he also served the State technical education board as its director. A confirmed bachelor Padmapati Sir was fond of sports primarily tennis and cricket. He also maintained interest on the nature and environment.
I invited him for an interaction program with the media persons at Guwahati Press Club, which he reciprocated positively. But for various reasons it was not materialized. Thus my media friends in the city had missed a rare opportunity to listen to a man of dignity, a great teacher and a simple Assamese to the core of his heart.
Rest in Peace, Padmapati Sir !
(The writer is a Guwahati based working journalist with the background of engineering education and can be contacted at 0091 98640 44917)
By Nava Thakuria