I was part of the class of 96 of TKM College of Engineering – one of 90+ newly minted Mechanical Engineers to walk out of the iconic red building . And in the next 20 years , I had not been back in college . That changed on Friday , August 22nd – when my parents dropped me back at the college , which looked a lot lighter in color but much improved . To say I was overpowered with Nostalgia would be an understatement .
The first stop naturally was my most favorite spot there – the college canteen . It did not look anything like what we had in our days , but what the heck – I walked towards it . Next thing I know , a familiar figure started waving frantically at me from one of the tables to speed up . There he was – Prof Nasar – my favorite teacher . He taught us automobile engineering (One of the very few subjects I was passionate about) , and was my guide for the final year project (which was to design a machine part for Hindustan Latex LTD for rolling up condoms in their manufacturing line without causing tears – I still remember the embarrassment of explaining it to the panel of teachers , and prof Nasar coming to the rescue of Ajith , Anup Nair and me) .
I asked him if he remembered me – of course he did , including my name , who my parents where , where I lived , my love for dogs and many other little things . He was very proud of me and introduced me to several of his younger colleagues .
Next on the agenda – after a quick lunch at the Beach hotel with several friends – was a “meet the students” session . The idea was for 5 of us to be in a panel in front of a couple of hundred final year students and impart our wisdom(?) and answer a few questions . Ganesh , Sindhu, Boby and Rejin formed the panel , which I moderated . We had a dozen or more from our former class join in the audience to provide some moral support.
I was convinced – remembering the extreme reluctance I had in attending these kinds of events on a Friday afternoon when I was a student – that no one will show up. But boy was I wrong ! The room was standing room only by the time we started .
We kept the tone informal , and switched between Malayalam and English . It’s probably the first time in my life that I had a chance to speak in Malayalam in front of a big audience and I loved it . The students gave us their full attention too – and asked some excellent questions on our perspectives on how to prepare for their careers.
A word on the panelists – what an amazing bunch !
Ganesh did his Grad school in US, worked in US and Europe and then became CEO of his own company . Boby worked at BPL straight out of college (one of the very few who bagged that opportunity I might add) , went to US on a work assignment , did her masters there and is now an engineering leader at Motorola . Sindhu taught engineering , and now is a top researcher in Siemens . Rejin – not surprisingly – is an entrepreneur, and has a cool robotics company. I am clearly the under achiever in this group 🙂
A few questions from the students made us dog deep and search our souls for answers . Boby explained how she went through her own career progression , often as the “only woman in the room” . Sindhu explained how to focus on first principles to build a career in research . Ganesh explained the need to build a network of contacts to get ahead in life . And Rejin brought forward the need to apply the theory we learn in class to make things – which fits his own fame as a master prototype builder in college ( ahem … Not always amusing some of his teachers who wanted him to stay focused on winning the first rank ).
When I studied in TKM , I had no such insights . I didn’t know who the alum were or how to find them . I saw first hand how much the students appreciated the candid answers from the panel . It also showed me first hand how important it is to give back to the next generation in a “pay it forward” fashion .
Just as the day started , we finished off af the canteen . Every single one of us was full of enthusiasm and appreciation for our beloved college . Some even got invited to present again to the students during the week.
The man behind the new found focus on sustained alumni relations is Prof Sudhir, who was a year senior to me in college . He explained how it is now a well organized effort to establish a two way constant communication between the old students and us .
Prof Ayub , who is now the principal of the college is a forward thinking academician . He is also a big fan of strong alumni relationships and frequently travels the world meeting alumni . It was a lot of fun being in the principal’s office after the panel to have a cup of tea and listening to his vision and plans . To say I was impressed will be an understatement .
Saturday , 23rd July, was the formal reunion day. Our chief guest was Shibu Baby John , who till recently was a state government minister . He is a fellow alum (10 years my senior) , and that too from Mechanical Engineering ! I never had a chance to be on the big stage while at college – and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to talk about the importance of paying it forward . And it was fantastic to hear from the minister , Prof Imtiaz , Prof Sudhir and our very own Ajith Varghese who was the college Union chairman in 1996 .
Pretty quickly we figured out that there were 6 of us from the class of 96 in IBM – Nitin, Hemant, Jayaraj, Sunil , Teji and me . How cool is that ? We missed two – Jayaraj was in the middle of a project in Abudhabi and Teji in US .
None of this would have happened without the leadership of our friends Mahesh Nair , Krishnakumar , Boby Iyer and many others who herded the proverbial cats all over the globe . Thank you – you are rock stars !
I can’t wait for the next reunion !