My Days at Roorkee

Forming friendships, getting a decent education, growing up and having fun

Harsh Vardhan Pande ("Harshu")

These memoirs are dedicated to my special friend and everyone's friend Tara Chandra Kandpal. TCK (as I will call him in these memoirs) worked in Sri Ram Refrigeration in Secunderabad for a few years after Roorkee and then went to USA for MS. He worked very successfully at Tecumseh Products in Michigan for many years. I have exchanged many visits with him and his family from California to Michigan. He passed away in 1996 due to an illness. His wife Geeta and daughter Kawita still live in Detroit, Michigan. Kawita is a poet and has published a new book recently. My memoirs of Roorkee will not be complete without mentioning him.

My memories of Roorkee start even before I landed there. They start at the Lucknow Railway station (Charbagh) when I was on the way to Roorkee.

It was a typical hot Lucknow summer afternoon when I arrived at the railway station with my steel trunk and holdall. I was waiting for the train to arrive. I noticed a young person of my own age standing nearby. We started a conversation. I found out that he too was going to Roorkee and his branch was Civil. I remember we both were very enthusiastic about what we were venturing into. We shared the same compartment and talked all night.

When we arrived at Roorkee station, I went to Azad Bhawan and he went to Ravindra Bhawan. I do not remember the process of how we were assigned one Bhawan vs. another.

He was my first friend at Roorkee and his name is OP Agarwal.

At Azad Bhawan, I met another person who would be my second Roorkee friend - TC Kandpal. Like me, he was also from Kumaon - Raniketh to be precise. I was from Almora - a town nearby. He also had gone to Allahabad University like me. His branch was Mechanical.

During the first year, TCK's room was on the ground floor. My room (F-41) was on the first floor. In the second year onwards, he shifted to the room next to me. On the same floor, next to our rooms were Jitendra Goel and AK Mehrotra ("Mull"). All of my memory is not very precise and exact. But I vaguely remember that Mull moved to our floor (from the other wing where Viren Goyal, Avinash Diwan and others were) to "improve his academic environment " (my words).

TCK was a good friend to Sunil Saksena. That is how I got to know him a little bit. Later, when I went to the University of California, Berkeley, he was a great help to me. I also knew Arun Bahl due to TCK. Later, when I worked with L&T in Bombay, I used to meet with Bahl. He was in Voltas then.

My best memory about the living arrangement was that we all had "shared" servants. He would make tea for us in the afternoon, get samosas and pastry from the bakery and shine our shoes etc. Roorkee did prepare us for being a "Sahib".

We all had our local circle of friendship, and a larger group and then everybody else. My small circle consisted of four of us - Me, TCK, OP Agarwal and his neighbor Goyal (I forgot his first name now). My larger group consisted of Viren, Mull, Pant Ji, VK Ojha, Vijay, Avinash, Jitendra etc. As you know, the dinner hour at ES Mess was a good social hour. Our typical routine was this. TCK and I would walk over from Azad Bhawan to Ravindra Bhawan. We would go to OP's room. He would be sitting on his chair with a book and a notebook open - doing his study. He was always empeccably dressed with clean and shiny shoes, clean and pressed shirt and pants. His room was also clean and organized. Anyway, we would walk to the ES Mess. TCK was a non-veg, so he would go to the non-veg table and the three of us would go to the veg tables. Sometimes we would go to Pantji's and VK Ojha's rooms and go with them to the ES Mess.

After dinner, we would walk to the market. Sometimes we would have ice cream at the Quality ice cream restaurant. Sometimes we would splurge and order Tutti Fruitti ice cream. It tasted so good that I used to say, "When I have a job after Roorkee, I will eat Tutti Fruitti everyday". We also loved Cadbury Chocolate in those days.

The Beer Bust

One day we decided to drink beer. It was a warm day in Roorkee. We asked Goyal (OP's neighbor) to get the beer. He was happy to do so. We opened the bottle and poured beer for each of us. The moment we took the first sip, we all spitted it out. We just did not like it. We did not know that beer is supposed to be cold. It didn't look good and it didn't taste good. Now what to do? We had money "invested" in these two bottles. We tried to mix sugar and drink it. I don't think it worked. So, that was our first experience with beer - a disaster. Later in life, especially after coming to the US, I developed a good taste for beer. I still enjoy it.

We go on strike

I do remember the "DP Singh slapping incident" by Dr. Ghosh. It unified all of us and we went on strike. I do not remember how long we boycotted the classes. But I do remember Pant Ji's leadership saved the face for Dr. Gosh. Poor DP Singh. I wonder what he is doing now and what he felt then. But I do not remember when "Binni's slapping incident" by the same Dr. Gosh occurred (as he describes in his memoirs). (Update: 2013) I understand that DP Singh has passed away now. May God bless his soul.

NCC Camp in Ghorakhal, Bhimtal

Binni and Sunil Sakena in his comments have described the NCC camp experience. I will only add the missing pieces and my experience. First, let us recall what happened at the 'first NCC' camp outing in Dehradun! How spoiled brat we were then. Just because the 'arrangements' were not proper for us "Sahibs", we defected. We went AWOL. But the leadership is also to blame. Where were they? It was adventurous to find the bus connection from where we were back to Roorkee and then to our home bases.

Now about Ghorakhal. On the first day, we pitched our tents. I was the tent captain. I had previously attended a successful NCC camp in Allahabad. So, I knew some basic tricks. When our tent was complete, I asked everyone to dig a trench all around the tent. Everyone pitched in. That night we all slept soundly and got up at a comfortable hour but to a commotion in the camp. When we got out, we saw that the whole camp ground was soggy and full of water and all other people were screaming and yelling. The water got inside their tents and soaked their blankets and clothes. And we we were dry and had no inkling of the rain etc.

I have a somewhat good memory of the 'approved' visit to Nainital. The moment we reached Nainital, we rushed to a movie theater and saw a Hindi movie - "Tere Ghar Ke Samne" starring Devanand and Nutan. Who all were in our group? I remember Pant Ji, VK Ojha, TCK, Vjay, Viren? Then, when that was over, we ran to Mullital and saw another movie - "Some Like It Hot" starring Jack Lemon, Tony Curtis and Marylin Monroe. Then it was time to get back to Ghorakhal.

I remember when John F. Kennedy was shot. We heard as we came out of a class. I also remember when Nehru died.

What is my No. 1 memorable event of Roorkee days?

I think that it has to be the "walk to Haridwar". Binni has described it in detail in his memoirs. The highlight-within-the-highlight was drinking freshly squeezed sugar cane juice at 2 O'clock in the morning - in a sugar cane farm. How friendly the farmers were then. It reminds me of my favorite Hindi movie (Upkar) and song from it -

"Mere desh ki dharti sona ugle, ugle heerey moti, mere desh ki dharti.....aha aha aha..ha ..voh voh voh...."

If we tried to do the same again, first we may be run over by a truck. Then, if we survived that, we will be shot with a gun before we even entered the sugar cane farm. May be I exaggerate. But the sense of hospitality, politeness is gone from the modern India.

When we returned to the Roorkee Bus Station, we just couldn't keep our legs straight. To others, who did not know what we have been through, we looked like drunken people who can't walk straight. I don't know how we managed to get back to our respective hostels. That was the adventure of a life time.

Let me close by sharing with you an American song titled "Those were the days". The lyrics are as follows:

Once upon a time, there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two
Remember how we laughed away the hours,
Think of all the great things we would do

Those were the days, my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we'd choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

Happy memories.

Harsh V Pande, Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA