M. Rajamanickam goes back to 1961 when he first started teaching, and traces the growth of engineering education in the city
I was born in December 1935 in Singanallur and I went to elementary school in Sarvajana School, Peelamedu. Every morning, we walked 5 km through fields and gardens.
By the time I did my intermediate in PSG Institute of Arts and Sciences, it was common to cycle from Singanallur, all the way down an empty, 20-feet-wide Avanashi road, full of trees on both sides.
Buses became frequent only in the late 50s while I was doing my Bachelors in Engineering at PSG Tech. Bus no 1 used to run from Ondipudur to Vadavalli and No 2 from SITRA to Perur. Back then, PSG offered only civil, mechanical and electrical engineering but it had all the lab facilities as per AICTE specifications. We used to work for long hours in the engineering workshops and then take quick breaks to eat PSG Tech canteen’s masal roast, the best in town!
At the time, Tamil Nadu (TN) had only three Government engineering colleges — Salem Engineering College, Madras Engineering College and Government College of Technology in Coimbatore. Later, three private colleges began — one in Madurai, and two in Coimbatore — PSG and Coimbatore Institute of Technology (CIT, 1956). To encourage the growth of engineering colleges, the Government included the private college professors under the pension scheme as well.
From the age of 15, I was a teacher. As an eighth grader, I took tuitions for Class VI and VII students and during my Intermediate, I taught the SSLC students English and Math. I was working at the electricity board when a teaching position opened up at CIT and I jumped at the chance.
So, in 1961, I joined as an assistant lecturer with a salary of Rs. 220 each month. With the salary I earned, I later put myself through a postgraduate course in Heat Power Engineering.
In those days, all colleges in TN conducted their central evaluations in Madras. So twice a year, all of us professors would pack our bags and go to Madras to correct papers for 10 days. There would be over 200 professors and we were allocated rooms to correct at least 20 papers a day. As the number of colleges grew, they shifted to zonal evaluations. My relationship with our group of professors in CIT went beyond being colleagues. We are still the best of friends.
When CIT began, there were just the three basic engineering branches but over the years, new departments, including chemical engineering and biotechnology, were opened. We also had a special sandwich course, whereby students could receive a diploma in engineering within three years with an additional six-month training. Later specialised courses, such as medical instrumentation specifically for doctors, were added.
It was only in the late 60s that computer courses began and that’s when engineering colleges truly became co-educational. Seventy per cent of the computer students were girls and many of them came from faraway villages.
Once, there was a girl in my class who couldn’t understand a word of English and this was a common problem then. She was crying all the time because she felt she couldn’t cope. Over two months, the staff continually encouraged her to just listen in class without panicking and soon enough, she picked up the language!
Though CIT was based in Coimbatore, many of our students were from Madras. That’s how we began hostels for the students. Ragging was a common affair then and it was especially dangerous for the first year students in hostel. One year, it got so bad that the Principal ruled that for the first two months, small groups of staff would accompany students from their hostels to protect them.
For me, interacting with students was the best way to maintain a calm mind. Every year there are fresh faces and new challenges. The syllabus for engineering stayed more or less the same till the early 70s, when all the courses were revamped and specialised courses were introduced. Things were difficult for that one year because we professors had to familiarise ourselves with the course first. But we had a rule of thumb as professors: to lecture for an hour, you must prepare for at least three hours.
I know I was born to teach. Nothing compares to the sense of courage and strength you are filled with after every lecture.
(As told to ESTHER ELIAS)
Born in 1935, he taught workshop technology, power plants and engineering drawing at Coimbatore Institute of Technology for 33 years. He retired in 1993 as a Professor and Assistant Superintendent of Workshops
In our final year at PSG, each of us had to submit a project. My group made a 3 ft by 2 ft lathe. Every year, the college used to take us on all-India educational tours, and that year, we went to Delhi where we met Pandit Nehru. We presented this lathe to him and I’ll never forget how he blessed us. He said that as young engineers we would be the building blocks of a new, developing India.