Ashalatha Thampuran reconnects with her days at College of Engineering Trivandrum

My mother, Sarasija Thampuran, always believed that education holds the key to success in life. When I opted for engineering after completing my pre-university course from Government Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam, there were a few in the family who felt that engineering was not a suitable course for a girl. But my mother supported my decision throughout. I belong to the royal family of erstwhile Cochin and feel proud of the fact that I am the first woman engineer from the family.

Since I loved to draw, my brother suggested I take up architecture. I belong to the first batch of architecture course (1964) at College of Engineering, Trivandrum.

The college was just a couple of years old on the new campus [earlier it was located at PMG] and was lacking in many facilities, including a proper road. However since the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was coming to inaugurate the silver jubilee celebration of the College, everything was put on track. There were a lot of events and I was forced to take part in a dance programme, because many assumed that I knew dance since I belonged to a royal family!

The college hostel had become my home away from home since it was not practical to go to my home at Tripunithura every weekend, as there were few buses and trains and the journey itself was long and very tiring.

Years later I served as the resident tutor and warden of the same hostel. Also, I was warden of both men’s and women’s hostels, thereby becoming the first woman warden of the men’s hostel!

The Indo-Pak war had its repercussions on our college life as well. There was severe scarcity of food grain. I still remember the foul smell of the rice that was served to us at the hostel. Wheat flour was introduced around that time. When chappathis were served, some of the students found it difficult to consume. There were restrictions on power consumption and we had to switch off lights after a certain time.

However, irrespective of all the problems, I cherish my hostel days. Saturdays were what we all looked forward to. Classes got over at 12.30 p.m. after which there would be an exodus from the hostel to the theatres to watch the matinee. We had to be back in the hostel by 6.30 p.m. So, whether the film got over or not, we had to catch the bus that plied to Channangara from Thampanoor and reach the hostel on time. We also enjoyed having ice cream from Xavier’s Annexe at Statue. Otherwise, there were very few shops in the city.

Another feature of my campus life that I cherish was my association with sports outside college hours. I played all the games I could think of, including badminton and basketball.

We were yet to have permanent teachers. J.C. Alexander, the head of our department, was a chief architect and other teachers were architects with the Public Works Department. We were in awe of Alexander sir and his teaching. There was a lot of warmth between the teachers and students.

Two of us in that batch became the first permanent staff members of the department. After passing out of the college in 1969, I got appointed as a lecturer in 1971. Thus at the age of 25, I got exposed to administrative procedures and this helped me a lot in the long run when I held several other positions, including that of the Principal.

In 2002, I bid goodbye to the campus as its Principal. I have grown with the campus, as a student and a teacher, and have seen the college achieving heights of academic excellence. The driving force has been the belief I had in myself as a woman. I relied on my strengths and didn’t regret over my weakness.

Accomplishments

Ashalatha Thampuran holds the first PhD in architecture for her thesis ‘Traditional residential forms of Malabar coast’. She has also written the book Thiruvananthapuram – Monograph of Heritage Buildings. She is currently executive director of Mohandas College of Engineering and Technology, Anad.

As told to Athira M.

(A column to commemorate the platinum jubilee of the University of Kerala. Eminent teachers and people from different walks of life talk about their student days in various colleges under the University.)