My name is Rishiyur Nikhil. I, too am a graduate of IIT Kanpur, and
member in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
here at MIT.
But I would like to start first by reading some messages from various
people and professors who were involved in the early days of IITK.
First, some words from my good friend and colleague, Professor Arvind.
Arvind was a student at IIT Kanpur from 1964 to 1969.
After completing his Ph.D. at University of Minnesota, he
went back to teach at IITK, in the mid seventies.
Today he is the Johnson Professor of Computer Science and Engineering,
here at MIT.
Arvind's wife Gita Mithal is from of Kanpur. She and her family have
been friends of the Dahls since the Dahls first lived in Kanpur.
Both of them are travelling today, and Arvind sends these words:
"February 28, 2004 "My introduction to Norman, like many other
students in Kanpur, was through Crandall and Dahl, the venerable text
book through which we learned our mechanics of solids. The book was
full of insightful and fun problems and extremely well suited to
handing out weekly problem sets; the problem sets around which the
whole student life in IIT Kanpur revolved. It was only when I joined
MIT a decade later I realized that this whole (torturous!) style of
large lectures, small recitation sections, weekly assignments and
associated laboratories had come from here.
"The success of IIT graduates is now well recognized. There are books
about it and Diane Sawyer of CBS did even a 60-Minute segment on it.
The dominance of IIT's in India is so complete that it is most unusual
for my department, EECS, to admit a student from India who did not
attend one of the IIT's. What is less well known even in the United
States is the pivotal role of America through IIT Kanpur in this
success. (Of course discerning people know - when one venture
capitalist found out that I had studied in Kanpur, he remarked "Not
only did you study at an IIT, you studied at the right one.")
"The Kanpur Indo American Program known as KIAP was formed to
develop IIT Kanpur. It was supported by US AID funds and lasted from
1962 to 1972. Norman was its first chairman from 1962-64. Dr Dahl,
together with Dr Kelkar, who was the first director of IIT Kanpur, set
out to create an engineering institution which was unique in the Indian
setting. They succeeded! Being at IIT was so exciting for an
undergraduate like me, because for the first time we came in contact
with a large number of extraordinarily bright students and professors
from all over India. As compared to any school or any university this
place was totally open ---labs and libraries were open either round the
clock or at least until midnight; one could check out as many books
from the well stocked, air conditioned library as one wanted; the dorms
had no rules, and were governed by students. On one hand we studied
Schroedinger's equations, on the other we took courses on Freud,
Dostovoesky and Samuelson's Economics.! There were no external board
exams. In spite of the heavy study load, the place was teeming with
cultural and social activities. And of course IIT Kanpur was the first
institution in India to get a computer. I still remember IBM 1620 being
delivered on a bullock cart to the campus. The computer center was the
place to hang out. If nothing else, it was at least air conditioned.
"My wife Gita's family in Kanpur knew the Dahl's well but I met Norman
and Dorothy only after I joined MIT in 1979. Through Norman and other
people who had been in KIAP, I came to know a lot more about the
formation of IIT Kanpur. The more I learned what Norman has done in
Kanpur the more I realized that Norman was not only charming--- he was
a political genius. Let me illustrate by a story.
"The biggest challenge in forming any high quality academic institution
is in hiring faculty. The Indian Universities in 1960 were full of
politics and sycophancy. In Uttar Pradesh, the state where Kanpur is
located, it would have been inconceivable to make an academic
appointment at that time without the approval of Mr. C.B. Gupta, the
wily Chief Minister of the state. To pre-empt any political
interference, Dr Kelkar and Dr Dahl visited the Chief Minister, and
told him that IIT had to appoint hundreds of professors, and if he
would be so kind as to nominate his representative on the selection
committee. It was desirable that the appointee have a higher degree in
education. Mr Gupta found somebody with a master's degree and sent him
to attend these selection committee meetings. When this gentleman
reported back to the Chief Minister after several selection committee
meetings that each and every appointment was being made in a non
partisan, highly professional manner, the Chief Minister did not
interfere even once. The selection process resulted in the arrival of
professors from all over India, many who had been educated overseas.
But there was not one from Uttar Pradesh in the first one hundred or so
appointees! If you know India, you will realize immediately that Norman
must have been a political genius to get away with this. Instead of
drawing the wrath of the Chief Minister, Norman received an invitation
to visit him in Nainital, the Hill Station where the state government
offices used to move to in the summer time!
"Norman's impact on the whole high tech culture cannot be over
emphasized. Consider this - Pandit Nehru conceived of five IITs and by
design each was modeled after the educational system in a different
country. IIT Bombay was supported by Russians, Madras by Germans, and
Delhi by the British. Though the IITs had a joint entrance exam, and
some agreement on core curriculum, each IIT in the sixties had a very
different academic culture. Kanpur was by far the most progressive and
the real testimony to the supremacy of the Kanpur curriculum was that
within a decade, all the other IITs had copied it in every way. Today
all IITs follow the American higher educational system.
"Gita and I feel fortunate to have known him personally. He is
universally held in the highest regard by IIT Kanpur folk, even those
who never had an opportunity to meet him. We, the alumni of Kanpur,
feel proud of the Institution and also feel a gratitude towards it. Our
gratitude extends to Norman Dahl, the man who made it all possible.
That was from Professor Arvind.
Next, I would like to say a few words from Prof. M.V.George, who also
joined IIT Kanpur in the early days. He was a professor of Chemistry
at IITK, and taught many people, including my batch. In an e-mail, he
"... I am reminded of the very early days of life in IITK. Professor
Dahl was a member of the Selection Committee which recruited Professor
CNR Rao, Professor P.T.Narasimhan and myself. [Nikhil: this is a
star-studded cast of characters!] He was a charming person who was
committed to the cause of building IITKanpur. We all owe a great deal
to the memory of people like him, Dr.P.K.Kelkar and Dr.M.S.Muthanna.
IITK is a standing monument to their efforts and vision. ...
With best regards, M.V.George
M. V. George Honorary Professor,
Photosciences and Photonics Division
Regional Research Laboratory
That was from Prof. M.V.George
We also recently received an e-mail from Prof. Peter Mason, of
Caltech, also one of the participants in KIAP. In his e-mail, he
"Norman Dahl was the prime mover in the involvement of the Ford
Foundation in the KIAP program. Without his vision and energy, it would
have been a lesser program. By the time I came to the program, he had
passed the mantle of leadership in Kanpur to Professor Green, but he
was still the guiding guru."
That was from Prof. Peter Mason.
In the last few days, I corresponded via e-mail with Prof.Rajaraman,
who lives in Bangalore, India. Prof. Rajaraman was also one of the
earliest recriuts to the IITK faculty, joining in 1963 or 1964. He
had just completed his Ph.D. from U.Wisconsin, having previously
completed a Masters degree from MIT. Getting a Ph.D. in Computer
Science in those days was pioneering, even for the U.S. He taught
many of us at Kanpur. Many of you will know him as perhaps the most
well-known computer scientist in India. He has authored numerous
textbooks on Computers that are in use in educational institutions all
over India. In his e-mail, he says:
"Prof. Dahl was at IIT/K when I joined as a young assistant professor
at IIT/K. ...
"I primarily remember that he was very patient and was very persuasive.
"His long conversations with Prof. Kelkar and the leadership at IITK
led to a number of new innovations in Indian Technical education which
are now widely emulated by all IITs. These innovations were: Common
core curriculum Introduction of sizable Humanities component in
Engineering Education Semester system Letter grading Insistence on the
most experienced faculty teaching core curriculum courses.
"... We all respected Prof. Dahl as far-sighted leader."
That was from Prof. Rajaraman.
Which is a good lead-in to some personal comments of my own, since
Prof. Rajaraman happens to be my uncle!
- In the summer of 1964, I visited Prof. Rajaraman and his wife Dharma
and stayed with them for about a month in their home on the IITK
campus. I was 9 years old.
- It was a terrific campus. My brother and I spent many hours in
the IITK Library (which did not yet have its beautiful central
building, which is now named after Dr. Kelkar). We spent our time
reading the magazines on aero-modelling. We were 9 and 11 years old,
but nobody minded our use of the library.
Prof. Rajaraman's father, was extremely young at heart; he would take
my brother, me, and this playmate of mine named Martin, the son of an
American professor who was our neighbor (does anybody know which
professor that was?), in Prof. Rajaram's old Hindustan 14 jalopy to
drag race on the IITK airstrip (inasmuch as a Hindustan 14, the
predecessor to the venerable Ambassador sedan, can be said to drag
race!). In those days, the airstrip did not yet have any buildings
(today it has a hangar, a control tower, offices, etc.)-- it was just a
flat, well-paved stretch that was only occasionally used by someone
flying in from Delhi in a small Cessna.
- That visit, and my exposure to the campus and the people there,
planted an excitement and anticipation in me. Even though I lived in
South India, I was determined, as I reached my final years of high
school, that IITK was where I wanted to go, despite all the puzzled
reactions of my friends and family in South India (who thought that it
would be more natural or convenient to go to IIT Madras).
- In 1971 I came to Kanpur as an undergradate student, in the EE
program. I, too, used the venerable Crandall and Dahl textbook!
For the 200-or-so undergrad students who entered each year, coming to
Kanpur was a mind-blowing experience. The key words were: hard word and
academic excellence, openness, and flexibility.
- Regarding hard work and academic excellence, I'll say no more;
everyone is aware of the learning environment in which we were
constantly, constantly challenged.
- But let me say a little more about openness and flexibility.
The very architecture and buildings of IITK were a metaphor for the
intellectual openness and flexibility of the place.
If you stand in the center of the academic area, you are surrounded by
open-air walkways. These walkways didn't stop at the entrances to the
buildings, they just organically took you right through the building,
forked inside the building a couple of times, and emerged in multiple
places from other parts of the building, and went on to other
buildings. There was no "inside" or "outside" of the building; it
organically connected with the open air and to the rest of the campus.
The long walkways that snaked their way through one building after
another; we had our own version of MIT's famous "Infinite Corridor".
When you emerged from your lab, lecture hall, or your hostel room, you
were immediately in touch with the open air. You could approach any
building from any side.
(Of course, this openness had its amusing moments during the monsoon
season when we shared our walkways and corridors with a delightful
assortment of frogs, who also thought highly of the architecture!)
This openness and flexibility influenced, and was reflected in the
attitudes of everyone there. Kanpur was perhaps unique not only in the
degree of flexibility that students had, in choosing their own courses,
but it was certainly unique in the degree of self-governance available
to the students outside the academic world.
For example, Kanpur was the one IIT that had its own TV station,
another gift of the KIAP program, and except for one faculty supervisor
and one full-time technician, it was completely run by students. And
this was before India even had television!
Each hostel was completely administered by a committee of student
volunteers, including the management of the food services. Yes, you
actually campaigned, canvassed, and stood for elections in the hostel
to become Egg and Milk Secretary in the dining commons!
I believe that these features gave students early opportunities to
exercise leadership and independent thinking, and to undertake
responsibility, and the fruits of this training are visible in the
alumni all over the world today. My classmate from IITK, here, Mr.
Muktesh Pant, was an Egg and Milk Secretary; today he is VP of
International Marketing at Reebok International. My other classmate
from IITK, here, Dr. Arijit Bose, is Professor of Chemical Engineering
at Univ. of Rhode Island!
In summary, India has been fortunate to have, early in its independent
existence, the vision and invaluable assistance of people like
Professor Dahl, setting India on its course for excellence in Science,
Engineering and Technology, whose dividends are so visible today.
Professor Dahl's place in the history of Science and Technology in
India is well assured.
Rishiyur S. Nikhil