I do not know why, but since childhood I had a fascination for Germany and was in awe of the Germans because of their prowess in the scientific field. I was not quite eight years old and studying in Bombay, when the Second World War started. In no time, the Germans overran France and the gossip started in our school. One Smart Alec said, “Now it will be our turn. The Germans have developed warplanes that can fly non-stop for seven days and they will give their pilots a super pill, after swallowing which they can go hungry for several days. They will be bombing us continuously and blah, blah, blah.” My childish mind made me believe all of this and my awe for the Germans only increased.
Well, years later, the war was ended and the allies won. My father was working with a German company in Bombay – Siemens, which had to shut down. The male members were interned and sent to a camp while the ladies and the children were packed off to Germany. My father had excellent rapport with his seniors and not only helped their wives and children in the transition period, but also kept their furniture in our home. Being jobless, he started his own trading company. Then, one fine morning, he thought of visiting Germany to meet his old bosses and maybe reviving Siemens. So it was that on the 9th of August 1949 – I remember the date – he embarked on a trip to Germany, which would change the course of his life and in the near future, be the precursor of fulfilling my dream to visit that land which I held in awe. Thoughtful as my father was, he carried with him packets of tea, coffee, sugar and the like for his erstwhile employers because these were hard to come by in war-ravaged Germany. And the businessman that he was, he sold their furniture lying with us and gave the money to the rightful owners. The erstwhile bosses were overwhelmed and from now on they were friends for life. Soon, some old hands of Siemens put their heads together and Siemens returned to India.
I was never was a bright student at school. Not that I was dumb, but I just loathed studies. English and Maths were the two subjects I especially hated and in the monthly examinations that we had then, I hardly ever passed in these subjects. Yet, my dream was to become an engineer someday! Well, somehow I managed to reach the 10th standard. The old Bombay University used to conduct the exam then and hardly 40% of the students cleared it at first attempt. It was the time of arranged marriages then. It was common for the old aunts and grannies to tease the boys saying, “no father will give you his daughter’s hand in marriage if you do not clear this exam.” What? I thought this totally unacceptable; how dare any father refuse me! Inspired or motivated by this, I studied hard, really hard and to most people’s disbelief, cleared the exam at first attempt!
And so, my entry into the science stream of a college coincided with Indian independence. My wayward habits continued and I had to give a re-exam in the very first year, which I barely cleared. My waywardness continued and I failed in the next exam. Not learning anything from this, I barely cleared the second year at second attempt. It was while was studying for my BSc degree, that just for the heck of it, I applied for admission to an engineering college in England. The unbelievable happened and I received a positive response from a college in London! To top it all, my father agreed to send me there! Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that he would send me abroad for higher studies, knowing fully well how I had fared academically in India. What was in his mind at the time, I have not been able to fathom till date.