German Memoirs – Part 5

I had noticed during the first two semesters that in any subject that required some memorizing, most boys cheated and consequently got good grades. I was perhaps the only idiot who resorted to memory alone and as a result got average marks. So I thought of teaching these boys a lesson on how to cheat without the slightest chance of being caught! The subject was Technology of Materials. We were permitted to put cardboard or a file under the answer paper while writing. I used a hard H4 pencil to write a few things upon the file, the language of course being German but the script, Gujarati – my mother tongue! Not only was the writing hardly legible, the script was also obviously undecipherable to all of them! They were amazed at my brilliant idea and said, ”You rascal, so now you are also going to cheat?” To which my reply was that I had seen the result of being honest in the company of scoundrels.

Professor / student relations were always excellent and most German professors were very sporting when their legs were pulled. Technology of Materials was taught to us by one Dr. Jaeger, who incidentally was the only professor who taught three different subjects and was with us from the first semester to the last. During his classes, students used to murmur a lot and this disturbed him no end, but he never lost his temper. He would simply say, “Gentlemen, please reduce the amplitude of disturbance.” This was a regular feature in his class. One day, a fellow student came with a carton which had a knob on the top with a pointer which could be turned over some figures indicating the levels of disturbance, with two wires, one red and one black, jutting out. When Dr. Jaeger’s class began, this guy politely told him that he would like to present him with his invention which could regulate the disturbance or the noise level. Dr. Jaeger played along. There was laughter all round when he presented the box to Dr. Jaeger asking him to activate this device by attaching the red wire to the top button of his trousers and the other wire to the lowest button and then controlling the disturbance level with the knob as he pleased! This being the last lecture before the exams, at the end of class, Dr. Jaeger signed off by saying, “Gentlemen I wish you luck in the forthcoming exams.” This smart alec stood up immediately, saying “Sir, you can contribute a great deal to our luck by revealing the question paper”!

German as a language was being taught by one Dr. Nicolai – a professor par excellence. I have never come across a better language teacher. His lectures were full of wit and he had us in splits reading out some letters or articles written by Germans who did not have an iota of an idea about written German. You will not believe me when I say that my English improved after I learnt German from him! Well the day of our German exam came, for which we had to write an essay on a given subject. I could not complete in the specified time, so when after a few weeks the results were being announced, Dr. Nicolai came to class with the answers papers in hand and started discussing the merits or otherwise of each paper with the students and then giving them grades, I thought I was a goner. To my great surprise, he called out my name and made me stand up. Then addressing the class, he said, “Gentlemen, here is a student from a foreign country whose mother tongue is not German but who writes much better German than many or most of you. I am giving him the highest possible grade, despite his essay not being complete and in order that you may not think that I have favored him, I am letting his exam paper go round for you to read.” The entire class got up and clapped for me! From then on, I started believing in myself.

Very sadly though, my friend Guenter had failed.

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