I cleared the fourth semester also comfortably and now the dreaded fifth semester began. This was supposed to be the toughest hurdle, which if one cleared, the path would then be smooth. We had a certain Professor Singer who taught us AC/DC Machines. He was a very good professor with a good rapport with students, but when it came to exams, his question papers were tough to answer. He loved jokes, especially dirty ones and he had no hesitation in either narrating or listening to them. A guy named Walter Huebner in our class could regale you for hours with his collection of jokes. Professor Singer was aware of this and often at the beginning of his lecture, would ask Walter to tell the class a new joke, after which he’d begin with the lecture. The best one was perhaps reserved for term end. Shortly before the exams, the professor asked Walter if he had a new joke to tell. The entire class was stunned when Walter coolly asked him, “Sir, can you tell me the difference between a flaccid penis and your question paper”? Professor Singer was aghast, not knowing what to say, when Walter explained, “Sir, whereas you cannot thrust a half-erect organ in, you cannot get anything out of your question paper”! God! Prof Singer burst out into laughter, as did the entire class. That guy Walter really had some nerve!
A flashback to my 1st semester: since I was a child, I had been very fond of card games. In Germany too, during my apprenticeship, I had learnt one or two local games, but I would not call them intelligent ones. Here in college, for the first time, I came across a 3-player game called “Skat” – a really intelligent game, where like in Bridge, one bids, but is played only with thirty-two cards. I am not in a position to explain its finer points, but once I learnt it, I was hooked. Some of my friends too were equally crazy, so much so that we played it at any opportunity, often even forsaking our practicals.
Back to the fifth semester exams. The practicals were slated for a particular day. During the term, we had been divided into groups of four. In my group were two brothers, Gaby and Horst. Gaby had done his apprenticeship with me and like me, had repeated the first semester. Horst, his younger brother, was the most brilliant student in the entire college across all disciplines. Max Schneider completed the group. Through the term, we had to complete some 25-odd practicals, which in reality, only Horst did while the three of us just assisted him, with yours truly taking the minimum trouble! As the exam date approached, I did a reality check and to my horror found that I knew next to nothing! In desperation, I requested Horst to teach me something, to which he really agreed but somehow never found the time. A day before the exam, I once again reminded him and then he found a solution. His exam was to be held in the morning and mine was scheduled for the afternoon, with a lunch break of two hours in between, during which he was to teach me. During the break, he came as promised and asked me what my difficulties were. When I told him that I did not know a damn thing, he was absolutely taken aback, exclaiming, “Don’t tell me you mean it?” When I nodded my head, he shook his and said he would only have time to explain one practical and he’d choose the toughest one for me.
Well, beggars are not choosers. Hardly had he finished when the bell rang and he wished me luck, to which I said I needed it all. When I entered the lab, dear old Professor Singer was ready to receive me. Though he was a very nice man, at that time he appeared to me like a butcher holding a very sharp knife. He pointed me to a table towards which I walked as a lamb might to slaughter. My jaw dropped in disbelief when I saw that I had to do the same practical that Horst had just taught me. The butcher’s knife was blunted! Prof Singer came and first asked me to prepare a diagram showing all the instruments and how they were to be connected. This much I knew. He came around again, checked the diagram and finding everything in order, asked me to go ahead with the connections. Done. “Now shall we start testing?” “Yes, sir!” “OK then, throw the switch!”
The moment I did, all the instruments pointed in the opposite direction! When he looked askance at me I quickly told him that I only needed to change the polarities. “Alright then, change them. I will be back!” The real test was about to start because I had already forgotten the procedure for taking measurements. When he returned, I made a bold face but I knew I was done for. As I prepared to throw the switch, he stopped me and asked me how I wanted to proceed. He was aware about my prowess in German, but I tried to confuse him by babbling all sorts of nonsense. He stopped me mid-way, asking if I’d be satisfied with an A grade II (equivalent to Very Good), because if I insisted on grade I (meaning Excellent), he’d have to test me at length. I couldn’t believe it! Quickly nodding in assent and thanking him, I ran out of the lab. A practical that should have lasted four hours was over for me within forty five minutes! The man who looked like a butcher to me earlier, was now an angel holding a pot of stew for me!
Divine intervention again came to my rescue and gave me more than I deserved. The worst was over and the last semester was more of a formality.