22 Mar Prof. Anirudhan Sahadevan officially bows out from University of Kerala.
Prof. Anirudhan Sahadevan officially bows out from University of Kerala.
This month of March, 13 is quite important to me as my good friend Prof. Anirudhan (aka ani) is getting ready for the mandatory retirement. I wish to flag some among many of miles we walked together in the road of research, until I retired in Jan., 2004 leaving behind the ENVIS Center and the tech. staff of the center. When I look back, the closing down of the ENVIS center in the Department of geology, Kariavattom campus gave an opportunity for the staff to re-energize and fly new heights in their own lives. Now back to ani and me.
I met ani as a young and determined man for the first time in my office in CESS, at Sasthamangalam, Trivandrum. He dropped into my office; say in the afternoon to get acquainted with me. We did not meet each other earlier anyway. For some reason, ani knew that I am planning to get out of CESS and to the free world of th university.
The universities are by far the most unique places where freedom is immense, formalities are rather informal. It is place where professors work like hermits. If one wanted to work hard to look for answers to issues and phenomenon, university environs are the right place. There is absolute freedom to think or not to think, think the way you wish to think, Work or not to work, and work on such mundane stuff you wish to work on. The work load of teaching is less compared to others. So, I was thrilled by the idea of getting back to my dream job in the department of geology of the University of Kerala.
All that ani needed to know was, the gossip about my jumping off the CESS boat was for real or just gossip. Ani felt good when I answered in affirmative. And he expressed his desire to work for a PhD degree under my counseling and directions. May be we went out of the office to the front street for a cup each of parting tea on that evening. Then, by mid June of 82, I departed to the Kariavattom campus of the university and from the next day onwards I restarted as reader in geology.
I would imagine that from the very first day on we struck a very friendly relationship, talking about the research topic. In a week or two the choice was narrowed down to the study of sediments of Bharathapuzha. This river had sort of attracted me like a magnet. It is a medium class alluvial river with seasonal floods like others in Kerala and otherwise a calm flowing system with large side bars and flats of sand.
In fact the original proposal was sort of open ended. In geology, our research questions are not very refined nor finite. Our path is what we call multiple workings hypothesis, credited to W Chamberlain, a famous American geologist and academic.
The field data collection and foot work indeed were tailored into the MSc student dissertation project. So ani and I used to go to field with the boys. We had very interesting groups like Shyam Sarma and team (camping at Chittoor), Varma, Mohan, Razak and Jose James (in Sreekrishnapuram camp), Vinod, Pradeep, Gangadhar and Abraham (in Manimuthar, TN) and so on. Chittoor camp was indelible as we were denied accommodation in the inspection bungalow by the caretaker, on the false basis that the room was already allotted. But we chose to sleep in the verandah of the inspection bunglow for the first night. We did that in spite of endless pleas by the caretaker, who initially said the place was full. The next day onwards we had absolutely no problem whatsoever regarding the sleeping place. Ani and I stayed there with the boys for all the ten days the teachers were ordered to stay.
However, Sreekrishnapuram camp was equally memorable but on a different count. In fact the place or rather two rooms we got on rental basis was the second floor space of a row shops. Second floor had all kinds of guys living. Most of them are vending stuff in the villages to make a living. Everything from bangles to vessels and fake medicines to food stuff can be seen in the list. Expensive items like children’s and ladies garments were vended. These guys after long day of roaming about in the villages, in a bicycle or even by foot are nearly passed out when they get back to their room. Hence they are practically silent at night. But our boys were the opposite, and keep on chatting with us for long hours at night.
The fun part of the lodge is the toilet. The mornings we need to go to the toilet to ease the bowels. This had to be done in open air inside a walled property. Entry is illegal as we had to jump over a wall on specific points to avoid landing on feces. Inside the compound, it is like the old roman style. You squat inn such a way that you butt does not hit the neighbors. Every one smoked, to overcome the stench of human excreta. The butt washing is also a community activity, whereby one uses a bucket and rope to lift water from the bottom of well. In fact, the bucket takes turns to meet the needy. You smile at the man’s face to get the bucket for yourself.
The women in the small town never passed by this walled property during the evening and morning busy hours. We initially took a bath from the water well. However, we soon discovered a temple tank and with permission from the temple authority we used to go to the small pond. Ani did not know how to swim. But all others did know. So we decided that we will put ani in the pond and make him practice swimming. Mohan took the lead to coax and coerce ani to start swimming. Really the truths of the matter was that by the seventh day in the camp, ani could swim across the pond, which is only say 15 feet roughly.
Another surprise was Mohan after bath along with us went to the temple. Being strangers there people were curious to figure out our intentions in the town. Our boys are very smart in conveying the purpose of our visit to the town and the mission at hand. This always earned some degree of reputation for us. The priest gave us routinely, fried flavored and sweetened rice cake to share and eat.
Mohan being what he is, offered to sit with the small crowd or choir and sang devotional songs say for about 30 mins or so. Mohan sang well and this led to a higher esteem for us. Plus two or three extra sweet fried rice cakes.
The work out in the field was tough but no way to avoid. This man Razack cleverly avoided the hard hot field days and went to Angadipuram, where he had a Railway employee uncle, in the pretext of treating tooth ache. The others stayed back to complete the work. But I and ani packed off back to campus.
The chitoor camp was good, but for the first night. The entire team took a night bus to Palani for darsan and stay overnight. We ran up the 900 or so steps, of course taking breaks.
The Manimuthar camp was equally good but for the first nights sleeps again in the veranda of the inspection bunglow. V.Radakrishnan (now Professor, Bharathidasan Univ., TN) joined us as he was looking at the sediments of Thamirabarani river for his doctoral degree. Ani and I went to Manimuthar in my Mahindra jeep, and en route at Tirunelveli gave the jeep to a workshop for some repair work.
Ani wrote the thesis in piecemeal and I sat and read the manuscript and did the essential modifications. It was nearly an eight month long mission. If this man was ready with one page I will read and finalize that page. Or if it is 20 pages long we sat right through the late evening to finalize that segment. My policy is to do whatever given to me in one go. That is what my teacher Bryce Hand did with my thesis. He would say Vic hand in whatever you have. The length is of no consequence. This great man never failed to give me back what I gave the previous eve, in the very next morning when he walked up the stairs at my office-end in the Heroy Lab., Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York
Finally, ani was kind of confused about my language skills. When we were closing in on the final leg of thesis, he wondered if, the thesis need be read by a language expert, late Dr Rajan. I politely told ani that this thesis will go to foreign examiners and let us wait for their comments.
Before I was leaving the country to Wichita State Univ., USA on PDF, I personally took say five copies of thesis to the concerned section in the administration section. It was like Aug 89, or so, and I flew out to JFK and then to Wichita, where Bill Full and his girl friend and step son received me.
When I rejoined on the first of January 90 two reports, including the one by Lee Suttner of Indiana was in the office. And ani was formally awarded the doctorate by the university, in April that year.
Later we were together in several research projects. I and ani supervised thesis work of Dr Sabu and ani sooner than later was appointed as professor of geology. So this young man is now senior and is readying himself to quit the active service as a geoscientist and academic.
Wish him very best wishes.