My father’s father was the first engineer in the family and he started a tradition followed by his brothers, sons, nephews, sons-in-law, grandsons and grand sons-on-law till we have the alumni of most major engineering colleges in India and abroad in the family. In fact REC Shivpur could perhaps hold an old boys meeting with my cousins alone. But it all started thanks to a grand old man’s ready wit and a great academic’s appreciation of it.
My great grandfather, a rustic gentleman from a feudal line in dire straits, was a pioneer. He shocked his peers by going into business-though unsuccessfully-and then by encouraging his children to become professionals and seek employment, something unheard of in feudal circles in those days. To this end he decided to make an engineer of my grandfather and travelled to distant Benaras from a remote village in Purulia district, then in Bihar, to seek admission at the Benaras Hindu University for a degree course in engineering. But he discovered to his dismay that the admissions were over, the session had began and he could try again only next year.
His resources would not cover a second trip and he was determined to implement his son’s career plans, so he demanded and was granted an interview with the vice chancellor- Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya himself. Panditji patiently explained the position and expressed his inability to help, but great grand dad was not convinced.
He insisted that there must be a way. The exchange carried on with my grandfather acting as interpreter for Panditji was speaking in English and my great grandfather in the Bengali dialect of Purulia. Finally, Pandit Malviya, a renowned speaker, tried to explain his position allegorically and asked them if a train that has left the station– can ever be brought back? “Of course it can” came the old man’s prompt retort, ” you have only to pull the chain and it will stop.”
This floored Panditji. He demonstrated his greatness by ‘pulling the chain’ to oblige an unknown rural gentleman and the train stopped to admit my grandfather, thus starting the chain of engineers. Thus began a new family proverb- to start a chain, stop a train.