Saturday, November 05, 2011

An engineer's conundrum

Engineering degree is at a premium in India.  At the same time, every other guy is an engineer.  I don't know whether it's the job market or the social status, everybody wants to be an engineer.  Put everything aside.  First become an engineer and then you can worry about the other stuff later.

There is nothing like brimming with pride when you go home and tell your folks, "I hit a century in the local cricket match."

"Okay, okay, all that's fine.  What about your exams in the coming week? Are you prepared for that?"

It may be wrong to say that this is applicable only for engineers; I think it is true that this holds for medicine as well.

It is a matter of pride to say, "illa ree nammaga doctor alla engineeringay odhbekuantha iddhane (My son wants to study doctor or engineering only)." I used to secretly wonder What is meant by studying for doctor? Isn't it medicine?

So, as I pursued my passion for engineering, and completed four years of slogging and cramming right before the exams, I ended up being an Engineer.  I think the next step was predefined as I took up one of the many available jobs in one of the many companies.  Life went on, as usual.  I had not broken the norms of the society.

During my Engineering days, one day, on a weekend, one of the taps in the bathroom of my house had a leak, and the washer had to be replaced.  As usual, my mother was ready to call the plumber to get this fixed, and the plumber gave the necessary appointment to come over and get the washer replaced.  Just then, that evening, an elderly gentleman in the neighborhood dropped by.  He would have a brief conversation if my father was around and exchange the usual pleasantries.  He had worked a major part of his life in the army and was very meticulous in his daily needs and activities.  He was a man who was very disciplined, and always expected the exact things he wanted from life, and so, you can say that he was a stickler for perfection.  Obviously, all of us had a huge respect towards him, and I have played a lot with his grandchildren during my growing up days.  He was eighty years old and seeing him, you could never say so.  During the conversation, my father mentioned that we were waiting for the plumber before heading out for the evening.  The elderly gentleman was very very surprised.

Mr. Krishnan, Isn't your son an engineer? He asked.

Yes, sir.  He is.  Why do you ask so? asked my father rather inquiringly.

Then, why do you want to call a plumber.  Just ask him to repair the tap.

I did not have a good vibe about this conversation.  Immediately, I went on the defensive.  "Sir, but I am an Electronics & Communications engineer." The kind of situation I was in, I was no doubt not too proud of my degree at this point.

In a typical South Indian Andhra accent, the elderly gentleman replied with an authority that shook me out of my reverie.

So what, I say.  An Engineer is a person who should know everything.  What do you mean by saying you don't know how to repair a tap?

I looked at him sheepishly.  There was an eerie silence for a few seconds.  This is the sort of silence that feels as though it has extended for light years.

My father quickly butted in, and as he spoke, I realized, what he said would in no way save my butt.  Sir, today's engineers are useless.  All of them have only bookish knowledge.

The elderly gentleman again asked me.  So, what will you do, if, let's say, the wiring of your house has got messed up and the electrical lines are not working the way it is supposed to?

Sir, I am an Electronics Engineer and not an Electrical Engineer, I said.  If, at that point, I had sought an IPO for my self esteem, it would have ranked at an abysmal low value.

Oh my God.  What is the point in getting a good rank and joining an Engineering college if you cannot do the basic things at home.  Do you know something? I have never called a plumber or electrician to my house till date.  I have fixed all the plumbing and electrical issues by myself.  I have imparted the same knowledge to my son as well.  And as usual, he had to say this.  I am not too happy with the standard of engineers in our society today.

To save me from further embarrassment, there was a knock on the door.  The plumber walked in with his tools.  The elderly gentleman started inquiring him about the nature of the parts he was using for repair.

I was happy, for it was the plumber's turn to face the music. 

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