A longhaired and bearded boy anxiously and hurriedly runs into the department with a determination to turn a few feet on the corridor and enter a class and in those moments not to be caught in glaring glimpse of a man who could be standing outside his office. It is not the eighth standard class, but the M.Tech in Applied Geology.
And his luck, Prof R S Mittal encounters him right in that turn and that’s it….
“What is this? “ he chides like an old headmaster, holding his hair, “have you come here to study geology and geophysics or to an acting school? Go cut your hair and then attend classes and come back to me with your first tutorial in this subject” and dismisses him out of the gate.
There was very little chance anyone had or anyone would have wanted to with this founder and builder of the department. I did not have the privilege of being taught by him except for his couple of general lectures but his aura was all over. His tireless efforts to bring the best of scientists and technologists, his fetish for discipline and purpose and his team building leading to making it one of the best in the country are legendary and placed many of us in higher rungs of the earth science hierarchy.
Couple of occasions vividly comes to my mind to recall on the Teachers Day. First with the tutorial, once inside the room after running through a tutorial on crystallography, he turns his face and reflects upon the amount of trouble parents would be going though to send children out to his department. He smiles and the burden of responsibility seemed to have eased with his seeing the tutorial. He gently pats and asks to forget his angry instructions and encourages using all the facilities in the university to become more than a good student a successful person. Just around the time he had called for a recent pass-out who had got a job as a Junior Technical Assistant in GSI after knowing that he intends to join. I see him turn once again to that angry old man and takes off “did you study and did we teach for you to become a JTA – take a fellowship and prepare well for the UPSC and become atleast a Gazetted officer” he howls and instructs the office to place him as a Junior Research Fellow in a project and find him a suitable hostel and ensure that he reports on his progress periodically.
The other was a rather strange occasion. Prof Mittal served briefly as a VC and during that period we had a number of good cricket players in the campus. Couple of them had also played the Ranjis. The University was invited to participate in the Inter-University Rohinton Baria Trophy. So some of us met the Proctor and Dean and were quietly told that it was the purview of the VC and we should meet him. The Dean, himself a cricket fan, took us straight to Prof Mittal’s chamber and we were actually unprepared to face him. Prof Mittal read the invitation and heard us patiently for ten minutes. When we thought that we were lucky and his body language indicated that he might concede, there was the twist. He said very quietly, “I am happy that your skills have been recognised but if you insist on playing this, I would recommend that all of you leave the Roorkee University and I could recommend for whatever the value to the Sports Institute at Patiala - now it is for you to decide whether you want to play games to keep yourself healthy and become good engineers and scientists or would want to play cricket as a profession”. So all that euphoria of playing Inter-University matches ended. The only consolation was that he encouraged the intra-varsity games.