The shocking news sailed from Tezpur in central Assam with the silent departure of renowned educationist Aparna Kumar Padmapati on 16 September 2016 at his ancestral home. Professor AK Padmapati was 82 at the time of his demise and left behind his close relatives along with a huge number of well-wishers and former engineering students in northeast India.
The small news item saddened me. I was one of his direct students in Assam Engineering College (AEC). As a student of the Mechanical branch in AEC Jalukbari, I had the opportunity to attend some of his classes.
Even after serving the premier institute of the region as its principal, Padmapati Sir took classes on Thermodynamics, Automobile engineering etc. I had enjoyed a comfortable relationship with the composed, determined and caring Principal Sir.
Prof AK Padmapati Sir was a role model for me as a passionate teacher, strict administrator and humble guardian for all of his students. I personally found a mentor with comforts in Padmapati Sir during all my AEC days after coming out from a middle class family, run by a committed school teacher turned social worker in a remote village of Nalbari district.
I was put as a boarder in hostel no 7 in the eastern front of AEC campus which was adjacent to the Government Ayurvedic College and opposite to the hillock of Gauhati University. Thus Jalukbari, in the outskirt of Guwahati, became my second home for many years.
My usual stay was shattered in the second year when a new comer to the hostel no 7 leveled an allegation of ragging and it was not confined to our college campus alone. A prominent newspaper made a front page news item with the headline of ragging menace in AEC and made the entire situation clumsy.
The news, I presume still today, was little bit exaggerated. Our senior hostel mates got annoyed with the news and decided to lodge a protest against the newspaper in the city. Soon the decision spread across AEC and many other hostel boarders joined us. After assembling in front of our picturesque hostel, we moved to the office of the newspaper in a college service bus.
Till we arrived in the newspaper office, the editor (I should not mention his name) was busy preparing his editorial. Irritated with our repeated claim that he should withdraw the news, the editor exclaimed, “Do the engineers believe that they are the kings? I am not going to follow your diktat.”
We were not prepared for the answer and felt pained and exhausted. But one of our seniors took some time and replied with the same temper, “Do you, the editor-journalists, pretend to be kings?” Without waiting for his next reaction, we left the newspaper office.
During our return ride to the college premises, we only talked against the editor and also fantasized that we would print a newspaper very soon to condemn him outright. No doubt, it never happened, but the destiny put me in that profession even though I duly completed BE (Mechanical) course from the AEC. I am sure, the editor still has no idea that I was in the group of Aecians in front of him on that afternoon.
The ragging issue did not settle down, as the then education minister tried to intervene on the matter. The State minister (I avoid identifying him) directly called upon Padmapati Sir through the landline telephone and asked for a briefing from him about the incident. The minister also intended to come to the college urgently to take stock of the situation.
But Padmapati Sir requested him not to come immediately as the classes were going on in full swing. The minister seemingly got furious with the principal’s negative reply and declared that he would visit the college right away. The response from Padmapati Sir was equally sharp, “I will ask the chowkider to shut the main gate (of the college campus in the eastern front).”
Following his reply with a firmed voice, the minister cancelled his trip to our college. Neither could I remember his trip to the AEC immediately after the incident to the best of my memory.
But the issue did not end there for us. Padmapati Sir soon summoned few boarders of hostel no 7 to his office. I was also among them. We arrived in a group. He asked the chowkider to shut the office door and started almost rebuking us (Do you know what you are doing, Is it the reason you are here in the hostel, Do your parents know your activities, Should not I expel you….).
For some time, we remained silent and went on digesting his words. Padmapati Sir, along with us was also standing. We knew there was no point of arguing with him at that moment. Finally after few minutes, when he stopped, I dared to put a question in my sweetest voice, “What should we do now?”
Padmapati Sir changed his mood. Took his seat and said, “Ok, from now, there must not be any incident of ragging in the college. So does in your hostel. Now go and console the first semester student. Comfort him as one of your younger brothers at home.”
We returned back to our hostel. Talked to the student and tried to console him with all our capacity and creativities. Slowly the situation turned into normalcy. And everybody became busy again with their study works with an aim to earn excellent marks in the semester examinations.
For records, Padmapati Sir was born on 23 October 1934 to the family of eminent lawyer Annada Kumar Padmapati and Kanakprobha Padmapati based in Barahalia locality of Tezpur and also died there silently and peacefully amidst all his close relatives.
A brilliant student since his school days, Padmapati Sir completed his early education from Tezpur government school and came to Guwahati to study in Cotton College. After completing his B. Tech in Mechanical engineering from IIT Kharagpur in 1958, Padmapati Sir went to the USA to pursue Masters in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Arizona.
Padmapati Sir joined in AEC under Gauhati University as a faculty and later got promoted as the head of the esteemed technical institution. After his retirement from the AEC, Padmapati Sir also served the State technical education board as its director. A confirmed bachelor Padmapati Sir was fond of sports primarily tennis & cricket. He also nurtured interest on the environment, nature and wildlife, which was reflected in his various letters to the editor in local newspapers.
I invited him for an interaction program with the media persons at Guwahati Press Club, which he reciprocated positively. We had also preliminary discussions about the program. But it was somehow not materialized. Thus my media friends in the city had missed a rare opportunity to listen to a man of dignity, a great teacher and a simple Assamese to the core of his heart.
Rest in Peace, Padmapati Sir!