Fond Memories

 

One of the earliest incidents I remember about him and I had no reason to believe it did not happen – the tale was brought back vividly to us first-hand by a reliable source, perhaps a little embellished, the storyline later confirmed by the protagonist himself.

He was out to visit a prospect in Gujarat to demo a Hewlett-Packard desktop calculator. After an overnight journey, he proceeded directly from the railway station to the Institute.

The professor treated him to a welcome tea and took him straight to the small hall. The audience of about ten, mostly of lecturers and research scholars, were seated in front of and only three or four feet away from a large wooden table.  He quickly opened up the odd-shaped shiny metal case, took out the calculator and its accessories and laid them out on the table placed centrally in front. The calculator was powered up – the large single-line rolling display came alive in brilliant red.  It was only then he looked up at his audience and launched into his pitch.

Misleadingly labeled as a calculator, it was a big-sized computationally powerful machine in its time before the personal computers appeared on the scene, programmable in Basic (a friendly programming language designed for engineers and scientists). It was a well-structured demo that started off by introducing the keyboard and how to perform the simple four functions of add, subtract, multiply and divide like the pocket calculators. He was in full cry – his hands played on the keyboard with great flourish inputting the numbers and triumphantly producing the results on the display: ‘five plus seven, here you go, it is twelve, eight plus eight is sixteen, five minus three is two…’

After he had run through about half a dozen examples of addition and subtraction, he saw his audience shifting in their seats. Reading a certain impatience, he moved to more complex problems of multiplication and division: ‘five multiplied by three is fifteen, seven multiplied by two is fourteen…’ It was just then one of the younger chaps at the back was, for some inexplicable reason, furtively pointing at the table. Refusing to distracted, he continued with more examples, this time, of division: ‘fifty five divided by five is eleven…’ But the young chap on his part was getting bolder. Like a kid fixated on a toy in a store, this chap wouldn’t settle for any other object in the room. The gesticulations were getting increasingly animated and could no longer be ignored. Visibly annoyed at his rythm being upset, he followed the direction of the pointing hand that took him finally to the single-line display. There appeared unmistakably the figure of nine.

That was rummy. Was he making a mistake? He tried again. This time the outcome was eight. He ran through the arithmetic mentally. As far he knew fifty five divided by five was eleven. May be he interrupted the calculator in the middle of its computation. So this time he repeated and waited for the ‘whirring wheels’ to stop. The capricious machine threw up twelve as the result. This certainly needed looking into. Arithmetic was something even the mighty Hewlett-Packard had no claims to rewrite the rules.

He went up to the Professor and said he wanted to make a STD call to his office. They went over to the latter’s cabin. For the next ten minutes he wore his fingers short on the rotary dial. Finally he got through to a lone service engineer – all others were away in the field – who managed to set him up on a certain line of action before the line went dead on them.

Armed with the expert’s advice, he went back to the table, felt the sides of the machine, found some levers and the top of the chassis swung up revealing the guts of the machine. By now his audience had collected around him wanting to have a good look at the innards. He pressed down each printed circuit board to make sure they sat snug on the connectors at the bottom. It was the service engineer’s experience that often the circuit boards lifted up from their seats during transportation, causing the machine to declare independence from established (arithmetic) tables. That done and twice checked, he wiped the beading sweat and began closing up the chassis.

Whoever observed that lightning never strikes the same place twice, may be right with lightning’s; but he would be far off the mark with machines which, I always suspected, enjoyed a malicious pleasure in seeing you stumped. You could hear a smirk if you had the ear for it. On this occasion the top would not shut close neatly back into its position. Some prankish part was coming in the way that he was unable to spot. He tried all he could, thumping the top included. The machine was in no mood to oblige. Soon the audience jumped in to help him. But all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together.    

Needless to add the demo was aborted. He was able to pack the machine somehow back into its metal case without any parts of it sticking out, unlike C. Chaplin with the clock.  

Back in the office, he learnt about the catches that had to be gotten out of the way to press the top shut.

Over the years we never grew tired of recounting these episodes over cups of tea and having a hearty laugh.

Spontaneous and mildly irreverent humor that knew no authority, often making the powers-that-be squirm, mix it up with some innocent goofiness, that’s what he was.

It feels so unreal that he is no more.  

End 

PS: This piece is not fictional, though some details have been altered.

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3 Responses to Fond Memories

  1. gopal says:

    Its sad Raghu,to hear SSk is no more around. His subtle sense of humour , Three 1000s adding to HP 3000..it is sad..but then the usual words ..life has to move on isnt it

    Like

  2. Mani S says:

    My association with SSK is little older to his Blue Star days. He came into Motwane fresh from college. Though we worked together there just for 2 months, he was such a wonderful friend and colleague that it prompted me to bring him into Blue Star. Choosing different opportunities within BSIL, we could not work together much, but the story is not only well written but definitely it is a worthy memoir on SSK. May his soul rest in peace.

    Like

  3. Trisha says:

    this was splendid raghu. too good. yes, i too very often feel that a small pixie is bursting into laughter inside my computer or cellphone 🙂

    too many times!

    and the suspicion gets even deeper when it starts to behave the moment i hand over them to my techie brother. 🙂 🙂

    Like

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