Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Replica stone

My first introduction to Prof. Humayun Kabir was by having to study his poem "Trains" sometime in the 8th or 9th standard. With a name like Kabir, it seemed natural that he was a poet; and it was only as a poet that I had thought of him until a couple of days ago. Even as I saw his name on this replica, my first thought was, "That's nice. They got a professor of literature to inaugurate an institute of technology". Somehow that seemed very much in place with a higher order of things, where technology merges with poetry and we begin to see fluid mechanics in stones and poetry in the swing of a robotic arm.

But no. My imagination had got ahead of my ignorance. It turns out that Prof. Kabir was much more than the writer of "Trains". In fact, he is more famous as a union minister than as a poet / writer. And it was as a union minister that he had come to Madras on July 31, 1959, to inaugurate the third of the Indian Institutes of Technology. The good folks in charge of running the institute have taken the original inaugural plaque for safekeeping. Visitors to the institute can take a look at this replica, which is positioned just outside the Central Lecture Theatre. 

The lettering is faded and it is a challenge figuring out Prof. Kabir's portfolio at the time of the inauguration: Union Minister for Scientific Research and Cultural Affairs. As I struggled to read it, I was thankful that Prof. Kabir was not one of those prolific poets, whose works are thrust on to unsuspecting schoolkids. "Trains" certainly made for more tedious reading than the words on this plaque! 

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