Home 2018 Some Sweet Memories

Some Sweet Memories

by Prof. Sharad. H. Patil
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Photograph by Dawid Zawiła

When I was in my intermediate class, my father guided me to take some USA entrance examinations, and I got a scholarship. He then sent me for undergraduate studies to Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, when I was just about 18 years old. I had hardly any experience with the outside world, but I came across many people who showed me so much concern and love that I have very fond and sweet memories of my stay in the USA, and gratitude for their support and affection.

At the time we went to the USA– my elder brother and sister were also going to the University of Michigan for their graduate studies– the only option was to travel by ship/boat. It took us 30 days to reach USA with a stop at UK, a pleasant trip. I was received at the Chicago Railway station by a friend of the family, and I was finally put in a dormitory at Evanston. There, four of us, all from different countries, shared a room, learnt many things from each other, and developed very friendly relations.

A few days after my being there, I got a message early in the morning, that there was a phone call for me. I rushed down from the third floor to the dormitory office on the ground floor where I picked up the phone and said “Hello”. Then I heard a sweet voice saying, “I am William Airees, your local guardian. We would like to meet you soon. When can we meet?”. I was so touched I just said “Any time convenient to you”. He replied, “Fine! I will pick you up today in the evening at around 7:00 pm from your dormitory.” When I came down in the evening at around 6:55 pm, I found him waiting near the dormitory office, a senior citizen. He greeted me, took hold of my hand, and we walked to his parked car. He told me that the University allots local guardians to the foreign students to provide support to them.  Any time I needed any help, I should contact him and he would try to do whatever that would be helpful. We got into the car and it took us about 25 minutes to reach his residence which was at the edge of Evanston towards Chicago.

There, four of us, all from different countries, shared a room, learnt many things from each other, and developed very friendly relations.

On entering their residence, we were received by Madam, who took hold of my hand and greeted me affectionately and said, “I am Elizabeth, your local guardian.” They told me that they did not have their own children, and this would be the beginning of our long-term relationship. We spent about two hours together, I told them about my background and my pursuit of education. After dinner, I asked her whether I could wash the dishes. She put on a nice smile and said “Sure, go ahead.”We talked about many things, walked around a little, and then they dropped me at my dormitory around 10:00 pm.

This was the beginning of a long-term sweet relation. They were really local guardians and parents. We used to meet regularly, especially when there were cultural programmes arranged by the University. After two years, I went to the University of California, La Jolla, for graduate studies, and then to the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, after my PhD in Physics. Whenever I passed through Chicago, I made it a point to go to Evanston and stay with my local guardians for a day. They would pick me up at an appropriate point and take me home. At home, I got much love and care. They used to put their arms around me and take photos. After I came back to India, I wrote to my guardians that I shifted to Delhi, and was not sure when I would meet them again. My local guardian from Evanston wrote me a very sweet letter: “I remember you every day. I have put up your photo next to my shaving basin mirror, and look at it and think of you whenever I am at the basin.” When I read that, I had tears in my eyes.Thank you my local guardians-parents, for your kind care, love and affection.

The undergraduate scholarship I had got at Northwestern University took care of fees, but my father had to bear my living expenses which came out to be about 60 dollars/month equivalent to Rs 300/month which was rather high at that time. I was concerned about that. Northwestern University had a quarterly system.  After completing the first four quarters, I had a break of about 10 days between the summer quarter and the autumn quarter. One day I saw a notice that there were temporary helper positions available for the cleaning process in some of the buildings in the university. The offered pay was about 1.50 dollars/hour. I was quite happy, and reported the next day morning at around 10 a.m., at the appropriate place.  At that place and time, there were many people around, mostly permanent employees. I waited at some distance from these groups, waiting for the officer in charge to come. There was a senior lady in the group, a bit strongly built. She looked at me and gave a nice smile. Then she walked towards me and asked whether I was thinking of taking up a helper’s position. I told her, “yes I would like to take up such work if I could manage it.” Then she asked me with a smile, “Where are you from? how old are you? what is your weight? what are you doing?” I told her, “I am from India, I am 19 years old, my weight is about 48 kg, and I have just completed the first year of undergraduate studies at the university.” She seemed to be satisfied but concerned. Then the officer-in-charge came and started taking down information about the few applicants. I gave him information about my being an on-campus undergraduate student. When he was noting down the information, the lady came near and spoke strongly and forcefully to him “You wanna kill the child?”Her concern and kindness were very touching. The officer-in-charge waited for a while, then after noting down the information, assigned me some simple work of cleaning and brushing the floor and carrying some small containers. I worked for about 4 days and was paid about 20 dollars which made me feel quite good. At the end, the officer in charge came to me and told me that anytime I wanted to work, “just come down here, and we will take you.” I was very deeply touched by the concern, care and consideration of the lady and officer-in-charge. So kind of them.

His kindness brought tears to my eyes. To help a student who is suffering and needs help, and to show care and concern, are divine qualities.

My studies at Northwestern University were very smooth but occasionally there were some problems which could have caused serious difficulties. In one case, I developed fever near the end of the sixth quarter when the final examinations started. On one day I had to take two examinations, one in an advanced course in mathematics in the morning and the other a laboratory examination in the afternoon. Just the day before, I got fever with a temperature of 101 degrees F, and I was feeling weak. I realized that it would be very difficult to take two examinations while suffering from fever. There was no way of avoiding the laboratory examination since the experiment had to be done at that time. After a lot of careful thinking and worry, I called up my mathematics professor on the phone from the room where I was staying.  I told him “Sir, I am having fever. Because of another examination on the same day, could I take your examination two-three days later? I promise that I will not look at the question paper with other students.” He immediately replied, “ Don’t take the examination, but don’t tell others. I know what grade you deserve.  Are you in an infirmary?” I told him that I was calling him from my room. He again said, “Just don’t take the examination, but take care of your health. Don’t worry.” His kindness brought tears to my eyes. To help a student who is suffering and needs help, and to show care and concern, are divine qualities. I am so grateful that I came across such teachers. I touch their feet.

After completing our undergraduate studies at Northwestern University, two of us went to the University of California, La Jolla, which was just starting, for our graduate studies. The new campus was coming up and we were the first batch of physics graduate students, about 15 in number. The faculty of the physics department was of excellent quality, two of them winning Nobel prizes, and we had two visiting professors who were Nobel prize winners.  Apart from the excellence of the scientific quality, they were very affectionate, kind and caring. Particularly loving was Prof Maria Mayer. Prof Mayer and Prof Jensen, together taught us a course in nuclear physics. Prof Jensen was a visiting professor, who after taking part of the course, went back to Germany, and Prof. Mayer took the remaining part. She conducted the final examination, part of which was set up by Prof. Jensen. I found most of the questions straightforward, except for one of them, which was quite difficult. After writing the answers to all the other questions, I concentrated on the difficult one. I spent a lot of time on it but was not sure that my solution to it was correct. Finally, I wrote down my solution with some hesitation. Prof. Mayer was in the room and was watching my efforts. Finally, I handed over my answer sheets to her. She quickly turned page after page, till she came to the answer for the difficult question. Her face immediately showed satisfaction and a smile, and she closed the answer book and put it down. While I was going out, I hesitated and asked her, “Can I take one more look at the answer sheets?” She immediately said “Sure, sure, of course, you can, but I would not if I were you.” I was thrilled. What she implied was that my answer to the difficult question was correct and I need not worry. I was so happy with Prof. Mayer’s concern for students, and her satisfaction and happiness when her students did well in their efforts to study. Thank you, madam, for your kind affection and concern for us. I bow down to you.

In this world, we come across many situations, some encouraging and some causing difficulties. What is really heartening is that we have some people with a high level of concern and kindness, who not only help us to overcome difficulties, but also give us a deep level of satisfaction, peace and happiness. It is their support, help and love which remains in our mind and heart, and gives us long-lasting sweet memories of them.

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