February 22, 2009

Power of “No Idea, Sir”

A leading business newspaper is running a campaign called “the power of ideas.” It makes me laugh. Because, from my personal experience, I know the “power of no idea.”

This was almost a decade back, when I was doing graduation in electrical engineering. Those were the most difficult years of my life. I was a very bad student and my concepts were pathetic. Despite sincere efforts from my friends to explain things in the simplest manner possible, I was unable to grasp most of the things.

In the first semester, the problem was not very acute. During vivas, when I couldn’t answer most of their answers, my professors used to advise me to take a change in civil engineering. I told them, “Sir, I will try hard and learn.” They were not very optimistic.

In the second semester, I had my first real encounter with electrical engineering, when I had to study “Electrical Engineering I”. (three more followed after that in subsequent semesters). The only thing, I could learn was Ohm’s law: I = V/R. That too only the mathematical expression. The exact definition was out of my reach. But, my kind-hearted professor gave me 20 marks out of 50, the minimum to clear the viva exam. He told me, “You have at least tried to draw the circuit diagram. I hope you will learn something next year.” I thanked him profusely and promised to do my best.

However, despite my attempts, I could not understand most of the things. In the second year, I had more electrical engineering subjects. (In the first two years of engineering all the streams have lot of common subjects like maths, physics, engineering drawing, applied mechanics etc etc. So, there are only few subjects in the first two years of your own branch.) By that time, I could no longer hide my weaknesses and professors were also not that kind. They expected certain amount of knowledge from a second year student. Sometimes, they will take viva of 2-3 students at a time. I was happy in those vivas, because they used to get only a limited time to insult me during those vivas. Invariably, to any question from my professors, my answer would be “no idea, sir.” After 2-3 questions, they will get frustrated and tell me, “What do you know? Ok, tell us what’s Ohm’s law?” I would promptly say, " I=V/R." They will demand the exact definition, which obviously I didn’t know. But, they kept faith in me and pushed me in the third year. That’s it.

After that, there was no mercy whatsoever. In all the vivas, my answer to most of the questions would be “no idea, sir.” But, somehow, that answer helped and I managed to clear all the vivas and finally became an engineer. Obviously, it was not in 4 years. I struggled for 6 years and 4 months to complete my course. However, since then, I have always known the “power of no idea.”