on 14 September, 2013
When I Got Into Vakil's 'Khopdi'...
Well, I always wanted to know everything about him but was apprehensive that he may not entertain me. With the series of interviews of popular professors at Stupidsid, I inched closer to my dream. So, one day, I called to ask, "Can I interview you, Sir?" He said - “Haan bachcha, jab tu bole.” And there I was (with my friend Chinmay Bhave) in Thane's Excellent Academy, delving deep into his life and understanding his journey from a Scientist at Naval Dockyard to one of the most renowned Professors at Mumbai University. Here's Siddharth Sharma's candid chat with the khopdi himself - Gulam Vakil.
Sir, how did you get into teaching?
I am not basically a teacher you know. Actually, I did my diploma from Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI), Mumbai. From there, I went to Murphy. So, whatever communication fundamentals I give in classes are because of the experience at Murphy. Then I went to Larsen & Toubro. After that I did my degree from College of Engineering, Pune (COEP). After Pune, I worked at Bajaj Tempo where I set up a cell to improve electronics in vehicles. I felt homesick and I came back to Mumbai and worked in Fr. Agnel, Vashi for 3 months as a lecturer and then I got a call from Navy.
I was in the Naval Dockyard, Bombay for 10 years where I worked as a scientist. Actually, I was appointed by the president of India in Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). I worked as a scientist and from there I was borrowed by the Navy to do research work and thus, I came to the Naval Dockyard, Bombay. It was a routine job and my role was to plug in with necessary improvements as time and orders demanded. One day, I went for the campus interviews and the quality of the students was really very bad. They were so blank that many didn't know the symbol for Bipolar Junction Transistor (BJT) and the logic behind it. It's when I cultivated the thought to become a teacher and impart some strong knowledge to the coming generations. According to me, it is a service to the nation.
Since how many years are you teaching now?
Yaar bachcha, I won’t be able to tell it. Only my wife knows it *Laughs*. Around 18-20 years, I guess.
You, hardly, have cancelled any of your lectures in these 18-20 years. What is the thought behind it?
I will tell you what I feel. There are few students who travel for one and a half hour to classes and one and a half hour back home. Now, if I cancel any lecture, their three hours are wasted. It is a big deal. If there are say, 100 students in one class, then I have wasted 300 hours of our country. I can’t do this. I feel it is a crime to cancel the lecture. We should not take students for granted. We are because of them. If they are in coaching classes, I must take care of them. I might scold them at times but there is a strong affection I have for all of them and my students realise it once they understand my motive behind it.
Rightly said sir! I have heard you not only shout or scold but also appreciate your students. Is it true?
Yes, that is true. I appreciate my children and students when they are right. How can you cheat your students? Many a times it happens that after the first lecture, few of the students leave the class saying that I am short tempered. But then, they see truckloads of students who are talking to me and those students join again in the next semester.
Even in this professional age you give so much importance to your students’ time. I have seen teachers who directly cancel the lecture even after coming to the class. From where do you get inspiration for that?
Now, this is something that's very personal. When my child was born, I was not there with my wife. I was in Vidyalankar Classes. People were shocked. They told me that your child is born and you are taking lectures. The fact is that I don’t spend a lot of time with my family but I stay with my students. Beta, that crowd of 150-160 children who come to me have tremendous expectations and it's my duty to serve them.
So, somewhere do you feel that you are unable to give time to your family which they deserve?
Every individual has an interest and if he loses this interest he feels bad. My interest is in teaching and I will feel bad if I lose that interest. Even my son is an engineer who is working in a very good company. He never attended any of my lectures. Neither did I teach him at home. I told him if you want to attend any lecture you can or else let it be.
Sir, what is that keeps you motivated?
Beta, there is a new subject called ED (Electronics Devices), whose books are unknown, is introduced for these students. As soon as I reach home, I choose to study these subjects. I have the capacity to fool students but I can't do it. Students say that it has been so long and yet the syllabus has not started but when it will, they'll understand how important those basic concepts were. How many times can one fool the students? One year? Two years? But definitely not twenty years. Once a student leaves satisfied, he tells it to his juniors and thus the strength of my batch do not fall. My final wish is that I have two chalks in my hand and I die on the same platform. I love teaching to death, you can say. I love my students to that level.
When I talk to others I feel why are they so professional. These people know how much time they will take to finish a particular section. In 20 years, I could not figure out how much time and how many lectures I need to finish the syllabus. I keep reading even in the train. I always try to find something new to give my students. They are the pillars of my country. If that pillar is shaking, my country will shake. This is my feeling and I always keep that in mind. Also, I tell others the same.
So what do you do when you are not teaching?
Kuch nahi bachcha. I don’t have anything in my life apart from teaching.
Sir, such a strong love for teaching. From where do you get that? Any family background?
Nothing. My father and mother were mill workers. My father used to earn Rs. 25/-. I had a very troubled childhood in terms of finances. You cannot even imagine how poor we were.
So you decided in your childhood itself that you want to get out of this?
There was no money for education but I got scholarships and some books from students for studying. I used to think what if I don’t study? One option was that I work in some grocery shop and deliver goods but I didn’t like that option. My parents did not even know what am I studying. My father told me that he doesn’t have money and if I want to study and fulfill the requirements from somewhere then I may continue. He was a great person. He never asked me to earn and never stopped me from studying.
Sir you have done engineering in EXTC. Was this the reason to choose EDC/BEC for teaching?
Baccha, my first lecture at Vidyalankar was on Principles of Communication (PCOM). They have feedback forms in Vidyalankar where the students give marks out of four. That time Sr. Deshpandey called and said to me that I have never seen such feedback form. 'Four plus infinity’ is what most of the students had given me. That acted as a boost. One should have a strong determination for his/her goal; then there are no pro and cons. One should not stop learning. One should not stop growing.
Sir, which are the subjects you teach?
All electronics related subjects and PCOM
Should students have a different approach while preparing for vivas and for exams?
Students try to by heart the subject in 3 days and my approach is that a student must do the concept, do the concept, do the concept. It’s not like that my students don’t get less mark, even they do, but their concepts are clear.
Concepts are clear but still some students get less mark. Is it a flaw in the education system?
Ummm.. Nice question. Since many students study according to the exam point of view, they tend to score less. They refer previous university papers, select important questions and study. Such students score marks. Once, when you will go in the industry nobody is going to give a circuit and ask its operation. They will give you a condition and ask you to design a circuit fulfilling that condition or requirement. There, your concepts come into the picture. Once you are in engineering, you won’t go out without a degree but in the industries, things are very different.
Some of your favorite dialogues during lecture?
- Bag uthaneka, ghar jaane ka, jhoom jhoom ke!
- Aane ke liye permission lagta hai, jaane ke liye permission nahi leneka!
- Khaneka peeneka sehat bananeka!
Sir, any incident or interaction with any student which you want to share?
Yes. There was this girl, Pooja. This was a very bad incident. I got angry and asked her to leave the class. She felt really bad. That was the first time somebody gave me a back answer in my life. Even I felt very bad. I contacted many of my students and discussed with them about the same. I am very friendly with my students. Those students told me that this is just incident but there are thousands of incidents where your way of teaching has improved the students’ life. I called that girl. She continued attending the lectures and then after examination she told that she was very sorry and what she is today is because of me. She was like my daughter and I scolded her like a father.
Do you think the students have ‘I know it all’ attitude these days?
No beta. My students appreciate whatever I teach. After the lecture when they tell me that today’s lecture was awesome, it gives me a different pleasure. You cannot even imagine how happy I feel at that moment. I get a sound sleep that night. I feel, why not others take these efforts?
Sir, todays generation is more inclined to do Masters from other countries. What would you like to say on this?
If all the brains will go out then what will happen to my country? I have visited almost all the countries of the world by God’s grace. Maximum working minds in America are Indians. We are unable to give them these facilities in our country and that's why they go to foreign lands. Both factors need to be considered. If a student does not get comfort then what is the use? I, luckily, switched to teaching from Navy. I was a senior class 1 officer at that time. I had all sorts of comfort and luxury but I switched because there is some desire in me about teaching. I don’t think everyone can do that; it was a major decision I took at that point of time. You should keep your wishes and expectations limited and achievable and you will always be happy.
Is this the reason that you have not started your own coaching classes?
I get many offers. Many people approach me with their plans but I don’t want to get into this. If I get into administration, I know I won’t be able to give cent percent to my students. I don’t want any sort of tension. I want to keep my mind away from all these things so that I can have a peace of mind and I can focus on my teaching. Many of my students have started their own classes and are doing well. Let them do. I am satisfied with what I have and what I am because my students are satisfied with me.
Sir, I read in an old interview of Bharat sir that you referred him at Chopra’s academy? What was it that made you do it at that time?
It's an old incident. He was a good student. What else can I say?
Do you find any new professor who can do wonders in the near future?
Yes. Dosani sir for RFCD and Shivaji Pawar for EDC. You know, there was a time when we all teachers, teaching the same subject, used to sit in the same room but there were no hard feelings which we had for each other. But now, I see a lot of bullshit and gossip around which today's generation call 'bitching'. I have never taken any professor’s name in my lectures.
Great! Sir, which books you recommend for your subjects?
- Mohd. Rashid
Lastly, what do you think are your qualities which have kept you moving?
I don’t read any other subject books apart from mine. I don’t watch movies. I'm like ‘koowe ka mendak’ type of a person. I am concerned about my work and how to give best to my students. Very few times I have visited these classes’ office. I come, I take lecture and I leave. I am not bothered about what people are doing or saying around me.
It was great talking to you Vakil Sir. I'm sure you've inspired thousands and will continue to do so.
Sure bachcha! God Bless you!
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