When he came in, he didn’t fit our image of a Head of Department. For a man returning from US, he wore bush-shirts and chappals to the class. He spoke slowly as if the words were factory-produced one at a time. But then he was the first PhD in our department and had brought a big-screen color TV to the Electronics Lab. All in all we were willing to wait and watch before pronouncing our judgment.
Since he came in the middle of the year, he did not teach any of the regular courses. Once in a while, he would stand in for someone else away on that day. There was nothing impressive about these infrequent interactions in content or in style that he was close to be declared as a non-starter.
There was however one occasion that made me suspect he was much more than what he seemed.
It was one of those rambling talks he engaged in. Suddenly he popped up a question at us.
‘You know the trinity – an Inductor, a Capacitor and a Resistor, only three of them – makes up all of Electrical Engineering’s passive components. Am I right?’
There was no disagreement.
‘Now, let us say you want to win a Nobel Prize by inventing a fourth element. What would it be?’
Silence all around. It was okay for him to throw cranky questions – the trick was to duck. No one would dare to lead the class into a discussion. Lunch break was due shortly. And of course no one knew enough to take on what was lobbed at us.
Nevertheless some of us sat up, socked fair and square by the question.
And it was quite humbling to be in the second-year of Electrical Engineering and it had never entered our mind.
The man didn’t seem surprised at all by the lack of response. He proceeded to explain.
Incidentally even today I throw this question at some EE kids unfortunate to cross my way.
His explanation went along these lines:
‘A Resistor is a generalized representation of ways of consuming/converting electrical energy. An Inductor or a Capacitor represents a reversible storage of electrical energy in magnetic or electric fields…’
Got it? It was simple! Shame we didn’t see it at all.
So, if you find a different kind of a field to store electrical energy reversibly, you could plan your trip to Stockholm to meet up with the folks at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences! Never mind no one has found it yet in the 40+ years that have passed since then, not counting the years before.
I missed learning many more ‘fundas’ from him.
Dr J G Shah simply faded away from the scene in short time. Perhaps a change of plans and he went back to US?
Surely someone’s gain.