An IIT Kharagpur engineer who turned into a “gardener” and founded Herons Bonsai, Britain’s premier bonsai nursery in Surrey, advised the students of his alma mater that they do not have to be a “topper to be a success in life”.
Graduating from IIT does not mean that their life journey is going to be “smooth sailing”, he added.
Peter Chan, 82, was the chief guest at the 68th convocation of the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur on Saturday, from where he graduated in electrical engineering in 1962.
“You don’t have to be a topper to be a success in life.... When you come to IIT you are the best of the best. So what is the fear of not being a topper.”
Chan said in his college days he spent his time cycling and in the gym.
He said in those days electrical, mechanical and civil engineering had 125 students and he was “120 in a class of 125”. “But I was a bit chalu (clever). I said in mathematics it is not possible for everyone to be number one...There has to be number 21, number 125 and everyone in between... don’t be obsessed that you are not a topper.”
For a man who changed his career thrice before he found his calling and went on to advise then Prince Charles (now King) on how to set up a Japanese garden, Chan told the students that graduating from IIT does not ensure there would not be any difficulty in life.
“Life has problems. Just because you graduated from IIT it is not going to be smooth sailing,” he said.
“When I graduated in ‘62 I couldn’t get a job for about 18 months because of the Sino-India war. I finally ended up in the UK.”
But to his horror, the UK did not recognise his IIT degree.
“The IIT degree was worthless there.”
Chan worked to get a job as an “electrical mistri” and was promoted for his hard work without any cognisance to his degree. “So those were the first hurdles I encountered.”
His second job was in the British civil service, doing energy policy work but even that was not without stumbling blocks.
“I even wrote speeches for ministers and prime ministers but despite all that, I found I was not getting promotions. In those days, there was a lot of discrimination...If you come across a wall don’t bang your head against the wall. You climb over the wall. That is what I have learnt in life,” he said.
Earlier in the day, IIT Kharagpur director V.K. Tewari said they had plans to start IIT Malaysia.
“We got a lot of support from our minister of education... Dharmendra Pradhan. He was here last year to grace the convocation as chief guest and he has blessed us that we should open IIT Malaysia in 2023.... Let us hope we will succeed in this.”