Old Is Gold: Dr.Bhabhagrahi Mohapatra
There are few people amongst a group who redefine the meaning of leadership with their charisma and sheer will power. Dr. Bhabhagrahi Mohapatra, an alumnus from the Department of Chemistry of the 1969 batch, belonged to this elite class. Being a member of the Bureau of Indian Standards Institution and holding the post of Chief Chemist at Rourkela Steel Plant (RSP), Team MM had an opportunity to catch up with him when he came to visit the campus in late April. Here’s what one of the oldest alumni of the Institute had to say about his miraculous journey of life so far and what inspired him to pen down the same in a book at the age of 87!
Having received his early education in his village school and passed his matriculation from the Zilla School, Sambalpur in the year 1944 when he was only 15 and our country was under the British rule. Then he moved on to GS College erstwhile Sambalpur College and was the first batch to come out in 1946. Later in 1948, he did his B.Sc. honour in Physics from Ravenshaw College, Cuttack. Dr Mohapatra was only 19 years old when he got a call for his first service offer as a publicity officer, and he cracked it with flying colours. However, his uncle who held a post in the Deputy Commissioner’s office asked him not to join and instead wait for the Sub duty collector’s post.
Meanwhile, I was involved with the construction of Hirakud Dam when it was initiated, as an analyst for a good salary of 200 INR, which was not less than a fortune at that time for a person with only a graduate degree. For obvious reasons, I declined the post of Sub Duty Collector’s post and worked there for 7 years as I liked the job.
Dr Mohapatra was not only limited to academics. Having a keen interest in drama, writing scripts for Odia magazines and playing football, they gave him the feeling of satisfaction after putting in the hard yards at the worksite.
In 1955, Hindustan Steel Limited(HSL), came to Hirakud with a job offer for two persons to start their laboratory in Rourkela. Dr Mohapatra was selected alongside his colleague from Karnataka in the May of 1955. He was looking after the quality process in the construction period. In the year 1967, Dr Mohapatra decided to pursue M.Sc. from REC, Rourkela and approached Prof. Bhubaneswar Behera the then principal of the Institute and Dr. Rao, Head of the Department, Department of Chemistry and also one of his teacher’s from Ravenshaw College.
Dr Mohapatra recollects
He told me that “Mr.Mohapatra isn’t it too late for you to join this course?”, as only 4 students were enrolled in a course. I was able to convince him of my case by telling about how it was about the valour of the silver coin, which may be old, but it never loses its value. So, I got a seat and completed my M.Sc course in the year 1969. I had taken study leave for the entire period and subsequently enrolled for the PhD course on a plant program in the same institute.
He worked on the adsorption properties of the LD dust, which originates during the process of making steel under the able guidance of Dr M.S. Rastogi, a renowned surface chemist at that time. He told Dr, Rastogi about how the dust can be utilised in a fruitful manner. He continued working in the Research and Control Laboratory of HSL until in 1977 when he visited Netherlands for a training program of two months wherein he visited various steel plants to know about their style of working. Dr Mohapatra came back and along with his colleagues successfully installed the first X-Ray fluorescence spectrometer in Rourkela Steel Plant, which had become the parent company of HSL as it had come under SAIL.
Dr Mohapatra has had the image of being a clean officer who directed the proper usage of money and made sure any corruption, whatsoever was nipped in its bud when he was the highest authority. Overlooking construction activities worth $ 1.8 million, which involved many big contractors, Dr Mohapatra made no compromise with the quality of the concrete, which in turn would lead to a deduction in the salary of the workers. Integrity is a key element in success believes, the maestro. It’s one of the few qualities, alongside knowing his subject well which helps him rose to the coveted post in spite of having a pure science background. Dr Mohapatra was co-ordinating an investigation laboratory with eight PhD scholars from the Department of Chemistry and produced many papers on the plant’s production process.
Before six months of his retirement, Dr Mohapatra used to look after the instalments of X-Ray fluorescence spectrometer in Jayprakash Industries which was manufacturing cement in Rewa by taking occasional leaves from his job in RSP. In spite of being offered a hefty amount for retiring prematurely and joining the JP Industries, Dr Mohapatra rejected the proposal as he wanted to retire gracefully. Finally, he retired as a chief chemist from RSP and also decided against joining the JP industries as a consultant as his parents wished him to do so.
By the time his tenure came to an end, Dr Mohapatra had visited almost all the national laboratories while working at RSP including the Physical Laboratory in Delhi, Chemical Laboratory in Pune, Electrochemical Research in Karaikudi alongside IISc, Bangalore.
Giving the example of the former president APJ Abdul Kalam, Dr Mohapatra says
One must know how to utilise the human resources at hand and reap the maximum benefits from the potential showcased by a talented individual. Managing the human resources well is the hallmark of a successful person, believes Dr Mohapatra.
He recites an incident with Dr Subba Rao, who had a PhD from IISc and was working with Dr Mohapatra. Under the continuous casting process in which the metals was poured into ingot moulds and were covered with an insulating material at the top to ensure uniform radiation. The insulating material was purchased from a foreign company and Dr Mohapatra found out that it wasn’t difficult to manufacture the same in an industry. So, he asked Dr Rao to do some research in the library for 15 days and come up with new ideas. After 15 days, When Dr Mohapatra asked Dr Rao about what he had read about, the former recalls that Dr Rao started blabbering as he hadn’t done any concrete research, of which Dr Mohapatra was aware of.
At that time, Dr Mohapatra recalls
I controlled my anger. I knew that one has to deal with an intellectual in a different way and a khalasi(a manual worker) in a different way. I just smiled at Dr. Rao and told him that I had the good fortune of visiting IISc. However, by looking at the way you are working, my estimation of the work ethics of the people at the institute have definitely gone down. He was shocked, and Dr. Mohapatra asked him politely to do some high quality research. It struck Dr. Subba Rao well and he then worked really hard and found a suitable replacement for the insulating material.
This is where management kicks in and gauges the level of maturity in a person as a higher authority, believes Dr Mohapatra. He firmly opines in giving the mantra of following him, to whoever seeks advice. There are three types of managers he believes- builder, caretaker and undertaker. Builders and caretakers are the ones which take the organisation forward while undertakers are the ones who keep pulling the system back.
A potter shapes the clay with his hands and in the same way a person’s upbringing in their childhood shapes the future of the individual as well as the society as a whole.
Speaking about his book, Dr Mohapatra recalls that he had started writing it from 2013-14 itself. The idea struck when many well-wishers of his, especially the ones at the ‘Utkal Sammilani’, an organisation of which the famous Odia social worker ‘Madhu Babu’ was a part of asked him to write about his experiences. After writing about two chapters of his book, he asked Prof. Somnath Mishra to give an honest feedback on the whole manuscript. Dr Mishra heaped high praises for the book and decided to write the preface for the book, which encouraged Dr Mohapatra, to complete his book ‘My Three Decades in Public sector’ and bring it to life.
The book is an amalgamation of the experiences, technical knowledge and the moral values which Dr Mohapatra learnt in his life and wishes that every aspirant should inculcate within himself or herself. The book consists of different chapters which describe how Dr Mohapatra faced various difficulties at various places in his life and how he overcame them with grit and determination. Hence, the book also provides a layman with the simplified context of complex machines which Dr Mohapatra handled.
On asking what inspired him to write the book at the age of 87, he was quoted as saying,
I want to let the world know about my experiences. I wrote this book to tell the coming generation of what life had in store for me and what I did to tackle challenging situations. I hope to provide everyone a sense of inspiration that everything is possible if achieved through hard work and determination.
Having been in constant touch with his alma mater, Dr Mohapatra has been an eminent personality and has been a part of the change, which NITR has undergone. He praises the efforts of all the post holders in the Institute who have brought about radical changes in terms of infrastructure, academic rigour and scope for extracurricular activities.
Dr Mohapatra finished by giving this particular message to the readers:
You must develop a good character with knowledge. Your mental attitude and the way you spend your time, the outcomes depend a lot on these factors. Punctuality is a very big thing. Always listen to the advice your elders give you, is worth its weight in gold.