Life as a Student in France – Part 2

This is continuation from part 1, where I described how i spent the first few months in France, in the cities of Royan, Montpellier and Toulouse. It was in August that I finally cleared the course work and completed a technical formality towards my Provisional Registration to PhD, which now has become regular. And with the encouragement from my friends and the research team, and having got a “yes” from Baby, life suddenly became more meaningful. Serge found the changes happening to me, and suddenly wondered what happened to me in the past week, and I told him about my love affair and what happened very recently. He couldn’t believe that anyone could have had a love affair for such a long time!

I have now 3 years to go, but wished that I could do it faster, perhaps in 2 years. My friend Jean-Marie Martin gave me a name “Fusee”, meaning Rocket, as I worked practically from 07:00 in the morning till 18:00 hours on all five days. (Primarily because I used to have breakfast in my Hostel Room (Not the cafeteria), Lunch near the office at a University Restaurant, and dinner on my way back from Institute. I usually reached home by 20:00, after a walk from the Restaurant Universitaire d’Arsenal.

We had a new addition in the group, Mr Louis Castanier that year. He was from Institut National de Sciences Appliqués (INSA), I found his base in mathematics and physics to be extremely strong, much better than mine. The patrons of the group, Professors Combarnous and Bories were not very happy with the progress made in the Geothermal project by François Klockenbring during the previous year, a project sponsored by the DGRST (funding from the R&D budget if France), and was perhaps waiting for a replacement. Louis was inducted into that place, and François left for some other job. I was very sorry for him as he was already with a family with three children. But then, that was life. From then onwards Louis and I became very close. Meanwhile, IFP had sent Roland Lenormand on a post doctoral assignment in the group. He and Jacques were working on visualization of two-phase flow in porous medium. Jacques Bonnet had already made 2-D structures of porous media and was experimenting with visualization, and the association with Roland made some very quick progress on the project. I suddenly found we have three leaders, Serge, Jean-Marie and Roland, in the group with whom I could discuss any research related issues. Louis was a very lively person, who took me out for a few evenings in town, where I could freshen up a bit, away from the pressures of work. I am not certain if it was the idea of Roland or Serge to ask Louis to cool me a bit, once a while.

I knew the standard ways of determining interfacial tension between oil and water phases at ambient temperature. but what I needed was the IFT at elevated temperatures and pressures. Jean-Marie suggested that I contact Mr Minssieux and Mr Cuiec of IFP who could help me with this problem. Roland and Jean-Marie called them and discussed the problem, and it was then decided that I should go to IFP for a month and carry out IFT studies. I was also given accommodation at the IFP Scholars’ residence of IFP on Rue Sophie Rodrigues, about 1-1.5 km from IFP. I was given all facilities for my work at IFP by Mr Minssieux, so that my work was complete in about a month. My friends Ghoshal and Ayman were there, as good company. We went to Museums, and other landmarks of Paris during weekends. I had set a number of conditions for IFT measurements by varying salinity, and temperature, while preserving a high constant pressure. Of course, for control, I also carried two additional measurements, one at much higher pressure than the other. On one of those days, I had gone to Indian Embassy and met Mr Iyengar also. When I showed the results, Serge was very impressed and happy and told me that my research is going in the right direction. We also published a technical paper in the IFP Magazine “Revue de l’IFP”.

The research was to proceed in the planned direction from then onwards, after discussing the results of those experiments with the patrons of research, Mr Simandoux of IFP, Mr Gravier of CFP, and Mr De Lamballerie of  Elf-Aquitaine.

Winter in Toulouse was never very cold, and there is a saying that if the Christmas is warm, the Easter would freeze. That year it was exactly so, Toulouse did have a warm Christmas in 1975, but the following Easter 1976  was very cold. I also decided to have a summer vacation in July-August in Kerala, and made a request to my Scholarship Authorities. It would be Paris-Bombay-Cochin, but till the last day, there was no confirmation on the Bombay-Cochin sector. I wrote to Ghoshal, if he needed anything from Toulouse as my exit point was Paris, and I would perhaps stay with him for a day or so. I was also told that there is a need to get a Visa Return+Re-entry, that I needed to apply at the Toulouse Prefecture Office, as directed by Air France, So I applied and got the same in a couple of days.

Thereafter I had the tickets from Air France delivered to me by post. I then booked my train journey to Paris for arriving the previous day of my departure. Still there was no confirmation for the Bombay-Cochin Sector.

Meanwhile, Ghoshal, Ayman and I decided to visit some more shops, and Ghoshal asked me to buy things for my people in Kerala. With their help, I had bought some things to fill my suitcase. Ayman dropped me at the Airport well ahead of time, and I had an easy check-in and boarding. I ate and slept well during the flight, and arrived in Bombay at an early morning. I found out that the Bombay-Cochin flight was full and I might not stand a chance, so contacted one of my friends from Indian Airlines, Mr Vellodi, who could somehow arrange a ticket for Trivandrum instead. As that was the only one available. That flight was in the evening, and Indian Airlines had agreed to take me to Cochin after landing in Trivandrum.

The flight must have landed in the evening around 0500 PM, after a very long flight (probably 3-4 hours I don’t remember, in one of the old Avros turboprop aircrafts, which was very bumpy and noisy) and immediately after collecting baggages, I got into a KSRTC bus going to Ernakulam. Luckily for me, the flight was passing through Kottayam, Vaikom and Tripunithura. I told the Conductor that I would like to get down at Tripunithura. It reached around 0900 PM, and I went straight to my uncle’s place near the bus stop. There was a big crowd there, as the very next day, Thulasi Chettan was getting married.  I was very happy and could meet all their family. Early in the morning, I took one of the first buses to Kanjiramattom with my suitcase.

I had to get ready for the wedding and came with my people. At the wedding place, met Baby, her parents & brother Rajan, Sasi my other cousin, who was also in Ranchi & Durgapur those days (after I had left Dhanbad), Thulasichettan’s sister Rajachechi and Appuchettan, from BHU, (Whom I had met many years ago, while they were in Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Calcutta. I was pleasantly surprised that almost everyone knew about the affair between Baby and I, and were even asking when we were planning to get married!. Of course, both of us didn’t have any plan to get married at that point of time.

After the wedding, or probably the next day, the three of us (Rajan, Sasi and I) were introduced  by Thulasichettan Prema, his new sister-in-law, her brothers and parents. That time, we were all his cousins. Sasi and I were also taking some photos with my camera (I was having a few colour film rolls those days). Weddings are always very exciting.

I remember having attended a few (at least two more) weddings during those days. One was of Latha, daughter of my cousin Kuttanchettan (Ittanthottu), and the other of my classmate in school, Surendran. Latha’s wedding was in their house in Kanjiramattom, while Surendran’s wedding was in another village, we as groom’s party, went by a chartered bus. I remember a guy got drunk in at a toddy shop in that village, created some scene, but then was quite tired by the time we were returning. I felt that it is necessary for the Groom’s party to be at least decent, and it should be the responsibility of one senior member of the party. I spent quite some time with Baby, as by then most of our relatives were aware of our plans. One of my uncles told us that it is not a nice idea to go out together before marriage, but since our parents had full confidence on us, we did not bother much. Most probably we restricted our going together to relatives’ houses after that.

The two months were over so fast, and it was time to return. One day, I suddenly realized my camera developed some snag, and would not click. I opened the lens from the body, and gave a few jerks and it was OK again. Baby was near me, and was amused at that and enquired if that’s what I were to do later in my life, when someone or something doesn’t function correctly! I don’t think I had answered her question.

From Kochi, I could not get confirmation of my air France flight, but I booked for my flight Cochin-Bombay. Airlines office said they would send a message to Bombay. The date of my departure came and I was ready to go.

The flight was pretty eventless, and not as bumpy as the flight from Bombay to Trivandrum I had taken earlier. I also had a window seat, so took some photos from the plane. At Bombay, I got down in a hurry, and then took a cab to go to my uncle’s house. I didn’t realize that it was far away, in Borivali. All of a sudden, I realized that I don’t have my camera with me, so took a return to airport, where I tried to enquire with Indian Airlines, if they had found my Camera (Mamiya 35mm SLR). As I didn’t find it, I lodged a police complaint  at the airport, and then took a cab to the Vile Parle railway station and took a suburban train to Borivali. I reached there by about 0930 PM, I think, told my uncle about the missing camera.

Next day, I contacted the Air France Office about my flight, which was to be delayed. I then went to the airport customs to see what can be done about the lost camera, which had an entry in my passport. With the help of some of my friends in Indian Airlines, I could meet the additional collector of customs, who reduced the customs duty on my camera, which was paid the next day. Thereafter I went to the Air France office and reconfirmed my return journey for the next available flight.

I had almost exhausted most my my cash in hand, and had paid my rail ticket Paris-Toulouse from bank account by cheque, which had very little balance; my scholarship was also a month away almost, but still work in the lab immediately made me busy. Of course, I had to wait for my scholarship before I could print my photos. Buying a camera was still farther. My radio and tape recorder were giving me some company & entertainment. As the Cite Universitaire Chapou was closed, and the available accommodation was a bit farther, I stayed with a friend for about a week till my residence was open. And when I moved in, I had to fetch my suit cases which were left in the cloak room, however, I could not find one. I waited for some time till I was certain that the person who took mine by mistake had no intent return mine! So it was lost for ever. Luckily, I had no idea what i had packed in, and as I didn’t really miss anything at all, probably those things were junks for me any way, except perhaps the suitcase itself!

I was spending more on postage, as every week I was writing letters to Baby, in addition to my parents, and once a while to my other friends, in France, and in India.

The post office, which was near my lab, where I used to have a savings account, also became a place I used to visit. For some reasons, we students could not have a bank account those days, except in my last year, although in my first year in Royan, with the help of the Language Institute, I could have a bank account in “Credit Agricole”, however the branch of this bank in Montpellier and Toulouse, refused me to operate the account. But in the year 1976, the branch of “Banque National de Paris” agreed to open an account which I made use of.

 There was a new occupant from DGCA for association with Airbus Toulouse. He told me about his well-researched SLR camera, a Praktika, and after listening to his descriptions I decided to go for that. He was also keen to buy that. Then on one of the next tours to Andorre, we too decided to go. There was also some more friends from ISRO, Mr Dasgupta and Singhal. In Andorre, we got Praktika with even better specifications that what my friend had described. And the price was just about half of what I would have paid for a Japanese make equivalent. I realized that this camera had designs from East German Zeiss, but manufactured probably in Czechoslovakia (those days it was just one country). It was of course a very good buy.

Very soon my research project was approved by the patrons (IFP, CFP and Elf-Aquitaine) and so, my research guide asked me to start writing my thesis. His secretary did a good job of typing the text from my manuscript, and after about two further corrections, it was submitted. I think they had made about 100 copies of the same. My scholarship had a provision to these jobs and I didn’t have to spend any money from my pocket.

 The Institut National Polytechnique of Toulouse and the Academy of Toulouse had fixed provided copies of the thesis to a number of important personalities of university and industry, and based on their convenience, it fixed a date for the public presentation of the thesis. And after about three hours, they pronounced the verdict, and gave me a copy of their judgement. I was asked to take it to the Director of ENSEEIHT, Professeur Nougaro, who had also chaired the Jury, to fix his signature and stamp, so that the Ministry of Education, Ministry of External Affairs would attest it, and Indian Embassy would attest the signature of the Ministry of External Affairs. All this was required to make the document a legal document in India or anywhere outside France. On my return journey, I had kept a full week in Paris, so that all these formalities would be completed in time, before my departure. I took a Visa for Exit this time with adequate time to pack my bags and leave France. My Toulouse team gave me a warm send off, with everybody with their family members in a nice restaurant.

In Paris, things went very well with me, only because my friend Mr Ayman El-Naggar helped me to go from place to place in his car. And at the Indian Embassy, I didn’t have any difficulty as Mr Iyengar  was in full readiness to help me out. Meanwhile I got a letter from Baby, asking for some chemicals (which were also used in medicine) to be bought. I checked with the chemical suppliers, and found out that they need to be stored in Refrigerator. I decided to pick up them the last day, so that the storage would not be an issue.

Finally on the day when I had to leave, I had been given a warm send off by Ghosal and Ayman who also dropped me at the airport. The flight itself was quite boring, and I think it stopped at Tel Aviv before landing in Bombay at an early morning hour. The queue for immigration was long, and by the time I came out to fetch my baggage, I could not find it. Apparently, there was a mix up and the airline baggage handling staff had not brought in my suitcase! I made a complaint at the Air France Counter, who gave me a copy of the same, and told me that the flight has already left for (I think) Hong Kong, and they would send it to Kochi Customs for me to collect it there. They also advised me to get a landing certificate from Customs, to this effect, so that I could collect my suitcase.

This time, I had more time to prepare my return journey, so my Indian Airlines (Now Air India) flight was sometime late in the morning, and I reached Cochin Airport (at Wellington Island) early afternoon. As there was just a carry-on bag, I didn’t have to take a taxi to go home. My sister and brother-in-law were at the airport, and very soon we were at our home in Kanjiramattom.

I had a small bag with chemicals Baby had asked, and as we didn’t have a fridge to store it, I took it to her parents, also in Kanjiramattom, saying that I would go to deliver it at Andhra University very soon, and till then it must be kept in the fridge. And we were talking for some time, and it became late in the evening when I left for my home.

The very next morning, we got the news that my grandfather expired, and we all left for their house, also at walking distance. That delayed my going to Andhra University by about a week, I think. Eventually I took a train to Visakhapattnam and delivered the packet to Baby. I think I stayed for a couple of days at  Andhra University Guest House, and then returned. She was also planning to take leave and come over to Kerala after a few weeks.

I got a message from Air France that my baggage had been sent under Customs seal to Cochin, and asked me to collect it at Cochin Customs. I promptly went there with my brother-in-law to clear the suitcase. The customs officials found that it contained my clothes, and cleared it very easily.

 Within a month plenty of things happened to me. First was my marriage with Baby. After that, I received a letter from ONGC, asking me to report to the GM of Ahmedabad Project and join as Deputy Director in the Institute of Reservoir Studies. So, within days of the wedding, we both proceeded to Andhra University, and then after a couple of days to Ahmedabad, via Bombay. There I met a number of my friends, and reported to Mr A. K. Gupta, GM of Ahmedabad Project, as one of the new employees of the Institute of Reservoir Studies, which was yet to be built and inaugurated!