Prof. H.N. Aswathanarayana: A mentor who is no more!

from dr K. Javeed Nayeem, MD

With the recent death of Prof. HN Aswathanarayana, a former Professor of Mathematics at St. Philomena’s College, I have lost a mentor and a very good man I had known for the past fifty years. We first met in 1970 when I was accepted for my PUC in college. Although I was not a mathematics student, I had the opportunity to hear his hour-long introductory lecture on the need for students to join the National Cadet Corps (NCC) to instill discipline and the spirit of nation building.

At that time he held the rank of Captain and was our college’s NCC officer. Through this very inspiring maiden lecture, he did an excellent job of showing our young minds the benefits of joining him, resulting in many of us volunteering enlisted. Of course, having already been a member of the Bharath Scouts and Guides for three years as a high school student, I didn’t need much persuasion to return to the strengthened uniform and so I immediately joined the 15 Karnataka Infantry NCC Battalion, where I stayed for the next two Years.

Captain Aswathanarayana receives an award from MP Shri. B. Rachaiah in 1977.

After that, throughout our NCC days, we eagerly awaited the coming Sunday as that was the day of our college’s weekly parade. It was also the day for lots of vigorous physical activity followed by lots of fun and camaraderie over a hearty al fresco breakfast! Some of us would be there in time in uniform because we wanted to be present to receive Prof. Aswathanarayana at the door of the basement under the chemistry lecture hall where he had his windowless office. The moment we heard the faint roar of his Jawa bike in the distance, we all braced to greet him with our sharp regards, then jostled for the privilege of his 1969 250cc model its registration number. MYM 8284 and park it in the dark and damp basement!

After the rest of the squad members appeared on the floor behind the science block, the parade began with Prof. Aswathanarayana looking every inch a badass officer, shouting the orders in his booming voice, which has been ringing in my ears even to this day! Although he was a strict disciplinarian who showed no leniency in punishing stragglers, he was actually a very kind man when it came to choosing the type of punishment he inflicted on them.

Instead of the most preferred and deterrent regimental punishment of crawling across the field on their knees and elbows, sometimes leaving them bruised and bleeding, it would invariably be a mild and only symbolic punishment with orders to run three laps around the perimeter of the not too big field. For the very late arrivals it would be an order to run with the old 303 Enfield rifles held high, because by that time the rifles would have been taken from the armory and handed out to the cadets!

mentor in his later years.

Our armory, with its 24-hour police guard post, was in another dark and damp basement beneath the art block. With its array of different versions of combat rifles, including a couple of light machine guns (LMGs) and a lone sterling 9mm carbine, the armory, known in military jargon as Arms Kot, used to be a very intriguing place for me. So throughout my NCC years, I have always volunteered to assist the Army Jawans and Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) with their regular gun cleaning and oiling rituals.

Although the arduous process used to be quite rigorous because it involved using a device called a “squeegee” to clean and polish the inside of the barrels and left me sweating and smeared with dirt, I used to love it!

I had the opportunity to attend many NCC training camps led by Prof. Aswathanarayana and at the combined annual training camp at KR Nagar in 1970 he even recommended that I be allowed to fire a light machine gun (LMG) during a demonstration of the weapon, a privilege normally reserved for officers and army personnel in the NCC. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life and a certificate issued to me by Prof. Aswathanarayana testifies to that fact.

Even after I left NCC and college I stayed in touch with him and he took a keen interest in hearing about my progress in life. Whenever we met, we both want two friends instead of a mentor and student to spend a lot of time reminiscing about the good old days. But he was such a humble and unassuming man that in those many meetings he never once mentioned that he had taken an active part in our freedom struggle and had even been imprisoned for his role in it.

I only found that out from his obituary, which I read three days ago in SOM! When I called his son Yoganand yesterday morning to offer my condolences to the family, he told me that his father is actually a very secretive man when it comes to his accomplishments and accomplishments. He would never talk about her. The same was true when it came to discussing his pain and ailments with his own family members as well, which is why they were unaware of the terminal illness that was quickly removing him from their midst.

I was happy to learn that his son Yoganand left a lucrative job elsewhere to be here in Mysuru to look after his parents in old age. I was also very relieved to know that he still has his father’s good old bike with him in perfect condition and that he still rides it regularly. How wonderful! Refusing to rest even after his retirement and being actively involved in the administrative affairs of a college in the city until his very last days, Prof. Aswathanarayana lived his whole life with purpose and service to society. And that’s why many will miss him! May his soul rest in peace. Amen!

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