YOU ARE READING ONE OF THE EARLIEST BLOGS IN INDIA. THIS BLOG WAS STARTED IN 2005.

26 July 2016

'I don't like Diesel Cars'...

"I don't like diesel cars", he comments almost non-sequitur

I don't like absolute statements like this. I HAVE to get to the reason.

"Why don't you like diesel cars?" I ask

"Their vibration make me feel like vomiting", he announces

I have a diesel car. I don't feel the vibration in my car. I don't feel like vomiting when I am in it. I can't let this go without a fight.

I review the weapons in my armory. I could use technology, or I could use fuel economy. I chose technology.

"The new diesel engine technologies make the vibration in the car almost non-existent", I throw down the gauntlet. This is the brahmastra of arguments. A motherhood point that closes diesel / petrol debate in almost all cases.

Not this time. The discussion has just begun.

"Are you talking about CRDi technology?", he asks

I have no clue. I have just heard of CRDi. I don't have any idea about any of the diesel engine  technologies out there. I realize that I have entered into this battle without much preparation. I have underestimated the competition.

I am not about to give up.

"Maybe", I bravely reply. The trick to win a debate is to give your opponent the impression that you know much more than you are willing to divulge.

Fortunately, he doesn't ask me to expand CRDi. (Much later, Google tells me that it stands for 'Common Rail Direct Injection"). He assumes that I know.

"CRDi is not as great as it is made out to be. The difference between petrol engines and diesel engines is that in the former, there is a single source of ignition is created using a spark plug. This means that the flame moves in a uniform linear direction. This ensures smooth and complete combustion of the fuel. In diesel engines, on the other hand, the the ignition is caused due to high pressure. In this case, during the suction phase the diesel gets injected and remains as separate small goblets and the ignition causes multiple flame fronts inside the piston. This damages the surface of the piston and the inside of the cylinder. Also some fuel do not get ignited and this leads to waste of fuel", he says

He is throwing his Timoshenko, Rankine, Carnot and Khurmi at me. I  have no clue about what he is saying.

But, he is in his elements.

"What CRDi does is that it uses air compression to maintain a uniform air pressure inside the cylinder while injecting diesel into the piston. This high pressure breaks the diesel into very small goblets thereby ensuring homogeneity inside the piston and resolving the problem of multiple flame fronts from happening", he continues

I sense an opening.

"This means that CRDi is good technology. That is what I am saying.", I tell him jubilantly

He has not completed. "The problems is that over a period of time (30000 to 40000 Kilometers), the holes will tend to become bigger. Then what will happen?", he surprises me with a question from the left flank

I have no clue. I throw a dart. "The air pressure will reduce", I reply

Surprisingly, this one hits the bull eye.

"Correct", he gives me a quick appreciation and continues, "As the holes become bigger, the air pressure reduces, the goblets become bigger and hence less homogeneous and we are back to the problem of multiple flame fronts", he concludes

I have no way of arguing with him since I have no clue of what he is saying. Apparently at this point he seem to have won the debate.

But I have the weapon of 'Fuel Economy'. I have never seen it fail, though with the recent oil price hikes, the weapon has dulled a bit.

"What about fuel economy?", I play my last card, "Diesel vehicles give more milage per litre of fuel, don't they?"

It is almost like he is expecting this question. "Lets do a quick math, shall we?", he asks and continues without waiting for my answer. "Let us take this car for example. It is a Swift Petrol and I get about 16 Kilometers per litre of petrol. Diesel costs about 7 rupees lower per litre and gives me 4 Kilometers more per litre. So the cost per kilometer for petrol is Rs.4 and for diesel is Rs.3. So the cost benefit for diesel over petrol is approximately Rs.1 per kilometer. A diesel car costs about a lakh (100000) more than a petrol car of the same specifications. Which means that to offset the extra cost, a diesel car has to run about a lakh (100000) kilometers, just to breakeven. An average person runs his car for about 10000 kilometers in a year, which means that it will take 10 years to breakeven. Which business man will invest in such a business?", he completes innocently.

I sit there battered, my arguments ruthlessly demolished. I remember that I paid 1.5 lakhs more for my diesel car, purchased in 2010 and till now, I have driven only 30000 kilometers. As per the above calculation, I will need to drive 150000 kilometers just to breakeven and given my driving history, it will take......till eternity...

Friends, I give you Premnath, one of the few pure play, theoretical and conceptually strong mechanical engineers of Tec'86 batch.

After graduating in '86, Premnath worked for three years in Mumbai. In 1989 he wrote the GTRE (Gas Turbine Research Establishment, under DRDO) entrance examination. Those who came within the first 20 ranks were selected. Premnath scored 21st rank.

"That was a wakeup call for me", Premnath told me over dinner at his home in Palakkad, "I suddenly realized that I have lost the technical edge. Immediately I joined TKM College for MTech in Cryogenics"

Having completed his MTech in '91, in the same year he joined NSS College of Engineering, Palakkad as a lecturer in Mechanical Engineering. He has been in Palakkad ever since.

In the year 1992, Premnath married Usha, she being a BTech from REC Calicut and MTech from TKM College of Engineering. Usha, his always-smiling wife, works as an Executive Engineer in Kerala Water Authority in Palakkad. They have two children. Elder son Dr.Ramu Vinayak is a Dental Surgeon and the younger son Govind Vinayak is currently pursuing graduation in NSS College of Engineering. Unlike his father, who like badminton, Govind loves football and is also goes to gym regularly.

In 2012, Premnath got his PhD in 'Data Centre Cooling Optimization'. I asked him how he managed to do PhD at such a late stage in his career. While all of us aspire to do PhD there are only handful of them in our batch. So his feat, achieved at such an age, is very impressive.

"I, along with a friend of mine, used to do heat transfer audit for data centres ever since they became the norm. We used to travel all over India auditing data centres and documenting results, suggesting improvements and analysing patterns. Since I had the habit of making regular and detailed notes on all that I observed, over the years I piled up a lot of significantly useful data."

"Once I had all this data, the idea of writing a thesis germinated in my mind. I approached one of our seniors, who was a professor in Cochin University to be my guide and he immediately agreed.", Premnath told me.

"But you would have had to put in a lot of reading, a lot of research to prepare the material for your thesis?", I asked

"Nothing. I did not have to do anything special or read anything more to get this PhD. The field was new, I was probably the only person in the world to have done such assignments and the research. So what I write was the first material of its kind ever. Even my guide told me, "Premnath, I don't have a clue about this subject, I can't guide you. So you present any thesis and I will send it for evaluation". So I had it relatively easy", Premnath chuckled at the thought. 

"You are one lucky guy", I thought to myself. Talk about being at the right place at the right time...

We are sitting in the drawing room of his 3000 square feet home in the outskirts of Palakkad, away from all the noise. The entire house is lined with wood paneling. The doors and the pillars are made of teak wood, the ceiling is made of rose wood. The floors are made of exquisite tiles that he purchased all the way from Krishnagiri. 

"If I had purchased them here, the same tiles would have cost me 7 Lakhs. The total cost of these tiles, including transportation from Krishnagiri came to about 2.2 Lakhs", Premnath told me.

The analytical, engineering mind at work, ladies and gentlemen.

The house is situated in a land covering 20 Cents. When he purchased the land, the cost was about two lakhs per cent. Now it has become about 6 Lakhs.

"With the new railway overbridge coming up, the cost will escalate", he told me.

Being a practicing mechanical engineer, Premnath has designed the house with 'Thermal Design' concepts in mind. 

"The ceiling is 11 feet and above that there is a false ceiling of about 6 feet. The entire heat in all the rooms flow out through a duct in the middle of the house using convection currents. At any point, there will be a 13-14 degree difference between the temperatures outside and inside", he says.

I look at the ceiling fans.

"You are wondering as to why we have fans if the rooms are cool.", he says, . "The reason is that during summers the outside temperature can touch 46 degrees and even 33 degrees inside is hot"

Friends, most of us go all over the world in search of getting work, getting money and hoping of finally coming back and settling down in our home state. Then there are few lucky people like Premnath, who have managed to get a steady, well paying job in the home state, build two houses in a very peaceful area of the town, very near railway stations and his work place.

He and family regularly go to any of the many temples dotting nearby. They wake up to the mellifluous voice of Yesudas singing devotional songs, sit and listen to the chirping of the birds or wake up to the crowing of a distant cock...Premnath tends flowers in his garden, his son plucks coconuts from the coconut tree and his wife gets the chilly and Kariveppila from the kitchen garden and make chutney and serve it with hot home made Idli for breakfast....

There is not much of a work pressure for Premnath. He has classes of about 18 hours a week and a lab oversight of another 6 hours. He regularly plays badminton in the morning in the college indoor court and goes for a regular one hour evening walk at Kotta Maidanam in the middle of Palakkad Town.

Regular and relaxed life in the home state. Life that many of us dream about....

Over the years, he had met with a few tragedies in his life. He lost his father in '96 and his elder brother in an accident in 2003. He took care of his elder brother's children and got them educated. His nephew is currently working as Financial Advisor to crown prince of Abu Dhabi. Again in 2015, his sister became a widow and Premnath again stepped up and supported the education for his nephew. In addition to his family, Premnath continues to take care of his mother and sister as well.

In Hindu philosophy, being born in earth is the ultimate punishment. You face a lot of challenges and many tragedies. Many people get in to your train of life, share some time with you and leave you. There is something honorable  in being out there, facing the challenges head on, taking the tragedies and happiness in your stride, continue to do what you are supposed to do irrespective of whether you like it or not. 

Premnath has managed it exceptionally well. Great job, Premnath.