When he was barely five years old, Sushil Kumar Dhawan’s family was among the thousands to leave their home for a new beginning in independent India, in the aftermath of the Partition. With little money and five siblings, Dhawan had to start working at a tender age, sacrificing his desire to learn.
Now at what he calls 77 years ‘young’, Dhawan gets to live his dream of earning a doctorate degree. He completed his research in ‘expecting remaining life of existing reinforced concrete structures’, being awarded at the 50th convocation ceremony of IIT-Delhi. He also possesses a bachelor’s, two masters and one MPhil degree.
His desire to gain knowledge, said Dhawan, spurred him to study alongside his work. He left mainstream education after completing class 10 and did an ITI course to join CPWD as a draughtsman in 1961. However, he continued to educate himself. His first degree was a B.Tech from AMIE followed by an MTech from IIT-Delhi, an MPhil from Panjab University (PU) and a Master’s in Urban Development from Birmingham University, UK.
Starting at a salary of Rs 150 per month, Dhawan had also taken three attempts at the Indian Engineering Services (IES) conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). He qualified the recruitment examination in his third attempt and retired as an officer. “I was retired but not tired,” quips Dhawan, who joined IIT-Delhi 11 years later to continue his PhD. He also claims to have received an offer to pursue PhD abroad but chose to work in India. His research focusses on estimating how long a building will last and how it can be revived.
It took Dhawan six years to complete his PhD. This, however, is not his final destination. He is working as a visiting professor at the same department of civil engineering and mentoring other students now. Dhawan’s son, after spending over a decade abroad, has also returned to India and is currently teaching at IIT-Delhi.
Calling life ‘full of challenges’, Dhawan credits his success to his ‘determination, hard work, self-motivation’ and support from his wife who he believes could have become an officer herself but chose to be a ‘support system for the family’. Sashi Dhawan, his wife, is an English teacher.
Talking to indianexpress.com, she said, “My husband was passionate to get a doctorate and now to see him getting it finally is a moment of proud for all of us.”
Dhawan took up the challenge to keep up with young minds. He still follows a routine he adopted in his school. “I get up at 3 am, study and then go for a walk. I also put-in efforts to stay healthy and take care of my body. I made it a point to manage time and not waste any moment. Focus, determination, dedication and self-motivation has brought me here. This routine has been my practice since childhood, back then I used to study under kerosene lamps. It has been hard to balance between office and studies but my wife has also been a constant support,” he remarked.