Continued from “Chameleons of The Varsity”
University Memoirs XI
Looking at the varsity, roaming in its lanes, sitting in my chamber, sitting in others’ chambers, loitering in and around, I often remembered what Lord Krishna said to Dhritrashtra, “Never violate the code of honour and if your clan does so, the violation will entangle your family like a wounded python and stifle it to death.”
But there, in the varsity whom to tell what? And if I told it in one varsity, what difference would it make? There were varsities all over. Adhoc-ism galore, who was head of the family? Who was Pitamaha? Itchy Vice-Chancellors would be insulted if you called them ‘Pitamaha’. Everybody was creepy, licking, sick, hungry and polished. Whom to tell what?
Indians lack sense of quality. ‘Jugad’ (manage somehow) is what we are masters at. We are endlessly patient. We are perpetual sufferers.
I’ve read many vision documents regarding education in India. I’ve written a number of plans, proposals, and vision documents for my varsity. I’ve added ‘job-oriented’, ‘high-tech’, ‘value-based’ and several other adjectives to these documents over the years. I’ve written reports; I’ve read them also. Universities, colleges, schools, the whole education system must have been conceived in a noble manner for a noble cause. Or, is it just ‘happening’ over the years. Someone came, did this; someone else came and did that. So many institutions, so many policies, so much money going down the drain! The whole structure seems to be a burden on itself.
No one teaches; no one studies. Papers are maintained if pressure comes from some secretariat or UGC or somewhere else. Otherwise, papers are also not maintained. The beauty is that teachers can’t teach. The students don’t want to study. The students want degree; not knowledge, not knack, not skill, nothing. The whole idea is to use ‘source’ and get into the official system. Once you’re in the system, fleece it left, right and centre. Salary is for free; it’s your birth right. Now, think of ‘other’ benefits.
Can a country survive without education? Well, yes. Ours is surviving without education. Some exemplary institutions at some places- they are in utter minority. For such a vast population, we needed something better. We’re communal; we’re poor, we’re biased; we’re superstitious; we’re lazy; we’re sexist; and so on. Proper education could have been the mantra. Unfortunately, we could never tap the mantra.
To put it in simple words, we, the people of this country have degraded our degrees. We have endeavoured all these years to devalue our educational degrees. The nomenclature of the degree hardly meets the quality that it entails. Ours is a giant system vomiting out hollow degrees. Many of us learn little bit by default. We learn despite the system. There’s no denying the fact that there are some genuine people in the system that have hunger for knowledge. But our system does its best to kill that zest. Governments are confused. Encourage private institutions, ruin government ones, no, no… save exemplary government institutions and let all others go to hell, no, no… let all institutions be self reliant, no, no… ours is a social welfare state… No, no, this… No, no, that.
Indians lack sense of quality. ‘Jugad’ (manage somehow) is what we are masters at. We are endlessly patient. We are perpetual sufferers. We are such losers! Sixty five years and still all Barkleys and Stanfords and Massachusetts’ are abroad. Where are ‘our’ Harvards and Oxfords?
We just don’t crave for such places. I’m tempted to say that we don’t deserve real places of excellence. We’ve diminished excellence itself. Just anything is good enough for us. In this age of civilization-blending, how can a country as enormous as ours ignore global parameters of excellence? The present non-educational education system is harming the national interests, if people understand.
To console myself, I find solace in what I learnt years back in my post-colonialism textbook. Years and decades, and centuries of slavery and subjugation have robbed Indians of their sense of self-respect. It’s all about self-respect. If we start respecting ourselves, we’ll improve. Our expectations from ourselves must increase and that may take time.
This is a short novel. I often say that fiction is more real than reality. If you want to know reality of a society, read its fiction. I’ve written this piece in caricaturist format. I’ve taken a character and recorded my impressions of him or her. But writing even this small memoir has taken hell lot of energy, effort, emotional draining out of me. It’s very difficult to speak the truth or your truth. It takes out so much to put things as they are. You’ve hidden so much all your life and yet you’re required to maintain a pleasant demeanour, a normal appearance.
How difficult it is? Very difficult! Cheated by your profession, a profession which becomes your life, a profession which you entered by choice for love of letters, where do you go? Go to God; go to thought; go to spirituality; escape; just escape. Escape is a good word. It’ll keep you normal. But what if everyone escapes? My father always kept correcting people in his small village. He must have told at least a million times over in his career as a school teacher that the correct spelling of ‘college’ is ‘college’; not ‘collage’ as everyone repeatedly kept saying and writing. He untiringly kept telling the difference between ‘their’ and ‘there’; the difference of pronunciation between ‘were’ and ‘where’. Finally I asked him in his old age about his obsessive-compulsive disease of correcting people. He said, ‘If I don’t correct, there’ll be nobody to tell the correct English when I’m gone.’ I had nothing to counter his argument. I understood what it means to be a teacher.
To come back to the story, life in my varsity went on and on. The varsity kept losing its contours. There was encroachment of land from all sides. Lanes and by-lanes crept up from all sides. Tea stalls, pan shops, vegetable shops appeared all over. Somehow the institution also kept running. Services, salaries, promotions, examinations, lectures, programs, vanities, egos, jealousies – all kept happening. The status of the varsity kept declining. Political, social, criminal influences kept increasing. The newer generation of politicians had no idea as to what a university originally means. As an abode of fearless thought what role a good university can play in strengthening the mind of the society. A robust society cannot come without free, honest institutions. VCs kept coming through ‘chamchagiri’ (buttering the politicians) and of course, money-power. VCs in turn generated their own money-power and perpetuated the culture of ‘chamchagiri’.
The Indian society does not deserve good universities. People don’t care for their institutions. By definition, a university is a place of seclusion, academic elite and higher mental activities. But the number of brutes outnumbers those of educated (really educated, I mean). To erode the sanctity of the university gives pleasure to the brutes. Public expression of brazenness has increased in India. Democratization has resulted in a strange kind of lawlessness. Netaji won’t speak if land is encroached in the name of religion. It’s a question of his vote bank. All sorts of religious shrines cropped up in the outer skirts of the varsity over the years. Villagers of the nearby area used to come to see some ‘babaji’ and experience some miracle. The gulf between the rare sophisticated lot and brutes was so wide. If you said that the university needs to improve its quality, most of the people would stare at you unbelievingly, as though to say ‘What are you talking about? Isn’t this a university that gives degrees? What else do you want?’
Universities, by definition have to be centres of excellence. Excellence, by nature is exclusive. Only the knowledgeable should have entry into the system. ‘Ivory tower’ phrase didn’t come just like that. It ingrains an essential quality of varsities. Indian varsities have yet to develop that air of quality, that exclusivity that may set them apart from the rest of the society. The job of the varsity is to show the path; not ape the society.
These are realities. It’s not a question of self-hate. It’s just that universities are not doing what they are meant to do - educate people. Democracy, after all, is a tool for the educated. In fact, all problems can be solved by proper education. People don’t have an idea what they’re missing by the absence of good universities. Free voice, rational voice, logic, science, research - these are the forces that take a society forward in the long run. We are so far behind from the progressed world. But we don’t expect anything from ourselves.
At the mundane level, everyone got promoted over the years. Everyone moved in one’s chosen direction. Everyone became what one’s thought processes dictated. K went on to attain newer lows. He got many fresh assignments as VC, Director, and Coordinator etc. With each duty, he kept on spoiling, ruining, brutalizing minds. All that he could do was destroy whatever came his way. SDP kept on vowing for his ancient caste. All the appointments that he ever made as Head of any institution were all on caste lines. Needless to say that K or SDP or anyone - they all made huge money all the way. They all had land, houses, deposits, everything. Or is it everything? Certainly not. Looking at them, I often thought of Leo Tolstoy ‘How much land a man needs?’ They all die for land ultimately - real estate, property, houses, flats … endless, meaningless, soulless running!
Katju lived and died in the guilt of selling his daughter’s honour for a promotion he never got. Katju remained restless. I observed him very carefully. As the days progressed, his sojourns in different parts of the country became more frequent. He kept travelling. Constant travelling kept his mind away from his guilt. He could not focus his attention on anything for long. Life became a long punishment. He lived the curse of K throughout his life.
Whenever I passed Katju’s house in the colony, sounds of some program held in K’s tenure came. He loved watching videos of poetry recitation sessions or lectures held in K’s time. It was as though he never wanted to come out of K’s deadly spell. Wriggling Mistri managed the gotra of K with as much efficiency as he had. He loved pomp and show. He held meetings in his room. He was very conscious of the fact as to who went to whose room. Coming late in meetings, calling people to his room, indirectly insulting non-gotra members, feeling important- these remained his selected activities till he retired. DK Sri kept on making money till the very end or even afterwards. He built a house very, very near his department. He kept coming as Guest Professor. His regular payment roll at the varsity died only when he did. Meetul kept burning in the fire of his ambition. Dabba kept meekly serving Ragini. Mona, Savita, Runjali and Geetesh made houses adjacent to each other. ‘Lalaism ki jai ho’ (Long live their caste!).
Their day would not end without trying to harm Sudhi in some manner or the other. They would make faces at Sudhi, share glances to let down Sudhi. If, just by chance, someone spoke nicely to Sudhi or praised her by mistake, the whole brigade would not rest till they instilled some sort of bitterness in the concerned person’s mind. The insecure Monas and Savitas constantly wanted reassurance of enmity towards Sudhi from everyone. The more someone tried to repulse them, the more hard they tried to please that person. They had lost all shame. Like worms they’d move in and around the campus, idling away their time, talking nonsensically endlessly but never forgetting to put some word here or there against the lonely soul, Sudhi. Their mindless pursuance of an already done task was comical as well as tragic. It was tragic because it wasted their lives or there was nothing to be wasted in their lives? Everything was already gone? It was comical because everybody was already against the single soul Sudhi. The person most amused by those constant anti-Sudhi activities was Sudhi herself.
Every person should have some dos and don’ts in life. A person who can go any length to please you is the most dangerous person ‘cause s/he will go any length harming you, stabbing at your back. The devil has to gather information in order to derail you from your chosen path. The enemy has to come close to harm you. The shameless will for eternity try to come close to you. They’ll never let you be. You’ve to learn to live, to be yourself and keep shooing them away.
Sudhi kept writing. She kept her family together. Her presence became a blessing. Many parents brought their children to her, to seek her advice, to make the children listen to her. She developed the habit of speaking the truth. Her honesty became her trademark. My family and hers became more than friends, even more than relatives. We, Sudhi, her husband and me- we shared a secret bond. Only we knew how we had survived. Sudhi never forgot that collaboration of ours. It became the turning point in our perception of life. Looking at Sudhi, her functioning, her approach, I always remembered the ‘phakkad’ ( free) saint of Varanasi, Kabir and a gem of his couplet:
‘Kabir is standing in the market place called life, wishing everyone well
Not close to anyone nor can animosity for anyone in his heart dwell’
Sudhi was not close to anyone. She had no gossip, no censoring to offer. She had no enemies, at least from her side. She was free to support anyone. Her words, her actions emanated from purest of intentions. It was surprising to see that she would whole-heartedly support the proposal of someone who was trying to let her down. But she, in her eyes, was supporting a proposal which to her mind was correct. She was always right on her chosen path; she didn’t deviate. Time had tested her and she had passed the test.
As for myself, I remained a satisfied old man with a soft, plump, smudgy, homely, traditional, religious, talkative Indian wife. What else is required of life? Nothing.
NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real situation/s, institution/s or individual/s is a coincidence.