Continued from Previous Post
Come elections, teaching staff in government schools and colleges were drafted for election duties. A group of us comprising one senior (Asst Professor or Professor), designated as Presiding Officer, and two or three Lecturers, designated as Polling Officers were assigned to conduct the elections in specified polling boots. Our group officiated in two booths set up in villages on different dates of polling. We had to collect the election materials, ballot boxes, ballot papers, electoral rolls etc. from the Treasury and cart them to the booths that we would set up the booths in the prescribed manner well before the time of polling. The ballot papers were serially numbered and printed to security standards. We had to account for each ballot paper and return the unused ones back to the treasury along with sealed ballot boxes. Booth capturing, rigging, violence and the other malpractices during elections had not yet taken root so we had an easy time.
In May 1957 I was selected for the Central Services so when I returned to college in Jabalpur after the summer vacation, I requested Professor Gore, my Head of Department, to relieve me of teaching Chemistry theory to the third-year class, because I expected to leave in mid-session to join the Central Services. The third-year students came in a delegation to ask me to continue but we managed to pacify them. However, my successor in the class, Gaekwad, had a hard time controlling the unruly students. I was assigned to take theory classes for first year I Sc. The Madhya Pradesh government had enforced teaching all science subjects in Hindi from that year. Many of the students had read in Hindi medium up to High School and were not familiar with English. Nevertheless, I told them that it was better for them to know the English terminology because they would be taught only in English in the Engineering and Medical colleges which they aspired to join after I Sc. I offered to teach them in a mix of English and Hindi to enable them to grasp the subject and to switch to Hindi completely if they still wanted me to do so later. They bore with me for a month after which some of the more vocal boys insisted that I should follow the directive of the government. I taught them in Hindi for the rest of my stay in Jabalpur. I resigned at the end of October.
Brief as it was, I had enjoyed my teaching experience. Teaching seemed to come to me naturally and I might have remained a teacher but for the low emoluments. This bothered our seniors in the profession too. With few posts of Assistant Professors, the prospects of promotion were poor. There were no research facilities for them to improve their standing in the profession. Most of them ended up disgruntled and depressed, spending minimum time on preparation for classes.
During my tenure in Jabalpur, Jagmohan Das, Dy Minister for Education in the state, and RP Naik, Secretary in the Education Department visited the college and the staff presented their grievances to them. In return, they heard platitudes but nothing concrete was promised. Salaries and prospects improved only after the University Grants Commission formulated pay scales and laid down the rules for promotion. All my friends rose to be full time professors and more.
I mentioned at the beginning of this narrative that I was apprehensive about the behaviour of students when I joined MMV. In the three years I spent there I learnt a few dos and don’ts that helped me win the goodwill of students. The first one was that you had to prepare for the lecture and be ready to answer all questions. The second was to hold the attention of the students by arousing their interest in the subject. I also learnt that students don’t like to be lectured on discipline nor do they like it if you boast about your qualifications.
I knew that some of the students sitting in the back benches would indulge in activities that may disturb the rest of the class. Early on, I picked up the trouble mongers and made them sit on the front bench next to the demonstration table next to me. They were right under my nose and so behaved themselves. Once, I noticed on this bench whispering to themselves and giggling softly. It was my habit to pace up and down the length of the demonstration table as I addressed the students. I glanced at the front bench as I strode in one direction and noticed that the boys were sharing photos and making comments on them. As I turned and strode back, I extended my arm across the table, picked up the photos in one sweep and placed them in my side pocket. The boys looked up in surprise and remained silent for the rest of the class. The leaders came to me after the class and sheepishly begged for the photos. I made them promise good behaviour in future.
Students also take note of the mannerisms that teachers tend to develop over time. Sometimes it can lead to piquant situations. One of my colleagues was in the habit of repeating the phrase so that frequently. One of his students was a cricketer. While the lecture was in progress, he and his friends kept score and when the teacher repeated the phrase for the fiftieth time they clapped together saying, “Fifty up”, “Fifty up”!
Some unforgettable characters
Assistant Professor TS Murty, one of the senior members of the Physics faculty was an old acquaintance. The story of Murty’s education and career is worth telling.
Tariniganti Rama Murty was a senior colleague of my father. He retired as station master of a minor station near Bilaspur. He bought a piece of land in the nearby village and settled down as a farmer. The education of his eldest son TS Murty, who was in middle school was interrupted. Fortunately for Murty, a colleague of his father noticed him and persuaded the old man to let him take the boy to Nagpur and admit him in High School. Murty was a bright student and gave his father no chance to terminate his education. Murty went on to complete M Sc in Physics and was appointed as a lecturer in College of Science, Nagpur. However, his father paid scant attention to the education of Murty’s siblings. After a successful reaching career, Murty became Vice Chancellor of two universities in Madhya Pradesh.
Unlike TS Murty, Premasagar Rao led a star crossed life. Before joining MMV, he had spent some time in a sanatorium, following an attack of TB, where one of his lungs had to be collapsed. He was on a diet that included chicken soup for which he visited Raj Restaurant. In answer to my question, “Are you a non-vegetarian?” he replied, “No, I have to hold my nose and drink this horrible stuff on doctor's orders.” His parents had sent his sister to stay with him to look after his health and cook for him to avoid eating unpalatable meals in a hotel. His health remained indifferent throughout his stay in Jabalpur. He didn’t get selected for the post and had to leave MMV in 1956. At his invitation, Patil and I joined him and his sister for a holiday in Ooty in May 1956. The rarefied atmosphere of the hill station proved too much for his lone lung and on our third day in the Ooty we had the misfortune to see him breathe his last.
The Hindi department had several well-known Hindi literati in its faculty. The most prominent of them was Rameshwar Shukla Anchal. He was a chhayavadi (romantic) poet who belonged to a group of poets that included Jay Shankar Prasad, Dinkar, Sumitra Nandan Pant, Mahadevi Verma and Nirala. Sanskrit faculty included Pandit Kavthekar who was later Vice Chancellor of Vikram University Indore. Kavthekar was of immense help when I had to visit Indore for my interview for Central Services.
Visitors Two visitors at the time deserve mention. The first was the well-known actor and dramatist Prithviraj Kapoor. He was in Jabalpur with his drama troupe Prithvi Theatres and the Hindi Sahitya Samiti invited him to swear in the newly elected office bearers and to address the students. As expected, there was a large audience for a function that is normally confined to a score of participants. Prithviraj swore in the office bearers on the stage without once referring to a written script. He began his speech by telling the surprised audience that as an actor he had to memorise lines and that it only took him one glance at the text for swearing in to commit it to memory. He regaled us for nearly two hours with tales of his youth and career, touching on his overwhelming infatuation with his young and beautiful blue-eyed wife (You’ve seen Raj. He takes after his mother), his relationship with singer KL Sehgal (He liked to sing for me because I would listen with single-minded attention), how he learnt Bengali, speaking it without a Punjabi accent (When they laughed at my early efforts I told them, ‘Don’t laugh. Teach me.’), about his son Raj Kapoor, his talent and his running after Nargis, in movies and out of them. He showed how he trained himself to express emotions on the stage and on screen and stirred us with some examples. It was an unforgettable experience.
The other important visitor was Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. He was in Jabalpur towards the end of 1956, for political meetings leading to the general elections in 1957. Shukla belonged to the old guard of freedom fighters in the independence movement who had spent four decades or more in the struggle when the country became independent. He had been influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Sri Aurobindo and Pandit Madanmohan Malviya. He had earned his spurs working in a famine in Raipur district in 1900 and as a relentless worker risking his own life and his wife’s in a plague epidemic in 1902. He was the undisputed leader of the Congress party in the old CP and Berar and its successor state, Madhya Pradesh, becoming the head of the government in the state in 1947. Exposure of the corruption in buying land for the new capital expected in Jabalpur had, however, tarnished his reputation and soured his relationship with Nehru. Shukla had just returned from Delhi after an unsuccessful attempt to douse Nehru’s temper. He was, therefore, in a sombre mood as he narrated incidents from his political journey and enumerated his contribution to the state during his tenure as Chief Minister. He was disappointed that Nehru had set aside the proposal for a steel plant in Bhilai in favour one in Rourkela in Orissa and he was heart-broken at being told to step down as Chief Minister.
“I placed my cap at Panditji’s feet but he did not relent”, Shukla bemoaned.
He had vowed to live and die as Chief Minister. And he kept his vow when he died on the last day of 1956, well before the general election.