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Posts Tagged ‘Munna Bhai’

It pains me to see Delhi University getting dragged into a controversy over its proposed four-year undergraduate program. Its graduate degrees are henceforth meant to be different, introducing academic separation of a different kind. 0002 (58)

I walked out of the hallowed precincts of Delhi University (DU) close to forty years back. However, the attachment with the Alma Mater remains as strong as ever. Warm memories of the carefree days spent at DU long time back come flooding back. 

A Touch of Nostalgia

I have fond memories of evenings when the mess-y food provided in the hostel mess motivated us to saunter across to nearby Kamala Nagar market. When it came to nourishment for keeping our bodies and souls together, piping hot chhole-bhatoore, or the modest aloo-tikki and samosas were always rated better than the tepid and monotonous fare dished out at the hostel.

Much before Munna Bhai reinvented Gandhi-giri, the hostel food taught us rich lessons in civil disobedience. A day came when we could no longer bear to even look at – let alone gobble up – the all-potato meals served day after day. A huge container went around the dining tables of the hostel mess. All potatoes one could lay one’s hands on got piled up in the container. The Mess Manager was promptly called in, garlanded, applauded and presented with the container overflowing with potatoes of all shapes and sizes. With a sheepish grin on his pock-marked face, he quickly withdrew to the safety of his store-room. 0002 (64)

Our college used to be derisively referred to as a ‘brahmachari’ college those days. As aspiring pseudo-ornithologists, we had to find some solace in whatever ‘bird-watching’ we could accomplish – either while walking to and from the main University Campus, or in the course of our evening snack-athons in Kamala Market. However, once we completed our academic sojourn and departed, the authorities thought it safe enough to make the college a co-educational institution!

The cafeteria on the main campus was a breeding ground for proponents of communist as well as capitalist ideologists. Traits of professors were discussed threadbare, as also top news of the day. Impromptu gatherings in the lawns led to much singing talent getting discovered, what with movie songs of Hemant Kumar and Kishore Kumar getting belted out with gay abandon.

Come monsoon time and young men’s fancy would lightly turn to thoughts of love. Lover’s Lane used to suddenly get more traffic than it could possibly handle. When a member of our group started dating a smart class fellow regularly, some turned green with envy whereas others started entertaining romantic thoughts of the unilateral kind.   0002 (12) 

Lessons in chivalry were yet to be learnt. Money supply for those residing in hostels was erratic and woefully inadequate, so it was common to see day-scholar sweethearts graciously footing the coffee and dosa bills. While passing through a door, it was never a custom to hold it open for the accompanying female. Holding a chair for a female companion was never heard of. Luckily, the fairer amongst us were equally un-initiated, so no one seemed to mind such indiscretions.

Classes were invariably a serious affair, followed by feverish exchanges of hand written notes and of text books sourced from various quarters. The studious types were obliged to take separate ‘classes’ in their hostel rooms, so the not-so-serious types could pursue their hobbies without missing out much on the academic front. During examination times, it was pretty common to see the brainy ones going through bulky text books cleverly concealed within the covers of the latest Batman comic. 0002 (83)

Other than academic accomplishments, we could forge long-lasting bonds of friendship. One is now a successful entrepreneur while another rose to dizzying heights in the realm of banking. Another one is now at a very senior position with one of India’s largest business houses. Yet another one enriched the IAF with his dedication and continues his romance with cloud-computing, though not of the IT kind. One went on to become the Director Finance in one of the leading airlines in India. Another one has made it big in the IT sector, whereas several others have excelled in such diverse fields as pure sciences, law and order and even in international diplomacy.

Innovation and Isolated Glory

Allow me to come back to DU’s attempt to innovate its graduate degree course. Sure enough, it sounds like a good step. However, the apparent absence of academic refinements and adequate discussion with faculty, prospective students and with other stakeholders is discouraging. Quite possibly, DU would start churning out youngsters who would be more ‘marketable’. But the prospective employers are sure to be twiddling their thumbs in anxiety, trying to cope with an unpredictable quality of performance.

There is a long and justifiable debate on encouraging real innovation in higher education in India. One of the major goals is to demolish the strict boundaries between various disciplines and allow students to choose a mix of as diverse streams of learning as, say, Physics and Fine Arts. The real test of the proposed system would lie in ensuring that each student can grow as per his/her individual aptitude. That would be the only way to harness the innate potential of the youth of today, thereby increasing their contribution to society at large. Macaulay

I believe the basic innovation we need in the area of higher education is that of ridding it of Lord Macaulay’s legacy. We need to hone the entrepreneurial skills of the young, so they could transform India economically.

The Indian system of higher education boasts of over 600 university-level institutions and more than 36,000 colleges. Any reform must therefore address three basic issues: standardization across the country, parity between different centers of learning and vertical as well as lateral mobility of students. In the absence of these features, DU may merely end up basking in its isolated glory.

Here is hoping that wider consultations will take place before an academic reform of the kind proposed gets implemented. A prestigious entity like DU can ill afford to have several degrees of separation between itself and other institutions of higher learning in India.

 

 

 

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