Thursday, May 5, 2022

Mothers of Languages

Maaen Hazaar-chaurasi!

 Morning has broken

the home minister has spoken

 "No more English in the North-East, or the West

 East or South,  Hindi is the best!!"

 "Macaulay left but his grandchildren still linger."

 Venkaiah shouts: "Why let the English tongue malinger??"

 Did Venkaiah say this in Hindi? We do not know. 

The  English newspapers  recorded the  show.

  Ajay Devgan fired his volley 

and such a Drishyam it was. 

Out came Kangana with a rally,

This Hindi Queen, she made Sanskrit the cause.

These are our principal stakeholders, 

who without perusing files or folders, 

 Think they measure the national pulse

 And  issue decrees on impulse!

 Ours is a nation of  believers in  the mother tongue

 who  have  ostensibly of   tongues and mothers  sung

Look at the lesser Minister of State.

 who  declares without debate 

the expulsion of  sons and daughters,

 into  the stagnant cess of non Hindi waters. 

 Meanwhile the Don from the Planning Commission,

with a partner in crime from the  D O Science  Mission

 In smooth English enunciates the  New Education Program

Which makes it clear why all of this is  such a sham!

Every policy,  strategy, every rule and  bit of learning

 is framed in English from the previous century's turning.

Each mother tongue has been snipped and curbed and tied

For    masculine men can do unto mother tongues little beside,

 what continues to be  done to mothers and daughters worldwide??

 Mother tongues were treated very badly, 

Shredded , pierced,  ripped, snipped  and now,  sadly, 

 Our mother tongues are starkly bereft.

 for  their literatures have been ravaged and left,

 Our macho leaders know not this

and  a unisize mother, seek amiss.

Blinkered, patriarchal,  atrophied  and brutal.

 Such men  rule that a  myraid tongues, fetal, 

Add up in  their math to  one mother in total.

They forget , these myopic males

 about  mothers, the multi-form females.

In our subcontinent, a thousand tongues bloom 

carefully nurtured by loving mothers,

 Away from the  hostile  paternal fume

they gently lilt and sway like feathers.

 Ratna Raman



Wednesday, February 16, 2022

  Driving Stakes Into Our Heart : All  Hail (Hell?heel? Heil?)  Delhi University!

For a few years now, the expression 'stake holder' has begun to bother me. Possibly because I grew up in a simpler world where language was not so complex. What are the various meanings that the word stake connotes? 

At its simplest it seemed to be an active noun dating back to ancient times where  people  sharpened long sticks and then skewered whole animals on it. In one of the poems of Robert Browning that I teach, Fra Lippo Lippi speaks of the Christian martyr who was being roasted over an open fire and asking to be turned over to cook on the other side. So the stake when I visualized it was a sharpened stick , used for cooking no doubt, but  capable of injuring  living species, both animal and human.  Oddly, if we tweak the word  stake a little "steak"  or packaged meat is what we arrive at, with the same pronunciation, with an altered spelling. Perhaps the spear and the harpoon, were metallic versions of the stake  that could impale and injure. These  weapons of war, from the iron age were intimidating, to say the least, and  humans eventually continued  harpooning whales and seals, endangering them and pushing them into extinction.

The word 'stake' could indicate that  a wager that had been struck and was often associated with gambling, frowned upon by both religion and culture. I read Thomas Hardy's disturbing novel about Michael Henchard who staked his wife for drink and sold off both his wife  and their child  for a meagre sum in The Mayor of Casterbridge.  Since  I had  also been acquainted with the Mahabaharata, I couldn't help thinking that  poor Yudhistra, even if he allowed himself to be tricked by the conventions and forms in play, was staking his brothers, himself and subsequently his wife  Draupadi, while being goaded on by Sakuni , for recovering all manner of material, animal and human wealth, his kingdom, siblings and spouse. The word stake by implying that the loser was required to pay an enormous price, economic or emotional, left me with a sense of wariness. 

Meanwhile, modern life  was definitely a race, and the stakes were high, and you could be a holder of many hopes and aspirations, nightmares and disappointments.  Then of course, gambling was replaced by stocks and shares and companies, who had stake holders , investing in the finances.  The stakeholder, in this case, the investor, small or large became the person who earned a few rights and a lot of money because of the financial investment. All this made the world of commerce  transactional and attenuating and the  market  for stocks and shares that recorded bull runs and bear crawls ( humans turning into  aggressive animals here ) was very risky too. It seemed to  allow a few to gamble with money that belonged to the many.

 Imagine my surprise when from this gray, shadowy world of aggression and capital generation, this word was introduced by a former vice chancellor  almost ten years ago, when he spoke of stake holders in the university.  Disturbing enough to be a stake holder in a dog-eat-dog world..but why bring this term in to discuss  a central university comprised of  students, teachers and karamcharis?  Dinesh Singh was the cog meant to smoothen out the process of the corporatizing of a publicly funded  central university. It was no long about higher education, but the business of higher education. So keeping to the spirit of this sentiment, he ignored students and teachers and karamcharis and announced that he had invited stake holders to discuss the future of the University. These stake holders, had little or no investment in the university, but they had succeeded in the rat- race of life and were summoned, well -heeled and of considerable girth, to participate in the process of driving wedges ( also small sharp pieces of wood, meant to separate) between the real people who studied , worked and taught at the university and their relationship with university life and higher education.

 Teacher, student and karamcharis protested and succeeded in stopping the mayhem that was being unleashed for a period of time. However, remember the old adage about drawing  blood(for those with strong constitutions) or about stealing honey from the bees? The dismantling of  central universities  has been an ongoing process, too heady and too profitable to be scrapped.

The  scrunching of the academic calendar was followed by a bowdlerization of the syllabus. This led to the flight of seasoned intellectuals to  greener pastures(read Private Universities, in India and abroad) . Then a lockdown was instituted on teaching posts, so that while the old retired, there would be no fresh inputs into the system, only Adhocs,  dwindling in perpetuity as they got four month stretches. What else can you call such a period of employment , relentlessly forced on to our bright  young who wanted to teach and could have been trained to become better than the best? 

That history repeats itself and we do not learn  any lessons from it has been proved yet again, by the words uttered by the current Vice Chancellor of Delhi University. 

The stake holders (read the state, and its willing officers),  are now reinventing the first principles of the university. Turning it into an enormous production unit, since the time of the semesters, time, that precious unit of learning and growth has been pulverized and there are no  vacations for students, teachers or karamcharis. Terms are brutally short, although we seem to teach twice as much. Yet, given the paucity of time, students only absorb half of what they normally would, and forget quickly as they move to the next module, what they learnt in the first.

 The pandemic  has only added to our woes. Despite the abysmal shrinking of  vacation-time,  colleges are busy running add on courses and mentoring students as they hurtle out of online classes into online  examination sessions, so that they do not need to take a breather. The university is no longer the grand old space that invited hopeful students and teachers and nurtured them in its environs once. It is now   the site of frenetic activity, and students and teachers are jumping through all kinds of hoops, because the stakes have been set very high.  Now students can get credits from NAAC approved colleges and breeze in and out of one on line course into another. Even Dinesh Singh could not  have foreseen this, when he initiated the process of  dismantling   the university as a centre for learning and for debate, discussion, ideation  exploration and holistic growth.  Now, courses outlined by academics and experts in their respective disciplines  can be summarily rescinded, because the stakeholders do not want it. Who are these stakeholders? How have they usurped the freedom so central to academia?  Private universities were once a troubling space, because there was anxiety about the freedom available to the academic.  That has been sugar coated with the creature comforts that private universities provide to both students and teachers. Private universities take very good care of students who can afford them and of the teachers they successfully cajole to join  forces with them. While central universities seldom collect comparable funds, stellar learning was available to anybody who wished to avail of it, at a very moderate price.  All this is now up in the air.

  The Newest Vice Chancellor overtook Dinesh Singh in the  mendacity of his address to the capital at the  Indian Express Adda, when he assured an unknowing public that all the stakeholders have been consulted on NEP and the four year program. Nothing could be further from the truth. The majority of teachers in the university have ad hoc jobs, and continue to be subject to the whims and fancies of administrations that respond to the whip wielded by university officers, who act upon orders received from elsewhere. Permanent teachers who have job surety are currently skirting their way amid  NAAC forms and Promotional Avenues, that in the manner of the golden apples Melanion threw at Atlanta, keep them in thrall. The stakes are high for the state since it hopes to control the business of  higher education. The stake holders are the senior  officials of the university whose cudgeling of the university has broken its back and left it barely conscious. The  stakes are being driven through the heart and the mind of the university, and the holders of these stakes are not teachers, students or karamcharis, but a brute authority that is in control of the game.

After almost two years of a pandemic that has spurred on the grand dream of online education, with the budget declaring the opening of 400 e-universities, Delhi University's students and teachers are straggling back to interactive learning and teaching in a three dimensional world. This is going to be tough. Classrooms and corridors in colleges could possibly provide photo options for journalists who show us crowded marketplaces and streets  in order to scare us in the time of the pandemic.

 Have we as a university planned well for the post pandemic period.? No, not at all, because in a humane university shaping future citizens for a better world which has been reeling under the pandemic, some planning to reopen the university gradually would have been put in place, involving teachers and students in active conversation.  However we are back, largely from tomorrow and for a while we are going to be buffeted by the lacunae that will continue to  dog the university in its daily functioning. Yet we need to overcome , because it is not  young lives that are at stake. Career trajectories of young teachers have the four month old sword of Damocles hanging over them, in college departments presided over by lame duck professors who are watching their disciplines de-materialize while academic rigor goes up in smoke. This  Grand Old Central University,  cringes and shudders because instead of a celebratory  run up to its hundredth year, it  has put up on the stake, and roasted over the semesters  to such a sizzle that  the possibility of  becoming  altogether unrecognizable,  now begins to loom large. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2021


  When I was little , we went home every year in the summer holidays to Madras as it was known then, and lived in my maternal grandfather's house. Holidays at his home meant immersing ourselves in the patterns of grandparental lives. Thatha had retired  and Paati was done with raising four living daughters and two sons , and now kept house amicably, cooking us all manner of delicious food, regaling us with stories, and an occasional game of chess.

 A variety of  chores  was distributed amongst the younger grandchildren. Paati's daughters , the two or three who came to live with her in the summertime , assisted her in the processes of cutting, chopping and grinding for elaborate  daily meals, to feed  around nine grandchildren and  seven adults,  three times a day.   I accompanied my grandfather on his early morning round of flower collection. When the chandini growing at the front of the house had not flowered,, there would be no flowers for the day's elaborate pooja. Then grandfather and I would set off, very early in the morning, to pluck flowers from the neighbouring stock,  the overhanging closed umbrella  shaped hibiscus or the kachnar, occasionally even the yellow arali, and bring them back in a lovely cane container, that  held arrows at some point in its evolution before it became a receptacle for fresh flowers. Sometimes, albeit infrequently, we brought home  from the vilva tree, three leaves banded together,  that  grandfather declared were sacred and  special to Shiva, the forester, who was accepting of dried leaf offerings. We plucked  flowers from the houses of neighbors from whom grandfather had taken  prior permission: These  neighbors were friends   he had made over  many years. Perhaps they were happy that flowers from their front yard were being offered to the gods, and our flower picking  adventures remained amicable. The betel leaves, also offered to the gods were bought in the evening from a small flower shop nearby.

 By the time I grew up, a young lad on a cycle dropped off a bundle of red rose petals along with a fresh set of betel leaves every evening. Grandma stored these away since they were consumed only after they were offered to the gods. 


Decades later, after I had filled my home with ornamental plants and succulents, and then expanded the green cover to the front of the house, I rescued two hibiscus bushes , one from a construction site where an old house was being torn down and  the other from a friend who was giving away surplus plants. The only ground left  for the hibiscus shrubs was behind my home, in the service lane which received abundant sunlight. Divesting them of their pots, I planted the small shrubs to flank both sides of the back door.  A bougainvillea at the head of the lane provided a pink and green canopy and  a thick curtain and the hibiscus are now  ten feet tall. Although I sighted buds, I rarely ever  saw the flowers. 

All this changed during the days of lockdown because  preparing for lectures and cooking  urgent meals in coordination with a  different life outside the house; was now replaced with pottering around the house in the early morning to  new rhythms that  demanded being rooted to the house   I noticed from an upper floor,   numerous women who  never introduced themselves,  routinely gathering  flowers every morning.  The hibiscus is a prayer worthy flower, everywhere in India,  flamboyant and noticeable, so my plants was routinely stripped of their flowers on a first-comer basis. 

 On one rare occasion, I stepped out into the service lane and saw both bushes in flower, and captured this  magical moment on camera.  Manju who has resumed helping  me with housework in the mornings has now declared war on the  foragers of flowers. In an earlier time,  Manju  used to live and work on her ancestral farm in Pashchim Banga. When she comes in to work, she brings in all the flowers that she can see. Of late there is an efflorescence of  hibiscus   inside  my home. I do not have the courage to challenge  assumptions  that  involve an  omnipresent God   who cannot  view flowers in the bush, or to rebut the argument that flowers in bloom cannot  bring joy to passersby  while retaining their own  leafy addresses. For now, Manju has taken this matter out of my hands, with her morning collection.


Friday, February 26, 2021

                     All In A Morning's Work

 I stepped out into the street today, armed with my mask to buy a small crinkled cantaloupe from  the fruit vendor. Another vendor cycled by slowly and I noticed that he had a stack of beautifully carved stones that are  amazing kitchen equipment requiring zero maintenance for upto thirty years.

I stopped him and we began a masked conversation, wherein I admired the chiselling he had done on the stones. Each stone slab  was  exquisite and a finished art work, reminding me  after a long long time that  everyday objects  could be  both functional and aesthetic, and add to working pleasure  every time they were put to  use. I use a silbatta (or ammi kallu as we call it in South India)  in my kitchen and it belonged to my mother-in-law. She would often use it to rustle up a small handful of dry or wet chutneys when the big and small mixies were not required or unusable in the event of a power cut. Now it sits on a ledge outside my kitchen, and it is a pleasant spot to grind and crush small spices and leaves, and little bits of rock salt when I cook.

 Silbaatas, other than being effective kitchen assistants could generate mirth and raise a laugh as I discovered when my daughter came home  from primary school with  news about an ohjective test on household objects and what they were made of. "Amma,what is a silbatta?," she had queried and I had pointed to the ammi kallu. "Oh! she replied, her face falling, "I didn't know this is called a silbatta and is made of stone. In the test at school I crossed out stone and circled paper as the correct answer." Amused at the idea of the  paper silbatta  I explained that  the grinding stone was named differently in different languages, wondering if it was solely up to mothers and language teachers to establish links and connections between languages. Shouldn't teachers of other disciplines also endeavour to do the same?

This year, it will be  thirty years since my mother -in -law passed away, but her silbatta continues to be one of the workhorses in my kitchen, because the texture of  crushed ingredients  in chutneys that silbatta -grinding produces followed by the effortless   wash  with water cleaning -up -after remains unparalleled. Over time, my silbatta has been worn down to smooth stone so I asked the iterant vendor if he could re-chisel my silbatta for me. He agreed and I brought it out  from its perch in my backyard to the front door where Bablu settled down to work his craft. A couple of neighbours also brought out their  old silbattas for chiselling.

Twenty minutes later, here below  is  my   new  Bablu -chiselled-silbatta., with its personal stone accessory. I  took an ordinary photo and then staged the next photo, on a red cushion.

  Kavita who comes in to help with  kitchen work  has been wanting a silbatta and I had promised to pick up a new one  for her, reluctant to part with mine. My sister confirmed that she too required a small  table top silbatta, although she hosts mom's  granite ammi  on her  terrace. Here are  two new guests, handchiselled  by Bablu, enroute to their new homes.

 After a long, grim winter,   the weather seems right and the possibility of connecting to the quiet pleasures of the quotidian have begun to surface. With many thanks to Bablu , here is looking forward to summery buttermilk  times, redolent  with the flavours of   fresh currypatta and green chillies,   silbatta -crushed with rock salt and hing!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Minneapolis Musings

For the very first time in my life, I find myself in remote, distant  Minneapolis in the long months of  October, November and December. The house I live in is centrally heated and the inside temperature  is monitored at  67 degrees fahrenheit.  Outside it is around 8 degrees fahrenheit, the ground is covered with snow, and the concrete stretches outside car garages  are cleared by the people who own them, either manually or with the  help of  snow blowers. The snow on the roads  in upmarket suburbs is  scooped up by giant snow shovelling machines that deposit it on the once green stretches or on the sidewalk in mounds, Sand and salt  are spread  on all motorable  roads to prevent ice skids.  Little snow  hillocks   rise slowly on the pavements as each day, fresh snow storms swirl by, and the sun makes brief, sporadic appearances, choosing to be a fair weather friend in this bitterly cold season.

Except for the fir trees, that provide the only outdoor green, every other tree, oak, maple or birch has surrendered its foliage to the cold season. Each of these trees now stretches leafless limbs into the sky, supplicating perhaps  the sun. Life however continues comfortably, inside of heated cars and schools and offices and malls and eateries, where the temperatures are maintained at tremendous cost, providing relative comfort  and  hot beverages to everyone who can afford it.

Driving past houses  in the dark, once the fall ends and the trees are bare, house fronts and porches start dressing up noticeably, a little before the onset of Halloween. I saw a fair share of cobwebs, witches cycling,  flying on brooms or upside down, spiders, ghouls, ghosts and zombies as house front decorations. I even met the three witches from Macbeth in front of a fiery cauldron at a humongous store selling Halloween decorations and I watched enraptured as they spoke Shakespearean lines at programmed intervals.

The witches and ghouls are replaced by endless pumpkins well before  Thanksgiving and  the leafless trees in the roadside along market places  are adorned with lights that outline colourful Christmas tree   silhouettes. With Christmas barely ten days away, every house in the suburb I live in is decorated with bright lights. White tubes run around the house walls encasing twinkling lights that can be multi-coloured or monochrome, depending on how the remote switch has been zapped. Trees in front of homes wear bright lights too, returning in the daytime to their more recognizable bare outlines, while the white plastic casings   merge with the snow. Inside homes, Christmas trees are retrieved from their cases in basements and decorated, with ornaments and trinkets stirring memories and weaving colour and light into the cold season.

 The malls beckon and Thanksgiving sales followed by Black Friday sales are succeeded by sales that will go on until the end of the year. Meanwhile trees in homes and hearths glitter and twinkle , and bags of gifts to be given and received accumulate around the tree. There is good cheer in food and drink and festivities indoors and the bitter cold has been very firmly confined outdoors by man made technologies. Indoors, all is aglow and warm. Thankfully, the little match girl  from the Hans Christian Anderson  story will never walk through these streets and press her nose against a French window, where the curtains have not been drawn and look longingly at the food and fun heaped around trees and in cupboards and on table tops and counters, and chests of drawers because even if she did possess a sturdy  pair of shoes, she could never cover  the required distance to these affluent homes. How well the cold maintains established hierarchies, freezing them further.....  

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Shout Out to Atishi

This  is  a shout out to Atishi  Wahi Singh. In choosing to add  Wahi and Singh to her name, I am also addressing her parents,  Tripta Wahi and Vijay Singh,very dear friends and senior colleagues at  Delhi University.  I am sorry you are in this place,  Atishi. To you,  Atishi, I will not say that elections are about participation, not about winning, because it would have been wonderful had you won, for then you would have taken our hopes and  aspirations ( with regard to  education and learning and schooling ) to Parliament and availed of the opportunity to strengthen and reform and transform education , which lies  in shambles, through the length and breadth of this country. So your loss is a huge loss for those of us who believe in the transformative and empowering possibilities that holistic education offers.

It is unfortunate that the constituency that you wished to represent did not vote for you in entirety. I know this must hurt and that it also erodes a sense of self-worth, because as the daughter of university teachers, with enough academic credentials, the world was your oyster and there was no dearth of opportunities available for you. You chose to put aside the comfort and pleasures of a privileged life and enter into the public domain which requires incredible courage. You have enough credentials for representing the cause of education in India as well as an accompanying   imagination and sensitivity, so do not think otherwise at any point.

For any woman to have  a political life anywhere in the world, intelligence and vision and clarity and imagination by themselves is not enough (although , as one has seen , men with none of these  qualities are the ones who thrive in the system). Women need to have a very strong solar plexus Atishi, maybe ten times as strong as the solar plexuses of  those women who venture out of their homes into a life beyond, because  believe you me, that is where all the ugly punches land, always invariably below the belt, and  cause  enormous damage  as they smash through living tissues and organs. You fought the good fight  Atishi, and  all those women and men who spoke up for you when that   vile pamphlet was circulated and when rumours were spread about your being Jewish, would concur.

However Atishi, the nature of the battlefield on which you stood your ground did not change. The world of ideas,( including  those voiced by  Marx and Lenin, whose names your fond parents yoked together to create  your idealized surname , because they believed that the world  needed to become an inclusive and equal space)  has always had to contend with recalcitrant  thought processes and calcified social and cultural practices.  Atishi, women live redundant lives in our world ;  they can be stoned to death  by men for violating imagined codes. Only an extraordinary leader, also a  statutory  male,   can ask the casters of stones  to introspect before  stoning a  hapless woman to death.. it is very long  since the world has seen any such saviour. Meanwhile learned women have burnt worldwide as witches. or have been  reviled and exiled  from their immediate communities.  Indian  grandmothers  have continued to say to  defiant granddaughters, “Look at  all that Sita had to suffer! If she could bear them despite being a princess, surely you should learn to adjust.”

I want to remind you Atishi that in our own country, Maryada Purushottam Raam  drove his pregnant wife away, in deference to public opinion, and continues to be revered. Gautama Buddha, abandoned his wife and new born child on a secret mission, and then chose a life, he did not want women to participate in. Our country is named Bharat, after Shakuntala’s son, and she in both Vyasa’a version and in Kalidasa’s had to speak up for her child’s rights and  defend her morality,  while she was  being publicly humiliated. Kalidasa let her weep and even stole from her power of speech that  Vyasa had  initially  given her. Do not therefore be surprised if mediocre men go on television to ask why your husband is not standing by your side and supporting your candidature.  Remember, that this is how the double standard works. Male politicians can abandon their wives, never bring them up for discussion or contribute to their welfare but no male  will say ..”But where is his wife.? Why is she not standing next to him validating his candidature.”
You have had to grapple with patriarchy and sexism and misogyny of the vilest kind. It is part of the trajectory of being a woman. Over and above this, Atishi, you have had to deal with little resources and word of mouth campaigning in a hostile and cash rich arena. So many of us are not clear even now  how the new EVM technology works or whether it makes for an even playing field.  So do not let this debacle leave you dispirited.
 Thank you for speaking for  us and continue your work as you have been doing over the past few years.  Many of us would be happy to pitch in and add our little bit to further the cause of learning and wellness in children. Please let us know how we can help. Here is wishing you more of that unstoppable courage and   large-hearted commitment. Do continue to inspire us   with your   innovative and imaginative ideas and projects.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Maddening May Musings

This morning's newspaper brings in  some more information about plans to decimate Delhi University further. A few days ago, there was an announcement  that an  entrance examination for students aspiring to study at Delhi University would now be outsourced. The amazing thing about such information is that it comes into our drawing rooms via the newspaper. Our Vice Chancellor has taken a vow of silence which he breaks only  to grace occasional events like Departmental Seminars when National participation is the stake. He arrives at these seminars , speaks to a room full of strangers, some real and  the rest  intentional and drifts away, presumably  to his Vice-Regal Cave.

Truth be told, were any of us to run into him anywhere in the city, it is unlikely that we would recognize him. Anonymity by itself is not a bad thing. Our previous VC, for example,  loved being feted in visual media, rode elephants to annoy a lot of us while alienating all of us from the university processes altogether. Our current VC is  neither seen or heard.  This kind of self-effacement  is wonderful for a meditative and mystical life, where one is developing an inner calm, but  as is now evident to almost  everybody, very  insidious and damaging  to the interests of a Premier University. Following the example set by our premier,  the  current VC of Delhi University has steadfastly  refused to communicate or address any of the problems that have been foisted upon  and continue to plague Delhi University  for well over a decade.

 CBCS or the Credit based Choice System was introduced as part of an ambitious, unplanned and never discussed  before Four Year University  Program and was thrust upon the university already reeling under a forcibly introduced semester system. The FYUP, the Congress's  unsought gift to the University, was disbanded in 2014  alongside  huge student -teacher  protests and a  change in Government. Ironically,  although  FYUP was  replaced by  a TYUP,  CBCS  which should be actually called Coercive, Banal and Constrictive Study was grafted on  to  the new syllabus. The problem with CBCS is not that it is a bad idea, but that it has never been implemented with student  interests and freedom in mind, nor was it the result of collective thinking and planning by teachers.

 Currently,  CBCS  continues to flounder because, the University is yet to release the second tranche of teaching posts that were  a mandated part of college rolls after the  introduction of  OBC reservation for students.  Due to the crunch in teaching staff,  most colleges cannot  provide options and are constrained to  teach only the minimum courses required. In case an option is provided,  the Department that is teaching it comes under severe strain.. Firstly this requires  a lot of hand wrestling between college administration and Teachers-in-Charge of individual departments. Also, no permanent appointments have been made for a very long time.  Departments, we must remember can only be built  on the collective expertise of teachers.Teaching new courses  requires a  teacher with steady employment  who is given an opportunity to learn and grow with her job. In most colleges, ad hoc appointments are often renewed upon administrative whim . So this is a terrible no win situation in which all of us , teachers, students, administration and courses continue to lose steadily. If there is a greater game plan, I confess my inability to see it or understand it.

Today's paper  informs that a proposal is afoot to provide students  more flexibility, allowing them the option of  studying different CBCS courses at different universities. This plan is even more dazzling than the one proposed by our former VC( DS)  who wanted colleges to offer  only one specific CBCS course thereby  enabling students to move between colleges, doing one option at one college and the next option at another.  Arguments for shifting students  from one university to another comes from a  incorrect sense  of empowered mobility. However, the reality is very stark, because physical mobility on the part of students is not really a marker of a student's  academic  development or  intellectual growth.  Serious reflection and re-examination of all these lop-sided top down schemes  being crammed down the throats of  hapless university communities, is therefore necessary.

Universities and colleges are not in the info-tainment business, nor are they meant to be.   A teaching calendar of almost thirty lectures per unit in the annual mode has been whittled down to twelve lectures per unit in the semester mode.  Learning and teaching cannot be sustained by reducing  interactive processes and further dilution by clamping down on teaching posts, shrinking infrastructure and making  both the teacher and teaching  optional to the processes of learning.

Things have only got worse in the University. Now,  with the  whip in place for implementation of fresh reservations, all semblance of  optimal student teacher ratios in the university will cease to exist. Colleges are centres of teaching and learning; converting them into cafeterias and cinema halls that will be filled with  students in short term transit cannot aid the cause of learning , academic rigor or university life.

Already, our best teaching and learning time  has become a casualty to the semester system and in the worst months of the year, namely,  bitterly cold December and brutally hot May students have been  unthinkingly made to take examinations. (and no, I do not think air conditioning and central heating are  options we should be looking for  anytime) . Evaluation of exam scripts and setting of examination papers twice a year has enormous costs, in time, money, energy  and quality. The bar on all fronts has been set   abysmally low, and  the farming out of   AECC answer scripts for evaluation at  individual colleges, allowing further leeway to  dubious internal assessment mechanisms,  damage altogether the idea of an impartial system of evaluation.

Given Delhi's terrible air, extreme weather, awful traffic, and congestion on the roads and within institutions, this would be a good time for the movers and shakers to consider shutting down all colleges and shifting everyone  to a cyber university. All teaching can be done online through bots and students can enroll into courses of their choice, with unlimited options.
Colleges reeling under shortages of water, electricity, classrooms and staff ( both teaching and non teaching) can be turned into visual sites that will provide "an idea of the University" to all visitors. A moderate fee to experience university life  can be charged from   all visitors who can have a choice of   simulated experiences  ranging from classroom lectures, tutorial and practical experiences,  library visits, guided walks within the campus and special canteen fare, et al.   Under the prevailing circumstances, this would be a democratic way of ensuring access to university experience  for one and all. I am confident that this pilot project can be put in place by 2020. We wont need to agonize over student-teacher-infrastucture-ratios or the idea of the university  ever again.