Monday, May 13, 2013

Tavistock Square and Translation Studies

That year. April of 1997, I sat in Tavistock Square watching the cherry blossoms fly this way and that in the breeze. It seemed the delicate flowers had a life of their own, and when I went closer to the tree, I saw that it was dedicated to the Hiroshima bomb victims. Just a single tree, with its seasons of foliage and flowers. The Gandhi statue was always filled with flowers, strewn on the Mahatma's lap. Often when there is discord I think that the two ways are juxtaposed, that of extreme violence and the other of extreme detachment. Non-violence is  not the way of the weak, it is the way of fulfilling one's desire for freedom, equality, liberation, community through active dialogue.
Much of the 19th century was about the process of industrialisation, which in the end created the societies of the west we know now with its hausmannism, and its significant decline in population. The inter-racial ghettos of the workers  proliferated side by side.
However, for those who studied and lived in the west, as many of India's bureaucrats and politicians have done,  they must know that the dream of imitating the west was never intrinsic to the people of India,  themselves. They cannot afford to imitate the west. Because they remained the way they were, caught in frugality and poverty, the art traditions and the craft traditions survived. People like Dashrath Patel in the early 1980s made films which showed how in Saurashtra, people said No to plastics. Even the village tailor said he would only make buttons from cloth for the garments, he would not use plastic. It's interesting that today, while India's rivers are clogged up in plastic, the new drive depends on people not throwing their marigolds in plastic covers into sacred river, and that river mining has to cease, and the governments of every state have to make sure that waste does not flow into the rivers. The West has had success with the rejuvenation of rivers, and in the broad dialogue set up between nation states, we need to learn from them. Sure.
However, when Delhi University sets up a baccalaureate system, without assent from its teachers, how does it expect the constitutional ideas of Legitimacy before all, to function? It seems very odd that students have to do an extra year in college, when the entire economy depends on the young feeling that there is a future ahead of them in terms of receiving an education in the first instance. When I taught 1st year students in Hindu College for one year, I was aghast at how ironed out their brains were when they came to us from school.  I quickly asked to be given 3rd year classes, because I realised that teaching 1st year needs a special skill which seasoned teachers have.The Board Examinations were exhausting, the general proficiency required on all fronts had left them quite ennervated. Honours courses gave them the sense of doing what they really wanted to do, and the specialisation was a skill which they came to with great enthusiasm. Over the years, voluntary choice of subsidiary courses has given the students a sense of larger Social Science interests, and with none of the reforms dealing with internal assessment and with innovation in subsidiary courses did the teachers of Delhi University complain. So clearly, when the Honours courses are mitigated by two years of compulsory foundational courses, and an additional one year to boot,  the teachers do have something to say.  Basic infrastructure is lacking, and to extend teaching to a fourth year has to receive funds which have to be allocated after the basic needs are first met.
The University has a function, and that is to liberate the mind. Tying it in with occupational courses is to give it a new dimension. If Delhi University wants to generate polytechnic functions it should do so with the permission of the UGC, and in due process,  in parallel spaces,which draws in communities of teachers. Indira Gandhi Open University has educated thousands of young and old people by merely sticking to the rules, and drawing in specialists from all Universities which take upto two years and six separate meetings to formalise and pass a course.
 America has its contract labour force, and the feminist discourse on this, such as the work of Sylvia Hewlet  is extremely useful to understand its limitations. Loyalty to the institution is decimated  when teachers are treated as if they are not of consequence. Once Salman Khurshed visited Hindu College as a chief guest and said laconically to the students, " I was in the College across the Road, and got 45 percent, and see where I am, and see where your teachers who were toppers are!" By these words he shattered the academics occupying the first row. How could he have been so boorish in front of the students, in a public platform, on a podium? Did we take him on? No, we just went back to class and taught the way we always do, carefully and with our politics outside the classroom. Right wing intervention was as specious, but  Delhi University survived decades of changes in Government by just sticking to its daily routines. A lot of the present governing elite from all parties, may have got their degrees abroad, yet,  the yardstick of an institution's success in India, has come from people who were swadeshi. Because Midas rules doesn't mean the people have to accept it.

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