Friday, January 16, 2015

Translation as Praxis

When I joined JNU in 1997 as a teacher, it was because I had spent almost twenty years wanting to return to my alma mater. Ofcourse, the 18 years at Delhi University had been spent very well. I had received a good training in narrative analyses, made friends, got gainful occupation at Hindu College, which shared a wall with Delhi School of Economics, where I was a research student at the Department of Sociology. My three daughter grew up in the environment of academia, friends dropped in, their father was extremely supportive, inspite of work demands of his own. The children were in the company of kids who had academic parents, and every evening their father took them to colleagues' houses while I completed the cooking and other daily chores. Every morning, he dropped them to their bus stops (they all went to different schools) and left their packed lunches with the kind neighbour who ran a creche.

1997 was the fulfillment of the academic dream to teach my own specialisaton. It was strenuous, it was demanding. I was quite startled. My former teachers gave me an Mphil Compulsory (ten a.m class) and a new experiment which was to teach Language students subsidiary Sociology, a 3 pm class. When I said, "But I have just joined!", the Chairperson at that time said "But you are a seasoned teacher! Ofcourse you can handle it!" Keeping a job is harder than getting one, so I went about my duties. It was totally exhausting for  someone like me, to time my day by the Contract bus which dropped me to work at 9 am, after meandering all over Delhi,  and collected me at 5.30 pm, with a 45 minute traffic jam halt at South Extension market in the evenings.
After two years I started falling down from exhaustion, and in the first instance, broke three bones in one arm, and when the plaster was off, I broke six bones in the other arm. So effectively, I was handicapped for six weeks. After that, I shifted to the campus, and life became easier, but it meant that my husband and I could not live together again, since I became a class room teacher, singleparenting three very young children, and he became a well known seminarist and public intellectual, describing himself as a social science nomad.
The class I taught to the Language students was a eye opener. There were 25 of them. They came from different language belts. They were essentially comfortable in a variety of regional languages, including the dominant Hindi and Urdu, but were specialising in various European languages such as German, French, Spanish, Russian, Italian, and also Asian and Indian languages such as  Arabic, Persian, Tamil, Urdu and Hindi. One or two spoke competent English. How was I to teach them the concepts and terms of Sociology? We devised a very elegant platonic system of dialogue, discussion, and debate through mutual translation. Those who understood explained to the others. For me, that was the essence of JNU, not just self learning, but teaching one another through discussion and loyalty to the quest. As a teacher, when I ask students to do something, I expect them to follow my  request, and to explain to me why not, if they do not. The dialogue comes from how they interpret my request, for one gets a variety of responses. For me, the consensus that teaching methodologies vary from teacher to teacher is the most exciting thing about JNU. It would be a great pity if the idea that one syllabus, one window of learning would rule over the idea of learning by enquiry, something that our JNU teachers provided as such a valuable substitute for learning by rote.

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