Everyday I set out, my identity as an intellectual intact, and that’s the greatest blessing my parents gave me. Hallmark cards did not exist in those days, and the only day which my father celebrated was May Day, though he had a lot of respect for Good Friday, and Diwali and Christmas. And ofcourse Eid, since he taught in Jamia Millia Islamia, having been one of the founding member of Rural Development, as his department was called in the 1950s. Dad was a real mum to us, since it was he who was always at home, when we came from school, and it was he who taught us to cook, and to do our homework, and had a constant surveillance system in place, going through our books, and letters and even our dreams. We were never sufficiently grateful, thinking him to be just so intrusive and overpossessive. Mum was much more liberal, and we enjoyed her company in the real sense of the word, her love for books, and unlike my father, who had a lethal sense of humour, Mummy was amusing in a different way. Now I feel that the gifts of ancestors are the things we remember about them, and when we die, those memories go with us. We really have no idea about who our great grandmother was, for instance, or how we understand the gift of a fishing net adorned with shells which was my great grandmother’s dowry to the family, along with one gold coin and five rupees. My mother was always snooty about that legend about my father’s family, and it was probably the elephant which her mother’s family owned, that she brought to her mind, when thinking about the fishing net. Whether either elephant or cowrie bedecked net really existed is anyone’s guess. I had a guest over at my place once, who told me that he was descended from those who were sent away by the king for killing a cow, and the women in their clan were Nair princesses who were then sold to fishermen. And he looked at me, and said, “Your father’s father’s brother married one of our women.” I looked blankly at him, and wondered if the family knew of this legend, and whether the dowry of a fishnet could be explained for our line as well. Between fiction and genealogy there is never too much gap, only those are remembered who can further the interests of the group. Now, that artisanal castes are fighting for recognition, the sum of class interests are focussed on them. It is they who have the voice, it is they who are producing a new intelligentsia, and backward is as backward does, which is to negotiate a space between dalit intelligentsia climbing rapidly to the top and the Brahmanic upper castes.
For my generation, it really does not matter who we married, and how we brought up our children, it was the survival instinct that we wanted to harness most. We were a generation who listened to Janice Joplin’s “me and bobby mcgee” and while the real battle between the cowherds and the macaulayites escalates, it is the past which beckons, the past which has no genealogy, but only a dna stamping which takes us back to Africa. One of the young woman lecturers who dropped in to see me last week, as tempers frayed on JNU campus, and the barometer climbed relentlessly, said that it was a struggle teaching African kinship and social structure to undergraduates, as they could not see the relevance of it in their lives. Comparative Sociology never needed legitimation in the 70s of the last century. Reading about the Mother’s Brother and bilateral filiation among the native Americans and about ghost marriages in Africa were always exciting, and our teachers released our imagination. Teaching is always a strenuous occupation, it is a vocation, and not the sum total of knowledge garnered for purposes of passing the NET examination. Passing or failing the NET exam can never be the index of academic achievement. To be a good teacher one must be free of worries, of where salaries come from, or what the State will say, or what the agenda of the clerical and administrative bureaucracy is. It has it’s own checks and balances which include teacher student ratio, and the continuous feedback from young people, who enrich our bibliographies with their own rite of passage.
However to think that students “run” the university, or that they will do so, after anarchic and life asserting moments are absorbed into the university calendar as part of student democratic rights, is pushing the mile stone too far. We have a breathing space, let’s use it to be just, fair, generous and reasonable. Alma mater has a history, a written constitution, a logo, a chronology of achievements and we need to keep moving. While aggressiveness in speech is recognised as reprehensible, the student community need to know that the teachers are not with them on all the vile things they shout when they are looking to upset the apple cart.