To Sir with endless gratitude….and a few apologies

Posted: November 28, 2016 in Uncategorized

While the nation remained in an endless and hopeless queue for the eighteenth day, for us (me) there was something very disturbing in store for the day. After a gap for many days, I went for the morning walk to the Delhi University Park yesterday (also known as Nehru Park). There were many co-walkers with the same question as to where I had disappeared and to each one of them my answer was that because of my badminton sessions in the evening, I had developed a proclivity to keep postponing the morning walk to a “soon to come” future time zone.

As soon as I got back today and had just initiated my daily ritual of avid newspaper reading, I received a call from an unknown number. The caller was however a known person. It was Abhay, the son of Prof. Rajendra Singh, a retired professor from DSSW, who was also my PhD guide. His narration went like this…. Bhaiya!! Papa fainted day before yesterday and we took him to Metro hospital where we were told that he had a massive brain haemorrhage. While he was telling me all this, I had a make-believe kind of sense that he must be critical, and never for a moment I imagined anything other than this. Cutting him short, I asked Abhay, how his father was, and to my utter shock, his next words were…Bhaiya, I wanted to tell you that Papa is no more! And from that moment nothing has been in place. A Sunday morning planned to be spent in the throes of academic and impending administrative engagements transformed into an endless foray into the memory lane. As head of DSSW, I had the unenviable task of informing my colleagues about the sad news, which I did with a heavy heart. And as soon as I was done, the memories of all the times spent with him flooded my mind. The time when he was the warden of the hostel, and our teacher for sociology at the Department of Social Work. I remembered how almost on a daily basis he would summon me and issue me stern warnings for something or the other. It struck me just now that almost on all occasions; it was I, who was on the wrong side of the norm or an established practice. He would tell me often that I had, what he determined was a palpable anti-establishment streak, and that if I did not deal with it or tone it down, I would always be a non-achiever. Every other day, he would also issue harsh warnings to me and threaten me thus: ‘अब आगे से ऐसा कुछ भी करोगे तो हॉस्टल से निकiल दूंगा. To be truthful, I deserved every one of those warnings for I was such an incorrigible mischief maker. I can never forget that evening, when I was back from a protest. He called me and recounted the umpteen violations I had committed in last one month. It was enough to make me realize the shaky premises of my existence and how close I was to losing all that I had come to Delhi for. It also struck me that if he were to deal with a person with such a “difficult to suppress” anti-establishment fervour as myself, he could have acted as a typical administrator. In being so, he could have very easily exercised the easier options available to him, like calling my father and informing him about my misdemeanours. But he did not do that. And it was this, which in many ways proved to be the turning point in my life vis-à-vis myself as well as with Prof. Singh. In those moments, it was obvious to me that his idea was to help me focus on my studies, to which I had not paid the kind of attention and seriousness that it deserved. It was he, who told me that I was not made for the corporate jobs (India was just getting globalised and people were talking in the language of packages and profiles) due to my persistent anti-establishment mannerisms. He forewarned that either I would be kicked out or would have to quit of my own accord. For the same reason he also told me categorically that I would not survive in the national or the multi-national NGOs. It so turned out that my first job in the corporate sector was a disaster and I remembered Sir’s words while I was writing my resignation letter. Thereafter, I never tried to venture into a tryst with NGOs.

After weathering the rough edges of the world outside the campus, I came back to do my M.Phil and it was he who appreciated my decision…देखो तुम्हे पढने पढ़ाने के काम में आना चाहिए. बोलना तुम्हे अच्छा लगता है तो यहाँ मौका मिलेगा. खूब बोलना… पचास मिनट कम लगे तो एक्स्ट्रा क्लास ले लेना लेकिन बस अब एम्.ए की तरह मत करना. And I knew what he meant. I knew that he did not want me to fail and I began my M.Phil on that note (which was largely his note). It was he who made me feel and realize that my reading of literature could help me make a different argument. And I did listen to him and followed subsequently. I must share that we were not always on the same page as far as method, ideology or theoretical preferences were concerned. We used to have arguments and both of us would very strongly hold on to our stated (and preferred) positions. But in the end he would relent and allow me to go the way I wanted. He did it, not because, he did not believe in the nuanced arguments he had put forth before me, but to tell me that I should learn to look at the ‘other possibilities’ as well. He would relent because he knew I would not be able to sustain and carry it further. He would relent because he was liberal and I was still someone who was enamoured by an ‘imminent revolution’ and one who would look at alternative viewpoints with suspicion, or to put it bluntly, as traitor to the cause. By relenting on innumerable occasions, he made me realise that I was closed to being open. Sir!! Today when you are not around… I thank you for helping me see that reductionist ideas have a limited life span.

In 1994, when I got a permanent position as a lecturer at Jamia Millia Islamia, I converted my M.Phil into PhD, which was on the riots in the backdrop of the Babri Masjid-Ram JanmBhoomi agitation. Here too, we did not agree on the premises of communal construction, on competitive mobilisation and on role of police etc. but following his impeccable academic character he preferred my autonomy and my choice. One particular instance I would like to recall which seems freshly etched in my memory. I had submitted my chapter on the review of literature for my PhD wherein I had followed a thematic pattern rather than a chronological one. I did not have any prior conversation with Sir, so I followed what I thought WAS appropriate, particularly following Dipankar Gupta’s Nativism in a Metropolis. He called me and I could see that he was very angry. After a prolonged discussion, he simply said that the chapter was unacceptable. By that time, I had reached a stage wherein it was difficult for me to accommodate a change which required so much time. I told Sir… सर!! छोड़ दीजिये मुझे अब Ph.D नहीं करनी है और मैं विभाग से चल पड़ा. After I left, he called for my younger brother and another colleague to reach me at home and take care of me. Both of them later told me that he was worried for me and had asked them to spend time with me. I once again realized that Sir had beaten my obstinacy by relenting and yet he appeared the winner and not me. Like the candle burning at both the ends, he consumed himself to give me a sense of contentment. Today, when you are not around, I wish to thank you Sir for letting me confirm that disagreement is a virtue, particularly in a plural democracy like ours.

I spoke to him last week, as he was keen to come to the SBI branch of Delhi University to submit the life certificate. I told him to postpone this for a few weeks as banks have been sites of chaos on account of demonetization. He again relented but let me share that I am now most unhappy for having him relent yet once again because had it not been for my request, he would have come, and I would have met him for one last time!

Sir!! I wish to tell you today that at that historical juncture of my life, when many did not believe in me, you were the one who told me that I was worth something. Thank you Sir for your faith!!!

I cannot end without offering you a few apologies Sir, and you know I have tendered apologies many a time to you, during my residency at the hostel.

I wish to present them in numeric form…more so because this was your preferred format after retirement from the Department.

  1. In spite of my earnest desire, I could not come to see you at your home. Today when you are gone I realise what is the meaning of the life in a metropolitan city where you cannot take time out for a few hours to meet someone you love and value. I shall rectify this Sir, before I have to write another apology like this for someone else.
  2. Sir! I am not able to see and assess the social movement cycle as you taught us… for I am still caught in a kind of time warp. I promise you that I shall try to change this soon.
  3. And Sir!! In spite of your advice and request, the anti-establishment streak refuses to leave me, and just as you predicted, it has done considerable harm as well. But Sir… I cannot promise you to rectify this, for maybe I am too old to undertake this transformation now, or maybe a little too headstrong…., but I am sure that this streak will not let either of us down. In fact I pray to God that it makes you proud of me one day.

And last but not the least Sir………I thank you for the pains that you took to carve out ‘something’ from an otherwise proclaimed deviant. With this I rest my case. God bless you Sir! Wherever you are ….remain happy and assured that many like me shall always feel blessed to have been taught and mentored by you.

Rest in Peace!!!

Manoj K Jha

rsingh

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