Monday, October 04, 2010

An open letter to Rajan Welukar

Dr Rajan Welukar, they claim you are the vice chancellor. But I think that is paying you too much of a compliment. You are just a first rate coward! So you decide to ban Rohinton Mistry’s Such a long journey because some thugs decided that Mistry offended Bal Thackeray! Brilliant stuff! Kudos for caving in to the demands of the thugs!

Co incidentally, I am reading a beautiful book right now- Reading Lolita in Tehran a book by Azar Nafisi. It is a sheer co-incidence that it was only two days ago that I read a chapter where she talks about how she dealt with a situation where books were being banned left, right and centre in Iran in the 80s as they were accused of propagating ‘Western’ values, values which were decadent enough to corrupt the youth. She later talks about how she puts the novel, the Great Gatsby on trial in her class because of few opinionated students in her class who want the book banned.

“Was it necessary to put this book on trial? I was somewhat taken aback. Did he want me to throw the book aside without so much as a word in its defense?” (An excerpt)

I am not asking you to conduct a trial. But have you even read the book? I am sure you haven’t. So why do you really want to ban a book? How does it help to ban a book? Why didn’t the students get any chance to give their opinion? Do you think they are not capable of having an opinion or do they really not matter at all in the given scheme of things? Am I asking for too much? Did you even ask the teachers what they thought of the book? I am asking this because you seem to have effected this ban by bypassing the academic council. You only chose to hear one puny section of the student (?!) group and decided to act. It is appalling that a vice chancellor of a university which is 150 years old chooses to act in such a cowardly fashion. It is not just cowardly, it is also chauvinistic. By not taking into account the opinion of any other the groups associated with education per se, you have exhibited totalitarian attitude.

And that was Iran where it happened. India I think despite all its problems is still a democracy. I am not shocked by Shiv Sena’s acts. They have acted according to what is expected of them. But what message does a university send when it caves down to empty threats like these?

It saddens me to see not a whiff of protest either from the student community or the teachers’ community. It reflects the sad talibanisation of our society, a society that is marred by fear and apathy.

So, what next? Which other group’s pathetic ego do you plan to appease next? What are you planning to do? Do you have a list of dos and donts that a novel should follow in order to be considered to be taught in your esteemed university.

I used to be a student of this university once. I feel very sad when I look at it now, in its current state. Mumbai University is dead and I mourn its demise.

I end my piece by again quoting these lines from Reading Lolita in Tehran. Such a long journey was this and a lot more!

A good novel is one that shows the complexity of individuals, and creates enough space for all these characters to have a voice; in this way a novel is called democratic-not that it advocates democracy but that by nature it is so.

Shobha S V

P.S. Oh I just came across this. Some hope!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Should writing be a task to finish?

Quite occasionally, I read the weekly column by Soumya Bhattacharya on his experiences being a parent to his daughter Oishi. I read his column on 14th March, Pre-Emptive action in Hindustan Times and wrote to him. Following are my observations :-)

Hello Mr Bhattacharya,

I read your column with lot of interest every week. Your column on 14th March, 2010 was very interesting. I have many things to share with you.

Firstly I am very critical of the mainstream education system. It saddens me to see writing given as a task. By making creative writing a task somehow obliterates the love for it. It is a sure shot way of kicking joy away. Don’t you think?

The pedagogic system and parent-child relationship have one common feature- the desire for approval. Let me explain. When the child is given a task, the task is given by someone who is in a superior power relation as compared to a child. It can be a parent or a teacher. The child is acutely aware of this lop-sided power relation. Therefore there comes a need for the child to please the person in power by fulfilling the task that has been given. You see, in this process the whole idea of the creative activity is lost. Creativity is just for one’s own self. I do understand that artists too need their audience. But should this need to please others be inscribed at such a young age? Should one inculcate the desire to find gratification in one’s own work through seeking approval from others at such a young age?

The hierarchy and the resultant unequal power equations in the education system (between the teacher and the child) and in the family (between the parent and the child) bother me. I think the power over the other manifests itself in this need for approval that we all seek and have sought at one stage or the other. I think children need to be left alone to do things that they want to do, that they wish to do. Besides, it is definitely not easy to state an opinion in a way that doesn’t come across as evaluation of the same. Only when this need for approval and evaluation goes away can the boundaries between the teacher and a child disappear (in terms of hierarchy) and can they both learn and discover things together. This applies to parent-child relationship too. Only then will a child realise that human beings are all fallible in nature. Only then as you mentioned in your last column, will the children not feel astonished when they find that their parent often doesn’t know everything. I think the disappointment of parents not being super human beings can vanish if parents and child learn an activity (that is new to both of them) together.

Besides I feel your daughter needs all the praise from your side. Small slips are always pardonable. The mistakes should never over shadow the creative work that the child has come up with. I do understand the anxiety of a parent regarding dispraise that the child can face. But then sadly that is the system we live in. I really don’t have an answer for that dilemma.

Keep writing.


Shobha S V

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What's in a name? Lots says Bombay High Court

Ok, this is going to be a rant.

I came across this article and yea I am irritated! Apparently divorced women cannot use their ex-husbands' name. If there is no legal compulsion on a woman to change her name after marriage, why should there be any compulsion on her to change her name if her marriage ends? Why can't she have the freedom to choose? Why should there even be an option available only for a woman to change her last name post marriage is something that totally puzzles me. But then I'm reminded of being in a patriarchal society...blah blah and blah!

The whole idea that a woman's identity is totally related to presence of absence of men in her life is so problematic. Currently there is a move to disqualify the citizenship of a Kashmiri woman in case she marries a non-Kashmiri person. To know this and this . I hope that this bill is opposed tooth and nail. It is a big problem if a democratic state treats its women as someone devoid of any independent identity of her own.