By Uttam Sen/newsin.asia
Established practices and received wisdom are being challenged by young people in schools and colleges, as they always have been. For the record, we middle class people invariably got a lease of life when we entered college, particularly those which had our classical scholars.
I was particularly fortunate to enter one of them. Some of these individuals were quietly magnificent. They were austere, proficient, modest and articulate in a way a lesser mortal like me could not ever hope to be. It was natural, not affected, of them to encourage questioning because as teachers, who had once been learners themselves, and probably continued to be so, they appreciated what they considered the expression of interest to learn new things. Fact or reality that was accepted as true was not so simply because it had existed for a long time, but had to be verified through discussion and discourse, and of course, study and observation.
Some of us were mistakenly amused when a particularly bold student ended up asking a naïve question in class but was treated with such meticulous and careful consideration that it was visible that the questioner was falling out of his attention span or depth in comprehending the response. The point eventually did get across.
The middle class stands for conservatism, which engages traditional values and is wary of change. These scholars were not in any way obstructing the passage of ideas, custom or belief. They seemed to be subconsciously examining and explaining them. Many of them had emerged from Oxbridge or the London School of Economics, depending on their subject requirements and spoke immaculate English, but in one-to-one conversation preferred the mother tongue and were often attired in spotless dhoti and kurta. There was no regional chauvinism. Non-Bengalis were made more than comfortable. Their responses could be far-reaching and thorough without necessarily being dramatic.
In an academe I attended subsequently, I got to learn about the resilience of tradition which needed to be understood in its contemporary context. Methodical understanding often obviated sensationalism, or excitement at the expense of accuracy. The desire for wide-ranging change in attitude or action, dissected to its foundations, could be an aspect of the human condition. It could also be due but when fundamentals stayed constant “the more things changed the more they remained the same”.
This did not mean that transformations did not occur. I saw the vaguely familiar face of an apparently withdrawn professor in a YouTube post who I did not know was the HOD of Physics. His contribution to the theory of relativity subsequently drew the gratitude of Hoyle, Narlikar and Hawkins for the missing link he had provided. Sound principles and groundwork engendered two Nobel laureates from the college itself, one of whom was the son of another iconic HOD. The college survived the vicissitudes of one of Kolkata’s most troubled political chapters.
Education calls for extraordinary commitment and proficiency at the best of times, more so in the midst of disorder and confusion when sapience is at a discount. We undoubtedly still have them even in unpublicized nooks and corners, in coeval guru-shishya paramparas. What had seemingly vanished is being carried through by the inheritors, sometimes in their formidably multiple public life personas, to whom human worth informs and suffuses any kind of instruction. There is good reason for hoping that answers to the questions being raised will be found, without apocalyptic consequences, as manifestations of critical thinking and introspection over time.
(Dr.Uttam Sen, studied at Presidency College Kolkata, and was a journalist with The Statesman, Economic Times and Deccan Herald in Kolkata and Bengaluru)