"I tell the students, follow your yen . . ."
She nurtures a great fondness for literature in her heart of hearts. From the rank of a faculty member she rose to be the principal of one of the renowned women's colleges of Delhi. Ten years down the line, there has been no looking back All along she has concerned herself with women's development and welfare. Meet Dr. (Mrs). Aruna Chakravarti, incumbent principal of Janki Devi Memorial College, in west Delhi. Mrs Chakravarti is also an eminent literary personality, having won several accolades from premier organizations.
Principal of Janki Devi College
In an interview with National Network of Education
, Aruna Chakravarti, talks in
detail about the college that has grown from strength to strength under her able
guidance and stewardship. Alongside she airs her views and opinion about the
country's education system in general. She feels there is hope yet for the younger generation. Q.Tell us about your early years, schooling, college and your teaching careerA.
I was born in Delhi and have lived here most of my life, apart from Bombay and Kolkata. Mine was a big family of eight siblings and my parents who migrated to Delhi from Bengal, tried their best to keep alive our tradition and culture. Hence there was a lot of music and literature at home. Right from my childhood I had nurtured a deep love for literature, both English and Bangla and I received tremendous support and encouragement in this area, from my father.
I did my schooling from Presentation Convent and then went to Miranda College (under Delhi University ) to complete my graduation and post graduation in English literature. However I completed my doctorate in the same subject, many many years later. I embarked on my teaching career way back in 1961, by being a member of the English department in this very college. I became the principal of this college in 1995.So you see most of my teaching career has been shaped here itself.Q.What literary and creative activities are you involved in?
I engage myself in a good deal of literary activities. Years ago, I had translated from Bangla to English, about a hundred poem of Rabindranath Tagore, from the anthology Gitabitan,
which won the Vaitalik award for the best translation. I wrote a biography of the noted Bengali writer Sharat Chandra Chattopadhay (published by National Book Trust). My translation of Sharatchandra's Srikanta won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1996. Moreover, I have translated noted novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay, namely Prothom Alo (First Light) and Shei shomoy (Those Days).
My dissertation titled: Empathy at Exile: A study of Ruth Pravar Jhabvala's fiction, has also been successfully published. I also have a novel in the pipeline, which is scheduled to be published by Penguin.
To go back to my teaching career, I have been the principal of this college for nearly a decade now, and the college has come up in a big way during this time. We can boast of a Women's study Resource center, that is linked with Women's Studies Development Centre (also under Delhi University) and the University of Sunderland (U.K).The British Council sponsors this link-upand provides us with funds. With a massive collection, it is probably the only one of its kind inDelhi.Q.In your opinion what ails the Indian higher education system in general?A.
I can only narrate my impressions and experiences regarding Delhi University. But I guess the picture is the same in most of the other central universities. I think there is a little too much of politicizing, too much unionism. The politicking people are holding the entire education system to ransom---- the result of too much democratization, and too
much freedom. There is hardly any accountability. The syllabi are old, not having been upgraded for a considerable length of time. However some of the departments have been upgrading their syllabi, gradually.Q.Do you think in today's milieu, an all-girls college is rather outmoded, an anachronism?A.
It is nothing of that sort really. The fact of the matter is that in a co-ed college, boys and girls grow up together in a healthy way. They respect each other; neither do they stand in awe of each other, nor are they suspicious of each other. However in co-ed colleges, there are manifold problems like eve-teasing, lack of discipline etc. In contrast, a girls' college presents very few problems and obstacles in terms of day -to-day functioning and administration. Not that girls' colleges keep their students under purdah . Rather, they foster competitive spirit among the students, encourage them to participate in sports and tournaments, competitions, contests etc, they are encouraged to excel both in academics and extra-curricular activities..Q.What are the salient features of your college? A.
Apart from the Women's Study Resource Centre, which I mentioned earlier, our college also has a vocational studies centre, which conducts a large variety of job-oriented,short term courses for women which can help them to earn a decent living. Besides our college has earned a good reputation in the field of sports; it is the second from top on the DU list. From time to time our students excel in various tournaments and competitions. The college also boasts of an overall well-maintained, clean, green environment.Q.What would you say, are the plus points of an all girls' college? A.
Well you see, the area in which this college is located happens to be predominantly conservative, middle class and commercial area; hence it affords the parents of the students a great deal of satisfaction that their daughters can pursue their studies, peacefully without any incidents of eve-teasing or other sex related disturbing elements. Speaking from personal experience, I'd say that in a girls' college, a general atmosphere of harmony prevails, and for the authorities (i.e the principal) it is always easier to Administer the college and look after its day-to-day functions.Q.Please tell us about the antecedents of Janki Devi College?A.
The founder of this college was Brij Kishore Chandiwala, a staunch Gandhian and a close associate of Gandhi. A man of austere habits and a bachelor, he left all his property with a trust for establishing and running a college for girls. The college is named after his mother. The present site was chosen because there isno other girls' college in this area of west Delhi.(Daulat Ram is in North Campus and Maitreyi in southern part of Delhi.) Established in the early 50's, it was known as Janki Devi Mahavidyalaya; the present name was assigned much later. During these six decades, The college has made remarkable progress, it has been modernized and the quality upgraded.Q.Do the teachers of today play an influential in shaping the lives of their students?
The teacher-studentrelationship, famous in ancient India as the guru shishya parampara
has undergone drastic changes during he present times. Nowadays, the teachers as well as the pupils have become very pragmatic and professional. The students appreciate those teachers who teach well and are able to deliver the goods. The students nowadays are very focused and want results before everything else. However a number of students do maintain good relationships and build rapport with their teachers, but that is on a totally personal level. The blind faith and utmost devotion to the teacher or Guru which the students of yore practiced, is conspicuous by its absence today.Q.Which do you feel are the most suitable careers for women of today?
It is difficult to say anything categorically, because women of today are going into highly Challenging and risky careers just like their male counterparts and are doing quite well indeed. However, given the Indian social perspective, either school or college teaching appears to be the ideal vocation for the educated women. Teaching enables them to devote enough quality time to their spouses and children, so that they an avoid feeling guilty about neglecting their family lives and homes. So long as a woman is single, her problems regarding careers are minimal; the problem begins once she is married. Any kind of lucrative job e.g. medicine, science, engineering, IT or the corporate world takes a heavy toll of a woman's time, energy and attention. This leaves her feeling guilty, because, ultimately it is she who is responsible for running her home and family life. Anyone is bound to agree with me whatever be her chosen profession, life gets tough for a working woman in her efforts to strike a balance between office (workplace) and family.Q. Do you believe girls are more intelligent than boys, as the higher secondary results often demonstrate?
At the high school level, girls are definitely more hardworking than the boys, which is probably why they outshine the boys in the higher secondary examinations. However at the graduate level, boys begin to do better. There are certain external factors, which hinder the outstanding performance of a good number of girl students. In several cases their parents do not allow the girls to pursue higher studies; in yet other cases they are married off; both these factors adversely affect their academic performance. In sharp contrast the boys are constantly encouraged to pursue their studies, devoid of any disturbing elements. Q.How do you visualize the future of the country as regards choice of subjects and career options?A.
Speaking from personal experience, I feel that the pure sciences have taken a knock.Nowadays it is technological sciences all the way. I think they will continue to reign supreme for at least a few more years before there is a surfeit. Like technology, commerce continues to do pretty well, though there seems to be slight fading of the arc lights.Q.What would be your advice to the youth of today?
You must search in your hearts to discover what you really want to do. Find out for which subjects you have a yen for. Do not rely entirely on the opinion and advice of your parents, who may not always be able to pinpoint your exact requirements. Whatever you choose to do, you must do it with utmost sincerity, devotion and dedication. Above all you must work hard. If you actually work hard and sincerely, you are bound to succeed.