Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fee-fi-fo-fum: Donkeys, camphor and Chennai colleges

This is a ranting post. Bewarned!


Three weeks ago, Prajnya organized an intercollegiate quiz for which ten teams signed up and three teams showed up. One college professor apologized but there was no explanation or apology from any of the students at all.


Today, I went to Women's Christian College, which is having a 'National Seminar' (something colleges have in Chennai that I don't fully comprehend as a category) on domestic violence. I had been invited to judge their poster contest. In spite of their students ditching our quiz just a few weeks ago, I kept my commitment, rushed through my morning work to show up at 8:15 am. as requested.

The professor who invited me nodded vaguely as she ushered the keynote speaker on to the stage. As the proceedings unfolded, some instinct made me think I should ask about these posters I was supposed to judge. Perhaps the instinct was prompted by the fact that when she thanked the invitees who were attending, she mentioned neither my name or Prajnya's.

I sent a message through a colleague who was off-stage (my contact professor was on-stage with the 'dignitaries'). She did not know anything about posters or my having come to judge them--ominous, already. I asked whether the posters were ready for me to see right after the keynote. The reply sent to me: There were no entries so there was no point my waiting.

I am actually not easily insulted. I have too much tolerance and tend to have empathy for people in many kinds of situations. I don't stand on ceremony and I think I am fairly unassuming by today's standards. But today, I am. Very, very insulted.

If there were no entries, this cannot have come as a surprise after my asking. What would it have taken to send me an sms? Or, to look at me this morning when I said hello, and say, "Oh my god, I totally forgot to call you!" If I had seen genuine regret at such a moment, I would have actually found it amusing and understood the stress of organizing something. But no, it was a casual, no point in my waiting.

No point in my coming. No point in my trying to work with such people. No point in expecting students to behave better when teachers are like this.

No point at all.


This is not the first time WCC has been cavalier with us. Yes, they sent teams to our first two quizzes but the students always looked long-suffering and as if our quiz was actually beneath their station. They had a team in our police-student interaction last year, but again this year, they ditched the quiz.

Worse, we have invited professors--with a formal letter--to our programmes. They have said leave was sanctioned, got directions and just not showed up. No explanation or apology.

And now this. I am so furious. If you think this is a post filled with negativity, let me tell you I am being painfully polite and parliamentary. If I was a person of greater virtue, my thoughts would have far more destructive consequences.


And WCC is not alone. Stella Maris is the same. Communication within the college seems to be non-existent. They don't believe in responding to things. Their students make rash commitments they are unwilling and unable to deliver on. Loyola is a lost cause. MOP Vaishnav has an enthusiastic principal which makes a lot of difference, but she cannot be her students or her professors. And she cannot be everywhere. Let's not even talk about the University.

Up and down an alphabetized list of Chennai colleges, it's the same story. Disinterest. Apathy. Rudeness. Inability and unwillingness to communicate. Incompetence. Professors are like this; how will students learn?

Except for Queen Mary's College. I am even afraid to write this--meri hi nazar na lag jaye--I don't want to jinx this.


But the self-confidence is great. We are so great. Chennai people/students are so smart. Tamilians work so hard. Chennai this. Chennai that.

But don't ask us to keep a commitment. Don't ask us to communicate honestly and promptly. Don't ask us to write a paragraph that you can understand in any language. Don't ask us for anything--we take all offers and requests to be petitions to which we respond like feudal lords with empty titles.


For Prajnya's sake, I stop myself over and over from really writing what I think about where I am. I have done so today as well, erasing text that I just typed. But the one thing that is clear to me is that Chennai's colleges are pointless programming options for Prajnya and frankly, last resorts for recruitment as well.

Perhaps this post is impolitic as well, but frankly, to read my blogpost and to take umbrage takes more efficiency and energy than I have seen displayed on campuses here.

My father used to tease, when we refused to try new vegetables or dishes: "Kazhudai-kku teriyuma kalpoora vaasanai?" (What does the donkey know of the fragrance of camphor?) Chennai colleges, I say this to you today.

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