Monday, March 22, 2010

The Inaugural Function

We wandered in the campus partly to acquaint ourselves with it and partly to spend the time, for we had another hour to wait for the function to commence in the department. Finally, we reached our department and found that the seniors were decorating the lecture hall, in which the function was to be held, and some of the seniors were writing the details of the function on the black board using pieces of chalk of different colours. We did not want to disturb them; therefore we walked out and stood near the banister. Soon, Mohan and Bhaskar arrived, bringing with them the smell of cigarette that they might have smoked just before coming there. All others too began arriving and entering the hall. Although nobody said so, we had decided to sit at the last bench to watch the proceedings. A senior walked up to me and asked me to speak a few words in reply to the welcome speech, as is the practice. I was in two minds because I was not too sure of being able to speak in Kannada. However, he put me at ease by telling me that I had been chosen because I could speak in English.

The Welcome Function, as it is known popularly, had its own set format. It had the same format in almost all the departments of the university. It will be presided over by the HOD and there will be garlanding, introduction followed by welcoming by the senior students who were supposed to say all good things about the university and its teachers, and advise the juniors as to how to conduct themselves. Then a couple of junior students would reply assuring the teachers and the seniors of their good behaviour and of sparing no effort in bringing good name to themselves and the university. At the end will be the address by the President of the function.

As I entered the hall, the fragrance of the perfumed sticks burning on the dais struck my nostrils. At the same time, there was also an intoxicating fragrance of the jasmine flowers worn by the girls. All girls were wearing silk saris of different hues with rich embroidery. I thought they were vying with each other to look more beautiful. I could not look at individual faces for the fear of embarrassing them and I wouldn’t recognize any of them even if looked at them. Mohan, Bhaskar and Vijay followed me to the last bench. The function started with a prayer sung by some girl among the seniors and I was quick to note that it was badly out of pitch. It was followed by a couple of seniors ‘heartily welcoming’ the juniors and profusely extolling the teaching staff. We were also briefed about the facilities available on the campus such as the library, students’ home, health center, gymkhana, PG diploma courses, etc. How much more servile can they be, I couldn’t help wonder. Although they were speaking in their own mother tongue, the halting way in which they were pronouncing their each word, the effort they were trying to put into what they were saying, was all funny.

But the funniest part came later when a senior student walked on to the dais. He was less than five-two, fair with a reddish tinge, short and wide nose, and very skinny. He was wearing a dark red shirt over somewhat greenish trousers and shining rubber shoes. He began his speech in a high-pitched, nasal tone. “ Respected HOD of the department, lovely teachers!” Perhaps he meant loving or affectionate by lovely. “My dear student-friends!” As if we were all his students and friends!

He continued, “Today is a great auspicious day! Because welcoming the new students and also teachers there. Last year I was also newly came. I was feared so much about seniors and teachers” May be he meant he was afraid. “But later I found all are equal! Seniors were very friendly! Teachers are also very kind and nice! Now I am fearing nobody…” Some teachers began to suppress their smile. Some looked embarrassed.

“ All are coming from different different places. Everyone belonging to his own place!” As if somebody may not belong to his own place. “But after coming, all are friends. All belonging to only once family like brothers” He did not say sisters. I was sure he deliberately refrained from saying so. “ The campus here is very beautiful. Only worry is food. They are giving less but cost is also less. Only quality is not good. Chapattis are like rubber bands. Curry is only water and water. But we have to eat. Hostels are good. Sometimes water is not there. Very difficult in the morning for… for…everything!” He contorted his face while saying this. There was a loud laughter.

“ We come here to study, not eating and washing” More laughter. “ So we should concentrate our study. And bring name to us and teachers and also university. Juniors should obey seniors. They will get all help. All notes of all subjects you can Xerox. Please study hardly and success is guarantee. On behalf of all seniors, hearty welcome to all juniors. Thank you all” Teachers were looking here and there, without knowing what to avoid looking at. There was applause.

When it was time for the reply by the juniors, the name “Miss Kalavati Khot” was announced in response to which a girl rose from the group of our classmates from the second row of the benches. She was very lean due to which she looked very tall, but was of average height. She had sharp features and pronounced chin, which she had the habit of holding very high as if she was intellectually and morally superior to all those around her. She was neither good looking nor ugly but seemed to believe she was beautiful. She delivered a well-rehearsed speech, in Kannada. She must have learnt it by rote after practising it before the mirror a hundred times. Every move, every gesture of hers seemed to have been practiced well, just like the schoolgirl rehearsing for the elocution competition.

Just like all others, she was fawning and quoted profusely the vachanas, the free verse developed by the followers of Veerashaivism in Kannada beginning with, if I remember correctly, 12th century A.D. Oh God! She was going to be in my class for the next couple of years. Extolling the university as the peetha of Saraswati, the Goddess of Vidya, and dwelling in what she had head about the reputation of the teachers, she went on and on ad nauseam. In the end she asked the seniors to be kind enough to pass on to the juniors, the notes they had prepared during their previous year.

There is a saying in Kannada that unless you become a slave of the guru, you would not have salvation. It is true to some extent, and it used to be true to a great extent in the olden times when there was gurukula system of learning at the feet of the teacher for the simple reason that the only source of acquiring knowledge was the guru and modern education system has changed all that. The teaching has now become a profession and there are hundreds of sources for learning what one likes, the libraries and museums being the least of them. A couple of decades ago, I had enrolled for higher education, the computers and Internet had not become commonplace. And what she and all others like her were talking was not as much about acquiring degrees in order to get a job, as acquiring knowledge. I had always believed then, and even now more than ever, that up to a certain age, one requires to be taught. Thereafter, nobody can teach you anything. The fact that the teachers are called ‘teachers’ in the schools, but are called ‘lecturers, readers and professors’ in the colleges and the universities, is not a matter of simple coincidence.

I was amidst of all these thoughts when my name was announced. It brought some chills to my body. All said and done, it is not an easy task to make a speech, even less an extempore one. By the time I joined the university, I ad concluded that I would make a very bad teacher; if ever I would be made one. A couple of my earlier efforts at delivering a speech had ended in disaster. However, I was good whenever I presented a paper in the seminars conducted in my college. With some amount of preparation, I would have given a tolerable talk. I never prided in my oratorical skills, for I had hardly any. Now was the time when I had to make a speech without any preparation. But there was no turning back. I rose slowly but went to the dais very swiftly. I had learnt during my presentations that I had the capacity to speak long sentences in one breath, with a soft accent. I did the same here. Even before anyone could make out what I was out to tell, I had finished my speech! I just made a couple of points. I began with requesting the seniors not to pass on any notes since spoon-feeding would not help our objective of acquiring knowledge, and moreover, it would tend us to limit ourselves to the notes only and keep us away from the books and other original sources. I said that our purpose should be acquisition of knowledge and not mere acquisition of a degree.

The HOD, in the end delivered his presidential address in which, referring to my words, he said acquisition of degree is as important as acquisition of knowledge, especially for those coming from the less privileged backgrounds. It would land them in some job, which is the very purpose of their coming to the university. Allthesame, he said that acquisition of degree is not separate or distinct from the pursuit of knowledge and academic excellence as far as this university and this department is concerned. He concluded wishing us all the success in our life.


  1. Sir, your writings remind me of RK's novels.

    I have never seen a political science student using the language, especially English in such a creative way to express himself. And only Mr Sanjay Shettennavar, our master, Guru, guide and everything, can do that. Hats up to your love for language, music and .....

    Take care of your health, sir.

    Raju S Vijapur

  2. Sir , you are a wonderful writer. I appreciate your way of expression and the command you do posses over framing the ideas.You must go on with this.
    All the very best.

  3. Thank you very much for your words of encouragement.