In which Buddhahood is narrowly averted

This post is about four great sights that had mind-blowing effects on me. But unlike the Buddha’s epochal sights, two of mine were seen online and one in a newspaper. Ah! The times they are a-changing. You don’t need to go on insomnia-induced midnight walks for pardigm-shifting sights.They’re everywhere.

Sight # 1

Stanley Fish’s blog. (He of the Is there a text in this class? fame. The one-liners we coined for him in literary criticism class! Is there a Fish in this class? And so on!)

Specifically, the post where he writes provocatively about the uses (or the lack thereof) of the Humanities today. A debate that we in the Humanites never tire of, and which never fails to rouse our dormant, just-under-the-surface existential fears.

Fish is senior prof in one of the world’s top universities. And he’s acheived fame, fortune, respectability and all that academia can give. Those of us still climbing, however, can’t afford to cut the branch we’re sitting on. (OK, OK, mixed metaphor. And, unflattering comparison to Kalidasa. Unflattering to him, that is.)

But there’s a point he makes in the post that I quite agree with:

What is in need of defense is not the existence of Shakespeare, but the existence of the Shakespeare industry (and of the Herbert industry and of the Hemingway industry), with its seminars, journals, symposia, dissertations, libraries. The challenge of utility is not put (except by avowed Philistines ) to literary artists, but to the scholarly machinery that seems to take those operating it further and further away from the primary texts into the reaches of incomprehensible and often corrosive theory.

Yes indeed. Shakespeare  et al. are in no danger. They will continue to be read. Despite us! The danger lies elsewhere, as the next sight told me.

Sight # 2

A report in The Hindu about the launch of a BPO training centre by a local, state-run university (no, not the one I work for) which will allegedly (and this is appropriate use of ‘allegedly’ Mr Sanyal!) provide communication skills and soft skills to students aspiring to BPO and call centre jobs. With course curriculum and methodolgies provided by a BPO.

Is this the emerging face of our universities? Mass production of clones for  BPOs and call centres? 

All together then. Let’s kowtow.

The writing is beginning to get on the wall, is what I thought as I turned away from the morning newspaper and to Google Reader for some cheer from my favourite blogs. And then the next sight happened, driving the point home. 

Sight # 3

A piece of graffiti. If you’re too lazy to click, this is the text : You hav been deleted.

Given the delicate state of my mind then, this read like an omenous sign. Would you blame me? 
The mind was blown. I was ready to give up the world and go in search of the meaning of existence. English teachers’ existence.

But not yet, there was life to be lived – the kid had to be walked to the campus gate and seen safely off into his school bus. Enlightenment would have to wait, but it weighed heavily on my mind as I walked, bracing myself against the morning chill. And the chill of my impending renunciation.

Then the fourth sight happened. The reverse paradigm-shifting one that effectively nullified the earlier three. And this is where my story differs from the Buddha’s. Herstory challenges history and all that.
Sight # 4

As we waited for the bus, I saw someone cycle down to the gate. Prof —–, former Dean of the School of —-, one of the most influential profs on campus and widely respected, nationwide, as teacher and researcher in his discipline. He parked his cycle, nodded acknowledgment of my presence,  walked briskly across to the public bus-shelter and boarded a local bus. Not for him the call taxis and chauffeur-driven cars.

I was dumbstruck. This is it, I told myself. This is what academics stand for. Perhaps the urge to live simply, and in the way the common man and woman in India does – that urge is still alive in academicians. Some of them at least. Perhaps they aren’t yet carried away by the “MNC culture”.

We will never compete with swanky private institutes because we serve the teeming masses. Maybe our service isn’t very good, which is why BPOs dare tell us how to teach. But we won’t stop trying.

“Vive La Academia” I felt like shouting as I walked back home.

Maybe I am clutching at straws. Sentimentalizing. Glorifying my professional ilk. But hey, it’s the perfect antidote to renunciation.


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