By Devraj Singh Kalsi
It is scary to witness a cabal of professors locked up in the staff room by agitating students who want to harass, heckle, punish, manhandle, slap their chubby cheeks, dislodge the spectacles, and look menacingly and maniacally powerful jabbing a middle finger. Holed up in a stuffy room under a slowly whirring ceiling fan, professors keep praying for the quick intervention of the Vice-Chancellor and his meek acceptance of the charter of demands so that the irate students release them from captivity.
Getting roughed up by students with a political agenda or by those with personal grudges is a nightmarish experience for any professor. But it is a professional hazard that most professors are now aware of and prepared to face during their teaching days. Such bitter experiences are included in the annual package. As a precautionary move, they empty their bladders every two hours because ‘being gheraoed’ includes not getting permission from students to answer nature’s call. They keep instant energy drink tetra packs in their bags for emergency use in case of dehydration and some toffees in the handbags in case of sugar level dip. You never know when students decide to strike!
Though we never had the opportunity to hold our professors hostage during our university days, there were reports of similar incidents happening elsewhere. Imagine the plight of professors who were castigated for no fault of theirs. The impact of such scenes was long-lasting on me. I realised this when I began to explore the option of becoming a professor. The fear of getting slapped and caught in crossfire made me rethink the pursuit of academics as a career after completing my journalism course – the horror of being dragged through the corridors, down the stairs, and punched by promising students.
My record was clean: did not rough up any academician in my life so the question of Karma catching up with me was not applicable. But if you are destined to get abused by students, it will happen even if you choose not to become an educator. During an early phase of my career, I did mentor some students to improve their language and test my communication skills. The horrendous experience made me realise teaching is indeed a dangerous territory. Some strong abusive words were hurled at me like crude bombs and it included vile threats of a bloody encounter in the local area. With guns and other weapons being so easily available in the market just like toys, it is better to take such threats seriously. My hyper-imaginative mind began to visualise getting lynched by vandals brandishing sticks and knives. I avoided venturing out after dark for almost a year.
It would have been so shameful to return to the classroom and address the same crowd of students that dispatched the poor academician (me) to the hospital. While it is true that the entire student community was involved in the fracas, some nastier ones would vitiate the atmosphere. Earlier, films depicted how professors were ill-treated. But the real world surpasses the fictional world. The mauled professors are rushed to the hospital and their families are busy praying for their speedy recovery.
When most of the students began to prepare for eligibility tests to qualify as lecturers, I sensed I had no proper knowledge in any subject. It was important to have a proper grounding or specialisation in a particular subject before teaching that subject. My knowledge always seemed insufficient to teach a classroom. It was also like a case of stage fright, facing a crowd of students who could raise a question, compelling me to consult the book for an answer. Imagining myself in such a predicament made me feel jittery. I could not convince myself to face the crowd with my half-baked knowledge though many others were confident of doing the same with a poorer knowledge base.
All they wanted was a safe job, with zero passion for the subject and they went ahead to build a career in academics. Most of them did not have a scholarly mindset but they were hard-working to scale up and make the cut because it was a question of qualifying in an entrance test and they had to scrape through.
The scope of remaining in the company of young babes and the possibility of appealing to them would be a bonus reward. After seeing films based on students falling in love with professors, it was going to be good. Imagine a besotted girl madly in love with the professor coming up with gifts, just to have a chat. If she happened to be beautiful, then males would be stabbed with jealousy. The tendency to imagine extremes egged me to think of attacks with weapons inside the campus. With newspaper headlines screaming the next morning: professor stabbed, jealous student lover accused.
This rise to fame was notorious so I dropped the idea of becoming a professor with the motive of falling in love with a girl student. Possibly, the madly-in-love girl slapped charges or went to town pressing me-too charges against me. A risky proposition was cancelled but it was tough to resist this because the perks of being a professor include falling in love with a student. On the downside, I imagined an obsessed student jumping off the parapet unable to bear rejection in love. All sorts of possibilities and fatal outcomes of being a professor came to the forefront, a whirlpool that dissolved everything related to academics.
Another incentive to explore this career was the prospect of holidays that would give them the freedom to write and find readers in the classroom. With a secured job and limited working hours, there was ample time to read and write and find publishers who went ahead because professors command a big circle of student readers who buy the books driven by the fear of scoring poor marks. Imagine a professor asking a student whether he has read his new novel, and he promises to read it as soon as possible. This makes it easier to sell more books even if there is a conflict of interest. Besides, other professors and writers also write kind stuff in their reviews – in the fond hope of a similarly favourable review when they publish their titles.
Unfortunately, the desire to become a professor waned as creative work in the field of advertising became more exciting. When the pressure of corporate writing left me with less time to write for myself, then I realised I should have become a professor to get a whale of a time to write instead of working under the pressure of deadlines. Now well past the age of being a professor even in an unapproved college, it is better not to think of it.
The joy of being a writer who has not pursued a full-time job is boundless. The madness of writing under stress and anxiety creates better writing and this would not be possible when you wrote in a calm state of mind. This is one merit of not becoming a professor – of writing with a free mind, without the burden of erudition that damages the free, natural flow.
Whenever a professor reads or comments on a piece of mine, I become a devoted student ready to be mentored because writing without a literature background makes you susceptible to frequent attacks so it is better to surrender and admit your ignorance in front of literature professors who will grab the chance to correct you or bombard you with heavy literary quotes. Instead of becoming a silly fool with limited knowledge and nodding yes-yes after every sentence, it is better to stake no claims of scholarship and call it a hobby, to dabble in writing without knowing what writing is all about. The forever-learner tag is easier to wear when you remain a student for life.
Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.
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