The Last Post

Yaksha (from Wikimedia)

Yaksha (from Wikimedia)

In that great book of ours, the Mahabharata, one chapter I find worth reading and rereading is that of the Aranya Parva, which has to do with the Yaksha, and his many questions. (The idea of an examination where the consequences of failure are dire is an interesting one, and the resemblance to a vice-chancellorship is quite unmistakeable.) In the final parts, the Yaksha asks, “What is most wonderful?”, and Yudhishthira (who by then is the only survivor) answers,“… Day after day, countless creatures go to the abode of Yama, yet those that remain behind believe themselves to be immortal. What can be more wonderful than this?

A Vice Chancellor is appointed at the University for a five year term. I came here on the 1st of June 2011, and so should have stayed until the 31st May, 2016. However, that is not to be. I shall be leaving somewhat sooner than that.

The reasons for this early departure from the position are purely personal, and I appreciate all those who will respect and protect my privacy on this count. While some aspects of why I wish to leave are known to some, the interpolations and extrapolations are many, all of them incomplete and in the end, all probably incorrect as well.

As my term at the UoH draws to a close, it is impossible to not try to take stock, and also impossible to not make a wish list of what still needs to be done, the miles to go… Difficult though it is, I shall do neither. Three years and a half is not a short time, but it is also not long, and I am sorry to leave when so much that I had in mind remains unfinished. There’s really not much point making any evaluation on such timescales- as I have said earlier on these pages, the race is not always to the swift.

9465_10203253875651642_6606008948002324217_nI have valued my time at the University and am grateful for the great opportunities that it has provided me. In particular, for the chance to take the road less traveled by. The UoH has completed forty years in 2014, so one is also reasonably secure that ours is a robust system, one that has weathered many storms and one that is strong in its foundations. I am therefore confident that work that is started today will be continued if it is truly in the best interests of the University, and that the best traditions of the University will be upheld.

Since this is “The Unofficial Blog of the VC, University of Hyderabad”, this particular post is going to be the last from my pen or (to be more factually accurate) the last that I will type out on my keyboard as VC. It has been a good way to get some things communicated more widely, and I have certainly enjoyed writing it as much as I have enjoyed being here. And that is probably a good note on which to end.

Republic Day, 2015

Friends-

This is the fourth time I have had the privilege of addressing the UoH community on the occasion of Republic Day. Like all anniversaries, this provides for a stocktaking and gives an opportunity to reflect upon our goals as a university.

UntitledMy inspiration for the few words I wish to share with you today come from our Chancellor, Prof. C H Hanumantha Rao (see the previous post)  who’s term formally came to a close earlier this month. Hanumantha Rao-garu has been a wise counsel, an elder on whom we could always bank upon at all times, not just times of crisis. Recently, when he was speaking of his alma mater, the Delhi School of Economics, he recalled the early days of the School and the founder, Dr. V K R V Rao, and some of the ideals that guided the formation of that great institution.

The main impetus to form such an institution- indeed the main aim we should have for our own university- is to have a place where “scholars can enjoy freedom of thought and expression”. This is important in order for them to be able to contribute to policy-making in a fearless manner, he pointed out, but I would add, it is important also that scholars should have complete freedom of thought, speech and expression so that they can create new modes of thinking, new works, and lead others to think along new and creative lines. At a time when freedom of expression can be curbed in so many ways, it is necessary to underscore the importance of spaces such as our University.

A second ideal that will strike a chord with all of us is the goal of achieving academic excellence. There are so many ways of achieving this goal, and all of them are difficult. Bringing together a group of excellent and committed individuals is one way, but that has its own challenges. To a very large extent, our University did try that route and some of the initial faculty were truly stellar. Keeping up the tempo is more of a challenge, and we are only slowly recognizing the difficulty of this path to academic excellence, the need to keep building up and maintaining a team of competent faculty. It is also important to not flag, and to not give up in any dimension of endeavour…

vkrv-newA third ideal which VKRV Rao appears to have passionately held and communicated to teachers and students was a dedication to social commitment, which Prof. Hanumantha Rao says he thought was as important as technical competence. I think that it is necessary to recall this most strongly in these very trying days- the pursuit of individual goals has slowly but surely weakened this social commitment, and this has not been to our advantage as a society which continues to face nearly as many challenges today as it did forty years ago when our University was founded.

It is interesting that one means of achieving this, in the eyes of VKRV Rao, was in an “interdisciplinary approach in addressing socio-economic problems”. I need hardly emphasise that we too share this ideal in our University, and in the way in which we have developed in the past few decades, in particular under the rubric of the University with Potential for Excellence. Much as we bridle under the implications of the word “Potential” in the phrase, it should be acknowledged that it is fair: our goals of excellence are some distance away and need our concentrated and concerted efforts.

Our University has recently been awarded an additional grant under the UPE scheme, a grant that will help us better realize the goal of providing space to explore scholarship with complete freedom. We should use this to reach the excellence we are capable of. One of the things we need, paradoxically, is more spaces to study and more spaces where we can train ourselves to meet the challenges of the outside world. The University is committed to providing these and in the near future, we plan to construct a Reading Room in the South Campus (it would be fitting to name it after Savitribai Phule when it is done). A second structure that is planned is the Samatha Bhavan, a unified space where students can come together to train themselves and be trained in dimensions – other than just academics – that are needed in order to be better prepared when they leave the University.

As before, I would also like to draw our attention to the very special privileges that being at a comprehensive University such as ours give us all automatically. The University is very young and has just started along its path of growth- we need to pay special attention to how we expand and how we share our good fortune with others who have less by way of facilities, infrastructure and expertise. The UoH has a leadership role to play in the community of Universities, and we should find the way to do so responsibly, as well as to do this with generosity.

600px-Republic_Emblem.svgWe have many goals as a University, the main one being to provide a space where there can be complete freedom of thought, and the freedom to explore all scholarly modes of expression. This needs both dedication as well as imagination, catalyzed by collaboration across disciplines. No discipline has all the answers- indeed no discipline has all the questions! We should see how best to use our freedom for public good- not just in terms of educating larger numbers of our citizenry, but also to bring about important interventions in the public space and to mold public policy, thereby strengthening the fabric of the Republic.

Jai Hind!

A Chancellor Speaks

The Chief Guest at the Inaugural Session of the Annual Day Celebrations of the Delhi School of Economics on 16 January, 2015 was our Chancellor, Prof. C. H. Hanumantha Rao. When I read the text of his address, I was struck by several of the observations he made and  felt that many among us would be keen to learn some of the history of major institutions such as the Delhi School of Economics (DSE) and the Institute for Economics Growth (IEG), and also of the personal history of stalwarts who were associated with these institutions.  Prof. Hanumantha Rao has been kind enough to let me reproduce the address in this blog.


in1dexThe Delhi School of Economics was founded by Professor V. K. R. V. Rao with a high ideal of training economists and other social scientists for their effective participation in nation-building. The existence of the Delhi School of Economics on the pattern of the London School of Economics inspired many among the younger generation in different parts of the country to benefit from this opportunity opened up for advanced learning. The same inspiration brought me with a zeal to the Delhi School of Economics in August 1957 from  the Osmania University. I was lucky to be registered for Ph.D. at the DSE with encouragement from Prof. A. M. Khusro.

My first opportunity to listen to Prof. V. K. R. V. Rao at the DSE was in this Vivekananda Hall on the occasion of its Founder’s Day on 14th November, 1957. He spoke with great passion about the ideals of the DSE. First and foremost among these ideals he said was  freedom of thought and expression. I came to know years later that his founding the DSE owed primarily to his own struggle for freedom of thought and expression. He narrated how, while speaking as a member of an official delegation in those days, he was interrupted by its head, a civil servant of the ICS cadre, by saying that economists are expected to ‘produce’ arguments in support of the official line and not air their ‘own’  views! This infuriated Prof. Rao who decided to resign from his post in the government the very next day to start an autonomous institution where scholars can enjoy freedom of thought and expression to be able to contribute to policy-making in a fearless manner.

Achieving academic excellence was another great ideal for him. For this purpose he recruited professors of great distinction from different universities in India and abroad. Apart from Professors B. N. Ganguli and P. N. Dhar who together with him formed a trio in the then small department of economics working tirelessly towards shaping the DSE, he brought, in the first round, eminent scholars like professors K. N. Raj, B. V. Krishnamurthy, M. N. Srinivas, M. S. A. Rao, Tapan Roy Chaudhury, A. M. Khusro, Siva Subramanyan, George Kuriyan, V. L. S. Prakash Rao and others.

The third ideal which he passionately exhorted the teachers and students to follow was social commitment which he thought was as important as technical competence. Drawing inspiration from the freedom movement, he felt that ensuring a just social order in the country was not possible without social commitment. Towards this end, he strongly believed in the need for an inter-disciplinary approach in addressing socioeconomic problems. Therefore, in all the institutions he established, namely, Delhi School of Economics, Institute of Economic Growth, and the Institute for Social and Economic Change at Bangalore, he took great pains to accommodate different disciplines in social sciences to facilitate fruitful interaction.

Thanks to the functioning of our democratic set-up for over 60 years and the existence of institutions such as the University Grants Commission and the Indian Council of Social Science Research, we enjoy today far greater measure of autonomy and freedom of thought and expression when compared to the immediate post-independence period.

In respect of academic excellence too, we are today in a much better position than in the early years of the DSE. I was a witness to the virtually demoralizing intellectual atmosphere in the room where the Ph. D. scholars used to be seated. I found that quite a few of them had already spent 5 to 7 years or more groping for the subject. To a considerable extent, this reflected the research culture in a typical Indian university in those days. The emphasis then was on producing a bulky thesis after a great deal of reading and summarizing the literature, with an objective of making a ‘lasting’ contribution to the subject! Happily, the focus gradually shifted to the quality of research questions addressed in the thesis, methods of analysis followed and the significance of the findings arrived at.

At the time of founding of the IEG in 1958, certain sections of the DSE, including the Economic Development Section, headed by Prof. A. M. Khusro, and supported by the Ford Foundation, where I was a Ph. D. scholar, were shifted to the IEG. Having been associated with the Institute of Economic Growth in the neighbourhood for 50 years until its Golden Jubilee Celebrations in 2008, I can testify to the beneficial impact that the DSE had all along on the research work done at the IEG.

indexMany in the IEG faculty had completed their Ph.D. from the DSE and continued their academic links with the parent institution. IEG faculty has had an active collaboration with the DSE in providing guidance to the M. Phil. as well as Ph. D. students. The use of econometric techniques was virtually non-existent in the early years of DSE, but very soon became popular with the stalwarts in the subject like Prof. A. L. Nagar and Prof. K. L. Krishna coming on the scene. The IEG and DSE have had major collaborative projects in Macro-Econometric Modelling for India with Professor K. Krishnamurthy of IEG and Professor V. N. Pandit of DSE as leaders of the project. When academic institutions happen to be next door neighbours with common interest, scholars across these institutions easily walking into each other’s rooms, not uncommon in both the institutions, for exchanging views and engaging in discussions could perhaps prove to be as fruitful as projects jointly undertaken.

The scholars of both the institutions are well-known for their broader approach to development. For example, the issues of sustainability and social justice have figured prominently in their research agenda. Besides, they have actively participated in shaping socio-economic policies in the country as members of various expert committees and commissions. Prominent among economists well known for their broader approach to development are Professors V. K. R. V. Rao, P. N. Dhar and Raj Krishna who starting from the DSE made substantial contributions at the IEG. Similarly, the contributions made by scholars like K. N. Raj, Sukhamoy Chakravarty and Amartya Sen from the DSE on broader issues of development have greatly inspired scholars in both these institutions and in the country at large towards engaging themselves on socially relevant issues. We from the DSE and IEG are proud of the fact that Prof. Manmohan Singh, the architect of economic reforms in the country as Finance Minister in the early 1990s had been a professor at the DSE before he joined the government, and is president of IEG. Again, as Prime Minister he brought in the perspective of ‘inclusive growth’ which has been widely supported in the country.

All these scholars have been open to inter-disciplinary approach to development.  Carrying this tradition forward requires harnessing satisfactorily the potential for collaboration between scholars working in different disciplines. Some interaction between such scholars is inevitable when they are working under the same roof, as, for example, when they meet every day at tea in the common room! A more serious exposure to each other’s work takes place through participation in seminars. Attending each others’ seminars apart, it needs a deliberate effort to formulate projects where scholars from different disciplines collaborate on issues of applied nature. Most of our failures on the policy front are traceable to the lack of such a broader inter-disciplinary approach.

Finally, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the organizers of this event for remembering me as an old boy of DSE and providing me the opportunity of meeting so many friends at these celebrations.


The emphasis added above is mine. I believe that we can all benefit from more interaction, by enjoying each other’s work in whatever way possible. Institutions like the DSE and the ISE or indeed the CSEC or CESS in Hyderabad have all benefited from a strong emphasis on interaction and collaboration, and there is much to learn from examples, especially when they have touched our lives so strongly. Prof. Hanumantha Rao’s tenure as our Chancellor ends this month. We are truly fortunate to have been associated with him.

New Year Greetings!

2015 New Year With PresentsHere’s wishing the UoH family a very Happy New Year! I hope the year will bring us all closer to our own goals as a University, and also closer to our own individual goals and closer as a University! And I hope that we will also find a year of peace that will allow us all to grow in every important way.

I hope we learn better to enjoy the very special environment in which we work and live, and that we appreciate, nurture and protect it even more than we already do! Our campus is a very special place, and it is a wonderful gift that we already have, a gift that renews itself each day!

May 2015 be a happy year for all of us!

15=6+8+22

No, its not the title of Chetan Bhagat’s next novel (though it could well be). A colleague in the School of Life Sciences pointed me to a new site, Nature Index, “A global indicator of high-quality research” that “tracks the affiliations of high-quality scientific articles. Updated monthly, the Nature Index presents recent research outputs by institution and country.”

niThe 15 in the title above, is the overall ranking of the UoH, relative to all Indian institutions, based on our publications in all scientific fields, with 6, 8, and 22 being the rankings separately in Chemistry, Life Sciences and Physics. This is for the year 1 September 2013 to 31 August 2014, and presumably other time periods can be queried on the NI site as well.

There is reason to be pleased. We are the highest ranked University overall, and above us are only institutes like TIFR, RRI, IISc and consortia like the entire IIT system or all the CSIR laboratories put together. And this has happened in spite of the poor funding for science in the country, and for Universities in particular. As we are painfully aware, the real level of funding that we have to contend with has been very very meagre…

The ranking is based on the Article Count, namely the number of articles published from the institution. More formally, “a count of one is assigned to an institution or country if one or more authors of the research article are from that institution or country, regardless of how many co-authors there are from outside that institution or country” in computing the AC. There are other measures that can make us look even better such as the Fractional Count (FC), “that takes into account the percentage of authors from that institution (or country) and the number of affiliated institutions per article. For calculation of the FC, all authors are considered to have contributed equally to the article”, and the equation in the title then becomes, if we use the FC, 8=6+11+19. And to normalize, the corresponding equation for another Central University with which we share many similarities is 18=22+3+29.

In all these lists, there are no Universities that are ranked above us in Chemistry, one in the Life Sciences, and very few in Physics, so these country specific rankings say as much about us as about the funding patterns, the focus on research, and on infrastructure and support. Nevertheless, if anyone out there is looking, its pretty clear which among the Central Universities really is a University of Excellence.

An Elegiac Gulzar

UntitledShri-GulzarThe many treats on campus in the last couple of weeks- that included the concert by Hariprasad Chaurasia, the lectures by Sivakami, Sharankumar Limbale, C. Rangarajan and by Gopalkrishna Gandhi– were capped, as it were, by the short but intense visit of the poet Gulzar.

Gulzar (aka Sampooran Singh Kalra) came to collect the honorary doctorate that we had conferred upon him at the convocation in October this year, and in the hour-long ceremony, interacted with a full audience in the DST Auditorium. To welcome him to the UoH the Head of the Department of Urdu, Professor Muzaffer Ali Shahmiri had written four stanzas, reproduced on the left (in the Devnagari script).

Gulzar’s acceptance speech was gracious, and much of the question and answer session that followed centred around his poetry and the films that he had written and directed. As the brief discussion drew to an end, though, he let his regret show, that although he had stopped making movies nearly twenty years earlier, the audience focused mostly on that and not his books…

9780670085897And his books- there are as many as 74 listed on Goodreads, with four on the Penguin current list (in English)- are on varied topics for diverse audiences. Poems for the environment, for children, and many collections of short stories, some familiar from the movies that were made from them, but all of them touching several chords. “Kitaabain jhankti hain band almari ke sheeshoon se,” he said, a touch of sadness, “badi hasrat se takti hain maheenon ab mulaqaatain nahi hoti”.

Gulzar1-400x300So much of Gulzar’s legacy is accessible through the visual medium of the movies, but there is also the socially conscious poet and writer who insists that we need to read his work, not just to be spoken to by his songs and dialogues, in order to truly understand what he is all about.

There is much truth in that, and his books not only beckon from behind the closed doors of almirahs, they now also come to us on other devices and platforms, waiting and indeed wanting to be read. One cannot but agree;  opening a book is a good way to also open a mind…

An autumn stillness

Boris Pasternak’s poem Let’s drop words… has these evocative lines,  No need to analyse why, with such ceremony, foliage is sprinkled with madder and lemon.

Untitled

The words acquired new meaning for me when the landscape matched the mood one recent afternoon outside the Munch Museum in Oslo, the clouds, the shadows, the trees, and the sky, all conspired to create a scene that evoked hidden memories.

Life, like an autumn stillness, is all detail.

The things that stand out sharp in the mind’s eye, the colour of the sky another October morning, the stillness of a pond, another set of leaves changing hues, the goldenness of carp as they swam lazily in the cooling water. Many images flit by, some remembered, some reminded, and some imagined too, I suppose.

MF3-1109There are places that are gifted with seasons that change so drastically that they can punctuate the year. In some latitudes- regrettably not ours- autumn is like a semicolon; the sentence of the summer pauses before the winter period sets in. Or maybe the autumn is more like an ellipsis… much indicated, but leaving much unsaid and much implied.

There’s something to having certain times of year reserved for certain feelings- like not being able to eat a mango after August. It is a sort of emotional self-discipline really, that certain times should be preserved for certain things. And while one can do different things best in different seasons, the fall is a time like no other that invites reflection, when hope is tempered by experience.

Untitled 3But yet there is a sadness that the passing of autumn captures, the rich burst of colour in the leaves that will fall, the flamboyance of that final lonely passage, that cummings wrote so cleverly about. The various shades of lemon or madder, of orange, and of yellow- indeed no reason to analyse why, or even more unnecessarily, how.

You’ll ask, says Pasternak, who ordains it? The omnipotent god of details. That god of very small things…