Our colleague Alladi Uma retires from the University after a distinguished career of 20 or so years at the end of July 2011. Although this is just about two months since I joined the University, I have known of Uma’s work for some time now, particularly in the area of translation.
On the occasion of her retirement, her student (and colleague in the English Department) Sindhu Menon writes: Professor Alladi Uma joined the University of Hyderabad in 1991, after serving Sri Padmavati Mahila Viswavidyalayam and Osmania University for five years. She has opted to retire from our University at the end of this month having served the University with distinction for 20 years.
The hallmark of Prof. Alladi Uma’s work has consistently been the very rare combination of a questioning, dynamic perspective and an impeccable ‘traditional’ scholarship. She was largely instrumental in making “Indian Writing in English” a mandatory course. She was also responsible for arguing a case for two mandatory American Literature courses when the syllabus was heavily British literature centred. She was mainly responsible for making the Ph. D., courses Pass/Fail courses, rather than the traditional grueling grading system. She organized one of the first workshops on American literature syllabuses for teachers across the country. More recently she jointly co-ordinated a seminar on “Dalits and English”, a seminar that is perceived as a landmark event in the history of the Department
It is truly impossible to retain a comfortable complacency about any subject after one has listened to Prof. Uma’s inevitably perceptive, radical and demanding insights on it. This, in turn has generated work which refuses to be second-hand and bears the stamp of originality among her students, research scholars and all those who look to her for her unique brand of incisive and insightful critique. No wonder she was an extremely popular teacher and a much sought after Supervisor. She has inspired hundreds of students in her career spanning over 25 years. She has so far supervised 27 students. She is a rare example of an ‘other-oriented’ teacher who takes genuine pleasure in having communicated a fresh viewpoint to a class, in seeing the improved and self reliant work of a student she has inspired and in the manifestation in not just arid discussion but in actual social practice of the ideas she had set in circulation. She was always innovative in the courses she taught. Some of the Optional Courses she offered such as “What’s in a genre,” “In-discipline,” “Why teach these texts?,“ “Reading Dalit Reading Black” and “Women Writing Writing Women” bear testimony to this.
As a scholar she has significantly contributed to the areas of African American literature, Indian Writing in English, Women’s Studies, Translation and Dalit Studies. Prof Uma literally stands out therefore as one of a very limited number of teachers who are distinguished equally as scholars and as teachers in the true sense of the term.
One does not often have the chance to encounter an HOD who gets work done with the greatest of efficiency, but never for a second allows bureaucracy to make her forget the human element. Awe for her achievements and efficiency never deterred anyone—student, non-teaching staff or colleague– from approaching her if there was a genuine problem, as it has been repeatedly proved that such problems once brought to her notice were treated as her own individual concerns till they had been solved. She has held important administrative positions—she was the first woman to have held the position of the Head of the Department of English at the University of Hyderabad. She has also served more recently as Chief Proctor of the University. Teacher, scholar, activist and friend –qualities that need to be praised and admired equally–as all of these she held together simultaneously. But this remarkable achievement has been the signature tune of Prof. Uma’s work and bears testimony to her commitment and integrity. As a member of the School Board, the Academic Council and the Court, she was very forthright in her comments. She had always expressed her views fearlessly, even if some of them were unpalatable to the administration.
It will be hard to replace someone who has meant so much to her Department and the University. We wish her all the very best for the task she has carved for herself in the years to come.
The University will miss Prof. Uma, but we also know that she is close at hand, and always available to mentor, counsel, and help.