Alladi Uma

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.


4 thoughts on “Alladi Uma

  1. Dear Uma ma’am,
    This mail has been in the making for a while now. I have been writing, rewriting, overwriting this mail. Mostly in my mind and occasionally filling in the whiteness of the compose page.
    Because it is about you, I can’t see how else it could be.

    As a waiting listed student who walked in missing the first two classes, I remember sitting in your Indian Writing class- embarrassed, terribly scared, trying to smile around. Then you gave us a copy of the story “Draupadi”, followed in the next class by “The Story of My Sanskrit”. You kept gathering views on the pieces on the greenish black board. I was happy that my monosyllabic utterances found their space among more elaborate views… In half an hour, the impressions of the class, laid out on the board were in for larger, deeper deliberations…They weren’t telling us how to think or how not to think..they didn’t ask us to give up our ideas but only showed us why we were thinking the way we were thinking…As a methodology, the participative process appealed greatly to me.

    If the methodology was fascinating for the ease, genuineness and remarkable control you had on the job, the subject matter of the course without any claims changed my ways of reading literature and the society. If social categories are an inseparable part of any literary/theatrical/cultural/historical investigation of mine, I owe that chemical change in me primarily to one course: Modern Indian Literature and Thought with you in the first semester. It liberated many Indias which were otherwise covered by its anthems and flags. Even when I start off my courses problematizing the categories of literature, India and modernity (Incidentally, a course I teach here in Delhi is called Modern Indian Literature) the ethical source continues to be your course!

    After a decade, I have too many other things also to say: of insights, helps, concerns, “issues” (in a certain sense of the term, as you would have it! ), presences (especially the time taken out by you to come and watch my theatrical initiatives, at different parts of the city), time (you found for editing my translations) and of some most considerate calls home in Calicut (especially the ones after my accident and so on). Too many instances of care and encouragement. Very many cases of how teachers can help the humble efforts of their students. Extremely hearty illustrations of how emotional support is an integral part of academics…

    When you retire, (and I gather you are planning to get more involved in the social work of the Alladi Memorial Trust) and start impacting other, equally or more important areas, some of us your students will be taking your socio-academic concerns ahead in our own small and feeble ways. One, because for the world to be a better place they must be furthered. Second, there is a powerful, sincere and studied teacher in us, who make it impossible to not to do it…

    I don’t want to say I am what I am also because of you (Why blame you?) 🙂
    But I will say with confidence, if I keep thinking, rethinking, gathering, figuring out, erasing, and then writing again what I am, you have been an important reason…

    I join the many, many minds in wishing you all the goodness of life in the years to come.

    With the best of regards,

    (An M.A. Student of the 2001-03 batch, N.P. Ashley teaches English at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi).

  2. Respected Ma’am,

    A random navigation brought me here to know more about your contribution through your respected colleagues and students. Please continue with rejuvenation and much needed innovation in the sphere of thought leadership that matters to the needy, in one way or the other. Thank you!

  3. I was a student of Professor Uma at this department during 2000-2002. I entered this department out of passion for English than with required qualities to be a student of English literature. I hardly read texts of English literature before.

    I am not one to comment on the knowledge and skills of Professor Uma because I have no such abilities. She taught us in one or two semesters. I listened to her silently. I took those exams helplessly. I don’t have specific impression or memories about her because she was such professor, who never liked to play her role more or less than what is expected. She saw many students and research scholars in her academic career. She cannot remember all of us.

    Once I went to this (our) department, and gave a copy of my first book Stories of Love and Beauty for her to read. Hope she read it.

    I wish her best of luck in her life ahead.


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