I’ve been having something of a writer’s block these past couple of weeks. Partly due to a sense of ennui as the blog enters its third year and I feel that the issues I want to discuss often border on the same old same old… But I must recall Larkin again- the there and that of been there done that are no longer where they were or what they were, and so its best to begin afresh. With a request for your indulgence if it seems like some of this has been said before.
For reasons that are too obvious to mention, I have been worrying a lot about our campus these past few weeks. Since the rains have been good to us, it is a corollary that the campus is very green, but it also becomes painfully evident that we need to constantly maintain it. Pruning, clearing, cleaning, culling… And picking up litter- there seems to be no spot on the campus that is free of plastic or paper waste. There are some simple and straightforward rules, banal enough to not be worth reiterating, but it seems they must. Respect nature. Don’t litter. And don’t expose yourself to danger.
I recall a conversation I had with Meenakshi Mukherjee, at one time on the faculty of the Department of English at the UoH. She was a good friend during the many years when we both were at the JNU- as it happened we moved there at roughly the same time. One day when I met her at Ganga Dhaba, apropos of nothing particular (more than usual that is) she said to me, you know, our campuses are the new colonies. Explaining herself, she added, it is like we academics create an enclave that is removed from the rest of the country, where different rules apply.
I have often thought about what she said, not just this but many other things (she introduced me to the poetry of Agha Shahid Ali, for one. And encouraged me in my misguided efforts to learn Portuguese for another: learning a language is a very pure skill, she told me, but I’m still not sure what she meant…).
I feel that she was essentially right in her perception that a university campus is a special place and a special space, but also that in such enclaves there is a lot of privilege, and it is all too easy for us to slip into a colonial mentality.
This post is not just about littering or preserving the (physical) environment, it is also about the more general question of how we behave on the campus. For instance, there is a lot of helmet-less driving of two wheelers on campus. Seeing three students on a two-wheeler is not that uncommon. Some of the driving tends to be rather rash, and a positive danger, not just to others but to the driver as well. The traffic rules that apply elsewhere should apply here as well… Similarly, in public spaces Smoking is a No-No and Consumption of Alcohol is a BIGGER No-No.
There are the laws that apply in the country, and then the special rules of the campus itself, and both need to be respected. This is not to interfere with personal choices, but there are laws that apply to educational establishments, and infringement of these draws some very unwelcome attention as we have seen in the past weeks.
The campus is always under threat, it seems. We have many well-wishers and much to be grateful for. But there are also others who are not slow to sit on judgement, others who are quite happy to show up all our weaknesses. Preserving and protecting the campus space is a full-time job, and its a job for all of us. It is a huge responsibility that we all have, to keep this place as one where generations of students can come to learn, and generations can use the freedom and the opportunities that this space offers to grow and develop.