Republic Day, 2015


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!

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…

Independence Day 2014: Our USR

Members of the UoH Community,

TMy warmest good wishes to all on the occasion of the nation’s 68th Independence Day. Each year we collect to celebrate our independence, and to reaffirm our belief in the democratic values that hold us together as a country, even as we find our regional boundaries changing.

This is the first Independence Day celebration for the University of Hyderabad as we find ourselves located in the new state of Telangana. The transformation comes with new hopes and fresh challenges, even as we strive to find our feet in the new circumstances. One thing is clear, we are the premier research University of the new state, and we must pay our role to educate and we must fulfill our destiny, to educate, to enable, and to liberate.

The sense of liberation offered by education was beautifully captured by the students of our University at a recent show that they had, at the Salar Jung Museum. The title of the show was (taken from two lines from a poem, The moon is a kiteHow strong the Breeze, How precious the Flight.

The University is committed to providing a strong breeze- sometimes as a strong gust that pushes you off your feet, sometimes as a tornado, that churns up your thoughts and makes you re-evaluate your positions, and sometimes as that strong but gentle wind that slowly moulds your ideas and passions into values that will last. The winds of change blow gentle sometimes, but often not, and the University is a place where we willingly enter to experience that change.

soaringAnd the flight- how valuable it is when truly earned! The degrees are just one small part of it: the true value of the education that the University provides comes in the opportunities it gives to change ones life. And as so many of our students have discovered, sometimes while they are here, but more often after they have left, the University is a great springboard that can help you to reach as high as you want to. The wings you earn at the University will allow you to soar as high as your ambitions can take you.

In terms of resources, the past year has been a difficult one: we have had to bear the full brunt of the economic downturn. Our funding has been way below what we have needed, and indeed below the level that a University such as ours merits. We have been ranked among the top universities in India for the year 2014 in three independent surveys, by India Today, The Week and Careers 360. Ours is among the best Universities in the country and always ranked number one in the South. The NAAC puts us consistently at the top end of their scale. When excellence is recognized, it also needs to be nurtured, so we can only hope that with the change in the scenario at the centre, there will be some relief on this front for us all.

But there are things that we can justifiably be proud of. Our faculty and students have been recognized nationally and internationally for their research. One significant feature of our research over the years is the growth of the applied component – the number of patents that are filed and that are awarded have been increasing steadily.

I think that this is a welcome development, that the work that is done in the University should be more applicable and relevant to our society, to our times. Our University- as we all widely recognize- is a haven, a refuge that provides a wonderful environment in which we can pursue our academic and intellectual activities. We are very fortunate to be able to live and work here, and I believe we all appreciate the deep privilege that we have.

It is important that we should reflect upon how we can give back to the society that nurtures us. For many years now, there has been the notion of a “Corporate Social Responsibility”, recognition that any entity, particularly a corporation that makes profit, has both a social and a moral responsibility to the society in which it exists. We must pay attention to the manner in which we use public resources, else those very resources will be irretrievably lost to us by overuse and misuse. In our country, this social responsibility or CSR has been quantified, and on 1 April this year, the government of India implemented new CSR guidelines requiring companies to spend 2% of their net profit on social development.

What Social Responsibility does a University- our University say- have? We have usually answered this question implicitly, be it by doing what other universities do, by responding to directives that come from time to time from the outside, by admitting students from a wide spectrum of backgrounds, by having policies, explicit or implicit, that address a range of abilities.

Today I would like to suggest that we must take the opportunity to make our University Social Responsibility – our USR if you will- explicit. We must look more closely at the real needs of our society and each segment of our UoH community can do its own bit to address these needs. To start with, let us remember that our campus is in our custodianship, and we must nurture it carefully to provide a lung for the city. Our lakes must add to the water table. Our campus should be a refuge, not just for us, but also for the flora and fauna of Telengana, for the region. We should be careful keepers of the land and not owners or exploiters. This is a responsibility that devolves upon us all- the students, the teachers, and the staff- as we live and breathe here.

Our teachers share the USR in the most fundamental ways- we must live up to our label of being a research University, the best in the country. Our research must strive to be applicable and useful, and there is not an area of enquiry that does not have a chance of being so. Application is not just a matter of patents and products- research that opens our eyes, teaches us new perspectives, gives us new vision, new ideas- all these come from any field, and it is imperative that we make this our responsibility in as explicit a manner as possible.

But beyond that, we must participate in society more meaningfully. Opening our doors to as many students who can be accommodated is one- for every student here, there are almost 20 who could not be here. We therefore must address this need as soon as possible, and as effectively as possible. USR would suggest that we need to evolve at least as much as our society is evolving, in what we teach, how we teach it, and how we prepare our students to cope effectively with the India that is just outside our walls, and the India that lies beyond, both in space and in time.

UntitledInteracting with the city and beyond the limits of Hyderabad is important, especially in this day when local and global are so interchangeable and mixed into one another. Holding our conferences in the city- as the IAMCR that we concluded last month, the Dynamics Days conference that we held in Chennai, or the Women’s World Congress that we will have next week- is one way. Integrating into the fabric of our city, state or country in as involved a way as possible is another feature of what I see as our USR, and doubtless there are other ways that will occur to each one of us.

There is nothing very new in this. We have long used our truly national days- 26 January and 15 August- to reflect upon our journey as a nation, and to set agendas for the future. The social responsibility that I am alluding to today has always been a part of our consciousness, especially when we realize how fortunate we all feel to live in a free country, and in a society which, while imperfect, has sound democratic values. For long our gaze has been an inward one, which looks at our rights and privileges. We need also to turn it outward, and look at our responsibilities as a University, as we help to create the India of the future, the India that we all dream of: an India of prosperity, an India of progress, and an India of equality.

Jai Hind!

My munia neighbours

220px-Lonchura_punctulata_(Nagarhole,_2004)A nesting pair of scaly-breasted munias  intend to set up residence on my balcony. Not quiet birds these, they announced their intention with much gusto and chirping, and over the last few days, there has been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, grass being gathered and dropped, discussions on architecture and placements, doubtless. The picture I took of them was not good enough to show, so here is one from the relevant Wikipedia entry-

There are many on the campus who take wonderful photographs- of the flora and fauna, of the landscape built and unbuilt, and it would be good to display these talents more publicly. The 2015 UoH calendar will celebrate our wildlife, and hopefully inspire us once again to preserve and conserve it…

Over a year ago, before I moved onto campus, I had gone to see the (still uncompleted) house. On a sill upstairs, I found the perfect welcome- a nest with two perfectly placed eggs. That of a pied wagtail, as I later discovered- a proud home within a home, but so apposite.

IMG_0463I’m not one to believe in signs and the like, but it felt reassuring then. In the next few weeks we watched the eggs hatch, the nestlings grow, and then one day, it was time for them to fly away. The transformation, even when it happened before our eyes, was startling.

And, of course, a very immediate metaphor. As I see the campus preparing itself for receiving students old and new, the parallels are more than obvious, from the shared hostel rooms to the visible testing of wings and the eventual flight away from the nest and to the flocking together… As people return to campus, its good to receive messages from students, like “Yeah it feels good… I mean it feels like home again. Look at this: LH1, the oldest hostel… hot climate … nothing like Kerala… But it feels like home.

And to see these emotions (posted on FB) when they leave. “There are certain things in this world which you think will not affect you, and you will always just walk by unaffected…but everything and everyone does affect you, they linger on in your memory: may haunt you, may make you reminisce, may just make you realize that you are what you are because of it, even though all this time you may not have completely comprehended this…. I realize it now, as I get ready to actually leave you now University of Hyderabad: Thank you for hosting me for the past five years…you have helped me grow, helped me find my path, and given me some wonderful friends. Although you do seem to be like an “acquired taste” but I am glad to have acquired it. Mixed feelings at University of Hyderabad.

But metaphors apart, our campus is very much a haven as the two representative comments above show, and for birds as well. Of course there are significant differences between the way that we and our fine feathered friends view the refuge, and the image of the nest above says much of it. The birds don’t dirty their nests- something that we, regrettably, don’t seem to care about. I’m talking about the litter on campus, of course. So much of it is so unnecessary, and something that can be avoided with a little thought and care. Its easy to say that there are not enough garbage cans or waste bins. The arguments get tired by repetition, and in any case its more fun to look at the birds, their nests and the trees.

So here’s a simple “Welcome Back!” to returning students, a “Welcome!” to the new ones, to invite us all to enjoy this campus and to keep it as clean and au naturel as possible.

A Telangana State of Mind

TToday, Monday, June 2, 2014 sees the birth of a new state, and for us, a new state of mind. We are automatically and very naturally in Telangana, the 29th state of the country, and a state that has been eagerly awaited … and very emotionally struggled for.

Here’s wishing all of us the very best in the years to come, the years in which we look forward to seeing the state grow from strength to strength!

At the same time it does us well to remember that the new state is born out of the old- and the erstwhile AP was itself born in 1956 out of the Madras State, which was formed out of an older entity, the Madras Presidency plus the erstwhile Telengana… We should see that this, the formation and reformation of geographies, is an ongoing process, and hope that the present  bifurcation be as peaceful and as amicable as possible. 

Both the new states being formed this month will need much input for their growth and training of manpower. The University is here, willing, and ready to participate in the development process in whatever way possible,  and whatever way necessary. The UoH is uniquely suited for the job: as a Central University we aim to cater to the needs of the entire country without compromise on quality or access, but being situated here, it is fair to say that we understand the region, its needs, its special aspects with more sensitivity.

I believe that all of us share the commitment to see that our University will participate fully in the growth and  development of the new states. And we will do whatever we can to see that the University of Hyderabad continues to provide academic leadership and maintains its position as a standard bearer in the state, the region, and indeed in the nation!

Our Game of Thrones

HBO CANADA - #OwnTheThrone in Vancouver!The quote attributed to Henry Kissinger, namely “Academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small” is also seen as an instance of Sayre’s Law, that in any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue. Kissinger probably said it, but so have many people before him and since. Woodrow Wilson as President of Princeton University in the years 1902 to 1910 observed sardonically that the intensity of academic squabbles was a function of the “triviality” of the issues being considered.

My recent introduction to the TV series Game of Thrones has been most instructive. Having missed the first three seasons I’ve had a bit of catching up to do with the complex stories that are woven into the somewhat dark fantasy. Of course, the parallels with other sagas like the Iliad or the Odyssey, or the Mahabharata are there- not for nothing is it said (of the Mahabharata), Yennéhâsti na tadkvacit, namelyWhat is not here is nowhere else”!

Inevitably, one is drawn to the parallels that can be made to life at our University. Although our setting is not particularly dark, we seem to have our share of complex stories that have been woven into a not very long history- after all, forty years is not much of a lifetime. But still, memories at the University run long and deep, and there is often an event in our present that echoes another in our past.

The GoT analogies are somewhat direct- each of the kingdoms is like a School of study, only there there are seven and here we have twelve. The continents of Westeros and Essos are very real entities indeed- these are our two cultures! Of course we are spared the relentless wars, but we do occasionally have minor battles over the limited resources that come our way, and the smaller the stakes, the more intense the combat!

ceOne of the questions playing on my mind, for instance is how many Schools of study should there be in the University? At present we have 12, but clearly we don’t cover all the areas of studies that a University should or could have. The manner in which we grow is therefore important, and there are many models that are available to us. There is admittedly a chicken and egg situation: What should one do first? We could decide by fiat or by committee (a near impossibility!) as to what is desirable. Or we could start courses- hit the ground running- and then worry about getting faculty. Or we can wait for someone else to tell us what to do. As it happens, all these models have been employed at the UoH at one time or the other in the past, and there is always an éminence grise who will tell me of this or that situation which was similar to that or this in the past. All very useful, of course, but often an impediment to action. Nevertheless, we need to think carefully about this, since the only reasons for the creation of new Departments, Centres, or Schools can be academic ones, and no other motivation needs to be operative. This is where other analogies from the Game of Thrones come into play- who shall be lord and who the king…

If one cannot learn from the past, one is doomed to make more mistakes- first the tragedy and then the farce as Marx famously said. But this could also be a millstone that simply does not allow us to evolve new patterns and new structures. It can be stultifying to have to grow within the same formats, especially if the format does not allow for flexibility. I do hope that collectively and individually we can find the way forward.

Given the momentous events of the week past, it is not possible to close without commenting on the other game of thrones, the one being played out in Delhi. This blogpost was written over a period of time that includes both the elections and it’s denouement. It is of immeasurable importance as to who is named the Minister for Human Resource Development as the policies and practices that are in force in the next few years will be crucial to the further growth of our  University. The last two years of stasis have been an impediment that cannot be exaggerated, and while I do not anticipate the financial picture to become rosy overnight, one can only hope that the vision for change will be founded on sound principles of better education at all levels, especially the tertiary. And an unassailable respect for the autonomy of the University, our aims, and our aspirations.

UoH on Wikipedia

when searching for information on almost anything – and on our university in particular- one usually checks Wikipedia. Do that, and you are led to a page where the information (such as it is) is presented somewhat whimsically. For instance, one finds that the university imparts knowledge, in the Basic Sciences, Applied Sciences, Medical Science, Engineering Science, the Social Sciences, the Humanities, Arts, Fine Arts, Media Studies and Communication. In addition, traditional subjects like Folklore Studies, Health Psychology, Dalit Studies, Women’s Studies, Neural and Cognitive Sciences are also taught.

Traditional? If anything, the last named subjects are very far from traditional. But there other other inadequacies one can discover upon reading through the (rather dreary) text. There are no images, no photographs of Mushroom Rock, nothing. The description accompanying  Sukoon (सुकून) says (and I quote verbatim) that ‘Sukoon’ is an annual cultural meet for the university students. Organised by the Students’ Union, it is held in the March at the Open Dias. ‘Sukoon'(सुकून) means ‘Peace’. In this colourful event, many competitions are held for and by the students, like ‘Mr.& Ms.Sukoon Competition’, Rangoli, Shayari, Quiz, Antaakshari, Debate in English-Telugu-Hindi-Urdu, Dance, Singing, Spot Painting, etc. Other events like DJ night, Quawali, traditional folk musical events, etc. are organised. The School of Economics, we are told, offers M.A, MPhil and Ph.D in Economics, and optional subjects like Transional Economics, Law and Economics, Financial Econometrics, and Health Economics. Spelling errors apart, surely we can do better than this!

Wikipedia-logo_kaClearly, given the nature of the Wikipedia project, in the end we alone are responsible for this. I know that several of us at the University contribute to Wikipedia- in fact there are regular meetings of the Telugu Wikipedians at the Golden Threshold campus- but it remains a reality that the existing UoH page on the English Wikipedia is really not up to the mark. Nor is the one in Telugu, regrettably.

A little effort can change that, and that effort has to come from us. Its sometimes easier to be inspired by what others have done for themselves, so here are quick links to the relevant pages of some representative universities here in India as well as elsewhere. I’d like to ask all of you at the University to take a look at the UoH page and edit it to improve the quality of the information. And the quantity and the nature of the information as well. After all, this is often the first face of the University that others will see…