This is the first post on a series of posts by my mother, Rekha Karmakar, where she reminisces about her teaching career which started in Delhi in the early 1970s and then after a gap resumed in Kolkata. Hope you enjoy the first post in this series: KK
I dedicate this post to my parents without whose support I could not have achieved, whatever little, I have gained in my life.
The incidents narrated in this post are from my faded memory and the opinions expressed are purely mine…Rekha Karmakar
I consider myself as one of those very few lucky people who was able to pursue a career of her own choice. It is not that I had set my mind on teaching, as a career, since my childhood. It took me time to realize my interest, which was reinforced by the fond remark of my headmistress that she envisaged me as a renowned professor. That set the ball rolling and I made teaching the goal of my life. I took up English as the subject of my studies and started working towards my aim with one track mind.
Passing out of a Bengali medium school, the journey was not very smooth for me. Quite often I felt being superseded by my convent educated classmates and was awed by their “airs. But that did not put me off and I started pursuing my studies with greater effort and energy. Though it was back breaking , I did manage to get the requisite marks for securing a lectureship and was offered jobs in two colleges of Delhi university , out of the three interviews that I appeared for.
One might think what is so great about getting lectureship. But the situation of the women, in the seventies, was quite different from that of today. Higher education and career took back seat in most of the middle class Bengali families, marriage being of the utmost priority. Love for my studies was being frowned upon by many of my relatives and I was able to pursue my studies , at the cost of not learning household skills, only because of the support of my parents.
Later in my life, I was fortunate enough to work in colleges of two different universities. The first one was in a college of Delhi University and, then, after a gap of ten years while I had been globetrotting, in a college of Calcutta University.
The first phase of my teaching career started in Delhi. I had, however, a dilemma as to which college to choose from out of the two I had qualified for. One was a co-educational postgraduate Muslim College and the other one was a new girls college.
I chose the postgraduate college as I felt that I would get a chance to teach Hons and postgraduate classes there. Another attraction was that I had passed out of that same college.
I very well remember the first day in the college . With a trepid heart, I went to the staff-room and stood before the door as I felt nervous to cross over the threshold and enter. We, as students, had always stood on the other side of the “Lakshman rekha” waiting for our professors. Seeing me hesitant, the HOD called me in, I felt awkward sitting at the same table with my teachers. I, however, noticed that they, too, were not in a better position than me as they could not carry on their usual conversations or smoke before me.
It took me three/four days to get used to my new role as a teacher in my college. In the meanwhile, a boy from my M.A class , who was second in the panel for the post of lecturer in the college, approached me and requested me to quit my job in that college and take up the one in the girls’ college so that he could get the job, pay being the same in both the colleges . I did not commit immediately and took time to think over it.
In the college, I was mostly allotted Hons classes and a few Compulsory English language classes of B.Sc students. Those days 95% students of the Science course were male.
After about six/seven days, my father came from his office to my college to find out how I was doing. In our time, dads had the liberty to do so ! By sheer chance, at that time, I had been teaching the B.Sc students. It was a huge class-room with about fifty students in the class. My father peeped through the window and found me teaching the boys, many of whom had long beards while a few were chewing ‘paan’. At that time he did not say anything to me and we went home together.
On reaching home, he burst out in anger and ordered me to quit the job in the co-educational college and take up the one in the girls’ college as he felt that teaching in a co-educational college would be a disqualification for me in the marriage market. Those days we did not have the guts to say that it was my life and he had no right to interfere.
The next day I resigned from my college and went to the girls’ college, where I had taken a fortnights’ time to apprise of my decision. My classmate, by default, got the job in my previous college.
The principal of the girls’ college welcomed me heartily, when I went to meet her, and introduced me to the other teachers.
The college was set up only a year or two ago and was in sharp contrast with my previous college, which was one of the oldest colleges in Delhi, offering multiple courses. The girls’ college was run mainly by the Sikh community though it was very much under Delhi University. The college was next to a Gurdwara and was held in a barrack-like one storeyed building. Quite often we used to go to the Gurdwara and have ‘langar’. I was the only ‘Bong’ in the whole college. But I was never discriminated against and was like a fish in the water.
The best part of the college was that four of my classmates from my M.A class were also appointed in the same year. Though all of them belonged to the Sikh community, we gelled very well and formed a group of five. Quite often, we would go to Connaught Place wearing expensive sarees so that the shopkeepers do not throw us out. Sometimes we would go out to see movies such as “Kashmir ki Kali”, “Buvan Shome” etc to name a few. National politics never featured in our conversations nor did staff room politics.
It was really a cushy job as the college offered only pass course, hence, I did not have to prepare my lectures. Being situated at Delhi Gate, it was very near our home at Pandara Road.
This seemingly beautiful scenario, however, had some holes in its curtain. Most of the students were very inattentive in the class as they came to college only to “while away” their time before getting married. The indiscipline in the class disturbed me very much.
The Principal of the college was a very enthusiastic lady and wanted the college to be one of the best in the near future. Hence, she kept a constant vigil on us to find how we were doing. Quite often, while teaching in the class, I would find two bespectacled eyes and a nose pushed against the glass pane of the window. You can easily guess that they belonged to the Principal. I used to be very startled and faltered for a moment or two. My other colleagues, too, had the same experiences but they took everything in their stride.
After a few months, I met one of my professors who suggested that I should attend the Refresher Course in the English language organized by Delhi University in collaboration with British Council and Australian Embassy. I told the HOD of my college and sort of booked my seat as only one person from each college could be sent.
It was one of the best Refresher Courses that I had ever attended coupled with excellent food like Nargisi Kofta, pulao, chicken curry etc. for lunch. We really used to look forward to the lunch and tea. In fact, I had added a few extra kilos gorging on those delicious food items.
After attending the course, where we had guidance from British , Australian as well as Indian teachers, there was no turning back. I was in full control of my class in the college. In future, too, I never ever had any difficulty in class management.
I got married after a few years and left the college for good as my husband worked in the U.K. During the four years in the college, I learnt a lot about Sikh religion and developed a regard for it.
Years rolled. Memories faded but I still get a pleasant feeling whenever I think of the early stage of my career. Those were the days of my early youth having all the possibilities in the world. Being in the company of like-minded people as well as receiving a good pay-pocket added zest to my teaching, the experience of which helped me in the later stage of my career. It feels good to think of those days after so many years. May be I was goaded by this feeling to look for the college after four decades when I went to visit my son in Delhi . The college had, however, moved to a nearby place. The one storeyed barrack-like building was being replaced by a very posh building I stood longingly before the college and hoped that I would be able to spot at least a few of my colleagues. It occurred to me later that even if I saw them, I would not have been able to recognize them after a gap of forty years. I stood for a long time in front of the building reminiscing about my good old days till my son pulled me back to the car. In my mind, I wished the college its very best and bade it adieu with tearful eyes.