Conversations with Prof Kapil Muni Tiwary 6

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An eminent scholar of Linguistics, Prof Kapil Muni Tiwary was well-known for his impeccable pronunciation and speech in Patna University. But very few people know that his pronunciation was not all that great in the initial part of his career and the students made fun of him.

In this episode he shares how he converted his weaknesses into his strengths as an English teacher. He also mentions the nicknames that he had received from the students and what led to his drift towards Linguistics.

Me: Sir, could you share your initial experiences as a lecturer of English at Patna university?

Prof Tiwary: Well, when I started teaching English in Patna university in 1955, I had very little or no idea of the details of the language as such. There were many books of English grammar like those of Nesfield or Wren & Martin etc. You had gone through them in your school days. But there was no guidance, at least I hadn’t received any guidance for my spoken English.

I started my career from Patna Science College where the best of the students would come from all over Bihar. Some of these students would come there from the missionary schools like St Xaviour’s or St Joseph Convent Patna where the medium of instruction is English. They sometimes ridiculed or laughed at those teachers whose accent or pronunciation was anything but English. I became aware of the fact that I was not trained for spoken English and I must do something about it myself.

There were some teachers too who would laugh at you. The teachers like Prof Devidas Chatterjee would come to you one day and say:

“Hey, how about अपालिन्ग.”

He would make fun of your incorrect pronunciation of the word, Appalling. It was because many of us used what you would like to call the spelling pronunciation. It was common for the teachers to mispronounce the words like folk in which l is silent. Though the situation in Patna university was better than that in other universities of Bihar, there was a lot of scope for improvement.

I took it as a challenge and I started working on the improvement of my spoken English.

In 1955 Ford Foundation gave financial assistance to set up an advanced centre for English at Deccan College, Pune. It was the same year when I had joined Patna university. I started looking for an opportunity to join a course there. I got that opportunity two years later when I was sent by the university to Deccan College.

Deccan college used to award two courses: one year diploma and two year diploma. I took the course of one year diploma. While doing that course I joined a short summer course on Linguistics to earn credit points.
There I got introduced to the different branches of Linguistics like Phonetics, Morphology, Syntax, Semantics there etc.

And then I realised that for a teacher to describe the sounds is not enough. To say that f in four is a labiodental voiceless fricative is just to preach and not to practice. You must know how to make others say four or flower, and not फोर or फ्लावर. It should be f, and not ph in four or flower. And you shouldn’t pronounce fool as phool.Me: Sir, what were the nicknames that you received from your students while you were teaching at Patna university?

Prof Tiwary: In Science college I used to teach The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I stuck to it for such a long time that I became known as an old man.

The other day I met somebody. I thought he was older than me. But surprisingly he revealed that he used to be my student at Science college in those days. He said that the students used to address me as ‘Old man’. As soon as I entered their class they would start whispering, ‘The old man has come, the old man has come’.

In the post graduate classes those days I would be called ‘Yespersen’ by the students. It was because I used to teach the book of The History of the English language by Otto Jespersen. Yespersen was the correct pronunciation of Jesperson. Listening to this name over and over again from me they would address me as Yesperson.

Again in the PG department I used to teach Ben Johnson’s Volpone in the initial period of my career. Volpone is a famous play by Ben Johnson in which the name of the chief protagonist is also Volpone.

I would begin the class with a famous dialogue of Volpone:
“Good morning to the day; and next, my Gold!
Open the shrine, that I may see my saint.
Hail the world’s soul and mine!”

Generally you would hear greetings like good morning, good evening etc in English. Ben Johnson’s character, however, would begin by saying, ‘Good morning to the day’.

So while teaching that play I would also start with the same greeting in the class. It was unusual for the students to hear such a greeting.

About this Dr D D Sharma, one of my students in the class in those days, would say that we thought you would never move away from that speech of Volpone.

Dr Sharma himself became a professor of English later. He retired as HOD of English from Lucknow university. We would remain in touch with each other during conferences or for research in the language or literature.

I translated the first four lines of Volpone’s dialogue: Ganeshay Namah, Shivay Namah, Suvarnay Namah etc. That made the class a little more interesting.

Me: Sir, what were the nicknames that you received from your students while you were teaching at Patna university?

Prof Tiwary: In Science college I used to teach The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I stuck to it for such a long time that I became known as an old man.

The other day I met somebody. I thought he was older than me. But surprisingly he revealed that he used to be my student at Science college in those days. He said that the students used to address me as ‘Old man’. As soon as I entered their class they would start whispering, ‘The old man has come, the old man has come’.

In the post graduate classes those days I would be called ‘Yespersen’ by the students. It was because I used to teach the book of The History of the English language by Otto Jespersen. Yespersen was the correct pronunciation of Jesperson. Listening to this name over and over again from me they would address me as Yesperson.

Again in the PG department I used to teach Ben Johnson’s Volpone in the initial period of my career. Volpone is a famous play by Ben Johnson in which the name of the chief protagonist is also Volpone.

I would begin the class with a famous dialogue of Volpone:
“Good morning to the day; and next, my Gold!
Open the shrine, that I may see my saint.
Hail the world’s soul and mine!”

Generally you would hear greetings like good morning, good evening etc in English. Ben Johnson’s character, however, would begin by saying, ‘Good morning to the day’.

So while teaching that play I would also start with the same greeting in the class. It was unusual for the students to hear such a greeting.

About this Dr D D Sharma, one of my students in the class in those days, would say that we thought you would never move away from that speech of Volpone.

Dr Sharma himself became a professor of English later. He retired as HOD of English from Lucknow university. We would remain in touch with each other during conferences or for research in the language or literature.

I translated the first four lines of Volpone’s dialogue: Ganeshay Namah, Shivay Namah, Suvarnay Namah etc. That made the class a little more interesting.

Me: Was it in the course of your teaching in the post graduate department that your interest started growing in languages and Linguistics?

Prof Tiwary: Yes, it did. But there was another context. And that was Prof Kripa Nath Mishra, the HOD of English at Patna Science college.

Prof K N Mishra kindled my interest in Linguistics. Prof Mishra was a BA (Hons) from London University and Linguistics was a part of his course there. He was a contemporary of Prof Kalimuddin Ahmed and Prof Fazilur Rehman. He had been a teacher of Dr R K Sinha.

Much before I joined the university Prof Mishra had designed a typewriter. The design had been purchased by a German company for which he used to receive royalty on a regular basis. Sometimes Prof Mishra would say in the lighter vein that the amount that he received from his royalty was more than what the Vice-Chancellor was receiving as his salary.

Conversations with Prof Kapil Muni Tiwary 5

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

In the previous episode Prof Tiwary had narrated the stories of his days as a student of BA at H D Jain College Arah in the early fifties.

Here he shares an experience of his interaction with a teacher in the classroom when he was a student of MA at Patna university.

Me: Sir, you have mentioned that there was hardly any programme available in the university for the new teachers to learn the nuances of pedagogy and by and large you had to learn the tricks of the trade on your own. Could you share some of the experiences of your classroom interactions with the teachers who taught you at Patna university?

Prof Tiwary: I recall one such story when I was a student in the fifth year (first year of MA) at Patna university in the early fifties. It is related to one of our senior teachers who used to teach us Joseph Conrad. The teacher would come to the class and open a page of the book. We didn’t have the book.

He would begin by saying, ”Where to, Razumov?”

I wondered.

It was a puzzle for me because Razumov is not a character in the novel, The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. It is in his other novel, Under Western Eyes. The teacher was supposed to teach The Secret Agent in the class. Those days you couldn’t speak against your teachers. So we all listened to him.

But one day I couldn’t hold myself. I stood up. I had the privilege of being the Vice President of the debating society of Patna university and the teacher concerned was the President of that society.

I said, “Sir, the text that you are teaching is from another book by Joseph Conrad. It is from Under Western Eyes, and not from the book prescribed, The Secret Agent.”

Well, that proved to be sacrilegious.

He looked at me and said, “Are you sure?”
“Yes Sir”, I said.
He said, “Sit down and see me after class.”

Just then the bell rang and the students filed out of the class. I quietly followed him to his room.

In order to go to his room we had to pass through the staff room. And in the staff room everybody was sitting; Dr Sinha, Dr Kalimuddin Ahmed and other teachers. We filed through the staff room with the teachers sitting and staring at us. I was following the teacher in a docile manner. When we entered the room, he shut the door.

He asked me, “Well, tell me, who is your favourite novelist?”

I said, “Conrad”.

“What do you find good about Conrad,” he inquired.

I said, “He was an honest artist in spite of his conservative philosophy.”

There was a Marxist magazine that was published from London and once in a blue moon we’ll get a copy of that magazine. It was in that magazine that I had read about Conrad.

In response to my answer my teacher said, “There, there our quarrel starts. Why do you say that his philosophy was conservative? What has that to do with art?”

Then he asked me a volley of questions. I just kept quiet.

In came Dr Sinha, Dr R K Sinha. The teacher who was interrogating me and Dr Sinha were classmates and friends. Dr Sinha would address him by his first name. So naturally my teacher who had brought me there said, ‘You may go now’.

Later Dr Sinha told me, ‘The moment I saw you following him, I knew there was something wrong.

Many teachers in the university were like that. They would come, stop lecturing in the middle, sometimes repeating the points and most of the time they would end up without any kind of logical conclusions. There was no pattern or coherence in their lectures.

Conversations with Prof Kapil Muni Tiwary 4

In the previous episode Prof Kapil Muni Tiwary had narrated how he had become active in the student politics while he was pursuing BA Honours (English) in H D Jain College Arah in 1950.

In this episode he shares a few anecdotes related to his activism.

Me: Sir, could you share a few anecdotes of your activism during the graduation at H D Jain College Arah?

Prof Tiwary:

Tar Par Ka Bangla
Once I was asked by the Party(the Communist Party of India) to go to a nearby town, Dalmianagar which was a thriving industrial town in those days. Now there are no industries.

I had to contact a leader named Mr Das who was working there underground for the trade unions. The Communist Party of India had been banned during that period.

I started for Dalmianagar in the morning by train. I was a student and I didn’t have money to spend on the day-to-day expenses of the Party. So I didn’t buy the ticket and convinced the Train Ticket Inspector about my affiliations to the Party and its cause. Impressed, he not only allowed me to board the train but also helped me go out of the station gate at Sasaram.

I must have reached Sasaram in the afternoon. It was raining heavily. I had the book, English Prose Style, by Herbert Read in my hand.

By the time I reached Dalmianagar Bazaar, I was drenched. Even the book in my hand was wet. I took shelter in the shop of a Mithaiwala where I ate something with tea.

When I left the shop, the sun had already set. The rain was slow. And I quickened my pace. The road was getting enveloped by darkness and I kept walking. The downpour started again. So I started looking for some shelter. Seeing a flickering light from a house nearby, I went and knocked on the door.

A man came out and said, “What do you want?”

When I said, “I am a stranger here, I am going to a place named Tar Par Ka Bangla. I shall stay here only till the rain stops. Could you guide me about its location?”

He spoke very rudely, “As soon as the rain stops, you move from here, I don’t know anything about any Bangla.”

I stood under the shade only for a while and left it immediately after the rain slowed.

Once again in that dark night I began my journey to Tar par Ka Bangla, about which I knew the least. Wading and groping on that lifeless road on that rainy night, tired and hungry, I felt the road, the rain, and the night would never end.

Finally I got some relief when I reached Dalmianagar railway station at about midnight. Little did I realise that walking from Sasaram to Dalmianagar station I had covered a distance of 21 kms that day. Relief I got, no doubt, at the station, but only from the rain. There was no scope either for food or rest. I kept moving from here to there in the passengers’ waiting room for the morning to arrive. The only company I had was that of dogs.

As soon as the day broke, I found out the location of Tar Par Ka Bangla . I met Comrade Roy who was supposed to guide me about Comrade Das. Comrade Roy was from Barbigha. He was living and working there for the community of fishermen. Much later I got to know that he married a girl from that community and settled there permanently. I took a bath and spread the clothes in the Sun to get dry. The food that I had after that was very precious. I was having it after more than 12 hours and I ate to my heart’s content.

Das’ whereabouts were not known to anyone. He remained underground for fear of being arrested. Comrade Roy gave me the address of a Party courier who helped me meet Das at an unknown place. I remember Das and I sat on a dilapidated Chabutara (pucca platform) and discussed the affairs of the Party. He asked me to visit and invite a skilled labourer named Mathura Singh to attend a meeting that was to be organized the next day. Mathura Singh was also active as a trade union leader and Das wanted to seek his support for the Party.

I went to meet Mathura Singh at his house in the cluster of the workers’ colony in Dalmianagar in the evening. As I knocked, a lady opened the door. She was the wife of Mathura Singh.
She said in Bhojpuri, “ Ka Babua, ka baat baa (My dear boy, what is the matter) ?”

I told her about my being a member of the Party and also about the purpose of my visit. She asked me to be seated and herself went inside to inform her husband about my visit. Mathura Singh was asleep. Probably he was addicted to drinking. I didn’t know what exactly transpired between the husband and the wife. But to my great shock Mathura Singh came running from his room brandishing a revolver and shouting that he would kill me. Seeing death face to face I froze with fear for a few moments. The next moment his wife came between us. I don’t remember what were the exact words that she spoke to calm him down but she chided him for his behaviour with an innocent looking boy who had come as a guest.

I was still trembling with fear. She comforted me with some endearing words in Bhojpuri and made me sit down. Then she baked some Littis and offered them with Chane ka Saag for me to eat. Those Littis and Saag served by Mathura Singh’s wife are still etched in my memory. They were so delicious. Probably I didn’t have such Littis ever again in life.

After dinner I came to know the reason for Mathura Singh’s anger. His wife told that a comrade had eloped with the daughter of his relative. He was angry not just with the Party but anyone related to the Party.

The next day I attended a meeting of the Party and left for Arah. I didn’t know the details of who all had come in the meeting. But in Arah I was given all those details by one of my classmates. He told me about each and every person who had participated in the meeting.

He said, “Baba, a member of Forward Block and a sympathiser of the Party who was present there was in fact a police informer. I got to know all that from him.”

My classmate used to address me as Baba. He himself was working for the Intelligence department of the State Police. He also told me that the names of all the Party members including mine were in the files of the police department.

A few days later I went to Patna in connection with some Party work. I was going towards the hostels of Patna College when I saw the Hostel Superintendents, Prof J and Prof M (J & M have been used here to hide the real names of the professors: J for Jackson Hostel and M for Minto Hostel) coming from the opposite direction. As they saw me, they stopped.

Prof J said, “कैसे हैं (How are you)?

I already carried the pain of the expulsion from Patna College due to my affiliations to the Party. His question had rubbed salt in the wound.

I blurted out in anger, “I am still working for the Party. Do you think I would leave the Party after you all got me expelled from college?”

Hearing that Prof M said to Prof J, “चलिए, चलिए। कॉलेज चलिए (Let’s go to the college now). They both left without speaking a word.

The Garage and my Tamil friend
The place where I stayed in Arah was a motor garage attached to a building known as Professors’ Lodge. The professors of Jain College lived in that building and I lived in the garage on rent. The motor garage had no motor. It was my place of residence in Arah for two years.

In the name of furniture I just had a hand woven cot which was kept along the wall. There was a muddy road on the other side of the wall. That road went towards our college, which was not very far from there. The wall had a rickety window but it could not be opened. There was a cluster of houses in our neighbourhood.

In one such house a student of the college lived with his family. They were from Tamil Nadu. The father was a tutor of the children of a rich person named Hari Ji in Arah who had given them that house for accommodation. The student knew me in the college. One day he came to meet me at my place and we became friends. We both were smokers. So smoking became a common link of our friendship.

By that time I had already become addicted to smoking. I used to smoke a well-known brand of cigarettes, Captain. He was also looking for a place and probably a companion with whom he could smoke. He couldn’t do that in his house. So the Garage became his favourite haunt. While smoking we would have discussions on a number of topics of national and international importance. He used to participate in the debate competitions in the college too.

When his father came to know about our friendship he invited me to his house. I also met his mother, a very kind lady, who offered me the typical South Indian coffee. Our friendship continued even after I left Arah.

After I became a lecturer at Science College Patna I was on a visit to Arah once. I discovered that the family had shifted to a new house because the old house had been sold by its owner, Hari Ji, who was also the patron of that family. Anyway, I met the father of my Tamil friend. The father told me that the son had disappeared from the house. He was a boy of rebellious nature. He was trying to strangle his father one day. Later I was told that he had joined a Muffasil college near Dumraon as a lecturer. He was a Commerce graduate from Jain College but he was very proficient in English. So he was offered to teach English in the Muffasil College. In due course he became a popular teacher of the college.

Through that Tamil friend I had also been introduced to their patron, Hari Ji, who once invited me to come to his house to guide one of his daughters who was doing M A in English. Hari Ji was very traditional and orthodox. He used to maintain strict Purdah for the ladies of his house.

When I went to the house, the girl did not appear before me face to face. She interacted with me from the other side of the Purdah, while her grandmother sat in front of me.

Sea of Poppies: a review

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

My week-long voyage to Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh was full of excitement,adventure, learning and joy. Set in the historical backdrop of mid-nineteenth century the novel’s canvas is as wide as an ocean, carrying in its womb multitudes of stories, characters, themes, locations, languages…… yet remaining placid, cool and calm.

I became interested in the book after reading a reference to the opium factories in Gazipur and Patna in one of the book’s reviews. I already knew that the main building of Patna College, much before the college was started in 1863, had been used as an opium factory earlier. This led me to embark on the journey of Sea of Poppies with the expectation to sail through the history, language and culture of the places, I thought, were known to me. Flipping through the pages of the book was an exhilarating experience. I got an opportunity to observe the places like Patna, Bakhtiarpur, Monghyr, Teghra, Barauni or objects like Barh ka Lai etc through the prism of a master story teller like Amitav Ghosh. 

However these are only a few of the many items available on the plate of the novel. Just as the white Ganga merges with the Hoogly and finally disappears in the Black Water of the Ocean at Gangasagar, the story  continues through the regions of Bhojpur, Bengal, India, China, England, Europe(the list is long); creating in its wake the conflicts of culture, language, politics and economics, evoking in the reader sympathy, love, hate, humour and nostalgia for a bygone era. 

Reading the novel is like having a smooth sail in a dinghy over the surface of a deep sea. 
By the way what happened to Jodu, Kalua, Serang Ali, Neel and Ah Fatt after they escaped in the lifeboat and what was in store for the rest of the characters on the ship named Ibis? I must find out in the next novel of Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke. My next voyage has already begun.

Conversations with Prof Kapil Muni Tiwary 3

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In the second episode Prof K M Tiwary shares how he was refused admission to BA in Patna college, even though he was eligible for the same.

In this episode he throws some light on his life as a student at H D Jain College Arah. One may also get a glimpse here of the political climate of the country and the world of that time.

Me: Once you were refused admission to Patna college, where did you go for your Bachelor of Arts?

Prof Tiwary: I had no other option but to look for another college. And the only choice for me in Patna was B N College. There was no other college for Humanities in Patna back then.

Moinul Haq was the Principal of B N College. He was another interesting character. He was also the Chief of the Hockey Federation of India. Moinul Haq stadium in Patna is named after him.

I knew a student of B N College named Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthy who was a student leader of the Communist Party. Later he became a prominent leader of CPI(M). He was a few years senior to me then. He accompanied me to meet the Principal in his office for my admission.

Moinul Haq asked me, “Where had you been in I A?”

When he came to know that I was in Patna College, he said, “You should go back to Patna College because we don’t accept the students who are nerds. We admit the students who are either sportsmen or potential leaders”.

After that he narrated the story of a student of the college named Mr A P Sharma, who was an Indian Railway Union leader then. Later he became the Union Minister in the Govt of India and still later Governor of Punjab and West Bengal.

Mr Moinul Haq also shared with Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthy how he was not given a visa once to play Hockey in a Communist country while he was leading the Indian Hockey team. It was because Mr Moinul Haq and some other teachers of St Xaviour’s School Patna had been part of a committee which were sympathisers of the policies of the United States of America.

Despite these anecdotes Principal Haq didn’t agree for my admission to his college.

Me: Sir, what did you do after you were refused admission in B N College?

Prof Tiwary: When the doors for my admission were closed in Patna, I had no choice but to move to the only college in my district town, Arah, and that was H D Jain College. The principal of the college was one Prof Bhattacharya. He saw my marks and simply wrote ‘Admit’ on my application form. I was admitted.

In Arah my link with the Communist Party became stronger and my responsibilities increased. Besides attending the classes I had to represent the Party in the college and the town. I had to go to Patna once or twice a week and bring the literature, books and newspapers from the Party office for distribution in Arah town. I used to visit the other nearby towns too for the Party work.

Back then the Party had a popular newspaper, Janshakti, which was published from Patna. I used to purchase 200 copies of the newspaper from my own pocket money in Patna and sell them in Arah. Generally I would choose a Tea Shop in the marketplace or near the railway station and sit there. A Tea Shop is a place where a number of people come for tea. Some of them used to buy the newspaper. The shopkeeper knew me as a student. So he didn’t mind my sitting and selling the newspaper there. I would sell the paper to the common people who won’t necessarily be connected to the party.

Within a year of my admission a student was penalised by the college authorities. The student had not been at fault. He had become a victim of a teacher’s personal grudge against him. It was a case of injustice and I organized a protest in the College against that decision.

When I met the Principal during the protest, he said, “Are you the same student who had come from Patna College last year? Have you come here to indulge in such activities?” But he couldn’t take any action against me because the whole college was with me.

In 1951 we led another protest in the college during a conference of professors. Our demand was that the college should be closed for the first General Elections of Independent India (1951-52). A number of students wanted to do canvassing during the elections.

Those were the early days of the cold war which sought to split the world between the two blocks led by the two superpowers, the US and USSR. They would try to influence the world on every single issue like politics, economics, ideology etc and every move made by the Western Alliance led by the USA would be opposed by the Eastern Alliance represented by the USSR.

Soviet Union was then the source of the Communist movement in the world. It was the fountainhead of the Communist strategies, policies, ideas, protests, movements.

One such movement initiated by the Soviet Union to counter the US possession and stockpiling of nuclear arms was the Peace movement. USSR had not acquired the atom bombs by then and it was trying to project itself as a peace loving nation and America as a war monger. My duty as a member of the Party was to propagate and lead several such protests and movements of the Party.

In 1948 the Communist Party was banned in India after a call for armed rebellion by Mr B T Ranadive in its second congress in Kolkata. Many of its leaders had gone underground. The ban was lifted in 1951 before the First General Elections.

Dr Arun Jee

Conversations with Prof Kapil Muni Tiwary 2

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

In the first episode Prof K M Tiwary narrated what had led to his involvement in the political activities as a student at Patna College.

In this episode he relates the story of why he could not get admission to BA (Bachelor of Arts) in Patna College despite his good results in IA (Intermediate of Arts). Here he also tells the story of his adventures of swimming across Ganga in Patna.

Me: Sir, why did you have to leave Patna College in B A?

Prof Tiwary: By the end of my Intermediate Exams I had started realising that my drift towards Communism was taking a toll on my studies and I must do something about it. So I made up my mind to move away from Patna College, known as the best in Bihar for the study of Arts then. Any other college nearby which could match its reputation was either University of Allahabad or Banaras Hindu University in Uttar Pradesh.

So immediately after the results of Intermediate I went to Allahabad, Prayagraj now, to seek admission in B A (Bachelor of Arts) there. I stayed there with a distant relative in a hostel. My results for I A were very good. I had no doubts about my getting admitted to the best college in the university. But I was disappointed to learn that the admissions had been closed. I was late. Then I moved to BHU. I had to face the same problem there too. The sessions of Allahabad and BHU were a little ahead of that of Patna University. By the time Patna declared its results, Allahabad and BHU would close their windows for admissions. So finally I had to come back disappointed to knock at the doors of Patna College once again, not knowing that even their doors had been closed for me.

On my arrival I went straight to meet the then Principal, Prof K P Sinha. I got the chit of my name sent and I was called inside.

The Principal said, “Are you K M Tiwary?”
I said, “Yes Sir”

Then he said, “We don’t have any place for the likes of you.”

After that he rang the bell. His chaprasi came and I had no choice except to leave his room. I was pretty upset by the Principal’s response.

I realised that the Principal had received an adverse report from the hostel authorities about my activism in the college and the university. He refused to admit me probably because of my affiliations to the Communist Party.

The Principal of Patna College used to live in the Principal’s residence in the campus. The hostels like Jackson and Minto were in the same campus, about 100 meters away from the Principal’s residence. The best students in the merit list would be allotted Jackson Hostel. After that they would be provided accommodation in Minto. I had secured very good marks in the Matriculation Board Exams. So I had been a boarder of Jackson Hostel.

The Principal, of course, was at the top in the hierarchy of the hostel administration. Below him was a warden, who would be a senior teacher of the college, to oversee all the hostels. Each hostel then would have a superintendent to take care of the respective hostel. The residence of the superintendent was attached to the hostel. Moreover there were assistants under the superintendent to monitor the day to day affairs of the hostel. Those assistants were known then as ward servants. Very often those ward servants would spy on the activities of the students and share the reports to the superintendents.

The superintendent of the hostel would take a round of the hostel once in a while but the ward servants would be on duty round the clock. There were different schedules for the mess, study hours etc in the hostel. In the night the lights would be off after 11 pm, by which we were supposed to be in bed for sleep.

Once I recall a ward servant was on a round. He came to my room to see if I was present or not. I was away from the hostel but I had arranged the bed in such a way that it appeared that somebody was sleeping there. I had covered my pillow with the quilt properly to hoodwink the ward servant. But he already had some prior information of my absence. He pulled the quilt and discovered that I was not in the bed. Immediately he reported the matter to the superintendent.

Next morning I was called by the superintendent and asked to explain why I had been absent from the hostel the previous night. The superintendent also inquired about my activities and affiliations with the Communist Party and cautioned me not to participate in such activities further.

Those were the years after the Independence in India when the Congress Party was in absolute power in the country and also in Bihar. Communist Party was emerging as an aggressive opposition in the state. So the authorities kept a strict vigil on the activities of the Communists. Later the Party was banned in Bihar for some time and its leaders were put in jail.

Once I remember that some AISF students of Patna College hostels were participating in a protest outside the college, in the city, and they were arrested. During the same period some unknown persons had set the old gymnasium building in Patna College on fire. The police of the local police station, Pirbahore Thana, then linked that incident of fire with the protest by the Communists and accused the boarders who had been arrested in the city of arson. I had nothing to do with that particular protest though.

Still the hostel authorities had been aware of my involvement in what they would consider the illegal political activities of the Communist Party. My occasional absence from the hostel to attend the Party meetings had come to their notice. And it was in this background that I was refused admission in BA at Patna College.

Me: Please share the story of how you swam across the river Ganga in Patna?

Prof Tiwary: Another incident had taken place in 1948 while I had just joined Jackson Hostel in first year(I A). One afternoon I went to the Patna College Ghat, popularly known as Batheja Ghat, along with one of my friends from Arah Zila School. We both decided to swim across the river Ganga.

I hail from a village named Nainijor which is on the bank of Ganga and where it was common for the youngsters like us to cross the river. We were confident we could do that in Patna too. We didn’t realise that the river’s bed becomes much wider at Patna because of the two tributaries, Sone and Gandak, that join Ganga just before. The current also is higher. By all means it was a very wild decision to swim across the river.

We both embarked on our swimming mission out of mere impulse. We started together but I overtook my friend soon. When I reached the middle of the river, I looked back and saw that my friend had suddenly decided to return. He was actually tired. But his decision to turn back could have been dangerous because a large ship carrying passengers from Mahendru Ghat to Pahleja Ghat was getting very close to him. He escaped being caught in the range of the ship by just a few seconds. I, on the other hand, kept the spirit and speed and continued swimming. Towards the end I was also getting exhausted. When I reached the other side, the people there asked me where I had come from. They were amazed to hear that I had come from Patna College Ghat because I had not been swept away by the high current of the river as much as I should have been. It is almost impossible for anyone to cross a river like Ganga straight. Normally you would be swept at least a kilometer or so diagonally to the other bank by the waves. My diagonal distance was much less.

By the time I returned back to Batheja Ghat it was dark and my friends had already gone out in search of me by boat. I disembarked from a boat in what you would call the undergarments that I used to wear then. They were fully wet, clung to my body. The teachers of the college were having a party on campus then and I had to wade through the celebrations to go to the hostel. No wonder the word got around my crossing the river in the campus soon. The authorities’ decision to refuse me admission in B A was not linked to this incident though. It had happened a year or so earlier.

Much later when I became a lecturer I swam across Ganga once again. It must have been sometime in the late fifties. It was the same Ghat of Patna College. Dr R K Sinha, the Head of the English department, had accompanied us by a small boat generally known as Dengi. I along with another colleague (I don’t remember his name. He was also from Bhojpur region) had crossed the river swimming. It was a planned event and we had had fun. Dr Sinha had taken what we call as Sun Bath on the sand on the opposite bank of the river.

Dr Arun Jee

Conversations with Prof Kapil Muni Tiwary 1

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Dr Kapil Muni Tiwary was an eminent linguist who had worked as a professor of Linguistics and English literature at the universities in India, the Republic of Yemen and in Iraq for more than 50 years. He passed away on 26 April 2021.

A scholar of English, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian and several South Asian languages including Hindi and Bhojpuri, Dr Tiwary had completed his PhD in Linguistics under the supervision of an internationally acclaimed indologist, Prof George Caradona in the sixties. The subject of his thesis was Panini’s description of Sanskrit nominal compounds. He carried out some path breaking research in Descriptive and Socio- Linguistics. Many of his papers were published in well-known international journals.

In a series of interviews that I conducted in 2019 he shared the experiences of his life and times as a student and as a teacher. In the following episode he relates the story of how he got exposed to the political activities as a student in Patna University. One may also peep into the political climate of the university, immediately after independence.

Me: Sir, how did you get exposed to the political activities as a student in Patna university?

Prof Tiwary: In 1948 I enrolled as a student of I A (Intermediate of Arts) in Patna College. I was fresh from school, having no idea of what a college is, what the atmosphere was like etc. Zila School Arah, from where I had come, had strict discipline. You had to follow the rules or face the music in the school. A student like me, who was good in studies, hardly had the scope for any violations. So when I joined the College I felt I had been released from a cage. 

Patna College then was considered as the oldest and the best college for Humanities in Bihar. This 150 year college was known not just for its heritage Dutch buildings and the sprawling, beautiful campus on the bank of Ganga but also for its alumni and professors.

Soon after I joined Patna College there was a strike in the university for the abolition of Test. You had to take a test in those days before you were allowed to take the Final Examinations. It was known as the Pr-Final Test. You could appear in the Finals only after you had cleared that Test. One of the student leaders who were spearheading the protest was P N Sharma who became a professor and later Principal of Vanijya Mahavidyalaya at Patna University. P N Sharma was a student of fifth year MA(Master of Arts) then. Another student leader named Janu Prasad wanted a complete overhaul of the Examination system in the university. When he spoke about the reforms in the Exam system, we listened to him with rapt attention. 

That strike continued for many days. It led the authorities to shut down the colleges for a month and the students were sent home.   

We, the students of the first year, were innocent. For us everything in the college was new. We did not know what Test was about or the strike was about. The protests were being organised by the students from the senior classes. It was they who held the public meetings. But we found the idea of change pleaded by them exciting. We would encourage them by listening, clapping and saying Zindabad. Nothing more. Little did I know that what had come to me as fun was soon going to take me in its grip in due course.

The protest against the Test in the university took place in 1948, only a year after India’s independence. Congress at that time was the strongest political party in the country. The student wing of Congress was, and still is, NSUI (National Students Union of India), which was quite powerful and active in the universities. Communist Party of India was just making its foothold in Indian politics. It was trying to make inroads into the students through its student body, AISF (All India Student Federation).

The protest against Test had nothing to do with party politics. It had actually been initiated by the students as an expression of their resistance against the existing examination system. But I was not aware that AISF was looking for such moments of resistance from the students in the university. They had been watching the event very closely. 

They soon grabbed it as an opportunity to strengthen their base. They identified the students who were cheering or supporting the leaders in the public meetings and started inviting them to their regular meetings. I, being a part of the Students’ group from Arah District, started attending the meetings out of curiosity.  

A few months later, there was a move on the part of the university to increase the examination fee by 5 rupees and AISF decided to protest. A meeting was going to take place in Wheeler Senate Hall of the university to approve the proposal for the increase. The meeting was to be attended by the teachers, officials, the Vice-Chancellor and others. All India Student Federation decided to protest against the proposal of the hike. 

Wheeler Senate Hall, as you would know, is an imposing building facing Ashok Rajpath in Patna. It was built to host the university meetings, convocations and other functions during the British period. The hall was constructed at a cost of Rupees 1.75 lakhs, which Raja Devaki Nandan Prasad Singh of Munger had agreed to bear then. It was inaugurated by the then Governor of Bihar and Orissa Province and Chancellor of the University, Sir Henry Wheeler in 1926. So it was named Wheeler Senate Hall. While passing through Ashok Rajpath you can’t miss the large structure of the hall with its huge pillars in the front. The hall is situated at a height for which you have to climb stairs. 

While the meeting of the Fee Committee was going on, a group of about 20 AISF students ascended the stairs and started shouting slogans to withdraw the proposal for the hike. I was one of them. It was my first experience of being in the forefront of a protest. Among others there was a daughter of Mr Dutta, a professor of Philosophy. There was also a daughter of another professor in the university.

I shiver to think even now how dangerous it could have been for us. We faced initial resistance at the main gate. A group of people had been deputed by the university authorities to block our entry to the hall. It led to some pushing and pulling from both sides. We were being pushed from inside and anyone of us could have been pushed below on the ground and would have broken his neck, nose or head. Anyway we kept on shouting slogans and managed to enter the hall. 

We must have continued shouting for a few more minutes when the situation became more precarious. Suddenly a large group of students entered the hall from another side and the front gate was closed from inside. These students had been called by the university authorities to the venue to counter our protest. They were the members of NSUI, the Congress supported student body.  They were larger in number, almost double or triple of our own. Soon sloganeering and counter sloganeering started from both sides. 

We were saying, “छोड़ो बाप को, हटाओ फीस वृद्धि “, which meant, forget the father, withdraw the hike. 

One of the students in our group was the younger brother of Chandrashekhar Singh, a prominent youth leader of the Communist Party in those days. He was two years senior to me in college. Their father, Shree Ramcharitra Singh himself was a famous leader of Congress party, a Cabinet Minister in the Government of Bihar then and it was he who was presiding over the meeting as a member of the University Senate. 

Both the father and the son were present in the hall, the former was leading the authorities for the hike and the son was protesting against it. And so the slogan, छोड़ो बाप को, Forget the father.

The NSUI students were even louder. They were saying,

“कम्युनिस्ट गुंडों को मारो ”, Attack the Communist goons.

Both the groups came face to face with each other for a while, shouting slogans. Then it became physical. Our group was small and we were at a disadvantage. The other group started hitting and pushing us down. We could have been crushed in the pandemonium. It was becoming violent. With a lot of difficulty we were able to escape. It was very scary. 

Much later Prof P N Sharma once said to me, “You remember the protest in which you had participated then. I had saved you people. You could have been beaten to death.”  He was one of the student leaders of NSUI who had come on behalf of the authorities on that day.  

Most of the students who had joined the protest did not know much about the Communist ideology. We were innocent. But we did like the way the student leaders of AISF spoke against injustice. We also liked their idea of equality. We didn’t know, at least I didn’t know that the protests like these were part of a larger battle that was going on between the Congress and the Communists to seize the political space at the state and national level.

I kept attending the meetings of AISF and the Communist party frequently. I would listen to the speeches of the leaders and read the literature. My initiation into the Party had begun without my being aware of that. I became one of their recruits and my name was on their list on which the State Intelligence Department lay its hands later. It was keeping a close eye on the activities of the Communists in the university.

Conversations with Prof Kapil Muni Tiwary 7

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

In this episode Prof Kapil Muni Tiwary shares the story of how he got the opportunity to study in the University of Pennsylvania, one of the top universities of the US, in the mid sixties for his PhD in Linguistics. It throws some light on the political changes that were taking place in Bihar in 1961. It also describes the appointment of Dr George Jacob as the new Vice-chancellor of Patna University. Dr Jacob proved to be one of the most competent Vice-Chancellors of the university after Indian independence.

Me: Could you share the story of how you went to the US for higher studies?

Prof Tiwary: In 1961 Dr Shri Krishna Sinha, the then chief minister of Bihar, died. After a good deal of politicking in Congress party Shri Binodanand Jha, a senior leader of the party, took over as the second Chief Minister. That led to several changes in the administration and bureaucracy all over the state.

A senior civil servant named Dr George Jacob became the new Vice Chancellor of Patna University. He had been a teacher of English at Patna University sometime in 1948. Later he had joined Indian Civil Service and had risen to the rank of Commissioner in Bihar. Those days there were no written exams for IAS and other civil services. People were generally selected through interviews.

When Pandit Binodanand Jha became the chief minister, George Jacob was the commissioner of Bhagalpur. Binodanand Jha was also from Bhagalpur, so he knew him well.

Since George Jacob had worked in Patna university in the past, many people knew him. So when he took over as VC, the teachers of the university, many of those who had been his colleagues, invited him to tea in the evening. The venue was the campus of the university and a number of senior teachers were there to welcome him. I, a young lecturer, was also present.

In his speech Mr Jacob encouraged the faculty to do their job in the best possible manner. He promised all kinds of help and support. Though his tone was authoritative, he seemed quite supportive of the teachers.

The teachers appeared by and large convinced by his words. The teachers like Prof P N Sharma knew him from before. George Jacob also knew them. They had worked together in the past. They could connect with him easily.

Dr Jacob further continued, “As an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer I have administered the districts and commissionaries well, as a VC also I hope to do the same.”

Like a civil servant he added, “I mean business.”

Dr Radha Krishna Sinha, better known in the university as Dr Sinha, the HOD of English, was not present in the meeting. He was not very friendly with the mob, the teaching mob. Usually in the evening he would stay at home and chat with his friends. I went to him the next evening. I was excited about the new Vice Chancellor and his promises. So I shared my excitement with Dr Sinha.

Dr Sinha said, “What did he say?”

I blurted out the assurances that George Jacob had made the previous evening.

Dr Sinha then inquired, “Does he mean business?”

“Yes, that is what VC Jacob said. He means business” I said.

I added that he had promised to do all he could to set new standards in the university.

At this Dr Sinha said, “There is nothing new in what he has said. Every new VC says that when he joins but the university has remained the same.”

Prof Chetkar Jha, a senior faculty of Political Science, was sitting there. Usually he would be at Dr Sinha’s residence in the evening. There was another teacher from the Psychology department. His name was Prof A K P Sinha. All the three were quite senior to me. I was the junior most lecturer among them. Dr Sinha had been my teacher.

Pro Jha interrupted, “मिलें हैं? आप उनसे मिले हैं? Have you met him?

I said, “No, I haven’t met him.”

He added, “मि लि ए, फिर कोई राय बनाइये।” First you meet, then form opinions.

He cautioned me not to form opinions about the new VC without meeting and interacting with him. He spoke in his sharp Maithili tone. Chetkar Jha’s drawling voice kept ringing in my ears long after I left the place.

The next day I was going to Patna College to take the Honours classes. I used to live in the teachers’ quarters at Rani Ghat in those days. On the way I would go to Patna Science College to take the classes and from there I had to cross the University campus to reach Patna College.

Coming from Science College generally I would enter Patna University campus from its eastern gate. Taking a round of the university office I would emerge from the western gate, exactly in front of Faraday Hostel.

The VC’s office was on the ground floor, very close to the western gate. That day just as I was about to come out of the university campus from its western gate, I turned to the VC’s office. I decided to meet him. I got the chit with my name and other details sent inside. And I was called.

George Jacob said with a hump in his voice, “What can I do for you?”

I reminded him of the words, “I mean business,” he had spoken in the meeting.

“Yes, I said that. I do mean business. What is your business here?” he boomed out.

With a little hesitation, I spoke the words I had come prepared with.

“I would like you to recommend my application for a scholarship for higher studies abroad.” I mumbled.

“Where do you want to study?” he probed.

I said, “Moscow, at the Institute of Linguistics”

I told him that the Institute was very well-known in the world for Linguistics. But he encouraged me to go to the USA, rather than to Moscow for higher studies.

Further he said, “But before I do it, I would like to know you more.”

Suddenly it came to my mind that instead of leaving the matter to other teachers to give him the feedback about me, I should request him to visit my class.

So I invited him to come to my class.

I said, “Sir, whenever you are free, you can see my class.”

I gave him the details of my periods in Patna College and also in the postgraduate department.

“In order to recommend your application for scholarship, I need to know you at least for two years.” he concluded.

I thanked him and left the room.

VC Jacob did turn up at my class soon after. It was the honours class at Patna College though.

As soon as he entered the class, the bell rang for dismissal. Seeing the Vice Chancellor, the students rose and greeted him in unison. I couldn’t understand what had happened. Why had the students risen? When I turned to the door, I saw Dr George Jacob standing.

I asked him if I should continue.

He said, “No, that’s alright.”

And he left the class.

I went to him after some time to hand him over a paper that I had written. If I recall the title of the paper was Reading Poetry. It was later published in the Patna College magazine. After I had come back from Pune I would often write papers on Literature and Linguistics.

George Jacob looked at the paper and asked me to come after some time.

I did go to him after a week. He said he was not competent enough to judge the quality of my papers. Because the paper was related to Linguistics. Still he encouraged me to keep on writing.

He always encouraged new ideas of the teachers and welcomed their initiatives for attending conferences, writing or their efforts to enhance their qualifications and competence. Of course he knew many of them from before. He had his own opinions about them. But I was a new character.

After that I left his office. And that is where the matter stood for sometime.

Later I went to him with an advertisement for the Fulbright scholarship for higher studies in the USA. He encouraged me for that and wrote the recommendation letter, which he got sent to the Fullbright committee in Kolkata through the university.

I had to go to Kolkata to appear in the written test conducted by the Fullbright people. After passing the test I appeared in the interview. And finally I was selected for the Fulbright.

I left for University of Pennsylvania USA in 1964. And I owe it to George Jacob for that.

There was another teacher of English at B N College who had got the scholarship for higher studies to London with the help of George Jacob. His name was Prof S K Verma.

Verma had been a student of Dr Jacob at Patna College.

On his return from London S K Verma left Patna University. He joined Central Institute of English at Hyderabad. When the institute became a university, he became the first Vice Chancellor of what is known today as The English and Foreign Languages University .

By the time I came back from the US, VC Jacob had moved away from Patna. He had become the Vice Chancellor of Ranchi Unviversity. Subsequently he became the VC of University of Kerala and then the Chairman of the University Grants Commission (1973-74).

Once I had been to Trivandram to attend a conference organised by the University of Kerala. I was walking down a street with a professor of the university. Suddenly a car stopped by our side and the person in the driving seat waved at us. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was none other than Dr George Jacob. At that time he was the Vice Chancellor of the University. As usual I greeted him.

He said, “What are you doing here?”

I said, “ Sir, I have come here to attend a conference.”He then advised the professor accompanying me to take good care of me. He also asked me to meet him before I leave Trivandram.

Dr Arun Jee

Wikipedia: what, why & how?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia & me

“Why don’t you try your hand at Wikipedia”, my teacher asked me in 2009. Wikipedia was 8 years old then. It had already raced ahead of its print counterparts like Encyclopedia Britannica or Americana in terms of volume and popularity. I was only a user of this knowledge platform, unaware that I could also become a contributor. The teacher here was the same under whom I had honed my skill of writing and research and who used to encourage me for such activities from time to time. 

I took the plunge and began my journey as a writer or what Wikipedia calls as editor. My first edit appeared in September 2009. Since then I may not have made a significant contribution in terms of volume (about a thousand edits and 10 articles) but it has been an enriching experience as a researcher, writer and editor.

Today when it has turned 20, it is proper to look at this movement called Wikipedia. It is also important to understand why more and more people from different parts of the world should join it.

What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia started by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger on 15 January 2001. The idea was to develop an online encyclopedia according to what Rick Gates had proposed in 1993 and what Richard Stallman had propagated, ‘free-as-in-freedom’, in December 2000.

Wiki was first launched as a feeder project for Wales-founded Nupedia, which was a free online encyclopedia run by only expert editors under some strict guidelines. Nupedia was founded in 2000 but its progress was so slow that only 12 articles were published in a period of one year. So a need was felt to start a project that could accelerate the pace of writing for Nupedia. It was in this context that Wikipedia came into being. Wiki is a Hawaiian word which means “to hurry, fast, quick” The growth of Wikipedia was so fast that it soon overtook its predecessor and emerged as a brand in itself. It had opened the floodgates for the community to write, edit, create.

Wikipedia became a hit soon after its launch in 2001 and it became the most important knowledge resource in the world, being used by students, journalists, and even academicians in due course. Now when it has turned 20 it has become a kind of phenomenon. According to an article published by BBC on 15 January 2021 (interestingly the source is Wikipedia itself) it has 56 million articles, 3 billion edits, 1.7 billion unique visitors a month, available in 316 languages. Another recent article published in The Guardian mentions, “It is the 13th most popular website on the internet, according to Amazon’s monitoring site, Alexa Internet, and the only one in the top 50 to be run on an entirely non-commercial basis”. 

In 2001 when Wikipedia was started, it was being supported by a non-profit organisation named Bomis. Jimmy Wales was one of the founders of Bomis. Since 2003 its owner is an organisation called Wikimedia Foundation that runs entirely on charity. Each year Wikimedia Foundation makes an appeal to its readers to donate. As soon as it receives the target money for the year, it closes its doors for donations. 

Initially Wikipedia was its only project but now there are eleven such projects being supported by Wikimedia Foundation: Wiktionary for words, Wikimedia Commons for media files, Wikibooks, Wikiquote, Wikisource, Wikiversity, Wikispecies, Wikivoyage, Wikinews, Wikidata & Wikipedia. The main goal of all these projects is to disseminate human knowledge by following the free content model.


Since its inception Wikipedia has had its fair share of controversies. Involving the community for writing has been its major strength and the same has proved to be its major weakness on a number of occasions. Alex Hern, The Guardian’s UK Technology editor writes that when it was celebrating its fifth anniversary, in 2006, it became the subject of mockery in the mainstream press for its article on David Beckham. The article said, “David Beckham was a Chinese goalkeeper in the 18th century”. It became a “comedy of errors”. Also a case of vandalism that was fixed in 11 minutes. The article on David Beckham is one of the many that are ‘semi-protected’. The semi-protected articles can be edited only by registered users on Wikipedia. A list of Wikipedia controversies is available on its own site, here.

Reliability and accuracy

Despite the odds Wikipedia has played a stellar role in knowledge creation or its equitable distribution in the world. In 2005 a comparison was made by scholars between Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia by collecting 40 articles on Science from each. An average of three errors were found in Britannica and four in Wikipedia, a comparable level of accuracy.

Katherine Mehar, the Executive Director of Wikimedia Foundation, mentions that “a YouGov poll from 2014 found Wikipedia to be more trusted in the UK than BBC.” She is not pleased with this scenario though. She says, “If there is a trust deficit in the sources that we rely on then ultimately that deficit will catch up with us as well”. 

YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki “announced recently that the video site will henceforth will use excerpts from Wikipedia to counteract the videos promoting conspiracy theories.” What an irony! YouTube, one of the giants in the corporate world will depend on a volunteer-run platform like Wikipedia to fact check the information.

Need for diversity

Wikipedia has several outstanding achievements to its credit over a period of 20 years. However it is facing a major challenge even today. Its community is very far from being diverse. A recent Wikimedia Foundation survey has revealed that “about 91% of its editors are male and 77% are white. As of late 2019, only 18% of the biographies are about women. Far fewer than that are about non-whites.” Though Wikipedia’s English edition has more than 31000 editors, 11 other language editions have just over a 1000. Half of the language editions have less than 10. 

All these figures reflect how there is a dire need for diversity in the Wikipedia community. Editors are required for many languages other than English. A better representation is expected from the Asian and African countries. The scenario in the Indian languages is not that great. Among the Indian languages, by the way, Oriya and Punjabi are doing relatively better than Hindi. 

It is not that the policy makers of Wikimedia Foundation are unaware of this. They are aware and they are taking the initiatives to fix the issue. But unless the users wake up to the call to join the movement, the improvement is not possible.

Joining the community of Wikipedia has several benefits that are personal. One gets the opportunity to write, edit, create, collaborate etc. One also acquires the skills of research and critical thinking. But beyond all this one also gets the opportunity to work for a cause that is for humanity. A cause for the knowledge that is free and is intended to be equitable.

And finally why just be a user? Why not become a contributor and try to make it better and better, with whatever one can.

A few tips about editing

Anyone can write for Wikipedia in any major language of the world, by following the guidelines available on its site. One may make edits of spelling, grammar or update the facts in the existing articles. One may also create a new article. But it is advisable to begin by editing the existing ones first. While adding the contents one must bear in mind that the contents are reliable and verifiable. Suitable references are required to support these contents. Before deciding to create an article on a subject one should also make sure that the subject is notable and it has received enough coverage in books, media etc. Otherwise the proposal for the new article may not be accepted. Biographies of living persons are not accepted easily. But Wikipedia seems biased in favour of institutions.

Humour in the classroom

File:The Ladies' home journal (1948) (14764633911).jpg
Courtesy: The Ladies’ home journal (1948)

You might all wonder who is this guy and what is he up to? Is he here to teach and preach on Humour in the Classroom or is he going to create some humour in this classroom too? Let me assure you that I shall keep my own teaching or even preaching to the minimum. As far as the humour in this classroom is concerned? No. That is not the aim of this post. 

My aim is to reveal how humour can be created in the classroom with the help of two videos: one from a movie and the other of a well-known teacher. I would also share the insights of some practising teachers in addition to my own. 

A classroom is a mini world where humour exists in the form of students’ smiles, giggles, laughter, pranks etc. A lot of these happen in the absence of the teacher. Rather the teacher may himself be the subject of such humour, without his being aware of that. But we are not going to discuss them here. We’ll reserve them for some other day. Our focus today is on the teacher driven humour in the classroom. The one that is in alignment with the objectives of learning. And for which the teacher determines the distance, volume and direction. 

Two classrooms: a virtual & a real

Let’s begin the discussion with a video from a popular Hindi movie by Amir Khan. Enjoy watching:

Courtesy: T-Series

This video has a classroom scene from the movie, Taare Zameen Par, in which the teacher, Amir Khan, makes a sudden appearance as a clown with all his costume and other props. The objectives of the teacher here are to introduce himself to the students (8-10 year old) of the class, engage with them and finally prepare them to learn his subject, that is Painting. He achieves these objectives successfully by his singing, dancing, acting, costume as well as by the timing and manner of his appearance. The key to this entire show, however, lies in the humor employed by the teacher in the classroom.

What is the source of humour in Amir’s classroom? How is he able to create humour? My immediate answer is: Incongruity, thou art the source of humour! Amir creates humour through various incongruous situations in the classroom.

A typical teacher is expected to dress formally in the classroom. Amir arrives here as a clown. A teacher is expected to be serious in the class like the Principal in his other movie, Three Idiots. But here he dances and romps around. His comparing a tree with a person, his descriptions of the sun, rain or the stars or even his tongue-twisters are the other examples of incongruities/oddities in the video. The students had not seen such a scene earlier in the class. They are amused to see a teacher in this new avatar. And the result is an immediate rapport between the teacher and the taught.

I agree that a classroom in a movie cannot be compared with that in real life. The primary aim of a movie is to entertain, and not to teach or educate. A real classroom, however, is meant for learning. The main aim of a teacher there is to help the students learn. Despite the differences humour may be common to both. In the former humour can add to the entertainment, while in the latter it can aid learning.

Let’s now enter a real classroom of a super teacher, Dr V S Ravindran, who by profession is a child psychologist. But I would like to cite him here as a teacher who is effective in reaching out to his students. And the key to his skill lies in humour. Dr Ravindran is a living example of humour in the classroom. He can make a boring topic like Discipline in today’s schools lively and enjoyable. Besides learning, the audience gets peals of laughter as a bonus. I am sharing a video below in which he is speaking to the educators about the attraction between boys and girls. Listen to him carefully and enjoy:

Courtesy: DR V S Ravindran, ICTRC

In the video Dr Ravindran begins with a typical query from a teacher, which is followed by his answer:

Teacher: Boys and girls having attraction towards each other. हमको क्या करना चाहिए? (What should we do?)

Dr Ravindran: हमको कुछ नहीं करना चाहिए। जो करना है, वो दोनों करेंगे। (We should not do anything. Whatever has to be done, will be done the boy and the girl.)

His answer to the query is the gem of a trigger for laughter with which he sets the tone for his presentation right in the beginning. Dr Ravindran uses such triggers one after the other in his presentations. And as soon as the educators open their mouths for laughter, he puts the chunks of learning for them to swallow and digest. A number of such videos by Dr Ravindran are available on YouTube. One may observe his techniques like wordplay, ambiguity, punchlines, playacting, variations of tone etc.

Personally I have had the privilege of attending some of Dr Ravindran’s lectures. I did try to integrate some of his techniques in my classroom. I learned to use humour also from another popular counselor based in Delhi named Mr Jitin Chawla. His presentations are again a big hit among the students in schools. In a recent conversation he shared with me that earlier he used to focus merely on delivering the contents in his lectures. But when he observed the speeches of Dr Ravindran he realised the need to infuse humour in them.

The two videos shared above are only the samples to reveal how humour can be created in the classroom. But they are not the final words on the topic. This is also not to suggest that a teacher should always generate laughter and mirth in the class. One may take some ideas from these and devise one’s own method and style to make the process of learning enjoyable for the students.

What do the teachers say?

I sent a questionnaire to a select group of teachers on this topic. One of them objected to the use of humour saying, “Humour in the classroom? O my God! How can you even think of that?”. According to him, a classroom is a solemn place, which should be miles away from humour. However the rest of them concurred that humour should be used as a tool in the process of teaching-learning.

I am sharing below some of the inputs/anecdotes that I received in response to my questions:

Dr Tarun Kumar, Prof & HOD of Hindi at Patna University says, 

“कक्षा में हास्य का होना जरूरी है पर ये विषय से सहज-स्वाभाविक रूप से जुड़ा हुआ हो, उसे सुबोध-सुगम बनाने वाला, अलग से comic relief के लिए नहीं। अनायास लगना चाहिए, सायास-आरोपित नहीं”

Mr Chetan Joshi, an acclaimed flautist and teacher of Hindustani classical music, says that when he introduces a Raga like गोरख कल्याण to his students he begins by saying,

“जिस तरह गुलाबजामुन में न तो गुलाब है ना जामुन, कश्मीरीमिर्च में भी न कश्मीर है न मिर्च उसी तरह राग गोरखकल्याण में न तो गोरख है न ही कल्याण”

Ms Gayatri Morris, Vice Principal, Global India International School Ahmedabad, insists that just playing with words is not enough. It should be used at the right moment and in the right manner. She shares an anecdote in this regard: 

“Once I happened to enter the classroom and found my students in a boisterous mood as they had been just told about the upcoming educational tour. I immediately wrote on the blackboard: Thank you for being quiet! I heard a few chuckles in response and I immediately had their attention.” 

Mr Nishesh Kumar Sinha, a well-known Educationist from Ahmedabad adds, “Humour eases the learning process and helps the students learn things in a better way”.

According to Mr Mrityunjay Kumar, a technocrat and educationist from Hyderabad, “One should understand the fine balance between being humourous and being insensitive/disrespectful. If the class hasn’t been groomed to use humour as a tool, it can backfire and reduce the dignity of the classroom, and sometimes the class teachers”

Ms Manju Arif, Principal, DPS North Bengaluru writes, “While using Humour the teacher has to be mindful of the language, context and sentiments of the stakeholders.”

Ms Meenakshi Choudhary, a seasoned Biology teacher, gives an example of how she tells the students that the heart has nothing to with feelings. It doesn’t fall or rise in love. Feelings are, in fact, associated with brain. And the poor organ, heart, is blamed for what the brain does.

To sum up

There is no denying the fact that humour is a useful tool in the classroom. If handled carefully it can do wonders!  Some teachers are gifted with this skill while others like me may take longer to cultivate it. But acquisition of the skill is not that difficult. One doesn’t have to become a stand up comedian for that. A bit of experience and planning should be enough. Seriously.