PEOPLE OF SANTINIKETAN: HIMADRIJA (LABANYA) CHAKRABORTY
PREFACE: For some time I have been thinking about interviewing people one way or other related to Santiniketan, specially related to present times. Accordingly I take this opportunity to start a new serial interviewing people of Santiniketan.
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO HIMADRIJA (LABANYA) CHAKRABORTY
Now an energetic young lady pursuing her MA 1st year in Economics, Visva Bharati University, Himadrija took admission in Class VI in Patha Bhavana. In her school days she was the Samapadika (Secretary) of Ashrama Sammelani, the school student’s union in Patha Bhavana. From the times of Rabindranath Tagore, the students of Patha Bhavana, the school section, were allowed to form their own union and to conduct various school activities with statutory co-operations of the representatives from the teachers. Now in her college days, Himadrija is the Editor of a student’s magazine conceptualized by her, ‘Birup Katha’. The name ‘Birup Katha’ in Bengali, should in essence mean- ‘alternate voices’. Himadrija is trying to keep the space open for alternate voices for the student community not necessarily confined within Visva Bharati University, dealing with subjects like alternate education, literature and culture.
THE PERSONAL INTERVIEW
As Himadrija is an ex-student of Patha Bhavana the first specific enquiry that I made was about what actually the school Patha Bhavana, taught her. This can be a troublesome question to many. But she had a quick answer to spell out, “Patha Bhavana taught me to raise questions, imbibed in me a drive to take initiatives and to then always nurture hope in my heart”. Her quick and specific response made me aware of her analytical powers and I am extremely happy to note that even today there are students who think and feel about society and try to curve out something inspiring among all this negativity ailing our society. Interestingly, being an ex student of Patha Bhavana myself, urged with her, I am also a diehard follower of ‘hope’!
On further probe, Himadrija revealed that though there are exceptions, but then generally speaking the teachers of Patha Bhavana these days do not encourage the tendency to raise questions. In her times in school, just a few years back, she was specifically encouraged by Sri Avik Ghosh, Sri Partha Chakraborty, Sri Tarit RoyChoudhury, along with few others of the teacher community to raise questions and to try to aspire for the solutions by taking appropriate initiatives; but unfortunately that is not the general norm in Patha Bhavana. Being the Sampadika of Ashrama Sammelani, she had to deal with quite a few difficult situations. She is happy that she could raise some questions on behalf of the students, some other students were also encourage by her to raise student related issues; but most of the times nothing really changed, the writ of the administration ruled firm. These days I reckon, the administration of Patha Bhavana is gradually applying stricter rules, code of conducts et cetera; whereas Himadrija believes stricter rules in the education sector is generally a manifestation of the incompetence of the administration and is against the basic spirit of education. In fact majority of the teachers and students community of Patha Bhavana feel that taking charge of Ashrama Sammelani, is a big wastage of time, which hamper the studies. But even there, within the course materials, students in general are not really inspired to raise questions or suggest alternate methods. Himadrija laments that the school unit of Visva Bharati is surely getting patterned into the main stream school education system in India. The voice of the alternate, beautifully argued by Rabindranath Tagore while setting up Patha Bhavana, is getting feeble day by day.
Naturally, I next probed about the condition of her belief she inherited from Patha Bhavana ‘Raise questions, Take Initiatives and Harbour Hope’; at the college level of Visva Bharati. Himadrija became visibly excited. First of all, she lamented the classrooms, and as she always used to look out of the window all through the first semester. She and a few others like her were specifically cautioned by college teachers not to look outside! The absence of nature anywhere around her became a matter of great disturbance. Next thing which bothered her was the medium of instruction in English. Why Bengali would remain out rightly neglected in higher education in Tagore’s own university is a question which makes HImadrija fairly agitated. Though she is not incompetent in English, but the summary denouncement of Bengali as a medium of higher education in Tagore’s Visva Bharati is not viewed very kindly by her. According to Himadrija, it is a gross insult to mother tongue, a language built up so magnificently by Rabindranath Tagore.
At this juncture, I started to feel fairly nervous, as I was going to publish the interview in English!
But even in Economics Department of Visva Bharati, raising questions is definitely not the usual norm; here the exceptions are ever rarer than school. Personally, I feel this is an awful trend, because higher education should, in essence, breed in the student, the quality to ‘raise valid questions’, because without raising questions how can someone learn to find solutions? When there is no question raised, no solution can be found either! So there appears to be something desperately wrong in the approach to higher education pursued in Visva Bharati. After the great demonetization declaration by Prime Minister of India, Himadrija expected that next day in classes the teachers in her economics department will raise the issue for some non academic discussion, but to her astonishment none of four teachers even raised the issue once. Himadrija feels the education system, at least in Visva Bharati, has got bit too detached from society; nobody here thinks of anything else than course content and exams! I asked her whether these observations made by her about her own department can be made ‘on record’; she was again gutsy enough to promptly quip back ‘sure’!
But within this college atmosphere, Himadrija embraced leftist ideologies, is a part of USDF – a leftist student democratic front moulded in the Naxal mode, took active part in a few student agitation movement in Visva Bharati against hike of fees et cetera. On a broader platform the stifling of the alternate system and voices made her edit her student magazine ‘Birup Katha’, and she has kept the alternate voices forum alive in Visva Bharati in her own way. So, her spirit remains undaunted till date. I offer her a big appreciation from the ex-student community, as in the long run, it is the ‘spirit’ which remains the driving force in life.
My third probe was how she could visualize her future; or if students of Visva Bharati do have some future projections, some ambitions, some set of mind to act accordingly in future? Or in short I wanted to know if Visva Bharati prods the students to have some dream to pursue in future? Generally speaking, this can be a very disturbing issue. The culmination of education will result in a job, almost any kind of a job- this is the general dream nurtured by students and their parents in this part of India. There is a definite absence of students persuing a specific dream with great earnest, as probably Visva Bharati has not been able to acquire the quality of education which imparts in the mind of students the desire to pursue specific dreams.
In this context, Himadrija is keen to pursue research, as she feels she needs more intimacy with her chosen field of study; but she wants to do something which is close to the common people. She also has a desire to know more about ordinary people to make them her focus of study. At the end, she wants to contribute something to the society, that is her specific dream.
Regarding the ‘dream’ component, I have a feeling, by stifling the ability to raise questions in the class, a student’s ability to dream is also curbed to a large extent. Visva Bharati University hopefully should strikes some balance between the rules and dreams. Personally speaking I am not too sure about this particular aspect of Visva Bharati and hope to probe it in some depth in future.
Thanks to Himadrija (Labanya) Chakraborty, by giving me about one hour of her precious student time on 15 January 2017. She was very quick to grasp my probes, and responded with great amount of clarity. In fact the clarity of thought is something which has made me extremely hopeful about youth of her kind. Perhaps from her, I again learn to ‘harbour hope’.
All our best wishes to Himadrija.