THE CONCEPT OF MODERNITY IN SANTINIKETAN IN 2015AD
THE CONCEPT OF MODERNITY IN SANTINIKETAN IN 2015AD
Rabindranath Tagore was a path breaking modern thinker of India and when he set up Santiniketan in his pre-conceived Tapovan format in 1905AD; the intellect of Santiniketan remained highly modern, though the learning institute was set up in a very simplistic ambiance. Since those days, personally speaking, even when all direct contact with Sanitiniketan was over for me from 1980AD to be specific, I always felt intellectually quite modern even compared with the elite of the intellectual capital of Bengal, Kolkata. So, even in late 1970s students of Santiniketan were hardly bogged down by the emerging modernity in India and in fact even outside India, both in intellectual and material terms.
From 1990AD onwards the concept of globalization were floated emphatically in India by the Congress Government at the center, compelled by an acute financial crisis. So the emergence of Globalization in India was in effect carried out in compelling circumstances, the then Congress Government under the new stewardship of Dr Manmohan Singh opened new vistas deviating a great deal from the Neheruvian concept of the modified socialist structure which was in her times emphatically pursued by Ms Indira Gandhi in her long tenure as Prime Minister. The mind set of India, post Indira Gandhi from 1990AD onwards changed at first slowly but decidedly. Now the concept of Globalization is the ‘mantra’ for the last few successive Governments of India. In fact the concept of Globalization is now considered to be the essential element of survival for any country in our globe. As a by-product, in educational sphere new learning institutes are also coming up rapidly with a decided focus on globalization. To be true, the effect of globalization in India from 1990 to 2015AD has been very prominent in two sectors, namely the way business is conducted by leading corporate houses/financial institutions with a contentious spill over into retail marketing looming large; and the course design and the attitude of educational institutes. Education now is a market driven activity depending hugely on requirement. Premiere Government run educational institutes also went for huge overhaul in their system of education. The market corollary is, today in 2015AD, education is a lucrative and thriving commercial activity in India with private learning institutions coming up rapidly in every corner of the country. The quality of education is at strain right now. But with competition very much in force, by a decade from now we can expect standardization of quality evened out by the great force of the market. Naturally, only the better institutions of learning will survive. The academic intellectuals may not like this trend very much; they would invariably find flaw in this as education is supposed to be an intellectual pursuit, not exactly a commercial activity. But in India, at this point of time, when education is more considered to be a career option than an intellectual exercise-the forces of market will obviously have the upper hand for at least next 2-3 decades if not more.
The pertinent question for us is to enquire how Visva Bharati University responded to this change of attitude and scenario in educational sector? First of all, Tagore’s intellect, in many spheres are virtually timeless in essence. The concept of modernity, or rather internationalism, was deeply embedded in the psyche of Santiniketan, but mostly in the philosophical plane. But do the methods applied to design and deliver education and formation of an intellectual society of academicians in Santiniketan afford to remain timeless as well? Five years back from now, during the tenure of Prof Rajat Kanta Ray as Vice Chancellor of Visva Bharati, a huge idea was floated to ‘preserve the heritage’. That is to say the attitude of Visva Bharati was more focused on rediscovery of the old practices proposed by Tagore. It appeared to the then think tank that old practices were synonymous with old values which were international in nature according to Tagore’s philosophy. The idea ‘heritage’ was pursued with great gusto. Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary was an national and international event for Santiniketan to leverage the idea of ‘the heritage learning institute of India’ and Visva Bharati managed to garner a fund of around Rs 250 Crores or near about basically for preservation effort rather than investing in academics. Old buildings were restored with Rabindra Bhavana complex getting a new look and kilometers of concrete fencing was erected. But, with UNESCO denying a heritage status to Visva Bharati,the whole hype dried up amazingly fast! At present in 2015AD Visva Bharati has been graded a pathetic low B by UGC designed National Accreditation Agency NAAC -obviously in this gradation heritage issues were hardly considered. In short, realistically speaking, the structure of education in Visva Bharati can hardly be called ‘modern’ as per present conditions; at best the system of education in Visva Bharati can only be termed conventional- if not old fashioned!
If the overall scenario is analyzed from 1990AD onwards till date at 2015AD; it becomes apparent that the inability of Visva Bharati to change according to the demands of time and the inability to be quick footed to usher in Globalization in education remains the chief reason behind the institution being pushed back to a B grade. Intellectual debates may go on within Tagore intellects regarding conflicts between idea of Globalization and Tagore’s concept of Internationalism; about the intrinsic style of education in Santiniketan, whether it is more important to produce learned human beings or it is more useful to produce professional academicians, so on and so forth. In most of the cases the debates will remain inconclusive; and more worrisome is, past experiences tell us, that such debates could hardly form any long term policy for Visva Bharati to follow. Decades of debates, decades of new Vice Chancellors each interpreting Tagore’s philosophy according to his own perceptions, each eager to rediscover Tagore with new found zeal, could not form any kind of tangible long term policy for Visva Bharati to work on. So, in practical terms, interpretation of Tagorean Ideals on Education remains a persistent non-starter in Visva Bharati.
The sad part in all these is that all Vice Chancellors, in their eagerness to prove that he is wiser than the previous ones, scrapped or slow toed many programs undertaken by earlier Vice Chancellors. Dr Dilip Sinha tried to go for affiliated colleges of Management, Education, Computer Courses etc to raise money for Visva Bharati- Visva Bharati even started his own management study course, only to be scrapped by later administration making the students life miserable as after passing out they had a CV where the institution offering them the degree no more existed! The Computer Software related course launched in Visva Bharati, a sure money spinner, were subsequently scrapped by Prof Rajat Kanta Ray on the logic that the course was not in consonance with the basic educational philosophy of Tagore. How he arrived at such a conclusion is ofcourse a big wonder. The net result is that a path breaking school like Patha Bhavana or Siksha Satra does not have dedicated computer units! Though in 2015AD UGC is poking all Universities hard to raise internal resources, one of the very important criterion in NAAC evaluation, naturally Visva Bharati scores a perfect zero on this. The more irritating aspect is that Kalyani, Burdwan or North Bengal University faces no such intellectual hiccups to initiate computer software or management courses making those Universities more competitive in nature added to being nicely cushioned by generating sizeable internal resources. In the meanwhile Visva Bharati goes playing the strings of Tagorean Philosophy, in whatever form perceived by the intellectual think tank, to which the educational fund controlling agencies of the Government hardly lend an ear.
Some issues are quite acute, like the B Muse Degree in Rabindra Sangeet. Outside West Bengal and Bagladesh a degree on Rabindra Sangeet hardly carries much weight and such degrees are not too viable career options outside the Bengali speaking zone. A new degree course ‘Rabindra Nritya’ has been introduced in Sangit Bhavana very recently; and no one really knows about the acceptability of such a degree at the outside world. Instead a degree in Bharatnatyam form of Dance has a ready acceptability nationally and internationally- the historical fact remains that Tagore preferred Manipuri and Kathakali form of dances to suit the mood of his songs, and was not too keen on Bharatnatyam, the dance form being more physically expressive. So, an intellectual debate can be expected over this. But today, when education is not exactly a philosophical pursuit but an essentially career driven activity having very serious future implications with stiff competition in educational sector, getting stiffer day by day, the idea of globalization staring hard at all of us, educational thinking in Visva Bharati is hardly professional by todays standards. How to interpret Rabindran Tagore in today’s context is not really a fashionable subject to many, including senior ex-students who only laments about the old ambiance of Santiniketan and the simplicity of life in those days! So, Santiniketan, at best has now become a nostalgic melodrama for the old timers.
The little experience that I recently gathered about the insider psyche about Visva Bharati remains fairly disturbing when I am compelled to realize that there is a huge fear psychosis prevalent among the faculty members. No one from within Visva Bharati is too interested to discuss the affairs of the institution in the open until and unless circumstances forces him/her to do so like when matters get dragged to court and news papers get a chance to chew Visva Bharati with great delight. Much of such controversies should have been settled within the University in a democratic way, but most of the time general public are kept amused by conflicting press statements issued by several factions within Visva Bharati! In short there is no open platform where difference of opinions can be discussed and sorted out in a amicable
fashion. The situation is somewhat like this either you are a methodical ‘Yes Man’, or a habitual ‘Silent Man’ or at worse a few ditched ‘No Man’ invariably on warring course with administration. There is nothing in between. In corporate houses we are mandated to follow our leader in to-to resulting in a practical ‘Yes Man’ culture, Ms Mamata Banerjee’s government also acts on the same line, so does Police. But it was stunning to find an University, supposed to be a very democratic and open set up, acting on ‘Yes Man’ culture. Certainly such atmosphere can not be good for a just academic culture. Something is apparently very wrong within the system of Visva Bharati which has become decidedly entrenched in Visva Bharati psyche within last 10 years or so. It seems, a section within Visva Bharati remains always keen to perpetuate this ‘Yes Man’ culture resulting in severe strain to democratic norms and loss of mutual trust among faculty members.
All these maladies can be easily sorted out by the faculty members if they desire to. It is in fact hugely surprising that faculty members could not break free from this stifling atmosphere all on their own. There can not be any justifiable logic behind this inability, until and unless ofcourse if there are some vested interest to keep such ‘Yes Man’ culture in vogue. The equation is pretty simple- no one can really fool someone else, if he is not willing to get fooled. The popular facade used in Visva Bharati for such failures is to heap all the blame on the top successive administrators of Visva Bharati, the latest being all the blame of Visva Bharati being accredited B by NAAC being thrusted upon the present Vice Chancellor where as the actual reason for this plight being the absence of right kind of infrastructure and the inability of faculty members in 40 departments to attract sufficient number of quality research projects of national and more importantly international relevance. So for guys who has the mind to read between the lines of the Grade B accreditation, it is a sorry state of affairs within Visva Bharati. For this sorry state rationally the long term stake holders of Visva Bharati, i.e. the faculty members should own the major responsibility. A change of guard at the top is not going to change the academic standard of Visva Bharati overnight; only long term persistent effort from the academicians of Visva Bharati can sort this out, for which, in my opinion, the present faculty members are capable if they decide to take on the challenge head on!
As far as academic performance is concerned, though I am least suitable to make any assessment, but even to a layman like me few line of thoughts appear pretty strange to me. The primary among them is absence of inter department collaborations within Visva Bharati. Lets take the case of Science departments. Even to novices like us, it is quite obvious that to day front line science is a hugely interdisciplinary effort, for example these days a front line science experiment needs experts in many fields to combine their effort- maybe one from Life Sciences, another from Physics, someone from Chemistry and a Math Wizard with the ability to program proper computing algorithm usually forms a team, well generally speaking. In Visva Bharati in 2015AD, again generally speaking, Physics remains strictly confined within Physics Department, Mathematics is happy to be within its fold, Chemistry remains busy with their own work, so on and so forth. There can be exceptions to this in Visva Bharati, but very rare. This compartmentalized scenario is prevalent all over Visva Bharati; in fact the same scenario persists more or less in other old school learning institutions as well . Recently in Visva Bharati, there was a talk to coalesce the design unit Silpa Sadana now offering Bachelor of Design Degree with Kala Bhavana and some sort of a MOU was signed. There is quite a bit of intellectual aversion to this merger concept based on the idea of ‘high art’ and ‘low art’ form and I reckon the idea, without any takers within Visva Bharati, will die a nascent death soon. But outside Santiniketan new and spank Art Institutios are coming up where Fine Arts is being seamlessly merged with Multi Media and Design. The writing in the wall is very soon these new art institutes will overtake prestigious units like Kala Bhavana both in utility and artistic output. So, the thinking process of the faculty members of Kala Bhavana appears to be stagnated even to novices like us. But the silver line is there is enough talent within Kala Bhavana faculty to buck this trend, yes if they so desire! The essential idea is academics of every form is now a fairly volatile area, and getting stuck within a box of preset thinking for a span of 30 years (average working span of an academician) is not going to work. So, somewhere, someone needs to embrace free thinking and work on that consistently to overcome stagnation. Again, this is readily understood even by the novices in the field of academics; one need not be an expert to be aware of this changing scenario.
I know this article may not be a pleasing one, but the observations made here are pretty straight faced, without any particular malice to anyone in person. I have a firm belief that all these problems are not really hard to work on. It is just a matter of attitude and perception. The whole argument then converges back to the concept of globalization, the idea of modernity and internationalism. Referring to Rabindranath Tagore at every pretext, a popular phrase in Santiniketan, is no easy task now, as for almost the entire academic fraternity of India, the seamless merger of Philosophy and Utility of education is a hugely complicated concept. What we ex-students would like, instead, is to see a lot of interesting activity generated within Visva Bharati. Many, but not all, among us would also like to see Computer Software courses restarted in Visva Bharati. Apart from generating the obvious resources as student fees, innovative computer programming has become a necessity for many science related higher studies. The money Visva Bharati spends on outsourcing computerization of many activities, then could have been recycled to the Computer Software Studies centers within the university saving the outgo of resources. A management unit focussed on rural development could also be an important unit as Government of India and the State Government would have been logically interested in such programs creating a possibility to tap Government funds in such areas. In short, Visva Bharati should now think in terms of studies which has genuine possibility to attract resources from several sources, including the corporate world. I know, many would disagree, specially regarding corporate finance. Well, I would not go into the argument, except mentioning that Rabindranath Tagore in his days regularly collected money to run Visva Bharati from several sources, including businessmen and head of princely states of India. But more than this argument, other state and central universities will definitely tap these opportunities, whether Visva Bharati does tap them or not. That makes the scenario more complicated for Visva Bharati. But, it is never too late to begin, and we, most of the ex-students, to whom Visva Bharati is not exactly a nostalgia but an ideaof education floated in time by Rabindranath Tagore, firmly believe that Visva Bharati has the potential to offer much better and newer concepts and ideas to the society. It is always extremely difficult to create, and a honest and genuine creation hardly dies, it invariably always propagates to modernity in due course. So, we naturally remain hopeful in the long term about the future prospects of Visva Bharati.Best Wishes to All, Shubhashis, Muktodhara