As temperatures soar in this part of the country, tempers, too, fly high. It’s about 43 degree Celsius in Bhirbhum – the district under which Santiniketan falls – and everyone is a little prickly, a little on edge. The irritability is quite palpable and we can sense it every evening in the little café that we run. On weekdays, the crowd at our café comprises mostly students and teachers, who come together to discuss the latest vexing issue in the Santiniketan university campus. And this summer the topic of debate is the new vice-chancellor’s, or VC’s, decision to give traditions a burial.
Ever since Tagore set up his school in Santiniketan, classes have always begun early morning. This tradition continued even after he set up the Visva Bharati University and introduced under-graduate and post-graduate classes. Officially, classes would start at the crack of dawn and end by noon for students and teachers to go home for lunch. Since many extra-curricular classes were held in the evening, Tagore and his colleagues believed that freeing students from their classes early would give them the time to pursue other interests.
But times have changed and Tagore’s vision perhaps needs a bit of tweaking. Considering the increasing competition students have to face these days, it’s only natural for them to put in more hours of study. Or at least the new VC thinks so, since he has ruled that classes will now start at 9.30 a m and go on till 6 in the evening with a half-an-hour lunch break in between. This will allow the university to adhere to the 40-hour week guideline that the University Grants Commission (UGC) has laid down. But in order to compensate for the long hours, the university will now get two days of holiday instead of the one and a half days it used to get earlier.
That should be good news, except that it comes with a twist. Since its inception, the official weekly holiday of Visva Bharati has been Wednesday — the weekday on which the school was inaugurated. And with Tuesday as a half-day, Santiniketan has always had its weekends much before the rest of the country. But because of this, the University and the administrative bodies that govern it in New Delhi have only three common working days in a week — both the UGC and the ministry of culture have Saturday and Sunday off. To correct this anomaly, the weekend has been split, with one holiday on Wednesday and the other on Sunday.
This has obviously irritated some of the less charitable professors who feel that this is just another disciplinary device employed to make sure they are in town and available for their students, instead of pushing off to Kolkata to party every “weekend”. Even as we hear heated debates on these administrative issues, there’s something else that I wonder about as I collect the order slips of students who visit our café — the system in our café is that the customer writes down what he or she wants to eat or drink. I wonder about the quality of students that the university attracts. And whether the entrance exam based on multiple-choice questions – which is assessed by machines and not professors – has something to do with it. Of course, this is a subjective issue and it is indeed difficult to assess the calibre of each student. But as I take an order for “percels,” I wonder if spelling is a good yardstick to begin with.