Back to Presidency


Today, after 5 weeks, Sunday was a day of rest. Since 10th Feb, we have been through a nightmare with my father's health. We initially admitted him into a nursing home, but after 12 days there, shifted him to a private hospital. Except for the last week, he was almost entirely in the ICU - fighting a peculiar instance of "acute kidney injury" whose exact cause could not be fathomed by experts even after all relevant investigations. I don't want to go into the details of the protracted treatment, the many complications that it led to in a frail 82-year-old body, the dead ends we faced several times over 5 harrowing weeks, and the appalling lack of professionalism we witnessed in some medical establishments.

The physical/ practical/ logistic aspects of this crisis were of course demanding. But it was the emotional roller-coaster that was the hardest to cope with: from shock (we had no idea that Baba had a kidney problem) to gripping fear (of losing him so soon after Ma) to being almost stoically prepared for the inevitable, to an immense relief and gratefulness that he has been granted a new lease of life, and now, finally, trying to accept the considerably reduced autonomy of his body.

Baba is back. That's all that matters... I've been telling myself these last 3 days. Though, I must admit, it's hard to reconcile to the fragile old patient who has come back home, worlds away as he is from the self-sufficient proud man I know. Who, till a while back, defied every stereotype of old age that one can think of.

There's a disconnect between the text of this post & the photo that goes with it. I couldn't bring myself to post Baba's photo as he is now... hence chose one from a few months back -- bringing Srishti home from school. In the months immediately after my relocation to Kolkata, to smoothen my transition as best he could, he had transformed himself into an efficient round-the-clock housekeeper & nanny, a role he seemed to enjoy initially & the ritual of picking up Srishti from school was a favourite moment of his day then. He won't be able to do that again, but I at least hope he can get back on his feet soon....

There are more: the ground floor corridor leading up to the main Arts Library now holds temporary exhibitions on its walls, and there are new staff offices and a sizable new auditorium en route to the canteen (on which I cannot comment, as I have hardly been there). The most striking new feature, however, is the names of innumerable eminent alumni of the erstwhile college chiseled out on the walls on all floors — an ever-present reminder of the excellence and range of achievements that this pioneering institution has stood for, for 200 years: a legacy that needs to be upheld.

Some features of the building, thankfully, have remained the same: the high ceilings and the long, wide corridors on every floor, which continue to give a sense of expansive space that is always a welcome relief after negotiating the congestion of College Street on the way to the University.

This is the best place I could start my second innings of teaching in Kolkata. I feel at home here in a way I don’t anywhere else in the city, even when it doesn’t harbour a single familiar face back from my time. Even after all the structural changes I’ve enumerated above.

There are other changes too, which have to do with me personally: what I’m teaching here is vastly different from what I was doing the last couple of years at LIAS, Leiden and LUC, the Hague. The English Department offers a very interesting and holistic syllabus spread over the 5 years of BA & MA, out of which my assignments primarily include English canonical texts. I’m also having to acquaint myself with all the new UGC rules and regulations over the last decade: in short, trying to get back into the shoes of being an Indian academic in India.

What has helped me adjust to the changes (and it is still very much a work-in-progress) is the attitude of my colleagues – ever friendly and helpful – within the Department; the immense good will and moral support of my friends and former colleagues in the city; and the continuing encouragement of my former teachers. I’m thankful to them all.