I started teaching as Guest Faculty in the English Department of Presidency University a day after I relocated back to Kolkata last summer. In the initial weeks I was racked with nostalgia on the one hand, remembering my student life 25 years back; and on the other, trying to absorb all the changes that the institution has undergone in its new avatar as an autonomous university (from an erstwhile undergraduate college affiliated under Calcutta University) .
There is much that is new in the main building (where the English Department is housed): the ‘stairway to heaven’ is now wrought in marble, heaven itself can be alternately accessed by an elevator, the classrooms have shrunk in size, the students have doubled in number, the Seminar Library is now the HOD’s office, the PCR virtually unrecognizable, a disproportionate installation gobbles up the quadrangle, the steps on the portico have vanished, as have the ‘khops’ in the corridors of the ground floor – all of them levelled out.
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.
I like being part of the English Faculty at Presidency: a young, dynamic bunch of people who bring a range of expertise to bear upon the courses being taught. And it’s of course ultimately the students – bright, attentive, engaged (for the most part) – who make the teaching worthwhile for me.
It’s a rare privilege to be able to serve the institution that has been a shaping influence in one’s life. I’m enjoying that privilege while it lasts….!
One very important fact about the English Department at Presidency: like any department in any given university, it faces its own set of challenges – but “vacant seats” is not one of them. If anything, here the problem is just the opposite – it could do with more class rooms and more teaching staff!