Lest we forget:: THE viva

H knocks on the open door, and standing in a single file, we wait to be allowed in.

"Come in, come in. Welcome." Jadhav is grinning from ear to ear.

He is thin and scrawny, and rather young for an engineering professor. He is also very knowledgeable, but unfortunately miserly when it comes to sharing that knowledge. Sitting in his class isn't particularly useful, but it is an investment for most people - if Jadhav believes that you are sincere, then you're likely to have little trouble in your practicals or 'orals' (as vivas are called in Pune). The question that I'm unable to answer even five years later is - can Jadhav ever like anyone?

A few months before, during Jadhav's class, he asked us a question related to what he had been writing on the board. He looked around at faces who were hesitent, broken in by months of bantering in case you made the mistake of even answering the question correctly. Jadhav put the board-duster on the desk before him, and came in front and leant back on the desk, facing us.

"No one knows to answer this question?"

No one. He looked down at me and grinned. Then he looked at someone else, and then someone else, all the time grinning. He sat up on the desk and asked us why we'd come to college today? You want attendance? Go. I will give you attendance. One guy raised his hand and on being given permission to speak, began answering the question. Jadhav raised his hand and Rakesh stopped. He was told that the time to answer the question was over.

What will you do? Some of you,
he said looking at me, will finish engineering and go and do your mba and work. Engineering is no use. Others, he said, somewhat pointedly, will finish and go for interviews and not get the job and come to colleges and teach. Why? Because you do not know English. He looked at us for a minute, told us that our attendance is marked and if anyone wants to leave, our attendance has been marked. Not a soul moved. He turned back to the board and began writing down derivations without bothering to explain a thing, as usual.

Back to the viva: Jadhav asked us to take our seats and without bothering to introduce the external examiner, launched into questions. G was first, and she was unable to answer. The questions transferred to H and though he answered correctly, he was told that he was wrong, based on a reasoning that none of us had heard on, and which didn't make any sense. A red herring, perhaps, but one couldn't argue with Jadhav.

Jadhav then turned to me, and grinned. He asked a question, and before I could answer, he put his hand up. He turned to the external examiner and said 'Yeh dilli ka hain. Dilli ko jata hain aur Dilli se aata hain. Aur kuchh nahih karta hain. Front row par baith kar sota hain' (Translated: this boy is from Delhi. He goes to Delhi and comes from Delhi. He doesn't do anything else). I was left speechless, and Jadhav turned back to G who was on the verge of a breakdown.

In the past Jadhav had taken offence to my overt sincerity, and never responded to my questions, quietly turning me away. The only time he had not been terse or condescending was when he had needed something from Delhi. After not receiving much help I had had to turn to my friends in the fourth year for help.

After G and H, he again refused to ask me any questions, while I sat wondering about what it was that had pissed him off. I was the proverbial Mr.Nice Guy in college. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what I'd said had offended him. I just sat there for fifteen minutes, not knowing whether to fret or fume, unsettled by the humiliation. It's impossible to put into words what I was feeling at the time.

When the external examiner suggested Jadhav ask me a question, Jadhav said that I wont be able to answer because just sat on the front bench and slept. The external examiner looked at me and laughed. Had this been my school, or even the college I eventually graduated from, I would have just gone to the Principal/Dean and discussed the matter with him/her. But the management-student gap here was such that students just weren't comfortable with the management; one was made to feel that the college was doing you a favour by providing you an education, and the thought of talking it out with the management didn't even occur to me.

G started crying, and Jadhav scolded her a little before realising that that only made things worse. He tried to pacify her and told her not to worry. He then turned to me and asked me, ad hoc, the uses of the internet, something which wasn't even in the course. I explained the commercial uses- B2B, B2C, advertising, ticketing...everything I could think of. Jadhav interrupted me and said 'Wrong. You don't know anything?' I tried to argue, a last ditch effort, and possibly a release for the frustration that had built up. He put and end to my protests by saying 'You did not say email.'

G and H passed the viva, and I failed. So humiliated was I at the end of it, that I almost didn't go for the next second attempt in the next semester, almost walking out while waiting for my turn.

When I look back at this viva, I can't help but feel that Jadhav is a product of a system that fails to make him employable, that our education system might make people knowledgeable, but not necessarily gear them up for a life that requires well rounded development. Jadhav, who taught Communication Engineering, was a disaster at communication - often asking students in class to give him the English words for certain words in Marathi. I can't blame him for being frustrated, but that doesn't justify what he did. We also had a lady who taught who, during an SNR (audio) experiment, repeatedly said 'If you see carefully, you will see the whistle'. Right.

And in this light, the government intends to hire more teachers because they intend to increase the seats in colleges- quality be damned. The current teaching methodology is archaic and often, by the time the curriculum is updated, it is already out of date. A coaching class like NIIT teaches you C++ while an engineering college teaches you Fortran, Cobol and C because the teachers aren't up to the mark.

During my years at Pune, I know of several people who became extremely moody, went into depression, and often did crazy things - the inordinate stress and the poor quality of teaching brought out the worst and the weirdest in them. This system either destroys you or strengthens you. What it doesn't do is develop your skills.

What needs to be done? Reduce barriers to entry in education, reduce the influence of the bureaucracy and let colleges compete to attract the cream. Let them raise funds from debt and equity for infrastructural investment, and let them be accountable like any corporate. It'll take time, but I'm sure that in ten years the free market operation will have achieved a lot more than a regulated governmental operation in fifty.
4 Comments:
Blogger Ankit said...

"This system either destroys you or strengthens you. What it doesn't do is develop your skills." -- No truer words have been spoken about engineering in India. The jury's still undecided on my case...

It was sad to hear about your viva experience. I on the other hand employed a 'out of sight, out of mind' methodology. I've never ask any questions in class, nor answered anything voluntarily. Didn't take me long to realize that the best way to survive engineering was to not call attention on myself.

If you don't give most professors any chance to embarrass themselves, they'll be glad and let you live in peace. Sad, but it worked. I didn't learn anything, but I wasn't hindered either.

May 28, 2006 12:46 AM  
Blogger Negative Creep said...

This is totally true. And what's worse is that thousands of students crac under the pressure of doing something they didn't even want in the first place. The number of students who decide to do engineering or medicine solely because they've been brainwashed into thinking that all other courses are for losers is apalling.

And this system does not educate you in the real sense of the term. It does not teach you any life lessons. It is little more than glorified vocational education.

Like i always say, don't let your studies get in the way of your education.

May 28, 2006 1:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Dude..
How much money did you pay for getting into the Engineering college...I presume that you would not have got enough marks to get into a engg college in Delhi and dad would have shelled out a packet to get you admitted to a capitation fee college in Pune...otherwise there is no explaination for your going to Pune
..is not this a kind of reservation then, the reservation for the wealthly and I wonder what happens to merit in this case....

May 28, 2006 7:04 AM  
Blogger Nikhil Pahwa said...

Ankit -

it was a lot worse, and some of my FLS friends who visit this blog might remember it. Fortunately, I've forgotten most of it.

There were times when I attempted to remain anonymous, but we had a stupid 75% attendance policy that got extended to 85%. And for some strange reason, just about everyone in college knew me. I had people whom I'd never met coming up to me calling me by name. Same thing in my post-engineering Business School.

Negative Creep: I cracked, and I was one of those who had been brainwashed into thinking that all other courses are for losers. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Anonymous - I have a Maharashtra domicile since my mom is from Bombay.

May 28, 2006 8:45 AM  

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