Sam Pitroda, chief guest at Presidency University’s first convocation, stepped out of Derozio Hall after the three-hour programme to take a walk around the 196-year-old institution with mentor group chairman Sugata Bose. Metro trailed them.
Returning to the main building, Pitroda saw a group of students squatting in the portico demanding “immediate campus elections”. But the slogan-shouting group fell silent when Pitroda and a train of teachers approached along the adjoining corridor. “Why are the students staging a demonstration?” Pitroda asked Bose, who tried to suggest it was best ignored.
Pitroda almost cajoled Bose to say what it was all about. Having learnt what it was, he said: “Students shouldn’t spend time in politics. Politics won’t get them anywhere. They should only study. That should be their only goal.”
Pictures by Sanjoy Ghosh
Historian Ranajit Guha, the pioneer of subaltern studies, was conferred DLitt (honoris causa) at the convocation. The 91-year-old who lives in Vienna was too frail to fly but a message from him was read out by Sugata Bose.
Guha’s message (excerpts):
I am honoured by the decision of Presidency University to nominate me for an honorary doctorate degree. I share the prestige that this academic distinction bestows on me entirely with the youth — that is, the younger generation of scholars who enriched my life as an intellectual and my career as a teacher, writer and researcher in four continents.
I recall my debt to youth on this occasion, because it is they who alone can best represent, that is, bring to presence the forward-looking hope and exuberance of my past spent as an undergraduate in Presidency College from 1938 to 1942 some seventy years ago. These were the years of that turbulent and difficult, yet rich and stimulating rite de passage which turned a schoolboy into an adolescent college student.
All this occurs to my ninety-year old memory in ironical contrast. For this remembrance has no present nor indeed any future ahead in its perspective. Anchored in the past, it can only pick up shreds of experience left behind in time’s path. People and events, friendships and addas, lectures and lessons, books read, involvement in politics and nationalist activities — all crowd into the narrow space that is only a weak and fading memory.
What stands out is the recollection of outstanding teachers and their formative influence on my young mind — Sushobhan Sarkar’s lectures on European history, Gaurinath Shastri’s teaching of Sanskrit grammar and poetry, Sasanka Bagchi’s lessons on Tagore’s works, Tarapada Mukherji’s classes on English literature and so on.
Now my Alma Mater, truly a bounteous mother as its name signifies in Latin, has itself blossomed into a glorious university that is carrying on the rich tradition it has inherited.
I wish it all prosperity and success in fulfilling its mission in all fields of learning, teaching and research.
Guha, an alumnus of the erstwhile Presidency College, won Ananda Purashkar in 2009 for Kobir Naam O Sarbonaam.
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