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A Thought Bomb On The Existing Education System? - A Review*

“Feeling torn between disparate disciplines is the best possible thing. It is a mark of genuine liveliness and curiosity”- Saikat Majumdar

The book might appear to be slim and suggest an easy reading, because of Saikat Majumdar’s lucidity of expression but like his other non-fiction, Prose of the World (2013), it is differently, yet intensely thought-provoking. This creative-nonfiction is not a surprise, for Saikat Majumdar has made his mark as a writer of two novels, including the widely acclaimed The Firebird. College engages us in a creative philosophical discourse, in its analysis of the ArtScience education in the country. The strength of the book lies in its narrative style, which persuades one to revalidate his precepts and observations with the experiential reality. To put it briefly, it opens up space(s) for other discourses.

College… has not been a smooth reading for me. As a researcher, professor and a parent of a twenty-two-year-old, on the threshold of his profession just graduating from an Engineering college in the country, the book has constantly made me evaluate my personal experiences. After reading through this thought-bomb of a text, intensely packed with ideas of contra-disciplinary methods of teaching-learning as against the provincial monolithic approach, I strongly felt that the book would win empathy from any educationist struggling with the mill-on-the-run system of education in India. However, my first reaction after reading the book was, - ‘Could this thought-bomb actually affect the think-tanks at UGC, AICTE? Could this possibly bring about a change in Higher Education? Could this relate theory with praxis, or more so upgrade the syllabi and teaching in technological institutions in subjects like Electronics and Telecommunications, in tandem with the processes of modernization, every six months or more frequently?’

Saikat Majumdar’s College … is split into eight chapters, well linked with each other, like a flowing stream of ideas, moving from detection of the problem to a close comparative analysis of the same, to ideas related to the solution of the problem. As a Calcutta Xavier’s graduate, having completed his higher education in American universities, having taught at Stanford and now back home in Ashoka, Saikat Majumdar with his wide experience as a scholar and academic has meticulously taken up the issues relating to the choc-a-bloc education policies in India, occasionally referring to the western universities also and their positive aspects and pitfalls. The first two sections, titled “The Clerical” and “The Promiscuous”, use a creative-critical approach to the craze in the country for institutions like IITS, and he sharply points out that, “the prospect of reading for an Honours degree in St. Stephen’s in Delhi or Presidency in Calcutta does not quite come close to a seat in one of the coveted IITs.” The instance of Alankar Jain, the student preparing for IIT Entrance in Kota, reminds me with a lot of pain, of the 10+2 years of my son’s career. Surjo had the promise of being a professional violinist, for he was already playing at public forums. He was writing regularly in the “Voices” in The Statesman, TTIS, writing his stories, and at the same time making patches for Sci-fi games like Mass Effect, designing software, which were readily accepted by American gaming companies which pooled in young Asian brains for the expansion of their industry, and offered them money in credits. It took us quite some time as parents to understand from where his pocket money came from for his visit to malls in South City, Kolkata. I also remember vividly, while I was in Stanford myself as a Fulbright-Nehru, visiting Faculty, where my friendship began with the author of the text, how my son had remotely controlled my laptop issues, from time to time. We as parents did not know what to do with this 18-year-old. Whether he should take up Science or Arts was an issue of debate. As Saikat Majumdar incisively points out, the popular craze for technological education finally won the debate. So, he was sent to one such institution, after a lot of brain-washing, career counselling and after his refusal to appear for JEE or IIT entrances vehemently. The mother had to put up with complaints from the mentor regularly, for the next three years, for he was never in his classes but always in the Students Cultural Centre composing music, which from the institution got him his reputation as a musician matched with software skills. His almost zero attendance in classrooms, however often landed him in deep trouble. Events management alongside with musical compositions taught him to develop interpersonal and intrapersonal skills which Majumdar writes about in the section on the “Souls of Disciplines”, quoting Howard Gardner’s analysis on different types of Intelligence.

As Majumdar points out in the chapter “The Contra-disciplinary”, “… Mathematics and the Arts come together to embody this model of ArtScience education with greater richness – the contra-disciplinary always has a rhythm, no matter how counter-intuitive its surface… .”. Following his analysis, it is not difficult to understand Surjo’s love for computers and music, which were considered problematic for his parents in the existing educational system in the country. Saikat Majumdar’s analysis also wonderfully explains why certain musicians and percussionist stalwarts, are actually good in Mathematics. They have to be, to understand and execute the half beats, three-fourth beats, different offbeats and measurements in their brain while at the same time using their bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence, in performance. Among the well-known practitioners I could mention a musician friend Shri Subhajyoti Guha, the percussionist, who studied Applied Mathematics in Jadavpur University, before completely switching over to his chosen passion and profession. Guru Ashish Sankrityayan, the dhrupad exponent, is a double M.Sc in Physics and Mathematics, before he embraced dhrupad singing as his passion and profession. As a musicologist and musician, his scholarly articles