Oral history interview with Prasanta RayRay, Prasanta Manjapra, Kris 2009-08-12
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August 12th 2009 at Presidency College and this is an oral history interview with Professor Prasanta Ray in the Sociology department at Presidency College. Thank you very much Professor for your time, first I wanted to ask you about your experiences as a student at Presidency and focusing on both your student colleagues and then also academics and professors that had an influence on you, and then we can have second part of our conversation about what your role at Presidency College has been as a professor especially in terms of sociology and establishing the institution or the department of sociology at Presidency College. So first of all just some bio data could you, would you mind sharing the year you were born, where you were born?
I was born in 1943 and in Kolkata, North Kolkata to be specific to lower middle class parents. Right see it was a very large family with 8 brothers and sisters. My father was a government clerk and I was born in the year 1943 which happened to be the year of Bengal famine also and that was the aftermath of a little bit of riot in Kolkata also and a meeting called and but you know because of strong family bonds which means among the siblings and hard working caring parents as was the normal model in lower middle class homes all the brothers and sisters got a good education and they went into different kinds of occupations.
Some of us in the academics, some of us in government jobs and I was the first in my family to actually join Presidency College. That was for me it was a something very surprising , the new College and apart from the kind of reputation it was very awesome. My first days were actually negotiating with the manner of English that was spoken by my teachers and everyone of whom had training in a british university, their doctorate's from there and I took enormous time to actually make sense of their English. I came from a Bengali medium school and with a poor knowledge of English.
What was the name of the school?
The name of the school was Metropolitan School in North Calcutta and the two hallmarks of the institution would be that it was setup by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and it was part of that Vidyasagar College complex and I talked about the significance of the College in the Nationalist days that Swadeshi parents should not send their boys and girls, daughters and sons to Presidency College because of this colonial connection would rather send them to study in such institutions started by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
So that was my schooling then I came to the College and curiously I wanted to be an artist and I went with my samples to the government Art College but I was told by the principal that my production was ok but then being a son of a lower middle class family I would need to support my father financially. A training in Art would not be that in competing or would take time to settle down to earn enough to help the family so I chose to study Geography that was my second love and then I got admitted into Geography Honors in Presidency College only to be told that in 1960 the University of Calcutta suddenly framed a rule that boys and girls coming from the Arts stream would not be allowed to study Geography and then we were advised by our Head of the Department that we should get into Presidency College with any subject and within 6 months the rule would be changed and we would be back into the Geography class
but the University took actually one year to go back to the earlier position and I was not in a position to really to waste 1 year so I remained stuck with Political Science but fortunately in that 800 marks of Political Science course there was 100 marks for Sociology and that was my first acquaintance with Sociology. Subsequently I did my MA in Political Science from Calcutta University but I opted for 200 marks of Sociology that was my second encounter with Sociology and then at the PhD stage I thought about moving more into Sociology though my point of departure was Political Science. I wanted to explore how family elders would educate the young in the family in Political thinking and that is normally called Political learning process and I did a field work in a district in Midnapur and then I got my PHD
was there questions of class important particularly in your research, did that all connect with your experience as you said with middle lower middle class coming to Presidency College which had a number of quite elite students attending
Right, I mean at the stage of my PHD work class did not figure out to be an important variable, that could be the kind of respondents I found and from among my students, didn't display much of the class hierarchy and they came almost from uniform class background, middle class background basically rural boys and girls that way I had no chance to actually test the implications of class identity in the formation of Political Culture. That was then not a part of my
how about in terms of your experience your Presidency College experience. Did you ever what was the experience? You said that you came from a lower middle class family, did you feel your that there was generally acceptance across all classes or there was some kind of segregation between students or what was the context like?
I mean there was a kind of an unannounced segregation but you know that didn't hurt me because my best friend became a boy who came from Calcutta Boys School. In those days it was one of the best English Medium Schools in Kolkata.
What was his name?
Calcutta Boys School.
What was your friend's name?
Pradip Bandopadhyay, Pradip Banerjee. Pradip had a father who was actually in UNESCO and Pradip would very often go to Paris to meet his parents. Pradip became my friend and Pradip gave me exposure to many things, like say a social history of jazz music, for instance.
Pradip subsequently went over to Oxford for PPE and then Manchester for PHD, married a French girl. She now teaches in Trent University in Canada and about 2 years back he sent his daughter about 25 years old to stay with me for some days, to be shown around, that would mean that this friendship is reasonably long lasting despite the fact that we actually belonged to two different cultural poles in terms of possibly the entire range of indicators. That way it would not be true that there were some kind of a divide but then there was less of inter mixing across genders and since I was shy I didn't pick up girlfriends and nor did Pradip. Pradip was not oriented towards that kind of thing you see so most of the time we would go over to the Hindu Hostel, he was a boarder and
You were not a boarder? You would stay at home?
I stayed at home and would have samosas and we would talk about almost entire range of European Culture and for me in essence that would be more educating than say this sort of Science I learned in the classroom maybe because it was between friends or it was informal that way..
Do you remember the content of some of those conversations, some of the nodes of your conversations, very important books that you perhaps remember, I'm just asking you...
One or two books or one or two themes that you think back that struck you as particularly significant?
I know that he introduced me to Jean-Paul Sartre or Kafka so in later years I think it was more about the disenchantment of modernity and because all these writers trepresent the problems of modernity and the problems of the individual. That way possibly you can expose maybe at that time without recognizing that was what was inside me about the problems of the modern man and that is what I remember right now. If something comes up later sorry...
So there was this friend, how about in terms of the professors that you had, which professors had a particular impact on you when you were a student in Presidency?
No basically coming over to this College I learnt the analytical method see of deconstructing the whole problematic. But my teacher was not using either of the terms I think it came naturally to sort of slice of a whole issue into smaller bits, reflect on them, join them up towards a whole notion of the theme and to me looking back that was very educating. That has become my teaching style also of de-segregating and then joining them up also and sort of provoking and suggesting there are frontiers to be explored and exploded and we still try to persist with the kind of teaching culture that we learn from teachers you know in those days we did not figure out so categorically that we are being inducted into a teaching culture. It is based on the respect for the students opinion
And you found that that was in place already as a student in Presidency College?
and that was in a sense for me a discontinuity because in an old fashioned school the teacher would often without bothering for what the students would feel about an observation or about a remark, it was a transition to a different kind of interrogation you know.
I was not raising questions in the classroom but you know that did not mean that questions were not cropping up inside my head and that was cultivated that you should be critical to the lectures that you receive and I put it as a liberal tradition of education and you expose students to all alternative constructions see without imposing any one of them. I mean it was not regimental teaching, it was more openness and giving the students the freedom to read a new book and go to the open shelf library pick up his own book and that we did we used to go to the British Council Library to find a book. Possibly my fellow friend has not picked up, I see it, to be a little ahead. That could be bit of chelemanushi but then that was a game also, the game also.
Would you remember the names , what were the namesof some of your important mentors when you were in your educational years?
I definitely recall my own Head of the Department who is Nirmal Basu Rai choudhury and who taught me sociology also though as part of political science and but then you know basically "mentor" means that putting me into a perceptible box or genealogical box or any epistemological box. Nobody possibly tried to pick me that way and may be that was not their intention either but then see looking back I feel that I was put inside a label box basically and may be when there not conveying it at all.
We used have a teacher who was Marxists' entirely in his presentation and argument. After his class our head of the department would come and he was a Bengali Roman catholic and all his lectures he criticized Marx and from the standpoint of religion and then you know for us it was a kind of being put inside a dialectics of arguments when the teachers did not know that we are actually being part of this particular dialectics in one class some body talks about the intellectual power of Marxism and in another class some body uses Sidney Hook to argue that how Marxism is oppressive then I knew that any thing has many sides and many perceptions are possible that must have shaped me
was the professor with who is Marxist through and through who was this by name
Ramesh Chandra Ghosh.... Ramesh Chandra Ghosh and he used to teach us Constitution but he would very soon fall in to this Marxist argument and on any thing. On any thing see... see kind of old fashion robust teachers who wouldn't mind teaching for 2 hours or 3 hours when other teachers are waiting in the corridor also. We used have a banglapad that " Aattapolab" mastermosai means forgets that he has a time table to go by that Shibesh so much under the influence of his own argument that it would go on.. go on.. go on so
Did you have a feeling... this its sound quite unique the kind of education that the Presidency College offered in terms of liberal arts education, in terms of open shelf, in terms of classes that could go on for hours depending on the professor so I heard tales,reminiscensces of very long you know of rambling and
And.... And.... And
And.... And.... And
And always reading authentic books
Meaning the originals not the secondary sources?
I mean maybe not originals but exceptionally good quality text books
So did you have the sense I mean this is quite unique, did you have the sense then or perhaps more now that this was in some ways a completely unexampled institution in you know I don't know in.. in... in south Asia, in Bengal, in Kolkata, in the world I mean how did you perceive Presidency College when you were studying here?
I mean this much we could guess that the.. the entire pedagogic process was actually based on some.. some... some British university standards. It had to be also because most of the member of the faculty would have a stint at England in any of the universities and whether they would want or they would not want it will be... it will be intrinsic to the class room almost automatically and an all the text books references were western and which to my students I point out that editing a text book is becoming Westernized because your unhooked from one way of perceiving things to another way of perceiving things typical of western social sciences. That took place and almost imperceptibly in each of my classes from all my teacher's and that will be unique we thought that we were actually enjoying the.. the... the.. the teaching atmosphere of very settled old British Universities
Well that is interesting. Now in terms of the very important books that you remember you mention kafka which makes me wonder about the world beyond Britain and were you conscious at that time of when you said reading western books when you said you were consious of the distinction is for example between America and British and German and French or for the student of Presidency College was this all in some ways and the western, western culture, the western tradition
That would be me more true.. that would be more true
That's it... and how did that experience of being inducted into this new way of learning how did it make you reflect upon the schooling and you had in this Vidyasagar School that you have been which was Bengal medium and which was Swadeshi and has Swadeshi rules. How were you making sense of that looking into your own past as a student?
See you know they was evidently no Swadeshi content of the curriculum about that I have been very categorical it was the standard see history geography literature mathematics etc. etc. but you know basically it was the passive mode of what had....Say kaditi [?] and banking concept of education some thing is put inside you.
Only when you are in the senior classes see I was the first batch of the eleven ... eleven year cheating mode say high secondary first batch. We.. we met a school teacher who introduced us to let us say the communist ideas and that was basically an invitation to reopen our own late experiences to.. to judge them and under his influence we started having a wall magazine on our own but without seeking the headmaster's permission. I still recall that the head master Samyal Doshol lined up us all and then admonished us that how we could do it with out seeking his permission but that could be the moment we enjoyed also the first moment of enjoying autonomy within an other wise rigid school system.
See if you recall Lindsay Anderson's film "If" that is about a British Boarding School of a very strict master of rigid disciplines of bells and corridors. It was almost like that see that was almost like an act of rebellion you did some thing and the we enjoyed being admonished also that we have been reckoned with by the head master but did you know we thought that it was so much about the wallpaper being put up with out his permission and more about the contents and.. and... and some how it touched upon the question of inequality of exploitation I mean as far as I remember, may have see this much
In 1940 presidency college was political, very politically active in terms of students underground movement's communist movements that were growing at that time
Ranajit Guha, who for example 1940s was
involved in some of those movements he was telling me. In the 1960s when you were in Presidency College one thing immediately with... '68 andthroughout the world. Were all the students were politically active. What was the political environment and how was it seen and how was your involvement with.. with it?
I was not involved, this is the question I can answer it very quickly the boy who turned out to be the key figure Ashim Chatterjee, kaka. Ashim Chattrejee enrolled as a student the year I enrolled also.
He joined the department of chemistry then he.. he mismanaged his promotion to the second year class then he gave up chemistry in favor of economics. So next year he joined economics and he was a boarder in the Hindu hostel and the story goes that the trouble first brewed up in Hindu hostel see over the quality of who to etc. but that was possibly not significant except that with in the SFI some young boys and boys were thinking that they.. they had to pick up the militant paths
SFI, I am sorry could you
Student Federation of India that of the student wing of the communist movement in India and Ranajit Guha could be part of that SFI movement kind of thing you see so then I mean many... many important brilliant boys and they actually joined the Naxalbari movement and they.. they.. they went away from the urban scene many of them went into the 'Debra or Gopiballabpur in Midnapur the.. the sort of forests tracks where they would be engaged in some kind of ardent revolution.
The college was agog around 1968 - 70 I was already into teaching I was in 'Jhargram' Raj college, then in 'Hoogly' Mohsin college but around that time my own young brother he is also a professor in political science was.. was part of Presidency College in 1970-72. he saw it all and basically quite a bit of a violence and between friends in a sense and you know the.. the.. the lane by the women side college called Bhawani Dutta lane. It actually became a killing field because the police would shoot many young Naxalite's in that particular Lane and what is remarkable about Presidency College even at the height of Naxalite movement, the teaching was never completely suspended.
And many teachers taught classes in their homes. That way it was not interrupted so to say but then I was not involved and I was in fact a I had become a professor in the meantimeif I had been there I think I would not have taken into politics any kind of politics
What is the name of your brother?
Amitava Ray, he teaches in Gurudas College
Just a couple of more questions about Presidency College, then we can move on to the last half of the discussion. In terms of your formation of your interests because you had a clear clearly went on to the Post Graduate and then PHD, what was it? Where was the kernel for these specific interests that you would then follow or was it that you discovered as you went in terms of your particular interest in education between generations for example within the whole or trajectory in General. When can you place the time or experience that got you on to that for example you wanted to be a researcher and not do other things
Right, I was interested in teaching right from the from my boyhood days and that was based on an experience you know one of my drawing teachers invited me when I was in class 2 to draw on the black board a Fish. I still recall the excitement of being on the other side of the classroom in front of the black board with a chalk and a duster and showing my fellow friends how to draw a Fish. I was excited, I had the good fortune of helping my favorite geography students in the classroom preparing their practical books. See when I was in M.A. class I had at least two teachers who suddenly would invite me to deliver a part of the lecture, let's say on Durkheim .
So I became excited and then I decided that I would become a teacher, I could be a bank officer, I mean the... the date of qualification I had but I choose teaching because I think to.. to be a teacher is to live with the living beings rather than ledgers and books and say postings and computers here interacting and... and each year you have a fresh cohort of minds to find out whether where you are going wrong in.. in their eyes and how you can mould them to.. to your kind of thinking. To me that is much more engaging you see this is the 44th year of teaching for me and I enjoy each of my classes even now I don't tire as to choice of the research thing it.. it came in 2 ways number one that you know among my brothers I had the eldest brother who I say in a office as a clerk and in the same office my father was also.
But then he... he turned out to be a trade union leader and I would discover the daily arguments between my father and my elder brother about what is appropriate and what is not appropriate and my father was obviously afraid that he would lose his job.. right.. but then that was the first indicator that they are... they are could be within the family a certain kind of rebellion on the... on the part of the offspring and towards the... towards the father. And then I thought what about examining the process of transmission of political values across generations and within the parameters of family. See in a sense that was inducted at least but then at the same time I was exposed to political sociology and the new writing in political analysis which is sociologically informed and... and then I learned that, classic Talcott Parsons, family is located as an important agency of socialization and obviously of transmission of political values also. That was deductively so I combined in both and I picked up a thing that was my entry in to the research field
Who are the names of the two professors as an M.A. who about you had invited you to gives lectures, do you remember?
One was Khagendrea Nath Sen and the he was actually the principal of a private college who used to teach me the teachers on a.... on a part time basis and actually we had a fag in class and... and old man he would become tired and then say they what about Prasanta delivering a bit of the lecture and that was another I can't recall really see that but I recall my own geography teacher in the.. in the.. in the school who use to in start me to deliver part of the lecture in the school with himself on some.. some geography physical geography so.. so my teachers in a sense inducted me in to teaching
Within their own lectures
Within their own lectures, hmm...
Now bridge question to the latter part you developed as a teacher and as a scholar in the period when India as a nation was also involved in a very momentous transition into decolonization in post independence so where you aware of your role in building or sustaining a kind of post independence academia or post independence educational institutions did you reflect on that at the time and or may be do you how would you reflect on that now that duty that responsibility that you were bearing?
In a sense you know learning social sciences in the 1960 was not a remarkable discontinuity from the colonial experience in the sense that the .. the curriculum would be definitely British. The examination process, how the teacher would organize their courses in the classroom and they.. they were never oriental they were nothing indigenous, it was basically of a different mode. So.. so there was no.. on such liberation at that particular level either ontological level or epistemological level and that was just.. just a continuation and you there were some people who talk more in terms of colonialism could be that also that we.. we actually remains stuck with the.. with the western academia and its culture.
As to.. as to my role in the institution see at a very minimum.. minimum level I thought that I was to teach and I teach and to the best of my ability.. right.. but then that I never related to my task in.. in building institutions in post colonial India, I mean the post colonial never figured in my mind in a very strong way as if I was fulfilling some nationalist role that didn't occur to me and doesn't occur to me even now that doesn't occur to me even now. So that was out of my frame all together.
And what was your when what is the.. the history of how you came to teach at Presidency College
I mean the.. the dull part is obviously that I.. I applied and then I was selected by the public service commission. I went straight away the Government education system at the under graduate college level. My.. my results were published in March and
I am sorry March 1965
And end April, 1962 - 65, April 22, 1965 I was a lecturer. So it was a very sort of say gap point of time. I stated teaching and you know I began in a college which was actually at the periphery... right.. and it didn't have a honors course and we had Lodha boys I mean tribal boys as part of the student community
The periphery meaning not periphery of Calcutta but the periphery of... of Bengal, west Bengal
Periphery of Calcutta say that was Midinapur District
Teaching Lodha boys I... I first realized that the Science I have a learnt is so urban and so western and I thought I was a misfit because you know I was unable to compare because all the idioms and the illustrations where either metropolitan or western and I hadto struggle hard to actually to go down to them to be like them and to teaching vernacular let us say intricate logics of political analysis. I do not know whether I
In the vernacular?
I do not know weather I succeeded but am always even today I am very alert to over the eyes in the classroom speak to me. Whether I convey, whether I don't convey, whether I am boring, whether I am exciting unduly funny you caught may a point. So this engagement continues and I don't like teachers who look at this selling and teach or they dictated notes. Then see in about five years I was shifted to a college the normal rule of transfer for Hooghly Mohsin College.. right.. and Hooghly Mohsin College had also a post graduate department in political science. And that was the Bardhawan University post graduate course which was imparted by the Hooghly Mohsin College. So that was one second a quantum leap say from teaching, pass in vernacular to lodha boys in to Hoogly Mousin College teaching political sociology or say political anthropology to the post graduate class.
I spent about five years there and from 1977 I will join Presidency College and as a.. as a..as an assistant professor in political science, while with in the college I became a full professor in political science and since I always wanted to know sociology, I thought what about introducing sociology in Presidency College. That's a personal story there also that when I have completed my M.A. examination I read an announcement that one professor Andre Beteille will be delivering a lecture on class and class conflict in industrial society. I went over to Ballygunge Science College to listen to the lecture. There I learnt that was the title of a book by Ralf Dahrendorf and and Andre Beteille was a social anthropologist of London School of Economics.
Once again my love for sociology was renewed and I kidded with my father that whether I could do a second M.A. in sociology in Delhi but my father retired in 1966 and it was not possible for me to finance education another round of M.A. so I wanted to be an artist, I gave it up, I wanted do be an expert in geography, i gave it up I wanted to be a sociologist I gave it up. Then I thought what about introducing sociology in Presidency College because if you teach the subject you will learn much better. From day one that was 1977 I have persuaded about four principals to take the initiative. Only the fifth principal took some interest and then he said if you can do it I have no problem you will have to do everything, writing the proposal inviting the inspection team, when the inspection team comes you offer tea but you have to pay from your pocket, you have to argue in favour of the opening of the department I did.. it all
What was the principal's name?
Sunil Kumar Ray Choudhury, he died recently and on the day we were all mourning in his family I recalled this incidents that.. that with out professor Sunil Ray Choudhury there wouldn't have been the department of sociology. That department was a new department after thirty years in Presidency College. In 1960 the old economics course was split in to economics proper and political science. I was the first batch of that course and in 1989 I open the department as the first head of the department. Then the Government wanted me to look after both the department of political science and department of sociology.
I did it from 1989 till 2003 and that is a record for Presidency College only before the world war another man did. Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, he began in this year undergraduate teaching Statistics for the first time when he was actually a teacher in the department of physics. So that way I feel that I have contributed to the growth of the institution. I created the department after 3 decades
Wonderful, it is very stimulating narrative because it makes me think of the 1930's and 1940's in which people like Professor Mahalanobis he was reapped and professors like MN Saha and many others and Sarkar one could name others Sushobhan Sarkar
Who were renowned not for just being great teachers but for being innovative, introducing new ideas and actually new institutions and new paths through the institution. So 2 questions, 1 it seems there is a longer tradition of that. I see in Presidency College because one looks at the students who have come out of the College from the 40's, 50's, 60's and many other they have continued to be innovative, so why is that and then 2nd was their a period in between the 30's and the 40's and then again lets say the late 80's and the 90's in which there was something like a fallow period in which was harder to introduce and so why is that? So there are 2 questions. Suppose one about the continuity and one about the discontinuity
Yes, I must assert that the so called fallow period the quality of education didn't sag at all, the quality of education never sagged and you will find a large number of excellent students both in the Natural Science Departments and Social Science Departments they have done well and they have become big names right since about the frontiers I mean the new frontiers I think in the sense it is more of personal enterprise than say of an institution desiring that somebody should do something about the institution. I mean nobody told me but nobody told me to set up a department of Sociology and on the contrary I can tell you that many tried to prevent me from setting up the Department.
within different levels within the institution
Within the institution until you see, the Government is Left-run, right. The University of Calcutta has an office called Inspector of the Colleges and the man who is at the top has this particular responsibility of going over to the College for inspection when ever the College would want to open the Department to look at the available infrastructure. You know I did have some association with the say the left-leaning Union of the Government College.
They liked me, they actually helped me to induce this man to come to the college and to give a positive report, I mean you will understand immediately you know the Department was opened without any specific classroom physical space allocated to it. Sunil Babu told me I can't do it, can you manage. I said I would manage it and I would actually beg for an empty class from all contiguous Departments and I would run here and there to take the classes. I did it and when this building was being planned then I pleaded with the Principal and the same principal Sunil Rai Chowdhury that you should allot me a floor here and since I had some sense of Politics I made this announcement that got recorded in the Minute Book of the Teachers Council meeting to give weightage and Sunil Babu co operated with me, the inspector of The College co operated with me and then the Department began but almost like a refugee until this became possible.
And the department is still on... It is not at all plain that with in 10 years I have put the Department almost on the Global map in the sense that the boys and girls started going over for PhD and you have a 20 now teaching in British Universities or in American Universities. You may have heard the name of Barun De historian. Barun De set up what is called see tripelers. So much so it is called Barun De's centre, I asked Barun De while he was trying to set up this centre, I asked Sir wouldn't you consider that setting up an Institution now in the 1980's is much more problematic than what you did in the 1960's. He agreed...
because at that time he was at the helm of what is called the Maulana Azad Kalam Institute of Asian Studies and he was encountering difficulties in setting up Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Central Asian Studies. That ways you know it has caught me and the first batch of teachers who willingly co operated with me to take the trouble of moving from this building to another building and I had also taken the part of looking after all the 8 papers. I had to learn all the 8 papers to reason to very quickly to advise students to go about
To finish their full course?
Full Course or suggesting how they could write etc. etc. that was very laborious, very very laborious
Not only in the sense looking after the Institution but also actually mastering the field such that teaching properly
Apart from that since the late 1970's I have been supervising this department and researchers
And these students are doing their PHD's from Calcutta University but you supervised them through the Calcutta University so there is a connection. Do you also teach at Calcutta University?
Yes I am teaching in the Department of Sociology since the first year Post Graduate teaching started in Kolkata University in 1977. So my teaching and research load has been exceptionally great and I have taken classes after 5 in a day. And you know if you don't mind we still follow the old method of British tradition of not carrying any papers, notes in the classroom.
That's a tradition?
That's a tradition you see, I still carry it so in one hour I am teaching public administration and in the next hour I am teaching Durkheim social fact and without carrying any kind of notes and I think it is a dying tradition but then this is the tradition which is still persists me I mean the old persons like me
And the benefit of the tradition is? What is the , what does one get from the
At least I get in the sense that almost every day on the floor of the classroom given the parameters of discourse I have to construct the arguments, I have to pick up my illustrations. I have to propose debates and respond to debates this was also today in the first day of classes and they became so excited that also and my task is to provoke them also. See so I have benefited from not formalizing lectures and keeping it open in a particular sense.
Just maybe couple of last questions given the history that you have outlined and the period in the 60's when you said the curriculum was generally a carry over from the colonial education system and also you said even today this is not, not a big concern you don't see yourself as a Nationalistscholar and that particular category doesn't have much input
given that when you constructed the syllabus. The syllabi for Sociology and the way you teach Sociology today. Even though you don't intentionally employ any of these nationalists so create an Orientalist versus the western dichotomy, how has your experience of teaching on the periphery of Kolkata and that the interesting question you have in the language how do you communicate in the vernacular. How has that experience or the experience of teaching in India as opposed to teaching in Britain or America where there is so many more resources and institutions have a lot of money and there is a certain kind of power dynamics internationally in academia. So how was your place and position, would you say, influenced the way you teach perhaps or the books that you choose your students to read. Where is the impact of this?
First of all I must say that the curriculum we devised was essentially the Western liberal social science. For sociology we added a note that we started teaching the Indian contributions to Sociology like Benoy Sarkar and Bhupen Dutta and Dhurjati Prasad Mukherjee all of them. That was acquainting them that in Bengal also there was a tradition of Sociology also which he updated to say M A Ghore or MN Srinivas or Andre Beteille, we have done that. That is Indian contribution to the understanding of the society that we have incorporated but that was not with a Swadeshi spirit. And you know, all of them or none of them was actually occurring of indigenous perception of India or of Bengal. More or less they had the Western category or the western frame of reasoning. We never had a swadeshi sociology even when Indians were producing them. That's about it.
In my classroom I take enormous care in that I offer indigenous examples thereby showing the connection. For example if I am teaching social stratification, if I am teaching castes then I use lots of instances from our lived experiences. That is just about the only thing I can do but that is not swadeshi by any chance.
so you then have found that the categories are universal in a sense that one can take a category and apply them to different cultural context with a kind of translation function and they will work. Do your students react against that
They do. They do. But everytime I point out that McKim Marriott started the debate in contribution to Indian sociology the possibility of an Indian sociology. Right? But nobody has delivered it as yet. And if you even take Sanskritization as a coinage which carries a very evident Indian association, the roots of Sanskritization can be found only in the personal theory. So that way it looks native but it is not.
It is something universal.
if you read Joginder Singh and his papers in modernization, it is similar.
last question, trying a step backwards and think of your transition through Presidency College and back would you say it had an effect of making you belong to a universal community or the feel that there is kind of a category of identity being an academic being a scholar which cuts across different cultures and universities where you can go to colleagues throughout and have similar conversation with them?
I think so
if so, what has your personal experience been of that international community in terms of your lived experience? Not that you have to go through your long history of your travels abroad but just a general experience.
I have not. I have not traveled abroad, I don't have a passport either.
now that's interesting.
and you know till say 1980 I almost never left Calcutta. After retirement I go a little more often to seminars to other parts of India. But I have never been abroad. But all my students who go to American or British universities and whenever they come back or through internet, I want to know and they want to tell me also about their experience in western academic institutions and in all cases I begin with an apologetical note that did I handicap you in anyway and their good manner they say no sir, there is no problem. But all of them have become successful and they have not indicated that they had to throw out whatever social science they learnt in Presidency College.
In any case the record of Presidency College would say that it will never be the case that you have to throw away whatever you have learnt in Presidency College to be with them and most of the boys and girls do very well when they go abroad. About interacting in the international community, these days, I have a little chance to interact with foreign scholars who come to India in seminar circuits, I am at home with them and so that way it is not much of a problem.
Thank you so much for your time.
The address of your childhood home
80B Vivekananda Road and it is a high road; one of the prominent roads of north Kolkata and it is almost a corridor which links up Vivekananda's ancestors' home and Tagore's ancestors' home. That way, it's a cultural path and we grew up in the atmosphere also in those days.