Short Story: Professor Shivram visits Hogward University

michelle-schwarzbach-img-0203
Painting: Michelle Schwarzbach

By Prabhakar Singh

Professor Shivram teaches at the Ayodhya University. In India’s great Guru-teacher tradition, Shivram’s wish is to fully lord over young men and women, expecting the quality of devotion the Raja of Trivandrum gives to the Padmanabha Swamy.

It is an unusually windy mid-autumn day on campus. Shivram’s fire-red tie dances against his starched white shirt like the snake around Lord Shiva’s neck. Only his formal trousers and his well-polished shoes make him less godly.

“If only I could wear deer-skin and walk around topless will I be a complete picture of Lord Shiva.” His potbelly often ended that dream.

“Student is the King,” his Dean once said. Noting like it were Lord Brahma’s instructions, Shivram molted the Dean’s words into his heart. Hanuman, the Monkey-God, could not reflect the image of Ram-Sita in his heart better than Shivram did the Dean’s words. He expected devotion from his students of the quality he gave to his dean – pure, complete, and unquestioning.

Indians grow up listening the story of Lord Hanuman’s role in defeating Ravana, the learned faculty-stealing Dean of Sri Lanka University. Professor Shivram is Lord Hanuman’s devotee. Every Tuesday he’d walk bare-feet to the hill-top, fasting, to eat only after having fed the Monkey-God. A troop of old and young monkeys materializes on the temple-top from thin air as soon as Shivram leaves his house for the temple. Perhaps the purity of his devotion to Lord Hanuman creates a telepathy with the monkey army. Needless to say, Hanuman’s resume-building inspired Shivram.

“How well did Lord Hanuman manage his monkey resources,” he would often say to his wife.

“Indeed, most Gods manage only human resources, but Hanuman alone excelled in managing monkey resources. Hail Lord Hanuman.” Lakshmi, his wife, more devoted than her husband, would quip.

But Shivram has been unhappy since the Spring semester. The Dean had been floating a new term – “interdisciplinary”. It pained him to even spell it. How was he to integrate it into his research? But the university was globalizing very fast and everyone had to keep adding the phrase “interdisciplinary” in their talks and seminars. A colleague, professor Gyan Prasad, known for problem-solving, dished out an advice: “Just chant the mantra. Who cares if the God listens to us or not?” This calmed professor Shivram’s nerves. He just had to beat-box “interdisciplinarity” in class and in meetings.

To promote interdisciplinarity, Professor Shivram dutifully welcomed visitors from foreign universities. He immediately believed anything that had a foreign – preferably an American or European – origin and accent. He meticulously networked with western universities to get anything he could: a certificate, a diploma, just anything. Naturally, he valued a diploma certificate from Hogward University obtained after four weeks of webinaring over his Ph.D. earned from an Indian University after years of hard work and the appeasement of his supervisors. He identified fully with comedian Jaspal Bhatti’s Flop Show on Ph.D. supervision telecast on Doordarshan, India’s state television. Professor Shivram’s email signature carried in bold, comic fonts, his Hogward University certificate ahead of his doctoral degree.

“Jaspal Bhatti’s show lessens the pain of my PhD years and now Hogward certificate gives a pleasant after-taste to the sent emails.” Shivram would say with a deep sense of satisfaction sweeping his broad ruddy face.

Shivram also claimed to have obtained a post-doctorate degree after having attended a week-long workshop in Cowford University. He believed in the literal school of thinking:

“You see, anything after PhD is a “post” Doc, isn’t it? Hehehehehe!!!!”

Shivram had mastered the art of ignoring his pokey colleagues who did not understand his humor. When someone said, “Postdoc is not a degree, it’s a job between a doctorate and a faculty position,” he would artfully smile it off. He is after all very inclusive as far as degrees were concerned. He has very assiduously mastered the art of key-word conferences organized quid pro quo.

The research the professors walking through the Ayodhya University’s revolving doors claimed to produce often had the same value as their necktie in the Indian summer heat. To add fuel to his devotional fire, Shivram organized fire-side chats even in the summers to keep the scholarly tradition going and growing.

“My resume is as strong as Lord Hanuman himself.” Shivram would think to himself.

***

It is a breezy October night and Professor Shivram, the assistant professor, is restless. The mid-autumn wind is blowing through the trees and bushes on the Ayodhya University campus. Chirps from insects and birds keep the night noisy and alive. The moonlight is as clear as the university canteen soup. The occasional hoot of the barn owl fills the university campus with ghostly mystery. The breeze feels foreign today, as if from a faraway land across seven seas, like from the Canada province of Punjab.

“Has Professor Chap Lucie’s flight landed yet?” Shivram thought while sipping his green tea in his balcony.

“I hope the university transport department has sent its best car to pick up Professor Chap Lucie.” Shivram said to his wife.

Shivram’s mobile phone rang a devotional tune at 9.30 PM sharp. It was the cab driver on the other side.

“Sir, I have picked up Madam Lucie. Not to worry. I will drop her at the University guest house by 11:30 PM,” the driver said.

Shivram appreciated the duty-free bottle of Glenfiddich professor Chap Lucie had brought for him. Shivram too had arranged for his visiting guest a bottle of Mahua wine that his student from Ranchi has gotten on his request. What he gave to the student in return is however not known. For him, the true legitimacy of his being stemmed from serving warm samosas and hard drinks to his foreign visitors.

“Lord Hanuman doesn’t ask us to avoid foreign soma-rasa,” he muttered under his breath facing the ire of his wife’s large devotional eyes. “And we should always have soma-rasa with samosa. They even rhyme pointing at their ancient Indian connection.”

Shivram’s tongue-in-cheek native wit always convinced his gullible wife. Grateful for the bottle of the foreign soma-rasa, professor Shivram was standing before the door of room number 64 at 8 next morning. He knocked the door three times to a faint slew of profanities in chaste English coming from inside the room.

“Bloody hell! Who on God’s earth wants to meet me at this early hour? Don’t you know the idea of a jet lag?”

Shivram stood between rock and a hard place now. “I should have sent a student instead. With their Convent English, they are better at handling the firangi professors,” Shivram said to himself on his way back to his office.

***

Professor Chap Lucie, from the Hogward University, entered her classroom holding a coffee mug in her right hand at 10:30 AM sharp. Her personalized coffee mug had the title of her most-cited articles printed on it. A ream of her printed articles sat under her left arm. In her Kanjeevaram silk sari draped in Bangla style, she looked the true image of Bharatmata.

“Doesn’t she look more Indian than Sonia Gandhi ji,” Shivram said to himself.

A very smart colleague from Bengal, while expounding some obscure postcolonial ideas, had once told Professor Shivram that Bharatmata was actually a foreign goddess; that nationalism had come to India from Europe. Shivram’s heart had wrenched at the thought of freedom fighters dying for the wrong Goddess. That Akshay Kumar – a great-son of Bharatmata from Canada province of Punjab – was carrying forward the nationalism Bhagat Singh-types had expounded finally assuaged Shivram.

“Dear students, I would like to thank professor Shivram for his kind invitation to visit the Ayodhya University.” Chap Lucie was quick to catch up on the university’s tradition of indiscriminately adding “professor” to the names of faculty members despite their position. It was all very egalitarian, all very postmodern.

Professor Chap Lucie suffered from the God-complex, however. Her joke to get the class going gave it away: “What is the difference between Chap Lucie and the God? While God is everywhere, Prof. Chap Lucie is everywhere except at her home university.” The willing students sheepishly laughed. A joke by a local teacher would have had an impact on the feedback stock-exchange, not an issue that professor Chap Lucie should concern herself with.

Professor Shivram had instructed students to make the best use of Chap Lucie’s visit. Students however did not need any instructions. They knew more than anyone the value of being in Chap Lucie’s good books. They asked long-winded questions outside the classroom. They left no stone unturned to earn recommendations for admissions to foreign universities.

What ensured Shivram’s popularity among his visitors was his dual spirit: the human and the bottled. Once mixing his spirit with the one in the bottle on the dinner table, he explained why he would drink whisky at 10 in the morning:

“It’s night in Boston right now; I am drinking to the US time. Besides, you see, knowledge is intoxicating and you get it at the lotus feet of Great professors,” Shivram said. His morning blood-shot eyes gave away his devotion – “लाल देह लाली लसे अरु धरी लाल लंगूर.”

“In recognition of his spirit, professor Shivram has been invited to visit Hogward University,” read the local newspaper on the Monday Chap Lucie left India. 

Bio:
Prabhakar Singh (@OolongTeaCher) is a confirmed associate professor at Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat. He read law in the actual Third World (India), Third World of the First World (Spain) and in the First World of the Third World (Singapore).

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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Travel Writing: A mode of constructing knowledge”, edited by Raeesa Usmani, Surat, India.

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