“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”- Maya Angelou.
This line perfectly sums up Professor Savita Pande’s life – who was a source of knowledge, enthusiasm and optimism for her students. She used to teach Indian Foreign Policy course to the M.A. students of School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Although no attendance provision was there in 2013 when I got admission in M.A. Politics (Specialisation in I.R.), students – including me – would come in large numbers for her class because we loved her style and quality of teaching.
Her vibrant personality and her ever-smiling face was a source of inspiration for all of us. She was a professor of high calibre who always spoke the truth bluntly and with confidence. Her teaching style was such that we felt at ease and were comfortable to raise questions to which she always responded happily. She taught us how to think, not what to think.
In our country, discrimination against Hindi-medium students is a widely prevalent phenomenon. English is seen more like a status rather than a language. She did not discriminate against the Hindi-medium students and the term-paper could be submitted in Hindi and could be hand-written. She always encouraged the students who were struggling to improve their English, but also asked them to excel at Hindi as well, due to its broader scope in the Hindi-belt regions. She was a spark of light for students who were better in their vernacular language instead of English.
In 2015, I got selected in the Centre for South Asian Studies for the integrated M.Phil-PhD course on Political Developments in Pakistan – where Professor Pande was an expert. Despite facing health issues she never compromised with her profession. By the end of the course, her health deteriorated, and therefore, we were requested to go to her house to give presentation of the term-paper submitted by us.
She could have just awarded marks to us without presentations, but her dedication to her profession was unmatched, and therefore, we delivered our presentation at her place and also received valuable suggestions from her to improve our work further. She was loyal to her profession – which made her a great teacher. She taught us that whatever circumstances one faces in their life, they should not do away with their responsibilities and should fulfil their duty.
I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to research under her during my M.Phil. Initially I had mixed feelings as I was afraid that I would not be able to meet her standards of research. But I was also elated to get the opportunity to work under an esteemed professor like her. Time passed swiftly, and I learnt a lot from her starting from choosing the topic; framing research questions; constructing hypotheses; reviewing literature; citation and many more aspects related to research.
As it’s said that beauty lies in simplicity, her way of describing even the most difficult of topics was so well that it used to become easy for us to learn and understand. As a result we would never make the same mistakes twice; what she taught would get ingrained in our memory.
“Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty” – Albert Einstein.
She followed this idea of teaching given by Einstein. Her mild scolding used to encourage the researchers to complete the research work on time while maintaining the quality as well. On August 8, 2018, she had called me in the morning when I was sleeping. I could not pick up her call and found a message on my WhatsApp from her which said, “Ab Jaag Musafir… Pl Call when you wake up!”. I called her back, and she suggested me to read the leading article on my research area in one of the Pakistani newspapers. Such was her level of concern for her students – she would make them comply with their work with full devotion in the prescribed time.
The above incident shows her love for the profession and her students as well. She did not limit her guidance to her students to the classrooms, she would give a call anytime when she found something relevant for the student. Her life became a lesson to us that one need not stick to the monotonous ways of researching and teaching and should instead find a way that suits us.
I still remember her words to me “Abhishek, why don’t you take some money from me till you get your scholarship?” I told her I did not need the money. But she said, “Take it beta (son), I have a good amount of money due to the seventh pay commission.” Again, I declined to take the money and then she said don’t worry, I would take the money when you would be able to pay it back. I am sharing this incident just to let you know that lack of money is a widely prevalent problem in academics – as students pursuing higher education and researchers pursuing M.Phil and PhD survive on meagre scholarship fund.
Professors like Pande acted as a ray of hope for students who needed financial help during their trying times. She was approachable, and understood that the researchers get affected by the lack of money and they would hesitate to ask for money. She always extended support to her students in need emotionally as well as financially .
She understood the plight of students and would affectionately listen to their grievances. I feel that if one cannot express himself or herself to one’s supervisor, then it is going to affect the quality of research in most of the cases as the issue of trust deficit widens with time. Research would just become a mechanical activity devoid of emotions, and the student would consider his or her work as a mere formality to be done as soon as possible.
On the other hand, if the supervisor and researcher work in harmony, it can make a substantial impact on the quality of research. It will not only boost the self-confidence of the researcher; it will also help one to do quality research work.
She would offer us lunch at times when she felt happy and satisfied with our research work, and it was like incentivisation to us. Having lunch with her motivated us a lot – as spending time with her used to be one of the most privileged moments for all of us. Her anecdotes and insightful experiences of her academic life used to mesmerise us and subsequently fill us with new zeal.
It is one of the hardest things to bid goodbye to someone you have followed with devotion. The dreadful Cancer took her life, and I feel helpless as she has left a void in our lives which can never be filled. She never let anyone of us know about her disease and the painful treatment she was undergoing till her last breath. She did not want it to affect our studies and life, and therefore, would always be cheerful in our presence.
It haunts me to imagine that I would not be able to see her smiling face and listen to her enlightening words ever again in my life. She left us on 8.10.2018. I wish that the time can be reversed just like this date, but one has to accept the reality of life.
Her words and guidance would always be remembered and followed. Her memory is all we have now. I pray to God to make her soul rest in peace and bless her family, friends and students with the much-needed courage to face the unbearable loss of such a charming personality who was an embodiment of intellect and love.
Her death is a significant loss to the academic community. With the words of Max Forman, I would like to pay homage to revered Professor Savita Pande –
“Teachers are people who start things they never see finished, and for which they never get thanks until it is too late.”