To the professor I never had,
I am a common college-going undergraduate law student. Five years ago, I took admission into a not-so-great private university; times were difficult, but hope came easy. I paid the hefty college fees, my parents saw me off at the university gates, and there I was, standing outside the classroom on the first day.
The first class was supposed to be of political science – I was over the moon, I love political science, you see; we were to study ‘State’ that day. I was prepared to have my mind blown, be informed of the nuances of powerplay of state, government and power; be introduced to diverse political thinkers, basically, have my first great class. It never happened. I waited for the entire day, spread over different lectures of law and humanities subjects, but it never happened.
It has been five years, it still hasn’t happened. What instead has happened is that I have learnt to give in. I have learnt to stop demanding. I have started compromising. And I’m not okay with it.
It hit me and so, I thought of what went wrong in the past five years and why it shouldn’t have.
Every time you taught me from one random book in class, asked me to make a random assignment by reading one book, you judged me by my marks in exams, you shush-ed me while discussing contradictory opinions with my classmates (because it’s a class, don’t talk!), you encouraged it.
Are you aware that every time you asked me to obey convention, you neglected your responsibility? Instead of telling me that there’s no box at all, you put me in the same box so I fit the mould. Instead of telling me (at least trying) there’s no race, you, by your teaching methods, led me to believe there was in fact one; and, made me a part of it.
When my university was feeding me the narrative of ‘high placement and package,’ why did you not alert me that it was a sham?
Let me tell you, professor, it led me nowhere. It led me to the abyss of unhealthy competition, zilch productivity, low-self esteem, and non-existing individuality. Why didn’t you tell me to hone my individuality, professor? I didn’t want it to learn the hard way, but you left me with no choice.
These five years were all I had. We have an overwhelming lack of resources spanning across universities in this country. Who would know better than you that there’s also a dearth of faculty, a massive one; you are asked to trade your free lectures for classes all the time because, hey, classes need to be ‘engaged.’ You know all about the path of mediocrity we are treading on. Then, why did you not ask us to do something for ourselves? Why did you not tell us about the numerous books we could read outside of college, reach out to the authors, engage in discussions and critique of the text, and why it was all so important; the relevance of networking outside college, and the like?
I had to manage to create such an environment on my own, one which would help me thrive in the domains I love. And it was not a smooth processor, dear Professor. I had to battle numerous devils – my incredibly hurt self-esteem when I’d see others being provided with resources to do well; lack of absolute guidance; hours and hours of surfing the internet and talking to hundreds of people to figure out 5 brilliant web sources; it took me a lot. All of this when you could have helped me.
Why didn’t you tell me the essence of reading, of knowing? Why didn’t you tell me that there’s nothing more powerful than an informed mind? If only you had cared.
This bit is cruelly unacceptable. Do you know I have been called ‘uncool’ numerous times just because I have an opinion on what the Prime Minister of this country says? I mean, why did they teach us Civics and 4 books of Political Science in higher secondary at all, if I had to keep mum all this while! That is preposterous – what am I to do with all the knowledge? Why am I only taught to answer (in exams) and not to question?
Everyone is affiliated to an ideology – be it extreme left, centre left, right-wing, you know the drill. What is an ideology even? How ‘you’ see your country to be function, how much power do you want the government and yourself to hold in it – so how, in Prime Minister’s name, can someone be ‘apolitical’? ‘Personal is political’ is a reality. Especially in these autocratic and absolute times, it was on you to make your students, that form the youth of this country, aware of it. You failed, and I’m sorry for you.
I am disappointed in you that all those times a woman raised her voice against an authority, we had to talk in hushed voices discussing whether she was right or she was doing it for the ‘buzz?’ Why was I not taught that it’s important to #BelieveHer? And, when I was called out and mansplained for being a ‘feminist,’ because I didn’t fit the cut! Cut? Who made this cut? Their convenience?
Yes, we learn things outside, as we must, but the classroom, is literally for that – learning. You should’ve taught them right – you should have told them to own it, take responsibility, recognize the mental, physical and emotional violence patriarchy has inflicted and address it, but none of it happened. And I lose everyday, trying to still, after all these years, plead my case. I’m stuck at the pleading, I don’t know when the reform will even initiate. I’m exhausted, and this is on you as well. You failed me again and I’m sorry for you.
We are living in times where students are jailed if one voices an opinion opposed to power; students resort to suicide because the evils of caste discrimination have pervaded our safe spaces – our classrooms. Whatever happened to our Constitutional Law lectures where, even if it was to finish the syllabus, we learnt about Article 19 (1) (a) and the value of dissent in a democracy, painstakingly emphasized by the highest court of land, time and again? Teach us all to dissent, because collective action has the potential to stand the test of power and fear. I’m going to let it rest there.
Have an opinion, and an informed one at that. Think. Talk. Discuss. Think again. Act. Repeat. Let’s not let Descartes and his “I think, therefore I am” go to waste, now? You should have taught us Article 14 and feminism are the same damn thing. Being ‘political’ is a thing of pride and duty towards the country, because with every right I demand from this country, I have a correlative duty towards it. And, what secularism and pluralism truly mean, and the spirit that the Constitution of our country embodies. You should have taught me to stand up for my friends who practice a religion not of the liking of this country’s rulers. You should have taught us to recognize my privilege and use it effectively to voice the struggles of the suppressed – by caste, religion, race and gender. You should have taught us how bias would destroy the sanctity of the ethos of this country, and hence how necessary it is to be unbiased.
It was on you to educate and warn us about this, it was on you to impart this knowledge. You failed miserably this time. Is it even forgivable?
Don’t call it utopia, it’s not. I staunchly refuse to accept it. Even if I were to accept it, I thought classrooms were the only place with possibility and potential for utopias to come true?
You gave me so much more to unlearn when I already had a lot of unlearning to do.
Education is a social issue as much as it is a social need. It is all encompassing. Being at the helm of affairs in the classroom comes with its set of responsibilities. You should’ve understood the sanctity of your profession and the massive responsibilities it entails. Rethink your classroom tactics.
I’m going to be on the other side of the table, in the classroom, some day. This is also a letter I’m also writing to myself, I hope this serves as a befitting reminder. And, as for you: maybe the next batch of students will not have to write this letter? I fervently hope so.