Lucknow, May 1970. MA exams were over. My father asked me, “What will you do now? Why don’t you apply for Ph.D?”
“Noooooooooo…no way,” I almost screamed in my heart but prima facie I said very politely, “I want to get a job and work now.”
I was yearning to work not because I needed money but because I was fed up of studying and proving myself continuously in every exam and wished to break free. The result was beginning of meticulous efforts for applying for jobs. But what were the opportunities for a twenty-year-old? All the competitive exams were open to people above 21 only. There was no system of coaching classes which now mushroom all around for anything that you want to do. Those days there was only one coaching set-up, Rau’s Study Circle in Delhi which prepared a limited number of select candidates for IAS examination. “Who needed coaching anyway?” I mused. “These are for weak students who cannot work hard on their own…certainly not for me”, I argued within.
Newspaper ads were scanned, applications sent and lo and behold, there was this interview call from a Delhi University college which was being opened for women. Waiting for the interview, a tall and lean girl with dusky complexion flashing her charming smile asked everyone loudly, “How many of you present here are first divisioners?” There was none except yours truly who consciously raised her hand. “Then you are through,” she almost announced the result.
Later, walking into the interview room, my legs were trembling although I knew well that I was the most qualified candidate. The fear of failure which is my Achilles’ heel was working on me.
The letter of appointment came two days’ later and thrilled to the core, I immediately reported at the college only to find that chirpy vivacious dusky complexioned girl ahead of me in the office. Flashing a warm smile at me, she hugged me, “Didn’t I tell you that you are through? I wasn’t sure of myself though.” Her smile was so infectious that I also smiled spontaneously. “I’m Divya*,” she said as she warmly extended her hand introducing herself. Then on, we became the best of friends and remained so for the next 16 months till I left the college in search of greener pastures.
Looking back, I feel this was one of the best periods of my life. Actually, life couldn’t have been better for me. I was staying with an Uncle of mine and had no responsibilities at home. In the college, I was required to take in a week some 8-10 periods of 45 minutes each which meant less than two lectures per day on an average. As the married lecturers found it difficult to reach the college so early, the Principal had magnanimously allowed them lectures starting at 10 am. So all the lectures starting at 8.30 am were religiously assigned to yours truly and Divya*, both of us being unmarried and without any domestic responsibilities.
Handling the early classes in the day had a lot of benefits. The students were fresh early in the morning and listened attentively to whatever I spoke. The younger of the readers, please don’t smirk. Will you believe me if I tell you that the girls those days were not allowed to stay out for late nights nor were they allowed to spend endless hours talking to their friends on the telephone. There was no internet, so they did not have to keep awake for live chats with friends or update their status on Facebook. Parents would not allow watching TV also for long durations. Anyway, most households did not have a TV. Even if they had, the only channel was Door Darshan which would be showing some regional dance performed by Song & Drama Division of All India Radio. Studying has never been interesting for anyone. Naturally, the girls had no option but to go off to sleep early. They got up early and came to college with a sense of freedom and excitement. Do you find it hilarious my young readers? Well, this is what the generation gap is all about.
“Early to come, early to leave” was the work principle followed in the college. We would leave the college as soon as our lectures were over but not before relishing two hot samosas and a hot cup of tea. Having recently moved from conservative Lucknow to hep and fashionable Delhi, I was untouched by the ways of the contemporary girls in Delhi and was quite simple. In contrast, my friend Divya*, an alumnus of (Lady Sri Ram College) of Delhi, was totally independent and had a boyfriend to boot who incidentally is her husband now. She was full of life and knew the ways of Delhi and could come out of any situation without hassles. She discussed latest fashions, the crumpled saree of Mrs Bhasin* and cracked heels of Mrs Varma*, the college politics and explained lucidly to me the nuances of flattery skills of Mrs Saxena*. She also pointed out to me when our Principal’s expressions changed as she talked to the members of Executive Committee when they came to visit the college. All this was quite new to me and I listened to every word of hers wide-eyed and almost mesmerised.
The chai sessions had to last at least up to 11am because the markets in Delhi opened by 11-11.30 am after which we invariably headed off to either Chandni Chowk or Karol Bagh for shopping or for watching some movie in CP (Connaught Place). Both of us had DTU’s (Delhi Transport Undertaking now known as DTC) all-route passes and could hop on and off the DTC buses at will the whole day. Going from one shop to another and haggling for rates in Karol Bagh was the pleasure I had never experienced in my life before. After the shopping, we would land up at some eating joint to take care of our hunger pangs and satisfy our taste buds. Roshan di Kulfi was one such place where we hogged Chhole Bhature followed by Roshan’s famous delectable kulfi quite religiously.
When we managed to get movie tickets, our expertise in eating aloo parathas and aam ka achar from our tiffin boxes without getting caught under the torch of the Cinema Hall Attendant was at its best. Food was banned in the picture halls those days, but we had to eat. How to hide the lunch-box in the purse and to ensure that the mouth stops moving when the Hall Attendant came after the strong scent of aam ka achar, was so thrilling and exciting and we would giggle for hours thinking of that. Life was sheer fun!
All the catty talk and bitching about others, all the haggling in the shops, gallivanting around Delhi and finding our way in the most complex roads and alleys and wriggling out of difficult situations in DTU buses helped me to transform from a simple small town girl to a person on the move in the metro town of Delhi who started realising that the path is not always straight. Thank you Divya* for this important contribution to my life!
But this highly enjoyable time did not last too long. About a year ago, when I was in my “Search a Job” mode, I had applied for direct recruitment in a public sector bank. Out of the blue, I was surprised to receive an interview call and then an appointment letter. Thrilled and excited about this success, I put in my papers. Seeing my resignation, everyone was concerned. The principal of the college counselled me hard advising me that for a woman, teaching profession and that too in a college was the best as it gave her ample free time for the family, a number of vacations coinciding with children’s holidays, there was no threat of separation from the family as there could be no transfers to far off places and ….and …in short the life was nothing but bliss.
My friend Divya* was equally concerned. She tried to persuade me to continue in the teaching career sharing with me all the drawbacks of working in the bank which she was well aware as her fiancé was working in the same Bank and kept her informed of all the pitfalls including daily confrontations the staff used to have with the Branch Manager in his branch. The staff unions in the Banks those days were at their worst nadir.
I pondered over all good advices, thought and thought but wanted to go, go and experience new pastures. Simultaneously, I had also started feeling guilty that I was being paid a princely sum of Rs. 865 per month without doing much, for eating samosas and shopping and watching movies. I was fresh from the college and being a hard-working student, did not have to study for taking the classes. Political thought of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau and Fundamental Rights and Duties of the citizens under the Indian Constitution simply flowed from my mouth and I never had to prepare for the lectures. ‘Chalk and Talk’ worked well for me. Checking tutorials and assignments was a child’s play. But this contrasted with the thought of teaching the same subject all my life repeatedly for the next 40 years, I was 20 then, started torturing me.
I was in search of my identity and the Banjaran (Gypsy) in me, who was yearning to move, won the struggle. I quit lecturership in November 1971, putting an end to my 16 months’ stint with a noble profession like teaching.
*All names mentioned here have been changed to camouflage identities.