Monday, February 29, 2016

The dissent travelogue…

The last time I met Dr Verghese Pulickal, it was around four years back when I had gone to conduct a workshop at the Kuvempu University in Karnataka. This year too Dr Poornananda DS from the Mass Communication department invited me to hold a similar workshop; and of course he wanted to screen ‘Haal-e-Kangaal’ (The Bankrupts) to his students.

I reached Shimogga at about five in the morning; Dr Verghese received me and took him to his house. A couple of hours later we were driving down to Shankarghatta, where the University exists. There is now a brand new four lane road built enroute. This is laid specially for the airport that is being planned in Shimogga. I was told that the planning itself is in the initial stage, but the approach roads are ready.

At one point somewhere down the line, the road narrows down. Members of three houses here have refused to vacate; they have moved to the courts. Dissent…

Dr Poornananda DS
The workshops are always educative for me. You think you are teaching, but actually you are learning. I touched upon the fact that a film should be seen, experienced and analyzed based on its physicality of the choices that are made by the director. To experience what the film is saying it is essential to understand the manner in which it is said; ie… how the visuals and the sounds are put together.

The more we went towards the form, the more went off to a tangent. We talked about issues that besieged the students – things like the need for smart cities, corporatization of our natural resources and of course a bit about Rohit Vemula too – the Dalit scholar who had recently committed suicide at the University of Hyderabad alleging discrimination.  Dissent…

The workshop was the culmination of a five day film festival of feature films across the world that deals with the subject of environmental issues around the rehabilitation of people displaced by large projects. I managed to see the last two films of the festival – Girish Kasaravalli’s ‘Dweepa’ and Jahnu Barua’s ‘Banani’.
Jahnu Barua


The former deals with a family who refuses to vacate the land that is going to submerge due to the construction of a dam and the later has an upright forest officer who is hounded by the corrupt system when he tries to strictly deal with deforestation. Dissent…

On the last day of the workshop Dr Poornananda made an announcement to the students that one of the professors Mr. Padmanabha NK would be leaving the University and that would be his last day. Judging by the way everyone in the room emoted it seemed that the students loved Padmanabha and were shocked that he was leaving.

Dr Padmanabha NK
Padmanabha is from Raichur. He studied Mass Communication from this very University. He has been teaching ‘Media management’ in his Alma Mater for the past nine years, the caveat is, as a guest lecturer. According to the students, he is an inspirational teacher – in his classes they have got insights into not only the media, but to life itself. Dr Poornanada too, is not nine years old at the department.

Despite Dr Poornanada’s recommendations, for all these years the University was reluctant to give permanence to Padmanabha. Guest lecturers are not eligible to promotions. Once he was made to sit along with his own students to be interviewed for the post of an Assistant Professor. Later, the creation of such a post itself was pushed further, as it was not considered necessary.

The higher ups in the administration allegedly supported the words of the administrative staff to facilitate the scuttling of the creation of this new academic post. With great angst, Dr Poornanada rues that in many Universities abroad the academic staff would have the freedom and power to take in such guest lecturers, after a due process. In the farewell meeting he urged the students to be happy that Padmanabha is leaving for a better post. Dissent…

And then there was the Rohit Vemula factor. A couple of days back the students had held a protest meet at the campus, favoring Rohit Vemula. Some Professors too spoke on the dais. The next day the ABVP, the student wing of the Right wing BJP political party, protested on the streets of Shimogga and gave a memorandum to the District Collector saying that the Professors be removed for anti-national activities. The concerned Professors were seen gathering support for a signature campaign against this protest. Dissent…

On the protest meet, Dr Varghese too was called to the dais to give a speech. He refused to go – for he feared that if he spoke at all, he would go all out, holding no bars and be unstoppable in his criticism on how the whole issue was handled. Dr Varghese doubles up as a chair to the department, alternating with Dr Poornanada.

On the way back to Shimogga, I gathered interesting information about him. He is the seventh child in his family. He lost his mother when he was just two years old. He was a student activist during his college days. He participated in street plays in state wide drug awareness and polio campaigns in Kerala.

He was once escorting some Germans on a South Indian tour, as a guide and helping them with translations. They were so impressed with his enterprising nature that they agreed to support him in getting a scholarship from the German Government so that he studies Mass Communication in Indonesia. He stills goes to Indonesia for deliver an occasional lecture.  
Dr Varghese Pulickal

A self made man, he has studied the Vedas. It amazes him to an embarrassing level that many thousands of years ago somebody could have even thought about and have written about concepts like airplanes and transplantations. Whether such things did exists or not, he says, is the subject of further research. ‘How could someone even think of it, conceptually?’, he exclaims.

His wife is a homoeopathic doctor. His children learn Barathanatyam, Carnatic classical music as well as attend classes that teach The Bible, in the local church. Dr Varghese has also put together a motley group of Keralites residing in Shimogga with whom he stages Malayalam plays that are written by him. He has learnt puppetry, edits travel and music videos and teaches ‘radio Communication’ in the University.

At night, he showed me every nook and corner of his house – designed by himself. There is a grill that he has designed himself. It has a lotus flower in it. Embarrassingly he says, ‘In these days this has political connotations, as the lotus is the symbol of the right wing political party BJP. But when I designed it there were no such rightist thoughts in my mind’.

“I was a rebel and a dissenter. But I have mellowed down now”, he explains.

In a world of binaries, Dr Varghese is an exception, and not a rule.