Topped: BA (Honours) English at the college level
From: SGTB Khalsa College
Rank: Fourth in the university Score: 66.1 per cent
While studying vectors, torque, thermo dynamics and chemical reactions as a science student at a school in Ranchi, Satyendra Singh didn’t have a clue that Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf would draw him to a new world of fiction, fantasy and imagination. “No one in my family or relatives had heard of this programme — BA English Honours. Every one wants to be a doctor or engineer there. The craze for English is more prevalent in the metros. I have two brothers. One is already a computer engineer and the other is studying to become one,” said Singh.
Though getting into English Honours was not pre-planned (he wanted to do away with science stream and took up English just because he got an admission), he did well in the subject, scoring more than 65 per cent in all three years. “Getting a first division in English is like scoring a double century in cricket. He (Satyendra) used to do a lot of reading on his own. If the students were supposed to read The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh, he would also include the Sea of Poppies (by the same author) in his reading list. He often wrote short stories for the college magazine, which were not only lovely pieces of creative writing but also touched upon serious social issues. I have a feeling that this guy will become a good writer one day,” said Singh’s teacher, Prof Novy Kapadia, sports commentator and English professor at Khalsa College.
By scoring such high marks, Singh has also made the college proud. “It’s a wrong notion that Khalsa College’s English department is not good enough. We have good faculty, and it’s just that those who study hard get good marks,” Singh said.
So, how much should one study to get a first division in English? “Every day, one must put in four to five hours on an average. You must be a regular reader to score well. Some students read for a month before the exams and end up getting third division and some don’t even manage pass marks. In our class, there were around 60 students in the first year, which dwindled to 38 in the final year,” he said.
The rush of students to apply for English Honours, said Singh, was sometimes the result of a misguided approach. Many thought they could improve their language skills, but the course was about literature and poetry where you were supposed to analyse an author’s writing style, approach and the characters portrayed.
Singh advised students to read books beyond the curriculum to develop an understanding of the subject. “If you read the writings of a particular era, then ideally you should also read the history and sociology of that period to understand the writing patterns of that time. One should not think that fiction is all about imagination. The fact remains that a bulk of the writing portrays the culture of that period,” he said.
Another useful tip from Singh is that a student should familiarise himself with more than one work of an author to truly understand him or her. “In our curriculum, we had to study only Hard Times by Charles Dickens, but I also read Great Expectations as I was curious enough to want to know more,” he said.
A thorough reading of the topic to be discussed in class the next day is also important as “interactive debates on characters, authors and writing styles take place and are very interesting. One must participate in the classrooms debates, arguments and counter arguments. This is very important if you wish to score well,” he advised.
From: Lady Shri Ram College for Women (LSR)
Topped: BA journalism and currently interning with the United Nations Development Programme
Score: 75 per cent
In an interaction with Dr Shyama Chona, (then school principal of DPS RK Puram), it was suggested to Agrima Bhasin that she study humanities instead of science, even though she had scored an impressive 93.5 per cent in Class X.
The fact that Bhasin was good in social sciences didn’t go amiss with Dr Chona, and five years later, Bhasin topped Delhi University’s BA journalism programme. And come October, this young lady would be headed for Oxford University for a Master’s programme in social anthropology.
Bhasin’s ultimate aim was to become a development journalist like P Sainath, winner of the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay award. “Once I heard him give a lecture at the university, which impressed me a lot. He is the one who broke the Vidarbha story of farmers’ suicides and he once said ‘There are two kinds of journalists. One kind are journalists, the other are stenographers’.”
Though she is yet to wear a journalist’s hat, Bhasin’s brush with development work took place in the final year of graduation when her dissertation focused on the life of ‘human scavengers’ who pick human excreta with their bare hands. “I did my field work in Ambala (Haryana) for this. I also went to meet Bezwada Wilson, national convenor of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (a movement for the elimination of manual scavenging). The entire experience was introspective,” she said.
It was not ‘all work sans play’ in the three years of graduation. For Bhasin, a good singer, LSR was a vibrant hub of activities. “I am missing my college now. I am missing those movie screenings, discussions and cultural festivals. It was an intellectually stimulating environment,” she reminisced.
Her success was attributed to the hard work put in during the three years in college (“I can work till I drop,” she says). Peer learning at LSR was another reason for her success, she said. “LSR made me what I am today. It was the class of 25 girls shortlisted out of 800-1000 applicants. There were some of the brightest people out there and each one of them contributed to your knowledge (building through discussions and debates),” she said.
BA (Honours) journalism
Kamla Nehru College Rank: Third in the university
74 per cent
When Rozita Singh passed her Class XII exams with 82 per cent marks, her parents, both medical professionals, expected her to follow in their footsteps. Their expectations were buoyed by a success story at home, scripted by Rozita’s elder sister, a doctor currently pursuing her MS (Master of Surgery) from a medical college in Meerut.
But Singh had other plans as she aspired to become an environment journalist. “I managed to top the exam only because I thoroughly enjoyed my studies. I have never been a topper before,” she said.
The curriculum in BA journalism, said Singh, was very comprehensive and diverse, in which 24 subjects were taught in six semesters. The syllabus was completely theory-oriented in the first year, merely touching upon various subjects. In the second year, she was taught media management and sustainable development among other subjects. It was during this year that she decided to become an environment journalist and, upon getting through to the final year decided to do a dissertation on ‘climate change and reportage’. And during the compulsory internship in the same year she worked with the Centre for Environment Education (a non-government organisation supported by the Ministry of Environment and Forests).
Journalism for her was quite interesting and academically less intensive. “When I joined college I barely knew anything about the world. I would not even read the newspapers. But when I graduated, I was a different person altogether,” she said.
First, she started going through the newspapers regularly. Then she started watching TV debates on CNN IBN and NDTV. Impromptu discussions in the class and the weekly lecture on Wednesday also widened her horizons. “Be regular in class and take the maximum out of what is taught,” Singh advised.
Fresh journalism students could expect a lot from college activity too. “There are movie screenings on DVD, and students have to make a documentary. Though the curriculum, largely, is print-oriented, but radio and TV journalism is also taught in the final year. We were also trained in camera work and production techniques,” Singh said.
While most of her classmates had joined media organisations and others opted for post-graduation in media studies, Singh followed her heart and joined TERI University for a Master’s in sustainable development practice. “I am devoted to the cause of the environment. And I don’t think I should start writing on this complex subject without even knowing it in its entirety. So, I took admission here,” she added.
Singh did a lot of research to pick the right course and it was sheer grit that she found out that TERI was launching this programme this year.
From: Daulat Ram College
Topped: BSc (Honours) botany
Score: 79.6 per cent
For Neha Shukla, botany was an automatic choice because she loved plants, nature, beauty, and the environment. “I was somewhat weak in botany, but in Class XII I sort of started understanding it,” she said.
Fond of accepting challenges, Shukla undertook the difficult task of understanding a subject, which she had initially found difficult to comprehend.
“I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it and now I have done it,” she exulted.
Being at the top of pyramid was quite something but it required a lot of hard work to make it big. “My teachers were very helpful and the library was a great help. All these things helped me attain what I got,” she added.
About her time schedule, Shukla said, “I had no fixed schedule. Sometimes I studied in the morning or at night, depending on how the day was and what kind of mood I was in.”
Initially she found the classes a bit boring but later got hooked to her subjects in final year after a ‘pretty normal’ second year. She studied ecology where practical and theory subjects were given equal importance.
Daughter of a lab technician (RML Hospital) and a businessman father, Shukla said both practical and theory subjects were equally important when it came to science studies. “One should focus on the practical part a great deal but the theory part also is equally important. I used to attend daily practical and lecture classes,” she said.
No defined strategies were followed, but Shukla made it a point to “not bunk classes, attend class and lab practicals daily, and take down notes. This helped one understand each and every bit of botany,” she said.