Rejected and disqualified candidates for doctoral and post-doctoral degrees, don’t lose hope. You can still make it by obtaining an honorary degree at some point of your life. At the Convention Hall of Delhi University last week, the cap and gown did lose some of their glamour — as they do much more every time a politician is made a ‘doctor’ by some university or the other — when an honorary doctorate was conferred on Amitabh Bachchan.
De Montford University, Leicester, in Britain, had already presented Bachchan with an honorary Doctorate of Arts for his “outstanding contribution to Indian cinema”. This time, it was Delhi University’s turn, honouring the star with the Doctor of Letters for his contribution to cinema. Did I expect senior faculty members to dart about like teenagers for autographs? Frankly, no. I wondered who was felicitating whom? Fellow recipient of the honorary degree, the Prime Minister’s principal scientific advisor, CNR Rao, could not resist stating that he was proud to be from “a less visible part of society — science and technology”.
More than anything or anyone else, it was the Big B who was being honoured — or should I say ‘cashed upon’? — by the university authorities. Had there been slightly different costumes, it could have been just another Bollywood award nite.
While critics could call the process of honouring a person with an academic degree a waste of time, others see it as recognising the successful. But then, who are the successful, considering they are defined and honoured by their very success? Is there a need to go one step further and call them ‘doctor’, a term that is normally bestowed upon a person after he completes certain academic criteria?
Publicity garnered from such ceremonies could be the justification for such ceremonies. But can it also legitimise the tamasha that comes with it?
Manisha Gangahar is a PhD in English Literature from Panjab University, Chandigarh.