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Of eminent profs, debates, graffiti...

JNU through the eyes of its alumni — an entrepreneur, a corporate honcho, a lawyer and a fashion designer.

education Updated: Feb 20, 2013 13:54 IST
Rahat Bano

Talk of their alma mater and memories of praise-worthy professors, chai, debate sessions at the famous Ganga Dhaba, political graffiti, agitations and the guard outside their hostel flood back. As the admission process rolls on at Jawaharlal Nehru University, we get four JNU alumni to share their experiences in the institution and how it shaped them. So, you have an entrepreneur, a corporate honcho, a lawyer, and a fashion designer in flashback mode.

Quality education
Akshaya Kumar Sethy studied up to the bachelor’s level in a village in Odisha. He then enrolled for a master’s in English literature at JNU because some of his friends who were students at this university advised him that “if you want to acquire the highest level of education and excel in any profession, you must study in a university of great repute.”

Being from a very humble family background, it was his dream to attend a reputable university. “…I knew it’s only in a place like JNU where you can get the best education of international level at an affordable cost — Rs. 500-Rs. 600 per month (in 1992),” says Sethy, who later on did an executive programme at IIM Calcutta and is now regional head, Reliance Life Insurance Company Ltd.

“Studying in JNU not only empowered me with great knowledge of the subject but exposed me to a different world of knowledge management. You get to study, debate and interact with scholars of different streams and who come from different parts of the globe. Studying with professors like GJV Prasad makes you strong intellectually and mentally and teaches you that only your willpower is enough to transform your dream into reality.”

When there’s talk of one’s university, how can the midnight chat sessions and canteens not find a mention? Sethy recounts that their hostel canteen where students debated with some of the top politicians, bureaucrats, social activists were “some of the great opportunities. I got to broaden my vision and develop a deep insight into various issues of relevance in society; also, the late-night discussions over a cup of tea in Ganga Dhaba always kept us updating our knowledge in various subjects.”

Sethy credits “only” JNU for tranforming his life – from a poor rural student to an officer in LIC India to a vice president in a multinational company. “It’s a wonderful gift by JNU in changing my whole world of which I am proud today.”

Violence was infra dig
Peter Isaac, a graduate from Hyderabad’s Osmania University, remembers being amazed by certain things in JNU, particularly the non-violent and safe ethos of the campus. If you disagreed with someone, you did not go ballistic and physical violence was seen as infra dig. No one raised their hands, says Isaac. You harnessed the power of the pen — write a pamphlet, and put it up in the mess for others to read and draw their “considered conclusions.”

“Girls could walk from my (co-ed) hostel through the forest (such is the geography of the campus) and to the library” late at night. “We never had any incident. We never had any violence” (in those days), says Isaac, who received his MA in political science specialising in West Asia and world affairs and diplomacy and world affairs, in 1983.

He fondly talks about politics-related activities. For one, they would ask, “in jest”, students from another party, “How can you become a communist overnight by paying 25 paise?” says Isaac, who was then a part of the Free Thinkers of JNU, a left of centre, group. One of the line oft-quoted by the Free Thinkers was, “To Doubt is to think, to think is to exist, I think, therefore I am”)

Isaac remembers not only his class fellows and eminent professors, but also “incredible human beings” like Lalchand, the chowkidar at their hostel, each of whom played a role in shaping his life “in a manner that is inexplicable”.

“I will always be grateful to my father for sending me that (JNU) application to fill up,” says Isaac, currently founder and chairman, Pi International, an India-based high-end software company with offices in the US and Singapore.

Became alive to the world
Like Sethy, Sandeep Mahapatra was drawn to this institution’s reputation. An LLB from Sambalpur University, Odisha, he pursued an MA in international relations and MPhil in international law here. What drove him at the time he joined JNU in 1997 was “mainly a desire” to enrol in one of India’s most prestigious universities.

(In 2000, Mahapatra created history by becoming the first Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad member to be elected president of the Students’ Union of a university known as a leftist bastion.)

Apart from widening his knowledge base, the university instilled confidence in him to always strive for excellence, he says. “It also gave me an opportunity to hone my interpersonal skills, which has helped me immensely in my profession as a lawyer. The debating skills that one acquired during JNU is being put to the best use in courts now,” says Mahapatra, now partner in charge of the Delhi office of a law firm, Juris Corp. “All in all, JNU has equipped me to be a committed professional who is alive to the happenings taking place around and contributes, even in small measure — for example, taking up pro bono cases, etc — to society.”

“JNU always brings back fond memories of hostel life, late night tea at Ganga Dhaba, numerous agitations on issues of significance in those days, endless debates and discussions, early morning classes, the warmth of teachers and fellow students etc,” he says, adding that his varsity has changed for the “better with improved amenities”.

‘Started enjoying learning’
When Sunaina Suneja was in Class 12 at the American Embassy School or AES (formerly American International School, AIS) in Delhi, a friend, acting as a counsellor, found out for her that JNU offered an MA five-year integrated programme in French. “But ... I had to wait another year to get into JNU (it was too ‘red’ for my parents). I was at JMC (Jesus & Mary College) for six months and disliked it,” she says. “JNU beckoned,” she applied and got into the second year because she had studied French since Class 9.

“We had some wonderful professors...My education at the American School had been very broad based and this continued in JNU and that’s what I really enjoyed about my education. Fourth year was the year in my life that I started to enjoy learning, not just studying.”

In addition to the main subject, she read history and Spanish as the two subsidiary subjects. “Spanish was easy for me, I had studied it for two years at AIS/AES!

History was a fabulous eye-opener! I had no idea I was interested till I did that six-month course with Professor Aditya Mukherjee. When I delve into history today I know it’s because of those six months in history at JNU,” says Suneja, now a fashion designer who works a lot with khadi.

Start of online application process
February 7, 2013
Issue of offline application forms (by post)
February 7, 2013
Last date for issue of offline application forms (by post)
March 11, 2013
Closing of online application process
March 23, 2013
Last date of submission of completed offline or printed copy of the online application form to reach JNU
March 28, 2013
Date of entrance examination May 18, 19, 20 and 21, 2013
More at http://jnuonline.in
Helpline: 1860-180-1813
9am-6pm (Monday-Saturday)