Kerala Campus Scan.
The world has changed a lot since the beginning of the eighties of the last century. I was a second year degree student in 1980. Campuses in Kerala were enjoying the freedom of the post emergency period. Politics vied with academics in our colleges. Government colleges bore the brunt of frequent strikes. Private colleges too faced issues of indiscipline. The range of subjects offered was limited and the scope of careers was equally narrow.
Higher studies options prompted a section of students to seek institutions in the happening
cities of India. The medicine- engineering obsession was steeply rising but limited seats and
resources directed ‘mere mortals’ to other paths. The rich and the adamant however, sought
seats in neighbouring states. MBA was a new portal as business ceased to be a bad word for
the socialists and even the leftists. Civil Services were for the brightest and very few
youngsters mentioned it as an aim for fear of being ridiculed.
The Gulf boom lured many young people to dream about scooting to the desert domains.
Television was a distant dream. Films with their masala mix shaped our world view.
Malayalam movies had gained reputation in the art film category but the mainstream was
often dishing out the ticklish and the tantalising. The tragic death of Jayan and the rise of two
superstars divided cine-goers vertically. Campus love celebrated in Mollywood movies was
inspirational for our home grown Romeos, who sported shaggy beards, donned extra large
shirts and downed firewater, when their fair maidens were carted away by someone working
in ‘Persia’. They then smoked like chimneys and brought out collections of poems with a
mandatory piece titled, SHE!
Cricket was slowly upstaging hockey as our national game. We followed it fervently
without ever believing that our local boys or girls too could make it to the headlines on the
sports page. Dribbling in football remained a Malayali- Bengali passion along with dabbling
in politics. Reading was largely confined to the regional language newspapers and the
weeklies. The occasional buji the budhijeevi flaunted works by Kafka, Camus or Neruda.
Radio reigned supreme as a source of information and entertainment. Singers who enthralled
campuses faded away or persistently sang nostalgic songs in the annual club day in their
workplaces. Actors gazed in wonderment at the arrival of the mimicry stars, who graduated
from cat calls, dog barks, frog croaks, and goat bleats to train rattle and fireworks or bomb
blasts. They also mimicked the voices of film stars and many of them hoped to climb the
ladders to stardom.
The ‘80s gave us a sober prime minister, matured in democratic principles after the
disastrous excesses of her previous innings and the efforts of an octogenarian prime minister
to cobble together an alternative at the centre. Indira Gandhi brought India to the leadership
of the NAM and Commonwealth. She also incited loyal friends and admiring foes to consider
India as a rising power. With cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma reaching space in 1984, our faith in
scientific growth was strengthened as never before. However, the separatist movements
sponsored by aliens with vicious vested interests stymied our leap forward. Acts of terrorism
shook up the national psyche. Young minds were disturbed, distracted and disoriented.
Particularly depressing were the news reports from Kashmir and Punjab. The assassination of
our prime minister by her own guards was a blow, with aftershocks to our nation. In this hour
of crisis a reluctant, unprepared and unlikely leader emerged.
Rajiv Gandhi was refreshingly young, unscathed and clear-headed. His exuberance
percolated into our campuses, especially with the lowering of the voting age to 18. He
ushered in an era of rapid scientific and technological development. Telecommunication
devices, Television and Computer technology were reaching the common man in the far
corners of the country. Peace accords in and around the nation promised an era of hope.
Sadly, bad luck coupled with faulty strategies led to his unwarranted defeat and untimely
death. Many youngsters felt betrayed and bereft of faith in our future. The return of
communal hatred and caste based politics in a big and organised way shook the secular
foundations of our beloved land.
Amidst the mishaps and mayhem that racked the country the benefits of a young man’s
dreams were being delivered by an old man who inherited his mantle. Narasimha Rao ably
assisted by Dr Manmohan Singh steered the nation through the opening of the economy.
Cherished socialist values gave way to the competitive demands of the market. Satellite
television drew the world into our drawing rooms. New tastes and new wants were catered to.
Brand value went several notches above utility. Savings was not the priority. Cash flow was.
The elevation of Atal Bihari Vajpayee was seen with disbelief by many but being a poet he
was mostly untouched by the fundamentalism that surrounded him. His peace initiatives and
the Kargil War drew the attention of campuses. APJ Abdul’s tenure as president promised an
era of strong secular values. However, exclusive rather than inclusive varieties of nationalism
have depressingly gained prominence in the second decade of the 21 st century.
In the ‘90s campuses came alive with the jargon of computers. The Internet brought us
into the information highways. Knowledge was not hoarded in the libraries. Fingertips
accessed information. IT gave wings to thousands of our young minds to pursue careers away
from the familiar beat. Teaching almost became redundant as the students could already get
hold of the sources, once the possession of the privileged. Many of our students became
alarmingly well informed. The vast and fast Internet was not always reliable and often
trapped the addicted. Teachers had to be reinvented as touchstones, anchors, speed governors
and steering wheels. They also had to become shock absorbers, counsellors and altruistic
elders to be relevant.
Today our students have more scholarships than any time in the past. Educational loans
are available. In spite of all the negative attributes of our democracy, social justice is meted
out to students from weaker and marginalized sections. The wider range of subjects and
courses available, the mushrooming of aided and self financing institutions, the granting of
autonomy, the possibilities of studying abroad... all these have changed the profile of the
academic world. From raw post-graduates who started teaching careers we have today
teachers who have to clear eligibility tests at the national level. They also pursue research
leading to the awarding of Ph.D.
The introduction of the semester system has drastically changed the campus scenario.
Continuous Assessment is one of its highlights. Two end semester exams have replaced the
annual examinations. On paper everything looks good. However, the ground reality is
different. There are cases where CA marks are used to tame students. Marks are awarded
without any grading in some institutions to avoid complaints. The vibrancy of the campus of
the ‘80’s has gone and an air of anxiety fills the campus. Teachers can never free themselves
from the burden of evaluation, revaluation and retests throughout the year. The new system
will work much better when the class strength is restricted to 30 or 35. It simply won’t work
with large numbers in excess of 60. The CA marks may be student friendly but is no
indication of merit. In 1984 the total number of first classes in MA English was 17 in the
undivided Kerala University. My last MA class had on an average 20 first classes.
Thanks mainly to the CA marks! Copying which was an art in the past is more of a science in
the present. It is checked with cameras in the examination hall and anti plagiarism software to
More girl students are enrolled in the present day campuses. Marriage after degree was the
norm in the ‘80s. Today post-graduation or MPhil is possible before marriage is planned. The
number of girl students going abroad for higher studies and employment is also on the rise.
Equality of the sexes is manifested in the campus lingo. Classmates in the past used to
address each other using the full name or a shortened pet name. Today the expressions eda,
edi, nee, ninte pepper conversations involving both girls and boys in mixed groups. It was
unheard of in our days. Now it is considered a mark of intimacy rather than disrespect.
Expressions like kalaki, chethu, adipoli, kidu have replaced the older versions like
gambheeram, sundaram, manoharam, super, hit etc.
Segregation of the sexes, which marked the campuses of yesteryears, is on its way out.
There is greater physical proximity. Green concerns, gender sensitivity, rejection of caste
barriers, openness to national and international trends, experiments with food preferences...
all these figure among the concerns of our youngsters. The floods of August, 2018 showed
the potential of our youth in springing to noble action. Smoking is recognized as a health
hazard. Drinking once popularised by the Devdas types is less appealing. Drugs loom in the
distant periphery. Irresponsible intimacy leading to unwanted pregnancies once featured in
many films with a mandatory vomiting scene near the kitchen door now will only raise
laughter. Our kids are wiser. In the past the story was king in films. Now fans of stars decide
the success of movies. In politics once ideology led the followers. Today loyalty to a leader is
more important. Sartorial simplicity which was the hallmark of our campuses has been
upstaged by bold experimentation in choice of clothes. The Indian beauty queens Sush and
Aish who conquered the world in 1994 stirred the campuses to organize local fashion shows.
The satellite and cable revolution in Kerala spawned innumerable channels. Unlike the
Doordarshan of the ‘80s, new age channels go for younger and younger anchors. Many
youngsters are celebrities even while they are in college. One of my second year B.A.
Literature students, Vidhu Pratap won the state award for best playback singer. Reality shows
bring forth talented youngsters to fame and fortune. Unlike in the past dominated by a few
golden voices and master composers, we now have a variety of voices. Since the days of A.R.
Rehman’s success with Roja, our youngsters are receptive to a wider range of voices.
Campuses have celebrity students from the arts, literature and sports. Arundhati Roy’s
Booker Prize in 1997 inspired a new generation to reflect on their lives from a literary
perspective. Among my students there are writers with their novels, short stories and poems
published while still in college. This was unimaginable in our generation.
Cricket with its colonial hang-ups and power equations kept Kerala at a long distance
from the coveted national squads. Malayali presence started with the likes of Tinu Yohannan
and Sreesanth. Sanju Samson got selected to the Indian team while he was a II Litt. student in
our college. The exploits of our athletes and sportspersons including P.T. Usha and Shiny
Wilson encouraged youngsters in the past. The steady trickle of Olympic medals has also
been promising. However, many students feel the hard training, consistent fitness demands
and fierce competition too tough to handle.
In the past, few college going students thought of doing any profitable work parallel to
their studies. Now there are several students taking up work to earn while they learn. There is
good response to add on courses. The virtues of frugal living and savings have disappeared
from the campuses. The poorest student may flash a higher end mobile than the ones
professors carry. Bikes and four wheelers are owned by many youngsters. More money
circulates in the campus. Festivals trigger an urge to splurge. The strict line drawn between
the sexes is now a thing of the past. Eve teasing is rare but electronic abuse is frequent.
Ragging the scourge of the past has also come down but its new avatars surface regularly.
The presence of much older students was a feature of the old campuses. Now such ‘Lalettans’
are really rare.
The ‘80s was secular in spirit and appearance. Today more and more visible marks of
religion and caste are seen. The arts and science colleges in the state once sent many students
to professional colleges. Today very few of our colleges do that. The plus two schools have
that privilege. Colleges which tried to curb and stop political activity gave room for religious
or communal forces to engage in battles for the souls. Independent students who get elected
either mask their political identity or enjoy their tenure without bothering about their
followers being defeated the next year. The colleges of the ‘80s had a great tradition of
debate. The emergence of certain ‘party colleges’ all but snuffed out this culture of public
debate so crucial to our fragile democracy.
ICT has come into our colleges with a bang. Smart boards, rooms with LCD projectors,
Power point presentations, online submissions, Wi-Fi connectivity are all active. Surveillance
cameras, marks and attendance in websites providing parent login facility are all in full
swing. Laptops and mobile cameras have spawned campus directors, who dream of
graduating from short to feature films. Rasul Pookutty’s Oscar in 2009 made a lot of
dreamers turn into doers. Manuscript magazines are a thing of the past with digital versions
arriving in greater style. Presence in social media balances the trivial with the serious and
contributes to a pulsating democracy.
Teachers do not get the leisure they used to get in the past. Continuous Evaluation,
demands of in- service courses, the API score, PhD and postdoctoral projects, the obsessive
documentation, student feedback gathering mechanism, the public hostility to the ‘huge’ rise
in salary... all these tend to take away the joy of teaching for some. However, there are many
who welcome the changes and challenges of their chosen professions. In the past there was
greater distance between teachers and students. Today teachers are friendlier and act as
facilitators rather than feeders of esoteric knowledge. However, the popularity of tuition/
coaching centres raises doubts about the quality of teaching/ learning in the educational
The campus is not a place where time stands still. It is dynamic and in the vanguard of
change. The future is moulded in its classrooms, labs, auditoriums and playgrounds. It is
human nature to look back wistfully and sigh over the chronicles of spent time. It is also
imperative in the present that we discard the negative and embrace the positive in our march
to the future.
The author recently retired as the HoD of English in a college affiliated to the University of Kerala. He has been presenting educational
programmes on radio and TV since 1984.His email ID is email@example.com