His hands folded and head sunken into his chest, Bansidhar Singh appears to be sleeping. Seated on a chair with a desk arm, a few rows away from the blackboard, the 17-year-old student is, in fact, waiting for someone to end his solitude. He is used to such long wait. On most days since classes began two weeks ago at the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Hindi Vishwavidyalaya (ABVHU)’s all-Hindi engineering course, Bansidhar finds himself alone in the classroom.
The university, which was set up in 2011, offers 42 courses in all, including Bachelor’s (snatak) and post-graduate (snatakottar) degrees in rasayanshastra (chemistry), bhoutiki (physics), ganit (math) and darshanshastra (philosophy), among others. On September 8, it rolled out its all-Hindi engineering (abhiyantriki) programme, a first in the country, with three students — Bansidhar, Rishabh Singh and Chandan Bairagi. A fourth is expected to join today.
The abhiyantriki course here is as different as it gets: not only is the medium of instruction Hindi, English technical terms in the syllabus have been translated into Hindi. The staff had a tough time finalising the first-year syllabus and had to rely on a host of dictionaries and government publications to find the right words for engineering parlance.
There are 90 seats on offer — 30 each in nagar (civil), vaidyut (electrical) and yantrik (mechanical). However, apart from the lack of students, there are no permanent teachers. The college administration says it has to request lecturers from the BSc and MSc programmes of the university to pitch in.
The scheduled time for the first lecture is 10.30 am but Bansidhar usually reaches before anyone else. Bansidhar, who is from Uttar Pradesh, heard of the engineering course from his uncle in Bhopal. “Since I studied in a Hindi-medium school, my uncle said this would be easier for me,” he says. He is a student of mechanical engineering and on days such as this, when he finds himself alone in the classroom, he often broods over his decision to do this engineering course. “I am worried… yes,” he says, still sitting with his hands crossed across his chest.
Starting at 9 am from his uncle’s home in Barkheda Pathani locality of Bhopal, he has to change two buses to make it to the college that runs out of the old Vidhan Sabha premises, opposite the Raj Bhavan.
The Vidhan Sabha shifted to its new location in the city’s Arera Hills two decades ago, leaving a bunch of decrepit buildings, which have been occupied by different government departments, including the Hindi university. The university hopes to get a building of its own soon — the foundation stone has been laid on a 50-acre plot at Mugalia Kot in the outskirts of the city. For now, Bansidhar’s classes are held in a room adjacent to what was once the Speaker’s chamber for four decades and which is now a staff room for the engineering department.
The two office staff arrive soon and so does Prof Rajesh Mishra, the mathematics teacher, to begin the first lecture of the day.
The teacher doesn’t pause at seeing the one solitary student — it was the same story last Monday. But just then, another student, Rishabh, walks in. Rishabh is a student of civil engineering and Chandan, the third student, is in the electrical department. Chandan hasn’t come in today.
“Numbers don’t matter, my job is to teach whoever is in the classroom,’’ says Mishra.
The lecture is largely in Hindi, though the teacher slips in more than a few non-Hindi technical terms. “I am comfortable in Hindi and so are the students. But there are no Hindi equivalents for, say, sine and cosine (trigonometry terms). There are Sanskrit equivalents but I don’t want to use terms that are no longer in use,” he says.
The faces in the staff room suddenly light up. There’s a “new admission” at the door —Dheeraj Phalse.
The staff scramble to help Dheeraj. “Do you have your address proof?”; “Photographs?”; “Do you have FeviStik?” they ask him, helping him with his documents. “You have taken the right decision, tumhari engineering ho jayegi (you will complete your engineering course),’’ a senior member of the staff tells Dheeraj, who is overwhelmed by all the attention.
Dheeraj, who is from Indore, says he studied in a Hindi-medium school and “always wanted to do engineering”.
The mathematics class is over and Bansidhar and Rishabh are at a loss about the next class because the chemistry teacher of a few days has called it quits. The two students are told to go to an adjacent building to attend a lecture on environment. They head there and find out there is no class. They wait in the porch for a while until the Hindi teacher suggests they should attend a public lecture by a senior bureaucrat on the “importance of Hindi”. They are told to head to a hall in a nearby building — “make sure you are there at 12,” she says. There is still some time so Bansidhar and Rishabh decide to head back to their classroom for lunch.
Bansidhar and Rishabh quickly finish their lunch and head for the lecture, which has little to do with their course. They hall is almost full and they take the chairs in the last row. Prof Mohanlal Chheepa, the university vice-chancellor, is sharing the dais with the bureaucrat. His presence implies an unsaid rule: that they have to stay in the hall till the end. They do.
Bansidhar and Rishabh head back from the lecture hall. Dheeraj, the new student, joins them. By 2 pm, Banidhar, Rishabh and Dheeraj are in the classroom, seated next to the chemistry teacher whose lecture wasn’t slotted for the day. Here, the day is a fluid stretch — there are few schedules and those, if any, are rarely adhered to.
Head of the department Prof R S Choubey is waiting for a lecturer of mechanical engineering, who has enquired about vacancies and is willing to teach in Hindi. “I don’t know where he is… he should have been here by now. He says he got held up in the rain,’’ he says. The candidate, Akhilesh Soni, finally arrives at 3.30 pm.
Soni has quit his job at a private engineering college to complete his PhD and hopes to work part-time here. Somewhere in the middle of the interview, Soni asks, a little tentatively, “Can I complete the weekly quota of lectures in two days and take the other days off?”
The HoD turns down the request. “We are not politicians to speak for six hours. Even if we talk for that long, spare a thought for the students. Will they be able to absorb anything?’’ he asks Soni.
After some talk about the salary, Soni and Choubey agree that lectures can’t be planned in advance till there are permanent faculty on the rolls and until then, they will have to play by the ear. A brisk handshake and Soni has landed the job. “They say 80 per cent Hindi will do,’’ he says, sounding relieved. “I am sure I’ll manage. Hindi is after all my mother tongue,’’ he says.
Inside the staff room, there is a languid conversation about whether they will ever get a library of their own. “It’s unlikely, not just because books cost money but because Hindi engineering books are not available,” says one of them.
Meanwhile, where are the students? It turns out that after the last lecture ended around 3.45, they were taken to an adjacent building with the promise of another lecture. No lecture, so they had headed out.