How does one write about loss and that too when it’s someone you cannot claim to know so well? He was never my teacher so to speak. I didn’t take classes with him or had long conversations about concerns which were mine. Yet that now he is gone, it feels like a vacuum that cannot be filled.
For many of us who studied Literature in Pune, Dr. Aniket Jaaware remained a myth. He taught at the English Department for over 25 years. We heard his lectures on literary criticism and theory were unparalleled. He taught Plato and Aristotle with great enthusiasm and once spoke about metaphors for two hours when a student expressed a faint interest in the subject.
Stories of his photographic memory became city folklore. He could apparently tell you the exact location of a book in any part of the library. We felt deprived for not being in his class and envied those who would surround him during my occasional visits to the department.
Aniket Jaaware was a cult and that too a difficult one to decipher. From these many stories that gained currency, Prof. Jaaware seemed like the quintessential reticent, unapproachable intellectual. We were told it’s alright to stay intimidated.
I heard his public talks on wide-ranging topics such as the formation of the canon in English Literature to adapting Shakespeare on screen to caste in India. I stalked him at music concerts, film screenings and other public events without the courage to strike a conversation. A mob of his admirers would gather around him anyways. I didn’t have access to his writings in Marathi but his book Simplifications served as a wonderful introduction to Structuralism, Post-Structuralism and Post-colonial thought.
I also read his translations of Jyotiba Phule’s writings. In his seminal essay, The Silence of the Subaltern Student, he writes about the urban-rural student divide that he encountered while teaching in a prominent college in Pune city. A group of rural students told him about their urban counterparts – “Sir, we are not seen by them”. All this happened while I observed him from a distance.
He first came to speak to us at Fergusson College during a special lecture series organised by the English Department. He held forth on Roland Barthes. Like many others in the audience, I did not understand much but his complex unpacking of Barthes led us to revisit Barthes with renewed interest and insights. He had created a context for us to read and examine Barthes. He made us curious about Barthes’ many ideas and curiosity is a rare gift that only a great teacher can impart to his pupils. Prof. Jaaware compelled us to think and I wished to hear him more often and be perplexed by his erudition.
Many years later, I met him on my PhD interview panel. He heard me all throughout, never looked me in the eye and apparently scored me the highest.
After his demise, one of his former students wrote on Facebook that before meeting Aniket, they were merely reading books but after taking classes with him, they began to interpret and understand life. I am not sure if Prof. Jaaware would approve of such overt sentimentalism. While many are bemoaning the loss of a towering intellectual and a great Humanities scholar, I am grieving the loss of a teacher, the one I never had. We will miss you, Sir.
The writer teaches literary & cultural studies at FLAME University, Pune