Prof Next Door It might be safe to say that most of us aren't missing our classes (low-key we are), but the absence of interaction with professors is felt somehow. To bridge the gap, continuing with our series 'Prof Next Door', here's how we found Prof. Mahuya Bandyopadhyay (Sociology, HuSS) outside of the lecture halls. We hope that ma'am too, has found some relaxation in these class-free times. Wish you less lonely and safe quarantine!
******************** Prof. Mahuya Bandyopadhyay
Q. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and how did you end up choosing humanities at a time when elders weren’t receptive to the idea? Or were there any differences in your case? I come from a small town in West Bengal where I studied till class 10th. Then I went to Pune for my 11th-12th and back to Calcutta for my graduation. After that, I moved to Delhi for my post-graduation and have been here ever since. So in this light, my adult life is based on Calcutta and Delhi. Right from school, I knew that I was interested in the social sciences and that was pretty much it. My parents did insist on maths in 11th-12th, which was like a thorn in my flesh. I dropped it later in favor of psychology, which was great for my marks anyway. But my family supported me through it all.
Q. You’ve been academically involved in Delhi School of Economics, Miranda House, TISS, etc. What led you to prefer IIT Delhi over a core humanities college? I have taught in a variety of institutes and programs. The move to IIT was partly personal (career development) but academically, I like the challenge of teaching people across disciplines: how to communicate core ideas to an audience unfamiliar to these principles, this has driven me so far. Also, given the current scenario, I feel that social science colleges are facing a crisis of sorts and that IIT Delhi provides the balance of opportunity and peace that I require for my research, insulated from external turbulences.
Q. How has your experience been with the students here so far? In hindsight, do you feel you’ve made the right choice? I guess undergraduate students are the same all over. The front row students are the interested ones and the people at the back, not so much. I try to keep my classes inclusive by trying to involve the students with pertinent videos and discussions. But in many ways, a lot of you have actually surprised me. Students respond quite interestingly and creatively to the material presented, in ways not anticipated. So I like this and it keeps me going here.
Q. How difficult was it to switch between DU and IITD? Do you find any striking similarities or dissimilarities? It was not that difficult actually. My experience in TISS really helped here, as many students there were engineers too. The main difference I feel is the mentality of the students towards social sciences, a shift from likely UPSC aspirants to core sciences’ students. And also in the range of things I teach. But as I said, there isn’t much difference in undergraduate students everywhere. In terms of academics, it was not easy for me to find commissioned research in the field of crimes and punishment, so I had to diversify my field of study to cover more ground.
Q. Anything about your education that you’d like to change if given the chance? The only thing I would change is to go back and take maths seriously so I could carry out the quantitative aspects of my research better. Otherwise, I’m quite happy with the way my academics shaped up.
Q. Please share some funny anecdotes from your college life. We were not very regular in some classes. It was the philosophy class in the middle of the semester, but the first one I was ever attending. While going through the roll-call, he came across my friend’s name and exclaimed that after so long it was only her second class. Then came my name for which the whole class was bubbling with anticipation. The professor announced me as the champion of attendance and mock-congratulated me for attending my very first class but I did not face any other consequences. I guess that’s the benefit of smaller classrooms.
Q. How has IITD evolved over time in terms of the culture and environment within? Any changes that you’re still looking forward to? Well, I have been here for just a year now. From what I have known, we’re still called the “hukka” courses but I feel that there has been a shift with more people coming to perceive humanities in a better light, and the college coming up with more vibrant programmes for research scholars. In the future, I guess IIT Delhi will have an improved HUSS department owing to the development prospects coming from the IoE status.
Q. How is your life like a professor? How do you juggle between the various roles you play? Honestly, I feel like a teacher all the time (good ol’ pre-quarantine days) as I am a professor here and then have to go home and oversee my daughter’s studies. I see my primary roles as a teacher, a researcher, a mother but I think they’re all overlapping in some way or the other. But I think the hardest part is to be a teacher as well as an activist, without polarizing my students’ opinions and learning new things from others’ perspectives that affect my stance on various issues.
Q. How do you feel your research is going on, and what support do you get from the institute? The problem with prison is how hard is to get primary research material. So what I do here is try to work on how surveillance, one of my ongoing research fields, affects the security personnel’s lives and ours. We get to see in the news how those supposed to protect us sometimes are the perpetrators of crime, so what might bring about that unfortunate side and how to prevent that and similar stuff is what I am trying to study.
Q. What’s your message to your students and our readers? Only one major thing, anytime you are conflicted with someone else, try to empathize with them. Imagine putting yourself in their position and reason out arrangements instead of aggravating it further. Similarly please try to understand the position of us, teachers, and provide your input in class when called upon so that we may better our approach of teaching because we too learn from our students. ( [laughing] Though I understand the morning 8 slot doesn’t help much in the way of a more interactive class.).