By Rudrashish Chakraborty
The day has finally arrived: today on July 31, my teacher, colleague and dear friend Mr Keval Arora superannuates after 44 years of an illustrious teaching career, all of which he devoted to Kirori Mal College. He has enthralled generations of students in the classroom with his teaching, incisive comments, pervasive wit, critical thinking and a lived experience of theatre. He has transformed lives the way he transformed the printed texts into live performance in the classroom. He has taught students with a zeal and commitment which would be unmatched by anything else. He has invested on students like nobody else: by always giving a patient hearing to their queries (however naive they are) before addressing them with utmost care and attention. In a nutshell, Keval is a teacher not just of the subject but of life; he has taught students across generations and disciplines how to lead a life of principle, conviction and commitment.
Keval joined Kirori Mal College as a student of BA (H) English in 1973, followed by his MA from KMC only in 1976 – 78. After a brief teaching stint of two years at Ramjas College, he joined the English department of Kirori Mal College in December 1980. Keval is one of the last of the Mohicans: the generation of English teachers who radicalised English studies in the late 1970s and the 1980s from a stultified new critical reading to a vibrant political and cultural reading of texts. This generation joined the University as students in the turbulent 1970s: a fact which contributed to their scepticism and critical thinking. This was also the first batch of M.Phil offered by the Department of English, University of Delhi, which had a galaxy of stars. Among them, Keval was different: he carved out an independent space in exploring theatre as a lived experience of life, infusing a new energy into the plays he taught to students for decades.
I had the great privilege to be taught by Keval in my MA in 1998-99 when he taught Shaw and Brecht to our class in South Campus. Though a semester of 4 months was hardly enough to learn from a teacher like him, it was good enough for me to realise why my friends in Kirori Mal College would be head over heels in love with Keval’s lectures. Keval has this uncanny ability to bring new life into texts or authors he hates; in our MA, he claimed to have hated Shaw, but he took 3 months to teach it and made us fall in love with Shaw. His lectures on Brecht to us, especially the ones on ‘alienation effects’ were not merely on theatre, but on the art of reading a text: not as a hagiography but with a critical eye so as to think outside one’s comfort zone. Keval’s lectures would always make the complex ideas simple and accessible to young minds while complicating so-called simple assumptions to make them think: the art of a great teacher.
Keval has been synonymous with The Players: the theatre society of Kirori Mal College. Like Keval, The Players also turns 65 this year: with the two having an association for almost half a century. It is redundant to mention here Keval’s contribution to The Players: generations of the members in The Players have acknowledged the same. What is pertinent to mention here is Keval’s singular contribution to the functioning of The Players: to underline the importance of theatre as a collective and collaborative space. In his more than 4 decades of association with The Players as a Staff Advisor, Keval consciously cultivated a culture of team work where the cult of hero worship would be replaced by a spirit of collective functioning: in the true Brechtian style, the actors would swap roles both on-stage and off-stage, and rehearsals and conversations over ideas are no less important than actual acting.
Keval’s role in institution-building needs to be acknowledged: especially in the field of the cultural space of the University. He was instrumental in the formation of the Culture Council in Kirori Mal College around 1997: meant to allocate a budget for the cultural societies to function regularly and smoothly. As the Staff Council Secretary of the College, Keval restored autonomy and transparency in the functioning of the statutory post. He was tireless in his endeavour to make the institution a better place for students and to protect them from institutional apathy.
For me, Keval was everything rolled into one: teacher, colleague, comrade, friend, philosopher, guide and my perpetual go-to person for everything. He handheld most of us in our English department for decades: whether in making the timetable or in managing the department library or in taking policy decisions. He has taught me the difference between ‘popular’ and ‘populism’: his exceptional popularity among students and his colleagues is owing to his principles and professional ethics which do not require any cheap populist stunt.
Keval abhors hagiography from his core: hence I don’t want to incur his wrath any further by remembering all his qualities and contributions. I can only say that he always reminds me of a profound ‘lack’ both within and without: to make me acutely aware of my abject inability to become a teacher like him and more importantly, how teachers of his calibre have become such a vanishing species! We knew all along the inevitability of his retirement; but refused to believe that the day would come so soon.
Best wishes, Keval boss, for your next innings; being the true player that you are, I am sure you will carry your bat throughout the innings the way you have done all these years in KMC. The fact is you have left me behind in the abyss of absurdity like the hapless tramps in Beckett! Indeed I have become a stranger in the world of KM without you as both the illusion and the guiding light; this divorce between the actor and the stage is too stark and difficult to handle. (IPA Service)
The author is Associate Professor of English Literature, Kirori Mal College, Delhi University. This was his speech on July 31 at the farewell ceremony for his mentor.