Published: 09th May 2019
How young academician and poet Jhilam Chattaraj goes above and beyond the call of a teacher
"Undergraduate students look for holistic growth. They wish to acquire skills that make them employable. They expect institutions to conduct events that provide them exposure," she says
Stereotypes about teachers being austere and unyielding are embedded in the minds of many. However, all of us have come across at least a couple of teachers in our academic lives who have shattered those hackneyed perceptions by treating students on an equal footing. And if you are a student of Jhilam Chattaraj, Assistant Professor at RBVRR Women’s College, and author of the books Corporate Fiction: Popular Culture and The New Writers and When Lovers Leave and Poetry Stays, and wish to ask her a question, all you need to do is ping her on Instagram. “Teachers back in my day were not very accessible—they had an aura about them. To dissolve that, I try to be more reachable and prefer social media,” she says.
Why’d you become a teacher?
I have always wanted to work in the academic sector. A job that leads you to be creative every day is enticing.
First glimpse: The book cover of one of her books | (Pic: Jhilam Chattaraj)
How is your style different?
I ask questions that bring them out of their comfort zones. I prefer to have a discussion and ideation. I also take my students to poetry readings and literary gatherings in the city so that they can learn along with me. I co-ordinate for a literary club, Quills Literary Club and edit a blog which is a participatory platform where students share their opinions on works of literature
How do we improve the standards of learning and teaching in India?
We need to have many more colleges and universities in the county. Why only one JNU or HCU, why not fifty? We need to invest more in research in humanities and social sciences, create more jobs for students of liberal arts. We live in an experiential economy where skill is preferred over knowledge, but we need both equally. Our education system must teach children to raise questions and be emotionally empowered.
What motivated you to write a book while managing a full-time job as a teacher?
I began to take poetry seriously after I published my first research monograph on popular fiction. I devoted five to six hours to my poems every day after work. It is an arduous process. As a woman, I am often questioned for my lust for life beyond domesticity. I am presently working on a book of interviews of poets and intellectuals which will be out soon.
Our society needs to be more kind to young people. We have to develop sensitivity towards differently-abled students and slow learners. The pressure to perform must be monitored to combat the reasons and consequences of depression and anxiety among students
Jhilam Chattaraj, Assistant Professor, RBVRR Women’s College | (Pic: Jhilam Chattaraj)
If one of your students were to read your collection of poetry, what would you, as a woman and an educator like for her to take away from it?
There are three things:
- Invest time and resources on your own emotional evolution. It is important that we love ourselves.
- Not be in a hurry to cure ourselves of things that hurt. Grief can teach us the values of empathy towards our own heart.
- Write poetry and take risks with words. Like Ray Bradbury said, “You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
Some of her poems
stuns you, then it
rips you, finally, it
fatigues you—a porter with a
with words of glass
and Himalayan snow
winds freeze into flake foliage-
born of one spring
breeze, claim a vivid moon,
birthing a fish, in a pool