If you have a history, write it; or be prepared to forfeit it to someone who is most willing to erase your name. This conviction inspires the following account. And many more.
Once upon a time there used to exist a Department of English in Kathmandu University like any other Department. There used to be a Department of Nepali, too, like any other Department. And they used to exist there, in Kathmandu University, the two Departments, until June 2005. But they ceased to be — for genuine reasons.
The English Department (comprising Mr. Pant, Mr. Gnawali, Ms. Pun and Ms. Rajbhandari) worked to launch a dual-major Undergraduate program in Dhulikhel premises as early as 1998. A curriculum for English and Actuarial Science was drafted and brought to discussion. This was not materialized for certain technical reasons.
About the same time, the English folks again forwarded a proposal to start M Phil Program in English in Kathmandu. The proposal was not taken forward this time also on the ground, perhaps, that the University would have to depend heavily on visiting professors from TU to conduct a post-graduate program since the existing full-time faculties were only MA holders. So, the Department continued to teach English and Communication Skills in School of Science and School of Engineering. Partly satisfied there was enough work. Partly anxious there should be something to own and lead.
I joined the Department in August 2000. The first of the senior English faculties who had worked for the aforesaid Undergraduate and Post-graduate ventures, Mr. Pant, was on leave for two years, and the second, Mr. Jnawali, was flying to the UK for a year’s study. There was another new faculty in the Department, Mr. Baral, who had joined the University in April the same year as I, but was mostly stationed at the VC office with only two days’ formal presence at the Department. The Department was still fully engaged in Science and Engineering, and we hardly ever planned to work for a new program in English let alone refer to the erstwhile ventures and talk about exploring a possibility. Time passed in this spirit of seeming inertia yet maddening activism for improving English teaching in KU.
I wonder if anyone believes now that we lobbied to increase the number of class hours in the Intermediate and Undergraduate courses. I wonder if anyone is prepared to know that the Department was one of the model units to help discipline students in both the Schools. The days are not gone though. We still do what we did and see no point in making fuss if once in a while an outsider mud-smears our dedication.
Well, the agenda of a new curriculum in media surfaced in early 2001. One day the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Suresh Raj Sharma, asked Mr. Baral whether we, the Department, could see the possibility of starting a course in media or mass communication. In addition, Prof. Pushpa Raj Adhikary, who then was the Director of Student Affairs, and who later became Dean of School of Science, gave Mr. Baral a note of encouragement. Baral was enthralled with this opportunity. He immediately downloaded and printed media-related syllabuses from around a hundred programs across universities of Europe, America, and India. He handed the bundle of papers to me and told me what we were supposed to do – meta-analysis of syllabuses. I was to sample the most relevant ones, to start with, while he would search for more documents. Thus, the issue came from VC office to the Department of English. We planned to name our venture Media Studies, and set out to work.
We knew only later that the VC had this agenda for his upcoming ten-year (2003-2013) plan. The Department did not carry the agenda of English program further, knowing that the University’s immediate priority was media. And the new curriculum was going to be owned also by the then Department of Nepali, housed under School of Science and in the same office as Department of English. Collective effort of the two Departments would lend greater credibility to the plan, and would help ensure broader networks to media institutions and experts. The joint work mainly began when Dr. Chauhan rejoined the University after completing PhD in Russia in the summer of 2001.
The 1998 proposal worked best as a sample. It had already followed KU format for a curriculum proposal. This was the only document handy for us to make sense of the formalities of humanities and social sciences – all the rest in Dhulikhel being about science and technology. So, we slightly replicated its language and structure for the Media Studies program. While the document began to take shape, Baral and I went to see the ‘actual media field’ in Kathmandu.
We started off with Hits FM in Baneshwar. The station manager showed excitement that something like media studies was in the offing, with a promise for an amalgam of ‘intelligence and skills’ in a media graduate – probably a unique blend and requirement in Nepal. In his opinion, what the educational institutions were breeding at that time was either a theoretician or a technician. This was all for that particular winter day to retain our enthusiasm.
Wherever we went after Hits FM was almost fruitless except that Photo Concern in New Road gave us a good tour of its rooms and machines, which lent us a reflection of classical and modern-day technologies in photography. In Image FM there was no ‘senior’ person with whom we could meet and talk about our serious academic mission. In Channel Nepal we were sent away from the reception itself since the ‘senior’ was reportedly too busy to entertain any visitor that afternoon. Baral’s visiting card – a KU faculty’s card! – did not make any impression to this aspiring ‘conglomerate’ of the time.
We continued the visits in fits and starts while curriculum drafting went snail-pace. Three of us – Baral, Dr. Chauhan and I – made it a point that we would meet the then media professionals of Kathmandu valley whenever possible. The two went to Nepal Press Institute, Media Services International and a few other places of repute in those days. Dr. Chauhan and I visited Media Point and Kantipur City College. All these visits sufficed to give us a feeling that trying a new program would not be a bad idea. People simply said if KU started a degree, there would be no question of failing. KU’s success stories in other disciplines had left enough confidence to the market that anything we touched would turn into gold.
We somehow managed to prepare a draft curriculum with at least two options. One was the sole four-year concentration on Media Studies, and the other a major-minor structure with Media Studies plus something. We put both to the KU authority in our first meeting with them in January 2003. The second option was rejected outright since it ‘smelled the structure of TU.’ They gave a conditional nod for the first. The Vice Chancellor now threw the ball in our court. We had to take care of at least four factors. First, the curriculum had to be ‘world-class’ and novel for Nepal. Second, it had to ensure that the Department(s) could manage to teach 60 percent of the syllabuses. Third, the Department(s) would have to find the resources to run the program and hardly approach the VC or Registrar for financial support. Fourth, the existing faculty had to be updated with higher qualification in the areas of media studies.
These conditions were tough. Who would ensure all this? Did we have enough zeal beyond the weekly 15-20 teaching hours? I personally had no capacity beyond paperwork and active thinking. I was not even permanent and could not plan to stay in KU more than two years ahead. Nor, apparently, was Baral, and he was continuously posting applications abroad for higher studies. I thought the kind of program would go somewhere else, to an affiliated college of Kathmandu which was trying to woo KU for some time. And it would go if we had not regained our zeal after the VC reiterated the mission. We decided to push aside the conditions set by the VC for some time, before the curriculum would take shape and we could discuss it with ‘media experts.’
We were guided by a few obsessions in the phase of preparing the curriculum. It had to be many things and yet some kind of specialization. It had to incorporate Information Technology – the computer thing – the buzzword and hotcake of the time. It had to be language, literature, discourse and stuffs under the sun the existing faculty would gladly handle. It had to be some statistics, some sociology, some geography, some politics, some history, some psychology, some economics, some philosophy in addition to a lot of media, communication, journalism. Was there any related unit in KU? None except computer and statistics. But we could not guarantee people’s readiness to help. A couple of them even laughed away our overtures; KU would not afford to diverge into something so ‘commonplace’ and ‘shallow’ as patrakarita – they did say this. It was something like some people say even today – “Who was this wise person to recommend launching a thing like media studies?” But we persisted. There is no qualm about these things now.
We organized a workshop with media professionals on 1 July 2003. Baral fell ill with jaundice a week before the workshop, and doctors sent him to complete rest. But, despite ill-health, he managed to coordinate the workshop and made his part of presentation. That day we got the first public assurance by the KU authority that Media Studies would be launched at all costs. The following day, local papers reported that KU was going to teach patrakarita any time soon.
There was no backing away, especially with Baral, who was pushing things with commendable obstinacy, and all the rest of us who wanted something to happen besides our English and Nepali teaching services. But there were difficulties we generally did not report to anyone. Classes, albeit in excess including Intermediate and Undergraduate courses, were a part of being in KU no matter what other pious missions you ventured into. And six of us – four Englishes and two Nepalis – had to do with an old Pentium-one desktop and a dot matrix printer, while P4 and laser printers were commonplace in other KU offices. The desktop had to be frequented to the maintenance cell almost every week, and the dot matrix very often waited for a new cartridge. Those were the days, my goodness! We are hardly satisfied having one hi-fi set on the desk now. We all crave for a laptop to take home from office.
But I am talking about those days and those of us. I now miss those days and those of us.
Once, while Baral was doing the paperwork for finalizing the curriculum for Subject Committee discussions, the Dean gave him a temporary cabin in Block 7 to share a laser printer with a couple of Science faculties. But one of them took him for an intruder and made a lot of fuss about his working there. He withdrew, frustrated. That was the kind of collegial support we would often get at that time.
We persisted. The University combined the two Departments for the Department of Languages and Mass Communication in June 2005. For genuine reasons. We were shifted to then barely audible-visible School of Arts. We believed our presence helped the School take greater visibility. We believed to have got a legitimacy certificate with ‘mass communication’ hanging prominently in the name. We never questioned why such a long, interesting name. There may have been many other whys, but we chose to remain satisfied that there was going to be a baby mewling, puking, toddling, prattling in the new home.
You know, people called the Department by more than ten different names and hardly one in five got correct. One of those funny problems with names.
I am hurried to finish the tale now. I am hurried to shorten my part of the history, in fact.
The admission was announced in September 2005, and we launched it in February 2006. The six-month delay tested our working style for the new venture. The second batch came only after one and half year delay. The delay has a story I should not talk about. The third and other batches came as they had to. The remaining time is worth recording – with heroes and villains and rises and falls and climaxes and denouements – which now is none of my business to document.
Just this much. We made syllabuses and taught media-related courses. It was before long we realized we had this as an additional work-load. But which cow minds lapping its own calf for the fear of getting hair in mouth? We thought so – the once-upon-a-time-there-used-to-be-English-and-Nepali-Departments fellows. We did our best to update ourselves through additional self-initiated exposures. We did – not with the arrogance of making ourselves jacks of all trades, but that the (official) condition was to prepare ourselves.
I can safely assume that the Bachelor in Media Studies had its predecessors – the dual-major initiative in English and Actuarial Science, and the M Phil agenda, both of which only got space for discussion but were not approved. But the spirit for starting a new curriculum in Arts was transferred to the Media Studies team from the first generation English faculties, one of whom still witnesses the program’s evolution from inside, while one serves in another School. Our earlier efforts were worth remembering, and should appear significant in the annals of program-launching in KU. The fact is when we began work for Media Studies, any new proposal would have to undergo many phases of answering ‘ifs’, ‘buts’, ‘otherwises’, and ‘therefores’. All who worked for new curricula in KU experienced this and love that experience.
Now, there should be no confusion about the calf-and-hair allusion. There is a saying in Nepali: “आर्काको बाछो चाटी मुखभरि रौँ” (Lap someone else’s calf only to get hair all over your mouth). I have heard my mother say this a number of times. I used to wonder who first might have made this analogy and why. I still wonder if it is not in some way true about the once-upon-a-time-there-used-to-be-English-and-Nepali-Departments lot.
I do not mean to regret here that the years taken to breed, cuddle and lap the calf have been wasted, on our part. There is no point regretting even if someone says we did waste our time conceiving and rearing an illegitimate creature! Let them take their way – is my way of thinking. Because the whole process was genuine and we were encouraged to take this route. No regrets about what we did, but that we could have bred something different, better, (perhaps) flawless. Who knows.
More than two decades have passed since the then VC told us to go ahead. Eighteen complete years since 1 July 2003, the day we made our first public announcement that the program was conceived, and more than 15 years since 2 February 2006, the day we brought it to Dhulikhel’s sunlight. The story had its denouement in July 2013, when we got an aakaashvaani that we ‘must’ mind our business sans the calf – something like we should have minded it before long. We understand now we should. But, if only someone had told us that our business was something else! We would/should have minded that. What if we had never learned the VC had it in his plan. What if he had not told us to get set. What if the English-Actuarial Science proposal had been revived and pushed forward. Just fancying.
Sorry, it is not audacity – this writing. It is humane. I, as you would, love to recall the history I am associated with when it faces the threat of being erased. I, the once-upon-a-time-there-used-to-be-English-and-Nepali-Departments idiot, as you might safely call me from now, scribble here to let you know that once upon a time there used to be different time and different people – good or bad who cares.
The biggest relief then was the possibility of getting no more hair in the mouth. Yet, we were asked to rear another calf in 2014, the Bachelor of Business Information System. And we have it now, not really something that came from the disciplinary genes of ‘English’ if you like to call it so. hum sudharne walon me se nahin the, you know. Also, from 2015, I insisted that we had a postgraduate program in English, something from our own disciplinary genes. It took four years, until August 2019, to materialize the wish, with the MPhil in ELE program of School of Education launched in the main campus.
What was the cost of this readiness and submission? Simple. I as the Head/Coordinator would still have to go around checking unclosed windows and doors and unattended classes and poor attendance and unpaid fees and incomplete registration forms and neglected exams and malfunctioning computers and lost equipment and pending projects and internship venues and, above all, graduating deadlines!
My evolution in KU marks different phases. I joined as a teacher, with only little sense of co-initiating anything. I took part in an initiative and, perhaps falsely, cherished the spirit of patronage or guardianship. I was conditioned to engage in partly conflicting and largely challenging leadership roles for two years (from 2011 to 2013) as one of the two Associate Directors of Student Welfare. With inception of the Humanities and Management Unit in 2013, launching of BBIS program in 2014, establishment of the Department of Management Informatics and Communication in 2019, and launching of the MPhil program, I began to see myself more as a manager than a leader. Now that I complete two decades and one year and aspire not to be in any leadership positions, mentorship, which bears all the essence of being a professor and a change agent, defines my identity and ethos. Mentoring is about creating spaces of learning and transformation for those who seek guidance from you. It transcends teaching and management. But I am trying to make even more profound sense of it in the days ahead. Let’s see.
If ever any of my former disciples (assuming some of them still take me for a one-time guru) realizes why I had nagged them once or twice during their KU days, I will think the twelve years were not at all wasted. I also acknowledge the fact that I have always had very productive time with all of them. Also, I thank all the visiting teachers who cooperated their best despite knowing that I was only volunteering to coordinate yet demanding more and more officially.
Everyone who dreamed to bring forth the Media Studies program has an interesting story to tell, perhaps more interesting than mine. Whether they will ever tell their tales is their choice. I am a bit cheeky, hasty, passionate when it comes to telling stories. I can’t change, in fact. You decide whether you take me as I am or want to try to change me.
Finally, I decided to remain in Dhulikhel no matter what happened. I chose to come to KU exactly twenty-one years ago, leaving what might have been on offer in the Kathmandu crowd – simply for a space of genuine academic pursuits. The soil, the air, and the committed majority just can still not let me think of a different soil, different air and different types of commitment.
[With updates, from Midlife Montage]