Srivastava, Ramesh K. Read, Write and Teach: Essays on Learning to Live Together. New Delhi: Authorspress. 2014. Pp.237+ vii. Price (Hard Cover) Rs.700/
Ramesh K. Srivastava does not need any introduction because he has an established reputation as an academic, creative writer, and critic. The present collection of essays, dealing with diverse aspects of life, literature, and education, is meant to enhance and enrich the range of reader’s ideas and experience, which this volume does admirably well. The mark of author’s vast experience as a student and teacher of literature as well as that of a sensitive and fully conscious, intelligent observer of what is happening around, is stamped on each page of this book. Thematic variety is another remarkable feature of this volume. On education, there are thought-provoking essays dealing variously with the art of teaching through creative reading and writing, possibility of wit and humour in the class-room teaching to relieve the tedium and enliven the monotonous atmosphere, exercises in writing as an essential element of teaching, need for regular evaluation of teachers and the essence of accountability for them, the question and validity of separate college for women, the prevalence of inbreeding in universities, and the way universities can be run properly.
Prof Srivastava is rightly very critical of the selective and spoon-feeding type of teaching and study. He, therefore, urges for adding creativity to them that will enable students to “imaginatively construct implicit relationships between ideas, events and contexts” (5). The scholar-author laments the utter lack of classroom writing exercises and surprise tests to measure the merit and preparedness of students, as well as the dearth of other innovative ways of teaching to encourage excellence among them. He is also critical of inbreeding, rampant in majority of the Indian universities: “For them, the world is not a family, but family is the world”(43). He wants universities to be universal in scope and range, but they are made parochial and racial. To have “a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Men’s or Women’s university is a contradiction in term” (60). Thus, the ideas of Prof Srivastava are truly liberal, as Victor Hugo used to say about the real aim of education.
There are, then, essays on other important areas of life. On success, the author challenges the very idea of material gains, by fair or foul means, as marks of success: “One cannot serve God and Mammon at the same time” (143). According to him, success in human life should be related to a “fine discriminating mind, an aesthetic sense, and a warm humanity” (146). There is also a very inspiring essay on Dr. Olive I. Reddick, the former Director of U.S. Educational Foundation in India, who could be active and motivating for young scholars despite her crippling, physical handicap and growing age. The author recollects, with nostalgia, his many meetings with her that moulded his mindset and encouraged him towards excellence in education. The presence of wit and humour is part of many essays in this collection; a vivid example is the last essay: “Why USA cannot be More Like India.” He compares the common Indian sights with those of US to prove his point: “Though the USA boasts of various freedoms, the people there have no simple freedom even to spit tobacco or gutka anywhere…. have no freedom to throw a biri or a cigarette-but on the road. They know of no pleasure of eating ripe bananas and then of hurling the peels as missiles…” (233). So, after his return from there to India, the author feels happy (?): “Now that we are back in India, it is high time we stop thinking of the deficiency- ridden USA and how we can cope with all the available glorious facilities in the present-day India”(237).
Both by content and expression, the essays in this collection are intellectually quite stimulating. They activate the dormant mind of the readers by challenging their deeply entrenched thoughts. The over-all impact of these pieces makes them to question wrong beliefs cherished since long, and see things in a new and proper perspective. A man of vast study, Prof Srivastava may refer to writers from different periods and countries quite effortlessly, such as Thoreau, Emerson, Poe, Wordsworth, Keats, Stevenson, Browning, A.G. Gardiner, T.H. Huxley, Prem Chand, Sarat Chandra, Tagore, Anita Desai, Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy, U.R. Ananthamurthy, Jhumpa Lahiri and many others. But when in a lighter mood, he may also talk of scamsters like Harshad Mehta, Abdul Karim Telgi and gangsters like Dawood Ibrahim. Thus, Prof Srivatava is master of handling not only serious topics of literature and education, but superfluous and funny aspects of life as well. In an age where nothing counts more than the genre of novel, it is a bold attempt by the author to popularize the genre of essay by his scintillating pieces that move both our mind and heart.