In the realm of education, Prof. Arupjyoti Choudhury is a name which hardly needs an introduction. An erudite academician and a teacher who has helped shape the life of thousands of students, Dr. Choudhury is a familiar name in the academic circles of the region as well as the country. Dr. Arupjyoti Choudhury is presently the Dean (Academics) of Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University. Prior to that, he spent almost 25 years teaching the students of Cotton College and retired as the Head of the Department of Political Science.
Dr. Arupjyoti Choudhury was born to a highly accomplished family. He is the son of Lakshyadhar Choudhury, an eminent playwright, actor, teacher, litterateur, legislator and a multi-faceted personality that Assam had ever produced. His mother Usha Choudhury was a teacher of Panbazar Girls School and also a highly respected member of Assamese society. While Dr. Arupjyoti Choudhury had proved his excellence in the field of academics, all his other brothers and sisters are also well placed in life and have carved a name for themselves in their respective professions.
A political scientist who has travelled across the entire world, many of Dr. Arupjyoti Choudhury's books are prescribed as part of the syllabus of many different universities. The book, 'Marginal frontier: Select Essays on Northeast India', which has been co-edited by him, has been widely received and with much critical acclaim.
The melange team got in touch with him to know more about his life in Cotton College and his new role in Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University. Following are excerpts.
Q. You were born and brought up in Guwahati. How do you remember your growing up days?
Ans: Yes, I was raised in Guwahati and have fond memories of the city. Different images of the city, especially those during the time of festivals like Bihu and Durga Puja, often keep floating across my mind. I remember my childhood days when we use to celebrate Bihu and Durga Puja. I remember those days more often nowadays because we all are now in a phase of transition, we are all evolving. While I don't want to comment on the nature of the transition, I will just say that I am trying my best to adapt to the changing times and move ahead in life.
Q. Please tell us about your education. When did you join Cotton College?
Ans: I was raised entirely in Guwahati itself. Although I studied in a local ME school in the Chenikuthi area, I matriculated from Cotton Collegiate School. After that, I studied arts in Cotton College and did my post-graduation from Gauhati University. I also got my doctorate degree from Gauhati University. After passing out in 1986, I worked in B. Barooah College for a year before finally joining Cotton College, where I spent the next 25 years of my professional life.
Q. How do you look back at your days in Cotton College and your present stint in Krishna Kanta Handiui State Open University?
Ans: I spent most of my professional life teaching in Cotton College. Over the years I worked in that college, I gathered a lot of satisfying experiences with my students. In Cotton College, I taught the cream of the society. So many people were surprised when I told them about my decision to leave Cotton College and join Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University.
In KKHSOU, it is a different story altogether. Here in KKHSOU, we deal with people who could not continue their education due to some reason or the other. So for me, I am now on a mission to spread awareness about the importance of education. For me, it is not a job but more of a mission. I and my colleagues have a vision of education for all and we are all working with that vision in mind.
But although we are trying to make education available for all, I would like to mention that ours is not a second-class university. Last year, I had been to Kuala Lumpur to attend an international conference of open-universities in the Commonwealth region. I was amazed to see the progress being made in the field of open education. While in Cotton, I had attended conferences of conventional universities but I had never imagined the kind of progress being made in the field of open education.
Q. Please tell us about Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University.
Ans: Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University is an open university which was established by the Government of Assam. The main aim of the university is to develop and provide easily accessible modes of quality higher education and training. The university holds the promise of providing equal opportunities for higher education and bringing into its fold the deprived and denied sections along with fresh learners. The very purpose of the University is to promote education through the Open and Distance Learning System.
The course structures of the university have been designed at par with the national curriculum. Along with the traditional programmes, the University offers various professional Certificate and Diploma programmes. The programmes of the University are designed in such a way that it can spread education to all the learners of the region.
Q. You are the son of Lakshyadhar Choudhury, an eminent and multi-faceted personality of the State. Your father also served as a minister in the Assam Government. How do you remember him?
Ans: My father was more of a public figure. His life was more for the people and our mother Usha Choudhury was the driving force behind the family. My father was a multi-faceted personality and also served as the Education Minister for a brief period of time. However, our family, especially my mother, did not like his being a minister. My mother taught in the Panbazar Girls School and our family income was limited. But as per our Assamese family tradition, we do not let anyone who comes to our house go without having food. As such, it was a herculean task to serve tea to all those who used to come visit us! We were all happy when he stopped becoming a minister because the number of visitors to our house came down!
Q. You have spent an entire lifetime in the pursuit of education. How do you look back at your life?
Ans: I spent the prime years of my life teaching in Cotton College and have fond memories of being part of the premier most educational institution of the region. I joined Cotton College in 1987 and left the College in 2012 to join Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University as its Dean (Academics). Looking back at the 25 years I spent in Cotton College, I feel that I have learned a lot from my interaction with the students inside those classrooms; much more than what I have learnt from any book. In KKKHSOU, my learning period has just started!
Q. Do you feel that the present generation is more advanced than the previous generations?
Ans: If we are to make a comparison, there is no doubt that today's generation is far more evolved than the previous ones. Earlier, students used to be focused on just a single subject. Nowadays, students know almost all the subjects equally. Nowadays, there is not much difference between Science and Humanities. Students from the Science stream now have the same amount of knowledge of the arts, and vice versa. The totality has increased and I feel that it is a very good development.
Nowadays, many people criticise the present generation for not being able to preserve and promote Assamese culture. However, I would refrain from doing so and if such a thing has indeed happened (as we are made to believe), I would instead take the blame upon myself. It is our responsibility to teach our children about our tradition and culture. If our children are found lacking in this area, then it is definitely our fault, and not theirs. Instead of criticising the younger generation for failing to uphold our culture and traditions, we should question our own failure to pass on our traditional and cultural heritage to them.
Q. You have also worked in quite a few overseas assignments. Please tell us about your most memorable ones.
Ans: After my studies and while in Cotton College, I had got the chance to work on quite a few overseas assignments. I was awarded a fellowship by the US government to study the foreign policy of the United States of America in South Asia. I consider that particular fellowship to be a great achievement because I was able to visit certain places which I will not be able to visit ever again in my life. For instance, as part of the fellowship, we were given a personal tour of the Pentagon - the military headquarters of the US and which was a real eye-opener for me. I cherish my trip to the US as one of the most memorable moments of my life.
Another memorable experience was when I secured a fellowship to study in Bangladesh. I had stayed in the Dhaka club and it was a very satisfying experience.
Q. Tell us about your family.
Ans: I am married to Tanuja Choudhury who is a homemaker. We had got married in 1989 and together we have a son.