Simple living, high thinking…is the maxim that Dr. Sudha Vyas, Principal – K. J. Somaiya College of Arts and Commerce, Vidyavihar, lives by, and presents it to our student readers in an interview with Shraddha Kamdar
It is no wonder that she is so attached to her college. She has been a student there, then joined back a staff member and is now the principal. Being at the helm of affairs hasn’t changed much in her personality, in fact she says she is constantly learning new things from her students. I, in fact, though her students could learn a few things from her, besides academics! One to fulfil her duties in every sphere, she still wakes up at 4.30 am every morning to cook for her family, before she packs everyone’s lunch and comes to college. In college, she believes in getting the work done as soon as possible. When I called her on her office phone, she offered me the next available appointment for the interview, which was the next morning! She didn’t cancel when other things came up, and made sure she gave me enough time as she answered by questions and articulated her views. That for you, dear readers, is Dr. Sudha Vyas, Principal – K. J. Somaiya College of Arts and Commerce, Vidyavihar.
“You see, our college is unique in many ways in terms of the programmes we offer and the way we teach. We offer programmes in five languages, including Sanskrit, as well as in six social sciences,” she says, adding, “what’s more important is that we lay a lot of stress on value education, and students learn enthusiastically. They learn from the Bhagavad Gita, and speakers from ISKCON come here to address the students. Students also go to the ashrams and learn there.”
Just as value education is essential, Dr. Vyas points out that other fields are essential. And that’s why, on the Somaiya campus, if the students want to opt out of the Foundation Course paper, they can take up any of the 15 sports offered on campus, or a foreign language, at any of the sister institutes. In fact, students are encouraged to avail the option of the dual degree programme with the engineering college on the campus. “Students are offered extra credits for subjects like music and drama if they put in 36 hours, they get three credits,” she says, “this year we are going to add courses on Tally as well as the stock market.” Along with these options, students are always exposed to ideas of bettering their communication and writing skills. Alumni come and help current students in building skills to going for job interviews. Along with that, students are also encouraged to take up research, and taught how to write and present research papers. Every year, university moderators come address the students on how to write their exam papers!
“The vision of the founder was for overall development of human beings, and making such progress in life which will enable them to excel in any field they choose, not to forget contribute back towards society,” Dr. Vyas says, fondly talking of the founder of Somaiya Vidyavihar, Padma Bhushan Karamshibhai Somaiya. “This is the first college he established, and I am proud to say that we have autonomy now. We can set our own syllabus and conduct the exams. All of this benefits the students a lot,” she adds.
With so many languages being offered in the college, the numerous related activities also keep the students on their toes. Students participate in drama and acting workshops in each language and learn how to write dialogues and scripts in that particular language. They also learn how to handle backstage operations in any production. “We need to accept that along with the times, students are also changing. They want notes to learn for exams, but they also want better engagement with the syllabus. And that’s why we need to change. For our inaugural programmes, we offer the students an audio-visual experience of the noted works of authors and poets in their languages. In the Gujarati department, for instance, students have also performed noted author Pannalal Patel’s ‘Sukh Dukh na Saathi’. After that performance, they will never forget the book,” Dr. Vyas offers by way of an example. Another example, she says is teaching the ‘nav ras’ or the nine emotions from Indian culture and aesthetics to the students. She invited popular Gujarati theatre personalities to come show the students the ‘nav ras’ after which they were never bored or confused while learning.
“I have never believed that education is only limited to the text books or academic events. Students can find avenues to learn from anywhere, if we offer them these avenues. We screened the film ‘Saraswati Chandra’ for students who had to learn the novel as part of their course. What is the harm in showcasing movies and plays which are based on literature and enable students to visualise and learn better? In fact, we have set up the Drushti Film Forum in the college which screens films every Saturday in a wide variety of languages. Student feedback is also actively collected, so that the Forum knows how to cater better to their needs,” Dr. Vyas says.
It is her belief, that with all these additional inputs, students will not only learn better but also form a bond with the college, which is very essential, today. “I have so many students coming back to the campus to help out in different ways. One of them is a Bharatnatyam exponent, and whenever I call upon him, he is by my side to perform for the college. And that’s the reason why I think I want to encourage students to make a wholesome life, and work towards becoming good human beings.”
An interesting experience that Dr. Vyas shares with me towards the end of the interview puts a smile on my face as a media person. “We subscribe to many newspapers in different languages in our library so students can read on a daily basis. One day, a few students walked into my office (she has an open door policy) complaining that there weren’t sufficient copies of the newspapers in the library so that multiple students can read at the same time!” she smiled. Usually, we have to struggle to get the students to read the newspapers daily, but if such is the case in her college, she sure must be doing something right. She believes that educationists need to create such a personality that students respect them enough to not cross the boundaries but at the same time they feel free to open up to their teachers. She ends with the idea that students should work all year round, not being afraid of any difficulties that come their way. “If you have worked towards a solution, just trust in God, and work towards it, and you will be successful,” she ends.