Sunday 1 February 2009

S. Ramantahan remembers...

Instances quoted by many of Labdhi's students would made one feel that he was known for his one-line witticisms. That, in my opinion, was not the characteristic of Labdhi that made him unique. He used his sarcastic comments occasionally to restrain the thought process of the students going astray. Otherwise, by and large his interactions were "therefore" (meaning "you are in the right direction, go ahead; can you stretch your brain a little more?") or "I see" (meaning "you are lost somewhere; do you see") and he consistently maintained an unfriendly wooden face with these monosyllables uttered in a mechanical manner, while his hand was busy scribbling something with a chalk on the table. These were religiously wiped off the table at the end of the class. Some students used to claim that on a rare occasion when he left it unerased, they deciphered it to be the BS term.

That was Labdhi with a strong aversion for mediocrity. Like Ashtavakra, who was said to have squirmed in the womb with every wrong Vedic chant, every illogical statement brought forth pain in his face. His acutely economic expressions were sufficient to punch holes in the collective verbiage churned out by the class and Labdhi intervened at the right time to sum up the case, leaving Dr. Watsons wondering why they could not think in those lines. The next class we were better equipped or so we thought and Labdhi took the logical combat to a higher level and the story repeated. Does it look like that he derived sadistic pleasure in proving his unequal opponents inadequate? Some of us thought so. What we did not realize was that in each of these sessions , our minds were being chiseled into better and better logical moulds without our realizing it. That was the biggest reward of having been a Labdhi student. Was this the best pedagogic method? I doubt. I have always felt that with a little more user-friendliness, Labdhi would have encouraged much higher level of participation. But it worked with Labdhi.

I distinctly remember two instances of Labdhi outside class room: one was in a conference on Advertising: Labdhi asked pointedly whether we see dominance of one community in the advertising industry, which affected the type of images projected in Indian advertisements. The reference was perhaps to the Goan Christian community and the ads in the early seventies were totally alien to pan Indian culture. Labdhi handled the sensitive issue with the same level of clarity as his case analysis without any rancour, but with absolute candour.

The second incident was when Labdhi was in the receiving end: In the final farewell, one of our batch mates severely criticized professors who do not have time for students. The reference was obviously to Labdhi, who was preoccupied with many consulting engagements at that time and so requested students to take appointment with him before meeting him. This was an instance when it looked like the unassailable has been questioned. Towards the end Labdhi took up the podium. He did not directly respond to the issue raised, but started saying that as the proceedings were on, he started shedding tears – I am not sure for what. He subsequently talked about declining student values over the period, which must have upset him. But having had an image of unemotional robot-like Labdhi, many of us were not willing to buy that he could shed tears. Viji has done a great service by bringing out the hitherto unknown human face of Labdhi.

On the whole, do we affectionately remember Labdhi? I doubt we had such emotional involvement. Some of us, who have been victims of his ruthless massacre hated to love him. Whatever may be our emotional reactions to him, if anybody says that he had interactions with Labdhi, but was not intellectually influenced by him, then he should be the dumbest person on earth (such beings are asphyxiated in the unpolluted atmosphere of IIMs) or the most intelligent man ever produced.

S. Ramanathan was a student of LRB in 1980-82

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