Conversations with Prof Kapil Muni Tiwary

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Dr Kapil Muni Tiwary was an eminent linguist who had worked as a professor of Linguistics and English literature at the universities in India, the Republic of Yemen and in Iraq for more than 50 years. He passed away on 26 April 2021.

A scholar of English, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian and several South Asian languages including Hindi and Bhojpuri, Dr Tiwary had completed his PhD in Linguistics under the supervision of an internationally acclaimed indologist, Prof George Caradona in the sixties. The subject of his thesis was Panini’s description of Sanskrit nominal compounds. He carried out some path breaking research in Descriptive and Sociolinguistics. Many of his papers were published in well-known international journals.

In a series of interviews that I conducted in 2019 he shared the experiences of his life and times as a student and as a teacher. In the following episode he relates the story of how he went to the US for his MA and PhD in Linguistics. One may get a glimpse of the changes that were taking place in Patna University under a new Vice-chancellor, Mr George Jacob, a bureaucrat turned academician who later became the chairman of University Grants Commission at Delhi. One may also peep into the undercurrents of the university in the early sixties.

Me: Could you share the story of how you went to the US for higher studies?

Prof Tiwary: In 1961 Dr Shri Krishna Sinha, the then chief minister of Bihar, died. After a good deal of politicking in Congress party Shri Binodanand Jha, a senior leader of the party, took over as the second Chief Minister. That led to several changes in the administration and bureaucracy all over the state.

A senior civil servant named Dr George Jacob became the new Vice Chancellor of Patna University. He had been a teacher of English at Patna University sometime in 1948. Later he had joined Indian Civil Service and had risen to the rank of Commissioner in Bihar. Those days there were no written exams for IAS and other civil services. People were generally selected through interviews.

When Pandit Binodanand Jha became the chief minister, George Jacob was the commissioner of Bhagalpur. Binodanand Jha was also from Bhagalpur, so he knew him well.

Since George Jacob had worked in Patna university in the past, many people knew him. So when he took over as VC, the teachers of the university, many of those who had been his colleagues, invited him to tea in the evening. The venue was the campus of the university and a number of senior teachers were there to welcome him. I, a young lecturer, was also present.

In his speech Mr Jacob encouraged the faculty to do their job in the best possible manner. He promised all kinds of help and support. Though his tone was authoritative, he seemed quite supportive of the teachers.

The teachers appeared by and large convinced by his words. The teachers like Prof P N Sharma knew him from before. George Jacob also knew them. They had worked together in the past. They could connect with him easily.

He said, “As an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer I have administered the districts and commissionaries well, as a VC also I hope to do the same.”

Further like a civil servant he added, “I mean business.”

Dr Radha Krishna Sinha, better known in the university as Dr Sinha, the HOD of English, was not present in the meeting. He was not very friendly with the mob, the teaching mob. Usually in the evening he would stay at home and chat with his friends. I went to him the next evening. That evening I was excited about the new Vice Chancellor. I shared with Dr Sinha about the VC and his promises.

Dr Sinha said, “What did he say?”

I blurted out the assurances that George Jacob had made the previous evening.

Dr Sinha then inquired, “Does he mean business?”

“Yes, that is what VC Jacob said. He means business” I said.

I added that he had promised to do all he could to set new standards in the university.

At this Dr Sinha said, “There is nothing new in what he has said. Every new VC says that when he joins but the university has remained the same.”

Prof Chetkar Jha, a senior faculty of Political Science, was sitting there. Usually he would be at Dr Sinha’s residence in the evening. There was another teacher from the Psychology department. His name was Prof A K P Sinha. All the three were quite senior to me. I was the junior most lecturer among them. Dr Sinha had been my teacher.

Pro Jha interrupted, “मिलें हैं? आप उनसे मिले हैं? Have you met him?

I said, “No, I haven’t met him.”

He added, “मि लि ए, फिर कोई राय बनाइये।” First you meet, then form opinions.

He cautioned me not to form opinions about the new VC without meeting and interacting with him. He spoke in his sharp Maithili tone. Chetkar Jha’s drawling voice kept ringing in my ears long after I left the place.

The next day I was going to Patna College to take the Honours classes. I used to live in the teachers’ quarters at Rani Ghat in those days. On the way I would go to Patna Science College to take the classes and from there I had to cross the University campus to reach Patna College.

Coming from Science College generally I would enter Patna University campus from its eastern gate. Taking a round of the university office I would emerge from the western gate, exactly in front of Faraday Hostel.

The VC’s office was on the ground floor, very close to the western gate. That day just as I was about to come out of the university campus from its western gate, I turned to the VC’s office. I decided to meet him. I got the chit with my name and other details sent inside. And I was called.

George Jacob said with a hump in his voice, “What can I do for you?”

I reminded him of the words, “I mean business,” he had spoken in the meeting.

“Yes, I said that. I do mean business. What is your business here?” he boomed out.

With a little hesitation, I spoke the words I had come prepared with.

“I would like you to recommend my application for a scholarship for higher studies abroad.” I mumbled.

“Where do you want to study?” he probed.

I said, “Moscow, at the Institute of Linguistics”

I told him that the Institute was very well-known in the world for Linguistics. But he encouraged me to go to the USA, rather than to Moscow for higher studies.

Further he said, “But before I do it, I would like to know you more.”

Suddenly it came to my mind that instead of leaving the matter to other teachers to give him the feedback about me, I should request him to visit my class.

So I invited him to come to my class.

I said, “Sir, whenever you are free, you can see my class.”

I gave him the details of my periods in Patna College and also in the postgraduate department.

“In order to recommend your application for scholarship, I need to know you at least for two years.” he concluded.

I thanked him and left the room.

VC Jacob did turn up at my class soon after. It was the honours class at Patna College though.

As soon as he entered the class, the bell rang for dismissal. Seeing the Vice Chancellor, the students rose and greeted him in unison. I couldn’t understand what had happened. Why had the students risen? When I turned to the door, I saw Dr George Jacob standing.

I asked him if I should continue.

He said, “No, that’s alright.”

And he left the class.

I went to him after some time to hand him over a paper that I had written. If I recall the title of the paper was Reading Poetry. It was later published in the Patna College magazine. After I had come back from Pune I would often write papers on Literature and Linguistics.

George Jacob looked at the paper and asked me to come after some time.

I did go to him after a week. He said he was not competent enough to judge the quality of my papers. Because the paper was related to Linguistics. Still he encouraged me to keep on writing.

He always encouraged new ideas of the teachers and welcomed their initiatives for attending conferences, writing or their efforts to enhance their qualifications and competence. Of course he knew many of them from before. He had his own opinions about them. But I was a new character.

After that I left his office. And that is where the matter stood for sometime.

Later I went to him with an advertisement for the Fulbright scholarship for higher studies in the USA. He encouraged me for that and wrote the recommendation letter, which he got sent to the Fullbright committee in Kolkata through the university.

I had to go to Kolkata to appear in the written test conducted by the Fullbright people. After passing the test I appeared in the interview. And finally I was selected for the Fulbright.

I left for University of Pennsylvania USA in 1964. And I owe it to George Jacob for that.

There was another teacher of English at B N College who had got the scholarship for higher studies to London with the help of George Jacob. His name was Prof S K Verma.

Verma had been a student of Dr Jacob at Patna College.

On his return from London S K Verma left Patna University. He joined Central Institute of English at Hyderabad. When the institute became a university, he became the first Vice Chancellor of what is known today as The English and Foreign Languages University .

By the time I came back from the US, VC Jacob had moved away from Patna. He had become the Vice Chancellor of Ranchi Unviversity. Subsequently he became the VC of University of Kerala and then the Chairman of the University Grants Commission (1973-74).

Once I had been to Trivandram to attend a conference organised by the University of Kerala. I was walking down a street with a professor of the university. Suddenly a car stopped by our side and the person in the driving seat waved at us. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was none other than Dr George Jacob. At that time he was the Vice Chancellor of the University. As usual I greeted him.

He said, “What are you doing here?”

I said, “ Sir, I have come here to attend a conference.”He then advised the professor accompanying me to take good care of me. He also asked me to meet him before I leave Trivandram.

Dr Arun Jee

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