Doctor of Philosophy (Hum)
I had to invite a University professor to deliver a keynote for an important event on education. After my introduction and briefing of the event, he asked, "Alright, are you a doctor Sreekumar." I had to tell him, " Sorry, it was not possible Sir. At school itself I was scared of dissecting cockroaches and frogs. How can I study anatomy and physiology. Also I can't withstand the smell of medicine and surgical spirit!"
But he meant something else- a PhD! "Sorry, I am not, but is there any problem?" I queried.
Recently, I had the same embarrassment but in a different way. I was moderating a national event on Zoom Meet and I was referred to by one of the panelists as 'Dr Sreekumar.' I thought if I reveal the truth, he may lose whatever good impression he had of me!
However, such questions also awakened the journalist in me. As I started poring over the social media and whatever documents I could pry my eyes on, I stumbled upon several "Dr's." I had already started on my journey to find out the mystery of surge in PhDs in India but the lament by some think tanks and policy experts that we were lagging behind in research.
Then I remembered my aunt's son Sojan a lecturer was doing PhD in English. His aim was to become an Assistant Professor soon. His topic sounded very interesting to me- “Comparison of Allegories of Milton and Shakespeare with Post Modern Literature.”
I dropped into their house one day to find out what he was doing. My aunt welcomed me and I queried about his son. "He is in the kitchen trying out some new Chinese recipes," my aunt said. Why? What happened to his wife and the maid servant? "They are all here but he has to prepare some new dishes for his Research Guide's children," the aunt said. I was indeed taken aback. He was seen murmuring something. "Mia only likes Chinese food, Milan North Indian, what the hell."
I thought ultimately after
all this ordeal when he becomes Dr Sojan, his wife can take rest sometimes
relieved from the drudgery of kitchen work even if he hasn’t added to his
knowledge of Shakespeare, Milton or Tolstoy! Meanwhile, his wife Janu was
getting ready to go out with children. After exchanging some pleasantries she
said, “You know something, Sojan never swept or cleaned rooms here and would throw
his dirty clothes on the floor or bed. Now he is also sweeping, brushing and
also ironing clothes for the Guide!” I almost fainted!
For a journo, such heartbreaks and surprises are normal. The next day my friend Joshi called me to say her daughter Sophia was going to do PhD in Economics after scoring well in MA. When I asked about the guide, he became suspicious. “Any problem?” I will find out is all that I could say. A student had done research on “The Impact of Multibrand Retailing on kiranas and kharanas : A Longitudinal Study” under this Guide. And the research scholar ended up going to the market every Sunday to get the best bargains on meat, vegetables and fruits or drive his family to the nearest mall for shopping!
As I was further on the trail of finding out what the researchers were doing, I found my neighbour Nazeem’s daughter-in law Fathima mostly at home these days and thought it might be ‘Work From Home. I was told she was quitting her job as agriculture officer in a bank and planning to do PhD to become a professor. I complimented her and asked about her thesis subject- “Reviving Coconut Farms Affected by Root Wilt Disease- A Retrospective Study.” I thought the first thing she needs to check is whether the Guide has coconut plantations and don't end up spending more time plucking coconuts!
I was recently invited to anchor an event on research in an autonomous college and its director was presiding. I saw in his profile “Dr” …… MA, LLB, PhD (Colombo). Assuming that he had a doctorate in law or politics I began referring to him in my introduction as a great visionary and also an academic having done extensive research in legal jurisprudence and whatever terms came to my mind just to please him. After all he was the host. After the event was over, I asked him, “Sir, which university you did your PhD?” And his answer gave me the next shock. “I have never gone there, it is an honorary one, I donated some funds for an auditorium.”
After a hard day’s work, recently I reached home late in the evening and lay on bed staring at the ceiling. My wife Aswathy asked, “What happened, what are you thinking, any issues?” I was wondering after all this effort at informing and enlightening society for two and a half decades no one was honouring me with a doctorate. Then I could have proudly said Sreekumar PhD (Hon)! My daughter overheard it. “Hope they will honour you with PhD (Hum).,” she said. What? Humour!
(Note: The New Education Policy 2020 lays emphasis on quality research and aims to to set up a National Research Foundation and also Science Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP) aims to foster scientific research and development including fundamental research. Pallikkutam honours all researchers who have contributed to India's strength in a variety of disciplines over the years.)