FaculTea with NUJS Professor Shameek Sen : Being a Happy Lazy Underachiever; Insecure 1st Batches of NUJS

FaculTea’s are series of interviews (tea with Faculty?) conducted by Lawctopus’ College Managers with a faculty member of their college.

Vishakha Gupta interviewed Prof. Shameek Sen of NUJS. Prof. Sen actually is an alumni of NUJS too!

Profesor Shameek Sen

Shameek Sen

1. Tell me something about myself.

Something about myself?

Well, I would pass this one. I guess, when (and if) I grow old, I will be in a mood to pen my autobiography.

Till then, let me take your questions.

2. Describe your childhood in brief? Your sources of inspiration i.e. your driving forces?

I was born and brought up in a small town, in a typical middle-class Bengali household.

I grew up when shopping malls, CCDs and branded apparel were first-world luxuries; Doordarshan was still the predominant means of entertainment and internet was an alien concept.

My parents, and everyone around me, were living their pre-globalization dreams of their only son becoming a doctor or engineer.

Law was not a particularly coveted field, and I had to face stiff resistance from most people around, when I said I am joining law.

However, my parents never imposed their preferences on me. So, when I decided not to walk the trodden (and quintessentially safer) track and join the IT bandwagon, I was convinced of their support.

Probably, this conviction and confidence I got from them (and also from my wife, who has been a quintessential part of my existence since our teens, a la Bollywood) made me take a lot of weird career choices without batting an eyelid.

3. What made you choose this career line? Any particular people who inspired you to enter the revered teaching profession?

To be honest, I had never heard about National Law Schools or any such thing even when I was in my plus two. This may seem to be unrealistic today, with CLAT tutorials being the order of the day.

To put things in perspective, when I came to NUJS, I came to hear about the existence of another law institute in Hyderabad called NALSAR, a name I had not even heard before, let alone sitting for their entrance test. Such was my level of ignorance!

Anyways, back to the question. I remember that one day, my father, like all Bengalis religiously do every morning, was reading the morning’s Anandabazar Patrika, when he came across an interview with a certain person named N.R. Madhava Menon.

He got damn excited after reading this interview and told me that this man is going to open a ‘National Institute of Law’ in Kolkata that promises to be a big affair, and I may try my hand at the entrance test.

This is how I landed up at Aranya Bhavan for the entrance test, with absolutely no preparation. And fortunately, I got through.

4. How was your college life like? What bent you towards Law?

For the first few weeks or so, I was like a fish out of water. Everything around me seemed strange. Staying away from familiar surroundings in a big city, and the travesties of having to learn economics and sociology for someone who was till the other day handling differential equations – it was really tough, to start with!

However, my friends in the hostel made my life easier. The (almost daily) evening walks to Benfish and Momo Hut created bonds that remain strong to this date. They were my biggest support system in the initial days.

Besides, many of my teachers – they used to stay in the hostels with us and be an essential part of our joys and sorrows. We used to torture them with questions at the most unhumanly hours, and they were always there with a smile, answering our questions.

And, most importantly, there was the overwhelming presence of Professor Menon. I gradually gained the confidence to settle into law, and move on.

5. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What incidents do you perceive as your failures?

My biggest strength is, I believe, my weakness. I have conservative ambitions, conservative dreams. My friends often tell me that I have underutilized my potential, but they whole-heartedly acknowledge the fact that I am too lazy for it! This probably typifies me too well.

After a tough day’s work (which lasts not more than 6/7 hours maximum), I would like to spend my evenings watching the recordings of a Sachin Tendulkar Innings or watch an old black-and-white Guru Dutt movie.

I am fully aware that if I could forego these ‘unproductive’ pleasures of life, I could have been more ‘rich and famous’, as they say. But, I simply don’t care, and am perfectly happy this way.

underachiever

My biggest strength is, I believe, my weakness. I have conservative ambitions, conservative dreams. My friends often tell me that I have underutilized my potential, but they whole-heartedly acknowledge the fact that I am too lazy for it! This probably typifies me too well.

6. What strategies did you use to be successful in college?

I don’t know whether I was ‘successful’ in college.

But, couple of things helped me a lot. I learnt about the benefits of group study while in college. We used to be a group of 7/8 friends, who used to divide modules among ourselves.

Thus, in an improvised Gurukul format, we used to spend our fortnights before end-sems learning from each other, making the exercise mutually beneficial. In all probabilities, my interest towards teaching also started growing with this exercise.

7. What do you like best about teaching at NUJS?

NUJS always provides to every teacher an extremely intelligent pool of students. It is true that their motivation levels differ, but the intelligence differential is not significantly high.

Thus, it helps a teacher to set the standards of difficulty in the class at any level, knowing that the students, if they put their minds into it, would not find it hard to understand.

The teacher’s skill, in my opinion, is in trying to motivate everyone, even the rockstar junkie sitting in the last bench, visibly disinterested.

Here is where anecdotes, examples of contemporary events, a lot of masala, come in handy. And, this is something I am still learning.

8. What is the best thing about being a Constitutional Law teacher? And what’s the worst?

Constitutional Law, I believe, is the most masaledaar law subject. You can relate it to the day’s newspaper, talk about a lot of politics, abuse the s**t out of almost everyone in power.

From the student’s perspective, it is possibly one of the most important subjects. My Professor, the late D. Banerjea, used to tell me that if one has his concepts of Constitutional Law and Jurisprudence clear, he can tackle any law paper under the sun. I totally subscribe to this view.

However, the disappointment of a Constitutional Law teacher is in seeing an extremely bright student of Constitutional Law (who, to a teacher, looks like a Seervai in the making in his second year), falls prey (inevitably) to the market forces in his Fourth/Fifth year and onwards.

I have now started to live with these burst bubbles of expectations.

performer

Teaching as ‘Performing’. Not like this, but still

9. Describe your teaching style. How do you define good teaching?

I try to teach not like a scholar, but like a performer.

For me, every class is like a stage performance, and the students my audience. I tend to get deliberately melodramatic at times, because I wish (and hope against hope) that I am reaching out to the last benches. So, I would not mind if while enlightening, I am also entertaining.

For me, the best teacher is one who can ensure that a student, when he goes out a class, is so well-equipped that he does not need to open his books on that topic any more. For me, a good teacher is not about rattling jargons and the weight of his scholarship.

10. What are your current research interests? Have you involved your students in your research?

I like to research on issues pertaining to Media Law. The subject is still nascent, and has a lot of potential.

As a Public Law person, I always get intrigued by the media’s trysts with the State. I definitely try to get the students interested and involved in it.

Media Law can involve a lot of inter-disciplinary study, and I try to ensure that my students also get to meet and interact with eminent journalists.

I take the students for an annual event – The Statesman Editor’s Conclave, where they brainstorm on issues of contemporary relevance, and share their ideas with some of the country’s leading media persons.

However, the disappointment of a Constitutional Law teacher is in seeing an extremely bright student of Constitutional Law (who, to a teacher, looks like a Seervai in the making in his second year), falls prey (inevitably) to the market forces in his Fourth/Fifth year and onwards.

11. How do you like today’s students? How were the students in your time? What’s the difference (good and bad)?

I am not one who would be happy comparing a Tendulkar and a Kohli.

I can understand the inherent differences in the mindsets, backgrounds, preferences etc.

But, these are not factors based on which I would like to pass value-judgements of good and bad. I can perceive one marked difference though.

Despite their laurels, the first few batches of students in NUJS were an insecure lot. One could sense that tension in the faces of even a superlative achiever as the campus interviews neared. There was a naturally consequent seriousness because of this.

Today, I find students (and their parents) flaunting their contacts with the Shroffs in the Orientation Day, and very secure about their future even in an insecure job market. The seriousness factor is, therefore, sometimes lacking.

12. Do you think students should behave with the professors like friends, or is it necessary to maintain a disciplined environment to create a good classroom environment?

This question is self-contradictory, according to my humble opinion. Are we presupposing here that a ‘disciplined environment’ requires a teacher to act as a Bulldog? I believe that a teacher MUST be a student’s friend.

He’s been there, done that. He should share his experiences with the student to tell him where he has gone wrong. He should be there to counsel the student at every juncture.

I have had students coming to me and say that they were unable to concentrate on the class because they have just had a break-up, or that the hangover from the last night’s party was a bit too much.

I know that this student wants to confide in me, and I try my best in honouring his/her confidence. I believe that my responsibilities as a teacher do not end with my class.

In all fairness, the day I stop getting this stream of students, I would start to believe that I am growing old, and should start to seriously contemplate hanging up my boots.

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Comments Till Now

  1. I think what Pinky was saying was that the first few batches had a lot more to strive for and prove. Their insecurity came from the fact that the institution did not have a reputation that guranateed them jobs. Its a little irresponsible to highlight it in a way it look derogatory to those who worked really hard (including Pinky) to give NUJS a good name in its initial years.

  2. “Despite their laurels, the first few batches of students in NUJS were an insecure lot. ”

    They still are.

  3. After reading this piece, i am reminded of a girl in our college who knew very well to play with the emotions of the teachers. It was very interesting to see, how she could get away in almost all her presentations by merely stating that she had typhoid, a cruel roommate or a friend who recently died. Teachers may not know, but they are often tricked into believing things and letting a loser score well on humanitarian grounds.

  4. It’s really annoying and distracting how certain random phrases like “break up” or “insecure lot” have been abruptly made bold in the middle of a narrative. This isn’t an answer-script for a lazy professor that you have to highlight certain parts in pink highlighter. Consider getting rid of them and stop ruining an otherwise very readable piece.

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