A Tabula Rasa
Dhrub Kumar Singh
JNU STORIES: THE FIRST 50 YEARS by Neeladri Bhattacharya, Kunal Chakrabarti, S. Gunasekaran, Janaki Nair & Joy L. K. Pachuau Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2020, 539 pp., 999.00
April 2021, volume 45, No 4

JNU Stories: The First 50 years is an anthology of anecdotal essays and a few poetical pieces. These essays, suffused and soaked with nostalgia, map the institutional and intellectual journey and are haunted by an ‘anxiety about preserving an institutional memory’ (p. 44). This passionate, poetical, rendition narrated in shared cultural idiom in first person accounts by actors and interlocutors, mostly insiders connected with the making of Jawaharlal Nehru University opens many windows to understand the foundational motivations, formative ethos and its creative and continuous contribution to Indian higher education and public life. The book also opens a window for discipline formation within contested university spaces. The tenor of the volume is celebratory without discounting criticality.

Jawaharlal Nehru University was established to memorialize the spirit of the quintessential modernist nation-builder and the much loved Prime Minister of India. After his sad demise it was to serve as a living tribute to his ideals and vision of an inclusive and outward looking India. Nehru loved visiting universities. He earnestly engaged students and faculty to respond to his idea of nation-building and his vision of secular and scientifically tempered nationalism. Nehru fiercely argued and underlined his anti-imperial internationalism. He urged youth to understand and articulate that the Indian stance of nonalignment was both a moral choice and also a potent political choice in the context of the Cold War and the unfolding bipolar world. He was always in dialogue with men of letters of various shades from his own university town of Allahabad as much as he evinced keenness towards Tagore’s experiments at Shantiniketan.

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