On travails and triumphs

Print edition : March 14, 2008

Kirti Jain. As the Director of the NSD, she was able to deal effectively with indiscipline.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

THEATRE actor, director and writer in English and Hindi, Kirti Jain was a faculty member of the National School of Drama when she was pitchforked into the position of its skipper during rough weather. She served the longest tenure (1988-95) after Ebrahim Alkazi.

Kirti Jain talks about her travails, traumas and triumphs.

I was made acting director of the NSD at an extremely unsettling time. Ratan Thiyam, an alumnus of the NSD, famous in his own right, suddenly decided to give up the headship of the institution. Students had got into the habit of going on strike at the drop of a hat. The failing of a student, dislike for a teacher, dissatisfaction with a course or schedule, anything was enough to set them off.

Petrified by this mess, I refused at first to accept the post. I pleaded that I had small kids. Finally, I allowed myself to be jockeyed, thinking that Id resign if things got insupportable.

Having been a teacher at the NSD, I had a ringside seat to watch what went wrong. I thought wed given in at wrong times. It was the easier option. There was no attention to academic scheduling, no dialogue, no transparency. There were good teachers but not a great overall teaching plan.

I began to create modalities to dialogue with the students, kept it going against odds. A student failing in the examinations triggered a revolt. How could anyone pass someone who has failed, I asked. Will it not lower the value of the diploma? The reputation of the school? There was also a demand for chucking out a faculty member who displeased students.

I withstood three months of relentless agitations, fanned by some ex-students and other mischief-makers. I was ready to resign, but despite Herculean pressures I refused to knuckle down. I couldnt go against my conscience, self-respect.

Then the drama school society decided to declare a zero year of no admissions and work out new norms. We stopped ad hoc teaching without common methodology, developed a proper syllabus. Mine was a period of consolidation. We created a lot of transparency, standards, strictness and discipline.

During my tenure we began documenting the NSDs work, brought out Rangayatra on the repertory, commissioned and published books. I started the theatre-in-education company, shaped by its first director Barry John. I started the Regional Resource Centre in Bangalore to identify the training needs of many areas so that we could launch drama schools in those places. Didnt work out. The talk is still on! People said, You dont let anything happen, but I wanted a perfect plan in detail.

The way the students cooperated brought tears to my eyes. They worked very hard, listened, thought about who gains and who loses in strikes, refused to be misled. After that zero year I had no troubles at all. No strikes have occurred since then at the NSD. Thats my contribution!

As told to Gowri Ramnarayan