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The Marudhar Express, as I later found out, covers a distance of one thousand, two hundred and three kilometers from the ancient town of Varanasi to the desert city of Jodhpur. The final stretch from Jaipur has the Marudhar Express chug through arid lands and past tiny, beautifully painted railway stations. It was on this stretch that I was a passenger on the Marudhar, sitting on the steps and staring at the world pass me by. The wind was dry and cold and the train was more than an hour late. I was on the way to the National Law University Jodhpur (Jodhpur) on the first leg of the Law School Darshan. Jodhpur was to be my first law school and I had no idea what to expect. The setting sun meant that it was quite cold by the time the Marudhar Express finally mumbled its way into Jodhpur station…………….
I am sitting in the main hall of “NLU House” (the official residence of the Vice Chancellor) face-to-face with a group of students who been given the unenviable task of talking to me. I am presuming that they have all been summoned by the VC to make sure I have something to write. I am also certain that they would much rather be doing a hundred other things although their warm smiles do make me wonder.
We are discussing their student life, their dreams and their ambitions and I am struck by how confident they all seem. One student talks of the intra-university events, another mentions the university journal which is slowly gaining in stature. A third talks about recruitments and law firms and how things stand at the moment.
In the midst of some law-firm bashing (which is apparently the new black), one of them pointedly says that there are those who genuinely enjoy corporate law; no point in clubbing all students in one category. I nod in silence and can’t help but think that they would make bloody good lawyers some day. Later, Prof. Sophie Sparrow would tell me that Jodhpur students are always ready to “engage” and I would understand exactly what she was talking about.
When I ask them about the university’s negatives, it takes them a while to really think of anything. I don’t buy it. I put on my incredulous face and they shrug silently. “See for yourself” they seem to say.
The sun is lightly kissing the morning sky and it is still quite cold (for a bombay-walla anyway). I am talking a gentle stroll around the fifty-acre campus. I can see the rows of housing for the faculty, the giant “Halls of Learning” which hold the classrooms, the administration block and the library. Across the football field stand the canteen, the basketball court, the indoor badminton court, the college gym and the boys hostels.
Further away stand the girls hostels, protected by walls and barbed wire. I am told that the walls are necessary since every Holi, some revellers from the outside would try and make their presence felt. The girls hostels also have daily attendance and there is a mandatory in-time of 10:30pm, something which I did find a little odd.
Later in the morning, I would watch a stream of students trudge their way from the hostels, across the field and towards the “Halls of Learning”. In the boiling summers, I was told, students would have the option of taking a bus instead.
Coming back to the campus, there is a fair amount of construction going on (Vice Chancellor Mathur would later tell me, amongst other things, about the new moot court complex) and I can see more than one structure coming up. The campus still seems to be a bit new, a bit young.
I have just finished a wonderfully stretched out interview with Jodhpur’s Vice Chancellor, Justice (Retd) Mathur. It is apparent that Mathur knows what he wants to do for the university and its future course; there is an undeniable determination in his voice. He speaks with a very real earnestness, using his hands and his eyes to emphasize a particular point. He also has the ability to get things done quickly. My entire trip was planned in a couple of hours and required barely two phone calls.
I imagine that he must have had some initial difficulties in settling down (the life of a High Court judge and a VC must be very different) but he appears to be fairly comfortable now. I have been informed by more than one student that he follows an open-door policy and is largely accessible to the student body.
Over the course of the interview the VC tells me how Jodhpur tries to minimise governmental support, his attempts to attract good faculty and the future of the legal profession. I left his office with the feeling that the VC has some big plans for Jodhpur.
I am sitting in the college canteen and the sun is still mild and pleasant. The “canteen” itself consists of two stalls and two massive rooms with tables and chairs. Jodhpur has a “menu-based” mess which means that you order whatever you want to eat. This may go a long way in defeating repetition but I do wonder whether it is a much more expensive option as compared to a “normal” college mess. I am also told that every time one of the stalls goes out of business, the other one immediately raises the prices. I suppose you could call it “Competition Law 101”.
There is also a small stall on the outside which serves snacks and tea late into the night with an option for room delivery. I would imagine this to be quite a hit during exam season.
At the mess, I bump into two final year students and we begin talking about the good and the bad. They list down a few of things that they love about the university and a few things which they are glad to get away from. Of all the things we talk about, their observation that they were really “comfortable” in Jodhpur remained in my mind.
I finally understand why they had said that they found Jodhpur a “comfortable” place. I am walking down the corridors of the boys hostel and I am surprised at how clean everything is. Well, “clean” on a relative basis.
I peep into one of the rooms and I can feel envy creep into my body. The situation can best be described in two words: Single-occupancy. But it does not end there. Jodhpur students are allowed to use as many electronic items as they want which means there are rooms with fridges, TVs, heaters and even microwaves. The lucky buggers. If I lived in such luxury as a student, I would be bloody “comfortable” too!
I am a bit unsure of how easily accessible the hostel and the college is for the differently-abled; I did not spot any wheelchair ramps to the hostels although there were some for the other buildings. Ease of living may also be hampered by the fact that there is no ATM situated at the SBI branch located within the campus. The campus itself is a good twenty kilometres away from the city so I am presuming that outdoor excursions must be planned in advance.
It is my second day here and I am meeting so many people that it is getting extremely difficult to keep track of names and designations. My wonderfully energetic companion is Dr. Manmeeta, the Assistant Dean, Faculty of Science.Dr. Manmeeta introduces me to various faculty members and even takes me around the classrooms and some of the labs. Dr. Manmeeta also introduces me to the distance education program which Jodhpur had recently started. They even have an audio room where modules are discussed through audio-conferences.
Because Jodhpur offers a BSc Technology (Hons) LLB course, subjects include biotechnology, industrial chemistry etc. The idea is to equip students with a better understanding of field related to IPR. I am a bit skeptical as to how effective such courses can be at the undergraduate level although a couple of students have told me otherwise.
Jodhpur also offers a BBA LLB course whose subjects include financial management and principles of banking. I am told that such courses are of immense benefit especially during internships, giving Jodhpur students that required edge over other law students. My doubts remain though.
That apart, Jodhpur houses the School of Insurance Studies (SIS) which offers an MBA and MS in insurance. It is an interesting initiative and one which I think will become very popular in the coming years. I can well imagine a lot of collaborations between the SIS faculty and law departments.
I have, what appears to be, a moment or two of quiet introspection. I am walking past the classrooms and am watching first and second year students wait for the intras (internal moot court qualifiers) to begin. Smartly dressed, clutching their meomos and displaying occasional bouts of nervousness.
A couple of them take time off to speak to me and I realise that thus far I have only spoken to the senior batches. These guys tell me that the academic schedule is a bit punishing and takes some time to get used to. They rave about the high levels of competition, their seniors (this was something I heard quite often) and the mess food. One of them also tells me that she is glad to note the discipline imposed in terms of hostel rules and the fact that you are only allowed to go out of campus a fixed number of days.
They make me smile with their earnestness and their pride and the fact that I was one of them not too long back.
I have just finished an extremely interesting interview with Prof. Sophie Sparrow. One where I was made aware of the massive amount of time and research spent on education in other parts of the world. That kind of literature is simply lacking in the country which is unfortunate to say the least.
I asked Prof. Sparrow about the rigorous academic schedule (Jodhpur students face five rounds of evaluations per subject every semester) and I asked her about the reasons she chose to come to Jodhpur. I asked her if it is fair that students who have not studied in the English medium will undoubtedly find it difficult to join NLUs and I asked her about her students.
With every answer, I am made curiously aware that it was less of an interview and more of an enlightening conversation. At least that is the way I saw it and I walked away from her office with a smile on my face.
I am back at NLU House and sharing dinner with Yogesh Pai and Neeti Shikha. The two are some of the younger faculty members to join Jodhpur. As ideas and thoughts are thrown back and forth, even the jaded cynic in me has to admit that things are looking good for legal education in the country. Sure, there might be lots of problems but when innovative and hardworking people are joining academics, a little bit of optimism should be allowed.
The conversation with them brings to the fore an earlier meeting I had with a few of the more senior teachers at Jodhpur including Professor Massey and Professor KK Banerji. Their combined experience alone comes close to a century of teaching! Prof. Massey does not believe in mincing words. He told me quite simply that unless you work hard, you will not be able to cope with the Jodhpur curriculum. Prof. Banerji also tells me about Court Room Evaluations where students have to participate in mock courts for every students.
I am struck by the fact that despite the difference in years, there is a common thread of thought between the younger and the older faculty members.
I am sitting at the Jodhpur airport, a wonderfully quaint, little building where you walk to your plane. I realise that perhaps one of the difficulties faced by Jodhpur is the city itself. Air and rail connectivity are not the best, the last flight out to Bombay (when I checked in March 2012) was at a quarter past two in the afternoon and there are just 3 daily trains to Delhi.
Jodhpur city itself is small and fairly conservative. This comes with its own set of cultural adaptations. Even though Jodhpur students enjoy substantial discounts at most “hep” places, the small-city atmosphere might not suit everyone. As one student told me, if you are looking to party your way through law school, you might want to consider other options.
On a more serious note, medical facilities in the city are not top-notch (notwithstanding the apparent absence of scorpions) and faculty could be dissuaded by the fact that there are no good schools to send their children to. I think the library is also something which needs to be worked upon although the Head Librarian Vinod D assured me that there are going to be plenty of additions soon. Relative distance from home might (or might not) be another factor affecting student choices. Lastly, more than a few students have told me that the internet connectivity is not up to the mark.
Obviously some of facts mentioned above are things which NLU Jodhpur can do little about but at the same time I think these are factors which potential law students ought to take into consideration.
For now though, I am making myself comfortable in the plane while the stern Air India flight attendant makes sure that all the seats are in an upright position.