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Swaying palm trees, the sultry sun and the smell of the sea take me back to countless childhood vacations spent in God’s own country. It’s the perfect weather to be wearing shorts, (or a lungi, when in Rome) chappals and shades. As I enter the NUALS campus, another childhood memory is evoked. Looking at the students walking around in their uniforms, I feel like the kid who went to school on his birthday in coloured clothes and forgot to bring sweets for the class. Yes, uniforms. In a law school. Every single day. What beggars belief is that no one seems to have a problem with it. It does not seem like they have an authoritarian administration that dictates their every move. I’m thinking to myself, “You are law students! You’re supposed to be all anti-establishment-like and raise hell!” However, it seems that no one else shares my opinion. I’m alone and friendless, a pariah in jeans.
Complete with gabled roofs and an inner courtyard, the architecture of the academic block is a tribute to the traditional Kerala style. It also has a self-sustaining watering system by which rain water that falls on the sloping roofs is channelled towards the plants that adorn the courtyard. Peals of laughter can be heard from a popular teacher’s class. Perhaps some dark sarcasm in the classroom. The students’ opinion of the faculty is, as is often the case, a mixed bag. While there are a couple of experienced stalwarts who everyone seems to like, there are others who are “inadequate” (their words, not mine). One senior student says that the faculty isn’t as much of a problem as the curriculum is. For example, the fact that they have three courses on History and Political Science and only one on Company Law is a cause for concern. As is the limited choice in elective subjects available for fourth and fifth years.
From my interactions with the students, the one thing that stood out was their immense faith in the new Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Rose Varghese. A seasoned academician, Dr. Varghese has over 30 years of teaching experience and was previously the Dean of Faculty of Law at Jamia Millia Islamia. She accepted the post of NUALS VC at a time when the university was being haunted by ghosts of alleged financial mismanagement. When asked about the controversy, she dismisses the claims as “exaggerated” and emphasises that she is not concerned about the past.
During our brief conversation, she talks about her plans of making NUALS a top-class institution by ensuring the students get the best possible education. The conversation moves on to her suggestions for reforms in criminal law and her love for her former students, particularly the ones from the first few batches she taught at NLSIU Bangalore. She takes great pride in stating their achievements and recounts how she cried with her students at the time of her departure. So much feels.
The clock tower that sits atop the academic block building is a beautiful structure. Perhaps not so beautiful is the noise it makes at the stroke of every hour. The cacophony resembles a five-year-old child fumbling on an out of tune piano, played on a loudspeaker. Just beside the academic block lies the temporary administrative block, which houses the canteen on the ground floor. The canteen is a tiny room, which can host a maximum of 30 students at a time, let alone the 300 that is the strength of the university. The fare served here is restricted to typical Kerala cuisine, with full meals coming for as cheap as 19 rupees.
Having tried the Appam and Egg Curry, (they ran out of fish, such blasphemy) you can imagine how the students could grow tired of the food. The limited options in the fairly deserted area surrounding the campus is also disheartening.
I am still in search of that elusive student who feels that the uniform rule is bogus. Sitting across a table of first years, I doubt that is going to change. “It’s a professional course. It gives us pride to dress up professionally,” says proud student, professionally wiping the perspiration off her brow. The student community has undergone a massive change ever since the university came under CLAT. While the natives still dominated the population for the first couple of years, it now has a fairly diverse range of students from all over the country.
A North Indian student, far from admitting to experiencing a culture shock, is grateful for the way the people of the state have embraced him. Wait, he’s a Northie. He must have a problem with wearing formals in humid, tropical weather he is unaccustomed to. But, alas, I have failed yet again. “It’s something that we have all got used to and accepted as a whole. This way, we don’t have to decide what to wear in the morning,” he says. I can’t help but see the brand of his vest staring me in the face through his soaked white shirt. Poomex, in case you were wondering.
Another hour passes and the five-year-old once again exhibits his utter incompetence at playing the piano. There isn’t much campus life at NUALS to speak of, although the students are excited about hosting a parliamentary debate, a Maritime Law moot and their annual fest, Naalam. For sports lovers, there is a football ground and a volleyball court where games are played regularly every evening. Situated in Kalamaserry, a good 16 km from the city, the campus is not exactly a stone’s throw away from the places worth visiting for an outing. Students who come from bigger cities have to suffer the indignation of hanging out in Lulu Mall, touted as the most happening place in Kochi.
Coming to the infrastructure, let’s start with the negative first. The boys hostel is a decrepit wreck of a building and has been ‘under construction’ since the beginning of time. What’s worse is that some fresher students have had to take up accommodation outside the campus because of the lack of space. The existing denizens of the hostel stay three to a room, in fairly uncomfortable circumstances. On the bright side, there is another building that is coming up, which should solve the issue. The girls’ hostel, I am told, is much more spacious. Perhaps this is an exchange for the curfew timing of 7 pm applicable only to girls (boys have no curfew).
On a positive note, they do have a spacious newly constructed auditorium, with an 800-odd capacity. As an artistic tribute, life-size paintings of the university’s previous Vice-Chancellors adorn one of the walls.
The academic block also houses a moot court hall, shielded from public view for some reason. Next up is the library, which is the most admirable structure on campus. It is constructed in such a way that natural light is utilised to the fullest. Stocked with a good collection of books and online subscriptions, the library has everything a law student needs. On top of one shelf rests a picture of Justice Krishna Iyer, smiling benevolently upon a group of students poring through constitutional law textbooks.
So what’s the verdict on NUALS, Kochi? For one, the infrastructure has improved immensely, a far cry from what it was at the old campus. This could also explain the hike in the fees to upwards of Rs. 1,60,000 (for first year, including hostel and mess charges). They plan to start a BA taxation course from next year, for which they will take 60 students per year. Hiring faculty for this course as well as the existing course should be made top priority. The increase in diversity of the student profile, as mentioned earlier, is a big plus-point. There is also a shift in the mindset of the students in terms of career preferences. NUALS was known to be one of the few NLUs to successfully encourage the majority of their students to opt for litigation. And to this end, they are moulded right from the first year, whether by being made to wear black and white (yes, I just can’t get over it) or by having four litigation-related courses in the curriculum. Now, there are more students opting to join corporate firms and apparently, a lot more firms and companies are taking an interest in hiring from here. All in all, an exciting place to be in, an institution on the rise.
Post Script: I can’t believe my eyes. I’ve finally found him – a student dressed in casual clothes! It takes great restraint on my part to not hug him. When asked for the reason behind this show of brazenness, he nonchalantly states, “I don’t care anymore, I have a corporate job in Mumbai,” and walks away with a swagger Mohan Lal (see below) would be proud of. This one incident pretty much sums up the changes this university has undergone over the past few years.