The experience is worth a share for being a Dean of an institute like AIIMS, Bhopal was something I had not comprehended despite all the thought I gave before I consented to accept. It was the 6th year of the Institute and I remained Dean till its 8th year. Many friends were surprised when I agreed to accept this assignment. To me the Institute is a philosophy, a vision, a dream. I knew that I will be here for a limited time and the Institute feels immortal. I felt excited if special days or events of the Institute coincided with my special days. My birthday was the Foundation day of the Institute, until it was found in the Gazette that it was not. But the very first Convocation of the Institute was held on my 50th Birthday and I had the honour of sharing the stage with the dignitaries on the occasion. It is a privilege which will forever be part of my memories. In my 50 years of life, I had neither seen nor been part of a Convocation and so its preparation involved long hours of discussion and learning and yet the anxiety remained. The Institute being what it is and my designation, both allow no excuse for any error and that creates stress of a level one needs to develop strategy for handling. The Academic Committee meeting followed almost soon after, in another 2 months. Meeting people of acclaim, knowledge and wisdom who are members of various committees, was my unparalleled gain which I regard precious. There were several instances when I could interact with Prof Y K Gupta, President AIIMS Bhopal and with Prof Sita Naik, Chairperson of Academic Committee in person. Both were extremely generous in sharing their thoughts and perceptions. I shall forever be indebted for these opportunities.
My day would start early, finish late and I would clock 10 hours of work with just about 10 minutes for lunch. I could just about permit myself half hour to see my Forensic Medicine department. During my tenure as Dean, the Faculty in Forensic Medicine were extremely cooperative and shouldered several responsibilities. This permitted me to work as Dean carrying no worries about Forensic Medicine department. This was indeed a big support for my working as Dean. I have often felt that the person chosen as Dean should be asked to relinquish their parental department because a Dean cannot do justice to their department work anyway. This I have not voiced yet in any official forum but some day I will.
One thing worth mentioning is the stress which is an inseparable accompaniment to being a Dean. I would call it the stress for performance and efficiency. Despite being geared to respond 24 x 7 with rational and sensitive approach, one feels inadequate. Nothing feels enough or adequate. It also gets lonely and often because there is no time for friends, within and outside the Institute, the de-stressing that is automatic with friends does not get addressed and the stress continues. Friends on the other hand misunderstand this lack of availability as being aloof and arrogant. Losing friends and friendly interactions is its own grief A friend or two, who truly understood, continues to remain friends. I looked for insight and peace more than before, read and explored about finding inner peace and discovered yoga and positive affirmations, which helped. The attitudes we develop to handle problems at work, the clarity we keep in our dealings with people and documents, transparency we maintain in our communication and democracy we encourage helps. I began to understand the ways of administration, the styles, errors and false pretences and developed for myself my way of dealing and handling it. I would seek and always received guidance from Prof Sarman Singh, Director of the Institute. I value his mentoring and his patience. The long 10 hours day, the continuous pressure to be alert, to understand, to remember, to be patient with students and courteous to Faculty was required each day, but I admit I failed at it, at times. To deal with accomplished, creative Faculty and students is a daunting task.
Organising academic events as a team with the talented and accomplished Faculty of the Institute was a gratifying and immensely enjoyable experience. Handling inquiries, dealing with the in-disciplinary acts, sorting out of conflicts and addressing corruption was something I saw quite closely on several occasions. It can depress, demotivate or turn an optimist into a pessimist but I took it learning. I observed, analysed and tried to understand the best possible way to deal with corrupt and unethical practices. I realize the only way to deal is with firmness and courage. I also realize that not having a selfish agenda, a gain or a need to develop a network with persons or groups, permits to think with clarity and one feels ready to handle challenges.
There were many times I felt the need to be more knowledgeable and insightful for the sake of my Institute. I resolved as often, to put in my best. There were two occasions during these two years that I gave serious thought to quitting the position of Dean. Once was due to excessive work related stress and another due to feeling of being inadequate. Both times I was inspired by people around me and I decided to overcome the thoughts, to continue to put in efforts relentlessly, to not give up and give it my best shot again. Then came COVID 19 pandemic, one and half years after I had joined as Dean. This meant a whole lot of changes in how academics would move forward for undergraduates and postgraduates. This coupled with decisions regarding asking the students to vacate the campus, handling communications from parents of students regarding apprehensions for their wards. This was exactly the time that my daughter came home from New York when she got notice to evacuate University campus within 48 hours and arrange her travel. With her online classes here at the American time, the late night time in India, the lockdowns by the government and no respite from long working hours, additional stress and isolation crept in.
The higher we go, the lonelier it gets. For me, family has been a support like I have not known anyone to have. When we raise our children well, their maturity comes to our aid, often raises our thoughts when we so badly need them raised. This is how my daughter became my inspiration. Her encouragement for me to pursue what I feel right, to overlook domestic responsibilities, her well placed humour and warm hugs helped me tide over the challenging time.
Sometimes everything feels so well arranged in our lives that we just feel compelled to give all we have to a purpose we feel is our calling. That is what being a Dean was to me. To give all I have. It feels worthwhile, the learning, the ups and downs. Institutes take our time, toll, sweat and good intentions. I have put in my best. That was my job. In return, I got to know the bigger picture. I got to know my true friends. I met some of the best people. I got memories to last a lifetime.