I am fortunate to have a small, reassuring family consisting of my wife, children ,children-in-law ,and grandchildren , and a big extended family comprising my former students of social work , many of whom keep in touch with me regularly or occasionally. Some of my former students have been asking me to write my experiences as a social work professional. I am touched by their warmth and I am planning to look back in time.
My father's ambition was to see me as an Engineer as I was good at Mathematics. But I completed my Master's degree in Statistics. Soon I realised that I will not be happy with Statistics as my career option. I discussed with my Statistics Professor Dr. M.Mani my indecision. He suggested Social Anthroplogy. The "Social"part appealed to me, but not Anthroplogy. Meanwhile , I was in contact with a famous Marxist thinker and a Member of Parliament as from my College days, I was a part of the activities of the Student Federation of India. I had attended many study sessions on Marxism. I was advised by the MP to consider joining the Communist Party as an ordinary member and he assured that he, being an economist , would be able to sharpen my theoretical skills on Marxist theory and praxis. But my family circumstances did not permit me to consider his advice.
Meanwhile, I happened to see an advertisement of the Madras School of Social Work (MSSW) inviting applications for the postgraduate course in social work. I thought Social Work would be suitable for me as a career. The address given was JARRET'S GARDENS. Lal Bagh at Bangalore with its beautiful gardens was in my mental image . I appeared for selection test at Jarret's Gardens at Casa Major Road at Egmore. As I entered the gate my mental picture changed dramatically. The campus had some trees, two thatched sheds, a dilapidated out house, and an old two-storied structure, which gave the impression of a heritage building. It was in June 1961.
There was a written test, group discussion, a face-to-face interview with a member of the faculty, and the final panel interview. For the first time I met two significant personalities: Mrs. Mary Clubwala Jadhav, Founder-Secretary , and Prof.K.N.George, Director of MSSW. Our Head of the Department of Mathematics during my degree course , Prof. John K John was always in suit and we have never seen him smiling. Our Statistics Professor Aleyamma George was a terror. In contrast, I saw to my surprise a Director who was cheerful. Prof. K. N.George was different. I saw him walking up and down most of the time, screaming for minor things, and talking casually as if nothing happened. I found my name in the selected list of candidates for the postgraduate course in social work. My social work career ,thus, started from Jarret's Gardens.
The first week at MSSW was eventful. Welcome of the freshers by second year students , teachers and Director. Prof K.N.George (KNG) emphasised the importance of punctuality,and Other standards of behaviour. He stressed on America more than once. The term School of Social Work was borrowed from the US .
A great new experience at the campus was the free interaction between the men and women students.
In the class room, students sat as a group ; there was no separate seating arrangement for men and women as in the other colleges where I studied. But the number of female students was far less than the number of boys. So there was serious competition among the boys to attract the attention of the limited number of girls. There was a feeling of inferiority among those who failed to catch the eyes of the girls. But then not all boys and girls were interested in these extr-curricular activities. KNG liked free mixing of boys and girls , and also " dating " as he himself loved one of his MSSW students and finally married her. My classmate C.K.Sampath was his favourite as he used to give LIFT to all obliging girls. Neighbours in the conservative Egmore neighbourhood Sait Colony were not used to the free movement of boys and girls, and hence gave some unpleasant "titles" to MSSW which was a recent neighbour in the residential locality. Then social attitudes fifty years ago could be imagined ,that too in Madras (as it was known then).
Observation visits to social welfare institutions, writing reports, and Group Conferences were new academic experiences. Our Fieldwork Co-ordinator Rachael Thangavelu was a wonderful facilitator and a motivator. She had a pleasant face and always spoke encouragingly.
Theory classes were generally boring except the sessions by M .T. Paul and his wife Radha Paul. The former taught Psychology with a high sense of humour and the examples were those .which the young students would love to hear. Radha Paul was charming and taught Social Case Work with ease. They fell in love at MSSW and got married despite opposition from Radha Iyer's family. The Pauls were the best teachers. KNG taught Social Research . He seldom taught Research Methodology in a way that the students could understand.But his classes were most lively and all his examples were American. He was and is still a great admirer of Uncle Sam. When I became his professional colleague after some years, I used to hear his critics and admirers referring to him as CIA (Central Intelligence Agency ) Agent.
Dr T K Nair's Social Work Blog