Ask any educated person and he or she will remember one teacher with great fondness and gratitude. This article is about one such teacher.
A few weeks ago she passed away. Her name was Elizabeth Krishna and she had worked at the Delhi School of Economics for about a decade and a half from the mid-1960s to late 1970s as a tutor, or teaching assistant. She had been recruited by K N Raj, a formidable economist of those years and a director of the Delhi School of Economics. He was a strong believer in the tutorial system.
She was there when our batch passed through. Since she was a tutor, our contact with her was limited to one semester of four months and around six tutorials on macroeconomics. The same was true of everyone who went through those two post-graduate years during the ten years she was there. Two of her students, Pulok Chatterjee and Pramod Mishra, both from the same class, have gone on to become the principal secretary to two successive prime ministers of India. Amongst her more prominent students are Amit Mitra, ex-finance minister of West Bengal, Sudipto Mundle of the ADB, Ashok Lahiri, former CEA to name just a few.
Despite the briefness of the interactions with her ahe has left a lasting impression on them. Absolutely no one who she taught has forgotten her. Everyone acknowledges her contribution to their knowledge of macroeconomics. Without her we would have been completely lost.
She and her husband Gopal, another academic, lived just over the ridge that abuts Delhi University. Everyone remembers her cycling all over the university and over the ridge to Alipur Road. Small in size, with short hair tied down with a scarf, and a piercing gaze through her strong glasses, she kept mostly to herself. No one remembers her having coffee in the cafe.
I asked my friend and classmate Brijeshwar Singh if he remembered her as the rest of us did. In response he gave us a tutorial on EK, as she was known. I have used it below. She was not English, he said, as we all assumed, but a proud Ulster woman from Ireland. Apparently she had a tough time there. “India seemed a haven of peace in comparison”. She studied in Oxford, possibly at Lady Margaret Hall. Then she married Gopal Krishna, whose first job was at Kurukshetra University. Then they moved to Delhi which was “much more congenial and she thoroughly enjoyed the stimulating company of some of the world’s best economists at D School”.
“As a teacher she was committed to students’ learning and welfare in an old-fashioned way. She was available for academic consultation at virtually all times.” All of us can vouch for that.
Brij also says cinema was a passion for her. She’d been introduced to art cinema at Oxford and made it a point to watch what little came to Delhi in those days.
But academic life was not kind to her. She had enrolled for a PhD on labour economics with Christopher Bliss as her supervisor. “Bliss was not a particularly supportive supervisor and had a certain degree of contempt for mature students. She gave it up and landed a very marginal job at the India Library.”
Gopal and she became fellows at Wolfson College but without the usual bells and whistles of such fellowships.
“It was sad to see them pushed back to the margins of academia , which was the only career they’d always wanted.”
The last time I met her was in 1990 at the India Library in Oxford. She had clearly forgotten me but when I introduced myself she gave me a cup of tea and a biscuit.
A Mrs Elizabeth Krishna Scholarship of Rs 500 per month has been there for several years at D School. And when I googled her name I came across another grant in her name called the Gopal and Elizabeth Krishna Bursary. It’s on the website of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies!
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