NEW DELHI: As retired postal department employee Vishnu Swaroop Saksena walked the steps leading to the stage to collect his Phd degree, the JNU convocation audience broke into a thunderous applause.
Among those who cheered were his wife, their two sons and a daughter: the sons are employed in foreign countries and the daughter is a fashion designer.
“On the first day, when I sat on the front bench,” now 78-year-old JNU student says, “a woman came and asked me questions about why I am studying now (2008), what are my plans, etc. I told her, ‘all these questions are irrelevant. I feel I am a 19-year-old when I am on JNU campus.”
Post his retirement as a member of the Indian Postal Board in 1998 at the age of 58, Saksena, who is from Vasant Kunj here, enrolled in the JNU for his Masters in 2008 and then did his MPhil from the varsity which, completing it in 2012.
From 2012, he began his PhD to study the trail of two ancient scripts – Brahmi and Kharoshti. “I have a great interest in ancient scripts in Brahmi,” said Saksena, who feels without knowing Brahmi one cannot understand India’s culture well.
His interests also include poetry and philately. He was associated with a book “India’s Freedom Struggle Through India Postage Stamps”.
He said his “young friends” at the JNU made him feel like a 19-year-old, “I go out with them for parties and we have gone on excavations to Indore, etc. They have always made me feel young.”
He said he always wanted to get into academics, but after retirement he “wasted” 10 years in “consultancies and clubs”. But this changed after he saw an advertisement in a newspaper in 2008 about entrance exams in the JNU.
All these years, Saksena also battled health issues and suffered two strokes. His doctors are surprised to see his zeal for learning.
The JNU was in controversy over multiple issues in recent years, including the alleged raising of “anti-national” slogans on the campus on February 9, 2016.
Saksena said what sets the JNU apart from other universities is the fact that it allows its students to question set norms and traditions.
“I love the fact that one can question things in the JNU. It is an open university. I am sorry to say but other academic institutions do not give you the freedom to question things but in JNU you can raise questions,” he added.
He said his professors, “who were more like his friends”, called him an “inspiration” for others. He also credited his family for supporting him throughout his academic journey.
“My wife was always by me. My eldest son, who is an IIT graduate and is based in the US, was here with me on my special day. Even my youngest son came down from Hong Kong to attend the convocation ceremony. My daughter, who is a fashion designer and is based in Delhi, was also there,” he added.
Saksena had completed his diploma in rural service and competed for Civil Services in 1963 and had got through.
He worked for Indian Postal Service from 1963-66 and then went on deputation to Army Postal Services. During his stint with Army Postal Services, he worked in Jammu and Kashmir and in 1974, he came back to his parent service.
His youngest son, Vivek said it was a “proud” moment for the family. “This event has been like a family get together. He has worked hard for his degree.”
Saksena said his future plans also involve academics. “Now, I wish to go for my post-doctorate and decipher Indus script. I will be conducting workshops for teaching Brahmi and Kharoshti,” he added.
The JNU had hosted its second convocation today, 46 years after the first.