“Mathematics is a straight, subtle and precise subject with no room for ambiguity…but it also requires leaps of faith and limitless imagination,” says Delhi University Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh.
“Maths has shaped and sustained me all these years,” says the mathematics professor of 30 years. However, it is evident that his passion and zeal for numbers has not prevented him from playing the role of administrator with an intensity that has spawned admirers as well as enemies within the varsity.
The latest rumour doing the rounds is that Prof. Singh has well-placed spies and any insubordination is usually punished — either indirectly, or, if you are unfortunate, by a direct reprimand.
Asked about the spy theory, he is taken aback. “You know just the other day I paid surprise visits to the South Campus colleges and had tea with some of the Principals. They seemed pleasantly surprised to see me. Another time, I went over to a college canteen and was quietly sipping coffee when a lecturer walked up to me and asked me to join him in the Staff Room where 45 of his colleagues had gathered. They spoke to me so warmly and seemed genuinely happy to see me…I did not get the impression that they thought I was spying!”
A visit from the Vice-Chancellor on your first day of college or while you are waiting for the bus after class is not unheard of in the university. “I went and sat at the bus stop outside this women's college the other day to see if the girls were facing any security issues. They were surprised but pleasantly so, and told me things that I would never have found out otherwise.”
Prof. Singh is over six feet, of athletic build, and, as some of his colleagues described him, “unfailingly polite” and always well-groomed. His office is neat and his desk has a statuette of Mahatma Gandhi. “I admire the Mahatma and love the way he writes, but I cannot claim to be a Gandhian with my air-conditioned office and over-staffed house …all of which this office provides.”
He also loves literature, classical music and poetry. “I still remember the feeling I got when I first read To Kill a Mocking Bird . I also love the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and swear by mathematician G.H. Hardy's autobiography.”
Prof. Singh was in the news recently for allegedly giving in to Right-wing pressure and supporting the Academic Council's decision to purge A.K. Ramanujan's celebrated essay on the Ramayana from the university syllabus. The decision was taken at a meeting of the Academic Council, where only nine of the 120 members expressed a dissenting vote. However, Prof. Singh was accused of influencing the vote, and since then protests, discussions and debates have been the order of the day with articles and editorials condemning his “betrayal” as an academic.
“The issue was debated for several hours. Yes, I admit that the topic was introduced at the meeting at a very short notice, but that was just to allow people to come fresh, unprepared and with their own opinions. I categorically state that I did not express an opinion for or against the removal of the essay. The intelligence of the 111 members of the council who voted for the removal of the essay has to be respected,” he says.
This is not the first time he is embroiled in a controversy. The introduction of semester system at the beginning of his term had sparked off similar cries of foul play. However, Prof. Singh neither looks like the cynic nor the indifferent administrator that his detractors make him out to be as he enthusiastically talks about his plans for the university. “The varsity will soon prolong all under-graduate courses to four years instead of three. There is also the cluster innovation centre for B.Tech. Mathematics that we just set up. I am also planning a coffee shop. It will be relaxed and unpretentious, a place where students and teachers can feel comfortable and with coffee that is affordable and tastes just right.”