Dr Shubhangi Parkar, 51, an MD in psychiatry with a PhD in urban mental health from Basel University, Switzerland, who is head of the psychiatry department of Mumbai’s GS Seth Medical College, KEM hospital, looks forward to the weekend like any other person, but for a different reason. After a gruelling week in the hospital campus amid students and lectures, weekends are her time to be on the other side of it all.
She is studying human rights at the University of Mumbai, something she had always wanted to study but hadn’t been able to because of her demanding profession. “It gives a different perspective which, as a doctor, I would never have known,” she says.
While for most Mumbaikars weekends mean enjoying a few extra hours of sleep, watching movies or having leisure-filled days after a hectic Monday-to-Friday, there’s a growing list of professionals who love to get up early and rush to some college with pens and notebooks. Having settled in their careers, they are back in classrooms, taking up subjects they were always interested in but couldn’t earlier.
From Arabic to German, human rights to Buddhist studies, they are busy soaking it all up.
Rajeev Valunjkar, 50, a professor at an engineering college, has taken up international studies, a part-time course conducted on Saturdays and Sundays. “I was always interested in this subject. Now, I am enjoying it in my free time,” says Valunjkar. Mohan Nadar, on the other hand, is doing a PG diploma in Buddhist studies at Somaiya college. A marketing manager in a pharmaceutical company, he is managing his busy schedule just like the 61 others in the department doing PG and PhD.
What keeps such people going without a break? “Once you are a student, you become energetic. Classrooms are actually relaxing when you are a student,” says Parkar. Her classmates, advocate Don Ghosal and Dr Manisha Karamkar, another psychiatrist at KEM hospital, agree. The second innings is adding many more dimensions to their lives besides learning a new subject. A young engineer, who is learning German, says, “I always wanted to study arts, but my parents wanted me to pursue engineering for a better career graph. I am fulfilling my wish now, and I am very satisfied.”
For Parkar, it is like finding a new identity. She says, “When you reach a certain position, you start feeling as if you are finished. That’s the time when you need to evolve. That’s what I am doing now in a class-full of people from different backgrounds.”
Practising at the Bombay high court, lawyer Ashok Kotangle is learning the Pali language. Though he juggles many roles, from social service to free legal aid to the needy to donning the teacher’s hat at the Government Law College, he loves switching to a whole different gear at weekends and learning the ancient Indian language.
Kotangle, who practises Buddhism, says, “I wanted to read Buddhist scriptures in Pali. There was no better way to learn the language than from experts at the campus.
A popular dermatologist in the western suburbs, Dr Tushar Jagtap organises free medical camps, blood donation drives and campaigns for emergency medical care at railway stations. But on weekends, he is a student of international politics. “My wife has given me permission to spend Saturdays and Sundays outside home, and hence, I took this up,” laughs Jagtap, one of the most regular students in his class.
“It is not just that many professionals are taking up courses because they did something different in their youth. It is also because of the availability of so many options today. The fact that you can pursue your passion in the form of a course of your choice at the university encourages people,” another professional says.
Class diversity is an important aspect of part-time courses. The various professionals who attend a class in the same room have a different perspective. They value-add with their own life experiences and professional knowledge, giving a different perspective to the subject and enriching its content in the process. Prof Vibha Surana, head of the German department, says, “Professionals bring a range of experiences and knowledge in the classroom, and thus, take it to a new level. This encourages teachers to be on their toes and be better prepared.”
Prof Surendra Jondhale, head of the civics and politics department, feels that the trend is good for academics. “Such students are extremely disciplined and eager to learn. A teacher also learns from intelligent inputs and questions put up by the professionals. That’s not the case with a regular class where youngsters are anxious about their career,” he says.
Balancing family life
While professionals are thrilled to become students again and are zealously following their passion, it is a challenge for most of them to balance this with family life.
Tiring work schedules and long commuting hours do not leave any time for family during weekdays. And dedicating weekends to studying has left no time for family for many.
“Long commuting hours doesn’t give one much time for family. But now, my husband has no time at all for me as well as our daughter. We will have to wait for three years for his course to finish,” rues the wife of a government official who is doing part-time MBA at JBIMS, eyeing a bigger post.
Nonetheless, the learners are confident and energetic as ever. “It is about managing time and accommodating family in one’s schedule,” says a professional. “The courses are part-time, and many of them are conducted for a short duration early in the morning. Getting back to studying gives us so much energy that it prepares us for the week ahead and allows us to focus.