#InConversation with Mrs. Mani Bedi, Principal, Post Graduate Government College for Girls, Sector 42, Chandigarh
Isha Pharka 12.04.2016
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As I walked into Mrs. Mani Bedi’s office to interview her, she welcomed me with a smile. There was a sense of warmth and comfort and I knew that instant we were going to have a smooth conversation. Till now, she was the Principal of this college to me, but I learnt as we began to talk, that she was actually one of the fourteen teachers who started out their careers with the college...

                                    Dr. Mani Bedi
 Thirty four glorious years in a college that she saw mature right in front of her. Everything else that followed reflected great pride she took in being part of this premiere college. I was glad not only to discover this, but to be able to talk to her months before she was settling down to bid adieu to her professional life. With immense pride and a deep sense of attachment, she took me down the memory lane of her life inspiring experiences she fondly calls, everlasting memories.


Early life...

Having completed her schooling from Alexandra High School, Amritsar, Mrs. Bedi continued her higher education in Amritsar Government College, followed by Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) in the city. Speaking about her early school days she is quick to mention her Canadian teacher, Ms Giovetti from Class 10th, whom she calls to be a great motivator. “She would motivate, teach us well and most importantly, polish us—how to place a letter in an envelope, how to keep your nails clean, how to keep a washroom clean after you have used it... You know these things were instilled in us at that time and I think they have carried on.”

 

A bright student, Mrs. Bedi went on to complete her Master’s in English Literature and scored really well. She credits this to her love for the subject as a result of which she also completed her MPhil. To work was her dream but she was unsure of her professional choice. She clears, “Frankly speaking, not many options were available at that time. It was a dream really that I must work but what I was going to do, I wasn’t sure of. My interest definitely was in literature as I wasn’t doing it for the sake of having a degree.” It was this love for literature eventually that cleared the path for Mrs. Bedi, who now knew where she wanted to head professionally. But little did she know then that this decision would evolve into a career spanning of thirty-four illustrious years.


The Journey...

Mrs. Bedi joined PGGCG-42 in September 1982. Located at a temporary arrangement in Sector 19, Chandigarh, the college had about 300 students to begin with. Also, there were teachers brought in on deputation from various colleges of Punjab and Haryana. Mrs. Bedi, on the other hand, was one of the fourteen faculty members from Chandigarh. This was her very first assignment. “The college was right in our blood vessels basically. The attachment, the bond that we have is because we have seen it from day one. I’ve seen a tremendous age,’ she fondly states.


Slowly but steadily, the college began to grow. Soon relocated to its present location at Sector 42, Chandigarh, the college had its temporary arrangements developing into permanent zones. Mrs. Bedi recalls this as a change that took time. The years that followed saw a science block, hostel, IT block, auditorium, canteen and much more. “It has been a great experience to see it grow like a child that has matured before you... Like a baby really,” she smiles.  


As her journey continued, Mrs. Bedi’s presence in the college became prominent and her love for teaching and the college grew stronger. In 2007 Mrs. Bedi became the Vice Principal and took over as the Principal in 2009. Even though she was offered senior positions in several other colleges at an earlier point, she chose to take it slow and settle for one in this college itself. I wasn’t surprised to realize about this decision because throughout the conversation I could easily sense her strong bond with the institute. So not going into that further, I asked her about her experience as the Principal. “For any Principal I think, it’s her moral duty to make sure that she contributes in such a way that the college grows till further. Earlier, I think, there was still a little constraint but for the last 8-10 years, the Chandigarh administration has been quite magnanimous with funds. With the results you know there was more possibility of growing really. And for us, in this college particularly, it was more challenging than the other two government colleges that were already there. Both these colleges were there since 1952 or 1956 (approximately), so people knew only about those colleges for a number of years.” So was this a big challenge that came in the way of the college? “Believe me, it was 20 years after our establishment that people still asked us, Oh! you have a college in 42?” They were just not aware. But slowly we have made a niche for ourselves. Even now students prefer to go there and we cannot deny that but we continue to make efforts to groom those students who do not come from say a ‘smarter kind of a background’ in such a way that they can compete with anyone else. We are currently running the maximum number of courses here and the number now if we compare to other colleges is nearly the same. So it’s negligible, this difference.”


              Teachers today must: 
  • Be sound with their subject
  • Be able to communicate what you know
  • Motivate students
  • Encourage overall development
  • Develop personally and continue with learning
  • Be a positive example for the students 


Mrs. Bedi further adds that it’s not one person, not one principal who can bring about a change. “You are going up the ladder, all the principals have been contributing a lot, the administration more than helpful, the Director Higher Education (DHE) having his own vision that he or she wants to have these things in this college. The DHE wants this college and other city colleges to be at a certain level,” she shares.  

    

Talking further about the progress of the college, Mrs. Bedi highlights that this academic year two new add-on courses are going to be introduced. However, she is also aware of the paucity of space—trying to squeeze in space for another department, which does get difficult. But, she manages and is sure things will be ably managed further.  While the students here have a wider choice than ever before, was it always this easy to progress? There certainly must have been delays, fund constraints with infrastructural growth? “The auditorium has been a vision and we wanted it from day one. Though the administration took more than 25 years we ensured to stress upon this every year. With the help of the administration and guidance of a consultant we called in especially for this, a masterpiece of an auditorium was in front of us. Fifteen years back I could have said yes, but even within the constraints, we have managed to do well.”


Encouraging students and teachers

Closely associated with the developments in the college, I wondered how she must have managed to bring out the best in her students. One of the challenges in terms of teaching that Mrs. Bedi faced was that the students didn’t have a strong foundation of English. She and her colleagues often wondered how they managed to clear their Class 12th, as they couldn’t even form a single sentence in English. “Making them understand the basic grammar was very hard because I think as a child one grasps these things easily but by the time you reach college you are stuck up. Our efforts were to teach them how to write a sentence correctly, how to use the right grammar, the tenses, everything correctly so that at least they knew they are equipped with basic English.” The rote method is easy for some, but correct language is very important. Communicative Skills, according to Mrs. Bedi are extremely important and if you go wrong with speaking, you are not really considered good.


Another challenge she faced during teaching was connecting with students. But in overcoming this, Mrs. Bedi first understood the root cause and then tried to interact using different ways. I couldn’t help but admire the amount of thought and will she had put into this, so that the students could focus on their growth. So how did she actually go about it? “Well, once in ten days or once in fifteen days, at least I know of myself, I wouldn’t teach. I would talk of either the very general things just to know how aware they are of it, and kind of counsel them.”

 

A strong, independent and educated woman herself, Mrs Bedi further discussed with me how most of the girls even today don’t make use of professional freedom. They sort of confine themselves into set notions and remain underachievers or dependents. Her first few lectures would always focus on telling the students that they must be financially independent and must work. Getting married shouldn’t be the only goal but one should be qualified and even if you don’t want to use your qualification, it should be your choice. “The mindsets had to be changed. It was important for me to pass on the idea that a woman has to bring up her own children and if she is free inside she will have a free mind. They need to be informed for if she is free, she will have a different way altogether.” 


In working out the best possible way to ensure the learning of students, Mrs. Bedi also feels that the growth of the teachers too shouldn’t be neglected. Workshops and seminars according to her remain a requirement important for a teacher’s growth. But don’t the students suffer in the absence of teachers? Or is there a way that is managed? “I never come in the way of teachers but I have to make sure they finish with their courses. That is why this option is given to them that the HOD will see whether they have completed their syllabus, and if yes, they can go for a weak or so.” “The marks, number of workshops, seminars, all these things matter a lot,” she adds creating a fine balance.


A fulfilling experience...

Mrs. Bedi cherishes the bond that has been created with every student and teacher. She mentions all her faculty, right from the teaching to non teaching staff, as well-qualified and dedicated towards the development of the college and the students. 


In September this year, Mrs. Bedi will bid adieu to her students, faculty and the college. When asked about how she feels on her retirement, especially after this long association, she answers, “ I have seen the college grow like an Oak Tree. God has been very kind that I have stayed in this college. Each moment, the affection, the bond that has been there... I mean the students have been amazing, and I have seen this college grow into a mature college. This is why I never wished to go anywhere else.”


    

QUICK FIVE:

Favourite book: 'Gone with the Wind' by Margaret Mitchell

A saying you always pass on: This moment is important.... Don’t go back and grieve about the past.

Teaching for you is: It was in my bloodstream. Can’t do without it!

A student of today must look forward to: Just be open to ideas and incorporate the best ideas, good judgment and know what is beneficial for them.

A message to the teachers: This is the finest profession that leads to your growth. You are making thousands of students grow around you. Be happy yourself and pass on as much positivity and learning.