Colleges in Kolkata mostly run in shared buildings. Paucity of space, demand for higher education, raising the scope of employment have led to colleges operate in shifts, in this city. The City Colleges in north and south Kolkata, Ashutosh College, the Bhowanipore Education Society College all have trifurcated hours, i.e., morning, day and evening. While the latter is one single college under unique administration (but operating in shifts), the others have completely separate identities with distinct administrations and whereabouts. Colleges operating in the morning hours are primarily dedicated to girls and very rarely co-educational; colleges operating in the evening hours were originally set up to convenience those students who need to work through their undergraduate years and not free to do classes in the morning/day hours.
I work in an evening/night college, where the working hours stretch from around 3 pm-9 pm. Previously I had worked in two morning colleges, both of which began their classes right at 6 am. I have also worked in the post- graduate section of two colleges which operate in the day-hours that is late-morning-afternoon- till-very early evening. Today I thought about talking the suitability of hours of the different sections per se, and what it does to you in the long term.
When I used to work in the morning college, I made it a point of going to bed early, that is by 10 at night. Otherwise, I understood pretty well that I wouldn’t be able to sustain through a long day that had to begin at 4.30 am. Mother to a toddler then and with my academic degrees not yet fully attained, it was a tough call to tie up the corners. The College used to get over a little before 10 and I would throw myself full-throttle to my child, household and studies — definitely in that order. I almost had the day to myself, and along with juggling all other responsibilities I remember I had dug in for 3 months to clear my National Eligibility Test (NET) for lectureship. Then I went about clearing the PI, again after a bout of serious preparation. I’m not here trying to establish a linear equation between the hours I worked in the morning college and my success at the examination and interview. I slogged and that was what it was. But somehow the day had longer working hours (the thing that happens when you get up early) and was more productive.
When I was lecturing in the day section, I used to rush out of home in the middle of some chores done while some others half done/undone, because I was always trying to complete the whole day’s to-do-list, before I left home. There was not enough time to do that, of course, and there was no leftover slice of morning, when I returned home, to take care of them. So although I promised myself that I would finish the undone jobs after I returned, it was another story when I got back. Taking rest for a tiny while usually stretched much longer; feeling extremely lethargic to attend to those undone chores again was normal. Relaxing with chai, switching on the TV to watch the news or the soaps felt good. Rest of the family members returned from work, sharing our day’s experiences and thinking about dinner, somehow managing to cook it or ordering in from outside was what really got ‘done’ in the evenings. And sitting down to study …….preparing for next day’s lecture or researching new articles to write felt extremely arduous after the schedule of morning rush and six back-to-back lectures delivered during the day. And then, switching off from the household and loved ones to do serious studies in the evenings when we all meet together after the working day was depressing to me, to say the least. Surely I’m not a hard-nosed professional, but I cannot be dishonest with my readers. I was fatigued more than when I was doing morning college, probably because the psychological cushioning of the whole day stretched right after work with the major bread-earning job done for the day (in case of morning college), was definitely absent here.
Evening college (commonly called ‘night college’ in the workplace neighbourhood) where I have been working for about two decades now, is another story. I don’t know whether any of my readers work night shifts or even in an evening/night college, but if you do, then you know, that it changes your life-dynamics, like no other. Depending upon how close or far away you live from it, nobody who works in our college returns home before 10 pm. But then, you get out to attend college, when most people are returning home ( a depressing image, come to think of it) and you return home with the nightbirds. And I’m talking about the minimum threshold here. The further you live, the later you are. This implies the bed-time is ‘naturally’ pushed back to about midnight hours at the earliest. Wide-awake and alert to deal with the students and syllabus and a whole lot of other stuff only a little while back, you simply cannot switch off in a jiffy and hit the sack, with your adrenaline still on a high. Dinner is also around that ungodly hour. And since after that lunch in the afternoon, this is the first meal we get to dig into after long lecture hours or endless office work, we are ravenous and we have our fill. So less/no carbs for dinner, dinner before 7 pm and all those modern-day basic healthy living rules cannot simply be implemented, for us folks. We survive on copious quantities of tea (sugary in my case, although sugar-free version is available) through the evening that do hamper our sleep. Sleeping really late into the night, tinkering with the mobile till you finally buzz off makes a habit of late-rising among ‘evening college goers’ — be they students or teachers. Getting up at 10 in the morning or 12 in the noon is not an unheard of habit in the night college circles, making one lose the prime activity hours of early morning.
The list of unhealthy compromises bulk up, especially in a resource starved workplace. Parallely with health, the family and social lives also take a hit. However in our times, appointees never had the scope of choosing their workplace like they have it today. Whatever be one’s position in the merit panel, in our times we had to accept our place of work as recommended by the West Bengal College Service Commission as the final diktat. Wherever they sent us, we would go. There was absolutely no scope anywhere to choose your college. If someone found it impracticable to take up the job recommended by the Service Commission they had to again sit for the PI. Since PIs for generating the merit panel were erratically held, it could not be foretold whether it will be held within a couple of years. Leaving a ready full-time job and waiting in uncertainty for the next round of PIs, not knowing where you’ll land up in the next merit panel (or even be there?), the probability of placement in another inconvenient location could only be attempted under severe duress or by the strongest of bravehearts. For very ordinary mortals like us who have no powerful connections anywhere that could alter our fate positively than the neurons firing up our brains , it was a lifetime grab.
I was a young mother with a four year old kid, when I joined this ‘evening’ college. Before joining this evening/night college, I had worked in morning colleges and I was quite out of depth with the idea that I’ll be out…. seriously working in the evenings, leaving my infant to fend for himself. There was not much support system to take care of him at home. And by the galore of unfortunate incidents that made regular headlines involving hired helps and children solely in their care, I was not strong-hearted enough to take that risk. It was an unhappy situation, all round. Then there was the consideration of the child’s studies. Barring very few children who study on their own, most of them have to be closely monitored and that happens in the evenings. Those working in the evenings and have their spouse at home (think working males with stay at home wives) do have lesser issues of this kind. Personally I could not be with my son mostly for his studies during his primary, junior and senior school. He had to learn to manage on his own and has grown up to be an essentially independent-minded person. Amen to that. Our hours clashed like enemies. His was morning school, mine was a night college. So practically when he returned after school I had to drag myself to make preparations for going out. I was a mother……leaving him when he would have loved to go to the park, talk with me, study with me, share his explorations with me……. did leave me heartbroken. But money had the strongest voice. I could not chuck my job for the hours. And it was a ‘government job’. So the private jobs I had held could not hold candle to it, was the opinion in our middle-class family. But ironically in all these years the dynamics of a government job has changed beyond recognition and it is not so far away from a private job anymore. Alas.
I grew accustomed to not participating in many invites, social gatherings because the grand majority of them were held in the evenings and not always on a Sunday. I got used to solitary lunches and spending the day on my own because everybody was busy with their work-life during the day. Gradually as his school hours expanded, my son got used to returning to empty home and keep himself company, as I had to tackle newer and greater responsibilities at work and leave home earlier. So both of us got used to seeing each other briefly in the early mornings and then again quite late into the night. It did morph us, in ways we didn’t even realise. Life went on and life is still going on.
Joining the night college fresh out of morning college, did require quite a few changes in habit. My 10 pm sleeping rules had to shift, as I earlier mentioned. And then I was doing all that needed doing at home in the morning and early noon. Sometimes I felt a bit queer that here I was working full-time but staying at home in the morning and noon. Since I had myself for company for a large part of the day, I gravitated towards studies again. I enrolled for my PhD in a rush, just as its thought was forming in its mind. I had just broached the subject with my mentor when he informed me that the rules for enrolment were under a huge makeover, and I had to dash if I wanted a toe-hold. So before I could fully process what I was about to do, I had embarked on my PhD journey. And it had its full measure of hiccups and turbulences, heartbreaks and pain (again the usual story for contactless mortals like me). But I did learn quite a few things from there and all of them are not essentially related to my research. Few life experiences that have wisened me from my earlier version. So during my research term, the mornings and late nights and whole nights became progressively occupied with Strategic Marketing Management.
I took on two successive projects funded by UGC and that also needed plentiful legwork and brainstorming. Completed them successfully. So when I look back, these were definitely the fruits of staying home in the mornings and the intensive library work and the primary data collection from field work could be effectively done in the daylight hours. Here I must mention that many faculties working in the morning or day shifts have done their PhD during their service years and some of them have even availed Study Leave to do so. I believe if you are truly inspired to do something, you will definitely achieve it, despite whatever roadblocks. It does burn you out when after a whole day you are still peering at the computer monitor at 2 am in the morning. But anything worth achieving, the wise men say, is always uphill.
Like everything else every work hour carries its own pros and cons. With the teeming skill-set joining the workforce in India every season and lopsiding the demand-supply scale perennially to the employer’s benefit, a substantive job-offer is a miracle in many economically disadvantaged homes. It is also a passport for your self-respect and your hard-fought independence. So I respect my job because it in my case personally threw me a chance at survival. Whatever be the hours, it is a major blessing. And in life, the truth is, we can’t have everything.