DU VC and I used to go to Priya cinemas together: Jamia VC Talat Ahmad

Jamia Millia Islamia, Prof Talat Ahmad poses for a photograph.

An earth scientist and an avid lover of mountains, the present vice chancellor (VC) of the university Jamia Millia Islamia (Jamia), professor Talat Ahmad, is an academician who doesn’t usually talk about himself. But when reminded him of his days as a PhD student at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), he took a trip down memory lane and narrated incidents of his long friendship with Delhi University (DU) VC, YK Tyagi.

Besides interesting anecdotes and advice for students, he also spoke about the necessary changes he has brought in Jamia. Here are a few excerpts from the interview:


One of my contemporaries from JNU, Yogesh K Tyagi is now the VC of Delhi University. I have a lot of friends who are now teaching at JNU or have gone abroad, but whenever we meet, it’s [the talks are] full of college nostalgia. I met Tyagi a while back, but it was just like the old days. Tyagi was from School of International Studies and was staying in Ganga Hostel and I was in the Jhelum boys wing. Tyagi would come to our hostel and we would go to Chitran Dhabha (which is now called Ganga Dhabha) and enjoy coffee, tea and dosa, and we used to play cricket in the Ganga Hostel lawns. We used to celebrate all festivals together. I remember JNU used to be open from the western side [in those days] and we had to cross a big nala to reach a cinema hall in Basant Lok called Priya. Whenever it rained, we would tumble into the naala, on our way to the movies. Still, we would watch the movie. We had a lot of fun, but it wasn’t all mischief, we also worked hard and that got us where we are.


I belong to a small town, Giridih (Jharkhand) and when I came to Delhi to study, I remember I had a lot of survival issues as a student. I learnt to adjust by interacting with others. So, my advice to outstation students, is that they should get themselves adapted to the new environment, and go slow with things. Try to understand that you have more freedom than school, but don’t waste your time thinking you’re free or are not being watched. The university is something youngsters come to for a brighter career and through a tough competition; so they should know the responsibility that’s on them. Also, students must take part in extracurricular activities to build their personality along with [getting] education.


In Jamia, we have a separate centre of the North East studies, where even the festivals of the region are celebrated. There is an anti-discriminatory officer who also takes care that no racial incident happens [on campus], and if it does, then [corrective] action is taken immediately. We have a zero-tolerance policy. Also, we have students from many foreign countries, and often conduct exchange programmes. We have a department for Korean, Spanish, Pashto and more, but when I joined, I noticed that Sanskrit was missing. That is why I started the Sanskrit department here. I want people to know that Sanskrit is not a Hindu language. This language is for everyone. In fact, not many know that Jamia was established as an inclusive university, based on the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi.


As VC of Jamia, my priority was to get the university to a NAAC accreditation. Jamia is a very old university and I was surprised that it had not yet been graded by NAAC. That was my first priority, and we got an A grade for our university.

Another matter of importance for me, was to have as much accommodation for the girls as we can. So we got one 400 bed hostel, and another 700 bed hostel is coming up. With the new budget, we have got permission for two more hostels by the UGC, which will have additional 400 beds. The hostel fee is also really cheap (approx Rs 2,800 per month) and is decided keeping the students’ budget in mind.

We have also empowered 40 women through Dastarkhwan — an all women canteen — that also has student volunteers. The students, who work here, come from economically weaker backgrounds, and get to earn some money [from this project].

There are people who are bright and intelligent, but do not have the resources for proper education. That is why for the first time we introduced a fund that will grant 150 students scholarships under the name of our former President APJ Abdul Kalam. Seeing this, Jamia Cooperative Society also contributed for scholarships for 30 students, which will grow upto 60 this year. I also try and push people to do research and teaching, and that is the reason for the first time we got the PURSE (Promotion of University Research and Scientific Excellence) grant, which is given for the Department of Science and Technology.