Salute to my Guru!

Those who have studied in the erstwhile Bombay Labour Institute [BLI] which is now called Maharashtra Institute of Labour Studies [MILS] at Parel in the nineteen sixties and seventies can not forget Dr Mrs Shanta Vaidya. They owe her so much! I am also one her proud students.

Dr Vaidya or ‘Madam’ to all students had a diminutive figure, she was perhaps not even five feet tall. She wore somewhat old styled spectacles, often wore a simple cotton saree and spoke in very soft voice. That she came from a well-to-do family was disclosed by her wrist watch, the bracelet and her black leather bag.

Dr Vaidya obtained her doctorate in Industrial Sociology in England but never spoke about her experience in that country where she stayed for eight years. Though she was appointed as Professor of Industrial Sociology she was often required to teach Industrial Psychology as well. No student missed her class, nobody indulged in any fun, it was always a serious session. She knew her students and she knew how to raise the level of debate in the class to involve all. She was always available when a student needed help. And she never had to discipline students for they always ensured that nothing was done [or reached her ears] that could displease her. To think of a lady who was not outwardly impressive at all, who never raised her voice, could achieve such grip over groups of mischievous students would have baffled anyone.

Reportedly a difference of opinion at the Institute saw Madam moving out of the institute where she worked for almost two decades. Some old students told me that she lost her retirement benefits too as a result of her resignation. This was a topic she carefully avoided discussing, a smile was all you got if you touched the subject, clearly indicating silently that it was out of bounds. Her moving out of the Institute was a loss to the Institute and many of us [her students] felt a sense of injustice. But then MILS is run by a Government of Maharashtra department and you can not expect anything better from it.

The loss of our Institute was the gain of Maniben Kara Institute. Madam joined there and did a lot of research. She published some monographs, I do not know if she published any book. Madam and I had agreed to write a book together but that project never really took off. Madam saw a different world of workers when she joined Maniben Kara Institute. In those days Marathi papers used to publish labour news on one day in a week. The stories would be how a certain union leader has negotiated a settlement [a long term contract revising wages and benefits] for workers that gave them a huge booty as a bonus or increased wages. I invited her to address the workers in the industry where I worked after one such settlement. She asked workers whether their children will now drink a glass of milk more or whether they will have a peg of alcohol more. This language was new to me; clearly something had changed when she saw the reality of workers lives.

At the age of seventy Madam joined a ‘Computer class’ formally to learn MS Office and the like. I met her at her Pune residence when I was surprised to see her working feverishly on her PC. She told me that when she went to enroll the young man on the counter was rendered speechless when he realised that he was registering a seventy year old lady for their computer class. That was typical of Dr Vaidya who was not afraid of taking unusual steps in quest of skills and knowledge. She was so impressed by the 7-Habits [Stephen Covey’s] book that she prepared a Marathi booklet that gave a gist of the original book. It was distributed free.

When I met her last, she was sitting in her garden with old ladies from the building where she stayed. She presented me another book this time, [I never returned empty handed from her home] and it contained a write up on all major religions in the world. ‘When I was in England, I wanted to write a book on all religions. I wrote this one and though it is smaller than what I would have liked it to be, I am happy for I have fulfilled my dream’.

She authored a book at the age of 84! You have given me inspiration to keep working till my last day Madam!! Salute!!!