So what exactly does one need to do to earn a PhD in India?
Well, one might go with the tried and tested answer and say, master a specific subject completely. Secondly, one must extend the body of knowledge about that subject. In between you need to find a good professor and a sponsor if need be who’ll help you complete your thesis.
But if you were growing up in the 90s and watching Jaspal Bhatti’s Flop Show sitcom on Doordarshan – earning a PhD was a very different exercise.
Keeping the professor happy was the most essential task and if that meant getting up early in the morning and getting milk for him , so be it. If it meant going out into the market with the shopping list handed over by the professor’s wife, then to accept it. And if you were a poor student then making tea in a beaker over a Bunsen burner was mandatory training as well. (Watch that hilarious episode here)
I never had the opportunity to meet Jaspal Bhatti. But I’d like to believe that I knew him. Indeed, much of my early education about what was wrong with India came through him and RK Laxman’s common man.
Bhatti's sitcom Flop Show first aired on Doordarshan in 1989. He wrote, directed and starred in all 10 episodes with his wife Savita, who also played his wife in the serial and was it off screen.
The show focused on the problems of the common man and it didn't need to rely on canned laughter. It relied on something far more basic: a good script and snappy dialogues. In fact, through the medium of laughter Bhatti made important points about what was wrong with Indian society but while making you ponder, didn't fail to leave you with a smile on your face.
For example, in another episode of Flop Show, which focused on meetings, Bhatti took a hilarious shot on the daily routine of government bureaucrats who spent most of their day in meaningless meetings and even appointing committees for making trivial decisions.
Unfortunately, not much has changed since, but it was interesting to see that there was at least someone trying to bring attention to these issues. Apart from Flop Show, Bhatti also directed and acted Ulta Pulta and Nonsense Private Limited for Doordarshan, but will forever be associated with Flop Show.
Bhatti’s style of acting was understated – it wasn’t slap-stick. He didn’t need to scream for your attention. He did it with calm composure, dry humour and at most a smile, and exposed the ills of the system through situational comedy.
His passing will be mourned by many and even in this sad moment, when you think about him, you still end up smiling. That was his magic, something few after him have managed to achieve.