South Indians, especially Tamils, are often caricatured for their penchant for academic degrees. In fact, they are so obsessed with their degrees that these find their way into marriage invitations as well. So, two or three degrees to a name are not much down south. But here is a Tamil academic who has taken it to a whole new level with a hundred degrees.
The visiting card of Professor VN Parthiban, senior lecturer of commerce at RKM Vivekanada College in Chennai is bound to induce a bit of dizziness as it has all the hundred degrees that he has acquired in the last thirty years printed after his name.
It includes an unbelievable long list of 8 Master of Law degrees(ML), 10 Master of Arts degrees(MA), 8 Master of Commerce degrees(M.Com), 3 Master of Science Degrees (MSc), 12 research degrees(M.Phil), and 9 Master of Business Administration degrees(MBA). From library science to International Laws, Parthiban is a real master of subjects.
To the bewildered question of “How”, the fifty year old energetic lecturer starts by saying that he always wants to keep studying something. ''I am from a very ordinary family in north Madras. I struggled hard to finish my first college degree and got a job in the Judiciary department. Then I started to apply wherever they do not require a transfer certificate for registration so that I could study different courses at the same time. In the last thirty years I have been continuously in the process of preparing for exams and applying for new degrees or diploma courses. All my Sundays, I have some exam or research paper to write.”
Such a huge academic work load has some obvious drawbacks. Parthiban has difficulty remembering people's faces or routes to places. He has to ask for directions even if he has been going to a place daily. ''Sometimes I have asked the same person the same route for two days on end. People used to get very angry. But you know, I do not burden my mind with anything that is less important. I keep my mind calm" explains Parthiban.
Parthiban goes to many other places to give lectures on different subjects. ''This is to keep myself abreast of the different subjects. Also to retain the subjects I studied for my various degrees, I have to be in touch with them. Sometimes in various places, I go to a class and take a subject different than what I am supposed to teach as I forget the subject I am supposed to teach there. But the students have never complained,'' he says.
Having taken a hundreds of exams, it is inevitable that there might have been some which he had failed to pass. ''Yes. But this has happened mostly because I would have prepared for a wrong portion or wrong syllabus. When I would see the question paper in the examination hall, then would I realise the mistake This has happened sometimes. And also once I registered for Actuarial Sciences which I could not finish as it involved lot of mathematics which required lot of efforts" he admits.
As he is continuously going to various exams, he has become a known face to most invigilators in the examination halls. What they do not know is that Parthiban writes the exams for different degrees. Often, he has been pitied by them because they think year after year he is not able to pass.
His wife is a bank employee and his son and daughter have studied engineering. He gives full credit to his wife as she takes care of the children and house chores. But she has also tried to match her much educated husband. She has no less than nine degrees to her name.