PHD on arrival



A few years ago, the new airport at Devanahalli just north of Bangalore (Bengaluru) was opened for use. It was already too small when it opened and in recent years there has been much new construction to more than double its size and passenger handling capacity. 

On arrival passengers from some flights enter the airport by airbridges that connect the aeroplanes to the terminal building. Passengers proceed up escalators to the first floor where they walk along a gallery overlooking the departure lounge. We have spent many hours in the departure lounges awaiting the departures of flights which often depart in the dark early hours of the early morning. For a few years, there used to be a branch of the Pizza Hut chain available for passengers awaiting departure.

One year, I was truly surprised to reach the gallery overlooking the departure lounge because there was a large sign above the Pizza Hut counter, which bore the letters ‘PHD’. What, I wondered connected the Pizza Hut with the academic degree of Doctorate of Philosophy (‘PhD’)? ‘Surely some mistake’, as the British satirical magazine Private Eye often says.

Very soon I learnt that according to Pizza Hut, PHD stood for ‘Pizza Home Delivery’. Sadly, the Pizza Hut outlet has long since closed. It has been replaced by costlier eateries hoping for wealthy foreign travellers.



The pencil and the peas


I spent three years working on the experimental aspects of my PhD topic at University College London (‘UCL’) in a laboratory in the Physiology Department. Throughout that time there were always one or two other PhD students working in the same room. ‘Wink’, our supervisor’s wife, was a chemist. She often worked alongside us. Generally, the atmosphere in the laboratory was very congenial.

We were joined by a new PhD student sometime during my second year in the lab. Fortunately, I cannot recall her name, but let’s call her ‘June’.

One morning, June asked me whether she could borrow a pencil from me. As pencils were few and far between in our lab, I said to her: “Make sure you give it back, please.” To which she answered in an unfriendly tone: “Don’t be so Jewish.”

Now, it so happens that I am born Jewish. Although I am the least observant (in religious terms) Jewish person you are ever likely to meet, I am not happy when the word ‘Jewish’ or ‘Jew’ is used pejoratively. Wink must have seen my face flush, because she said to June: “That was unnecessary.”

Although it was almost innocuous, the pencil incident made me wary of June.

Some month’s later, Wink and her husband invited all their PhD students to be their guests at the annual Physiological Society Dinner, which was being held at UCL. I was seated beside Wink and opposite June. When the main course arrived, there were green peas on our plates. I do not like these small round spheres at all.

June noticed me pushing them aside on my plate, and said: “Is your religion also against peas? I must remember that when I invite you around to my place for dinner.” Feeling my face warming, I said to June: “Even if you were to beg me to come to eat at your place, I would have no hesitation in refusing.” Hearing that, June’s face turned bright red. She stood up and without saying anything, left the dining hall. Wink turned to me, and whispered: “Well said, Adam.”

June abandoned her PhD and our lab not long after this dinner.


Now, many years later, I am still sensitive about anti-Semitic remarks, but also deeply curious as to why European people make them, often when they have had little or no contact with Jewish people. In India, which I visit often, although there have never been many Jewish people there, there is barely, if any, prejudice against them. Often Indian people extol the virtues of Jewish people.