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Monday, July 09, 2007

The world we are making for our children

(This is a response to posts on several recent threads at my orkut community, ‘The Good Life!’, especially Ranajoy Ganguli’s musing aloud on what kind of world we are making for our children):

Look at how low India still ranks on the UNDP Human Development Index, and the Corrupt Nations ranking made annually by Transparency International (and juxtapose that with the fact that the whole middle-class in India is constantly complaining about how ‘other people’s’ corruption is taking India to the dogs).

Consider that most of us – whether we are doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, policemen or teachers – are thieves, or at least kaamchor as they say in Hindi: at least in the sense that we don’t think there’s anything seriously wrong or condemnable about stealing stationery from the office, or taking commissions from diagnostic-test centres for prescribing needless tests, or padding our travel bills, or inflating students’ marks for bribes which are politely called fees, or skipping work at the factory or office or hospital to ferry our wives to the shopping mall or our children to tuitions, or simply taking leave to attend friends’ and relatives’ weddings, regardless of the huge number of official holidays we already get throughout the year! And reflect that few of those doing it consider these things as serious wrongdoing: it is always others’ deeds that are serious wrongs!

Think of how most of us cannot think of anybody’s interests as important outside our families’ – my wife’s shopping is important, my son’s career progress is important, my daughter’s safety is important, but I cannot imagine that everybody else has the right to think the same way. That is what makes us one of the most corrupt and heartless countries in the world. Open your eyes and look at how intensely ‘status’-conscious we become as doctors, engineers, etc etc (and get very angry if anybody dares to ask whether we are good at our jobs, and sincere and hardworking, and habitually take personal responsibility for our failures), and, despite having read in school that all citizens ought to be treated, if not as equals, at least with minimal decency and courtesy, we talk to, and about, our drivers, maidservants, postmen, rickshawwallahs, small shopkeepers as though they simply do not count at all as human beings (haven’t you noticed how the same housewives who haggle obscenely over five extra rupees with a rickshaw puller think nothing of buying Rs. 50 goods from snazzy shops for Rs. 250? And how loudly they complain about their maidservants taking sudden holidays, though they pay these drudges only a few hundred rupees a month, and don’t notice that their husbands, who are paid at least fifty times that much, do exactly the same thing – let alone feeling ashamed about it? And how angry their children get if it is suggested that their parents cannot be called bhadralok)? Think of how viciously ‘patriotic’ we are during an India-Pakistan cricket match, and yet the same people regard getting a green card to settle in the US, or at least a job with an American MNC in Bangalore the highest that ‘achievement’ can mean! I can go on and on in this vein…

And in connection with APJ Abdul Kalam’s recent lament (uttishthata.org/2007/07/06/a-letter-to-every-indian-apj/) about how all of us Indians suffer from a profound sense of inferiority vis-à-vis white skinned foreigners, and take too little pride in all our achievements since independence, I must point out a few things without in essence disagreeing with our venerable President : 1) our achievements (given our size, and the time we have had, and the supposed depth and richness of our culture) are too small and too few in comparison to our massive failures/black spots – having the largest number of unemployed people/illiterate people/child labourers/female infanticides in the world, for example, entirely outweighs and eclipses the fact that we are also the largest milk producers; 2) the President has been maturing since he wrote Ignited Minds – when he believed, it seems to me, that persuading a few children to take nice solemn oaths on 26th January about becoming good citizens would solve our problems more or less painlessly at one stroke. He has, in the same speech, mentioned how shamelessly we pass the buck and expect somebody else (in the final analysis, the government!) to do everything for us, from removing garbage to removing corruption, without shaking a finger ourselves – and, I should like to add, we all imagine that it can all be done without breaking eggs: none of us should ever be seriously punished for our crimes of omission and commission, otherwise we shall vote such a ‘bad’ government out of office! 3) “Like lazy cowards hounded by our fears we run to America to bask in their glory and praise their system. When New York becomes insecure we run to England. When England experiences unemployment, we take the next flight out to the Gulf. When the Gulf is war struck, we demand to be rescued and brought home by the Indian government. Everybody is out to abuse and rape the country. Nobody thinks of feeding the system. Our conscience is mortgaged to money.” … that’s the President I am quoting, and I couldn’t have put it better myself! The only thing where I would like to demur with Mr. Kalam is that he should have specified that by ‘we’ he means the middle and upper classes – the poor and the lower middle classes are still far more honest and hardworking as a rule (perhaps simply because they cannot afford to be otherwise!), and if India has any hopes at all, it lies in unleashing the creative and productive powers of the lower 50% of the population, while grinding the rich and the well-off under her heels: work hard, stop looking for shortcuts, pay your taxes, don’t pretend to be demigods before your parasitical children whom you constantly bribe with toys and fattening foods so they might ‘love’ you, and don’t run away after taking the best of what India has to offer you, or indulge in plain cheating and robbery in the name of business here! Nothing angers me more than people with two-storey houses and cars hiding or justifying all their wickedness and stupidity by calling themselves sadharan lok!

4) Where have all our standards gone? Why is it that we admire/envy/fear money over and above everything else these days? A man whose only qualification is that he has a lot of money is a very petty creature indeed – read Chesterton’s scathing remarks in the essay titled ‘The worship of the wealthy’ posted earlier in this blog! Once upon a time the emperor of India knew he would benefit by sitting at his teacher’s feet; no billionaire imagined that he was more than the dust beneath the feet of someone like Napoleon, and tens of millions worshipped Gandhi, knowing full well about the existence of the Nizam of Hyderabad, who was then reputedly the richest man on earth! Why is it that today, even if we admire someone like Narayan Murthy, it is only because of the pile he has made, and has nothing to do with his life’s work? If we do not admire all our good teachers, doctors, policemen, judges, writers, bureaucrats and legislators (and I know for a fact that there are still many), and if we all shun those jobs in favour of safe and comfortable positions without too much serious responsibility in the IT/BPO/banking/retail sectors (provided we haven’t run away to do ‘research’ in the USA already!), where do we expect the good, honest, clever and hardworking people will come from to do all those jobs which a society really needs to thrive and prosper? And how dare we claim, after shunning our own responsibilities, that all those vital sectors have now become full of ‘corrupt’ people? What on earth might our children be learning, watching all the time what greedy, dishonest, hypocritical time-servers most of us parents have become? Is it any wonder that in most colleges in India, one who does not pass exams merely by last-moment cramming and cheating is considered ‘weird’? Is it a wonder that despite all I can do to make my tuitions interesting (from storytelling to showing movies to playing games to holding quizzes), a great number of pupils come only to doze and yawn and gossip among themselves and scribble notes which they have no intention of really making an effort to understand and remember for keeps? And isn’t it wonderful that we still dream that a land full of such do-numberi people will soon become one of the leaders of the world?

Which brings me to the question raised in Ranajoy’s thread at the forum of my orkut community, ‘The Good Life!’ I cannot speak for all parents, but there are some ground rules I have set myself ever since my daughter was born, and haven’t broken once in these last eleven years:

1. Forget marks, certificates, degrees … I shall never ask God anything more than to keep her safe in body and happy in mind.
2. I will not mollycoddle her: she must gradually learn to take more responsibility and work more and more (at everything including domestic chores) as she grows up, so that at 18 she can be a fully self-reliant and worldly wise human being.
3. She will be taught that she is a human being first and a girl thereafter. She must behave with all girls and boys accordingly.
4. She will be taught the importance of money – first by buying things she wants only out of what she has saved from her pocket money, and thereafter only what she has earned (she has been earning variously since she was seven). That way alone, I believe, she will neither be greedy, nor profligate, nor envious of money, and she will only despise those among the rich whose money is all dirty money or easy money.
5. I will persuade her to read lots of good books, including the great classics of literature. I am convinced that no one ever became fully human without that.
6. I will cultivate her taste for good music and travelling in the right spirit, and encourage her to keep fit through various kinds of games and exercises.
7. I will strive to set her very high ideals. As an example, I have already drilled into her that merely rich men are not even worthy of being called human beings in the same breath with, say, the Buddha, or Sri Ramakrishna, Tagore or Einstein or Michelangelo or Lincoln. And Steve Jobs must be respected for his ideas and ideals, not his money.
8. I will try night and day, relentlessly, to live up to the ideals of hard work and honesty, plain speaking and charity, economy and good, clean fun that I have always practised around her: children learn far more from what parents do rather than what parents say.
9. I will urge her to love her country firstly because she is so large a part of all mankind, and secondly because of so many great and wonderful things about her culture (I do not want her to be as ignorant of her country as 90% of my supposedly educated pupils are!). I will simultaneously open her eyes to all the badness of her countrymen – from graft to lechery to mindless violence to unsanitary habits to noisy gossip to superstitiousness – so that she can live wisely, avoiding needless trouble and being cheated by everybody from shopkeepers to beggars, and I will also tell her either to dedicate her life to bringing about whatever little improvement she can as one person (which means she will have to get into the few meaningful professions mentioned above, not fritter her life away as a corporate executive selling soap), or to get out of this country and dedicate her life equally sincerely to some kind of work that can, in some very obvious way, benefit all mankind. Not all my ex-students now doing doctoral or post-doctoral scientific work in reputed American universities can claim to be doing that!)

Beyond that, I never allow myself to forget that, if I am to remain true to my ideals, even as a very small man, I must do my own work as earnestly and interestingly and convincingly as I can. If as a teacher I can persuade even a hundred pupils in my whole working life to be a little different, a little better than the common herd, perhaps the ripple effect might spread and affect a few thousand in turn: and thus make the world and my country a better place to live in for my daughter, even if very very slightly. That is what I am continuing to do here and at my orkut community. I know that hoping for anything more is a pipe dream. But it has been said that nothing done lovingly and worshipfully in this world ever goes in vain. Perhaps I have made life seem more interesting to some old boys and girls, and given them some hope and encouragement that they can make a difference themselves, and even helped them to find a sense of direction and purpose? If some of them know I have never worked for money alone, and understand what else I do it for, my life will not have gone wholly waste. What more can I do for my daughter? And what more can I do for my country than leave behind a daughter who is a good and worthwhile human being, who does not believe that she is condemned to a life of craven mediocrity?


souvik said...

Sir,I read the latest post("The world we are making for our children").I must say that I am awakening from the slumber of ignorance by knowing more and more about your thoughts and ideals.I would not thank you because that would be too little compared to what we are learning from you every day,every hour,every minute.

Ankan said...

Probably the read which moved me the most amongst all the posts. I would accept blame for a fair number of the evils that you mentioned in the blog, but I feel happy that I still feel sorry when I read about the things I shouldn't have done. It makes me feel confident enough to make an effort to change myself.
As far as the part about parenting goes, I guess the ideals you strive to set go far beyond that. If I am able to follow even some of them in every walk of life, I am sure I will be at peace with myself at the end of the day. As I see now, that is the greatest reward I can get out of life!

Anshu said...

if we squint our eyes we will only see the glitter in front of us.
and if we open our eyes with the aim of seeing,then only the whole picture will dawn.
The only aspect required is to observe and think.And the first and foremost criteria is to stop!!!Stop when you pass by a boy or a girl in tattered clothes asking for alms, uttering words like "bhookh lagi hai kuch paise de do".
i am posing a question to all the readers to which i do not want an answer.The person should know the answer Himself.
Do you have the courage to talk to him and listen to him with a complete empty mind , without any prejudices, without being conscious of the fact that people are noticing you,without the feeling of doing "punya"(good deeds),without the expectation of getting rewarded in the afterlife ? Do You?
If you can then only you will know what kind of a world we are making for our children.Let's rephrase the statement.What kind of a world we are making for ourselves.Let's rephrase it again.What kind of a world are we making for our future?

I just hope i am making myself clear.
Parenting is the most valuable art form that ever existed.And that's where Oscar Wilde went wrong when he said that"ALL ART FORMS ARE QUITE USELESS".

Sudipto pondering said...

To Sir,
What you've mentioned is quite right. Parenting is a skill that few possess: and it dismays me quite a lot to see that a lot of people are eager to become parents without being sure how they want their children to grow up. It's rather easy to be a biological parent, rather difficult to be a true one. One of the core problems in India is that there are few good and sensible parents around: for only good parents can beget good children, barring a certain exceptions of course.

Rather we have a whole lot of sick people who think that the greatest achievement that their children can get is a mere job, or a silly degree. Why don't we have people who have lofty dreams for their children: to whom the greatest care is that their child must be a good and noble human? But then, considering the fact that we have few good humans around, it isn't too surprising.

To Mr. Anshu,
Your post makes a lot of sense. I think the only reason that I help poor people often (with some of my pocket money) is that it helps me get some peace of mind, and helps the big bad world become a bit better. Nothing much, but something nonetheless. I hope, perhaps without apparent reason, that the small differences I make to the world around me shall set the wheels of revolutions spinning.

On another note, can someone fully explain Wilde's preface in "The Picture of Dorian Gray"? It's very well-written but I haven't understood it fully yet. Maybe, if you could help, Sir!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

To all those who post comments anonymously and/or discourteously, I repeat, I delete your comments without reading beyond the first line, and in any case, your comments will never be allowed on my blog, so you are wasting your time. Anyone who is decent, honest and has something worthwhile to say either in praise or criticism will feel no need to hide or to use impolite language, so please understand that you are only telling me and all my friends here just what sort of creature you are! Good stuff for us to laugh over, but is it really worth your while? Are you so seriously unemployed?

Anshu said...

Hi Sudipto,

it's so nice to see that you think small.
i would just like to say something over here.
Next time when you give anybody money (that has become quite a mechanical part of modern man's every day's actions)just pause for a minute. Talk to them, ask their problems, inquire about their experiences then only will you learn and out of that learning arises the kind of help that they need.
it's not a condescending attitude, nor your peace is what they are concerned about. they just want a chance to lead their life with dignity.
Let me tell you, you are not making the world better by giving them money.
Just think and you will know why.
That's where modern man is failing. they think money is the only solution. it's only a consequence but never a solution.its not permanent. it has never been. just look back and observe.
Ah!! you give them money, they think that's good now we do not have to do anything but keep on asking for money and life will go on.And then as they grow older, they take it away from you if you do not give them by yourself.
Give them a chance to become FREE Thinker and show them what a life full of dignity is.
And for that you have to become a person with all those QUALITIES.

Anshu Singh said...


Education As A Resource

The word "EDUCATION" has been associated with mankind ever since HE started thinking.The meaning though has changed along with the development of human cognition. Every age has had a different meaning of it. For the greeks it was nothing but symbols, for the Aryans it was nothing but numbers, for the sages it was a way towards salvation and so on so forth.If we ourselves look into the meaning of education we will find that it has never been limited to academics.
We can now look at it minutely, every man who ever lived and who is living and who is going to inhabit our dear Earth will say that life has been the greatest educator and life is in itself an education.
What our ancestors of this planet earth had tried was to associate it with something tangible rather than abstract for easy understanding of it's vast meaning. But what has happened in ever changing times is that the abstract part has been completely eroded leaving behind a physical part which automatically takes shape according to the times.
i hope everybody will agree with me when i say that our dearest country is going through a phase which is in every term "materialistic".Hence the physical part i.e education has taken a materialistic shape.
In this overall context i would like to start a conversation where we could talk about the following questions i have in my mind

i would like to have a conversation as to how education can be used in a feasible way to improve the way people think and thus give a direction to their thoughts along with a sense of strength and belief.

Can education impart the sense of simplicity and wisdom in people?

Can education bridge the gap between the rich and the poor?

Can education make people dream?

i think these questions are worthwhile and i know that you will agree with me when i say that education can be used as a powerful tool in bringing out the inherent goodness of people.

i am looking forward towards a even flow of thoughts and actions on this issue.

i have a lot of unanswered questions in my mind and i believe that everybody who is interested in every broad sense of the word "education" will exchange their views amongst themselves so that we can learn and improve our actions.


Please participate by visiting http://anshusymposium.blogspot.com/

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for the kind words, Ramananda, but I'm sorry I can't post them here: no anonymous posts are allowed on principle, whether they are nice or abusive! - and seeing that you addressed me as 'Suvro', I assume you must be a contemporary, but do please ring a few bells!

Sudipto pondering said...

Dear Anshu Da,
Thanks for the post! Shall try my best to do what you spoke about. I certainly don't think that money is the universal solution, even when we are addressing poverty. A better attitude is a kind word, which I sometimes do exchange with those who are in need of help. I think that money is made so that we can use it to lead a simple yet comfortable life. When money becomes something of a religion or a luxury, it is indeed alarming. Thankfully for me, it isn't yet and I hope it won't be so. But, you know, when someone is hungry, it's hard for him to think of nice things such as dignity and self-respect for long; and especially so for mere mortals like us. No amount of promised love can please, or even really help, a beggar as much as some morsels of food can. But by that, I am in no way saying that charity means barely donating money.

And then again, as you pointed out, charity should be done really carefully. If someone decides that he can get what he wants by doing no work and only begging, it's a shame. But isn't a bigger shame that it's us, the rich and prosperous people, who have pushed these people back for generations? How many guys from our social class have you seen who regularly and devotedly help the poor and needy?

Anyway, thanks for replying! Shall look forward to more replies and posts from you.

With Regards,

Anshu Singh said...

Dear Sudipto,

i cannot answer the questions you have posed to me.
Maybe the story I am going to write will give you the answer to the "Why".

Tosui was a well-known Zen teacher of his time. He had lived in several temples and taught in various provinces.

The last temple he visited accumulated so many adherents that Tosui told them he was going to quit the lecture business entirely. He advised them to disperse and to go wherever they desired. After that no one could find any trace of him.

Three years later one of his disciples discovered him living with some beggars under a bridge in Kyoto. He at one implored Tosui to teach him.

"If you can do as I do for even a couple of days, I might," Tosui replied.

So the former disciple dressed as a beggar and spent a day with Tosui. The following day one of the beggars died. Tosui and his pupil carried the body off at midnight and buried it on a mountainside. After that they returned to their shelter under the bridge.

Tosui slept soundly the remainder of the night, but the disciple could not sleep. When morning came Tosui said: "We do not have to beg food today. Our dead friend has left some over there." But the disciple was unable to eat a single bite of it.

"I have said you could not do as I," concluded Tosui. "Get out of here and do not bother me again."


I do not know who to blame except myself for not doing the things i want to do. Does anybody really need to tell me what is right or wrong? No, because nature and life is in so much harmony that all of us know the answer. It’s just we do not try.
Everybody has to find a tree of his own. I have to unlearn a lot of things that has been taught to me by saints and fools, alike.
Maybe then I will be in a true position to answer you, without any prejudice and emotion.

Life is beautiful. Give food to anybody who is hungry. I will never ask you to stop doing that. It's the greatest failure of a society where people have to go hungry without his or her wish.

Sayan said...

A lot of problems have arisen because people have forgotten to dream.Hence the complete lack of passion,the inability to see beyond what is 'in fashion' and the 'Chalta Hai'attitude.Indranil Sen is bringing out an album which has a song in which he ironically says something like -"Tin bochchorer chhele jai iskoolete.....jodi sopno dekhte chao,ora bole chepe ja,mama chepe ja..."It is a very crude way of saying, but it's true nevertheless.
Sayan Datta.