God gives men diverse opportunities to look at the world. Yet most of us sleepwalk through life, not noticing anything at all (though Robert Fulghum has declared in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten that the most important word in the dictionary is LOOK!) You can test this by giving some people that childhood memory game, asking them to stare at a trayful of odds and ends for half a minute and then to write down as many items they can remember, or you can ask a companion who has walked down a busy road with you to describe in detail the looks and manners of some people she has noticed.
Unmindful as most of us are by birth, we are trained, in the name of education, to narrow our sights as we grow up, and take interest in fewer and fewer things. I can see this among the youngsters I deal with all the time: some of them were very clever and observant when I talked or played with them while they were in primary school, but already, by the time they get into my tuitions at the fag end of secondary school, they have become mentally deaf and dumb: waiting to scribble whatever notes their tutors dictate without critical examination and understanding, without question, to be crammed for examinations, for the sake of the all-important marks (these days parents can kill for marks, leave alone plead and bribe) and promptly forgotten. Oh, there were sluggish dullards in our time too, and I remember many such classmates, but it has spread like an epidemic over this last quarter century, so that even the ‘first boys’ I tutor these days are almost without exception devoid of curiosity and any real interest in anything at all – not even good literature, or good cinema, or even girls, for God’s sake (beyond the kind of interest that dogs take in bitches in the mating season, that is). I am not looking for a Sherlock Holmes or Bibhutibhushan’s Apu in every teenager, but to have to deal with anesthetized idiots day in, day out does take its toll as the years roll by. And just how dull these creatures have become can be checked out by anybody who is ready to take the trouble to compare the kinds of essays first boys wrote in my day with the stuff that they write now: I have been storing the best for more than 35 years – a large chunk of them a bequest from my old revered schoolteacher.
Even worse, children in the
ban ‘educated’ middle class that I live in are being systematically trained to ignore all aspects of reality that don’t fit in with the rosy (and absurd) dreams that they hanker for. So they are always talking of billionaires (though their dads might earn beggarly salaries, and they don’t have the foggiest notion how hard a man must work, and how long, to make a few lakhs a year by strictly honest means) and burning with envy at people who zoom around on fancy motorbikes and ur unt snazzy cellphones, they drool over the glamour of a Shah Rukh Khan or a Sachin Tendulkar, and swoon over the fact that India (with 300 million plus living in absolutely wretched and hopeless poverty!) is adding half a dozen dollar billionaires every year – and at the same time imagining that becoming a Rs. 30-50,000 a month doctor or engineer means success and fame, happily oblivious of the fact that mere home-based private tutors like me make far more than that, and it is those doctors and engineers who queue up at our doors, and not the other way round! People see with their minds, not their eyes: what the mind screens out the eyes do not see. fla
These creatures can’t even see the plight, the drudgery, and the quiet heroism of countless people around them who are above the poverty line, but who slog night and day at very harsh, thankless and humiliating jobs night and day to keep their families heads above the water. There are at least 5 to 6 hundred million honest, nice and humble
ns who eke out a living like that: rickshaw pullers whose wives work as domestic helps, bus conductors, postmen, petty shopkeepers, small farmers, government clerks and police constables, private tutors (especially those who teach music or painting and suchlike) who have not seen spectacular financial success, door to door salesmen and women hawking everything from vacuum cleaners to insurance to packets of joss sticks, icecream vendors and phuchkawallahs … I could go on adding to the list forever. Somehow there has been established a silent but rigid middle class consensus that these people are not quite human, so they don’t deserve to be accorded the minimum human dignity, courtesy and sympathy. People slam doors on their faces when they come soliciting custom in the blazing midday heat of summer, their children learn from them to address rickshawpullers and greengrocers their fathers’ age with the India Bengali pejorative tui, neither parents nor children ever pause to think that but for the grace of God they might have joined the ranks of those poor unfortunates, that such people might be as human characters far better than they (in terms of courage, kindness, honesty and philosophical maturity – as I have discovered by hobnobbing with a lot of maidservants and coolies and itinerant hawkers), and it never occurs to them that just because they are married to, or born of, successful doctors or low-level public sector employees with fairly fat paycheques and little work and responsibility, it does not give them the moral right to treat their hardworking fellow-men as scum, especially in an avowedly democratic country with a socialistic ideal enshrined in her Constitution! So stupid and vulgar are millions of my fellow middle class Indians that it er strikes them that if all those hardworking and hopeless millions had taken to violent crime instead, their lives and property would have been up for grabs, and this society would have dissolved in anarchy. nev
I could have gone on some more in this vein, but I shall desist after asking all visitors to read two books instead: The Great Indian Middle Class by Pawan Varma, and Everybody loves a good drought by P. Sainath. And maybe look up Barkha Dutt’s articles about some of the less pleasant aspects of contemporary
n reality in The Hindusthan Times. That's a young woman I respect, and it is one of my greatest regrets that I could never sufficiently inspire any of my students, male or female, to become half as socially valuable. India