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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Thoughts for Teachers' Day

Prestige and dignity, pride and respect

[This is a long one again: don’t read if you are “busy”!]

These words have great and genuinely respectable meanings in many a context. Yet they have been so widely abused – and taken advantage of – in every culture and every age that in lots of cynical eyes they have become quite meaningless, or worse.

As I see it, certain ideals and institutions, and individuals who have stuck to and upheld these ideals and institutions, often at great personal risk or cost (sometimes life itself) gradually acquire prestige, meaning respect amounting to awe. It often takes a very long time to acquire that kind of prestige and the labours of many great and dedicated men (Sir James Murray’s lifetime labour gave the Oxford Dictionary its prestige, men like Drake and Nelson gave it to the British navy, and Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts and a few others together gave it to the American presidency); it can easily take centuries. So it is with the office of the Pope – still at least halfheartedly believed by millions to be the living representative of Christ on earth, even after two millennia of turmoil, corruption, cruelty, base compromise with earthly lords and interests, bureaucratic intrigue and apathy, and all the challenges from critics, including purveyors of other religions, godless scientists and communists. So with organizations like the Royal Society. So with the world’s oldest extant universities. So with the Shaolin temple in the sphere of the martial arts, or cordon bleu chefs in the world of gastronomy, or the Rolls Royce when it comes to cars, or Lloyd’s Register in the world of marine insurance and underwriting, or The Times of London when we are talking about newspapers. Prestige comes from a reputation for old, established quality of an unusually high order, quality long sustained in the face of harsh and diverse challenges; a quality which may be moral or spiritual, academic or practical, but quality nevertheless. Prestige means also that the very name of an institution, organisation or title is widely assumed to be a guarantor of quality, so the ‘customer’ (whether he be a seeker of knowledge, luxury or glory) may be assured that he is buying into a good thing without having to do too much fact-finding for himself; he also hopes some of that prestige will rub off on him – my doctorate is from such a great university, I am a priest of such a hoary religion, I drive only the best cars and dine at the best restaurants, so others less fortunate and less distinguished will look up to me and perchance envy me.

If it is admitted that beyond air, water, food and sex what men most want is a certain sense of identity, and since prestige gives identity as nothing else does (not even raw money or power), it follows that men will pay a very heavy price to acquire some prestige in their chosen walks of life: so countless scholars and monks are perfectly happy to live materially poor lives in great universities and abbeys, and so many soldiers were willing to die fighting for Alexander and Caesar and Napoleon. At a much baser level, crooked businessmen, once they have made their sordid piles, spend so much to buy seats in legislatures and the boards of great charities, while they wives spend little fortunes on ‘designer’ clothes, jewellery and cosmetics. This is the unfortunate, not to say pathetic side of prestige: unworthy people go to such absurd lengths to acquire the prestige that they neither deserve nor can really win for themselves (who cares about a page three wife except a handful of other page three wives?) – some folks pierce and maim their bodies to ‘look good’ according to local and current convention (I may not be a mentionable warrior, but at least I wear the right kind of costume and affect the right degree of snootiness!); some buy all kinds of junk they don’t need because it helps them to ‘identify’ with the celebrity icons who endorse said goods in TV advertisements, others try all they can to bend the rules which prevent them from joining institutions where they really have no place – in the process ever so slowly diluting the very standards on which the prestige of the organisation depends, until, if they are not careful, these organisations wake up one fine morning to find out that their old glory has faded away, leaving not a wrack behind. Thus have great empires vanished, and so also churches and universities and commercial marques. It is this way that the civil services in India have lost much of their sheen, and I can predict that the rate at which the great institutions of higher learning in Britain are signing up young morons from backward countries if their rich dads can pay full tuition is digging their own graves: the whole world will sneer at once-prestigious British universities fifty years from now. ‘Dwarfs in giants’ robes’ are bound to degrade every office and institution they swarm into. A few more like the present incumbent and the prestige of the White House is going to hit rock bottom!

One other thing that I should mention about prestige is that its signs and yardsticks are highly culture-specific, to the extent that what is very prestigious in one country or locale or peer group can sound meaningless or bizarre in another. Think of punks attending a conference of physicists, think of formula one racing stars visiting a venerable temple in Puri to watch some great religious function. A mere doorman might not let a samurai warrior from an ancient family into the hallowed portals of Wall Street, and the absolute dictator of one country might be subjected to a humiliating body search by lowly customs officials of another. They say only footballers have any real prestige in Brazil, and only baseball stars and tycoons in the United States. Jagjivan Ram, for two decades the second or third most powerful person in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet and an enormously rich man, was heard to lament that no blue-blooded Brahmin would marry his daughter, an ‘untouchable’. This is perhaps why the truly wise man does not believe in and stand on prestige at all: he is like a child, a citizen of the universe, and nothing that human beings can say or do can glorify him or insult him – with Shakespeare, he laughs and says ‘Lord, what fools these mortals be!’ If he has any dignity at all, his is the simple, unassailable dignity of the mendicant sage; he is one who calls every man his brother and no man his master. To my mind, no man who has become less than that deserves the tribute of both mind and heart, regardless of his age, his titles, degrees, rank, wealth or power: these are but baubles that we all need to outgrow, but one in ten million can. India once worshipped such men: our standards have fallen greatly of late, even as our wealth has multiplied and technical ‘experts’ proliferated.

So that brings us to the idea of dignity. It means a sense of self-possession and self-worth that does not depend too much on others’ recognition, and a serenity of temperament and solemnity of manner that stems from that sense. Most children are born undignified – they tumble in the dust and get into scrapes and lick the same ice-cream and yell and make faces with utter self-abandon, and laugh shrilly over it (we have heard of very young children with a remarkable air of dignity too, but they are rare, and make their peers uncomfortable and their elders worried, lest they should become weird prodigies or renounce the world or go just plain mad). As we grow, we learn to acquire at least a modicum of dignity by simply watching and imitating our supposed betters – older siblings, parents, teachers, bosses. With most of us, this does not take us very far; learning by imitating without understanding and personal appreciation has not been called ‘aping’ for nothing. It merely makes us warped, less natural and spontaneous and lively and interesting than we might have been, and hypocritical. I have seen far too many people either making a fetish of dignity, so that form becomes much more important than substance: mediocre schoolteachers insist that a boy who asks too many questions is being ‘disrespectful’ rather than clever, and so many ‘high level meetings’ everywhere involve nothing more than dozing and gorging delicacies and making polite noises at the appropriate places in the course of utterly boring and endless speeches – or throwing all dignity to the winds the moment they are sure that some guardian is not looking over their shoulders (they call it ‘letting your hair down’ or ‘unwinding’, and they do it by acting like demented chimpanzees at parties and picnics and festivals, supposedly because it helps in ‘socializing’ and de-stressing every now and then. My point is, if the ‘pressure’ of keeping up an artificial façade of dignity is so stressful, why keep up pretences so assiduously? Especially since, as I strongly suspect, the pressure, when released, makes people feel a desperate urge to misbehave while making up for ‘lost time’?) I believe that up to a point the Americans have done the world a great service by greatly cutting down on the need for such stilted, archaic forms of enforced dignity everywhere, from the home circle to universities, senates, churches and clubs. They might have gone a bit too far in the other direction – but about that more later.

Some people are by nature or through long habit more dignified than others. Some occupations require more dignity than others – doctors, lawyers and teachers are not supposed to be noisy and frivolous and irresponsible; nor are high officials of state and soldiers parading in public on important occasions. When people who by nature or upbringing are not suited to such jobs get in nevertheless they can make life difficult for their colleagues and superiors, and earn great contempt even if they are not booted out (imagine someone with the temperament of a video jockey becoming a banker): though a great deal of eccentricity, which is often lack of conventional dignity by another name, is forgiven to someone possessed of exceptional talents, someone like Mozart or Richard Feynman or Charles Wingate. People are supposed to become more dignified with age everywhere still, and most do, though this is at least in part a covering up of the very sad (and undignified) fact that they are growing weak and slowing down in both body and mind – and in most countries the young are taught and expected to defer to the dignified old. I haven’t been able to make up my mind about whether this is a good thing or not. I have read that in very primitive times most people died young, and the few who got to be old and feeble were simply left to freeze in the cold or be devoured by wolves and vultures: now that is a horrible thing to think of, and in these comparatively civilized times we cannot deal with the old like that; besides there are far too many old folks in all ‘advanced’ countries now to deal with in such cavalier fashion – they have money and hold too many votes, and ever so slowly they are forcing law and society to accommodate their special needs (there are now veterans’ Olympics, and a store in Germany caters only to people above sixty). But is it right for the young to listen to and obey the old too much, just because they are old and ‘dignified’?

I believe that Americans discovered a century ago that the old hold up progress through timidity and by insisting too much on blind obedience and old conventions, so they as a nation threw these virtues to the winds – and look, it has certainly helped them advance in every sphere of life, from politics to technology to global cultural domination through the airwaves! In the process, the old there have got a rather raw deal: they grow lonely and helpless as old folks do everywhere, and do not even have the compensation of being revered and obeyed. As a result elderly people in America (and their imitators throughout the world) are now desperately trying to cling to the image of youthfulness for as long as they can, and a multibillion dollar industry of ‘anti-ageing’ cosmetics and sauna baths, sanatoriums, vitalizer drugs, silicone implants, botox injections and plastic surgery has sprouted to cater to their needs: if you stand back and watch thoughtfully, doesn’t it look terribly undignified? If all these gimmicks can make you look and feel young a little longer that’s fine (if they don’t bankrupt you!) but what can you say when you see middle-aged mothers competing with their teenage daughters in flaunting sex appeal, or people in their 60s and 70s still meddling in their grown-up children’s affairs to feel important and needed (as millions of middle class parents in India are doing right now)? Why shouldn’t people have the moral right and courage to acknowledge they are old and enjoy to the full all the advantages that old age brings: lightened family burdens, the end of the rat race for marks, promotions, bigger pay packets and social status, the joy of bringing up grandchildren, leisure to cultivate all the hobbies one never had the time and money for before, the freedom and poise needed to turn one’s attention to those things which all great religions have called the higher or ultimate goals of life – charity, art, peace of mind, salvation of the soul? There’s something terribly wrong with a civilization which has robbed old people of their dignity in this fashion, forcing them to count their days in useless idleness and pitying themselves until they can be thrown into the garbage bin.

Here’s another thought. In India – perhaps because we have been slaves of someone or the other for a thousand years – we confuse conceit (ahamkar) too easily and commonly with dignity (self-respect) and pride (gaurav), which stems only from great achievements. A truly dignified person will not boast of petty achievements (or things which are not even achievements – like good looks or one’s father’s money or connections) and throw his weight about with his subordinates (pupils, juniors at the office, wife, poor people); at the same time he will not cheat in examinations, vandalize public property, take bribes right and left, use foul language among friends and grovel before superiors as though his life depends on it. Alas, that is precisely what most of us do, and quite unselfconsciously too: in fact we get very angry when someone points out that it is uncouth. This is one of the many things about the Indian social psyche that disgusts me, and I am quite convinced that next to the problem of overpopulation, this is the single greatest stumbling block to our national progress. We neither care to know the limits on our own behaviour that dignity demands, nor are we ready to acknowledge the rights of others that the same dignity requires we acknowledge (once upon a time there was a name for it: noblesse oblige) – we all believe that if I am ‘somebody’, the rules do not apply to me. If you think about it, a nation with so much conceit and so little pride and dignity cannot progress, because it has never taken pains to understand the true meaning of progress at all. A nation can only progress when it encourages lots of people to put the right kind of dignity above physical security, immediate convenience, peer approval and material comforts, and a nation can be said to have progressed only when the humblest peon and maidservant and shopkeeper is guaranteed a minimum of personal dignity which cannot be violated by the highest in the land, while those who hold the reins of power have also learnt to behave with the dignity appropriate to their exalted offices; the kind of dignity that Tagore spoke of so eloquently in Rajarshi. 2,300 years after Plato, such philosopher-kings are still very much the exception rather than the rule. Our hoi polloi have never been educated in that sense (I know a lot of hoi polloi with MBAs and PhDs), and our leaders say they are always too busy to pay attention to niceties. And yet so many Indians with eyes to see with go to ‘advanced’ countries only to gush over how it is precisely an attention to niceties that separates them from us in every walk of life!

What have we been taught about ‘respect’ in India? We have been trained to confuse respect with the deference and servility to authority figures (father, husband, teachers, thanedaars, netas, employers…) that stems out of fear: we have been told that no matter how much we might dislike them, or how obviously wrong they might be or unreasonable their demands might be, we had better obey them silently, for it’s always ‘or else…!’ So, generation after generation, we have gone through the motions of being ‘respectful’ to our ‘betters’ (usually males, parents, people who are older, people of ‘higher’ castes or of the dominant religion, people holding superior office), often for no other reason than that they happen to hold the whip hand over us, though most of us like to pretend that we obey because ‘they always know better what is good for us’. This has had some really terrible consequences.

For one thing, the slave who cringes and grovels at his master’s feet obviously desires nothing better than to cheat or hurt the master, or at least to see him cheated and hurt, whenever he’s sure he can get away with it. So we easily forget and even abuse our old parents or at least wish to be rid of them (they are no longer ‘masters’, you see, and deep in our subconscious there’s this intense desire to get a bit of our own back, sick as that sounds). So we call someone mad who insists that we should take pride in our work and do it well even if the master is not breathing down our necks. So servants rob and murder and rape masters and mistresses so often. So we eagerly speak ill of our teachers/bosses behind their backs (the ‘masters’ have to make do with mere make-believe of ‘respect’, though many of them are bitterly aware that the slaves would gladly dance over their graves!) At the same time, we believe that, while our masters have a right to grind us under their heels, we have an equal right to deal with those ‘below’ us the same way – so, despite our vaunted self-identity as a ‘democratic’ society, we still think that parents ought to get away with every kind of child abuse short of murder; witness also the way teachers and senior officers talk down to students and subordinates; see how the disgusting practice called ‘ragging’ flourishes on our college campuses, or look at the heartless high-handedness with which our bureaucrats deal with people who queue up before them for everything from pensions to driving licenses, passports and ration cards: they are not government functionaries getting paid for doing their jobs well, but petty feudal lords doling out favours out of the largeness of their hearts – unless, of course, you are a mafia boss with deep pockets, a reputation for violence and powerful political godfathers – in which case they seldom make a mistake about who should fall at whose feet! (this, by the way, is why I tell all my pupils never to give me gifts or touch my feet unless they personally and strongly feel like doing it).

Real respect, like real pride, is very rare in this country. A housewife who, despite poverty and a backbreaking workload, always manages to keep the house neat and beautiful has legitimate reason for pride; so also the man who has never cheated or flattered or bribed anybody for favours and yet has succeeded in making a decent livelihood. Someone who has truly mastered a musical instrument or a language can likewise be proud of herself (I have met very few ‘educated’ Indians in my life who can write one page of elegant English quickly before my eyes without making a single mistake of spelling, grammar, syntax, idiom or choice of words; the same goes for their native tongues these days). I don’t need to speak of great social workers, or lame men who climb mountains – they have every reason to be proud. Modesty suits only the saint and the non-achiever. Now if you look around, you will see that very few people you know personally have done anything at all to be proud about: we’ve just got some degrees and found nondescript middle-level jobs, and are now just making a living from day to day like millions of others. Unable to be proud, we have conveniently forgotten to be proud, or decided it’s not necessary! And things keep getting worse…notice that these days we admire nothing but money (no matter how it has been made), nor can boast of anything but (well, marks in childhood and money after we have grown up). And even our admiration is little more than envy, our boasting only a desperate effort to hide from the voice constantly mocking us inside ‘you’re a nobody after all!’ This is why we love so much to speak ill of others, this is why we are so sensitive about what people are saying about us (anybody with low self-esteem is bound to be touchy that way), this is why we cannot bear to hear somebody being spoken well of: not being capable of giving respect ourselves, we insist that if someone is showing respect to somebody, it cannot be anything but sycophancy. Why should you respect anyone who can neither threaten you nor do you favours?

All this has been with us since time immemorial; the pity is that it refuses to go away. But I wish to end with something that is a relatively recent (and ghastly) development. Of late, now that we are getting used to living in a somewhat more permissive atmosphere, our young (without having given up most of the bad attitudes outlined above) have decided that since we no longer have to show people respect out of fear, we must go about being deliberately rude and cruel just to show how liberated and smart we have become. Look at how they shriek and scream ‘for fun’ in school these days, how they jostle the elderly in the malls, how they talk back to some old man who ‘dares’ to give them a bit of advice against littering or driving rashly, how they scoff at the idea that they might wish an old ex-teacher ‘Good morning ma’am, how do you do?’, how young wives these days think it is their ‘right’ to abuse their husbands at the drop of a hat. Some of my grown-up ex-students and strangers their age, much junior to me, start mails to me with ‘Suvro’ or 'Hi Suvro' or even ‘Hey Suvro’, forgetting that Indian/Bengali civility demands that they should address me as ‘Dear Sir’, or ‘Dear Mr. Chatterjee’, or at least ‘Dear Suvroda’. When I cut the line, or tell them to buzz off, they rarely acknowledge their lapse in manners and apologise; instead they insist they can’t see they have done anything wrong; or even declare that they hadn’t thought I could mind: ‘you’re so conventional!’ (don’t they do that sort of thing all the time in the US of A?). If I ask them whether they habitually address their fathers or fathers’ friends that way, they prefer not to answer. All things about tradition are neither silly nor obsolete; manners were invented to make social intercourse a better experience than a dogfight, especially to protect the weaker, the quieter, and the more decent among us. I wonder how the brash teenagers and twenty-somethings of today would feel in 2050, when they can no longer afford to be so aggressive and devil-may-care, when their grown-up children and folks their children’s age tell them night and day where they can shove their instinctive longing for a bit of dignity and respect. I hope they relish the experience.


Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

Why I love to follow your thoughts because I feel in my small way I have been thinking on the same lines as you are.

This is a tremendous essay that you have written and though I wrote a post yesterday, I may have to write very soon on my site.

I shall just touch upon a few issues here. As regards to old people you are right about their loneliness but here I do see old people getting engaged in lot of activities which in India they hardly get chance too. I was surprised to find our building manager (the person and his wife manages the apartment) is an ex-school principal / science teacher and just that he did not want to get bogged down with retirement he chose physical work. So he not only does manage the building but does cleaning etc too. I am stunned because in India we have categorized work with social status only to find excuse for not doing anything.

This is so deep-rooted in our culture that it is difficult to change the notion. Most of our generation (the generation younger is much more scary!) is growing up without any hobbies. I wonder what shall they do when they can't play computer games because eyes shall become a bit weak or may be cannot do adventure sport since legs shall start aching. Will they able to have the courage to go back to traditional hobbies? Can they keep themselves occupied with physical work?

I guess no country every progressed by shunning their culture. At least even if they have locked that up in some closet they have preserved it. Sadly, we seem to shun it and not preserve it either.

I don't understand where did we mess up in Nation building? Were a class / caste / work demarcation the main reason? Was corruption the main reason? I wonder. Here even cleaners get trained in schools for free! Why could not we ensure such trainings to common people back home? Perhaps we would have "kajer-lok" who could have worked / behaved with much more dignity.

I wonder at times where did we mess up on development. Perhaps we did not know what path to follow and there were too much individuality in our governance.

Post Gandhi, we never really had a leader!

I shall read your post yet again after taking a print-out.

Thank you for raising such issues. One needs to perhaps find answers in practical ways.

Next steps and way forward are required.


Subhanjan said...

Some things about India to make us feel “proud” and “dignified” of our country:

1) “Oh, God, I beg of you, I touch your feet time and again, Next birth don't give me a daughter, Give me Hell instead...” -- An old Folk Song from Uttar Pradesh.

2) First it was a girl or two killed on the sly, then man became bolder and bolder till female infanticide must have become the accepted norm. With the laws coming up against female infanticide, more sophisticated techniques are sought after. With the availability of ultrasound technology for determining sex of the fetus, a simple and noninvasive technique, the slogan of many ultrasound sex-determination clinics is: “Spend five hundred rupees now, save five lacks later” (meaning get a female fetus aborted, to later save dowry money).

3) Since the advent of ultrasound and detection technique for sex-determination 10 million female foetuses have been aborted in India, according to a study conducted recently in India, the first systematic study on female foeticide by an Indo-Canadian team. A shocking picture emerges - every year, about 50,000 unborn girls (one in every 25), are aborted. As a result, the number of girls has actually gone down drastically in India.

4) According to the UNICEF, 40 to 50 million girls have gone missing from Indian population since 1901 as a result of systematic gender discrimination in India.

5) Assassination of Indira Gandhi and Godhra Incident: Hindu Muslim communal riots, and an upsurge in Hindu and Sikh fundamentalism and nationalism, resulting in widespread violence and death.

6) The American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR) reported recently that as many as 30 million Indians could be infected by 2010.

7) According to 2004-05 reports, there are at least 303 million poor in this country.

8) The incidence of poverty in China declined by a staggering 45 percentage points in two decades: from 53 percent in 1981 to 8 percent in 2001 (Ravallion and Chen 2004). The incidence of malnutrition in India, however, is four times that of China.

9) According to NFHS-3, 32 percent of households do not have electricity, 58 percent do not have piped drinking water, 55 percent do not have toilet facility, and 59 percent do not live in pucca houses.

10) According to NFHS-3 (National Family Health Survey), 46 percent of children under 3 years of age, and 49 percent children under 6 years suffer from malnutrition; and 79 percent of children from Anaemia.

These are only a few of the several things that explain our standards. But of course we will carry on with our being “proud” of King Khan, Infosys and Wipro; humbly ignoring what hurts our “prestige” and “dignity” most to think on. Quite ironically, the Infosys Foundation cares for every point that I have mentioned above; not the average IT executive.

Subhanjan said...

Let me crack a common myth that organizations, who have, over the years, earned “dignity”, are completely trustworthy.

I am a graduate from a college which belongs to a chain of schools and colleges of a Hindu missionary organization (following the footsteps of a historic spiritual being of unparalleled wisdom) which is ‘highly’ reputed in West Bengal, and also outside the state. I suppose the reader can guess which organization I am talking about.

It is a common notion that the schools and colleges belonging to this “renowned” organization are the place to be. Fortunately, and unfortunately as well, I have spent the past three years of my life over there. But having been a witness of the environment inside my campus, I find myself capable of saying that the good name that that this organization has earned by charity and preaching spirituality, has kept us ignorant of how unacceptable the place is. Those who are spending their days over there will know it better than anybody else. However, if enquired by outsiders, invariably, the students will admire it out of fear. Having been a student of this residential college myself, no one knows it better than me.

Which authority can be more perturbing than that of this college? It is an authority that does everything loathsome, from trying to alienate the students from their families in order to teach them “spirituality”, to beating up a boy before his Higher Secondary Examination. Yes. I have witnessed a Brahmachari, a monk and superintendent of one of the hostels in the campus; beat up a boy a day before the H.S. Examination because he was browsing through a magazine (Anandalok) to have a few moments off his hectic schedule of studies. With his face stiff with rage and his body towering over the poor boy’s frame, the monk, repeatedly striking him, kept howling coarsely, “You awful brat. This place is not for you. You are not qualified to be a part of this place. If you want, you can get out of here. But, if you wish to stay here, you have to obey to each and every order I give you.” If to torture a boy is the way to correct him, and something that the torturer shall be proud of, I believe, the boy has every right to file a case. That is exactly what should be happening in a civilized country. But the authority in the campus was (as it is even today) so powerful, that none, from a boy in the twelfth standard (they are, however, not pursuing high school education any more and has started postgraduate departments) to a third year student, had the guts to raise his voice. Moreover, if someone at all does so, the monks, whom the world believes to be ‘good’ people; will scold and threaten him that he will be thrown out of the college. If possible, they will actually kick him out of the campus.

The vice-principal of this college, a senior monk himself, quite shamelessly, threatens the students that he will not go through any argument, listen to no pledge or reason, but will drive away a student from the college if he wishes to do so.

The students over there do not stay at the expense of the monks. Yet the monks behave as if they are the once who have given birth to these boys and have every right to treat them in whatever way they chose to. They not only believe this to be the right kind of conduct on their part, but also love to believe so. The monks are the once whose existence stands solely on the mercy of the families that pour money in the college. Yet, when the boys desire to go home to meet their families, they have to beg a hundred times before their request is finally granted. If someone’s father or mother is ill, and it becomes necessary for the boy to go home, in most of the cases, these monks would outright reject the pledge of the boy, accusing him to be bluffing.

One of the many incidents that had shocked me needs to be revealed to the society. It so happened that the Brahmachari, whose contemptuous behavior has already been revealed to the readers in the previous lines; had slapped a student of the twelfth standard so hard, that the back of his ear started to bleed. Our reverent monk, proud of what he had done, and totally unconcerned, left the boy to bleed. A student of third year was passing by when he heard the boy crying. On seeing the boy’s ear bleeding, the senior student took the unfortunate fellow to his room and medicated him. Soon, the incident had spread throughout the campus. To our surprise, the Brahmachari marked that senior student as the worst boy on the campus, and warned the students of his hostel not to meet him. Moreover, the superintendent Maharaj of the hostel belonging to the third year students accused the boy for ‘poking his nose in other people’s businesses.’ It sets us to think whether it was right to heal the wound of a boy who was bleeding (something that should have been done by the Brahmachari himself) or to leave the boy in pain. Moreover, the Brahmachari was proud of what he had done. I have seen him scolding a fat boy and making him bend down and sweep the entire balcony of the first floor of the hostel because the boy was not able to wake up at five in the morning to attend the prayer. A good number of students simply hate these monks. They have nothing to do but to stand and stare helplessly. The monks have the right to enjoy everything, from good food to personal computers, Walkmans and mobile phones. But the boys, both HS and degree students, are strictly prohibited from possessing the above-mentioned accessories. And the most disgraceful and funny part of the story is that they preach us ‘abstinence’.

The recent A+ ranking of the college by NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) had been a powerful veil to all the immorality in reign of the campus. The NAAC team that paid visit to our campus was overwhelmed by the honour they received from the authority, failing completely to gain real information of what the students actually go through. Bright paint on the walls, clean hostels, on-line catalogue in the library, a beautiful garden, concrete roads, and a warm welcome with parade were things that never existed till a few months before the visit of the NAAC team. They evolved solely to impress the investigators. Not to mention, the online catalogue of the library ceased to operate within the past few months after NAAC left. And nothing was been done to reactivate it. Moreover, strange excuses were given by the authority for their faults. I remember one of my seniors, an ex-student now, to have said me that when one day he and a few of his friends complained the then principal, a very senior monk himself (the present vice-chancellor of a deemed University belonging to this very organization) that in one of their meals they had found a tail of a lizard, an earthworm in another meal, and another insect in some other meal, the Swami quiet shamelessly claimed that such incidents had happened for just three years, and for the rest of the three hundred and sixty-two days of the year, the students have been served excellent food. The truth is that the meals they serve taste pathetic. Moreover, in 2005, more than ninety students suffered from food poisoning.

Unless there is a certain degree of restraint imposed by the customers, the sellers tend to let things slide into unfair practices. The student of this college must have some power in their hands. In this college, quite unsurprisingly, the president of the Student’s Body is selected by the authority itself. And the authorities promote that the president is elected by the students. Whereas, the students have never seen any poling being carried out inside the campus.

Before anyone ever thinks of seeking admission in this college, I would beg him to think a hundred times before he jumps to any decision.

Now I will ask my readers – Are Names associated with ‘dignity’ really trustworthy?

Tanmoy said...

I am appalled by your narration. I have many friends who were probably from the same place and they did provide me with some insights but not to such a great extent. Of course, we dislike judging our schools, college, families etc. Thank you for such an insight and I wish situation turn a little better.

On your concluding question, my answer is No. In profession, I have always worked with MNCs and trust me I have seen how work culture changes for the worse in India when the managerial baton is passed from a non-Indian to an Indian. Isn't that sad? It is but that is the reality. Currently, I am in a MNC firm and I was working with its peer in India. Somehow I happen to know the Indian consulting landscape very well and some of the so-called "important" people. I am quite known myself especially in Delhi. To my utter surprise, I find here the same firm works in following an absolutely different work culture much more efficiently and people are generally happy (given the fact, anywhere in the world human beings can never like office!).

My earlier firm (biggest competitor of my current one) has its office just across the road. I met some of the people working there as seniors too and to my surprise they are quite different in their attitude.

It is so difficult to explain how bad the management styles in big offices in India are. It is so difficult to explain and especially to younger people like you - I can just say try to expect least when you go for a job. I am sorry, I may sound demoralising but trust me, if you would have met me in Delhi, you would have met a person who had risen very fast in profession and doing quite good for himself and recognised by many but if you would have known me, I would have let you know how tough it is - not because of competition (as challenges of that nature are always welcome!) but because of unhealthy management styles!

I understand most developing countries are facing such situations. At least my friends from other Asian countries and Latin American countries say so.

Normally, we say MNCs have made us coolies but it is not true at all. We ourselves want us to become a coolie. It is the Indian senior managers who are spoiling the professional landscape in India. We want to behave as slaves to our foreigner bosses and we do that because we know we have a whole bunch of juniors whom we can over burden. In India, that is surprisingly the mantra and it is spoiling our young professionals. We are yet to realise we are not one of those countries who can work on volume – if we need to do quality work, our professionals need much more time to relax too! We are trying to be “zamindars” in our offices behaving to our juniors like daily labourers, expecting they would not have personal lives of their own.

I have seen in offices, whenever I let a peer know that I am going to interview some people for a junior role in my team, they had two or three common questions – whether the person would be beautiful (if the gender is female!) and whether the person would be hardworking (if the gender is male that person is expected to stay on in the office until his death). People used to celebrate the arrival of an interne because they could dump a whole bunch of work on them since like most, they don’t have much choice but to depend on the office.

Situation is not at all good even if I am the most patriotic person, I cannot lie or misguide.

That is why; I virtually wanted a hiding for myself. Still people in my profession in India with their curious mindset seem to be chasing me - not to wish me well but to talk rubbish behind my back after they have found out my current status!

I started fighting this very system by being in it while I was in Delhi. Wherever I had juniors they loved working with me. We made productive teams in offices but then came those evils of envy, politics etc. Thus, a tired me, wanted a break for myself.

No doubt even amongst the bad elements I have met a few good professionals but they are really few.

Anyway, loads of my personal experiences may bore people. I wish you all good luck and hope you do very well. I wish you have all the practicalities to deal with the adversities too. I would say, master all courage because you would see lot worse as you progress.



Subhanjan said...

‘Dignity’, alas, is also subject to racism. And this pains me more in recent times for one man of great virtue was never given much importance on a global scale, though it is on the basis of his experiment with the British scientist Peter Higgs that proton beams are now being fired at CERN, Switzerland, launching the most ambitious experiments of recent times.

Satyendra Nath Bose, after whom the sub-atomic particle ‘boson’ is named – probably the only noun in English language named after an Indian and therefore never capitalised – had developed the Higgs-boson theory by experimenting with Higgs. The CERN experiment will be the first attempt to actually observe the Higgs boson particle nicknamed the ‘God particle’. Higgs had always been applauded for this theory. But Bose was ever ignored. Two elementary particles to make up an atom are boson and Fermion. Fermi got the Nobel Prize in 1938. Bose never got one. Bose with Einstein brought out the Bose-Einstein phenomenon. But our children hardly hear about Bose or reads about him in their text books. But they all know about Einstein.

Why was Bose denied the Nobel? Because he was an Indian? Because he was black? It pains me to realise that such man of excellence was never given much recognition because of racism. Had he been a white born in America, France or Britain, there would have been books on him and he would have been a Nobel laureate too. Racism, after all, is more powerful than any quality or dignity. Sharon Ann Holgate, a British Science writer and broadcaster said, “I certainly do think Bose deserved the Nobel. When I was researching my documentary, I was outraged that this man was so brilliant, yet so overlooked, perhaps because of institutionalised racism. No one gave a damn because he was an Indian.”

Atri Bhattacharya said...

In response to Subhanjan's comment above:
I will be crisp and to the point, since there is not much use wasting a lot of time responding to your naive impression about the Higgs boson. There is an internet resource called wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org) where you can read about the Higgs boson to understand that except that it is a boson it has absolutely nothing to do with S.N.Bose. S.N.Bose was a celebrated scientist doubtless, but a theoretician he was, and definitely not somebody who "had developed the Higgs-boson theory by experimenting with Higgs". For your information even the fermion is not capitalised; do you want to trace back Fermi's genealogy to verify if he had traces of Indian origin? Please do not try to judge everything in black and white.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Subhanjan, As Atri has rightly pointed out, there are some factual errors in your comments: you should have done your homework a little more thoroughly.

At the same time, Atri may please note that my post was neither about the Higgs boson nor about any particular scientist nor even about science for that matter; I was talking about prestige and dignity and respect, and where we accord it and how we often forget to accord it where it is due. To that extent, Subhanjan's comment was much more relevant than yours. But thanks for commenting anyway.

Subhanjan said...

It really seems I should have done my homework much more extensively. I apologise.

But what about my other two posts? They are much more consequential than the post on Mr. Bose. May be most, except Tanmoyda, are too busy to read Sir's posts and their comments entirely.

Kaushik said...

Just a small comment for now.

Subhanjan's college experience bears an uncanny and poignant resemblance with the news item “ Student faces fury of tutor” published in “The Telegraph", Calcutta edition of 17th September 2008 (Calcutta Metro), recounting the horrid ordeal of a student at Belur High School. The story seems to have been lifted straight out of Subhanjan’s entry!! Gosh!!!

Kaushik Chatterjee

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Why did the comments stop flowing immediately after I pointed out that one particular person was talking about irrelevant things? ... too painful a subject to ponder upon?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

This is one of my old posts that I want new readers to visit, and others to re-read, ponder over, and comment upon. The subject matter is of universal and permanent validity: unlike pop celebrities, it does not date or fade. See also the post titled 'What is eternal?'

Abhishek Anand said...

Respected Sir,

This blogpost is really thought provoking. It is full of great ideas.

It does seem that we Indians confuse pride too easily with conceit. But Sir, does this happen only in India?
When I was in eighth standard, we were taught Guy de Maupassant's Necklace. The last paragraph of the story read '..and Mathilde gave a smile which was proud and innocent ant the same time....'. This 'proud and innocent at the same time' made me curious and I asked the teacher what it implied. She answered, "Actually, pride is often associated with guilt. But Mathilde was innocent." It seemed a very rational reply.
Then, did Guy de Maupassant think just like most Indians?

Yours faithfully,
Abhishek Anand

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Abhishek, it's not an exclusively Indian phenomenon, but certain peculiarities in Indian history have made these things much more commonly and strongly noticeable among Indians, I think, than among the rest of mankind. And I have touched upon that in the post itself.

Thank you for reading and thinking. Most 'educated' people these days, even your parents' age, do neither!

Abhishek Anand said...

Respected Sir,

Over the past three years, I have read this post well over a dozen times. The more I read it, the more it intrigues me.

Towards the end of the fourth paragraph, you have written that India once worshipped those 'truly wise men'. Could you please tell me the period you were hinting at? Did you, sir, refer to the many learned sages('Maharishis') who walked the length and breadth of the land? Besides, whom do we blame for the abysmal fall in our standards? These are the major questions in my mind.

Also, I remember that you had once said in class, "As the Dark Ages began to settle upon India, the Renaissance began in Europe." I read your latest blogpost. I would, thus, request for a post that answers the aforementioned questions.

Yours faithfully,
Abhishek Anand