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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Morality training for doctors?

I saw in the newspaper the other day that the government, alarmed by the rising tide of reports and complaints about inhuman callousness, irresponsibility and greed among doctors all over the country, is mulling over the idea of including a course on human rights in medical colleges by way of a corrective, so that the next generation of doctors may be sensitized to be better human beings, and not merely technically competent (the two are not as independent of each other when it comes to dealing with humans as most people think) while dealing with people in their care.

Given the prevailing social climate of greed is good and making money is everything, who will lay bets against me that such a course, if implemented, would be any more effective than the environmental education syllabus introduced in schools more than a decade ago has been in making more environmentally responsible citizens, or self-imposed codes of conduct, such as there exist, have made teachers, policemen, mediapersons, business executives and politicians more disciplined and service-oriented on the whole?

Physician, heal thyself, goes the hoary adage. I shall insist that it applies equally strongly to all the other vital services. And that in today’s social ambience, only a few isolated eccentrics are bothered about upholding certain minimum standards and ideals: all the rest have become so dedicated to the blind chase of easy lucre that the dividing line between right and wrong has become blurred, if not invisible, a long time ago…anything goes as long as you can get away with it, and you are not the victim.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Millennial musing

I wonder whether a lot of people have noticed it, but the first decade of the new century (and millennium) is over.

Many of my readers are too young to remember the (frequently synthetic and exaggerated) worldwide excitement that surrounded the turn of the last century. People like me, on the other hand, who were old enough to remember well because it all seems to have happened yesterday, have reason for both mirth and bemusement as we look back.

There were ‘millennial’ expectations galore, from the most gloomy sort (the world is soon going to come to an end…) to the most adolescent fantasies (we are soon going to migrate en masse to Mars, computers are going to educate us while we sleep). Most of the hyperbolic expectations have been – predictably enough – belied. Despite 9/11 and the Airbus A380 and Facebook and bird flu and the Harry Potter phenomenon and the current recession and the rise of China, I think the world of 2010 would be entirely familiar to any worldly-wise man from 2000 A.D. If that man also happened to be someone with a lively sense of history (meaning one who can easily go back a few hundred, or even thousand years in his mind, and can therefore remember so many things that have happened so often before), 2010 could in fact have been boring by its over-familiarity – coming after all the hype and hoopla, that is to say.

I should like my readers to disagree with me here. I should like them to tell me about all the really epoch-making things that have happened in the last ten years: things that are going to change our lives drastically and forever, and therefore will be remembered vividly a hundred years hence. The way, I mean, that (picking great events roughly ten decades ago at random) events like the publication of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, Einstein’s annum mirabilis (1905), the first aeroplane flight, the discovery of the electron, the passing of Queen Victoria, the Russo-Japanese war which cracked the myth of white invincibility after a three-century run, the first great successes of the women's suffrage movement, the early political upheaval in Russia (which would lead to the world being torn into two a little more than a decade later) shook up the world…? Or would they agree with me that it has in comparison been rather a damp squib?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bye bye time again...

The older we grow, the faster time seems to whiz by. It is hard to believe that I wrote a post titled To those about to become ex-students a whole year ago. It’s that time of the year again already when a very large number of pupils, 16 and 18 year olds, are going to leave my classes all together. I would like to say goodbye, thanks, good luck and love you to them, but I don’t want to repeat what I wrote so recently, and besides, I don’t have a lot of new things to say. But since it may sound new to the current outgoing batch, I’d ask them all to click on the above link and read it for themselves.

There were no big surprises this year. I can vouchsay that I have still not slackened up, the way so many teachers do as they grow old: I tried as hard as I could to make my classes both useful and interesting as I have done every year since I started teaching such a long time ago. There were, as always, some irritants, and also a few young people who kept the flame burning with their attention, affection and enthusiasm, so that I could tell myself before going to sleep night after night that it wasn’t a bad job after all.  There were a few girls among them too, which was most gratifying.

But I keep getting more tired and dispirited year after year. And that is only partly due to advancing age (there are many busy and vigorous teachers my father’s age): the tiredness comes mostly from the fact that more and more, no matter how hard I try, things are perforce becoming increasingly mechanical and lifeless because my ‘customers’ want it that way. It has been well said that you can take a horse to the water but you cannot make it drink; that you cannot describe a sunset to a blind man, that people don’t hear what they don’t want to hear. With a lot of people, stories, quizzes, debates, movies, jokes, games, music, nothing seems to work, nothing seems to shake them out of their apathy. Learning, people have decided, cannot be something enjoyable, worth remembering and therefore respecting (and this regardless of subject): it’s all about cramming and getting marks in examinations, only to be forgotten instantly in favour of more ‘interesting’ things (such as money and beauty care and shopping and parties and ‘reality’ shows on television), and therefore, there’s nothing more valuable and enduring to be gotten from a teacher than a few notes and tips and tricks to get through exams without too much effort. Naturally, the teacher’s value dwindles to zero the moment the exams concerned are over! There are, indeed, lots of teachers and tutors around these days (who knows but the majority of them) who have comfortably adjusted with the situation, and don’t care a whit, as long as they get paid in full till the last month, and then they wipe out the memories as quickly as their ex-students and their parents do: they are, I suppose, as happy as men can be. It’s my bad luck that I could never reconcile myself to becoming a mere trader in knowledge… it would have been a far wiser move, when I still had the time to choose, to become a stockbroker instead, because there would have been the prospect of much more money there, at least, than any teacher can hope to make!

Anyway, as I often tell people these days, I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel. Once my daughter is on her own two feet, and I don’t have to bother much about making a living any more, I shall turn away from this thankless grind. One way to do that would be to take in large batches as I have always done, but with the caveat that after the first three months, I shall turn away most of them, keeping back only the maybe twenty per cent or so who have given ample evidence that they are really keen on learning the way I would like them to be – and their school reports and parental ambitions be damned (ten years down the line the parents will be much junior to me anyway). Added to my savings, they will just about give me enough money for me and my wife to live in a humble style, but I shall certainly enjoy myself a lot more. And all the time I save when I no longer have a seven-days-a-week routine can be happily invested in doing the things I have always loved to do: writing, travelling, watching movies, listening to music, playing with toddlers, getting involved in welfare work, counselling, perhaps learning new things again. It is looking forward to that prospect that cheers me up most these days… after a forty-year marathon, if I live, I guess I shall have earned it.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Obama in India

There is both a lot of heartburn as well as exultation in the Indian mass media over President Barack Obama’s ongoing visit to India.

The heartburn stems from the fact that the US of A is still unwilling/unbothered about acknowledging India’s notional Great Power tag – they won’t endorse our bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, they are still dragging their feet over granting us full and legitimate nuclear-power status, they are still too cosy with Pakistan to acknowledge that we have a right to have our problems with that country fully and officially recognized, etc. The crowing is due to the fact that while only forty years or so ago our PM had to go hat in hand for help to the US, and was insulted as the representative of a third-rate backward country, the current incumbent in the Oval Office has come to hawk his country’s wares and solicit business because he desperately needs to create more jobs in his homeland in order to survive the next election – and India, supposedly, is one of the few countries which can help him create jobs on a significant scale, both by investing in US companies and by placing large orders, especially for defence equipment.

It would be nice if our media took a closer look at the ground realities and discovered for themselves that there is little cause for either heartburn or exultation.

No matter how much we dazzle ourselves with our recent successes, whether it be the average annual GNP-growth rate or the number of dollar millionaires we are creating every year or the razzmatazz of the recent Commonwealth Games, the fact remains that India is still one of the poorest and most backward countries in the world, and carries very little clout. Decide for yourself after checking out just the following statistics: the per capita income, compared with the ten richest countries, the number of people who live below or just above the poverty line (not less than 600 million – that’s twice the whole population of the United States), the number of illiterate people, the quality of our infrastructure (consider the power and drinking water situation in the capital city; you don’t even have to think about the hinterland), the number of Indians who have won Nobels and Oscars and Pulitzers and Grammys and Olympic golds in the last 50 years (that too, given the fact that we have the second largest population), the number of people from advanced countries who want to come and study in even our ‘elite’ educational institutes, the number of Indians who want to run away to the US for a better life, and the all-pervasive corruption in our public domain. Finally take into account the fact that, unlike in the era of Gandhi and Tagore, there are no Indians around who strike the rest of the world with awe (and don’t even bother to mention SRK or Sachin Tendulkar). Even where economic and military power is concerned, China is vastly better positioned to give the US headaches – or demand its respect – than we do. So heartburns can happen only to those Indians who live in a cloud-cuckoo-land of their own imagination. We literally have miles to go before we have a right to expect that the US take us seriously as a ‘great’ power.

As for the crowing, I should like to make the following points: a) it is gross bad manners to crow over others’ misfortune, as individuals or as nations, b) we haven’t got much to crow over anyway, seeing that the US, even in these troubled times, is a larger economy than the next three (including India) combined, c) they haven’t exactly come begging, but only to do some hard-nosed business, and they are not even willing to make any significant concessions to our national interests in return, such as increasing H-1B visa quotas, which means they still feel confident enough to ram what they want down our throats, d) it would be stupid on our part to forget that we depend on them (think of the dollar inflow from NRIs and FIIs) much more than they need us.

Both Obama and Manmohan Singh will negotiate with one hand tied behind their back, so we should wish both well, and not expect too much. Meanwhile, if we really want a future US President to treat us with the kind of respect that we like to dream of, let us remind ourselves that a long, tough road of nation-building lies ahead. We might start by resolving to set up a system whereby tens of thousands of beggars will not have to be unceremoniously carted off to distant towns in order to uphold our ‘national pride’ whenever an important foreign head of state comes visiting or some event like the Commonwealth Games is being held in the capital city !