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Thursday, November 08, 2012

New minister, old hat

Sunday’s newspapers gave wide coverage to the expensive religious fanfare with which the new Union minister, M.M. Pallam Raju, entered office very recently. Not only was absolutely everything rearranged on the advice of ‘vaastu experts’ but everything from the priest to the laddoos was specially flown in from Tirupati, so as to ensure that the Lord Himself would look benignly upon the new incumbent and give him a long and trouble-free tenure in the high profile Ministry for Human Resource Development (which looks after everything educational, from the anganwadi schools to the IITs and IIMs, among other things). Just as a matter of fact, Mr. Raju is a very young man by conventional standards in politics – a mere fifty – and he is both an electronics engineer and holder of a ‘phoren’ MBA to boot.

My observations:

So far as outlook on life is concerned, if you call this superstition, an engineer cum MBA these days obviously comes from the same cultural level as any coal thief in Ranigunj who quit school after failing class 8 twice on smelling the money. You have got to judge a man by things other than the degrees he has, the office he holds and the car he drives – a point I have underscored again and again. Which of these differentiated Tagore from any lala in Burra Bazaar – or any ‘successful’ pickpocket for that matter?

I can only wonder what kind of educational future India has under the stewardship of men like these. Are we going to produce Satyajit Rays and Subhas Boses and  C.V. Ramans by the thousands now, or an endless stream of cybercoolies, shopping mall supervisors, credit card salesmen calling themselves ‘business executives’, factory foremen, low grade journos and hotel receptionists who get very angry whenever they are told that if they consider themselves ‘successful’, they must by the same token admit that that apocryphal coal mafia don is fifty times more so?

It is a pity, too, that there were intellectual giants like Humayun Kabir and Triguna Sen in the same position in the early days of the republic, working under the guidance of no less a mind than Jawaharlal Nehru, a man who was in close intellectual touch with literally the finest minds in the world, from Einstein to Tagore, from Joan Robinson to Vikram Sarabhai (everything from the IITs to the Lalit Kala Akademi was set up in those halcyon years). How far we have ‘progressed’ in the last sixty years, indeed.

Finally, in defence of the likes of Pallam Raju (and his one-time predecessor Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, a physicist who wanted to introduce regular courses on astrology in all leading universities), maybe it is better on the whole to believe in things like God than in Lady Gaga, iPad apps, credit cards, massage parlours and shopping malls, after all! (see my post titled ‘Post modern enlightenment’, alongwith with Suvro Sarkar’s witty comment on it). At least thinking of God tries to lift you up from the muck, while these trappings of contemporary ‘civilization’ only push you down deeper into it…until every moron with a third-rate college degree, a Rs. 30,000-a-month job, endless time to waste and a ‘smart’ phone with an internet connection thinks he can ‘debate’ with people immeasurably his intellectual and moral superiors simply by spouting a few words of abuse, drunken rickshawwallah style!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Festival time meetings

Well, sometimes there’s cause for cheer, too. A lot of old boys come to look me up at pujo-time; this year was no exception. Among them, two gave me particular reason to feel buoyed up: one, an engineer freshly graduated from one of the IITs who has just lost his father and got into a demanding but decent job far away from home; the other, going up to the final year in medical college, and glad to share a bit of his new-found knowledge with old Sir. Since my opinion of the average doctor and engineer (those who have been graduating after 1990, in particular-) is well known, I am glad to say I find these boys to be refreshingly different from the herd.

I watch these young folks as they grow up from kids into adults, and I have always found the slow yet dramatic transformation startling, both when they grow up into nasties and when they become adults I can be proud of. To start with, both these boys have always known, of course, that Sir has nothing against studying science and going in for medicine or engineering – it is the false socio-psychological baggage (a mix of petty greed, vanity, pretension, opportunism, vulgar language and lack of respect for both learning and hard work) that usually goes with it that turns me off – so they have never had a problem communicating with me, whether by phone or over the net or face to face. What I found good about these two (and indeed always appreciate it whenever I find it) was that they could speak so freely yet without arrogance or irreverence, that they  had so much to talk about, that they had their feet firmly planted on the ground (in the sense of knowing perfectly well about the pros and cons of their chosen careers and also how silly it is to put on airs), that they could laugh at their own follies and shortcomings, that they were going through life so self-possessed, caring little for what others said about them, as any mature man should. They were not the typically avaricious, mall-hopping pub-crawling girl -leering sort, they read books, they are entirely agreed that a man cannot be judged by his car or a woman by her looks, they have genuine hobbies to pursue – cooking with one, karate and painting with the other – they talked of taking responsibility at home and the workplace, they showed a glad eagerness to help me out with little problems I happened to mention. The one regaled me with stories about office politics and what he is learning by consorting with illiterate but highly skilled workers, the other told me how much harm contemporary ‘educated’ parents are doing to their children, medically speaking, by bringing them up like hothouse plants. On the whole it was evident that they enjoyed spending a couple of hours with me as much as I did hosting them; and I shall be glad to see and hear from them again and again.

It goes without saying that I wish them all the best in life, and I am glad that some like them are growing into new adults, although it makes me feel very bad to think how much more numerous the scum is, and how the lives of good people such as these are sure to be troubled by them. Still, it’s a blessed thought that the country goes on producing a few of the better types too, despite all the damage that average parents and teachers and friends try to do to their psyches all through the formative years. And hearing them fondly recollect so many things I said to them in class years ago, I feel comforted to think that all that work has not gone wholly in vain…