Explore this blog by clicking on the labels listed along the right-hand sidebar. There are lots of interesting stuff which you won't find on the home page
Seriously curious about me? Click on ' What sort of person am I?'

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Something happened today that has made me change my mind about waiting long for comments on this blog each time after I write a new post.

I had activated a facility that gmail provides to mark anonymous comments (besides those from all sorts of weird pseudonyms I have come across over the years) as trash and send them directly to the trash can without showing them in my inbox first (unless the emails are from sensible names, I trash them from the inbox without opening them, too: a good way to protect my computer from viruses, I have been told, apart from other things!). The trash is automatically cleared every thirty days, but upon a whim I occasionally take a peek into it – and today I was amazed to find numerous comments there! It goes without saying that I clicked on ‘empty trash forever’ without glancing at any of them. And now I have decided that if more people want to write comments from hiding than otherwise, there’s no point waiting for comments to come in: I shall write as often as I please, and those who are interested will take the trouble to look up older posts (and read up and reflect upon earlier comments) and comment on them – as a few genuine readers actually do, whether they agree with everything I say or not.

This is a kind of sickness, this writing comments anonymously or from behind ridiculous assumed names, and on this I won’t hear different opinions. I have been writing letters and other things virtually all my life, and using the net for about fourteen years now, and I have said a lot of things to a lot of people, including a lot of harsh things, but I have never once felt the need to write anonymously. I will not deviate from the opinion that only someone dirty minded or weak-minded needs that kind of shield – and my reaction is that the opinions of such craven people do not count, so they do not deserve attention or acknowledgment, leave alone rejoinders. Even if they write words of praise: I have (until that filter was installed) deleted anonymous comments again and again which lauded something I had written fulsomely. At the same time, as any real reader will have noticed – and people who can truly read are few indeed, as I should know from thirty years’ experience of giving people comprehension exercises! – I accommodate critical comments too, just so long as the writers are polite, and sufficiently informed, and give evidence of having read my piece closely. Indeed, I often engage with such critics, trying to point out how far I agree with them, or stand corrected, or where I think they have not understood me, or have made some logical or factual error. That is what I call debating, and as I have lamented before, far too few either understand debates or can hold their own in the right spirit.

Judging by the difference between the small number of people who have enlisted as followers and the much larger number who keep visiting this blog, it is evident that a lot of people visit and maybe even read a bit, but cannot think of anything to say, no matter what I write about. I suppose I should accept that as okay, though a bit of a pity. And I suspect that it is a small fraction of that number who want to say things which deep inside they know are either foolish or ignorant or just plain irrelevant if not downright offensive, and these are the people who want to write anonymous comments. Chances are very high that these people will never dream of visiting me and saying the things they write as comments to my face: the security of anonymity that the net provides makes lions out of rats. Well, bad luck, folks. I have already told you how your efforts are wasted.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

More musing on education...

John Kenneth Galbraith coined the expression ‘conventional wisdom’ – the kind of stuff that everybody takes to be axiomatically true. He also pointed out, with a great wealth of historical examples, how conventional wisdom keeps changing from one era to another. Thus, for instance, ‘everybody’ knew once upon a time that dragons existed, and the earth was flat, and monarchy was enjoined by divine right, and woman’s proper place was in the home, and so on and so forth. He also discussed how people of every age scoffed at the conventional wisdom of their ancestors while passionately and uncritically clinging to their own.

One such piece of conventional wisdom that is currently accepted as gospel truth is that every kid must be sent to school and college, and kept there for twenty years at least. It is said that the young ought to be given a chance to ‘enjoy life’, and also all the ‘benefits’ that formal education can provide. Now pursuant to what I wrote in the last post titled What price education?, I would like to rock the boat violently, and suggest that 99 per cent of the population neither needs nor wants schooling beyond class 8, which means up to the age of fourteen. Given that neither they nor their parents want anything more from education besides jobs, and given that most jobs definitely do not need any education beyond class 8 and a few weeks or months of training (think of everyone from a shop attendant to a bank teller to a hotel receptionist to a petrol pump manager to an office clerk or an insurance agent or a factory worker), who needs to hang on to high school and college and ‘learn’ all sorts of stuff from the calculus to Shakespeare to the way our digestive system works or how imperfectly-competitive markets operate, stuff that they are not remotely interested in, stuff that they will forget within months of their examinations, and which they will NEVER need in their working lives? As for other professions requiring a little more education, such as those of mechanics and nurses and primary school teachers, it’s very little mind work and mostly repetitive, hands-on training, nothing that cannot be started off after class 8 really – why waste four more years and then go to college to learn such basically elementary stuff?

Consider honestly – how many people do you know who are genuinely interested in medicine, or the law, or history, or literature, or mathematics of a high order, things that really need many years of study beyond high school? Why send everybody to college when they could be making a living by the time they are 18 or 20? Look around you: it is an open secret that the overwhelming majority in our colleges are actually what economists call ‘disguised unemployed’, doing nothing but having fun at their parents’ expense, sleeping, partying, chatting on Facebook, idling at cinemas and shopping malls, putting people’s lives at risk zooming about on snazzy bikes, having silly affairs, experimenting with drugs, getting unwittingly pregnant, waiting to get married off, or for ‘campus recruitment’ into the kind of jobs which, as I said before, don’t really need any education beyond class 8, and involve pretty menial work and pay peanuts anyway. All they get from their long ‘education’ is ingrained laziness, irresponsibility and swollen egos, which actually makes it tough for them to adjust to the rigours of the working life. Think: if they had been working since mid-teenage, in however humble a capacity, they would have been contributing something to the family fund as much as to the gross national product; instead, they are allowed to live as high-expense parasites till their mid-twenties: who gains from that?

The very worst thing about these millions of pampered brats is that they have been conditioned to look down upon people who are actually much more valuable than they. Thus the ‘smart’ schoolgirl sneers at the ‘mere housewife’, and so does not want to get married early, though she might be dreaming of becoming nothing more than a waitress in a hotel or a call-centre employee, blithely oblivious of the fact that being a good housewife (not the rich couch potato type who leaves everything to in-laws and maidservants) calls for much more hard work and worldly wisdom than their aspired jobs do, and is nothing if not a respectable occupation. Likewise the ‘smart’ male bank teller talks to the fishmonger as though the latter is an infinitely inferior being, though his own education and job is nothing that any truly civilized man can be proud of (and he might be stupidly ignorant of the fact that the unpretentious fishmonger actually earns much more than he does!). As for the so-called all-important chance to ‘enjoy life’ while young, who says that being idle and fooling around all the time at one’s parents’ expense is the only way one can enjoy life, or even the best way? Millions of people down the ages – from super successful ones like Dickens and Sachin and Bill Gates to much less famous ones without number – have dropped out of school or college and started working early: who dares to claim that they never enjoyed their lives? In any case, doesn’t the idea of ‘enjoying life’ sit very uncomfortably with the idea of getting educated, which, unless grossly caricatured as it is being these days, has always meant hard slogging round the year?

Let me stop at this point and wait. I am hoping this time round many more people will come in with comments, and thus join in a debate…

Friday, August 20, 2010


I have regretfully removed several blogs from my list titled ‘Blogs I visit’, for no other reason but the fact that these blog writers (despite repeated prodding and nudging from me) have not been writing for many months together. Maybe they have given it up as a bad job. Writing needs patience, time, skill, and most importantly, having things to say again and again: I suppose many people start off for a lark, and very soon they run out of steam, or become busy with ‘more important’ things like having affairs, going on shopping or drinking binges, or job hunting… in any case, I don’t see any point keeping these dead or dormant blogs on my list of favourites any more. Suvro Sarkar, Sreejith, Rochishnu, Supra, Debaroon – let me know if and when you start writing frequently again (by which I mean at least once a month: I myself write as often as ten times); then I shall put your blog back in that list once more. Arani I am still keeping for a while there, because, though he posts only once in a blue moon, he invariably makes uncommonly good reading. The same goes for Tanmoy and Alka. I know they have their problems, and are often hard-pressed for time, but I shall keep wishing to see them writing.

In that same blogroll I have included a few other sites that I often visit. I urge my visitors to try some of those sites now and then: that will not only give them a better idea about my interests, but some food for thought too (besides material for writing better essays and for school/college projects – this is for those of you who are still students!)

These two blogs are now my most preferred way of keeping in touch with the world. I get dozens of phone calls and emails every month from people simply asking ‘How are you doing?/ What are you doing these days?’ Now I cannot talk shop or gossip, or write back the same things over and over again, and most of my serious concerns are reflected in these blogs anyway, so the best thing these people can do, if they really want to keep in touch (which I strongly doubt sometimes!), is to read and comment on my blogs. My orkut community is nearly defunct, and Facebook is for duds (indeed, it’s most used by kids my daughter's age), so in order to communicate with people I prefer to use these blogs, besides email. 

I am already looking forward to this blog’s fifth birthday next year, by which time I should have more than 200 followers, and maybe the visit-count approaching the 100,000 mark. Do my readers have some ideas about how best to celebrate the occasion?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What price education?

As everybody who knows me even at some distance should be aware, I have been obsessed with reading and arguing and thinking and knowing things all my life. I also happened to do more than well in all formal examinations as long as I sat them, and besides, I have been involved, as a teacher, with education for thirty years now, handling pupils from middle school to the postgraduate level, cutting across a wide range of disciplines. So I guess when I say that I am getting sick of what passes for education these days, and wouldn’t mind much if my daughter gave up formal education after high school and concentrated on doing something she likes much better, people should sit up and take notice.

Let me be categorical in outlining what I have understood about the meaning(s) of education.

1.      At the highest, most rarefied (and also the most essential?) level, education is about man-making, in the sense that everyone from Socrates to Vivekananda understood it. It’s the meaning that comes in most useful at the time of giving seminar lectures and writing learned articles, and in practice it has become the least appreciated, most abused meaning of all – as I am sure not only teachers but parents and even little schoolboys will agree with me. If someone grows up into a strong, brave, honest, kind and loving soul these days, it is despite, and certainly not due to the kind of schooling one has received.
2.      Second in importance is a process of nurturing what used to be called ‘well-stocked minds’ – not necessarily good and precious human beings, but at least widely informed, intelligent, balanced and not narrowly-prejudiced men and women, and therefore folks who are assets to any society and nation, as humble parents and office-workers as much as high-level leaders and governors, trained to live the good life both public and private, because they know how much true enjoyment the world offers, and also how to avoid its worst snares and pitfalls. Let my best students, who have acquired postgraduate and higher qualifications from the best of academia in India and abroad, tell me how much they have been benefited in this sense by twenty-odd years of schooling.
3.      At the third level, education is a process that supposedly encourages and brings the best out of those born with exceptional cerebral talents, those destined to become great scientists, inventors, artists, writers, teachers and statesmen. Forget the vast numbers of third-rate colleges that India and America have sprouted of late – do even the very ‘best’ contribute much in that line any more (keeping in mind that many of the most successful people in the US today are dropouts from places like MIT and Harvard)?
4.      At the lowest – not unimportant, and perhaps the only sense relevant to the overwhelming majority of people, but lowest nevertheless – level, education is supposed to equip young people with some saleable skills out of which they can make a living. Now barring a small number of professions (such as surgeons and lawyers, CAs and pilots, and even hairdressers and fashion designers and carpenters who are lucky), our ‘educational institutions’ of this sort, it is an open secret, equip their ‘students’ so poorly that, after, say, a BTech/BHM/BBA degree bought for five or ten lakhs or even more from an upstart private college, they consider themselves both lucky and ‘proud’ to get 20-25,000 rupees-a month jobs in this or that corporate house, whether they are back-end IT firms or banks or hotel chains or shopping malls and suchlike. These are 12-hours a day grinds, too, sometimes, and despite all the vaunting, the work is often of a very menial sort, and demeaning, and full of drudgery, and offering few prospects of better things in the long run: rather, there is always the threat of the pink slip hanging like the sword of Damocles over their heads, and these people get broken families and ulcers and burnouts long before they reach middle age. Also, they are by and large uncultured with a capital U (whether you judge by their public manners, the general burden of their conversation, or the books they have read, their taste in clothes and jewellery or their attitude to charity), as I have been chagrined to find out a thousand times over… my question is, is the pursuit of this kind of mind-destroying, soul-deadening ‘education’ worth it? Given that if someone is intelligent, and well-informed, and energetic, and willing to work long and hard, and is only interested in money, and she starts her own fledgling business with a bit of daddy’s money at age 20, chances are reasonably good that she will be doing much better than 95% of her contemporaries in 15-20 years’ time, as I have verified from a thousand live examples around me, even if she only runs a good garments shop or eatery? Besides, financially speaking, it is always better to own an iron foundry or hospital than to be employed as an engineer  or doctor there, and one thing I have learned very well is that you certainly don’t need to be an engineer or doctor to be able to set up businesses like that, whatever other qualifications you need.

So I tell my daughter ‘If you are seriously interested in getting a good education, go the furthest mile along the line of your choice, whether you want to study Physics or Sanskrit at the university level, but if you only want to make money, and big money at that, don’t waste your time pretending otherwise. You don't need formal education beyond high school to make a good career in purely material terms’. Who is going to tell me that I am misguiding her?

P.S., August 18: It is now a week since I put up this blogpost, and it has been visited almost 500 times, from literally all around the world. But just listen to the deafening silence! Nobody seems to have anything at all to say, in criticism, support, or to point out dimensions of the issue that I have missed, or even to ask questions. Yet virtually every visitor is not only an educated person, but has been reared in a family where education was supposedly given the very highest priority. Doesn't this single fact speak volumes in support of the point I was trying to make: that education these days does nothing to make mentally alert and active human beings?

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Skepticism and cynicism

It is good to be skeptical; it is bad to be a cynic. Especially while one is still young.

When we are surrounded by stupidity, ignorance, sham and superstition, it is good to take all things with a pinch of salt, and not to believe anybody blindly, whether it be parents or teachers, god-men or political leaders. Using one’s reason, and finding out the facts for oneself is good: always look things up in the dictionary and atlas and encyclopedia, always listen to the voice inside that warns ‘This fellow is talking through his hat’. That is what is meant by skepticism. It lies at the heart of all true science, and any attempt at safe and sane living. As a great philosopher said, ‘If we had all listened to our parents, we should still be swinging from the trees’. And if we believed everything our teachers said (especially given the kind of teachers all around us in this country!) we’d all grow up utterly confused and dulled – which is far worse than being merely ignorant.

But to be cynical is to be unable to believe there can be anything good, anything beautiful and noble and heartening at all in human beings. It is to react knee-jerk fashion to all such suggestions with a singular fixed idea in mind: there must be some base, ulterior motive behind what someone is doing or saying. And it often goes like this: since I am incapable of a good deed or a beautiful feeling or a noble thought, anybody who claims such things must be a fraud. There is nothing called true love, no honesty in business or examinations, nothing like idealism in politics, no use for knowledge beyond making a living, nothing beyond feeding and procreation and preening in life … that’s the sort of thing I mean.

The ghastly thing about cynicism is that you make life more difficult than it need be for both yourself and others (cynics are bound to be gloomy people full of despair, and crooked to boot, even if they put on a veneer of good cheer and niceness) and that it is self-fulfilling: in a world full of cynics even the good are condemned to live unhappily, and also turn crooked by and by, unless they are driven to madness and suicide, because cynicism, in order to justify itself, cannot allow truth and goodness and beauty to live happily.

Now it is ancient wisdom that the old are cynical, and it is both the power and the duty of the young to break old moulds and rejuvenate the world with new hope, joy, love, dreams and ideals. So what I find terrifying is that all around me there are young people who are already vastly more cynical about just about everything, even their own love lives and careers, and the need and potential of philosophy for change. Just beneath the perpetual (and juvenile -) surface exultation about how fast the world is ‘progressing’ (as measured by how many ‘apps’ the latest mobile can handle), there runs a current of deep distrust, frustration, apathy, aimlessness and despair. I can sense it even among folks in their late teens, and it is already set hard by the time they are ten years older (children still, for God’s sake!) And the wonderful thing is that all these people are middle- or upper middle class, and have been brought up in sheltered cocoons by doting and extravagant parents: beyond the occasional death by accident in the family and failure in exams and office politics and quarrels with friends and lovers, these people have hardly seen any suffering at all. Whereas, I reflect, lots and lots of people have come through infinitely worse trials and tribulations and emerged triumphant, whether I think of Dickens or Charlie Chaplin or Michael Faraday or Vidyasagar or Douglas Bader or Helen Keller or more characters in great fiction than you can handle at one sitting. Or, even if they have failed and gone under, they have been ‘destroyed but not defeated’, whether you think of Gandhi or Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea, of Anne Frank or Paul Baumer in All Quiet on the Western Front: so they remain glorious memories in the mind as tragic and heroic figures, capable of inspiring us to great things, not objects of ridicule and pathos. Tagore was not a cynic, nor was Louis Pasteur, nor Nurse Cavell, nor Abraham Lincoln – and these people faced trouble, danger, insult, hardship, fear, confusion and failure on a scale that most of today’s young can hardly even conceive, leave alone dare to handle!

Another awful thought: the completely brainwashed young terrorist, armed to the teeth and going on his midnight hunt for victims, whatever else you can accuse him of being, cannot be called a cynic. He believes absolutely in the supreme importance and rightness of his cause, so even if he blows himself up along with many others, there dies a happy person. The poet wrote The best lack all conviction/ the worst are full of passionate intensity. Poets can always see further and say it better than anybody else…