Indian education

8 05 2013

As Indians, we all know the pros and cons of Indian education. We are especially aware of the “non-learning” that happens in the name of the competitiveness and anxiety to score more or stand first in the race. We learn the basics the hard way – rigorous by-hearting and impositions (at least, I did). Usually, we learn the techniques rather than the subject. When it comes to higher education, we are painfully aware of the lack of real learning. (Well, this applies to most of the institutes. I was not, like many others, fortunate enough to get into the few premier institutes, where education and learning is supposed to be quite different and on a totally different level.) It is quite possible that we may not even be aware of what a real education is, unless we expereince it, which typically means a course or program from developed areas (like US, Europe etc.).

And we accept it, like we do a lot of things that happen in India.

I read an article in The Hindu’s Education Plus supplement this Monday by a foreign student who attended a reputed institute in India as part of a study abroad programme. It speaks about his immense disappointment from the whole experience. The author emphasizes that false nationalism, which is actually narcissism, is causing Indians not look at the issue. And he calls for action from the Indian students – strong one at that. I agree with him when he says, “in life you should not expect others to fight your battles for you”.

Here is the complete article: An Indian education?

Irrespective of whether it’s highlighted by a foreign national, the scenario is something we should be ashamed of. Indians are deemed intelligent over the world, but how much of it is shaped by our education system? We crave for foreign degrees – both for real learning and for the value, awe, and respect they command.

The need for action is of course undeniable. But does the years of complacency on part of the education system give way to radical change so easily? And whenever we talk about a system, lots of complications are involved. Nevertheless, change should happen one step at a time. A beginning should be made.

Speaking about the quality and passion of teachers, do we have our best people to teach us? By no means I imply that there are no great or even good teachers in India. However, from the general perspective and looking at the big picture, do the “best” people choose to teach?

R. Prasannan (an academic, an author and a columnist in The Week), in his latest article highlights the difference between the way the army and the police are trained. While the army sends its best men (who considers the duty as an honour and are highly regarded) to groom the junior members, the police force sends its worst men to train the constables into inspectors. He says that this explains the unpardonable and insensitive behavior of certain un-FIR constables and girl-slapping ACPs.

Well, the reason I am reminded of this is that I feel that it can be broadened to include other domains as well. Teachers shape the future generation and so the system has to make sure that the best people of a generation teach if it ever wants the future generation to be better. And this has to happen in a big way.

Rape culture

27 12 2012

Almost everyone in the country is perhaps brainstorming now about what should be done to deter rape and violence on women and help create a safer country for them. In the process, they are forced to reflect on the society as a whole. Even as people are demanding stricter laws and more policing to curb the crimes, many recognized the problem as having deeper roots concerning the prevailing norms and attitudes of the society. Debates are going on about where does the key lie. They say it’s an outcome of patriarchy. The ingrained  preference for boys to girls is the sure way to instill the dominance of men over women in the minds of the people. One obvious suggestion, which works in long-term, is that parents should bring up their children more responsibly. I’m sure those who don’t entertain such base opinions owe it to their superior upbringing.  But how is it possible on a large scale when one is surrounded by  media/literature that voluntarily or involuntarily brandishes chauvinistic content?  It probably is like chicken and egg question. Should change in society lead to change in media or should media try to change and lead society?

Another logical deduction is that people should be educated. Indian Homemaker has put it in the most unambiguous, and straight-forward manner here (this is a must-read). The need itself proves the point that we , as a society, are in a pathetic state. Does anyone need to be educated that murder is a crime? Why isn’t there a commandment that rape is a sin? Wikiislam says:

There is no equivalent term for ‘rape’ in the Qur’an. Likewise, there is not a single verse in the Qur’an which even remotely discourages forced sex. In contrast, there are several verses in this book which give the green light to rape and other sexual crimes against women.

And there is no evidence that Hinduism forbids rape. In fact, it makes allowances for it.

The Brhadārankyaka Upanishad, for instance, condones rape:

Surely, a woman who has changed her clothes at the end of her menstrual period is the most auspicious of women. When she has changed her clothes at the end of her menstrual period, therefore, one should approach that splendid woman and invite her to have sex. Should she refuse to consent, he should bribe her. If she still refuses, he should beat her with a stick or with his fists and overpower her, saying: “I take away the splendor from you with my virility and splendor” (6.4.9,21).

Source: Apologetics Press

Disgusting, I know. But that’s how it is. All the scriptures were written by men and so may be one can’t expect anything different. 😐 It’s not that religion alone can curb the evil but it sure has the potential. But of course, like everything else, even it is biased. Alas!

It’s unfortunate and appalling that at least a sizeable portion of the population opines that “women” ask for it by getting dressed and/or behaving in a certain way. The prevailing notion is that “it’s ok to rape”. It’s not treated as severe a crime as it actually is, at least by the perpetrators.  The past incidents/cases mentioned on Indian Homemaker’s blog only make one to gape in horror. Acquitting a rapist just because there were no injuries on his penis, while the girl is bruised all over her body?? Hats off to the judge and hats off to our law.

The way the blame is usually put on the victim (people, including those in authority, scrutinize for any indication of violation of “code of conduct” that everyone decides for a woman in India), and more and more guidelines are framed upon the occurrence of each shocking incident for how a woman should conduct herself,  makes it appear as if women are not dealing with normal human beings but with a monster at large, with whom of course one cannot reason and one cannot expect for it to behave in any humane way. But the only problem is that this monster has innumerable manifestations, which makes its appearance at countless places at the same time.

I feel that one reason why the Delhi case has gained so much uproar is the associated brutality involved. And the fact that the girl didn’t seem to invite it. (I’m so glad none is mulling over what the girl could possibly have done to “drive” the men to the ghastly act.) There are countless such incidents happening everywhere and I believe they all need as much outrage. No matter whether the details are gory or not, rape is an abominable crime.

I don’t have any solutions to offer as of now but I agree with the opinion that the issue needs no quick fix but an elaborate long-term approach addressing the roots of our culture and society.

Dirty politics

19 06 2012

I was appalled by the whole melodrama surrounding Jagan’s arrest and was even more shocked by the election results. I was left quite speechless.  Didn’t know what or whom to blame. A week or so before the election, I was rather surprised to hear my maid claim that she and all those in her locality will vote for Jagan. When asked – “how can you do that? He has gobbled up a lot of public money!”, she answered with a simple question – “who hasn’t done so?” Clearly, those people have no idea about the magnitude of the amassed assets. Of course it’s beyond anyone’s conception. How can one imagine and make sense of one lakh crore?

It’s as plain as day that he has his own interests before anything else and is greedy for power. Of course, this is not beyond human tendency but what’s pathetic is that this kind of attitude is accepted as normal, in a politician, more than in anyone else.

Also, I think, the caste plays a prominent role. YSR and Jagan have a bonanza because they can attract both Reddys and Christians. It’s not only the poor, illiterate or village folk that go by the “caste” principle, but even the so called the educated class. I myself heard the same from someone considered rather sophisticated. I admit “caste” is pervasive, but electing a representative by that criterion sounds a little crude. But of course, politics is the biggest stage for “caste” play.

And of course, there is the money, liquor and other gifts provided just before the election. So, may be it isn’t a big surprise after all.

Come to think of it, the question “who hasn’t?” is quite profound. The elections are mostly like choosing one among a gang of thugs. So it doesn’t matter much in the end, whom one chooses. And here is the classic chicken and egg question – are the leaders behaving so irresponsibly and self-indulgingly because people don’t question them or demand services from them and because they get elected despite all? Or is the public complacent owing to the feeling of hopelessness created by the so called leaders?

I often wonder about the psychology of Indians. There is a serious lack of civic sense. When one looks at the history, India had been ruled by people of different dynasties and nationalities, which resulted in much rampage and havoc. I’m skeptical about the existence of the feeling of unity ever. The “divide and rule” policy of the British is perhaps the most successful principle of war in the history of mankind. The repercussions of their 200-year-rule can be felt to even this day. They have inculcated the “Sheep Mentality” in the minds of the people that we haven’t yet escaped the clutches of.

I look at other countries with their distinct character, which makes them successful, and wonder how such cultures are developed.  Japanese are so hard working that they grow despite the natural and artificial calamities. China could do it despite a large population.

Sometimes I feel that what India needs is a series of strong and responsible leaders, with a tight rein over the affairs. Something like a good monarchy. Long enough to imbibe certain things in the minds of the people – to be more responsible.

The big eye

7 02 2012

It’s for all to see and experience the phenomena of social network media and blogs which gave each one of us wings of expression. It’s amazing to discover how much we have to share with others – both trivial and otherwise. But the picture is not all rosy. With the amount of time people spend on such networking increased to substantial amounts, people have to realize that whatever they say or do online leaves a print that others would be interested to track.

It’s common knowledge that companies do track the behavior of users online to better target their marketing campaigns. Google reads our mail: though this raked a bit of alarm, it quickly died down as users are so hooked on to it that in a war they can’t afford to lose it. We also know about the commotion and sensation created by the now almost legendary tweets by Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi. It stirred up a hornet’s nest and they are still facing the consequences of their unguarded expressions online.

But these are big shots either involved in some inappropriate  practices and/or are in a respectable position in the government. They have every reason and need to be extra careful about their choice of words. But what about others – normal people like you and me? Can we get away with any derogatory or offending remark? Can’t say about India but we do have to watch out and guard ourselves if we ever want to say or do anything related to America.

Here is an incident that happened a week ago in Los Angeles:

US deports two European tourists over ‘destroy America’ tweet

This sure gives a rude jolt and sends an unambiguous message to world that America is watching each one of us and with utmost seriousness. The big eye sees it all.

It’s eerie and scary to realize that none is anonymous online. Each and every action can be tracked to the person responsible for it. Next time you want to say anything about America, you would really want to pause and think before hitting the button.

Let’s think a little futuristic. Now it’s only America, as far as we know. What happens when many other countries have the capacity and interest to do the same? Well, it’s always a good thing to watch out one’s words, be it on the Net or otherwise. But only in the case of “online”, the reach is practically unlimited. One can’t talk behind anyone’s back online anymore; one will be caught. 🙂 Text mining rocks!!!

Ladies Coupé

17 12 2011

It’s been a while since I read this long-pending Indian chick-lit by Anita Nair. Finally took time to write something about it. I expected it to be a racy, shallow, gossipy and “masala-filled” novel depicting lives of a group of women travelling together in a Ladies Coupé of a train. I was part-right and part-wrong. It sure was fast-paced and interesting but it was anything but shallow.

Each and every woman character in the novel had been dealt with a depth of empathy and understanding as they shared their stories. Each woman seeks to find herself, making sense of her life and her role in it. Akhilandeswari, who is forced to stay single until 45 by circumstances, embarks on a journey to Kanyakumari to break free from all the oppressing ties of traditional norms and society and seeks answers to her questions before asserting her freedom and independence through her actions. In a society, which stresses that a woman can’t live alone and makes every attempt to make her life terrible, trying to come to terms with self isn’t very easy. I liked the way the author didn’t offer any readymade solutions to the predicament, but rather allowed the character to discover her own path to deal with it.

I was seriously shocked by the way Margaret Shanti dealt with her imposing, insensitive, and tyrant husband. She took revenge by attacking his sense of pride in self. She fed him enormous meals with the effect that it impacted his fitness, thereby reducing his self-confidence. I felt that this is a clever idea. It’s only her way to cope with the situation.

Each woman has varying degrees of problems, and considering each of them from a vantage point, one would tend to rate them on a scale. However, a problem is a problem. There is no one without any troubles. In the absence of a great tragedy, even a seemingly minor issue takes the mind off peace. Marikolanthu’s life might have been the worst of all of them, but that doesn’t make the others’ troubles any slighter. Despite having normal life with material comforts and close-knit family, Prabha Devi and Janaki struggle with their sense of loss of self before finding their way out.

The ability to solve all our problems lies within ourselves. It just needs some calling. One has to grapple with it and persevere to succeed.

Ladies Coupé is an enlightening and thought-provoking work, which stimulates the reader to reflect on his/her own life. It is a must read for everyone, especially women.

Sri Rama Rajyam

15 12 2011

This beautiful rendition of the great epic by Bapu is just fabulous. Each frame is beautiful. The graphics worked well. Everyone did justice to their roles. Nayantara as Sita stole the show. She was simply astounding. I was really surprised and delighted to watch her awesome performance. Illayaraja’s music was soothing, melodious and apt. His melodies have a distinct sweetness that others cannot quite emulate.

Despite the unanswered questions regarding the treatment of Sita (a few of my thoughts on this here), the charm of Ramayana holds good to me even to this day. It was my favorite childhood read and I never get tired to reading/listenting to/watching the epic tale. It is a story which tells one what to do and how to do, unlike its sister epic Mahabharatha, which tells one what not to do.

Reading Ramayana brings peace as it primarily presents the good and positive elements of life. It is worthy to note that the movie recognized the injustice rendered to Sita and had not attempted to justify it. Given that it happened/written during a time when woman’s role was strictly defined and confined, it is no surprise that the events unfolded in such a way. But having the god incarnation himself to behave so is something that is not easily digestible for those who believe in absolute. I’m not suggesting any alternative course for Rama, and not sure even if such a thing exists given the circumstances. Could it be possible for him to be just to both his wife and his people? My immediate thought was to make him stand up for what he believes – he believes in his wife and he loves her – and somehow make people understand it. But even as I was thinking so, I knew it’s not easy to change a deep-rooted conviction even when God wishes it. There is no evidence that the change had indeed took place, though the people of the kingdom were exasperated and repented at the gloomy state of their king. In this regard, I’m not sure whether Ramayana had been successful in making people change their beliefs. While the kind of love and devotion between the couple is inspiring to all, the trials that Sita had to undergo, with no error of hers, can indeed be perceived as a failure of Rama.

Sita has a very significant role in our tradition and she is deemed as a perfect being whom every woman should try to emulate. I wonder to what extent her personality still holds significance!

No Onions, No Garlic, Nor Taste

18 04 2011

One has to pay for one’s poor decisions and that is what happened to me with No Onions Nor Garlic by Srividya Natarajan. I discovered it years ago somewhere and faintly remember that it was said to be good enough. But the evidently curious cum attractive title is what made me wanted to read the book.

Also, there is the fact that I couldn’t lay my hands on it for a quite a number of years. All this only made me jump with excitement when I spotted it in the recent Book Exhibition. I didn’t even think about glancing through a few passages before I parted with the green paper and took home the bounty. But the bubble of my joyful anticipation got burst once I was a few pages into the book. Still, I persisted in my trials and managed to turn over 80 pages. My frustration only increased with each page. I promise I gave it a fair chance before admitting to myself the bitter aftertaste of the words.

The English is too ornamental, each sentence often running into several lines. The author tried to be funny and witty in almost each sentence, which only made it more difficult to read. The author seemed to have been intent more on demonstrating her expertise of English language rather than on the story that she basically wanted to tell. Reading through the verbose narrative, one loses the interest to follow the underlying story that is supposed to be progressing incessantly.

I’ve read some very difficult and complex books (both in the story and the language in which it is told) in the past, but seldom did I feel disgusted at the attempt of the author unless it appeared as a show-off like this. The pursuit of the author to create humor by awkward, silly, far-fetching and strange comparisons has resulted in so unnatural an effect that reading it became a tussle through the writing. I’m very much disappointed in this work and I regret my actions leading to this upsetting reaction.