Monday, July 21, 2008 the IITs

Amid the hot and happening headline news about the contentious Indo-US nuke deal which has replaced the food crisis as the latest means of heated arguments amongst roadside beggars over their subah ki cutting(begged, of course) and how home lavatories are a must for politicians to contest the forthcoming elections; I was shocked by the small paragraph that the TOI had devoted 2 days ago to the margins of the front page. I mean, it was a really long time since I had seen the word education on page 1. But as I said, it was just about a 3.5 cm article. They'd tried to compensate for their unknowing lack of discretion, I suppose. :l Anyhow, here goes: As many as eight new IITs would be set up in the country during the current academic session to impart high quality technical education. And of course, no elaborations.

Being a believer myself, I ventured to do a bit of a probity probe, [the Internet, being much more considerate, yielded cause and execution] and to my astonishment, found out that the system had gone in for 7 IIMs in addition!

Understandably, the first emotion I experienced was regret, that I wasn't in a position to attempt JEE a year later. [Not in the least because I would've got into one of the prestigious schools, but because I could've boasted that I lost the rat-race by 360 seats less. Matters, see. :) ] But then, my mind registered amazement. Three of these proposed institutes, apparently, planned to initiate functioning in castaway laboratories and rented premises! The media, and consequently the public have sparked up hot debates on the most obvious point that this proposal gives rise to: the dilution of quality due to quantity. Won’t having more IITs and IIMs simply fritter the premium on quality that these institutes have? Can a mere increase in numbers guarantee a consistency in the quality of education imparted? Rather than unfocussedly increasing the IIT count, why not pump that money to improve infrastructure and faculty in the existing IITs?? And so on and so forth in all possible strings of words, citing hundreds of instances. All worth its salt. A demure interposition though. More than the quality of the education imparted to the students who get into IIT, doesn’t the quality of the students who get into IIT in the first place matter more? As a maiden venture, what was IIT designed to be? An institute, whose main objective is to pick up the crème-de-la-crème of the student herd in the world and aid them in the process of being more so. Mark it! Not any Tom, Dick and Harry. So just as the best students existing rightfully claim that they deserve to be in IIT, doesn’t IIT rightfully deserve to select only the best among the best available?

At this point in time, some people might argue that all humans are born equal and hence reserve equal rights to education in the elite group of schools. That the reason IIT should increase its intake is to provide education par excellence to the maximum possible students. I perfectly agree with the first part of the first statement. Born parity. I assure you, I was born as piercingly naked as Chetan Bhagat. Born equals. Both attended high-school and studied, more or less, the same syllabus.[I’m assuming he did.] But then, why the hell am I graduating from COEP when Bhagat graduated from IIT? : ( I suppose you get the idea. Somewhere down the line, the difference in our academic abilities, and more than that, the difference in our pedantic personalities showed up. We cease to be equals from the moment we’re born. Henceforth, our actions, abilities and choices inevitably decide our level for us. We remain equals only in the sense that we are humans.

Simply for the sake of a means of classification, let us assume that the amount of marks(obtained by a person) is a measure of one’s intelligence, since that is, by far, the only unbiased criterion of candidate-selection. [Of course, there are several notable cases in point of people being far more intelligent than what their marks show, the most remarkable case being mine :) ] Directly, and very simply, implying that a particular level of intelligence gets appreciated, and accepted, and levels below it are not. Simply because they do not deserve to be. Or because there are enough people more deserving than them. I admit, I do not deserve to be in IIT. (I deserve more. :D) There should be enough seats in IIT only for those who are QUALIFIABLE, and not for all who are there. Citing the continual increase of population as a rationale to increase the number of IITs is inexplicably hollow. IITs and IIMs are niche institutes and not shop floors. However, they are not exceptional only because they provide top-notch tutelage but because the pool of talent that they gather is top-notch in itself. They are shaping and honing it, they are manoeuvring it, not creating it. But more IITs will mean more seats to fill. Which will put students having significantly lesser capabilities on par with the ingenious ones. Which will have some very direct negative implications:

1. Where is the competition? Why would anyone study to get 99 per cent if he could get into the institute even for a paltry 80 percent? It hampers the analytical and intellectual growth of the pupil, quite the opposite of what the IIT intends isn’t it? Curbing the need to excel is probably the most cruel treatment a student can be subjected to.

2. Pushing relatively low IQ people into coping alongside the flawlessly brilliant ones is the worst that you could do to them. Smothering mediocre students with stellar education won’t do much; it will only result in grossly inefficient utilization. Of both resources, and manpower. Inferiority complexes galore; is it a surprise that the number of suicide cases registered by the nationwide IITs only increases with each passing year?

3. And with the tight compromisations on coaching faculty, the net outcome 4 years hence would be [provided they manage to survive] engineers who’ll probably earn their bread and butter but who wouldn't outlast two hoots in a competitive environment like, say, the international market. The premises of the IIT would be transformed into commonplace manufacturing facilities churning out an x number of average, unremarkable professionals.

Or in short, we return to the same point in question, but with a substantial variation.
Dilution of quality, not because of absolute quantity, but because of inept, raw, undeserving quantity. And the only way we can pull ourselves out of this mess is by starting right down at the beginning. Right from KG, inculcate within you the will to learn and grow yourself. Keep a guard on your own quality as a student; sterling institutions are bound to follow. Do not whine that a student who got 90 per cent last year got into IIT but you couldn’t get into it this year with the same per cent. That’s because the value of 90 per cent was appreciable enough till last year, but not NOW. “Survival of the fittest” alludes a tad too well to today’s world.

I believe the number of IITs should be increased, or for that matter, any other institute should be upgraded ONLY if there is an increase of intelligent population. The system should focus on elevating the masses to the IITs, and not depreciating the IITs to the masses. More than 40 per cent of the Indian population is still illiterate. Provide them with basic primary education so that they are able to fend for themselves. Enhance and innovate. Dissolve the reservation system that eats into people's acumen and misguides them into quiescence, thereby establishing equality in the real sense. So that the average maturity level increases. So that people become aware of how powerful education and cognizance and intellect are.
So that there might come one day in the world, when “getting into IIT” isn’t such a big deal anymore; not because there are enough seats to accommodate everyone(indeed, that is practically inviable), but because everyone has scored 99+. Because then, you won’t need the stamp of IIT, or for that matter, even Stanford or Oxford or any other institution to project YOUR quality; You yourself are the stamp, and the logo.
And the philatelist, is God.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Of men, and mankind....Part III


At last.
He was going home.

Today had been a surprisingly busy one. National holidays weren’t all idle, he decided. Towing hundreds of children to their schools and back was worth it though. Those primly-clad, smart little kids in their military attire, caps and miniature flags et al were endearing to see. Our little soldiers! He couldn’t suppress a smile. Marching forth in time to the tune of proud, independent India. Exactly like those brave patriots 50 years ago. What fervour! What stature! That innocent aura! No wonder national spirit, patriotism gave a high unattainable even by tequila. :D

He’d even doen his own bit by carving a crude national flag on the bonnet of his cab. And his little ten-year old had his own military uniform! A smile danced on his lips as he relived the boy whooping in delight at the sight of the costume. He’d been pestering him for years together…and he’d taken part in the rally earlier that day and daddy’s thin chest had swelled with pride.
And now, he was cold, and tired to the bone, and all he could think of was the warmth of his tiny shack and the softness of his son’s fingers as he cuddled into his lap. Wonder what Sangeeta would’ve prepared…

A soft whimper broke his reminiscences. He could see movement ahead. Why would anyone be loitering around at this time of night, he wondered. Must be the local rowdies, drunk probably.

When he neared, he actually got convinced for a moment that he was looking at his own wife and kid.
Come off it! He told himself off. Strange I felt that way.
She was just a harmless little lady. Poor soul. Looked lost. He hesitated. His stomach rumbled. Dunno where the woman would ask him to convey her. He didn’t want to land up miles away from home. And anyways, he’d done many times more than what he was required to that day.
But then no choice again, he thought drily. He couldn’t just leave her to her fate at such an unearthly timing.
He hailed her off.

Now, in the flickering cab-light, he studied her more clearly in the rear-view mirror. She’d looked as hesitant to climb in as he was initially of taking her in. Funnily enough, she’d wanted to give him half-return. And more funnily, he’d had a sudden, inexplicable spurt of inspiration to act King Harishchandra and had refused. His friends would get an excellent reason to boo him off. Shooing off the Goddess of Wealth at his doorstep!
Half-return manaa kar diya?!? Abey gadhe dimaag kahaan chhod aaya??

Talkative as he was, he couldn’t help noticing how silent the lady was. And clutching at her kids all the time. She didn’t even look as if she belonged here. Her dark, young face was heavily lined, perhaps with worry, and an immense sadness, as if she carried a heavy burden on her soul.
All the time, he talked.
And she sat and listened.
Or maybe, simply sat.
She even dozed off for a while, he reckoned. He’d just remembered another interesting anecdote and was starting to narrate it, when he hit a dead end. The Highway had closed down. 12.15 am. He swore. Now he would’ve to take the longer route into town.

The woman looked unperturbed when he furnished this information. Yeah! And why wouldn’t she? They’d already settled the fare, hadn’t they? It’s me who has to burn up money for the toll charges, he cursed himself. His jolly mood had long since evaporated and he was turning surlier by the moment. Why the hell didn’t he take this into account beforehand?? Bada imandar banne chala tha. Ab ho gaya naa ghaate ka sauda!
People who lived hand-to-mouth couldn’t afford to be honest. Then why this sudden streak of soft-heartedness for this woman? For the love of God, I don’t even know her! And anyhow, his mind ploughed on, why are you so afraid of asking her for the extra money? You aren’t asking anything apart from what’s rightfully yours, are you? Cabbies these days pull up for nothing less than full-return! So you’re perfectly justified in asking her half the return fare. And as it is, she’d offered it first. You’ve only got to tell her you want it now.

With a start, he realized they’d already reached their destination. He’d broken into a sweat. Just as he was bracing himself, the unexpected happened.
“Kitnaa hua bhaiyya?”
“Meter ke hisaab se toh pachaas rupaye, madam…lekin…”

“Aap sau le leejiye. Thank you aapne hamein itni door chhoda. Lautne ka problem hogaa. Itni raat gaye graahak nahi milega.”
He thought he hadn’t heard clearly. Did she just offer him a 100 bucks? Double the fare?? Was this a trap? A drive, probably, to catch cabbies extorting passengers red-handed?? Was there a hidden camera in her..purse or somewhere?

He scanned her face closely, looking for signs of betrayal, a slight steeliness, or even a shadow of a triumphant smile.
But the eyes that looked into his were frank. And open. And smiling genuinely. Awash with shining relief. And thankfulness. She was grateful to him that he had reached them home safe and sound.

He could see a long-lost faith in humanity surface in her glistening eyes again.
The emotion which posesses the strength that makes us help others, that pulls us up from materialistic temptation and drives us to sacrifice for others. The ultimate proof that we have evolved, from animals. Else, it would've been termed Animality probably.
But Humanity....was priceless. Invaluable! He had been a creep to misunderstand her so.

“Hum 50 hi lenge madam. Thank you ki koi baat nahi. Aaj humne aapko ghar pahunchaaya. Kal agar aap logon ki jagaah mere biwi-bachche hain, toh unhe bhi meri tarah koi ghar pahunchayega naa. Aakhir insaan hi insaan ke kaam nahi aaya, to jeene ka kya matlab?”

And this time, he truly meant it. He faintly remembered it as a dialogue from some Hindi movie, but the full impact of the statement hit him at that instant.

What’s with the entire wealth of the world at your feet, if you couldn’t help a fellow human-being? One of your own kin? Wouldn't that be a failure of the human race itself?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Of men, and mankind....Part II


The pitch dark alleyway loomed in front of her like Satan. Derelict structures bordered the lane; occasional void shrieks and dog howls punctured the pristine silence of the night, sending shivers down her spine. The kid looked ready to rustle up a bigger racket, but the girl was unusually quiet. She felt her mom crumbling, else she’d never lean on her like now. Little as she was, her tummy ached for nourishment, and her body for the soft fluffy bed at home. But she bit her lip, and hung on closer to the trembling arm.

The lady responded almost involuntarily. Unshed tears burned her eyes as the bitterness she held towards the city came crashing down upon her, all over again. The injustice she’d suffered as a newly-wed bride at the hands of the town; the coldness of the society residents when they inducted her into the apartment, the curt, jeering, so-called welcome-to-a-new-home function; the long, lone periods she suffered when her husband went out of town, the piercing back-bitching the fellow moms of her daughters’ friends did, the demeaning way in which the local bhandiwala tried to take advantage of her incompetence in marathi. How the next-door Mrs. Something had turned up with a card and a box of parsnips in the first week of her 8th month into pregnancy.
At least, she bothered to come, bit back her mind.
True, she agreed. No one else did.

Oh! How many times she’d wished she could throw up everything then and there and rush back HOME. To friends, to dad. Even Bombay was better. At least, the people there appreciated the fact that you existed, and existed as a human being not devoid of emotions. They called it the Oxford of the East. Rechristened it as the MHian Capital of Culture and Education. Is this the manner in which "cultured" and “educated” people behaved?? Does development, improvisation, progress, civilization….ah! civilization warrant, or rather, imply THIS??
Ignorance? Or…arrogance??
Were inter-regional marriages such a hard thing to digest for our developing population that they deserved to be shunned so cruelly?

Every time she was demoralized, she built up a stronger self-defence, a refuge from the ruthless world. And every time, the ruthless world came up with more efficiently ruthless ways of strangling her self-dignity. Of crushing her will-power, overthrowing her meekest of hopes.

She had hung up till now, for all her self-worth, for the sake of her loving husband, her family. But could she hang, for life? * pun intended *

Her thoughts abruptly hit shore as her eyes hit the wall beyond. A faint light flickered on as she flung around. She backed away, dragging the girl, even as she took in the situation.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, a voice rang out, crystal clear.

“Itni raat ko yahaan par rukna theek nahi. Kidhar jaana hai madam?”

She smiled, reluctantly. Queer ironies fate has in store. Her mind reeled. Drastically different implications through the same sentence by two different persons.

“10, Station Road. Aap chalenge?”
“Kyon nahi chalenge? Sona rakhaa hai yahaan?!”
“Kitna lenge?”
“Meter jitna dikhaata hai usse ek paisa na jyaada, lekin ek bhi na kam!”
“Half-return nahi?”
“Kanoon ke mutaabik, apun log half-return 12 bajne ke baad lete hain. Abhi paanch minat bache hain. Vaise aapko dena hai madam, to apne ko koi problem nahi hai!” :)

Suspicious though she felt, she climbed in. Off vroomed the cabby, into the pressing dark. The woman, by now, was so painfully alert that, every thud she heard felt over a hundred times magnified, and every bump made her look out for a purposely muffled sound underneath it. The cabbie, though, was at his jolliest best! Blabbing away to glory.
You couldn’t get a more enthusiastic guide to town, she couldn’t help smiling to herself.
His innocent aura emanated exuberance and the tension in the air dissipated away.

“Madam, lambaa rasthaa naapna padegaa. Bole toh aajkal highway 12 baje bandh ho jaata hai.”

She settled in as the driver pulled through the lazy outskirts of the city.
The gentle breeze almost lulled her into a blissful state of semi-consciousness, till....the cabbie, suddenly, ominously, stopped his A.I.R. of blabbing. Her feeling of foreboding bounced back, greater than ever. She looked him all over keenly, but the man seemed oblivious of everything but his driving.

Crazy, eerie thoughts pooled into her mind…of what the man was capable of doing to them, alone as they were. She tried to push the bad thoughts away, but try as she might, they bored deeper and more gorily into her imagination....

Without warning, the vehicle screeched to a halt. The child let out a wail as she was shaken out of her reverie. Fear, cold and piercing, engulfed her veins as she braced herself for any coming onslaught. But, somehow, as she gathered herself, the area seemed very well-lit…and more than a bit familiar..?!?

“Madam, plot 10 aa gaya.”

Of course! The Municipal Hall screening her building! She’d never been so glad to see it! She couldn’t speak for words as relief, warm and glowing, washed her over, inside-out, the second time in two hours. But this time, the reason was genuine. And the relief, curiously satisfying. She looked up into the beaming face of the cabbie. He was looking a bit the worse for wear, and his generous smile was vanishing fast as he tried to mumble something.
The woman took no notice.
She was lost in her own thoughts.

“Kitnaa hua bhaiyya?”
“Meter ke hisaab se toh pachaas rupaye, madam…lekin…”

The lady cut across.
“Aap sau le leejiye. Thank you aapne hamein itni door chhoda. Lautne ka problem hogaa. Itni raat gaye graahak nahi milega.”

Silence, overawed.
But, this time, the driver managed to mumble, audibly. “ ”
Then he took the 100 rupee note and duly returned the change.
And thudded away into the blackhole before she could protest, like some angel of God, it struck her, silently morphing away into oblivion after liberating distressed mortal souls.

The girl clapped her hands enthusiastically. She was really, really hungry, but it didn’t matter for once. She snuggled closer to the warmth, and light.

The trio looked after the careering vehicle, till its silhouette blended into the black, then slowly turned around to home, each in his own world....