I am of the belief that all pieces of writing must begin with powerful sentences. And as I sit, thinking hard, in my quest for one, with the unforgiving April heat creeping up my neck and making my difficult endeavour a harder one, I am suddenly reminded of how we all sat, in our stifling collared uniforms, furiously scribbling away (or not) at our answer scripts, writing the examination that would change our lives – the second PUC exam or its equivalents.
I’d like to believe that every student carries memories of that exam hall for as long as his memory serves, for who could forget that sudden increase in heartbeat as the invigilator approached with the question paper or how even the atheist offered silent prayers as the invigilator drew closer? Or the limited sleep in the months before the exam and the sleepless night before the exam. Those few nasty months were the time when God became a sought after friend and temples, mosques and churches (I had a friend who tried visiting all three) had an increased footfall of tired young faces praying fervently while striking deals with the almighty.
Those last minute revisions as concerned mothers checked bags for the correct number of pens and the hall ticket before sending us off with soothing words that never managed to fall on our ears, as we, frightened emotional wrecks walked to face our fates.
Aah. Difficult to forget, isn’t it?
For as long as we can remember, permitting fair exaggeration, since the time of the dinosaurs, the topic of Plus Two examinations has interested parents and society immensely. Since PUC is a state baby, I would like to imagine the dinosaurs of these parts too had “Nim maga yen odthidaane?” as a favourite conversation opener. An English translation of that fondly asked question would not do it justice because it has simply become an indispensible part of our culture and would be as futile as translating a Kannada gaadhé without losing its essence.
The very fact that the question of what your child studies makes a far more interesting conversation than let’s say, India’s economic growth or climate change, goes to show how academic importance has become an aspect of our culture.
The God of All Things
Arundathi Roy in her award winning book “The God of Small Things” talks about the deep rooted notions of Indian society and its many flaws. So, you wonder, as a people, what to us, could be The God of All Things?
That can be answered without second thought – Of course, it has to be the academic idea of education.
Now, one might ask, what can be flawed about such a noble idea? What could be wrong with a society that values education? That, every year, there are nearly 45 lakh graduates unemployed and nearly 30% of our man force unemployable speaks for itself!
In India, with its glorious history of innovation, which sadly ended long before any of us were born, human intelligence is narrowly defined academically. Creativity and skill take the backseat. Always. But how does this relate to increasing unemployment among graduates? Imagine a first ranker- academically brilliant, with his shining armour of gold medals and certificates but with zero knowledge of the ways of this dynamic world; who would hire him?
In today’s incredibly fast paced world, NOBODY.
To break it down, if you happen to be someone without a passion for trigonometry but the talent of Michelangelo, let nobody tell you that you aren’t worth much, because the majority of the world appreciates artistic masterpieces more than triangles!
Where do the Pichais and Nadellas come from?
Digging a little deeper, you will unearth that there is more to that colloquial question and it is often accompanied by an additional enquiry – “Nim maga yen odthidaane? PCMB, PCMC or PCME?”
The ease with which we assume that a child in PUC is naturally a student of Science, is actually hilarious. It is as if the study of commerce or the humanities does not exist at all; hovering only in the blurred peripheral edges of the society’s limited intellect, which never had much of a peripheral vision anyway! To add to that, the banal belief that the quintessential Science student is leaps ahead in terms of intelligence and ambition than his Commerce or Humanities pursuing peers, though exasperating, is terribly funny.
There have been instances when the wide smile on the face of a distant relative has changed to a pitiful grimace upon hearing that I was a Commerce student and not a ‘Science treasure’ or this particular time, when a cousin of mine was grievously injured before his final exams, and a friend of his mother’s seemed to lose all sympathy for him upon learning that he was a commerce student and needn’t have to worry about giving the CET!
But the entire lamenting on the hierarchy of Science-Commerce-Humanities and the Engineer-Doctor rat race is a cliché. So moving on from the trivial –
Sunder Pichai and Satya Nadella. They commanded all our attention when they made headlines. And oh, we couldn’t get enough of speaking about them. Two Indians, leading the world’s emperor organisations- Google and Microsoft; the Gods of innovation. Oh, how proud we were. And how we wished our children, small fish in a mean ocean made it big like them too.
But the Pichais and Nadellas, are as rare as the Halley’s comet and come only perhaps ,once in a century. And I’ll tell you why. The Pichais and Nadellas are crafted by a hand that believes in independent thinking, creative intelligence and an expansive intellect. You will not find them in classrooms packed like sardines where the best student is the one who can differentiate or integrate faster than his friend. But, if luck favours us, and amongst those sardines is one little fish trying to escape, because he/she can’t stand the monotony, that’s the one you need to look out for. That’s your Pichai or Nadella!
The Rooster Coop
Drawing from Arvind Adiga’s Man Booker prize winning “ The White Tiger”, the Rooster Coop describes the situation of the Indian student or employee so perfectly, that you can fall in love with the exactness of the concept! We’ve argued, debated and cried about the so called ‘rat race’ little realising that we have all run it or are still running it; just can’t win it.
The answer to why nobody has been able to win the rat race lies in understanding that we’re actually all in the Rooster Coop. If you ever were to walk past a butcher’s shop with its aura of gore, you will see a coop or a cage of roosters packed so tightly that they can’t even turn their heads. Imagine being very much alive but still not living, in the true sense.
Now, the harsh truth is, we’re all roosters in a coop. We know we’re next in line for slaughter, but we do nothing about it. We just sit in the coop, packed tightly with our friends, ignoring the fact that death is round the corner, and maybe talking about how beautiful the weather is today!
So, why hasn’t anybody won the rat race? Because, let alone the rat race, they never got out of the coop to run any race!
Home is where the heart is
Of the many absurdities that plague us, arguably the most laughable is “Children who will study can study anywhere”. How ideal, as you create the image of a perfectly focused student who is able to concentrate and learn in any environment you put him in; even a warzone.
But ideals are limited to talk and we must accept that everybody needs exactly the right atmosphere and vibes to do anything, and since learning is a deeply intellectual process, a student is definitely entitled to the right environment. Because home is always where the heart is.
Since this is an honest reflection, I should think that a small peek into my own experience is admissible. I finished my Pre University College from the Mysore Institute of Commerce and Arts (MICA as it is known) and have pretty much survived the rigours of the course like my seven lakh and odd peers who just wrote the final board exams.
Though I fought the same battle with them, I fought it a little differently. And that is because I wasn’t in an environment that was a tightly packed tin of sardines, but maybe a shoal of parrot fish, with a little more colour and enough space for free thought.
A rather recent entrant to Mysore’s education sphere, MICA has grown over the past four years into a progressive and dynamic institution. A breath of fresh air maybe against the plethora of decades old colleges where at least two generations of a family have attended the same college!
Mostly an un-reviewed place, it is an attempt at breaking the old conventional approach to teaching and studying. As I mentioned previously, there is more emphasis on free thought and the building of skills. There are students from all walks of life and not just restricted to the IIT-CPT aspiring big wigs, which makes it an interesting mixture to learn in.
MICA offers undergraduate degrees for the Commerce stream along with PUC with courses in Commerce and Science, under the aegis of Mysore Educational Trust – MET. Initially with a head count of a hundred students, MICA and MICA Mahesh PU College as it is now collectively known, has a student of fraternity over a thousand.
Walk into MICA, and you will be greeted by the sight of maybe a teacher and student engaged animatedly in talk about which movie to watch or going over a Facebook meme. And then you will see them get up and head towards the cafeteria discussing the global economic slowdown as animatedly as the discussion on a movie. It is a rather strange and unique environment where the teacher-student relationship is one of friendship and mutual respect than one which is dominated by fear and forced respect, which increases the desire to learn manifold.
There seems to be place for everybody; the academically oriented and the ones that are not, and each personality is recognised and not lost in the crowd. The sessions are designed to be challenging and creative and everybody’s participation is required. The classes are breezy and you have ample free time to maybe read a book or listen to music, or just sit and chat at the cafeteria.
The exposure demands that you learn practically and it’s perfectly fine if memorising theory is not your cup of tea! It tries to go beyond the idea that a student of Commerce has only a B.Com or B.B.M degree as an option and must eventually end up with an MBA. With plenty of internships, seminars and presentations, it is your ability to ‘manage’ things in the true sense that matters more than your grades. And of course, the opportunities to pursue any extra-curricular activity with complete freedom; be it mountaineering or football – You have the liberty to choose to conduct a management event over writing your internals! And that’s what made the difference – at least to me. This is the reason why we are so very grateful to the MIST – MICA Integrated Skills Training, programme. From presenting in the classroom to participating in MUN to hosting a quiz competition to organizing the fest at MICA – MICAnvas, to hosting MI 7 Football to MI Kabbadi to winning championships in management fests to ramp walk to talent show to start up business to internship… the list never seem to end. And to stick by the conventions, topping exams, getting placed in Fortune 500 companies, to studying UG and PG abroad. Not to forget college excursions with lectures escorting students…I mean its mind boggling to be exposed what a student never dreamt of.
Anyway, wrapping up, the debate on the flaws of the current education system and the absurdities of our thinking is never ending. India became a free nation (or so they say) 69 years ago, but we still don’t have freedom in our education system. In the general diaspora (because all of us are not privileged to study what we like), a person with a love for Science is largely restricted to becoming an engineer or doctor and somebody who maybe likes wood carving, with nowhere else to go (because society dictates that creativity can’t earn you your bread), also ends up being an engineer or doctor.
And so we continue to live as we do and continue to use “Nim maga yen odthidaane” to start meaningful conversations; forgiving the government for the paper leak scams and the inadequacies of our text books. We continue to be directionless sheep in a vast flock, only pausing to notice and frown upon the black one.
Anyway, on a happier note, one must congratulate all those who survived Pre University College and an extra pat on the back for those who made it out of the Rooster Coop. I made it out of the rooster coop, with a few broken tail feathers albeit, but my wings are just fine. But you?