Saturday, June 28, 2008

Brain drain

I was at a felicitation function for some class 10 and 12 students. The three speakers who were talking about career options had one main theme running through the whole evening. They wanted these kids to study hard and go abroad. It is interesting how we equate brains and success with going abroad. Yes, I am aware that a lot of professionals ( more than ever before anyway) are coming back to India. Yet, going abroad is looked upon as the ultimate feather in the cap. Admission to a foreign university or a posting in another country is regarded as the ultimate accolade. A true case of home made chicken being equal to lentils...... "ghar ki murgi daal barabar". And this even when we talk of India Shining.
Then we talk of brain drain.....

Gandhigiri: Reality of the big talk

Thanks to Lage Raho Munnabhai, we now have a term, Gandhigiri, that is on everybody’s tongue. The term that conveys how its pays being nice to the others — remember turning the other cheek! Overnight, Gandhigiri clubs have mushroomed. A popular TV programme even had a spoof on it; it showed how pickpockets preferred to target those going to see this movie, as they were more generous and less prone to resist or act heroic.

Gandhigiri has rekindled the hope of underdogs and brought us out as nice people, willing to bend for the good of other. We can all forget the ugly picture painted by a firang magazine recently that showed Indians as being rudest in the world. So far, so good.

But I have had my experiences that put to test Gandhigiri, and would like to share them with you. Recently, I was caught in the rush-hour traffic. At 6:30 pm it was the worst possible time to get stuck. My normally well-behaved car decided it was time to act up. It stopped and no amount of cajoling, coaxing or spirited turns of the key could even elicit a whine, leave alone get it to purr.

I was alone in the car and getting delayed on my way to pick up my 11 and 16-year-old boys. Those who weaved around my vehicle and passed by, gave me accusing looks. There were one or two irritated honks as well.

A push start seemed my only option and I stepped out of my car, in the hope of getting some help. I approached two men who on hearing the request, looked at each other, raised their brows and shook their heads. Taken aback –this was my first such experience and that too post Munnabhai! I smiled (after all, it was their prerogative) and walked over to two small shop owners and repeated my request. Without batting an eyelid, they refused.

By this time, I was truly flustered and decided to approach the local law for help. The traffic cop was just watching the vehicles flow around him. He looked suitably concerned. I felt relieved and when I was just about to point out my car, he said, “If only there were some hamals(labourers) around here – all these people are educated – how can I ask them?”

I had been a fool. I was ignorant of the fact that education ensures you never have to bother about helping someone in need. I always was led to believe that education meant a broader vision. Obviously, my education was wasted. I made a mental note to tell my brother, a doctor, and my husband, a software professional, never to respond to any pleas for help ever again!

Seeing that the law was as helpless as I was, I decided to move on – across the street where I saw a driving school. In the hope that there may be a couple of driving teachers or even car experts, who may solve the problem, I approached a person who was sitting at the table. I repeated my plight with little hope of any help – after all, if the policeman was right, people learnt to read and write just so as not to help anyone. I was pleasantly surprised when he got up from behind the table and asked me (in English too!) where my car was. He gathered a couple of others and helped me on my way.

While I do believe that one should have the right to choose what one does, we are all brought up with the ideal of helping others.

Popular culture would have us believe that it is the lower classes who have a “heart of gold” to compensate for the lack of the yellow metal and wealth. Yet, almost every man I approached declined help. A lot has been said about Indian good nature and helpfulness, etc – why, it has been waxed eloquent about how our material poverty is inverse to our wealth of character? I, too, believed in it. After all, this was the land of Gandhi (and now Gandhigiri!)

I may be wrong, but with all the cultural diet that we are fed, on dignity of labour (Gandhiji even got wife Kasturba to clean toilets), the movies with the rich hero having no problems doing anything menial, the glory of the farmer who tills the land finding his way into umpteen works of literature, we seem to think that a college degree absolves us of any need to do anything that remotely is outside the AC’ed office (or now the AC supermarkets/shopping malls).

There are the rich and famous who seem to think nothing of driving over few pedestrians. The children going to decent schools seem to have forgotten how to greet their elders (I do not believe in feet touching but a namaste or a good morning/evening would be nice!). I field enough calls from my son’s friends (age 16) to feel like a telephone operator and yet I rarely hear a “good evening aunty” tagged on. Mostly its – “is he there?” not even a “may I speak to…”.

So what exactly are we? The rudest people in the world or the ones who welcome the ideals of Gandhiji with fanfare and fervour? Then again, are we implementing Gandhigiri in real life? After all, talk is cheap!

Confessions of a mother from the 10th fast lane

Kya aap Dasvi pass se tez hain?

No, no, this is not a new show on the TV. It is a reality, as old as the education system in our country. Then again it is more interesting than any show and has all the ingredients of a best seller. There is blood toil and tears sometimes for more than just that one academic year, the tension of the exams, excitement of the results, the thrill of achievement, the disappointment of falling short , the sorrow of failure, and occasionally the terrible tragedy of suicide. There are the heroes (without a gender bias) who conquer the mountain of merit lists and there are the villains who cheat and hope to get the seal of ‘tenth pass’. There are the eternal mothers or MAA, who make endless sacrifices and fathers who have noses to the grindstone in order to pay for the best extra coaching that money can buy.

There was a time when ‘tuition classes’ was just a whisper heard by those who were genuinely weak at one or another subject. One rarely mentioned that one was part of such a class for fear of being ridiculed as dumb. Cut to today and there are coaching classes that are as difficult to get into as IIT. They are advertised as loudly as any other consumer goods and market the classes as aggressively as a cola. Woe betides any who do not toe the line and skip coaching.

How do I know this? Well I was one of the teeming numbers just this past academic year.
A mother with a cause… mine to do or die, not to reason why. I was expected (so I was informed, by any and everyone) to support my son’s quest for the holy grail….er…Class 10 certificate.

I was advised to cut cable TV. It was not enough that my son controlled his TV viewing, we as a family had to make this sacrifice too was the earnest advice from a battle scarred mom, whose son had been going for coaching for two years and had scored 89% the previous year. So did I do it? Not at all… my son watched matches and movies and was keeping up with “star world” as the real world spun around at a dizzying speed.

During the X-mas vacations, one of my concerned friends called up to find out how my son was coping with the pressure. When I told her that he had gone out of town on a short break, she almost split my eardrums with a high decibel shriek. As if that were not enough, she proceeded to give me an earful on why I should have just kept him at home for the holidays.

Another mom gave me diet counseling. (It had nothing to do with me being overweight) ‘Nothing but simple home cooked meals’ she said, wagging her finger in my face. Keep him fit…. nothing wrong with that…… except that she also told me not to feed him too much at night. ‘Make sure he is not full, it will keep him awake’. Ah, so the secret is starvation. When I put forth this idea to my son, he agreed in principle that he should give up dinner, but asked me to stock up on chips and biscuits and snacks. Just what I wanted-- a junk foodie!
In a mothers meet, I was listening to tuition class stories being swapped. Thinking that I was a shy wall flower, one of the moms kindly tried to draw me into the conversation by asking me where my son went for classes. When I hesitantly told her that he was not going anywhere and that I thought the school was doing a great job, there was a shocked silence and you could have heard a pin drop. When one of them finally found her tongue, she asked me (in a tone reserved for a mentally slow person) why I did not force him to go, even though the school was good. On discovering that I was supporting the class boycott by my son, she stared at me, shook her head and hasn’t spoken to me since.

Being an outcast wasn’t too pleasant, but I stuck to my guns in the face of a lot of such advice – why I did not give him the latest wonder drug for memory, why I let him play, why I went visiting my mom, why I had any parties at home…..( the only other time I have heard so many suggestions is when my son was born and I was a fresh off- the- maternity- ward- mom). However, looks like I am with the “IN” crowd again. The phone has been ringing since yesterday, since I learnt that my son scored a wonderful 96.2% in his board exam.
(Incidentally this was my article in a pune mag Intelligent pune)
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