Thursday, July 31, 2008

Universal and Timeless Wisdom - Is it relevant today or is it a waste of time?

My last blog featured a letter by Abraham Lincoln to his son’s teacher.

I had read this letter many years back as a student and was struck by its simplicity but did not think too much about it. It came back as a flash yesterday and formed the basis of my blog.

It was very interesting to examine how many of these universal and timeless human values form part of our education system. Further, do these values have any place in our children’s upbringing today?

Without trying to sound cynical or pessimistic, I thought how practical, worldly wise and competitive parents would have written such a letter today.

He will have to learn, I know, that all men are not just, all men are not true and therefore teach him also that it is a big bad world out there; that every Politician is selfish, and there is a dedicated leader... who is only dedicated to his own interests….. Teach him for every enemy there is a friend who is one because it is in his interest to be so,

Steer him away from envy, if you can, but teach him the secret of quietly laughing at others and showing him superior to others.

Let him learn early that it is easy to be a bully and easy to lick the softie good guys. Teach him, if you can, that books are a waste of time... as everything is available on Google and Wikipedia. But also give him quiet time to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun, and the flowers on a green hillside with an once a year trip to a nature park.

In school teach him it is far more honourable to cheat than fail...
Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, or steal other people’s ideas if he does not have his own even

STOP IT!!!!! I could not continue beyond this as it is getting too negative for my constitution.

Is this reality today? – Yes, sadly though.

Our current times are hurried and intensely competitive. Success at any cost seems to be the motto. Our entire emphasis seems to be on mass producing literates and not on education. I had discussed some of these points in my earlier blog The Mad Annual Ritual.

The, almost manic, need to perform, fetish for perfection, obsession for topping the class and high marks, expensive coaching, crammed schedules, pressure of expectations seem to sum up a child’s journey through their school days.

This is followed by similar excesses in colleges. You juggle with college lectures, coaching classes for multiple entrance exams for professional courses.

Where are we heading? What is all this pressure going to achieve? What is the impact of all this on innocent minds? Does this constant emphasis on achievement create dysfunctional adults later?

These and many similar questions go through my mind.

I have seen enough of life to realize that spectacular success in school – college academic life does not necessarily mean successful human beings. More often than not we get to see very uni-dimensional adults. Such adults normally have low emotional and spiritual quotients and face burn-outs at a young age. It is also not uncommon for many such stars staring at an engulfing emptiness by their mid – late thirties.

I do not claim that I have understood this complex development in our society nor do I pretend that I have the solutions.

However, a few personal observations as a parent

- Stop getting obsessed with marks and ranks. There is more to life than just numbers,

- Do not thrust your unfulfilled ambitions on your children. They are unique individuals and will have their own thoughts, ambitions, likes and dislikes….

- Encourage all round development beyond academics. Let them develop a taste for reading, the arts, music, sports etc.,

- Emphasize on certain eternal values like respect for elders, courtesy, kindness, need to share, need to help, personal discipline etc.,

- Spend both “quantity” and “quality” time with your children. Nothing can justify your absence when they need you most for they will not be there when the world has turned its back on you….(sounds idealistic…it is not. If we try hard enough, there is enough time available),

This is not some quick fix DIY manual, but suggestions distilled out of life. I am sure there can be endless ways in which each one can make this journey of being a parent very rich and fulfilling

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Universal and Timeless Wisdom – Education in Human Values

Today was an “Off Day” as I am recovering from a dental surgery. Fellow bloggers would agree – What’s better than spending a rainy day at home with tea – bhajias and reading and writing blogs.

I commented on Krishnan’s blog Musings & Miscellany wishing his son on his birthday with an extract from Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his son’s teacher. This blog is a result of my reflection on this letter.

This letter brings out so simply that human values are universal and timeless. These human values form the foundation on which noble societies, nay a civilisation is built. Please read this letter carefully

He will have to learn, I know, that all men are not just, all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero; that for every selfish Politician, there is a dedicated leader... Teach him for every enemy there is a friend,

Steer him away from envy, if you can, teach him the secret of quiet laughter.

Let him learn early that the bullies are the easiest to lick. Teach him, if you can, the wonder of books... But also give him quiet time to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun, and the flowers on a green hillside.

In the school teach him it is far honourable to fail than to cheat... Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong... Teach him to be gentle with gentle people, and tough with the tough.

Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone is getting on the band wagon... Teach him to listen to all men... but teach him also to filter all he hears on a screen of truth, and take only the good that comes through.

Teach him if you can, how to laugh when he is sad... Teach him there is no shame in tears, Teach him to scoff at cynics and to beware of too much sweetness... Teach him to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidders but never to put a price-tag on his heart and soul.

Teach him to close his ears to a howling mob and to stand and fight if he thinks he's right. Treat him gently, but do not cuddle him, because only the test of fire makes fine steel.

Let him have the courage to be impatient... let him have the patience to be brave. Teach him always to have sublime faith in himself, because then he will have sublime faith in mankind.

This is a big order, but see what you can do... He is such a fine fellow, my son!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Unclear Leads – Political Drama Reaches its Climax

The high political drama that we witnessed till a couple of days was purportedly about the Nuclear Deal.

The climax scene was unique and never seen before. You had speeches with amazing qualities. Some were earnest, others vitriolic, and few were a dead sure cure for the most chronic and stubborn insomnia. Most were, however, completely off the mark. You also had a clever addition of a cameo by three “Roughies-Toughies” who did the “Jumping Jack – Magician” trick. They jumped into the well (not the paniwala) and materialized crisp currency notes out of thin air. (Because u could not have got all that stuff through tight security)

The next so-called economic superpower had to suffer the ignominy of the electronic voting mis-firing for atleast fifty-four MPs. I think this was deliberate as it added a dash of suspense at the end.

As we had seen earlier, there was no fixed script so all deviations and innovations were part of this new form of dramatization and they added to the rich hue of this play.

The script required some one to come out victor and as we all know the Cong/UPA side of the cast breasted the tape.

Like all “good things”, this too has come to an end. The audience was witness to some amazing and innovative drama form. The end was marked by relief, wild applause, gloom and outrage, depending on which section of the audience you belonged.

The curtains finally fell on what was a historic event in our history.

The jury is still out on whether this was a proud or a shameful moment.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Nuclear Deal – The Indian Political Drama

A lot of my fellow countrymen may be feeling that life is not the same boring humdrum existence that it normally tends to become. Suddenly, we have something of great interest that is monopolizing our attention. We Indians are being treated to an absorbing and a riveting drama being played out in our political capital. This drama belongs to the Political Satire genre.

Consider the ingredients of this thriller. There is spice, deceit, double crossing, secrecy, main plots, sub-plots, multiple characters, suspense, tragedy, fights, counter punches, loyalties, switching loyalties, bribery and many hidden twists and turns, emotional blackmail and so on...(Read the dailies and watch all channels – do not forget to sms your responses)

The frailties of human character are played out to perfection, highlighting pettiness, selfishness, and myopic vision of the players. (I am not listing all the frailties as we might just get derailed)

The best part of this drama is that there is no pre-written script. It is like a living organism which is evolving and mutating itself into different forms and shapes. All this is happening with the active and enthusiastic participation of the cast – our dear beloved politicians.

The plot owes its origin to a Nuclear Deal sought to be negotiated between India with the USA by the BJP led NDA. They lose power in 2004 and the succeeding Congress led UPA (supported by Leftie) seeks to complete what was begun by NDA.

Here comes the first twist – How can BJP/NDA permit Congress/UPA to take all the credit. After all it was their idea. So all efforts must be made to stall Cong/UPA. You queer the pitch by introducing the emotion of “Betraying National Interests” which shall sway the masses. Now enters the villain – our Leftie (Who has changed roles now). They up the stakes by threatening to withdraw support and topple the government.

Congress wants to enjoy fruits of power and Leftie keeps shouting “WOLF” every time Congress looks at USA. BJP/NDA goes shrill every time this happens, giving background music.

Circa – June 2008: Things heat up.

Congress is battered in many states. Inflation has taken its toll. Dream team of economists has messed up management of economy. Congress feels that this is time to cement their place in history. So they start moving and Leftie sulks and withdraws from the main stage vowing to topple Congress/UPA.

The pace quickens and the audience is at the edge of their seats. Suddenly there is hectic activity and there is movement in every direction. Everybody is rediscovering their love for the nation. They are in favour of statesmanship. Sworn enemies have turned fast friends – cum – saviours. A particular community is suspected of being vulnerable to radioactivity from all the “nuclear talk” going on so it is declared against their interests.

There are betrayals, fierce arguments, counter arguments, baits (Consensus is Rs. 25 crs), honey traps (maybe), silly postures and sillier statements.

We are at this stage now and the drama shall continue…………reaching new heights in theatrical expression.

Did I hear some one from the back seats say……”ENOUGH IS ENOUGH………Tell these old foggies to clear out………We need change……..”

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Nuclear Deal - Our Delhi Circus

We are witnessing the “Delhi Circus” being played out everyday and is being brought to us with special comments from a biased media, biased political players, biased scientific establishment and lastly the industry lobby which has its own axe to grind.

The nuclear deal, political brinkmanship, deceit…. are all perfect ingredients to a racy thriller and we have not yet seen or heard the last on this.

What is, however, very surprising is that right from the beginning there is no attempt to examine what is involved in this deal, what are its strategic implications, what are the potential benefits of such an arrangement to us, what could go wrong and how well are we insulated from any such eventuality and in case the eventuality does happen do we have a Plan-B in place.

I understand that it makes no sense to publicly declare all those nuclear sites, which are being used for military purposes, or to discuss the quantum of plutonium we require as a strategic reserve or to debate on the number of nuclear weapons that should form part of the armoury.

It is, however, imperative to discuss threadbare the civilian part of the nuclear deal. It is also important that a clear policy is declared on what happens to the unique Fast Breeder Reactor program, which we have so doggedly pursued over the years and are probably near achieving important breakthroughs.

There are certain perspectives, which I want to lay out and examine.

First the nuclear deal.

a. The Indo-US deal or 1-2-3 Agreement is expected to permit civil nuclear commerce in exchange for full IAEA safeguards only on the civilian nuclear assets,

b. India would be permitted to identify assets used for military purposes and keep them away from international safeguards along with existing stock piles of re-processed uranium, plutonium and _ _ _ number of bombs that we may have,

c. There is the strategic angle of flexibility we will have on nuclear bomb testing and weaponisation,

d. Linked to this is the question of reliability of fuel supplies and whether this could be constantly linked to how well we “behave” (vis-à-vis our nuclear ambitions).

These four broad areas pretty much sum up the nuclear deal on which there seems to be so much hullabaloo. Everything else is incidental to the core. I wonder if these issues can ever be examined dispassionately in detail and we understand how this deal can impact us favourably or otherwise.

Sadly, emotional outbursts seem to be the order of the day and a rational evaluation seems remote.

The moot question is - Are we incapable of ever conducting a rational, organised and a strategic thought process? Overwhelming evidence suggests that we are not, but I am still hopeful.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Great Indian Exodus - II

All modes of transport are booked to their seams but the excitement of a vacation lightens any discomfort of an over crowded train or bus or even a cramped cattle class flight.

The Indian Railways provide the wheels to this great temporary sub-continental migration. Over the years the railways have perfected the art of clearing this summer rush.

Preparations for the vacations begin sixty to ninety days prior to the date of journey. It is a mad scramble for tickets. In my childhood, we would have to wait in long queues (separate queues for each destination) filling out reservation forms and wait for our turn to reach the booking window at Mumbai VT or at Churchgate. This demi-god behind the grilled window would determine when and how we could begin the journey. A simple “Not Available” would dash many a hope… With the advent of computers, air conditioners made an entry and one could take the benefit of standing in any queue. Internet has further simplified this process and one has the added advantage of home delivery of tickets.

Ah those days – they have been lost in some obscure pages of history. I wonder if any one misses those days. We seem to have quickly adopted new technologies as fish to water.

Rajdhanis, Shatabdis and Garib Raths are the obvious choices and tickets are snapped up in a few minutes, but any train is ok if tickets are not available.

Every summer hundreds of “Summer Specials” are announced to manage this great surge of humanity. Trains, packed to capacity, begin their long journeys disgorging man-bag-baggage at various stations on the way. The heat and poor comfort seem hardly a bother. I wonder what is that that make people endure this discomfort and still retain child like excitement about the whole journey.

Buses do their bit too and we have the State Road Transport Corporations, popularly known as ST buses with their Regular, Deluxe, Fast Deluxe, Semi-Luxury, Luxury and now A/c-Volvo too. Matching ST buses we have innumerable private offerings where ticket rates can be negotiated before boarding the bus. I think Volvo buses seem to be top favourites and who can forget the sleeper buses.

The return journeys see distinctly lower levels of energy and excitement. After all end of vacations are in sight and it is back to the grind. The very thought of school or office is enough to get a frown on many faces. But such is life and the great mass of people make their way back home to their regular routine having taken, perhaps, a well deserved rest.
Apart from family bonding and a refreshing change, the Indian tourist is also oiling the wheels of commerce within the country. Domestic tourism is a big contributor to employment and is a great economic benefit. With better facilities being made available and greater inclination to hit off beat trails, we take great pleasure in re-discovering Incredible India!