Saturday, June 21, 2008 7 reflections

The ‘education’ paradigm

MAITRI AND VIKAS have been together for almost five years now. Maitri works for an ad agency while Vikas is a freelance photographer who has his own studio in the city. After half a decade of closely knit courtship, they finally decided to tie the knot. Despite the fact that they had lived together for almost three years, they felt the need to officially solemnize the relationship with the seal of matrimony. I have also been invited to the festivities and I hope to make it there to wish them both a world of happiness and bliss.

Now, what does Maitri and Vikas have in common? Except the fact that they are seriously mad about each other – nothing. They come from ridiculously different backgrounds. She is the quintessential Gujju (short for Gujrati) girl steeped in various cultural variations of her own roots which include a monthly visit to Swami Narayan temples with her family. He, on the other very distant hand, is an atheist who finds the concept of God and religion a complete hoax. Despite being bred in a fairly orthodox Iyengar family, Vikas found his Almighty in his photographs. He neither worships anyone else nor intends to. Well – maybe with the fair exception of Maitri.

There is one more strand, apart from these concrete platforms these two stand on, that tell them apart – their education. Maitri has a decorated MBA from one of the finest Universities of the country while Vikas never even finished college. My conservatively liberal upbringing let out a spark when this fact breezed by me. As someone who has been fed on a rich diet of the clichéd - ‘Arranged Marriage Good / Love Marriage Bad’ – I could not help but wonder what it would have been like had these two met under different circumstances. For instance, had they interacted with each other through a regular marriage alliance or a matrimonial website? I can wager quite confidently that Maitri would have declined Vikas’ proposal. Reason – he wasn’t educated enough to match her intellectual prowess and hence would harm her family’s sense of pride.

There was something about this possibility that bothered me. Considering that the concept of arranged marriages is most prevalent in countries like India, how much value do the others – read Americans, English, Europeans et al who do not consider the semantics of the other person for love and hopefully more – really give the formal education of their partner? Does it even matter? As I spoke to one of my Italian colleagues, she almost laughed at the question. ‘As long as he is a good man and knows how to treat a woman’ she said with an air of assurance that almost made me blush. I could not help but head back to the hundreds of profiles of prospective brides I had seen in the past few months where a girl with Bachelors in Commerce was looking for a doctor or an M.D or in some cases a PhD holder! I could not quite fathom the logic behind this sense of match making. If one looks at the relationship from a purely financial point of view, then there is some room for the argument that a person with a higher qualification stands a bright chance for a better job – hence translating into better income which then equates itself into wonderful living.


But does it really mean that a person with a PhD is a better human being than someone with a BCA degree or even just a diploma? Hardly. From experience if there is one thing I have learnt is that the most irrational and outrageous behaviors come from highly qualified individuals. Not to belittle their accomplishments – since I know some wonderful human beings with advanced degrees as well – but their educational milestones are rarely a reflection of their personality. I was reminded of Muniyappa, one of the ground staff who used to work with my father when he was in the Central government. During my three years in Chennai, I had never met a man – apart from my father of course – more affectionate than him. My father used to joke that maybe he was a woman in his past life since there was no other explanation to his deep sense of kindness, gratitude, humbleness and above all - honesty. He was happily married and fathered three wonderful children. He was truly an image of what a human being should believe in and follow as a principle in making the world a better place. As it turned out, Muniyappa had stopped his education after the tenth grade.

There are several such examples where a person with lesser exposure to academia has turned out to be the ideal person one wishes for while someone with illustrative multiple degrees attached to their shoulder turns out to be the biggest imbeciles one could ever meet.

I do not debate the fact that education is definitely a must if a society has to grow and prosper, but my reservation is with gauging a person’s character based on his education. Ideally one would think the two would be directly proportional – but the reality is that they are not. Education is merely one tool that helps bring awareness and knowledge to a person but it is not the only tool. There are so many more parameters that shape an individual’s character. Some of it is experience, some is the hardship one has gone through while others include understanding what love means and how to respect the opposite sex. If people fail in these vital categories, no amount of education helps.

As I get ready to wish Maitri and Vikas on their joyous day, the words of Aristotle ring true – ‘Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things a man chooses and avoids.’ So the next time you meet someone with lesser intellectual milestones than yourself, try not to walk away too soon. You might be about to meet a true gift to mankind or who knows … even a life partner!


Saturday, June 14, 2008 3 reflections

What song are you humming now?

IT IS 2PM ON A DULL Friday afternoon. It has been an excruciatingly long week as I keep looking at my watch patiently awaiting the needles to show me the ‘3PM position’ so that I can wrap things up and head home. I sit back after responding to another email from a colleague and yawn as carelessly as a two month old infant. And just like that, I start swinging in my chair looking blankly at the computer screen. It is one of those moments where saying nothing and doing nothing make perfect sense. I am now waiting for her follow up response to what I had just sent. To ease myself, I take a deep breathe and exhale out a tune. And the string of words that follow next have me wrapped in their comfort for the next few seconds.

‘Wahaan kaun hai tera…musaafir…jaayega kahaan…dum le le ghadi bhar…yeh chaiyyan…paayega kahaan…’

No sooner have I finished crooning this 1965 classic a few times from the brilliant movie ‘Guide’ in a fake SD Burman voice, that her follow up response arrives and my afternoon continues. I smile to myself as I have found a renewed sense of peace again.

What struck me the most about this incident was the fact that it took a 1965 song to actually help me find a subtle yet familiar calm in a 2008 afternoon! So, there were 43 long years in between them that I had managed to bridge in that brief moment of impatience and fatigue. Amazing – I thought – 43 years. That is almost one and a half times as old as I am now! Then how was it possible that such an old tune was able to help me amplify my mood that afternoon? Is that not the definition of a timeless classic? Does that not truly qualify to be the epitome of human melody?

If there is one thing that has always been sung in Indian folklore, it is the unique essence of variable music in our country. Be it any language – Kannada, Hindi, Bhojpuri or Bengali – each language has classics of its own that make our collection so distinct. I mean lets face it – the one that automatically came to my subconscious was a tune half a century old! What more testament can there be of the word ‘classic’? But along with this assuring thought came a rather disturbing one too. How many such classics can I pick out from the last ten years of Indian music? Or shall we say Hindi music? Or even Kannada – my mother tongue - for that matter? Fifty? A hundred? Two hundred?

I can bet good money that the list will thin out after a while since I wonder if memorable songs are even being made any more. Sure – they are a rage once they are released – but a few months into their run and they have emptied out their lifespan. You remember them – but you do not croon them to entertain yourself. They have died a natural death. Why is this? In an era where freehand copyright violations of music are considered ‘hip’, have we truly lost sight of original tunes? And even if they are original, are they really coming with expiration dates? It was a sad sense of loss that crept into me since I, like many fellow Indians in my age group, are the final generation who had the best of everything. We – the 27 – 35 age rangers – were the truly gifted kind who jumped up in glee at the color television and applauded the dial up Internet connection. We were the X-generation kids who played hide and seek for evening games and surfed online in search of a date. Oh yes – we have been through it all. But what bothered me the most, is that how little we have managed in music to offer to the next generation. How futile and media-crazy our industries have become that dish out one pathetic attempt after another. The mad race for ‘get rich quick’ has pretty much weeded out the true gems, who stand waiting for their share of sunlight.


I am sure 20 years from now, people will still be singing ‘wahaan kaun hai tera…’ while everything in between might have become a void. And some day another person will write a similar article – only the number of years will be 63.

So,reader,what song are you humming now?