Thursday, March 18, 2010

Of Garlands and Democracy!!

Another garland of currencies for the leader! I wonder why we the citizens of this country are creating such a hue and cry over these visuals of one of our esteemed leaders being garlanded for more money than what could have fed at least hundreds of households for years?
The fact that politics is a heady mix of power, religion and a lot on money has been known to us and yet the civil society actually considers the unholy trinity a necessary evil. Somewhere, it seems, we as a collective society has learned to feign shock only at instances of overt display of that trinity. Even Lincoln would rethink his subscription to the concept of democracy if he were to see the implementation of the system. We make decisions on who to vote for on the basis of extremely skewed preferences for questionable characteristics and that weakness has been exploited by few into establishing a political system where the public which it is supposed to serve ends up bearing the cost of lugging an unproductive and often callous office bearers.
The garlands were not a symbol of corruption, they were a symbol of a failed system where few decide for many and many who were supposed to choose the few are left wondering what happened!

Finally TERI.... Wow!!

Upinder Dhingra got selected to The Energy and Resources Institute and that is one of the best news I have had in a while. Apart from a student succeeding in getting a job in a company what pleased me more was that I too had dreamt of working with TERI after my MBA. My attempts at associating with them were however fruitless. So a student getting in is almost like an extension of me getting in! I know, Upinder may not look upon himself as an “extension” of me but I guess these are some of the few luxuries teaching offers!
That brings me to another point. I do not see many MBAs look for jobs in the not for profit sector. Is it probably because they consider working for such institutions as working for less remuneration? If that is so, they are mistaken! NGOs and organizations like WWF, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Teri….. offer more than decent packages compared to many conventionally attractive sectors.
More than that working in such organizations offers young managers a chance to work at policy level issues and areas of significant socio economic importance.
I guess coming semester onwards we should try to highlight such companies in the classes too!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How We Create Negative Citizens

This is the story of one of the best students I have had over the past many years. This story, I believe may provide some answers to any of us who wonder why the future citizens of this country harbour such intense scepticism and negativity towards life in India.

This is the story of my namesake, Ashish. His story is perhaps a good snapshot of all that has gone wrong in our country. Ashish was a perceptive, intelligent and motivated student. He belonged to a middle class family from a small town in a state know more for its backwardness, corruption and crime than anything else. Ashish had seen all that. He had seen his honest father being hounded by the powerful. He had seen large swathes of rural India suffer while ministers were being garlanded with currency notes that could have fed villages for an year. He had seen all that and still he had the courage to believe in the concept of India as a nation whose time was yet to come. Ashish believed that like his father, he could use education to help others. Even though he was doing his MBA, he always wanted to use his business education for social good. His pet project was to somehow translate his father's gift of being able to concoct cheap, natural remedies for many illnesses into a business model where he could make his father's skill reach the poor at incredibly cheap prices. He probably was aiming for another Aravind Eye Clinic model!

To say that he was disenchanted with the entire MBA experience would not be too far off the mark but even that did not break his spirit. In his final semester, a series of incidents managed to not only break his spirit but also shake his belief in the very value of education.

One day, Ashish met with an accident. Even that accident is a testimony to the depths we have fallen to as a society. Ashish and his friend were riding a motorcycle, and were rammed into by a car coming from the opposite side. Ashish broke his knee cap and passed out while his friend was lucky enough to escape with bruises and gashes. The car driver did not bother and sped off. Even this much would be enough to disenchant anyone. I am sure that whoever was driving that car was an educated civilian who knew that driving on the wrong side of the road is not only illegal but dangerous for others. I am sure that whoever it was knew that it is basic decency to help any accident victim and more so if it was our fault. I am sure whoever was driving the car that day would not want anyone else do the same to his loved one. But even then this educated Indian went down the wrong side, knocked a bike down and sped off. Then came the police. Ideally they should have taken the boys to a hospital and should have registered an FIR. But they just bundled them onto a rickshaw and left them to fend for themselves. I am sure they were too busy pampering political brats to care for two nobodies.

Ashish was hospitalised in what is considered as the benchmark in quality health care by a government institution in Chandigarh. The accident had left his bone shattered and a surgery would be needed to implant splints. Ashish and his family asked the concerned doctors if the needed splint was available and were assured that it was. they wanted to avoid unnecessary delays as Ashish was very keen to get back to his classes. Then after his doctors had actually cut him open, they found out that that the splint in question was actually not there in any hospital stocks! Imagine the plight of the patient lying with an open knee and his family running around the city for well over a couple of hours looking for the right splint! So much so for our health care and Hippocratic oath!

Ashish remained on bed for months after that. He kept feeling guilty of missing his classes despite knowing that attendance is never enforced at his college. He just wanted to learn. He just wanted to pursue his dream. No one from the college apart from a couple of his friends ever visited him. No call, no "get we soon" card, no visit by his beloved faculty, no one. But he knew that they could not come as they probably did not even know. He understood that they were his teachers not his mentors or "gurus" who would be concerned about their students life. "How could they?", wondered Ashish. With such rampant commercialisation of education, the number of students a college takes a hefty fee from to deliver pseudo education is so huge that it becomes impossible for them to care for individual students. Ashish understood that it was not their fault.

But what did his institution do when he returned to the college after when he could? They informed him through a cold notice on a notice board that he had been unceremoniously ejected from the placement process at the college. When he approached the placement coordinator to seek answers, Ashish was insulted and ridiculed. he was told that he was barred from the placement process due to low attendance. His plea that despite being on bed rest for months, he still had three times the attendance than many who were being peddled to companies in the name of placements. he pleaded that he had the necessary medical certificates and evidence to prove that he was actually bed ridden for the whole time he had remained absent from his classes. But the placement coordinator did not budge. Ashish was not the only such case. And there were cases who were not only considered for placement but were actually placed despite them being barred from the placement process too! Ashish tried to approach few teachers who he thought would help him. No one did. No one could. When few did raise the point with the high and the mighty, the college showed its magnanimity by allowing all those who were barred to be considered for placements. That however is a different story that that there are no placement opportunities anymore. It is a different story that this criminal insensitivity of the institution had cost Ashish and many others like him the last few chances they had. Now the institution too does not have time to do anything. i know it is impractical for an educational institution to look for jobs for all the students. Now when they are busy celebrating a better than expected numbers for the new batch, life has moved on for them.

Today Ashish faces a looming educational loan repayment and a protracted period of joblessness. he roams the streets of Delhi with his resume in his hand. I am sure people would be wondering why such a young man has such a helpless look o his face. Educated elite would in conferences and seminars deliberate upon the ever increasing negativity among students. We would spend hours mourning the lack of interest and rigour among students. We academicians would all that but not even once would it cross our mind that it is probably us who is the nucleus of this social downfall. i know it is wrong to judge others but as I am a human being I cannot resist. I find thatin today's "earn as much as you can" world, it is the leftovers of the society that chooses to become teachers. Either people who could not adjust to demanding careers or business, maybe a few who chose it thoughtfully as a career and those who have retired but need more for whatever reasons they may have. I know that everyone need not subscribe to my idealistic views on the education system. I know that not all need to share my reasons to become a teacher, but I do believe that as a teacher, we need to introspect on what we are doing and what impact we have on lives. After all we are what we do.

I know that these are deep seated systemic faults that will take long to repair. I also know that if one wishes to change the system, one does not have the luxury to take a micro view on every wrong. In the larger game, Ashish is just a statistic and not worth getting worked up about. Strategy I guess demands detachment.

I am sorry I have failed to help the hundreds of Ashish I come across every year irrespective of the name of my employer. I had a great career in glamorous line of work with all the money and perks I could have wished for. I gave all that up to become a teacher.

I am beginning to regret that.