15 days

Hey!

I want to link to this series of tweets by V Vinay on twitter. I am not sure how long twitter links function, so I will summarize. The 12th board CBSE paper was tough. There was a hue and cry about it. And as a friend of mine used to wish, a tough paper is better because it is tough for everyone. It can differentiate those who actually know the answers from those who were lucky and read the right books/guides/question papers. But, as he points out (I know little math but this is what I understand) the questions don’t do that either. They are just lengthy and complicated and not really interesting.

This is a territory I wanted to stay out of. I think I have said this before, this blog is public because everything is eventually public anyways and I plan to keep away identifying information. If I do that, maybe the following paragraphs will not make much sense- or maybe they would make too much sense- so, fair warning to you, dear non-existent reader.

Many years ago, one day I decided to stop studying. It was a very interesting, engagingly written and beautifully illustrated book, which was the “syllabus” for those exams. THe book presented huge amounts of information. It certainly was humanly possible to mug them up, people I know did that year after year. But if you read that book, you got the feeling that the authors would be bemused if they found that was what we were doing. The huge amounts of information was there so that it could be a reference book, but also to show the reader how complex and complicated is the subject matter in question. I am not saying that the information was irrelevant. Only that it was inappropriate to mug it up as a part of undergraduate syllabus. Anyways, these lofty thoughts did not motivate me to stop. I stopped because I figured out that there is more to life than undergraduation, and that with much lesser effort, I would not be first in class, but I would be in the top 5, and would have time to read other things. So I wheedled a laptop and a net connection from my father, and here I am. And after all, what do they know of cricket, who only cricket know?

All this was in the past, and also in the future, as I must put my child in a school. Which school? How much mugging up should I tolerate from a school? Are the fancy new schools which promise a new kind of pedagogy, actually teaching critical thinking? From the experience I have in my own field, I cannot but doubt it. We have terrible quality in India, and we have the great. Unfortunately, our greats are not even close to the basic minimum a European or American would expect from their own systems. We manage with individual greatness. There are places where the great are many, and can deliver world class quality, inspite of the systems. And then there is everywhere else. Even in those great places, not everybody is even good. And there is no way of finding out, unless you are deeply embedded in the system, who is bad and who is good (the great are easier to identify).

This too must be true of schools. So, should I offer my child expensive, erratically good education? Or should I accept that a child I bring up will learn to think critically, and can save us some money? They say that children who are in the IB system cannot adjust to the Indian university system. But what if the university system changes? It must, the only question it faces is when. Anytime in the next 15 years? Almost certainly. Tough question this.

 

4 days

Hi!

Finally, I am going to put together all my thoughts on the JNU controversy and Kanhaiya Kumar. First of all, I am not anti-BJP. I don’t like their politics, religion bores me. But I understand that they are the only realistic political option we have today. I also understand that the BJP is fundamentally a party whose interests are aligned with that of People-Like-Us, and I am selfish enough to accept that. So, I might not like BJP, but I am all for it. In that context, I think I can begin.

My first instinct, I am not at all ashamed to say, was admiration. The Rohith Vemula issue had forced the BJP in the politically untenable anti-dalit position. Here was a Machiavellian solution, to put a Bhumihar in jail for the same slogans, and do it in Delhi, so that it is convenient for the media to cover. It seemed like a masterstroke, and the day I realized this I ended up with the thought that those who can manipulate the country so well can fool all the people all the time. They will win the next election too.

But, it turned out, I was wrong. I, and the BJP too, both overlooked the young man who was in the eye of the storm here. When you are accused repeatedly of being evil, and you try to destroy a helpless boy, a name like Rohith is okay. But Kanhaiya? Before defending Hinduism, shouldn’t you spent some time reading anything about it? From the politically untenable position of being anti-dalit, they have now moved into the frankly ridiculous position of being Kans and his chosen hitwoman who pretended to be Kanhaiya’s mother. We all know that story. And to his credit, Kanhaiya made the speech which forced them there.

The problem with being forced in the roles of Kans and Putna is that they were not the main villains of that story. They were just small stepping stones one the way to his greater destiny. If they had chosen someone named Arjun, maybe they could have fared a little better?

Anyways. staying on the topic of Hinduism, destruction as a act of creation is one of its tenets, the Destroyer one of its greatest Gods.┬áThe great texts of Hinduism again and again talk about how the world must reform after an eon. Again and again hindu scriptures talk about freedom from the burden of life. Think about that for a minute. Why must life be a burden? If you had “aazadi” from caste & feudalism, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, would life be a burden? Would the circle of life be seen as a chore if marriages were for love and compatibility, divorces not a big deal, childcare was easy and high quality, and death mainly from old age? Is not asking for this idealistic world similar to asking for Moksha? Asking for this never was, and is not anti-Hindu.

But it is anti-national. No doubt. so why do citizens of this great nation want Bharat ki barbaadi? Smriti Irani actually gave a lucid and believable answer to this question. Maybe it was a complete answer. Or maybe we can respect our own citizens and acknowledge that they might have arrived at this conclusion independently. No one, really, no non-psychopath wants war and destruction. (Even the scripture writers. They kept the pralays far away, at the dawn and end of time.) People want peace and security.

So, to change the subject for a second, if you read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (which everyone must read, even if what happened to Hermione makes you hate it), somewhere in the story, Harry says that he can only blame himself because whenever a fault analysis is done, blame must be placed on something which can be changed. When an aeroplane crashes, it makes no sense to blame gravity. We only have power to change ourselves. We cannot change the actions of other people. Something Kabir also said, Jo man dekha aapno, mujhse bura na koi. We cannot change the people who want “Bharat ki barbaadi“. We can only become more inclusive, more united, more cohesive as a country, ensure that everyone has a big stake in the survival of this country, and no one will want to end it. This is what the Communist Party has done in China. People do not shout slogans against things which benefit them. I do not like the BJPs politics, but even in this post, I haven’t criticized them. Why should I?

Before asking anyone else to change, maybe we should change first. Become less intolerant, more inclusive? More rational, more scientific? People who can see nuance in an argument, and must not be presented everything clearly labelled as black and white? People who can think for themselves? Become what the Romans, whom Smriti Irani also approves of, called vir, people with courage and intelligence, whose goal is to acquire the admiration and respect of their fellows? But that will require actual education. The yawning gap between saakshar and shikshit Kanhaiya talked about. The difference between the padhai of vigyan and its practice, which he also talked about. Frankly, I do not think this gap can be bridged at all. Which will cast me into despair, and make me rebel, but I have a stable job and a happy life, and so I won’t. That is what quells the spirit of rebellion most effectively, but providing that to our poorly educated youth is perhaps equally impossible.