And suddenly, one day, we got plastics! We see them everywhere, even in a remote tribal village that is cutoff from civilization without access even to a decent road. Plastics come in all forms- sachets, tubes, packets, rubber, polythene, etc. They are found everywhere- every field, every stream, every street, every neighborhood- almost every landscape is littered with shining plastic. We don’t know what to do with them. They never seem to go away. They remain the same, in the soil for years making the land toxic; they block the streams, canals and drainage to flood the cities during rains. Animals eat them, choke on them and die. We don’t know what to do with plastic water bottles or tea cups- they land up on the street. They are littered everywhere- whole of
Then we have another fascination with plastic- sitting on it. Many new Indians cars are adorned in plastic. The owners never seem to take them off, and like to keep the plastic on for a long time. According to them, it makes them feel like riding a new car. As for me, I feel like sitting on plastic- it’s slippery and makes weird noises when you move. Why would I pay few lakhs of rupees to sit on plastic sheets? Even if they do remove the plastic off the seats, or may be, it’s just got worn off after a month long wear and tear, they still keep plastic cover on sun shades and other accessories.
Some homes have all their new stuff still draped in plastic. Barbie dolls never come out of their plastic boxes. Some refrigerators and microwave still have polythene covered handles. Once, I went to visit some friends. I was watching TV all alone. The sticker on the TV screen was taking up a lot of space, so I just went ahead and removed it. When the owners came back they were shocked, dismayed and extremely annoyed that I took the sticker off. I got to know that they have been retaining the sticker since they bought their TV set almost a year ago. They wanted to believe it’s still brand new! Plastic helps them believe it is always new.
Technology without maturity
We have been given the fruits of modern science and technology without having to go through the pains of attaining it. It was first imposed on us, then we just inherited it, and now we borrow it. Technology is not a solace or answer to all our problems. It has its own byproducts which could be distasteful. It all depends on how we use it. To be in a position to use it appropriately, we need to be a mature country- that we are not! For example, you go to a movie theatre to watch a movie, and the cell phones keep ringing- it’s so annoying to everyone else. Some of them even pick up the phone and keep chatting. The glowing light from across the other guy is irritating and distracting. Some of them keep sending SMS. Another bad habit is picking up phone while having a dinner or a coffee with friends. Once, I saw bunch of friends all sitting across the dinner table, each one talking over the phone. Why did they come to dinner in the first place, to meet these friends who are across the table, or talk to others who aren’t there?
Plastics are result of modern technology. They are extremely useful. At the same time they pose a great threat to environment. It requires maturity to handle it and dispose it. While we have inherited these fruits, we haven’t got a chance to inherit the maturity. If only we could just buy a kilo of maturity in a nearby shopping mall!
Science is on the decline in
According to C N R Rao, the scientific adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, "Science in
According to Current Science,
According to a Financial Times, 2005,
According to Sci-Bytes,
According to a survey conducted by the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), a minuscule 3.6% of talented students opt for science after school as other disciplines offer more in terms of material gains. According to Sikka (2006), who is Scientific Secretary at the office of Principal Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister, only 157 out of every million people in
According to Bruce Nussbaum, BusinessWeek Online,
According to THE HINDU, in a recent article, while
According to J. V. Narlikar, renowned astrophysicist from
‘today a student... goes by default to engineering, medicine or... commerce’ in contrast to the scenario that existed in the fifties and sixties when many of our science laboratories, departments and universities were getting established. He says that the present trend of a sharp decline in numbers and standards of students opting for science at the undergraduate level will have its impact in about ten years from now, as is being felt to some extent already; science personnel of high calibre and experience to man our projects will be in short supply. ‘Methodology of science teaching that encourages rote, ill-equipped teachers and labs, lack of inspirational and committed teachers, poorly written text-books, peer pressure to join lucrative courses’ are some of the causes that Narlikar has identified as the causes for the current sickness that has afflicted the science scenario: the glamour of science and a proper and correct image is just not getting projected by our institutions or the universities.
[This is an updated and edited version of an article that I wrote in 1998. This is quite negative in its tone. Please bear with me on this. I understand that some things have changed for better in the last few years, however most concerns remain the same. I have added some of the recent events in the flow of the article.]
Someone asked- "Are Indians good only at mastering the skills that have already been proven and established, and lack creativity to create something new and original?"
I don’t think it’s that easy to make a generalization onto an entire nation, but there is definitely a pattern that one can discover which can be applied to a whole class – like, Japanese industries are more quality-conscious, German trains are more punctual. Does that mean all Japanese are quality-conscious and all Germans punctual? Not necessarily, but there is a trait that you can apply to a group or a subgroup as a whole without taking this to an individual level. So, are Indians good only at mastering the skills that have already been proven and established, and lack originality to create something new and original? I don’t think its going to be an easy answer.
We see that
Can’t take risks
There is a general malaise in
Why can’t we take risks? There may be many reasons, but the primary reason is the way we are brought up by our parents. What they do in their lives matter a lot to us. We are always asked to take a safe path. No examples are set by parents that suggest that one can take risks. For example, Families save; and this money never contributes to country's economy. In olden days, we needed to save because there was no other security, with whimsical kings and rulers one’s savings was one’s assets. Times have changed, and it is not necessary to save the same way as we did in olden times. But, we still think that saving is a virtue just because it was once upon a time. Families that save money and stash the money inside their closets think that they are doing a great deed- they look down upon those who do not. Sometimes such savings are converted into extremely useless goods- such as gold ornaments, utensils made of expensive metals, or stashed in pillows and mattresses. Most families shy from investing in Indian industry (which is risk oriented) and consider it equivalent to gambling.
Young men and women are risk-averse and tend to follow already established paths. Most engineers join a branded company even if the work sucks. Very few would venture out to join a startup. Fathers of the brides are not ready to give their daughters to those who work at startups. All young people want to become engineers or doctors. Everyone wants to make a home, buy a car and settle down (and then do what? I don’t know). This tendency to shy away from risk is all pervading and overreaches into other domains outside the family affairs. It does not allow us cross the boundaries imposed by our traditions. The caste barriers and religious barriers are too high to be surmounted- very few marry outside their caste or religion. Even if they do, they carry the stigma for a long time. Therefore, many do not even contemplate on crossing it, either it is a top scientist's family or a famous doctor's family. This holds true for most of Indian population except certain displaced and immigrant urban populations.
Bad education system
The other malaise is our education system which works on age-old system- a mixture of medieval Indian and some what British school system. The key to an emerging nation lies in its young generation. How are we creating our young people? What are the ideas we are seeding into them in schools? What are the dreams and desires of our children?
Indian schools do not promote originality. A student who replicates what is written in texts is given more marks than those who use own words. We call it ‘mugging’, ‘by rote’, ‘pidi’, ‘ratta’, etc, and teachers hail the boys who do it the best as ‘brilliant’ and ‘clever’. The practice of just mugging up and writing down verbatim is continued all the way from primary school to graduate school. Whatever creativity that kid was endowed due to whatever genetic contribution it would be slowly and completely suppressed or extirpated by the time he is done with graduation. Parents contribute to this by forcing the kids to score more. The kid’s performance is solely judged by the scores he attains. This obsession with scores and marks, overburdening of kids with too much homework which involves more donkeywork than any originality, combined with peer and social pressures restrict originality and creativity from burgeoning in these young minds.
The teachers are not only good at encouraging mere reproduction; they also indulge in practice of threatening the student with dire consequences right from primary school all the way up to the bachelors' degree. The young students undergo physical punishment, endure insults and disparaging remarks, and learn to live with humiliation. Such an experience on a young mind is appalling and would be considered a serious crime in the western world. Many kids end up losing self-confidence. Teachers also practice discrimination and are very renowned for favoritism and nepotism. It becomes very clear for the rest of the class whom the teacher prefers. Young minds are attuned to accept this favoritism and here are sown the seeds for all different kinds of discrimination and prejudices that are to follow in his/her life as he/she enters the mainstream of Indian society- casteism, regionalism, communalism, etc.
The next problem is our tendency to make ‘all good and great things sacred’ and to revere them so much that they are transformed into immutable and irrefutable axioms never to be challenged or questioned. While we boast of Vedas, Ayurveda and Arthashastra, nobody ever tries to find new methods that are relevant in the present world. We are complacent about what our ancestors have done and we put a hold on further creation by sanctifying them for all ages to come. When Vedas were created, the authors played with their work, proposed theories contradicting their statements and rectified their work. They could do whatever they wanted because they were not sacred at the time of creation. Nowadays, the norm is not to question them, not to doubt them, not to challenge them, but accept them as they are without regard for amount of time that has elapsed since its creation. There are even efforts to transform these age-old documents into science now. So, instead of bending our backs to work, we take the easy path of achieving the laurels akin to the western world by just converting our old works into science. That turns out to be easy than actually working towards inventing something new.
Not only do we curtail creativity in academics, science and philosophy using the process of sanctification, we also enter the domains of art and music, which actually require that unhindered and unrestrained freedom of expression not bound to any existing rule or law. When it comes to music our plight is dismal. The music teachers do not let their students experiment because music is considered sacred where all the rules have to be strictly followed. Any alteration is disrespect! While we easily welcome an innovation from a westerner, we cannot tolerate an innovative idea from a fellow Indian. Rock and Roll, Disco, Rap, etc, have been gleefully incorporated into Indian Music, while the edifice of Classical Music stands unchanged and unchallenged. While the West has been prolific in inventing new styles of music, we try to retain to the past and curtail any change in the future by sanctifying it. Only those singers who make some modifications to the already established western style to appeal to the Indian audience are accepted and hailed. Therefore you see more remixes and remakes than originals these days. A young student is never given an opportunity to play with his music, art and academics. Little do we realize that creation comes out of tampering and playing with the existing systems! Coming to art, we don’t have any renowned artists. Even if we do have one in MF Husain, we scandalize his art on the name of ‘culture’, ‘tradition’ and ‘heritage’, using all the sanctified words that we can come up. We still stick to the dance forms which are some 1000 years old. We could not create a new "Natya".
Another common trait with Indians is that they can copy anything without remorse or guilt. ‘Plagiarism’ is non-existent. Movies, music and books are easily copied. Our theories in economics and management are completely borrowed from the West. We try to apply a social rule proven in western world into our country without realizing our social structure is completely different. We get frustrated when those theories do not work; and then we blame ourselves for not implementing it properly. Little do we realize that we need different theories which are suitable for our social structure! When that western world has awarded one of us (Amartya Sen) with a Nobel Prize, we bask in the glory of that achievement but never seem to implement his theories to work. We might be good at software but almost all computer languages emanate from the West. It turns out that we are only good at its application. Not many products or solutions have come up from Indian software companies though we have an extensive ecosystem. We are good at nuclear technology and space programs, but most of this science has already been established in the West. We have merely learnt to reproduce it.
Even our Indian Cinema is now renamed ‘Bollywood’ directly copying from the word ‘
‘Chalta Hain’ to everything
Our attitude to everything is "Chalta Hain" (everything is accepted). This is the greatest danger of all. Bad roads are OK, bad traffic is OK, filthy streets are OK, bad sanitation is OK; kids begging on the street is OK. We say ‘Chalta Hain’ to everything. We see how our schools work, but we do not challenge the system. We see how they treat our kids, but we accept it all. No parent is ready to stand up and ward off the discrimination his kid had to endure through. Instead he accepts it and makes his kid shut up. We are committing the gravest crime of all- "Killing the individuality" of our kids.
Our attitude "Chalta Hain" is towards politics, infrastructure, administration, and almost everything. We know that Jayalalitha is one of the most corrupt politicians, but still we would elect her back. By electing such leaders back into power, we legitimize the actions they have done and in a way encourage it. Every politician dreams of earning lots and lots of money when he gets elected and he assumes it as a divine right to take bribe- Did he not struggle to get to that position in the first place?
It’s not just the illiteracy and over-population that is the major problem. Being apathetic to what's going on in our surroundings is the root cause for all problems. How come most of the elite who refrain from exercising their franchise are the ones who spearhead the criticism of the present situation in the nation? Citizens of India can easily afford to make their streets cleaner and better, protect their environments, fight for better education to their kids, and work for upliftment of their fellowmen, all without the help or intervention of its government. Who are we to blame here- ‘The man’ or ‘the state’? Nobody makes an attempt to rectify or improve anything. When everyone is apathetic, we have a big nation of passive recipients who accept every ignominy of the society and call it "great Indian Culture".
Lack of heroes
We do not have many examples to learn from. We do not have idols to emulate; we do not have precedents to follow. All those great people from whom we could learn from are gone with the
There are no good examples or precedents for crossing these man-made boundaries. While it is easily accepted among the present young generation that caste is a malaise and that it should be completely ignored in our society, none of them dare to cross these boundaries. Marryng outside one’s caste is a rarity. It’s strange that one would rather select a mediocre partner from the same caste than a better person from a different caste even though we argue for excellence and quality in education, employment and industry. How does one set an example to the future generations when the elite generation of this time itself succumbs to the pressures of the prejudices of the present society?
The pattern that I see from all the above arguments is that while we are ready to accept a new idea only if it has already been proven to work and is firmly established in some western nation, we never allow any revolutionary idea from our own people. There are three fundamental reasons for that- we do not take risks, we sanctify everything, and we say ‘chalta hain’ to everything. These reasons in turn seem to affect us in many ways. There is a lack of self-respect, lack of dignity of work. There is a tendency to undermine ourselves. A philosophical thinker in
So aren’t we original and creative?
I do not believe that a race, religion, caste or a nation is inherently original or creative. Every individual given the opportunity or access can perform better. Some societies create those opportunities for themselves. Every society has potential to become a great civilization. As individuals and as society we Indians seem to suggest a pattern- that we are being less original and less creative. That’s doesn’t mean we are inferior. It only means we are not being effective in using our potentials. Either we are curbing them at young ages, or not accepting the spark when we see it, or we are suppressing such original and creative works from our people.
In the recent THE HINDU edition of YOUNG WORLD (the complete newspaper for children), 15 Dec 2006, Antara Das writes about recent West Bengal Government’s decision to abolish the use of hand pulled rickshaws.
The only time I ever traveled on this rickshaw was in early 1990s when I visited Kolkata for the first time in my life. My friends assured me that it’s a lifetime experience and that I should definitely take a ride. I was very uncomfortable sitting in a rickshaw that was hand pulled by a man who was barefoot, was thin and scrawny with minimal clothing. However, I succumbed to my friends’ assurances and I sat on it. That five to ten minute ride was the most uncomfortable journey that I took. I was on the edge of my seat all the time- I was uneasy and was feeling queasy. Once the ride was over. I got off and swore I would never ride one again. It was just weird being pulled by another man like that.
I always thought it was inhumane and I never liked those rickshaws. Now, that the government has decided to scrap them, I was very happy. However, Andata Das’s article sends dual message. Just look at some of her sentences.
# The article is titled “Relic on Wheels”
# “But the death knell for this archaic mode of transport has been sounded”
# “This archaic mode of transport will fade away, and with it the memories associated with the kind of experience it had to offer”
# She asks “Inhuman?” and then answers- “Rickshaws, considered a cheap, pollution free and convenient mode of transport, mainly relied on the unskilled labor…”
# “The system of one man pulling the burden of another was being increasingly considered as inhuman, given the heightened awareness about human rights,” but according to her, “…the rickshaw pullers themselves felt that their work was no less undignified…”
# “…for those accustomed to hailing the sturdy rickshaw-wallah to navigate a water logged street, it is going to be a lonely monsoon”
Antara Das seems doesn’t seem to think it is inhuman. She goes nostalgic about it. She seems to miss them actually. She thinks ‘sturdy’ men run these rickshaws. This is how Indians rationalize all inhuman acts in India. Soon, another author will write the glory days of cleaners of night soil. She will miss those days when those lower caste kids would plunge themselves into sanitary tubes to clean the mess. She will term it as cheap and pollution free methods to clean our shits.
Imagine this is what we are feeding as news to our kids. THE HINDU should have been careful!
In the preceding article, I proposed the six steps the Rest of the World should take up to reconcile with the Islamic World. In this article, I shall elaborate on how these steps can actually bring in major changes to alter the dynamics between these two colliding worlds.
Before starting off, I would like to clear one misconception. Conceding to these demands, which also happen to be the demands of terrorists outfits like Al Qaida, is not tantamount to conceding to the coercion tactics of terrorists. Just because Noam Chomsky asks for statehood to
Most of the Islamic terrorist groups in the world, including Al Qaida, and the nations which house these terrorist groups demand for an independent
What does one make of other demands of some of these terrorist groups and nations which call for complete annihilation of
Indian Islamic terrorism is strongly linked with Partition of Indian sub-continent which gave birth to unresolved conflict of
Creation of an independent or autonomous
Conceding to the above three demands should not be equated with giving into the demands of terrorist groups. The reason why many terrorist groups survive is because the nations which harbor them also share the dream of these terrorist groups. The people of that nation gleefully support such terrorist groups and tolerate them in their midst, and even contribute funds. A huge chunk of population on this planet seeks an independent and autonomous
Conceding to these demands doesn’t mean one has to satisfy other demands of terrorists- like when they hijack a plane, or a kidnap an official or bomb a boat, etc. Criminal activities have to be dealt with according to the law of the land. These demands are not exclusively of terrorist groups but of almost entire Islamic World and even some of the non-Islamic nations and should be treated as such.
It is extremely important to stop these breeding spots from producing more of these radical youth. The youth of these countries are their future leaders. Unless immediate action is taken, these countries and people will continue to encourage, support and fund these radical thoughts on the name of a cause.
4. Stop meddling in
While the above three steps require specific nations like Israel, India and Russia, to give up their lands to the local populations, this step involves whole of West and other developed and developing nations, which comprise Rest of the World. Since the fall of
Continued mastery of the West over every regime in the Muslim World doesn’t go well with the people. The ruling class of Saudi enjoys great friendship and patronage from the West. King of Jordan and his family had close ties with European powers. Saddam himself was a puppet of West before he turned against them. Shah of
A conscious effort by the West to stop meddling with the affairs of Muslim World will allow these people to form their own governments, choose their own leaders, and set their own rules and laws. Imposing our institutions hasn’t worked. It only resulted in disenchanted and disillusioned youth which feed Islamic terrorist groups. Democracy and its institutions cannot be imposed. They have to be embraced by its people willingly.
Once the hatred for West is gone, the people will look inward at their own leaders. There might be periods of strife, but they will form their own systems which work for them.
5. Don't use Muslim nations as your battleground to wage your ideological wars.
When you use their lands and people to wage your wars, and then leave them unassisted and unaided with loads of weapons in their hands and landmines in their towns, what you get is a huge population which is ready to die to kill the one who imposed this cruel punishment onto them. Such events create easy and fertile breeding grounds for Islamic militant outfits.
Once the Rest of the World LAYS OFF these lands and its people, we will see a slow but gradual decrease in the hatred towards the Rest of the World.
6. Let them control their natural resources.
Nobody likes to see their natural resources being shipped off to far-off land that benefit only certain local leaders. They do not like to be politically influenced, stripped off their freedoms, bombed out of their homes, killed and raped, just because they are sitting on top of large reservoirs of oil, natural gas or diamonds. Many in Islamic World believe firmly that US invaded
No human would like to take help or advice from someone they know has ulterior motives. Only when the people and the governments of Islamic World get the assurance that they control their natural resources, they will open to suggestions, advice and even help. Their hatred for these ‘greedy’ foreigners lessens and they will look at overt political maneuver in positive light. Right now, they discard every incentive, advice and suggestion as another of that White man’s trick.
I believe the above six steps will ease the tensions between Islamic World and Rest of the World. Some of these steps need to be enacted right away, while few others will take up time to implement. Unless we move forward along these steps, we will create this world for clash of civilizations.