Friday, October 19, 2007

Guide to Indian Idiocy I

I have come up with this article thanks to Siddhartha Shome. The discussion I had with him recently in California, over a lunch, has triggered few observations that I would like to codify here.

Siddhartha has raised an extremely important and interesting observation. According to him (not in his words), Indians have a peculiar way of looking at pursuit of knowledge. For most Indians, knowledge is directly proportional to one’s age or one’s qualifications. Therefore, it is a given fact for most Indians that a Professor knows more than the student, an older man knows more than the younger man, a boss knows more than the subordinate and so on. There are no arguments about it or doubts about it. This is a cardinal rule applicable to all domains of knowledge.

From this discussion, I come to the first law of Indian Idiocy.

1. Knowledge depletes with each generation.

One can extrapolate the above observation to say that Indians also believe that our older generations knew much more than what we know. For Indians, knowledge keeps depleting with each generation, not increasing as is conventional wisdom in the West. Indians believe that our ancestors, during Vedic times, knew almost everything. They knew how to solve Quantum Physics, knew how to build airplanes, knew how to build an atom bomb. In fact, their knowledge was infinite. As generations went by, our knowledge kept reducing.

In a local sense, a professor will always know more than the student – forever. A parent will know more than the kid – forever. And so on. So each subsequent generation knows lesser compared the older one.

Taking the cue, I wanted to explore few other observations and codify into laws. Here’s the second law of Indian Idiocy.

2. Wisdom is Knowledge.

For most Indians, Wisdom is nothing but Knowledge itself. And knowledge is directly correlated with one’s education. And education is directly correlated with one’s degrees. For most elite and urban Indians, there is no difference between knowledge and wisdom. They are synonymous. Hence, a PhD is supposedly wiser than a Masters Degree holder is wiser than a Bachelor’s Degree holder and so on. At the bottom are the rural (and therefore 'illiterate'). Invariably, all those who went to IITs, IIMs, AIIMS, etc, are all wise for the rest of their lives.

One educated NRI (non-resident Indian) I recently met in US was of the opinion that giving voting rights to Indian illiterate and rural people was one of the worst mistakes India did after getting its Independence. According to him, Indian rural people should not be the decision makers. He opined that Indian urban people (and therefore 'literate') are more qualified in selecting the Indian leaders. He even proposed a model where only literate Indians should be allowed to contest elections, and a literate voter should get more votes- a bachelor’s degree should be given two votes, while a PhD should be given four votes, and so on.

Though I found his idea utterly ridiculous, I described it here for a reason. That’s because the above sentiment is shared by many Indian elite, urban and literate in different shades, may be not so grossly, but may be little subtly. Look at the present campaign by TOI called Lead India. It is nothing but a reflection of this sentiment held by most urban people. All those who got selected are urban, well-educated and comprise mostly upper caste, and Hindu. When describing them, TOI uses many words and sentences to talk about their qualifications, which college they went to, which MNC they worked for, etc. According to me, most of them have completely vacuous opinions on socialism, on caste-issues, on secularism, right to vote, coalition governments, etc. In my opinion they are inane and downright dumb. However they seem to reflect the sentiments of these urban Indians very well that Wisdom = Knowledge = Education = College Degrees.

Here’s the third law of Indian Idiocy.

3. Experience is Age.

Older a person, it is naturally assumed, the more experienced he is. Even if that person has not traveled anywhere outside his city, Even if that person has not met people of different cultures, even if that person has not tasted different cuisines of different lands. Just because he is old, he is considered more experienced.

A friend of mine, to counter this notion, said, ‘it is not experience, it is the capacity to experience that should matter’. Two people going through similar situations can come out quite differently just because one had more 'capacity to experience' than the other.

For most Indians, a person sitting under a tree all his life meditating is vastly experienced and wiser than a person who has sailed oceans and seas. No wonder, we have codified this law into our religion itself- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, before he left for England to study, had to combat this all-pervasive belief that he is going to lose his caste if he sailed the seas. For most part of our history, our opinion on experiences was quite skewed. For Indians, Experience = Age.

A note on methods of learning - as I see it:

A person can learn through three different ways

1. Through books and other sources of education.

2. Through experiences of others- which includes discourse.

3. Through one’s own experiences.

Knowledge is a combination of all the above three. We cannot say which one is better than the other. It is usually sum of all the above three in various proportions.


  1. Absoultely Fantastic post. I recently saw a tamil movie which advocated that the politicians should have a basic educational degree to stand in elections in India, which I strongly disagree for the same reasons that you have quoted. Cancellation of Jim Watson's seminar (ref:
    should be a perfect example for showing how highly educated individuals could also be morons.

  2. Learning about learning -

    Let me know when you are in California again. I am sure Stanford and SCU would like to learn about your views on learning.

  3. Good post Sujai. Wisdom is the right combination of knowledge and experience.

    Given the deeply embedded caste consciousness in our society, should we really be surprised by how we evaluate people? In addition to all the other problems, elitism is the new curse upon us. ToI's Lead India is a perfect example of that.

  4. Be the change that you wish you see in this world. A fantastic video.

  5. Hyderabad now is not because of telangana & only telangana. Its developed now bcoz of every kind of people belonging to ANDHRA PRADESH. Every one contributed to its devlopment and they have right to stay back in hyderabad and demand for union territory.
    Politics is somthing politcians are intrested in. Common man's priority is his living.

  6. Your blog is excellent and insightful, I must say. I have not seen such an insightful blog.
    It is not one of those ranting, idiotic ones.

    I have read a lot of your posts, and continue to do so.

    I think your 'Study of Indians' posts are the best. Maybe you can take them, upgrade them, and publish them into a book called the 'Study of Indians'?

    It would certainly be a fine and insightful read!


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