Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Travel Diary

Kashmir to Kanyakumari

I was recently traveling from Bhopal to Chennai in an AC compartment of TamilNadu Express. Soon after boarding the train, I greeted my co passengers and arranged my luggage in its place. I intently looked at each of my fellow passengers and exchanged eye contacts and customary greetings. Among them was a distinctly Mongolian origin fellow who was reading a day old Times of India and every now and then opened his small palmtop to refer to something I could hardly make out at that point of time. To my left was an old lady, seemingly from the upper class of our society, with her son who was in his early twenties and later I would discover that her whole family is traveling in the same compartment in different seats. After a few minutes, a young man, smart looking with a crew cut, returned from the toilet and occupied his seat. Another young couple, were traveling in the side left seats. This completed the list of passengers in our coupe.

Few minutes passed as I was slowly getting engrossed in my book and suddenly the old lady chose to break the ice. And how! She introduced the Mongolian looking man to me as Kim, from Korea, who doesn’t know English. A nice way to start, I guessed. She explained to me how the man referred to his dictionary and language assistant books to even converse with her. She then made the most audacious remark I thought one can ever make. She said “ We Indians are much better off. Look at this guy(pointing towards Kim), he doesn’t even know English. You know I have ensured that both my children were put in English medium schools as I wanted them to be educated!!

Kim was smiling. Obviously, he didn’t understand her compliment.

What she said didn’t strike me immediately in its entirety. But then, a few moments of regurgitation, shocked me when I realized how much English education in India has been synonimised (Is it a new word I am coining? Where are the oxford guys……)with education in the real sense. And as a corollary, a deep malaise has percolated in the mindset of our parents that whosoever can’t speak English is in fact illiterate and uneducated. A preposterous assumption and it explains the mushrooming of English medium schools. Even Macaulay wouldn’t have envisioned such a stupendous success to his policies!

I tried to explain that it is not always necessary to know English in this world to be called educated and I quoted examples of my the multinational team which I headed while on deputation with UN, where there was no common language and some of the most erudite personalities were from non English speaking nations.

A few more minutes passed. Now it was the turn of her English medium school educated son Ramesh. He said he is doing a post graduation in some IT field. He started his intelligent conversations with the smart young man, who introduced himself to be Captain Ravikant Hegde. The conversation went on like this….

Ramesh : So what are you doing?

Capt Ravikant : I am a captain in the Indian Army.

Ramesh : Army!! Nice. You are in the civil side or the military side??

Hearing this, I chuckled and Capt Ravikant was startled.

Capt Ravikant : What do you mean? Army means Army. How can I explain! There is no civil side in the army.

Ramesh: No. No. You misunderstood. (A vacuous allegation!) I was meaning that army has several wings like airforce and navy. So which one do you belong?

Capt Ravikant was genuinely confused and for the first time he probably realized that he is making a mistake of guarding a nation of real armchair patriots who don’t even take pains to know what does a simple term like army means. He was mature and promptly changed the topic.

I thought the comedy show was over but then we were soon joined by the lady’s English medium school educated daughter Renuka. By this time, the couple on my left, the Selvanayagams, were also taking part in some discussion of historic importance (so characteristic of all train journeys. I always wonder why Indo Pak Dialogue cant take place on a train journey. Here the solutions seem to emerge soon.) Mr Selvanayagam said that he is working in Manipur in an Anti AIDS NGO. Ms Renuka promptly gave a know all reply “ Oh Manipur!! Capital of Assam. A great place I have heard.!! ”

I consoled myself that probably this factual ignorance doesn’t matter much as long as these so called educated young people remained good citizens. But that illusion was not allowed to remain for long.
It was soon lunch time. The whole family gathered for lunch in our coupe. Much to our discomfort, we accommodated them. Packets after packets of food items were opened, but not one offered to share. I knew it was too much to expect from strangers. But then weren’t educated people supposed to be courteous? A few minutes passed. Someone cracked a joke and rest burst into laughter. One thing led to another and finally the entire plastic cover containing sambhar (a liquid delicacy from South India) spilled on the floor and soon a river of sambhar was finding its way into all our luggage space, spreading all over.

What followed soon was unbelievable. The entire family walked out blaming each other. Not one attempted to clean the mess. We were left to fend for ourselves. And now, expecting them to clean up the mess they were responsible for, wasn’t too much to expect from strangers! Or is it? What use of costly English medium schools and self laudatory and illusory perceptions of being educated, if one doesn’t even have common sense and more so, the public sense? Is our education system producing good fellow citizens who are sensitive to other’s sentiments and needs? Is speaking good impeccable English alone a sign of educated person in India? One can digest ignorance of facts like meaning of army or capital of Assam but can we pardon lack of public sense from these so called educated citizens of our country?

I have said previously too and I wish to reiterate the same again here. There is a quality of life which comes from having better infrastructure, roads, hitech gadgets, phones and convergance. And then, there is a quality of life which comes with having good and responsible fellow citizens, who understand and appreciate the value of being one. The latter is the real sign of any advanced society and a true indicator of development. Somewhere down the line, we have turned apathetic towards our own kith and kin and as a result, lost direction. We as Indians, must at once change course, lest we shall be lost forever!


Anonymous said...

Agree Captain, being literate does not mean the same as being educated. Illiterate people would have been more considerate than the family in question.

No need to generalise, but somehow it does seem that people are becoming more inward looking.

L>T said...

Hi! I noticed while checking my site meter that you had visited. I'm glad, I'd almost forgotten your blog site.

I really enjoy your point of veiw, & your thoughtful intellegent posts.

I'm linking you up again. :)

I guess education has nothing to do with bad manners, does it?

The Soul Doctor said...

@ Kesava

Thanks for the comment.

When you said inward looking, did u mean that people are becoming more selfish or u meant that people ar becoming more philosophical?

@ LT

Welcome. I was away from the blog world for some time. And I am glad that you found me.

i feel Education does matter in someone getting civilised. And good manners are just an embodiment of being civilised. Its one of the indicators or show window.

L>T said...

I keep coming back to your blog because I'm struggling w/the whole concept here. I know education should make people more civilized (& it does) but, it doesn't seem to make them any less rude(in my experience, anyway)
It seems... the more education, the more money, the more it makes people feel they are better then other people.
But, of course not everyone is like's a conundrum.

The Soul Doctor said...


I keep coming back to your blog because I'm struggling w/the whole concept here.

Is that why u always come here? :))


You have a point when u say educations tends to create an exclusivity zone in the society.But then it is always a perception. In a true democracy, no is better than the other for no matter any reason.

But all said and comes back to same question

Can we have "educated" who have not attended schools?

I think we can....and we do have...

so it is manifest that going to school or having a degree doesnt automatically tantamount to being educated, and even vice versa is true.

Manas_Buddhi said...

A 'Complex' issue. What more!

The Soul Doctor said...

Manas Budhi

Thanks for visiting here. WHats ur blog id? cant get thru with the blogger link of urs

Anonymous said...

if education doesn't result in character building, it's useless. the word 'education' doesn't relate to college degree alone, but the sum total of your 'personality'!

The Soul Doctor said...

@ Anonymous


I Agree with u Absolutely.

Aparna said...

True whatever written... Something similar was being discussed this evening with my parents while watching CNN-IBN's bangalore countdown for Indian of the year award - that I know of 'educated' people who think people like Medha Patkar are a hindrance to the 'developing India' regarding Narmada dam issue - because the youth does not know how people nearby the dam suffer for getting proper rehabilitation.

Almost all will think of a narayan murthy or ratan tata - but not of people like Medha patkar - who struggle only for a better India... even the poor...

Came to your blog after a long time, thru chirkut - since you added me. Me not online much these days, hope you are enjoying life at its best :)