Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Qualifications -- part 2

All said, the question that we started with, still stands. Aren't there any essential qualifications in arts, literature, music, theater and politics, similar to other occupations? For example, can a self-taught student, or may be a student helped by a private tutor, aspire to become a CA or a scientist? No, if they do not possess the required qualification. Then why are the aforementioned occupations considered open to all? In the first part we explored the conditions when a candidate has somehow managed to enter the field. We emphasised the need of a strong and thorough groundwork that these occupations demand. Today our question is whether the candidate should have been allowed entry at all. This issue does not stop with questioning the presence of uninitiated people in these fields; instead it goes ahead and casts a doubt on those who evaluate the merit of the output that these occupations produce. It is assumed that as the arts, literature, theater converse with an open audience, so anyone can propose a suggestion or make a judgment. Every now and then you must have witnessed writers or artists turning down awards saying that none of the members of the panel are acquainted with their work.

The assumption of these occupations as an open field considers the possibility that there could be students who learn the trade on their own, and also that some are born with talent, but could not pursue the formal education due to various reasons. On the other hand, this could seriously affect the quality of output that these occupations produce. Relaxing essential qualifications encourages defeatist attitude in the way that those who could not get job elsewhere opt for these careers. Some become teachers, some artists, some actors and so on. Note that these are different from a teacher, artist, actor who has honed skills through education and experience.

To see the landscape on the other side, what is the certainty that a student who has a formal degree is definitely superior to others who did not climb the university ladder -- especially considering the state of higher education in our country? That is an entirely different problem and concerns itself with educational reforms.

Sometimes I feel that these occupations are indeed treated as an escape. It is somewhat similar to the Hindi phrase which means -- just as there was a small wrangling at home, the man became a monk. Newly pass-outs who could not get a job, become teachers. Boys or girls who consider themselves good-looking, catch the train to Mumbai. But can’t you really notice the difference in quality of work of these teachers, monks, actors, politicians who have rushed on these paths as an escape and that of the work of those people who have entered through proper education and may be experience?  Again, talking of monks, just contrast the boys running away from home to become monks with the renunciation of Swami Vivekananda and Sister Nivedita.

Considering the Hindi poetry, the only language whose poetry I am familiar with, you may notice the perfect craftsmanship of Maithilisharan Gupta and can compare it with that of contemporary poets. Here I am not talking about the content, idea or emotions, which are anyhow very rare. I am speaking only about the craft of drafting verses.

Then again and again I return to the topic of theatre and movies because this is where the result is most striking. With such a long tradition of drama in India with such great names as Bharat Muni, Bhas, Bhavbhuti, then all the way to Jaishankar Prasad, Vijay Tendulkar, Mohan Rakesh, Badal Sarkar, Utpal Dutt, just to mention a few, it is absolutely unbelievable that the dramatists and artists would produce anything substandard. The amount, thoroughness and depth with which Indians have studied drama is remarkable.  Here we do know what is good drama. Any compromise in this art is unpardonable.

One thing that I could never understand is how being a successful actor or cricketer ensures that one is equally capable of running the country? For example, compare the strong intellect and political acumen of seasoned politicians with, well, anyone of your choice. Interestingly, whatever their personal ideologies and mutual differences, the educated and experienced politicians also appreciate the talent in their peers. So you saw P. V. Narasimha Rao sending Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the head of Indian delegation at Human Rights Commision. And whenever Pranab Mukherjee delivered speech in parliament, you saw Vajpayee occasionally smiling and nodding in appreciation and admiration of the former’s sharp memory for dates and details. These contemporary leaders had at one time or other awed us with their political skills (see for example, Nayar’s article in The Telegraph). Is it a fact of lesser importance that Rao had a degree in law, and Vajpayee and Mukherjee in political science?

I remember a remark made in the closing scene of the movie 'Few Good Men': “Our duty is to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves”. Somehow I like that statement as it tells us a lot about our duty. It holds good not just in the field of military defence, instead it is equally true for every occupation. In sciences, we learn and distribute our knowledge to the society so that they too could understand the true nature of our environment. It is the work of souls like Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Aurobindo to show us the light whenever we stumble on the path of religion and yoga. In the same way, it is the duty of artists to demonstrate fine taste and aesthetics to the general masses so that they too are able to understand and appreciate what is beautiful.

It is a big responsibility, and definitely not an easy task. Only the toughest can accomplish this. Only the educated lot can do it. Weak and ignorant politicians jeopardise the security and welfare of a whole nation; fake babas and sadhus bring about spiritual collapse of the masses. In the same way, uninitiated artists usher in the cultural collapse of a nation. In every other article, essay, speech, we boast of our 5000 years old civilization. If our cultural heritage is indeed so valuable to us, then definitely it cannot be trusted into inexpert hands. We require men and women of the toughest composition, and of sharp intellect, who have secured and are willing to secure an education of the highest degree. Just as it happens in sciences, defence, accountancy and all academic occupations, in the same way in all other fields too there must be standards and criteria to choose the individuals who would carry forward the torch of civilization for coming generations. Now, what should be the standard or criteria for taking up this responsibility? Let the community decide.

Suggested Reading: The good old days -- Delegations from India and Pakistan, then and now by K. P. Nayar, The Telegraph, 26 August 2015.

photo credit: back to school via photopin (license)

Tuesday, 19 April 2016



Whenever we open newspapers to seek job opportunities, or log in to the job portals on the internet, one of the information we look for is the required educational qualification. Whether the vacancy is for a defence personnel, chartered accountant, professor, scientist, or a railway employee, educational qualifications, experience, and essential and desirable skills are clearly mentioned. Now the doubt arises -- just like a certain minimum qualification and skill is expected for the aforementioned jobs, whether any similar criterion is expected in other fields such as arts, music, literature, drama, cinema, and also politics.

First, the question is whether the field of literature demands any qualification or not. For example, it is absolutely fine for notable individuals to write memoirs and autobiographies. In fact, they must be written. These give a detailed insight into the time and times of the person, and could be helpful for the coming generations and also for academic interest. However, saying that the other general fields of novel, prose, story, poetry, drama, reportage do not require specialized training is to belittle and downplay their value. They do require specialized knowledge. Although these fields are open to everybody and do not pose restrictions of any type, yet once a person decides to enter the field of literature, certain qualifications and skills must be acquired. You must have read the novels by several writers who had been technocrats and entrepreneurs, and had decided to enter the literature field. They write and the product is a bestseller, mostly due to good marketing. Is everything so easy?

Similarly, how many politicians do you know who have studied political science as a subject? If not, how many have followed other senior political leaders, learning under their shadows the basic rules and tenets of leading a community or running the country? Graduates from different disciplines apply for civil services exams each year, and the very best from them get selected and are responsible for smooth functioning of the bureaucratic machinery. Shouldn't we then expect our politicians, who are superior and supervisor to these bureaucrats, to be more qualified, skilled, and capable? They are the leaders, after all.

Before anything else, the first example that must have come to your mind is that of movie stars. You must have definitely realized the sharp contrast of an Irrfan Khan, Om Puri, Shyam Benegal from several other members of the community. Cinema, as also drama, requires a lot of understanding in terms of place of characters, sound, lightening and so on.

Same story repeats itself in fine arts and photography. Yes, true, formal education in arts is not always possible. Still, one could always seek the tutelage of some artist and invest personal effort to acquire expertise and finesse in the mode and medium of interest.

How can one be so sure that a particular writer, artist, journalist, musician, politician, has not done sufficient groundwork and prepared well for entering the field? Well, it is simple -- the result and the output say it all.

Even then we witness a huge fan following that these people command. Mostly it is because general people take them as their role models -- if they could achieve such high levels without any formal qualification, we too can. Though it is a good development in terms of inspiration, but only as far as it draws general public towards arts and appreciation. In the long run, it could prove to be disastrous, by lowering the standards and quality of the final product, if necessary investment of skill and effort is not made.

These self-identified self-made artists should realize the amount of personal effort demanded of them. Seeking proper guidance in arts, music and literature is not difficult; still, whether or not the person chooses to seek tutelage, some least effort should definitely be made to learn the basics of the field. Otherwise, a lot of talent is wasted, and a lot of time and expectations of the readers and audience are sacrificed.

If the person does not possess a formal qualification, a lot of self-effort needs to be made to acquire the required skills. Even in these days, it is absolutely possible to obtain guidance, and there are people, professionals, who are willing to help and give good advice. With rapid development of technology, information flow and communication, acquiring the skills has now become easier as compared to past times.

The necessary skills and background knowledge should not be taken for granted.

To be continued next week . . .


Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Do you have time?

Fast food culture is not a recent development. We have seen it earlier also, and should have expected the present state of affairs to arrive a lot earlier.

When instant noodles came, our definition of a breakfast and snack changed. We, as children, grew more and more impatient with the slow process that our mothers followed to cook and feed us. It was not healthy, but who cares? We are surely not unique in our human traits. I mean, yes, we are unique in terms of our talents and abilities and problems, but the general human requirements and needs like hunger and thirst cannot be called unique to a person. Still, we started behaving as if our hunger and appetite is something grave and serious and needed immediate attention.

Our taste in movies has altered. Now we are no longer interested in watching the same classic again and again, or buying and listening to the same old songs again and again on the tape recorder. We now want new, and rapidly changing entertainment. This has put enormous pressure on the creative industry: in arts, culture, literature, academics, sciences, architecture, everything.

In sciences, we saw a shift in the academic preferences of some researchers who showed more and more interest in increasing their list of publications, irrespective of the impact or implications of any of their work on the general progress of science and society. Gone are the days when Edison or Pontekorvo performed the same experiment year after year looking for the results or clue that they were seeking. Of course, one could always argue that for getting a job, which is the immediate goal, the number of publications is the most important factor. Well, no arguments. Still, even after the researchers have settled comfortably in the field of their choice and expertise, it could be expected that they would produce at least one work of significance for which they could be remembered.

Books are now published by billions, in a variety of formats and for different platforms. The readers have varied tastes. They want more and fast. The writers cannot produce literature at an equal rate. So, formula based novels and pieces are created, which are sure to bring success. Who has the time now to write another War and Peace that was written over a span of 4 years? And who has the time to read it? People instead prefer to listen it in audio format, or seek out an abridged version. Or better still, watch it as a movie or TV serial. I asked one student who was watching a recent Sherlock Holmes movie whether he has read the classic. He simply replied -- ‘Why should I? When the same thing can be found in less than two hours, why should I spend days on it?’ I did not have any answer. How could I tell him that there is more to literature than the story line. The significance of words, their relationship and connection with each other, and the timeless desire of humans to live through many more experiences than is possible in one single life. Occasionally, I do have to face the question --’What do you go to the library for?’ And people around me still are not convinced by my stress on books and printed matter. They do not have time.

Building a Taj Mahal, or writing a Ramayan, takes time. A lot of time. And patience. It is not a one-day work. If one wants to experience something, learn something, create something, one should always be prepared to sacrifice time and comfort.

You must have come across people arguing on print and electronic media, and social sites on Mahabharat and other texts. Whenever I read or listen to their arguments, whether in favour or against the subject, I always wonder whether the person has even read the text. In all probability it could be either the shortened version penned by C. Rajagopalachari, or another one published by NCERT. Or may be the TV serial by B. R. Chopra. I myself have not had the privilege to read that classic, so it is not appropriate to comment on how much accuracy and content has remained intact in these abridged forms. Still, I believe that if one is conducting or participating discussion or debate on Mahabharat, or for that matter any other literature, one must have a first hand experience of the material by reading it. You would find a lot of scope for this experiment. For example, you too must have seen instances when copies of books were burnt just within hours of their release. It is wonderful that the country has so many speed readers who could finish a 700 page tome in just two days!

Seeking such avenues leads to a superficial life and knowledge. One does not learn anything. One does not grow. Simply because growth requires time and patience. But one does not have that. It is not a healthy development, just as having fast food instead of regular rice and daal.

We can then boast of our knowledge and possession of an enormous amount of information. But is there any depth; does all that information aid us in making sound decisions, or in contributing in any meaningful way to society, or even to ourselves?

photo credit: Bishop Wilton Show 2016 -113 via photopin (license)