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)

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