How we Behave

There are times when i go to watch a movie with my son. Of course, these movies are children’s movies, but then, i seem to enjoy them probably as much as he does. Having said that, that’s not what i am writing about. Today, i went to see a movie with him … Toy Story 3. Now, this is one of those few series of movies where the sequel is as good as the original (somewhat gives a reason for them to actually create sequels) but again, that’s not what i am writing about.

So what am i writing about? Going to the theatre was fun. The popcorn and water was fun, too. We had reached a few minutes early for the show, so we had to wait. Which is ok, too. This is about father-son quality time, remember? The movie is in 3D so we had to collect the 3D glasses before going for the movie. And this is what i am writing about.

Actually, not this, but rather, the way we react to things. Sonny was excited about the movie, so he decided that he would get in the queue to collect the glasses (you cant really trust papa with these complex things, can you?). Slowly we moved to the top of the queue. Now, this is not to say that the queue was really a queue. As Jug Suraiya had written a few days back, we Indians don’t believe in vertical queues, but rather, in horizontal queues. Gives each one of the feeling of being close to the gate, window, whatever is the object of the queue, without anyone getting the feeling that they are being discriminated against in terms of distance. This again is something that i am used to, sometimes having participated in this phenomenon.

So what am i writing about? Its simply this. Some people believe that they have the right to reach out and get what is being given, even if that means, no, not breaking the queue, but almost jumping above a child who is being a good boy, standing in queue to approach the window to collect the glasses which would enable him to watch the movie he has been looking forward to for a few weeks now. As we approached the place where the glasses were being distributed (you had to show your ticket and get the glasses), a gentleman walked up to the counter, collected his glasses and walked off. Then a lady, with an infant in her lap walked up to the counter, collected the glasses and walked away. What is interesting is that neither bothered to look at the child standing quietly in the queue. After all, what are these stupid things they call queues?

I tried sarcasm. It usually works. Told my son that aunty (or uncle … choose your pick, i don’t really think its much of a difference) is quite a bit of a hurry, so he should let her get into the queue ahead of him (between him and the counter in other words) and take the glasses. Not that either of them actually got into the queue. They just pushed whoever was in the queue aside, reached out to the counter, and got what they wanted. Your stupidity is to believe in abstract geometrical concepts like lines, which don’t mean much either way.

What i found amazing is that this is the Sunday evening movie-going crowd in Gurgaon. This is the famous “educated Indian middle class” which behaves in a way which one wouldn’t expect from any educated people. And its not just about getting into the queue ahead of people who just happen to be decent enough to not shout scream and so on. What’s also unnerving about this “education” is that “educated” people believe that they can push aside any child as long as its not their child. What this means is that i am here to only ensure that i can push my child through, its ok, whether i push aside any other child, it doesn’t really matter.

The question i have here is just this … is this what education is meant to be? Are these the values, world-views that education is supposed to give to the people it is supposed to uplift? Because here i couldn’t find too many values in the way these “educated” people were behaving. Or is this just the way things are meant to be … the jungle brought to the city? Or am i over-reacting?

About Education

These days, plenty is being written about the education system in India, its inefficiencies, flaws, and how the education system is designed to produce rote learning, rather than real learning, leave aside actual understanding. Though i think this is not the first time this subject is being approached in a creative way. This subject has been approached around four decades ago in a way which is still remembered, a way which is still uttered by students the world over, not just in India. A way which has become sort of an anthem for college students (if not school students too) the world over. If you ask me, i havent seen too many college-goers who dont identify with the song. Even if you havent heard the song before, the words are something which would leave you enthralled. Or at least among my generation they have. Along with the leads, that is. So what am i talking about? Click here to find out.

Well, this preamble was just to build up the idea of the topic. I dont think you would have needed to have been given an introduction to this song. Pink Floyd are a rock icon, and The Wall (especially Part 2) is a youth anthem the world over. If you look at this closely, you will find that the song is about the way the education system is designed to create clones of an assumed perfect archetype of a student, children being able to replicate the tasks that the education systems decides for them in a manner and in terminology that is envisaged by the education system. The role of originality, creativity in the process of learning is totally ignored in this model of education. And this is something which recent films like Taare Zameen Par or 3 Idiots highlight as well. The intolerance of the education system to children who are different, or children who dare to think different. Or those who believe there are other ways to learning than prescribed ones.

But one important thing you would see if you compare the way the idea is presented by Pink Floyd, and by Mr. Aamir Khan is stark. While one is depressing, almost to the point of being deranged, the other is filled with hope, of a day which is tomorrow which is going to be better than it is today. While this could be the general affliction of Bollywood, this could also be an indication of changing times. I would like to assume the latter. The difference between the times when Floyd sang, and Mr. Khan made the movie is simple … the latter is a new world, very different from the former. A world which looks at the future with the eyes of hope, and this hope comes from the past, because the past has seen so many changes, that change is a reasonable assumption from the future. Question then is, how did the past, the last four decades since Pink Floyd see such change? The answer, i think, is simple … this has been because of the contributions of the likes of Pink Floyd, the flower-power folks who tried to think of a world very different from the world of the day, a world where the interactions of people were very different from their own, where people looked at the world around them, both in terms of space and time in ways which were very removed from those before them. And this is how one wave of change builds on another … As Sir Isaac Newton said:

If I have seen further than others, its by standing on the shoulders of giants.

The other day, Hindustan Times carried an article by Sagarika Ghosh about the flaws with the philosophy of 3 Idiots. You can read the article here. I think i disagree with some aspects of the article, but only where she is interpreting the meaning of a movie like 3 Idiots, and not so much in the basic intent of the article. While i agree to an extent that:

It lampoons and trivializes our higher education system as an unrelieved arena of bad teachers, suicidally pressurized students, manic success-oriented parents and evil money seekers who care nothing for learning but only want grades so they can get big jobs and Lamborghinis. Such a caricature is, as we all know, far from the truth.

While i agree that the caricature, any caricature is far from the truth (thats what caricatures are meant for, after all, arent they), there is another aspect which i think gets overlooked in the general discussion that happens. And this is something i like to point out whenever there is a discussion about the way engineering is taught in India. A few years back, i was reading an article (cant find the link, if you can find it, please post it) about a bridge over a river built in China, where everything from designing to procurement to process management, and everything about the bridge was done by students of an engineering college. I dont know whether we in India can claim to have achieved something like this. A point where students learn not just how to apply some formulae to solve a numerical in an exam, but where they can apply concepts to build value. And this is where i think the issue is.

Coming back to the difference between Pink Floyd and Aamir Khan, another aspect which i think has a role to play is the way technology has brought people across the world, across all kinds of faultlines together. And this has been a massive difference in the lives of many.

Shared Context

My friend Nirmala has written a nice post about the way people with a shared context can solve problems by interacting with each other. The story that the post tells is self-explanatory, so maybe need not write anything to describe what i thought of the story.

What the story illustrates is something which a lot of people have written about. Something i have written about, as well, the idea of the intersection of knowledge from multiple sources, and the ways of using this intersection to create new knowledge, and from here, new ideas. What is important is that the more the context which is shared among people, the less is the probability that these people would come up with an idea which is new. Like the article says, if two people are speaking the same language, they are speaking the same things, so the way for new things to come up is not too easy, while if you bring together people from different backgrounds, with only a small level of intersection or overlap the probability of new ideas coming up is more.

This is primarily because these people have in their heads a context which is different from each other, and hence, they tend to see things different from each other, and this probably leads to a scenario where the ideas of one in the team could be interpreted differently by someone with a very different context, and this leads to the cross-pollination of ideas. What seems interesting in the story is the idea of encouraging diversity, because it is only through this diversity that the vitality of thought and ideas can be maintained. This is because this diversity itself is what leads to the flowing of the water so to say, making sure the water of thought and ideas doesnt stagnate in a small pool, but rather have a wide sweep of flow.

This is an idea not just for the world of knowledge in organizations, or KM or innovation for that matter, but probably for society as well. An interesting thing which is coming out of the book i am reading, The Discovery of India, is that one of the reasons India, as a civilization has survived the millenia is because of the frequent inflow of new ideas coming from very diverse civilizations, like the Greeks, Persians, Bactrians, Huns and so on, and the ability of the civilization to assimilate these ideas into the social fabric, leading to a constant renewal of strength through new ideas, new thought, new cultures, leading to a constant recreation of thought, ensuring it doesnt stagnate. This is important because stagnation leads to decay. While these civilizations did share some part of their context, there was a large part where their way of looking at the world was very different from each other, and this may have been one of the reasons which brought about the vitality which has enabled the civilization, the culture to survive, evolve, emerge stronger over the centuries.

In a Hurry

I was recently waiting at an airport. Doesnt matter which one. You can choose one that you fancy and substitute that for the nameless airport. Thats because the same scene could have been anywhere. Not much of a scene really. It went something like this.

There is a queue of people getting into the airport for a morning flight. Not everyone is wide awake. Rather difficult to be, at that hour. But thats digressing, i think. So there is a queue of people showing their tickets and IDs to the CISF folks at the gate. Normal, you would think. Quite so. This is when two gentlemen came rushing to the gate. They were apparently late for their flight so they were in a rush. Understandable. One of them was Indian, the other was a foreigner, nationality i would have no way of knowing. This is where it became queer. The foreigner gentleman tried to barge through CISF (i am discounting the queue given they were in a visible hurry) without showing their IDs. Whats queerer still is that the Indian gentleman also tried to do the same with the explanation that they would miss their flight. The insistence of the CISF  man seemed to displease them a bit, but he put his foot down, and wouldnt let them through without seeing their IDs. Thats the story. Now for what i thought.

Anywhere in the world, the Indian gentleman wouldnt have done this, and in his home-country, the foreigner gentleman would also not have done this. In the interest of security, or good citizenship, they would say. The same gentlemen in another country would have kept their IDs handy so it wouldnt take them the 10 or 15 seconds that it takes to show the ID to the CISF folks. Why is it that security or good citizenship plays second fiddle to convenience? I dont know the views of the Indian gentleman on having to show IDs when entering airports but if its in the interest of safety, then we should follow it. Why do we assume that these are negotiable, and more so when in India? If as citizens that is the way we feel, can we blame anyone for security threats, for maybe the biggest security threat is we ourselves?

The Aged …

I am these days trying to do something which i thought would be far simpler than it turns out to be … I am looking for health insurance for my parents. Simple? Not at all. Well nigh close to impossible. None of the insurance companies who are willing you sell you the moon are willing to even touch anyone above 60 with a bargepole.

Now, i have a question … at an age above 60 is where people require insurance the most, isnt it? And thats when insurance is not available. In other words, arent we saying, somehow, that insurance is there for you only as long as you dont need it. When you need it, dear customer, sorry … we dont believe in customer relationships.

Three such situations come in mind … First, health insurance for senior citizens. Second, the recent exclusion of natural calamities from the list of things covered in auto insurance (prompted by the money the insurance companies hads to pay, post the Mumbai deluge). Third, terrorism. In short, auto insurance doesnt cover floods (acts of God), nor does it cover terrorism (act of man). Why do we have insurance, someone please remind me?

Coming back to the point about insurance for the aged … Medical costs are rising (not to add that doctors are becoming more unscrupulous). Our parents lived most of their lives in a situation where medical costs were low, and insurance was not required. Now that they have aged, they suddenly find medical costs have sky-rocketed, and insurance companies refuse to cover them. Isnt it time that we, as a society, and as a nation, do something for the elderly in the country? Or, are we to let them just with away?

Mosque Takes In Child, Mother …

OK … this one is going to be a mixed bag. Though, i would like to see this as a far more positive thing than anything else. There are news reports … about a child, and his mother, who have been abandoned by his father. The reason? The child has a hole in his heart, and this requires surgery. What is the beautiful part about this story is the fact that this brings out an important tale … that all hope is not lost. A mosque in the city of Lucknow has adopted the child and his mother. And the elders are making sure the little child has a chance to live. They have collected money from among the members of the congregation for the child’s surgery, which is to happen in the month of October. Hindustan Times writes that after they broke the story, they have received a lot of requests to help the little one.

Contrast this to a prominent social activist venting anger at the police in Gujarat for a strange incident … during the post-Godhra riots, a police constable found a little child, and took him in, and handed him over to a couple to take care of. The issue is that the child is Muslim, and the foster-parents Hindu. And, the child, today (according to reports in newspapers) doesnt want to go to his biological parents. The activist believes that the constable acted irresponsibly. One wonders … whether love should be considered supreme to professed religion? That too the way we are using religion towards a myriad number of ends?

Now, the question … why do i think this story is bitter-sweet? Simply because, when i searched the websites of some of the leading newspapers for this story, i just couldnt find it. This is the strangest part … a story which brings out some of the best elements in humanity is so well hidden in the inner pages of a newspaper that its so difficult to find … one wonders … do we really care?

A Wednesday …

A Wednesday … This is a movie which is quite a different take on terrorism … this is not only a different way of telling the story of terrorism, this is also one of the few films which also look at the issue of terrorism, and our reaction to terrorism, as a society, from a refreshingly comman-man kind of attitude.

No, i am not going to spill the beans … rather you went and watched the movie … i watched the movie … on a Sunday … which was a day after the serial blasts in Delhi (at Karol Bagh, Connaught Place, and Greater Kailash). And, the blasts being fresh in the mind, the impact of the movie is altogether different. What was chillingly true … the way they have narrated the reaction of people to bomb blasts … we go through the news channels, see what each of the channles is saying, make a few phone calls, to make sure our friends and relatives are ok, and then, heave a sigh of relief and move on … and this pattern gets repeated every time there is a blast.

There is another pattern … someone had informed someone else about the blasts before they actually happened, the blame-game begins (it doesnt matter who blames whome, in short, over a period of time, we have seen everyone blame everyone and their uncle (read Pakistan) for these blasts), compensation is announced, and we move on.

Do we really care, as a nation, and as a society?