Duffers Conundrum

A recent article on Indian intellectuality in The Times of India ends with,

As we tried to reach education to the Lowest Common Multiple, we constantly lowered standards so that the weakest could catch up. As a result, the average intellectual capacity of our nation today is determined not by the brightest but by our dumbest.

This reminds me of a statement my late grandfather used to make, “A Matric pass of our times knew more than your average graduate knows now”. Earlier I was in lot of awe about their intelligence but as time passed, I dismissed the statement as the tale of an old man. I could not believe that a graduate of any time can be less intelligent than a matriculate.

But how wrong was I! As I grew up, I found that indeed my grandfather was not entirely wrong. India at the time of independence had a literacy rate of about 10% whereas it is close to 75% now. Nobody doubted the intellectuality of those people but let alone intellectuality even the employability of the current generation is under a cloud according to the peers.

The question that arises now is what caused the downslide. And that also such a heavy one!

The first and foremost is the ease of access of education. Not that it is bad but it has had a negative effect on the learning curve. As education was to be earned by earlier generations, the recipients valued it. But now a degree is just a possession! Most of the times it is gained sans knowledge. This disturbing trend has brought down the overall intellectuality and intelligence of the society even though the number of educated has gone up! As one has mentioned the syndrome correctly on Facebook, “Instead of raising the Gaussian curve up, policy is to flatten it more and more”.

I remember our principal, Gill Madam, telling us in Class 4 about the utility of Atlases. We all know that Atlas is a book of maps! But this book proved a lot more for me. I could travel to distant lands with just turning the pages. Over the years as I read about the history, politics and culture of these lands, I could understand easily as I could relate with them. Over the years my love for maps has increased and I can see the locations as the back of my hand. But I could not do the same with Organic Chemistry or Group Theory or Solid State Physics. When I encounter these subjects, I am totally flummoxed. It is the love and passion for the subject which makes you excel in it.

The academic successes of R K Laxman were not exemplary but his understanding of the society and its portrayal through the “Common Man” cartoons is the best in the world. Multi talented persons like da Vinci and Satyajit Ray were, are and will be a rarity but persons with no single distinct quality is really tragic and this tragedy is plaguing the world.

A few days ago, I met a technician from BSNL who came for installing optical fibre cable in our institute. Finding me and my colleague as willing students, he taught us the nuances of the optical fibre cable. On asking about his qualifications, he told us that he was a college dropout which has hindered his promotions. But he was proud enough to point out that he was quick enough to learn the transition from Copper to Optical fibre otherwise he would have been shunted out of the city. This preparedness and willingness to learn is what is missing in our current generation. We are sitting quietly in our cozy cocoons for others to do the needful. We would surely enjoy the benefits but will not take a single step as a “common man” cannot do much. It must be remembered that Einstein was a common man throughout his life. He just loved to ask questions and answer them! Questions allow one to learn and the lack of questions always make you unlearn what you have learnt!

Dhritarashtra was as intelligent as Vidur or Pandu but he being physical handicap lost out on the throne. By the time he returned to the throne, he was mentally blind. He had lost his sense of judgement and went on committing blunders which led to the war at Kurukshetra. This blind belief has once again plagued our society and we have lost our rationale thinking. We are neither interested nor take efforts to pursue the path of thinking. This led Feluda to tell Topshe, “ ভাভা শেখ তোপশে   (Learn Thinking Topshe). It is something which will lead you to success. Another one of my Feluda favourites is, “ সব থেকে কাজের অস্ত্র হল মগজাস্ত্র। মাঝে মাঝে শান দিতে হয়  ” (The best weapon is the brain. It must be sharpened at intervals). An unused brain is so volatile it might explode in the cranium itself causing long term damage.

So if we understand the value of education, learn to ask and answer questions, have aptitude to learn and develop rational thinking, we can actually develop intellectually. Remember, Gautam Buddha and Vivekananda did not do something different. They were just at the epitome of this four point formula. We can at least try to emulate 10% of it. That itself would be enough.

It is said that the difference between Man and Chimpanzee is just 4%. The situation is such that we have to prove it now or we would soon become Talking Chimpanzees.

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