At its best a University is meant to prepare one for a life in the real world. LIFE in the outside world, so to speak. But, and not as Milan Kundera put it in his brilliantly titled novel, life is also not really elsewhere, even if the University provides only a transitory environment for most. I’ve been mulling over this post for a while now, these thoughts prompted by a number of things that happen from time to time on the campus.
And in the classroom. I was mildly (to put it mildly) irritated some months ago when two students asked for permission to miss a class since it clashed with an entrance or qualifying examination for some other institution. Like there was a destination that was demonstrably more important than here, which was just a stepping stone in any case… which more than kind of devalued the present in favour of an imagined future. But maybe I was being unnecessarily touchy.
The issue continues to bother me though- why do many of our students, and typically the more promising ones, not consider the UoH as a serious destination for research. Better facilities elsewhere is one reason, of course, but there is something more to it. Over the years I have seen a variety of students who intend to pursue further studies choose destinations that are almost surely not as good, and also seen them exchange the familiar for the alien, exchange the possibility of good mentorship for the probably indifferent… But then, I have also seen them perform well enough later, so this is also somewhat of a sense of regret of “what might have been”.
Nevertheless, the question of why Indians seem to do better abroad is one that has been asked often enough, and reasons range from the obvious to the banal. A typical one being that “India’s biggest problem is its mindset. India still views itself as a third world country or less harshly, a “developing” one.” Comparing our (presumed) national characteristics with those of others is an old practice: Rabindranath Tagore, for instance, when talking of the Japanese aesthetic felt that in Japan, there was a certain sense of order, discipline and unruffledness he missed in India, where people wore themselves out with disorder, effusiveness and over-reaction [as cited in K G Subramanyan’s article on RT and modern Indian Art].
So is there something more to it than better facilities and infrastructure that attracts the aspiring student to more developed (or richer) countries? Is life elsewhere? A colleague recently wrote (and I am extracting from his mail) on what the main differences were. This was about the attitudes of people to the following principles of life:
- Ethics, as basic principles.
- The respect for Laws and Regulations.
- The respect from majority of citizens by right.
- The love for work.
- The effort to save and invest.
- The will to be productive.
The differences, that analysis asserts, arise essentially from the proportion of the population that actually follows these principles and not from some other national characteristic, intrinsic superiority or natural advantages that these nations might possess.
Surely these principles are neither so profound to enunciate, nor are they that difficult to follow in a society. And yet…