I live in a hostel. Whenever I go to someone’s room, I pick up books and flip through some of the pages. Sometimes it happens to be Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music where I read about him talking about the song that the narrator composes in the E minor scale, or sometimes, it’s Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel, where I admire his confidence at naming the title so, for what if the novel is not actually great. I find a lot of Ayn Rand’s books in these rooms, while one of my hostel-mates is a fan of Edward De Bono and his personal library is stacked up with his books. I tried reading De Bono once, but gave it up too soon after finding him bragging about all the accolades he had won in the first three pages. But my friend tells me his logic is flawless and his ideas on effective thinking are very original and insightful. I nod unconsciously.
Sometimes I walk into someone’s room and just stare at the books, without actually reading them. I fear I might end up distorting the order in which they are meticulously arranged if I take one of them out. I resist my urge in such cases. I saw this book Siddhartha by Herman Hesse resting on a shelf and I immediately wanted to read it; I flipped through a few pages, got riveted but suddenly it dawned upon me that if I allowed myself to be swayed by this book, I’d end up reading it completely at the cost of my studies. So I stopped and planned to read it later. Much like writing, where I keep some plots to be written later when my thinking and writing evolves, I exercise the same with my reading. Some books, for example Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine, are meant to be read when my grey hair turns entirely white. However, the greatest pleasure is to catch the flavour of the book by opening any random page, reading any random paragraph and breathing in the fragrance it carries, both in words and that of paper. Last night, I opened a random page of Thayil’s Narcopolis and read through his limpid description of an opera singer’s affair with the taxi driver just because she couldn’t believe when he said that he’d never heard opera before, and she consciously went to his place to sing for him. Isn’t it so simple, yet so profound?
I not only read books, or stare at them, I also read about books. I love reading interviews of authors, I have keen interest in their lives, about how they have lived their lives – for example, yesterday I started reading The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Hemingway and I could relate to it so much, especially about the fear that a writer feels when he is about to die – what would happen to all his plots which he has kept for the future? I can talk about celebrated books for hours without actually having read them because I would, in all probability, would have gone through their book’s blurbs or author interviews. I like writers. I like books. I like reading. No wonder I like writing. I see my fourth book on my roommate’s shelf, kept neatly above all the other books. I had made him buy it when he came for my book talk last month. I look at my name, I don’t like its font – I had even told my publisher, but they did not change it. I look at it for some time, pondering; though I’m immensely proud and happy about it, it is not written for people of all ages, it is not timeless, which makes me restless. I wish to have one such book written by me stacked up here which a young hosteler like me would see, flip through, start reading, and would only get up after finishing it, irrespective of study or assignments the next day. Yes, that’s the writing I wish to do.
As part of our new series, we introduce opinion pieces from a few of our fellows who seem to have their way with words. Percy Bharucha is a post graduate in Communications from MICA. Read on to find out his opinion on the debate of the worth of higher education. For more ramblings from his bright mind, check out his blog or follow him on twitter.
A lot of debate often happens over the value and worth of higher education or as they are solely known in India ‘MBA colleges’. While they claim to teach everything from networking, to business skills and so on and so forth, how to become a best selling author as soon as you graduate is still lesson 101. But I say keep that aside for a minute, and here’s why you should not hesitate to spend the amount of money equivalent to buying that vacation flat you’ve always wanted in Panvel. Higher education despite the caveat of bonded slavery for the next ten years of your life is still worth it. Youth what youth? but I digress, the reason why higher education is so important, has actually nothing to do with academics, nothing to do with badge value or institute prestige or the fact that most of your faculty come from the interiors of Africa where they teach management to the child guerrillas. I hear economics and operations research are their favorite topics, most of them end up doing their final thesis on optimizing reload times for second hand AK 47s. So why should you blindly jump into higher learning you ask? Even though it costs you the next best ten years of your life, though it will never live up to your expectations basis the hype your coaching class teacher created for you and why the academic value of role playing conflict resolution “with a smile” will forever be lost to you. After MBAs are the ideal choice for hostage negotiation and negotiating terms of peace with a Somali pirate, oh they love that smile there.
The reason is the largest advantage of higher education is psychological it isn’t academic, higher education simply put is the largest provider of the one of the most fundamental human experiences and satisfies one of the most primal needs, that of ‘belonging’. If the justification or measurement of existence is the act of someone witnessing it, then the idea of being alive is therefore compartmentalized and given credence to by the group to which you belong. It is only a higher education institute that unifies the nerds, the jocks, the introverts, the players, the socially awkward into one unifying group to which they belong. I’m not even touching upon the issue of self esteem and pride that is associated with belonging to certain institutes because that’s irrelevant here. Just the notion of finally having found a place for yourself gives direction to the wayward lost souls who as school kids were defined only by their activities. There is a reason why the things you miss the most after having finished with your MBA program of whatever have you aren’t the things that were listed in their enrollment brochure.
As to why this belonging is so necessary you ask, why does this belonging warrant such a long narrative you inquire, because simply put the lack of it generally leads to terrifying consequences. Those that do not find a place, generally create a place aka the birth of a cult, or are found browsing the sections of making friends for dummies. The cohesiveness forced upon students under the umbrella of an institution of learning I feel is imperative for social identity, most of which is relative. There exists an unwritten code among the fraternity of that institute no matter at which stage of life you might be, it is for admission into that code I feel is higher education non negotiable.
Having said all of that why is this article titled, “The Whitechapel College for Psychopaths?” I bet if Jack the Ripper had found some social acceptance he’d be blowing the froth of his beer pint, chilling with his buds rather than be alone on the streets looking for bargains on fillet knives. The idea of not belonging is the first step towards creating your own belonging. No cult leader ever said, lets blend right in, do your thing and we’ll have progress meetings every once a week to see how your killing schedule is progressing. The notion of creating your own following stems from the insecurity of never being shunned from one.
Hence pay those MBA / atrocious Medical college fees, postpone the second twin turbo engine speed boat you were planning to buy, for someday when you see a tired face in the multitudes you know you can trust him because you have a shared identity. Do it so you don’t have to recruit people under the false pretenses of providing a heaven with a glorified personal agenda and then arm them, because the safety catches on those things can be tricky and if you do end up there and meet my old buddy Jack, give him a pat tell him he did just fine and then kill the bloody bugger, cause you know, why risk it.
In our series of bringing to you parts of lives of the hundred beautiful people here, we start with a story told by Tanvi Barge.
As a student at TISS, she and her group decided to document the story of a ghetto; a community called Mumbra on the outskirts of Mumbai. A creation of the 1992 riots, Mumbra and its history are explored through the eyes of two young Muslim women who work in the Rehnuma Library. Rehnuma is a space in Mumbra where young women meet to read, write, co-create and work on issues of women’s empowerment.
Tanvi often about how the whole experience changed her notions on a multitude of things and opened her up to new people and experiences. This documentary was telecast by NDTV 24*7. While shooting the documentary she also started working with minority groups, especially women and young girls in ‘Mumbra’. Not only did it sensitize her to various social issues, it also urged her to work for different forms of social injustice.
Tanvi is one of the many here at the Batch of 2014 with such beautiful stories to share; the common thread that binds them is the drive to create a dent in the universe.
Stay tuned for more!
A welcome-world shoutout from the Batch of 2014!
Term 1 is over and the schedule has just about sunk in. We now seek to bring to you our stories; little by little, piece by piece so you can smile and share.
Watch out for our new section of in person interviews with the fellows. Each one of us has dreams, passions and by now a ‘final vision’. Here’s putting it out in the universe.
See you soon!
I was all set to join the prestigious London Business School when the mail came. “Congratulations! You have been selected for the Young India Fellowship programme. Please confirm your acceptance within 7 days”. Never has been a case where my emotions were so mixed after getting an admit to a competitive program. The seven days that followed were full of vacillations, advice seeking sessions, arguments with dad… The list goes on. By the middle of it, I was convinced – not about the program but about the fact that nobody could give me an answer I would be content with. I had to resolve this myself. As I tried to conjure up reasons of not going to the Fellowship, the easier it became to counter them in my own head. There was a conflict raging within me – the desire to follow my well-set plan or to break out of a defined path – the classic quarter-life crisis. By the end of the week, I realized that I was trying to convince myself to join the program. Each time someone would say “Don’t go because of ….”, I would counter argue for all my debating worth, and each time some said “Go because…”, I would nod in excitement and agree as if my life depended on it. The answer was staring right in front of me and as I look back, it is obvious why so.
Since coming to the program, I have been exposed to things outside my comfort zone from Day Zero. Studying the Liberal Arts with a scholarship in power packed intensive courses with assignments, projects and term papers galore, I have never ‘read and written’ so much for any academic curriculum in my life (No prizes for guessing I am an Indian Engineer!). I have been challenged at many points, even in this short period of three months, to go beyond the objective to the subjective, coerced nearly to appreciate the abstract and nature of qualitative analysis. I resisted and in all honesty, I still do. But I can feel the self-constructed high walls of ‘supposed focus’ in my head melting away as I begin to appreciate opinions and ideas beyond the boundaries of knowledge I was acclimatised to. As the days fly by, I wonder where else could I have got the opportunity to analyze ‘Sachin’s Charisma’ for a term paper, hypothesize about ‘The Cultural Imperialism of Bollywood’ in a presentation, read about Weber and Durkheim on the same day I read Peter Drucker and hear the CEOs and MDs of PE firms and media houses back to back!
The journey so far has been crazy and exciting, filled with the usual crests and troughs of every sinusoidal journey, albeit exaggerated owing to the intensive nature of the Fellowship. Each day adds to the learning curve, teaching things both the hard way and the easy way. There is a lot left, half of the Fellowship to be precise. With the ELM well underway and the mentorship round the corner, I would expect days here to only get longer as we try to eke out every bit of learning and experience that we humanly can attempt to.
Mark Twain said “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” I think I just might have taken my first step at ‘hedging’ my disappointments twenty years from now.
– Saurav Neel Patyal (Young India Fellow ’12)