The Passport called English Medium!!!

Hindi Medium for the uninitiated is a Hindi film that hit the screens last week sans the trappings of the typical Bollywood fare but which holds a mirror to the society with a strong social message. Without any of the leading “Star Khans” but with just Irfan Khan as the lead star, I am not sure how far the film will reach eventually. After 3 Idiots if there was one Hindi film which leaves you thinking as you left the cinema hall about your kid’s education this must be it. In the film, the lead couple go to unimaginable lengths just to secure admission in one of the Top English medium schools in the city.  Because in the lines of the mother, “If the child goes to a Govt. school, she can’t learn anything. If anybody talks to her in English, she will not be able to fit in the society. Hence she will be lonely and will get depressed.”  The extremes the couple stretch themselves to secure that admission in a top English medium school like even trying to transform themselves to poor people to take advantage of BPL quota as per RTE act may sound preposterous.  But the message – that “English medium” is a mandatory passport for one’s flight to success in life is not lost on anyone.

Not just this one, but there were other films like Chetan Bhagat’s novel turned film – One Half Girlfriend and Sridevi’s super hit – English Vinglish dwelling on the theme of the need to master English to get recognized/get ahead in life. Ironically this is not some typical Bollywood fantasy but stark reality of India being mirrored in films.  At workplaces today, one’s command over spoken English is considered essential to rise up the corporate elevator whether you like it or not. There are very few careers I can think of today where one can still succeed without mastering the English language. Probably politics (where being oblivious to the English language can become your calling card) or some creative fields could be those. Otherwise even in medical field the reality is, you feel comfortable of a surgeon’s ability if he is able to explain the diagnosis and treatment course of your patient in eloquent English!!! Narayana Murthy of Infosys once controversially observed in the context of IITs that with Indian politicians “rooting against English”, the task of getting good English speaking students at IITs gets more difficult and that affected their quality .  He was being practical and honest. In urban India the caste system based on Manuvaad is gradually on the wane. But in its place there is a new caste system based on “Medium of Instruction” – English medium being forward caste and any other being backward!!!

However this is not the case in many other successful countries. In Germany you don’t need to master English to head an organization. In Japan, though knowledge of English is an asset particularly in an Export driven economy like theirs, lack of flair in English has never been a liability.  Same is the case with China.  It’s another matter that they probably now realise that if they had imbibed the English language they could have ruled the global commerce not just in Mfg. but even in services!

But then India is not a homogenous state with one culture, one lingo like Japan or Germany. We are “United States of India” where our culture, language, food habits,…,.. keep changing every 500 kms. We sort of got stuck in the middle where we couldn’t have Hindi or for that matter any other Indian language as a universal Pan Indian language due to our cultural diversity. At the same time English being a language imported due to the colonial rule couldn’t achieve the universal reach across the board. Result – we have a language divide. If we have to get out of this situation, it’s too late or virtually impossible to go back to a Japan or Germany universal Indian language model.  So it looks like adopting English language universally in India is only the practical option left with us to go forward from here.

“Universally” is the key. It was the very articulate Shashi Tharoor who once said, “Denial of opportunity to learn English to our children would be tantamount to destroying their future” and I agree. It’s unanimously accepted that India’s command over English has been one of the key attributes to our success in Software business worldwide. So why not we build on our strengths and leverage the same? That is certainly not by keeping English a privilege of few and sowing the seeds for another conflict. Instead a way forward could be to make ‘All” schools in India – English medium schools and phase in English as the universal medium of instruction from a particular year in the very near future. This is not to shortchange our own native languages which still needs to be taught in the same schools but need not be the “Medium of instruction”. We could expect politics to play and outrage factories running on full capacities over this move.  But then have we seen wards of politicians who get educated from Non English medium schools?  By the way in our neighbouring Pakistan in 2013, I heard that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province took a call to switch over from Urdu to English medium gradually in a period of four to five years!!! This could be a significant reform in the field of education that would ensure English not just being a passport to economic, social and educational advancement universally but a ‘Visa on Arrival” for growth, the likes of Donald Trump notwithstanding!!

This reform may not be “the” only cure for all the ills in our education system but would be a good place to start.

Postscript: While on this, just after the ascent of Mr. Chandrasekharan as the Tata supremo, a picture of him and his 2 brothers has been doing the WhatsApp rounds. It talks of the fact that the 3 brothers are actually are from Tamil medium schools from a village in Tamil Nadu and that today they were head honchos. The message being, one doesn’t need to be necessarily from English medium schools to get to the top. Well, not sure even if Natarajan Chandrasekharan will accept that premise today and forward that to his WhatsApp groups!!!

Aamir and the Passion Paradox!

For few years now, Aamir Khan has been making December his own.  This year has been no exception. His latest film Dangal is well on its way to smash his own records at the Box office. The day the film opened to some positive reviews, the world’s most productive factory and the most efficient distribution channel today namely the “forward factory” and the “WhatsApp channel” got busier than usual. Some of the forwards were rants comparing the position taken by the Aamir as the protagonist in his earlier film – 3 Idiots and now in Dangal. In 3 Idiots, Aamir was shown taking a dig at the typical mindset of Indian parents who don’t let their children follow their dreams. In Dangal, as a father Aamir completely takes charge of his daughters’ destiny to achieve “his” dream of winning a Gold medal for India in Wrestling. In whole of the film there is no evidence of him trying to find if his daughters share his passion! Be that as it may, this post is not about those films or of Aamir’s so called double standards as espoused by social media.

aamir

On the 1st day of a New Year when one is generally in a contemplative mood regarding chasing one’s dreams and passion,… the contrasting but at the same time practical themes of these 2 films of Aamir set the tone for this piece.  In the context of following one’s passion in career and life few pertinent questions arise:

  • When do we realise actually what’s our passion in life?
  • When one needs to take decisions on educational pursuit say at the age of 17/18, do we understand what’s in store in our “passion” world??
  • And do passions @ 17/18 remain passions by 40???
  • And what if the passion one chooses doesn’t provide a decent lifestyle?? Or doesn’t it matter?
  • What about the other narrative of doing something which comes your way and turn it into your passion???
  • Does it help to pursue more than one passion in life???
  • And so on.

These are complex questions with no easy answers. Hence the “Passion Paradox”! Only in an ideal world would we have all folks chasing their dreams and following their passion and be contented in life. In normal world for most, it’s an elusive chase as if you are on a tread mill!

For a lucky very few though, the passion thing falls in place nicely. They are lucky enough to identify their passion at a young age. Possess adequate talent around it. Have a supportive ecosystem at home. Exhibit a relentless drive to achieve their goals. Blessed with a bit of destiny supporting their cause to be among the best. And get handsomely rewarded for the same. Aamir Khan for example. Or a Sachin Tendulkar. But such examples are few and far between. I am sure even for Sachin there would have been days when he felt like running away from Cricket with the kind of pressure he was subjected to!

And there are some who get to pursue their passion at work on a day-to-day basis and also get paid for it. Something like what actor Kamal Haasan said of his life – “I have no complaints as I get Karumbu thinna kooli”!!! (Getting paid that too to eat Sugarcane). Or a musician for example. Even here, a passionate pursuit when it becomes an everyday battle with deadlines – it becomes a rut isn’t it??? As film critic Baradwaj Rangan an engineer by profession who incidentally left an IT career to pursue his passion of writing aptly puts it, “that following your passion, your dream, is fine, but just keep in mind that one day it becomes a job. No one tells you that, one day, the passion becomes the daily grind!!!”

So where does that leave ordinary mortals like us who don’t fit in the above 2 categories?

Here’s my personal views. Of course to each his own.

I feel that understanding one’s passion in the late teens is only “luck by chance”! For most that is a very confusing period with limited understanding of their own interests, strengths and an idea of what they want from life. As we evolve, so do our interests. So for many we get to understand our passion rather late. Having understood what gives us that inner joy, even if it’s not early in life or even if it’s not on full time basis, it is good to pick up that interest and pursue it.  This pursuit in parallel to the regular job could be indeed liberating. It could provide an exit to the everyday grind.

I do believe that unlike the previous generations, this generation and the coming ones are better placed for pursuing all sorts of dreams and passion. With more exposure comes more options and more understanding of what’s in store.  They could hopefully fit in more in the 2 categories I have mentioned. And hence less of this “Passion Paradox” for them! Or so I hope!

While on this, a big thanks to Aamir who wears passion for films on his sleeve and keeps churning out meaningful cinema while reminding us of following our passion 3 Idiots style or Dangal style!!!

On that note, my thumbs up to all to follow your passion and chase your dreams in 2017. Cheers!