Monday, September 27, 2010

My Alma Mater

The day was some Sunday in August, 2010. It was the IITB-Undergraduate convocation.

Even though the charm of my home had prevented me from being in the institute for the convocation, it definitely gave my grey cells something to work on. The fact that many of my senior-friends would now be rarely seen around brought into contemplation the following cliché: “In about less than 2 years, like all good (or bad) things, my life in IIT would end.” I don’t know why it struck me so hard at that moment but strike it did. Somehow, in the pre-intern euphoria in the sixth semester, the fact that half my stay in IIT was over found no place in my “yippee I am going on a handsomely paid holiday (sorry, I meant intern) abroad with a host of my friends” excited mindset.

The thought did not make me sentimental about losing our extraordinary LAN and the awesome hostel and campus life and my friends. It instead raised a simple question. “When you get your degree, what will be the most important precept you have taken back from here?” The lessons I am talking about, are of course, apart from the usual engineering knowledge (which I regret to say, most of us take back in very small amounts). The question though simple, like most simple questions, had a complicated answer. All my thoughts could come up with the following lesson learnt that I value the most.
And mind you, it’s a bitter one: An excellent education need not bring forth an excellent character. This is one lesson that I will bear in mind all my life.
The etymology of education is from the Latin word ‘educere’ or related to the English word ‘educe’, meaning “to bring out or develop something latent or potential”. But how much is our so-called IIT’s crème de la crème education actually bringing out?
  • Engineering/ Problem solving skills: Good enough
  • Extracurricular development: Good enough 
  • Character Development: Almost nil. 

Ask anyone of us ‘educated’ guys about the major cause of problems in India. And the foremost answer one gets in most cases is unhesitant and clear-cut: “The political system and its corrupt supremos”. Yet, we fail to realise that we, though being among the very few that receive ‘good’ education, ourselves are just as crooked. It is very easy to speak of the basic flaw in a political leader’s character that is (supposedly) the root cause of evil in India and yet ignore the same basic flaws in our character. Want proof that most of us erudite ones show major blemishes on moral fibre? What a better place to look than our ‘esteemed’ institute itself?

We blame our leaders of being dishonest. We accuse them of being professionally immoral. But how honest are we ourselves? Our academic integrity is laughable. My friends who aren’t in IIT find it difficult to believe that several IITians cheat in exams, copy assignments, even final year projects without a bother. It’s a matter of ignominy that people are caught cheating in even aptitude tests before placements. Most of us are incorrigible liars when it comes to interviews and resumes. Exaggeration is passé. Now is the age of crafting one-or-two incidents out of our fantasy and narrating them in interviews, showing one to possess ‘industriousness’ or ‘planning skills’ or ‘skills of <a noun form of any verb out of the list of action verbs given in the resume workshop>’ or maybe even ‘honesty’. It is indeed a remorseful condition that kindergarten level moral values like honesty and professional ethics need to be externally enforced in the future Indian citizens.

We indict our leaders of being too ‘political’. Come the Lok Sabha elections and the influence game starts. The educated class will then cringe about the absence of meritocracy and how the elections are a travesty of the Sanskrit word “Raajneeti”. And yet, in our institute/hostel/department elections, the same things are being done all around. Outrageous influence-use by people of common department/ hostel/ wing/ state/ caste/ race/ religion/ gotra via phone-calls or e-mail is rampant. Then are the solemn faced ‘Vote for Mr. A’ guys who hang around in wings/corridors. Sometimes even the election officers are guilty. And then are even worse unspeakably appalling tactics. I hope we have not yet come to contestants handing out money to to-be-voters, but I am sure we will reach that position nonetheless. If such things happen in a general election, what to speak of the tactics in cases where future positions-of-responsibility are allotted on mere decision of the previous position holders?

The Institute student newspaper once ran glaring articles on the modus operandi of the election tactics of some unnamed contestant. Imagine the furore that would have been created if <a prominent Indian newspaper> would have run a full front page on the tactics of <a prominent political party>. All the liberal elitist newspaper fellows would have come up with enough blaspheming editorials to last a whole month. However, when we, the learned future of India, do it, why does it seem like a matter of pride rather than that of shame?

We accuse our leaders of being greedy for money. We blame them of gobbling up resources meant for the nation. Aren’t many of us doing the same when entrusted with responsibility? Aren’t hostel funds and festival budgets many times conveniently tweaked to sponsor lavish treats for a few select ‘elites’? And some even justify these treats under the pretext of motivation/ encouragement. If that’s the case, then some sorry day will see professors giving such treats to students as incentive to study for the exams! Does one require such ‘encouragement’ to do one’s primary duty?
If such is the condition in one of the highest held technical institutes in India, then what right do we have to blame our political leaders for not possessing moral fiber?
We, with all our ‘education’, have the same pitfalls in character as those without it. Then what does that leave us with? The difference is the step between being just ‘educated’ and being ‘well educated’.

Just knowing how to solve a few equations or for that matter knowing how to organise large events doesn’t make one well educated. Going to the earlier definition of education again, our great ‘IITian’ education fails miserably in forming out a great character.
It is the duty of education to develop the character of man. Our ‘professional’ system of education has led us to separate our personal lives and our professional lives. Our system demands that teachers teach only what they are paid for and not anything else. I regret to say that since my school days, not a single teacher of mine has ever shown any orientation to inculcate moral values within me. The choice of ethics is left to oneself. And most don’t think too much before making this choice.
Solve problems and manage large events we might, but we must realise that it will only help in the development of our country when we possess a positively unsurpassed character alongside. Or else we end up being money-sucking corporate honchos with just as frayed moral fiber as those of political leaders, whose decadence we so heartily detest.


  1. Oh boy.......this man's definitely angry.....aaja yaar, canteen treat deta hoon !!! :P

  2. Another point, courtesy Nandan:

    We accuse our leaders of taking posts and not working. Is that any different in IIT? I am sure everyone has lots of examples on this.

  3. hey ojas, tune ekdum mere dil ki baat boli hai ... even i felt the same while in iit ... also iim is no different ... this "chalta hai" attitude is ruining india ... and politcians are not the only ones to be blamed ... all of us have this attitude whether the aam aadmi or the elite cream of the nation

  4. hey this article was truly thought should realise that if the "blame it on others" attitude of people has to be changed it should be started from within..

  5. Well your first blog is on what you talk about every time i meet you...character...
    really thought provoking...
    thanks a lot friend...
    i hope you writing influences others...
    i am toh pakka falaofying this...

  6. yaa... same happens even in NITs and other campuses and colleges.
    still there will be people like you.

  7. I am very honored to have a great friend like you who not only is knowledgeable but also morally so pure!! Thought provoking it is!
    And most of our discussions end up here only...Always happy to read or know your views :) and update mine! Keep writing!!

    And to the theme of the blog: I always think the same but can't put it in such a nice way!! That is also case with pride we take in asking or marking the proxies, cheating in papers and list goes on!

  8. i agree with most of what you say, especially about the academic integrity; but somethings i dont agree with :

    1. In IIT you POR's are not full time jobs unlike the when you become MP/MLA/Minister etc, this is a very important fact which people tend to forget
    2. My experience is that for the most important/big posts, the candidates in IITB have mostly been very hardworking and even inspirational (with obviously some exceptions here and there)
    3. I dont know about fests, but at the hostel level no funds are siphoned of for treats

  9. I like the way you've collected the thoughts and written them. As far as the subject goes, if I were to write it, I'd write it just like you have! Well written.

  10. Couln't agree more on your thoughts
    i am curious about
    how many people around you posses "academic integrity"?
    have u ever cheated in exams or u had to coz of circumstances?

  11. @^:

    Firstly, most posses academic integrity to some degree or the other, but it is loosely defined and people tend to forget their ethical boundaries when they see others cheating.

    Secondly, cheating in exams is beyond me. I never do that now. I did it when I was a school kid, wherein I cheated once or twice, but back then, my system of ethics wasn't as developed.

    I have however shown serious absence of academic integrity in some cases, like getting lab-code from a previous batch and compiling it without understanding it; which I truly regret now since the learning opportunity that I lost then was never gained again.

  12. what measures u suggest to inculcate morality among students?

    I personally think morality is best left to oneself...i think u have nice character but u refuse to attribute to ur school or other institute...
    Morality is something u learn by watching others at very young age...
    IOn this era of meeting targets by any means...many competitive talented ppl are not afraid to bend there morals....and U know man how tough its to get into IIT!

    but I am delighted abt ur thoughts..
    U must know however crooked our system may be but it works only coz it always had ppl who think like us!!

  13. you are also one of the persons ppl awe and think that i cant match him even in my dreams etc...

    Good post..
    enjoy. tc