Saturday, December 27, 2014

How times have changed …

Oh, that is a very uncatchy heading for a post …
… but, as it conveys the crux of the matter to be mentioned I will retain it.
It was in the mid-‘70s I was a denizen of IITs (two of them) and I distinctly remember how every year, between, say, March and start of vacation, the campus will be abuzz about how many from this department got fellowships/scholarships/assistantships (research/teaching) and how the other department did not fare so well, based on this department’s metrics. Of course, the other department had its own metrics by which it is the other department that was at the top of the perch. It made for quite “stimulating” debates and discussions, though leaving the discussants and the debaters on both sides at a dead end.
In those times, God save the soul who unknowingly entered an IIT distinct from his domicile IIT. He (hardly a she) would have hot footed it back to his zone of comfort, the IIT he would be soon an alumna of. The level of “hostility” was palpable.
In a sense, this does not seem to have changed, belying the title. There is intense competition between IITs to “lure” the best “talents” (higher IITJEE ranking). But look deeper; it will hit you between your eyes. Of course, the debate is not carried out across physical space on IIT campuses as in the past but is now through multiple fora on the Net. But this change is merely at the mechanical level of information exchange. But something deeper is going on.
40 years ago, it was about who was going where and under what conditions for pursuing higher studies. It is still so, in the comparison aspect. After all, one does read reports saying the highest offer for a student of this IIT is this much whereas from another IIT it was only so much. Yes, now too, the competition is about who is going where, but the parameter has changed – who is getting what, in terms of cash, hard cash.
It is Facebook offering Rs. 2 crore per annum at one IIT and only Rs. 1.8275 crores at another IIT. Of course, as the number of IITs and IIMs, not to speak of the non-IIT universities rushing to share in the pie, joining this contest of comparison has gone up, the competition has intensified. As Facebook is not alone, each institution chooses its own metric to thump its chest, 56 inches or not. If it is Google for one, it is Apple for yet another, Amazon … and so on. Bringing up the rear is merely high seven figure salaries from Indian companies like TCS, Infosys.
Now, look at the change in the attitude of parents, then and now. I take my parents as a first instance. Though middle class at that time (my father was a professor at a college affiliated to the University of Madras), it was not what I would fetch after five years at an IIT that engaged my parents. It was just that their child would become an engineer from a good institution. They did not push me, no special tuition classes etc. I just happened to scrape through JEE and entered an IIT.
It was through the first four years, looking at the clamor on campus in the period mentioned earlier, my “ambitions” got built up. My parents, though acknowledging that they may have trouble on the home front, stood by me to help me realize these.
Now, I feel that parents “invest” in their children (after all, IITJEE prep courses cost a lot) and have their eyes on the RoI, if not for themselves, in the reflected “glory” of their prodigy. Is there anything bad about this? I think not. Are today’s parents doing anything different than what my parents did for me? No. Every set of parents, across ages, has wished and keeps wishing the best for its children. Things have not changed after all.
But looking at how they measure the “best” has definitely changed. Though it is always for the child to outshine others earlier-it was in academics-now it is in more tangible terms, monetary.
So, to go back to the title, I have to admit that I am a fence sitter. Intense competition is the name of the game, but the rules of the game have changed. Considering the aspirations of parents, they wish for the best but how that “best” is reckoned has changed.
That is, at one level things have changed but at a deeper level, they have remained the same. There is nothing to complain about.
I have made what was already an uncatchy title more slippery by giving neither side any handle! And, remaining true to my persona, I tried to play both sides, across time and different sets of measurements, against each other!
Nothing has changed!
Raghuram Ekambaram



Abhishek Sharma said...

Very true sir, but we should also consider the competition where parents are participating. The society, colleagues, relatives etc. Nobody wants to miss a chance of insulting and belittling other parents by boasting the achievements of their own ward. This satisfies their ego somehow; and kids are now horses in a race where their parents are betting on them. Suddenly the income of a student is more important than the person himself, no matter what that kid does in his life (or with his life) if he has a handsome salary ,no one cares. The objective of education has changed, kids in kindergaten are taught how buying a lavish car is your ultimate goal and movies (and other sources of entertainment) leave no stone unturned for the kid to realise how important money is; i believe the same level of enthusiasm should be shown for the kids to have moral values. :)

mandakolathur said...

A wonderful comment, particularly as it comes from a youngster. What you said details my ideas; things have not changed except how success is measured.

Thanks again.