Sitting at the brother’s dentist’s place, I was doing what everybody does when put in a quiet waiting room full of bored people- unabashedly checking other patients out until their eyes would meet mine, and then quickly, guiltily shift my gaze to another target. Eventually, though, they landed on Rohan Murthy. Who was reclining on a piano in conversation with his dad Narayana Murthy.
The cover story was the father-son duo talking about varied topics, ranging from love for technology to India Shining. One line by NM that caught my eye was about what he wished for the youth- ‘Quality Education accessible to anybody and everybody, even in the most remote parts of India’.
Smart of him to say that- because the key word there is not ‘Education’ but ‘Quality’. This I can trust myself to say because my job involves a lot of interaction with educational institutions- college professors, management and students. College visits are eye openers. They are my most reliable reality checks. And every time I visited a college that made me slow my trot, made the eyebrows rise, and the eyes pop out, I used to count my blessings.
One of my biggest faults has always been jumping to conclusions and passing judgements too quickly. So it was no surprise that I decided colleges in the city had a certain sheen that the rest would never know. And like always, the notion got quashed on visiting two colleges that stand out, in my mind, like opposite poles. Two- that made me think, gladden, sadden and feel blessed.
The first in line is a college in the outskirts of Madurai. The whole place seemed like a 1970’s movie set. The buildings were old. Like ‘haunted bungalow’ old. Boys clad in bell-bottoms wore their hair long, girls had their oiled plaits tied up with ribbons. ‘Where is the English Department?’ however, evoked smart (I was ashamed that I was surprised) responses ‘Please walk in, go right and up the stairs.’ The college was brimming with activity. The Principal walked me through his statistics- How his NAAC score is on par with Loyola college, how his students are encouraged to take part in any and every college fest that they are invited to and the number of IAS and IPS officers the college has produced. ‘This is real service, madam’ he of them told me. ‘These students do not need just subject classes; they need to be taught that they are capable of big things!’
Fast forward to a college in the heart of government Chennai. I had to visit the college with a couple of colleagues to interview a handful of girls who volunteered to do some freelance work with us. Heart wrenching it was, to watch them struggle to frame sentences, to hear those pauses before they said that their fathers were daily wagers or auto men or coolies. ‘It is a profession! Why do you feel ashamed about it?’ my colleague asked indignantly, to which there were strained smiles and shifting gazes. ‘Teachers don’t come to class, ma’am’, they told us. ‘They give questions at the end of the semester.’ ‘But my aim is to get a good job ma’am. I want an IT job!’ they all said, stars in their eyes, voices filled with hope. But it was a chance glimpse of students using the open space behind classrooms, filled with leaves and other garbage, to relieve themselves that prodded me to write about this. Female students, we are talking about. Such sadness.
Eyes opened, we wondered, what we could possibly do for these kids. They would study until 3 pm, and work in medical shops or grocery stores until night. Here is where the Madurai college Principal highlighted one need that they believed these kids had. For this, the principal ensured he got the ex-students, now- IAS and IPS officers to college to address the kids. ‘Inspiration,’ he said, ‘that’s all these children need. If HE could do it I can too. That seed will see them through.’ In most kids, we could see the determination.. They would turn out alright, we told ourselves. Only, the ride would not be as easy as it was for us. And that- I should say, is not even close.
NM I must say, preaches what he practises. Please pass it on. Go, inspire a kid who needs it today!