Eternal Truths: Indian Education

By Rajiv Trivedi



Education brings an individual mind nearer its potential and collectively, it brings minds together. India has been traditionally considered a Guru from whose wisdom, nations of the world have benefited. Of the few ancient civilizations that retain continuity, India could succeed in fabricating a harmonious coexistence of man and nature through seamless integration of religious, political, economic and social systems. It achieved an invisibility of structure that modern cyber world aims at, but is still far from. Civilizations with more structured form of religion shared some of the Indian ideals. Faith, universal brotherhood, truth, duty and so on have been ideals of Christianity, Islam and many other religions. However natural curiosity and its intellectual equivalent, 'Rationality' began to paint the world in fresh colours during renaissance. Superstitions were questioned as were sacred truth. Industrial and then technological revolution changed meanings and relationships. The philosophical leap from monarchy, plutocracy to democracy, empowered the ordinary man. Poets equated the ordinary with noble and sublime. It was no longer a shame to be plain. Plainness even became fashionable.

After the second world war, more and more nations gained freedom and sovereignty. They came together to collaborate towards progress. And through peaceful means! It was a welcome change. Welcome in this instance, because change traditionally has held negative connotations. A change in the routine cycle of seasons implied drought, or excess rain! Human machinations added war to famine and flood that disturbed the routine rhythm of existence. So change was taboo. It was opposed to divine attributes -- omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, eternity. In his search and worship of perfection man had accepted permanence as a virtue. Material attributes which contributed to permanence were hailed as positive values -- strength, solidity, unchangeable. Gold attracts man as ideal currency even today because it has the ability to retain purity. Ancients hailed it as noble metal. Purity in mind and body were equally desirable -- they strengthened a man's character. Any change from the ideal routine was liable to bring corruption. It was this natural resistance to change that helped sustain unjust practices and rulers. Art itself glorifies the stillness of perfection when it upholds, "Art is long, life is short".

The ideal of non-change had been questioned when early travellers reached new shores! when animal carcass were studied in order to paint realistic human figures! when earth ceased to be centre of the world. Post second world-war, permanence gave way to transience. Despite the exhilarating indulgence with freedom and defiance of order during second half of nineteenth century, Eliot had advised a union of tradition and individual talent. He could see that if taken to its fruition, the material existence shall feed on human values turning people into hollow men. Yeats, though disillusioned by the way young neglected the old whom he considers 'monuments of unageing intellect', still cherished the ideal of permanence seeking rebirth, not in flesh but in artifact made of gold. At the same time, poets like Auden were welcoming change by breaking icons and creating less reverent idioms.

The ideals of democracy took half a century to translate into concrete reality. ICT (Information & Communication Technologies) squeezed the world into a small ball (or plate as Thomas Friedmann would call it). The world in its present flattened shape indeed offers everyone a level playing field. This is equality beyond our dreams. Now anyone in the world may sell his wares to anyone in other part of the world. That is about the end of it. Being enclosed within the same space does not make a mouse competent to face the cat. It tests weakness against strength. True equality involves empowerment on several levels. Difference in education, wealth, esteem and level of ambition can not be mitigated by a magic wand. The brash denial of discrimination has resulted in rejection of the sacred and elevation of the profane. Economic growth today dominates all else. It presses other disciplines into its service. Idealism has been stripped away to reveal its material essence. A doctor with noble dreams but no medicines is futile and helpless. Far preferable is a para-medic with supply of analgesics and anti-biotics. Don't educate a doctor and buy medicines instead. This kind of simplistic logic does not take one far. The flattening of the world has changed established equations. The world is once again the primitive forest where savage alone survives. It is this period of initial barbarism that feeds on social, cultural, religious and ethical, aesthetic values of all societies and nations. Even though it seems that this neo-barbarism shall annihilate all virtue permanently, it is not true. Granted, after destruction of established norms, it shall require quite some time for the next phase of civilization process; but humanity shall civilize.

The present endeavour of a few to wield power over many by turning the masses into consumers and producers, shall reach its breaking point. Any activity beyond its normal pace is liable to generate some form of energy. Rub your hands and warmth is produced. Rub more vigorously with a stick and you start a fire. Consume at increasing pace and you heat up the planet. The prevalent philosophy of dreams fueling desire, which results in beyond-satiety consumption that in turn presses the consumer into willing servitude creates a profitable chain. However, the profit of worker-consumer turns into consumed goods leaving him little time and strength to enjoy his life. Once all his dreams are realized, he realizes they weren't worth dreaming in the first place. Whose dreams were they anyway? With little intellectual or spiritual worth, these dreams turn into desire spent. In the world of transience, how can the dreams be ever-refreshing and invigorating? That too when he has denuded the earth, turned it into a wasteland with non-bio-degradable and radio-active garbage, used up all its water and heated up the planet? Today, it is not philosophers and ascetics, but nature itself that warns human civilization to reduce its pace of unnecessary consumption. 'Minimise one's needs' is a mantra given by mother earth. To heed, we need to hear and understand. Education provides us with language to understand such truths.

The current scurry for select courses in a few promising sectors provide a welcome change to Indian students who traditionally underwent a period of unemployment after finishing their studies. New and upcoming service industries gobble up students before they even finish their courses now. Some of them travel to various parts of the world which welcome these proficient young workers. Technology has reduced burden of innovation, creativity and discretion on part of the individual, so almost anyone is employable at most levels. A chosen few decision-makers are made to labour for years before they are granted the promised place. By and large, the youth is being urged to go for short-termed, simple courses that give them a passing acquaintance with a given area and are employed within that sector. The average age of employee is considerably low and therefore the sector benefits by their youthful energy being pressed into its service. However, the skill one acquired gets dated and soon the person is forced to retrain.

True education gives one the ability to control one's environment harmoniously -- the person moulds according to need and is able to change his working conditions for the better through genuine concern, dedication and innovation. Through its special integration of various systems Indian has nurtured a thought process which brings about a cohesion between man and environment. As a result an average Indian child grows with internalized values that equip him with a holistic vision. Western education is intense, yet flexible. It studies things in great detail from a certain point of view. Some parts of modern education are multi-faceted at best. They too lack holistic vision.

Opening up of Indian education thereby is the need of the world. The deep, independent western scholarship would certainly charge the Indian mind. Greater however would be the world's gain through this as it learns that knowledge not only kindles an individual's mind but also integrates him with society, that character is not to increase one's susceptibility but to act as anchor during stormy patches of life. Indian education has always steered clear of the paradox of hedonism. Intrinsic value is nurtured not through material price but through material sacrifice. Indian education is not meant for the individual alone but for perpetuation of eternal values through the individual.

Today the jewels of knowledge that are not part of formal education systems can be espied in everyday routine of an average Indian household. Great deal of such knowledge was never formulized as it was documented within human lives from one generation to the next. A young bride coming to a new family would unlearn cooking like her mother and learn to cook like her mother-in-law. A modern thinker may mock her or pity her; but learning to cook in a fashion that suited the climate and work-conditions of the new family perpetuated good health. True, her recipe-book was limited, but its limitation served the vital purpose of cooking -- supply energy without causing ill-health. Weaving, smithy, gardening, pottery and several activities that are ancillary crafts were contained within family routine fully developed and rarely requiring modification in a thousand years. To a world born in strife and wars, knowledge has come in bits and pieces as conqueror's booty. It is from the land of ancient wisdom that it shall learn lessons, which lead to wholesome, peaceful co-existence.

It is to cater to the needs of a global audience that this portal was created. There are ample mysteries and complexities in Indian music without idiosyncrasies and personal myths adding to its burden. Learning in its twin modes can both be structured and free. This portal gives clear pointers regarding structured learning but infuses audience globally to study Indian classical music freely as they choose. The holistic principle demands complete immersion. One may start anywhere but unless each nook and cranny has been examined, the subject shall remain elusive. This demand for thoroughness, for unconditioned surrender coupled with playful flexibility spells the principle of holistic learning which earns a person his place in eternal time and space.

Link to lecture delivered for International Conference of AIAER at Jalandhar, Jan 2008

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