Visnu Sarma Cries

I have been happily harping on the fact that India turns 77 on the 15th August. Wrong. India turns 67. Now, I am an engineer and maths (not pure maths!) is part of my system. Then, I made a simple mathematical error.

Visnu Sarma cried.

So, who is Visnu Sarma?

Visnu Sarma is the celebrated author of the Pancatantra?
Never heard of him or the Pancatantra?

Well, the Pancatantra is a marvellous book of fables written several hundred years ago. It is a fable about animals, and each story is a story within a story. It is today, in India, dismissed as a book of animal stories, which is a tragedy. The book was written at the behest of a king who wanted Visnu Sarma to teach his chidren.

Teach them how to think”, the King is supposed to have said , “and not what to think.”
Note the difference. Education should open the minds.

In today’s world, kids get 99% in their final exams, and struggle not only to get into college but they also struggle to apply concepts.

Our education system teaches them how to get marks, but not how to be better human beings and citizens.

I shall, post the 15th come back to the ancient guru-shishya concept. But, that is for another day.

Our new education minister wants more colleges of engineering and management. I think yes, we need these. But, we also need more colleges of arts, more institutes of fundamental research.

When my wife quit her corporate job, I told her that being a home maker is under rated, because the role that she is playing in raising the next generation is vastly under-rated.

Similarly, in India, we need to invest more in teachers and celebrate them. It should not be the resort of one who got left out of the corporate rat race.

Now, I am going to change course. Just a wee bit. I am going to quote four books / authors. One is a book called “Ganga”, and I forget the name of the American author. He spoke about the lack of curiosity amongst India’s researchers to study various aspects of the river.

A researcher without the curiosity of a young child has a dead mind! Where did we go wrong, my fellow Indians? So many of us went overseas and do good research. Is there a problem with our environment?

I read Jawaharlal Nehru’s “Discovery Of India” a few years back. A wonderful book, and one that I recommend. He talks about our glorious past – 1,500 years ago – and wonders when our minds became ossified.

I am currently reading John Keay’s “India- A History”. He is brilliant! I am at the point where Al-Biruni came to India in the early part of the 11th century, at the behest of Mahmud of Ghazni to study India.He did, and the folks in the Middle East took much of our learning, and exported it to the West.

Not many people outside the mathematical world know that the number zero, and the modern numbering system that we use even today came from India, was borrowed by the Middle East, and found it’s way to the West.

My son’s history book, and Al-Biruni (I have read his book) and John Keay all seem make one comment. We Indians rejected the knowledge that came from the Muslim Invaders. It seemed we could not believe that any nation had anything to teach us.

I think that it was around this time that the Indian mind started to ossify.

This is the time Visnu Sarma’s tears started to flow.

This is the time that we should change the nature of his tears.
Methinks, if India wants to take it’s place in the world, that time is now.

13 Comments

  1. Rajiv, it is a wonderful post! Yes, “teach them how to think!” Teach history of your country and the world! Teach what is good and bad!

    1. I did not realise this at all. I am also a bit cautious when I criticise the young. It is easy for us to be seeing the world through our own, biased, eyes!

  2. Rajiv .. wonderful writing , thought provoking one…… its very true that now in India, whole education system is corrupted and influenced. Originality is lost somewhere midst the Rat Race

  3. I think your point about rejecting the knowledge that came from others is pretty telling. It could hold many clues. Prior to that period, interaction with other civilisations was pretty limited. We may have grown up in the mistaken belief that nothing else can be good. Evidently, that logic was flawed. Perhaps a thousand years is time enough to start opening our minds.

  4. I read Nehru’s “Discovery of India” when I was researching on ancient history of India. It’s a gold mine of historical glimpses but I also found that there are lot of misrepresentations of Vedic Culture and our ancient history of India.
    Hari OM 🙂

  5. Interesting thoughts Rajiv. I completely agree that teaching curiosity is the answer, not simply shaping people to fit into the rat race. Teaching should be respected as the key foundation to society, progress and research. It is the key profession that underpins all other professions for they would no exist without good teaching. In the UK teachers are treated with political suspicion by the government and have been undermined quite badly by constant reforms.

    1. Hi Alex. I think you are right. In India, we have a mixed bag. A few years back. the then minister argued against paying good salaries to engineering professors at our best engineering colleges! In rural India, teachers are not paid for months!
      In the urban centres, they are paid, but not encouraged to learn about modern advances in education.
      We do say that we have more knowledge and information than people had 200 years ago!

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