Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Education is not a panacea - III

There are gated communities all over India where the educated rich live cut off from the rest of the country and cribbing about everything that doesn't resemble Singapore. In Geek Nation, Angela Saini describes one such community in the making, Lavasa -  'a metropolis governed mainly by machines' being built in the middle of the Western Ghats, a region rich in bio-diversity and populated by a few tribal villages. It is a half-billion dollar project that is 'the biggest thing to happen to  the Western Ghats since the Cretaceous Period'.

It is a surreal place  having an American Diner with staff dancing to Elvis tunes, opulent villas, a state-of-art hospital that looks deserted, delicate fountains, a street that looks as if it was in Italy...It sounds as if the promoter has taken the most picturesque parts of Europe and built a collage in the middle of nowhere.The employees say that it 'will be a city that governs itself' using technology, that it can provide a role model for the rest of India.  I got a feeling similar to what Angela Saini had - a 'feeling as if I've arrived in Jurassic Park but the dinosaurs haven't escaped...yet.'

In the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson, the author says that Jobs often disappeared into a 'reality distortion field' which made him view the world in black and white terms with no shades of grey,an ability to convince himself and others about almost anything without any sense of proportion. Similarly many educated people seem to live in a reality distortion field.An article in The New Yorker about the Indian print media gives an idea of why this is so. The desired stereotype is also promoted by television serials.  Nehru's comment in The Discovery of India may not have been off the mark: "I have not discovered any special qualities in a literate or slightly educated person which would entitle his opinion to greater respect than that of a sturdy peasant..."

On average, the educated and uneducated don't seem to be very different when it comes to basic human values. Knowing more about protons or perfect markets doesn't seem to help in this regard. The decision to extend voting rights to everybody without putting any restrictions on the basis of educational qualification was perhaps the wisest thing that Nehru did. Most people were opposed to the idea of giving voting rights to large numbers of illiterate people. But Nehru over-ruled all objections and went ahead with his decision. And his instinct has been proved right in election after election over the decades.

As soon as Indira Gandhi held elections after the Emergency, she was promptly booted out. The Congress did well in the more literate states in the South who preferred to ignore the horrors of the Emergency. It was highly educated, successful people who were likely to overlook the excesses of the emergency and say that population needs to be controlled somehow. It is educated, rich people who are likely to say that a spell of military rule will bring much needed discipline. (I have heard this, I am not making this up.) Talk of short-sightedness!

Granted there are  problems of inducement and intimidation but unpopular governments have been shown the door at regular intervals. If buying votes was so easy, the ruling dispensation would have been able to hold on to power more easily. I have heard servants say that they will take the money offered by both the main political parties in Tamil Nadu and then vote for whoever they like! As Ramachandra  Guha says in India after Gandhi:
...the distance - intellectual or moral - between Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, or between B.R. Ambedkar and Mulayam Singh Yadav, is not necessarily greater than between, say, Abraham Lincoln and George W.Bush. It is in the nature of democracies, perhaps, that while visionaries are sometimes necessary to make them, once made they can be managed by mediocrities.  In India, the sapling was planted by the nation's founders, who lived long enough (and worked hard enough) to nurture it to adulthood. Those who came afterwards could disturb and degrade the tree of democracy but, try as they might, could not uproot or destroy it.
I remember seeing a video where it was stated that in the airport, the people in the queue for first class passengers look more agitated and prone to anger than the economy class passengers. I saw this video after my stroke so I couldn't check it for myself but it rings true. In India whichever party comes to power will have the majority of people voting against it. Every winning party claims that it has the mandate of the people which is far from the truth.Nehru at the height of his popularity got only 47% of the votes. So no government can risk moving too far away from the centre much to the chagrin of the better off sections of society, who seem impatient like the first class airline passengers.

Chetan Bhagat has written a book called Making India Awesome which I have not read. For all I know, I may  agree with most of its contents. My problem is with the title. In all probability the publisher would have thought (probably correctly) that a title that gives the impression of there being easy, clear-cut solutions to complex problems would result in better sales. It is similar to the BJP's penchant for coming up with MBA style mnemonics like 3 'C's, 4 'D's, ABCD etc.

A more humble title like 'Some Suggestions that May improve India's Prospects' may not sell as well. During sales training in Wipro, an advice was given which I thought was sensible: 'it is better to under promise and over deliver than to over promise and under deliver'. I am probably a misfit in a social ecosystem that encourages simplistic bombast. I heard a great line in a talk by Arun Shourie which illustrates the problem, 'Jo hyper-bole so nihal.'  As Nassim Nicholas Taleb says in Fooled by Randomness:
I do not dispute that arguments should be simplified to their maximum potential; but people often confuse complex ideas that cannot be simplified into a media-friendly statement as symptomatic of a confused mind.  MBAs learn the concept of clarity and simplicity - the five-minute-manager take on things.  The concept may apply to the business plan for a fertilizer plant, but not to highly probabilistic arguments - which is the reason I have anecdotal evidence in my business that MBAs tend to blow up in financial markets, as they are trained to simplify matters a couple of steps beyond their requirement. (I beg the MBA reader not to take offense; I am myself the unhappy holder of the degree.)


  1. Hi KSu

    Feeling happy to come on contact with you at last. This is Senthil from Mech who used to stay next to your room in Ruby 53.

    Pl post your address. Will b coming to Cbe next month. Will come & c u.

    I am working for Bharat Petroleum & presently I am Chennai.
    Do reply. Take Care


  2. Delighted to get in touch with u. Kindly give me your mail Id. Mine is
    My postal address is
    3-C, Mayflower Annapoorna Apts, 4th Street, K. K. Pudur, Saibaba colony, Coimbatore - 641038


  3. Dear KeSu

    Thrilled to c ur reply. Nice to come in contact with u after 25 yrs. No words to explain. My email I'd is