IS IT OR IS IT NOT? How did things come to such a pass? How do we manage to get things done at all? How are we managing to run our institutions? Every...


How did things come to such a pass? How do we manage to get things done at all? How are we managing to run our institutions? Every day, every experience hammers home to me the fact that nothing in our daily life is as it seems to be. No, no that is not the Hindu in me speaking of “maya” but the optimist hanging on to hope by a string that threatens to break almost daily. By daily traumas.

We are familiar with how the government functions: schools are there, classes are full of students but there are no teachers to teach; doctors are recruited but don’t attend to their work in government hospitals; when they do, there are no medicines for patients; in state-funded universities, students are charged minimal fees, teachers are paid very highly but neither takes interest in learning or teaching. Students agitate to be allowed to write exams without ever attending any class, and when the results are out, they agitate demanding that they be passed. On the other hand, in private colleges, students are charged sky-high fees while teachers are paid less than the car driver of their student; teachers are over-worked and students are not bound by many rules; if they don’t perform well, then the teachers are pulled up. In some cases, teachers fill up the gaps in the answer scripts so that the corporate image of the college is not affected by failures. If practicals are involved, the college authorities have no trouble in getting ‘student-friendly’ external examiners deputed by the university to their college. Our youngsters learn early in life that short-cuts are convenient and especially if you can afford to pay for them. Is it any wonder then that they have scant respect for their teachers?

Everybody seems to have turned into a mercenary partly because there is no accountability. No violation of any rule is punished. A sense of responsibility for the work one is entrusted with is missing with the result that each is out to make the most from the other person’s need. Take for example the lawlessness of our auto rickshaw drivers. The police tell us citizens to report all harassment and overcharging should be reported. But nowadays the meter has become irrelevant; a flat rate is quoted; or if the driver obliges you and agrees to go by the meter, he demands extra payment over the fare for his consideration to you. One is constantly held hostage and the feeling of helplessness and resentment at being taken advantage of is negative in the extreme. When I poured out my anger to an obliging auto-bhai for the double whammy they deliver to commuters by increasing fares and then overcharging the customers, he was straight-forward in his answer: why are you quibbling when they are looting crores of rupees? They loot the country yet you grudge us poor people for 10-20 rupees, he said indignantly. Ergo, when dacoits are ruling the roost, why object to the small time thieves? The next logical argument would be: everybody is having a party out there, go and join them.

Another instance of how helpless a citizen can become was when I trimmed my garden of extra foliage and branches. The gentlemen who helped me offered to dispose of the waste in an open plot two meters away from my home. When I objected, they said they could drag the branches to a municipal dump and leave it there. I would have none of it. A neighbour helpfully gave the phone number of a driver of a municipal waste truck. He materialised in response to my phone call with three helpers in tow. He asked for Rs 800 to remove the foliage. He refused to budge to any amount lower than that. When I agreed out of desperation, he asked for payment on the spot. I said I would pay after he cleaned up the trash. No. I will come after I am done with my regular work. You pay now, he said. I said I will pay Rs 400 and the rest after the trash was lifted. He said don’t worry, I will do the work. You have my phone number and if you want, note down my vehicle number too. I was not convinced. I live here, I countered. This is my house so there is no question of my running away. He wanted the money then and there to do a service that I am entitled to as a tax-paying citizen and for which I had already paid. He went away.

Then, there are these organisations started by the Central and State governments to train youth in job-oriented courses like computer repair, software programming, teacher training, hotel management and so on. The institutes affiliated to these two governments are spread across the city. Most of them function as certificate-selling points: they charge high fees, conduct hardly any classes, have ill-trained faculty. Everybody is in the know: the inspectors give affiliation at a price, of course. The affiliation-giving agency colludes with the franchisee which in turn cheats the students. One institute made enough money through its catering institute run from two flats to set up a mineral water factory. The owner explained that he was merely meeting the need of students and parents who bought certificates from him to strengthen their resumes and get admission and visas to study abroad.

A central government franchisee for running a year-long teacher training course assured me that I would get a certificate in three months instead of one year as mentioned on the government website. The fee had to be paid up in one go. And classes? Once a week. So, in all of 12 classes, I would qualify as a teacher.

If you want to renew your driver’s license at the office of the RTA, without the broker’s help, one of the requirements is to get an all-clear certificate from a doctor for eyesight, BP and so on. As a consideration for the customer, a doctor is available on the RTA premises. We pay him a nominal fee and bingo, he signs on the dotted line on the application saying that our health permits us to drive a vehicle. He spares us the trouble of a physical examination. He doesn’t believe in wasting our time or his. Nor does he even believe in the pretense of having any kind of medical equipment around. He knows, we know, the higher-ups know that such rules are meant to be bent at a price. What matters are the ends, not the means in this land of Gandhi, who believed otherwise.

So if this is not maya, what is? A system is in place but is not actually; rules are there but are not, actually; educational courses are there but not actually; teaching/training is there but not actually. All is maya, illusion! What is actually is NOT. This then is the wonder that India has become.

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