It is often said that life is stranger than fiction. How very true! We are once again together, of course in a different forum, on a different platform and this e-contact, I should hasten to add, would not have become a reality but for the thoughtfulness of Harison (a portmanteau word derived from Harish and Santosh). Thanks a lot guys. When I was informed of the formation of this community I felt duty bound to contribute something that would keep the community alive and active, to protect it from deterioration and eventual extinction. I promised as a first step to publish a series of fortnightly “viewsletter” on a variety of topics of common interest. It is quite likely that I might have given you an impression of being a thinker. I must, therefore, confess that I do not have any pretensions to being a thinker of any worth, far less an intellectual. However I can modestly claim that all through my life there have been two strong principles to which I have been holding on without compromise: one is the common sense approach, and the other open-mindedness. These two guiding principles have been the backbone of my personality, the fly wheel that has kept my mill running. And it is this conviction that has been the secret of my success and popularity, which I have had the privilege of enjoying all these six years.
In the first letter of this series, I would like to share my views on an issue relating to your campus experience especially of those who have just entered the portals of college and university. While some of you are quite lucky to be happy with the environment and the teaching standards, there is a sizeable number, to whom the first experience of the college has been anything but pleasant: Nightmarish, shocking, brutalizing, substandard, and frustrating. The list of epithets is endless. To this unfortunate lot, I wish to offer more than my sympathies, for sympathy is a sweet poison that paralyses the fighting spirit in you by giving you a false hope that someone is out there to help you.
If someone tries to be sympathetic with you when you are down and out, my advice is: refuse it, reject it outright. Beware of sympathizers. They feed you with an empty spoon. “What then should we expect from the well-meaning but unavoidable group of sympathizers?” A valid question indeed. In fact, common decency demands that we should politely listen to their comforting words no matter who gives them. But I feel one should be bold enough to tell them to be more of practical help. Experience has taught me that when you tell them, you will find that there aren’t too many left of those handkerchief carriers. So much for their sympathy.
“Ok, what do I stand to gain by dismissing the sympathizers?” you may ask, but think carefully, my dear. You are alone and all alone and that is an advantage, perhaps the greatest advantage. You are left with all the time to take a long, hard look at the mess in which you find yourself. You can start thinking without the interference or influence of others about your problems and go about finding ways and means of solving them. No one knows or can understand your problems better than you and the solutions have got to be tailor-made ones.
The guy who is totally disappointed with the standard of teaching should stop despairing and start thinking constructively. Create a parallel study program, which includes study groups, study material and study assistance all drawn from the best of students from reputed colleges. It has to be a well-organized effort to be systematically followed and you will soon discover that you have created a network of useful men and material. I did this some three decades ago by creating a parallel system that depended on the libraries in the British Council, the American Consulate and the Madras University. I got used to this system so much so I ceased to look up to my college as anything more than an administrative office taking care of my attendance, hall-tickets and mark lists. Remember, all this happened at a time when I had neither the fast means of transport nor the networks of communication. Certainly your world is much more blessed than mine. Try it and you will not regret it.
Let me now address another section of this community, the employed and the to-be-employed. It is heartening to know that many of you have found lucrative jobs and are all set for a steady career growth. Congratulations. Obviously it is your professional competence that has earned you this enviable position, and it is this competence that is going to stand you in good stead. However, I want you to brace yourselves to face certain hard truths and harsh realities of life. An organization is the world in miniature inhabited not only by Brownlowes and Maylies, but also by the crooked Fagins and the self-seeking Bill Sikes. It is a place where the Beauty and the Beast cohabit. It is a marriage of convenience in which the latter is patient with the former only as long as its interests are not endangered.
Let me explain the symbols of the Beauty and the Beast. Beauty stands for those whose strength is their competence, and who refuse to resort to any other means or work culture for the sake of their career growth. The Beast, on the other hand, represents those whose sole aim is to reach the top no matter how unprincipled, unprofessional or unethical they have to be in the bargain. They observe no morals or scruples but firmly believe that ends justify the means. They are a class of people who would stoop to any level and stop at nothing to hold on to the seat of power. Every organization has a fair share of this species of humanity and it is as hard to imagine a world without them, as it is to live with them. The Beauty believes that every game has got to be played by the rules, but the Beast does not.
Here I am reminded of a not-so-humorous story, which I heard from one of my teachers in my school. There were four guys playing a game of cards popularly known as Three Cards. The first player produced three Queens and smiled. The second one, his face beaming produced three Kings and the third was hysterical when he opened up his three Aces. The fourth one put his hand into his coat pocket, and produced a revolver. And he was not smiling!
All said and done, the book of life is interesting, informative and instructive. Its lessons are painful and profitable at once. Just by maintaining the right posture, by forming the right equation one may learn profitably from the myriad experiences that life offers. With experience, we gain an inner strength with which alone we can remain calm and undaunted in the face of any danger or uncertainty.
I remember the first small mistake I made in my official work at the age of 21 and how I trembled at the prospect of losing my job and livelihood. After 20 years, when I was holding a managerial position drawing a fat salary with nice perks, I decided to throw away my job with no care, thought or fear of future. That’s what I call inner strength drawn from life education, which is more often found outside the college or university campus. As George Bernard Shaw once remarked with his own characteristic sarcasm, "My whole life has been a process of learning except for a brief period of ignorance in schools and colleges."
It is quite tempting to continue writing in this vein but I must now attend to more pressing matters on hand. Firstly, let me earnestly appeal to all of you to maintain a high standard of decorum and dignity in the conduct of this community. We shall exercise utmost restraint in our criticisms. I wish to stress that this forum should not be abused to vent one’s personal hatred or prejudices against any individual or institution.
Secondly, you are free to express your opinions but please mind your language. A point is effectively conveyed when it is not burdened with unwarranted suggestions or remarks. Freedom of expression coupled with a sense of responsible thinking is one of the attributes of civilized societies. As an American president once put it, “I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.”
A final word: I sincerely hope that you will actively respond to my fortnightly dispatches because based your responses I will feel encouraged to conduct a personal contact program featuring some interesting modules of personality grooming. I am not holding out any promise for the present, but I don’t see that there can really be anything there to prevent it from happening.
Your English Sir
Original Post: Dated Saturday, the 9th of September 2006