It is always a humbling and learning experience when we are asked to talk about ourselves and our work. Last couple of weeks saw me answering some interesting questions about myself, my book, some pesky issues related to Indian Education, my writing and some personal lessons I am learning along the way.
In this post I share my answers to some of the questions -- four, to be precise -- that I found most thought-provoking in two 'author interviews' that came my way. Though many of the questions made me think about what I wanted to say, the questions I have chosen to highlight here are somewhat special. That is because they touched upon all the four activities I am engaged in -- blogging, learning, education and learning. These questions compelled me to do some serious pondering to be more certain that I present my most honest and sincere thoughts on the issues being raised.
I heartily thank Namrata of Writer's Ezine and Ruchika Batra of Namaste Happiness for giving me such wonderful questions to reflect upon.
Now without further ado....
INTERVIEW I - for Writer's Ezine
Aah, that’s an interesting question! Short answer – it feels very good!
I would say it has been quite a fascinating and rewarding journey so far. As an academician also I was always interested in writing for a broader audience. In fact during my tenure as a professor I was quite involved, for a number of years, with a couple of online discussion groups, focusing on issues related to India, Indian society and culture. And I would often write articles based on such discussions for online magazines, with an objective to bring out some important topics in the larger societal discourse. Some of those articles actually generated intense discussions, and I grew both as a thinker and writer as a result of this exercise.
My blog, as you know, is inspired by my ongoing study of the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother (his spiritual collaborator). This means that it is inspired by and focused around a particular vision of life, living, reality, existence, art, beauty, love, individual, society, world, nation, politics, spirituality and everything. I should add that it is perhaps the widest and deepest and highest vision, the most complete and integral view that I have come across in my seeking. I try to stay as faithful as I can to my guiding inspiration. This also means that I avoid writing on topics and issues that may be trending or being promoted by blogging websites or forums if in my view they don’t fit with my guiding inspiration. I also avoid writing for blogging contests, product promotions and other such things, because of this very reason.
So do I enjoy blogging with this ‘focused’ inspiration? Of course, I do. Otherwise I wouldn't be doing it for almost two years now (my blog will be 2 this April). It gives me an opportunity to deepen my learning, it helps me see the inter-connectedness of a deeply spiritual view of reality and existence with the very living, throbbing and real situations in life – my life, life of the society, life of the nation or the world.
As for the role of an author, well, I would say I don’t really see this as a new role for me. I have been published a few times before, in academic books and journals. At that time it was part of my role as an academic. Sure, ABC’s of Indian National Education is my first ‘full’ book as such and therefore, very special.
For me, this role of an author has now shifted quite a bit. I am not writing because it is a part of my professional role, I am writing now because I see it now as a means to my inner growth, it helps me practice a few life lessons such as how to develop patience, how to work without an expectation of reward, how to develop a combination of contemplative and critical mental faculties through writing, how to deepen concentration and avoid scattering of thoughts and many more. It is this aspect of writing (whether it is for my blog or for any other websites where I have been published or for this book or any others I may write in future) that I find most satisfying and personally meaningful.
Education which is supposed to be the very base on the future of our country lies, at times becomes the shakiest one with donation seats, paper leaks and other such scams surrounding it from time and again. Of late the new generation is considering foreign shores purely for the ease in lifestyle it offers. Do you see the future of it changing anytime soon?
You are very right about paper leaks, donations for admissions and other such things that we hear about from time to time. These things are totally unacceptable. But you see, I happen to think that the fundamental cause for why such things happen rests in the completely misguided view of education we have come to accept as a society and nation. Education has ended up only as a means for social success, a doorway to socio-economic upward mobility and a key to enter the hallowed chambers of ‘economic elite’ in the society.
While no one can deny that a good education should help prepare learners for a meaningful vocation in life, but to see education as only that and nothing more than that poses a huge problem. Why are parents willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money for a seat for their child in a reputed school or college? Simply because they know that a certificate or stamp from that institution or a degree in a certain professional field will ensure a good economic future for their child? Why would someone hatch up an elaborate plan to leak an examination paper? Because they know that what matters in the ‘market’ out there is only the test results, not the actual learning. The mindset that leads to such problems is the fundamental cause. And that mindset is the product of the present model of education that is based on a completely materialist and industrialist view of individual and society.
Do I see it changing anytime soon? That’s a tough one. But I sincerely hope that some serious discussion happens on how we need to rethink the fundamentals of our education. In my book also I have emphasized this need for serious rethinking. I also believe that there are some good schools in India where a more holistic view of individual and society is the basis for educational and pedagogical practices. But those are still very few and far in between. We need that spark to become a fire on a much wider and vast scale.
As for the current generation preferring to go abroad, well, I would say that this is not really a new phenomenon. Indians have been migrating to many different parts of the world for hundreds of years, for various reasons. But certainly, over the past several decades and particularly in the case of migration to the so-called developed countries in the West, we may say that one of their main motivators is perhaps an easier and more comfortable lifestyle. But in many cases we also see young Indians going abroad for higher education. In fact, higher education becomes an entry point gradually leading to settling there as a professional and attaining that comfortable lifestyle they are after.
I myself have my PhD from the US, and I lived and worked there for about 15 years. And because my entire experience in the US was in the higher education system, I have also understood that there is a great value in gaining that kind of exposure, especially for someone who is interested in pursuing an academic life of teaching and research. There are many positives of American higher education – its overall emphasis on academic rigour, independent inquiry and interdisciplinary and flexible learning being some of them – which can be very helpful for broadening one’s outlook and deepening one’s knowledge in one’s chosen discipline or field of study. So I would say that such opportunities should be encouraged.
At the same time, for the last couple of decades we have also been seeing a reverse movement – that is people who were settled abroad, particularly in the US and other Western countries, have been moving back to India. I know several such families and individuals. My husband and I are also one of those ex-NRIs. Of course, different people have different reasons for coming back to India, but for many the reasons have also to do with increased economic opportunities in India (while simultaneously the reduced opportunities in their adopted countries because of global economic recession). So in a way that is a good thing, I would say.
But the larger question, and particularly that concerns the topic of Indian education is this – how can we create world-class higher educational institutions right here in India, which are also based on a view of education that is fundamentally Indian in its spirit? At present, even our best institutions like our IITs and IIMs may also fall short in this, because for the most part they too are based on the same old idea of education being a means to social and economic success alone and the role of education being only limited to prepare an individual to become a ‘productive’ member of the society. This mindset has to change before we can hope for any meaningful outer change in the educational scenario.
To read the full interview, please visit Writer's Ezine by clicking here.
INTERVIEW II - for Namaste Happiness
What are your thoughts on making spirituality a mandatory subject to be taught in schools?
I am not in favor of introducing Spirituality as a separate subject – mandatory or optional – in school or college level of education. That will never work, and not just because there can be no unanimous understanding of what spirituality really means. There is always a very real danger of reducing spiritual education to book-based religious or moral education, which will be a regressive movement. Spirituality is not something that can be taught as such, it is fundamentally an approach to life, a vision for what it means to be an individual and the aim of individual life, as lived in the society and as lived within.
Let me clarify a bit more. I would rather see our education being wholly guided by a spiritual view of the aim of human life and the role of education in helping the individual prepare himself/herself for that aim of life. In my book, particularly in chapters VII, XI, XXII and XXIII, I have dealt with this issue in rather detail. Let me share just a few key ideas from there.
First of all, our education must be grounded in the true Indian understanding of life-affirming spirituality. Spirituality that motivates growing minds and hearts to experience all the joys of life and living and to expand and deepen their seeking for truth through all that life has to offer; spirituality that takes up all the intellectual, creative, emotional energies and colors them in its own truth.
A truly India-centric education will be based on the spiritual view that proper and gradual development of all parts of an individual is essential not as an end in itself but as a means to grow in one’s soul, because the soul manifests and expresses itself through its outer instruments of mind, heart, and body. Everything else begins to take on a different and deeper meaning when this fundamental view becomes the basis for all our work in the field of education.
Would you like to share some of your epiphanies under the guiding light of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother? (any three)
This is a very difficult question! But I thank you for making it easier by asking me to list any three. So I will do that.
I don’t and will never claim to know much of the infinitely wide, deep and high philosophy and wisdom of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. I have merely tasted a few drops of the vast ocean of their highly profound Vision so far, but that has been enough to convince me that each drop carries an endless ocean within itself. So based on my admittedly limited understanding, I would say that the three most practical life-lessons I am trying to learn and re-learn and practice, to whatever little extent that is possible given my myriad imperfections of mind, heart, will and effort, are:
- The life that we live inside of us is just as real or perhaps more real than the life we live outside.
- Don’t look for the work that you know will make you happy, but try to find happiness, meaning and contentment in all the work that comes to you.
- Don’t look for the reason behind everything that happens to you in life, you can never really know it all with your mind.
To read the full interview, visit Namaste Happiness by clicking here.