College Life - Aditanar College, Tiruchendur (5/6)
The Language Problem
If you split Tamil Nadu into four regions - North (Chennai), South (Madurai), West (Coimbatore) and East (Trichy), South is the most backward region of them all. North is worse than South but the presence of Chennai in North compensates it. The West region, which is called the Kongu region, has always been a wealthy region. They have a lot of opportunities for business and education. There is nothing called East region but the Cauvery Delta region which includes places like Trichy and Tanjore districts could be called so for the sake of convenience. Even they have a rich lifestyle, a lot of opportunities for education and great interest for arts such as music and dance. Madurai and the South region below that is a dry area with no good facilities for education and is mostly rural areas. The biggest village in India, Madurai, is the capital of the region. I think, Madurai could never be considered as a city though it is big enough to be called so. The people of southern region have an adamant lifestyle of their own. They are not receptive to anything new. English is still foreign to them! Except for a few naturally gifted ones, even English-medium students are not that comfortable in English.
So, it was not a surprise that the ratio of students from English-medium schools was very less in our college. Very few towns had that facility. In any class, the majority was from Tamil-medium schools. There were a maximum of six English-medium students (out of 24) in our class. Nobody in the remaining 18 can understand even a sentence if you speak in English. We all had heard in our school days that English would be the biggest problem when we go to college but none of us had taken it so seriously. The school where I did my higher secondary was a fairly big - good school so I had started giving some importance for English little earlier. Besides, my madness for Cricket helped me improve my English by reading a lot of Cricket stories in English dailies. I still remember the first day when I tried to read something in 'The Hindu'. I couldn't understand anything other than the score board. Then I gradually started understanding words and sentences from there. It did help to some extent when I came to college.
We had a very good library in our college. I would say, that is one of the biggest libraries I have seen. When we saw huge volumes of English books there we were all scared like hell. Until then we had only seen Tamil books in such huge size. Luckily (!), the classes were taught in Tamil. Otherwise, the classes in English would have sounded like Greek and Latin to us! Though the medium of instruction was supposed to be English, everything was in Tamil. Only exams were written in English. But later when we came for jobs, we thought otherwise. If they had continued in English despite our difficulties, at least by end of the final year we would have started understanding something and been better prepared to face the corporate world. Only one of the staff spoke fully in English for the first ten minutes on the first day. We were all getting giddiness. Looked like he understood that. He paused for a while and asked in Tamil, "What happened?!". People started pouring their disgust out - "Sir, we can't understand anything if you speak like this (in English)!". From that minute, he also became a Tamilian. He should be relentlessly trying this every year on the first day hoping that some day there would be a batch that understands it. All that might have changed by now. The current generation is much more confident than us. There are a lot of English-medium schools even in villages these days. They also see a lot of English movies now. Some of you may argue that English alone cannot give confidence. As of now, I am talking about only 'that' confidence so we may keep rest of the arguments aside for now.
Most of the Tamil-medium students would be lost and trailing in the first year. Only in the second - third years they would rediscover themselves. Some might never be able to do that, too. In our university, they conducted something called 'bridge course' in the first month for a week. I don't remember if it was to bridge the gap between English and Tamil-medium students or to provide us with a bridge from Tamil to English. Overall, it was a great experience. But what can one week of crash course do to fifteen years of inexperience with a language?! We had students from English literature also with us in the course. If we go to them for help, they would smile and say, "Friend, I am here because I didn't get seat in any other good course. If you harass me like this here also, where would I go?!" (If you are an English literature student, please don't get angry or upset with this. I am just talking about the reality in our times. That's it. I am not talking about any superiority or inferiority so please don't create any new problem that is actually not there!).
If any alumni comes, they would be asked to give a lecture about their experience to all of us, especially the final year students. In my times, there were about three-four such lectures. Invariably, all of them gave the same advice - "Please don't be here after completing the course. Get out of your native place as soon as the course is completed. You can't achieve anything by being here. Nobody has achieved anything by staying here. The earlier you leave the place the better it is for your career. If you are serious about your career, you should just book your tickets to Bangalore or Chennai as soon as the exams are over. English is the first thing where our boys get stuck. It would take years for us to come out of that and start competing with people from urban areas. It's okay even if you don't study your subjects properly but please focus on English. It's much easier for an average urban student to achieve the same thing that a bright rural student is struggling to do. The only way to avoid that is to speak good English!". This advice settled very firmly in my mind. Even today, when someone calls from our place, asking me to get them a job (as if it is some vegetable!), the first thing I tell them is, "First you get out of your village or town and then call me for anything!".
I have been dreaming of giving a long lecture about my experiences to the products that are being produced in the same place where we were produced. But, somehow it has not been happening. I am sure I would be able to do it once in my lifetime. Looking at the speed in which technology is evolving, I wouldn't be surprised if I am able to do it on video conferencing sometime soon.
It was not that we had problem with only the human languages. We had problems with the computer languages as well. These days, every new innovation that happens in the west comes immediately to us in the cities. At least the financially better off ones get it immediately. And, in the same speed it reaches the rural areas and the poor people as well. It was not so then. In places like Bangalore and Chennai, computer means it was on 'Windows'. It was obvious. But, Windows had not reached places like Tiruchendur, where I was doing my graduation in computer science! So, we were using an operating system called DOS, which some of you may not even have heard of today. When we finished our studies and came to Bangalore and Chennai for jobs, people were staring at us, asking, "What? You did computer science but don't know Windows?!". We couldn't make them understand our problems. Some smarter ones proactively came to cities and did some crash courses to understand Windows in the post-exam holidays. It really helped them. Luckily, we heard that there were new computers with Windows 95 installed in the next year itself. Otherwise, our juniors would have had all the more difficult times.
That was just the problem in operating system. There was another more-complicated problem. There are somethings called Languages and Technologies in computer science. When we came to the job market, Visual Basic and Oracle were the top two technologies that were hot in the market at that time. Most of us came with absolutely no knowledge on these technologies. We had only studied languages such as Basic, Fortran, Cobol, Pascal and C, which were old by a few decades at that time itself. At least Cobol and C were in use in some places but the rest were all just useless. Additionally, we had studied something called C++. Even that had nothing for half-baked averages like me. Both C and C++ were like the tests that we did with powders and acids in Chemistry labs - useful only for the talented few. They were of no use for the rest of us who just wanted a job for bread and butter or idly-sambar.
In our class, there was one extraordinary guy called Manigandan who was learning Pascal when were studying Basic, C++ when we were on Pascal and something else when were after C++. He was always ahead of us by few years. He was the only guy who landed here very well equipped to face the job market. He was the guide for most of us. He was not a good student going by the conventional definitions. He was not in top few in terms of marks. But, he is so talented that even his CEO was impressed like mad with him in his first job itself. He is an abnormal perfectionist. He is the lifetime example I have to prove that our education system is not capable enough to identify the right talents. Even today, he is in a position that we can't even imagine reaching in our lifetime.
All of us averages got into jobs like computer operator or tutor in computer institutions first and only then managed to get a software job by learning things like Visual Basic or Oracle with the money we got from our first jobs. Ironically, tutor job was the easiest to get for those of us who were not technically sound. It's all on-the-job learning! Tutors learning on-the-job is the most disastrous thing, right?! You learn something in the morning and teach the same thing to others in the evening! It took us years to compete with those who came with the same degree from the cities. Years? Yeah, few years for some, many years for some and some haven't got anywhere close even now. If inequality is the biggest problem in this country, this is one of the most ignored forms of inequality. Some people even say that more than the caste differences, financial differences and many other differences, this could be the biggest problem for the next generation. Let's see how we are going to conquer it.
The Dutch Culture
There are many special experiences that people who leave home and stay in hostels get. One of them is that you get to interact with varied nature of people which eventually makes you better as a person. When I say 'interact', it is not just interacting in the day and getting back home in the night. Instead, you interact with the same people for all twenty four hours. Sleeping with them, eating with them, playing with them (you can add everything except for studying here!)... you just live with them full time. It's not that easy. Everyone is unique and different. You should be comfortable with everyone. Otherwise, life won't be peaceful. So, those who can't be comfortable with others will learn to be so sooner or later. That experience would help you later when you go far away from home in pursuit of jobs and stay with other such bachelors. Earlier the better to learn anything, right? One such thing that you learn is - finance management. Finance management? Yeah, I mean, managing the money given by your parents by spending it responsibly, keeping track of all your expenses and keeping it safe. There are many challenges in it. Challenges? Yes! What are they? Here you go...
One, some boys keep all the money given by their parents intact - not even a penny spent. I don't know what they did with it later but they would always crib "no money... no money..." and make others spend for them. There wouldn't be anything that they missed but they wouldn't have paid for any of those things from their pocket. It's very difficult to manage such people. Only those who can speak on the face can save themselves from such people. Others just have to live with them. They also would somehow find some lifetime sponsors for them. Some would easily make out that they are being taken for a ride and knowingly lose their money whereas others wouldn't even have realized it till the end of the course. I don't think it's about being economic or stingy; it's just making fool of others. Nothing else. It's not just a matter of money but of personal integrity.
When you talk of misers, there are many varieties in them. Some would come with you wherever you go but it is just that they don't like to pay for themselves. They would just disappear at that moment or look away when you are paying. Some wouldn't come anywhere unless someone invites but if you invite them it's nothing but an invitation of trouble. They wouldn't say no when you call them but wouldn't pay even a penny even if you spend hundreds for them. They would have their own justification - "he called me so he only has to pay!". Some would always talk like paupers and get sympathy votes from people. There is a smarter lot in this as well. They would forcibly pay for you once (only once) as if they are so generous but that would be the last time they took out their wallet in front of you. You will never be able to ask them to share expenses anywhere in future because they would think you are cheap, right?! So, you end up paying everywhere forever.
Those who stay in hostels would learn to handle these people very early in their life. Sometimes, this would become an itching issue between hostelers and day-scholars. They think it's very cheap to do multiplication and division even after growing up whereas it's something very basic for us.
Even now, we do meet such people who never take out their wallet in public. Sometimes we manage them using all techniques that we learnt in the hostel. Sometimes we fail despite applying all that when the other fellow is smarter. They come out with a different trick every time. Who is smarter - the police or the thief? One such trick is - demeaning the nature of being calculative itself. The moment someone does it to us (they so smartly make you look cheap to your own eyes!) we become defensive and start taking care of them to disprove something.
Even if we try to change ourselves looking at people who are broadminded and 'really' not calculative, the cheats around us will not allow us to change so easily. You are peaceful only as long as you are not aware of such people. The minute you realize that there is someone in waiting to take you for a ride, what would you do? So, the dutch culture seems to be the best always. That is the mid path. If you take this path, you neither have to cheat anyone nor have to get cheated. It's the best thing in the long run though it looks cheap. It is not cheaper than making someone else pay for you always, right?! It's not just about paying for your expenses but also about taking responsibility for what you did. Thanks to the hostel for teaching us that culture.
There are all types of people everywhere. So, there are thieves also everywhere. There were theft stories throughout hostel life. It's a very sensitive issue. It needs to be handled very carefully. When there is a theft, how many people lose and how many people gain? The answer that you give by just doing a simple calculation is not right. It's not a matter of just one thief and one loser. At times even innocent people get suspected. Even if you are not asked openly, it is not so easy to bear the pain of being suspected, right? I know of stories where innocents were victimized in theft cases. I have seen great relationships getting irreversible damages due to this.
One lesson that I learnt about thefts is - the thief doesn't have to be a poor guy in need of money always; he doesn't have to be someone who had bad brought-up; he doesn't have to be from any particular background. Those who link thefts with these things are either immature dumbos or they themselves need to be suspected. I have been in two hostels - one in school days and another in college. In both the places, I have come across many theft cases. In all cases where the thief was caught, it was invariably someone unsuspectible initially. We couldn't believe that they did it even after catching them red-handed or they themselves admitted it. Even today I am unable to believe that some of them did such a thing. All of them were from such a decent family and background. I could never understand what compelled them to do such a cheap thing.
Of late, I hear a lot of people say, "If you make paupers big, they would only steal. Only those who were born with silver spoon would never get greedy as they already have enough!". All I can say is, it's either immaturity or they have some hidden agenda when they make such statements. We have always been made to believe that poverty is the root cause of compromise on honesty. My question to those of you who think so is, "Was Gandhi or Patel or Shastri so rich?" (Nehru, I know, was very rich!). Please don't tell me that they are exceptions. Two generations back, almost everyone was honest. Honesty had some respect. I see it as a change in our attitude in general. I think, it's not just the 'needs' that would force someone to steal. It could also be the 'wants' that may lead to thefts. I don't think there is any link between one's financial status and being honest.
-Cont. in 6/N...