As I speak, results of the tenth board exams are pouring across the country. Myself being a part of the educational system, I am witnessing this orgy of pedagogical debauchery first-hand.
For two days, school teachers have been lying in wait eagerly for the water to break. They have been waiting with lists of prospective toppers, lists of phone numbers, and photographs (already in stock) of possible rankers ready to be edited into the marketing posters that would air minutes after the declaration of results. Administrators have been keeping the teachers on their toes, and the teachers have been keeping a tentative (but not too intruding!) touch with their students – waiting, waiting for the final, holy moment.
And today, for about an hour now, it has been going on. The teacher’s private group is being flooded with updates and messages, each one either an announcement of yet another high score, or a round of applause for the student who scored it. Prominent names of star students are piling up, one atop the other, juicy figures of percentages tagging alongside them. It’s like a Roman slave market. ‘Meaty limbs, strong teeth, two good eyes! Five denarii, a bargain!!’
When I was a student myself, I used to be angry at the paparazzi. The way they painted the newspapers purple with worshipful columns about the toppers, the winners! Front-page splash of the topper with the chief minister, or someone of similar import, perhaps a parent or two in the background. One section about the dramatic performances of ‘underprivileged’ students from ‘the villages.’ Quips and quotes from the topper (and the ‘topper among girls’) about how many hours they spent studying, and what extra-curricular activities they brilliantly participated in as well. – Chess is always a recurring item, every single year. No exceptions. – And lastly, ‘What’s your favourite food?’ – And cue in tearful exclamations from the mother: promises of said food, as much as you like, my golden, golden darling boy!!! – Or girl, as the case may be.
And then, from a few days after, – from the very next day sometimes – reports of the suicides start to arrive.
Like ugly, cruel-beaked birds of death, the suicide reports sit in a corner of the newspaper, eyeing the reader with quiet mockery. In the old days, they used to believe you needed a blood-sacrifice to inaugurate a bridge over a river. A bridge, or a temple, – if it was something huge and auspicious, you needed to give it its first drink of blood. The old gods have not died, my pretty little things. For most of you to cross over, some of you have to die.
Now I don’t blame the paparazzi any more. I don’t blame just them, at any rate. For the past few years, I have been watching the ‘educators’ at the same practice. Like priests who bathe in the blood of young maidens to preserve their sacred youth, our schools arise every year out of the frothing green pit of success, brandishing their pride in front of the world. Why do you blame the Catholic priests for raping their young underlings behind the veil of celibacy? Don’t your schools do the same? Preaching educational psychology on the left and topper percentages on the right, fabricating ‘inclusive classrooms’ with one hand and felicitating the cherry-picked few on the other?
The day has come and gone by when we recognize this sickness for what it is – an elaborate system of intellectual human-trafficking that we have set up to serve our interests. It was always the rule – the winners win and the losers lose. It is only in the current times that we have achieved such a sophisticated degree of two-faced hypocrisy about it.
The educational brainwashing has succeeded, too. “Is it too much to expect just one topper student to stand up and openly reject this horrible depravity? Can’t any one of them show the spine, ever?” – I thought to myself yesterday. Today I have an answer, and the answer is – Yes, it is too much to expect that, and no, they cannot. They have been carved that way. They can churn out the best-presented project on the evils of peer-pressure, and they can compose the sweetest little poem on the darknesses of depression and suicide, – but they live in a film-set world of projects and portfolios, where every action translates into golden stars on paper certificates. They know what constitutes mastication, but they haven’t been given the teeth to do it to themselves.
Ninety-nine years ago from now, a twenty-four year old Subhash Chandra Bose had come fourth in the Indian Civil Service exams and then decided to resign from it, because he did not want to serve the very thing that he wanted to fight against – the British administration. I – my generation – had grown up reading these lives, marveling at the moral fiber of these characters and dreaming – if only idly – to live up to their ideals one day. Today, it seems, aspiring to these things have gone out of fashion. Subhash’s decision would seem very impractical to our modern makers of tomorrow, and they would be advised by their teachers that a system can only be changed ‘from the inside.’ All historical examples to the contrary can go bugger themselves.
Did I come full circle, then? A corrupted system working in corrupted ways on corrupted young souls? Perhaps. I am no messiah anyway, I don’t have a medicine, and at this point, I don’t think I care to come up with one either. I write my lines merely recording the murmurs of my fevered world.