Why we need more Nandinis, not peacock-and-bull tales

New Delhi: My father died a deeply disappointed man. His one dream for his four children remained unfulfilled — we didn’t appear for the UPSC exam. My siblings did brilliantly in their chosen fields. But it wasn’t the same thing for him when they chose law, engineering, medicine. His last hope was me — his youngest. My father was also a realist, and I had an open relationship with him. Open enough to tell him I had neither the brains nor the tenacity to slave for such a gruelling exam. Besides, I asked him worriedly, what if I did study hard and get through — could he honestly see me as a district collector in Dhule? Why subject unsuspecting Dhule to such an ordeal? Reluctantly, he agreed with me and never raised the topic again. But each time he met a contemporary who boasted about a son or daughter making the cut, my father’s face would fall. I would get a reproachful look, and the subject would be instantly changed.

For my father’s generation, getting a child into the IFS, IAS, IRS was the ultimate badge of honour. It was also a testament to their good parenting skills. It is still the same sentiment shared by millions of ambitious parents across India. This year has been a spectacular one for the parents of 1,099 candidates, 846 men and 253 women who cleared what is considered one of the toughest examinations in the country. Karnataka girl Nandini K R, for example, topped her batch with Kannada Literature as her optional subject. Her qualifications are impressive indeed — a civil engineer with a BE degree in computer sciences. Nandini, who belongs to the OBC category, has made her state and the rest of India proud. What an achievement!

No less amazing are the 44 candidates from J&K, who managed to stay focused and study hard, despite the strife, violence and daily disruptions in their troubled state. So, too, Namrata Jain from another disturbed area — Bastar. These are stupendous achievements, and should serve as inspiration for our students.

Reading about the lives of these candidates, I felt rather ashamed at how nonchalantly I had dismissed my father’s dream. Unlike so many of these women, I had everything going for me at the time — a solid basic education, family support and encouragement, good health and the means to apply myself, work hard and appear for the competitive exam. But I airily chose not to. It would have been different had I nurtured another compelling academic ambition. But I didn’t! I had merely followed the line of least resistance — graduated with a decent percentage from a top college, only to keep my parents from nagging, and happily drifted along, reading a lot, writing a lot, but with no defined goal or purpose.

Contrast this self-indulgent attitude with Bisma Qazi’s. Bisma, a 25-year-old from Srinagar, belongs to a business family. Disappointed at not getting admission in a medical college, she studied engineering, and chose anthropology as her optional subject. Clearing the UPSC in her second attempt has made her doubly aware of what it takes to succeed. Most of the other students interviewed have given credit to their fathers, like Suhail Qasim Mir who said that his biggest inspiration was his father who pushed him to excel. And I immediately thought of mine. I hope he understood and forgave me eventually.

These are the stories from India we need to focus on and proudly share. It is ironical that the same day citizens were lauding these exemplary students, there was another big story dominating the news: Mahesh Chandra Sharma of Rajasthan High Court had created a furore with his ‘peacock’ theory. What shocked the nation was the learned judge’s ignorance regarding the reproductory habits of India’s national bird. Heaven knows how he’ll live down that gaffe, but the larger question his pronouncements raised related to his common sense. If someone in his exalted position could go public with such patently inaccurate opinions on the mating of birds and the miraculous qualities possessed by cows, one shudders to think of the wisdom of his earlier judgements in court!

Let’s call these the two faces of India. One seeks validity in ignorance. The other celebrates the power of knowledge. Can it be called an obvious clash of two generations? Naah. It is, in fact, a clash of two civilisations. If we nurture our students with the right intellectual inputs, we will build a stronger India. But if we permit the utterances of Judge Mahesh Chandra Sharma and his ilk to go unchallenged, we will be in deep trouble. It is all too easy to sing ‘Jungle mein mor nachchey…” while ignoring the India energetically surging ahead, despite such ridiculous thinking. After reading about the victorious 1,099 probationers, I thought about my father’s dream, and fervently wished I hadn’t let him down all those many years ago.