Thursday, December 15, 2005

Blasphemy Inc.

A few days ago, we all witnessed how a 'godman' was harassed into submitting his stick at the airport. The uproar that followed at Mumbai and Aurangabad airport is also remembered by all.

Incidentally, the godman claimed that seizure of the 'dharm-dand' started a period of repentance during which he will be expected to maintain strict discipline by not doing either travelling, eating food, drinking water or speak. What confuses me is that this was realized by him after he travelled from Lucknow to Mumbai and sprouted angry sentences from his mouth.

I had never heard about the particular godman before, but was told by the media channels that he is very acclaimed by many people. However after witnessing a conduct that befits only politicians, I dispelled all doubts in my mind about his being a saint. A real saint in his place would have either refused to travel or tried to calm the people as soon as he would have heard about the angry response of the people. It should be noted that it was not a police raid in which his stick was taken away, but due to a security requirement that forbids people from carrying any dangerous articles inside the aircraft. Had the godman decided not to travel, there wasn't any question of having his stick taken away.

Now let us discuss the issue of disrespecting the godman's right to travel with his stick. As far as I remember, the government doesn't mantain any list of approved godmen, which in fact makes sense as they don't require government's approval for their sainthood. But this creates a problem as to who should be considered a godman and who not. What I mean to say is that if a saffron-clad person comes to the airport carrying a trident and having a hundred supporters behind him, does this qualify him to carry his weapon with him? What seems most obvious to me is that the security officer at the Lucknow airport was as ignorant as me about the godman's support base. He was just doing his duty by not allowing any unscrupeless thing onboard. Even if being aware of such a thing, one should avoid personal convictions while following duties.

Here I remember the famous tale of King Harishchandra who did not allow his wife to use the 'shamshan' for burning the dead body of his own son. Even though the person in concern was his own son, he didn't waver from his responsibilities. I have always laughed at his mixing truth with hallucinations (giving his kingdom to a saint based on a dream), which create serious doubts in my mind about his saneness, as a ruler is expected to work for the welfare of his subjects. What prompted him to hand over the future of a vast kingdom into incompetent hands (the saint wasn't an established 'good' ruler) is beyond me. But I have always regarded him for his decision at the graveyard.

Also, we shouldn't forget that a belief for one means blasphemy for the other. I am sure that the saints/godman who frequently travel abroad for sermons (ignoring the warnings that going overseas will debar them from being a Hindu, leave alone godman status) have to face similar treatments but keep quite as they know they are powerless there.

Now let us take a broader perspective of the whole issue. These things happen when people prefer 'idol worship' over 'ideal worship'. What is surprising is that it is prevalent in even the religions that ridicule 'idol worship'. When we are expected to worship hard work and dedication, we start worshiping Hansie Cronje and Md. Azharuddin instead. No wonder when idols betray, we either assume that the ideal has betrayed us or start seeing it as mirage; both of which are not the truth. What I mean to say is that instead of idolizing Mahatma Gandhi, we should idealize non-violence; instead of idolizing George Washington as a champion of freedom, we should idolize the spirit of the never-say-die attitude. People should only be a source of inspiration, not the source of ideology. It is easy to change whom you want to draw inspiration from, but difficult to change the ideology. When one attains such wisdom, it will be possible to draw inspiration from even the likes of Adolf Hitler.

Let us look back at the primary incident now. A quick look at the profile of the godman indicates that he was earlier absconding for a forgery and later emerged as a godman by preaching peace. There is nothing wrong in idealizing peace. Also that he was a (suspected) conman before cannot be held against him as history is full of such people who have raised from being conman/dacoits/plunderers to saints. But definitely, the manner in which he had reacted to the incident makes me feel that this shows a weakness in personality. This let-down wouldn't have taken place if instead of idolizing a person, his supporters would have idolized the ideals set forth by him. Of course belief is a personal issue and I am not asking anyone to change it, and am merely expressing my views. On similar lines, they should also understand this and have a distinction between holding one's views and forcing their views (the airport incident).

Freedom of speech is very different from right to harass.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Economics for Idiots

Till the time I passed out from my CBSE affiliated school, Economics was taught as a compulsory course for two years. But looks like in the good old days this was not the case. I am discounting the fact that either none of the policy makes of CBSE had ever studied in CBSE affiliated schools or they never took their economics class seriously, and am hoping that this is not a blunder. But the fact remains that the recent CBSE directive that requires all CBSE affiliated schools to provide free education to a single girl child and equivalent concessions to multiple girls without any provision of compensation to the schools does not make any economic sense. Moreover, it is all set to hurt most whom it was meant to help, that is single girls.

While the schools have already formed a group and filed petition seeking to quash this order, it will be interesting to note the implications of this order, if it gets implemented.

The first option that many schools are contemplating is to switch either to ICSE or some other board. I believe that only those schools will opt for it for whose students fees is a major concern and a marginal increase in fees would mean changing schools or dropping off, i.e. loss of business (as after all, establishing schools is also an example of entrepreneurship and money matters). This is because such a switch would be a blow to school's reputation and credibility.

Let us now have a look into the schools that will stay with CBSE and implement its directive. Let's first get rid of the trivial case of boys' schools that will continue to function as usual. Now let's consider the case of co-educational schools. These schools will definitely conclude that in order to retain its students, they will have to keep a higher percentage of risk-free students, namely boys. They would also have to counter the psychology of boys' parents that making them studying in co-ed school will be costlier as compared to an equivalent boys school (considering that the cost of education is proportional to the quality of the education in the absence of such economic incentives/disincentives). So the co-ed schools will have to do more than enough to tackle this problem. Hopefully for them, the plight of girls' schools will offer them a way out. This will become clear after we take a look into the economics of running a girls school.

The girl's school will unarguably be the hardest hit. It will be highly foolish to think that the schools will try to absorb the deficit owing to their already premium fee structure, as some sections of the society feel. Even a simple hand calculation shows that the cost per student will show super linear growth and for moderately high percentage of single girls, it is a rectangular hyperbola. For example if in a girl's school (urban), there are 35% equivalent single girls studying, it will translate to a 54% increase in fees that will have to be paid by the rest of the students. From a girl's parent point of view (those who will not benefit from this scheme), the economic implications would be drastic and they would be forced to admit their wards in co-ed schools, which will openly embrace them owing to their own economic considerations. The reluctance of such parents to allow their children to continue in girl's school would mean the problem of girl's school compounding as the quality schools will be flooded with admission applications from girl's parents cutting across economic spectrum.

In plain English, girl's school will have an economic disincentive to admit or to continue with single girl students. One doesn't have to be an expert in Economics to conclude that if an incentive exists, it will be exploited. Consequently girl's schools will device ways to keep off single girl child students. On the admission front they would be discriminated heavily against. The most effective way would be to introduce interview basis of selection, as the decision on the basis of written tests can always be challenged owing to the deterministic nature of written tests. Even those students already inside the school will face discrimination, enough to force them out or provide some 'defense'.

Imagine you are a father of a single girl child and are seeing your child being discriminated against. Naturally you would want to provide some protection for your child. This logically would be an undertaking that you will not claim the aforementioned benefit from the school if your child is admitted/allowed to continue in the school. Definitely this will be implied not explicitly asked for by the schools, as doing it openly would invite prosecution on the basis of discrimination. The schools will also not forget to add a little milk to the coffee so that it doesn't get too dark. The schools, of course are not idiots and don't even need an article like this to implement such decisions.

Let us now talk about the lower economic strata of society for whom this directive is originally meant to address. Most of such girls study in government schools, which will definitely not discriminate against them. But in such societies, the proportion of single girls is nominal. Even most of the single girls are so by chance as their parents get prepared to welcome another child in their family. Incidentally having another child won't affect them. If the next child were a girl, they would still get an equivalent of one girl's education fees waiver. On the other hand, if 'fortunately' it is a boy, it will not be reported to schools. Even if the school authorities find it out, which teacher or principal (whose priority is education of the masses) will cancel such waiver knowing that the parents are already burdened by the expenses of another child and an additional burden of a girl's fees may result in her dropping out. So in most of the cases, they will also remain mum. In reality, all this economics won't even reach out to the rural population for whom, an additional child means an additional working hand. Education unfortunately has a trickling down effect, not a trickling up effect. Whom does this directive propose to benefit is unclear, as it is clearly against single girl child. Boys on the other hand have nothing to loose if they keep safe distance from single girls (i.e. join boy's schools).

What Women Want

"Tall, dark and handsome".

That's it, not a word more, and not a word less. I often wonder how this wonder-line made inroads into the minds of a majority of girls (at least amongst those I know). Of all the girls I could ask what they looked for in a man, this was the answer I always got. Even inquiring from my friends who have asked this question to their (girl) friends, this quote has been overwhelmingly quoted.

I must say that I was surprised, even a bit shocked to learn this some one year back for the first time. It meant changing the way I perceive girls. I had previously thought that girls look for rich, smart and caring men (in the preference order stated). But alas, my beliefs have been rubbished comprehensively. But thankfully, as the cliché goes "Men will never understand women", I needn't worry. I don't know whether this statement is a sufficient condition for being a man or just necessary. I mean, if a woman doesn't understand other women, is she a man?

Coming back to the point, I decided to check whether this is just an escape-out sentence (read: proxy statement), or whether women really practice what they preach (I know they didn't preach as I forced them to tell, but never mind). So out of those whom I could genuinely ask to show a snap of their boyfriend, I was again surprised by their identical responses: "I don't have any photograph right now, but anyway you will be disappointed to see how he looks like". I am not sure if the first part is correct, but the second definitely came from the heart. So this leaves me with another surprising question: Why do women keep boyfriends they would be ashamed off to show others?

To find an answer to this question, I again asked some of my friends. Thankfully one of them had an answer.

The aspirations of women root from their sub-conscience insecurity. All women want to be fair and lovely (read: beautiful). Which is reasonable as this is what men advertise for (read: matrimonial columns). But not all achieve this. So from their understanding of the theory of relativity, they conclude that if they can get men in whose comparison they are fairer and more beautiful, they need not seek any further. Also, to avoid "Main, Meri Patni aur Woh", they want men who are taller by at least by a couple of inches. The word handsome is just to give them a veto power; otherwise all the tall and dark men will start claiming to be their dream-man. It is always advisable to keep a vague discretionary power like this with oneself.

Speaking the word "rich" in public is considered taboo. That's why if you want a woman say that that she wants to marry a rich man, you will perhaps have to eavesdrop into their girl-talk.

I know my sample was neither representative (as it comprised entirely of girls with similar socio-economic status as mine) not sufficient (not even a dozen), but still it was sufficient to convince me owing to the overwhelming nature of the responses. But some people are not convinced....

'Fair and Handsome', are you listening?