Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The world needs taxi drivers too

Decades ago, Robert invited us over to his place for dinner when his mother was visiting.  A hyper-energetic college professor he was, who liked to cook too.  Thankfully, he spared us from eating matzos and instead made dishes like molé, which was awesome especially when that was the first time ever for me!

After the initial introductions, it was time for friendly banter.  I asked Robert's mother whether as per the stereotype she was disappointed that her son did not go into a career in law or medicine.  We laughed.

Mike was yet another deviation from the stereotypical Jewish lawyer or doctor.  The well-read and well-informed Mike hadn't formally educated himself after high school and, instead, pursued his passion in machines and was a highly successful at it.  Mike once took us to the synagogue to which he and his wife belonged.  He introduced us to some of the people there--professionals and tradespeople across the economic spectrum, and not the lawyer/doctor caricatures.

In the rut that we often walk, we tend to believe that the paths to prosperity are not many.  In my old days in the old country, the dominant belief was that a life of struggles awaited those who did not go into engineering or medicine.  My fellow argumentative Indian at this blog is a wonderful example to prove otherwise.  But, habits die hard, I suppose:
As many as 38 students — six girls and 32 boys — of the Neyveli Jawahar Higher Secondary School, successfully cleared the Joint Entrance Examination (Advanced)-2014. They would be admitted to the Indian Institutes of Technology for the current academic year.
Chairman-cum-Managing Director of the Neyveli Lignite Corporation B. Surender Mohan felicitated the IIT aspirants at a brief function held at the Telugu Kala Samithi here on Saturday.
It is quite an achievement, yes, that so many from the same school gained admission to the prestigious engineering schools in the country.  Note, however, that the celebratory event was not held at the school but at "the Telugu Kala Samithi."  What's the connection?  This cultural organization had arranged for "coaching classes" for students.  I can easily imagine that the life of those students would have been nothing but hours in school, hours preparing for tests and exams, and then more hours at the coaching classes.  As long as it all works out for them; but, I worry that there is seemingly nothing done at all to encourage the growth and development of more than a one-dimensional human.

What do the rest of the students from that school do anyway?  After all, with or without coaching classes, not everyone will attend an engineering or a medical college.  
Turns out that the cosmos is always providing us with answers to questions.  It is just that often we are either asking the wrong questions, or are oblivious to the answers, or both.  Yesterday, I happened to catch one of those answers.

The taxi driver, a young man in his early twenties, seemed to be a tad hesitant about the roads and the routes.  "Shall I go via West Mambalam, sir?" he asked me.  I was sitting in the front passenger seat for the obvious reason--to get the blast from the AC vents ;)

"I have no idea" I replied and relayed the question to father, who greenlighted the suggestion. 

At the end of the round trip, when we were two minutes away from home, father asked him if he was new to town.  

"Yes, sir.  Only five months now."

"Where did you come from?"

"Neyveli, sir. Neyveli Township."

We all got excited that the young driver was from the place that has a special place in our hearts.  

"For more than twenty years we lived there" father said.  "All my children went to Jawahar School."

"You say children.  He looks at me and all he sees is an old man" I joked.  I had to.  Else, it is a boring one-dimensional life!

We wished him well as we got off the taxi. 

A Neyveli-born and raised taxi driver.  A couple of years ago, an artist from Neyveli.  How about that!


Anonymous said...

I see a disconnect here. In some of your posts you talk about average student loan, graduation rates and employability being ideally the chief concerns of parents and students when choosing a college. And in this post you are 'pitying' the student who had to slog to get into one of the IITs.
How do you reconcile these two positions?
- Ajay

Ramesh said...

Its changing, slowly changing in India. This is a legacy of the days when jobs were so scarce that the probability of making a living if you did not get an engineering seat or medical seat in a top college was very poor. India has changed. This is , thankfully, no longer true. So people are choosing a number of professions which a generation ago would have been unthinkable. An ex colleague of mine has a daughter who has chosen to be a lead guitarist in a band playing at hotels. A cousin of mine is married to a professional drummer. Both good Tam Brams !!

Despite all this, whichever profession you choose, the slog during school and college days is rampant. That is simply the laws of supply and demand working. When you have 1 million students coming into the workforce every month, you have to be at the top of the heap to get anywhere, irrespective of profession. The hard slog begins at birth these days :(

Sriram Khé said...

"hard slog begins at birth these days" worries me ... it reduces humans to nothing more than economic machines. Awful :(
Yes, when you have so many youth competing for not enough jobs, a disaster of many sorts ... As I have often blogged, I am all the more concerned that the Information Revolution might not be a jobs producing revolution that the Industrial Revolution was ... I can't wait for the ten-plus years by when the trendlines will be a lot clearer ... hoping that things will work out better than how I worry it will be ...

Getting into the elite schools in the US is not merely a case of cramming for exams. In fact, the Ivies, for instance, might even toss aside the application from a student who has nothing to show but test scores. There, the madness has even gone way overboard ... Colleges systematically look for students who will not be one-dimensional ... even most geniuses were rarely one-dimensional. Einstein was very good at violin and music, for instance. The multiple abilities of Feynman are legendary ... It is even rarer for high profile business and political leaders to be one-dimensional. When we reduce kids to one-dimensional humans, we not only do not provide for their other abilities to be tapped we also do them a huge disservice because of the high probability that they will end up as nothing more than highly skilled technicians--human automatons, is how I refer to them.
(The other commenter, Ramesh, is too modest to speak about himself--the guy was not only good with the book stuff, but was also a equally good at the playground ... I bet he cannot even remotely imagine not having played ball and if he had been shunted to coaching classes for ever ...)
As for the student debt issues, those are unique to the American scene and are not even remotely relevant to the Indian contexts.

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