“Mumbai Blues”- Aamjunta’s Aankhon-dekhi

It was almost quarter to eleven on a regular working day…

I had a tough day at lab and hostel trying to juggle with balancing my time and thesis writing. Additionally, summer seems to take toll on one’s energy level. That evening I got so irritable, stressed and exhausted that was unable to utter a single word. The demand and supply chain of the thesis writing was not matching. Demand was very high resulting in high pressure on the quality, quantity and the pace of my output. Anyway, I decided to skip dinner, had some biscuits instead in lab itself. Suddenly, my exasperation with the process made me think seriously of taking a break and I decided to go to either lake side or some where else and to sit there for some time by myself. I decided that I will not seek company and so did not ask any one to come along with me. On normal occasions, I have friends whom can ask and who will not deny their company. But, today it was different — just wanted to be by myself. Wanted some private and quite moments for myself.

I left lab somewhere around 11.00pm with my bag, laptop and books. Headed for an unknown destination. I was near the SOM kiosk, when I saw an auto coming from hostel side. Waved my hand gesturing him to stop, fortunately he halted. I asked him…“Boss kahin chaloge?” kahan? – he asked.. hmmmm HN chaloge? (will you go to Hiranandani?). He agreed immediately and I comfortably slipped into it. I was so tired that did not even feel like getting down at HN Galleria. But, the auto reached HN in no time. I got down, paid him, walked to the ice-cream parlour had some ice-cream and then cool drinks.

After a while, I started feeling better and sat for some time near the galleria arch. My phone rang…friends and family were trying to reach me…. But, I decided not to disturb others with my stress stories. Switched that off and kept in my pocket. It was slightly breezy that evening and I sat observing people — precisely people of Mumbai in the dark night. Many couples were around too, sitting very close to each other and sharing their life and thoughts. Mumbai affords so little of private space that people have to find shelter in the market-places, malls and theatres to spare some time for their love stories. Most of these couples were in completely engrossed mode, and it did not not matter to them who was sitting there, who was staring at them or who was passing-by. I felt slightly out of place being without a (female 🙂 ) companion to share some intimate moments.

I left the place so as to allow the couples to enjoy their privacy, and searched for some other place to sit. It was almost 11.30 pm by that time. The chairs in front of Haiko mall were empty. Selected a corner seat, so that I do not disturb people and people do not disturb me. I sat for some time, looking here and there, luxury cars coming and going, the autos, the people around, the security guards and the “night-riders” like me. A unique aspect of Mumbai is that it suddenly bustles and jostles with the night moving into deeper darkness. The corner seat I had chosen for myself gave a nice view of many landmarks of HN: the Rodas hotel, the Haiko mall, the Pavilion restaurant and the main road. In the light of the street-lamps the roads of Mumbai glitter like the body of a slithering cobra.

There was no one sitting around me. I was alone. But all of a sudden, my attention got diverted when I saw an old man, ill-looking, in his late 60s or early 70s. He was almost on the verge of nudity as his torn dhoti and gamccha were in threads, hardly did help to cover his sickly body. He looked like a scare-crow who has been brought to life and left in the glitter and glitz of the mega city…. Trying desperately to hide his bare chest and body with his dirty old gamchha, the man was on his way to some unknown destination. He seemed to be only busy searching for something in the dust-bins placed near the roads and the malls. I was curious now and started to take an interest in this character who seemed straight out of some novel. The man came closer to where I was sitting, he had huge eyes placed on a completely dark skin. He stopped near the dust-bin that was placed close to my chair and started searching for some thing. I was curious… what must he be looking for and at this time? Many things came into my mind… starting from incidents of putting bombs in dustbins to searching for food…. I started observing him from a close angle as he hunted the dustbin as if on a treasure hunt. He was only picking up the cans (cool drink cans) and plastic bottles. Collected some 4/5 bottles, 2/3 cans, 1/2 poly bags… but was still searching for some thing else… became curious.. what is he looking for? and at that late night?

Before I could ask any thing, a lady in her late 30s came and asked him politely with a voice full of compassion, “baba kya dhund rahe ho”? The old man was surprised beyond words… for the words “baba”… he seemed to have never have come across these words! He looked frightened for a moment, but when he saw that the lady meant no harm, gathered a little courage and told her… “kuchh nahini”…. Then she asked, “aap ko kya chahiye?” He was quiet for a moment and replied, “nahin beti.. kuchh khana dhund raha hun… (looking for some food). I am taking these things (bags, bottles and cans) such that I can sell them get some money tomorrow. I don’t think I’ll get any food from here at this time of the night. But, can not sell these now…It’s late”. I was shocked to see that the man was not begging, he was just hunting for left-overs in the dustbin. The lady seem to stifle her tears and went back to her husband, got some 20/30 rupees…gave him that money and said.. kal ka bare me bad me sochna.. aab jao… kuchh khalo...(think about tomorrow, when it is tomorrow…go and eat something now)”. He took that money, smiled gratefully and left. And I… sat thinking… where is he going? I had only 30 rupees in my pocket, enough for going back to hostel in an auto, couldn’t even spare that with him. But, was extremely happy to observe that even there are people in the busy life of Mumbai who come and help a man like that on their own accord. What amazed me even more was that the man did not beg from any one…

I was lost in my own thoughts, when suddenly my attention got diverted by the parking sound of a huge Honda city in front of Rodas Hotel. A gorgeously decked-up lady in her early 30s got down from the car. She was accompanied by her little baby (hardly 1/2year old) and her husband. The husband was carrying the baby, was dressed in a neat three-piece suit. He was perhaps in mid-thirties, calm, composed with signs of prosperity. And she… I hardly traced any sign of clothes. She was also on the verge of nudity, her nano-skirt and figure hugging back-less top with low-cut neck lines, nine-inch sandals and dark luscious wine lipstick.… She looked like something which I have only seen in a few fashion magazines like FHM or Femina. The couple were heading for the Pavilion restaurant for some high profile party. I was wondering how come people dress like this? Are married ladies in Mumbai so liberal in front of their husbands? I thought may be I am getting old fashioned and orthodox. But, somehow could not help myself comparing this scantily-clad young lady with that semi-clad old man…. He was also barely dressed like her…. But the difference was painful, he could not afford, whereas she did not want…While the old man was frightened even of a dog crawling near him, this lady bursted on the security guard and scolded him as he did not open the door fully for her to enter….

Hmm, both the incidents took me away from my own state of troubled existence….I had enough of this world too…checked my wrist watch… it was almost 12.30 am and past midnight…. The scenes of HN had already overpowered me and cleansed my own tension of thesis writing. I started looking for an auto…to get back to my “home” for the last 7 years.

Aamjunta, do share your experiences if any…

From Single-Seater to Multi-Seater: Vision of Higher Education

“Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with Vision is making a positive difference.”

Joel Barker

In order to decide the future course of a huge country like India, “right” vision at every level is required. Without right vision, it is not only difficult, but also impossible to cater the need of the nation. The purpose of this article is to emphasize the fact that unless a nation (especially people who are in charge of planning or decisions making) has a vision or insight into the kind of decisions that can affect its long term goals and realizes the problems that can crop up with one mis-step, many generations can suffer in the long run.

In the recent past, the Government of India has increased the number of seats in all institutes of  higher education including IITs and IIMs to accommodate the new OBC quota. There have been debates and counter-debates on the issue of quota. It also  met protests ranging from the aamjunta’s court to the supreme court.  But, it was a political decision which had to be accepted. These kind of decisions are irrevocable in nature and need to be accepted as “facts” of our society. But, the idea of increasing  the number of seats to meet the quota and the inclusion of quota itself have serious repercussions. The massive inflow of students resulted because of which it became a practical issue and a challenge for all IITs in 2008-09 . IIT administrations buckled up and started increasing the number of seats. However, unfortunately no decision making bodies ever bothered to examine the repercussions of the increase in the number of  seats. The question of infrastructure, faculties, quality, availability, environment, etc., seemed to be not even taken into account. The seriousness and hurriedness that was shown in implementing the quotas in all IITs and IIMs was at least not seen in creating the right infrastructure to accommodate that quota.There were mere announcements as to such and such number of seats have been increased in IITs, IIMs etc., but no steps were taken to create and to provide the right ambience to sustain the quality while increasing the quantity of students.  Interestingly, quota came first, then the increase of seats to counter and then the question of infrastructure and quality; shows the depth of their vision. Committees were formed as a reactive measure, not as a proactive measure.  One has to realize that vision is proactive, not reactive.

If increasing the number of seats along with quota is the vision, then some one has to suffer. Who suffers in the end? The students! Existing students in all the premier institutions are now being forced to share accommodations, change hostels, etc, etc. Even in the final year of your  BTech or MTech it is not certain whether you will get a single-seater or  a multi- seater room in your hostel. New students who might be joining in the coming semesters will even be in a worse position; (a) they will obviously have to compromise with the existing infrastructure of the new institutions and might be at the receiving end since preferences will be made mostly on seniority basis, and (b) they will have to cope up with the demands of academics while still groping for the basic minimum facilities. Neither parents nor students nor authorities realize this until they really experience that how frustrating this can be. Just an increase in the number of seats does not solve the problem of quota in higher education.

Forget the undergraduate programs, the PhDs are also sharing accommodation. Research is supposed to be the most crucial and sensitive activity, which if we take the given parameters, need at least the best facilities and infrastructures. Researchers are supposed to be at least entitled for a single accommodation if not all the benefits that a researcher in the west gets during his/her research tenure. But where is the space to accommodate the massive inflow? Starting from cycle stands to hostel council rooms, from guest rooms to corridor, everywhere constructions are on in full swing. THE REASON: there are no rooms for new students. Single rooms have now become double rooms and double rooms might be tripled or quadrupled. Even then, it is not going to accommodate the huge number of new comers. Some have to still suffer.

Fortunately or unfortunately, newly constructed hostels are coming up of late. But at what cost and at what speed? In IIT B for example, authorities have allowed many huge trees to be felled. Even those trees which were planted as part of “vanmahotsavs” and other such occasions are now completely chopped down. While the country’s Prime Minister and cabinet are making speeches and tours to huge environmental summits to protect the ever-deteriorating environmental conditions, in one of its most prestigious institutions there is a rampant felling of trees. IIT B boasted of some of the best ecology of the country and was no less than a shady gurukul, but thanks to the vision of our decision makers now we have a dry-dreary campus which is facing the tough blows of a hot summer. Moreover, for creating all new buildings most of the time roads are being dug, Internet/electricity/ telephone cables are cut, water pipes are broken…

The fault is also of the aamjunta’s, because of our ignorance we do not even bother to ask about the environmental concerns that comes with reckless development. All that which matters to us is our greed for our children and ourselves to get an opportunity to “study” in IITs or IIMs or elsewhere. However, we do not have the foresight that may be our grandchildren or the next generations may never know that such an institution ever existed in India. Our governments and decision making bodies are amazingly good with “maximal use of available resources” without actually thinking of “optimizing” or generating new resources. Where is the vision to understand the capacity of a certain institution or establishment? If an intake has to be doubled up, then why is not there an equal allotment of new land and new space to accommodate the numbers? In addition to it, the red-tapism, contract procedures, tender rules, etc., etc., .. all these things create hurdles to build new hostels even in the existing land (forget about getting new lands). The pace of construction of these buildings are pathetically slow, usually takes 200% times more than the stipulated time.

However, it is not the students who only suffer. To meet the huge intake, the intake of faculties into IITs have also significantly steeped up. Similar problems are also faced by faculty for faculty quarters and offices. There are no quarters for new faculties and most of them are staying in 1 hall-kitchen type flats. Office rooms are also a big problem. IITs which are considered to be aggressively growing research organizations, cannot provide all faculties the minimum facility of a lab and a decent office. Younger faculties who join the institution cannot even expect to bring their spouse, as there is no certainty if they will get a quarter. If this practice and apathy continues how do the governments expect to attract new faculties required to teach/guide the huge population of places like IITs.

But, the problem of infrastructure and other fundamental facilities in higher education in India is neither new and nor is it limited only to institutions like IITs. Universities and especially state universities are in an equally sorry state. An earlier instance of my own experience with this huge intake without a vision comes to mind in this context. In 1995/1996, Govt of Odisha decided to go for a 30% women’s quota in all engineering colleges, since elections were around and the vote bank had to be appeased. I was in the 3rd year of my engineering. Fortunately, we were the last batch and did not suffer the unprecedented inflow into our college. We could manage to get single accommodation in our final years which was very important because of our semester exams, placement and other career decisions badly required at least some personal space for ourselves. There was a ladies hostel with 40-50 seater capacity. That was grossly inadequate to accommodate the massive 30% inflow of female students into our college (UCE, Burla). Nothing was done and no allied campus was set up. Finally, as is typical of our decision making authorities, it was decided that our single seater hostel which was meant only for final year students was to be converted into a ladies hostel. The reason; contract process had not even started to build a new ladies hostel while the government had already issued orders to allow immediate increase in the intake. But, then who suffered? Final year BTechs who succeeded our batch. Ironically, the vision of authorities was such amazingly regressive that the final year BTech boys were doubled and tripled up in the hostels while the first year BTech girls got completely single accommodation :(.

One tends to ask the question that do the authorities not think about all these aspects? If yes, then why is there an apathy and a delay? Who is accountable for this? Why should the common man, students especially suffer?; no infrastructure, no hostels, clumsy classroom, what else is required to prove the amount of respect that the governments, political parties and decision making bodies have for the thing called “education”? If no, then who is responsible for this gross lack of vision? Who is going to take care of the environment and people – planning commission, knowledge commission, MHRD, parliament, judiciary or the aamjunta?

As said before, my intention here was not to debate on the pros and cons of the quota system. Quota has become a brutal reality of this country. But through this article, I appeal specifically to those who are in power, who are coming to power and those who are aiming for power to kindly not to play politics with the educational aspects, which is the actual future of the country. Before implementing any decision, make sure that it is properly studied and its requirements are met. Implement with your eyes open and with a vision, not with closed eyes. The common man also needs to understand and be a part of the process of planning the future of the nation and the world.

Think 1000 times before taking such big decisions. And learn to take appropriate decisions. Action without a vision will not lead to anything productive.

Aamjunta, what is your vision?

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