Sunday, November 3, 2013

Let there be (En)Light

A few months ago, before the start of a popular quiz show, its adverts showed a middle aged lady starting a wedding planning company, ignoring the need for knowledge, and eventually, how her business suffers, due to lack of proper knowledge. The advert ended with the host of the show explaining, how there is no age and limit to the extent of knowledge one should posses, as it always helps. The advert sure struck a chord with the intellectuals, and the teacher at my home, my mom, impressed by the advert, also started preaching a similar line. My sister shrugged off my mom, "Whatever".

It was March 29, 2009. We were returning home from an exciting and adventurous industrial visit to Udaipur and Mount Abu(Yeah, apparently BSNL have some cell towers there for us Telecom engineers to check out, which we did, by climbing atop them and clicking pictures). The economist in our group suggested an Auto-rickshaw ride, because individual share in a BEST bus would eventually amount to same cost for 3, as a single Auto-rickshaw would. Surprisingly, without having to strike a bargain, we got into an Auto-rickshaw driven by a humble person(of course, he didn't charge us extra, that is enough for me to brand him humble). Five minutes into the ride, he struck a conversation with us.

"Sir, you all look to be educated engineers, from your conversation" He said in Hindi, accent clearly northern.
"Yes, we are educated, but not engineers yet"  I replied with a smile, while my friends winked at me. Clearly, this man was in an unnecessary awe of us.
"Since you are educated, can I ask you a few questions I needed answers for?" He asked. We were taken aback. Here is a rickshaw driver who was keen for intellect. "Yeah, sure, go ahead"

"What was the name Flight number of the Indian Airlines plane which was hijacked and taken to Kandahar in 1999 ?" He asked, in a tone which suddenly resembled that of an interviewer.

"IC 814?" I replied, with some self-doubt, while my friends looked at me shocked. "That is correct, congratulations, you became the first person to answer that question" He replied, smiling back from the rear view mirror.

"Okay, When did the Titanic sink?" He continued.
"April 12th!" I said jumping in my seat, " Oh no, that is when Jack sketched Rose, it is night of April 14th", I said, correcting myself.
"You do watch movies, huh?" He replied with a smirk.

My friends appeared shell shocked, and were silently cheering me, as if I were playing the actual quiz show, and a million Rupees were at stake.

"Who was the last Mughal king, and how was he overthrown?"
"Bahadur Shah Zaffar, he was imprisoned after the 1857 mutiny, in Rangoon" My friend replied, this time with some confidence.

"You seem to know your history well, can I ask you a question at another level?" He asked and saying 'No' was not an option for me. "

"Suppose you are in a sinking boat with your parents, and you can only save one person, your mother or your father?" He asked in an emotionless tone, with a straight face. And this time, not wanting to be left behind, my second friend jumped in.
"I cannot choose, I will commit suicide" He said, in an obviously emotionally stressed voice.
"So, are you telling me, that when you have an option of saving two lives out of three, you will let all three die?"
"I think, I will save one person for sure at that moment, but I will be sad throughout my life for the other" I replied, trying to gauge the trick of the question.
"I am sorry, but this is a trick question, frequently asked in civil services exams. You are not suppose to answer this question ,simply ask the interviewer to move on to next question, because they want to judge you on the basis of your reply" He said, in a back-to-humble tone.

"Are you a journalist, driving rickshaw by the day, judging the so called intellectuals of Mumbai?" I asked, with a hint of sarcasm in my tone. Clearly, this was way beyond a simple Q&A. A mere rickshaw driver couldn't have driven us to our wit's end.

"I am a rickshaw waala, sahab, sorry if I have offended you, I like having such conversations" He replied, in the humblest tone, since we boarded his vehicle.
"Then, how come a man of your intellect is still driving a rickshaw?" I asked, perplexed, more than ever.
"I am a 10th grade pass out from Jhansi. I ran away after that to make a fortune in this city, and this is my fortune" He said, pointing to his rickshaw. "I always wanted to learn, but could not. Because, I could either learn or earn. I chose the latter. However to make up for that, I often visit scrap paper dealer to buy books which is thrown away by the rich, and immerse myself in those books. It also helps that my wife shares my passion" He finished.

"Well, you could try night school or something" I said fumbling.  "Sir, I need to earn, so that my kids can earn degrees, just like you. So that they will have an attestation to their knowledge, which I lack." He said, his smiling turning into a grin. His reply gave me sudden sense of satisfaction and grief. Yes, I was glad to have parents who could afford my education, yet I was sad for people like him who were not so lucky.

How important is knowledge and the zeal to acquire it? Apparently, not quite. People with a keen interest in some field are often called upon only using the quiz show's life line or when some sort of information is needed, and then thanked with the words "You are an encyclopedia" appended to it. Being branded a geek ,'gyaani' often means you are not welcome in the group of normal people. Do not be fooled by the appreciation you get, because behind every appreciation, is a hidden mockery- "How uncool is he?". A discussion started by you, may often end with somebody pitching in with the lines- "Let us end this boring discussion" or "Let us talk something else" or worse still, very subtly, the topic will be changed, making you a pariah. Sitcoms and other shows often portray geeks as socially awkward individuals, only adding to the popular notion. Somehow, the world seems to have taken the idiom "Ignorance is bliss" at a new level altogether, and quite seriously at that. People cite Dhirubhai Ambani as a person, who created an empire without education, but does that mean, he created a business empire without having any know how of what he was doing, was he ignorant? So again, how important is knowledge and the zeal to acquire it? After my meeting with this rickshaw driver, a lot.

If someone sounds pedantic, he is not being ostentatious. And, if some of the words I used here were a little hard to grasp, I only mean to enlighten. *Wink*   


Shivani Shastri said...

They say... enlightenment is, to gaze with undimmed eyes, on all darkness...
Thats what we do in this country...
and sometimes, if one strives to concentrate really hard, he can witness that yellow sunflower...
Meditate on... Amen

Post a Comment

newer post older post Home