There is something very unappealing about the first benches. Be it freshman year in college, tiny tot schools, conferences or god forbid – comedy acts – first seats are a strict no-no. Though the reasons are varied, this inherent hatred was not built into my system; I shall not blame genetics for this one. As I flip through my memory pages to find out, I am transported back to many of those four walled boxes of my childhood.
“The world is round”
“Yes, ma’am, the world is very round”
“Two plus two is four”
“Wow. Indeed, sir, it’s 4.”
There will always be voices around to agree and please. Later on in life, these voices changed, but the tone was just the same.
“Media says Pakistan is our enemy”
“To hell with them all- Condemn! Destroy! Burn!”
“X profession guarantees wealth and prosperity”
“Oh yeah? Let’s all pursue X, let’s all become rich overnight!”
Pavlov’s experiments on programmed reflexes are known to all. The scientist rings a bell, a dog is given food, and the cycle is repeated multiple times to program the willing dog. Next time when the bell is rung, the dog starts salivating- food or not. Every time I come across anything that refers to the above, I cannot but imagine thinking of alternate contenders for the dog’s role. The average Indian, sadly, is a good fit.
Let’s think of scenarios. The teacher reads out a line and a class full of ever-ready minions repeat the lines without giving a hoot for rhyme or reason. Everybody sits and learns up a line to repeat the same to the best of his/her abilities. Wonderful. Our system is best suited to come up with machines. If at all there is anything that the education system condones, it is obedience. At best, institutions represent factories - taking pride in producing identical pieces fit for specific roles and purposes. No room for original thought, no encouragement for ideas or exploring scary frontiers. Anything that disturbs the narrow bandwidth of these processes is frowned upon.
Machines, with a few ounces of red fluid flowing through our vessels. Give us a task and set us a time, wind us up and unleash us. The best of the machines will trudge along, glad to be of service. They’ll grind and fight to reach their goals. Then they will be gifted a treat, in accordance with their performance. Who was the fastest and who risked the least fuel? There are prizes for being in line; there are prizes for not breaking the decorum. In short, there are prizes for being predictable - no - predictably exceptional.
Can we blame them? No, of course not. As a developing nation, we were hard bound to follow certain rules lest risk falling behind the rest of the world. So we opted for things that guaranteed us maximum leverage in the growth curve. However, we have reached a point where we need to start doing something revolutionary if we need to keep growing. But there is an inherent problem with this attitude. As someone rightly said, the worst thing about a rat race is that even if you run faster, you’re still a goddamn rat. We need to start thinking outside the clichéd ‘box’, start taking some risks and be willing to fail. Just beyond that comfortable realm we live in, lies the land of milk and honey that we all dream of. But there is no Moses in sight to lead us.
Or is there? For all this to happen, all one needs to start doing is to question the obvious. Stop taking every bit of data fed into our system from all these infinite ‘reliable sources’, and devouring them without thinking. Everything, with a pinch of salt, and try analysing before you believe it blindly. Easier said than done, but there is no other way out of the loop.
Let’s stop being parrots, because there is more to life than a tasty treat for croaking out something that we barely understand or believe in.
Photography By: Pranavi Kanduri