Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Turning 31 and the challenges of being an academician!

31st birthday is not a happening event in any case. Its not even as if one is completing a decade of existence. Add to that the fact that one's best friends (the likes who are credited in blog posts)do not even remember and an eighteen month old constantly tugs you down, one can not help but wish one could stay 10 forever. As a kid I hated the fact that my birthday would fall on a National Holiday every year. Since it would always be a holiday at school, I could never attend school in a new dress and distribute sweets to my classmates on the day of my birthday. Today, being a civil servant,I have a duty to attend the flag-hoisting early in the morning and other such official engagements planned for the day. I can not recall a birthday when I could claim the day for myself and just let things be!

However, it did not turn out to be as bad as I might have made it sound. To look at 200 (officer-)trainees present during the flag-hoisting in formal attire and everybody lending their voice to the singing of our National Anthem fills one heart with pride for one's country. It is on occasions such as these that one can feel the idea of 'unity in diversity' and however much we may differ, our respect for our nation and national symbols really shines forth.

And while my dear friends forgot my b-day in their own official engagements, my dear colleagues R and S surprised me by gifting me a beautiful bouquet of flowers each. While the flowers would dry out in time, it is the memory of this gift that would linger forever.My sisters and family would never fail to wish me on this day, however near or far they may be! More surprisingly, while a boisterous party was insisted upon on this occasion last year, a lot has changed in this one year and me, A and little N celebrated the day all by ourselves gorging on fabulous mushroom-cheese enchiladas and penne farmhouse for dinner!

I may not have mentioned it before, but in the kind of profession that one is in, the chances of coming across an academic assignment are rather slim. And even when one talks about academics, its not as if one is studying/teaching literature or pure sciences, rather one has the task of training fresh entrants into the service or mid-level government officers  by equipping them with latest tools and  basic skills essential for being an effective administrator. While it is easy to conduct sessions which are objective like legal theory, the real challenges arise when it comes to abstract notions like leadership, humility, perseverance. As a Course Director, one constantly worries that the inherent bias of a speaker/faculty member may be imprinted upon the receptive minds forever.

Also certain aspects of certain professions (read government service!) are rather 'intoxicating'. For one, there is a sense of 'having arrived' on the scene. It just doesn't stop at that. Even in a profession where most of the perks and promotions are safeguarded by law, there is often a strange sense of superiority and cleverness displayed by a few. Again, thanks to the super-competitive Indian society (and more importantly pushy parenting) if one has qualified for certain institutions/professions, sometimes one develops the tendency to look down upon those who do not carry similar tags.

Strangely enough, I sometimes feel, we have lost our ability to appreciate a poet who always wanted to be one. No wonder that a country as huge as ours, has over time, a dwindling population of artists and literateurs and sportspersons fewer still. In our country, for most people who attain some degree of success in any walk of life, it becomes difficult to look up to those from humble backgrounds and from alternate professions with parity and tolerance. 

As a beginner student of economics back in 2001, the basic premise that was made clear to us is how economics differs from our other 'pure' social sciences. While pure sciences like chemistry, physics would yield similar results under a similar set of conditions, economists can only claim satisfaction from the 'law of large numbers'. Even then, an economist can never be certain of results because when it comes to human behavior, no scientific tool can predict the same with infallible accuracy.In recent years, a number of Nobel Prizes in Economics have been given for Behavioral Science, Decision Making and allied fields.

Yet while a lot of research is being carried out in these fields,  I can only seek comfort in literature finishing two dense reads 'Snowflower and the Secret Fan' and 'The Book Thief' back to back. And yes, before we even dare imagine incorporating inputs on behavioral aspects in the structure of our courses, me and my colleagues too need an orientation training for the same. In the meanwhile, am happy that the tribe of artists, writers and poets continues to flourish in the larger world and years later when little N has to choose her calling, she need not worry about the tags, and will have these innumerable role models to look upon.

While another year in service (almost co-terminus with my birthday) and 365 more days of my existence on earth pass rather uneventfully, I send out secret thanks and prayers to God for all that there has been and all that he has in store for me. Talking about A's gift,I can imagine him saying

For your birthday, I got you a box. Hooray! It’s empty, so you can fill it with whatever you want.

Jarod Kintz, A Zebra is the Piano of the Animal Kingdom