The “right light”

Way back, when I was in school, a class project was to write an essay on Brutus and Cassius, on the basis of Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, and to “say which of the two was better”.

My essay argued the case that Cassius was the better of the two. For my trouble, I got an F. After class, I asked the lecturer why. Was the writing bad? No. Were the passages I cited out of context? No. Was it badly argued? No.

What then? “That is not the correct answer, it is Brutus,” I was told then.

I didn’t understand then, and I don’t understand now, how the “right answer” is determined. Who carves it into stone? And why is there no realization that if you prescribe right ways and wrong ways to think about things, you end up freezing thought altogether and perpetuate the culture of by rote regurgitation of “accepted” wisdom?

Leading on from which, how different is this action of the government of India from that of the Gujarat government, when it banned Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah book on the grounds that it does not show Sardar Patel in the “right light”?

Earlier posts on the issue of books and bans here: 1, 2, 3, 4

11 thoughts on “The “right light”

  1. Prem,
    In my mind there are two issues related to this post.

    1. The value of ‘Teachers’ to the society. We appear to revere teachers, but that is only on September 5th, and the rest of the year we ridicule them. In our society, unfortunately, rarely the academically ambitious become teachers. Also, there is very little by the way of encouragement for innovation in teaching (mainly at the school level). Thus, most work within a template which is not designed to bring out the best in individual students but generate conformity.
    2. Our society values hierarchy over meritocracy. This is what is hammered into our youngsters. I think, only a small fraction rebel from this dogma.

    Regarding the book on Jinnah and film on Nehru, the idea of censorship is just that. People in authority do not have to be logical, but in their wisdom determine what is in public interest. But it happens that in cases such as these, their wisdom is questionable.


    • Ram, both your points are spot on, and indicative of the vicious cycle the education system is caught in: we don’t respect our teachers because they aren’t good; they aren’t good because there is no financial or indeed any other incentive to excel.

      That said, I wish the breed would learn from the exceptions, not the norm. I still remember two teachers I’ve had: George Mathew, whose English class I attended for just one year in Madras Christian, and who in that one year gave me a love for the language, and for writing, that has remained with me since and MP Sridharan, who taught history one year in Malabar Christian, dealt with the concept of absolute monarchy throughout that period, and thanks to whom I not only began to love history, but also learnt to draw connections, to see how the past is mirrored in various ways in the present.

      They shone amidst the general mediocrity — maybe finding such, and encouraging them, is part of the answer.

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  3. My teacher thought that love stories polluted minds. Which is why when we read a story of a guy and girl eloping to get married, he added a subtle point : ‘It’s all good in the stories, frowned upon in real life.’
    I can see that a lot of people have difficulty moving on and accepting a different opinion.

  4. thats hillarious.

    I remember a similar english test in school (grade 8 or 9) where we were asked to put forth an argument whether mohammed ali and his childhood acquaintance were “friends”. This story is set in thetime after Ali won the olympic gold medal but still faces some racist incidents in his home town although he a national “hero”. I argued against the popular belief and got an F for my trouble.

    Of all the topics taught in school, I would have thought literature would be left to personal interpretation.

    “Ratta Lagana” is what the system seems to reward.

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  6. I remember one incident with my daughter’s school. It was last year during Deepavali when the school wanted every student to do a write up on Deepavali celebrations. I had helped my daughter prepare hers and she had written that we celebrate Deepavali to commemorate Krishna killing Narakasura and ridding this world of his evil. The teacher had promptly cut that sentence with a remark “Diwali is celebrated to mark Rama returning to Ayodhya” – and this when this lady lived in a Southern city over the last few years!! 🙂

    Usually teachers have this attitude of forcing their knowledge on the students giving no room for different perspectives, opinions, ideas. But the govt forcing this on the people is too much to take.

    • Heck! A film cannot use “Bombay” for Bombay without some fools going berserk. and the producer/director has to issue an apology and re-dub that line to whatever Bombay is called today! 🙂

    • Besides all of that, consider this: What kind of moron thinks showing a man and a woman in love who neither express their love, nor kiss, nor make out, is anything remotely like the “right light”? Apparently the Congress thinks Nehru was impotent.

  7. So true even now! Had a similar discussion with my son last week who was confused by the right answer taught in school.

    Our education system as well as wider social structure that leads it, discourages varying perspectives from developing – the crush of conformity is strong.

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