The Golden Age of Greece!
Some contemporary parallels!

Near Parthenon

Near Parthenon

As I finished this column, a thought flashed through mind like a lightning! It was Tagore, Gandhi and even Pandit Nehru and such great Indian leaders, as far as we can see, didn’t travel through Greece and Rome or studied or quoted from these two great civilisations, right? India as an independent country has much to learn and draw lessons for its very many new policies, education, culture and else. Greece has no parallel in these areas to teach the world. But this generation has much to learn from the past histories and draw lessons for the current times.

Greece gave the world democracy, citizen’s freedoms and liberty, ideas of republic and rule of law, besides much else. One Pericles speech is enough for the entire world, even for today in the fields of education, philosophy, logic, sports etc. Also in art and culture we can find much enduring values and beauty. Here is a brief account, though there is much else to study and learn lessons for our times.

Greek history is very long and in each age it impacted the world in some deep ways. First, the geography! If you look at the atlas you will see Greece is located at the end of the European geography, at the bottom of the Southern Europe, just below Yugoslavia. In fact, there was time when visitors to Greece used to take journeys overland. This has now become out of tune with the modern airlines competing for new air routes.

We travelled to Greece by the Gulf airline- Qatar airways. It took four hours to land in Doha, the Qatar capital, the most prosperous oil kingdom in the Gulf today. And after a small wait we caught another airline of the same company, the Qatar Airlines and reached Athens in another four hours. It was such a joy to travel by the latest aircraft A 320 class of the same airline. Once landed in Athens we caught the taxi – Mercedes Benz, a gift from perhaps the German -a part of the foreign aid that had lifted the debt-ridden economy from collapse. Once we reached the city, the driver of the taxi pointed out at a distance and said:”See the famous Acropolis and the Parthenon blazing already in the evening daylight and that was soon to be further lighted by the artistic way in which the entire city of Athens in night keeps the world-famous heritage sites in such splendorous brightness.

Once you are in Athens the Acropolis, the one historic hill never is far from you. Where ever you turn, your eyes are likely to be caught by this historic monument. In fact, the next morning, we planned to stay in Athens for some 10 days and so we were planned to see each and every notable monument. Our hotel, Melia, was situated not far from the Acropolis site and so the next day we started to walk towards the hill. We didn’t realize that the road we walked was in fact the modern road that was laid on the ancient sites. So, at some places they have left the old sites covered with a glass roof and so we can see down our feet that old sites, the walls and other structures covered with glass roofs. Very soon we reached the hill site and the road was rising as we walked and soon we were left with no further path and so we sat on a stone bench.

I told my granddaughter to touch the soil telling her that she was now on the sacred ground of a great civilization where such venerable figures like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle walked. On the first day in fact, we didn’t realize that the spot where Socrates actually lived and walked was not very far from us! In fact, we were now sitting on the outer walls of the Roman Agora. Agora in Greek means the public place where the city people gathered to transact business and spend time and conduct their government. Next to the Roman Agora was the Ancient Agro where Socrates lived. This was the first market place and this space needs to be written in much more detail and devotion.

It was sacred soil for me and as such I was emotionally agitated greatly touched by the historic moment and the historic points. Now, Athens history! Let us leave details. Athens became a powerful country only in the BC after finally defeating the powerful Persian Empire in 480 BC. Athens was first a confederacy with its headquarters in the island of Delos, far from Athens. It was in 461 BC, the treasury was transferred to Athens and then under the rule of Pericles from 461 BC to 429 BC Athens emerged as the most powerful and also the most artistic city in the world. Though Athens had this gift, it was militarily defeated by Sparta.

Sir infront of Athens Uni statues Plato n Socrates

Sir infront of Athens Uni statues Plato n Socrates

Sparta and Athens are studies in contrast, the school of the Spartan people gave to the world the concept of public schools which Plato advocated and yet in Athens is not practiced. Most of the monuments on the Acropolis mountain date from the period of Pericles. Pericles is another notable figure from the ancient Greece, and he gave a great speech after the defeat of the Athenian people at the hands of Spartans in the famed or ill-fated Peloponnesian Wars that lasted from 431 BC to 404 BC. The history of the War was written in a style that is still read in all public schools. The book was written in Greek by Thucydides.

Athens was an independent kingdom and an empire. But in 338 BC it was conquered by Philip II of Macedon and his son, the famous Alexander the Great favoured Athens over other city states.
In 186 BC the Romans defeated the Macedonians and Athens became a province of Roman empire and the Roman rule of Greece lasted to an unbroken period of three centuries. But Romans became very much impacted by the Athenian culture and though Romans took away the sculptures to Rome the Roman aristocratic class sent their sons to Greece for learning Greek philosophy, law and sports etc. Hellas, the way the ancient Greeks were called became an intellectual, cultural and political students of Greek institutions.

Ancient Greece had many glories but not the modern day history. Roman empire lasted some 2,000 years. That was also a remarkable history. Rome learnt many things from Greece. Of course not their political ideas and ideals of democracy. But the Roman Republic is also an evolution of the Greek ideals of government. There were slaves in large number in Greece and Rome. Citizenship is another concept we learnt only from Greece and Rome. For any modern day visitor to Greece and Rome, the ancient agora and in Rome the Roman Forum are physical monuments that inspires us to stand and reflect and ponder over for a long time to how man had lived and evolved into a modern and civilized citizen of the world! It was the Roman emperor; Justinian who closed the philosophy in AD 529.Then was a period of decline. Every country of any consequence tried to occupy the Greek people and in this Britain was not alone!

The most famous monument is of course the incomparable Parthenon. They charge every adult an entry fee of 12 Euros. Its monuments and sanctuaries are built in a special marble stone, called Pentelic marble, quarried from a special mountain outside Athens some few miles away. The Pentelic marble stone of such huge proportions must have been quarried by some huge effort and how they transported in the BC? The Parthenon marble structure, so huge and so artistic, gleam white in the midday sun and gradually as the sun fades, the stones assume a honey hue while at night the lights are on and brilliantly illuminate the whole night!

As the travel guide writes “a glimpse of this magnificent sight can’t fail to exalt your spirit. Yes, it is so right; this goes and man-jointly created artistic achievement. It’s hard to believe that such a grand monument was created in such an ancient time and all through the 2500 years the monument glowed and also faced so many assaults by invaders and ignoramuses.

Pericles-OrationThere are other two equally beautiful structures, temples to five beautiful maidens, called Caryatids, the maidens holding their falling saris is so beautifully carved as if they were not carved in stones! They, the beautiful maidens seem to be so alive! So natural, so beautiful and so incomparable all through the years afterwards. What we see on the mountain today are not the originals. The originals are now displayed in the Acropolis museum. Also one on those was transported by Lord Irwin to the British museum. These marble maidens were created in 415 BC. Can we believe the dates? Yes, they are so ancient and yet so modern! The mountain part is planted by Olive trees and Greece is a country of vast Olive tree cultivation and olive oil extraction. Olive oil export is a great Greek export industry.

Much has been written about the unique artistic aspects of the Parthenon’s columns and the foundations. Convex and concave carving is said to make the Parthenon structure very unique in the history of art. Readers can read so many detailed writings and they must at least once in their lifetime to fulfill their own quest for knowledge and wisdom! Also, the names of the sculptors who carved these columns and the pediments, most of which have been now removed and displayed in a latest Acropolis Museum. This museum is worth roaming about and once you come out you are a different sort of a refined person, indeed!

There are modern cafeterias and also places to sit and look around the Acropolis hill and the walls that surround the old hill. It was a great day for us to have spent such a long and learning experience, a full day is worth spending in such surroundings.

Any link?
Are we lacking in culture and good behaviour in public? In our governance sphere?

Are protocols for the people or for bureaucratic bungling? See how the film awards are distributed!

Ram Nath Kovind

Ram Nath Kovind

The controversy over the President’s film awards! Why are these mismatches over the protocol in ensuring all get the awards from the hands of the President? Should media follow some etiquette and manners?

Many media outlets, print and electronic reported the controversy in not an elegant manner. We seem to be becoming a not evolving cultured society but a sort of a shameful one. See the amount of time spent on debates on such damaging stories on rape, violence and many other irrelevances. Cricket reporting is big business and so much money and energy is wasted. We leave it to experts to debate our distorted set of media priorities.

Yes, we as a nation are film crazy people. But as the Oscar Award winner Resul Pookutty said as to why the  national film  awards this year got into a controversy because the President denied the one minute glory to the rest of the technicians and others to get the award from the hands of the President citing lack of time! It was very much resented by the film industry.

The talents in culture needs to be nurtured and  fostered and the cine artistes, not just the glamorous faces of actors and actresses by the men and women behind the cameras, the technicians, one like the Oscar winning Resul Pookutty, who had come out with a scathing attack. Cultures is such a vast impactful area and let us not repeat this practice of following the wooden rules of protocol but display some creativity and originality and win over the most vital springs of culture and decency. Are we improving or the reverse is happening? It doesn’t cost much to ask some questions, right? The many freedoms we take for granted like freedom of speech, writing and expression, in fact are not the freedoms we forget to be used and practiced in our everyday life.

The global media watchdog, Reporters without frontiers(RSF) has put India at the 138th country out of 180 countries. Anybody has spoken about this shameful state of affairs, asks one Newspaper editorial(Deccan Herald).While we write  these lines there is almost non-stop electioneering in Karnataka where the Prime Minister, Rahul Gandhi and even the former Prime Minister Deve Gowda are fighting for a place in the sun, so to say. But none of the top leaders had commented, let alone press freedoms but also other events, local and international.

So, India as a country and a society and more so as the world’s biggest democratic state, has simply come down to street fight for a few states to form the state government. And what spectacle we see? The much controversial persons, the Reddy brothers for instance share the dais with the PM who promises to clean  the society and polity.

But the language we use to clean up the system is far from a language of freedom and culture and refinement. How do we hope to serve the country in this fashion?

It is very distressing that even the minor courtesies, even minor protocols and ways of doing the business of the government seem to be uplifting for the common citizens. Which ministry must be worried over the deterioration of standards? Obviously, there is the ministry for information and broadcasting. Why we seem to be still struggling to fix things up like giving India a public broadcasting system on the lines of the BBC?

Everything can’t be done with a profit in mind. Indian TV news channels industry is exploding, if that is the right word. You have to evolve a culture of governance. Do propagate the government schemes but do it in a non-partisan way. So too honouring the artists and intellectuals. The National Film Awards ceremony was held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan but done in a clumsy manner.

The President’s protocol doesn’t give  the President more than one hour so he skipped midway, it seems;  the awards were then presented by the controversial Smriti Irani. Of course, she did in some style. But let us realize even the very strict protocol has to be further practiced so that everyone concerned feels uplifted.  Indian TV news industry is neither a cultural experience or has any other educational or other values. The news that the President’s event to distribute the national awards for the 68 film industry personalities was boycotted by these artists is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in such a national perspective.

It looks from what we see on the TV screens that the industry seems to be booming. More channels are joining  the channel waves and this in an ideal scene must be much more enriching our viewer pleasure and must be creating a more elevated sense of purpose and leisure content. But alas! We see the reverse. The same old tired  face or faces from some ageing actors projected as the brand ambassadors. Are not people a bit tired of seeing the same face every day and also in every other ad? And , oh, the cricketing fraternity and the gambling  instinct turning the cricket game also into a high stake  gambling.

In Bangalore for instance,  the other day or why for a few days the very Chinnaswamy stadium was packed with long queues, most  of the fans, why the every crowd is from youngsters with very few signs of any sort of formal education or even the knowledge about who were the stars, Indian or foreign and yet the stadium was overflowing. And to cap it all, the very owners, the BCCI is having a stiff fight with the authorities about democratic or transparent administration.

And for the quality of TV news culture or other forms of entertainment, the less said the better. There is now in the media space, all sorts of uncomfortable news or scenes and sights are aired. And, what is really galling is the sort of India, the Indian society and events that are highlighted. All news are news breakthroughs.

So much noise, so much cruelty or cruelties in society, the violence, the accidents, the rape stories make us, we believe, to see ourselves as a sick society. A society which has no order and restraint and we see the new generation leaders, of course we mean the political leaders holding forth on some very funny topics, from science and technology in Ramayana and Mahabharata and also opinions on Charles Darwin and other luminaries who according to these lightweights  were right or wrong  depending upon how they are brought to link with the puranas and ithihasas!

A provocation for this column is a news item I read in the Kolkata edition of the Times of India. The Governor of the West Bengal State, Keshari  Nath Tripathi  has sent out a letter of invitation to several city intellectuals for tea at Raj Bhavan on April 26.The letter was sent to atleast 16 writers and social activists.  

Keshari  Nath Tripathi

Keshari Nath Tripathi

The purpose was to gauge the mood of the intelligentsia, as in Bengal the pre- panchayat poll violence continues. One or two of the names I know well. Nabanita Sen( the former life partner of Prof.Amartya Sen, my own old friend of the Santiniketan days, is one among them. Shankha Ghosh is another name known to me. Incidentally my education was at Santiniketan, also later at Oxford University. The writers, poets and other names I need not enumerate for constraint of space.

In the present  time, as author Sen has said “the present political situation is such that the country and state are going through a terribly bad phase. Everyone can see what is going on and there is no reason why I should keep quiet. In fact, I would expect my fellow invitees to do the same”. Another invitee, the educationist and writer, Pabitra Sarkar said: “It is an honour to be invited by the governor “and so said another invitee, Suranjan Das, the Jadavpur University VC. This news item provoked me to write these lines.

May be other state governors under the BJP regime might also be feeling suffocated to play their legitimate roles as governors.
I know for sure that in the South, the universities  are riddled with so many problems. We talk of politicization of universities; this process started right in Tamil Nadu under the Dravidian parties.

Also came the corruption hand in hand! A series of developments, some 500 odd  self-financing engineering colleges and a rash of deemed universities came in a rush and the highly chauvinistic Dravdianisation so to say; led to third rate appointment along with slogans like classical Tamil and the buildup of the personality of the then Chief Minister as the savior of the Tamil people. This was a heady wine and the rest is history.

Now, the unimagined happened. An incumbent VC is arrested in daylight right in his office accepting bribe! Another two VCs are charge sheeted for hefty corruption. Right now, the state is grappling with other scandals. Unfortunately, the governor by all means, a highly respected person is caught in this whirlwind of false allegations by vested interests. Corruption in universities is now taken for granted. Even the venerable Visva Bharati was not spared. The President of India as Visitor signed the removal of the VC! What a shame!

In Karnataka, another drama is enacted. The VC and the CM don’t see eye to eye on the university affairs.

I had had some experiences  in the university issues when I was the Member of the Madras Legislative Council. It was I who moved a private member’s bill in 1972 in the Council and made a speech that led to the termination of the legendary figure of Dr. A.Laskshmanaswamy Mudaliar’s term as the VC of Madras University. A term that lasted unbroken for 27 years!

Also, I did bring another private member’s bill to set up a full-fledged Tamil University in 1972. It was later established, however, in a very different format and it remains a great disappointment. To reform the Indian universities and their ranking in the international scheme of things is an uphill task, it seems.

First, we have to tackle corruption in VC’s appointment. This step has been now taken by the TN Governor and this is welcome. We need more such efforts. Why even the government, both Central and the States have to take many other steps.

We are living in a democratic state and as such we need radical ideas to make university education as a force for pursuit of new knowledge. Private universities  are welcome and so too some specialized institutions. Both arts and liberal humanities need to be encouraged and so too arts and culture pursuits. Foreign students also need to be admitted so that new cross currents would lend some vigour and innovative spirit in our education system.

One more last most important point! The Macaulay Ghost has to be laid. India is an independent country with a long history. Great leaders had envisaged many ideas. Tagore, Gandhi and so many have  foreseen the country’s future. I have had thought about education all my years; Greece and Rome, I had visited and studied  their histories  in some depth. Great civilizations have to be brought in to build a wholesome education that would endow the individuals, the citizens and their world with the best in the world’s  past and the present.

A new committee?
Waste, waste, sheer waste! Of time and money and energies and our own imagination!

examsGovernment sets up a committee to probe the leaks! Yes, this is done. It is in our view a big waste! Waste of precious time, energy and our own imagination! The very structure of the highly centralized CBSE itself is the reason for this mistake. The only time we read about the HRD Minister and the School Secretary is only now after this leak has been blown up as if a big tragedy had hit the country. One of the most sober daily newspapers has reported the constitution of this committee as the front page Headlines news! A pity!

We have converted schools education into a highly priced commodity; the very commercialization process had reached unacceptable proportions. All the major daily newspaper now carries, almost routinely, full-page ads of the top tuition industry bodies. We restrain naming them for they are so harmful for the society to pronounce and repeat and recognize them.

In this mindless tuition industry, business has reached billion dollar valuations. This is not education, this is day time cheating, some of the best minds in education have become powerless. No one has enough courage to call this as a big cheat. This is not education; this is commerce of the worst kind, the debasement of the young minds.

The destruction of the teenage dreams and an idealism that must impart a new energy and a new sense of adventure, adventure of the young minds only can give a nation, the best that would transform our lives and inject the best of man’s history and human evolution. Now, to come to this very listless endeavour to reform our education, we suggest the following: Revamp our education system based on some historic basis.

What should constitute an ideal education? Idealism of the mind and its imaginative power. Take some of the great education systems. The Greek education, its public school system originates from Sparta and we generally associate such a system with Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s ‘The Ethics and Politics’. Of course Socrates’ questions as to what makes for good life are the starting point.

So too the others, Plato and Aristotle. Then comes the Roman law and government and the idea of Republic and governance by Senate and Council, the other office bearers. The rule of the people, rule by consensus, the idea of democracy and rule of law are all the origins we inherit in our own modern times. The British (public schools), French (lycee) and in a way, the German (gymnasium) school system has much to teach us.
Of course there were other streams.

We have to have freedoms to experiment and introduce innovations. The many educators whose individual visions are all to be studied! In India, we inherited the British, Macaulay system blindly, even after the independence. It is time, we recognize the historical inheritance. Let there be the old system. But we can distinguish the best from the ordinary, from the classs (though we might deny theoretically) and the mass basis of education.

Now, there are so many new schools, highly expensive and also introducing new innovations. The Baccalaureate is now fancied much. May be, we can introduce languages, other than English too to lessen the vernacular, mother tongue-based education that is much talked about but quietly given a burial! We are a nation of hypocritical people, right?

The point is there must be much freedom in education choices. Let us revive and strengthen the Indian Public Schools Conference and also introduce new subjects like sports and arts in their curriculum. So that this stream is there and valued for producing a leadership style education. Let there be a separate stream of experimental schools, if there are demands. The CBSE must be broken up into, say, four regional autonomous boards; some competition is good in ensuring best practices in school management and curriculum development. Each zone must be managed by a board of governors nominated by the HRD ministry. These are some of our suggestions.

No one wants to take up teaching!
Even the education institutions are not driven by any ideals!

eduIt is money, money, all the way! Society and politics is changing. So too the soaring ambitions of the new generation! Also, education today has changed. It is no more a field to seek knowledge and competence! It is the most incompetent field, we mean, the education field and where all and sundry, the lettered and more successfully, the unlettered, the milkman and the film villain and many others they defy descriptions, which are the most successful Chancellors and founders of large number of education institutions, education complexes in the country today.

Take a trip to Tamil Nadu; perhaps in other states too, you see the huge buildings, even for secondary schools that defy your imagination and intellect. So, when we read that just recently a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resources Department has expressed serious concern over the shortage of teaching staff and delays in recruitments in higher education.

Of course for outsiders this high sounding committee report might look very powerful. Unfortunately it is not so. Only those who know what is what in HRD ministry and how it is overburdened with issues, from CBSE leak of question papers to corruption in Vice-Chancellor appointments  to the VCs also indulging in large scale corruption!

Again in TN which of course has a high enrollment of students into higher education stream and also at the same time a number of VCs, old and new are caught in corruption trap and arrested and cooling their heels behind the bars! So, how to tackle in education some lowering of standards? Here we need inputs from experts. There are many such enlightened persons in the country. It is a question of calling such experts into action. We have to learn from other countries too.

Of course education in this generation has changed beyond recognition. There is any NUMBER OF NEW PROBLEMS in India. We seem to be tired of too many allegations of bad behavior on the part of society’s teachers and educators. Sexual harassment is a national shame. Also, there is a tendency towards centralization of authority in Delhi. Better learn to decentralize decision making. Even policy making can stop at the state capitals for a range of issues. The universities, more so the central universities, we all hoped, would set the trend for further progress. It seems now it is the reverse happening.

The very same Parliamentary Committee report gives out that the number of sanctioned posts in Central University is 16,600 out of which 9,521 are for assistant professors. But do you know how many are lying vacant? Here is the statistics.  Nearly one third, 5,928 posts in these universities are lying vacant! So to other categories in the professorships!

All these problems in education seem too big to be tackled by the minister or his officials. We need outside talent and imagination and also the new technologies to deliver learning courses online and on other channels. Distance education without corruption, open universities and also some emphasis on innovation and quality are also some of the considerations we have to keep in mind.