Imagine a learned, erudite man; a man who has lived and breathed words all his life.

This is a man has won accolades for his talent of stringing beautiful words evocatively; for communicating emotions not only with sensitivity but with aplomb. He is a poet par excellence, there is no doubt about it. He effortlessly enriches simple life experiences of ordinary people in a way that adds many  dimensions of perception to what was flat and two-dimensional.

He has been known to throw open unexpected windows into human souls with a confident and assured hand. He readily becomes the conduit between the inner secret world of humans and the vast enigmatic cosmos out there.  One can’t help but conclude that he has direct access to all the mysteries of the universe.

This man made a public statement on the very volatile social media, throwing many into a positive tizzy, including yours truly.

His comment was in deplorable taste on more than one count. Could those be the words of a man who has his finger on the pulse of the universe? Could he really be as ill-informed and narrow as to say what he said? How is it possible that a man of his learning would measure another person with such a petty, inadequate yardstick?

All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.

~Walter Scott

My son is an athlete. Whenever I pronounce those words, I take a deep breath. For I know what it means.

I know the many years of single-minded dedication,superhuman discipline and mind numbing effort it takes to train for a sport. He has been training for the past four years and his work is just begun. He  knows there are many more years of ever increasing grind ahead of him. He is all of fifteen years old; but the mammoth, steep road ahead leaves him undaunted and unshaken. With heart-wrenching cheerfulness he works out seven-eight hours everyday. He has completely given up the idea of having a normal life like other boys of his age enjoy.

In the years when other parents struggle to contain their teen’s obsession with social media, television and falling grades, I have to worry about him working too hard. My only arguments with him over the past four years have been over his workouts. I tell him to take it a little easy- to rest more; he refuses to. He pushes himself relentlessly.

Dedicating his life to his sport was his choice. He is superbly intelligent. His grades have always been top class. The back-breaking labor of a sportsman was not the life I envisaged for him. All my pleading did not budge him though. This is the life he has chosen. Or the life chose him. Whichever. I had no choice but to get out of his way.

I defy you to find any system of education in this world which teaches you such unwavering devotion. The arena teaches you things a classroom can never teach you. It pushes you beyond your limits. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a sport is excelled at with muscles alone. Victory in the sports arena is not a victory of your muscles- but that of your mind.

Victory in the sports arena is not a victory of your muscles-but that of your mind. Share on X

A sportsperson is not someone who has conquered only his physical self. All achievements of that stature are born of excruciating mental effort. Can you imagine what it takes to get up and start again when you miss your goal? And to do it again and again? Let me demonstrate what it takes.

The day my son participated in his first competitive event, his performance was hardly stellar. He was deeply disappointed, dejected and angry with himself. I thought he would be in the doldrums for at least a couple of days. I must confess that a part of me hoped that he would give up. There were so many other things he could do! For a boy of his talents, the world has a plethora of options.

The event was held in the morning. The same evening he went back to practice with a grim, set glint in his eyes. He was all of eleven years old that day. The next year, in the same event, he won a gold. The year after that he won the gold in two events and silver in one.

By June 2016, he wanted to give all his energy to swimming. We decided that school was making him waste precious hours which could be used better in training. I took him out of school. He had just passed out of eighth grade and was admitted to ninth grade.

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.

~ Robert Frost

I got him enrolled with National Institute for Open Schooling. He has chosen subjects he has never studied before- accountancy, psychology and business studies. He has also taken up Sanskrit and English as his languages for tenth grade.

He studies by himself- always has. Not for a day has he gone for extra tuition or coaching. I don’t remember any exam in which he scored less than 95%- with such minimal effort as to put me on tenterhooks. As I said, he is intelligent and has been blessed with a good memory. And I’m not saying this because he is my son.

At present he is training at a residential training facility in another town. It is his first time away from home. In addition for the grueling training, he also studies. In April, he will write four of his five papers  of tenth board. In October, he will write the last one. He will have cleared his tenth grade one year ahead of the rest of his classmates.

Imagine that after years of dedicating his life to his sport, he wins international accolades. On an aside, do you have any idea how resource strapped we are and how ill-equipped to compete internationally? Yet, lets us say God is kind to him, and grants him what he has dedicated his life to.

Imagine that he also manages to get a basic (read minimal) formal education simultaneously. Imagine that he establishes himself firmly in his sport- not as the best perhaps, but as a force to reckon with. He will surely have paid with sweat and blood to win the right to stand where he stands.

After all this, imagine that he dares to express his opinion about an issue. He holds a contrary viewpoint. His dissent crosses no boundaries; he does not accuse, attack or use bad language. He just says what he thinks in the most gentlemanly way possible.

The erudite poet takes exception to my son’s point of view. But he doesn’t bother to evaluate the merits or demerits of my son’s opinion. He is not open enough to consider other viewpoint. He does not ask my son why he said what he said. He does not only dismiss the contrary opinion of my son. He tries to wipe out the person of my son, ridicules all that my son has struggled all his life to achieve- and calls him hardly literate.

My question is, BY WHAT RIGHT?!!

Strange as it may seem, no amount of learning can cure stupidity, and formal education positively fortifies it.

~Stephen Vizinczey

Strange as it may seem, no amount of learning can cure stupidity, and formal education positively fortifies it. ~Stephen Vizinczey Share on X

Mr Javed Akhtar’s ideological stance can be different from that of those he has ridiculed. Like everyone else, he is welcome to support whoever he likes. He certainly has every right to disagree with Mr Virendra Sehwag, Mr Yogeshwar Dutt and Ms Babita Phogat. But he had no business calling any of them hardly literate. Even if they never attended a single day of school in their lives!

If my son decides not to pursue formal education any further, he would still not be hardly literate. Never EVER. Intelligence was never the slave of formal education. A man does not need a string of alphabets after his name to grant sanction to his life or to his own worthiness. He needs no degrees to give him permission to command respect.

Some of the wisest among us, the bravest, the most innovative and the most creative- in every possible field of human endeavor- were either wholly or partly unschooled. That did not stop them from enriching our lives with the exuberant and prodigious bounty of their spirit.

Humans don’t need the prop of formal education to understand how life works. The stature of a man is not a functions of the number of degrees he has acquired. I did not think Mr Akhtar, of all people, would use so petty a benchmark.

Wisdom flows through more channels than just that of the school system.

Hardly Literate