Hardly Literate

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. Click To Tweet

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 Click To Tweet

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

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13 thoughts on “Hardly Literate”

  1. I’d say that Shakuntala Devi quote really sums it all up. I remember having this discussion with you last year when you mentioned about your son. And I’m proud of you for letting him pursue the sport that his passion lies in.
    As for Akhtar saab, the less said the better. That was very much below the belt, in my humble opinion.

    1. Yes. The Shakuntala Devi quotes totally sums it up. I remember telling you about the son quitting school. And man, is he happy!
      Mr Akhtar has totally lost the plot on this one I guess.

  2. Did that man really say that? I have lost even the little respect I had for him with that!

    This post has been torn out of your heart and I can see it still bleeding. So before I proceed further, here is a big hug.

    For all his scholarship, this man doesn’t know what anyone with half a brain would know – that sports is not all brawn. Even in the times when hi-tech wizardry didn’t help athletes and sportspeople. For, as you rightly pointed out, the mind plays a very large part in the success and even emerging out of failures as your son has done time and again to become stronger – as a person, as an athlete. The biggest irony is that had the characters in this whole sordid episode had changed places, the whole social media would have ‘stood up’ with him and perhaps even played the minority card!

    Wish your talented and determined young son all the best in his chosen field so that one day he may compete in the international arena. Let us not say it is a hypothetical scenario. No way!

    1. Oh Zephyr! You’ve totally floored me. Your love and affections has made me tear up. Thank you!

      You know me so well. Indeed this post has come tearing out of my heart. Am I to tell my son one day that the world will look down upon his penance and call him hardly literate!?
      Yes that man really said it. Shame on him for saying something as petty as that. I can’t believe I ever respected the man! I will never forget this.

      I guess social media has its benefits. You see people sans their tinsel masks. And you see the ugliness behind those masks in all its putrid reality.

  3. You’ve told me about your son and I’m so proud of him and you. I can just imagine that in a country obsessed with marks and degrees how difficult it must be to pursue sports full time. I have nothing but the highest regards for any sportsman. As for Javed Akhtad’s remark, it just shows how when people react without thinking, they put their foot in the mouth. These days, people can’t seem to disagree in a civil manner and end up mocking or insulting. Really sad coming from a person of his stature. I read that he took back his remark albeit his reputation had been dented. What to say, sometimes we educated elites can be such total jerks.

    Your pain and pride came out aptly, Dags. Hugs.

    1. Rachna, when I went to apply for his transfer certificate at the school, his principal insisted on speaking to me. If the vehemence of her words could be converted to a scale of war, what followed in her hour long harangue would be a full out bloody war. She was so ANGRY with me. She was kind enough to tell me what a pathetic parent I was to so play with the future of my child. I can confidently say this without affectation that had it been someone else- not as obdurate as I can be- they would have buckled under the onslaught. She spoke with power and conviction. She rose to heights of eloquence I never suspected in her. She was in a fit of passion.

      But so was. Where she raged, however, I remained placid. That was the only difference.

      As for the foot and mouth… yeah, a dismaying number of public figures have taken to ‘shoot first and ask questions later’. By then, of course, the damage is already done.
      Hugs and more hugs to you! Thank you!

  4. I think you have said it all, and all the comments so far have already added anything I might have said. As Zephyr said, this post has come straight out of your heart (not that your other writings aren’t that, but this one especially is PURE heart).

    I just couldn’t believe that that fellow could say such a thing. But to be very honest I never really valued him much as a poet, he seemed quite surfacial (or inauthentic) to me as a writer except in some of his lyrics I had felt something. So in a way it wasn’t that surprising that he would fall to such a low level, all because of his political opposition (or rather hatred?) for a certain man and a party! What a fall! That’s the best part about Modi era – all the masks of these so-called literati, elite type folks are gone. They are standing in their disgusting nakedness.

    You already know how I feel about the choices you and your champion son have made, so I will not say anything more here. But I will only add that I am so proud to call you my dear friend 🙂 All the best to the champ!

    1. You are absolutely right when you say this is the advantage of our current times that people’s masks are slipping. Part of it is because of the political climate, but it is also because of social media’s penetration. Earlier, we did not get to know the celebrities so ‘up close and personal’. When they were asked for comments- if at all- they have time to school themselves to utter meaningless platitudes. They did not offend us with their real opinion and we were free to think well of them.
      With social media, things have become a little sticky for them. Unfortunately for them and us, they haven’t yet learned to keep their garrulity in check. I suppose they will learn soon enough.

  5. I agree with all your points. Mr. Akhtar’s opinion was shameful and unwarranted. You have summed up my thoughts on the issue perfectly and I don’t think I have much to add. On other news, you should be extremely proud of your son. I hope he scales new heights each day of his life.

  6. What? He said that? Seriously a man whose life is full of words utter utterly meaningless words? Crap. And how can one measure the other’s intellect with the amount of education and degrees one receives? These days I am losing respect for all the highly intellect people who are extremely arrogant in nature. For me, you are a human being first. If you are not humane in your behavior and attitude, your brilliance is not going to charm me anymore.
    And your son, I must say, I have fallen in love with the young man and his mom all the more. You never told me you had a sports champion in making 🙂 I never asked may be. I should share this story with S today. He loves kids who are into sports and those that sweat. I wish him all the very best in everything he does and waiting to see the celebrity mama in coming years 🙂 Hugs, di.

    1. Yes he said that. As you said, I too am fast losing respect for icons. Social Media has shown that all of them have ugly, calloused feet of clay. Unfortunately for them and us, they don’t know how to keep their unsanitary traps shut so that we may continue to delude ourselves of their intelligence.

      My son would be pretty thrilled to know you appreciate his effort. I don’t know about him being a champ… but he is working hard. That’s what matters the most.

      Hugs sweetheart! <3

  7. Pingback: Parenting: Building Up Your Child | Serenely Rapt

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