Overhaul Education: For a better & secure Tomorrow!

Speed is everything today. We are running a mad race today to catch something. We know that because we are told to catch that thing. But the sad part of the story is that we don’t know why we catch something particular but not something else. Metaphorically, the science has made our lives so simple that we want to complicate it now. We are hard pressed for time as we fail to secure time to do the basic things in life; like breath without fear, dream without anticipation and love with conditions. As Gandhiji said, ‘there is more to life than increasing its speed.’ Do we care to listen & understand it? Ailing South African revolutionary leader, Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The tragedy of life is that not many of us appreciate the value of education today and the very philosophy that education tries to imbibe into a person. The philosophy of reason and logic are the ulterior objectives of any education that help to quench the natural human inquisitiveness about the unknown. As we fail to understand the power that education has to bring changes in the world, do we see cracks in our social fabric that is crafted with innumerable years of human experience? I think we do.

A typical middle class family from relatively poorer eastern part of India lives a dream to catch something. The baby enters the earth with that very urge to catch something, he’s grown up in the cocoon of competition, he’s trained hard to fight to stay ahead in the competition, and finally he catches that something. But, all his life, he has known only one thing that to catch something! Once he gets his engineering or medical degree, because it is only thing to catch as rest are mere options, he turns to catch his next something, and then to next. He gets old catching some things, growing old accumulating something without really enjoying any of his prizes because he does not know how to relish them. He was never taught to.

The Indian education system remains largely the colonial heritage of past century. The legacy of joining, for lack of a proper word, the rat race and bestowing the winner with the trophy is essentially sums up our education system. It is classically based upon the carrot and stick policy. Never a sincere attempt was made to move over from this bequest but efforts were initiated & hastened by society to perpetuate it even further. For lack of a system to relinquish such obnoxious and obsolete education system, today we are facing a system of cut off in the recent Delhi University reaching 100%. The severance from the realities of society and time has made it an elite model, rather than an ideal universal model. The incapacity of the regional universities to learn new things, explore novel ideas, deliberate and imbibe them in their education process has led to their tragic decay in importance in the present education scenario. The intelligentsia of such universities forgot the very basic of education which Albert Einstein quotes as ‘the most important thing is not to stop questioning.’

Are we asking the right questions and making the right echoes in the society? The growing vacuum of brilliant minds moving away from the state should have been regarded as a state disaster. However, the way the educational bodies are encouraging and paving the way to excel in these rat races to secure an admission in the elite university, it is far from identify it as a crisis. Having lost its teeth to mismanagement, lethargy and archaic operation, then the Universities bask in glory of the past. They effortlessly forget to improve the education, relinquish colonial educational hangover and imbibe a tradition of inquisitiveness, invention and innovation in their academic lives. Sadly, this has not been forthcoming. There has been marked improvement in the infrastructure of education institutions in Assam today. The government on its part has made a remarkable thing by introducing Teachers Eligibility Test (TET) for recruitment of teachers. Many other innovative schemes like mid day meals, bio metric card system, digital classes & libraries, setting up of newer educational institutions etc are laudable and indeed a lot has been done to improve the infrastructure of the educational institutions.

But, did we miss the brief? Do we need physical assets or do we need human assets that result from a vibrant educational environment? As the Chief Minister set 2016 as the deadline to improve educational scenario, it will be interesting to know what we are trying to achieve here. Are we trying to regain the lost glory of the state language? Or, are we trying to find confidence in the student of a vernacular medium government secondary school? Does the creation of new universities in the recent past will bring about a sea change as teachers teach a subject? Or, do we recognize the increasingly diminishing importance of the state language and initiate steps to promote it, quite like the promotion of the national language? Can we bring back glory to our state level educational institutions so that students don’t need to go outside for study? Are we bold enough today to recognize that brain drain is huge issue for the future of our society? Do we appreciate the grave danger that future possesses of an intelligentsia less society if the educational exodus from the state is not checked? Can we expect our respected intelligentsia to stand up and vouch for a system that promotes inquisitiveness rather than simply ‘hoping for betterment of education?’ Are we ready to initiate a process of believing in education and its inherent philosophy to bring light in the dark?

If the government and we are talking about these questions and many others, then I think Chief Minister is thinking in the right direction. However, to bring such a metamorphosis in next three years looks impregnable, I think it is important for the polity and society to set realistic set of terms & a meaningful pursuit to achieve logical conclusion. The society is standing today at a peculiar crossing point. We are confused. We don’t know where we are, where are we travelling to and why are we travelling that way. People, who imposed faith in their land, society, culture and customs, are afraid to hold on to their ageless traditions as they are deceived politically and historically. The economic realities are pushing the society further to abandon them so that they can adapt to a certain short term arrangement that will get them economic rewards. But as human history tells us the real wealth is customs, traditions, social practices, languages and pride. Change remains the spice of life and education brings change in the society. An overhaul of education is the need of the hour and not to think of ways and means to increase marks of the students of the state so that they can get admission into the elite universities outside. Then, I hope to see cut off for subjects in our educational institutions scroll down in the ticker of at least our regional channels.

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FDI in retail & Assam!

1908 - 2006

Renowned American economist

Famous American statesman and economist, John Kenneth Galbraith once quoted that ‘in economics, it is a far, far wiser thing to be right than to be consistent.’ And, this exactly describes what is missing from the present economic condition of the state of Assam. We may crunch all the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) and draw a picture to suit the perception. But, will that be a right step to be counted as a wiser thing to do? Are we questioning the macro policy framework of the state and its course of direction? It is a crucial time for an honest self introspection given the scenario that the state is planning to open up to foreign direct investments in retail sector in to the state. As the debate on the ethics, sense and logic of FDI in retail rages on across the country, it is time to ask ourselves, the people of the state, to reason and debate about the implications of this scheme in the milieu of our economic reality.

The Economic Survey of Assam for year 2010-11 states that the state’s GSDP grew at 7.4% as against 8.1% in the previous year. AssamThe Survey further points out that the secondary sector is expected to remain low as against 2.9% in 2009-2010. The tertiary sector that comprises of ‘trade, hotels & restaurant, transport by other means & storage, real estate & business service and communications, banking & insurance, social & personal services’ is set to grow slower at 10% in 2010-11 as against 12.2% in 2009-2010. The primary sector was expected to grow faster at 6.1% in 2010-11 as against 4.2% of the previous year. Now, without further dissecting in to the definitions of the various sectors as identified by the state, we can summarily conclude that except for the primary sector, the other two important cogs of state income, secondary and tertiary sectors, are facing pressure to sustain a positively increasing rate of growth.

Public discourse

Public discourse

Now, there have been debates and deliberation on the model of growth for the state. As we can understand from the statistics, the largest chunk of the growth pie comes from the tertiary sector. If we dissect it, it will be clear that most of the items included in this segment are demand oriented. That means it grows when demand is there. However, to maintain a demand at the right spot, there is an enormous need to sustain a favourable supply side. For an equilibrium matrix of market stability, it is pertinent that the effective demand is maintained to ensure effective supply and vice-versa. The challenge that the Assam is facing today is it’s over dependence on demand side economics and much lesser importance towards supply side of economics. This puts the state economy in a skewed or lopsided form which is never ideal.

Production

Production

The supply of side of economics would mean creating assets in the economy that would generate income for the state. For example, the state production of oil and tea, state’s primary capital goods for decades, and its trade with rest of the world fetches the state income, making the state rich. However, of late, the demand side of the economy, for example real estate, hotels & restaurants, large retail outlets etc; has overshadowed it so much that we are now dependent heavily on import of goods & services. Since we have not created enough assets for meeting the demand of the local economy, the rising demand is met by produce from outside of the state.  Quintessentially, because of poor foresightedness or lethargy in drafting a policy model to diversify the economy, we remain vulnerable to outside support & trade and sitting at the risk of becoming a dumping zone.

FDI-Retail-IndiaWhy is this discussion necessary in the wake of the state government decision to open up to FDI in retail in the state? Because, FDI in retail in the state won’t set up manufacturing units that will produce products here, generating employment and sustained income stream for the state, but will bring it from outside and sell it here. In terms of employment, we will have a few persons buying and selling those products rather than a few farmers, engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs, economists, social scientists along with backward linkage employment working towards creation of wealth of the state. Due to their strong logistical prowess, it makes much more economic sense to this Global Multi Brand Retail Outlets (GMBRO). The proceeds of this will fly out of the country. FDI in retail is a liability of foreign exchange as the profit or returns it generates will have to be repatriated.  It’s simple business. You invest in something to earn returns. The arguments that such retail FDI will generate employment and wipe out middleman from the system is again questionable. The Indian retail market is estimated at US$ 400 billion that provides employment to 20 million people. For a GMBRO like Wal-Mart, the company turnover is US$410 billion but it employs 2.1 million people.

Market consolidation by GMBRO

Market consolidation by GMBRO

The concerns raised by many over the fate of small traders are well founded.  A New York Times report has exposed as how Wal-Mart has captured nearly 50% of Mexico’s retail market in a period of 10 years. The business model of these stores involve waging a price war, aggressive pricing to destroy the local market, at heavy losses for a few years. Once the local competition is annihilated, it will consolidate the market and bring in a monopolistic power ensuring predatory pricing. The present set of middlemen in the market will be replaced by a fancy and systematic set of well oiled professionals like quality controller, standardiser, certification agency, packaging consultants etc.

There are strong arguments that the primary producer and end users will benefit from such scheme. The agriculture in US got government support worth US$ 307 billion for next five years. Another US study has showed that the net income of farmers in US have come down from 70% in early 20th century to less than 4% in 2005. It is true that these GMBRO will work on a razor sharp pricing model, essentially basing their pricing on their sophisticated and supra efficient logistics management. However, the argument that the agriculture will be standardized with such logistical management minimizing the loss of perishable goods and bring in efficiency in crop management.

The point where it fails to make an impression is the fact that FDI in storage is already allowed and hardly any foreign money has come in. This also validates the fact that technology benefit that is hoped out of this policy is highly susceptible. What is interesting is that every minute, a farmer in Europe quits farming. It is quite well known that some of the biggest GMBRO like Tesco from UK, Carrefour from France and Metro from Germany etc. have strong presence in the European continent. Ironically, Wal-Mart struggled recently to open up its store in Brooklyn, New York in USA due to popular protest against setting up such shop.

Protesters in New York take to the streets against  US retail giant Walmart

Protesters in New York take to the streets against US retail giant Walmart

The inflation will be checked, it has been argued, if FDI in retail is allowed. In the short run, yes, they will go for aggressive pricing to kill the local competition. It may incur huge losses in the process. However, why would a commercial enterprise incur such huge losses? The answer lies in their model whereby they will start a monopolistic predatory pricing in the long run. It will slowly leech from its customers which will have no other stores to turn to.

FDI in Retail

FDI in Retail

A kind of veiled Monopoly will be in place and monopoly by a commercial enterprise is never a good idea. Similarly, these GMBROs will weed out smaller buyers of agricultural produce from buying from the farmers initially. Once the network is established, they will act as a Monopsony (a market situation of one buyer against many sellers) and the situation is not ideal for sellers. With such powers, the sellers will lose their bargaining power in front of their monopsonist.

Market Consolidation

Market Consolidation

If they remain true to their business model that they have followed in other parts of the world, then the state of economy of Assam may stand vulnerable given the fact that we are not a strong supply economy. What essentially it means, that they will bring in goods from cheaper destination with a set logistical management process like China; sell it here, earn their money, pay up to keep the Chinese industries running, rake in the profit to the coffers of these GMBRO.  Recently, a British Member of Parliament, David Amess was quoted in the media, to have said, FDI in retail “literally change the fabric of life in India.”

Assam is one of the poorest states in the country.

Out of cash!?

Out of cash!?

The performance of indicators of agriculture and allied sectors as well as manufacturing sectors has been dismal when compared to other developing states from eastern India like Bihar, Chattisgarh or Jharkhand. According to Planning Commission data, growth rate of GSDP in agriculture sector for 2005-06 to 2011-12 for Assam is 3.99% as against 17.07% in Bihar, 10.85% in Mizoram, 9.55% in Arunachal Pradesh, 8.69% in Chattisgarh and 8.94% in Jharkhand. Similarly, the growth rate of GSDP of Assam in Industry sector for 2005-06 to 2011-12 stood at 2.67% as against 16.73% in Bihar, 13.07% in Mizoram, 10.14% in Arunachal Pradesh and 9.37% in Chhattisgarh. Assam has only edged Jharkhand in this segment at 0.69%. The states that are opposing FDI in retail are some of the best growing states in the country like Bihar, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka among others.

FDI in Retail: Debate is on

Rework economic model of Assam

Rework economic model of Assam

Assam needs a serious re-look at its economic model of growth. It should understand its long term implication of a certain policy before jumping guns to join the bandwagon. It has been long time when we took serious steps to set up new industries to prop up the supply side. The aging tea industry, which is struggling with flagging global market, and a state run hugely loss making oil industry are the only two core sectors. We have missed the IT revolution due to our frail education system at that time, we missed auto revolution, we missed green revolution, we missed white revolution, and we missed opportunities to augment other manufacturing or service sector growth stories. And, this has impacted immensely on our economy.

Infrastructure Development

Infrastructure Development

Right now, the focus of the government should be to create assets like roads, power projects, accelerating on the strong points and build capacity on the weaker points of the economic assets. The initial boost to this has to come from the government and once some capability is established, the private sector investments will follow. History is a great teacher and, if we care, we must learn from it. Industrial revolutions of various nations used the same model. They developed their resources by mobilizing resources, invested in the technological advancement & application and then strategizing their management practice for maximum benefit with active government support. For example, England, during it’s hey days, developed its industrial base, e.g. textiles of Manchester, captured markets like colonies in India and America, and then established trade with them without letting the domestic industries to grow.

By allowing GMBROs in poor states like Assam, the state is allowing foreign shops to come to reap profits and take it back, crush any local entrepreneurial venture and killing the local industry, undermining the aspirations of local sons & daughters of the soils to think beyond a 9 to 6 run-of-the-mill job, and exposing our economic sovereignty to a foreign commercial entity, and thinking aloud, that may conjure to lurk for political mileage and sovereignty eventually. One cannot rule out as history has examples that are not that old to forget. Whither Assam thinks beyond and ahead, and dare to dream more, it should not brush aside such stark objections. It should rather concentrate on building competency and muscle to outwit the global competition by not becoming a dumping ground and bring in consistency between supply side and demand side of the economy.

(The article was published in The Assam Tribune on 24th December, 2012. Please visit this link to view the published work: http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/showpage.asp?id=dec2412%2C6%2C420%2C111%2C993%2C933)

FDI in retail & Assam: Published in The Assam Tribune on 24th December, 2012

FDI in retail & Assam: Published in The Assam Tribune on 24th December, 2012

 

Redefining Moment with Cinema

Cinema has been an important instrument of personal growth and challenges. I always try to face a situation and interpret as how would I react to a certain peculiar situation. Life is a big teacher and cinema is a lesson that teaches us many things in life. Joy, sorrow, introspection, identity, journey are some of the most important aspects that has stirred me. The recent challenges in my life, an emotional struggle with life and within myself, have questions. The answers to these questions are easy to come by if you accept it and harder if you decide not to accept the truth and rather fight a myth.

Last fortnight, I had the privilege to watch a few beautiful movies that stirred my soul, and asked me tough questions. Osian Cine Fan Festival held recently at Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi provided a perfect escape sojourn from the humdrum mayhem of a mundane metro life. It exposed my inabilities, my inexperience,  my myths and truths that I decide not to embrace. I was numb as I sit back today and try to unlearn many things. Life throws whatever comes its way and we are sometimes clueless as how we would react to it. Of course, we are good in ‘celebrating’ happiness, joy and festival. But, are we really celebrating? We often lament that we are naive when it comes to sorrow, pain and myths. Are we stepping a step at a time?

Life is short and it’s full of spectacle, both dark and light. Sometimes, we know exactly what we need to do to live more and die a little less. Les Miscreant e (The Miscreants) taught me that life may have challenges and threats, if you consider death as a threat, but you never stop breathing. This movie challenged the methodology of violent protest as against the sustenance of a cultural protest. The latter method is more critical in bringing changes where it matters: within one inner self. It makes one think as why is he doing it. The sound of drums of echoes louder than the sounds of gun shots as the rhythm is closer to the heart. Its not about the cultural resistance that we face or impose, as a social entity or being part of a ‘responsible society,’ but its about seeing the rational behind a particular voice, understanding the tone and replying in a language which is lasting, impressive and heart hitting, if not changing at least.

And, as we breath, we forgets to respect it. The freshness in a breath is something going elusive. We talk about it, we write about it but we do little about it. Its how you react rather than how you want others to react. We live and we eat but we litter too. That is a tragedy that is slowly but very stealthily seeping into our daily lives.  “The Orange Suit”  is an Iranian film that wants to instill that sense of cleanliness in your lives, both internally and externally, as well as clean up the litters that makes one’s lives horrific. It questioned me: why do I not clean up myself; i.e. spiritually? How can I achieve inner peace if there is dirt in me? And, if you keep your surrounding environment clean, it helps one to enjoy positive energy and how it can help one to improve one’s solitary journey onto life. The film challenged the protagonist and showed how his unanswered, or questions which he did not face, were answered when he tried to find answers of his relation with his son and wife.

The voice may be small but cinematic expression makes sure that it is being heard in the right spirit. As the questions with regard to the identity of the feature film “As the river flows”  remains unanswered, I, as spectator, don’t have any inhibition in discovering that this is indeed an Assamese movie. The expression of an Assamese born and raised during the troubled years are said through this movie. This is what I wanted to tell and this is what any other rational and humane person from the land of Brahmaputra will tell you. The story revolves around a mysterious disappearance of a social activist and a friend’s effort, through his journalistic ethics, to find answers. His journey led him to believe in many questions rather than as many or far lesser answers. He found answers in many questions that remains unanswered. The love and hate relationship, the chicken and egg story, the beauty of nature and ugliness of society, the magic of culture and evil of distrust runs deep. And, one is never alone. Everyone is accompanied by a painful, often bloody, history with an urge to make amends that went awfully weird, wrong and wrestling between urge for change and power. This is indeed put up the question that we have been facing since a long time now and the search for an answer remains elusive.

To remain a living creature from a town by the bank of the Brahmaputra, the Local Kung Fu  is a piece of cinema that deserves a special mention. Carved out of a mere budget of INR 95 K only, this movie binds the influence of martial art comedy movies of Jackie Chan and combines it with some brilliant screenplay with awesome comic timing based on typical Guwahati city life and customs. What makes this cinema beautiful (apart from wonderfully comic scenes & timings) that it instills a sense of accomplishment by someone with limited resources and unlimited dreams. It is an effort that needs to be applauded much more than any other cinema because it gives inspiration to people who never thought that they want to do something like a cinema. It inspired critics to laud the effort put in creating such a wonderful cinema. It inspired me to try my Nikon D31oo to make a short 5 to 10 minute cinema. Experimenting with novetly! It inspired me to try a new thing in life, an unknown thing! Thanks Kenny for crafting such a wonderful cinema.

At this festival, we celebrate life, or at least its varied shadows. I saw the ruthlessness of life. The violent tragedy that may dawn upon someone, anyone. In a land where violence and terrorism goes hand in hand, the value of human life may be cheap. But, is the value of people missing high? In ‘The Repentant,’ a person deserts his terrorist group and joins back his family. He left it because of the death that loomed large following bombing in his hideout and depleted morale of the group. He deserts and come back to his home. But, “Karma” follows him and he has to fled to the town. There he experienced something that he never did. He gets attracted to the smaller beauties of life. But that was to end when his past life came back to haunt him once again. He met a pharmacist. It was a drama about how his information about his daughter would bring together three estranged characters together on a road trip right down to the heart of the disturbed land. I had goosebumps when the Mother cried and tried to wake her daughter who has been sleeping since five years. The Repentant knew where she was sleeping.

“Music makes the people come together”, Madonna once sang. This is the magic wand that would bind people who would love it together without adhering to political differences, religious differences, geographical differences or even age differences. During a brilliantly poignant musical documentary “El Gusto,” I felt why this is the biggest gift of god. Life is no more painful when you pick up your instrument of music and play it or listen to it. All your pains of yesteryear and many years, will die down and you will walk back to the time when it was just absolutely beautiful. All friends come together and sing a song for themselves, for their own selfish happiness. And, it works wonders. A beautifully shot and documented film that started with a Mirror. And, a mirror it was that would reflect the various faces of a society that was once together by the sole power of music. The music is known as “El Gusto.”

And, music that still rules this magnificent, rustic, raw cinema from Anurag Kashyap. It may have got the popular imagination but its worth its hype. For a hall that is packed with people, who were occupying anything that can be used to rest their bums and watch a non stop five and half hours of cinematic excellence from Bollywood from a long time. The dialogues, the pangs, the violence, the romance, the revenge, the gorgeous women, the superb actors, and a superb background made “Gangs of Wasseypur I & II”  just a superb experience. So much so that I was reluctant to spoil the mood of our very own “Tony Montana” of Scarface fame in this movie. The director also ensured that the red is applied gorgeously in the entire scheme of things. And, what a bloody messy affair it was! Faizal Khan (like Tony Montana in Scarface) would be drowned in marijuana but remain in perfect control about the gang politics. He remained fateful to his beloved and they remain in love as expressed by their gold rimmed aviators. The climax was expected but the angst of the revenge and gravity of the scene can only match the ferocity with which Tony Montana fought and died. Of course, Faizal did not die then and there. But, you never know! Nothing is ‘Definite!’  Does he carry on Sardar Khan’s honour forward? Well, of course, he does but life has its own plans. Avenging pride is one of them, and Faisal does that perfectly. Sardar Khan will be ‘Definite’ly be proud of Faisal.

Two movies that made me sit up and stand were Rituporno’s “Chitrangada” and Asish Shukla’s “Prague.” Both of them asked questions. As I ask myself, who am I, why am I, and why am I. These are some basic questions that we always ask and we wonder if we are doing right or wrong or are we just playing alike because others are. Are we really interested to know why we are doing something? Most of the time, we dont know. Chitrangada is inspired by the play with the same title written by Rabindranath Tagore and the director’s modern interpretation about it. It questions about complex emotional stress and how one’s own interests, desires and hopes are shaped because of some other exogenous factors. Why do we want to change for someone else when you really do not want to? Are we remain happy after going through such a change? Or, are we going to go back to listen to our own heart rather than someone’s else. Its a slow process of establishing the fact that not everything is alright when you are only listening to yourself. Or, you may be inspired by your situations. Life is complex but the basic idea is to keep walking. Talking to oneself, arguing with your alter ego and deliberate on something that you may or may not like are things that we all undergo. This cinematic expressions exposes our innate desires and how we struggle to keep pace with them. The plot of the film is based upon two persons in love but this should not essentially be locked in that premise. The idea is universal and every person with a brain that works right face these dilemmas in their life.

“Prague” is not just a wonderful city to live and breath but its also the name of the movie that enthralled both audience as well as critics alike. Its an interesting psychedelic struggle where a person wants to destroy something which he appreciates as much. Its a soul stirring and heart wrenching cinema that challenges the dark side in us and how we love to become evil even when we are in love. It tries to discover the darkest corners of one’s heart, suffocate your soul to find out who you really are, preserve your jealousy and kill your suspicion. And, you remain in romance with your dead. This is pure cinematic delight when it comes to experimental cinema in India. This is surely a notch above “No Smoking” or “Aks.” Go for it if you want to challenge yourself and want to know your darkside and be in love with your dead.