Friday, November 5, 2010


The other day I was watching an awards ceremony on television for young achievers. The anchor asked a prize recipient, “How do you manage to think out of the box?” The boy said, “I don’t think out of the box…. I think that there is no box.” And it was an ‘aha’… moment for me. I am glad someone realized the potential of this boy and encouraged him. Because the opposite is a norm in our society! We encourage mediocrity and shun intelligence.
By intelligence I am not referring to the ability to crunch numbers or crack the sacred IIT entrance exam. Or even to top the board exams. Going by that norm I must admit I am a total dud, with a capital D. Intelligence for me means tracking the unchartered territory, exploring the unexplored. To do something new...Like the famous title of Star Trek - To boldly go where no man has gone before.
To be honest, it begins right from pre-school and continues all through our college and work life.
“Papa, how does an aero plane fly?”
“Discovery channel dekha kar, usme sab batate hai”, retorts his father when his over-inquisitive son pesters Anil Kapoor in a Hindi movie.
You know what?
Often we force children to shut-up, even when they have genuine questions. “Bahut sawaal poochta hai.” Well that exactly is one of the major flaws of our education system. Of all the seductions of adolescence, the most appealing is its potential for challenge. Ask questions. Change and challenge are hardwired in their DNA.
Preoccupied with work, we lack the patience to satisfy an active perplexed mind. Frankly, often we do not have the right answers.
Do as you are told, and do not ask questions.
Why not?
The reason is that we are products of a system of patronage which nourishes the ‘follower’ mentality! It takes roots and entrenches deep in the crevices of our mind. The sarkaari establishment waters and feeds the attitude of blind following. While at work, it also means pleasing your boss.
“He does whatever is asked, no questions asked,” praises the boss.
Kyon panga lena? Apna kya jaata hai? Chalne do jo chal raha hai…..All mean one thing. Do not ask questions.
Another name for it is sycophancy. And in today’s world, sycophancy is indeed an imperative. It is the only weapon in the arsenal of an individual endlessly middling the path, finally landing on the muddle path! Needless to say that such an obedient worker is not a threat. Not for the boss! The ‘muddles’ take ultimate pleasure in pulling the ones down who have the guts to question the system, resigned as they are to their own fate.
And if you are the rare kind who has this “dimaagi kida” in your mind, then God help you. One thing is for sure. He will not get his promotions on time.
And why do you think the equation between the Congress President and our Prime Minister is working in perfect tandem? Because he is not a threat! Not for the madam. He will abdicate the throne the moment madam desires.
Not even for a minute am I implying that Dr Singh is not intelligent. In fact he is one of the most intellectual leaders we have. Unfortunately he has been trained not to ask pertinent questions… To blindly tow the party line!
So he stays the Prime Minister of a nation which does the same.
Keeps mum!
As a result mediocrity is main stream while excellence is a rivulet, struggling to find its course. This very attitude of ours warrants deep introspection. Now don’t say, “Leave it yaar,kyon baal ki khaal nikalte ho?’
Because often when we don’t have answers, we change the question. Isn’t it?


  1. Nice post Alka .. Its sad watchin what we promote in the name of system. An inquisitive and logical mind is always looked upon with derision. Hoping against hope though that the world is ruled by intelligence again.. not 'populism' and mediocrity .

  2. We do not let such minds bloom..Our rote system of learning nips them in the bud.

  3. “In the republic of mediocrity, genius is dangerous”
    And if the boss appreciates a "nod head" it's his loss after all..

    I couldn't help but think of Fountainhead while reading your post. Read the book??

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  5. Hi Alka, Congratulations on this thoughtful post ! At first when I read, "intelligence is shunned" I did not agree with it. Later when I read the remainder of the post.. I was so happy that you raised the question. Yes I agree that our society doe not encourage curiosity in children and they are often expected "to do as they are told". And I dislike it very much.

    This encourages more orthodoxy in the culture, people do not know why they are supposed to what they do !! And yes many times the older people do not have answers and therefore their embarrassment is the reason for their frustration.

  6. alka,
    Welcome to Bangalore.
    I loved your blog. I think I will hang around for a longer duration and read some posts :)

  7. Very well written! It needs a lot of courage to take questions, either because we feel our authority is being questioned or we do not have an answer. And of course, it needs a lot more courage to deviate from the beaten path.

  8. You are so right about the height of keeping mum being sycophancy. The chalta hai attitude is the result of indifference and apathy.

    Our school system should also change and no amount of syllabi change is going to usher that in. We need to shift from rote to reason in order to produce thinking children who will go on to question things as adults.

  9. You've asked the RIGHT question! On a whole, I'm sure the average Indian just "toes the line".

    Having said that, this situation is perfect for disruptive change. Everyone is on the same page when we say that "this is broken". There are more people willing (at least sitting in the background, nodding their heads away) to see a change.

    Innovation thrives in such an environment! The farther we are from a Utopian world, the more people would work towards making it better.

    Seriously, I'm just sitting and hoping for the next "disruptive innovation" from India!

  10. @wecognize...By shunning intelligence I was referring to the fact that people with ideas are seen as a threat at work places.And often they are not rewarded.

  11. @Mudassir...Thank u for stopping by.
    @Ravi...Absolutely agree!

  12. @Zephyr...Yes we have to do something about the rote system of learning. Make it more application based.
    @Mochachilo...Yes innovation suffers when we do not promote new ideas. Or question the existing system.

  13. Hey, read Startup Nation (about Israel). You'll surely enjoy it.. :)

  14. @ TD I am unable to get the link...Thanks for stopping by. Do send me the link for Startup Nation.

  15. I quite agree with your viewpoint Alka. Infact, I have come to believe that our current education system along with social constructs such as 'culture', 'discipline' or any concept of propriety for that matter, have only been put forth to justify the same principle- that of conformity. No one wants to be questioned and everyone else is equally uninterested in answering - works well :D. We as a nation , however, have evolved in the last 60 years and are in transitional phase. It is a phase when stomach is of utmost importance and mind takes a backseat. So, we adjust. But, I can say with utmost confidence that we will soon have people choosing for Enlish literature over Engineering and refusing to work on weekends for a few dollars more ! We just have to wait a little...

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