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On Hypocrisy, Hollowness and IITs

June 13, 2012

It is the task of a lifetime. It used to be called education once upon a time.

The following article is written by Devdas Menon (Prof. at IIT Madras)

This article (which i wrote many years ago) may be of interest to you. I was reminded of it, while responding to many emails from old IITM students concerned about the proposed changes to JEE and the possible loss of a self-image to which many have a strong emotional investment…

We are the hollow men,
We are the stuffed men,
Leaning together,
Headpiece filled with straw.

– T S Eliot

Nobody likes to be called a hypocrite. Yet, nearly everybody is one. No doubt, some are less hypocritical than others. But there is nobody, to the best of my knowledge, who is entirely free from hypocrisy. Perhaps, to be hypocritical is human.

A hypocrite is one who projects a false self-image. One pretends to be someone one, in fact, is not. Initially, this is for the consumption of others. But sure enough, and soon enough, one is oneself consumed by it. To be ‘good’ (?) at hypocrisy, one has to be a skilful liar, and for this reason, politicians qualify eminently as good hypocrites. We love to condemn the species of politicians because they not only lie so glibly, but get away with so much power and loot in the bargain.

In our heart of hearts, however, I suspect that we are actually envious of these politicians (and all other wealthy/powerful people). Yet, we condemn them readily. That is our brand of hypocrisy. If, by some chance, we are offered a taste of their power and wealth, surely we would throw our injured morality to the winds, jump on to their bandwagon, and even pronounce that it is all for the good of the people!

***

The denial of our hypocrisy makes us hollow. Hollowness, in this context, is the gap between what we are and what we think we are. It is difficult for us to face the reality of our hollowness, because we genuinely believe that we are good and noble. We point at our good work, our accomplishments, our charity and whatnot, as solid evidence of our good character.

Men of wisdom such as Socrates have identified the disease of hollowness as the most dangerous threat to education. It is perhaps for this reason that the dictum of Socrates, Know thyself, was specifically chosen to be the inscription on the portals of the Parthenon, the Greek Temple of Wisdom. It is as valid today as in his time.

Hypocrisy, to some extent, is inescapable, given the requirements of a civilised society. For example, we are expected to smile and say silly things like Good morning! or Excuse me!, even when we are least inclined to feel pleased or apologetic. But this is a trivial kind of hypocrisy — indeed, a conventional necessity — to facilitate cordial human interaction. This is an example of a situation where we are being hypocritical (out of necessity), but we are not being hollow.

The issue of hollowness arises only when we miss the fact that we are practising hypocrisy — as, for example, when we smile sweetly at certain individuals, and later stab them gleefully behind their backs. Many of us engage in this practice as a daily habit, and certainly derive much malicious pleasure out of it. But if we catch our enemies at the same game against us, we would not hesitate to condemn them, as righteously as possible.

We do not dare admit to any charge of hypocrisy, and we can invent excellent reasons in our defence. By systematically deluding ourselves on a daily basis, we become more and more hollow. And so, a person who justifies the act of accepting a hundred-rupee bribe today will have no qualms in rationalising the acceptance of a thousand rupees tomorrow, and no doubt, demanding ten thousand rupees the day after. It seems to be a coming of age — from reluctant acceptance to uncompromising demand.

With continued practice, we become adept at the art of deceiving ourselves, and of skilfully suppressing what remains of our chastising conscience. To be forewarned about this is, hopefully, to be forearmed.

***

We all crave respectability, and are so led to doing things that other people deem to be important. Thus, everybody wants to do the same thing at the same time, and this results in heavy competition. In this mad rush to keep ahead of the crowd, we have neither the time nor the inclination to pause and question: whither and wherefore?

Socrates may have taught Know thyself, but the only thing we know for sure is that we had better hurry, lest we should miss the bus. We do not bother to know who we are, or what we really wish to do in life. It is easier and safer to join the rat race.

Thus, the individual is sacrificed at the altar of society.

***

We folks at IIT (or NIT) have the good fortune of being rated highly respectable. This is so because Engineering at IIT is the Paradise that all sensible young people in India are expected to yearn for, and we have gained admittance to that Promised Land. The moment one mentions that one is from an IIT, people (at any rate, sensible people) are instantly impressed. Sometimes they ask, Isn’t it very difficult to get admission there? to confirm that their judgement is not in error. We wait patiently for them to add, You must be a real genius!

With regard to choosing the field of engineering, how fortunate we are to have everything so well laid out and pre-decided for us. To be intelligent, and not aspire for Computer Science as our first choice — surely, that would be downright stupidity, if not a cardinal sin! So, we all claim to have an inherent liking for this stream, compared to all others (which we know next-to-nothing about at the time of admission). It pays to cultivate hollowness early in life.

During our schooldays (and sometimes, till late in life), it is our parents’ prerogative to decide what we ought to like and dislike. From an early age, they indoctrinate us into believing that the greatest virtue in life lies in scoring marks and passing entrance exams. What a shame it would be to the entire family, if we were to perform poorly, and if the neighbour makes it through JEE, while we miss the bus. Nobody bothers about the joys of childhood and the pleasures of learning for fun, which we miss in our single-minded obsessive pursuit.

It’s a miracle when we find that we have succeeded at JEE, and that too without going completely crazy! Not everybody gets Computer Science, of course, but we are consoled when we are told: It doesn’t matter what you study, as long as it is at the IIT; it’s the brand value that counts. When we dutifully enter the portals of IIT, our parents are delighted by their success. We have served well as instruments to gratify their desires. Of course, they claim that it is all for our welfare. And they genuinely believe this, and so do we.

The disease of hollowness is, for most, chronically incurable.

***

When we enter IIT, we notice many familiar faces from our concentration camps (JEE coaching centres). Seeing is believing: the brightest brains of India are indeed concentrated at Hyderabad and Kota!

Breathless and eager to experience the Paradise we have heard so much about, we sit in rapt attention inside the classrooms, anxious to pick up pearls of wisdom. But gradually it dawns on us that something has gone wrong somewhere. Bravely, we brush aside our apprehensions as mere figments of imagination. In our weak moments, however, we are ashamed to hear the groaning in our hearts: Hell! This is Engineering?

But we dare not speak aloud, even to our friends. Instead, we smile and pretend that everything is as it should be. Our job is to get on with the important business of scoring marks; everything else is secondary. During the class hours we are bombarded with all kinds of information, all of which must be surely very important. We slog through innumerable quizzes, assignments and whatnot. It is sheer wonder that we survive without losing our sanity.

We get hardened (immunised?) by the time we enter our second year. We learn, thanks to our seniors, all the tricks of the trade required to survive and to beat the system. A great secret is revealed to us: it is not necessary to understand the subject in order to pass or even score well in the examination! Moreover, even those few who struggle to gain fundamental understanding often end up with poor scores. We excel in the art of copying assignments, lab records, and even test papers. However, in spite of all this, some of us end up failing in a few courses. Fortunately, IIT is kind enough to promote us to the next semester. We lose interest in studies, and the teachers all know it. However, we are not too disturbed. It does not matter, because everybody knows that ours is a world-class institution.

Once in a while, we hear excited announcements about IIT Madras being ranked third or so in some Asian journal. Some less informed people say that we are ranked fiftieth or sixtieth in the world. While we may be willing to concede a higher status to MIT or Stanford, we have some difficulty in extending this generosity to other technical institutions in India. India Today publishes regularly a list of the top ten engineering colleges in the country, and when we find IIT Madras ranked fourth or fifth, we feel sad that the public at large has been so cruelly misinformed.

We drift from semester to semester — in blissful ignorance. We undergo numerous courses, all supposedly very important. We get to see all kinds of teachers — the good, the bad and the ugly. The good ones are too sincere and make us feel guilty of our own insincerity. The bad ones mumble something in the class, take attendance and run away. The ugly ones like to bully us and compel us to submit all kinds of stupid assignments. Most of us never stand up and ask questions in any class, because we may end up looking like the idiots we suspect we are. This can be acutely embarrassing, especially if it is a mixed class, with the other sex around. All said and done, we try to have a good time in the class, giggling and fooling around. The teachers pretend they do not see us play.

After all this turmoil and confusion, it is an immense relief to get back home at the end of every semester, and to hear the neighbours whisper, He’s studying at IIT. He must be really brilliant! It is like the sound of sweet music. We wish we could have it replayed (at higher volume) — again and again!

***

In our fourth year, new passions enter our lives: applying to U.S. universities and campus placements. We talk to one another knowledgeably about the universities and their rankings, about plum jobs in the offing, and multinational corporations like Lime Group, Lehmann Brothers, CapitalOne and Citicorp. We dream of beaches (and other pleasant things) waiting for us in California, air-conditioned offices (with plush wall-to-wall carpeting), attractive secretaries, mind-boggling salaries, chauffeur-driven cars…

We attend various interviews and group discussions, hoping that we are not asked too many technical questions. (It is comforting to note that even the great Bill Gates did not fare too well in that department, during his college days.) It is such a big relief to know that most employers assume that we are geniuses in our fields of specialisation because we are from IIT. We also learn the art of confidently bluffing our way through inconvenient questions.

Sooner or later, we get through somehow, and in the process, discover a mind-boggling secret: most jobs have little to do with engineering! You do not need engineering to work on banking software, or sell soaps or even computers. Yet, it has become fashionable for companies to recruit engineers to serve as their programmers and salesmen, with promises of careers in information technology and marketing management. All money-making roads seem to lead to software and management. Some of us take a minor detour through U.S. universities before landing up in software and management. After all that frenzy and hype about getting through the most difficult exam in the world (JEE) to study engineering, it’s surprising to discover that just a handful stays back in core engineering.

But, mercifully, nobody raises any questions, and a great myth is skilfully preserved.

***

When we join the universities and companies that have recruited us, we are breathless and eager to experience the Paradise we have heard so much about… Yet another (familiar) phase in our hollow lives begins…

We run around hither and thither, meeting deadlines and targets, and trying to impress our boss. Quickly, we learn the tricks of the new trade, hop from one job to a more paying one, pull the right strings, and butter the right people on their right side. We may not have formally studied the management sciences, but our native IIT intelligence (cleverness?) helps us get around with remarkable success.

Success is all that matters. There may be occasional feelings of guilt at having migrated from engineering and from India in the pursuit of good fortune, and at not following Gandhian ideals, or even Nehruvian ideals for IITians. But our successful seniors have set wonderful examples in proving that it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you make it to the Who’s Who. No recognition, however, is sweeter than the one you get from back home. In a single stroke, all feelings of guilt get wiped away, when you win a distinguished alumnus award from IIT, in recognition of a successful career you had made in selling insurance in the West. The wonderful education at IIT is what paved the launching pad to your success.

In the meantime, we get married — after much skilful negotiation — preferably, to other respectable professionals like ourselves. Then, we enjoy life in all its fullness (and hollowness), and live happily ever after! We reproduce miniature versions of ourselves, and we promptly proceed to program them along ‘respectable’ lines. We want them to become even more respectable professionals than ourselves. Of course, it is all for their welfare! And, no doubt, also for the development of our society!

Thus, history repeats itself.

And so does hollowness.

***

This story has drawn to an end. Is it a comedy? Or, is it a tragedy? We are left somewhat confused and hurt by this playfully provocative story. Is there a moral to the story?

We may concede that we are hollow men (and women). But what are we supposed to do?

Perhaps,

to pause and find out what we really want in life,
to discern what is of enduring value,
to accept the harsh truths about ourselves,
to feel the pain of dishonesty,
to allow ourselves to be authentic,
to strive to remain on the true but difficult path,
to listen to the music of our soul, and
to fill the hollowness with the fullness of our real selves.

It is the task of a lifetime. It used to be called education once upon a time.

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55 Comments leave one →
  1. anil permalink
    June 13, 2012 10:34

    nice one

    Like

  2. Sudha permalink
    June 13, 2012 12:43

    Amazing article and what a lovely line – It is the task of a lifetime. It used to be called education once upon a time.

    Like

  3. Chetan permalink
    June 13, 2012 12:56

    very truthful and insightful article.

    Like

  4. Pranoy permalink
    June 13, 2012 13:02

    Truly wonderful write-up. What he says goes beyond IITs, IIMs and all elite, non-elite schools, back to what all the wise people have ever said, back to what education really means, could really mean. Lovely read!!

    Like

  5. June 13, 2012 14:26

    Dear Dr. Menon,
    I’m sorry but it’s been difficult for me to refer to any IIT-M prof. as Sir, ever since that mail chain questioning the students’ culture and insulting our parents was leaked.

    Anyhow, just like it is fashionable to hire IITians to sell soaps, it is equally fashionable to criticise the set-up. Well, I pose but a very simple question. Suppose a student, exceptionally smart and hard-working but has a bad handwriting, decides to NOT choose PCM or go to those “concentration camp”, what other choice does he/she have? Sure we could name SRCC or St. Stephen’s but someone with a handwriting like mine, cannot hope to score more than 80% in boards.

    Interests and passions all take a back seat when you see you parents sacrificing something so that you could buy a watch or new shoes. All that most people desire is a little more security, a little more comfort in life, and in a way, they are actually following their passion by earning as much as they can.

    Like

    • June 13, 2012 16:09

      Here is what I think to question you posed to Dr. Menon – (1) I am not sure if IIT as a system is being criticized here.. In question is also the reason why your options (in terms of life and career) should so heavily be dictated by the System.? And that is for us to think about.. The system that narrows down the options to SRCC and Stephens is also in question.. (2) On parents, I believe they are happy when you are happy.. So be happy 🙂 Am not sure if the people who are doing what they truly want and have no guilt or remorse are in question here..

      Like

      • June 13, 2012 16:22

        I do not think of myself as being very bright and perhaps that’s why I couldn’t really comprehend the gist of the post or your reply to the question. It’s probably the presentation of an IITian’s life as full of hypocrisy that made me believe so. From whatever little I understood, I just want to point out that I’m not trying to criticise the system but trying to accept it as a brutal reality…

        About parents, I am happy when they are provided for and they are happy when I am.. Endless loop… So by doing something I do not particularly dislike, I can at least rest assured that they are at peace…

        I again wonder if earning truckloads of money, through any legitimate means available doesn’t qualify as a passion… Even if it involves trying to get in to IIT when you are not particularly fond of engineering.

        Like

        • June 13, 2012 16:39

          Am sorry, my reply was not articulate at all.. Here are 2 points –
          Instead of accepting it as a brutal reality, we “could” also work to change it, if possible.
          Yes of course earning truckloads could qualify as passion.. I wonder though that how many people really look honestly and closely enough to see if the means are really “legitimate” in the true sense..

          Like

        • Raunak permalink
          November 15, 2012 04:05

          @Ashtung: I would like to point out that earning truck load of money cannot be the passion of someone..it can be a necessity or greed etc. but never passion. Confusing such ambition with passion is the kind of hollowness that Dr. Menon is talking about.

          Like

  6. June 13, 2012 14:47

    wow…that was nice…truthfully speaking the last part of the story is what scares me when i think(or have thought) about it for myself

    Like

  7. Ashish permalink
    June 13, 2012 15:10

    You write very nice english 🙂 Fun aside you hit us humans at a place where it hurts the most. You challenge our morals and make mockery of our survival instincts while you act as a concave lens (with object kept before focal point). Well we all are animals and the world is no more different than it used to be 100 years from now. The philosophy about Knowing Thyself only guarantees a better level of satisfaction as if you know before hand in a pitch dark room that the person you are having sex with is Scarlet Johanson (read Mr Pitt is you are fairer & weaker). We eat, we breed & we die – Charles Darwin plays us all along. It is hollow to assume we are better than what we actually are. We should accept what we are – there is more dignity to it – and move forward accepting them as part of what we are to become what we want – knowingly or unknowingly. The great universal truths are embedded at the core of our genes. Our thoughts are just a projections of those universal truths in one of the dimension. I believe Indian philosophy would answer these questions more exhaustively and in a far better way than the narrow western one. As for whitman he makes you believe that ‘you may contribute a verse’ – but the moment you assign weight to your actions you are no longer free from the disease that you want to get rid of. Well this is what I think at this space and time – projection of my genetic coding 😉

    Like

    • June 13, 2012 15:56

      From where I stand today, I could not agree more to what you have said here – ‘As for whitman he makes you believe that ‘you may contribute a verse’ – but the moment you assign weight to your actions you are no longer free from the disease that you want to get rid of.’ 🙂

      Like

  8. PSR A permalink
    June 13, 2012 15:15

    Beautifully insightful.

    Like

  9. Rahul permalink
    June 13, 2012 15:19

    Nicely written. Despite some great insights, I would however imagine that this article is a little negative. We can’t generalize IITians into people who eventually become investment bankers or hold other plum jobs. How can we be sure that the scholars in the ancient universities did not use deception to beat the system? Was education better a hundred years ago? An IITian is able to do practically anything with excellence. Thats probably because they learn about excellence in their endeavours to become engineers. Which is much better than learning, say thermodynamics. Ofcourse there is hypocricy, hollowness and a**holes in every system. But for that readers may benefit from reading Abraham Lincoln’s letter “all men are not just,
    all men are not true.
    But teach him also that
    for every scoundrel there is a hero;
    that for every selfish Politician,
    there is a dedicated leader…
    Teach him for every enemy there is a
    friend,” …http://nyceducator.com/2005/12/abraham-lincolns-letter-to-his-sons.html

    Like

  10. June 13, 2012 16:00

    Wow! Simply Wow!

    Like

  11. anon permalink
    June 13, 2012 17:25

    Why single out IIT’s?
    Its not like that every MIT graduate has sound technical knowledge of every course he/she has ever taken and MIT students also enjoy this elite image (not that i am supporting it).

    Like

  12. June 13, 2012 18:27

    You forgot about BITS here ..

    Like

  13. Sudharshan permalink
    June 13, 2012 20:25

    Brilliant article… No question about that. Except I would like to point out this thing. The post here I believe was a effect of some alumni asking the prof. about the new JEE. From my perspective it looks like as thought the prof is giving this reply to all this alum and people who are concerned about the change, or seem to be concerned or whatever IITns feel in general about themselves and JEE. But the point is given the constraints its a system that works …. and I don’t understand what the prof.s stand regarding the same which is a genuine matter of concern, and to what effect and reason this post was made in the present scenario.

    Like

  14. kasai permalink
    June 13, 2012 20:35

    Respected Professor,

    As you say, most of us(including you?) go through life following cultural and societal imperatives like being polite, aspiring for a stable life, etc. But we do not condemn others who do the same. That Sir, is something that you just did by calling thousands of other “successful” professionals and their family members hollow. By your own definition, I guess we can assume you are pretty hollow.

    “The issue of hollowness arises only when we miss the fact that we are practising hypocrisy — as, for example, when we smile sweetly at certain individuals, and later stab them gleefully behind their backs. But if we catch our enemies at the same game against us, we would not hesitate to condemn them, as righteously as possible.”

    The swipes you take at other professions by trivializing most of them must have definitely bloated your ego throughout your professional career. Somewhere I have the feeling that if engineers did their jobs better, a career in engineering would be more lucrative than selling soaps. Think about it, if one soap was clearly better than the other then the focus would be on improving the quality of the other soap rather than marketing it well. For eg. Samsung beat Nokia not because they sold their smartphones better but because they sold better smartphones. No wonder computer science and electronics as career options are atleast as enticing as management.

    If Professors focused more on research/ making good researchers rather than constantly taking digs at ‘selling soap’ you might not have to trivialize the lives of an ENTIRE GENERATION(or more?)

    thank you

    Like

    • solitude permalink
      August 23, 2015 22:35

      Hello there,
      I completely respect your opinion but I can not help but deny what you have said. Knowing prof.Menon personally, I can say he is very down to earth. He is not the typical “prof” that you would come across in any institute. What he does for the students is not something any sane person would even attempt to try. He wants the students not to question the system, not to trivialize any profession(like most criticisms to this article point as the gist of the article). He only asks us to look within ourselves. To contemplate whether what we do is because we truly want to do it or because it is the socially acceptable thing to do. If what you really want to do is earn boatloads of money, If that is what you really yearn for, you couldn’t find a stronger supporter than prof.Menon . His aim is only to make us look at a mirror. He doesn’t project any of his ideals onto us. All he does is to make us look in the mirror, to question ourselves and to one day be able to say that I am doing this because it is what I really want to do. I can also confidently say that the spirit of this article is not at all to trivialize other professions but to show us what most of us do. Most of us are sleepwalking through life. He only intends to wake us up. Thank You.

      Like

  15. June 13, 2012 22:22

    Reblogged this on R FOR RANDOM and commented:
    Everyone is a hypocrite. And Everybody Lies.

    Like

  16. Shyam krish permalink
    June 13, 2012 23:41

    Respected Professor,
    The article seems to so much of a fact without realizing why its happening in here. In class we are taught portions which are also taught 10 years before. Academia expects students to learn latest products and application by themselves!

    We learn good amount of math without much significance to real life applications. So at the end of 4 years, students know more math, programming than real engineering which makes them best fit in finance and management!

    When I say management, I meant the academic pressure in here compared to other collages 🙂

    I don’t think anyone can live with hollowness for more years. In fact most of them learn its a killer when they start mingling with groups and go ahead to creating a great companies in literally any field! Hollowness exists with those who never mingles and learns the world and happens with most of the nerds.

    I don’t like to put any blames on anyone. But I feel it’s better to stop criticizing IIT students for not being in CORE engineering. If any interesting problem statement is given, I am sure all my friends would have been in CORE engineering still.

    Please have a broader view about life and consider interests might change for anyone!!

    Thank you 🙂

    Like

    • Venkat permalink
      July 14, 2012 23:05

      Wow… so we want to become great, core, ‘unhollow,’ engineers with just a BTech degree! Huhh!

      Like

  17. June 14, 2012 03:21

    Can’t believe it was written many years before, i guess history does repeat itself.

    Like

  18. Mohit permalink
    June 14, 2012 13:11

    Respected Sir,

    How can you be sure what do you want to do with your life at the age of 16. You should be optimistic not criticize the system for giving you the freedom to do whatever you want even after joining IIT. It is not we who end up as bankers it is the people from the bank who employ us(remember that). We should have the freedom of choosing whatever we want.

    FYI , It is purely our qualities we pursue and implement at IIT’s that make us capable of even working in a bank not the brand name.

    Like

  19. June 14, 2012 16:05

    Brilliant. Even though this is abt IITs, i think its true abt every Engineering College in India. We seem to produce more MBAs than Engineers. People enter engineering with an eye set on career in marketing and finance. And system doesn’t do any better than to systematically kill interest in core engineering

    Like

  20. Vishwa permalink
    June 14, 2012 16:25

    I guess I am the odd one out. This article sounded like outlet of someone who is frustrated in not being able to control the flow of things around him. Devdas, as the name suits him, sounds like an idle philosopher who keeps ranting all day long.

    He has chosen to be a hypocrite so makes it convenient to impose it on others too. Ignorance and hollowness know no bounds, as clearly illustrated by the article.

    Just to point out on a simple line: “In our heart of hearts, however, I suspect that we are actually envious of these politicians…”. Am sorry but I cannot relate to it personally. I know there are many who crib about politicians because they may be jealous of their power but some crusade against them in the right manner, best described by the sentence “in votive not in vain”, a line from V for Vendetta. Rest of the article seems to follow suit.

    I have gone through the 4 years in the manner he describes and may be there is something wrong with that… but thats hardly the larger picture. Maybe thats one way for an IITian to actually realize once he gets out of the overprotective and pampering campus life to really understand his real path in life. @Amit Deshwal: you are a good case in point.

    Campus life is just part of growing up and it takes a lot of time to gain the real maturity to assess the world around us. IITians are in their adolescence (the larger bachelor chunk at least) till they step out and face the real world… so being judgemental about college crowd is pathetic.

    Very misleading and incredibly critical of things around him, I would like to know whether Devdas has anything to speak for himself.

    Like

    • Abhijit permalink
      May 10, 2015 07:41

      I don’t want to defend Devdas sir since it would be disrespecting his legacy. He is the last person to defend his ideals and convictions.
      I see that you are trying to ascertain if he is “qualified” to opine on the complex but inescapable realities. I implore you to not.
      The essence of his prose( vent for his frustration as you believe) is that he urges all of us to seek inwards. He presses the importance of connecting to our true selves, and understanding our truest “desire” which are clouded and superimposed by entities deemed desirable by the society around us.

      He also tells us to see our frustrations as pointers, which tell us that something is amiss. So instead of trying to judge amd evaluate the author’s hypocrisy let’s glean the message he is trying to convey to us.

      P.S. I vouch for him since I took a course on Karmayoga with him.

      Like

    • parado permalink
      May 18, 2015 21:59

      Vishwa May be you are the one whose life has been described here. May be you are more frustrated with typical saga of your life than him, because he hit the nerve.

      Like

  21. Anubhav permalink
    June 14, 2012 19:28

    Although this article smacks of huge generalizations,the students are not solely to be blamed. It is the environment we grow up in and the circumstances we face that shape our life. And what is wrong in desiring a comfortable and secure life. I dont know why iitians are obligated to do engineering or win noble prizes!

    Like

  22. Niraj permalink
    June 15, 2012 02:19

    Weird, so many people are here so missing the point. I am from an NIT – mechanical engineering and then joined the pride of Indian IT industry – TCS. But the point prof is making (and quite rightly so) that I have never actually questioned why am I doing this? All of the complaints are about the limitation posed by system which rewards IITians for just coming out of the IIT campus. But that doesn’t mean you have to do it. You always have the option to refuse. I remember my own thoughts about mechanical engineering and how little I know about it when I was about to begin. And, yes there were moments when I was in love with the subjects I was being taught. But those were like blips here and there. Largely it was an experience where we just moved from one semester to another without bothering to pause and introspect. Of course I would have done the same thing had I been selected in IIT. But I also remember how I was enchanted with physics before entering the college and how disappointed I was when I realised that in engineering I am going to see so little of it. But it didn’t matter back then. An engineering degree from NIT was going to help me buy the best bread in market and so be it.

    Just go back to newspaper of last month. This year’s IIT-JEE topper said in an interview that after engineering he would like to complete management – after all, management skills are so needed to be successful in any field. Here’s this guy, who knows little about engineering and management, but he is sure of the golder career path of IIT-IIM dual degree. One can understand if one didn’t like computer engineering and then chose to do management to change the field. But then there are loads of junta who jump out one campus to another, without bothering to find out what’s it like to work as computer engineer. A real computer engineer.

    No one is asking us to join IITs and no, that’s not the only option. If you still want to join IIT, have your reasons to do so. and live in IIT for those reasons. Don’t join IT industry just because of the easy money – ask your employer what is he going to make you do. and then ask yourself if you really want to do that. If no, then is it really the last option in front of you.

    And yes, I am a hypocrite. I knew of these questions and didn’t ask them. If you ask me I will give you excuse of my background and same limited choice. But I know that I didn’t even know the full extent of choices available to me.

    Like

  23. Debu permalink
    June 15, 2012 08:12

    Take a look at this video link, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2QgoaL0q-s, to see something deeper that the prof. is pointing at.

    Like

  24. Anand Mahale permalink
    June 15, 2012 18:58

    Its all true…till some extent!
    But where are those dreams which we saw as children of India and for India?
    (what are other indian resources to take if IITians dont go for other opportunities than core)
    Nice observation but still many parts of life are left by Professor. Definition of Knowledge and EDUCATION are given by some people who still doesn’t have full knowledge of parameters of the system(world we live in). Who are this people trying to take control mentality of people?
    Where are the basic instincts of life (FOOD, SEX and SHELTER) and complete individual freedom (Physical and mental)?
    Some People lived in past…..observed past…thought they understood the world….
    and here they are in society( POST MODERN which is called by other world)…and trying to take control of what is society doing.
    Its very clear that this people cant get this world completely and that hurts themselves more..
    They come to a conclusion of being something on own (probably a Buddha Follower) and hence THEY CHOOSE THEIR HAPPINESS IN WHAT THEY DEFINE AND DO.
    Be whatever what you want….
    But don’t leave the possibilities of creation and momentary happiness for which we do many things in the world.
    Finally, we have to live in this world. So the basic fact of Survival which provokes us to take and seek Knowledge in this world of any kind and at any cost, is the Natures given thing.
    WHO is more Hypo-critic- the one who accepts thing in society and takes his path or the ones who failed to analyse system and trying to seek something on its own

    Like

  25. Swetha permalink
    June 17, 2012 02:21

    This is very true. And this freedom of choice extends far beyond just the right to choose which institution. When my neighbours heard that I was opting to do Humanities after the 12th they consoled my mother on her daughter’s apparent stupidity and incapability. The fact that I had I had got into a very institution did not seem to matter – only that I had not chosen to do engineering.
    In a system which doesn’t allow you to see beyond the rigidly drawn lines of engineering and the IITs, I think conditioning would be more apt than than hypocrisy simply because hypocrisy implies that the individual chose the IIT inspite of favouring other options. Today, the other options cease to hold water. A truth that we need to recognise. And more importantly, the students who made it to engineering seats also need to realise. That there is more to here and now than engineering and more importantly, money.

    Like

  26. June 19, 2012 18:25

    One of the best articles that I have ever heard. Well done! Commendable! 🙂

    Like

  27. June 19, 2012 19:28

    first for the previous comment which says something about how could a 16 year old know what he want in life…my argument is how could a 16 years know anything when all he knows is what his parents wants him to know..try to break free ..
    and for the other one which says your priorities can change with time………if its happening than u r not really interested in something and u fit for being true hypocrite .
    this professor is pointing a good thing and i completely agree with @swetha that there is lot more than engineering and money…

    Like

  28. June 19, 2012 23:34

    Very well written, extremely honest article

    Like

  29. June 22, 2012 00:09

    The article is heck of an insightful piece…….I read the volley of comments.I have one question that comes out after going through bouts and bouts of mental masturbation my dear friends have subjected this article to.My question is-Did we find a conclusion to what the writer indicates in his article? I believe not. I am not a puritan by birth but because democracy has provided my tongue with the demon of speech I wish to say that the discussion could either turn philosophical or end up being a materialistic imbroglio but nonetheless we are missing the point.The discussion boils around the most crucial question we need to ask ourselves-what are we good at? People might think I am a dimwit asking such an insignificant question but in retrospective you’d find a major portion of your 2/3 life(1/3 being spent in sleeping) spent in finding an answer to this question.In today’s dynamic world where technology cuts through boundaries and geographical distances least matter when it comes to business it is imperative to find an answer to this question. Ever realized back when as kids being able to pursue small inexpensive hobbies would bring a smile to our face-where did that smile disappear in the last decade or so? We subject ourselves to engineering because the guy who wrote the first version of windows in Redmond was an Indian and made millions in the process or may be because the guy who invented USB was an Indian and was duly recognized for his achievements.Did someone actually ask these people if they really liked engineering or were just circumstantial scapegoats-in most cases you’d hear them burping out how much they loved tinkering with stuff that made them choose engineering,in some of the cases they’d lie.The reason why people lie is because they are not strong enough to be articulate about their fears which is when you become hollow.In my decade long career in software I discovered that most engineers in India be it IIT or NIT or any Tier-2 college in India are clueless about where life is dragging them. The most important factor that is going to dictate the next two decades of their lives boils down to a simple question-‘The salary package’-In the first year of job it appears melodious to boast about your salary package.Our moms take super pride in disclosing the figure to a nearby aunt who would perhaps be entrusted with the divine responsibility of finding you a suitable girl on the basis of your package.The second most important decision in your life of choosing your life partner is again decided by trivial factors like salary package and brand equity of the organization.End of the day you compromise with your job,with your wife consoling ourselves every night that one day you will fall in love with your job and your wife.Post 40 you realize it would have been worth taking a risk when you were young and you regret it enormously.Please don’t take me to be a spiritual lunatic but Buddha did the same thing when he was confused about the true meaning of life-he did a soul searching. I am not saying people transform into potential recluse or hermits but I am saying with some soul searching which is interpreted in today’s world as SWOT analysis we could perhaps find out the reason we are here. What is our true call. Believe me friends a life full of compromises is equivalent to being dead so if after reading this you still don’t evoke a thought or two to change the way you look at things I would say even maggots have a better life than ours as they also know their existential purpose.

    Like

  30. Chaitanya permalink
    June 26, 2012 02:00

    Hello Dr. Menon…

    Thanks for the wonderfully written article and (thanks others) for all the comments as well!

    What next? I agree that some people might genuinely want to (and are making conscious efforts as much as possible) to bring back ‘education’ into this overly-hyped hollow system (all the elite institutions of the country including IITs). Its so difficult to make a move with this kind of scenario in place, but as Gandhiji said, ‘Become the change you want to see in the world’.

    One of the aspects of this problem: Asking honest questions in the class is subtly suppressed strongly due to variety of factors (people consider it as show off, people consider the student as a dumb-ass etc. etc.)? This would have strong demotivating influence on the students ‘coz this inquisitive mentality is what instigates scientifically minded people to unravel the mysteries of chosen problems etc.. promotes logical thinking and produces people who can systematically tackle rigorous problems…. There has to be room to encourage questions strongly (by introducing measures like… awarding extra-points to those who ask meaningful questions… well sounds stupid? Unfortunately, something like this its required to relieve the mental blocks of the students in this highly-degraded system).

    There are unlimited aspects to this problem that could be reasoned out by quality thought. I would suggest everyone to contribute to a token of advancement to the system by implementing ‘a corrective solution strategy for a chosen aspect of this problem’ in your own circle of influence about educating people (or in the educational institutions if possible). These kinds of practical steps don’t risk your jobs, but mean a lot to the developing of scientific mind-set for the students.

    Thanks for all your cooperation to bring back life into our educational system!

    Before I forget, I was also a student at IIT and trying to contribute ‘my two cents’ to this meaningful venture…

    Good luck all with your efforts for this higher cause and I hope that this would grow into a fire to promote the ‘education system’ in the country.

    Thanks!

    Like

  31. cynic permalink
    November 8, 2012 16:01

    Its actually quite sad to read this article. You make it sound as if every last person shouldn’t try each and every thing possible to ensure comfort for their future. As if passion alone is enough.That isnt the case. Never has and never will be. If you are passionate about music, the chances of you being successful at it are minimal. If you enter a more organised field like technology at least you got a fighting chance. Its not hypocritical, i think its rational. You can choose to struggle in a field where the numbers are against you or you can choose security. And lets take a deep look into Indian society. We have always loved security over adventure. Hence we still go for arranged marriages because we want the security of finding a mate no matter what. We don’t go pursuing our passion and we dont go out looking for love again and again (like the americans ). Like it or not, its just the indian thing 😛 no need to call it hollow…its just our culture afterall..

    Like

  32. Nikhil permalink
    November 8, 2012 23:42

    Dear Professor,

    It is really disheartening to read your article. It not only hurts me as an IIT alumnus, but also makes me lose my faith on our greatest mentors: our teachers.

    You ridicule us for being hypocritical and hollow throughout our lives and denounce us as selfish and corrupt individuals just because some of us have been able to attain successful lives by switching our streams. All this without understanding the hollowness present in the system which plays with our efforts and hardwork. Throughout your article, not once have you understood, leave appreciate, the sacrifices we have made in our lives.

    Right from our school time, we have to sacrifice our childhood and youth to mug up phy/chem/maths in order to clear JEE or risk being called mediocre and be underemployed. Being a middle class, male, general candidate which most of us are, there is little opportunity that we can hope to have in any endeavour we take.

    Even after clearing JEE, we are provided with a substandard education system where professors like you only focus on evaluating the students on rote theories rather than imparting true learning. I do not even need to get started on the food and lodging facilities we are provided with.

    When at the time of placements, we wish to apply our knowledge to our respective fields, we cannot find any opportunity. Any little opportunity that might exist somewhere in our “Core” fields will provide us with compensations paltry for individual sustenance, let alone fulfil our parents’ dreams and expectations or plan a future for ourselves.

    When one has strived so much to prove himself to the society and received such heartless treatment, it only hurts an individual. And we endure this situation throughout our youth. In such a scenario, I do not find it hypocritical when one slogs through worthless class tests, copies assignments or switches to selling soaps if thats what helps one to adapt and survive, and maybe try to provide a better old age for one’s parents.

    Like

  33. Prasoon permalink
    November 9, 2012 18:09

    I couldn’t read the whole article (thoughts are so stereotyped, as per me) but couldn’t stop from forming a reaction. I think it’s mixing 2 different bags – IITs and life and only attaching thread happens to be hollowness !!! You mention the word ‘Brand’ which stands irrespective of producing fraud engineers selling soaps. That must be something beyond hollow, unless of-course the idea of ‘brand’ itself is hollow !! And making choices without taking a pause and thinking, that could be hollow, but that’s how it is not just in IITs but in whole of the country, and in fact in whole world (some survey suggested ~95%+ people are not in the jobs they would want to be in). That would leave me to simple conclusion, the ‘life’ and ‘structure of existence’ itself at large is hollow, IIT or not!!!

    Can’t stop quoting a line that our Director put during our orientations “IITs are not meant to make you better engineers, any engineering college would do that; but to make you better professionals, better humans (IIT-D, 2003)”. I think the promises were amply delivered. !!!!

    Like

  34. Ankur permalink
    November 20, 2012 15:24

    First of all awesome post. I am very happy to see people in academics who have grown up and moved over from the 80 and 90’s and seen the ugly truth. No one wants to be a engineer today because they love it. Everyone wants to be a computer engineer because they think they are good in maths physics and chemistry is an automatic indication that they will be a great software developer and to top it off after getting education from one of the best institution available all they want to do is get an MBA because IIT + IIM means $$$$.

    I am currently pursuing my masters here in US in computer science and my undergrad was in Electrical Engineering. First when I wanted to do my undergrad in computer science I couldn’t qualify for computer science because of average marks in chemistry during the entrance exams which is an excellent metric to define a student having terrific potential as a software developer. But I struggled and got into a US university for my Masters and I reach here and see the classes flooded with Indian who have next to no interest in Computer Science. They are just here to earn more moolah. They will work as Walmart sales person if they pay more than a software startup.

    But you know what India should stop defining itself with IIT and IIM students. Try to paint a pretty picture of development and prosperity with these people as poster child. Make people realize that how hollow their life is (The hollow part was the best).

    Like Bill Maher says everyone should understand that being a millionaire and billionaire is not a sign of happiness. Satisfaction and internal happiness is.

    P.S I am not trying to generalize all IIT students(for IIM the jury is still out). Some of them are really committed to real learning (not book learning) and love to do what they do. The most glorious example in my lifetime is of one of my school senior, 12 AIR took Chemical Engineering in IIT Powai when he could have taken anything.

    Like

  35. November 7, 2013 07:32

    女性 財布 人気

    Like

  36. Idiotic Genius permalink
    April 6, 2015 16:52

    I think once in IIT they develop lot of inclination to earn more than others. People treat them as gods with super brains. So IIT guys simply go after chasing money and may not be interested in core.

    Like

  37. Shyam Krish permalink
    May 9, 2015 22:55

    It’s a pleasant summary of a single sided view of IIT students. I am a graduate from IITM and sure I can say something about it (not against it).

    IITM, campus life was one of the best things happened in my life. Got a chance to walk with most brilliant people with ease. Have Friends who are highly interested in learning and inventing something great. I can’t forgot the discussion we used have in Gurunath about Quantum physics, Electric motors, Semiconductors, Civil engineering 101, philosophical discussions about life, discussion on great books ranging from Bible to Mahabarath to even disney land stories….

    Much of learning happened outside of class room rather than inside. With that being said, what you study in IIT really doesn’t matter, walking with great people is something more than a boon to ask for.

    Even the students (who prof thinks) losing interest in studies, lost interest only in few courses not in everything in life. They found who they are, they found what they really wanted to do . . . All of it happened only because of the people around them.

    I remember one of my Prof saying this sentence, “You will always be an average of four people surrounded by you” . . All he tried was to give a clear understanding of what is MEAN VALUE. So, I would say, being surrounded by energetic, high performing people might have taken me to a better place for sure.

    Friends I made there, are still the best . . the most intelligent . . the most performing (not just a rat race) It is all about performing to the highest possible.

    It is the way you see it matters.

    Like

  38. May 17, 2015 13:16

    Hi everyone,

    I am never into writing comments after reading articles. But after reading so many comments on this article, some of them even bigger than the article itself, I would like to say that everyone has the right to pen down his opinion. It is just the professors opinion which has been written so elegantly out here. Lets not sit and judge the person.

    I must say, being an IITian myself, I can relate to what the professor is trying to say over here. Its not about IIT, IIT has been just taken as an example to bring out the true human nature or the societal behavior we live in. No one is being condemned here, it is just an ardent observation by someone who is part of this hypocrisy. So lets not make it about IIT or NIT, lets see it as an observation and do an introspection within us.

    Personally speaking, I do agree with the Professors opinion. An again, it is just an opinion 🙂

    Like

  39. kandy permalink
    May 31, 2015 19:48

    Very well written, but i can see the pro and cons of this i agree to some but its a little one sided

    Like

  40. aakash rathi permalink
    July 5, 2015 20:28

    Such true reflector of society,Read after long time with such passion.when I first saw this and scrolled it dowm , I was shocked to see such big article on hypocrisy.!!! By just seeing only length makes me to put my hand on head to salute u. After reading content although I am weak in vocabulary I got the sense of ur article.

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Shreedhar Jha permalink
    February 4, 2016 13:21

    Very touching and convincing article…. to some extent it made me realize what I truly want to do with my life.

    Like

  42. February 5, 2016 01:31

    TRUE FROM WORD TO WORD. BARES THE SOUL OF IITIANS.

    Like

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