That piece of paper called a degree maybe a passport to a job. But education goes far beyond such limiting definitions

A wedding I attended in Kolar last week made me reflect, not for the first time, on the meaning of education. The bridegroom was a delivery employee of a takeout kitchen, a young man with a PUC degree for whom I would gladly furnish a ‘conduct certificate' if required. By the way, do schools still hand out those? Good conduct seems so out of place in a world where a brash and boastful attitude helps go-getters get ahead of the competition.

The sweetly worded wedding invite began thus: “Relations are settled in heaven, marriages are performed on earth”. After the bridegroom's well-wishers, who included colleagues and employers, had offered (as requested) their “heartly blessings”, his father, who informed us with a touch of pride that he knew English, asked us eagerly and repeatedly, “What do you think of the character of my son?” Like ‘conduct', another old-fashioned word: character. Our replies more than satisfied him, and he accepted, with becoming modesty, our suggestion that his son's upbringing was responsible for the sterling qualities he displayed.

“My father does not believe in dowry,” the young man had told his employers when he announced the momentous event. Over the eight years that he had worked in Bangalore, sharing a house with a bunch of other young migrants, he had been saving his perks and bonuses in order to buy furniture — table, cot, “beero” and so on — bit by painstaking bit. When the wedding was fixed he rented a ‘1 BHK', taking care to choose a locality where there were other families from Kolar “so that she won't feel lonely”.

Who created this gem? Where did he learn to be so thoughtful? Not in a classroom in Kolar, you can be sure. And yet the world would consider him poorly educated, because education is confused with academic learning — just look at the Education supplements of most newspapers, filled with little else but careers, placements and courses offered by foreign universities. But life can educate us more than any academy can, and education — the narrow way we define it — could be compatible with the most irrational and monstrous behaviour.

The Plus-Two-pass man who delivers food parcels on his bicycle would put many a highly ‘educated' man to shame — the sort who, in the name of tradition, coerces his future father-in-law to supply every luxury he desires and then harasses his wife for more. One is tired of reading news reports about such men, or about the ‘educated' urban middle class women who sneak into clinics to find out whether their foetus is female. We read about techie couples that bring (obviously poor and low-caste) children from their native towns and villages to work in their flats and, in true feudalistic manner, scald or brand these children if they don't do what they're told.

The most chilling news report I have come across of the stupidity of the ‘educated' is about a couple, both doctors, and their two sons. They wanted their eldest to become a doctor (wouldn't they just?) but he wasn't brainy enough, and kept failing the medical entrance test. Therefore this pair hit upon a plan. Their adolescent younger son was apparently brilliant and therefore his blood (his parents concluded with unerring scientific acumen) would naturally be brimming with brilliant cells. They set up a blood transfusion unit at home. They drained the blood of their younger son and pumped it into the body of the older. The younger son bled to death.

I deliberately chose this grotesque example in order to hammer home the point that education has nothing to do with degrees. A degree gets you a better job, I'll grant you that, but better in what way? More pay, I suppose. It doesn't automatically make you sensible, respectful of your fellow beings and aware of what's happening around you, which is what education should do, perhaps. Respectful? You should listen to my neighbour ranting against those who break supermarket queues; every time she shops she encounters some such rude specimen who drives her absolutely wild. Sensible? You should listen to those who call radio stations for advice from the resident expert on how to improve their fortunes through “bathroom correction” and “southwest corner correction”. Aware? You should try convincing people why it is their civic responsibility to segregate their garbage.

The trouble with acquiring qualifications is that you have to find jobs to match. If you don't, and you go off to stitch handbags or write poetry or something, you're believed to be just ‘wasting your degree'. Those who are educated, in the truest sense of the word, don't depend on their degrees for their self-worth. No job is too lowly for them. Their dignity springs not from what they earn but how they live. Many more of such educated souls exist than you would imagine, and you would find them in unlikeliest of places. They instinctively discern right from wrong and do not, like so many others do, try to suppress this knowledge in the interests of short-term gain.

We tend to lay the burden of educating our children on our teachers. Why shouldn't the rest of us share the responsibility? But that er, calls for a bit of education for our own selves. Education for the educated, get what I mean?

(Send your feedback to ckmeena@gmail.com)