Thursday, January 24, 2008

Not A Gentleman's World

When I woke up today, it was all foggy at IIT Kanpur. It was definitely the coldest morning this winter. That should have told me something about the day's happenings. I reached the lecture hall in time for the first lecture of the day - ME100, introduction to mechanical engineering - a course which I particularly enjoy.

The 62 year-old professor who taught the course was a balding, tiny man, with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. He somehow always made me feel as if I was watching Discovery Channel. Today, he was in his usual spirits.

About half-way into the class, he cast a suspicious eye on the attendance sheet. He scratched his beard a little, and then asked one of the front-benchers to count his present fellow-men for him. It turned out that four signatures on the attendance sheet did not have their owners in the class, as in, they were fake and had been put in for the four people by their friends. The prof asked the culprits to come forward gracefully. He assured us that this wasn't an unpardonable crime but remaining mum after being called forward was a sin. He continued beseeching the wrong-doers to step forward, proceeding to call us all a bunch of "cheats", "frauds" and "thieves". He also said that there was no use teaching engineering to a batch of dishonest people. He told us that he had been teaching at this institute for 37 years and was yet to end a class before time. We were in danger of earning that distinction if the culprits didn't come out. Further, he wasn't going to take this course in the future. Finally, only when he had to resort to calling out our names did some boys raise their hands and confess. The prof made a face, told us we were not gentlemen, and left. By now, his anger had turned to deep disappointment and disgust.

Sitting there, I realized that he was a man from another world. His world was the one where honesty was part of education. Today, it isn't. The humanity and honesty are lost in the maze of money and fame. All we (specifically, engineering students) are running the cliched rat race. Whenever I look around, I see people not doing what they particularly enjoy, but that which will eventually be more profitable. And in the process of doing, they have lost the concern to do it the gentleman's way. I can't say it's a sin because I am living my life exactly the same way.

This feature is so fundamental to our society today that people like my prof out here shout on deaf ears. All he was talking about was truthfulness to yourself, a conscience that stirs, a heart that weeps, and a brain that feels. Unfortunately, it's not that kind of world anymore.