Former French Open champion Ana Ivanovic announced her retirement from tennis at the age of 29 on Wednesday because she no longer feels fit enough to compete at the highest level.
Is it possible that the above seemingly unconnected facts may have a common reason for their peculiarly Indian background? Many of us would no doubt agree that they are true to a large extent. What then could be the common thread that links each of them to the others, especially in the Indian context? First, let us examine each of the above issues individually to see if anything is common to all of them.
Factor 1: We in fact supply this community of engineers to the rest of the world. Except perhaps China, no other country can claim to produce as many of them as we do. This has been so since about the last two decades. If the quantity is so much, at least a small part of the total must be able to be top of the world, say of the standard of a Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerburg. Have we created anything to rival Microsoft or Apple or Facebook or Google? For the record, it may be mentioned that the Chinese have their own version of Google Search and do not have to depend on any nation to go on with their operations on the internet. Can we confidently say that we too can do it anytime in the near future? It is disappointing to see the answer to this question as a resounding ‘NO’. What then are our options in case of any unforeseen emergency? Practically nil. We go on merrily with our total and blind dependence on the U.S., blissfully ignorant of any dangers in case of any confrontation. The mere fact of our being helpless in such an event would certainly embolden our enemies to become more aggressive and challenging even in cases of a minor nature. This aspect of security alone should have been enough for our planners and rulers to scramble for a solution. But they are seen simply assuring us that all is well since they are God’s gift or boon to India. Nothing in their view can cause any damage to India’s interests so long as they are seated in power at Delhi.
If they are not producing any worthwhile programmes or constructing new projects, what then are our teeming lakhs of software engineers doing? They have swarmed over all fields of the nation’s economic activity as clerks, computer operators (which does not need a B.Tech qualification at all), accountants, receptionists, sales persons, service engineers, contractors, etc. Some can be found working even as bus conductors and police constables. Needless to say, this was not their goal of life when they entered the Engineering Colleges in pursuit of a B.Tech qualification. Finally, a tiny fraction of them could be found working where they belong: as real software engineers dealing out solutions for complex problems in the industrial and commercial fields. Why then are we churning out so many of them when demand itself is for so few? One reason could be that there is no proper correlation between the demand for such engineers and the admissions for the new students in the various colleges/institutes across the
country. Another even more surprising factor is that the students themselves seem bent upon getting into the IT course in preference over any other branch of engineering despite being well aware of the vast number of their senior colleagues being jobless.
As a matter of fact, the nation building effort needs mechanical, electrical, civil and such branches of engineers in more numbers than the software engineers available. It is learnt that some of the engineering colleges have even wound up their mechanical engineering departments because there were no students opting for that course in their colleges.
Now to the 2nd factor mentioned above.
Factor-2: We may recollect the grand reception which P.V.Sindhu received on her return from the Rio Olympics with the silver medal in Women’s Badminton singles. Almost the entire nation was riveted to the TV sets at their homes to watch the final game which she lost after a heroic fight. The massive scale of that reception clearly shows how badly we are starved of sporting stars of world stature. Her being the lone person at that level in a nation of one and a quarter billion people is nothing but an indictment of the sporting culture or the lack of it among the Indians in general. Why is it that more and more people are not coming out to take part in one or the other form of any sporting activity? This may be contrasted with say Jamaica which accounts for a small fraction of India both in size and population. The size of their economy or even their prosperity is no better than us. But it managed to produce a world champion sprinter Usain Bolt who charmed the entire world over three consecutive Olympics from 2008 till 2016. Jamaica had also produced other champions of equal brilliance. There are many such nations like Kenya who regularly turn out long distance runners. What is that they are doing which we are not capable of?
Factor-3: Now our favourite activity – cricket. Rather than playing it, we are more into watching it over endless cups of tea and chatter. Many of our popular stars in cricket happen to be only batsmen, very few bowlers and almost no fielders. A win in a test match requires that the winner must be capable of taking all the ten wickets of their rival team twice within the five days allotted. Any bowler’s success mainly depends on the ability of the fielders to take the catches offered by the batsmen. India has the poorest record in this regard. Our batsmen shy away from the activity of fielding. Names like Eknath Solkar, Ajit Wadekar, Mohd. Azharuddin and Rahul Dravid are an exception to the rule. This in fact is one major reason why our bowlers rank poorly among the world’s greats.
Finally, the answer for the initial question. All the above activities need enormous physical activity and exercise of the body. One has to be physically fit to a great extent over long periods in life to achieve world champion stature in any sport. Peculiarly, the game of cricket lends itself for playing at a leisurely pace over long stretches of time. Its shortest form of T20 lasts for more than 3 hours compared with a football match that goes on only for 90 minutes at a very furious pace. Not surprising that India’s rank is somewhere beyond 135 among about 150 football playing countries.
One obvious inference that can be drawn is that we shy away from any activity that involves physical stress. Software engineering is preferred over all other branches because its job entails simply sitting at a computer terminal and pounding away on the keyboard for any length of time in an AC room to boot. No need to put on gum boots and get into a field to look at workers and instruct supervisory staff on what to do and what not to do. Another risk that could be avoided is the feedback from the workmen because the terminal does not talk back or turn down one’s orders except showing error sign on the screen. The lack of leadership qualities among Indians is also another reason for this weakness on the part of engineering graduates. All these factors taken together drive our prospective engineers into the software field. Its linkage to cricket may be mystifying. Not after going through the following analysis. A de-facto caste system runs through our cricket culture. The batting is seen as the preserve of the upper castes, the bowling is given over to the working class i.e., shudras and the fielding is only for the untouchables. No batsman of standing would venture out to fielding duty when his side comes out after its batting innings is over. In the olden days we remember the radio commentary and hearing that the batsman who scored a century for his side was only sitting in the pavilion drinking tea while his side was slogging along on the ground for fielding duties. The batsmen used to feel that they earned the right to be absent from fielding duties by virtue of the good score earned by them. The end result was fielding was usually done by the twelfth man on behalf of the batsman. In fact, this was also the reason very few of our bowlers are real fast bowlers as against the many spinners whose run up is very short vis-à-vis the fast bowler. This grooming of the sportsmen and women should start in right earnest from the school level itself. Sadly, very few of our government/municipal/zilla parishad schools have any play grounds and where they are available, no coaches or playing equipments. It is a wonder that we are still able to bring out a Sindhu, a Sania Mirza or a Saina Nehwal at all.
To conclude, it must be realized by each one of us that till such time we start exerting ourselves in right earnest, no progress in any field could be achieved and blaming the government for all shortcomings would get us nowhere.
-B M SASTRY