Tuesday, June 28, 2011

No Reservations...

As per my personal experiences, the 'Delhi Metro' has proved to be a wonderful alternative for the people of Delhi who wish to travel between different parts of the city. As compared to the harrowing traffic jams and head splitting chaos on the roads of Delhi, the ‘Metro’ provides a comfortable, convenient and cool means of travel. Sometimes, even enjoyable.

The other day, I was traveling on the Delhi Metro from Dwarka towards ‘Rajiv Chowk’. I was to board from ‘Dwarka Sector 13’ station and was relieved to see that there wasn’t much of a crowd on the platform. It being a Sunday evening could have been a cause for the near deserted look the platform had.

As the train arrived, and I entered the coach which stopped right in front of me, I was pleasantly surprised to see most of the seats being vacant. As if in a reflex action, I chose to sit on the ‘two-seater’ located at the very end of the coach. (The reason for my reflex would be better understood as you read further…)

It’s not often when one gets the liberty to choose where to sit while traveling in Delhi’s Metro. In fact, usually one doesn’t even have a choice where to stand. So, I was happily enjoying this rare chance and looking at the sun setting on Delhi through the window opposite me, while a man (probably in his late forties) sat beside me talking loudly on his phone. But my luxury was destined to be short lived.

As the train passed through various stations en route, crowd filled in. And soon, people were already occupying much of the floor space. As the train stopped at ‘Janakpuri West’, I saw an elderly gentleman (probably in his late sixties, with a cloth bag hanging on his shoulder) come in through the door next to me. As he searched around, (I guess, more in search of a suitable place to stand than looking for somewhere to sit) his head turned to my direction.

Instantly, I stood up inviting him to sit where I was sitting. He immediately took the offer, with a soft ‘Thank you’. But as soon as he occupied the seat, he nudged me and said, “Since you have been decent enough to offer me a seat, why should you stand ?” And with that, he shifted himself to try and make some space for me to sit between him and the other man.

I felt a bit awkward and tried to reason with him with a “It’s OK”. But he was quite certain about his decision and he literally pulled me to sit.

As I tried to balance myself on my feet while not being entirely comfortable sitting in about a quarter of the space I would have required, he asked again.

“What do you do ?”

“I’m a doctor.”

“No wonder. !”

I failed to understand this statement from him. But as I looked around, I saw the guy sitting right across us. He was looking right at me. And the look on his face seemed to convey to me that his search for the ultimate moron had finally ended with me.

I suddenly realized that the train had now stopped at ‘Tilak Nagar’ station as more crowd came in. And then I saw a young girl come in from the door next to us. She looked to be a college going girl in her early twenties. But contrary to people almost triple her age, she was absolutely specific and certain about herself once inside the train. She immediately walked up to the seats across and away from us, and went up to a young guy sitting there, enjoying music on his phone through the earphones.

And then I saw the expressions on his face change from one of enjoyment to that of detest. And soon I realized that the guy, while busy with his music, had not given attention to the sticker above his seat. Which marked it to be reserved for ladies. And before one could even bat an eyelid, the young girl was now sitting on the same seat enjoying music on her phone through the earphones. Though I didn’t give a thought to whether she asked him for his phone too.

Often, I have noticed, as my Dad feeds the birds of the neighborhood every morning, how the sparrows are the first to come down and start to feast on the seeds. But soon, there’s this crow, which descends right in the middle, stamping its authority on the food while the little sparrows spread out and sulk. I wonder how it would be the other way round if a sparrow disturbs several crows and scares them away while stamping its authority on the food. But if it would ever happen, I’m sure the crows would be sulking just the way the guy sulked now after having to vacate his seat for the girl.

Well, the train now reached ‘Rajouri Garden’ and even more crowd poured in. In the middle of which, I spotted a lady holding a little kid by the hand and carrying an even younger one in her arms. She made her way between the crowd, and co-incidentally came to stand right in front of the girl I had seen before.

To my disbelief, the girl decided that she had had enough of music and instead it was time to do some talking on the phone. And away she chatted with continuously changing expressions on her face, ignoring completely the lady standing right in front of her. And surely she must have ignored the sticker above the seats across her which said : ‘Please vacate your seat for someone who needs it more than you.’ (with an image of an old man with a stick and a pregnant lady with a little kid).

Maybe this girl couldn’t relate the lady in front of her with that on the sticker. Obviously, she had a little kid in her arms rather than inside her. So that didn’t match !!!

Which brings me to wonder, why is there the very need to have seats reserved for the elderly or pregnant females or even for females ?

We have to be told that this very seat is reserved for an aged man. So it should be vacated if such a person comes around. Why ?? Don’t we have the etiquette of offering a seat to the elderly ??

Do we have to be told that a pregnant lady needs to have a seat more than a young man ? Or for that matter, a young woman ??

But the truth is, not only do we have to be told, there have to be reservations made for actions which only demand a bit of decency.

What if there are no seats marked as ‘reserved for the elderly’ ? Does that mean that an elderly man or woman will not be offered one ?? In fact, that’s absolutely true. In such a case, we won’t even give it a thought.

Doesn’t marking seats as ‘reserved for those who need it more’ certify the fact that if not done so, our society is so indecent that it doesn’t have even the basic courtesies of everyday life ??

But, on the contrary, there are examples, as my experience above showed that even certain reservations cannot ensure acts of decency from the common public. Irrespective of age or sex, we have to be forced to act courteous.

The young guy in the case above had to be asked to vacate his seat which was reserved for ladies. He wouldn’t have budged had the girl not asked him to.

The girl though, had every right to sit on the seat reserved for ladies. But shouldn’t she have been decent enough to offer her seat to the lady who had two small kids with her ??

The question here is not about rights or reservations. It is about who needed the seat more. Shouldn’t a young girl of 20 vacate her seat for a gentleman of 80 ?

BUT… We now are in a habit of going by the rules. Or, in fact, trying to break the rules unless being told not to. Courtesy and decency are now words of the past. They don’t exist. And the incident above is not just a one-off.

Reservations regarding actions of people towards one another depict a certain flaw in the society. Reservations certify inequality (and indecency in the above scenario).

Maybe people have become more practical. So have I. That is why I choose to stand rather than face the embarrassment of flouting the ‘reservation-rules’ in the ‘Delhi Metro’.

P.S. : The above post is not a generalization. It is targeted specifically to people like the ones in the incident above.
Pictures credit : Google Images

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Of Languages and Higher Education...

Just the other day, I came across an article that had listed the many demands made by Baba Ramdev in his so called fight against corruption. It seemed to be an interesting list until I came to the point where he demands that all Technical and Scientific higher education in India should be taught in regional Indian languages. While I had no real issues with most of his other demands, this particular demand appeared to me to be as absurd as one can get.

Though a large number of people (which obviously includes most of the Baba’s die-hard devotees) would pounce on the opportunity to criticize my opinion, they fail to see facts just beyond the issue of language here. My personal credentials are not so as to speak about other fields of science & technology, but being a student from the Medical stream I thought it better to put my point of view through the perspective of a Medical student, backed by some practical facts. So, the following views should be referred to in relation with the Medical education in India.

The main argument in favor of the above demand seems to be that students, who have had their school education in any regional Indian language, find it tough to follow the Medical curriculum that is taught in English. I have been told that Baba Ramdev didn’t ask for a complete change from English. Rather he demands for a parallel education in regional languages as well.

I don’t have any problem with the idea !

Let’s just suppose that the idea of “parallel education” in regional languages is implemented. Now let us see how it affects a student who has had his education in a regional Indian language throughout his school life.

The student clears the Pre-Medical Entrance Test, and joins the MBBS course in a reputed Medical College which has “parallel teaching in regional languages”.

By the way, here I would like to mention that admission to the MBBS course in all Government Medical colleges in India takes place through either State or All-India Entrance Exam. And 15 percent seats in all such colleges are reserved for the All-India quota. Which means, a college in Delhi with 200 seats would be admitting 30 students from all over India. Which would include students from West Bengal, Orissa, Punjab, Maharashtra, Andhra, Tamil Nadu, etc. (I have not included here the reputed institutes like AIIMS, AFMC, CMC, JIPMER, etc who hold their own exams but are still open to students from all over India)

That means that the very Medical college in Delhi will have to have “parallel teaching” in all of those regional languages too. Assuming that the students from other parts of India have had their school education in their regional language.

According to the eighth schedule of the Indian constitution as of May 2008, the number of “Official Indian Languages” is 22. Which means that the college would need 23 different classrooms for each year of MBBS. One cannot expect people teaching different languages in the same room simultaneously. So, for four Professional Examinations, that would need 92 classrooms.

But we assume that even that is taken care of, and the student has now access to Medical education in his native language.

Now, the MBBS course, spanning four and a half years, consists of 19 different, but inter-related subjects. And each of those subjects has an average of 5 reference textbooks, some of which have up to 3 volumes each. So, that student would now need textbooks of all those subjects in his native language.

Medical text is not something absolute. Each subject undergoes constant revision and addition of text according to new researches and discoveries. Thus, the text has to be constantly updated to keep the student up to date of the latest advances.

Secondly, the translation of Medical text would require the services of persons who are well acquainted with the Medical field. One cannot expect an expert translator to efficiently understand what a particular text desires to convey to the students. Such a person can very well take care of the grammar, but not about the technicality of the text.
But I am told that just the general text needs to be translated. So I agree to that too.

I assume even that is taken care of. And all the textbooks of all the 19 subjects have been efficiently translated. But now we require teachers to teach each of those subjects in each of the regional languages. Not teachers of regional languages, but doctors who are able to efficiently teach Medicine in those languages. Though at present there is even a great shortage of teachers who can just teach in English. But we assume even that problem is taken care of.

So, the student completes his MBBS efficiently in his native language with extremely good scores. But now he wants to pursue specialization after completing his MBBS. In other words, he now plans to do his Post Graduation.

We assume that the above student qualifies to a PG course of his choice in a reputed institute of the country. But, according to the “Salient features of Post Graduate Medical Education Regulations, 2000” of the Medical Council of India,

[Clause 13.7] Training in Medical Audit, Management, Health Economics, Health Information System, basics of statistics, exposure to human behavior studies, knowledge of pharmaco – economics and introduction to non- linear mathematics shall be imparted to the Post Graduate students.

So, all of which should be in the native language of the student concerned.

[Clause 14.4(a)] Every candidate shall carry out work on an assigned research project under the guidance of a recognized Post Graduate Teacher, the result of which shall be written up and submitted in the form of a Thesis.

Work for writing the Thesis is aimed at contributing to the development of a spirit of enquiry, besides exposing the candidate to the techniques of research, critical analysis, acquaintance with the latest advances in medical science and the manner of identifying and consulting available literature. Thesis shall be submitted at least six months before the theoretical and clinical / practical examination.

Now… as per practical experience from PG students in India, the thesis of a student is based on the research work already done by doctors from all around the world. The PG student has to add further work/research done by him to all the work done on a particular topic around the world. In a nutshell, the thesis of each PG student comprises of at least 90-95% of information from Medical Journals and Research papers from around the world if not more than that.

But… unfortunately, all such Medical Journals and Research papers are available in English and not in Indian regional languages.

So, either the doctors and scientists around the world should learn more languages and translate their works accordingly. Or, the doctors in India try to do that task. But the main emphasis is on the works that have already been published.

A single Medical journal is a periodical that is published every month (if not more frequently) with dozens of new studies in each issue. To try to assess the total number of Medical Journals in the world, one may just be informed that China alone has a little more than Four Thousand Medical Journals of its own. (And each one of them is in English contrary to some beliefs) Isn’t it strange why the Chinese chose to publish their own work in English ?

Which brings us to a point where all the past issues of Journals around the world have to be translated from English in order to be understood by a student who did his MBBS in a regional language. If he doesn’t, he’ll be unable to use the knowledge available and would have to compromise on the quality of his thesis.

And… if he is able to understand the Medical Journals in English, why did he initially need to study MBBS in his native language ???

But even assuming the above Medical student eventually starts his practice, how would he be able to manage patients who come to him with investigations and their reports in English. Or would he ask the patient to go and get them translated to his native language first. Or… would he demand the entire investigating procedures, machines and equipments to be changed (oh, excuse me… be made parallel) to those giving reports in English ?

Medicine is not a field restricted to a region or country. Health is a global issue. Diseases are not restricted to particular regions.
For example, if one doctor completes and important research on ‘swine flu’ in India and another doctors finds some important facts about the same in Brazil, they would want to exchange their information with each other in order to tackle ‘swine flu’ better. But what if the Brazilian doctor refuses to budge from Portugese and his Indian counterpart isn’t ready to compromise on his regional language ??

To prevent such a scenario, a common language of communication is essential to standardize things. Just as we have the S.I. units for mass, volume and time. And though one may not particularly like the fact, but that language happens to be English.

Now some people would put up an argument that countries like Russia, Japan, China, Germany, etc. never depended on English. But they have been producing doctors too. I agree. Yes, they have. But have they resorted to alternative language (even parallel) to English in the Medical field ?

The following links would provide the doubters something to think about.

Russian Medical Journals Online

Japan Medical Association

Saudi Medical Journal

Chinese Medical Journal (It specifically mentions that - 'The Chinese Medical Journal (CMJ) is published semimonthly in English by the Chinese Medical Association')

As the above links show, all these countries have stuck to the use of English in the Medical field. Not because they downgrade their native languages. But because they know the importance of a common medium of communication for the exchange of knowledge.

“Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine” which is considered as the Bible for every Medical graduate and post graduate is available in English throughout the world. From Saudi Arabia to Austria, from Ukraine to Argentina, from South Africa to Australia… everyone follows the same book. No one has ever considered it to be translated to Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Dutch, Latin, etc. And this great reference book has inputs from Medical specialists from all around the world.

Will an expert Indian doctor, having studied Medicine in his native language, be able to exchange his valuable research with the world ? He would first need to depend upon someone who understands his work and then would translate it for the world.

I am not pro-English or anti-regional languages. All I want to emphasize is that language is not and can not be a criterion to attain quality education. But one must keep in mind the ultimate purpose of the education one is pursuing. It is not about discrimination between languages to attain quality higher education, but it is rather about how effective education can be.

One decides and strives to become a good doctor not because he or she wants to promote a certain language or downgrade another, but to reach out to as many people and help them recover from diseases and disorders. If one solely aims to promote a language, he can effectively do that by taking up language studies. But if a doctor is accused of demeaning a particular language, that’s really not his concern. A doctor’s sole aim is the diagnosis of disease and its management.

And as far as Baba Ramdev is concerned, it would be better if he concentrates on the field of his expertise. (if there is any !) Not knowing about the practical facts of a field and commenting on it is rather absurd.

AND… how does Baba Ramdev expect his devotees to benefit from his expertise by having his very own website in complete English ?!?!?! :P

Please see the link below.


And it doesn’t even have options to view the same in any other language ! (something which is common to see in most International websites) Didn’t he think about all those Indian followers of his who haven’t had English education and want to know about him through the WWW ???

P.S. : With thanks for valuable inputs from all my colleagues from Engineering and Medical fields.


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