Five Lessons I learn from India

Lessons from India

So, without much ado I left India several months ago, on March 2007 to be precise. None but a very few friends who knew that I planned to come home that night. It’s my nature that I am not so much into brouhaha thing. Personally speaking I’m a private, a sort of introvert and fond of quietness. Though I engage in some social activities back then in India and more frequently nowadays as a conscience call and as a way of implementing what I’ve been thinking, I feel I enjoy more when I am in a state of solititude. I’ve been in India for quite long time, previously as a “transit” towards another destination–preferably Europe or North America, but finally I feel “at home” in the country for some reasons which is nothing to do with the earlier plan.

There are  a lot of tetek bengek things in India that distracts foreigners including me; the complicated and often corrupt bureaucracy (especially the immigration office, the fussy landlords, the extreme heat on summer and extreme cold in the winter are among others. But I didn’t really so care about those stuffs, since it happens quite rare. Besides, talking a flipside of others is basically self-destructive; that’s why I’m more interested to share with you five positive things that we Indonesia can and should learn from the Indians and India.

  1. Education is cheap. Believe it or not, the fee to get into a prominent state university like Delhi University (DU) is amazingly cheap especially for Indian citizen, in the sense even the son and daughters of tukang becak can be a university student. For foreigners, however, it’s  a bit expensive yet still affordable. For Master program in Delhi University, for instance, a foreigner needs to pay only USD 600,00 (roughly IDR 6 mio) until you get the degree. Its counterpart in Indonesia, Universitas Indonesia (UI), the fee is multiple times higher; it’s said around IDR 50 mio (USD 5,000,00). That’s why, many Indian youth got more than one degree to have more job opportunities. Some Indonesian analyst wonder over India’s rapid progress, some even “patriotically” said, “If they can, why can’t we?” They forget or even are not aware of the fact that India progress is not built in a day. Cheap and quality education was thought out and implemented since the very first day of its independent and it starts reaping the harvest this last decade. Indonesia has to make this cheap education–if we cannot make it free– as priorities to accomodate the best sons and daughters of this country who comes from the poorest; from which many outstanding Indian youths came from.
  2. Though the Indians are generally talkative and “argumentative”, by nature they are peaceful human being. They tend to make heated argument to solve things, but that verbal fight is all they do. I hardly found them end-up in physical violence. It seems they learn from their childhood the art of talking as a way of final solution over their disagreement. We, Indonesians, tend to do inversely–physical “argument” as a final solution in some cases. (to be continued)

Five Lessons I learn from India (2)

Five Lessons I learn from India (2)Lesson #3: Simplicity and humility–substance over physical appearance.

This is India’s strong point, and our unflattered weakness. We tend to appreciate whatever “visible” to the naked eyes more than what the real thing is. We tend to praise the physical beauty than the inner quality; we are the blatant worshipper of consumptive attitude which is–as Fareed Zakaria puts it–the rotten egg, not the inner stuffing–of modernity.

If Indonesian as a society wants to make a change toward the better in any domain of lives–including the corrupt mindset and practices among bureaucrats and any government officials from top to bottom and any educational institution both state-run and private ones, it’s from this point where we should start. To be more focus and concise, I’ll give you two examples which is representing our educational institution “dignified” tendencies. The educational institution is a barometer and the avantguard of society, call it the purest segment of a particular society. If this institution is tainted, so are the others.

Educational insitutuion: Luxurious building first, quality teaching staffs, good lab, and big library later. If you want to establish a university or school in Indonesia, first and formost is to build a good or luxurious building with air conditioned. Don’t think much about big library, quality teaching staffs, etc –they are not necessary. The later are not something to be proud of. And none of the students will pay attention anyway.

University professors or lectureres have to live in dignified way. By “dignified” means you gotta have a nice car, hence the emergence of flying professors. Your colleagues and the rich students will look down upon you, when you just a professor with motor cycle–not to say a bicycle. Everybody wants to stay away from such “undignified” and unclebrated professor. In India, however, we often see professors riding their old bike or old scooters. They are not poor. Some of them are also teaching in world prominent universities abroad, Amartya Sen the nobel prize winner just to mention one of them. That’s just their lifesyle.

In Indonesia, the urge to live a “dignified” lives really push the university professors and school teachers to live beyond what they really are capable of. This is where the corrupt practices in the schools and universties start. (to be continued)

Five Lessons I learn from India (3): Real School at Home

Five Lessons I learn from India (3)Lesson #4: Good family upbringing; strong family ties; real school is at home

We read elsewhere, that China and India will lead the world economies in 2050. Everybody is surprised and is hard to believe that prediction especially concerning India. Not many people know about the country which so far is more known for its Bollywood films and its dancing-on-the-tree than anything else. Whether the forecast would be proven right or not is not important. What I am sure is that, yes these two countries will lead the world sooner or later. One of the key is the good family upbringing: young people are indoctrinated and nurtured by the ethos of hardworking since their childhood.

Especially in India, where I stayed with various Indian family for quite a long time, I know very well how deep the parents’ involvement in seriously educating and nurturing their children the best they can. The determination to be the best is what the parents, and amazingly followed by their children, want. Consequently, supported by government policy of cheap and quality education, the competition is high and so is the result. Just a little clue on how hardworking they are: they just don’t know or not even think how to date until they are in university; barring in some big cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore, many university students don’t have the first date experience until they finish their bachelor degree.

No wonder, if the best students in the USA is usually dominated by foreign students from these two countries, China and India. The key, as mentioned, is strong parents involvement. One of my landlord in New Delhi has five sons. All are studying in science–engineering, math or computer science–and now work in various companies in European countries. The youngest, as his father told me, is the “dumbest” among them, that’s why he coudn’t follow his brothers’ step; he took the lighter course, that’s Commerce.

A friend of mine in India sees the Indian youth amazing determination as temporary. It will fade when the globalization take the full shape in the country and the Indian youth get more “westernized.” I disagree. So far as the family ties is as strong as ever, the phenomenon will be still there. Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia is my example. Though the later are living among the “easy-going” Indonesians, yet they successfully maintain the strong tradition of family conservatism; of hardworking “dogma.”

Indonesian should not ever dream of leading the world if this kind of “family university” are ignored and depend too much on formal education as we do.

Reading Habit and Library: Lesson #5 from India

Reading Habit and Library: Lesson #5 from IndiaAn Indian professor once was invited to deliver a general lecture in Malang Islamic University (UIN – Universitas Islam Negeri) East Java. From Surabaya airport he went to Malang city by bus. After coming back to India, he told us, Indonesian students in India, his impression thus:

Between Surabaya and Malang, I was so amazed to see so many hypermarkets, great supermalls and big restaurants. I saw a restaurant which is so big that I never see it before in India. What “amazed” me even more was that I did NOT see any public library at all.

He then blasted (with “emphaty”) a question that unable us to answer with pride: “So, what are you people doing other than shopping and eating out?”

Greg Barton in his The Authorized Biography of Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) writes that during his 13-year stay in Indonesia he hardly find any middle class Indonesian who has got even a decent private library. Gus Dur’s big private library, therefore, is a once-in-blue-moon phenomenon.

The Indian professor criticism is understandable. In India public library can be found almost everywhere for anyone to read. Not to say in universities. Among the middle-class Indian, having a good private library is a must and something they are proud of. Consequently, with this conducive enovironment, the reading habit among the average Indians are higher than any other developing countries. The low price of newspaper (with only IDR 300 or Rs 2 Indian rupees) you can get best selling English newspaper such as The Times of India or The Hindu. You need IDR 3,000 to buy newspaper like Kompas, Jawa Pos, or The Jakarta Post. In a country like Indonesia where millions of people earn less than a dollar (IDR 9,000) a day, that amount is huge.

Library in Universities: Many university library are open for 24-hour a day. And amazingly the library is always packed with student who are reading either the text books or international journals and other general stuffs. You will hardly find this in Indonesia where a library is packed with readers who are quietly reading their respective books.

Lessons learnt:

1. Governments and lawmakers both need to synergize to make a policy which is conducive to boost reading habit as a hobby both for people and students by (a) lowering the price for goods which is having to do with paper production (books, newspapers, magazines); (b) encouraging people and students to read more by establishing a good library in every village.

2. What Indonesian middle-class can do: (a) shopping books more rather than clothes and other luxurious stuffs: it’s a lot better off to have a good brain than a good car; (b) helping the poor people to have access to read more by contributing and donating to any public library available preferably in remote areas; (c) setting library themselves in any given villages they prefer to set up.

I myself have a long plan to set up a decent library at least in every village around me which could expand to another neighboring area one day. I just set up one currently. Hopefully, this will have a domino effect to other like-minded people to do the same.

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9 thoughts on “Five Lessons I learn from India”

  1. Beautifully written! India is my country and I felt wonderful to read this. I think Indonesia and India have a lot of similarities and can learn from each other. I will be visiting Indonesia soon and hopefully can comment further on my learnings from Indonesia! :)

    Have you been on different adventures here in India though? It’s a massive country (much like Indonesia) so takes a lot of time to explore around.

  2. I was ever read about the bad habit of India Engineer in Indonesia. They are cheat, ‘lick’, and lazy. Beside that I know that Indian (what we call India guy? Indian is in Latin right?)have good knowledge, especially in IT.

  3. Though the Indians are generally talkative and “argumentative”, by nature they are peaceful human being.”

    A friend of mine is married to Singaporean-Indian and she said she was shock to see her husband arguing heatedly with his parents while she was brought up to not raise a voice towards hers. Her mother-in-law encourages her to stand up and say her mind, to not being Indonesian (you know, nodding but disagree, say yes but dislike the decision). But she also said that the family is very close to each other with great affection between them.

    It’s important to have Indonesians learned how to speak up and argue constructively.

  4. Kan di negeri kita tercinta ini sudah banyak korupsi yang mendarah daging. Jadi apapun itu sesuatu yang bagus berujung kepada akhlak manusia Indonesia sendiri, mau berubah atau nggak.
    Di jakarta sekolah banyak gratis tapi tetap oleh sekolah diminta uang apapun itu istilahnya.

    salam,
    Aries

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