Saturday, May 12, 2007

KTWV 08 Issue 13: Provocative statement about us...

Some of you may have read a comment left on one of my blog entries giving a link to another blog, pointing to it as being interesting and provocative.

Well, I did take a look at that blog where I read this interesting statement:

.....reminded me of my own alma mater -- St Stephen's College, an institution that (I say this while donning my flame-retardant vest) offers all the pretentiousness of Harvard with none of its accomplishments.

I think I went to St. Stephen's knowing nothing about Harvard, and when I left, I still knew nothing about Harvard. Harvard was non-existent in my life until one of my juniors from school got a scholarship to it because he was a great squash player!

Impressed by Harvard, - not really.

My contact with ex-Harvardites has been from hot to very mild. My closest mentor was Prem Sadanand, who was the Staff Assistant to the Managing Director cum Chairman of MRF, the late Mr. K. M. Mammen Mappillai (whose many nephews and grandchildren are ex-Stephanians) in the seventies, till a massive heart attack took him away. I did not respect Prem because he from Harvard, but because he was a great and colourful personality.

My impressions about Harvard were to be formed much later when I subscribed to some magazine being offered which included a "free gift". The free gift never arrived, but the bill for the subscription did. It was some sort of management magazine. I wrote to the Editors telling them that if they were so inefficient not to fulfil their "promise", then they could not be very good managers, and hence cancelled the subscription. I never did get a reply!

Rahul Siddharthan who maintains the blog
E's flat, ah's flat too - Horizontal thoughts
on which this comment was found was in college between 1991 and 1994.

I have a faint recollection of an email from Rahul when he was at the Indian Institute of Science. He did make a comment that he was not much emotionally driven by any thoughts concerning his alma mater!

Correct me if I am wrong, Rahul.

Take a look at Rahul's blog and do let me know what you make of it!

And many thanks to Rita for pointing me to it.


sandeep said...

nice post Jacob, I recently discovered your blog. I was in college in the late eighties. I found Rahul's post and the comments in the blog most interesting. There obviously seem to be some disaffected young men who did not like St. Stephen's, I could not figure out why. What I found most amazing, and perhaps this is truly telling of how great this institution is and how it has evolved with time, is that the most stirring defense of St. Stephen's is offered by two young women in the comments section. They have obviously had a much better experience than Rahul has. I really liked one lady's comments and to the best of my knowledge it is true that St. Stephen's has been a haven for people from very varied backgrounds, which is certainly not true for most other institutions in the country. Anyways, thanks for pointing this out.

Rahul said...

I am amused that the last 5 lines of a post, that otherwise had nothing to do with St Stephen's, have caused so much fuss. I thought I made it clear in the comments that I was basically positive about the place, but apparently that's not enough: to be a true Stephanian, I have to be fawning in my adulation.

Jacob Matthan said...

Rahul, you did make an accusation of the institution, and as a result us Stephanian's, having pretensions of Harvard with none of the accomplishments.

43-46 years on, when much water has flowed under the bridge.

I do not think I, nor any of the colleagues whom I am still in touch with, have any thought of linking our college experience with Harvard! My colleagues of MY TIME include Ambassadors Kamlesh Sharma, Niranjan Desai, Aftab Seth, Siddarth Singh, Nigam Prakash, etc., journalists and economists Sarwar Lateef, Swaminathan Aiyar, and great personalities as Dr. Peter Philip, Shanker Menon, Ashok (Tony) Jaitly, Mani Shankar Aiyar, creative stars as Roshan Seth, Zaffar Hai, Prakash Joseph - and that is just a short list, much more than probably can be claimed by a similar group from Harvard!

In my reckoning, over 80% of the people in my era made it really big in the big bad world! And many of them in different parts of the world - not just India!

Dunking in the muddy water on Holi Day, flicking match boxes on the cafe table after dinner, getting Sebastian or Ganga Singh to rustle up a scambled eggs on toast, Sukhiya dealing out barfis in front of the cafe, or even Deep Singh coming to cut our hair on the back verandahs of the blocks - Do these have any character in Harvard. These are our humble Stephanian pretentions!

And many of us have succeeded in our professions to be regarded as of some small merit internationally.

I have yet to meet a Harvard Graduate who can touch my feet in my field of specialisation - Plastics! :-)

The last five lines threw up a broad accusation about our institution and us which I think was unjustified. Almost all those I have had the chance to talk to agree.

Maybe you should look at the ethnic make up of the greats of my time and you will see that Harvard cannot claim even a small part of the mix that went through at my time in Stephania.

When Harvard gets the character of the Stephania that I knew - I think then we can discuss a little further! :-)

Rahul said...

Thanks for proving my point. If you crossed the road to Hindu or KMC, you could easily draw up similar lists of good things and great people from those places. But you'd never know that by talking to a Stephanian.

(Quiz question: who is the only Nobel laureate to graduate from DU? It's Aung San Suu Kyi, from LSR.)

Jacob Matthan said...

I do not think I proved your point!

Stephanians are not imbecilic so as not to know whom from other institutions have succeeded in this world. But on a web site about OUR alumni I see no reason to talk about them but OUR alumni.

Whether OUR alumni is better than someone else's is irrelevant.

But that does not make it permissible for you to say that Stephanians have pretentitions of being like Harvard with none of its accomplishments!

I think thousands of Stephanians have thousands of great accomplishments but we do not bother to compare with Harvard. Why Harvard? We do not even have to compare them with Hinduites or any other institution!

For instance, I think you are great researcher, but I see no need to compare you with any researcher from Harvard or any other institution. However, I am glad and proud that you have been a Stephanian! Whether that contributed to you being so good is not part of this discussion.

It is just as my immediate family is proud of the artistic talent of my wife. They do not have to compare her accomplishments with any other artist to talk about her or her work. But all of us certainly know that Picasso, Rembrandt, etc., did exist.

Rahul said...

I think thousands of Stephanians have thousands of great accomplishments but we do not bother to compare with Harvard.

Perhaps this was true in your time. It was not true in mine (on my blog I gave a sample quote, actually mentioning Harvard, from our farewell party) and I doubt it is true today. The only concession I would make is that it is more common to compare with Oxford and Cambridge (UK).

I agree there are some eminent graduates from St Stephen's. What I don't agree with is that St Stephen's contributed in any way to their eminence. You apparently view the place as family, whose prime purpose is to provide comfort and security. Many people view it the same way, so it gets a good pool of students, who remain good when they graduate.

But I view it as an academic institution, whose purpose is to provide an education. And there, it's mediocre at best. You absolutely cannot compare the quality of the faculty to even a middle-ranking place in a developed country, in terms of their teaching abilities (there are, or were in my time, a few honourable exceptions.) And research is almost non-existent.

Anyway, I'm repeating myself... but I'm curious to know which plastics scientist that you have met from Harvard is not worthy to touch your feet, and whether that assessment applies to the ones whom you have not met but whose work you have read. It is not a claim I would dare to make in my field.

Jacob Matthan said...

We got an "education" when we were at Stephen's.

You seem to look at things like faculty, etc. as your definition of "education". I did not study anything about Plastics when I was in Stephen's but the "education" I got in Stephen's gave me the wherewithal to excel in my field.

And that is probably true of all the Stephanians from my time that I had listed. People did not become Ambassadors because of the subjects they studied in Stephen's or the faculty in that academic institution, but because of the term you use so loosely - "EDUCATION".

The reason I have not met anyone from Harvard to touch my feet in Plastics Technology is because during my time Harvard did not produce anyone qualified in Plastics Technology. :-)

Such top material specialists in the US came from Penn-State, Ohio and several other major US Educational Institutions!

Maybe you are not aware as to why the trend of students going abroad changed from an emphasis to UK to USA!

Harvard was a non-starter during my time in the college for most Stephanians!