Friday, October 24, 2008

Some nice ‘liberated education’!

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With a name like Alamelu Padmavathi Ammal (with due apologies to anyone whose name is Alamelu, Ammal or Padmavathi) you cannot be very liberated. Okay—maybe not liberated in a wearing-cropped-denim shorts-spiked-coloured-hair-tank top-with-leather-boots kind of way but perhaps liberated in a I-am-a-forward-thinking-modern-woman kind of a way. I don’t know what it was but the Alamelu I knew, or rather used to know, was not very liberated in either ways.


The first time she met me was about 7 years back. Come to think of it, that was the last time I met her too. :-)

It was at a boring office party in a not so boring quaint little town, where the men sat separately and drank for the entire duration of the party and the women were not offered alcohol or the starters. (For the entire duration of the party too) I would have liked both (The alcohol and the starters, not the men or the women!) but nobody asked me. And I was not liberated enough to barge into the ‘bar-room’ full of men, that too husband’s office colleagues and demand my drink. So I played the Good wife and kept quiet.

I have no idea how I must have seemed to Alamelu. Her first question to me was “So what are your educational qualifications?” It wasn’t a “What do you do?’ or “How many kids?” or even the most common conversation starter about how hot the weather was. It caught me off guard for a second. She had touched a nerve that I usually avoided. If you have been following my writings, you’ll know by now, that one thing I usually do not talk about is my educational qualifications, because it usually raises eye brows. (That’s why I have not mentioned it in the short bio that comes beneath my picture in my book cover).In case I have got you wondering why, let me confess some little secrets, some facts about why it is so. For one, I have several academic degrees (and one of them where I stood first in the entire country too) and second I really do not think an educational degree is relevant or essential to get to know a person and third, I do think what life teaches you is far more important than what ANY college can, and fourth I think qualities like empathy, kindness, courage, perseverance, honesty and positivism are what really matter, not what you studied and where. Of course it is only now, many years later, in retrospect, that I am able to analyse and articulate what I feel about it.

When she asked me that question, I was plain stumped. I said a moment later, “I failed in my class ten exams.” And I smiled at my own little private joke. The look she gave me could have frozen the entire Sahara desert many times over.

“Oh—so you got married, had kids. End of story” she said with a snigger, dripping contempt and disdain, in an almost accusatory tone.

“It depends on how you define the story. Whether is fiction, fantasy or fairy-tale” I retorted, but I don’t think it registered. I don’t think my little joke registered either.

“I have done my C.A,” she announced grandly and “I don’t intend to be just a housewife” was her veiled dig.(It looked as though she expected me to stand up and applaud) Anyone in India knows that the mere mention of the word CA is supposed to evoke awe, respect or a similar suitably impressed emotion for the person who has cleared the exams of the great and hallowed portals of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India. [Hey, I have nothing against CAs, heck, I even married a CA, but it was for his sense of humour and niceness, despite his educational qualification, okay?;-)]

I played dumb. “What is CA? Is that some kind of a degree?” I asked innocently. Alamelu did not know what to say to that—how can you explain C.A exams to a tenth grade school drop out? I did not wait to find out. I moved away quickly and avoided her for the rest of the evening.

I have never met Alamelu again. I have no idea what she has done with her life or how many more unsuspecting people she has thrust her gigantic, smug, superior attitude on. It’s been more than six or seven years now.

I imagine Alamelu walking into a book store, picking up my book, flipping through it ,perhaps recognizing me from my picture, and being surprised about a tenth grade drop out writing a book.

Someone once said "The purpose of a liberal education is to make one's mind a pleasant place to spend one's leisure."

But like I said, whichever way you looked at it, whatever she studied, whatever she wore or whatever her thoughts were, Alamelu could definitely not be liberated. I cannot imagine her mind ever being a pleasant place.

To the Alamelus of the world, I have just one thing to say—it is something that my dad told me early in life and something I have taught my kids:

“It is nice to be important but it is more important to be nice.” Or to paraphrase it a bit differently

“It is nice to be educated, but you are definitely more educated, if you are nice."
________________________________________________________

Addendum: Hi all. Just a clarification. When I wrote this post, I was angry and hurt at what had happened and with the attitude of many people in our country. So much that even 6 years after the incident happened I still remembered it and blogged about it. It really is not about the name 'Alamelu Padmavathi Ammal' .It just so happened that her name was that. She could have been called x y z too. Somehow I don't feel good about this post anymore , maybe because, now I feel it has a trace of vindictiveness and I don't like it. So I am closing comments to this post. If you want to tell me something, please mail me on ps @ preetisatish .com .It takes just the same amount of time to shoot off a mail :-)

46 comments:

  1. Hahaha... I was smiling for the entire length of this post. My manager when I was in UK working for British Telecom was a lady named Alamelu :D. But she has been one of the sweetest managers I have ever come across.

    "I failed in my class ten exams". ROFL. I must compliment you on your awesome sense of humour. Too good...

    You've made me curious now :) - "and one of them where I stood first in the entire country too" Which one was that!!?? :) please please please.....

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  2. Hmm...Alamelu is a very old name, have my friend's grand moms, whose name is alamelu, or ammal(oops, no offense), am sure they are old fashioned, atleast with respect to education!!!! education is always a controversial topic preeti, I had studied till post graduation, but receive complaints that its not from a reputed University...but, come to think of it, even if I had studied in IIM, i would have still been a housewife if I had married and came on a dependents visa:-(

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  3. Shucks I want a second part to the story where like in movies she realizes the mistake later on and bends her head in shame. You are right about Alamelu - its obvious from her "wont be just a housewife" line that she was not liberated.

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  4. Varun: To be honest, I wasn't trying to be funny when i said that to her!It was like a knee jerk reaction:-) As regards that exam where I topped,it was such a long time ago that I have forgotten which one it was.;-) i still have the certificate lying in the attic somehwere.I'll have to look!;-) ;-)

    Priya:You know, I find that more pronounced in Chennai.(have studied in Chennai for a few years so i know) I HATE their curiosity and hate the thinking that being a CA or an IIM or IIT graduate is the ultimate thing in life.Also i know exactly what you mean when you say people think its not a reputed university or people have this condescending attitude to 'mere housewives'. That was precisely what the post was all about!

    Cris: i felt like giving her a slap. Of course I could do no such thing.I hated her attitude more than anything else.

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  5. Whn i strtd reading i was wondering whts in a name, y P.S taking a dig at it...
    very well said it is more imp to b nice.
    hey y dnt u share those academic secrets. would like to know. oh I am not a CA .... :) just intrested in knowing

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  6. Yup I'd love to see the look on her face as well when she picks up your books in some bookshop smewhere in ...

    Anyway we had this girl in my hostel who was from Mayo (hey I have nothing against Mayoites) and she thought that was the be all and end all of her life. So when we asked her the usual stuff during the intros, she haughtily said 'I'm from Mayo'. My friend looked at me innocently and then asked 'What's that Sup'? I replied just as innocently "I think she means mayonise". The look on the poor girl's face was hilarious while we all along pretended like we had no idea what was Mayo and we brought in the rest of the hostel in the gag too :P

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  7. You know how to keep secrets. Don't you!? Dig that certificate out this weekend :-)

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  8. A beautiful post Ps...
    This post made me think of Thumper's mother of "Bambi". When he says something uncomplimentary abt eating greens, she tells him something like "If u cant say anything nice, dont say it at all"(or something in tht context).

    Enjoyed reading it & as usual u r absolutely right:-)

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  9. Ps
    Nice.
    Me thinks there is no point even telling ppl that I work for XYZ company unless of course necessary.
    Shouldn't a person have an identity beyond organizations and such tags?
    True.

    -Nikhil

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  10. Brutally honest. Can't agree with you more. But a lot of people (Still! And beats me why)share that attitude as the lady in question. An IIT/ IIM( or both) degree automatically commands so much respect. The matrimonial columns advertise guys with these degrees followed by the number of digits in their salary and all of them demand a professionally qualified, working girl. That is strangely the eligibility criteria these days. This has been the way of thinking for so long that it makes me wonder if it is just hyped or there is an element of truth somewhere, that these degrees show how hardworking and capable a human being is.

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  11. SMM: I googled Mayo :P (I had not heard of it)

    Varun:Come home for tea and I shall lay out all of them for your inspection :-) Else, it's just not worth the trouble for me.:-)

    Sunny Raju: No--it wasn't about the name at all--it was the superior condescending attitude.

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  12. Stillness speaks:In our country it IS like that--Plus people look down upon anyone who is a housewife.I hate that attitude.

    Nikhil:I agree so much!But sometimes it becomes necessary, right?Esp in social gatherings when people ask 'what do you do?'.

    Reflections:Oh yes--i whole heartedly agree with Thumper's mother.

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  13. A 'mere' housewife, eh, Preeti? Obviously the lady in question is rather clueless about what is considered to be the most underpaid and overworked group of people in the world, that being the stay-at-home wife and mother.

    Kudos to you for handling the situation with grace.

    :-)

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  14. :) absolutely loved the post.
    ya there is this creed out there, who come straight to the 'essentials' or as they see it to be, which defines a person...thrive on sadistic pleasure too i guess,#.
    wish i could come up with such imprompt rejoinders!! :( should write a post on it...tips on handling these smart alecs or smart alams!! ;)

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  16. :)..nice one...thats exactly is the thing which i learned from my father[a phd holder..have never mentioned abt it to anyone for superiority..:)...[iit graduates people shd read this article]

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  17. Broca: But not all professionals (IITians or CAs or whatever) are boastful or haughty! I know some perfectly nice ones.

    Khalil: Uh?

    Onlooker: I found her plain nosy and rude.

    Scotty: thanks--but I was still bristling at her attitude.It angered me--So much that six years later I write a post on it :-) Yes i do agree with you that housewives are among the most overworked and least appreciated.

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  18. Leave it, I probably cannot explain :)

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  19. Khalil:I understood perfectly what u were trying to say.What i didn't understand was how it is relevant to the issues in the post!:-) Yeah--left it.And hey--thanks for responding back.

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  20. I am sorry I didnt explain the context enough
    I meant on the following line
    >> Alamelu did not know what to say to that—how can you explain C.A exams to a tenth grade school drop out?
    :)

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  21. Khalil : okies :) Now it made better sense! :)

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  22. I completely agree that academic degrees do not say anything about the kind of person you are...and most of the times does not even say anything about your intelligence...

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  23. Great post. One time one of my friends relative had come from India and I met with them over dinner several times. I guess they asked my friend what I do for living and were surprised to hear about my educational background. They told my friend that I don't ever let on that I am educated - I wasn't sure what that is supposed to mean - should I have shook their hands when I first met them and said - Hello, my name is -- I have a BS in ---- and MS in --- :)

    I loved reading this post.

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  24. Your father taught you so well...and he is absolutely right!!! All degrees of the world can hang their head down in shame if one cannot stand upto honesty, sincerity and dedication. The qualities which you need for any kind of life, be it a C.A, or the most important people ( read, plumber, electrician, milkman or vegetable vendor) .

    But the Alamlu's of the world still exist and out of their own insecurity I feel talk such empty dialogues..

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  25. Hi Preeti

    I do agree that it's important to be nice, and it's not important where you got what fancy degree.

    But on the other hand, I also have a problem with those who prefer not to become educated; who don't want to read or explore new ideas because... I'm not sure why. I know plenty of people who don't really want to broaden their mind in any way.

    That makes me a little crazy too.

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  26. Sue: Oh yes!!I know people like that too.They are very complacent and do not want to make that effort to even know something new.According to me the day you do that, you stop growing and start ageing!

    Prats:Very right about plumber,electrician etc--and some of them are really polite and honest too.

    Pink Dogwood: ha ha ha--Yes!!How crazy that people think that just because you are nice and friendly,warm and bubbly, you cannot be 'educated'! :-)

    Wannabe writer: They do not definitely tell you what kind of a person it is but don't know about intelligence.One presumes that anyone who has cleared the CAT or JEE has of course, an above average degree of intelligence--what do you say?

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  27. Human beings,to such individuals, are their professions...no more.

    Anyone seen to be outside the confines of his educational qualification is treated as to have committed a solecism that is unforgivable! Real ‘modernism’ is to discard such restrictive thinking – luckily, we are seeing a beginning of this.

    Cheers,
    Balu

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  28. There is a message we read (get to read) as students ..

    I am born intelligent .. education ruined us !:D

    well anyways it snot education that ruins , its the way we take that education . Like this 'Alamelu' who has a feel that being a CA makes one the most 'educated and perfect ' person is absolute rubbish!

    Cos what makes one a better person is ones thoughts , heart and yes what makes it 'attitude' ....

    You are a nice and lovely person ... cos this article shows that.
    Rocking post ...

    Yes i am nice ! So would love to spend more time :D reading ur blog ... is that fine ! ;)
    take care

    WISH U and UR FAMILY (esp ur sweet kids) A WONDERFUL, GREAT and SAFE DIWALI ...


    By the way i can imagine her look on seeing your smiling pic on your book :)

    i am sure it would have or will look like a bubble gum stuck face :D

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  29. There is a message we read (get to read) as students ..

    I am born intelligent .. education ruined us !:D

    well anyways it snot education that ruins , its the way we take that education . Like this 'Alamelu' who has a feel that being a CA makes one the most 'educated and perfect ' person is absolute rubbish!

    Cos what makes one a better person is ones thoughts , heart and yes what makes it 'attitude' ....

    You are a nice and lovely person ... cos this article shows that.
    Rocking post ...

    Yes i am nice ! So would love to spend more time :D reading ur blog ... is that fine ! ;)
    take care

    WISH U and UR FAMILY (esp ur sweet kids) A WONDERFUL, GREAT and SAFE DIWALI ...


    By the way i can imagine her look on seeing your smiling pic on your book :)

    i am sure it would have or will look like a bubble gum stuck face :D

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  30. Hey PS...

    Just wanted to comment on the first few lines and the last few lines...

    Come one, it is not fair to start wit such a prejudiced line...Saying that someone with a name like that can never be liberated...I am sure for every Alamelu, Padmanbhan or Dharamveer who may not be liberated you will find a Mike, Meena or Rahul who are narrowminded as hell...

    And yes, couldnt agree with your last lines more. One lesson I cherish is the one about humility. My dad used to say (paraphrasing) that your character is determined by the way you interact with people less fortunate than you are and I believe that I have followed it...

    So there....One thing I do not agree about and one thing I agree about... :-)

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  31. harish: This particular Alamelu Padmavathi ammal was who i was referring to.It really was not about the name--and yeah I do agree any mike or meena can be narrow minded.I calrified in the second line itself what I meant.

    Meenu:Thank u so much. Wishing you a very happy diwali too.


    Balu: i couldnt agree more.

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  32. Well, that touched a sensitive spot in my case. I am very bothered by the regressive tendencies of so many of our fellow countrymen. Yes I do think it is a country(culture) thing here. But alas there seems to be no escape.
    So glad to see such liberated souls as you and your Dad and now what your children would be. This country still has some hope.

    P.S. It would not have been much more surprising if someone had asked, "What's your Caste?" first up. *sigh*

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  33. lol!!! u meet these kind of people all the time... and God know why they associate being liberated to be able to work... I would say its in the ability to choose to work or stay at home isnt it but then if she knew....

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  34. Hey tenth grade drop out!

    Hows the book doing now? Sales wise thats ?

    Happy Diwali :D

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  35. Lol! Absolutely liberating post...

    I don't know how she'll react when she picks your book, but when I do, I'll have an even bigger smile :D

    Happy Diwali Preeti. Joy and happiness always to you and your family.

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  36. hahahaa...too good!

    I hope the lady doesn't read it..she wl definitely sue you :P

    really...educational qualification and the paycheck one is witdrawin has became the attributes definin a person..

    ..and at times its not the strangers!

    ok..this is a pakka candy... how many of these you have in you bag ?? :)

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  37. I often ignore such people..and rather than feel angry at them..i feel pity for them in their constricted thoughts...

    only wish such people realise the folly of it..

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  38. hi PS,
    How I wish to see Alamelu's facial expression (holding your book..)!!
    I've come across people asking about my hubby's salary..and I tell them..'Dont ask a man's salary and a woman's age(n ofcourse salary)'.
    But I dont think all the Alamelus out there are ill-mannered or old fashioned..Am sure there are some exceptions..:)BTW what made you think of Alamelu all of a sudden?Anyway thanku for writing this..I was almost losing patience waiting for the next post..hehehee..!!

    G.

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  39. That's hilarious! Did you really say that?? Good for you. I remember this kind of snobbery more while I was in India. Haven't come across this over here though. At least not yet. People are generally valued for what they do here at work or school, which is a good thing. Have met lots of people with advanced degrees who are pretty close-minded, and many with no degrees at all who are incredibly well informed.

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  40. Damn.. no way to procure the address, huh ? If ever anyone was deserving of a free bookpost copy, it's Madame Alamelu, methinks. Oh, of course, it should come with a nice friendly polite note on the front page.. you know, something like "So, what's your USP, beeyaaaach??"

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  41. Preeti!
    I must say I DO really love reading your blog. Its like a breath of fresh air everytime with a little bit of life lesson without being preachy!!
    Now for this post - you have such an amazing sense of humor though I dont think you meant to be funny when you said that to her! I agree with you so much, sometimes people can be so educated but its as if they havent learnt any life experience from it. I also believe having life experience makes your degree although the more valuable otherwise whats the point of studying if you cant even contribute by being a nice human being first?

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  42. oh I forgot to sign off
    - the other shru!

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  43. head reeling with thoughts. honestly i am thinking whether i have said Alamelus dialogue to anyone. But not any more.I completely agree with shruti. though its not good to envy others cake still i would have loved to meet your father.

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  44. An awesome thing u did...
    In this country where the success is measured by the number and kind of degrees you have.
    The intelligence is measured by your percentile and ranks are in the competitive exams.
    The caliber is measured by your alma matter.
    In that land I bow my head in honor of an awesome post for the Tenth Grade dropout Bookwoman :-)

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  45. Prats from pune: Heh heh--Please dont bow your head.Please sit with me and have a cup of tea and conversation :-)

    RM: i don't know--till I wrote the post i still had anger inside me. now i am kind of feeling sheepish at having 'exposed' her! i do get nnoyed with people who run down others though.

    The Other shru: Thaaaank u! Its words like yours that encourage me to keep writing.Somehow I hate arrogant people. To me she appeared that way.

    Roshan: See my reply to RM.

    Bindu: oh yes--I was too hurt and angry at that time--years later i still remembered it.I know its different outside, but in India, particularly Chennai, i found a bit too much of this intellectual arrogance.

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  46. Geetha: yes of course--not all alamelus are like that.And yes--i have come across people asking salary too--find it awful!

    Mathew: somehow the way she said it hurt me and angered me.

    Prakhar:Thank you for that lovely card you gave my kids.We discovered it only yesterday--imagine! It was buried with the papers that I had carried with me to Bangalore. Don't know if this was a candy--but glad U found it so!


    Still thinking:Thank you so much!! Wish u a very happy Diwali too.

    Aathira: :-) Thanks.You just have to visit crossword and ask them--they'll tell you :-) happy diwali.

    Monika: Oh YES!! I cannot agree more! U said it so well.

    Pranay: Would you believe I have come across such people too!!!They have actually asked me "Are you Brahmin?" Imagine!!!

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