August 7, 2011


Over the past few years, I have come to realise that India is a wonderful country. Incredible natural beauty, an incredible range of weather and climate, complex eco-systems, varied topography, cultural and linguistic diversity, along with abounding religious and social practices, together ensure that India is a very complex country--a country where generalizations simply do not work. And then, there are the people. Intelligent, yet insecure, constantly seeking validation, constantly looking for something to do, looking to make a quick buck, looking for loopholes in any system, looking at horoscopes, looking at, looking for that fancy management degree, looking hurriedly at our watches, constantly looking over our shoulders, and, if time permits, looking at Facebook profiles of complete strangers.

And in that great Indian tradition of constantly looking for something to do, formal education has become our national pastime.

Too young to figure out what you want to do? 12 years of schooling ought to fix you.
Good at Maths and Science? Do your Engineering.
Unhappy with your job? Pursue a Masters degree.
Does having a fancy certificate comfort you? Do you like to delegate work? Why not an M.B.A.?

I'll tell you why not.

All of us Indians have, at some point, learnt to manage. We call ourselves software giants, but we manage with pirated Windows XP and AVG anti-virus trial edition. We manage with 2G when the rest of the world is getting ready for 4G. We manage with pirated DVDs from National Market and sub-standard Coca-Cola from the supermarket. On race days we go gaga over Formula1; on other days we manage with 125cc bikes with alloy wheels and three-digit fuel economy. Every so often, we even manage to host second-rung sporting events. Our Chemical Engineers have managed to get software jobs, our Electrical Engineers manage to find employment in the IT industry and our Telecommunication engineers manage with China mobiles.

Another element of management that Indians seem to have mastered is the practice of people with money delegating work to people with expertise. Our households are testament to this fact. If a household fuse is blown, I will get an electrician to fix it. The bathroom is dirty, so I will pay the maid to clean it. If the cabinets are falling apart, a carpenter is just a phone call away. If my computer restarts repeatedly for no obvious reason, the guy from Computer Warehouse will fix it for a nominal fee. If my bike hasn't been washed since last year's monsoons, the guy at the service station will do it for a few bucks. If I cannot handle the rush hour traffic, I will find someone to drive me to my office, where, a similar but more straightforward hierarchy awaits.

A hierarchy that demands that you do as you are told until you are in a position to tell someone else what to do. A thorough knowledge of this hierarchy is the essence of being a manager in India, and it is fairly obvious that such a concept, though beyond the scope of any management degree, is deeply embedded in our education system and our society. And it is this constant and widespread exposure to hierarchy, in India, that ensures we produce managers as effortlessly as the Russians produce vodka, the Germans manufacture fast cars, South Americans play football, the French make wine and the Chinese win Olympic gold.

What good, then, is an M.B.A. degree to an Indian? Maybe as much as a lifejacket to Michael Phelps, jewelry to the Queen, the Guitar Hero series to Mark Knopfler, an IQ test to Stephen Hawking, a copy of FIFA '98 to Pele or perhaps as much as a poster of the Sistine Chapel to Michelangelo.

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