GOING TO NASA

Recently, a friend forwarded to me an article from the Times of India. I learned that in a village in India, not very far from where I was raised, a talented young man has been chosen as a junior scientist at NASA. Getting a job at NASA is not a small thing. And for a young person having been educated at a decrepit high school devoid of an adequate library, or laboratory or playground it is a true achievement.

In order to study science, in many village schools in India students don't get a competent teacher. School buildings in many places are just structures with a roof. Students at village schools, like their counterparts everywhere, possess ambition. As grownups they want to change the world. Without knowing what it takes they want to be everything they see before them. A teenager may want to be an astronaut or the model for a line of clothing or a lawyer or a tycoon. The possibilities seem to be endless. Now a days many rural areas boast newly constructed colleges.These institutions do a great job of spreading literacy. But most of them lack properly trained teaching staff. In private colleges, in spite of their linkage with the government system, teachers are poorly paid. They supplement their income through tutoring the students at a different location. Government colleges fare better in this regard. For an average student, a seat at a private college, in spite of its cost, is easily available.

A society that has avenues to nurture the ambitions of its youth is the society that marches ahead. On the one hand it has to generate ambitions in its young. On the other, it must give direction and guidance to their ambitions. The sad thing is that in India ambition is neither nurtured nor guided. It becomes free for all among the youth. A vast majority loses. Only a handful succeed.

The Times of India story puts emphasis on the fact that this bright young man comes from a very economically disadvantaged family and that his father as a day laborer is a stone breaker Too much of emphasis is given to his family background, his parentage, rather than to his achievement. After seventy years of Independence it is still taken for granted that higher education, superior ranks in different services, political power and the like requires certain family background. "Pulling up by one's boot straps" is somehow foreign to many Indian minds. That is why most prolific socialists in the Congress Party want a Nehru size "Gandhi" to lead them or Lalu Yadav and Mayawati becomes almost a deity like figure for their followers. This is a feudal mindset that needs to change. People like Inder Guiral, H.K. Deve Gowda and Narendra Modi have truly democratized India's Prime Minister Position.

Coming to NASA and helping to develop science with hundreds of other scientists of the world is quite an achievement no doubt. At the same time one should not forget that there are many young men and women who are doing remarkable things within India. Their names we do not hear or their works we do not always see. Helping to save abandoned children from the streets, eradicating excessive use of alcohol in rural communities, empowering economically and through education women at all levels, forming labor organizations at different mines and factories while placing their own life in danger are some of the activities where many young men and women are engaged. Their activities may not attract much attention like going to NASA. But they deserve attention because they too work hard. Many of them come from poor families. Instead of taking a secure job they have chosen to fight injustice.

Not many years ago, when India's average longevity was 19 or 23, a child born into a family anywhere in rural India had more possibility for dying in the first year of living than living long enough to become a scientist or a political activist or a college professor or anything else. With stamina and care from others they survived. Collectively, they helped build India what it is today. Therefore, personal achievements aside, it is the collective action to move forward that matters most.


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