Greening the Indian Economy. ZZZZzzzz.

Solid Waste Management Policy Paper, Shuddham

Last weekend, Shuddham participated in the National Workshop on Environmental Policy Integration for Greening the Indian Economy at Pondicherry University. We were asked to present a paper and give a presentation on approaches to policy development for solid waste management, based on the Shuddham experience.

The conference was organized in the typical Indian style, a mix of the shambolic and the self-important. Papers were called for less than a week beforehand, and I had to pull an all-nighter to write ours. Shit, fuck, etc.! Naturally, no one else submitted papers under such absurd deadlines, so the conference organizers didn’t bother to reproduce our paper either.

Most of the presentations were by academics and government bureaucrats, who stood stiffly in front of dense walls of badly written PowerPoint text, reading it verbatim in strained, if absurdly uninflected voices. It was particularly embarrassing to see the amateurish work done by the university professors. We think of India as a place chock-full of over-educated folks — everyone you meet seems to have an advanced degree in something-or-other — but it is impossible not to wonder a bit about the quality of that education. These people would have been laughed off the podium — and perhaps out of their departments — at any academic conference I’ve ever attended. Their work was uniformly shallow, conclusory, and unoriginal. It is no wonder they didn’t want papers published in proceedings of the conference.

Dr. Poya Moli, a lecturer in the Ecology Department of Pondicherry University, was the chief organizer of the event. This meant that, instead of demonstrating his worthlessness in a single presentation, he was able to lecture in numerous conference sessions. It was all very Freudian, as if he wanted to make certain that we found him out.

Three of the five excellent presentations were given by members of our posse: Probir Banerjee on behalf of Shuddham, Prashant Hideo on GIS mapping for smart development, and Hemant Lamba on leveraging the Pondicherry-Auroville region’s excellence in alternative energy engineering into an internationally recognized center. These presentations were passionate, engaging, and edifying, and the audience responded accordingly. (The other two good presentations were on biodiversity and preservation of native species within forests recognized as “sacred groves”.)

Five worthy presentations, out of more than thirty in total, do not make for a very satisfactory conference experience. Still, it was not a complete waste. Lunch and tea were served both days.


1 Response to “Greening the Indian Economy. ZZZZzzzz.”

  1. 1 Cheeni 17 April 2008 at 12:57 am

    Heh… that’s rather typical for Indian conferences, and your suspicion about the quality of the graduates that Indian education turns out is correct. I was initially embarrassed and then angry when I consistently knew more than most, all? of my professors in my graduate degree course in Chennai. The place I went to was rather like the place you describe – in total shambles and full of self-important people.

    There are a few good colleges, and conferences, but these are really few and far between. I have also found plenty of not-so-great teachers and professors at premier schools like the IIT. To be fair, there are also the stupefying geniuses that somehow happily co-exist with their not so sharp colleagues.

    It’s one thing to be skilled and another to be educated. I suspect a lot of Indians are merely the former.

    For example, Indians are rarely opinionated in their discussions in the way you discuss Obama’s campaign in another post on your blog [1]. This is put down to the shy and introverted nature of Asia and India. That’s horse-puckey, in truth very few Indians have debated an opinion or held a point of view vehemently in school – the teacher dictates, the pupil memorizes, and the system expects students to repeat the answers verbatim from the text – now that’s how we teach.

    There are only a few who either escape this by attending some of the better schools (alternative schools?) or retain the spark of curiosity and thirst for knowledge by sheer will despite this educational disaster.

    I saw a hoarding the other day for Indian Express, one of the more popular National newspapers in English. The hoarding states – “I don’t want Shakespeare to write my news”[2]. Now it’s understandable that in any country of a decent size there would be newspapers through the complete spectrum from the high-brow and the erudite to the tabloid to cater to different sections of society. Sadly, in India it’s the literate, the college educated, the English speaking (i.e. economically well off), the bankers, the lawyers, the judges, the engineers who represent the consumer for such hoardings, because it’s true – these people actually find it hard to absorb news that is anywhere near intelligent. I can only surmise that the paper with Shakespeare writing the news is the Hindu. Compare the Hindu to say the IHT, and you’ll see why that’s not even remotely funny.[3][4]

    Do you imagine that it is impossible for say a professional like a Doctor to be merely skilled rather than educated? Well, the average Indian doctor can take your blood pressure reading reasonably accurately, but it’s the rare Indian doctor who can connect that with an unrelated data point in say your blood test. This happens all the time in numerous professions. And, even in cases where the individual is highly skilled and intelligent, they hold few intelligent interests outside of their work.

    Hmm… I was not being careful, I got trapped into spending way too much time on this :-) Nice blog btw, I’m adding it to my RSS reader.


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