Friday 12 February 2010

The Brahman professor

In his lectures on the Middle East, Graham Leonard repeatedly says that Indian and Chinese can’t invent or discover anything because they lack a liberal education that fosters the spirit of inquiry. Hence, an Indian or Chinese engineer or scientist, while knowing the past very well, cannot play any role in shaping the future. To be fair, he does warn his American students that once the Asians learn to think, they will pose a bigger challenge than they do now.

Dr Leonard’s lectures are fairly recent. If he ignored the rocketing number of research papers coming out of China, and the vast number of Chinese and Indian researchers in American institutions, he must have done so deliberately. Therefore, he does his American students a grave disservice, assuming they trust their professor more than plain facts.

It is inconceivable too that Asian researchers rote till their early 20s, then suddenly become original thinkers on touching American soil. Or is there such a dearth of talent among Americans that they are scrapping the bottom of the global intellectual barrel?

(On the other hand, none can deny that Indian business is enamoured with screwdriver technology and Indian academics have probably missed the bus in research (if one goes by the number of, say, peer-reviewed scientific papers) while China and Brazil have pulled far ahead.

But – here we go again – if -A is true for India, so is +A: With 1.2 billion people, it can’t be otherwise. It can well be that India’s loss has been the West’s gain. As someone said, brain drain is far better than brain in the drain.)

However, my real problem is elsewhere. Teachers in Western collages, like Dr Leonard, now teach international classes. Often, students from their own country are minorities in such classes. How right is it for such teachers to mean ‘American’ (or French or, more broadly, Western) when using the pronoun ‘we’? Would it be ok for a Brahman professor to use the same pronoun, in the same sense, in a mixed-caste class?    


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