Millennium Post
Chiranjit Banerjee
Published on November 22, 2012
February 6, 2015

Staircase is the only option that most of us are condemned to, while the elevator has space only for a chosen few Two rather disconnected and unusual deaths caught attention last week. Unusual, as suicides by star crossed or forcibly estranged lovers have become par for the course in India’s suicide capital – Bangalore. But this suicide involved a ‘double whammy’ (engineer followed by a MBA) for a Bangalore-based professional who gave up on life as he was jobless for two years which is an unforgiving indictment of India’s flawed professional education apparatus. The other was the supposedly fratricidal duel that led to the alleged murder of Ponty Chadda; a name that sprung up on national TV networks only during the last UP state elections, but apparently, this ‘rags to riches’ personality was quite a mover and shaker in most of North India well before the English channels considered him worthy of their attention. Sporadic reports indicate that almost anybody of consequence in North Indian politics made an appearance at the late Chadda’s daughter’s wedding in February this year even though they are now (true to their chameleon like DNA) fighting shy of commiserating with his bereaved family. The media is estimating Chadda’s fortune to be in the region of Rs 20,000 crores. That is the kind of cash reserves India’s premier mining company and a ‘Maharatna’, National Mineral Development Corporation Ltd has on its books. All this was made during a lifetime that was shorn of any pedigree education, professional training or even an attempt at basic corporate governance. Keshav Narayan, the former Accenture engineer, had saved up from his hard earned salary to pay for his MBA only to find no takers after the two year grind. His family would have surely weaned him towards the straight and narrow path that often feels like a steep and never ending staircase. Keshav did not get an obit nor did celebrities (Bollywood producers led the out of tune chorus) outdo each other in condoling his death as they did with Chadda, a contemporary Don whose meteoric rise typifies India’s tryst with a rather contaminated version of capitalism that seems to be rooted in South Asian insensitivity. Chadda would obviously have considered a B.Tech or a MBA an avoidable luxury; so did his son who chose to drop out of Welham Boys school. Monty chose the elevator route instead by befriending politicians who are up for sale to the highest bidder. ‘Working the system’ in India seems to come almost naturally to those who ascend from the gutters but the system almost always defeats someone whose start has been above the ground. It is not merely coincidental that the fellow travelers on this fetid route (politicians and crony capitalists mainly) are products of a similar social milieu. Many of India’s business tycoons who have been targeted by Arvind Kejriwal’s salvos have found traditional education much too heavy a burden to shoulder and preferred the informal school of dubious tricks that one masters on our mean streets. This is especially true of those who are film financing, liquor and real estate czars. Bollywood’s outpouring of grief following Chadda’s violent end is symptomatic of its nonchalance towards the colour of money. Most of our movie icons and politicians, the two most undeserving classes who find disproportionate time and space on TV channels, are creatures of low life opportunists like Chadda and some of his peers who would have been permanent inmates of jails in developed countries. These high risk venture capitalists (I am consciously refraining from classifying them as ‘angel’ investors if you are reading between the lines and noting the nuances) see more opportunity in backing dumb and dumber movie scripts and actors as well as obnoxious  candidates for legislatures than considering an investment in a bright kid without the means (as Abdul Kalam or N R Narayan Murthy would have been in their early years) or even in an institution that could produce real leaders. For every Azim Premji that we have today, there would be a hundred Ponty Chaddas. That is the extent to which we have fallen as a nation. Narayan’s death should exercise our HRD ministry that has a despicable track record of licensing 4th rate institutes that are laundries for politically induced illegitimate wealth. These are merely degree mills that cripple a student’s future after impoverishing him or his aspirational parents through extortionate fees. Narayan was to find out the hard way that the staircase is the only option that most of us are condemned to while the elevator has space only for a chosen few who neither have the intellect not the resilience to toil for a taint less future.

 

(Chiranjit Banerjee is a former banker and corporate analyst)