The importance of lessons in life skills
The Sharda Panel’s report on the Centre’s skill development scheme makes me review my own upbringing and that of those I know. It’s not an upbeat story. Most of us were raised to be useless in most departments except in dressing up and trying to get a job. Generally, the girls did better, being taught how to cook, shop, plan meals and keep house, though the motherless girls lost out on that, too, and had to learn as they went along. The boys were brought up completely without basics – how to put things away, shop for supplies, make a sandwich, make a simple meal, repair a fuse, unclog a drain, change a washer, put up a nail, mend a photo-frame or fix shelves, sew on a missing button, iron a shirt in an emergency if the dhobi didn’t show up, help with the jharoo, pocha and dusting if the part-time maid ditched or the live-in helper went home.
All that Indian boys ever had to do was homework, sports, sit with tutors, pass exams, watch TV and get a job. Ironically, those who went abroad to their dream destinations ended up living in a dysfunctional mess because there were no servants abroad. The bride they brought over from India was supposed to be the maid-mommy. The ones who had enough charm and wit to woo a foreign girlfriend woke up to the discovery that no woman, however much she imagined herself to be ‘in love’ wanted an unskilled, lazy man-child and that they jolly well had to pitch in.
No Sharda Panel will evaluate personal life-skill development in young Indian men and women. So if we fancy ourselves ‘nationalistic’ in the slightest, the first logical effort is surely to contribute somewhat competent citizens who can at least look after themselves respectably. Learning domestic life-skills early and making them a habit will not only improve self-esteem and save money; such regular activities will keep those increasingly Indian lifestyle diseases away.
I wish, back in the day, that my schools had taught us about trees and water-management. I wish they had taught us ‘small-scale urban gardening: how to grow vegetables and herbs in pots, on balconies’ instead of wasting our time with embroidery classes. I wish my schools had taught us basic skills from invited electricians, plumbers, carpenters and cooks in a ‘Life Skills’ class. This would have also taught dignity of labour and how to be a competent individual instead of growing up to be just a file-pusher or a town-planner, public space and facility designer or engineer without imagination and sensitivity about Indian life and toil.
I wish my schools had balanced the picture with interesting, sarcastic and touching stories about urban and semi-urban India by Tagore, RK Narayan and Kalki; not just an unrelieved diet of depressing, no-escape rural atrocity stories that did not recognise ‘my’ India, made me wretched about my own little life as an urban Indian and drove me away from such bleak, no humour-no-joy themes to the engaging, well-written stories of Enid Blyton and LM Montgomery: skilled syllabi, therefore, to build skilled Indians?