Friday, April 8, 2011


Competition has been synonymous with life from the beginning of time. Survival of the fittest is not merely an adage. Your being alive to read this is because one sperm got ahead of a million others. The plant that grabbed the space, sunlight , water and nutrients from brother seedlings is the one that stands sturdy. The lion that leads the pride got to the head by vanquishing competitors consistently. That was not effortless. Like it or not, aggression is natural. Natural aggression is involuntary or instinctive. However, the competition that we humans get involved in, complements our natural potential for aggression with complex social and psychological motivation. Now, more than ever, competition rules us.

Unlike the pie-throwing games of the West, our Indian mud-slinging contests lack hilarity. We voters watch as politicians and candidates sling mud on each other, since it is the assembly election season. Accusations are answered not with explanations, but with counter accusations at the opponents and it dawns on the common man that all parties are equally bad and all politicians are malodorous digestive effluents. Gone are the days when parties promised equal opportunities. Now they appease vote bank masses and lure with ‘offers’ of television sets, computers, absurdly low prices and an assortment of freebies. It is a sale out there! My neighbor in Kasavanahalli complains that she hasn’t enough space to keep the 50 kilos of rice (each) that three opposing parties had distributed. One would think that such aggressive campaigning would burn these guys out. But they seem to be enjoying the gamble, as they are thick on epidermis and thin on values. Besides, the bounty at the end of the battle is worth the filth-trek.

Competition is omnipresent in our daily lives, whether one is a corporate-slave, entertainer, millionaire, pen-pusher, student, job-seeker, banker, parent, or a T.V. channel. Ranks, deadlines, targets, exams, investment, ratings are all adrenalin-triggers that steer you towards the push-and-shove routine of aggression. One would think that people would prefer peaceful pursuits to break free from their stressful duties. Strangely that doesn’t happen. We choose to watch/take part in competitions and reality shows even when we don’t have to. Why, you want to be the first one to get off an aircraft or get on board. Where there is a queue, there is a scramble to be the first; and when you get there, a perverse feeling of one-up-manship - especially on seeing the peeved looks on those behind. Temple queues are sports arenas where all kinds of contests happen to get there. You have the very physical pushing maneuvres: the Elbow, the Heave, the Tug, the Resist Stance, the Block, the Return Push and often Verbal Abuse. Another means to win, is using the influence of the temple staff much to the chagrin of those who invested several hours and energy on the aforementioned sport. Yet another is to dole out cash legally or otherwise to gain access.

Sports reveals fascinating aspects of competitive thinking . Supporters switch to primitive mode as they cheer, jeer, pray, despair, boast, gloat, cry, grin or make sacrifices. My Paki driver, eager for the Cricket World Cup Series, had talked of nothing else for the past 2 months. This quiet, big man turned into a chattering boy as he enlightened me about the historical moments of the game, the scores of the teams in past, his predictions about players and teams – his discourses were punctuated by claims that it didn’t matter who won “Jeet aur haar to hota hein, nafrat ki kyaa zaroorat?” It was a morose man that drove me in silence the day after his team bowed out. I tactfully refrained from commenting on the tragedy. But it did seem unnatural not to mention it at all. And so I asked, “Kal match dekha, Kya?” And the floodgates opened. I caught some words in the rapid hindi that flowed- haraam, bewakoof , were two of the highest frequency. The gist of his tirade was that his team had deliberately given runs, dropped catches and scooped their own balls into the Indian fielders’ hands… “Shaayad, match fix kiya hoga, paisa liya hoga.” And I murmured in my fractured Hindi that I was sure that wasn’t true and that it must have been a bad day for them. He only felt offended by that remark and insisted that Immorality, and not Incompetence had caused his team's defeat.While I felt that it is better to be a Loser than a Perpetrator, he preferred to think of his team as Unprincipled rather than Incapable. In sports, perspectives are relative. It is interesting to watch the match after it is over and listen to the comments about what the captain did, didn’t do, should do or should have done. Now Dhoni is God (of course, secondary to the Great God Sachin in the cricket pantheon). But if India hadn’t won (shudder!), we’d be baying for his blood and finding a million mistakes.

Teaching, I thought, was a vocation where competition found no role. Teachers co-operate rather than compete. In teaching, it isn’t about yourself, the students are the priority. And if teachers were a competitive lot, we’d have written the AIEEE or some such competitive exam and become something else. I was wrong.

With competition like this, I wonder what we classroom teachers will need to do to prevent losing our students . To learn more about this delightful young lady, look here.