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THE HIGHER EDUCATION
It is hard to determine who is the more unfortunate man here — a man who has a marriageable daughter, but cannot provide for her marriage, or a man who has a son who has failed to pass an examination. Take the case of the latter first. He starves himself to provide for the education of his son. The son, let us suppose, does his best to pass an examination — most boys do so in this country. But it happens that he falls ill on the first day of his examination. He must thus wait another year. The subjects of his study disgust him, for he had once gone through them. He appears at another examination, but unluckily a sudden dizziness seizes him one day while writing his answers; he fails to recollect something with which he was quite familiar, and again fails in the examination. When the news is brought to him that he has failed, he falls down in a swoon — or something worse happens to him. The blow makes him something like an idiot for life. If his unthinking parent chastises him after this, he purchases four pice worth of opium and kills himself. What is a failed candidate? He is a doomed man! He is as doomed as a life-convict. Night-keeping and hard study had destroyed his health. Luckily he does not live long. A failed candidate, generally speaking, does not survive his disgrace. He dies either of consumption or of indigestion. He knows he is not wanted in society. If he has evil propensities, he becomes a dangerous member of society. But, luckily, youths belonging to those classes who compete for university honours seldom carry with them any criminal proclivities.
No; you are not dreaming. This is an exact transcript of a leading article which lately appeared in one of the most influential of the native newspapers in Calcutta. I give you my word it did.
Having read it, you can begin to form some idea of that wonder of nature, the babu; or, at least, you can begin to perceive how impossible it is to form any sane idea of a wonder so unnatural. This extract is the babu displayed, complete and essential. I suppose there is nothing like it in the world — thousands of people, speaking and writing an alien tongue almost as if it were their own, yet thinking and feeling a whole world apart from the spirit of it. This grotesque prodigy is the fine flower of the system of education which we, with infinite care, have grafted on to the Indian intelligence.
When we began to organise the higher education of India, it was decided, mainly on the impulse of Macaulay, that it should be founded on an English basis. The ancient languages and the ancient philosophies of India were depressed into a secondary place: in the five universities we have set up in Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Allahabad, and Lahore, Sanskrit or Pali stands on much the same footing as Latin or Greek, with which India has plainly but the remotest concern. Examinations, whether in high schools or in universities, are conducted in English: English literature, English mental and moral philosophy, English systems of mathematics, English methods of science, are the highroads to a degree. The educated native is to be intellectually indistinguishable from the educated Briton.
On the surface this experiment has been astonishingly successful. In Bengal, and to a great extent in Madras and Bombay, the native took to European education as a duck to water. It is true that he never learned to talk or write exactly like an Englishman — his speech and style have always an exotic flavour; yet the numbers who learned to speak, read, and write fluently, and who passed fairly difficult examinations in a foreign tongue, testify to an application and an elastic intelligence which you will hardly parallel elsewhere in the world. Thousands matriculate in the universities yearly; more than a thousand take degrees. The experiment seems triumphant; and none, naturally, triumph louder than the natives themselves. "We fully admit," writes the organ I have quoted above, "that the Englishman is very intelligent and shrewd; but we also contend that the Indian "meaning the Bengali — "is fully his peer." Or, another day, "It must be borne in mind that the Indian populace are more intelligent than a London populace." Ten minutes in a native village are enough to establish the imbecility of this last proposition; yet on paper it would seem to be true.
Unfortunately the whole system of higher education in India is radically vicious in plan, and, if not actually disastrous, at least almost profitless in effect. It is organised solely with a view to results on paper.
The universities have been modelled on that of London, which is probably the worst in the world. They do not teach, but only examine. Not merely that; they only examine on set subjects and on set books. The candidate must not be expected to know anything outside his cram-books. Such an examination can never be any real test of capacity or even of knowledge, but only of memory — a useful gift, but no more: of real education it furnishes no criterion whatever. The consequence is that, in Calcutta at least, a man of fair but not extraordinary intelligence, but of powerful memory, can attain to his B.A. degree by simple, ignoble learning by rote. An analysis of the examination papers shows that a native, if he will take the trouble to learn by heart the introductions and notes to his books of English literature, the texts of his books on psychology and ethics, the introductions to his Latin books and Bohn's translation of the same, can write himself B.A. without the feeblest approach to anything that could be called a thought of his own.
That, you say, must be a very bad examination; but you can hardly believe that anybody would have the memory or the application to perform such a feat. You are wrong: it is actually done, or as near as makes no difference. A few years ago, at Calcutta, a candidate for the degree of M.A. took up Latin. His translations were literally flawless. Only the examiner noticed that in every case he began his rendering a few lines before the passage which was printed on the paper given him and finished a few lines later. He had learned the crib by heart, fixing his places by proper names, or, when these were scarce, by some mnemonic arrangement of his own — and there he was! After all, the same thing has been done at Oxford and Cambridge. Many of us used to know whole books of Virgil and Horace by heart in Latin; why should not a Bengali, speaking English and with a direct pecuniary interest in the business, be able to learn them in English?
The examiner in this case reported that his man had failed, whereon the candidate appealed to the governing body. This was mainly composed of natives, who, having the interests of education — that is, of getting degrees — at heart, insisted on the man being allowed to pass in Latin, though, on his own admission, he hardly knew a word of the language. For the bad system is made worse by the fact that the universities have been allowed to come under native management, which means laxity and utter carelessness about true education. There used to be a viva voce examination at Bombay, and, as I learn from a gentleman who had much experience of it, its disclosures were sufficiently amusing. "You say in your papers here," he would say to the examinee, "that Sir Walter Scott is a most beautiful writer. Now here are his works: pick out your favourite." Whereon the examinee would turn green, for this was the first time he had ever set eyes on so much as the covers of the works of that beautiful writer Scott. But the natives abolish this part of the examination; and in general they are always tending to lower the standard.
It is true that the standard, especially of Bombay, is still fairly high — about that of London, and considerably above that of the pass-man at Oxford or Cambridge. But as it is all a matter of rote, it matters little what the theoretical standard may be. The candidate has a direct pecuniary interest in passing, and no labour will stop him. In the first place, there is Government service. The various Secretariats absorb a vast number of graduates as clerks, and though the general influence of the clerk on Government is here, as everywhere, most pernicious, they make very good clerks indeed. But then, there are not nearly enough clerkships to go round. The calendar of the University of Calcutta shows over five thousand of B.A.'s alone — a couple of batches of three to four hundred apiece, by the way, named Bandyopadhyay and Mukhopadhyay respectively. Those who get into the public service are established for life; but the others feel that they have been ill-used. They have not yet got clear of the idea — so skin-deep is their Europeanising — that to have a degree is in itself a passport to public employment. How should they, when even to have failed in an examination is regarded as giving a claim to a salary? It sounds like comic opera; but I know many men who have had natives again and again appeal for posts with the sole qualification that they have failed in a university examination. Consumption and indigestion spare them somehow, and now failure is almost a degree in itself. "F. M., Calcutta" — Failed in Matriculation — may shortly be expected to appear on the babu's card.
The surplus Bandyopadhyays, for whom Government finds no room, go to reinforce the native press. They are discontented; they have their grievance, — though, mark you, they have been educated at the public expense — at the expense, that is, of the ryot, and consequently the native press is steadily disaffected. Most of it professes loyalty, but it never misses a chance of carping at the Government, or at white men in general. So far, then, as the native press is a danger, it is one which, by the usual irony of India, we have created for ourselves in a sincere attempt to benefit the native. I fancy, for myself, that the Anglo-Indian official is apt to be a little nervous about the native press, and by taking notice of it to feed the vanity on which it lives. It is impertinent, certainly, often wilfully inaccurate, and sometimes, in the vernacular, filthily scurrilous; but the best way to deal with it is probably to do nothing. Let disloyalty talk and write as it will; after all, why should a native of India be loyal to Britain? But the moment it begins to act, shoot and spare not.
Much better to enjoy quietly the unfailing deliciousness of the native press. There is, for instance, a monthly review called "The National Magazine," which never fails to please. Its tone is consistently moral, sensible, and dignified, but occasionally its English flowers a little luxuriantly. "It was some time before I could extricate him," writes an expert bicycle-rider of a pupil, "when, lo! a very much bruised and sprained-ankle man was he." Or here is a description of a young man's first step in vice. "He heard the soft, delicious, soul-abandoning sounds of music, and saw the youthful nautch-girls, robed in voluptuous dress, come and seat before him, while the distribution of garlands of jasmine and sprinkling of rose-water lent what is generally termed a double arrow to the Cupid's bow." A local correspondent of a daily paper is happily inspired when he says that some of the officials "are in the jungle with gun in the jolly time of Xmas joy." But perhaps obituaries offer most facility for elegance of composition. One organ says of a pleader — and remember that nearly all the prominent babus follow this trade — "his childlike simplicity fascinated all, and was proof against the demoralising influences of his honourable profession." Another gentleman "was a man of uncommon sense, devoted to God all along his life." By the death of a patron he "was compelled to live in his nativity at Somsa. . . . The deceased was the gem hidden at Somsa, quite unknown to many, but known to almost all the Pundits of Bengal. His death has made this part of the country dark as it were." Finally, lest you think there may be exaggeration in stories of babu English, take this extract from an appreciation of certain orators of the native Congress. The subject is a gentleman called Pundit Madan Mohan Malavayya.
His speech is as mellifluous as his name. He has a sweet voice, and is one of the most enthusiastically welcomed of men on the Congress platform. Neither tall nor short, not stout but thin, not dark, dressed in pure white, with a white robe which goes round his shoulders and ends down below the knees, Mr. Madan Mohan stands like Eiffel's Tower when he addresses his fellow-Congressmen. He stands slanting forward, admirably preserving his centre of gravity. His speeches are full of pellucid and sparkling statements, and his rolling and interminable sentences travel out of his mouth in quick succession, producing a thrilling impression on the audience. There is music in his voice; there is magic in his eye; and he is one of the sweet charmers of the Congress company.
And now, do you know one more reason why the native seeks university distinctions? The gentleman who learned the Bohn by heart was asked why he put himself to so much trouble. To raise his price in the marriage market, he serenely replied. He would get a wife with a larger dowry as M.A. than as B.A.; how much larger than as F.M. or nothing? If you do not believe me, listen to a writer in my "National Magazine," who himself deprecates the practice. "Let alone the boy," he says; "his father of maturer years will not be ashamed to demand from you cash to the tune of not less than 2000 rupees, if you will only ask him to marry your daughter to his son. And why so? Only because the boy has obtained a certificate of matriculation from the university." It is sober truth: the fathers of daughters will pay heavily — and do — to purchase sons-in-law who have passed examinations.
Did I say comic opera? It is beyond farce; it is beyond the games of the nursery. We have given India the treasures of our Shakespeare, our Bacon, our Huxley; and India uses them as convenient pegs wherefrom to hang quotations on the husband market!
O India, India! What jests are perpetrated in thy name!