It’s not ancient history, so definitely do not have to run by the archival section of the library to check out dates and data; referring here to our not-too-long ago sustainable education system. This before smartphones took over, becoming the smart ones procuring for us endless talk-time, face-time, download, upload, movies, videos, go the whole nine yards Instagramming every nano-moment of one’s life, counting followers with the attentiveness of a bank cashier totalling and re-tallying currency notes before stashing them in the safe deposit prior to heading home. The mobile’s Twitter handle, Snapchat, Zedge, Spotifying, on the contrary, never takes a break, is always up to its ears, with zillions of applications to nimble-wittedly work on. (And this all for peanuts…a package of 90 days providing limitless Wi-Fi for 399-odd rupees!) So, the Nation finally fully united! India, had become a true democracy! Now, the labourer across the road, plying bricks that would go into building a house, while at the job, is downloading some titillating film or the other, to watch, come evening, when consuming his liquor. Not to leave the tele-tale incomplete, the maid is Conference Calling with her sisters, one located in Bhopal, the other in Pune, quite unconcerned that the milk was one-boil away from lathering the stove range. A lower, middle, upper-middle or made-of-money family might be having a meal together, but, not an overstatement to say, chatting away on Zoom, Duo, smiling or scowling, to that best friend in Sydney or Los Angeles… the one they have never met, yet know everything about, right down to which toothpaste s/he uses. However, I find myself wandering off, almost losing the thread and so should, with a mile a minute pace, get to the matter at hand. Long before Covid-19 took over the reins of our lives — coining terms as the ‘New Normal’ and ‘Social Distancing’ — had we, not already been compressed into a world disconnected from the real one, shrunk into a clamp-shell spreading wings with unblinking brazenness to launch thousands of tweets and what not! Social dissociation, quite in place, the modern, state-of-the-art normal prevailing. Education, took a nose-dive. Books, at large becoming redundant and Google became God. Now, if the BA degree one was pursuing listed a couple of, say Shakespeare’s plays or Victorian novels of the Brontë sisters’ genre, all one needed was to Google. With airborne flying fingers and with disinterested off-handedness punch in, ‘Brief Summary of ‘Macbeth’, ‘Julius Caesar’, spelled out in points’. And presto, the characters are inventoried with a skimpy story, and as they say, ‘you are good to go!’ As for the assignments, the good lecturer doles out, they are submitted in a breeze. Google has it all — the universe in the palm of one’s hands. So fluently, while tapping to music on MX Player or any other site, ‘Google’ the Answer! Or yes, even a thesis with all the abstruse, byzantine analysis pat in place, followed by a Copy and Paste Operation and presented without knowing a word of what you dispatched. A few years ago, had come across a young man, fresh out of university, with an arrogant swagger, informing me that he had an MBA degree — out of plain politeness asked him about Customer Relationship Management to which he drew a smoky-eyed blank. Returning, however, to assignments — some of which may come in the form of presenting a physical model of an airplane or to go back deep into time, a made-in-clay model of Harappa’s ingenuous drainage system. Some lessons we are in dire need of, since in the 21st century scant rain makes rivers of our roads with cars remaining just so, not modifying into boats to row to safety. For the above Projects no need to wring your hands. Never fear when Homework Auntys are here! Outsourcing, the not-so-new normal way of dealing with coursework. Housewives have opened shop at home and take on mountains of ‘homework’ making themselves a pretty bundle of dough, especially during the peak season of Board Exams. Now must share this story, if one can call it so — it highlighting the state of our educational affairs. Up in the mountains, at my parental home, we have a caretaker, who generally does little — the whole house locked, save for a lobby, a kitchenette, bedroom, bathroom and a good-sized running terrace which no longer has potted plants since Mohan assures you that he has no green thumb, and so, therefore the wilted or perished foliage. Translated: money would go down the drain with repeated packs of seeds unless a Maali was brought in. Incidentally was about to tell him that there are many hillside flowering plants that need negligible tending — dainty rose bushes that, in actuality are hardy, and how about the Wisteria, the climbing flora known for its tenacity, yet seemingly delicate white and purple flowers, but decided not to waste my breath. Well, to zero in on the story: Mohan, the caretaker’s job is to simply sit pretty. He phones me four times, at the allotted hours, to inform me all is well. In between, if I make an impromptu call, his phone is either busy or he is too involved WhatsApping, Telegramming, Jio-Meeting, that the phone goes unanswered. On October 2nd, Gandhi Jayanti, he, with congratulatory buoyancy, greets me with ‘Jai Gandhi-ji’ simultaneously sending me a picture of Bapuji. Shall have to dispense with the details, if I can cram in the tale before finding myself out of ink. Mohan, a 30-something man, who supposedly is a ‘matriculate’, (his words, not mine) does not have the vaguest clue of who Gandhiji was… with a growing sense of tangible staggering dismay, leading to the glummest day of my year, he did not have the faintest idea of the Independence Movement, of the British Raj, of Partition, of anything…What Mohan knew was that Bapuji’s face was stamped over our rupee notes and was oblivious why spectacles were posted on the numerous Swachh Bharat Billboards. His voice leapt up when I informed him that the rimless glasses belonged to the Father of the Nation (whoozat, he vacantly asks) and exactly two months back sold for a mind-boggling sum of £260,000. My indignant question: Can these phones not be used, to semi-educate us as well?!

The Pied Piper has arrived in its new Avtar — the phone. This time round not only taking our children away, but the rest of our tribe too — creating aliens, leaving us with fewer brain-cells than a Turkey, which favours tilting its crinkly rickety neck skywards to drink water, thereupon catching the sniffles often passing out rain-drenched!

Dr Renée Ranchan writes on socio-psychological issues, quasi-political matters and concerns that touch us all.