Arts,science and business in indian higher education

Role of Translators and Literary Scholars


Y.S. Rajan

Principal Adviser, CII

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A One-Day Seminar on Translation and Literary Studies

Trilokam Study Circle,Thanjavur

Respected Scholars & Friends :


I am privileged to participate in this One-Day Seminar on Translation and Literary Studies to celebrate the 80th Birth Day of Prof K G Seshadri. Though I came in personal contact with him just about a decade ago, I revere him as an invaluable guru. He teaches through examples, and also through silence. For a person like me who had had many decades of practical tasks in science, technology and related business management, there was a dormant childhood desire to explore and to venture into original creation of Tamil and English poetry and also do some Tamil writing. His encouragement when I showed manuscript of "Nenjaga Malargal" (my first Tamil poetry book) about a decade ago, spurred me into further work. More importantly, I was delighted to see the English Translation of Bharatiar Padalgal by KGS and his friends, done under the aegis of The Tamil University, Thanjavur. The relationship of guru-Shishya continued from then onwards... I later learnt from the book by KGS "Tightrope Walking" and "Random Harvest" that Triloka Sitaram who inspired KGS & TNR (whom they consider as a Guru) was the same Triloka Sitaram whose serial writings in Ananda Vikatan around early mid 1950's about Bharati's songs, made Bharati enter into my blood streams, cells and brain cells, when I was just 10 years old and was studying at Palayam Kottai. In my Tamil Bhakti poetry book "Kavithanjli" brought out by SASTRA, I received the full blessings of Prof K G Seshadri. What a series of coincidences!. I do not want to go through more of my autobiographical observations: some of them will appear like what is told by KGS in his Translator's Preface for Nectar (Uyirin Yaltirai by M V Venkataram) !


For those who narrow their sights to a few areas of shine, IHE will be reduced to IIT's, IIM's, IISc, ISB and perhaps some select central Universities. Rest of it, is all dark for them. For some criticising and blaming the bulk of IHE have become fashion statements. They use many words like Excellence, Global Bench Marking, Innovation, etc. as their prescriptions. Some would like to see them all closed down. Some deride that they are just money making ventures.

In absolute size IHE is very large because the country is large and it has a huge population. But in terms of number of persons enrolled to population eligible for enrolment, called Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER), it is about 10%, amongst the lowest groups in the world. Planners and governments now talk about increasing it to about 15% in about seven years. There are a large number of writings on the subject. I have also spoken and written about these issues : on policy issues, practical issues etc. Some of them have appeared in books, journals etc., and in some of the books written by me. Also one can visit my website

While I am not unaware of many of the inadequacies and infirmities in our educational system in general and IHE in particular, on the whole I envision an optimistic future in the near, medium and long term. The demands of society and economy will accelerate them towards relevance and excellence. Also I note that during the past 60 years, many mistakes have been done; even those who were at the helm of affairs when the mistakes were done, now realise that many oppressive structures built to control and guide our educational systems have in fact stymied them. There is a major shift in the mindsets. There is a demand from people (even from those who are in the lower levels of social and economic ladders) for education and IHE.

I will attempt during the next few minutes of my talk to explore some of the emerging perspectives. I would also like to point out some possible dangers to be avoided. Now let me explain the first three words of the title of this talk, in the above context.

By the word ARTS, I include most of humanities (leaving aside economics and law). The word SCIENCE is meant to include science, technology, engineering, medicine, pharma and such professional skill related subjects. In the word BUSINESS is included economics, commerce, law, business management studies, accountancy etc – all pertaining wealth creation, wealth management, and wealth protection.

In the current phase of Indian economic growth, BUSINESS related studies are the most sought after ones especially those which finally end up with Masters Degree in Business Management. In general those who do B.Com. earn much better than those who study B.A. or B.Sc. Corporate law is the most favoured subject for those who get into law. In fact most of the studies relating to fashion, media etc will fall in this basket.

Science as defined here, encompasses a very wide range. No doubt Medical Degrees and Engineering degrees are also most sought after, leading to well earning jobs. Not so with pure sciences, even with post-graduate degrees. Those with mere science degrees have to add some specialisation to get some relevance to the job market.

It may be some diploma in management; IT skills; Clinical testing etc or straightforward additional qualifications like MBA, Financial Management etc.

In Business starting with commerce, economics, BBA, MBA etc., there are plethora of qualifications required to serve the newly emerging businesses in India. Though many of the businesses will use big words like innovation, new technology etc., most of them are follower type. Basic technologies and resultant business management etc have been well tested abroad in the developed world, several years ago. Only such items are allowed to be imported by the parent companies. Of course, for the existing status of Indian companies, such (recent old) new items are a great jump forward. Similarly in the IT related sectors, Indian companies mostly operate in the low end of the value chain tasks. Thus in the overall, demands from Indian companies are low for researchers, developers or for innovation. They want for operating personnel and managers who can implement foreign company given business plans. Of course there is a large knowledge jump, in terms of being a follower. Nothing wrong. Thus the requirements for Indian workforce are to meet these demands. That is why there is a demand for business oriented learning. The life skills associated with these are in English (this way the business wants in terms of pronunciation etc) and other skills in presentation etc. Supporting knowledge bases as in law etc are also orienting towards corporate laws. Media has also emerged as a major service industry. So anything that makes big business attracts people.


In the recent past before independence, around the time when KGS was studying in college such a sharp differentiation of Arts, Science and Business Studies did not exist. Business related studies were very small in content.

Studies on law were not narrowed to have greater emphasis on corporate law as it is now. Law encompassed many aspects of human life, philosophy, morals, ethics etc in addition to the legal provisions of governance.

Arts and Science were much more intertwined. A Raman could join Accountants General’s office and still start research in physics. That is why you find in that generation, persons with much more well rounded knowledge. You will find in KGS’s writings many easily flowing references to scientific truths. (Not that he was familiar with the nitty-gritty details or mechanical aspects of experiments and calculations, but he has a general understanding.)

Post independent India did carry this holism in studies for some time. The pressures of modernising the economy and industrialisation, demanded specialists who can solve immediate problems of civil engineering, mechanical, electrical etc and also doctors to handle public health system. Then other specialised demands of agriculture, trade etc.

Compartmentalisation started between sciences, engineering, etc commerce emerging as a special study (later transforming to Business studies as I have defined here). These were (are) much rewarding professions. Arts started getting relegated to the last option only after other avenues are closed. With Economics almost becoming (world over) more of a “Science” and later as “Business”, Arts was left with languages, philosophy, history etc.

In the IHE now, technically (i.e. statistics wise) the absolute number of persons with Arts is still the highest, because that is the one higher education which can be imparted with the least cost. Also nobody feels responsible for the job opportunity of a B.A. Therefore well you can try for IAS (having only 80 – 100 seats per year); take LLB or take B.Ed and become a teacher in the thousands of schools that are being built or the luckier ones try for BPO after getting some computer skills. Also nowadays demands for English speaking persons in the call centres help some of them. So nowadays most B.A. courses have all sorts of contents to enable adaptation to some jobs that come in the way e.g. retail stores training; IT skills; hospitality; tourism, etc.

This takes care of those who can handle English in their B.A. preferably as a medium of instructions. What happens to lakhs of students who do B.A. in Indian languages with perhaps one English subject as an add on. Most of them can aspire to be an elementary school teacher or get few local government jobs or mostly something else in the unorganised sector.

Short term solutions are to increase English speaking and writing skills for them who do B.A. and add doses of other job oriented skills mentioned before.

In the field of Science adjustment is much more rapid. Most B.Sc. courses are either closing down or getting oriented to job skills (i.e. B.Sc. Biotechnology); B.Sc. (microbiology); B.Sc. (Computer Sciences) etc.) Very few go towards pure sciences for advanced post-graduate courses like M.Sc. Physics, Chemistry etc. There is a strong job orientation. Much of the better ones (and also those who can afford) completely by pass B.Sc. and go after 10 + 2 directly to degrees in engineering, Pharma, Medicare, Fashion design etc. Very few of them go for higher post-graduate and doctorate studies. Thus even in the professional courses, there is a high pressure on having qualified lecturers, professors etc. (This is true of IIT’s as well !). Even many who go for engineering degrees chase business post-graduate degrees in India or abroad to have better earning opportunities.

Business studies prepare a whole range of persons who are trained to handle low value bank jobs, BPO’s to middle and upper end jobs in companies. For this lower end entry into them is easier than those of professional engineering, medical etc. Hence B.Com, BBA, Corporate law courses, media journalism etc have greater rush of students than for pure arts. Law is the sword in the modern ‘civilised’ society; that gives the protection and competitive edge in the modern world especially for the corporates.

It is difficult to reverse this trend for quite some time, in view of overly centralised control on education since independence and IHE in particular and also because of the obdurate isolation practised by our academicians in the earlier decades; thus leading to a near complete irrelevance to the demands of society and economy.

Those of KGS’s generation who had the advantage of holistic education with the three components reasonably interspersed, will be appalled by this process.

Even a person of my generation would feel bad. Though sharp divisions of science and arts took place during our education, still what was taught for English, Tamil or other Indian languages was much more holistic than what it is today. Also a desire to read more was inculcated.

Reading books from different disciplines was a pleasure.

Today’s children (students) have many other distractions of infotainment as TV’s, movies etc. Also pressures of competitive studies, entrance test preparations, narrow gates at the employment channels etc put a peculiar focus on parents and students : Somehow finish through various hurdles and get into a well paying job.

Any transition will take at least a decade or more. The current pressures will continue.


I had given a broad brush picture of IHE with only a few strokes to capture a complex picture. It is inadequate though not totally wrong at a macro level of understanding. One major conclusion, will therefore be that there is no use to try to do anything. Let debates go on. Globalisation and market forces will take care of IHE over a couple of decades. Let us watch. Flowing with the tide is often safer and better.

I am not against the ‘churning’ that is taking place in the IHE. Not just the market forces but an oppressive and obsolete centralised control systems (UGC, AICTE, NACC, Governments, misguided elite public opinion etc) are all working on IHE. This churning will remove many cobwebs of the past.

But I am not one who would like to recommend no action :

“Maa tey sangostu akarmani” is what Sri Krishna says in Bhagwad Gita. “Muyatriyinmai Inmai Pukuththi vidum” is what Tiruvalluvar has reminded us.

Other scriptures would also say similar things. The great Sage who was comfortable with ‘Nirvana’ and ‘Shunya’ continued to operate within the society trying to suggest changes. There are many other such examples even up to the recent times.

So what can be the actions ?

It is impractical and also perhaps unnecessary to expect all the students entering into higher education, to be holistic, well rounded scholars. That could have been the goal when IHE was limited to a microscopic minority of the total eligible student population with GER’s less than or about 1% even at the time of independence. Modern economy described as Knowledge Society requires an army of well trained personnel in super specialised skills in select small areas of languages, law, history, science, accountancy, medicine, engineering etc. Though they may be "“white collared" and often work in airconditioned rooms, they are not too much different from the workers of the Fordist production lines in terms of application of their own creative minds while at work. Even those who are in creative areas, it is often confined to their own very narrow disciplines. (The real demand is for many para-professionals. This is also partly true in the developed countries).

Even about the researcher – academic the Nobel Laureate Murray Gell Mann points out how a person choosing a narrow subject area and beating it to death with many publications finally ends up as a professor. He continues to be an academic peer even after all his work has been proven irrelevant or even wrong. Gell Mann pleads for much more opening up of the definition of academic – research space to include those who do not do original research but critically read large amount of information in several areas and disciplines and write reviews connecting many disciplines, in simple understandable form for many other scholars, specialists and ordinary readers. (Those who desire to read the full quote from him and the context in which I have quoted can read my book “Empowering Indians with economic business and technology strengths for the twenty first century – Chapter 13 : Science Communication in the twenty first century – Har Anand Publication revised edition 2002).

This is one broad area in which the holistic education can be attempted for a select few within IHE. They will learn anything from language, philosophy, culture, literature, poetry, science, economics, sociology, psychology etc even while trying to specialise in one or two areas in order to fit into the economic demands of the modern world. Some academics including those who have ‘retired’ should try to fulfill the tasks mentioned by Murray Gell Mann as the internet explosion is giving its negative effects : many people have lost the ability to discern the truth or facts from massive overload of information. Many elites are carried away by a headline or a print out or a summary.

If many of us try and attempt multidisciplinary and inter-disciplinary writings, even while fulfilling the needs of the other, usual demands of current society, there is a good possibility that many others will follow. Don’t worry as to who will publish. Put in an internet but have a network of discerning scholars to continuously interact critique, and exchange views.

I am confident that during the next few years, the whole of the educational system especially IHE will be liberated from many of the current governmental controls, not necessarily with a plan and vision, but under crisis as was done for our economy in 1991. Such a liberated IHE will create a few institutions to internalise the above mentioned elements of holistic education in their IHE. Many such experiments will begin, some of them even messily. But the result will be that a few good holistic educational centres will emerge. Therefore my appeal to many academics, scholars, and intellectuals is not to give up but to create interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary Indian writing on the lines mentioned in the earlier part of this section. They are crucial in order to ensure that a large number of people are creative and be discerning in the knowledge economy.

The above mentioned task is a universal need. Many academic institutions in the developed world have begun such tasks. They will do more. That is yet another reason why I am confident that such efforts will begin in India in a few years at least in a few places (we are more confident as followers !!).

In addition to this task, which is nearly universal and modern task, there is yet another India specific need. That is the protection of Indian culture and therefore languages. Countries like Japan, Korea, China, Israel etc even while achieving high levels scientific, technological and business strengths as followers, they did not abandon their languages. All modern knowledge and skill bases were given to the young and the grown ups through their country’s language. Europe did it earlier and even smaller European countries have ensured that their languages are keeping pace even now. Their children learn in their own languages and in addition learn English, French, German. In future they will all learn Chinese, Japanese, Korean etc. Even Arabic countries and Iran (Persian) have kept up reasonable pace.

But what about the Indian languages. I am not unaware of the complex sensitivities around Indian languages and the internecine animosities unnecessarily cultivated under the name of democratic politics (identity politics).

A common feature for all Indian languages is that their presence in internet is very low. Ability of these languages to handle most modern new knowledge systems is also limited as there are no attempts at translations into Indian languages. The upper end children, all over India, who are in a sense crème a la crème (due to the opportunities they get from the childhood) invariably use Indian languages (at best) to speak at home and they don’t learn any Indian language well. Still Indian culture flows to them through English version of movies/animations; also in some Indian languages used by visual media.

But languages are much more than epics or movies or festivals. They imbibe the cultural traditions and importantly carry with them many creative symbols, so crucial for imagination. Einstein has said that imagination is more important than knowledge. Our children born in India, are inheritors of Indic civilisation, culture and symbols. They are imbedded in our languages. If they cannot access them well, they are to that extent handicapped. This deficiency may not show up now but later when India has to learn to be in lead in many things in the world where we are now currently laggards or followers (of others).

How much cultural background works on new discoveries and how in the past South Asia was leader of world knowledge, are well explored in a book by Susanta Goonatilake (Towards a Global Science, Mining Civilisational knowledge, Vistaar Publications, New Delhi).

It should be noted here that our children pick up English only in a narrow context of Science or Business or modern light reading. Symbolisms in Shakespeare etc cannot mean much to them except those Indians who have specially mastered them. I find it difficult to relate to Milton or Tennyson. Oftentimes persons who are also well versed in Indian literature, as were KGS, TNR etc. may appreciate the Western Symbolisms better.

Another important task for our Translator-scholars would be not only to capture the modern knowledge bases into Indian languages on a continual basis but also bring out Indian knowledge bases appearing in Indian languages into other world languages. It is not enough to translate only the Indian classics of the hoary past into English, French, Chinese etc. It is in that context I would like to applaud KGS for translating Tamil novels and stories into English. They should go to a website. In addition, Indian languages ought to cross fertilise each other from one language ideally to all other, at least some of them.

Later when there are many such translations to and fro, science will also catch up : many languages can have computer aided translations. That will broaden the base of those who can enjoy world knowledge. (I hate the word ‘consumer’ for this though it is the ‘business’ of translation which will catch up to find ‘consumers’.)


On the whole, there are great challenging tasks before such multi-language translators. But the beginning should be now itself. All of you present here, please commit yourselves to begin the process. Keep the lamps alive.

Soon will come a seamless connection of Arts, Science and Business without diluting the super-specialities of today and many more hundreds which will come tomorrow.

Translator plays a key role in this process within countries and for global connections. They can connect literature with hard core science or business strategies and innovations.

In turn, the exchanges of literature from many languages even when one is anchored in his/her own language with its cultural moorings, will enrich the processes of creativity and imagination in the human mind and also open up multiple new avenues of imagination and creativity; old and new and those yet to come.

Let me end the talk with a quote from KGS book Tightrope Walking – Section IV Prose Petals, a translation of Ilakkiap Padague by Triloka Sitaram. Page 237.

Literature is a strategy by which we reduce the physical world to a dream and realise feelings and thoughts into a lasting world…….

Every moment of our lives should be as fresh and blooming as if we are just now awakening from a refreshing sleep. Only when the actions of all our yesterdays are powerless to touch us, and only when the worries of unborn tomorrow do not hold any terrors for us today, we can pridefully declare that we have lived……………..

Literature is the power that enables us to live in a wide wakefulness every moment of our existence, though the events that take place momentarily, disappear into the past even as they occur…………

The realization that the world of sensations and feelings alone is the only Reality and that the outer world of forms and things a mere shadow is possible to those who are ready to voyage forth in the literary life – boat across the sea of life.

What is told above is true of Science and many other disciplines which delve deep into human consciousness. There will be many light boats like a star studded sky.

Let me end with a prayer to the Almighty for providing many more years of productive, creative and happy life to Prof KGS in the true tradition of Vedas

Pasَyema Sَaradah Sَatam
Jeevema Sَaradah Sَatam
Budhyema Sَaradah Sَatam
Rohema Sَaradah Sَatam
Pooshema Sَaradah Sَatam
Bhavema Sَaradah Sَatam
Bhoyema Sَaradah Sَatam
Bhooyaseeh Sَaradah Sَataat