Umrao Jaan ya Umar Bhar Jahannum?

November 6, 2006

I saw Umrao Jaan today. Though the movie is slow and can be quite boring for people not so fond of Urdu poetry or dialogues, its an absolute must for Aishwarya Rai fans who was “omnipresent” throughout the film. Both Miss Rai and Abhishek Bachchan(who does not have much to do in the film) have put in good performances at par with Shabana Azmi who is in her element as usual. No point in comparing Aishwarya to Rekha in the old movie because with the kind of Rekhas(beauty)she has, performance can be on the backburner for some. Speaking for myself, I am a hardcore Rekha fan for both style(beuaty) and substance(talent).

More than the performers and the performances, some chaste urdu poetry and dialogues were quite spellbinding. One such dialogue in the film which Shabana Azmi says to Aishwarya Rai goes something like this

“Heere ko apni chamak nahin dikhti par jauhri uski Kadar karna jaanta hai”.(Maynot be exact) . This implies that a person may not know his own worth but a discerning coach/master may know enough to be kingmaker.

It reminded me of what I had read a couple of years ago- Current Chairman of Indian cricket Selectors Dilip Vengsarkar was then on a “talent-scout” mission among the small villages and towns of India to hunt for natural cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev. Much before that, former Test cricketer and member of world cup winning team Madan lal while talking in the context of coaching my son told me “ My years in International cricket has taught me one thing. Cricket is a god given gift. If I see a gifted child, I take interest in him. Otherwise I tell the parents not to waste my and their time and take their child wherever his potential lies” . Even for Tennis, the best player in the local club also told me that the coaches often know who has the potential but many times hide facts from the parents of the less gifted child to earn more. One wonders how far a proactive talent scout system can work in education as well.

(A week after writing this post, it came in an article on India today(featuring Vengsarkar) that cricketers spotted by the Talent Reasearch Development officers(TRDO) were groomed by the National cricket academy. Vengsarkar states in the article that there is no exceptional talent that can straightaway be inducted into the Indian cricket team. It reminded me of how Wasim Akram and Inzamam-ul-haq had been catapulted to International cricket by the then Pakistan captian Imran khan after watching them on Television. Akram as captain followed the same policy with Abdul Razzaq.More or less the same thing happened to Tendulkar. It may not work in all cases(Parthiv Patel) but at least the TRDOs can be there in all occupations)

I recently read somewhere that some recruiting firm was not satisfied with the quality of software engineers that were coming out of institutes. It reminded me of this post in which it is stated that only 20% of the total talent pool is good enough for India Inc.

Who educates the educationists?

The direct definition of Education is that it is derived from the latin word educere which implies to take out what is already in(and not blindly stuff in). Another interesting definition of Education is that “Education is whatever you are left with after you have forgotten whatever you have learnt”.

The above definitions imply that you are born with a certain innate potential. What does that imply? Well known motivation speaker, Mr Shiv Khera often says “ Winners do not do different things. They do things differently”. Though he says this in the context of attitude, I believe it is more true for aptitude for the simple reason that everybody cannot do everything differently. Another well known American consultant said that “You have to figure out what is uniquely you”. According to them, grand success depends on being able to identify if not pin-point what is it that you can do uniquely and exceptionally well. Each of the Pandavas being unique in their own way, one of the teachings of the Mahabharat is to develop your unique quality.

Natural talent often manifests well without any formal coaching. I played lawn Tennis for several years but was not satisfied with the backhand(bane of many racquet games). My younger brother got it right in the first week itself without any coaching in such a brilliant manner that many players complimented him. My wife is qualified in English hons but it is me, an MBA who has written articles and poems for magazines and newspapers. Similarly, she does certain business work much better than I do. My father does much better trading in shares than me despite not having any formal training in Technical analysis(graphs) which I have. I once worked in a company where the rise of one person was much faster than four others though all of them were from the same batch from the same institute.

John Adair, in his book, effective innovation while giving the example of a trained artist who excelled as an inventor concluded that “Engineering is just a state of mind. You do not need a vaste amount of knowledge”

All this clearly shows that talent(application) is more important than the tool(knowledge). Even the scriptures talk about it. Vedanta says that Sukshma( subtle, subjective) is more powerful than sthula(gross, objective). Vedanta also talks about each one to progress according to his natural inclination-Raja yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma yoga and Jnana yoga and further discriminate according to their states of mind –Rajsik, Tamsik and Satvik.. Many intellectual and spiritual stalwarts- Vivekanand, Osho, Krishnamurthy, Aurobindo etc have spoken of it. However one wonders how much the so called educational institutes follow it- imparting knowledge is not very tough but being able to spot innate talent is a different ballgame altogether. Following humotech is as if not more important than following biotech or infotech.

It would not be out of place to mention here what I read about the board exam suicides(which have gone up in the last five years) a few months ago in an article which suggested that the subject of emotional intelligence should start early in schools. One cannot disagree with that but maybe if true educationists were there, the children would know where their unique strenghts were and there would be no reason to commit suicide because of fear of blind competition. Competition ironically means “seeking together”. In any case, blind pursuit of knowledge instead of talent or application in the era of internet is plain stupidity.

Today itself, in the Sunday Times of India, dress designer Abu Jani ( Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla ) says “In 1886 we were treading uncharted waters. Neither of us possessed any design qualifications and we had precious little in terms of finances or infrastructure to invest into the grand vision we had conjured up for ourselves. What we did have in abundance was the dream and determination to turn it into a reality.”

Well, for every Abu-Sandeep who have the guts to follow their convictions, there are countless who do not know their hidden talents, their unique talents or their so called “dreams” and unless the education systems reforms, they are destined to live the life of Thomas Carlyle’s “ The person who has found his vocation in life is a blessed human being. Let him ask for no other blessedness.” Since a majority of time is spent on work it can be a lifetime of misery- “Umar bhar Jehanoom”(lifelong hell) which is the life of Aishwarya Rai in the movie.


  1. Wow Hiren you has written so well, really flatered especially with this line “You have to figure out what is uniquely you. I am totally agree with your views. India need changes in his education system, parents have to do more to understand what his or her kids good in it an dtry to motivate him and promote his talents. Like I had seen many parents force dtheir kids to do Medical or MBA just becuase they think it will bring more money and big respect in society. In my opinion if you work what you love to work will always bring respect and properity in your life. Every human being wants sucess.Every body wants the best this life can deliver.No Body enjoys crawling, living in mediocrity. If anybody wants sucess they should have realize their potential and have firm believ in themselfs.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with you about education being about finding and nurturing a unique quality to its maximum potential; unfortunately not many of us find teachers or mentors who can tap into our potential and then develop it in the process of educating us.

    This brings us to another much debated topic which pits ‘education’ versus ‘learning’. Is it possible to be educated without learning anything? Are we just playing a game of semantics or are these two terms referring to two different things that are often clubbed together as one?

  3. Hiren,
    Excellent Post !!
    You started with Umarjaon and before I finished reading, you left me pondering about our education system, about talent, about discovering the hidden talents..

  4. U saw Umrao Jaan?
    Thank god!!I finally met someone who said that the movie was good….
    This genre of movies is not liked by everyone…cant blame them..everybody is not expected to enjoy philosophy, poetry, history etc…
    And the things u wrote about nurturing and developing a peron cannot be more true… 🙂

  5. No way I’m watching this movie. Aishwarya is as lowbrow, crass and stupid as it gets. Forget Rekha — Farooq Sheikh was bloody awesome! Let’s not forget him.

    CBSE suicides … well, what can I say? If someone is stupid enough to want to end his/her life over exam results, well, then, let’s just say they had it coming.

  6. After reading ur post, I so wanna see this. tnxxx!


  7. Hiren

    You make some excellent points. Actually our education system seems to be just about the accumulation of DATA. Life Skills and wisdom for dealing with people which I have learnt by reading the classics like Shakespere, Lord Chesterfield, Balthasar Gracian and others have been more useful to me than the Stuff I learnt at the MBA.
    Another critical aspect that seems to be overlooked is that playing of a competitive SPORT perhaps teaches you more about the strugles and processes of life than formal EDUCATION. I can explain most of the pardigms and dilemmas of life in terms of Cricketing Metaphors.

  8. Umar bhar jahannum….waah kya baat kahi hai. lutf aa gaya.

  9. Parents and the society at large are to blame for the crash commercialisation of education setting in a rat race. The prevalent salary package for jobs becomes the deciding factor for choosing any specific stream of education irrespective of individual aptitudes and preferences. Thus, by hook or by crook (read merit or capitation fees), a doctor is made and hapless patients throng to him in the belief that he knows best what ought to be done. His parents try to recover their investment (cost of education including capitation fees) by demanding a hefty dowry at the time of selection of daughter-in-law! How can there be any serious learning in such businesses?

  10. i guess u need innate potential to reach the heights. but only 1 % reach the heights. for the rest education/coaching/trng is needed to make up for the other ranks.

  11. awesome post Hiren bhai,
    when i started reading it I thought it was a review of the movie but u did a fantastic job of putting ur point across using the dialogue of the movie as the starting point. ur post is absolutely laajawaaab!

  12. ‘Umrao Jaan’ ya ‘Umar bhar jahannum’ ….wired title
    but excellent post…Hiren you have very much interest in education and educational system….very nice approch towards it…

  13. Good post Hiren. The Indian education system needs a big overhaul. Just like you mentioned in your last post, we need educators who are broad-minded and willing to think outside the square.

    The reason only 20% of graduates are commercially ready is because we have been forcing generations to adapt to a rigid and antiquated system that does not always teach its students the skills required to excel in general life, not just the next exam.

    Good work.

  14. Great post except for Umrao Jaaaaann. But i respect your views. For me Umrao Jaaan was boring to be fair pathetic. And i strongly feel Ash has no acting skills. Good thoughts on the education…i agree totally

  15. @Ek awaaz- We are Do awaaz on this
    @Imemy- You are right- It is two different things masquerading as one
    @Shiv- Thank you
    @Neha- I liked it though will not see it again
    @Kshitij-People commit suicide because of false perceptions and not stupidity
    @Keshi-Good for you-Aishwarya is as pretty in the movie as your blog.
    @Richard-I agree. It would be interesting to read your metaphors
    @Satish-You have a point.
    @uncommononcommon- I agree but you have to know the direction of your talent.
    @shashi- I don’t know about nice approach but it is the right approach.
    @The Enigma- Reforms are indeed needed. Thank you
    @Abhi- Right message through a pretty face even if she may not have the acting skills.

  16. Imagnatively linked..A movie with our present day conundrum of being caught up in earning our livelihood but not living a life we wish to..and the educational system, a pivotal fulcrum amidst the chaos. I see the discovery channel and national geographic often marvelling at those who have made a living out of their passion,either surrounded by nature or travelling to discover its bounties..what a life!

  17. I did not bother to see this movie because I think original Umraojaan is great. People who made this movie with Rekha were dedicated and knew the culture. JP Dutta is a good director but not to direct UmraoJaan.

    Aish is nothing but pretty face in this movie.

    btw, I agree with last comment of Kaveeta kaul in part about passion of people but I still would refrain from watching new UmraoJaan.

    I don’t agree with all choices. Randeep Huda is certainly good, 2nd one nobody knows and Shiney has long way to go to prove himself.

    Money is certainly motivating factor but at the same time good directors are definately required.

    beautiful and sexy indian actress

  18. I have seen umrao jaaan. i thougt it was intresting.
    i love the song Salaam

  19. i did not see umrao jaan, so i will not comment on it. though i can say i am neither a fan of ms. rai’s needy and over-rated looks, nor of her mediocre acting.
    on your thoughts on ‘innate potential’, i have to say that most people who do well in something on the first try don’t feel anxious of failure. sure, there are people who are born geniuses, but a ‘genius’ is mainly as thomas edison once said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. accordingly, a ‘genius’ is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.” most people become too distracted or give up when they can’t seem to solve something. it is true, that children who are exposed to something (music, math, shakespeare, etc) from a very young age develop a ‘talent’ for that thing but IFF they are encouraged by educators who use positive reinforcement instead of fear tactics.

  20. Hiren,

    The length and breadth of your thinking that led you to write this post is truly magnificent. Wonderful points you made here, some pretty long-lasting food for thoughts. Since you are also a part of Caferati network at Ryze, please use Search Archives and type ‘transcreation’ -you will be amazed to see a wealth of Urdu poetry, with highest quality translations and even transcreations there. You are most welcome to dig them up, and leave comments, so that others who don’t know how hard I and David Israel of Washington have worked on these threads, also Vijay Nair and lately some newbies too.

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