“You can drag a horse to the water; you cannot make him drink.”
I cannot write a report about the 2011 quiz without remarking on the participation issue. We invited almost 40 colleges. 10 colleges registered after an official invitation and poster went to the principal, calls were made to the union secretaries and to our friends in the faculty. The students were supposed to register at 2:30 p.m. At 3:30, half an hour after the first round was scheduled to start, only three teams had registered.
Our volunteer made a round of calls, only Ethiraj picked up. They weren’t going to come, but did not think it important to let us know. The Stella Maris and WCC cheering squads–barely three-four people anyway–showed up. The teams did not. We still have no calls or email messages from them.
For Prajnya, this is not an isolated experience. We have the same problems for every programme we conceptualise for students. This is the first time that we have faced it on this scale for the quiz.
Apathy in itself is lamentable. After all, these are the people to whom we plan to repose a great deal of responsibility in the very near future–work, family, social. But the lack of consideration and the absence of accountability are far more frightening to me.
These are the people who will work jobs? Have children? Run the world? What if they don’t feel like showing up one day? Will they just leave work and family in limbo? Every single student carries a mobile phone and has an email account. They could not call or email or sms us to say they would not be coming?
We are a small non-profit and invest very scarce resources into creating opportunities for students, from whom our only expectation is that they should bring themselves to the programme. For yesterday’s event, we had prepared three substantial quiz rounds, plus back-up questions, which took about five long days of serious preparation, even with contributions. More than one person worked on this quiz. Our volunteer made innumerable calls and a few visits in between his classwork at the University. We ordered snacks for fifty. Used up our small stock of printed certificates (which we cannot reuse now) to prepare for 20 participants. And how do I describe the loss of morale for all the people who were so enthusiastic about this programme? They are also young, and I want them to continue to feel like whatever they contribute matters.
Why the Prajnya Team loves Queen Mary’s College
As a contrast to this picture, I want to tell you why we love working with Queen Mary’s College. Queen Mary’s in its time was a very prestigious institution, but that really is history. Today, South India’s first women’s college is a very poorly resourced, poorly maintained institution, but with the gift of teachers who are unbelievably dedicated and students who are hungry for opportunities. Whenever we suggest an opportunity to them, they are enthusiastic and fuel the programme with warm and eager participation.
For yesterday’s programme, we had hired their hall. When I walked in to set up, there was a small group of students sitting quietly, with the professor we usually work with. They were very subdued, in low spirits. One of their colleagues, a young hostelite, was killed by a speeding vehicle when crossing the road in front of their college… injured a few days ago, succumbed to her injuries the day before the quiz. They said, hesitantly, we are in no mood to participate, we will help you set up. I cajoled them into putting up a team.
And they did. They stayed. They participated. They smiled and did not let on to the others that they were grieving. They were good hosts to those who had come to watch. Principal, professor, students, staff… made us feel like we were welcome and that they valued this event.
The principal had spent long days at the General Hospital while her student battled death. The professor we work with had coped in the hostel with grieving girls and police questions. The principal stopped by as we set up to apologize for not coming—she was patently exhausted but gracious. The professor stayed through the quiz, to offer us moral support.
This is college spirit. This is the real stuff.
And when the quiz participants told the quiz master, they wanted careers in social work, I wanted to say to the college and parents: you did really well raising these girls. They fill me with hope when others in their generation make me very afraid.
We are proud to have in the Prajnya Archives photographs of flag hoisting on Independence Day 1947 at Queen Mary’s. We are proud our quiz in the centenary year of the observance of March 8 as International Women’s Day was in this college, full of spirit.