We Indians love ostentation and pageantry. I have written about this on earlier occasions. This love is across the board. Poor people if unable to have the artifacts that make up the show would like to watch the wealthy and powerful decorated in them. One has to only look at the bejeweled Indian bride or Indian army general in his full regalia or a person about to receive a diploma from a university to appreciate what I am saying. The stage set for these ceremonies too reek of vulgar ostentation [vulgar to my eyes, of course].Talking about degrees and diplomas; there are two verities of these. One variety is that the person who is getting them deserves it because he has slogged and worked for it and passed rigorous examinations and has thus earned it. The other is that he has been awarded one. Those who belong to the latter class are interesting persons. They need to have one single qualification. That is they should have the proper connections, preferably political. Most vice chancellors of universities and each state has several universities, are political appointees and are thus amenable to pressure.
Let me give an example. Mr B is a two bit poet. But he thinks that having published few poems in the local daily and having given some lectures on the place of poetry in modern day life, thinks that he deserves to gel a hon. doctorate. He has his classmate, Mr C, who has become the state’s education minister. So he pesters the minister to recommend his name. For The education minister, this probably is the least troublesome request. He gets many more which are very tough to oblige. This one is too easy. So he shoots of a recommendation to the vice chancellor who is beholden to the government. So among the many, Mr B too is given a Hon Doctorate [D’Litt]. On the appointed day, an emotional Mr B accompanied by the admiring family and few friends goes to the venue. He is made to wear a ornamental gown and a head gear and the chancellor makes laudatory remarks on the literary achievements [speech written by an underling], calls him over to receive the scroll. To register the momentous occasion photographs are taken from many angles.
Mr B, then on becomes a firm believer in his literary merits and makes it point to drive home this to all and sundry who cares to visit him. His conversation begins with,’ you know when I was awarded to doctorate---.’ We have a flood of these doctorates. Film stars, politicians, social workers, artists and even professionals have become doctors of literature or Philosophy, and proudly display [prefix and suffix] these ill gotten letters with their names.
Some years back, a well known social worker’s name was recommended for an honorary doctorate. He was an exception to the rule; in the sense he really deserved it. He came to know of this. Instead of being happy he got worried and wrote to the university to please not to honor him. Those close to him told me that he felt that the work he is doing gets downgraded if he accepts this award!
Talking about earned and unearned degrees, we doctors are no exceptions. We know a large section of our clientele get impressed with our qualifications. We also know that hardly any one checks what the letters in front or before the names really mean. Usually, M.B, M.D, M.S D.M, MCh, DNB, PhD are earned qualifications in India. M.B. MRCP. Phd are earned ones from the UK. In the US one’s qualifications are rarely displayed. For them a simple MD will do. But here we can get any number of degrees and diplomas by virtue of being in the profession for some years or by paying a fee. FRCP,FCCP. MCCP etc .etc. Some doctors have a penchant for acquiring these hon. diplomas in addition to their real earned ones.
35 Years ago I was an office bearer of the local medical association and we had a president whom I will call Dr P. This doctor P was a well qualified specialist with both Indian and foreign [earned] degrees. But he like the others also had a string of other diplomas next to the ones earned. These letters occupied the top line of his letter head.
We organized a major conference and I was the organizing secretary. We had to get some stationary printed giving the conference details etc. Those days printing was primitive compare to the present day. Composing was a laborious process and was done by hand. Based on the recommendation of the president who used to get all his work done by a particular printer, I went to see him with my order. Before placing the order I wanted to see samples of his work. He knew I had come with recommendation from Dr P. So he began showing the samples and the first one he showed was Dr P’s recent letter head. It read, Dr P………….M.B.B.S, M.D, M.R.C.P, [UK] F.R.C.P, F.C.C.P. F.U.C.K [UK] F… etc etc, occupying the whole top line. Intrigued, I asked the printer what these letters F.U.C.K meant. He said.’ I don’t know sir, I have been doing work for doctor for many years and don’t know the details, you should ask the learned doctor, he has so many of these.’
After a few days, I had to meet with Dr P in his chambers in connection with the conference work and I asked him about this special qualification of his, that too from UK. Taken aback, he took out his letter head and there it was for all to see, F.U.C.K [UK]. How many years this printer’s devil had gone unnoticed, even the good doctor did not know.
I leave it to your imagination what followed.
Recollecting this brings on a smile even after so many years.