Dr Gopee

The laureate culture must not wither…


— Dr R Neerunjun Gopee


The laureate culture is about striving for excellence, if possible secure the topmost positions so as to be able to obtain a seat for university studies that might otherwise be more difficult to get. At its beginnings at least that was the rationale.

Getting into a British university then was beyond the means of any but the well-to-do, and those whose parents could not even think of funding tertiary level studies for their children had to curb their ambitions and settle for whatever else was on offer – which was pretty little then.



Opportunities for higher studies were limited by both distance and lack of financial means. Some were able to get the few scholarships available in other countries, a few paid their own way to England and France, and many more settled for “External” degrees offered by the University of London, for example. But the one underlying trait was a burning desire for learning and self-advancement.

Education was, and remains the key to individual and national progress.

While the prestige of being a laureate, or being known as an ex-laureate, is undeniable – and justly so – the fact remains that laureates constitute but a minuscule portion of the country’s intelligentsia, and since the country is forging ahead nevertheless means that the contribution of the vast majority who are not laureates is significant. It is no surprise therefore to find successful people in all fields who have risen by dint of dedication and commitment.

It must be remembered too that there is something called late developers, and one can think of examples of fellow students who did not show academic promise at HSC level who have subsequently made their mark in their respective disciplines both locally and overseas. Conversely, there are any number who did not follow up on their academic brilliance as it were. For that matter, many a laureate has gone on to pursue a routine career without making the consequential impact that was expected of what was considered to be a brilliant mind.

The point is that over the years growing economic prosperity coupled with individual and parental drive for education, along with shrinking distances and many more universities opening up their doors, has presented opportunities for a larger number of students. Being a laureate is not the exclusive means to accede to university education, and simply being a laureate does not also necessarily guarantee that one will have a more fulfilled life than not being one. Life is much more complex than that, and the measure of a well-lived life combines elements deriving from both academic and non-academic dimensions, such as character, ability to get on with others, values that one subscribes to and so on.

But it is also a fact that despite overall prosperity, there are still aspirants for university education who are not in any way inferior to the laureates who cannot afford it, or who need a top-up, and hence the need to revisit the ‘laureate system’ so as to broaden the base for opportunities for others equally deserving. In this sense, the move to make the present set-up more inclusive is a positive one, but at the same time it must not be forgotten that international exposure is an undeniably enriching experience which benefits both the incumbent and the country. This element must be factored in into any consideration of “democratization” of the laureate system. The possibility must still be provided for pursuing some of one’s education abroad, and appropriate schemes devised.

The bottom-line, though, is a culture of excellence: that’s what being a laureate is all about. As Walt Disney said, “Do what you do so well that people will tell others what you do and will want you to do it over and over again.”

Sincere congratulations to the new laureates. To the others: no need to worry, opportunities beckon, with perseverance you will achieve equal if not more success – and best of luck and good wishes from someone who was far from being in “la course lauréat.”


* * *


Some sobering facts, and the need to curb excesses!


As we are mourning the recent death of an elder in our family, I have not gone walking to Ganga Talao this year. I thank the friend who has sent me what follows below, and which I share with fellow Hindus who are equally concerned, and with others to whom make a fervent appeal to ensure that we stop wasting our resources and instead concentrate on the true meaning and way of “celebrating” Mahashivaratree. Here goes:

1.    Do not throw money in Ganga Talao on grounds that wishes will be fulfilled. It’s mere wastage. Instead put in donation boxes. Money is Luxmi e.g. 100,000 (devotees) x Rs 10 = Rs 1,000,000 thrown in water each year (average estimate).

2.    After puja all offerings (prasad) should be taken away, otherwise it would decay and cause pollution/environmental degradation. Isn’t cleanliness next to Godliness? An offering costs about Rs 150/200 per family, consisting of bananas (Rs 50), coconuts (Rs 50), flour (Rs 5.85), fruits, sandal sticks, etc. Offerings should be moderate, not excessive. e.g 400,000 (devotees) x Rs 100 = Rs 40 million wasted each year (average estimate). Offerings worth Rs 40 million are left to decay. Is this not a waste?

3.    More than 600,000 pujas are performed during the Mahashivaratree week. The pressure exerted on the lake will be too great. It is too small to contain all the material that is left there to decay (fruits, etc), although admittedly it is biodegradable. We cannot overburden the lake, more so as only half of its bank is accessible for puja.

4.    Disposal of offerings involves high scavenging (labour) and transport costs. Are offerings meant to be disposed in waste carriers by scavengers?
We buy, we carry, we pray and offer in the name of Lord Shiva and leave it deliberately as a waste? Are we not failing in our duty?

5.    Go to Ganga Talao by bus rather than by car. The traffic jam which lasts for about 4 hours on a 20-km route would be ultimately reduced. It would give relief to the public, lessen stress and devotees would get more parking space at Ganga Talao. An appeal is made to all bus companies for special services. The passenger capacity of one bus is about 65 passengers which is equivalent to that of 13 cars. Hence, about 13 parking spaces would be available if we travelled in one bus. This would result in substantial savings in fuel and intangible costs, e.g. air, water pollution, stress…

6.    Construct small size kanwars so as not to cause bottlenecks on the roads.

7.    Do not waste tap water. Collect rain water (rain harvesting) from dalos for general cleaning of mandirs, halls, etc. Water is not a vital but a strategic resource.

8.    Do not fix sandals on bananas.

9.    Do not litter along the roadside. Use the dustbins provided.

10.           A pilgrimage implies discipline and sacrifice. It is not a fun walk – it is meant for spiritual seeking and introspection. Do not waste mental/spiritual energy.

11.           It is a matter of shame to have to say this – but those going on pilgrimage please do not take alcoholic drinks on your way to and from Ganga Talao!! Instead, dedicate all your attention and devotion to Lord Shiva. Is it a matter of pride to see empty beer cans thrown along the roadside on the way to the lake?

Food, financial, energy and water crises are looming ahead. Resources are scarce. We have no moral right in the name of Lord Shiva to waste resources e.g. foodstuff (fruits, bananas, flour, etc), money (Luxmi), fuel (energy) and water. The pilgrimage should not put undue stress on traffic.

The Mahashivratree yatra should be performed in a spirit of tapasya, otherwise it would be adharmic. Besides its religious and spiritual dimension, we should think of the sustainable aspect of Maha Shivratree too. We should put a full stop to this waste.


Our so-called religious leaders should open their eyes and provide the right guidance to devotees instead of vying for photo-opportunities to show how important they think they are.


* * *


Kung Shee Fat Choy

I have already started to receive gateau la cire from my Chinese friends. What a wonderful country we live in!

I wish a very enjoyable Kung Shee Fat Choy to all our Chinese compatriots.


RN Gopee

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