Approximately 47 lakh students graduate every year in India, but only 10 lakh new jobs await them across the country.
The young man—let's call him Shashi—knew no language other than his mother tongue, but had come to Bombay, the city of opportunities, as an intern in 1990. He lacked soft skills and computer was Greek to him. His uncle, my colleague, introduced him to me and I was impressed by his do-whatever-it-takes attitude.
He repaid my faith in his abilities when he learnt Hindi in six months, and basic computer skills in a year. He excelled in everything he did, and I spent a lot of time motivating him. It worked, as he mastered Lotus 1-2-3 and WordStar—two top office softwares of that era—in 18 months flat. By the end of the second year, he was earning Rs.1,000 a month, a good amount considering that his pay at the start barely covered his commute from home to office and back.
Why am I telling this story? Shashi is a classic example of a migrant from the south who made his career in India's financial capital, despite having no capital other than his will to win. He was lucky in that he had an uncle to help in an alien city, where people spoke a language alien to him. So what did he do? He got over the language barrier first.
This story is repeated over and over again when people move to big cities in search of jobs. Apart from learning the local language one also has to get a working knowledge of English to deal with computer and communication. Imagine a situation where you are proficient not just in English, but also in another foreign language, say Chinese, and your world of opportunities is so much wider in a global village!
Our politicians believe in promoting only the local language, because it is an emotional issue that has a connect with the voters. They ignore the fact that most of the students who are forced to study only in their mother tongue would have to go to faraway places in search of jobs.
Let me share a statistic. Approximately 47 lakh students graduate every year in India, but only 10 lakh new jobs await them across the country, in sectors including IT and ITES where English proficiency is essential. The sad news is that India is not creating enough jobs for our graduates. So a skilled graduate should be prepared to work not only outside his home state, but anywhere in the world.
The moral of the story is this. Every graduate should learn, in addition to computer skills, English and one more foreign language—Spanish, Japanese, German or Chinese—while in college. This will brighten their job prospects. It is not a question of mother tongue versus foreign languages. We should learn our mother tongue for sure, but we should also pick up other languages for our own sake.
Muralidharan is chairman, TMI Group.