Saturday, January 28, 2006

Life has changed- in some ways for the better and in some ways not- for me and I would blame my long inactivity in this corner of the world on precisely this. Bid an adieu to Northern India, to my erstwhile company, to the numerous people who had come to occupy an important place in my life in such a short span and got back to where my heart was- Bangalore! The idea is yet to sink in that I have ACTUALLY landed here for good and don’t have to take yet another flight to somewhere else. It also gives me a great opportunity to pursue things and interests that are close to my heart. Well that was the ‘good’ part about which I spoke in the opening line. The flipside of the coin is that when you finally get back to your family and people after being away for so long it takes a while for both to adjust to the other’s permanent presence! It might be a mean thing to say about one’s own people. But then the feeling gets accentuated when, after being able to see you day in and day out, your people suddenly start worrying about the summers and winters that you have been spending all by yourself and resort to the usual pressures to find yourself a worthy companion to do the same! And when this contradicts your philosophy of life or the course you want to chart for it, then starts the bickering and heartburn! But then would just give it a passé as the typical ‘teething problems’ associated with all new ventures!

Being in a new company amidst new colleagues necessitates you to discover the wheel of socialization all over again! And what better way to do it than go on a team outing to a movie! And so a whole load of us landed at the Inox Multiplex to watch the new flick of the season- Rang De Basanti. To say that it disturbed me terribly would be an understatement. It in fact touched the raw nerve despite my complete disagreement with the weak storyline and the course the protagonists charted for themselves in this movie. I feel a lot more can be achieved by being ‘alive’ than surrendering yourselves to the jaws of death; but that’s nother philosophy altogether.

For quite some time now there has been this huge burning desire within me to do “something” for the country I live in. But then doesn’t that sound so very hackneyed and clichéd? Its tough to quantify this ‘something’ and opens a whole lot of questions within you. Am I and the many others like me who work for multi national companies to feel bad and guilty about the fact that we have white skinned bosses and we talk of business incomes of companies headquartered in New York and London? Or are we still better off than many of our counterparts who have flown away to the greener pastures of the west? Is just staying in India, being a moderately good and law abiding citizen who pays his taxes on time enough? Or is there something else that we should do? Or do we at all need to do something; are things that bad that they require some kind of mass revolution? If we have to do ‘something’ then what is it, where do we begin and how do we go about it? Is a foray into the murky world of politics or civil services the only way to make a difference or could that function co-exist with my diurnal evaluations of profitability scenarios for my US-based bank?

It would be naïve to assume that a vast majority of youth of my country do not feel similarly. If the results of a recent poll on the state of the nation conducted by a TV channel is anything to go by, it is almost startling to realize that today’s Indian youth are returning to values and ideals that their previous generation had given to the winds. Still, like the protagonists of the movie, a lot of them are lost in the maze. The pressures of academic life, the stress involved at work place, of family--- makes them numb to the harsh realities outside their air-conditioned cubicles. When targets and deadlines stare you in the eye day after day, the country or its state becomes secondary. In a meeting at Janaagraha that I have decided to join and give some of my time, the inspiring founder Ramesh Ramanathan put a valid point. He said that if all Bangaloreans gave in just 1% of their waking time, which was about 2-3 hours a week for their city, we could build the city of our dreams. With such a large youth force that this country has, would this be asking for too much? Amidst all the parties and bars and discotheques that we attend, is asking for this 1% too much? If it is, then none of us even have this right to crib about the lack of facilities and amenities. We need to be the change that we want to see! Practical Patriotism is what he calls it!

To a large extent our education system also contributes to our apathy. In fact the British laid the foundations of our education system on this very premise. Even a casual reading of the writings of the educationists of the time would bear this point out. Max Muller the famous philosopher says this in one of his writings-

“It is true there are millions of children, women and men in India who fall down before the stone image of Vishnu, with his four arms, riding on a creature half bird, half man, or sleeping on the serpent, worship Siva, a monster with three eyes, riding naked on a bull, with a necklace of skulls for his ornament. There are human beings who still believe in a god of war, Karthikeya, with six faces, riding on a peacock, and holding bow and arrow in his hands: and who invoke a god of success Ganesha, with four hands and an elephant’s head sitting on a rat! Nay, it is true that, in the broad daylight of the nineteenth century the figure of goddess Kali is carried through the streets of her own city, Calcutta, her wild disheveled hair reaching to her feet, with a necklace of human heads, her tongue protruded from her mouth, her girdle stained with blood. All this is true : but ask any Hindu who can read and write and think, whether these are the gods he believes in and he will smile at your credulity.

Charles Trevelyan , a civil servant writes in ‘ On the Education of the People of India-
“The Grammar and spelling books suffice to destroy the Hindu religion…It is so destitute of anything like evidence, and is identified with so many gross immoralities and absurdities that it gives way at once before the light of the European science…. it is sufficient to prove that the world does not rest on the back of a tortoise, or it is not composed of concentric circles of wine and cake and milk, and so forth, and their religion is gone!!…A generation is growing up which repudiates idols. A young Hindu, who has received liberal English education, was forced by his family to attend the shrine of Kali upon which he took off his cap to ‘Madam Kali’ made her a light bow, and hoped ‘her ladyship was well’!!! ….” As Macaulay, the father of our education system puts it- “ Every young Brahmin…..who learns Geography in our colleges learns to smile at the Hindu mythology!…”

The point I make here is that by continuing on very much the same lines of these Indologist educationists, we have successfully built generations of Indians who have been displaced from an understanding of their own land, their own culture and values. Quiz shows on TV show bright young boys and girls who know everything about everyone in some distant land but fail to identify national icons like a Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma in the Audio-Visual rounds. When a group of people are blissfully unaware of what they inherit, how would their heart beat in remorse to see the same cherished ideals being trampled and where then would the fire arise to set things right? If, right from school days, we are being groomed into being the slaves of the same imperialist nations that we grow up to work for, how different would the outcome be?

Amidst all this I read about a group of IIT students who have embarked on a mission to cleanse politics and start an outfit of their own. In typical Indian pessimism, Ma reacted to my enthusiastic narration of this tale as “ What fools they are, don’t they know nothing will change in this country? Either you have to quit in a huff or the system changes you. Everyone enters with good intentions, but down the line something mutates. What use was the IIT degree if this is what its being put to use”! I don’t know if the degrees we earned (or bought) from our Universities are just to fatten our purses. Of course you need money for a living, but how much is enough? And why cant an engineer or an MBA put these skills to public service? Is coding and selling toothpastes all that intelligent people do? At the end of the journey of life, wouldn’t we want to look back with a sense of achievement of having touched and transformed a few lives?

The questions continue on an incessant trail…wish I had someone giving me the answers or at least showing me a path where I could find them myself!