By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
An enduring symbolism in Hindu culture is that of the lotus, kamal ka phool. It grows in mud at the bottom of a pond or lake, and is biologically hardwired as it were to be anchored there. Yet it manages to lift itself up to rise above the surface from the dark depths of its origins, and open up in bloom towards the light which nourishes and beautifies it. It spreads this beauty around for all to admire and partake of freely. No payment is expected or required.
The illumined masters at whose feet we are blessed with the privilege to sit frequently expound on this unique natural example to make us understand that, similarly, while we live in this beleaguered world, we can yet, irrespective of our situation or status in life, rise above and make our way towards the light as the kamal ka phool does. And there are examples of many who have done so. However, they are few and far between because, among those who get out of the darkness, many get a big head – if not many heads like Ravana in the epic The Ramayana – and thus remain more drawn to the material and gross than expand towards the more subtle and inclusive.
I was given to this reflection upon reading what Pier Luigi Celli, director general of Rome’s LUISS University, had written last November in an open letter that was read by his students and the public at large: ‘This country, your country, is no longer a place where it’s possible to stay with pride…That’s why, with my heart suffering more than ever, my advice is that you, having finished your studies, take the road abroad. Choose to go where they still value loyalty, respect and the recognition of merit and results.’ And the motives of those leaving? ‘An entrenched system of patronage and nepotism.’
There was more. According to a poll by a Milanese recruitment agency, ‘33.6% of new graduates feel they need to leave the country to take advantage of their education in a country ‘where success is built on relationships and seniority, only the friends and children of the elite have a chance to cut the line.’ 29-year old Simone Bartolini left Rome in 2007 for Sydney because following a change of management at his advertising firm, his new boss told him, ‘We will put sticks in your spokes’ – and they did it: every idea of his was turned down. Bartolini said about his country, ‘they need executors. They don’t need thinkers.’
For those who do not think, thinkers disturb. 31-year old Silvia Sartori, now a successful grant manager in China, said that ‘It’s something in Italy I would never get, unless I was 45 and somebody’s daughter, cousin or mistress.’
Of course we are not Italy, but many like me at our age are frequently faced with the same query, ‘What do you say Uncle, I am finishing soon, and I have an offer. What do you advise, stay there or come back?’ And sad to say, I have several relatives, friends and acquaintances who have unhesitatingly advised in the affirmative, never mind the social difficulties that they have to undergo themselves. But they don’t want that the sacrifices they have made to educate their children go to waste. And when one has children, one knows the pain and hurt that such situations cause, but many prefer to suffer rather than to make children undergo the trial.
We can take refuge in cynicism, or aver to be pragmatic and realistic by saying that throughout history there has been migration of peoples across the globe, and so what this is nothing new. But no, we are a small country, and we need all our talents. If we adults do not act responsibly and provide the openings for qualified and skilled citizens to come and take us into the future, then we are failing in our duty towards them to start with, and towards the country.
This is one side of the coin. The other is the optimization of local resources, and it is not according to whim that they must be identified. They are needed at all levels. If they are young they will be expected to have skills and competencies which must be acknowledged, and be placed in positions where these can be made best use of. They must learn to be patient, and be prepared to work hard – luckily, most of them are. The few that fall short must accept to be brought back into line, and realise for themselves the harm that can accrue if they default.
This is where they need guidance, in both formal and informal settings. In the formal settings, decision-makers have the responsibility of having in place people who not only have proven track records – keeping in mind that empty drums make more noise – but possess exceptional qualities that must perforce, at that level and for that role, be a mix of: good sense and judgement, compassion more than passion, light more than fire and brimstone, experience, serenity and wisdom.
They must be role models amongst their peers, and be armed with ethical and moral ideals which they must be prepared to defend and safeguard against all odds – but also pass them on to those around, especially the younger ones whom they must connect with. In fact, they must lead the way in being able to connect at all levels, because for the country to succeed there has to be an understanding and empathy that impregnates all decision-making.
Let us be on the lookout for lotuses. But also, as Gandhiji said, let us be the change we want the world to be. Who wouldn’t want to be a lotus?
* Published in print edition on 19 November 2010