Sad to say, on most counts pertaining to the human aspects – cultural, emotional, relational in particular – we have gone down to a level which I sincerely hope is not a point of no return
By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
On the occasion of the commemoration of the arrival of the first batch of Indian Indentured Labour on 2nd November 1834 that landed at Aapravasi Ghat, as the site is now called, one way of paying homage to these valiant ancestors who dared to make a leap into the unknown is to take stock of our own situation and to compare it with theirs – and respond accordingly. It may be recalled that they were part of the ‘Great Experiment’ – that is, the first guinea pigs who were brought in, following pressure by the local sugar oligarchy on the then British colonial government after the abolition of slavery, through an arrangement between the latter and its counterpart in India. They were to be field-tested, as it were – literally -, and if that proved to be ‘successful’, as it was for the establishment, the experiment would be rolled out to other sugar growing British colonies, as subsequently happened.
The Aapravasi Ghat, formerly Coolie Ghat, was identified as the original landing site, and the date of the first landing established by Shri Beekrumsing Ramlallah. Left in an abandoned state, it was cleaned by Shri Ramlallah and his family with other volunteers, in time to be honoured by the presence of India’s Prime Minister Shrimati Indira Gandhi in 1971, which in a way gave an official stamp to the site, where since then the Ramlallah family has been performing an annual Yaj every 2nd November.
The Aapravasi Ghat has come a long way since, having become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with Dr Vijaya Teelock, historian, having played a signal role in this project. It is now poised to go to the next level, as an important point on the Indenture Route – akin to the Slavery Route –, with the active support of Mr Armoogum Parsooramen, former Minister and Director of UNESCO. Meawhile, a state of the art Documentation Centre, named after Shri Beekrumsing Ramlallah, has been established there, and was inaugurated last year by the Indian Minister of External Affairs Shrimati Sushma Swaraj.
With so much having been accomplished at Aapravasi Ghat, and more to come, it is a pity – nay, a shame, that it has received so few footfalls on the part of the descendants of these pioneer forefathers who left their cherished land and loving families to come and toil in this faraway ‘Marich desh’ under conditions similar to those of the slaves who had, in a majority, decided to remain free rather than to go back to their former owners. The greatest culprits in this are of course the parents, who are totally indifferent to any sense of appreciation of their recent history – let alone the ancient past of their origins -, and care even less to enlighten their children, the future generation, about who they are and where they have come from – part of the reason why they are adrift today.
And hence the question, ‘How do we compare with our forefathers?’ Sad to say, on most counts pertaining to the human aspects – cultural, emotional, relational in particular – we have gone down to a level which I sincerely hope is not a point of no return. I received a WhatsApp post which gives an apt picture of our fallen state, and is titled ‘Today’s Reality’, presented as a list, as follows:
Big house Small family
More degrees Less common sense
Advanced medicine Poor health
Touched moon Neighbours unknown
High income Less peace of mind
High IQ Less emotions
Good knowledge Less wisdom
Number of affairs No true love
Lots of FB friends No best friend
More alcohol Less water
Lots of humans Less humanity
Costly watches But no time
Following the industrial trend, families have gone nuclear and small. Children are growing up without the oversight of grandparents, whose role is reduced to being part-time baby or child sitters, instead of being the constant presence that would help to buffer the strains and pains of their grandchildren’s growing years, especially with over-busy careerist parents.
Deprived of this kind of guidance and soft sheltering at home, children fall easy prey to outside influences and peer pressure. As a result, the youth are forever in confrontational mode both at home and outside, and lapse into trouble more often that ought to be the case. The school is no more the place for exalted learning. It has become a den for social experimentations of the harmful kinds, driven by the easy availability of much undesirable material on social media, to which they have unlimited access through their electronic gadgets – which hapless parents are forced to provide.
Rightly, education was emphasized, and every house can boast holders of advanced qualifications obtained either locally or overseas. Unfortunately, these have been accompanied by much ‘intellectual’ arrogance, so that plain, simple reasoning – common sense as it is known – has flown out of the window. In fact, instead of education being used to examine their lives, which would bring some humility and more of a give-and-take attitude that would allow mutual adjustments and thus more harmonious living, there is a hardening of attitudes which doesn’t help towards the latter. As a wise person said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ – but how many put time aside regularly to take stock and analyse whether they are doing the right things for themselves, their family, and society at large?
The consequence is a ruthless pursuit of material desires so as to keep up with the Joneses, This race is accompanied by a mindless aping of the worst of habits and fashions, more so in matters of attire that borders on the obscene and indecent – the Bollywoodian type, itself an imitation of the worse that obtains in western society — at a period of life when respect for self should be the starting point of relating to others in the community and society. Blue jeans, invented mainly for use by American miners, and cowboys going west during the gold rush in America, have been transformed into a brand by fraying them, and are worn low so as to expose the underpants and part of the buttock cleft – so doing, one gains dubious group acceptance! The more respectable, traditional alternatives are looked down upon and largely shunned.
Closely related to this is the attitude to sex. No longer is it confined to two people who have committed themselves to a lasting, loving relationship. Instead, it has assumed the proportions of licentiousness that results in risky sexual behaviours with their attendant maladies, incests, unwanted pregnancies, infidelity and extramarital affairs, crimes of passion and depravity.
As the English philosopher Bertrand Russell said (with respect to nuclear weapons I think), the rise in knowledge has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in wisdom, and without a modicum of wisdom we doom ourselves, both individually and collectively. The problem lies with the kind of knowledge – in Indian philosophical terms, there is the ‘lower knowledge’ or worldly knowledge of the technical or professional variety which one acquires so as to make a living, and the Higher or Spiritual Knowledge which alone can give us the sense of balance and direction that constitutes wisdom.
Oh but we do celebrate all religious festivals and so on – sure, but do we care to seek out the fundamental lessons and messages that they contain and that we can make the basis of our lives? The answer is obvious: NO, because we just mechanically participate for a show, and once it’s all over we go back to our directionless routine of lives devoid of a solid cultural and spiritual underpinning. And we therefore sink deeper into the materialist quagmire.
As far as poor health is concerned, I need not add to what is already known by everybody about the modern ailments and the so-called diseases of affluence. There is the glut for fast food, and the most common exercise is the finger touching the remote control in front of the TV – instead of toning up the body in the bracing fresh air that our beautiful island offers in abundance. Then there are growing addictions such as abuse of alcohol, tobacco and drugs that maim and kill. It was mainly infectious diseases that took the toll of our predecessors, who lived a very active life in the open air, and ate fresh produce uncontaminated by additives that they grew in their own gardens at home.
Time was when, in the rural areas at least, one could leave doors unlocked, or even open, so much was the trust among neighbours. That this is mostly gone is exemplified by the recent heinous crime when a man slit the throat of his neighbour’s child in cold blood. But we don’t even have to go that far – neighbours, including in some cases even brothers, are known to bicker over a small strip of common land, by méchanceté putting up a fence or a wall to restrict access to yard or garage, leading to fierce legal battles for reluctant resolution – that leaves mush lasting bad blood.
Paradoxically, the very material prosperity that the whole country has enjoyed is also at the root of our moral and moral decline, which the issues I have covered illustrate. I do pray, though, that this will give rise to some sincere soul searching, without which we will unfortunately not be able to stem the slide, and doom generations to come into perdition.
* Published in print edition on 1 November 2018