Looking resolutely towards the future


The fundamental question that the youth must ask themselves is whether they want to be latter-day ‘coolies’, or whether they would prefer to leave the beaten tracks and explore newer avenues that may provide opportunities for innovative entrepreneurship


The celebration of our country’s 50 years of independence is perhaps necessary and justified. But if the objective is only amusement then I am afraid it is merely wasted effort, time and money. However, if it helps to generate an enhanced feeling of patriotism accompanied by resolves to work together so that we share economic benefits equitably, accept our diversity as being mutually enriching, and pursue the overarching objective of peaceful coexistence – which only can ensure our collective progress – then by all means let us ‘celebrate’.


“The counterpart of the individual struggles of our forbears are the social and political forces that were also shaping the march of the country towards independence. …some of these forces fed on racism and communalism of the worst kind. The greatest irony is that their cheerleaders were very highly educated, from the best institutions of the country and the best universities in France and the UK – and yet could not rise above their atavistic impulses as they fought for power, inventing the most despicable epithets to depict the ‘other’, who were presented as a threat to the country…”


All of us, but in particular the youth of this country have only one option: to look resolutely towards the future. I will explain in a moment what I mean by this. First let me allude to what famous British writer Somerset Maugham said in his book The Summing Up – namely that the tragedy of old age is that one has only the past to look back to, not a future to look forward to. I take a nuanced position on this, but essentially he is right. The point here is that we cannot negate our past, and from a larger perspective as the saying goes, those who do not know their past are condemned to repeat it. Especially the mistakes.

So as regards the youth, as they went around the exhibition on the occasion of our 50 years of independence at the Swami Vivekananda International Convention Centre last weekend, I trust that they would have paid attention to the contents of the innumerable black and white photographs on display. They would have realized what a long way we indeed have travelled if they spent some moments seeing the bare-footed children and adults standing in front of lacaze lapaille, or the equally precarious looking constructions of iron sheet roofs and wooden/stone walls, the rickety looking buses and the bullock carts. Were also featured the various types of occupations prevalent then — such as shoemaking, selling of rechauds (stoves using charcoal as fuel) and lamok (tin cans) –, as well as the implements used for grinding maize and coffee grains, for cooking, among others.


“In this world of killer competition driven by the philosophy of individualism, of accumulation of material possessions, of conspicuous consumption, those engaging with the neoliberal environment in which they will evolve must ask themselves whether the ‘happy hour’ is is the most aesthetically and intellectually acceptable way to spend their time or whether there are other modes of enjoying happier hours and on a more long term basis. They will only find such answers in a robust value system, and the sages of yore have left a legacy which they can access and gain knowledge of the kind they will not learn at university or the workplace, and that will by the by confer wisdom as well…”


These images are meant to remind us how hard things were, and that we must value and care for what we have today as preciously as our forbears did for the basic objects that they depended upon for their survival. The counterpart of these individual struggles are the social and political forces that were also shaping the march of the country towards independence. As against the goody-goody perspective that was the spirit of the exhibition, some of these forces fed on racism and communalism of the worst kind. The greatest irony is that their cheerleaders were very highly educated, from the best institutions of the country and the best universities in France and the UK – and yet could not rise above their atavistic impulses as they fought for power, inventing the most despicable epithets to depict the ‘other’, who were presented as a threat to the country.

 

They were overcome thanks to the sagacity of some farsighted leaders who were inspired by more humane and inclusive values. But it is crucially important that today’s youth – who are tomorrow’s hope — be aware of this aspect of our recent history, so that never again must they be tempted or allow themselves to be cowed down by modern-day versions of these forces that surface from time to time and that appeal to the primordial instincts of the people rather than to their better sentiments.

And so to the future. The fundamental question that the youth must ask themselves is whether they want to be latter-day ‘coolies’, or whether they would prefer to leave the beaten tracks and explore newer avenues that keep opening up and that may provide opportunities for innovative entrepreneurship. 50 years ago when one left college the classic choices for higher studies were law, medicine and teaching – considered the ‘noble’ professions. Over the years, with the development and expansion of industries, services and the advent of new technologies such as IT, the range and variety of occupations available increased greatly. There were those that required purely academic qualifications, others where professional and vocational training were more appropriate.

It is a fact that practically all professions are saturated; but it also true that enterprising people do meet the challenges of the system and find their way through with determination and perseverance. It is a truism that education is the key to a better future and to social mobility. That does not necessarily mean university education – but if one is keen and can afford it, for it is expensive, one must be prepared to face the reality that degrees do not necessarily mean employability: for example, many qualified doctors have waited years to find gainful employment, and some have left the profession altogether after highly expensive studies. Before embarking on any academic course, therefore, careful thought must be given to one’s expectations, and there must always be a Plan B or even C so as not to face disappointment after spending a lot of money. And further, all work is noble, and any person who earns an honest living in any occupation is equally deserving of our respect.

One swallow does not make a summer – but let me illustrate with a concrete example. It’s about a young man who’s qualified as an engineer and who sought my advice when he was working on a project (artificial joints for fingers). Not being able to find a suitable employment, he took up his father’s occupation — selling vegetables – with the latter’s help. He has now set up an upmarket shop in a strategic location, works hard, is disciplined, and visibly happy – and so am I too for him! For that matter, Somerset Maugham referred to above, gave up the practice of medicine in 1898 when his book ‘Lisa of Lambeth’ (based on his experiences during his one year of internship) became a success, and he took up writing for the rest of his life, enjoying both fame and riches beyond compare.

Mixed modes of learning are taking place even in developed countries, where there is a trend away from the traditional university essentially because of the costs involved. This is the reason why ‘open’ universities have seen an expansion and are becoming more popular, as they offer comparable courses at more affordable rates and more flexible timings, making use of the latest technologies that allow interactions with tutors and peers. However, whatever one opts for, another reality in this dynamic and changing world is that one must be prepared for lifelong learning – and not only in one’s field. Because learning for the sheer joy of it is also very important for personal advancement, as logical-mathematical intelligence is not enough to have a successful and happy life. Equally important are other types of intelligence that empower one to socialize, enjoy the arts and music, etc.

In this world of killer competition driven by the philosophy of individualism, of accumulation of material possessions, of conspicuous consumption, those engaging with the neoliberal environment in which they will evolve must ask themselves whether the ‘happy hour’ is the most aesthetically and intellectually acceptable way to spend their time or whether there are other modes of enjoying happier hours and on a more long term basis.

They will only find such answers in a robust value system, and the sages of yore have left a legacy which they can access and gain knowledge of the kind they will not learn at university or the workplace, and that will by the by confer wisdom as well. They only have to seek sincerely, and they will have all the guidance needed to channel their bubbling energies and steer their lives in the direction of the good, the beautiful and the true.

That, fundamentally, is the bedrock on which they must build. For, as French thinker Andre Malraux said, the 21st century will be the century of culture.

 

* Published in print edition on 9 March 2018

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