INDIANS – BARTERING CHARACTER FOR PROSPERITY

Dr Abdul Kalam, the former President of India, when asked by a small girl if he had a solution for rampant corruption in the country, replied, “Start with yourself, go on to the family and extend it to the community.” A very pragmatic advice.I saw hope in this.

Afterall, even when we were a poorer country we had values that the world admired. By and large the Indian society was peaceful, honest, modest, godfaring, more spiritual than materialistic, and regarded pursuit of knowledge higher than making money by hook or by crook. Yes, they were aberrations too; but their number was small and the majority looked down upon these and took such people to task both in the media and in moral debates. No one ever identified with them.

When did the dumbing down of the Indian society start? Surprisingly, or actually not so surprisingly, the decline of our values commenced when we started coming out of what was derisively called ‘Hindu rate of Growth’. It is around the same time that I read an essay in India Today titled ‘Evil Fascinates’. It was about the growing fascination of Indians towards things which were the opposite of ‘Good’. At around the same time, if you care to recall, Khalnayak (Villain) became an object of aspiration. Nayak (Hero), with all his ‘Goodness’ became dull, uninteresting, banal.

The result? Our collective acceptance of things which once would have shocked us or would have, at least, annoyed us. The list ranges from the small things to bigger scams etc. Are these the effects of rapid industrialisation or were we always like this? Most Indian towns are now unliveable. Why? Are the authorities, politicians, bureuacrats, etc, to be blamed all the while for degeneration of our values? Ain’t we always fond of short-cuts, blaming the authorities for the eventual mess? Yes, the authorities have coined this convenient phrase “the sentiments of the people have to be respected” to overlook rampant lawlessness and indiscipline whilst pandering to “vote bank politics”. But, a large amount of blame has to stick to us too.

Let me give a few examples. We recently finished with what used to be called Deepavali and which should now be called ‘Bombavali‘. What fun could it have been for the kids in our colony (and everywhere else) to burst crackers (the sounds that would bring afresh the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) at odd hours of night and day? At one time, I was about to shout at them from my tenth floor window with, “Don’t your parents teach you anything?” But then, I heard the excited voices of the parents’ asking them to light a “big one”.

Next day, I sighted a kid of 8 years with his mother in the elevator. Just out of curiosity I asked him how much he had spent on his crackers. He replied Five Thousand Rupees; and I was shocked to see that the mother didn’t have a resigned look on her face but one of pride as if anything less would be unacceptable for their status.

Now, I am not the die-hard socialist trying to make a point that this kind of money should have been spent on the poor etc (I have, indeed, nil comments for a 30 ml peg of Remy Martin Louis XIII Black Pearl costing all of Rupees 1.25 Lakhs at The Leela Palace at Chanakyapuri; you can go ahead have all the fun in the world and flaunt your money without blowing smoke in someone’s face). Far from it. All I am saying is that whilst such consumption may not be evil but it certainly is hedonistic with scant regard for other people’s right for a noiseless colony at late hours in the night; and that unlike what is prescribed by Dr Abdul Kalam, the parents don’t teach values to the children. Hence, the dumbing down of even the next generation is assured.

You go for a drive anywhere in India and people are trying to kill you. Sounds like an over-statement? Think again. Yesterday, I went to Nagothane. On the way I noticed that whenever my driver got a few feet out to the right to see if it was safe to overtake the next vehicle, our position on the road was immediately taken by the vehicle behind us. Now, if we had to find (which actually happened) that it was not safe to overtake, we had no place to return to, making it dangerous and life threatening for us. Most of the drivers doing such dangerous things on the road were the younger generation, even girls and women. Surely, somewhere along, the upbringing and education of such people has been lacking in something. The utter selfishness and scant regard for others are traits that have got ingrained in the majority of our people. Traffic sense is just one manifestation of it.

Littering wantonly is another manifestation of this trait. Let the authorities clean up; afterall we pay them to do so. I have seen parents shouting at their kids for holding on to the wrapper, skin of fruit, other trash in their hands and slanging them for not immediately getting rid of these by chucking these outside the windows.

We have had great fun in the Ramlila Ground in New delhi recently and on the city streets singing paeans for Anna Hazare and his team. I suspect that majority of the people don’t want anything to change. And, hence, they are very relieved when something, however little, is found against Team Anna so that they can heave a sigh of relief that all Indians are alike and no one has any holier-than-thou right to think differently. This is similar to some of the members of my team visiting a spic n span foreign country returning to India and exclaiming, “Thank God we are back; the kind of restrictions there (not to litter etc) were stifling. Home sweet home.”

Mayawati is a Dalit Chief Minister. Her emotional bonding with her people is due to respect for meekness and poverty. What did she do after the elections? Huge elephants put up all over the state. I enjoyed the first ever F1 Grand Prix in India. But I hated Mayawati handing over the winning cup to Sebastian Vettel. What was wrong with that? Only this that she should not hoodwink people about Dalits and Socialism and eradication of poverty etc.

Talking about F1, yes it was a great circuit. But, however hard we try we can’t get rid of perpetual dust and smog in our cities. It is black dust, noise, confusion, weird smells; and yet, we somehow make believe that we are progressing and that India is a power to reckon with. When countries abroad hold F1 and other such jamborees their civic life matches with the culture of the event. In our country, F1 Grand Prix would only be representative of the growing chasm between the haves and have-nots.

India and its people, I feel, have lost character whilst seeking prosperity. We are somehow convinced that the abundance of material goods has made our lives better: cell phones, cars, electronic gadgets, money. However, arguably, our lives are worse than what these used to be earlier. What are the litmus tests of these? Well, let me hear recent tales (since I have not experienced these myself) of people respecting goodness, honesty, other people’s privacy; rights of minority to have peace and silence during festivals; respecting people who observe traffic rules; respecting those who don’t pay bribes or don’t take short-cuts as matters of principle. In short ‘Live and Let Live’.

At the present juncture, I am sorry to say, we are doomed to be what we bemoaned at one time: ‘a rich country inhabited by the poor’; except that now, poor is defined as ‘poor in character‘.

Everyone of us has to bring in (and do so proudly) discipline in our individual and collective lives.

© 2011 – 2013, Sunbyanyname. All rights reserved.

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3 Comments

  1. Also retired from the Indian Navy in Nov 2011. Glad to read that people other than me also hold similar ideas/ thoughts/ views about what is good. Very well written nd the anguish on the present state of affairs is well brought out. Many people hold similar views and their actions have been devoted by the traditional values of honesty and goodness and what is correct. Only think is that they have withdrawn into a shell and become silent. Their voice is muted. Glad I came across your article.