[Note: This is an essay I whipped up for a friend’s project some time back when trapped in a frenzy of assignments and tests and debates and nearing exams. The topic was along the lines of what your perfect world would be and how you would help create it. Read it now and saw some ideas — and some great metaphors which I am proud of! — worth sharing. It has been edited to iron out the grammatical creases — the result of careless writing done in haste — but the gaps in thinking and logic — which the discerning reader will no doubt notice — have been preserved.]
Everyone seeks perfection. That perfection can never be attained does not deter us from trying nonetheless. Because, to paraphrase Alexander Pope, hope springs eternally from the human breast. It is an escape from the problems that plague our lives, the evils that beset our societies and the stagnancy that kills our economies. If only everyone were happy, one wishes. If only everyone were contented and kind to everybody else, one desires. And that makes sense. We live in a world filled with suffering — material as well as emotional — and it is only natural that we seek amelioration and salvation.
What about us? While no society is perfectly happy, ours seems to be perfectly unhappy. The reasons, as with anything that brings wholesome unhappiness, are as varied as they are numerous. It is the burgeoning unemployment that has sent many talented young men into the depths of financial distress. It is the moral decay that is infecting the hearts of alleged Christians across the length and breadth of the state. It is the political confusion that has enveloped the region with its orgies of violence filling hundreds of homes with tears. It is the lack of economic development that has alienated whole societies from the mainstream and are proving to be an annoyance to those who are already familiar with modern amenities. It is the absence of proper leadership that has left the general public disillusioned and disappointed. It is the pervasive corruption that is making a mockery of morality and shaming the idea of democracy. It is the hypocrisy that is eating into the honourable tradition of honesty that our ancestors were so proud of. It is the shallow modernisation that is gnawing away at the core of our values. It is these and a thousand reasons more.
Would it be nice, then, just to step away from the hard realities of the real world and indulge in fantastical meditation about a world where everything is just right? Not as an attempt at escapism but as a legitimate inquiry into what can be possible. Just as the real must guide the fantastical, the fantastical can inspire the real. No wonder that the Utopian world of the Republic continues to inspire thinkers hundreds of generations after its first appearance in ancient Greece. Idealism often gives valuable lessons through which the blunt edges of realism may be smoothed.
It’s not a single stroke of luck or even planned manoeuvring that can turn a society one eighty degrees towards greatness again. Societies take ages to develop and with human affairs being unlimited in scope, the evolution of social communities is extremely complex. To build the ideal society from scratch — Carl Sagan would say, to reinvent the entire universe — would require a level of maturity and a luxury of time that is found to be wanting in this writer. However, there are small twists that can be done to the nuts that hold the societal machinery together which may yield remarkable results in the search for betterment.
The biggest obstacle to happiness is being thrust into situations that one dislikes whether it is being forced to attend church in suits or being compelled to take up engineering when all you wanted was to create visual art. While the former does little harm to society, it is the latter, I am convinced, which is the root cause of all the evil that has befallen us. Whether we talk about unemployed (or, more correctly, unemployable) youth, non-existent infrastructure, inefficient governance or general hopelessness, the reason is that far too many of us are in places where we would rather not be. And that is hurting us. Uninspired and lazy, there is no enthusiasm for work. Nothing great, I am reminded of a proverb, is ever achieved without enthusiasm. Because there is little enthusiasm in the workplace, in the schools and in families, nothing of value is created. I must add that I run the risk of generalization but even if the analysis may not apply to every single person, it is safe to assume that it applies to the great majority. This, I believe, is why we are in societal and financial dire straits always.
So it is obvious that a new view of life be introduced. There is this unwritten social rule which has found disproportionate adherence among most parents; that the best thing one can be is an administrator in the civil services and the worst thing one can make is mistakes. As Sir Ken Robinson, a famed educationist, points out, this thinking is industrial in its origin and such a thrust was needed to feed the hungry factories with workers and administrators. But the world has changed now. It’s a globalized society with a whole new horizon, in fact a great many new horizons, of opportunities. And to come back to our society, it was never industrial in the first place. It is one that has gained fame for its vibrant traditions and the lush visual and aural expressions of those traditions. A Delhi based blogger remarked — it was an exaggeration of course but made the point clear — that in our region, every second person can play Stairway to Heaven — that immortal Led Zeppelin classic — on a guitar with three strings.
And this reality is explicit when one cares to interact with even a handful of our youth. They are fed up of prescription. They are disgusted by the metastasis of corruption. They are weary of the political imbroglio which seems to be heading nowhere. They want a reinvention of their society. They want to be new and different. They want to explore unchartered territories. They want to pursue their dreams — it’s heartening that many are going down that road. Most of all they want to be who they really are. For many, what we really are is a people of art, of music and of nature. This immense natural repository of talent must be tapped. Instead, a few extraordinary individuals manage to get into the hallowed grounds of the civil services while the miserable majority are filed into LDA and UDA offices. It’s talent wasted for lack of proper encouragement and support. This ill has to be removed. And that will be the first and most important aspect of my ideal — it will be far from an ideal world if one really thinks about it but it would be an achievable — world.
The idea is to build a generation that is in tune with the needs of the times. Why this is so important is because by refusing to move ahead with the times, we risk becoming obsolete and irrelevant. We willfully push ourselves decades behind. Once that is done, the rest must naturally follow. And the requirements of the times — the samay ki maang as Narendra Modi frequently bellows in his speeches — is that we cultivate progressive and free thinking. For me, that means constructing a society that revels in ingenuity and celebrates honesty. It has to be constructed, from scratch I might add, because the society we live in right now rewards conformism while simultaneously if clandestinely laughing at honesty. Honesty is a sad man’s policy that gets him nothing and nowhere. Ingenuity is a lazy student’s reason for not getting A grades — which are, apparently, all that matters! In such an environment, one becomes scared to use innovative thinking to solve problems. What if it fails — and it does often when you are doing something new — and people blame you for not conforming to the usual? In such an environment, one also becomes afraid to stick to queues or follow proper procedures. That, as we have all experienced, creates confusion and leads to ineffectiveness. It condemns society to stasis as it has condemned ours.
Once the dark clouds of prescription, obsession with well-trodden paths and disdain for honesty which have long plagued us are blown away and replaced by the fresh and fecund breeze of enterprise, forthrightness and cosmopolitan outlook, the seed of progress will sprout and thrive. It would become alright to be different. It would become alright to get distinctions in Mathematics and Science and still choose to study arts. It would then be alright to top the University exams and still pursue drama and theatre. It would be alright for kids to spend their time playing with sand rather than preparing projects and memorizing the names of Indian Prime Ministers. It would be alright to stand in line at the ticket counter. It would become possible to work at Pizza Hut and still be happy with oneself. It would be possible to become successful without being dishonest. It would be possible to be a successful fashion star without people questioning your morals. It would be possible to get things done without abetting corruption.
Meanwhile, it would not be alright to waste one’s life living another person’s dream. It would not be alright to revile a person’s personality and spirituality for his liberal outlook. It would not be alright to occupy the position of head-clerk without knowing what an Excel-form is. It would not be alright to condemn an aberrant kid who has mastered the riffs of Iron Maiden’s Hallowed Be Thy Name after hours of dedicated practice. It would not be alright build bungalows with public money and then preach about honesty.
The society that awaits us if we manage to cross this great barrier is one filled with vibrancy and progress. It is not one without problems for there never was or will be a society with absolute happiness. But it is one that will most definitely be a significant upgrade than the current. What would be my role in achieving the society that has been described? One person will most assuredly not make a perceptible difference in the way society thinks. Especially not in our context. However, I can start with myself. I have always thought of success as being true to one’s abilities and aims. It is not about the money one earns or the status one gains. As such, I will make it a point not to be thrust into areas where I don’t belong or to thrust others into places where I want them to be. I am a firm believer in acquiring knowledge for its own sake. And I have discovered that success, to paraphrase the famous line from 3 Idiots, really does follow excellence. If I live by these thoughts for real, I am confident that my life and what I make of it will be driven by what I really am. This perspective will undoubtedly be transmitted to my friends and family. And I will have done my part.