“Educated youths in the East are more likely to be happy than the educated young in the West.” So concluded Bertrand Russel in his famous essay “Is happiness still possible?” comparing educated youths in the West with their counterpart in the East. His logic was that the educated youths in the West, though more comfortable, were prone to “cynicism”, while those in the East, though less comfortable, were more “purposeful”; in countries like India, they had “important” role and “aims to pursue” “in national life”.
Russell rounded off thus: The youth in developed nations would be more comfortable, but less purposeful, and therefore, less happy; but the youth in underdeveloped nations would be less comfortable, but, more purposeful, and, therefore, more happy. He was bang on target on the youth of India then, and even before.
It took India several centuries and generations of battle to become free. The youth was the mainstay of all battles for freedom. Generations of youthful Indians had laid down their lives in battles for the survival of the Indian people. Here are some examples. A socio-spiritualist, Samarth Ramdas, shaped a youthful Shivaji, a Mogul vassal’s son, into an empire builder. Shivaji began his military expedition when he was just 17 and defeated the Moguls themselves! After Shivaji, another youth, Guru Gobind Singh, built a youth army, the Khalsa, when he was just 33, and defended the nation. He died at 42. Two centuries later, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a pure spiritualist, spotted a youthful rebel, Narendra and shaped him into a Vivekananda. Vivekananda was just 30 when he asserted the greatness of Indian spirituality in the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893. He became an icon for Indian youths. He still remains so ever since. It is as if he had died young, at 39, only to remain for ever a icon of youths! He equally inspired a believing Gandhi and an agnostic Nehru; an intellectual Rajaji and an activist Bose. Educated youths in thousands, motivated by such great men to live for high ideals, died at the gallows and languished in jails to won freedom that most of them did not live to see. Russell was right. The educated Indian youths did lead a purposeful, idealistic life. Now see how today’s educated youths fit into Russell’s logic.
It needs no seer to say that India may take at least a couple of more decades to be labelled as ‘developed nation’. Russell saw the entire educated youths in India as a class. But, now there are two classes among them – the more comfortable ‘modern’ youth; ‘the other’ youth, less comfortable. The youths in comfort who mimic the West in habits, tastes, opinions, values and morals in varying degrees – and underplay everything Indian in them save their complexion which they cannot conceal – pass off as ‘modern’ in Indian public discourse. ‘The other’ youths, less comfortable and seen as ‘rural’, ‘conservative’ or ‘traditional’, are, by implication, not ‘modern’.
Now, compare that Indian youth who fought for India’s freedom with the ‘modern’ youth who enjoys that freedom. See first who are role models now for the ‘modern’ youth. Not Vivekananda or Gandhi, Bose or Bhagat Singh. Vivekananda’s birth day as the National Youth Day has not persuaded the ‘modern’ youths to idolise him. They look to Shahrukh Khans and Aishwarya Rais; the cricket patriots are in awe of Tendulkars or Dhonis. Most of them are not unduly concerned about terror or hunger, poverty or illiteracy, corruption or venality that plague India. They will hold politicians responsible, abuse them and discharge their national duty thus, as they did after the Mumbai terror attack last year and went back to pubs and discotheques.
A wild thought. Assume that some one turns autocratic, imposes Emergency like Indira Gandhi did in mid 1970s, suspends basic freedoms; and shuts down pubs, discotheques and night clubs as dictators usually do to gain popular goodwill. What will the ‘modern’ youths, who shout in front of TV cameras for the right to enjoy life and be the way they want, do? First, there will be no media on which their battle for rights rests now. Even in 1975-77, only the Indian Express and The Statesman fought the Emergency regime; the others, in the words of LK Advani, “chose to crawl” when “asked to bend” only. One can well imagine what the media, most of which sells its soul for cash today, will do now if an Emergency were imposed! Even the highest judiciary with higher calibre of judges had succumbed then. What it may do now is a trillion dollar question. Only motivated people – more the idealist youth, who love freedom for a higher purpose than enjoying life – can fight to restore freedom back, as many youths did in 1977.
The ‘modern’ youths only enjoy the freedom which the earlier generations of youth had fought and won for them. Yet they are not even aware of the sacrifices made by their predecessors to get the freedom they enjoy now. The struggle of a Shivaji or a Bose to free India is dismissed in less than a page in history textbooks. The consumerist economics actively promoted by business interests also makes it fashionable for them to enjoy life. And many tend to do it so exclusively that they shamelessly deposit their aging parents in old age homes and let them languish for want of love and care which they got from them in tons. It is this lifestyle, which the duty-free, rights-conscious modernity founded on individualism promotes, that is at the root of today’s economic crisis in the West. It has weakened the traditional norms, families and relations and promoted single parent families, same-sex couples and live-in partners, which have to uncared for elders and under-cared children. Cultural decay forcing financial bankruptcy on families, governments in the US-West had gradually to nationalise family functions through social safety net; though laws, governments or courts can never substitute for families, parents or children. This has made households and their economy dysfunctional. A recent study at the Bank of International Settlements [BIS] has noted that dysfunctional households are the generators of US economic crisis; while in the not-so-modern Japan, the families have remained as “shock absorbers” in economic crisis.
The visible ‘modern’ youth of India today in comfort and without a higher purpose is equivalent of Russell’s youth of the West then; Russell’s youth of India then is the less visible ‘other youth’ of India today, less in comfort but with a purpose in life. Fortunately, the ‘modern’ youth is minuscule in number; but, unfortunately, mega in impact. Yet, as long as ‘the other’ youths are numerically far ahead of the ‘modern’ ones as they are now, India will be de-risked against the kind of socio-economic crisis the West faces today; it will continue to rear a youth that can only sacrifice for the country. But, why are ‘modern’ youths unlike Russell’s purposeful youth and more like their comfortable cousins of the developed West? Will they introspect?
Bertrand Russell resting in peace in grave had to be recalled to help ask these obvious questions.
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