Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Is the best over?

When I was invited to Santiniketan, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. I know about Rabindranath Tagore and the history (and what I didn’t I googled) but I really haven’t come across someone from Santiniketan either through work or the media – ever. I wasn’t sure if this is a wholly Bong college now, or if people from across India went there. I didn’t even realize it was a government college. I had assumed the Tagore family might be running it.

Anyway, so I went to the university – “from nursery to PhD” I was told really proudly. Of course Tagore is an overwhelming influence and his houses, chai spots et al are part of the guided tour. You even get to see Indira Gandhi’s dorm. There are sculptures all over campus. Most of them are by some guy, Tagore’s friend – whose name I can’t remember. They are really good! Classes are still held under the trees in the open. I asked if there is a holiday on rainy days, but sadly I was shown some covered spots. The college classes are held in buildings.

It was a typical government college in many respects. A bit run down, you can see the lack of proper infrastructure, and you can sense the complete lack of technology. At the same time, you can imagine the sculptors and painters loving this place.

Anyway, to my real story. The next day I spoke at the 10th anniversary of their media department. I was telling the mass com students that outside of TV, print and radio, as journalists they can become part of the development sector. I told them about the community video movement that we are spearheading. Etc.

So, it went well. Then came their regular program. “Discussions” which were actually debates. Two professors were called to sit on the stage and grade each speaker on style and presentation. No kidding. I thought I was back in high school!

But what really disappointed me were the debates. I have always sensed this since the time that I studied political science at Welham Girls, but the subject of politics (and media) seems to have an inbuilt institutionalized negativity. While I realize that corruptions and nepotism are all to real problems, but we teach students to hate the system, to hate politicians, to hate the media and to hate Indian government.

Ok, so things I picked up in the debates.

1. Youth in politics: Everyone talked about Rahul, Varun Gandhi and Sachin Pilot. That only children enter politics and that other young people have no chance. This really pissed me off. While I’m no BJP/Left lover, but these parties have seen many bright individuals rise through the ranks, as have other parties. It’s the Congress along that has this mummy-daddy issue written all over it, but I still don’t think that is the approach to take. When you talk about youth in politics, ESPECIALLY for students, counting only those who stand for elections is such a disservice. What about strategists, speech writers, online departments? When Advani ran last time, his office was filled with volunteers who came to help by leveraging their professional experience. It was all over the media. But it seems no one in Santiniketan could be bothered to read the papers. For soon-to-be professionals this is crucial,
2. Apathy: Let me say this for the record. I really really REALLY don’t think “todays youth” disinterested in politics, I have seen a lot of evidence to the contrary. Only one debater said that not everyone needs to be interested in politics, so lets not generalize. I was so surprised that that all the speeches said “During 1947, the youth came out to support the country… but today..” Ok, I know this college has a great Tagore hangover, so I will allow it, but seriously this logic is deeply flawed. Times, what was at stake, and passions were completely different then. Liberalization has happened, so many more avenues are open, people are rightly trying to build personal careers and personal lives. Politics is a career option and to be honest, when people are affected by a crisis – Jessica Lal to 26/11 – they pour out onto the streets.

I don’t mean to single out Santiniketan, it was a wonderful experience and the students there were very bright and articulate. But it did worry me as to what we are teaching our kids. (And really most of these ‘kids’ were just a few years younger than me.)

That these political science and mass com students are proceeding with a sense of disempowerment and even worse, that the best is over is criminal. That everything about this life, this India, is terrible. That politics is for criminals and there is nothing we can do about it. Ok, that is a gross generalization. I did meet a young girl who stood for local elections to prove a point. She is a great example of how we need to stop bitching and start doing.

I tried to tell the Professors my points and that there is a lot of opportunity and that students should be idealists not bordering on depression, they agreed. But I didn’t get the sense anything was going to change.

I see honor killings on TV and I see scams everywhere. We need to inculcate a sense of confidence in our students and I really don’t think we are doing that.

This is worrying.


The Dude said...

A noble sentiment.. but one that will not be easily realised.

Youth is always disenfranchised but in India we have it worse because in the last decade plus it can be seen that divisions(cultural, political, religious), intolerance, greed, power and materialism have gained footholds in leaps and bounds.

And while I dont agree that youth are not involved and not passionate, I do feel that the negative feel of politics, corruption, crony capitalism, red-tapism and private agendas the way it is in our country does turn a great many people away before they even have a chance to consider it. Many intelligent and driven people Ive met would never even consider a career as a politician - especially if they consider themselves honest people - and this shows me a side that scares me.

Besides this though, the media does need to try and show better news.
I pick up any news and am flooded with hatred, murder, avarice, hopelessness and such types of news.
We all know there is good news out there - interesting discoveries, new ideas, happy events - but these are almost always relegated to a back page or a side column or a small mention.
I know that its just business and there's no news like bad news.. but just sometimes couldnt we give hope a chance? until media decides to stop this lemming like mentality of being akin to ambulance chasers there is practically no chance.

maybe thats just me.

IR said...

"mummy-daddy" hangover - brilliant :-)

there is no reason for youth to be optimistic about politics ,

egg style said...

Heck, no, the best isn’t over. There are few afflictions worse than paraplegia by nostalgia (even paralysis by analysis is better, since it offers thought if nothing else), but individuals as much as institutions are known to succumb to it. Of course, past greats ought not to be forgotten. Tagore, frinstance, recommended a civilisational ménage a trois (‘confluence’ was his term) long before others figured what he was on to.

On youth disposition/aversion to politics, attitudes at Welham may not be a valid indicator. It’s only school, for tuck’s sake, and it’s the shock of the world beyond that would arouse political passions. Those were days of innocence, when one could stand in bespectacled rumination at the half-line of a football field in a clownish duo-tone shirt, just dreaming up a goal of some sort, or a strategy for one (‘khwaab’ and ‘khule aam’ are never a revolutionary combo in a privileged setting).

Do youngsters not give a damn? Am not sure. Are they a helluva lot more discreet than the elder lot? You bet. There’s a web around these days, and there’s also a lot of lateral research going on. Gandhi’s debut speech in South Africa to a crowd of Indian immigrants, for example, has never been spoken of in politics, despite what it reveals of the intellectual origins of Brand Gandhi, but the internet gets youngsters talking about it.

Youth discretion can easily be mistaken for apathy. Or so one hopes (politics IS a life-and-death issue, and there are good liberal brains whirring away under all the casual aloofness on public display)! So do not feel let down by Indian youth. By the way, you missed having a Tom Cruise film on youth-angst named after you by a day, but you're so much the better off for it. Have a happy birthday!

mahima said...

How did u know? But u do know that Tom Cruise and I share a birthday right... ha ha ha.

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egg style said...

Tom Cruise, huh? That's good company, tho' funnily enough the image of his that's stuck in memory is his Last Samurai avatar.

As for question no 1, as a blogger you may've forgotten the extent of everything you've mentioned. Keep up the blogging :)

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