I, Me, Myself

Diana Hayden of India is the new Miss World. A veritable triumph of packaging, say some. A little dentistry, a little cosmetic surgery, rigorous workouts at a gym, a top-class fashion designer, a choreographer to teach how to sashay plus training in how to speak in clever little soundbites and there is the world at your feet. So, even in a town like Ludhiana, Punjab, every small locality holds a beauty contest awarding a cardboard crown and cheap sash to the winner who ultimately aspires to be in Hayden´s expensive stilettos.

The case is the same with young men looking for the Mr India title and hoping to hop on to the supermodel league. If not through looks then the path to success for India´s young lies through a Master´s Degree in Business Administration, where the starting salaries alone are enough to catapult one into the big league.

If it is to be the Civil Services, then it is not the Administrative or the Foreign Service that attracts the best of talent, but the Revenue Services where they come into contact with top busi­nessmen and industrialists and can earn an income on the side. If it has to be medicine, then the friendly old GP is a thing of the past. There has to be specialisation, a posh clinic and the ability to milk patients dry off cash. Just recently, in one state, young medicos were agitating against a stipulation for compulsory rural service.

The list of favoured professions can go on, but the ultimate goal for the young in each is the lure of lucre. Humanities are, understandably, completely out of fashion. And no one wants to teach anymore, and it is only those who fail everywhere else that join the academe and its meagre earnings. There are hundreds of vacancies for school teachers with no applicants. Similarly, no one wants to join the armed services, not because they are peaceniks, but because the salary is not excitement-generating. For the first time in 50 years, the services are having to advertise to attract recruits.

Success at every cost is the new mantra fuelled by burning ambition created by pushy parents and satellite television. Failure is something that the 16-25 age group has not been taught to handle, which is why it is responsible for 54 percent of all crimes committed in India today. Also, 40 percent of all suicides is by them.

And how could it be otherwise, amidst the rapidly changing social mores stemming from globalisation and the information revolution which only promote self-gratification and more gratification. The complete confusion of values in the minds of the young and the unprepared-ness of parents and teachers alike to act as guide mean that idealism is a subject that is not even in consideration.

The resulting generation is potentially dangerous, nothing less. While the outer appearance is savvy and street smart, this merely covers the sense of loss and extreme frustration. Increasing alcoholism and substance abuse is one manifestation. Another is the tendency to blindly follow cult leaders and fundamentalist movements.

This is also borne out by an eye-opening study by the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in Bangalore, parts of which were published in a leading Indian newsmagazine. The Institute interviewed 600 sixteen to twenty-five-year-olds all over the country and reported that half of the respondents felt violence was justified when there was no other way to make the government listen; a third were willing to take up arms to be heard; two-thirds believed that things were getting worse for common folk, and that there were very few dependable ties among people anymore – every person was obliged to look out for him/herself.

An NIAS professor tried to be optimistic. The study showed that there was basic empathy with social causes, he said, and all that was needed was patience and trust, proper role models and some guidance. The youth of the country would come around.

The tragedy of India is that there is no one to show the way, for the previous generation itself is confused. It will be waiting past midnight to expect a role model to emerge from the political and social sphere. Or maybe someone will emerge from somewhere to surprise everyone. That would indeed be a sweet surprise.

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Himal Southasian