Musical chairs

By BONA FIDE: Malvika Singh
  • Published 1.04.11

Age is a strange ‘animal’. In India, as you grow old and infirm, you are venerated and given positions of power that actually require a young and agile mind, body and soul. This makes us a stagnant and fast-failing social order. We do not respect minds that are at their creative best because they are deemed ‘young and inexperienced’. This is a truly bizarre fact that has held the nation back from being a real and dynamic leader in South Asia. Even in the larger area of culture and tried-and-tested traditions — something that uninitiated governments put on the back- burners — we rely on aged individuals to lead the way and thereby disengage an entire generation that is bored with being ‘lectured’ by walking, talking fossils. We never put the young at the forefront of institutions and governing committees and have, therefore, stunted growth in these important spheres.

A World Bank sponsored jamboree, announced with elaborate brochures and invites, brought this reality to the fore. Virtually everyone participating in the one-day programme to celebrate the anniversary of an initiative was over 60 years of age, except for two ‘daughters’ doing a number with their mothers! Look at all government institutions — none have 30- or 40-year-olds at the helm. Which is why all institutions are stuck in a dreadful time warp and are moving towards extinction. The body and mind get slower and sluggish, new ideas cease to come forth, risk-taking becomes a no-no, and creative thinking is a distant mirage. India is in the grips of that fatal illness — one that consciously suppresses the ‘fountain of youth’ with the aches and pains of age.

Sponsorship only comes when the aged are on the boards asking for money. If you are a flighty celebrity or the wife of a politician, you cut the ribbons and draw the sponsors. Those with the real skills and expertise are ‘used’ only to project the interests of those who have neither skill nor expertise but who have something called ‘reach’, a wholly Indian term.

Musical chairs

We have reached the bottom of the pit and only a representative of youth can infuse life into the moribund realities that have crippled us.

There is much talk but no action. In 64 years we have not been able to set up and support a single academic institution of international quality, comparable to equivalent think tanks and institutions elsewhere in the world, even though we have generated intellectuals who can hold their own anywhere in the planet. Funds are allocated but the babus, who wield the power to build such centres, are intellectually inadequate and unable to deliver. This truth is shameful. There is supposedly an advisor to the prime minister on skills —whatever that means — but there is no intelligible, comprehensive policy for that sector which could bring the diverse industries of India, the indigenous information technologies into mainstream development.

In India ,‘committees’ — whether empowered or not — are seen to be the arbiters of everything that has failed. They are invariably headed by retired babus or judges, who were intrinsic to the failed system in the first place. It is like an unending game of musical chairs that keeps India in suspended animation, fooling us with unnecessary delays and self-protecting tactics.

The world has changed and India needs to do so as well. The government of India must wake up and empower the next generation to bring vitality, energy and fresh ideas into play. One-billion-plus people — nearly a quarter of the population of this planet — desperately deserve that to reinvigorate themselves and to take on the world. We have all had enough of the previous generation. It is predictable, finds excuses for all that is not right, condones ineptitude and thrives on the status quo.