August 19, 2019
When I go down memory lane traversing more than 30 years, I recall a Public Speaking Trainer cautioning us, his audience, to beware of committing the cardinal sin of beginning a speech with an apology. Now, here I am, trying to begin writing an article (not a speech) and have already begun to feel a strong urge to apologize, to confess that while I have spent quite some time brainstorming on the topic, I still haven’t been able to exactly zero in on my thesis statement. Nevertheless I would like to share my thoughts and feelings with all of you, especially with the young leaders who are living in what is a very crucial juncture in the history of our dear motherland India. As a teacher of English, I would like to fall back on an old but tried and tested formula to structure my article - the three ‘WH’ questions – ‘What, Why & How!
There is absolutely no doubt that the younger generation is the strength of any nation. A nation cannot survive and progress without a well-qualified, efficient and dedicated young generation. In recent years, India has been blessed with a preponderance of youth, with nearly 66% of its population young and energetic. This large chunk of the citizenry, the youth, if provided with the right motivation and opportunities, can transform any country into a superpower. However, this becomes a near impossible task if they are not filled with the spirit of national integration.
India is a unique country saturated with a colourful amalgam of cultures, languages, castes, creeds and religions. To fall back on a rather worn out cliché, it has always been a veritable ‘unity in diversity’. This multi-pluralism has not only been the singular reason for its greatness but also the most important facet for the pride that more than a billion Indians have reposed in it!
For me, a Christian teacher in his early fifties, someone who was born and brought up in a cosmopolitan city (Bangalore) of an independent, democratic country more than three decades ago, with not even a whiff of unpleasantness attributed to belonging to different religions, speaking different languages and hailing from different regions, the recent episodes of intolerance, hatred and rancour leave me wondering what went wrong! Because it certainly wasn’t always like this!
Let me take you back in time to the early seventies, to my childhood in a small rented house in Jayanagar IV Block, in the then Bangalore. We stayed next door to our landlords, the Ramiahs, who were not only munificent landlords but also excellent neighbours with whom we enjoyed a very nice camaraderie. Being an only child of working parents, most vacations, more often than not, I used to find myself alone playing with Nagendra, the second son of our landlords. Notwithstanding the fact that aunty Kamala, my friend Nagendra’s mother, was a devout Brahmin lady who practised ‘madi’ (she wouldn’t touch anyone till her pooja was completed), she would always ensure that I was made to feel at home alongside her two sons, seated comfortably on the cold, red oxide floor, serving me hot chapathis along with a special homemade tamarind pickle, the memory of which still makes my mouth water! No friends, I don’t remember even an iota of separatism or communal ill will in her treatment of us kids. We were all children and that was it!
Moving on to yet another slice of my childhood memories, my 6th & 7th standards in the school run by the Bharathiya Samskrthi Vidhya Peeta in Vijayanagar, two aspects stand out. The first is the prayer hour where all students, including yours truly – a ‘Christian’, were taught and made to sing bhajans and devotional songs mostly drawn from the Hindu tradition. I remember enjoying the sessions and still distinctly remember the lyrics of most of the songs. The second is the memory of my two classmates Nasir and Firoz, without whose assistance I probably wouldn’t have learnt how to ride a cycle to this day!
The last slice is of my high school days in Carmel High School wherein many of us used to gather in my friend Ravi’s house in Rajajinagar, especially during examinations for ‘combined study’. Again I was not only welcomed into the ‘brahmin’ house, but also served delicious ‘mosaranna’ and refreshing ‘majjige’(curd rice & buttermilk) by Ravi’s mother. Truly pleasant memories that fill my heart with warmth and pride and make me salute my dear country India! Helen Keller, one of my role models, was right when she declared, ‘The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.’
It is true that our country has progressed in leaps and bounds in the recent past, but the youth must be aware that the spirit of unity which binds the citizens together sometimes faces great challenges. Forces of separation and fanaticism threaten to jeopardise the cherished ideals of ‘one country-one people’. Passions are often inflamed in the name of language, region and religion and many a time loyalty to caste and community is given precedence over devotion to the motherland. This leads to a pronounced sense of alienation in many places within the country. It is imperative that the youth play a decisive role in rejuvenating the rapidly deteriorating pluralistic & democratic values of our great nation. This task will become a reality only when the youth of the day is motivated towards proactive action. The old adage – ‘Today’s youth are tomorrow’s citizens has to be revamped to ‘Today’s youth are today’s citizens’. It is high time that the strong youth force of the country is taken seriously and involved fruitfully in the mechanics of nation building. As Gandhiji reiterated again and again, ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’
The need of the hour to remedy what could end up being a drastic situation for all the citizens of our great nation, especially the youth, is to develop empathy. To drive this home, I would like to narrate a story which made a big impact on me when I read it in a magazine many years back. A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years, this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to his master’s house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you”. The bearer asked, “Why? What are you ashamed of?” The Pot replied, “For these past two years I have been able to deliver only half of my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you don’t get full value for your efforts”.
The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion, he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” As they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it somewhat. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”
The story exhorts all of us to be willing to put ourselves in the shoes of others, to understand the world from their point of view. As Confucius very succinctly put it, ‘I was complaining that I had no shoes till I met a man who had no feet.’ Cultivating a healthy sense of empathy will empower and enable the youth to take the lead in fostering unity in the community, society and in the nation. It will equip the youngsters to play a pivotal role in accelerating national integration which is the only way of saving the country from falling into the hands of extremists and fanatics. Empathetic young men and women can work miracles when their boundless energy and enthusiasm are harnessed for positive nation building. The youth have to get out of the Empathy Deficit Disorder that seems to have overwhelmed them and imbibe a sense of ‘Sahodaya or Growing Together’ which is the panacea our country is desperately groping for. Only then will our youth be able to celebrate their differences and move towards the creation of a new and just, inclusive society where citizens of all castes, creeds, colours, languages and regions can live in mutual trust and harmony. As John F. Kennedy opined, ‘We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future’.
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