In Satyajit’s Ray’s film Hirok Rajar Deshe, the tyrannical king’s soldiers clear the city of beggars, vagrants and all unseemly sights and hide them behind curtains that festoon the streets when VIP’s come visiting. Ray was depicting how we whitewash reality and brush the dirt under the carpet when we receive dignitaries. Today, in the present climate of euphoria and self congratulatory paens of praise to our economy, it would be equally embarrassing to devote too much attention to serious issues that demand immediate redressal. Are those who lost their lands when the Sardar Sarovar dam was built been rehabilated? Who knows? Why do we have so many disaffected elements going by the generic name of Naxals and why are their numbers increasing if everything’s so peachy? Hey who cares? What are we doing about the stress toll in call center jobs and do they have proper union representation? And why do we have a media that’s reduced to dishing out popcorn entertainment on its front pages and during prime time? It’s the money, stupid! Revenues pour in if you are upbeat and bubbly.
But the most distressing trend in this festival of trivia seems to be the misrepresentation of facts that confuses and leads astray young people. It is perhaps the general mood prevalent in the country – or certain sections of it – that has generated so many success stories of “out of the box” entrepreneurship and maverickism. In a school in the suburbs, students of the 3rd grade recently received a worksheet in which several individuals figured – supposedly to inspire the young with their heroic achievements. Apart from the fact that two of them were American nationals and didn’t really belong on that list, what really took the cake was that one of them is a producer of regressive serials (that would have our 19th century social reformers turning in their graves). Moreover this particular role model was hailed as having started from scratch – which adds dimensions to the meaning of that word.
This is not an isolated incident. The media increasingly features intrepid souls who wiped off their grease paint (risking all, I presume) to start decorative candle businesses; models sashaying into the world of yoga and reiki and college dropouts raking in the millions after much soul searching. Throughout it all is the tacit suggestion that these wunderkind represent the new and emerging India.
Is the scion of an industrial empire representative of the new India and its fiery new generation because he started his career on the shop floor? Or is a film producer’s son a pioneer because he started as a fourth assistant on his father’s sets (like the others)? The claim of level playing ground is the biggest lie that the media propagates today. It does not take a genius to figure out that the scion and the son will inevitably reach their “rightful place.”
By creating the illusion of egalitarian parity, the media makes these icons of success seem much closer to hand, more accessible. “If he can do it, then why not I? After all we are both the same” is the question a young person might ask himself. He sees the lifestyle and aspires to it. What he/she does not see is the sad truth of parental inheritance, often going back generations that translates into capital, connections and much more that lies at the bottom of the tip of the iceberg. Instead of focusing on the real life struggles and the work ethos of the few who really struggled and came up from scratch, the media chooses to either glamourise their lives or splash the profiles of vapid socialites on pages and channels.
At the moment we have a vast majority of frustrated youngsters, some of whom who would not hesitate to abduct and murder one of their own, for something as mundane as a cellphone. We have children from SSC backgrounds with inadequate counseling, who, after leaving college, and faced with the reality of the quota system and paucity of money for fees, enroll in dubious computer academies, wasting their parent’s pension money. Many of them are sincere but misguided. It is a mockery and an insult to them to suggest that they have a choice of becoming dropout tycoons by dangling a desi Bill Gates in front of them – or asking them to think out of the box when they don’t even have a box to call their own.
Perhaps our brave new world will become a reality soon. But until then, it would be wise to do what certain advertisers did when young children started imitating the stunts in their ads and ended up very dead. Have a statutory warning under each of these “stories” that says, “Do not try this at home.”