About Change & Mediocrity: Our Brazilian Holiday

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I think many of us feel despondent and let down by our Brazilian holiday. The indignation it provoked inevitably led to the question: what are we as a Nation in comparison to the rest of the world?

The sorry truth is we now wallow, as never before, at the bottom of the squelches of failure in every blessed index possible. We have been in the squelches before. But with the turn of the new century, and growing steadily, to our national delight, was a sense of real progress; a real sense of united strength and capability; a sense of country; a concerted desire everywhere to show that our progress was visible, unmistakable. That we were to be counted at the top tables, not merely as a traders’ dump for wholesale goods, but as respected negotiators, professionals and intellectuals. We have always enjoyed this reputation vicariously for our fellowmen in the diaspora, but to be accorded thus for the home-grown, was recognition indeed. 

And then this undoing.

Not that we didn’t win medals but that we could not. Just simply could not get past the first round of so many disciplines, despite having star studded teams and several tried, tested and proven individual world champions. It was as if there was neither heart nor belonging. As if we knew we would not do well because we hadn’t trained hard enough – not alone and not as a team. For anyone involved in sports (and most Indians are – whether on the street or maidan or stadiums), it was obvious that we had not strategised or focused on win-lose tactics, that for some reason the Olympics simply had not mattered enough and we were there as a contingent and that was that.

Athletics

The unpalatable fact is that an all-pervasive sense of resignation, of despair almost – or, worse, a cynical “what did you expect?” has come to settle upon us. Not because of the Olympics, but insidiously upon us as a people, and thus upon our performance everywhere. But more spectacularly in the floodlights of the world stage of the Olympics, where it all only boils down to a gold or silver or bronze.

It is as if the divisiveness we have had thrust upon us has infected everything, made us inimical – of attitude and purpose; of motives and bias; for quick gain, and an abject lack of generosity, of inherent catholicity. Impossible to disguise any more, the Wembleys and Seattles or smiling billboards notwithstanding. We must instead bear reluctant witness now, still in some disbelief, to our visible slide into chaos, defined by dictionaries as “a state of extreme confusion and disorder”, born of hyperbole and deflection, of hypocrisy, intimidation and licence as never before in these last almost 70 years. We appear to have reduced ourselves to what we have always thought of ourselves as being – self-righteous bigots with no unifying agenda whatsoever.

Our nemesis has always been ignorance. Ignorance (for me) is the antonym of wisdom. What Shakespeare defined as “brutish”. Needless to say it has little or nothing to do with institutionalised education but is embedded in generations of conditioning, coming up tops even at schools, colleges and city squares. The celebration therefore is to be able to wean the wise away from the brutish. How best to do so is another matter. But if we do not, then we will not be able stop the brutish weaning away the wise from themselves.    

As a “senior” citizen, I am increasingly incensed by the thought of being “led” by persons of little account. Of little account intellectually, of little account in terms of integrity and of little account in character. The nation has become a place for whizzing SUVs on narrow who cares roads; of thick gold chains and signet rings;  and murderous spouses whose husbands or wives refuse to particpate in panning in the cess pits of Inddian politics.   

The gap between these criminals and the rest of the people who are forced to depend on them or forced to sit and wait for the next elections, is crippplingly huge. The boast of sheer money and thereby “power”, would be pathetic if it weren’t so close to decisive, politically expedient actions like ethnic cleansing and liquidity and the re-writing of the Constitution. Without accountability and the courage to answer, we will not have a system whereby only the wise and the caring/ the intellectually sensible and sensitive/ the peceptive and the pragmatic and the respect-able and the competent will be brought to the fore as representatives of the people.

There has to be education for governance. The standards have to be set high with regard to integrity, sense, being team-capable; being adept at learning, at cutting through to the core and making objectives real by attainment. National Geography’s focus on Egypt is a gripping bio-pic (?) of an example of what not to do. The more we depend on physical numbers the less we have to do with ideology. And having mentioned ideology, I don’t think we have place for anything except for “roti kapda aur makaan” and other related issues, including dignity and respect. All the rest are of nefarious purpose, so far, perhaps, still not in full cry, but baying.

Establish the colleges (ASCI clones-ish). Insist all aspirants who wish to represent the people have to be qualified (forget medium of instructions and academic convolutions) to make the abstract real. They must be trained to understand leadership in the hardest of places: life studies/ water and earth/ the relevance of low cost and high cost/ longevity and collapse/ swift of reach and penetration/ human dignity/ achieving the seemingly impossible/ small is good to start from/ to earn trust and respect, maintenance and upkeep/ preservation and regard/ recognising the richness of learning by studying and emulating the past or steering well away from the pitfalls and dangers. Develop curriculum vitae which will testify to capacity and capability, easily verified and re-checked and confirmed. And then the reward of an election, for the trust that they would have earned by then.

And, as if to balance this intensity, a certain degree of personal discipline and mild austerity cannot be out of place. Reduce waste by cooking less; don’t use engines more than 3 litres in capacity; take it easy on the electricity; don’t splurge in hideous quantities; distribute wealth to earn concessions; help the Panchayats to help their poor; campaign against urban “migration” – it is short-lived and traumatic whereas there will always be work back home if capital is made available and the persons of authority are uncorrupt. Enable even the smallest earner to get justice against the bullies. Publish balance sheets, send out inspectors, establish arbitration in far greater measure than we have today. Tell the Sajjan Kumars, the Reddys and Stalins and the Raju Bhaiyas of the world that they are disqualified – their candidature is cancelled and they can never stand for elections again. Unless the electorate demands that they have paid the price for wrong doing and they are now clean to go.

We can but wait. In faith.

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Kabir Kumar Mukherjee-Mustafi has been a passionate school teacher since 1974. He was the Head Master of Bishop Cotton School, Shimla, till 2004, and continues his work in the education sector (along with his wife Kamini, also a dedicated school teacher) as an institutional Director.

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