‘Complete your engineering first and then pursue your dreams’ is what I woke up to this morning as I religiously checked my whats app messages. Waking up to whats app, as opposed to a newspaper, has now become a norm in my house and the first question asked every morning is not , ‘why the milkman isn’t here?’ or ‘what will become of this country’ but, quite simply, ‘Kya wi-fi chal raha hai’? (Is the wi-fi on’?) Unfortunately, I have also succumbed to the, rather erratic, functioning of our wi-fi router.
Coming back to the message I read first thing in the morning, I was reminded of my times in school when I was asked to forgo my passion and love for history to make way for a degree either in ‘engineering’ or ‘finance’. I never understood Physics, looking at numbers gave me the creeps and maintained an arm’s length distance from the periodic table. As my classmates in school prepared themselves for the great American dream, I drowned in the works of Romila Thapar, Durga Das, Bipan Chandra and understood the shaping and evolution of my country’s history. Political ideologies followed next and analyzing Marx seemed more relevant than decoding US Immigration rules. My readings and writings, over the years, inspired me and I am now a happy researcher delving into the different eras of Indian history.
While I was being transformed from a student to a researcher, the world around me was changing. Malls mushroomed in the neighborhood and in the blinding light of capitalism were shadowed the principles of Nehruvian socialism. Not that I am a self proclaimed Communist or a Socialist, neither do I oppose globalization and its manifestations. Changing economic trends do require for us to open our markets and becoming a part of the global economy perhaps has benefitted us ( I am no economist to assess that either!) However, it is the rapidly developing superficial ‘capitalist’ culture that I question. In those swank malls, are coffee shops (which I also frequent many a times) where one finds the youth, discussing their next investment plans, rise in the corporate ladder, mind boggling pay packages. Congratulations to all of them on their achievements. In this rush to accommodate ourselves in a corporate milieu, is our sense of social, political and cultural awareness dwindling.
In the days when Starbucks was far far away, not just from our imaginations but also from our malls, lanes and bylanes, tea ‘addas’ or ‘coffee houses’ ruled the roost. My father recalls, coffee house, teashops as being spaces were the youth gathered to discuss political situations. Ideologies came to a clash over endless cups of tea and political and national consciousness prevailed amongst a larger section of the society, which included everyone from government servants to students, and lawyers to businessmen. Participation in debates and discourse was something that interested all and was not just the domain of a handful of academics, activists or scholars. Unfortunately, these tea addas and coffee house could not withstand the dizzying rise of liberalization, privatization and globalization. With their disappearance also withered away the culture of political idealism, which my grand parents and parents so fondly talked about.
It is this idealism that is now so easily forgotten. While our economic achievements are worth appreciating, it has also, sadly, given rise to political apathy. An apathy in which our youth fail to recognize our social ailments, are largely unaware of our political processes and to adhere to any form of ideology is now forgone. Politics and idealism may not be everyone’s cup of tea but in a country where discrimination along religious and caste lines continue, famers commit suicide, female feticide continues to rise, we can’t always hide behind the shiny curtains of a corporate life and culture.
That is why we need Kanhaiya. When he takes the mike we are reminded of the many drawbacks of our society. His speeches have brought about freshness in ideas and have compelled us to look beyond our everyday hackles and for once logically question the society we live in and the political structures that govern us. His arrest, followed by the student led protests have brought to the fore political idealism, which now restricted only to university boundaries, was losing its relevance in our society. It has made the youth, caught in a money making frenzy, aware of an alternate thought process. A ‘thought process’, which to some might seem like ‘university enthusiasm’, but instead has the potential to shake the corridors of power.
We also need Kanhaiya, for his village in Bihar and his family tell us the story of a life led without wi-fi and not dictated by whats app and numerous forms of social networking. We need Kanhaiya to remind those parents who force upon their children a management degree when they perhaps might want to write poetry, act, study literarture or perhaps like Kanhaiya make a mark in politics and public life.
In the wake of the JNU sedition case, a recent blog in the Huffington Post questions, ‘Why are so many Humanities students activists?’ It states “Humanities students in India mainly study history, political science, philosophy, economics, sociology, anthropology and literature. If you think about it, what they study is the way in which the world came to be what it is today, and how it works.” Yes, the time has come for us to understand how this world functions and perhaps promoting the studies of humanities over sciences and finance might change the perception of the youth. A youth well versed in the humanities and provided with ample job opportunities, for once may step out of the role of an activist and through their writings, participations in public life, debate, discourse, arguments, done on a much larger scale than now , will usher in a new form of development. A development that does not only give rise to a ‘corporate style-mall culture’ but penetrates deep into our society and brings about a balanced reforms both in the rural and urban areas.
Therefore, while some of us might not agree with Kanhaiya’s ‘student activism’ and the political mud slinging it has brought, we need him for a much needed paradigm shift.