Thoughts on Changing Times, Changing Values
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 11 Feb 2019
When a person has crossed seven decades of his life, he often feels he can be a little indiscreet and talk of situations or events in his life which he has not done so before — at least publicly. There are many regrets in one’s life and a few occasions of feeling a sense of satisfaction. In addition there is a sense of unease at the way the world has shaped politically, economically, socially.
What have I done during the last seven decades of my life — for myself, or for society? If society appears too large an entity, what have I done for others even on a small scale? These are recurrent questions that I try to tackle in my mind. One benefit that I have provided to society is that I have donated some small amounts of money to NGOs that are providing service to the deprived sections of society — education, healthcare, skill formation and similar other assistance to the poorer sections of society.
Some organizations try to find lost children on streets or railroad stations pick them up and try to find the parents of these lost kids. If that does not work out, they give these helpless children shelter, food, education so that they grow into self-supporting and decent citizens.
I have not given vast but small amounts of money that suited my pocket. In addition, I go around various offices or rooms of my University or any public institution such as a museum and see if there are lights or fans running when no one is occupying these rooms. I switch off the electric switches and save on electricity. If water is trickling down a tap as often happens in toilets, I tighten the tap to stop this wastage of water. This helps sustain the environment to a micro level and reduce waste and pollution.
Socially, the situation today is so much different from what it was six or even three decades back. We in India did not have modern gadgets such as ACs, refrigerators, television or Mobile phones; even electricity was not available twenty-four hours in urban centres not to speak of villages. Traffic on the roads was limited and not chaotic as it is today – there were more bicycles than motorized vehicles – cars, SUVs, scooters or bikes. Family systems were usually joint, meaning that uncles, aunts, cousins used to live in the same house or in the neighborhood so one could meet each other, share festivals together and children could play with each other happily, boisterously.
In contrast families have become single families with even children off to College and living in separate towns. Neighbors don’t often interact with each other leading to loneliness and isolation. In such situations, company is provided for elderly persons either by television or the omnipresent and omnipotent Mobile phones that are now called Smart phones. Yes, they are really smart – one can not only communicate within the country or overseas, send messages or photos, but even send money to another person if one has the bank details.
They are really smart because if you ask any question – who was the second Prime Minister of India and for how long was he in office; who were the well- known writers of France and who did not accept the Nobel prizes that were awarded to them, these questions can be easily answered by these gadgets. Answers to other questions such as when did a country become independent, what is the name of its capital city, what languages are spoken, what is their principal religion, are all easily available. One astonishing feature that I discovered about the smart phone was the availability of English-Persian dictionary making learning of Persian for a non-Iranian easier and vice versa — learning English for a person from Iran. Whether a person could speak a foreign language by such a dictionary is questionable but at least, some words or phrases could be easily leant. I have seen several people in foreign countries such as Portugal for example, where English is not so widely spoken, carrying smart phones or simple books asking for directions to a road or a restaurant, etc.
These entities do provide convenience but they all lead to isolation because your companion is this hand held gadget, not a person with whom you can ask a question, converse with about common issues that occasionally leads to companionship and friendship. Once, I was travelling in a small German town named Eggolsheim, when I noticed a party of people with a bride dressed in her finery travelling towards a neighborhood church. I was naturally curious to see this sight because a bride would not be walking in public in India when her marriage is to take place. I asked a few simple questions and was glad that one person in the marriage party spoke some English. He not only satisfied my curiosity but invited me to accompany the marriage party.
This encounter not only helped me see the church but also observe the traditional marriage ceremony and share some cake and drinks. No need for any smart gadget.
As I mentioned earlier, I have lived for seven decades and observed changes in our life styles, in TV programs and the appearance of newspapers. There used to be two major newspapers when I was young – today there is a countless number of them. More than that, their appearance has changed markedly not only in terms of the news carried by them but in the ads and photographs they carry. Sometimes there are more pages of advertisements than of news.
One sees young men and women dressed in funny clothes (funny at least to me), endorsing expensive clothes or shoes or food or whatever. They seem to be smiling proudly (is it because of the hefty endorsement fee they get?) and seem to be the happiest people on the earth. Is it really so? I thought there was a lot of anxiety, sadness, isolation; there is also news of perversion, violence, criminality and what is now called me-too movements on the social media. Why this charade of joy and happiness in these photos? Go outside any town, big or small or any village and one can see sadness, unhappiness and even desperation on the faces of several sections of our population including the job hunters in their twenties or thirties in towns and farmers in villages at least in India, if nowhere else. Of course, some people will say that why should a person look desperate and gloomy all the time? True, but then why should there be such duplicity in these ads?
There are of course some genuinely poor people whom one meets in urban towns. Even though they may look haggard, they often seem to possess more humanity than the rich and smartly dressed people. If you smile at them and exchange a few words with them, they respond with pleasure and warmth. They talk about their families living in villages; they are happy to share the aspirations they have for their children.
If you give them some food or money or used clothes, they may not say Thank you, but they accept your gift with gratitude. A family of four — father, two children and their grandmother live in a shanty hut just opposite my home. I occasionally offer the children some biscuits or peanuts which they happily accept. They recognise me, and smile at me with a bewitching radiance that is a bigger gift for me than the small gift I give them. I feel so happy and content.
Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 11 Feb 2019.
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