Cities make us who we are

Updated: 21 November, 2020 06:54 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

History shows that the right kind of environment can create people who are either admirable or depraved. Where do we stand?

Parthenon, the temple on the Athenian Acropolis, dedicated to the goddess Athena, was built between 447 BCE and 432 BCE (Before Common Era). Pic/Getty Images
Parthenon, the temple on the Athenian Acropolis, dedicated to the goddess Athena, was built between 447 BCE and 432 BCE (Before Common Era). Pic/Getty Images

Lindsay PereiraAthens is usually looked upon as a kind of paradise on Earth. I don't mean the city as it is today, struggling with economic ruin and the rise of far-right movements, but the city-state as it was in the fifth century, when that tiny, muddy corner of the world pretty much set the foundations for how most countries still function. It shone like a jewel in an area of darkness, its light cast centuries ago continuing to brighten our paths today.

Historians refer to it as the Golden Age, a term hard to dispute when one looks at the advancements made in art, philosophy, governance, medicine, and literature. A cursory look at what was accomplished by those who lived there during that period can boggle the mind, which is why a lot of people have spent years trying to make sense not only of why the place flourished when it did, but why it stopped being so special within less than a century.

It makes sense that the places we grow up in, our milieu, should have a strong influence on the way we look at the world and our place in it.

We know that times of peace are more conducive to the flowering of ideas than years of war and struggle. Our families define who we are, but a large part of who we become as people of a nation also depends upon something intangible. It is in the air we breathe, the music and art that surrounds (or fails to surround) us; it is in the way our leaders speak, who these leaders are, and what they inspire us to be.

I think about this often when I look at how India has embraced this century. I remember the way things were before the year 2000, and the long list of promises we made to ourselves about how our country was on its way towards becoming a world leader.

The future belonged to us all, we said, and our growing economic strength would lead to change for the better in all aspects of our lives. Our leaders created these sentiments for us, showing us glimpses of a time when the rest of the world would look up to our country and applaud.

Those promises have soured quickly, and drastically. No one with a fully functioning brain can describe India today as a success story on any front. We have failed on everything from our economy to healthcare and infrastructure.

Our television channels tell us to ignore everything that is wrong around us and focus on the private lives of movie stars instead. Our politicians refuse to be accountable, avoid answering questions, and think that press conferences are beneath them in the mistaken assumption that they are demigods rather than elected representatives.

It's worrying to think about what this environment is conducive to, in terms of how it may shape the generations of Indians who come after us. The past four or five years have failed to create a time of peace and stability, irrespective of what advertisements paid for by our own taxes will have us believe.

We have been encouraged to turn on each other, rather than focus on what can make life better for everyone who calls India home. A virus has added to a series of uninformed economic decisions to decimate our financial present and future, and the Smart Cities we were supposed to have surrounded ourselves with are nowhere to be seen. The bullet trains never arrived.

How will children be encouraged to thrive in this sort of atmosphere, where distrust, apathy, corruption, and bigotry are now taken for granted? How can we hope for a future where innovation is encouraged and rewarded, and people work towards the betterment of all rather than the enriching of personal bank accounts, when that is what we are constantly taught to aspire to?

We can change what we teach our children, perhaps, and protect them from the prejudices we have had shoved down our throats over the past few years. But how do we change the mindset of a morally bankrupt nation?

Greece has never managed to attain a semblance of what it used to be, all those centuries ago. The people who live there today struggle to reconcile who they have become with what they once used to be. India was probably a great civilisation too, at some point, because that is what we have been encouraged to believe. Look how far we have fallen.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira

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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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First Published: 21 November, 2020 07:00 IST

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