Smarter than their years

Updated: Jul 18, 2020, 12:44 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

Things don't seem so bad when one looks at how the extraordinary young people everywhere are fixing the broken world we left them

Students and youngsters from the city demand the declaration of a climate emergency at Marine Drive. File pic
Students and youngsters from the city demand the declaration of a climate emergency at Marine Drive. File pic

picOne of the nicest things about 2020 — and this is going to be a shortlist for everyone on Earth, given what we have been through so far — is how young Indians stood up and made their presence felt at the start of this year. I remember being moved, like millions of others like me, at the sight of teenagers crowding public places, placards in hands, standing up without fear to what they believed was inhuman behaviour by an uncaring government. It was an act of unqualified bravery that faded from our consciousness all too quickly after a virus took its place.

Those teenagers came to mind again this month, when the President of the United States was reportedly conned into thinking he was more popular than he really is.

Apparently, K-Pop fans (people who love popular music from South Korea, for readers of this column living under a rock) managed to do what the Republican government’s opposition party couldn’t, hijacking the President’s first major rally in his bid for re-election. They followed this up with other examples of online activism, overpowering bigoted hashtags and turning them into positive messages with the sheer force of numbers. What they proved in the process, to those who hadn’t been paying attention, is that the prejudices of a previous generation may no longer hold sway in the world that is to come.

I believe it is important for us to understand that what these young people do is extraordinary not simply because of the tangible good they bring about, but because their acts spring fully formed from themselves, and call for a break from what their parents believe in.

Look at how second- and third-generation Indian Americans behave. While so many of their parents continue to spout the kind of racist nonsense that comes so easily to residents of India, they have managed to shift the conversation into areas of accommodation, understanding, and acceptance. They are the kind of people who make so many of us proud to be Indian in ways their doctor and engineer parents never have.

Another thing young people have managed to do is draw attention to things that affect us all, and things we have ignored for too long. That iconic photograph of Greta Thunberg comes to mind as I write this, of her skipping school to protest climate change. It is juxtaposed alongside an equally viral image of her surrounded by thousands of people a year later, triggering movements in major cities worldwide and compelling governments to speak even if their actions fail to reflect their words. No one is under any delusion that Thunberg will succeed where so many have failed. What we shouldn’t forget, however, is that she managed to raise her voice on her own, and initiated conversations that will eventually end in decisive action because this is the only planet we have.

Life is harder than ever for young Indians. Millions of them will graduate this year and find themselves in a country more unsure of itself than ever before. They will enter a corporate space rocked by economic hardship, a global pandemic, and governmental incompetence. They will be faced with the daunting task of buying overpriced homes in poorly planned cities, unsure of help from any quarter. If the past couple of years are any indication though, they will rise to these challenges with positivity rather than prejudice. I do not envy them this.

Another interesting indication of how things are changing is TikTok, the now-ubiquitous app that has captured screens and shoved everything from YouTube and Instagram to Twitter and Snapchat into quieter corners of the Internet. The content here is created almost exclusively by the youth. There are older people trying to muscle in on the fun, as always, along with the trolls who make it their personal mission to try and muddy the waters wherever their toxic minds lead them. What makes TikTok different, and commendable given how it doesn’t police its users, is the support and consideration that its users show each other. Every 30-second song or dance that is uploaded by its more popular creators attracts thousands of positive comments, which is strange and exhilarating for anyone long inured to the nastiness of Facebook or Twitter.

The world as we know it will change because it simply doesn’t have a choice. Those of us born in the 1970s and 1980s had our chance but dropped the ball. Thank god for the millennials who came after us.

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