What does India need in 2019?

Published: Jan 05, 2019, 05:45 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

This is an election year, which increasingly signifies a season of hate rather than dialogue. What can we do to change this narrative?

Our country often appears to be running on dwindling reserves of empathy.  Representation pic
Our country often appears to be running on dwindling reserves of empathy. Representation pic

Lindsay PereiraA close friend of mine said something to me in the last week of 2018 that resonated enough to make me question a lot of things about myself. 'India has enough engineers, doctors and lawyers,' she said. 'It doesn't have enough people who are kind.' At first, I wanted to point out that the comparison between career choices and behavioural traits was completely inappropriate. I stopped myself though, because I realised that questioning her would simply reiterate the point she was trying to make.

She wasn't attacking the need for more engineers or doctors, merely pointing out that we weren't spending enough time on things that ought to matter more. The statement made me realise, rather late in the day, that we really don't have enough kind people among us. Maybe they exist in the privacy of their homes, where they feed stray animals, care for ailing grandparents and sing children to sleep. They don't appear much in public though, which is sad given how our country often appears to be running on dwindling reserves of empathy.

It's obvious if we ever stop to notice. There is a lack of empathy from the minute we step outside our homes. Our watchmen are rarely treated as human beings, their right to space, privacy and leisure ignored consistently as we go about our business. The people who drive us to work don't matter either, nor do those engaged in public transport who often have to bear the brunt of our anger at poor infrastructure they have no control over. Our fellow citizens are ignored at the best of times, given how easily we shove them aside, and there's no point discussing how little concern we show the weakest members of our society, from children to senior citizens, when it comes to celebrating festivals that supposedly matter to us alone.

This is going to be an election year. Once upon a time, this meant we would have to listen to speeches about how one group of people would make our lives better, while other groups put forth their own solutions to our problems. This is no longer the case, because we have long moved past development to a space where only differences matter. What the British began, by implementing their policy of Divide and Rule, has been taken to heart by politicians across India.

Speeches today are only about how some Indians are out to get rid of other Indians. There is no talk of how our lives are to be improved. It is almost always about 'us' versus 'them', migrants versus locals, and one set of religious beliefs over another. To expect this to change is naive, given how huge the payoffs are for those who shout loudest, but there may be things we can do on our own, away from the clamour of relentless hate we are subjected to in public, to change the narrative in our private spaces.

The older I get, the more I start to question messages we send out, not just to our peers but to the youngest among us. We push them into extracurricular activities they have little interest in, emphasise the importance of MBAs and fat salaries, and rarely talk about love or the need for acceptance. Some of it has to do with our reticence about dealing with feelings, which may explain our fear of public displays of affection.

Some of it also has to do with the fact that so many of our elders spoke about the need to study more than the need to love our friends and neighbours. There is no magic wand that can transform us all into a nicer bunch of people. I intend to spend 2019 trying harder to be nicer though, not simply because I believe this can make life a little better for those around me, but because I think of it as an antidote to the barrage of hate I often find myself swimming through, online and offline. I want to counter the relentless rage that comes so easily to us in the face of indifference, with little gestures that resonate powerfully the way my friend's comment did with me.

We will collectively step into 2019 a little older, more tired, bracing for bad news in a country more obsessed with statues, religion, gods and goddesses than human beings. I hope we can step into the year with kindness though, and the wisdom it inevitably brings. That, for me, will be a Happy New Year.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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