May 29th, 2013

Who am I to talk?

“If you are not an idealist by the time you are twenty you have no heart, but if you are still an idealist by the time you are thirty, you don't have a head” Randolph Bourne.

For the last month or so, the idea of corruption and my own position on it, has been playing on in my mind. I have to admit that the quote above reflects to a great extent where I am today as I have three more years to hit forty. I grew up as an idealist, and a very hardcore one at that. The values I imbibed while at school and home were nothing short of being so. Smiles and happiness used to glow on me, while I read lessons related to Mahatma Gandhi or Swami Vivekananda or Martin Luther King. Another lesson I remember was that of Raja Harishchandra which left an indelible mark on me. In all those formative years, growing up in the era of Ramayana and Mahabharata on TV, it was always about either right or wrong. I do not remember of a time when my teachers or parents, taught me about shades of grey. The discussion never ended with – “It depends”!

I wept inconsolably when I was not selected for the under-12 state zonal cricket team, saying things were not fair. I would have walked a distance of around 4 kilometers weeping. The exams one faced at school was all about meritocracy. There was a genuine admiration for friends who stood first or did well, and that respect stays even till today. I wish to believe that during graduation and post graduation this attitude to fairness remained unchanged. There were a few incidents during that phase which reflected this trait. However going into details of that may not serve any purpose here.

But while my own thoughts remained unchanged during that phase (1993 – 2002), I was being exposed to a world which was clearly not a reflection of the text books. My journeys from Trivandrum to Delhi in train spread over 3 days, and the interactions seen with the Train Ticket Examiners (TTEs) were a case in point. I remember having returned from a cinema house in RK Puram, New Delhi, since I was not prepared to buy the ticket in “black”. On another occasion I had a strong discussion with my ethics teacher to re-emphasize my point that “the end does not justify the means and the means is equally important.” There was pride and conviction in what I used to think and how I used to behave.

I entered corporate life in 2002 and in a way also encountered the bigger world beyond the term exams and classes. I believe India also underwent a rapid change. Access to capital improved and many more people got exposed to the changes happening globally. One could not even cling on to the communist ideology since it had long collapsed in Russia and East Europe! I believe living in a different world, made me make some adjustments. However it was never a conscious attempt to remodel oneself. It was more a case of flowing with the environment around you, and making things happen. When I look back, it seems to have slowly developed into the “end justifying the means” attitude. We are all working for the greater good of humanity, and in that process one needs to make a few adjustments, may be give into worldly temptations, and turn a blind eye to certain things.  Perfectly fine since we all know we have the good and only the good in mind! (may be for “ourselves” more and for others a little less) And probably the issue seems to be that everyone thinks the same way and there seems to be no absolute good or bad!

So as things churned through the last 10 years, I realize that I have a mind which is different from what it used to be years back. I suddenly realize that there is a problem when I want to tell or teach my kids, the difference between good and bad. (Without using the word “it depends” of course) I realize that I would like to get things done in a faster way rather than necessarily the righteous way. So when I see the world around me, with the things happening with spot fixing, corruption scandals etc, I do want to react, but I suddenly feel that I do not have the conviction or power in my voice to react as I used to have years back. Over a period of time, I feel I have become confused as to what is right and what is wrong in the context of the nation and the world as it is today!

But YES, I want to go back to as close as to when I was an Idealist, but I know it is going to be far tougher than what many of us think! But I believe I need to start somewhere! And that is where the dilemma begins.