|HOME | NEWS | COLUMNISTS | PRITISH NANDY|
|April 4, 2001||
In Pursuit of Lakshmi
Why does one scam follow another? Why does a Ketan Parekh walk down the same road as a Harshad Mehta nine years later? Why does a Laloo Prasad follow a Jagannath Mishra? Why does Sukhoi follow Bofors and Brajesh Mishra attract the same flak that A N Verma did? The reason is simple: India has undergone this huge metamorphosis where the worship of Saraswati has been replaced by the frenzied pursuit of Lakshmi.
No, this is not new. The change began in the late eighties and, as liberalisation has grown and we have become a part of the global village, greed has acquired a new stature while our spiritual iconography has changed. So has our attitude towards money and wealth. We no longer see avarice as something to be spat upon. Instead, we see it as something to admire, cherish, encourage, breed. Even within our own homes, our families.
When I was in school in the sixties in Calcutta, no one ever spoke of money. It was considered crude and vulgar. Only kids who came from business families talked about their wealth, and that too in hushed whispers among themselves. For no one had any time for them. They were the pariahs of the class. No one paid them any attention. We were all too busy trying to find a berth in the rugby team or improving our grades in maths. Or wooing the pretty girls across the road in the girls' school. It was always a search for intangibles. Success. Admiration. Love. Money or its absence had no role to play in it. No one cared what watch we wore, how much our fathers earned, how we came to school, by bus or car. In fact, there was a kind of reverse snobbery in being not particularly well off.
What we admired in each other was talent or skill. I wrote poetry. Someone else could fly kites. A third could yodel and sing Kishore Kumar songs with great style. The brain of the class could solve algebraic equations in his sleep while his kid brother could recite chapters from Dickens. It was all about ability. The competitiveness came from being able to do things better, faster, smarter than the rest. Not in what we owned or could afford but in what we achieved, what we wanted to achieve. .
Then things began to change. Finally, the nineties ushered in a new era. Everyone described it as economic reforms and it was meant to set us free. I am sure it must have but somehow, in the process, it has also changed everything we had cherished. Greed now attracts many admirers. So does wealth. We no longer see them as something to be ashamed of in a nation where six out of ten people go to bed hungry every night. In fact, it is just the opposite.
We see success no more in terms of skills and talent, but in terms of money earned. Hrithik Roshan is not an idol for young India because he is such a gifted actor. He is an idol because he is our highest paid star. Sachin Tendulkar is not someone you want to emulate because of his amazing skills. You want to emulate him because he is the first cricketer to earn so much.
In fact, till Ketan Parekh was picked up by the CBI, our business and political elite swooned over him. So did our moralistic middle classes. No party was ever complete without him, no Budget analysis, no movie mahurat. He was the ultimate role model.
Look around you. See the kind of people, the kind of institutions we now admire. See the professions we are keen to pursue. See the prophets we worship, the gods before whom we prostrate ourselves and you will know how deeprooted the change has been. As Shekhar Kapur said the other day at the FICCI seminar, do we really need to talk so much about money and corporatisation? Why don't we simply focus on making good movies as Guru Dutt and Bimal Roy once did instead of chasing bigger and bigger projects?
The pursuit of size instead of the pursuit of excellence breeds greed. It is this greed that eventually leads to so much crime, so much stress. It is this greed that breaks up families, makes companies go sick, sends the bourses on a tailspin, and forces ordinary people caught in its maelstrom to commit suicide. It is this greed that is destroying our institutions, breeding corruption, reducing governance to a farce.
India was always known for its talent, its skills, its artistry. It was never known for its sharp deal making. The East India Company came here to do business and eventually colonized us because we never understood the politics of money. But things have changed. We are now chasing Western notions of profit, Western ideals of greed and laissez faire. We had never admired people who went from log cabins to the White House. Our heroes were people like Siddhartha and Ashoka, who left the White House for a log cabin. Yet Ayn Rand is our new icon. Gordon Gekko.
We do not realise that more money does not necessarily mean a better life. The happiness index has nothing to do with GDP growth or the rise in Sensex. It has more to do with self realisation and preserving the traditions and values we have grown up with.
As the new Exim policy opens up the economy further and Indian consumers can have easy access to foreign cars and imported whiskeys and Kraft cheese, may be it is worth pausing for a moment and asking ourselves: Is this what modern India really needs?.
Must we be forever condemned to pursue Lakshmi with such vigour, such vehemence? Or were we happier at the feet of Saraswati?
ASTROLOGY | NEWSLINKS | BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | GIFT SHOP | HOTEL BOOKINGS
AIR/RAIL | WEDDING | ROMANCE | WEATHER | WOMEN | E-CARDS | SEARCH
HOMEPAGES | FREE MESSENGER | FREE EMAIL | CONTESTS | FEEDBACK