What does our country really need? We need to make sure every citizen gets enough to eat, clothe themselves and opportunity to enrich themselves using good quality education, and employment. And we also need to make sure that as we enrich ourselves, we respect our environment.
I see a future where cities are self-sufficient and are no longer draining resources like water, electricity and food from the rural areas. Cities that grow their food in the mid city garden areas or in skyscrapers with hydroponics and need farmer’s products only to supplement these produces. Cities that can harvest and store their rain water as ground water or in tanks. And cities that reduce their waste production, reuse resources carefully and recycle whatever is left in the most efficient manner. This may not add to our GDP because for that we need an ultra consumerist society which is very wasteful.
Speaking of wasteful, do you know how much we have of things we don’t need? That we would actually be better off without? Our whole paradigm of development is based on what goes on in Western countries. But we are different. We have different kinds of resources and we don’t want to repeat their mistakes and destroy all our forests by the time we are developed. We can grow well, perhaps even better, by using a plan informed by the lessons they learned as well as our unique strengths and needs. What is with the cosmetics industry? Maybe actors need it for the camera and stage but normal healthy washed skin is beautiful enough without adding foundation, lipstick and all that jazz. Do we realise this? I don’t want to tell people what they should and shouldn’t do but I want to question where we get the impression that we need these to look good. Then there are clothes. There should be a limit to how much you can accumulate. If variety is what you are looking for we can devise systems where rental clothes are more popular. Perhaps sharing clothes from your friends of the same size is a good way to have a variety without actually owning all of them. And give them away if you don’t wear it for a year, to people who will actually use it. What use is a garment if no one wears it? We are also wasteful with our e-goods. I’ll admit as a country we may not have much say in the type or life expectancy of products but we could develop and promote electronic goods which last and can easily be upgraded. People are already developing this because e-waste is a real problem.
We could go on about waste, consumerism and more hard-hitting examples than what I have given, but what gets me most about these issues is that we somehow find it in ourselves to continue living so wastefully when we see, on a daily basis, people who could live a few months on the price of the phone we discard. Not to say waste would be fine in a richer country, no, it is bad everywhere, but it is that much more appalling when the contrast between the have and have-nots is so distinct. If we can make our use of resources more efficient and local, this itself will contribute in a large way to the wellness of our country.
To return to the original line of thought, how do we make sure everyone has enough to eat and wear? (These being symbolic of our basic needs.) By making sure that everyone has a livelihood. How do we provide good education and employment for everyone? People say Gandhian socialism failed. I’m no economist and but the little I understand of what Gandhi said makes sense to me. How was socialism really implemented? Not much was done, everyone was left to fend for themselves after the British left having looted us dry. We could, I’m sure, learn a lot from our previous attempts but the world has changed and India’s place in it has as well. Our implementation and interpretation of ‘self-reliance’ must change. While India could reach a stage in the future where we trade with other countries not out of need but from a place of abundance, that need not be our sole aim. Self reliance can mean a state where every citizen is able to get what she needs out of her own means. It means the empowerment and contentment of every individual, not romanticised poverty. This means grass-roots projects that fund small to medium-sized businesses all in local products which creates employment and makes use of already available local knowledge. This means an approach where people can embrace who they are, whatever section of society they were born into, and turn their unique knowledge into a strength that they can monetise. And this type of employment should include anyone who is interested in it, irrespective of useless identities like caste and religion. If I am born into a rich trader family and have a green thumb and want to farm, I should be able to find a farm willing to train me, and similarly if a farmer’s child wants to become a big jewel business shark, she should be able to access that training too. Children would then need to be told as they are being educated, that whatever job they do, they should love it. If we can get to a point in our economics where any job will give people enough for their basic needs, they can choose something that gives their soul fulfillment on which they can train passionately and use their skill to grow monetarily, if they so choose. Maybe we can take a minute to contrast this with what happens now. ‘Oh, the boy scored very good marks, let’s get him into medical or engineering.’ What if he loves painting? What if he loves making food? What if he has the talent to organise the most romantic weddings or be the greatest quantum physicist? Why then should he spend his life in a job that doesn’t fulfill him? What a waste of life that would be. And we allow and encourage the waste of life because that is what we are used to but also because we want them to have financial security.
Our jobs and schools are little more than assembly lines where everyone is part of this power system which makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, much as that is a cliché. It is time to question the system, to change our priorities and give more importance to less materialistic forms of enrichment. Imagine if instead of multiple cars per household we had a public transport cards for a system so efficient that cars were the more tiresome and expensive option. Imagine our roads having well respected bike lanes where cyclists would be left to ride in peace, keep fit and get from A to B without paying for petrol. I can see a future of India where cars are of a bygone era used only on rental for some special occasions and instead the only motor vehicles were buses, ambulances and other emergency vehicles. And everyone else took their bikes out, where, oh, and this is exciting to imagine, instead of bike lanes, we had to cordon off motor lanes because they were that much rarer. Just think of how clean our air would be, how breathable! Maybe then people will also take walks. What would this do to our minds as city dwellers? Instead of the stress of the noisy motors, horns and congestion, quieter streets where bikes whiz past noiselessly. We would have space to enjoy the bird songs, think about things instead of cursing at an autodriver. We could hear people whistling tunes to themselves as they ride past. And yes, this would mean our pace of life will slow down a little. That’s ok. What’s the rush? Do you know how much healthier the environment and we would be if we stopped worrying so much about how quickly we reach a destination? If we took the time to enjoy the journey and every moment our hearts beat. To cherish the gift of life and perhaps enjoy the company of fellow pedestrians?
Living every moment is a form of enrichment for the soul as well and it costs nothing. Other forms of enrichment include enjoying your food, moving to music, spending time with your grandparents, cousins or friends, listening to music or singing, learning something new, developing oneself into the best version that one can be, and being kind. Kindness, caring for others and expressing gratitude have been shown to greatly contribute to one’s happiness and sense of satisfaction with life. And these, among other similar things, are what we live for anyway, right? I’m not saying don’t try to be rich and famous. I’m asking why we want to be rich and famous. Is it to get the appreciate and attention of those we want approval from? What if we were already given all the approval and appreciation we could want. Then being rich and famous would only be a byproduct of being excellent and successful at what you do, not necessarily an ambition in life.
The education system should be a place where children learn how to ask questions, learn how to develop themselves by working on their weaknesses and developing their strengths and a place where they learn to know, love and accept themselves as they are. For how can they care about others or the environment if they don’t first care for and accept themselves? They should also be given a choice of specialising in a vocation after 8th grade. They can always come back to learn more later if they want to, but if a job is what they want immediately, they shouldn’t have to endure four more years of ‘mental training’ just for the sake of it. Instead they can be exposed to various types of training and pick a specialty by the time other children finish their 10th grade. At the 8th or 10th grade also, I would think would be a good time for children to specialise in whatever creative skill they have been developing in school in a more serious and professional way. If they want to be sculpting, they should be able to do it 24/7 if they wanted to. Whatever their passion may be. If the child is interested in writing, she should be exposed to all kinds of literature and asked to write everyday, taught to edit, research topics accurately and thoroughly, taught how to think like a writer, and possibly be exposed to various kinds of topics she may want to write about in the future. Courses, past a point, can become flexible like a buffet system. This would keep the children enthusiastic because they would be doing what they want to do in school, rather than what they have to. This would be the first time where they make such a choice for themselves and take it on with the responsibility that an adult would be expected to show for his choices. I’ve come up with various other interesting ideas for the education system but to cover them all, I would need a whole other chapter.
To sustain such a system we would need a lot more creative people and teachers of creative subjects. There we go, one more form of employment. The people who train in writing or language would be useful parts of businesses where brochures, manifestos are common. Every creative field can fit itself into a business easily if being an independent artist doesn’t work out. This would lead to better looking, better sounding and better designed businesses, buildings, logos and products. Several of these creative people can also work in waste management. Some of the most fascinating and fulfilling things have come from waste. If a child is taught how to see hope and possibilities in every scenario and how to devise ways to make them happen, they will stand a much better chance against helplessness.
Well, that’s all I have for today. I will dream up some more later. Feel free to dream with me, for only if we dare to dream, will we be able to work towards making them a reality.