I ran into a politician the other day who’s not your average neta. He’s not young, but he certainly has a modern, reformist outlook. This is why I was surprised with what followed. He said that one of the problems in India is that the youth are too insolent and rebellious. They are not willing to listen to ‘sensible’ ideas. Furthermore, since we are a democracy and the vast majority of our voters are youngsters ‘who don’t listen’, it’s difficult to get things done. This was followed with what I consider a tired old cliché: “Today’s youth don’t know Indian culture. They don’t even respect their elders.” That set me thinking. Was this politician right? Are the Indian youth somehow less Indian when compared to their parents?
I didn’t get a chance to interact with too many youngsters when I worked in the insurance industry. They aren’t really interested in insurance; to be honest, even adults aren’t interested in insurance! As an author, I have had the occasion to interact with many young people, since a vast majority of my readers are in that age bracket. So do I think that today’s youth are insolent and rebellious? Yes they are. They respect you only if they think you deserve it. If they don’t respect you they will make it obvious, regardless of your age or position. But I do not think it is a problem. In fact, I believe the insolence of our youth is our competitive advantage. Furthermore, I think they are reviving ancient Indian culture by being insolent and rebellious. They are, if anything, more Indian than their parents.
What do I mean by this? Let’s turn to our ancient past to understand what Indian culture stood for.
There is a very famous incident in the Mahabharat (it has also been described in the Vayu Purana, among others), which is held up as an example of the misfortune that befalls those who don’t listen to their elders. The great king Yayati was cursed with old age for a sin he had committed. He asked his five sons if he could exchange his old age with their youth. His eldest son Yadu refused, telling his father, “It’s your sin, not mine.” The youngest son, Puru, readily agreed to be the ‘good son’ and let Yayati take away his youth while he himself became old. So how did king Yayati react? He punished the son who stood up to him and blessed the one who indulged him. Yadu was cursed that his descendants would be destroyed and they would never be kings. The lazy observer would believe that this is why the descendants of Yadu, the Yadavs, went on to destroy themselves in a fratricidal civil war. The descendants of Puru, amongst whom were the Pandavs and the Kauravs, went on to become the great dynasty that ruled large parts of ancient India. Therefore, the moral of this story was seemingly clear: be like Puru; Listen to your elders. The rebellious, like Yadu, suffer — in fact, even your progeny may suffer for your sin of rebellion. Pretty comprehensive punishment!
I am questioning not the story but its contemporary interpretation. Let’s delve deeper into the story. Did Yadu’s descendants really suffer ignominy? Quite the contrary. One of his descendants, Kartavirya Arjun (different from the Arjun in the Mahabharat) ruled the entire Vedic world. The civil war that destroyed the Yadav royalty occurred after the descendants of the ‘good son’ Puru, the Pandavs and the Kauravs, had already destroyed themselves in a civil war that is known today through one of our great epics, the Mahabharat. So if you see the nuances in the story, the descendants of both Yadu and Puru experienced triumphs as well as terrible calamities. In fact, one can even argue that Yadu was actually blessed, since one of his descendants was the great God, Lord Krishna Himself!
People enjoy good fortune or suffer misfortune based on their own karma, not on whether they submit themselves to those with power. This lesson is repeated in various scriptures of all religions. You should bow your head only to God. Everyone else has to earn your respect, and you, in turn, have to earn theirs. This is exactly what the modern Indian youth believe.
So what is the lesson for the traditional elite in modern India? Many of these groups — upper castes of all religions (the caste system in India exists within Hinduism, Christianity and Islam), men, politicians, bureaucrats, elders, hereditary rich — have got used to the excessive and easy deference that they have been treated with for far too long. They will need to adapt to a new scenario where they are challenged. They will have to work hard to retain the status they have been used to.
As for the youth? Go ahead and rebel if you see wrong. If your elders disrespect women, oppose them. If your politicians are corrupt, protest and vote them out. If your religious leaders preach hatred, tell them they are wrong and dispute their extremist interpretation of the scriptures. But rebellion is much more than opposition. It’s also about your own life. When you study the subjects that you want to study, rather than what you are told to, that is rebellion. When you start your own company and succeed, regardless of the naysayers, that too is rebellion. When you work hard and make your own living, rather than live off the money inherited from your parents, that too is rebellion. When you marry the person you love, regardless of religious or community divides, that is the most beautiful rebellion. The root of all creativity is rebellion.
But remember that rebellion that uses violence and verbal abuse is not rebellion anymore. It’s hooliganism, it’s goondagardi. The moment you resort to violence, you become as bad as the elite groups you are rebelling against. Also, rebellion without a sense of personal duty and purpose often leads to chaos, as is evident in India’s recent past. So go ahead and rebel, but always within the constraints of the law and always with a sense of purpose.
I’d love to see an even more rebellious and insolent India. For that would be a precursor to a great India!
Amish is the bestselling author of the Shiva Trilogy. Send him feedback on @amisht
The views expressed by the author are personal