Saturday, January 15, 2011

Not quite Youngistan

We Indians don’t believe in quitting. Now before you think that I am gloating in self admiration about some never-say-die attitude I would like to bring you on track. What I meant was that the phrase ‘calling it a day’ is alien to some of us. Dada Saurav Ganguly and Uncle Anil Kumble would like us to believe that they got a raw deal in the recently concluded Indian Premier League auctions, in that that they didn’t get a deal at all. The Bengal Tiger and Bangalore Lion perhaps didn’t realize that even old tigers and lions walk away during mating season when threatened by younger lads. Those who don’t, end up with their pride hurt more than anything else. Dada and Uncle can only partly blame themselves. They didn’t realize that while they were ageing, the audience was not. Their set of admirers have moved to another age bracket and been replaced by those who have seen them playing only in reruns of matches on programs which have titles like “Glory days of Indian test cricket”.

Indians’ habit of worshipping cricketers and film stars creates a culture of entitlement where these blokes feel that being selected is a given. It’s only a matter of ‘for how much’. Film stars are still better off. At least theoretically you could have infinite movies being made whereas only 11 can play a cricket game. The media doesn’t help either. Given the kind of praises that are usually heaped on our star players during their career, some of them are bound to start believing that the team selection is about 10 ‘other’ players. In individual sports like tennis or boxing, only winning makes sure that you keep on playing. Not age, not respect, not political pressure, not hollow regional pride, not halos.

Not knowing when to give up is not something exclusive to Indian cricket. Politicians with both legs in the grave and only waiting for a shove still harbor serious career ambitions. A country that shouts about itself as a ‘young country’ in many advertising campaigns has a hopelessly old leadership. In Indian politics, young has a different meaning. At 30 you are a ‘student’ leader, at 40 you are ‘youth wing’ leader and at 50 you are a young leader waiting for the big job. Age worship finds place even in many large Indian business houses. It is not uncommon to have arrogant septuagenarian board members waiting to bad mouth managers who had taken genuine entrepreneurial risk and not been too successful. One reason why software and BPO industry have been successful in India is that they were free from the shackles of jobless, angry, white haired men waiting to screw the happiness and enthusiasm of their managers. It also helped that the government did not understand these new industries and hence could not regulate them.

As someone who works in the aviation Industry, I feel strongly on how we have missed the bus in aircraft manufacturing, despite having the distinction of launching many satellites and putting a craft on the moon. India’s sole aircraft manufactuer, HAL is a case study on how lack of vision and arrogance of ageing scientists has resulted in creation of a public sector enterprise which is good enough only for manufacturing limited plane models through transferred technology. During the same period Brazil’s Embraer, developed along similar philosophy that was envisioned for HAL has evolved into a company that competes with the world’s best. HAL’s space cousin ISRO is considered successful because they do not have well defined market benchmarks. HAL doesn’t have that luxury. It can either think like a businessman and try to become another Embraer or contend being a back office for India’s defense needs. But in the latter case it needs to stop sucking tax payer’s money on R&D.

There was a time when Dada Kondke’s movies- their titles and dialogues were fodder for double meaning jokes. The phrase “double meaning” itself was a contradiction of sorts, since it always had a single meaning – Dirty. There was also a time when there used to be objections to use of the word ‘sexy’ in movies and songs. And we are not talking about the time when Ashok Kumar and A.K. Hangal, contemporaries of Julius Caesar were strapping young lads. This was mid 1990s. We have moved rapidly since then. Double meaning is dead. And thank goodness for that. Imagine, angry moralists used to say that ‘Choli ke peeche kya hai” is a double meaning song. When the song came out I was a kid but under no illusion what the choli hides. What did baffle me was why is such a simple thing lost upon so many women in the song who were asking that question. Moral of the story is that if you are old enough to realize that there lurks a double meaning in something, you are old enough to hear the dirty thing itself. For kids who don’t get the double meaning, let it be adequate that choli ke peeche dil hai. So chill.

This is not a tirade against old people. My parents are old people. I may be an old man myself one day. This is a post against being forced to accept something which is past its sell-by date and will not work for me. This is a post against oldies who are serving their own interests and blocking the way for someone younger and more deserving. Sharad Pawar may become president of ICC by all means if he wishes to. But his primary occupation is as agriculture minister of India where he has miserably failed to control food inflation. Manmohan Singh may be the cleanest man in Indian politics but he is a disgrace to the word leadership. Suresh Kalmadi has been heading India’s Olympics committee since I can remember, yet for the gross incompetence displayed in the preparation of the games, he still roams free while bureaucrats are jailed. Sheila Dixit may be a darling of female TV anchors due to her position as a woman CM of India’s capital city, but she is presiding over perhaps the most lawless period in the modern history of the city where women are being raped and people being murdered as a matter of habit.

This is not to say that the young cannot be corrupt, or that they cannot fail. But the young carry lesser baggage and more importantly, they have seen what real development can do. In any case, we have nothing to lose by ousting oldies. Italy can tolerate playboy PM Sylvio Berlusconi’s pre-occupation with 17 year old girls. But we have a long way to go before we become Italy. Till then we will only tolerate the sexual adventures of non relevant politicians such as N.D.Tiwari.

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