Some time ago I went to a wedding which, though quite average in that it was held in December and everyone knew everyone else, stood out for the number of lapsed Naxalite revolutionaries in attendance. That caused me to wonder: Where, in my generation, have all the missionary-educated, upper-middle-class, well-travelled, bleeding-heart, guilty Commies gone? Only a battered few remain, like obstinate stains on the shiny happy upholstery of globalised Delhi.
My infant memories include the soft patter of fugitive feet hiding from government bullies during the Emergency; voices singing l’Internationale with elegant vibrato acquired in convent school chapels; long conversations about uplifting the masses, oiled with fine scotch (the conversation, not the masses) bought on an MNC salary; and lice, lots of lice, courtesy the slum kids with whom we were made to play in order to erase class differences.
My parents were young then. When the Revolution turned out to be every bit as corrupt and dishonest as the pursuit of life, liberty and creature comforts, they made their choice. As the old saying goes: if you’re not Communist at twenty you have no heart, and if you’re still Communist at forty, you have no head.
One generation ago, the cool kids joined the Civil Services and, by way of idealistic service in remote postings during their twenties, ended up with power, prestige and very useful connections in their forties. Today, the closest you get to ICS cool is the box office figures for English, August. One doesn’t see that many 20-year-olds leaping out of class, so to speak, and running off to the hinterland to become revolutionaries. They’re all too busy driving their Skodas to the next internship.
These are the people, many of them with perplexing beige hair, whose careers peak at 25-30 years. They are CEO, movie star, model, software engineer, advertising whizkid, fashion designer, financial consultant—and don’t get in their way, because it’s no contest between the time it would take them to ask you nicely to please move, and the time it would take them to shoot you through the heart. One can’t really see them hanging out with oppressed villagers under a peepal tree in Andhra Pradesh, or taking the time to sign that email petition from Avaaz.com, demanding that world leaders at the G8 summit in Germany this weekend get proactive about global warming.
I miss the snaggle-toothed idealists of yore who gave sincerely of themselves before taking their place as pillars of bourgeois existence. Not only do they tend to be the ones who, when you tell them what you’re doing say, ‘Oh, how nice!’ instead of, ‘Doesn’t pay much, does it?’, but they’d also kick up an enthusiastic shindig about climate change.
Global warming is hot and happening, you might say. Just the other day someone sent me a grim Powerpoint presentation, allegedly created by President APJ Abdul Kalam, showing a world parched of water, in which people have to clean their bodies with towels soaked in mineral oil and shave their heads to avoid hairwashing (though I suppose we could also follow the President’s example, and keep our hair on but not wash it). It seems we’ll shortly have very little drinking water, even as meltwaters creep up on coastal cities and drown them. As I understand it, the only way to stop this hideous fate is to downscale consumer patterns, and I don’t see that happening in a hurry.
I hope to be dead much before the earth goes to pot, but there’s no telling, so I’m just going to put my arm-bands and some bottles of Bisleri in a cardboard box for emergency use.