I have just stepped out of an academic presentation of some serious research on the link between memory and self-identity. When I saw the notice for this presentation, I felt that it would not interest me at all, couched as it was in social science jargon. I gave in to a gentle nudge to 'waste my time' over it only to realise that it gave me well-researched answers to questions that have been plaguing me for over a week now.
Before all of you who have no interest in academia or academic debates stop reading, let me clarify, this is not a blog championing the cause of academia or an appeal to intelligent young people to consider academic careers. This is one more post adding to my corpus of such posts, on the need for young people to spend some time thinking: thinking about issues around them, issues that affect their lives and their choices. It is easy to take the "beaten path" and reach one's goal within the time-frame set by oneself but can one live with that kind of success if it involves trampling upon family and friends? Old question, I know. Most Indians would immediately think of Arjuna, Krishna and the Bhagvad Gita and various interpretations of Krishna's legendary advice to Arjuna. So, here is my version of that famous dialogue, it went somewhat like this:
Arjuna: How can I wage a war with my elders for a kingdom?
Krishna: Kingdom, you are not fighting for something as paltry as a bit of land, I created a kingdom for you, remember, that can always be taken care of; you are fighting for your right.
Arjuna: But is my right greater than peace?
Krishna: Well, your right might not be greater than peace but your duty of fighting the evil in the world is. These people you see in front of you are perpetrators and / or supporters of evil. Fighting them equals fighting evil. Now that, as you very well know, is a good thing. So, while you seem to be doing an evil thing you are actually doing a good thing. Go ahead, fight your family, teachers, cousins, nephews, childhood mates for this will lead to ushering a better world.
I know many of you will tell me that is an extremely simplistic interpretation of an important part of the great song. Yes, I know that. It was deliberate. Simplistic never means incorrect. Let us start with simple stuff first. Anyway, this is not an exposition on the Gita; I am using my interpretation of this famous conversation to illustrate my point.
In this famous instance, the warrior was convinced by his political advisor that he should identify the group he belongs to and act accordingly. The legendary warrior is not the only one who learnt his lesson well enough to lead his group to a Pyrrhic victory, most Indians learn this lesson rather well. We pick the groups we belong to and live by the rules of the group. Sooner than later, we learn to identify with some social groups and accept its rules. We then internalise those rules and develop our persona. People we interact with regularly can usually predict our behaviour and our reactions to social situations. That is possible because they learn to recognise the groups we belong to. The problems and discomfort begin when we shift allegiances from one group to another. Say, Arjuna decided that his allegiance lay with peace and not with helping in destroying some people identified as evil. What could Krishna have done then? What advice would he have given to Arjuna? That would have changed the Mahabharata significantly. It would probably have changed the Indian mindset also quite a bit, for we are a nation that takes our legends very seriously. Unfortunately, asking such questions borders on blasphemy. My intention, though, is to ask such questions and ask them of people whose behaviour affects the lives of millions in this nation.
Watch this space for on how group identities killed Nirupama Pathak and many more young girls in the recent past.