An Open Letter to India’s Youth

Every week, it seems, a new scandal of corruption erupts in the media – and rocks our belief system, our faith in everything.

The numbers grow bigger, more shocking, and frankly unbelievable. The 2G telecom scam cost the nation over Rs.100,000 crore. Hassan Ali is said to owe Rs.70,000 crore in income tax dues. And the Antrix-Devas S-band satellite scam will purportedly make the other two seem like peanuts!

To a nation whose populace struggles to wrap their heads around much smaller numbers, this creates mixed emotions.

Anger. Jealousy. Greed. And worse.

Many years ago, I strongly condemned the media’s tendency to focus on negative events at the cost of ignoring noble acts that inspire and energize.

INDIA TODAY’s editor-in-chief boldly published my letter to him as an editorial, along with a 1999 cover story that featured budding Indian heroes including Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji, and Ramadorai (caveat: the now infamous Ramalinga Raju was in it too!)

More media needs to do that. But let’s stop dreaming that it’ll happen. Bad news sells. The badder the news, the bigger the sales.

That’s Economics 101 in the media world!

The danger is that our youth – yes, YOU – may grow fatalistic (“everything’s doomed to fail”), disillusioned (“everyone’s a crook”), and frustrated (“nothing’s worth doing”) by all that’s going on around us.

But it would be a sad mistake to believe that.

  • Would it matter how many billions you have stashed away if the next quake hit near your home instead of along coastal northern Japan?
  • Will it make the slightest difference how many pieces of property you own if a nuclear reactor core melts down within 30 kilometers of where you’re standing?
  • Does how many fancy toys, cars, houses, jewelry and expensive playthings you have bought have any influence on what you can take along with you when you die?

Obviously not.

So why do we obsess most of our lives about earning more, having more, collecting more?

It doesn’t take a huge fortune to touch and change someone’s life. It won’t cost you crores, or even lakhs, to enjoy the simple yet deep pleasures of life

A beautiful sunset, a relaxing walk on the sea shore, a smile on an innocent child’s face, a wrinkled grin across the face of an old man you helped across the street, a grateful look of the desperately poor and hungry orphan you fed a meal… those are pleasures to live for.

To cherish.

To look forward to.

You don’t need much to enjoy them. You only have to look for opportunities to serve.

Youth is ambitious and daring. It craves the grand gesture, the bold venture, the paradigm shifting initiative. And certainly such change can happen only when passionate people join hands and say “Enough… Let’s change this!”

Yet by far the biggest change comes from within. From inside each one of us. And it has little to do with wealth, possessions or any material thing.

It comes from an awakening of our souls.

Carl Sagan’s short movie, “A Pale Blue Dot” shifted my perspective significantly. I urge you to watch it. It’s barely 3 minutes long.

It will leave you a better, wiser, calmer person – one who lives and hopes and dreams in a different way than before.

And that’s important today.

There are times where words just don’t matter, where minds grow numb, where emotion itself lies suspended and reality seems unreal. Watching helplessly as Nature’s fury wrecked thriving towns in coastal Japan was one such experience.

Events like this force the realization upon us that everything, even life, is transient and fleeting. That we must stay grounded in gratitude for everything we have. That we must reach out to try and make a difference, no matter how small. That we are all part of a collective humanity, sharing a tenuous existence on a shared planet.

That we all matter.

That we all must love and care for each other.

We should act. Because we are one. No act of help is too small to have an impact, no contribution too worthless to be dismissed.

And that realization will give you all the meaning and purpose you crave for your future.

Ignore the rest. It barely matters. Really.