India sees more than one birth every second, and a population which will double in 14 years. More than one in every seven people on this planet is an Indian, with our 2011 census number of 1.2 billion. I just found out that I was the 3 billion 356 million 447 thousand 998th person on earth when I was born. If you are really curious, you will be able to go to one of the many sites that now let you calculate what your number is among the world population of 7 billion and actually figure out my exact age by working backwards. When I was in my teens, I had stern wives of American presidents, (which is perhaps where the phrase "Ladies First" comes from), looking out at me from anti-drug campaign ads in magazines and asking us if we were the one in seven, and if we were, what hell lay before us. In the world of Steve Jobs and Bill Clinton, however, the one in seven probably referred to those who have never inhaled. Now this decimal tail of pi has become a nice way to refer to Indians.
This huge demographic number is just as much reason to rejoice as it is to worry about. Just as Alvin Toeffler had predicted in Future Shock, the rate at which we are hitting a new billion people on this planet is getting faster and faster. What is not keeping pace is food production, provision of basic amenities like clean water, healthcare, education, electricity, the right to livelihood, and of course, the right to a fair and equitable social system. Cost of living across the globe has been rising, with a proportional decrease in earning opportunities across all income groups.
It took us 12 years to get from 6 billion to 7, while it will take less than 10 years for us to get to 8 billion. We have gone from 3 billion to more than double in just about 50 years. The newspapers and the media have been proudly proclaiming the fact that the 7 billionth baby was a girl child born in India. What we are not tom-tomming that loudly is the skewed aspirations that we have created as a society, thanks to a very great extent by the same media.
It is interesting to sit and watch news television, for example. I was watching a program about gender discrimination in Rajasthan. Among others, the program is sponsored by a fairness cream and by an insurance company that shows the parents of a girl child brightening up as the insurance solves their problem of the wedding expenses. In the fairness cream commercial, we see a dusky beauty who is a great singer, but is unable to sing in public because of her complex(ion). Then she starts using the fairness cream and within a few weeks, hey presto, she is able to sing at contests and win admiration and success. Of course, we all know what wedding expenses for a girl child alludes to. End of commercial break and back to social activists in designer kurtas and ethnic silk saris debating the gender inequities in our system.
Apart from dreaming of being born as an European cow, the Indian farmer by and large works towards ensuring that his next generation can break free from the profession of farming and go to the city and find himself a job. With urban development causing property prices to spiral out of the reach of the middle class, the next target for realty is agricultural land. These two trends, that of farmers opting out of farming, and of agricultural land being converted to concrete jungles, are linked to the aspirations that we have allowed our modern economy to create. I use the word modern economy and not capitalism because even in socialistic economies, the same trend has been seen over the last several decades. This creation of aspiration has even demolished nations and economies in the name of freedom and liberalization. When India began to go liberal, everyone lauded it as the first step towards becoming an economic superpower. A couple of decades later, we are still struggling to find ways to keep hunger at bay with 32 rupees a day.
To a very large extent, this has to do with individual morality. Each of us contain within ourselves the loftiest of ideals as well as the basest of desires and selfishness. Our morality comes into play when we choose to act from our higher life states in opposition to the clamoring of our baser instincts. As we have evolved into our present socio-economic form, we have allowed some of our baser instincts to get legitimized in the name of modernity. Greed, lust, objectification of women, denigration of tradition in the name of progress, these are all results of this.
It is easy to blame the corporate and marketing machinery for this. But that is just an escape route. What is needed is a radical change in our perception of our self worth. It is time to give new meaning to words like wealth, poverty, honesty, upright, simple, contented, frugal, etc. For years, they have been associated with fringe activism, something that the have-nots use to justify their poverty. As long as this perception persists, it strengthens corruption and corporate greed. Corporate greed does not start in Wall Street or Dalal Street, it is nothing more than a systematic and organized expression of the greed within each one of us. To own a caaar instead of a car. To spend lakhs on a social function, even if it is borrowed money. To give dowry, not because it has been demanded, but to ensure that you are perceived as equally wealthy. To send your kids to a school that you will be tell your relatives about without feeling ashamed. To look fairer because fair is fair and dark is, you know, ugly.
It is time to look into the true darkness within each of us that makes these perceptions appear so real and so difficult to break out of. The first reaction to living based on principles of fairness and equality is that it looks fine in theory but when you come to living it in reality, there are places that you have accept what society tells you. All of the progress that we see today, whether it be in terms of women's rights (to vote, to drive, to equality), or the freedom of expression that the internet makes possible, or genetically modified seeds and produce, has been possible because somewhere someone decided to go against what society dictated. The same principle needs to be applied in the case of returning to sustainable lifestyles and values. If each of us start making small changes to live simpler and more ethical lives, it will have a huge impact on the overall aspirational trend in all of mankind.
It is not easy. It is actually incredibly difficult, since many of these perceptions are deeply ingrained into our lives, our behaviors and our choices. It takes a long time before you even get to see your behavior for what it really is. But with each small victory, you are coming closer to creating a better world. With each victory, you are able to set an example. With each small choice that you make to live simpler and more meaningful lives, you are ensuring that you are doing your bit as one in seven. Seven billion that is.
What can you do? This is just a top of the head list of things that you can do to make a difference to your world.
1. Conserve resources. Water. Electricity. Gas. This is at the forefront of all green initiatives, including those that are sponsored by the very corporates that violate all ethical norms of development. Since this post is about the greening of our internal environment, I have kept it at the top of my list.
2. Reduce consumption. Not only does this save money, but once you examine your consumption pattern, you will come across some startling discoveries. Most of the things we consume do not add true value to our lives, but we consume them because everyone does, or because an advertisement told you that you would appear sexier, wiser, and possibly richer, if you did consume it. The other trend of consumption is to consume items that you already have enough of. Clothing and accessories are a very easy to understand example. Examining your consumption pattern can be a very insightful exercise if you have the courage to try it.
3. Opt for food. Eating food is becoming difficult these days. Almost half the items in a modern pantry are not food. They are processed nutrients that look like and taste like food. Opting for real food may be difficult and more expensive for those who do not have easy access to fresh produce and livestock. Fortunately, for people living in India, this is yet to become a major challenge. The bulk of the price you pay for processed food goes towards marketing and technology costs, and a significant amount of it is profit for the corporates. For every 10 rupees you spend on packaged processed food, you get about 1 rupee worth of food! Spend your food budget on fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and cereals, fresh livestock, and
organic products. This way, you will be helping to sustain traditional agriculture too.
4. Homeschool. I am not against regular schooling, but in the present situation, all parents need to seriously consider what it is doing to our kids. There is no magic button that you can press to wish away the fact that we are living in a materialistic, consumption driven society. As adults, it is easier for us to see the dangers of this behavior. For a child, reconciling the values that you try to get them to imbibe and the lifestyles and values that they are exposed to through their peers is a highly complicated task, something that most young minds are incapable of dealing with. Often this translates into a rejection of the values that you as a parent are trying to instill in them. With most families now switching to double incomes, homeschooling seems to be an impossible dream. But it is a worthy dream if it builds the future of our children. The other challenge to homeschooling is the inadequate levels of knowledge in our selves. How do you teach your kid stuff that you don't know yourself? In my opinion, this is an opportunity for us to broaden our horizons, and get back to knowing what school kids are expected to know and reproduce in an exam. It seems unfair that we want them to score in the 97th percentile on matters that we would not score well on. This will also help us reinforce the glorious traditions of history and culture and science that we have, something that will help us take pride in our selves as human beings instead of priding ourselves on the "things" and the material assets that we have.
I think my top of the head list is way too long, and I better stop here. I will save it for another post and let you get back to your life. A word of caution, it is your life, don't let anyone else tell you how to live it. You want to mess it up, well, it is yours to mess up. As long as you keep in mind that your right to mess up your life ends where my right to protect mine starts, all will be well.