Which Way India?

By Sesa Dasa on 14 Nov 2009
Airtel, India’s major telecommunications player, recently launched a campaign with the slogan, “Impatience in the New Life.” Obviously, the campaign is aimed at Indian Youth.

Air TelAirtel, India’s major telecommunications player, recently launched a campaign with the slogan, “Impatience in the New Life.” Obviously, the campaign is aimed at Indian Youth.

I’m confused. For the past 35 years I have been traveling on commercial airlines to India and have become most familiar with the advertising hooks used to lure tourists by the millions annually to that country. Basically it goes like this, “Visiting India is a cultural experience of a timeless people in an ancient land of temples and forts.” You can also throw in some mountain trekking and exotic wildlife excursions. Of course, there are very apparent differences in the India of my first visit in the 1970’s compared with today, more telephones, motor vehicles, televisions, and Bollywood stars. But, the essential international appeal remained the same.

But, I’m confused now because some very fundamental things seem to be changing. The success of advertising tells us a lot about the people ads are targeted to. Airtel, one of the major telecommunications players in today’s India, recently launched a campaign for its new 16 MBPS broadband connection with the slogan, “Impatience in the New Life.” Obviously, the campaign is aimed at Indian Youth, and it has enjoyed some measure of success with young Indian professionals scampering to win a contest and be recognized as the “next impatient one.” Check out their contest website at http://airtel.impatientones.com/contest.php. So, my confusion is the result of these mixed messages. For those coming to India the lure is “timelessness and tolerance.” For those living in India the message is “no time, no patience.” These two attitudes cannot co-exist, and seem bound for a collision at some point.

I love India. This country, these people and their religion and culture have given so much to me. Although I may be an adopted son, I can truly say Mother India with some feelings. Therefore, somewhat reluctantly, I herein offer some advice, even some chastisement, to the people of India. I do so in the mood that Srila Prabhupada established when he spoke of the lame man and the blind man. The lame man can’t walk to his destination. The blind man can’t see his destination. So, if the blind man puts the lame man on his back both can make progress through their cooperative effort. The lame man is compared to a materially underdeveloped India, and the blind man is compared to the spiritually deficient western civilization. The point being, combining the spiritual wisdom of India with the material know how of the west benefits the entire world.  

First some advice, the experience of the lame man can be summed up as, been there, done that. Here in the USA for decades we have been ramping up the speed at which our civilization moves. Impatience is nothing new here. And guess what, we haven’t found a lot of satisfaction along the way to success or happiness which I suppose is the intended destination. There’s even some scientific evidence that the whole idea of instant gratification doesn’t lead to success or happiness.

Back in around 1970 a Stanford University psychologist, Walter Mischel, conducted some experiments meant to analyze self-control and success in life. Mischel would take a four year old child into a small room where on a table were a marshmallow and a bell. Mischel told the child he was going to leave the room but would be back shortly. He added that if they rang the bell he would come back right away and they could eat one marshmallow, but if didn’t ring the bell and could wait until he got back they could eat two marshmallows.

The experiments were videotaped and apparently it was quite interesting to observe how some of the children struggled to exercise self-control so that they could get those two marshmallows. The results at this stage of the experience were varied, some children rang the bell within minutes, others waited as long as fifteen minutes. However, the long terms observations of these experiments are extremely revealing. The children, who are able to exercise a greater measure of self-control, i.e. waiting longer before ringing the bell, got higher SAT scores, got into better colleges, and on average had better adult lives. Whereas the children, who exhibited less self control and acted for the immediate gratification of eating the marshmallow, i.e. rang the bell more quickly, were more likely to become bullies, got worse teacher and parental evaluations 10 years later, and were more likely to have drug problems in their adult life.

Writing about the Mischel experiments for the New York Times Service David Brooks succulently captures the purport of the experiments, “Yet the Mischel experiments, along with everyday experience, tell us that self-control is essential. Young people who can delay gratification can sit through sometimes boring classes to get a degree. They can perform rote tasks in order to, say, master a language. They can avoid drugs and alcohol. For people without self-control skills, however, school is a series of failed ordeals. No wonder they drop out. Life is a parade of foolish decisions: teenage pregnancy, drug use, gambling, truancy and crime.”

Now for the chastisement, “India self control is your culture, why the heck are you playing with the fire of impatience??!!!”

Note that Brooks says, “along with everyday experience.” While I am not convinced that self control is an everyday experience in the West, or the USA in particular, based on what I have personally observed for over thirty years in India, I am convinced self control is an everyday experience in India. I had a professor in college, Dr. T.P. Wright, a political scientist whose area of specialty was India. He told us in class one day that if you ever are in India and you have to go to a government office, take a book. Take a book because you are going to have to wait, be patient. Been there, done that, no question, it’s true.

It’s also true because the bedrock of Indian culture, Bhagavad-gita, advises patience. “One who is equal to friends and enemies, who is equipoised in honor and dishonor, heat and cold, happiness and distress, fame and infamy, who is always free from contaminating association, always silent and satisfied with anything, who doesn’t care for any residence, who is fixed in knowledge and who is engaged in devotional service, such a person is very dear to Me.” Bg. 12:18-19. These are the words, the attitudes, the cultural behavior that results in civilizations which last for centuries. Impatience destroys the human will and with it civilizations no matter how long standing.

You see why I am confused. It seems that the blind man now sees, and the lame man has become blind. Therefore I ask, which way India?

Posted in Editorials.