In a nation of 1.3 billion people it may appear strange that if you were to really assess you will not be able to name even 20 all-time greats in any field in the last 10 years. We revel in our mediocrity with schadenfreude. When nothing works then we look back in anger at all possible misfortunes which befell upon us denying us greatness .What is it that taken away sunlight of brilliance from India in the past few years? Forget the distant past and our imagined ingenuity in building aeroplanes and spaceships in an age when humans had not even discovered half the elements. Yet, no one denies that people like Arayabhatta(mathematician), Sushruta(surgeon), Panini(Gramarian), Chanakya(Stateman), Kalidasa(litrateur), Natyamuni(Cultural theorist) Ashoka (Ruler) and you will find another dozen luminaries whose stature has withstood the vagaries of time and whose names still feature amongst the greatest.
India has consistently produced a litany of world’s greatest at regular frequency. Right till the turn of the century we could count pre-eminent personages from Gandhi to Tagore, C.V.Raman to Hargobind Khurana,Dhyan Chand to Sachin Tendulkar,Raja Ravi Varma,Amrita Sher Gill, Lata Mangeshkar,MS Subhalaksmi,Ravi Shankar,Ali Akbar Khan,R.K.Narayan,Salmaan Rushdie,Satyajit Ray, Guru Dutt,Tenzing Norkay and you can go on.There was hardly any sphere of human endeavour where our compatriots did not excel. Today, sadly the only standouts are skulduggery and chutzpah.
What has happened to us now? Where has all the virtuosity gone? Let us begin with Public life. Can you name even one person across the political spectrum who has in the past 2 decades .Arguably the last truly inspiring statesman we had was Jai Parkash Narayan some 3 decades ago. One can easily dismiss this shortfall to the falling standards in our polity. Take the 2 major political parties. Congress has had no global leader since Indira Gandhi and BJP none besides Atal Behari Vajpye (it’s too soon to judge Narendra Modi). Regional satraps with narrow parochial outlook have sprouted all over. Exploiting ethnic and local issues with deracination they do well at the hustings but when it comes to statesmanship they are kaput. Only media hype no substance and often ante diluvian world view.
Since Rushdie ,Arundhati Roy, Amitava Ghosh,Alan Sealy,Jhumpa Lahiri,Amit Chaudhari caught the imagination of the English reading universe and Indian English writing started getting noticed we have back again to the perennial Indian preference of quantity over quality. So for every Arvind Adiga and Neel Mukerjee you have 100 pedestrian writers attending the many litfests.Not that the regional literature is any better. No exceptional talent has emerged in the last 2 decades. Similarly no major poet in any Indian language has captured cognoscenti’s imagination.
Cinema too is a largely barren field .Occasional flashes of brilliance from a handful of young Directors the last 20 years have been pretty ordinary marked by savvy marketing rather than creativity. Actors both male and female of any consequence are all who made their debut years ago with a rare exception or two. Glitz and glamour often tacky craves for indulgence and fleeting fame is what most cinematic meteors gather today.
Classical music is more popular but the so called rising stars are all who started performing 2 decades ago. Rahul Sharma,Aman and Ayan Ali Khan,Rakesh Chaurasiya,Ashwini Bhide, Bombay Jaishree. It’s the old masters who still rule the roost. From Hariprasad, Chaurasia,Pandit Jasraj,Kishori Amonkar,Zakir Hussain,Shiv Kumar Sharma,L Shankar,TK M.urthy it a whole generation of performing artistes who still command the pride of place. Same with classical dance. Undoubtedly more young people are striving to learn classical art forms professionally but the rigour is missing. Hopefully the next decade will show some results.
In science and technology India lags behind in fundamental research or the number of patents filed than several countries including China, in business and commerce (if you leave a few Internet children) no significant figure has emerged since nineties. The inheritors by and large have made some incremental progress but no breakthroughs. In media no noteworthy Editor or publication has come before in many a year. Entertainment television is stuck in a groove for 20 years and TV news has now replaced folk theatre complete with its ‘vidhushak’ and convolutes plots of intrigue and greed. Can you recall any newscaster of the last many years who can hold a candle to Prannoy Roy?
So from politics to philosophy, fashion to films, sports to entertainment we are have morphed into a society where mediocrity is celebrated. As Joseph Heller (Catch 22) said, “Some people are born mediocre, some achieve mediocrity and some people have mediocrity thrust upon them”. We can only hope this is too but a passing phase, a part of our tryst with destiny and sooner than later we shall rise and awaken from mediocrity into brilliance and glory.