Tuesday 30 April 2024

Back to the Villages

  - Eknath Ranade (Yuva Bharati, Special Commemorative Volume, 1976, March)

Mankind has ever been lured by rosy visions (of golden age either beckoning them onward to an ideal future free from poverty, ignorance and disease, or recalling such an era in a remote past which it is their hope to recover again. Every age can point to some progress towards that goal, but it has always been marred by some insurmountable obstacle or other. Thus 'hope springs eternal in the human breast', and we endure sufferings. -But at some significant turning points in history, this undying impulse in us drives us to revolutionary frenzy, and great changes are forcibly brought about, and they are hailed as the dawn of a better and happier era. But such is the lot of man's life in this world that things remain much the same with the same old evils rearing their heads with new faces. What is thus put in the dock is human nature itself; but instead of admitting it frankly, we have always been prone to find scapegoats on whom to vent our wrath.

It is an undeniable fact that we are now living in times of universal conflicts in which almost all old-world values have gone into the melting pot; every human institution social, political, economic and cultural. Nothing is accepted on authority, little or no respect is shown to the experiences of the past, and there is a general eagerness to enthrone a set of new values which, it is believed, would establish for all time the long- dreamt age of perfect human happiness. A process of trial and error is now in full swing, and it must run its course until the momentum behind it is slowed down or exhausted for the time being. One such memorable landmark was reached in our country when, a little over eight months ago, a state of emergency was declared. It had an electric effect and was spectacular in its outward manifestations. Almost overnight, as it were, a miraculous change came over the country, and many- pronged attempts continue to be made to transform the quick gains to permanent achievements. Even more naturally the burden of appeal is made to our youth to take a creative part in the desired transformation. It has been epitomised under the slogan: Go back to the villages!

Before we deal with its relevance and feasibility, let us survey some other periods of world-history when similar appeals to go back to a life of unsophisticated simplicity and close communion with Nature were not only made, but also actually practised by small but gifted and dedicated young men. Towards the close of the 18th century, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey and their admirers turned their back on urban life and made their homes in the countryside. Coleridge was even more ambitious. He felt that it was no use trying out their experiment amidst the distractions of urban civilisation, but that they should emigrate to a new country where the dead-weight of the past could not depress their ardour. He drew up a plan for a Utopia of his own which he called 'Pantisocracy' which means an egalitarian brotherhood. Further he proposed to found such a colony somewhere in the New World in an area which was called 'Susquehama'. Neither numbers, nor funds nor organisation bothered him; but in his youthful zeal, he tried to form such a band of devoted believers in a new world-order free from exploitation or tyranny. But alas, nothing came of it!

The courtiers of the French monarch announced their decision to live a life of pastoral simplicity, and started to dress themselves like farmers and shepherds while continuing to live their lives of ease, luxury and ostentation. Thereby, they hoped to neutralise the growing demand for reform and reorganisation of French society on more enlightened lines. But they failed to avert the outbreak of the greatest revolution in modern times which ran its grisly course for more than twenty years and which was at last brought under control by Napoleon. Starting as an Artillery Officer in the French army, he became the greatest Emperor of the vastest empire in modern times, controlling practically the whole of Europe. He combined in himself both the spirit of revolution and also the spirit of conservatism or reaction, and after him, Europe slowly came back to normal. In all that welter of confused battles and victories, the original, idea of an ideal state or a golden age was silently forgotten, and people settled for whatever was modest, immediate and practical. It is this system which has begun to creak and crack during our own times, and we are again at the beginning like other men at other times, live at ease with what we have and longing for a change in vague hopes that, out of mere change, something better would be born. Such is the condition in our own country today, and the exhortation to our youth to go back to the villages has to be seen in the context of prevailing realities. The accent laid by the planners is predominantly on industrial, marketing and urban schemes all of which present to our youth a concrete and immediate temptation. Naturally therefore, they tend to cluster round cities, look for jobs in cities, love to enjoy the amenities of cities with their vast scope for entertainment and excitement. On the one hand, we publicise plans for the expansion of city-complexes, creating tourist centres as well as increasing their numbers, expanding our industrial potential with its own promises of adventure, affluence and aristocratic modes of living. An appeal to such large numbers of ardent young people to go back to a life of simplicity by those who themselves speak from vantage points in the cities or in the governmental machinery cannot but strike the intelligent youth as at least ironical. Consequently, he is hardly moved by the appeal directly addressed to him. By way of contrast, we may recall how, in the era of our nationalist struggle, our leaders without almost any exception, suited their words to their actions, and gave the youth of the country an inspiring example of' plain living and high thinking '. Thousands, if not lakhs, forsook formal studies and spread out in the villages to awaken the people to their own unsuspected strength and the soundness of their traditional values. Thus they wrought a great miracle which culminated in our winning our freedom.

What we need now is a corresponding cadre or group of our elite intellectually alert, morally strengthened and emotionally in tune with the spirit of our culture to follow-up their advice to our youth with a practical demonstration of their ability to live in that spirit of disinterested service and spontaneous feeling of brotherhood of man to man irrespective of all differences and divisions. A great handicap to the acceptance of such high principles has unfortunately been introduced into our entire system of education which has ignored or discouraged the cultivation of the moral basis of character and the emotional basis of our aim and purpose in life. What Vivekananda did to galvanise the youth of his time, what Gandhi did to rouse a whole nation to unity of thought, feeling and action, can still be achieved with right leadership rallying our young throughout the country.

For the spirit of service-the determination to work for others and, above all, a heroic resolve to lead the life of simple contentment -is still active and pervasive in our young men and women. They await to be mobilised by inspired leaders. A country of our vast extent and vaster resources and potential has perforce to address itself to a variety of nation-building tasks. But the State, by itself, can only deal with the machinery and the resources from the outside as it were. The mere fundamental national task of building up a generation of pioneers in every field of social relationships and cultural integration qin the widest commonly spread', is exclusively the work of our Acharyas and the men of light and leading. The tawdry glitter of urban life can be bypassed if the abiding virtues of rural life can be brought home to our younger generation. As it is, rural areas are being depopulated in a mad rush to the cities. This trend must be reversed by taking to the country, the basic amenities of the age of technology like power, pure water, education and easy communications.

For what Goldsmith said two centuries ago is still the plain truth of the matter: 'Ill fares the land to hastening ills a prey Where wealth accumulates and men decay!'


 Let's perform our duty by casting our vote in favour of the national interest.  

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मुक्तसंग्ङोऽनहंवादी धृत्युत्साहसमन्वित:।
सिद्ध‌‌यसिद्धयोर्निर्विकार: कर्ता सात्त्विक उच्यते ॥१८.२६॥

Freed from attachment, non-egoistic, endowed with courage and enthusiasm and unperturbed by success or failure, the worker is known as a pure (Sattvika) one. Four outstanding and essential qualities of a worker. - Bhagwad Gita : XVIII-26

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