Home >Opinion >Columns >India’s millennial heroes could do with history lessons

Brisbane. Perhaps the greatest ever Test win for India. Even greater than that 2001 match against Australia in Kolkata. India barely had 11 fit men to put up a team at the Gabba in Brisbane. Youngsters basically selected as net bowlers to star batsmen were thrust into the limelight, against the best team in the world, on their home ground, in a sports field known as the valley of death, on the fifth day. And India’s best batsman and captain was away.

And we won. Yes! A team comprising mostly Generation Z-ers (born in 1995 and later) stood up with a fearlessness and their heads held so high that Rabindranath Tagore would have been proud. And take a bow, Rahul Dravid, the finest gentleman-cricketer India has ever produced. You showed the right path to these people as the coach of the India under-19 and India A teams. And the most beautiful thing the stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane said (and repeated) was: “We didn’t play to win. We played to our intent." The subtlety of this statement would be incomprehensible to most, unless you have read the Bhagavad Gita.

And now the dampener. The rest of this column is not about Sundar and Siraz and Pant, but about older people. One warning, though: the oldest millennial today is 37 years old, and your generation’s last great achiever is Cristiano Ronaldo, 35 years old. Elon Musk is 49. Jack Dorsey is 44. Zuckerberg just about squeezes in as a millennial because he was born on 14 May 1984.

So, O millennials, let me talk about our generation—I have a 25-year-old daughter, two years older than Rishabh Pant. I sometimes call ours the “greatest generation", but let’s sober up and call it the “transitional generation" (yes, boring, but we are boring people). We are talking about an Indian generation that was born between 1955 and 1967 (a yug in terms of generational change is 12 years, according to Indic thought). Or let me call it “My Generation", with a hat tip to The Who. Who? I’m quite okay with that question. The greatest rock band ever. Search “who my generation". Indeed, I feel so good when I watch Gen Z-ers play without any burden of history, but I also feel sad that they seem to know no history.

Our parents lived in an India that was ruled by a foreign power, the British. A reality that would be quite unthinkable to us. Some of them—in Punjab and Bengal—also survived Partition, a cataclysmic event that, again, is difficult for anyone to describe rationally, even if one has experienced it. A holocaust. Our parents saw Independence, and also the tryst with destiny that Nehru promised betrayed. They imbued us with a sense of history, good bad and untrustworthy.

We lived in a state that would seem extraterrestrial to our children. Can Washington Sundar imagine that just 40 years ago, if you wanted to buy a scooter, you had an eight-year waiting period? That when an uncle went abroad, you begged for a pair of Levi’s jeans? “Profit is a dirty word," Nehru told J.R.D. Tata.

Our generation. Parents would not like their daughters married off to “businessmen". Language matters. The shift from “businessman" to “entrepreneur" is an important change. In fact, it is a huge cultural change that hasn’t been fully appreciated.

We were the generation that grasped the economic reforms which began in 1991. We were in the prime of life and we seized the day. We were the change that we wanted to be. Technology brought unforeseen—science-fictional—transformations. We coped, adapted, leveraged, and drove it.

I wish to make a clear statement here. Our children were born in the internet age. But our generation created it.

I am an IITian who graduated in the 1980s. Sixty per cent of my Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur classmates went to the US.

Brain drain. India lamented that, back then, but these people created a global image of India. The fact that two of the five most valuable companies in the world today are led by Indians of our generation should not be overlooked. Our contribution to global academia and research is almost unmatched.

But our generation is different from our parents’. We were told that engineering or medicine were the only passports to a better life. But most of us have allowed our children to follow their innate passions and study what they want to. The importance of this, socially and nationally, cannot be underestimated. We are creating—knowingly or with some subconscious guilt—a much more intellectually diverse and culturally vibrant India. And this has perhaps gone mostly unnoticed, though we have also made India a much more gender-equal country. We have seen more change than any other generation—from bicycles to Zoom—and have gone with the flow of whatever we invented. We are cool.

My generation has perhaps gained the most from economic reforms. But it’s time now for a new generation that lives in the moment, yet remembers the past.

Gavaskar, Vivekananda, Rana Pratap. We all know that Rana Pratap lost the battle of Haldighati to Akbar. But how many of us are aware that he defeated the Mughal army six years later at Dewair? This is the heritage that we have been excluded from. My generation falls in the dark well between freedom fighters and startup champions.

High five, Pant, Gill and Siraj! But know your history. That can only warm your young blood.

Sandipan Deb is a former editor of ‘Financial Express’, and founder-editor of ‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya’ magazines

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