February 2019

Pelting Pessimism

Raman Jokhakar

Rudyard Kipling wrote: “Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.” The truth in those words shines bright during election time. Just like ice cream or burger companies, the notable limited period election flavours are linked to certain themes. One of them is Pessimism.


Pessimism sells. The human mind is wired for pessimism. Therefore, pessimism sticks – like Fevicol! A recent article in GQ magazine[1]  said: “When you look at pessimistic people, probably the single [most-telling] hallmark is -- they think that bad events are permanent and that they're unchangeable.” A lot of stuff in the media and politics these days is akin to this.


Take the example of talking about poverty and poisonous political rattling around this subject. Although India has miles to go, millions of people have been brought out of abject poverty. Yet politicos, and recently the winking and hugging parliamentarian, can’t stop talking about poverty. Let’s do a fact check. There were 90.17 m people living in extreme poverty in January, 2016 (6.8% of population). In January, 2019, 49.16 m people were reported to be living in extreme poverty (3.6% of population) in India[2]. The current escape rate is 21.7 people/minute, whereas the target escape rate is 7.8 people/minute. Yet the narrative and discourse of pessimism is kept consistent and incessant. The fact is that great good has happened and greater good is yet to be done. It is important to acknowledge what is done and it is imperative to focus on what needs to be done through ideas and action.


Business Standard tweeted on January 22, 2019: “If everyone had decent jobs… not very many would spare time for Kumbh”. What kind of “standard” is this? Is this the way to talk about the faithful who visit the largest congregation on the planet? Even if many were underemployed, is this the way to look down upon millions of people by the media? Partisan, irresponsible, agenda-driven, and biased seems to be a new standard and that too by a business newspaper - this is appalling. On the other hand, a CII report said that the fifty-day congregation – the Ardh Kumbh, will create jobs for 6 lakh workers and generate revenue of Rs 1.2 lakh crore. Pessimism is often a false projection to blur people’s perception by only flashing the doomsday prophesies on the screen of the mind.


Beware! False, pretentious, convenient facts abound! Pessimism is projected on an oversized screen bigger than the falsehood it wants to project. Elections involved rigging of some booths in earlier times. Elections today are about rigging people’s perception on a scale not known before, one that is so immaculate in design that you won’t even know. The upcoming 17th national election will have an electorate of nearly 900 million out of which 450 m have access to internet, there are 270 m Facebook users and 200 m WhasApp users – which is equal to more than any democracy in the world. We need to be watchful of all this.

The President of India tweeted on 1st February about the cost of data – dropping from Rs. 250 per GB (2014) to Rs. 12 (2018). There are innumerable positive data points and there is an unfinished agenda before the nation to overcome so many problems.


I recently read: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” We have to look ahead, to look for the light. I hope we don’t succumb to pessimism. I hope we will look through to see where the light is. Charlie Chaplin said: “You’ll never find rainbows if you’re looking down”.


And yes the Supreme Court will deliver its take about the fate of a prayer in schools which comes from the civilizational soul of India. Strange as it is, some believe that nation can be separated from  the bedrock of its civilization and the offshoots can poison the soil. The universality of those words is as important and relevant as ever. Let me sign off with that same aspiration: May all of us be led from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.


[1] 23rd September 2018

[2] https://worldpoverty.io run by Vienna based NGO and funded by German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development. It gathers data available in public domain.

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