Young India today is throbbing with life and activity. There is a ferment all round among the people, especially among the youth — the students. Even during the exciting phases of the freedom struggle against the British Government, such wide-spread commotion and unrest as is now prevailing was not witnessed. It is indeed a sign of our country returning to its normal health.
Unrest, like zest, is a sign of robust life and is a harbinger of progress. It generates energy and activity. Social unrest, even though it may sometimes bring in its wake violence and consequent human suffering, is still preferable to social tranquility born out of the people’s inertia. Social inertia indicates people’s loss of power to react to any challenging situation confronting them and is, therefore, as dreadful as paralysis in a human body. A glaring example of that sort of social quietude was witnessed during the horrible man-made famine of Bengal in the year 1943. While multitudes of people were being denied food and were starving, the grain shops and restaurants, situated right in the midst of those hungry millions, were seen carrying on their business as usual without the least fear of being attacked or looted. This could happen, obviously, not because the people had reached a Paramahamsa state or were too conscientious to take to avowedly criminal acts for a morsel of food or just for their physical survival; there were neither food riots nor did the people resort to looting for the simple reason that they had lost all power to react, resist or assert. Some western correspondents who were in Bengal, then, expressed great surprise over this phenomenon which they considered inconceivable in their own countries.
In fact, if we look back to our history of the past several centuries, our country had been under the spell of utter inertia (Tamas), except for brief periods of manly vigour and activity here and there. It is said that Bakhtiyar Khilji with a handful of horsemen rode all the way from Delhi to Bengal, traversing the vast plains of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, but that none of the people on the way felt like challenging this band of armed foreigners. It is further said that these Turks managed to straightway enter the palace at Nadia, the then capital of Bengal, and massacred the inmates while the king, Lakshamana Sen, fled by the back-door. Even granting that there is a lot of exaggeration in this historical account as taught in schools, and that perhaps only a fraction of it may be true, the fact remains that the people had lost their vigour and the will to resist and were as inert as stocks and stones.
Even during Swami Vivekananda’s times he had to face the same appalling insensitiveness of the people. His biographers report about an apparently queer piece of advice Swami Vivekananda felt like giving to a lazy and indolent youth, who had approached him with a desire to know from him what he should do to know God and how he was to get free. Swamiji who knew the questioner to be quite a do-nothing fellow asked him: “Can you tell a lie?” The boy replied, “No”. Swamiji then said to him, “Then you must learn to do so. It is better to tell a lie than to be a brute, or a log of wood. You are inactive, you have not certainly reached the highest state which is beyond all action, calm and serene; you are too dull even to do something wicked”. Of course, Swamiji said all this satirically and out of his exasperation over the vegetating young boy. But this shows amply that even in Swamiji’s days the apathy of the people was one of the major problems before the country.
Today, however, the people in general, and the younger generation in particular are showing signs of an awakening from a long stupor of centuries. They have begun to feel, and react to situations favourably or unfavourably, according as they are palatable or unpalatable to them. Authorities, whether in charge of universities or industries or those at the helm of government administration, can no more take the people for granted; nay, even the parents are not able to command submission from their youngsters.
The question “Can you tell a lie?” put by Swami Vivekananda to a typically lazy and inactive student of those days, has no relevance today. Because, the student of today has ceased to be the passive and submissive creature that he was yesterday. Today, he is full of energy and his activity covers such novel spheres as Swami Vivekananda could not have even imagined then. Even an average student of today can truthfully say that he is capable of not only telling a lie, but can also pelt stones at passenger-buses and trains, and even remove fish-plates from the railway track just for the fun of it ; he can as well set fire to buses, trains, buildings and even knife his teachers just to satisfy his curiosity to know how newspapers would report the incidents next day.
Similarly, the general mass of people and especially the younger generation have now totally got rid of their old passivity and submission. They have not only regained their normal capacity to feel and perceive but have also developed an ultra-sensitiveness. Even the presence of an invigilator in the examination hall makes their blood boil — nay, the very system of examination irritates them. They are equally sensitive, and even allergic, to the sight of bus-conductors asking bus-fares from their fraternity, railway inspectors detecting ticketless students, gate-keepers in cinema halls checking up tickets or even policemen obstructing stone-throwing.
In short, the country has, at long last, shed its torpidity and the people now are up and doing. As long as the entire nation was numb with inertia, nothing could be expected except a gradually increasing deterioration. But, by the grace of God, the country has turned the corner, and the people have become conscious of themselves and their capacity to do and undo, and to build and destroy.
One may take an alarmist view of the present trends in the younger generation. But, in fact, there is more reason to rejoice than to be frightened. Because it is not through the peace of the graveyard but only through the dynamism of action, whether good, bad or even wicked, that nations, sooner or later, light upon the right vision and adopt the course ordained for them. Out of the present exuberance of meaningless or destructive activity of the young, there is bound to emerge soon the next phase, the dawn of wisdom and discrimination (Vivek) which will make the country re-discover its mission andgive a new creative direction to all its endeavours.