- kewal sethi
going back to plain living
gandhi et al have strongly emphasized the need of plain living. no goods to be bought unless necessary. the idea was to bring back the good old days when the wants were limited, show offs were frowned upon. this is the cry often heard from all sides, even from those who roll in luxury and from those who have nothing to their name (except trusteeship of rich trusts). it is also heard from those who genuinely believe in it and from others. is this possible? is this practical? can the wants be reduced to the earlier levels or even levels commensurate with present way of life. what happens to the national economy in such a scenario. the gdp is based on what is bought and sold. what will happen to it? all over the world, this is recognized as the barometer of progress. if we stop buying luxury goods, including cosmetics, its production will come down. this will reduce the gdp. will we like our gdp to fall? it is said that we must exist only with things that are necessary for life. and what is necessary? can we live without the mobile? can we live without electricity and the electric gadgets?. can we live without television and computers? will these goods and similar goods be declared as necessary and concomitant to plain living. it is said that after learning about treachery of his wife, raja bhrithari decided to take sanyas taking with him bare necessities of life. they were loaded onto eighty raths. this underscores what we consider to be necessary. (it is another matter that he discarded all of them in due course but that suited the sanyasi which we are not). another weighty question. which class do we start with? the class now living in luxury, or the middle class or the poor ones, who already can boast of simple living except for occasional boisterous scene? each one is looking towards some one else. considering all this, it is onerous task to go back. we are used to certain things. we cannot give them up. so while saints and sinners will keep on harping on the need of simple living, it is unlikely to be followed. but this is just one side of the story. there is another. vulgar display of wealth is abhorrent custom of this era. being able to enjoy the luxuries of life is one thing but to show it off is another. can we limit vulgar display of wealth? that may be the only way out. it may be desirable but it is unlikely that it will be adopted voluntarily. most probably, it has to be forced. it cannot be and will not be willingly adopted. if we have to induce the citizen for that way of life, we have to begin somewhere. where do we begin? maybe the best avenue for beginning has to be the schools level. at that level the idea of equality can be easily imbibed. but this can be done only if we ensure that every child goes to same or similar school whether he comes from the richest or the poorest family. this is something like gurukuls where krishna and sudama shared the hardships. this common school system will ensure emotional equality. the categories of schools (cf. composite and grammar schools in uk) are not ruled out but there should be a definite rule for entry into either. once the foundation has been laid, some other steps will follow. tax system is one of the best to indicate the preference of the society. for discouraging of luxury cars heavy taxes on such vehicles can be launched. but then simultaneously there has to be rapid development of public transport system available to all the citizens. a side effect of the common schools system or the neighbourhood schools system will be realignment of the people belonging to different economic levels. migration from one locality to another as the economic situation improves there will be migration to better localities. staying in a place because ancestors were there would not be followed. the neighbourhood schools may expedite this trend. this will lead to more homogeneous localities. civil facilities can be then arranged in a better way. the vulgar display can only be avoided if there is social stigma attached to it. there was a time when knowledge was acknowledged to be more desirable than wealth. the teacher commanded a respect which even the successful businessman envied. it was not in vain that socrates talked about rule by the philosopher. in the democratic set up that we have, that may not be practical but certainly a modicum of minimum qualification can be laid down for public service. it can also be laid down that a person has to prove himself for herself in lower level before aspiring for the higher one. (that is we do not want to have a chander shekhar or a rajiv gandhi who start at prime minster level). let one serve at district (or sub district) level before aspiring for state assembly and at state level before aspiring for national level. rising from the ranks will ensure spirit of service which is concomitant of simple way of life. this does not rule out such items of necessity which the ever developing technology provides. the simple way of life does not mean uncomfortable life. the idea of comfort may vary but it is not important so long as it is not made a yardstick for measuring success.