The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), which was rocked by campus protests last year, has many new safeguards in place. It is mandatory for all new students to submit a “general conduct” affidavit that bars them from violating “decorum and decency on campus”. Much more questionable, however, is their requirement that students must declare that they will not, under any circumstances, insult the faculty, staff members or their elders (The Indian Express, July 21, 2016).
Basically, the students cannot argue, remonstrate and disagree with those older, wiser and much more knowledgeable folk running the show. “Badho ki izzat” is the cornerstone phrase of every north Indian’s growing up years. In our culture it’s common practice for children to touch adult relatives’ feet. The root of this lies in the guru shishya tradition or parampara, where knowledge is believed to be passed down successive generations. It’s no wonder then that the old (and tyrannical) have always enjoyed excellent social status in India. Our customs emphatically express that they should be accorded more respect than people our own age — for no better reason than they’re old. At some level, this may have prompted the FTII management to frame these infantilising guidelines and make this desperately churlish bid for deference. The patriarchal tone aside, for them the students may as well be four-year-olds seeking a nursery admission rather than postgraduates ready to join the workforce.
No matter what our ancient texts proclaim, it’s becoming increasingly hard to keep believing that wisdom is the sole privilege of the older in power, not the young. But you have to age a bit yourself to figure out that everybody’s winging it, nobody really knows anything and in the rare case when they do, age has almost nothing to do with it. It’s like the cartoon floating around on Facebook with the caption: “When you’re a child, every character from the Mahabharata looks like a hero. When you grow up you realise only Kumbhkarana knew what he was doing.” Similarly, George Bernard Shaw’s classic line ‘Youth is wasted on the young’ just doesn’t apply anymore. The millennials, born between 1980 and 2000 are the most influential people in business in India, changing the way we think, shop and live. The Oyo Rooms founder is 22 and one of the Flipkart partners is 34. Technological advancements have turned the world upside down, disrupting what we know about structure and hierarchy. The Intern, the cheesy but very watchable film on the generation gap, comes to mind. A square 70-year-old who wears a tie and isn’t on social media imparts what he has, experience, to his 25-year-old colleagues, talking directly to those of us who fear we might be outdated at 40.
What can be done? We can start by being terribly nice and deeply respectful to the teenagers we know right now. Chances are, we’ll be working for some of them.