Thursday, March 06, 2008

India, the land of the elephant

As regular viewers of the Discovery or National Geographic channels know, elephant society, within a herd, follows a hierarchy that is strictly based on age. There is the matriarch at the top and below her, the other animals descending in order of age. Older elephants teach younger ones how to behave, when to move to a different landscape and where to forage for food. The story of the elephant’s phenomenal long-term memory is true and is a key survival mechanism. Matriarchs can remember the exact location of watering holes that they had visited many decades back, and can uncannily lead their herds to the spot.

The matriarch lives far beyond her breeding age, and it is thought that this added life span is mainly to serve the purpose of mentoring the younger generations Thus, the older the elephant, the more valuable she is to her herd.

The Indian society has followed a similar structure for many centuries, probably because the elephant has always been an iconic symbol for us. The belief that a person gets wiser with age is still so prevalent. True, not all old people are wise ( making allowance for senility), but most wise people are old. This explains why octogenarians and even nonagenarians continue to cling to power or dominate the political scene in many states.

That is why the the Prime Minister , Dr.Manmohan Singh, has referred to Mr Vajpayee as the “Bhishma Pitamaha” and has urged the latter to pay heed to his conscience and support the nuclear deal.

In one stroke, he confronts Vajpayee with a false dilemma (follow conscience, support deal, you are good; don’t follow conscience, no support deal, bad boy) and manages to invoke the guru-shishya paradigm that is sacred to most Indians.

In the various generations that Bhishma was believed to have lived through ( or in the elephant societies of today) , there wouldn’t have been any perceptible change in technology, metallurgy, skill sets, etc. So, the correlation that older = wiser might have been true. Sagacity was a simple, arithmetical aggregate of learning from experiences, retaining it in memory and applying it appropriately. More real-life experiences, more encounters with people, the better the understanding of human behaviour, natural incidents and cycles, dangers, etc..

This has changed in the last few generations. Technological changes happen and is understood best and absorbed by the ‘younger’ lot. In the corporate world today, I would put the peak age at around 30 years or so, till when you look up to seniors ( = older) to learn from. Beyond this age, if you need to learn and update yourself, turn to the younger lot.

Update 08.03.08 : Rahul Gandhi, the 38-year old icon of Indian youth is quoted as saying that when his father Rajiv Gandi died, the voice of the country’s youth had died. Rajiv had died at the age of 47.

Meanwhile, on March 1st, M.K.Stalin, son of Chief Minister Mr M.Karunanidhi, and leader of the DMK’s Youth wing, celebrated his 55th birthday.


Unknown said...

how come there is no mention of the patriarchial (patriarchical?) elephant?

I am deeply disappointed!


Raj said...

Ha, Sundar. As I understand, the male elephant is kicked out of the herd after a certain age. The elephant society is completely matriarchal. So, no wise men there, only wise women. So, don't feel disappointed. Be thankful that you are not an elephant.