There’s been an idea lurking around in my mind like a half-remembered melody that just won’t go away. And Tomazinho Cardozo’s article (ELDERS AS ‘ROLE MODELS’ Sunday Times 15/11/09) about today’s youth recklessly discarding the elderly, brought it into sharp focus.
This is the idea. Joint families may have disappeared, but wards and villages can continue the functions of the joint family even while the nuclear family thrives.
Look at the kind of elected representatives, Goan society is throwing up. They are a part of us. If they are corrupt, it is because we as a society are corrupt. Clearly the time has come when we have to not merely introspect but also stem the rot that has permeated every class of people in the state.
We have turned into an instant gratification society and this has ruined us. From the slow measured pace of an agricultural economy which left enough time and energy to create a rich Konkani culture in terms of language, literature and the arts, we have become a fragmented aimless people with no purpose, no plan and no larger picture.
We have to sort ourselves out.
I am not suggesting that we turn back the hand of Time, but that we can build on the slow measured pace of our culture and adapt it to the needs of today. To this end the joint family has to come back, re-invented, to expand and include the entire ward or village. The community – that is all residents of the ward or village, of all ages gather together and pool their mental and professional resources to support and strengthen each other.
This has special reference to our youth who are in dire need of help. This community becomes the mother of gram sabhas with every man, woman and child of the village pulling their weight equally. Everyone regardless of age, has a lot to learn and a lot to teach.
It is not just the elderly who have the wisdom and wealth of experience who can contribute. The youth, middleaged professionals, labourers, children, even toddlers with their wide-eyed innocence and willingness to learn, have something to offer to the community. It takes just five steps, but all hinges on the success of Step One.
Step One: Coming out of your houses into the open spaces of your village or ward, gathering around, getting acquainted with each other, regardless of age, gender, class, caste and creed. If enmity between two neighbours hampers progress, give the warring parties their space, but fill that space with neutral neighbours who can implement ideas and, who knows, even remove the enmity in the fullness of time.
Step Two: Discuss the strengths and needs of various members of the community. This includes both original inhabitants and settlers. For instance, if there are first generation learners; students who need extra teaching; those who can teach them must come forward to guide, coach and mentor. No money will exchange hands, but rewards will be huge when the youth in turn can help their mentors with indoor or outdoor chores. Cheerful interaction alone will work wonders with both youth and elderly. You will find seeds of respect and pride sown for both age groups. More importantly, respect will grow for the land and traditions of the village.
Step Three:If the village can be developed in terms of maybe setting up small businesses, so that entrepreneurship is encouraged. The community can decide the who, what, where and when. For this a plan has to be made. A Community Plan that factors in the existing facilities in the area. Community farming that had made Goa one of the strongest societies on the west coast must be revived once again. The elderly play a vital part here in guiding the new generation to protect fields and waterways, to solve modern problems with ancient solutions that worked so well and are still relevant today.
Step Four: Rope in the representatives, panchayat, assembly and Parliamentary to clearly explain and outline various schemes and plans that can be utilized by the community for the betterment of the village and its people.
Step Five: Focus on reviving the culture and better traditions of the village in terms of sports, feasts, fairs, drama, music and literature.
This is not some Utopian flight of fancy. Something similar has been used in a village in Maharashtra called Hivre Bazar (please Google it), where a village looking at starvation, alcoholism and complete degradation, came together under one man who was their sarpanch for 15 years and turned themselves around.
The village now plays host to study teams from the UN, from Japan, China, Africa and even Afghanistan. It was the focus and integrity of the sarpanch who passed his IAS exams, but was prevailed upon by the villagers to chuck the IAS and help them instead of accepting his posting.
They re-built the broken down primary school first, shut down all the country liquor bars except one, they discarded water guzzling crops and planted cash crops that did not need too much watering. Tube wells were dug for domestic use only, while the river water was used for agriculture. A law was passed that no land would be sold to an outsider. The average income of a farmer in the village was Rs 6 lakh, 8 years ago.
We can do it here in Goa. Why? Because it’s in our tradition. We used to have a planned society that was happy and contented. Ours was the sussegado life, not lazy, mind you, but slow, steady and solid. No one went hungry. Ours was a way of life that was the envy of all. No need to point out to you, that it is fast disappearing. No need to tell you too, that we can restore it for ourselves and our descendants.
All it takes is a Community Plan. Not the government, not the panchayat. Just the people. Turn the village people and the ward stakeholders into a joint family.
Why, it will even take care of the law and order problem, because a caring society becomes an alert, protective society. Our police force can go back to doing bandobast duty to make the MLAs look important.
(This article has been printed in The Times of India Goa Edition of 02 December 2009”Ties that bind”)