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    South Asia
     Nov 17, 2007
India answers a new call
By Raja M

MUMBAI - An offbeat smash-hit Hindi movie, Chak De! India - loosely translated as C'mon India! - has become a cheerleading anthem across India, from celebrating sporting victories to stock-market bull runs.

In a country seriously hooked on movies, sports and politics, Chak De! has struck a chord since its release in August and visitors might be forgiven for thinking the film's title sound track is

India's signature tune, representing a country on a roll.

Not missing the bandwagon, India's ruling Congress party announced its slogan as "Chak De Congress' for elections in the western Indian state of Gujarat. And the Birla Institute of Management Technology, Delhi, organized an event with the theme Chak De, focusing on team building and leadership.

The feel-good movie, also released internationally, is based on a true story about the passionate struggles of India's national women's field hockey team.

Amid the hoo-hah, Chak De! India offers a jarring clash of contradictions in a country famous for its extreme contrasts. The gung-ho chest-thumping sounds a surreal disconnect between billionaire Indians splurging on US$60 million private jets as birthday gifts (industrialist Mukesh Ambani) and an India in which the majority of people struggle for survival with minimal drinking water, sanitation, electricity, roads, schools and health services.

Yet India does throb with this distinct, unfamiliar pulse of energy that Chak De! captures, more so in a generation born in the 1980s, growing up in a India confidently opening up to the world in the 1990s and moving into leadership seats in the late 2000s.

Demographically, India has the largest below-40 population in the world, and is expected to keep this position for the next 40 years. A prevalent view holds that the current young generation is the most vibrant, positive, self-confident the country has seen since independence in 1947.

Brand marketers have tuned into the difference, and say the change is huge. "There's a big difference in outlook as youngsters today have far more opportunities than we did," Rajiv Raja, popular jazz flutist and executive creative director of a leading advertising agency, Bates India, told Asia Times Online. "They live more for the moment, for today than tomorrow, change jobs more often than we did, and want to cram more into one single life. We had to make best use [in an India] of scarce resources while the younger generation now makes the widest possible use of ample resources."

Bates factored the difference in attitude in its successful campaign for a life insurance product, Tata AIG, with their latest advertisement featuring a 90-year-old man regretting not having invested for the future when he was 30. "He regrets having spent more time watching his boss' company grow, rather than his own kids grow," says Raja.

The breathless consumption rush doesn't run with the anxiety of making hay while the sun fleetingly peeps through clouds, but with the deeper trust that the going is going to be good for some time. "The 20-something generation in India is far more self-confident and less diffident than we were at that age," Amy Fernades, an senior print media editor in Mumbai, told Asia Times Online. "Our parents had a colonial hangover and in the 1980s we fought to throw it out as youngsters. But younger Indians now have no such baggage. They are proud to be Indian."

The Chak De! India movie touched that essence of an India with new-found self-belief, and touched iconic status. Featuring India's biggest Hindi movie star, Shahrukh Khan, it moved audiences with its slickly produced underdog-wins story of a down-and-out hockey coach named Kabir Khan inspiring an equally rank outsider women's hockey team to World Cup victory.

The lead character, Kabir Khan, was significantly named after Kabir, the 15th-century Indian poet saint who propagated unity among different religions. Secular tensions continue to be one of India's biggest challenges.

As it will with its "Chak De! Congress" electoral slogan, the Congress party flashed the "young" card in the last general elections in 2005, with nearly half the electorate in the 18-40 age group. The party unleashed young political faces - mostly children of aging leaders - and watched the media-savvy young politicians woo the largest young electorate in the world. They articulated efficiency, accountability and the commitment to remove corruption. The Congress stunned the nation with unexpected electoral success.

Mission accomplished, the old political powerbrokers took over plum posts in the administration, with some of the veterans not even winning or standing in the elections. The young faces were shunted aside. Now, with prospect of mid-term general elections, young politicians such as Rahul Gandhi (Congress leader Sonia Gandhi's son) have been given a more active organizational role in the key electoral state of Uttar Pradesh.

These young leaders will take over an India far more professional and matter-of-fact with the "Chak De"-charged outlook replacing India's famously casual chalta hai (anything goes) attitude.

"Youngsters these days are very different from what we used to be," says Saganika Bannerjee, a teacher for disadvantaged children in Mumbai, and with two daughters in their early teens. "They are very focussed, are better informed on many issues, know what they want and won't settle for anything less."

A nation's character is said to be played out on sporting fields, and India's brash new face was unveiled recently through cricket, the country's favorite obsession. Reality played out fiction when the Chak De! tune was played at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg when a young, inexperienced Indian team unexpectedly won a cricket World Cup in South Africa in September.

Banished to oblivion was any sub-continental diffidence, as the youngsters in their twenties played what critics called "fearless cricket" and triumphed over more experienced teams in the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup, in the game's latest, shortest and most exciting international version.

More crucially, those of the younger generation are far more open to changing themselves for the better, the basic key to changing society for the better - as is prominently evident in the quantum jump in young Indians taking to self-development practices such as Vipassana, the ancient Indian non-sectarian method of mind purification.

In Dhamma Giri, the premier Vipassana center near Mumbai, young faces - including from the corporate, advertising and entertainment world - are predominant among those sitting and serving in courses, dispelling outdated myths that meditation is only for the elderly or for those giving up the world.

Vipassana courses are being offered in business schools, elementary schools, in leading technical colleges such as the Indian Institutes of Technology and recently even in the BMC (Bombay Municipal Corporation) schools, connecting with a global demand where even two nations bitterly in conflict such as Israel and Iran have one significant factor in common: long waiting lists with young applicants for Vipassana courses.

A depth and maturity in outlook facilitates India's fast-growing non-governmental organization (NGO)network. "Volunteers from colleges are more willing to explore issues, and spend time with children without just the idea that it will look good on the resume," says Madhura Kapdi, communications officer at Child Relief and You, one of India's biggest and most visible NGOs.

While Chak De! echoes across the country, so do the contradictions, as for instance in the country's labor force. Krishnan Menon, a consumer marketing analyst, wrote, "Perhaps, India, with all she is currently armed with, is better positioned as the world's Superbrain."

A recently released "India Labor Report 2007" by staffing company TeamLease Services, however, says "youth unemployability" appears to be a much bigger problem than unemployment itself. Over 82 million of the country's young workforce have been deemed as not having the basic skills that they should have learnt in schools and colleges.

The study says that a looming skill deficit in India could be more disruptive than the infrastructure deficit as it increases inequality. "Unless there is a radical overhaul in the education and training system, this issue cannot be solved," says the study.

The balancing answer in the new "Chak De! India" lies in India's gift to humanity, the Eightfold Noble Path, as taught by Gotama the Buddha. Taking the middle path, and understanding that everything changes and nothing lasts forever, makes the road ahead less bumpy. "Sometimes winning is everything," says the Chak De! movie tagline. The young India will realize that sometimes life offers more valuable lessons when we lose.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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