Being young is not half as fun or as big a deal as aunties and particularly uncles make it out to be.
A majority of them are well meaning parents, guardians and people with influence over the young but when it comes to real support they are as encouraging as affectionate but faithless and spiritless as spectators are to an upstart team competing against a giant. They cheer on the young ones to tackle the giant they couldn’t tame in their own youth. Meanwhile the giant – the ‘No fun please, we are a Muslim country’ philosophy – has gotten bigger and uglier.
The older ones can’t shake away their wasted youth and so they decide to have another go at it through younger generations. This time they spend all their energies stopping the youth from wasting their lives, and thus ensure that they waste their own all the way to the end. Losers, like diamonds, are forever. And losers beget losers. My parents’ generation did not have role models for me; mine doesn’t have any for the next. Instead, we continue to rely on rote method to encourage each other and so every new generation is a sequel to the previous one.
Today, we have two thirds of our population made up of youth. Having tens of millions of young people without a role model and without a clue is no fun for a state either, especially for a non-functioning and born-crooked management like that of the state of Pakistan. It’s a measure of the state’s perversion that the only use of youth bulge it finds is: it creates a web of ministries and departments for youth, and fills them with middle-aged men and women who like the authority and privileges associated with state organs, but are not competent to handle any kind of work.
Their job is to formulate, implement and improve policies on youth issues. It is obvious that they know what youth issues are. Don’t we all? All of us are, or have been young. And yet, every batch of policy makers has failed to see youth issues from the perspective of youth. Generation after generation of policy makers has been stuck in the rut of moral education, sports, employment, drugs and disease as the only youth issues. In reality, these are basic human rights and it is the foremost duty of a state to provide for and protect the rights of its citizens, of all ages. Why would the state fund a bureaucratic mammoth to dispense these rights to youth? Why isn’t there a ministry of children? Or a ministry of the elderly for that matter?
I know what youth issues are because I am youth. I am 23, a college student, living independently off money sent by my father monthly, though I have to supplement it through private tuition. I carry a valid CNIC and a license to ride the motorbike, I have ensured that my vote is registered and my name appears on the current voters’ list, I have copies of my domicile and character certificate attested by grade 18 government officers, and I’ve never missed or delayed my dues to the state-run college. I have lots of interaction with the state. The state has lots of ways to reach me. And yet it hasn’t been able to convey to me what all the state bodies created in my name are doing for me.
But I can tell the state exactly what the number one youth issue is: We are bored.
We have nothing constructive, gainful or uplifting to do in our spare time. There is plenty of advice available on what not to do, but precious little on how to have fun. We have been telling grown ups since we were kids: ‘I am bored’, ‘come play with me’, ‘let’s go out’ … but they seldom had time and so they gave us the television, Xbox, mobile phone, pizza, permission to go out, or a slap on the cheek and a lecture on reading school or madrassah books.
I went to four different schools and none of them had a playground. The college I go to has a single ground which is more a place to hang then play ball. I have not come across a hobby club in my entire academic career, nor a library that stocks anything but reference books and newspapers. There isn’t a teacher who engages us with literary and research activities or enlightening conversation. Outside the college, it’s a big mean world that has something for everyone: musical concerts, plays, sporting activities, luxury clubs, prostitution, imported whiskey … anything you can think of, and afford, is there for you.
For students like me for whom a bit of extra money in the pocket makes a difference between the usual bun kabab or a spicy chicken karahi with smoking naan and chilled drink, there aren’t many choices for entertainment without a chance of getting arrested. There’s tobacco and associated drugs like charas and heroin (older druggies tell me heroin is more easily available and is less expensive than it was in Zia ul Haq’s time), the cinema that shows x-rated flicks on Tuesdays and Saturdays, the theatre that specialises in verbal pornography, poondi at a mall, dating in a cubicle of an internet café, motorcycle stints on the inter city road, and cheap and cheerless mass media.
Food is the only diversion available, allowed, and encouraged across the board, and jihad is the only action/thrill in town. Little wonder, then, that the youth is attracted to offers of free food and free military training. That narrows their employment choices down to armed forces and militant organisations.
I am not wise like those who run the country but I may have said something important here. The suicide bum may just be blowing himself up out of boredom. The potential Nobel winning scientist may be killing his or her brain cells by banging their heels hard in a parade square. Petty crime, sexual deviance, drug abuse, spread of disease, suicide, a national mood swing between mindless jubilation and pitiful melancholy… might not be our issues if today’s older generation knew what to do with their spare time when they were my age. If they’d learnt something for the sheer joy of learning; if they could enjoy life enough to love and value it, if they could see and experience love rather than just hearing, reading and preaching about it with a lot of hatred in the background; they wouldn’t be the joyless middle aged men and women that they are, and I wouldn’t be on my way to becoming one.
My generation still has a few men and women left with the vigour and vitality of youth. Maybe they can turn into role models for the next generation and reverse the trend, Maybe they cannot, like the smart ones in the older generation who couldn’t.
Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at email@example.com
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.