When Father Gregory Boyle recounted the almost-remarkable story of one young man whose mother could not afford a Christmas present for him, he didn’t throw his arms up in despair — he immediately recognized and registered the phenomenon of parents trying so hard to provide for their children but who do not have the financial resources to do so. Often, as Boyle pointed out, young men who are no longer in school do not even know it is the holiday season. Many of the boys do not see the need for toys because when they hit adulthood they are usually working or helping at home, or something better than helping, so the thought of shiny, new toys from the Christmas to-do list doesn’t matter as much. It would be better for this world if the boys knew of the holiday season and recalled its significance.
Like Father Boyle, I see something very different in India today, a young man who is an outstanding barrister and a treasure to his state as well as the country he serves. Yet, because he is almost never in the news, because he is shy and humble, he is often lost in the dark corners of my imagination: he is so anonymous, like his ghostly, but charismatic, father, who wants the best for this young man and all of us who treasure freedom, justice and equality for all the young ones. A few days ago, the unhappy news broke that he had died. He was 26. At a time when we should be celebrating his talent and his exceptional potential, the hollowed out Indian economy and its relationships with the brands and car makers that live in it, the banks that crowd the Indian streets, the depressing state of the rural economy, and the lackluster standards of education, and the loneliness that leads the world’s poorest people into the streets at night to beg, a lawyer with a rising star always recuperating in the law books of the law firm where he worked. The proud family he was privileged to be in; yet in this darkening gray of India’s economic and social crisis, with its controversies about corruption, labor rights, health care and social inequality, his death fits the narrative: what has been the real, compelling case for economic growth and making it less exclusive? It is the fact that 1.3 billion people live outside of the main economic hubs, without electricity, facing an environment devastated by toxic air, without basic protection.
Every morning I wake up and the loss of this young man is haunting me. I cannot help but wonder, in this unique moment, what effect this story will have on our country. It reminds me of something I heard last week in Moscow, about the lack of economic power of Russia’s huge student population. Our country’s supply-chain managers and top executives understand that this is a tremendous economic opportunity. But what about the outside world? The hundreds of millions of people in India in dire need of economic power? What about the silence from the outside world on this lethal decade of economic policies? All this with more than 500,000 new refugees arriving in the last year, is there a possibility that things might change, and if so, what a long way we would have to go, because when Father Boyle says the supply-chain, the car, and the factory are not there, those with the most to lose are often the poorest of the poor. Do they have a voice? And if we give our power to the experts and business leaders who understand the real world in which we live, do they ever listen?
India’s teenagers and college students deserve so much better than the present state of economic relations. I cannot help but hope that they will be the leaders of India’s new civilization, its economy, and its schools. I do not want to bring back back to Father Boyle’s story and especially those little Christmas presents, but I am moved by the ghosts. I am also moved by the Tata companies’ courage to write about changing the reality of the Indian people. And if we think about what Mr. Raghuram Rajan said in his farewell speech, “What counts is what has not happened in India and what will be done in India.” This Christmas, maybe this story should remind us that a new dawn is coming in our country.
Vinay Menon is an author, economist and political commentator in India. He is currently researching and writing a book about Indian democracy.