The measure of a good life in this present day and age has come to be the quantum of possessions owned, whether by an individual, or an institution, or even a country. The current situation of materialistic living and hackneyed notions of growth prevalent all around us may be attributed to the constricting culture of consumerism and globalisation. When simpler ways of living were projected as backward, complexities were introduced on the pretext of “growth”. For instance, India managed its natural resources and specially its water resources to suit its needs perfectly until the concept of dams was made popular and was understood as a mark of modernisation. What was learnt in the years that followed, and after much damage and loss, that ecological management takes large amounts of money and hampers the biodiversity of the region, in addition to causing pollution of various kinds. Consequently, more resources have to be expended to fix the problem thus created.
Purchase and sale of equipment demands manufacturing and this sets in motion the cycle degenerative commercial practice whereby large sums of money is paid to do things that may not even be required. But the prevalence of rampant consumerism necessitates that economies continue to generate monetary wealth at the cost of overall well-being and health of a region and its societies. Consumerism is the product of primarily an attitude of leaving behind indigenous sustainable methods of development and giving in to flow along the current of intense materialistic commercial intents. An example of that would be rapid increase of concrete houses that stand out as a mark of modern development over local methods of building houses with mud. These concrete structures and often not compatible with the hot climatic conditions across the country and so require s system of artificial cooling. This in turn creates space for setting up manufacturing units that not only require large-scale inputs but also release toxic residue in the environment. Given this, may we propose a minimalistic way of living as an alternative to this prevalent destructive order?
In the context of India at present, the situation of materialistic-driven consumerism exists owing primarily to the advent of the British who invaded India not just economically, but also socially, and culturally. The majority of documentation of historical accounts of India were done by foreigners and several original texts were destroyed following successive foreign invasions. Indians, largely, never wrote their history. As the saying goes, until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter. The pre-colonial India is an imposing example of how our societies thrived without taking recourse to materialism. Societies that lived off minimalistic ways had actually high standards of living, particularly in the period between 400 BC to 800AD, as per studies and available documents. Noted historian William Dalrymple brought to highlight once again these forgotten histories about how Indian societies were successfully led by minimalistic model. The post-vedic era developments are rather blurred with respect to documentation, but a prominent characteristic of men from that time was their “shaurya”, meaning a combination of qualities like strength, control, and patience. There happened to be some regions in that time where women were clad in only jewellery. The fact that there existed space for women to freely be, without any threat or insecurity of any kind, reflects the accepting and progressive mindset of the society and of the men particularly in whose presence they felt safe. Hence, understandably, the way a society treats its women is a reflection of its extent of development.
Yet, with a rich history of social empowerment and equality, the original minimalistic ways had to be abandoned. This was due to completely different mindset that crept in during the colonial days. The original ways of thinking changed as outlooks began being determined by western ways as they colonised. Native cultural ways were left behind because we were influenced by the ways of the British and the appearance of supremacy of it. The British people, their lifestyles, dressing, methods of education, etc. were all made to look attractive to overshadow the indigenous ways. Further, the traditional Indian ways of dressing and eating were derided and natives were made to feel inferior for their own ways. So was the original system of minimalistic living was unfortunately abandoned and the colonised turned to Western ways of industrialisation which only exploited the locals while stocking up their vaults. For Indians, industrialisation was equated with the process of value addition to the natural resources as well as to one’s knowledge, wisdom, and skill. These opposing notions led to a crisis of identity for the Indians.
What if we abandon the established notion of economic growth to acquire a new paradigm? This new paradigm will not be a foreign concept but a revival of our own forgotten ways. This will arguably lead to better health of people and food security will be restored; the approach will be directed towards prevention instead of cure—instead of creating diseases by instating incompatible systems such as “lifestyle diseases” like diabetes and hypertension that hardly existed 50 years ago, and then expending resources in finding cures and treating them. An inevitable question that now arises is that if the western ways of consumerism-driven living is abandoned and if we return to our original minimalistic ways, will there be a problem? Certainly, there will be few hiccups as is natural when any change is introduced, but it is much more certain that many more problems will be resolved than the fewer thus created. If people are healthy, hospitals would not be overburdened and function beyond their capacity, and so could give their best output qualitatively.
The pandemic-induced lockdowns have illustrated how nature resiliently restores itself in the absence of excessive human interference. The skies were much clearer, newer types of birds appeared, pollution almost disappeared—and people worked from their homes with single objective of remaining dedicated to their jobs and without any unnecessary social pressures of dressing right and looking good, without any comparison of personal resources and assets with those of others and just being content with their own—they found peace and happiness form just being their natural self in pristine nature—because they paused and looked, instead of blindly rushing towards their goals of material gains. The degree of one’s happiness cannot and should not be determined by others. Development means happiness and enlargement of the choices of people and their empowerment. This viscous cycle of consumerism and materialism can be broken if we go back to our original ways of living and grow out of the limiting and belittling colonial hangover.
A Strategic thinker, Geostrategist, Knowledge and Perception Management Consultant, an educationist, Mentor and Earth Scientist of International repute, a distinguished Thought leadership trainer and author of 43 books.
A prolific contributor to newspapers having written more than 120 articles in newspaper and magazines including The Hindu, Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Tribune, Indian Express, Punjab Kesari, Dainik Jagaran, Jansatta, Rashtriya Hindi Mail etc.