When your ageing scribe was cutting his journalistic eye-teeth many moons ago, at a media establishment that has since then changed hands many times, there was an angry young man who attracted my attention like flies to fish in the afternoon sun. He was, at the time, nothing more than a mere demagogue. Standing on [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Where have all those young men gone?


When your ageing scribe was cutting his journalistic eye-teeth many moons ago, at a media establishment that has since then changed hands many times, there was an angry young man who attracted my attention like flies to fish in the afternoon sun. He was, at the time, nothing more than a mere demagogue. Standing on his metaphorical soapbox at Lipton Circus and venting at the Wicked Way of the World and the Pretty rotten Pass to which Politics had come… In his Opinionated but eloquent Opinion.

See, my Mind’s Eye can still remember his stern visage and piercing gaze… And the Memory’s Ear hear his voice begin, at the bottom cellar of a deep rich baritone and then ascend the stairwell – Pausing at landings resonant with pathos and clinging to the banisters of awe and pity – Before ending up in the attic on a high-pitched wail of an almost banshee whine.

Phew… That’s emotion recollected in tranquillity for you, dears – And while the man’s literary peregrinations were not exactly poetry, his political virtuosity touched a chord in apathetic listeners, ignorant louts and loafers, and idly lounging passersby alike. I was one of them… And it was our orator’s impassioned diatribe on the thousand ills that mortal flesh in our Blessed Isle was heir to which retained my interest long after the last auditor had got in the late bus and gone home to wife, children, dog, duty, dinner, and trivial round or common task (not necessarily in that order).

That young man was angry at our leaders, their followers, the State of the Nation, the State of the Region, the State of the Planet. And, paying close attention to his passionate denouncements and well-reasoned pleas, seasoned with Attic salt, I too grew angry – And, with me, his other auditors. In situ, in the baking heat. Or at home, at a safe distance from this one-man volcano. To us, his audience, Prometheus had been unbound again and was poised to be unleashed on an unsuspecting polity.

Today, than lean mean sleek Youth of Yesterday is a (still natty) Fat Cat who, having once run with the Hares, now finds it a happier camping ground to hunt with the Hounds! On occasion, when Conscience executes a stealthy in-breaking into a heart grown cold, his head clears and the Old Fire breathes in his rhetoric again. But the Gods of our Age have bound our flame-stealer to a rock of his own imprisonment, and the Vultures forever peck at his liver with little or no hope of regeneration.

Where, O where, have the others of his fiery ilk gone? Some have been sacrificed on the altar of expediency: brutally gunned down in public by cold, calculating machines making a profit on warmongering. A few opted for early retirement when their profiles featured on the Corruption Files that the powers that be compiled with a view to coercion and a sudden conversion to the regime. Rarer are those who still speak out against organised crime, summary in/justice for prisoners shot execution-style, drug-lords running amok. And not of them is young any more – As if only the folly of youth need concern itself with country matters. Most of them now convinced that a rebel at twenty is dandy and at thirty still fine, but at forty or fifty a fool…

Now I can sense you shifting uncomfortably in your Sunday chair, dears. Stop it, please do, you’re making me nervous too! What, you ask, has this to do with us? Well, these thoughts are not meant to be an indictment of the man of an hour past or a passing of judgment on the machinations of a monstrous regiment present. Neither is it in the political realm that we feel the absence of Angry Young Men the most… And Angry Young Women – Who, perhaps, are still somewhat in evidence (to judge by the number of outspoken youthful columnists of a gentler, er, persuasion). Rather it is in our polity at large – cultural, social, economical – that the lack is most lamentable.

You may not be able to challenge the powers, principalities, thrones, and dominions on the political front. That game has changed from Ludo (democracy) to Monopoly (benevolent tyranny) to Risk (all-encompassing, embracing-excluding empire). But you can, must, could, and should be shaken and stirred by goings-on in your own backyard – and a bit beyond (if not in altruism, then at least in enlightened self-interest).

Take a look at What’s Wrong With our country today (you’re entitled to, because enough sycophants are singing paeans to praise what’s right – lest we forget). The papers – if you still read those archaic instruments for maintaining the peace and the illusion of well-being all round the land – say it all, ironically enough. The underground blogs dig a little deeper to dish out the dirt on the sons of our earthy tribe, grown sophisticated of late…

Race Cars for rich elites, not Rice and Curry for the hoi polloi. Circuses for Fashionistas, not Bread for the Masses. The Lap of Luxury for spoilt young men (not angry at all, at their lot) and lavish scraps from the Public Purse for yapping lapdogs. And that’s skimming the surface of our small pond. The scum at the bottom of the barrel do not bear inspection, much less description.

Is it any wonder I am angry enough to die, as the Prophet of Old said when he surveyed the Wickedness of an Evil Empire whose time had come? But if it is a Voice in the Wilderness, I might as well go the way of all flesh – that is to say, towards becoming another Fat Cat like that Angry Young Man who retired too soon. Time to ask ourselves as a Nation: Are we young enough as a community to know and care? Are we angry enough to do, say, feel, think, reflect, and communicate the values we claim to have as a Civilization?
A Greek thinker who trained as a Jewish rabbi at the feet of Gamaliel had this advice: “Be angry, but do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Maybe he meant that we should (short of sinning) work on – and off – and voice that anger before the day is done… By working out what bit we could do to make our nation a nicer place?

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