Beyond the fake tinsel voices


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Category: Children/Teenagers Date: 16 Jul 00

Continued from last week, from an address to ASJA Girlsí College students on their graduation day on July 5.


Who are you?

Many pieces of a bright, mutating puzzle. Your dressing room tables at home are already lined with pots of cream, lipsticks, mascara; tomboys, recognising that childhood once gone will never come back.


Here is the 16-year-old in me, telling you stuff I learned years after I left school. Many grown women like myself are as agonisingly self-conscious about their looks, as we were when we were 16 or 18. Many of the grown women you see now were, at 15,16,19, practically anorexic, thinking if they stopped eating they would be beautiful and loved.


In our late 20ís and 30ís we still get depressed when we put on weight after having children, forgetting it is the most natural thing in the world; forgetting well-rounded women are beautiful, and fullness has been immortalised by great painters everywhere.


The Most Effective Cosmetic


We, like you, are listening to the fake tinsel voices of TV and glossy magazines. I struggled with my self-image for years, wanted to change this and that, hated this and that, and took a long time when I discovered the most effective cosmetic in the world. Only, it doesnít come from a bottle. It comes from within.


Itís called confidence, self-esteem, belief in yourself, a sense of your own destiny which makes you glow from within and lights you up with astonishing beauty, and draws people to you, makes them love you, and allows you to love them.


Isnít that what we all want? To love and be loved, not just by men but by the many people woven into our lives? If you hold that bubble, glue it together with energy, curiosity, a capacity for hard work, vigorous exercise routine, and a disciplined diet, remain as curious and excited about the vast complex world you live as you are now, then you can cheat time and never get old.


There is another secret to cheating time - books, novels, biographies, fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, magazines, the back of cereal boxes, the lot. Read voraciously.  Books are a time, place and people machine, and allow you to escape into many worlds, meet hundreds of people, go into their minds, live a multi-layered life. Books will allow you to access the accumulated knowledge of the lifetime of work of the great philosophers, economists, historians, writers, painters of all time. They are your escape, your knowledge, your power and your ticket to a larger life.


They will push past the borders of your mind and life into this vast universe. Which you must see. Travel whenever you can. All you need is the will, savings and a friend. Go see the Taj Mahal at dawn for yourself; wake up to a brisk, cool African winter, visit the pyramids in Egypt, walk amongst ancient ruins in Rome, see the Mona Lisa in Le Louvre. Live in youth hostels, walk everywhere, pitch tents, starve a little, but see the world.


Being empty of pocket and light of heart is the greatest gift of youth; a time of no responsibilities and many dreams. You belong to a generation that has grown up fast -  technology, Internet and cable TV have allowed you to witness terrible acts of violence in your world - domestic violence, murder, hangings, AIDS, drug and alcohol abuse.


Yet, it has brought many compensations - the delight of communication with e-mail, the ability to switch on the television and watch the unfolding of dramatic events around the world.


You belong to a quick-fix generation. That is why, I suppose, your teachers and parents, fearing you may get sucked into this bottomless pit of consumerism, want you to be religious.


Donít get impatient, yet. Donít ask whatís that got to do with me? It does. When I was your age I had no idea what older people meant when they went on about God. I associated religion with a harsh judgmental God who would make me feel guilty for having the impulses and energy of the happy and the young.


Itís not that at all! It doesnít matter if you choose to worship Allah, Shiva or Jesus, the sun or the moon. Itís about accepting responsibility for your actions, about doing the decent thing because you have to live with yourself; about times when only faith will step in to help you, because no human can; about huge, unexplained forces and matter out there - call it a universal intelligence, or God; about shedding your ego so you see yourself in context - one human being among billions.


Religion is a very private thing. More private than your diary or the thoughts you will never share. All religions flow and converge into a vast sea of humanity, of helping conquer our natural selfish human instincts, pushing us to be bigger than ourselves.


But it isnít about shutting your mind to different people and races and religions, or thinking yourself better than them. Your history books will tell you religious dogma, and that brand of blind self-righteousness will narrow, shrink and click shut your minds, lead to bloodshed and hate. That dogma is about power and control, not religion.


Donít succumb to it. You didnít arrive at this place by accident. All of you are thinking, ďI could be a doctor, a surgeon, an engineer, a computer analyst, a banker.Ē Remember, you didnít arrive at this place of opportunity where the doors of every profession are wide open to you. Many brave women fought passionately and selflessly for all these rights that you will take for granted. The right to vote. The right to choose. The right to be educated. The right to speak your mind. The right to travel. The right to worship as you choose.


In many countries in the world today, millions of girls your age are illiterate, chipping stone on construction sites, emaciated and begging on crowded roads, or are repressed, not allowed to be educated or practise a profession, not allowed to dress as they wish, not allowed to travel or marry someone of their choice, made to cover their entire faces, and shut their mouths. They are not allowed to make a single decision.


While I speak to you, there are 37 wars raging around the world, tribal wars, wars over land, wars over religion.


Concept of Tolerance


Yet, here I stand, at the podium of this Muslim school, half Hindu, half Muslim. Here I stand, in this Muslim school with my Hindu maiden name. My eyes run down the list of graduates - Khan, Knights, Lallo sitting now shoulder to shoulder. Do you have any idea how mind-boggling, how astonishing this concept of tolerance is to most of the world?




Today in India, although it is the largest democracy in the world, you will not easily find a Hindu entering a mosque, or a Muslim going to a Hindu function.  In Northern Ireland, the Catholics and Protestants struggle to cover the wounds from deaths brought about by extremists on both sides.


It is your responsibility now, to be guardians of democracy and tolerance of this tiny special twin-island state which has given to you as your birthright, access to the cultures and peoples of four continents.


Remember, the price for freedom and peace is eternal vigilance. Live in a context. Care about your environment, the laws and politics of your country. Be the voices of reason, justice and tolerance. Give something back or your lives will mean nothing.


Girls, take a good look at one another, at your best friends, even the ones you have squabbled with, at your principal, your teachers, especially the ones who pushed you the hardest. Think of your parents and all the people who have brought you to this point of beauty. Burn this moment into your hearts forever. Because they have managed to instil in each unique beautiful bright girl, in each star on this graduating galaxy, a sense of her own destiny. They have prepared you to take your rightful place in the world.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur