The is no precise standard average European equivalent of the Hindustani havaen, literally winds, but also weather, mood, total atmo. The German geist is laden with all kinds of other baggage, but it comes very close: spirit, spectre, haunting. But whatever the word, Europe’s got it alright. And it is dark like the gathering clouds, severe like the night wind. Grim, austere, resigned, wound tight. Europe is hoarding for winter.
Several colleagues in Europe asked me to read their recent writings, on such optimistic topics as innovation and design. Their scholarship was outstanding, their writing elegant, but their outlook was bleak. There seems to be no space in the contemporary European episteme for optimism. Last month in Europe I noticed this even in the space of fashion and visual culture: men’s shoes, for instance, are a great bell-weather if I’ve ever known one. Where years ago men were walking into business meetings in Samurai boots and leather velcro strap-ons from the future, now it is all very modest, very safe, unimaginative.
Europe isn’t dying or even stumbling. This kind of feeling emerges from a diffuse, collective angst triggered by economic confusion and policy arrest. We’ve seen this kind of thing in India twenty years ago, when the threat of foreign exchange default hung over India’s elite like a cloud, briefly, before the long summer of Manmohanomics opened out. It is not my area of expertise, but I am persuaded by Paul Krugman’s critique of European austerity measures, and his view that now is the time for public investment, not hibernation.
Regardless of these steps, all will eventually be well in Europe again. Over the longer term, the Euro-zone will renew itself and bound back to health in the future. In relative terms, it is true, other other regions of the world not faring so badly. If we look beyond short-term macroeconomic metrics, one can securely say that India and China have joined the US and Europe in the talking, thinking and doing of innovation, and that should be a good thing for the world as a whole going forward. The efforts of all four of these zones will be increasingly interrelated and they should result in new zones of innovation rising up soon: Australasia, Latin America, Africa.
gar duniya umeedon pe qayam hai, toh kalpana aur kriya se ham use aakaar dete hain. Innovation and Design are fundamentally acts of will, hope and optimism. It is harder to act in these modes when one is overcome with pangs of desperation or the drag of despair. And even should the horizon seem dark, it is only through innovative, entrepreneurial action that the present can be changed. In all cases and in all kinds of weather, one must still act, still move forward.