B is for Backpack: A symbol of freedom & adventure for gen next

“Donkey! Gadha!” said an irate Briefcase. “Talking to me?” asked the Backpack in a perplexed tone. “Yes, you…you who have converted people into beasts of burden, carrying heavy weights on their back. I don’t understand how you young people want to carry a backpack instead of a briefcase.”

Look at me, said the briefcase. Look at my sharp edges, the polished brown leather exterior, the soft brown interior, the pockets and pouches, and the golden locks that click shut. My pouches can carry files and papers neatly, and there is a space to keep the Sheaffer or Cross pen for signing cheques. I can be locked, and all my contents can be kept safe, free from theft. What peace of mind I can offer!

I enable every office goer to signal his ambition to reach the top, become a boss, have the power to sign high-value cheques and know the power of structure, order, planning, and being organised in propelling people to the top. I have inspired countless previous generations of office-goers to do their best and to realize their ambitions. Now, you, Backpack, have spoiled this young generation of office-goers; I don’t know just how you have done it.

The perplexed Backpack now saw the light. He understood that the briefcase was both angry and sad at being displaced and replaced. It was his turn to speak and explain why the younger generation of office-goers were so attached to their backpacks.

Briefcase Sir, you know, this generation doesn’t like being stuck inside cubicles. Your sharp edges and rectangular shape remind them of cubicles and enclosed spaces, where they feel like they are being jailed. On a more practical level, it is impossible to carry a briefcase when driving a motorcycle or even a scooter. But it is so easy to hold papers, a water bottle, and all necessities in a backpack. Moreover, backpacks nowadays come in all forms, shapes, sizes, colours, and designs. There are hard backs and shells and soft backs. They have pouches for placing the laptop. There are black, nylon versions, and designer versions as well.

Carrying a briefcase in your hand weighs you down. Wearing a backpack on your back frees you up. Your hands are free. All you need is on your back, and you are free to set out to explore the world, seek adventure, and taste freedom. Get on your bike with your pack on your back, and the big, wide world beckons. What’s not to like about this? Every young person in the world dreams of flying away, out of the nest, and feeling free to see the world.

A visibly upset Briefcase interjected that freedom and adventure was all very well in college but not when you start working. Stability and assuming responsibility is important. Starting work life is a rite of passage that needs its own symbolism.

Backpack spoke up and said this generation of youth would like their work-life to be an adventure, a discovery, an exploration. Each workday should feel exciting and a source of learning something new, and not be burdened by responsibility, or repetitive.

Briefcase spoke up again and said, even if I agree with what you say, this is all true only for the elite class. They have all the money to free them from the burden of responsibility. Middle-class youth don’t have that luxury. They can’t think like that.

Backpack said, I am sorry to have to say this, Briefcase Sir. But today’s middle-class youth who are in the workforce do think like this. They drive around in two-wheelers, carry backpacks, come to work, and want to experience adventure, exploration, and discovery at work. They love their freedom and don’t want to clip their wings. I help them express and experience what they feel is important to them.

(Hamsini Shivakumar is a Semiotician and founder of Leapfrog Strategy. Naheed Akhtar is a senior research analyst at Leapfrog Strategy.)

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