THE SHRINKING UNIVERSE They don’t spare a moment to defend Indian culture, but instead live it. Here’s a generation to watch out for.
Over the last decade or so, we have witnessed extraordinary changes in our social environment, and at an astonishingly rapid pace at that, flying in the face of classical social science teaching that social change takes place extremely gradually, over centuries than decades. The India of two decades ago and the one we live in today are distinctly different on a variety of parameters. The popular belief has been that these changes have been wrought by the “shameless imitation” of western mores and lifestyles, owing to exposure through globalisation, television and the Internet. The implication is that all the changes taking place are only superficial, transitory and that sooner than later we will get back to our “old Indian ways”. This is what midnight’s children (I use this term to refer loosely to people born in the decade or so after Independence) would like to believe. However, I (also a midnight’s child by the above definition) would not be foolhardy to assume that the changes we see around us are superficial. For, they are not. I believe that they are intrinsic, organic and reflect a much deeper change in belief systems than we would like to imagine. Midnight’s grandchildren (those born towards the end of the last century) are conspicuously different and bear little resemblance to midnight’s children.
I have been singularly fortunate to have had the occasion and opportunity to engage with teenagers and young adults from different parts of the country, and each time I do, I have been greatly impressed with not just their distinctiveness, but also the savoir faire that they seem to possess in much larger measure than their parents and grandparents.
Cutting across class
And believe me, this has nothing to do with the branded lives they lead, the branded products they wear or the branded vacations they take. They do all of this, of course, but out of a sense of matter-of-fact entitlement, with an almost complete lack of the tentativeness shown by their immediate progenitors. And what is marvellous, is that this attitude seems to cut across social class. If you spend some time with young software engineers who undertake “on site” visits, you’ll know what I mean. They may tend to ghettoise themselves on their overseas visits. They may walk around hotel corridors wearing lungis and Bata rubber chappals, but they seem to know who they are, why they are where they are, and where precisely they will be going.
Midnight’s grandchildren are essentially Indian. They’re perfectly happy to live in India, warts and all, and even if an overseas work assignment is sought it is more for the experience, the independence away from the family and for the résumé than for better pastures. Apparently, the grass is green enough on this side. They are patriotic, but not in a jingoistic, chest-beating way. Being an Indian is just a fact of life. It’s who they are. It doesn’t need to be cried out from the rooftops, nor does it need to be a well-guarded secret.
Also, they are less parochial and more pan-Indian in perspective, perhaps because they lead a more mobile life. Language is only a tool for communication. They switch easily between Kannada at home, Hindi with friends, and English in the office even if they’re not entirely fluent in any or all of these languages. Possibly one of the most endearing traits of midnight’s grandchildren is that they are conscious of their hypocrisy.
I’m not saying they aren’t hypocrites. They can be, but they’re at least conscious when they practice double standards and have no qualms to either laugh about it or feel embarrassed when this is pointed out to them by one of their own (not by midnight’s children, I must add).
Midnight’s grandchildren take criticism about India in their stride. Unlike their parents who constantly want everybody to acknowledge the supremacy of ancient Indian culture and feel slighted when harsh comments are made about India, they are perfectly aware of what ails the country and do not feel the need to defend the indefensible, such as coming up with pointless socio-historical explanations of why people defecate on the streets. They have neither the need nor the time to extol Indian culture; they are too busy living it. To me it appears that their greatest strength is that they don’t see themselves as the defenders of their culture. They are perfectly willing to tweak it and enjoy it. They use Indian culture as a stepping stone than as an albatross around their necks.
It would be imprudent to think of midnight’s grandchildren as self-absorbed and irreverent. Of course, many of them annoyingly are. But when one spends more time with them, one will realise that a more than fair number are, in reality, neither of these things. They are just unself-conscious and feel less burdened by the nation’s past. And if midnight’s children can encourage them to dream big and to do the things they believe in, they can certainly make the country the powerhouse we all want it to be. To me, they are far more inspiring than their elders in public life currently are. And maybe if you look at them slightly differently, they might inspire you too.