This question got triggered in me by two things. One was reading the post by my colleague Ashok Malhotra called “the myth of the ‘aam’ admi” and when I was watching a recent hindi movie in which a soon to divorced man in his late thirties falls for a cutesy twenty one year old at his work place and his pathetic attempts of trying to be something (read turning from a thirty something to a twenty something), that he was not.
Then it occurred to me that most of us are doing this all the time. Most of us are trying to be, what we are not. Let me just talk about the proverbial generation gap. In earlier years, the generations had a “gap” between then and that was just that – a gap, which was accepted by everyone. I remember, in my adolescence , my experience of the elders were that they came from different universe as did we, and that was that. None tried to venture into the other’s world and that boundary was respected by both the parties. I still remember a certain Asha Bhonsle song set to tune by R D Burman had become very popular in the early ’70s; and one day I was singing the song to my heart’s content. My uncle (elder brother of my father) had just stepped into the house and upon hearing my voice, asked me to shut up quite rudely and commented that the singer, composer and lyricist of the song should be sent to jail for obscenity!
I did not like being chastised like that but also found the whole thing amusing … it was very easy for me to dismiss this whole reprimand as “usual ranting of an old man”! and that was exactly what I did with that comment. My uncle having expressed his displeasure, went on about his life, as I did with mine.
I am sure most of us who are in our forties, fifties and sixties will find an echo in what I am sharing here. It was alright then for older people to behave like older people and children to behave like children. There was no pressure exerted by society or media.
Today, it seems to me, that most people who have stepped into the wrong side of thirty or forty and even fifty, are surrounded by a general idea that it is “uncool” to be old psychologically. That the idea of being young (read youthfulness) and being connected to all things youthful are more desirable than being emotionally and psychologically closer to your chronological age. This desirable connection encompasses how one looks, how one dresses, one’s wherewithal with technology, one’s knowledge about the latest happenings, etc. I have no disagreement with the basic idea, in fact I believe that these may act against alienation from self and the community at large.
Where I have an issue are some of the compulsions that are inadvertent products of the above idea. Compulsions of “being contemporary” may mean that people must know the use of the latest gadgets and must continuously upgrade their knowledge along with knowledge of latest happenings in the soceity which often revolve only around films, TV shows, etc, etc; politics, culture, etc may not deserve that same importance. That some times “having fun” may become a compulsion even when one is not enjoying the event, but stating so would mean that one is “backward” and “conservative”; that “keeping up with your children” and “being a friend to you child” is much more hyped than actually becoming a parent to your child. That sometimes it becomes difficult to distinguish between parents and children – everyone is wearing similar cloths, using the same language and discussing the same things. I am quite sure that if i was a teenager in today’s age, my uncle would have behaved quite differently and may even have actually hummed a line from the song, let alone reprimanding me for singing it.
I wonder whether we are in a phase where being modern is equivalent to being “young” and even the word “young” has a narrow definitive meaning attached to it? I also wonder whether being “similar” is more valued than being distinctive in our regional identities? What I mean is that just as much as all ages except “being youthful” have vanished from most of our urban psychological and emotional spaces, perhaps being an Indian from a particular region has given way to being just an “Indian” of a certain kind. This “Indian” is highly distinctive in its uniformity of identity – no regional or caste or culture or language distinctiveness – every one is just the same as the other.
I believe that there may be a link between being only one kind of “Indian” and the pressure of being similar with the other, irrespective of the chronological age. Perhaps, in our aspiration for faster growth and in our need to increase our value in the market place of today’s world, becoming a “universal” figure (be our national identity or our social identity) have acquired a disproportionate desirability thus dissolving boundaries that existed earlier between different life stages, groups, communities and sects.
While on one hand this gives us a sense of being one and perhaps even a sense of belonging in the contemporary society, it takes away our unique identity of who we are at different life stages and our freedom of expression, on the other. Resultantly, it fails to provide the others with the freedom to be what they wish to be rather than compete in the same space to be “contemporary” and “youthful”.
Perhaps what Ashok has described as “aam” and “khaas” can be applied here. Perhaps we are all searching for an illusory “khaas” ness (specialness) for ourselves and freedom from the “aam” ness(ordinary) by donning the appearance and lifestyle of youthfulness. In the bargain, we may be shortchanging ourselves to be actually ‘aam” by losing our intrinsic ‘khaas’ identity.
What has been your experience? Do you see this around yourself?