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?
13 thoughts on “Acting one’s age?”
I totally agree with you that the obsession to be ‘with it’ has taken away the distinction between the generations, making for monotony and a fall in the value system. I don’t condone the thinking that older people are always right, which was the belief in earlier times, but it is also not true that the two are equal on all levels. Unfortunately, that seems to be gaining ground today.
There is a wonderful book called Ageing to sageing. I don’t remember the author, but it talks of how one can grow older and wiser for the betterment of both generations.
Zephyr, thanks for the reference, will look it up. I was having a conversation with another friend of mine on FB and while she liked what I wrote, she also said that “she enjoys being contemporary rather than being put on the shelf”. I tried my best to get across to her that it was my moot point that either we are ‘with it” or we are “on the shelf” and that is the silent pressure that I am talking about.
Kind of resonate with what you say , especially the parent / friend dilemma. I think we want to be too many things today and perfect at all those roles . The search for elixir vita is like so many other pressures constantly barraging us that we often forget to retain and enjoy who we are and confuse it with what we do .
thank you for visiting my blog and double thank you for leaving a comment.
I totally agree with you on the “need to perfect” all roles – perhaps the question to ask is “at what cost’?
look forward to more visits from you.
The best evidence for what you’re saying is when I look at the Page 3 crowd in the newspapers…everyone thinks they’re 19! The clothes…the make up…the falseness……..Why can’t we learn to grow old gracefully…?
(I’m loving this format of your blog, S – but I miss your lovely face – greys and all that make you so beautiful!)
🙂 thank you. I though my smiling face was making a huge narcissistic statement and hence, removed it (grin, grin!)
As for the post, I believe today aging has become synonymous with obsolescence and the criteria by which we are measuring this is highly influenced by a strong desire of “continuous improvement”. Now all of these words and sentences carry multiple meanings and are products of complex times and situations, and hence warrant involved dialogue. one simple instance could be “improving one’s lot” would be very different from a person who is struggling against all odds and wishes to make something out of her/his life, as against someone who is trying to keep up with an image that she/he believes others wish to see in her/him. in any case, these are complex questions which require involved discussions; for otherwise it is very easy to make this into a us/them scenario, which it is not.
Nice to see and read your new blog…:) Happy blogging ….Have not stopped writing…but strangely this writer’s block is continuing for too long…..guess what…hibernated all through the winter..I must get back now…:)
you take care….
I absolutely loved what Corinne Rodrigues had to say! Those are my sentiments exactly! I go out and see young people looking older, and older people trying to look younger. Young people should embrace their innocence and enjoy their youth! Older people should just know better. There’s beauty in age. People are just too afraid to open there eyes and see it.
Perhaps the compulsion to be/feel young comes from wanting to be different parents to their children from their own parents.
Would love to hear your perspectives as a woman who no longer experiences herself as ‘young'(what ever that might mean, chronologically or otherwise).
Anonymous: thank you for your comments. I agree with your view on the compulsion to be viewed differently by the children. This is natural and I personal believe it is inevitable also to some extent. However, at times, I find people getting caught with popular notions of being different and start seeking approval from her/his children unnecessarily. I believe our children can offer us love, respect, rebellion, agreement, disagreement, understanding but not approval – it makes them feel small in their own eyes.
As for someone who no longer experiences herself as ‘young”? well, I think standing at the doorstep of 53 years, I am getting used to “being old” – although emotionally I don’t know what does that mean, i.e. is there something called emotionally old as against evolving with age! Anyway, For me, it holds freedom for expression, living in a certain way that I wish to, being relatively free from compulsions of relationship entanglements, not getting caught with looking “pretty” in the traditional sense and occasionally playing the wise old woman!!
I felt good answering your questions. thanks again.
Hi Sharbori, as I was reading this I realised that today’s children are also trying to behave like grown-ups. They seem to know much more than what we knew at the same age. But I also wonder if they are trying to behave like grown-ups or are they are really growing up that fast. I remember a certain cartoon which was called ‘Cedric’ who is an eight year old boy and who loves an eight year old girl. At the end of every episode he says ‘Isnt a eight year old boy’s life interesting ?’ Every time I heard this voice and comment on the TV , I used to turn and stare at my daughter (who was also 8 at the time) and she will be grinning. the impact of the media does look terrifying to me sometimes, both on the grown-ups as well as the children and youth.
sometime back, when some people in my peer group were complaining about today’s youth and their lifestyles, I was suggesting to them that they get into stuff like facebook, just to understand them if not for any other purpose. Yes, they have to pretend to be part of them, even if it is to just understand them, but then , ‘TOUGH CHOICE’
vijaya, thank you for your comment. yes, i guess so. in fact just the other day some of us were discussing about the relationship between children and adults. I think i have my next blog post in mind! thanks for the thought. see you at the summer program at thekaddy!