Changing concepts of life

We came to Mumbai from a small village in Kannur district in Kerala in 1963. My parents had lived all their life in South India and this was their first exposure to the ‘Maximum City’. I was 6 years old and my elder brother was 11 years old. None of us knew Hindi or Marathi. From a Dhoti, shirt uniform , father had to transform to full suit . Mother wore the traditional 9 yard sari. She was then 38 years old,had and an emotional individual with fiery temper. She was highly religious and a protective mother as only a Scorpio woman can be. She had studied up to fourth standard and knew English in a limited manner, could read and write Malayalam and read Tamil.

She taught me, with ease, the English alphabets when we came to Mumbai. I somehow associate my comfort with this language because I learnt it from her.

My brother and I joined the same School. My branch of the School was a bit far off and I had to travel by School bus. My earliest memories are of my mother taking me to the building across the road where the school bus would stop. I used to be ill at frequent intervals . My mother used to be worried and in the evening she would be waiting where the bus would drop me off. Somehow this memory remains etched in mind.

Why is all this relevant today? I had a traditional upbringing. Milk after bath and prayers. Father , a patriarchal figure, was the bread winner and mother was home maker. Mother is always at home to care for us and father a distant figure and disciplinarian who had a fiery temper and great expectations from his children ( to achieve all that by passed him). Today, such an approach would not help. Parent’s relationship with children, especially of employed parents, is more complex. Employed mothers try to balance the traditional role (essayed above about my mother) and the modern one where “quality time” rather than quantity is emphasized. Fathers play a larger role. One of my colleagues takes leave during his children’s annual examinations. Tenth standard and twelfth standard exams are crucial and entails even three months or six months leave ( a colleague took six months break for such an exam).

Today’s life , at least in metros, does not lend itself to very stiff and formal relationship with progeny. Education, extracurricular activities demand continuous attention from both parents. Television brings aspirational products to the living room. Purchase of any durable- be it television, refrigerator, mobile phones- would involve children’s participation. Anecdotally, it is said that children with employed parents seek and receive expensive gifts. Children do become independent at an early age and know what they want. Parents are less of crutch and more of a support.

We sometimes see two extremes. One is where the father is living in “old world” ( ‘in our days 25 paisa used to get us one plate of ….’), and the other is the modern father who wears shorts, does not mind having a peg or two at home and so on. In between these two extremes, the causality is the way of life which was led earlier by the respective communities. The relevance of these traditions and customs in today’s context can be questioned. I believe that without these factors, a human being would have to be viewed in a vacuum. To put it differently, if a westernized way of life is taken as standard ( say Switzerland or Germany), would we be taken Swiss nationals or Germans if we dress and speak like them and live in India? It would be as absurd as Hilary Clinton wearing a Sari ( may be even a 9 yard sari ) and coming to Office. Would we take her as Indian by virtue of this dress? But that is what we are doing today in several contexts. (seems an annoying way of conveying a point, but then the intention is to provoke thought).

I am not against adapting to a global standard in any matter. But the underlying spirit behind each such mode of dress or thinking should be well understood. In UK or US a meeting fixed at 8 in the morning would start at 8 a.m. In India, while we would wear lounge suits at that hour in summer, if asked, it is doubtful, if any meeting would start at the hour fixed.

The net result is that we adapt partially. Europeans or Americans (as we call them) do not compromise on their way of life or celebration of festivals or vacations and other things they hold to be of value. I think we compromise on all these at times or many times.

Another feature is the role of grandparents in children’s life. Globally employed children bring in global pressures. Grand children born abroad to employed parents need attention (just like children born in India). The difference is that Ayahs are not available abroad. So we have very unlikely looking individuals who spend half of their post retired life in glamorous cities (San Francisco, New York, London, Dubai) tending to their grand children. My cousin calls it another form of IAS- Indian Ayah Service. The old individuals are chained to an empty house in a foreign country most of the time. They are unable to go out independently as local transport is quite limited (no BEST buses or local trains in most places) and payment is in expensive foreign currency which has to be obtained from children.

Another variation is grandparents rendering the same service in India itself. The reasons are same as above, the only variation is that the duty hours are limited. I try to imagine being brought up by my grandmother. She was quite old (at least 55 years older than me) and it does not seem logical now.

Grandparents have a role in molding the grandchildren ( I imagine that Shivam will be favourably influenced by Padma and I – though this is quite debatable). They have a standing which is irreplaceable. Their experience and adaptability (ability to mould into USA environment by Shesambal Mami and Ambhi Mama from Mam…..bur/Kode/llur..) is now time tested. But do they have the spirit to repeat what they did for their own children? To put it differently, would you after retirement, join an organsiation at entry level (Officer trainee) and work up wards for the next decade or so? This is what we are expecting grandparents to do with their grand children. God rations out patience, energy and effort required for bringing up children ( now the ration is less as most couples have one or two children- how many of us know couples with three children or more?) and it gets exhausted in due course. I feel that grandparents can only supplement parents and are no substitute for parental influence.

Our father’s continuing influence on our children and that of my brother is something we are proud of. My daughter and neice could take liberties with him which we could not and did not take. The only regret is that he was the only surviving grandparent my children could interact with. Others had left the scene before they could influence them. He set an example with his way of life which is hard to forget. He had his own failings, but his love for all of us was more overpowering and is still with us. He fulfilled a role which God sets for every grandparent- supplementing the parents role and setting an example at a stage of life where there was nothing left to prove to himself or to God.

This brings me back to the moot point of what we would like do with our lives- that is life which is not pledged to our present employer. An expatriate living in India had commented that most Indians do not have any hobbies (watching cricket or world cup soccer on TV is not counted) and do not place much value on their spare time. This statement is true as in most cases a passive activity is counted as hobby in India. If any one of us win Rs. 5 crores in KBC (just like that gentleman from Bihar- without the equivalent effort spread over several years) , do we know what to do? Would we go to a beach wearing a brief and stare at the sea for hours (seems silly, but if you live in a landlocked cold country, then you would know the value of this seemingly futile activity), or wear odd dresses and wander around Hungary or Bolivia or Rwanda with a backpack ? This also seems very unlikely.

More importantly, do we correctly value our time? We do not mind spending good portion of our waking hours in office. This , to the great consternation of our newly Indian MNCs, is not common abroad. The following article explains it well.

Another aspect of our life , which is somewhat ignored is that in our quest for good education and life, we miss out on teaching our children is how any household is or should be run. We need to look around us carefully to observe this. Are five or six year old kids able to eat independently without any external assistance or are they to be spoon fed in a literal sense? If they are bit more grown up, would they be able to make their own coffee or tea or would be helpless in the kitchen if parents or grandparents aren’t around? Do they require someone to pick up after them or do they clean up their belongings by themselves?

What annoys and angers me is that at public function many children and young teenagers/adults helplessly waddling over the food in front of them, not knowing how to consume it and then waste most of it. This is unlike the accepted concept abroad, where etiquette demands that we do not waste food whether at our own house or as guests.

Do our children know anything beyond studying for passing examinations and getting well paying jobs? To put it differently, do we develop well rounded human beings who contribute (not in a monetary sense) at work place and home? I find this to be an increasingly disturbing question as what is a normal way of life of any Indian family has no clear answers.

Yesterday, I saw two spectacled teenagers wearing half pants (shorts in today’s terminology), with overgrown curly hair, walking near the IIT Gate at Powai, Mumbai. I immediately concluded (perhaps wrongly) that they are IIT Students who are brilliant and hence they could wear half pants (which were earlier worn by male domestic servants in Mumbai ) and be a bit outlandish. Any way they mostly emigrate abroad and contribute elsewhere. So I should not worry about all that written earlier so far as such shining brilliance is concerned.

Do you agree with all of above (not just the previous para)? If you do, then you are very old. If you do not, then you are too young. If you agree somewhat, then you are an undecided Indian.
Do give your feedback.

11 Responses to Changing concepts of life

  1. sharell says:

    I can’t say that I agree or disagree, but I found it very interesting to read. 🙂

  2. Bibi says:

    Interesting, I’ve seen the ‘waste’ of food in Indian households before & wondered about it. That would have lead to ‘serious’ trouble in my American home with parents that were children during the ‘Depression Era’ & teenagers during World War II.

    I’ve also noticed that Indian parents don’t teach their children ‘household skills’, preferring to emphasize schoolwork. I’ve sent my sons to a Buddhist Montessori school (where else but Nepal). They love to cook, they make & serve tea, & have household ‘chores’. In fact my youngest (6 yrs) told me he didn’t need our nanny to do anything for him anymore. he’s a bit independent like his mom. 😉

  3. gayatri says:

    We want all the good things that money can buy, but have forgotten that there is more to life.

  4. kkasturi says:

    Very interesting read
    Mostly true and I feel things need to change in any case,

  5. Parvathy says:

    we are living a mad life running after money and not realising that we are missing the sweet moments which money cant buy. Sad part is that we make money but don’t have the time and health to enjoy

  6. Kiran Rajput says:

    Sir, I love to read your posts. In this post, I like the way you describe the past vis-a-vis the present. Enjoyed reading

  7. Asmita says:

    I loved ur blog esp. the part where our elders have an influence on our life in every way!!
    Times r truely changing….

  8. visalam says:

    very Interesting one. Most of the things i agree. now the trend is changing.. education playes it major role now a days. Not all the village grown are old fashioned
    I just enjoyed reading..

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  10. k.subramaniam says:

    Dear Sir,
    It is wonderful one and it was a pleasure to share your views and we have to accept the facts that the trend have changed. I would like to share some thoughts with you when I met you along with my co brother late Shri T. Gunasekaran at Chandighar for conducting audit for Pfizer during 1992. I was impressed by your simplicity and was graving to meet you for all these years but I was unable to meet you. I am really happy to have found your blog.

  11. john thaw says:

    thank you of course

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