I have often wondered about SPEED. I know it has druggy connotations. But what am worried about is the acronym that stands for Socially Petrified Entities Evolving Disastrously.
Most western countries and their social systems have evolved over a few centuries. Scarlett O'Hara still managed to shock people. Barbara Cartland often had , what we call "forward" heroines, fooling around with dukes and lords etc.
This country is 62 years old. She and I almost grew up together. If you think back to the sort of society that existed around our independence (and earlier), and that which exists now, the rate of change of societal standards is mind boggling.
In 62 years, we have covered several centuries of western social development, with interesting results.
As a child, in a reasonably forward thinking educated home, the last time I remember playing with wild abandon with a boy or boys is when I must have been 7-8 years old. We played lots of outdoor games, exchanged story books, had fights, and life was very innocent. Somewhere a couple of years later, the acquaintance continued but the playing and company faded away. Social activities were almost always with one's girl friends. Younger brothers were occasionally allowed by us, subsequent to angry glares from mothers. But catch a girl talking to some guy repeatedly, and the word would reach the concerned parents. Those of us who did sports had it a bit easy as there were practice days which were common, and so we learned to have great healthy friendships with the opposite sex. Regardless of anyone having a special interest in someone, socialising happened always in groups.
College was co-ed, and there was some slack. I lived in a college residency, with roommates. We always looked upon in wonder, awe, and sometimes, disapproval, at some girls, who from day one, had all kinds of fellows coming to see them. Room visits were simply out, and so there would be pairs standing at the gates and talking. Then there were what we called the Modern types, who had armed forces family backgrounds. Between attending social functions in the Regiment Mess, "at homes" hosted by the Commanding Officer, and several left over relics-functions from the Raj days, we would watch open mouthed as they organized themselves to dress up for New year balls, and Divali Balls, and smart fellows in ties and blazers would come to escort them. To us middle class types, the height of interaction was exchanging Physics practicals journals and notes. If we ran into these guys outside college, we sort of looked through them. Occasionally, there would be a class picnic, and we would learn a little bit more about our classmates on these days.
For those of us whose sports activities necessitated a male partner , like in mixed doubles, any communication outside the badminton court was keenly observed and analysed by some folks. A Sikh student who was my partner, was in touch with me to organize a partner for his friend who was also participating in the doubles, and by the time one of my friends could agree to partner the guy, word had reached my mother 200 kilometres away, about a "sudden interest in a Sikh guy". Unfortunately, the person who relayed this to my mother in a "Psst, hear this" kind-of-manner, got an amazing telling-off from my mother since my letters home were full of my college activties and stuff.
Many of my classmates, had arranged marriages in their senior year. Some of us went on to study further and work. I later on had many boys in my circle of friends, and they always came home, and knew my folks. Some of them even kept in touch with my folks in my absence.
Phones were rare. No one had personal phones in college. Even landlines. You used the rector's land line only in a dire emergency. It was letters all the way.
During the first 30-40 years of the life of this nation, social interactions proceeded at a sedate old world pace.
Cut to 2009.
The world reels under the onslaught of the social networking sites. And the cell phone. The big thrill is to talk to someone who you know only as a word on a screen. The smarter you are the more outrageous spellings you write. Overall, your vocabulary is not that impressive.
The Mmmm... generation. And my own, the Hmmmm... generation
Dressing patterns in life have changed in India. Earlier you dressed for yourself, in the safe approved style. Today, you pour over fashion manuals, an inch here and a cut here is supposed to change futures, and boys unabashedly comment in a way that would have gotten them beaten up in the old days. In the last 30 years, girls have been wearing many more boys clothes, and boys have been sporting hair and earrings a la girls. Not that anatomy is a surprise to anyone, but there is a tendency to display parts of one's anatomy, hitherto considered coverable. Picnics in college have become more worrisome for parents, and like some folks tell me, with a boring tired look, standing with your arms around a girl's shoulder is tres casual and doesn't mean a thing.
Some girls get pressurized into altering lifestyles as they don't have the strength to beat their own path. Magazines are full of folks talking about live-in relationships. How parents have no option but to accept things, as the child is financially independent.
And how, today, 62 years on, no women's magazine sells, unless it has some outrageous announcement on its cover using certain three letter words . Check out the last 7 issues on Femina.
(When I was in grad school in the US in 1970, a room mate's friend was visiting and my jaw dropped open hearing her say that she was very happy with the way she had organised her life and her daily pills; vitamins, calcium, and the birth control pill. They were discussing boyfriends, and she didn't appear to have a steady one. They probably wondered which planet I came from.)
Birth control pills and their TV ads. in India, were earlier of interest to those just married and waiting to stabilize in jobs, families where going on leave was not an option for the lady, or rural women, whose lives needed this control, in a world where more was considered great, regardless of family resources, and the mother's health.
Today, television in India, is replete with ads showing young urban single girls, involving themselves in relationships, and having to undergo the trauma of abortions. All this , secretly away from the knowledge of parents. There is a pill called the I-pill, which is carelessly advertised as a stroke of genius in a life irresponsibly lead. It shows a young girl at a dining table, who suddenly realizes the date, and something rings a uterine bell which makes the girl rush off for an abortion with all the associated secretive desperate behaviour. And then it says this wouldn't have happened if the girl knew about the I-pill. Click above to watch.
This massive gradient with which society has changed today, has other repercussions. Very fast changes, do not give us realistic ideas about how these affect our lives. There is an underlying stream of thought, that suggests that there is a pill for everything. And everyone wants it now, or even yesterday. Young minds are unable to handle delayed results, rejection and failure. And lack of visible money. And so we have teen suicides, depressions, addictions etc. Something that was not so when we were young.
I continue to wonder if we are going too fast. Every social custom, needs to live out its life, till society learns exhaustively about its good and bad. Things need to naturally evolve.
But we seem to have squished everything into a period of the last 30-40 years, what took the Western society, several centuries.. Funnily these coincide with the advent of IT. We seem to be in a great hurry but no one seems to know where we are going. We seem to be deaf to entreaties that ask us to slow down, think, and plan our life.
I am told I am ancient, and the world has changed.
Should we continue to speed along the same graph with the same gradient, I just hope that things come full circle again.
The western world will start idolizing old styles of behaviour and societal interaction. What the western world does, we in India, slavishly absorb. It's happened before. It will happen again.
Then some guys write books saying the World is flat.
Issue a correction.
The world is round. And things must come full circle.