Monday, October 12, 2009

Alarming SPEEDS

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.

I fear.

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.

They'd better.


  1. Suranga aji,
    the western world has already changed for the 'better'. India has not caught up yet!
    It is a wonder to me how and why Indians have to imbibe the worst of the west. In the US, there is no dearth of (in fact, there are more) religious minded, conservative people who live very respectable lives. But, that would not be very exciting, would it?!
    People everywhere are ultimately the same... the more they are repressed, the more they want to try the forbidden fruit. I do not understand why talking to someone of the opposite sex calls for such sensationalism on part of adults! It consequently pollutes an innocent relation and causes unnecessary sexual tension which may not have existed in the first place!

  2. “Ideas came with explosive immediacy, like an instant birth. Human thought is like a monstrous pendulum; it keeps swinging from one extreme to the other.” This quote from Field is true of society.

    In American (and other western countries) the Roaring Twenties was a time of partying and abandon, then the Depression came and the pendulum swung the other way. But don't think that there weren't abortions then. I knew a girl who tried to abort with a coat hanger and would have bled to death if her sister hadn't found her. As Roshni pointed out, people are the same and that goes for a generational gap. One generation is very open and the next is very conservative. But hanky panky still goes on no matter how society views it. It would be nice if the pendulum would stop in the middle, but that is not the nature of pendulums.

  3. I'm not disagreeing. I've seen exactly what you've written about society here in America. But not all people are like this, please. I grew up with a loving family and most would say that I lived in ignorance, because I didn't (and never have) smoke, drink, do drugs, go "boy crazy," etc. Many of my friends are "goody two shoes" if there has to be a label for our limited behavior.

    We believe in respect and love our families. I do believe children grow up too quickly and I have a lot of concern for future generations. But there's enough of us out there that can bring it full circle. We will.

  4. I still remember my parents getting concerned over me discussing some boys at home, the ones i had just got acquainted with as i started college. I didnt understand their concern then and blamed it on generation Gap. Untill recently when i saw my younger cousin sister in a group photograph with other friends from her college, guys whom she barely knows for weeks and posing with arms around each other. They call that "Chilling Out" and I dont understand since when Chilling Out gives you liberty to fling arms around strangers? She is barely 6 years younger to me but the Generation Gap is so evident here, or I am old fashioned.

  5. I think that part of the reason you see that American youth are so licentious is because the role of the family is deteriorating here. Most children do not even have the joy of knowing their grandparents, and many are distanced from their parents due to divorces and the like. Boys and girls turn to each other for love and support, not realizing that they are not mature enough for such relationships. I hope that my generation, after experiencing this empty style of life, will cultivate more positive family values in the future. As you say, I can only hope that we 'come full circle'.

  6. Like Darlene quoted, Strange are human ways... !!

    Strange are the ways... I at times just see some changes in my 30 years of life and at times cant quite comprehend how it changed so much... no wonder in your lifetime you too notice a few things that at times are difficult to digest... or comprehend.. !!!

    thats life... I GUESS my friend.. !! :)

  7. Like Darlene quoted, Strange are human ways... !!

    Strange are the ways... I at times just see some changes in my 30 years of life and at times cant quite comprehend how it changed so much... no wonder in your lifetime you too notice a few things that at times are difficult to digest... or comprehend.. !!!

    thats life... I GUESS my friend.. !! :)

  8. Yes, things must come full circle indeed.

    I have known far too many Western friends. Who stay rooted to a different ideaology than the ones that common perception of them holds.

    I guess we have conveniently picked up those that offer us immediate and vicarious 'living for the moment' types.

    Small town living still has many strands of what you mention as what used to happen many years back. To date !

    And thats on offer. When escape routes are taken, to go to smaller towns and still smaller villages. Where time seems frozen !

    Every time i see this contraceptive pill ad, i swallow hard. market forces have indeed been such a force ! That we have come where we have. Sigh.

  9. Food for thought here, Suranga!

    It's a paradoxical society we live in, I think.

    On the one hand it is politically incorrect to even think that children should not do as they want the moment they are 18.

    On the other hand we have the ad for the i-pill, which shows the girl is scared and ashamed to let her parents know that she is pregnant.

    Is this a characteristic of maturity? To go behind your parents back to have an abortion? (as is shown in the ad).

    And what is the message the ad gives?- you don't want your parents to know about your pregnancy- simple- pop an i-pill!

    I agree with Kavi, though- what is shown on television is just a part of India, the villages are somewhat different, if one chooses to go there.

  10. I feel there are too many Indias in our India. Some of us are going at hurtling speeds, and some are just refusing to move, and all those in between taking there time or struggling against day to day restrictions on freedom to work, marry, hating the being seen by the boy and the scrutiny that's a part of it, often not needing the marriage for security but for companionship.

    Add to this the sexual repression, there are some who can't see a woman as an individual, she always must fit in fixed moulds...

    To each the other appears too fast or too fixed...

    Not all are copying the west either. Premarital sex has always been more available to men than to women in India. For men it is not approved of but accepted.

    Indian small towns and villages have cases of marrying a girl to the first guy available, when she is found pregnant (maybe a result of abuse or a secret relationship)... now we are talking more openly about it and admitting that it takes two to create situations where the girl needs an abortion.
    I had blogged about this ad too. She looks traumatised, and it troubled me that she could not share her problem with her parents - but with an outsider.
    Just my ramblings... your post got me thinking of so many things...

  11. I don't know where I am on this one. I don't know if the pill being available will make young people take more license. I'd rather youngsters have the means to deal with whatever they get into, methinks. I don't know if society has changed all that much in what we do. I think we have changed in how we deal with issues. We are more open, we debate more, rather than sweeping everything under the rug.

  12. We moved to this small town from a big US city and I realized that people everywhere is same. This place has lot of people who follow the traditional way of life.

    I think in India, we have copied a lot of worst things and then blame west for everything. I think it would be good to analyze ourselves than blaming outsiders and try to change our own system and ancient rituals that doesn't make any sense.

    There is more to what is shown in the advt. and that is why is this girl scared to share with her mother and trusts an outsider?

  13. This subject has generated a great deal of thought and emotions. It is one that has been around forever. It takes two to make a baby, but it is the woman who has to bear it and care for it and rear it to adulthood.

    I really don't know how I feel about this growing problem. I do know this, if abortion had been available 40 something years ago, I would not have my youngest daughter who is a joy to me. All of my children are precious and not one was planned. My mother even told me when I was 16 and came home to tell her I was married and pregnant that she would arrange something to get me out of it. How dare she even think of such a thing.

    Sometimes life is very weird, but I'm glad I have my children. Somehow it worked out to get them grown, educated, fed and have them turn out to be such good children. We only have one grandson from our son. The girls didn't marry or have children.

    Like I said, you have certainly stirred up some feelings with this subject.

    Peace, gappa from Amber§tar

  14. I just had to come back and read what everybody else thinks ...

    I agree with Sujatha and Solilo. We were not really any different, it's just that now we are talking about it, small towns are the same every where... a lot more is swept under the rug.

    DevD by Anurag Kashyap has Paro as a realistic example of a small town Indian girl.

  15. When the West is in 'slowdown' mode, can copycat Indians be far behind?

  16. When will India realize it has so much to offer the west, that any kind of "copycat" behavior is such a come sad. The commercial disgusted and saddened me....what next?

  17. Thank you everyone for your insightful comments.

    It seems to me, that its not so much a situation where socially repressed people hit back with blatant adoption of daring lifestyles and dressing, on encountering different customs.

    Its a worry as to whether, a human mind, (western or oriental), can react rationally to such huge influences hitting them at a frequency that dont allow the good and bad to be experienced, something the west could do because the changes happened over a long period of time.

    And yes, the I-pill ad is not so much over someone having the right over ones body. What saddens is that it encourages spurious behaviour, without informing the girl about the plus and minus of the medication.

    Like Darlene said, the pendulum swings to both extremes and, that life...