November 10th, 2008

The Generation

This is an India based post. If you have not been in India for the past so many years (25+) you might not get half the nostalgia and wonder. But that's the point. My generation would.
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I generally hear my contemporaries talk about the present generation of people as the 'lucky ones'. This is the generation, they say, which has got it all from the beginning - colour TV, 24X7 radio, internet, open economy, free hand with choice of career, free access to money and innumerable other things. This is the generation that apparently has it all. Do you remember wanting to listen to a certain rock band as a kid? OK, not rock, but any song. Well, I had to go hound my parents for a cassette of look for friends with the cassette, manage to scrape together the Rs80 or so required (a princely sum) and meanwhile try to locate a shop which has that music. Compare that with the ipod toting present youngsters who will be listening to the most eclectic collection ever - and all thanks to a click of the mouse. Its almost unfair.

I remember spending hours in a library, knowing all author and book names, for reference and then photocopying that or even copying it out, making handwritten notes, with various colours and underlining. Today? I just search. Fingertips and the world is mine. Even if Wikipedia is not enough, there are other places specialised to answer the most abstract of my, and anyone's questions. Darn! Why dint I have this as a kid? Why did I have to beg and promise to be a good girl and then get a monthly subscription to a magazine of choice? Or save up from my years pocket money and then buy that book? Today I just download all that! Writing a report is so simple - we just search the net and put in some pictures and voila! one has a first class professional looking report, even if its for a Class 7 mid term submission.
But then, I dont feel too bad.

I dont feel bad that the present generation has so much technology. They have mobile phones and smses, Dang it! All we had were our vocal chords and lung power. If we had to meet someone at a crowded place, we had to know a common spot, and have synchronised watches. The result was highly crowded paanwallah shops and card shops, with groups of teenagers waiting for their friends to arrive - outside the movie theater or shopping arcade. Not anymore. Today the teenagers just wander inside and let their frnds know which shop they are in by a phone call. The mobile phone is an extension of their arm. Lucky! say so many. I doubt it.

You see, I dont really mind the teenagers and younger people in this country getting so much, so easily. Yes, at some level it is frustrating to think of the hardships we had to undergo for the simple things - even mailing a pen pal (does the pen pal concept exist anymore?). But essentially, we had and are having Fun.

Some people say the generation before us had it good. the 80's were the era to be if you like classical Rock. Heck, if you like music, that was the time the industry exploded. The beginning of pop along with the maturation of rock. The 70s were the Flower Children era! Some go ahead and say, hey our parents had it easy. Their jobs were secure, their lives were less complicated.

I dont care.

I love my generation. I think we had it perfect. This is what life should be like. So much to learn, explore, live through!

I dont care about Generation X or Y or Z or A. That is for the US. For me, it is the generation born in late 70s and early 80s that have it good. Me included.
We lived through a childhood of simplicity - of meagre wants and abundant imagination. A time when playing with your freinds was a daily occurrence, out on mud and open spaces. And it was our imagination. When the videogames arrived, boy, did they arrive! Who in the WORLD can forget Super Mario?! What do the other generations have to say to that? And to PacMan and to Contra.

When we started of on becoming pre-teens (gosh! who even knew pre-teens then!)television landed in full force. There was this brand new medium to learn, explore and assimilate! Moving Pictures indeed. We saw liberalisation. We have seen the power of money - because there was a time when it was darn more precious than it is now. My generation has seen computers change from things of mystery to palmtops. In school there was a 'computer room' which had 6-10 computers and we were allowed to enter it only with special permission - the only room in school which had cooling air conditioner.

Things did not stop evolving when we entered college. Mobile phones were launched. Huge hunks of plastic. these probably weighed a kilo each, and cost a fortune - Rs 16 per minute for incoming!! O_O And today? Hah! We scoff at mobile sets which weigh more than a few hundred grams, are thicker than a finger and can do everything except probably cook and wash for you. Call charges are at probably their lowest ever - incoming free and outgoing a nominal Re1 per minute, lesser if you are in the same state or the person is in your CUG. Sure, the youngsters have it all from the beginning. but we saw it evolve. We have fun remembering the big red phone in the drawing room where you booked "trunk calls" to people in other cities and could hear the bored board lady jutt in sometimes.

Remember telegram? Sure you do. And syllabus included 'how to send Money Order' - because it was a real occurrence. No bank-to-bank intraday money transfer then dearie, it was all a tedious process! Letter writing had protocol, because it was not about a 'subject line' and 'body'. It was about how to address and sign off. I remember how relieved I was when finally it was allowed that every single thing in a letter could be written left-aligned thanks to the computer. Dont know what Im talking about? You have to be born in the early 80's to know that!

There has been a change of such magnitude that if one transposes a person from 1985 to 2008 via a time machine, they would seriously appreciate their Sci-Fi. The teleporters may not be here, but telecommunication sure is. And guess what? We saw it happen!

As kids fun was about who had the best mental imagination. Of ringing neighbour's door bells in the afternoon and hiding so they wont find us. Of birthday parties at home, with a cake and lots of friends. The toys I had never left their shelf in my room. Today its about who has the most toys and games. If its not beyblades, its PS3. Nobody races for fun anymore. Its serious sport.
Competition has seen a jump unprecedented. Children are children no longer. They are pressurised from the time they are born to be genius and different enough to make a mark amongst all this information and knowledge all around. They mature faster. The communication media have ensured that people have to strive harder to be known.

Today when I am in the competition area - of working - I see Im in the safe haven. Ive had my share of fun while studying - never really cared about grades except in an abstract manner, played like hell till before the day of exams, etc - and am workign to the hilt, just like its supposed to be.
I see the poor guys born a decade after me. Everything is old for them. There is no newness, no boundary to what they have. The internet? yawn, they can pull off anything on it if they want to. They were born with it. There was never a time in their lives when they dint know what a home theatre system was, or one where the house dint have a PC. They are so jaded that they push the frontiers. And there is nothing beyond that.

To us the frontiers are new, it can never get old. Even when we become 50 and the internet does not evolve, we will find something of interest and fun in it - its our nature. Heck! we can get interested even by the existence of a tattoo! Todays generation. Well, they are bored by 10 minutes of extreme sports, they will be interested inasmuch there is something new on the net. the same old thing? No way.

And so I say we have it good. We have been there when it mattered the most. We are on the edge of the wave. We've seen it grow, we've seen it crash and merge into the sea. What can be more thrilling than that? My grandparents saw sea change like that on another level - they saw freedom and life before it. That can be more than most lifetimes can experience. I think our lifetimes come a close second. I am comfortable reading books - on paper and on screen. I saw the libraries change. A change from black and white photographs to number of pixels per square inch. A shift from Lisa Ray walking the main road in a towel for Bombay Dyeing to models wearing (next to) nothing on prime time TV. I remember looking wonderingly at the flying fingers of typists and Ive seen that profession die. Ive seen shorthand and have wondered at those symbols. Ive seen a time when a flight from Delhi to Calcutta was a big deal and when staying in a different part of India really meant Far. And I certainly remember the first family car. I remember all that and I treasure today. I remember when the only do-it-yourself kit available was a stupid stitching one and everything else had to be made form scratch - and hence more valuable. When carpentry meant sharp edges and tetanus shots. I remember the importance of that one paragraph that would go at the bottom of my mothers letter to my grandparents, and the number of drafts and thoughts involved in that, because it would last forever in their drawers. So far from the light seconds of communication now. And then I value and wonder. I have seen History in the Making. Literally. How many can say that?

So much change, development, growth, fall. A move from Olde world into one Fiction is made of. And its barely been more than 25 yrs. The journey has just begun. I am a real part of Changing India. Hoo Boy! Am I excited to see the coming 50 years!