– a Pentagenerian Indian Mother’s Perspective

We, the generation born in the sixties grew up in a socialist India – a country which was still hung over its success in driving away the British rulers but was gradually losing its zeal to grow and establish itself as a global force to reckon with. In Bengal, where I grew up, the slumbering decade was suddenly rudely nudged out of its sleep by a bunch of youths – tired of an indifferent state, steeped in nothing but dreams of an idyllic society, bubbling with energy - ready to demolish by force the establishment endorsed by the elders. By the time we went to middle school – the country was well ensconced into a rule led by a few sycophants, the dreamy youths crushed beyond recognition by the state machinery, brain-drain despised and pursued with equal zeal, globalization still a far cry.

Generation gaps existed between every two phases of life. Looking back at my growing years, I can also see each generation easily identifiable by the clothes they wore, the language they spoke, the hairstyles they sported, the vehicles they used and so on. Reverence and compliance were drilled into us. Most of us lived happily ensconced in a nuclear family within a largish extended family tuning ourselves inadvertently to shape our own families sometime in future in exactly the same way. But the world was changing around us. Seeds of rebellion were in the air. The youth was restless as usual but not exactly sure of what is it that they wanted beyond a better life.

Growing up in a small industrial town, where the society was very cleanly stratified, all around me was an overwhelming homogeneity within each strata. And embossed within each strata was this omnipresent entity called generation gap. Generations clashed with each other but with overwhelming similarity across households. Ours was not a generation of a dozen children per family – but one kid was also not the norm. From childhood through youth we connected with neighbors, cousins, siblings. The laws of nature ensured that the youth clashed with the elderly.  However, though each rebel’s is essentially a lonely heart, yet in those days of extended families spilling over to friends and neighbors, rarely anyone was alone. It was not difficult for each generation to find solace among other like-minded individuals within a stone’s throw. Some feisty battles became folklores of a neighborhood. Life flowed at its own pace and in due course each rebel generation was ready to pass on the baton to the next generation to continue with the dreams of making the world a better place to live in and they themselves morphed into clones of their ancestors – trying to cling to tradition.

In came the nineties – and suddenly we were sucked into a whirlwind of change brought in by the mad gush of globalization - bringing with it the multi-nationals that paid in dollars, the international brands, the telecom revolution and promise of liberalization. At the very onset, liberalization of economy led to liberalization of life-styles. Brands mattered. It mattered to young and old alike. Being rich was no more a taboo. Homogeneity was no more a virtue. When all these things came together – life became complicatedly competitive. My brands had to be more respected than my friends’. My cars have to be more expensive than my neighbors’. My job has to demand longer hours than my colleagues’.  My child’s school had to be more expensive than my cousins’. And in this journey for superlatives – united we stood within the precincts of nuclear families. It was a concerted effort on the part of young and old within a family to flaunt and uphold the superiority of the household. Flawless skin, limitless energy and boundless money have all become the hallmarks of our existence – where we dare to say that age is just a number. Generation gaps eased. Or did they?

If age is just a number, then generation should be a term that only means creation. As families break the boundaries of their walled premises and spill over the ethernet, grandparents become a part of their grandchild’s first steps taken at the other end of the world, mothers are allowed a peek into their sons’ wild weekend parties, fathers remain well-informed about the status of their darling daughters’ latest tiff with their good-for-nothing lovers - do generation gaps really exist any more? I wonder.

Surprisingly – it does. While the world puts up a concerted effort to show its smiley face to all and sundry, people – young and old still bleed as much they used to and possibly more. A lot of this bloodshed is still due to misunderstandings between parents and children – essentially the incapability of one generation to understand the dreams, urges and compulsions of another generation. However, while sharing the pain was easier in the earlier homogeneous society, it has become much more difficult to do so now. When “Stay Happy” is the mantra preached by one and all – right from a qualified psychologist to a quack wellness advisor – it seems guilty to be unhappy.

For parents today - being unable to handle a teenage son or daughter appears to be an unacceptable shortcoming – one which they think the society will scorn at – and hence brood in solitude. There is a pressure to “understand” your child – and declare to the world that you have emerged as an epitome of success in it. When the social walls are flooded with proud parents posting pictures of happy family vacations where the children, irrespective of their age, help their moms in packing the picnic basket and relax with a trendy dad over a beer after a grueling session of golf - it becomes immensely difficult for a solitary parent to admit that their son or daughter had refused to take a vacation with them and preferred to go for a trek with friends. They try to take solace by sharing the sole photograph that the ward sends from the camp – weaving a story of gallantry and adventure around it for the world to devour. The connected world has established unwritten social norms that one feels compelled to comply with. How many stories have we ever read about tiffs between a mother and a son or an argument between a father and his princess daughter? Are we all not saturated only by the sweet messages on Mother’s day, Father’s day or Daughter’s Day? (Surprisingly enough I don’t remember coming across a Son’s day! Dear reader does there exist one? Or is it that the sons still own the world anyway – and don’t need a day of their own?) Does that mean parents and children don’t fight any more? Well I don’t think so. I think the social media has established platforms for sharing happiness and success – along with a diktat that pain and anguish are to be borne in solitude. We cling to the diktat – lest I be termed a crib.  The loneliness remains within – trapped, scathing, roaring inside the veins – turning the blood blue with anguish.

The chasm between generations cut both edges equally. For children, whose lives have been weaved with designer dreams from the childhood - it is increasingly difficult to follow their hearts – particularly so if it leads them to the lonely woods rather than the glitzy palaces of desire. After being fed with ivory spoons for a score of years – it seems like a blasphemy for a child to express that he or she would rather not follow the beaten tracks to success in whatever it is – but follow his or her own dreams to light up a small village at the end of the road or sing without dreaming of becoming the second Madonna, or write without a desire to become a best-seller or build houses not for the rich and fancy but for the slum-dwellers of the country.  It is a crime not to crave for recognition - they are made to believe. The pressure of becoming successful is drilled into them by a generation who themselves had a blissful childhood, ignorant of reality shows, not held at gun-point for not winning the school trophy for at least one activity.

But why do we do this? Sometimes I think that it has to do with the tumultuous times that we have gone through. Our generation - which had not gone to school with the dreams of earning dollars sitting in this country – a generation that was raised on the virtues of a simple life was suddenly thrown into a competition of gathering as much as we can, while dollars rained from the sky. We scrambled for them – we multiplied them with fifties and sixties - we splurged like never before – we set up our mansions. We also ensured that the social norms change. We fought with our parents to accept money from working daughters, we forced them to accept a child’s divorce without taboo and also fought with our own selves to accept that love and sex were not synonymous.

And then happily middle-aged we started stressing. We wanted to ensure that the next generation should be prepared to grab all of this and more early on in life. They should not be unprepared like us. They should not suffer from the strains that we suffered from while trying to match our value systems with those that are demanded by our times. We want a secure life for our children. We want them to succeed. We want them to take to success like a fish takes to water. Hence all our efforts are targeted at bringing up our next generation with their eyes towards success - and focus on nothing but unwavering success.

Is it our lust and greed that lead us to control our children’s life? Or is it plain old parental instinct to protect a child from the hardships of life? In other words, as humans move from one phase of life into the next – irrespective of the times that they live in – do the thought processes of two generations inadvertently diverge? After dwelling on this for long – I have come to the conclusion that they are bound to. It is like a law of nature. I don’t know whether I do this to absolve myself of the guilt of my generation which has put inordinate pressure on the next – but I have come to the conclusion that generation gap is inevitable in life.

As a generation grows older, they become habituated to a certain set of norms. Even if they don’t agree to some, they become tired of fighting against the tide of times, and learn to accept life as it comes. The journey of life is nothing but gathering a huge set of experiences. Experience makes a man wiser. As we grow older and wiser, we fall back on our experiences. We trust them to guide us through troubled waters. We believe our experiences have taught us to face the uncertainties of life and we are eager to share it with the next generation. We believe that the teachings of life imparted to us will also see them through. We fail to understand that experiences are personal and learning acquired through them cannot be shared through the bonds of blood. We refuse to believe that while we have given birth to our children – it is a new life altogether –a life that touches ours but exists much beyond our own existence. And we bleed when our advices are unheeded. We bleed when we can’t communicate our intentions. We bleed when we are accused of being possessive and insensitive. We bleed because the law of nature dictates that a parent will bleed in love for his or her own blood.

Every new generation loves to weave its own dreams. They love to build their own paths – with roses and thorns, with thistles and mistletoes, with jagged bricks, rough rocks and cold stones. It is not for the youth to be scared by the stories of rough seas narrated by their ancient parents. If anything, it excites them to try it out on their own – to feel the salt and tears on their own skin. The young are not scared to lose what they gain at birth for they believe in their strength and capability to win back all if they want to. The spirit of youth does not allow them to remain bound within the mansions built for them by the earlier generation.  It is the law of youth to revolt, to break, to dream of growing again. A generation born in poverty dreams of sleeping under a gold-embellished roof. A generation born in riches dreams of sleeping under the bare blue sky.  The younger generation will continue to accuse the earlier generation of insensitivity simply because it is not in the nature of youth to tolerate compassion or tension for their well-being. The youth will continue to consider these attributes of an aging generation as the later’s lack of faith in them.  The younger generation will continue to attack complacence with as much zeal as the older generation will try to hold on to it to stay happy. Romanticism symbolizes youth – and it will continue to drive them to taste sorrow with as much eagerness as happiness in life.

Generation gaps exist and will exist forever. While the connected world makes us feel that the gaps have vanished with 720 degrees visibility into a person’s existence and the degrees of separation among people coming down at an exponential rate - generation gaps are still a reality. And it better be so.  The day the gulfs separating generations vanish into oblivion – the day generations get merged with each other into one indistinguishable mass – I believe humanity will come to a standstill. There will be nothing to look forward to for every day will be the same as the next. I would rather accept the gap.

Predictability is not a natural in life. Rather unpredictability is what makes life so beautiful and romantic. As one generation grows old, satiated with life’s offerings, let the other generation fall in love with life anew. As the new lovers regale in its uncertainties and go through the same old triumphs and tribulations – the older generation will sit there – heart in their mouths – tracking their joys and sorrows – trying to touch them and yet not be able to. Memories from the past will blur their present – faces of their own parents will merge with the faces of their children – deep inside the crevices of their minds the gaps will close, even if momentarily - only to resurface afresh next day. For humanity is all about wishing the well-being of one and all with little power in our hands to ensure that.



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