May 26, 2020
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Cool In Kaliyug

Being young in the Nineties is more than tattoos and miniskirts. It's about a whole new lifestyle, balanced by pragmatism, ambition and, also, tradition

Cool In Kaliyug
You know, yaar, we're not really into any cause-shause, conscience-shoncence and all that lafda. Basically, Dropping Out, Revolution, Creative Expression is for the old guys, yaar, all that '60s hungama is a load of shit. Dylan and all are totally khatam. Better to just sambhalo your own life, na?

MEET India's millennium youth, our first global generation. They are young at a time when Revolution is a senior citizen and Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan are older than the president of the United States. Their idiom of protest is non-existent: Bollywood's angry young men have been replaced by bhajan-singing, temple-going disco babies. Their modernity isn't necessarily 'western', Nehruvian English has given way to Hinglish, they be-bop to Hindi music which was infra dig to an older generation of Midnight's Children. Now, tradition coexists with technology and the young citizen has been replaced by the young consumer.

MTV chic is trendier than earlier fads. Media and Bollywood have spurred a new culture of the Body: gym-tuned and designer-clad with navel rings, the highest possible heels, lycra-suits and a sporty look. Yet tattoos and mini-skirts are balanced by a robust pragmatism, driving ambition and adherence to 'old-fashioned' values like arranged marriage and parental acceptance. Being young is no longer a rejection of authority and norms, instead it is about maximising opportunities and getting ahead. It is no longer about emulating the anti-traditionalism of the '60s Flower Children, but often about making a creative use of Indian culture.

"Youth attitudes today are characterised by critical selectivity," says sociologist Anand Kumar. "McDonald's but also Daler Mehndi. Cyberspace but also the occasional puja." In the first flush of youth activism, books like Death of Family and Marriage is Dead were the staple of the guitar-strumming, Marx-quoting, marijuana smokers. There was idealism about the community at large, whose enemy was the 'Bourgeois Establishment', conspiring to constrain youthful joy. Today it is the self rather than the community which is the focus of attitudes and activity. Youth have voted with their feet and a large percentage are now citizens of different nations. "Autonomy and action are centred on the individual, not on any larger sense of youth-as-a-community," says Kumar.

"In our time, being young was about angst, about the grave issues of the day," says historian Arvind Das. "It was about questioning authority and trying to find a new  way. But today there has been a journey from idealism to pragmatism. Former Naxalites have grown up and become pillars of the establishment and their children are taking the GRE." Says Sachin Bountra, 28, American Express executive: "There is a journey from rebellious mode to achievement mode. Quality of life is about a balance between optimisation and satisfaction. Balance is important, not rebellion." Interestingly, a recent IMRB-MTV survey found that over 51 per cent young consumers in New Delhi and Mumbai actively support the swadeshi credo of 'be Indian, buy Indian'.

In a 1997 survey the advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather (O&M) discovered what they call 'The Genie Generation' or the Generation who Independently Engage in society. Defiance of parents? Forget it. Seventy nine per cent of metropolitan young people in the age group 18-28 said they shared most of their parents' views; 86 per cent believed "young people should never dare challenge their parents' authority". Indeed, 70 per cent asserted that "if people have to succeed in life they have to be materialistic".The Genie is adventurous about products but cautious about attitudes, conscious of fashion but also of family.

O&M uncovered two salient facts about the Genie: 'Machine' and 'Mask'. 'Machine' implies that most young people see themselves locked in the treadmill to success. "Like their parents, they are happy to work within the system but want to have a voice within it." 'Mask' implies a double life. "Because of the need to succeed, it is important that the Genie hides his true feelings both at work and at home." The Genie, according to the O&M survey, desires "controlled freedom", there is a strong individualism and desire to maximise opportunity but tempered by a strong sense of family engagement. "The life of the Genie is a delicate balancing act," the survey concludes.

Long-haired, Gap-clad, Columbia-educated, Manish Modi has chan-nelised rebellion. For him, setting up a software company two years ago—Net-Across—instead of simply carrying forward the family business was a demonstration of youth autonomy, '90s style. Upsetting the social status quo after all, is not only futile and energy-draining, but also anti-market. If you must rebel, how much better to do it by setting up an alternative business enterprise and use not only a bit of Dad's help but also his blessings. "I have an independent streak which I suppressed for a long time. I'm not cut out for traditionality. But at the same time I want to make sure that I benefit from the environment."

Similarly, 24-year-old Pia Puri prefers controlled freedom to anarchic subversion. The tall, business suit-wearing graduate had set her heart on America. However, the family Powers That Be pronounced that America was a Bad Place and she must instead go to Switzerland. So to Switzerland she flew without demur, returned armed with an MBA and now runs a Punjabi theme restaurant in Noida. "I'm very close to my parents and discuss everything with them, including my education. My parents are conservative but not backward." Puri quietly accepted their decision about her future. "After all, I got the same education in Switzerland as I would have in America. My parents were right." TCs believe in a certain form of dynasti-cism. From Akshaye Khanna to Omar Abdullah, following in father's footsteps is not considered uncool. In fact, MTV veejay Cyrus Broacha even studied law because his father and grandfather are both lawyers.

"You know, yaar, most of these goras are quite whacko, totally pagal. Better to stick with Indian things. There's something to them. OK, maybe the traffic in India sucks, everything is so damn dirty and you have to bribe every person, but when it comes to basic values, mera bharat mahan, yaar.

In Youth Track '96, a wide-ranging survey carried out across 20 urban centres by the market research agency, ORG-MARG, Indian youth confessed to the following attitudes. "I admire the West for the elements of modernity it has brought us, like science and technology. But overall I think we adopted the wrong values from the West—such as smoking, drinking and pre-marital sex. Also, some of the West's over-advanced ideologies such as women's liberation can destroy our family lives."

Respondents admired Indian values such as respect, hospitality and the patriarchal system, although they disliked corruption, dowry and the caste system. Interviewees in Porbander said aping the West is not good, we should love tradition and dislike west-ernisation. In Sambalpur, interviewees said that western culture is "over-advanced" with far too much violence and free sex.

India's Trendy Conservatives may consider emigration, but their vision would be to create a little India in Connecticut, they may be more exposed to the West than their parents ever were but are, paradoxically, still rooted. Most young people, according to Kumar, still think India has a bright future. "The secondary manifestations of culture," says Kumar, "such as dress, the body, aspirational lifestyles and product awareness are certainly more westernised than earlier. But as far as marriage and community are concerned, youth are not losing their moorings and, in fact, are reinventing their roots." Modi Xerox senior executive Suman Dutta, based in Guwahati, may be the lead singer of the pop group Moonwin, but is also a fairly traditional father of a four-year-old daughter. He married of his own choice but according to traditional rituals and although he listens to western rock and jazz, still believes that the traditional way of life has many advantages. "Roots are important and you cannot grow roots if you do not have a family tradition," he says.

Ritu Pandey and Mayuri Mehrotra, Lucknow trendies who love to wear makeup and stroll in Hazrutgunj in the evenings, are anxious for a good time but not at the cost of traditional values. Mehrotra says she loves dancing but only dances with boys known to her parents. She hates drunk men, but clarifies that her parents are not opposed to a few drinks now and then. She'd like a career but prefers marriage. "I'm going to pursue a career until I get married, but after that I'd like to be a devoted and conscientious housewife." Her tastes in music would give MTV bosses a few sleepless nights: sure, she likes Garbage, Beck, Tori Amos and Cranberries, but only after she's finished her puja, aarti and bhajans.

In fact, an important TC trait is the preference for Hindi music. Says composer Jawahar Wattal, "While western music would sell at the rate of 1.5 lakh units, Indipop sells at 10 lakhs." Mehrotra loves bhajans. "They help me pray," she smiles, adding that although she'd like to marry a man who she has "good vibes" with, he must belong to the same religion.

Pandey too loves to burn up the floor at dances but emphasises that when it comes to marriage, Mr Right will have to come from the Kumaoni community to which she belongs. "Nothing like a Kumaoni marriage," she giggles, "lots of relatives, beautiful hill music and yummy food!"

 According to psychiatrist Achal Bhagat, who runs a helpline for young urbanites, there is increasing confusion about values. "There is often an oscillation between extremes—the need to seek approval from the herd as well as the need for individual expression, between Western and Indian attitudes—and this often leads to problems in relationships as well as in subsequent parenting." However, the O&M Genie seems unequivocally opposed to blind borrowing from western imagery. Although 75 per cent of respondents in the O&M survey said they would consider emigrating to the West if the opportunity arose, 55 per cent also believe that eastern values can coexist with western values. "The Indian Genie," says Partha Sinha of O&M, "clearly understands the difference between the trappings and values of the West. He buys the first but rejects the second."

Shopping mall spirituality and the search for 'traditional' peace-givers are a manifestation of the fact that the TC not only believes in God, but to an extent also in religious ritual.Twenty-one-year-old IAS-aspirant Saurabh Gupta is a budding astrologer and believer in Hindu customs. His father, Vijay Gupta, a professional astrologer, says 75 per cent of his clientele are young people who have a reasoned conviction about the existence of God.

"Our generation is getting more and more spiritual," says Saurabh. "In fact, in college we always say that if you want to meet hep girls it's better to go to the temple than to the local market." According to Youth Track, belief in God, celebration of festivals and respect for elders is seen as intrinsic to Indian culture. According to Ameeta Mehra, chairperson of the Gnostic Research Centre for growth of Consciousness, the intense pressures on young people today are forcing them to look for answers from a realm which the conventional method of education can't provide, and more often than not they turn to spirituality and religion."

Trendy Conservatism seems to be the reigning mantra of Bollywood blockbusters too: western in appearance but good old bharatiya heart beating under the DKNY jersey. The protagonist of this year's biggest hit Kuch Kuch Hota Hai not only visits the mandir every Tuesday, but lives with his mother and believes in the sanctity of marriage. His Oxfordreturned wife bursts into Om Jai Jagdish Hare in her second day at college. Manish Malhotra, who designed the costumes, says that youngsters are more conscious of the body than ever before. "The very hip, trendy look is incredibly popular. After the film I've had a deluge of orders for the KKHH look." Says 26-year-old KKHH director Karan Johar: "The look today is young and trendy but the feeling is Indian and that's how we behave. Our influences are western yet we celebrate Diwali."

Indeed, 23-year-old Shrenik H. Gujjar from Mumbai says that although he loves going to Razzberry Rhinoceros and Madness, yet his future wife will always have to wear ghungat at home, must learn to get on with the family and not question the rules of the joint family. Gujjar wears casual clothes but is not casual about customs. "My daily visit to the temple stems from belief as does the fact that I do pranam to elders."

"I'm not really into living together and all, yaar. I'm just dying to get married. I just love shaadis. Band bajaa, gana bajana, mehndi, all very neat. Bas, ab jaldi se meri shadi ho jaye. How much can you just bonk around and all, yaar? After all, you've just got to have children and have your own home. Baalbache are damn important."

An obsessive, often desperate craving to get married characterises the TCs, particularly TC women. "It's incredible," says a Mumbai-based sociologist, "that unlike university students in the '60s who may have tried to experiment with sexual morality, some early attempts at living in student 'communes', today most young women, however modern they may look, are driven by the urge to settle down." In the Outlook-MODE survey, as many as 42 per cent modern young women think 18-22 is a good age to get married. Contrary to the easy spaces haring arrangements of western metropolises, 42 per cent of men and women don't approve of live-in relationships. Amrit Akoi, a tarot card reader in Delhi, says marriage is the focal theme of most young people who come to her for predictions. "All single women are extremely anxious to find out when they'll get married and who they'll marry."

Manjula Raman, 29, lived in America for a number of years,returned to Delhi to set up her own restaurant, is the daughter of a well-known business family, admits to a certain desperation about not being able to marry fast enough. Raman dances the nights away at city clubs, drinks fast and furiously, often uses soft drugs and is ambiguous about sexual morality—but marriage remains the cornerstone of her future plans. "As soon as I see a single heterosexual male, I just feel I need to get married immediately without waiting for the courtship period." As spiritual guide Ma Prem Usha puts it, "young women have become more progressive but the attitude still is, 'when am I getting married?'." Forty six per cent of urban youth in the MODE-Outlook poll said they preferred an arranged marriage. Although fashion- conscious Tata executive Pushpa Kurup of Thiruvananthapuram had a love marriage, she maintains that arranged marriages have a better chance of working out.

Interestingly, while the conservative value of marriage remains central, attitudes towards sexuality are becoming freer and more ‘modern’ with increasing instances of open homosexuality. Fifty four per cent men complain that Indian women are sexually repressed. One third of all unmarried respondents said they are in a relationship. Yet most seem to live a sexual double life: it’s okay to do it, but it’s also important to hide the fact that you’re doing it. Although 61 per cent of men and women strongly said they should retain virginity before marriage, yet 63 per cent also said that sexual fidelity is overrated. TC sexual morality is convenient and surreptitious. Unlike their ’60s counterparts in the West, they don’t believe in public expressions of free love. Instead, their preoccupation with marriage makes them publicly careful about sexual behaviour. "There are certain girls you marry and there are certain girls you go out with," says Sambit Tripathi, 23, recent recruit into the IRS . "Most men would like to go out with bubbly girls, but when it comes to marriage, she should be a good cook."

"It’s damn important to have a good CV, yaar. Thoda social work, thoda leadership stuff, team playing, basically, the works. It’s got to be a good package. Phir fit hai. But it’s a bad scene out there. Helluva lot of shit going on. People are like, really hustling and all. You’ve just got to keep at it. Somehow or the other I have to make it big."

"For the new success- oriented generation," says Anil Wilson, principal of St Stephen’s College, "there’s a huge value in conformism. Non- conformism is seen to reduce the chances of success." Most MNC s which recruit from colleges demand a "team- player", not an original. Thus, rebellion against norms is stamped out by the pressures of the job market. With 13 million unemployed according to 1993 figures, there is tremendous pressure to gather the best possible curriculum vitae. Even a social conscience is sometimes reduced to just another saleable aspect of the CV. Wilson points out that although there is a high level of awareness of gender rights, crime in politics and the environment, while more than 500 people donated blood at the recent blood donation camp in St Stephen’s College, there is no gauging the depth of the commitment. "Many join NGO s only if the salary is good," says JNU stu dent Vandana Ramachandran.

According to Wilson, the main concern of stu dents these days is to market themselves, to create a personality package. There is a loss of interest in philosophy, in intellectual activity, in the reason for living, but a constant emphasis on being a saleable personality who is amiable, welladjusted and can function well as a cog in the machine. "Future success depends on such a personality."

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