Friday, June 23, 2006

the chameleon's clothing

my family talks a lot - about any and every thing. seriously, im a little hard pressed to come up with a topic that would be considered so taboo as to be excluded from our discussions! and im extremely glad that we are so open with each other.

recently in one of our addas, we got to discussing a farce that's played out every weekend at a huge clothes shop nearby. high-school kids upwards, droves of women come with boyfriends or in giggling gaggles to this place. they all enter conventionally dressed (the debate really took off when a relative said "modestly, decently dressed"!) and leave wearing the hip-est, tiniest clothes. since the place is open really late, they go on their outings, stop by again later, change back and then head home.

i know for a fact that most of my peers do not talk to their parents about a lot of things they do. its not because they are simply uncommunicative, but specifically because they will be refused permission, and even refused a hearing or reasonable discussion. i think that's where the real trouble lies.

naturally ideas change as we live through myriad experiences, but i think by around 25, we each would have evolved a way of understanding and analysing the world around us. whether with respect to abstractions like "society" and "morals" or more concrete subjects like what to study and whom to marry, we have in place the foundations of our personal politics. for some of us, this structure hardly changes in adulthood from the ready-made one handed to us by our parents for our youth. for the rest, there's some serious revamping if not absolute demolition and rebuilding!

i am very interested in personal politics and so deliberately discuss 'em with quite a few folks. i find more and more, that some fundamental ideas seemed to have radically changed from my parents generation to mine. not rocket science, is it? it is but natural that ideas of the young and the old should be different. it happens with every generation. i think the need for communication between us assumes all the more importance then. a lot of stuff could be (and is) brushed aside as just the "generation gap".

i regard that cliched business with growing unease. frankly, i think it is becoming a collective stereotype - in its name we're discounting a little too much too easily! as a society, each day we are accepting more things as "normal" with growing unthinking complacency. we have normalised violence against and abuse of the vulnerable, accepted sexualising our children, yawned away murders and wars... basically accepted bullshit with bovine indifference.

but all that isnt new again - each generation has been born into a dirtier world, so relatively speaking, youthful rejection of the corruption of ideals has been a given. yes, there has always been the majority that has suffered angst and then outgrown it (like pimples) to form the staple of our social structures, while the minority railed on in frustration all their lives. so yes, im perfectly willing to listen politely when im told by an elder person "i was like you when i was young and then i grew up and learnt that this is how things are".

bully for them.

but that doesn't mean that young people have to subvert their right - and responsibility - to think for themselves! for one thing, i frankly think that even a jaded or very cynical attitude is perfectly alright in adulthood, if the person has arrived at it after having lived with fresh and pure ideals in youth. (if you dont have fire when you're young, whats the point in being alive?!) if after all the raging against the dying of the light you're tired and burnt out, who with any compassion can deny you your cynicism?

i have a deep respect for people like my mother - she has some pretty old fashioned ideas about conduct, ethics, society and societal responsibility and so on, and does she live by them! i admire her integrity: if she scorns modern morals, she doesnt on the side play by dirty modern rules because they're easier. if she doesnt think much of the way we're handling familial responsibility, she quietly bears the yoke of her more demanding code.

ive seen too many people forbidding their womenfolk to wear "revealing", "indecent" clothes but then heartily admiring heroines in movies who are nearly nude. what message are we sending younger people? too many adults complaining about the lack of patriotism in the younger generation, and then bullying them towards careers in foreign multinational companies. or in a different tone, trail-blazing parents, who've slaved for their family's prosperity and taken several risks, refusing to let their children choose anything less the most conventional, mainstream lifestyles! our society is quite hypocritical.

many of my contemporaries have thought long and hard about how they will bring up their children. i know i will expect mine to question economic imperialism, gender roles, first world and skin colour politics, to be socially aware. who is to say that some of our confines are not because of our parents' ideals? - they probably are!

rather than blind obedience, i think understanding the rational foundations of ideals is more constructive. for instance, while i may respect my parents' experience, their wish to shield me and do what they think's best for me, i would also reserve the right to re-examine and change politics. the world (well, at least india!) has suddenly changed so drastically in the last few years, and the pace is only increasing. children are thrust into a very "adult" world with "adult" problems, and hardly have a proper, complete childhood.

i look at the kids currently in school, and already i can't relate to their lives at all. my generation certainly led much less complicated lives in some ways. children are exposed to sex, alcohol, violence, substance abuse, status pressures by a more powerful media at a much earlier age.

its to be expected that some coping measures would have also become outdated. i cannot imagine enforcing my rules upon them because my generations experience is vastly different. i can however explain the situations i've encountered and how and what i learnt, but i don't think it would be right to order them to live by my experience.

for example, in my parents time it may have been good parenting to try to shield the child from abuse. i think now however, the danger has escalated to a degree where not discussing the issue with the child is positively a disservice - i want to teach my child that such a thing exists, and more importantly, self protection and how to cope with it if it does happen.

i think we will be able to deal with issues with like that (or the standard bug bear - sex education!) only if we do question and try to work out the reasons why. some situations are unique and are fabulous learning opportunities, but much of what is set down for us to follow is based on the conclusions drawn by the person who was in that situation. it may help to know the end result, but the process is of more use. so yes, it may seem like we're questioning a lot of things and being rebellious, but its critical that we do so.

this can either be met with hostility, contempt and/or indifference by the adult world - in which case we would be alienated from it - or the adult world can use its wisdom to teach young people the important questions to ask, teach them how to build thought structures.

of course it is demanding a lot from adults. for one thing that they'll be secure enough to admit that they may have made mistakes, to concede wisdom to youth as well (something that our culture emphatically does not do). it takes much courage to do so especially if the person is a figure of authority like a parent - there is great pressure on parents to be all-knowing and perfect. and yes, it also requires that we (the younger people) be less brash, less brutally contemptuous or dismissive of seeming irrationality, and of course, much patience!

but i think it may be worth the effort, because otherwise, like those folks at the clothes store, we'll have to keep changing skins. we'll continue leading double lives, never really knowing the other person despite living with them and (ostensibly) being close to them. and that, doesn't make for a very genuine relationship, does it?

i'm reminded of a lovely CSNY song written by Graham Nash.

Teach your children

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.

Teach your parents well,
Their children's hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

my life, brownskinspeak

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