The Generation Gap

Recently, a neighbour’s house got broken into at night. The burglars were not able to gain access to the main house through the conservatory, and so, she remained safe and oblivious in her bed. Upon finding signs of the break in the following morning, she immediately contacted the police. Through the grapevine, the news filtered down to us. As she is an eighty two year old woman, in indifferent health, living on her own, naturally we were concerned. I rang her. There was no response. My husband went around to see her. No response. He reckoned she was sleeping off the shock.

The next afternoon, there she was- on my doorstep, in her cashmere cardigan and pearls, hair beautifully coiffed, looking like she had not a care in the world.

“Susan”, I gasped, “Are you ok? I heard what happened! Have the police found out anymore? How are you feeling…?”

“My dear”, she answered with perfect equanimity, “I am fine. If I’d had a shotgun, the burglars wouldn’t have been though!!”

She had not been ‘sleeping off the shock’. She had been out till midnight, having a jolly old time with her friends.

I sat back, bemused at the turn of events. Was it that particular generation, I wondered, that were tougher, more resilient, and less likely to collapse at the first sign of trouble? After all, Susan had lived through World War 2, the death of three husbands and the Big C : Cancer.

My thoughts wandered to my grandmother. Orphaned at five, she was brought up by her uncle’s family who didn’t treat her particularly well. She was married young, and while my dad was still a babe in arms, she’d had to leave her hometown of Karachi, and make a treacherous crossing into India, during the horror that was the Partition. From a relatively wealthy background, she was reduced to living like a refugee in one of the many refugee colonies that had sprung up in Delhi at the time. She was then widowed at thirty, and with three boys to bring up and barely any education to speak of, she sewed clothes to make money, scrimped and saved to give her sons a decent living, and was a one woman Mother India of sorts.

She is eighty seven now. She can barely see, she can barely hear, but her hold on life is just as tenacious as ever.

Consider the Queen. Coming up to ninety, she still performs most of her state duties herself. Abdication in favour of her son is a thought she refuses to entertain, and her mantra remains one of duty and servitude to her people and her kingdom. No fluffy slippers and a cosy armchair to retire to for this great grandmother. She forges on, setting an example to her descendants.

Then there is our generation and the generations that have followed. Broadly speaking (for there are always exceptions), we are a soft bellied lot. We have seen neither war, nor deprivation. We haven’t lived through rationing or suffered the ignominy of poverty. Yet we moan and complain and whinge at the slightest provocation. Traffic snafus, a restaurant reservation going missing, the check out girl being rude, an acquaintance ignoring us on the street- our list of trifling woes drives us to that glass of wine every evening. Or to the psychiatrist’s couch to “unburden” ourselves and fatten his/her wallet. Or to the happy pills.

How, I wonder, would we react to a life changing event like war? To something as traumatic as the Holocaust? To something as wrenching and soul crushing as a Partition? Would we have the same reserves of strength, the same tenacity, the same endurance, the same fortitude? I hope we never have to find out.

Yet, it’s important to take a leaf out these ladies’ books. To learn to face life squarely, and with gumption. Let us not make the mistake of becoming too soft, too complacent, too chicken. History has a strange way of repeating itself, and we need to be prepared, for only the fittest will survive and only the strongest will endure.

Disclaimer: This post applies to those of us brought up or living in First World countries. It’s important to recognise that there are huge swathes of poverty stricken/ war ravaged lands where generations of men, women and children gird their loins daily, and set about the business of life with immense courage and fortitude.

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Should I stay or should I go

She trips over her son’s shoe as she enters the house. With a muttered oath she places it next to its twin. She unloads and loads the dishwasher quickly. Vacuums and dusts. Makes the beds. Tidies her daughter’s cuddly toys, placing them exactly in the order she’s been instructed in. Then she takes her packed valise, checks for her passport and ticket. Puts on her lipstick. Places her goodbye note next to their wedding picture. Her heart skips a beat as she thinks of what lies ahead. The phone rings just as she opens the front door. She pauses mid-step.

The IT factor

“You’ve got to have wit to be ‘it’ “, my daughter pronounced sagely a few days ago. “Whatever do you mean?”, I queried.

Her explanation was brief and went along the lines of: if you weren’t extraordinarily pretty, or sporty, (or rich even- swimming pool in the back garden, rich) then the only thing that gained you admission into the ranks of the ‘cool girls’ was your sense of humour. Now admittedly, a GSOH is seen as a very admirable quality in both men and women. And wit, more or less, is the best form of humour, particularly if its a self deprecating one. So,my daughter developing this particular trait (plus an ability to be an excellent mimic) did not worry me in the least. What bothered me was this unspoken desire to be seen as one of the flock.

Why?

This need for social acceptance transcends age, gender, class and cultures. We need to be a part of the fabric of society. So we look for our particular niches, and aspire to those that seem superior. In trying to fit in, we often cut out that which makes us who we are.

I remember watching ‘Grease’ the movie with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John when I was a very young girl. It perplexed me no end that it took a complete makeover of Sandy for her to win the affections of the Brylcreamed, snake hipped hero. Out went the swing skirts and the pony tail, and in came the skin tight trousers (that she was purportedly sewn into), artfully blow dried hair and a cigarette dangling from the freshly painted lips. Sandy, the effervescent, lovely heroine was replaced by her ‘cool/hot’ alter-ego who bore little resemblance to a plain Jane, thus sending out the message that to grab a man, you needed to upgrade yourself to a femme fatale.

Cut to a much more recent teen flick- ‘Mean Girls’, it once again highlights the disturbing trend of denying your true identity in order to conform. Lindsay Lohan’s character infiltrates the cool gang at school, only to find herself slowly shedding her uncool persona and remodelling herself at the behest of the queen bee. As it was a Tina Fey film (a quirky modern day feminist who uses humour as her arsenal), Lohan’s victory lay in the defeat of the ubiquitous social hierarchy and a re establishment of her own off beat identity.

Progress? Yes. But a long way to go yet.

If conformity= acceptance, then do all non conformists become social pariahs? What message must I give to my daughters? Try and fit in, or stand out and risk being a leper?

To be happy, truly happy, you can only serve one master. That master has to be your own self. In being true to yourself, you may alienate those who do not agree with your vision, or those who want you to follow theirs, but you are also likely to align yourself with those who share a similar philosophy. Being a slave to groups or trends takes you away from living your life in an honest manner.

This is a message that I hope my daughters can live by. It is a message that I hope other mothers are imparting to their sons and daughters as well. Our only true legacy to our children is the sense of self-worth we imbue them with.

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Public meltdowns and all such beasts

A while ago I had occasion to witness a very public rant by a lady I had hitherto considered a sensible,level headed and mature individual. The provocation was slight and the incident a little spat between school girls. As the mother of one, she took her rage to a social media platform, and proceeded to vilify the other. Needless to say, there were plenty of supportive messages, with people giving her the sort of feedback she desired. That it ultimately led to a breakdown of friendship between the two girls, and a loss of face and private dressing down for her, seemed to almost be an aside to the main story.

Which got me wondering about the nature of public meltdowns.

In recent years, we have seen plenty of celebrity debacles played out in the public domain. Be it an Amanda Bynes on Twitter to a Tom Cruise on Oprah to a Britney in the tabloids, there has been a train wreck fascination in watching them destroy their reputations. More often than not “exhaustion” (read drugs/overwork/tipping into insanity/failing careers) is blamed and they are whisked into a facility, and the PR machine has gone into overdrive.

But what propels the ordinary person to follow suit?

Social media is a relatively new phenomenon. Our Warholesque 15 minutes of fame is nearly always guaranteed through the platform of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all such avatars.Where previously, we would have raved and ranted and blown off steam within the privacy of our homes, or amongst our group of friends, we can now take it to a wider audience. From a previous Facebook poster (who is now MIA) who played out the breakdown of her marriage- “I think he’s having an affair”, “I am going to hire a private detective”, “She was sitting at the next table, and exchanging looks with my husband”, “That’s it! I’m filing for divorce” to the achingly, boringly mundane postings of another- “I think I’ll have Weetabix for breakfast today”, “Green dress or blue dress peeps?”, “What a sunny day! I love my life!!”, “Off to Malaga. Woo Hoo!” – Facebook is privy to all sorts, and by extension, so are we.

The above may still be read and dismissed, but the underbelly is harder to ignore. The new breed of Internet bullies that hide behind their screens and take potshots at unsuspecting victims. The Internet trolls who have taken hectoring and intimidation to another level. Much like the lady I first mentioned, these people are too lily livered to confront someone face to face and air their grievances. So they choose to attack guerrilla style, safe from any valid justifications or arguments that may counter their narrow view of the world.

So, what is the etiquette of social media? Where does one draw the line? What is appropriate and what’s not? And who deems which is which?

A simple rule of the thumb applies here. If you wouldn’t do it in person, do not do it electronically either.

As an inveterate social media user, it’s a lesson I have learnt the hard way. I now choose to keep my private life private. It is nobody’s business, and quite frankly, no one is that interested either. Let’s enjoy Facebook, Twitter etc for what they are. A frivolous distraction. They are not for airing our dirty laundry. And they are certainly not launch pads for silly vendettas.