Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Generation of Change


Change, they say, in the only constant in life. But the velocity of that change varies. India has always been a changing culture: we changed when the Aryans invaded, when the Guptas took control, when the Mughals came and when the British colonised us.

But the change ran at varying paces. Post-Independence, India began to experience an industrial revolution. Children of the new generation began to see comforts that their parents had not. But even then, the change was not all that much and was slow.

The Indira Gandhi years saw democracy stifled and eventually, victorious. But the years post-1991 were those that saw the greatest shift in society.

Liberalization led to an overwhelming expansion of the Indian middle class and influence of Western culture. It went hand-in-hand with a technological revolution, when computers and mobile phones, to start with, became an increasingly indispensable part of life. So rapid was the new change that the generation gap grew to massive proportions. Parents who were absolutely computer-illiterate or, at best, computer semi-literate, were amazed at the speed with which their children worked on the device.

Then came the Internet revolution and a generation that grew to depend on their parents and the newspaper for information about the world saw the next generation lap up near-infinite information without lifting more than a finger. But that was not the end.

The turn of the new millennium saw some of the fastest globalization in India's history and it was no longer a gap between generations. Now, the new generation is such that it sees its own way of life changing twice or thrice within its lifetime. How we grow up is very different from how we will live our adult lives and that is also very different from how we will grow old. The change is now so rapid that decades are being traversed in years.

Has this been good for society? Well, that depends on what you mean by 'good.' While standard of living has certainly risen for the middle class, materialism has also risen, and that has led to a drastic shrinking in the moral universe. The means no longer matter, just the ends. Tensions between generations has risen and has seen some of the most abhorrent violence on youngsters, in the form on Khap Panchayats.

Where will our society go from here? It's hard to say. We have rediscovered our Indian heritage, yet we seek to modify it. One thing is for sure: our society is changing and that change cannot be stopped by any force on earth.

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