The way we grew up…

Asha Iyer Kumar :
Today’s children are a curious lot – hard to please, keen on competition, easily pestered and fabulously finicky. The shortest route to getting on their nerves is to begin a session with “When we were children, we…” They have no interest in knowing about those ‘boring’, ‘gadget-less’ stints in your life, and trying to make them see the difference between our sweet, magical growing-up years and the stretched-to-the-seam childhood of theirs is an attempt in vain.
Glaring gaps are a given between any two generations, and all seasoned seniors will have old tales to tell their progeny. The difference is, while we listened (and still listen) to the anecdotes that typified those modest times with interest, and even devotion, the newbies are loathe to do it, especially if you are preparing to launch a tirade against them on their weird ways of evolution. Theirs is a world where everyone wants to be first among equals, and where material aspirations and possessions dictate terms. Life is all about vanity wars fought and won over who has the latest smartphone, whose father drives an SUV, what brand are the shoes, where was the last vacation spent and how many friends are there on their social network.
Friends in our days were folks in the neighbourhood or in school, and not some stranger on the screen. Games to us meant galli cricket and seven stones for boys, and kho-kho and hopscotch for girls. While cricket is still around here, thanks to the market and the moolah, the rest of the outdoor games have exited our children’s lives. Football is now played with nimble thumbs and bottoms ensconced on the couch. Catch-catch has gone high-tech with guns and goons, and don’t even mention name-place-animal-things to our gizmo-smitten little scientists.
Academics in our times didn’t lead to stress, depression and suicide, nor did competition intimidate us. We merely worked hard and did as well as we could, for our own sake.
In our teens, on a monthly pocket money of Rs 5-10 we managed everything from a bite in the canteen to an audio cassette as birthday present for a friend to a rare movie outing. The first time I went to a beauty salon for a hair-cut was during my postgraduation, and the first time I got my eyebrows threaded was even much later. What a contrast our pictures from those times make with those of today’s stylish high school and college students! Makeup for us did not extend beyond neatly oiled and plaited hair, a line of kohl and a bindi. Fashion was limited to whatever our parents chose to buy or got tailored. Youngsters today are fashionistas in their own right. You will balk at buying a pair of jeans for Dh400 but your young one has no qualms blowing it up. They know two things – you can afford it and you will concede it. They are persistent and powerful in their demands, fully aware that the last thing you want is to antagonise them.
Earning children’s favour these days is an uphill task and keeping it a costly affair. And you capitulate, even as you know that filial piety is a rare commodity in modern times. You will be lucky if your children return from their distant locations in your old age to say ‘thank you’. We still do that in as many ways as we can because we realise that much of what our old folks did for us came from monumental sacrifices.
Of course we acknowledge the new generation (for want of choice), but it’s not without anxieties. Our wariness, veiled behind our parental valour, is expressed in many subtle ways, like when a friend recently remarked, “I know that our son will one day bring home a life partner of his choice. I only hope it is a girl.”
Asha Iyer Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Dubai

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