The times, they are a-changing, and its good to rebel
Aditya Sinha | Sunday, August 28, 2011
My eldest leaves India tomorrow. Not because of corruption or the
agitation against corruption, but to study abroad. Like many others
she's fascinated by the idea of living abroad (despite the Western
world's recession during the next few years); she's leaving also
because our colleges are by and large mediocre, barring a few where
entrance happens only if you have an impossibly high cut-off score or
if you're the child of a pushy newspaper Editor-in-Chief. Higher
education in the US remains the best in the world despite the
proliferation of sub-standard colleges offering ridiculous courses.
Most would probably agree that my Mrinalini has made the right choice
towards building a career and a life that she can be proud of.
And though there is nothing novel in the fact of a daughter leaving
home, it's still a heart-wrenching experience. She's never coming back
except to visit, though she'll probably skype with her mother nightly.
I can't give her any advice because she's exactly like me in that she
listens to no one. I don't worry about the choices she'll make —
academically or career-wise — because she's far smarter than I am. And
unlike my parent's generation, the thought that she might meet and
marry someone who is different does not bother me. (My mother might
object, but by now even she has realised that Mrinalini is an
unstoppable force of nature.)
Still, it's difficult to reconcile these thoughts with the image still
fresh in my mind of the purple-headed baby which one early winter
evening popped out of my wife in a South Delhi nursing home. Mrinalini
was forever wide-eyed with curiosity, and her head constantly turned
from side to side as if she constantly needed a 360-degree view of
reality as it unfolded around her; she was always reluctant to sleep,
perhaps afraid that she might miss out on the action. I certainly hope
she henceforth devotes her late nights to her textbooks.
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Most of Mrinalini's teenaged years were spent in Chennai, a place that
really brings out the rebel in some people. Some of her prissier
schoolteachers were constantly at odds with her, perhaps because she
was a Delhi girl transplanted to a conservative town; and despite her
good marks they always complained about her wild ways, to the point
where my wife refused to meet any of Mrinalini's teachers and
delegated that thankless job to me. I was never unhappy about my
daughter's rebelliousness; it's a good default position for any
citizen to take, questioning authority, questioning society, and
questioning existing paradigms of knowledge. There's more life in a
rebel than there is in a cow.
You're perhaps wondering how it is that I dare put all this in the
public domain. The fact of the matter is that none of my three
children read newspapers even though my life has been devoted to
newspapers. I don't blame the younger ones because even I didn't start
seriously reading newspapers until university. And it isn't as if they
aren't fond of reading: each has a bookshelf, Mrinalini's being
partial to the mind-bending hipster Neil Gaiman.It's a sign of the
times: she gets all her information from the internet (yes, though my
column is on our website I don't think it's of much interest to her).
So while global media organisations and corporate executives scratch
their heads and ponder the future of the newspaper, I see it before my
eyes in my own house.
Although Mrinalini does not read newspapers (not even the Mumbai
behemoth whose sole purpose is to encourage women like her to spend,
spend, spend), she does know about a man named Anna Hazare. This does
not mean that youngsters like her who do not read well-pondered edit
pieces in self-serious newspapers have incomplete knowledge about the
proper functioning of a Constitutional democracy; it also does not
mean that going for a protest-picnic after following intense online
debate about a man who's finally taking corruption head-on is the only
correct way. It does, however, mean that public discourse is in the
middle of a long, tectonic change; that class-composition of our
society is in the middle of a long, tectonic change; that democracy
itself is in the middle of a long, tectonic change; and finally, that
the world as a whole is, well, you get the idea.
Of course, the biggest sign that the times are a-changing would be if
Mrinalini, after studying and living abroad, decided that India is the
new El Dorado and a place worth returning to in order to make a life.
That would not seem such a bizarre choice as it might have 25 years
ago. Most of all, it would be her choice, a choice that earlier
generations did not have. And wherever she goes, whatever she chooses
to do, in my mind she will always be the baby who, having just learned
to walk, could be heard running about exploring the house, her tiny
feet pattering on the mosaic floor.
— The writer is the Editor-in-Chief, DNA, based in Mumbai
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