“If you had my mother for a mum…” my wife, her face clouded by annoyance, bafflement and futility, began. She was speaking to our eight-year-old, who stood twisting her ponytail between index and middle finger, a look of almost identical annoyance, bafflement and futility on her face.
So there you go. Another misdemeanour, another reprimand, another hark-back to what might have been — but definitively isn’t. “Yes, but, how could I have had her as my mum? You are my mother,” Oishi said finally.
“Had it been my mother…”; “If I’d done this when I was your age…”; “I can’t imagine what my parents would have said…”: I suspect many parents will find in these bewildered, exasperated cries echoes of what they have, at some point or the other, told their children.
Every generation, I suppose, draws this parallel. I am sure that as children, we often seemed as strange to our parents as our children sometimes seem like to us. (And similarly on and on, rewinding through the generations.)
But the point is that we are not our parents. And our children are not us.
Drawing that analogy is futile. It is a truism to say that the world in which a child grows up is very different from the one in which her parents did. But over the past decade, the rapidity of the changes in India has been more dizzying than ever before; the scale has been far bigger; and the generation gap is no longer a gap — it is a chasm.
So while my world as a child and that of my parents’ must surely have been very different, the one in which our daughter lives and the one in which my wife and I were eight-year-olds are unrecognisable from each other.
“How long can I spend on the Internet?”
“Why can’t I visit this website?”
“How many movies can I watch at home on DVD during my holidays?”
These weren’t questions I had any cause to ask when I was a child. Children today do and will ask these questions (and make a host of other demands) because these things are part of the fabric of their lives — just as dealing with their attendant potential complications have become part of ours as parents.
Many children nowadays are better travelled, more aware and more mature than their parents used to be when they were young. My daughter has much more poise and is more independent, and much less fearful of authority than I was when I used to be her age.
As a result, the power dynamic between parents and children has somewhat changed. The unquestioning acceptance of parental authority may not seem as inevitable now as it once did. The frisson, therefore, between the two generations, is of a different kind and degree.
My daughter sometimes wants to hear of stories from my childhood. And when I tell her of what it was like when I was eight, she says: “But Baba, you really lived in olden times.”