So I came across an interesting survey this week, which talked about the notion of privacy amongst Mumbai’s youth. When asked what privacy meant to them, 35% of the respondents answered ‘solitude’, while the rest were too busy trying to free their faces from random armpits. Because while Bombay has a lot to offer — a great work ethic, garbage-flavoured air, pani-puris made with crotch sweat — privacy isn’t really one of her gifts. No surprise there, considering that most Mumbai homes pack in about 243 people per square foot, and its biggest public spaces are located in Delhi.
The report also said that in their quest for privacy, 62% of Mumbai’s youth prefer spending time outside the house, away from the family. Really? You mean young people don’t want to hang at home with their parents? NO! Next you’ll say that those nice ladies outside Rock Bottom only want me for my money.
Have you noticed that when a report like this tells us that the habits of the youth have changed, and that things aren’t the way were 40 years ago, the tone is almost always that of alarm? It’s never positive. It’s always, “Tsk tsk. Look at these youngsters. When we were their age, we used to respect our elders, support our entire family, fight wars, overthrow corruption, save the tigers — and we did it all while dressed in prints that could induce epileptic fits.”
Well, duh. Of course people spent more time at home because what else was there to do? Back then, Bombay nightlife consisted of four townies, three of whom were Alyque Padamsee.
It doesn’t help that we’re the last generation to know what a large joint family looks like. Practically everyone I know has some sort of a “native place”, with an ancestral home that houses the same number of people as Australia, because back in grandpa’s time, birth control was considered a myth, much like unicorns or feminism.
What surveys like these don’t tell you is that the older you get, the more effort you put into keeping in touch with your family, both immediate and extended. Not because you have to, but because you want to. For example, I recently visited relatives back home in Bhaiyyaland, because it had been a while, and more importantly, because I’d forgotten what it was like to have plates of food being thrust at me all day.
Also, I really wanted to meet my niece, who pretty much rules the house despite the fact that she is only two and I could easily take her in a fight. Hanging out with her is great fun though, especially when you realise that kids that age are like adults on drugs, minus the annoying bits. Seriously, it’s like talking to a stoner:
Me: (pointing to a red object) What colour is that?
Me: No, that’s red. Again, what colour is that?
Me: (pointing to green object) What colour is that?
Me: What is the capital of Libya?
Me: What is the second law of thermodynamics?
I guess one of the reasons that kids are so hopped up is because they just got here, and everything is new and fascinating. We look at stuff around the house without a second thought, but when kids look at, say, electrical sockets, they’re like, “HOLY CRAP, THIS IS AMAZING! NOW I’LL PUT MY FINGER IN IT BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE HILARIOUS!”
Anyway, my point is that while things have changed, I don’t see the family structure in any real danger, simply because we’re Indian, and this is what we do. No matter how far we move from home, or how busy we are, our elders are right behind us, to remind us that we’re doing everything wrong, and that we should really get a haircut. Jokes aside, no matter how flippant or self-absorbed we may seem, we’ll be there when it really matters. Like when we’re really hungry.
Ashish Shakya is a writer and a stand-up comic. He co-writes the TV satire, The Week That Wasn’t. Sometimes he’s even sober while doing so