Thursday, March 24, 2005

CULTURE CAVEATS...

I have a good friend, who was telling me the other day, that apparently fifty percent or so of 11th and 12th standard students in Pune 'are in a relationship' (whatever that means). Actually she was just talking about one particular college, but having seen the college going 'junta' from Pune for a long time, I don't hesitate to extend the phenomenon, nay, to magnify it, to other colleges too.
I have to say that this is a manifest change from 'our times' (127 year old as I have become...). Seriously. When I was in 12th standard (and that too in Ferguson), I knew of only one or two 'couples'. Although I don't want to sound like a prude, I fear that this may be another borrowed element of Western culture, borrowed without rhyme and reason like many others, that could cause big problems. Even in the US, where such early relationships have been part of societal structure for a considerable time, one continuously sees youngsters struggling to understand their relationships and suffering because of their inability to do so.
This inability seems to get carried over into their married lives, which frequently don't stay stable for long.

Especially in our Indian society where deep human relationships form a core set of beliefs, I think that this transition has the potential to cause a huge amount of confusion and consternation in the minds of many young people. The question really boils down to; is it ok to be in a relationship (at least the way it is defined in western culture) at an early age?
There may be many exceptions, but by and large, I think that one should think a hundred times before getting into any such thing. A couple of reasons that may appear obvious but which I think always make sense:
1. Maturity levels in this context are generally low at that age. One doesn't usually know 'what he/she wants'. Most of the times, the attraction is temporary, possibly physical, and ends up turning out as an infatuation. Based on statistics, I know very very people who had 'decided to get married' in school, and actually ended up doing it many years later (and are married, at least until now...)
2. The 'commitment' (real or imagined) as well the pain (definitely real) can create many distractions, to say the least, and in a few cases can cause deep psychological problems, which are uncalled for at a crucial stage of life.
3. In general, aping elements from other cultures without realising whether they will fit in in the general form and structure of your society can always create trouble. Again, it takes a certain maturity level to realise this, which may be absent at that stage.
4. In the US, I believe that casual realtionships were basically a result of two things; informality and non-conformism (not to mention physical attraction). In India, given our current society and traditions, both of these would be way too much premature and destructive.
(Interestingly, if someone had told me this when I was a teenager, I could possibly have tossed it aside with the typical hubris of teensense!)

So am I consternated? Not really, given human nature. But I have to say I did not think things would progress to such a stage so soon. (But then I also did not think every kid from 8th standard and his brother would have a cell-phone so soon...) One advantage of living away from home is that it is possible to some extent, to take a detached view, to 'step out of the system', and make objective evaluations. :-)
I believe that Indian society is very complex, more so than most others in the world. It is difficult to even make objective judgements within the constraints of our social structure itself. But indulging in an action because it's OK in some other culture carries the constant risk of confusion and despair. This is not as far-fetched and hard to find as it sounds. Many of us speak American phrases, eat American food, listen to American music, and wear American style clothes. Many of us don't do all of this because we actually like it a lot. We do it simply because we don't want to be different from our peers. We just 'started doing it' until it was a natural part of our social existence and 'not a big deal' ;). Peer acceptance, especially at a young age, is a human necessity, and there's nothing wrong with adopting attitudes which will facilitate it to some extent. However, when we step into the wobbly foundation of relationships, we cannot let peer acceptance dominate our actions. That is a line which is truly distinct from other cultural and social lines.
So, without sounding like an overly avuncular 'ajoba', let me just say one, simple, cliche thing to my 'antecessors'; "Look before you leap"...

12 Comments:

Blogger Nikhil K said...

You are probably right in saying that a lot of the 'couples' phenomenon has to do with aping the west.Yann Martel omnisciently comments that humans have the astounding ability to get used to anything. Even living with tigers. It has also struck me how foreign the lifestyle depicted in the Friends sitcom is to my own. But , I still , unquestioningly regard it as normal, passe'. So, having a steady GF is more of a fashion statement than an actual change in the Indian mindset.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:34 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

You are absolutely right in saying that the FEELINGS are normal. I am only saying that I think that the actual scope and extent of the relationship should only be decided after thinking about it independently...I guess I am just repeating the old saying about the head not letting the heart run (too much) astray. :-)
You put up a very good example with F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Even though it is one of my all-time favourite shows, I too frequently realise how alien that lifestyle is in many perhaps not-too-obvious but still important ways.

2:36 AM  
Anonymous Sumedha said...

So you're 27 :-)
A few of my classmates from St. Mary's had boyfriends as early as in the 7th and 8th grades.
My school was a single-sex institution. I am sure things are worse in a co-educational school. I don't think it's true that going to a girls' school or a boys' school is bad for you.
You're a little shy at first, but at least there are fewer romantic complications.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Heavens, no! I am NOT 27! ;)
Actually I am from the same batch as Hirak. We met for the first time when we took part in the Maggi Quiz contest in 7th standard! ;-)
I guess you are right in saying that coming from a single-sex institution has its advantages in having fewer romantic complications.
Going to a girls only or boys only school is certainly not bad, although I do remember a few guys from boys only schools who, when they stepped into Fergi, viewed girls literally as species from Venus ;-) However, these were exceptions, and even they adjusted quickly.

7:27 PM  
Anonymous Sumedha said...

Then why 127 years old :)

7:55 AM  
Blogger Nikhil K said...

Spot on! The Loyalites in Fergy were like lions let loose in a sheep pen.
Even Don Juan would have been ashamed at his own relative inactivity.
[Loyalites out there, bear with me.]

11:06 PM  
Blogger Sumeet said...

Ashutosh, you never let anyone in school know you flunked two years! Anyway, so remember how TAN-talis-ING school was? :-)
hope you remember and understand what I am saying here... ;-) no offense!

apologies for the frivolous comment to an important post, but waveguide theory has left me drained out. I shall try and leave a more thoughtful comment later.
on an unrelated note, would you happen to have chakra's email ID? I have been wanting to thank him about life in general for several years now!

7:29 AM  
Blogger Hirak said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:43 AM  
Blogger Hirak said...

At that time (in the 11th or 12th standard) having a girlfriend was a HUGE thing. Your value among your peers would just hit the roof if you managed to patao a girl.
I agree that at that age you don't have much sense about anything, leave alone relationships. But those that get in one and then get out of it gain much wisdom.
***
I just hope that there will be more platforms for teenagers get to to know the opposite sex. Coming from St. Vincent's(including the +2 years) I very well know the pain of always seeing girls across the road and not knowing them.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

A resolution of the "(100+27) point"- The number was randomly plucked out of the blue, only to reinforce that my cogitations could possibly cause present day college going youngsters to see me as a 127 year old. That's it. I am neither 127, nor 27! ;)
If I knew about the confusion that it could cause, I could have just picked an irrational number instead!

Sumeet: Oops! The cat is out of the bag, isn't it!! ;) Anyway, now that we are totally past the incident, let me say that THAT was just a plain, irrational state of mind which I am sure most, if not all of us have been through. At no point would I have been insensible enough (actually, bold enough!) to pursue the matter further!
Ha ha!! That was quite an unexpected googly, I have to say! Please keep enjoying your waveguide theory so that we may expect more of these!
About Chakra's ID, I have it somewhere. I will send it to you. I too want to do the exact same thing that you want to; I was quite consternated that I unfortunately could not meet him during my last trip.

Hirak: I agree that the sooner you go through such a thing, the wiser you (probably) emerge from it. One just hopes that it is not too late by the time this happens. I mean, it's important to realise early on that members of the opposite sex are also normal human beings...Anyway, I guess that that too is part of the fun of growing up!

Nikhil: Good one!

9:08 AM  
Blogger Nikhil K said...

By Chakra, are you guys referring to Dusamanta Chakra? The Deutscher?

8:33 PM  

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