Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Breakfast Of Champions - (Th­is­fort­night­ly­colum­nad­dress­es­theis­sue­of­par­entin­gour­par­ents,an­in­te­gral­partofThis In­di­anLife­an­dour­cul­ture.Ify­ouhavesto­riesabout­theweirdand­won­der­ful­re­la­tion­ship­sthat en­ri­choren­er­vatey­ourlife,writein.) Shoba Narayan


As ideas and lan­guage get more spe­cialised, how do we com­mu­ni­cate between gen­er­a­tions?

L awrence Liang, the win­ner of this year’s In­fosys Prize for the so­cial sci­ences, said some­thing in­ter­est­ing in his ac­cep­tance speech. The slickly pro­duced and per­fectly paced In­fosys Sci­ence Foun­da­tion award cer­e­mony had much of Ben­galuru in breath­less at­ten­dance. This year, the gen­der bal­ance was ex­quis­ite, with three women and three men each win­ning ~ 65 lakh tax-free prize with its boat-loads of pres­tige. When I men­tioned this to one of the smil­ing school­girls, she pointed out that ev­ery per­son on stage was a man. In­deed all the jury chairs were men, as was ev­ery per­son on stage, save when the women walked up to ac­cept their awards. Small steps, I felt like telling this im­pa­tient, bright-eyed lass of about 14, with her neatly folded braids and blue sal­war kameez school uni­form.

Liang is a le­gal scholar, ac­tivist and pro­fes­sor at Ambed­kar Uni­ver­sity Delhi. His ex­per­tise is in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, free speech and ac­cess to digi­tised knowl­edge. He said, and I para­phrase here, that one of the things that both­ered him was the fact that he couldn’t dis­cuss his ideas with his mother. And then, he said, it oc­curred to him that his mother em­bod­ied the ideas and val­ues he talked about. This may have sim­ply been a son ra­tio­nal­is­ing what is of­ten called a gen­er­a­tion gap, but it raises the ques­tion: as ideas and lan­guage get more spe­cialised, how do we com­mu­ni­cate between gen­er­a­tions?


I was think­ing of this dur­ing a fam­ily get-to­gether. I live in a large ram­bling joint fam­ily full of chew­ing-chal­lenged el­ders who dis­dain den­tures and own up to their gas­tric sounds with­out guilt or ex­pla­na­tion. Each of them is a char­ac­ter, in­deed a weirdo, and I say this with ad­mi­ra­tion.

It was the year-end. A good time to take stock and use the op­por­tu­nity to pass on the wis­dom of the ages to the young of age. So I si­dled up to my aunts who were tooth­lessly mas­ti­cat­ing some luke­warm gu­lab ja­muns and asked if they had any ad­vice for the young­sters in the room. Mouths full of ja­muns, they looked up like a clutch of in­quir­ing chip­munks. One aunt burped loudly, look­ing quite sat­is­fied with her­self. “Ad­vice,” she asked. “Like when to get mar­ried and have ba­bies?” “No,” I said. “More like life ad­vice or ca­reer ad­vice.” These were, af­ter all, women who had held jobs, raised chil­dren and ir­ri­tated their spouses to per­fec­tion. They must have some­thing to say.

So I per­sisted. “Not about wed­dings or ba­bies,” I said. “Some­thing that you have learned and would like to pass on to your chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.”

They all gazed at me in that dis­tracted, vaguely dis­mis­sive fash­ion of folks who have seen Par­ti­tion, In­de­pen­dence and the De­pres­sion, but pre­fer to fo­cus on more im­me­di­ate con­cerns like if there was enough but­ter in the pav, and too much tamarind in the sam­bar. “What’s your killer app?” I burst out fi­nally. “Your life les­son?” “What’s a killer app?” asked my mother-in-law. “It is some­thing that can solve all prob­lems.” “Oh, like an ot­tan-mooli,” said my dad, al­lud­ing to a Malay­alam phrase I didn’t know. “One medicine that can heal many dis­eases.” “Can it heal piles?” in­quired an un­cle. “No, if you take a kashayam (de­coc­tion) of cin­na­mon and dates, you can cure not just piles but a gall­stone too,” said an un­cle.

“Didn’t Subbu have a gall­stone?”


I felt like clap­ping my hands and shout­ing, “Si­lence or stand up on the bench.” I needed a drink.

“Please,” I pleaded. “Can we fo­cus on the is­sue here? I need you to ad­vise the chil­dren on some life skill. Like build­ing a habit or learn­ing an in­stru­ment. Some­thing. Any­thing.”

There was only a minute or two left be­fore these geri­atrics would ac­cost me with ques­tions about how to poke some­one on Face­book, or save some silly fire-burst­ing emailed greet­ing on their com­put­ers for re­peated watch­ing com­bined with stom­ach-shak­ing laugh­ter, or bug me about find­ing a video in which an ele­phant rolls over on the ground. They were a pain, my rel­a­tives and like much of In­dia, I am sur­rounded by them.

What unites to­day’s In­dia be­sides a love of spicy food, film songs, cricket and big fat wed­dings? I would say that many of us are par­ent­ing our par­ents – and an as­sort­ment of un­cles, aunts, and ran­dom el­ders whose chil­dren live be­yond our shores. It is equal parts frus­tra­tion and comedy livened with mo­ments of ten­der­ness that bor­ders on the sub­lime.

FAM­ILY FIRST Comedy livened with mo­ments of ten­der­ness that bor­ders on the sub­lime also unites us In­di­ans

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