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Friday, September 3, 2010

Bringing up Father

It was a Sunday and, while surfing the World Wide Web, I noticed on the net my daughter, who is generally unavailable to speak to us during the day time, available for chat.  Normally she likes to lurk in the “invisible mode” or her presence is sternly marked in a forbidding red, warning obtrusively solicitous parents to stay off.

It seems we stay in different time zones; on different planets, almost.  Even our biologies, it appears, are different.We are the 9:30 to 6:00 people while for them the day begins when we are preparing to call it a day. So we generally manage to put in a word or two edgeways and get the standard reply ‘Dad I’ll call you in a while.”  If it is 12:00 PM then may be at 12:40 AM, if her shoot gets wrapped up early, and at 4:30 in the morning if things did not go as per schedule, she would like to pick up the threads.  In a state of total stupor or somnolence we end up getting all confused and tangled.  We beg ourselves, hoping to sort out the matters tomorrow.  My wife has been trying to conclude a conversation in respect of my daughter’s marriage for the last two years. It still goes on - simply because she has not been able to advance her most cogent and clinching arguments. When the summit actually takes place she is at her fuzziest and most confused, while her interlocutor is in a state of heightened clarity.  No prizes for guessing the result.

We got started after the customary hi and things like that.  The drift of conversation was in no particular direction, but what bugged me the most (dear me, my English is really getting all screwed up!  Are children such bad influence on parents?) was a string of consonants, like proper nouns of Balkan or East European origin.  In a kindly fashion my daughter took to educating me in the new language with all the consideration due to a nouvau admis.  I had heard that "LOL" is the shorthand expression for laughing out loud.  But there was the ASAP, for my benefit it was explained as soon as possible ,then BTW cropped up, which I understand is "by the way".  In the middle of a raging conversation you could just hang up, leaving the other fellow high and dry with a BRB - be right back. Then there was this neologism NTW, not to worry, but I am told it is catching up fast.  Or viralising, I should say.  But more economy was available.  On the chat you do not say I am happy or annoyed in words, you just hurl a smiley - annoyed, delighted, intrigued, puzzled etc. There are a dozen of them nicely organized in columns, in half platoon strength.  And yes, even in their world there are etiquettes, clearly recognized protocols.  Capital letters and punctuations are screaming bad manners.  Internet has forged its own sociology of private and public manners, new and dynamic forms of community.

We had a long conversation and on almost every issue we had different views.  Since my daughter has studied literature in one of the best colleges of the country, the cultivated illiteracies of the text messages, the brutal abridgement of the capacious and rich English language, the deeply alienating influence of internet, pop culture and high art figured recurrently.  I am afraid we could never ever come to a common ground.  The chat came to an end with a parting shot from her.  She quoted Jacques Lacan’s famous quip with its proper spelling, Les Non-Dupes errent. (‘The undeceived are deluded’).

My daughter excused herself.  After all, the young of her generation are so hard pressed for time!  They have to remain in touch with each other, the 450 friends on Facebook, the 1100 followers on twitter, the streaming e-mails on their Blackberry, blogs, the new cool video on you-tube!

But long after she had left, I wondered if this is the first time people of two generations are trying to start a dialogue.  The children have been forever in a state of holy war against their intrusive, ignorant parents.  It is something that is perhaps, in the nature of things.  So what is different?

I just venture the proposition that the pace of change in our generation was perhaps slower, therefore, obsolescence set in much later, the shelf life of parents was much longer. In our time I guess, and more so in the time of my father and before, two generations could be part of the same adult world but with clearly defined roles, well defined territories.  In their prolonged period of childhood they became conditioned to look up to the adult for guidance and advice. The parent child relationship - essentially one, between untrusting-self and the regulating other - was one of authority.

But now we have worked up a rapid, vertiginous pace.  Now the secrets of adulthood or the ways of the vile wicked world are open to children much earlier.  Parents no longer hold the key.  They trust themselves, their own judgments, opinions and capabilities, and they have moved the internet in loco parentis.

Instead of curiousity and wonder, a certain world weariness and cynicism is the hall mark of the precocious adult. Riding the wave of technology, especially the TV, internet, the iPhone, they have renounced the community of real men and women and retreated to the virtual communities where they have discovered new modes of participatory activity and leisure, new ideals of shared experience, new sites of protest and resistance.  The generations seem to inhabit different worlds with different rules, mores conventions and morals.  Relationship, marriage, paternity they all stand liberated from the immemorial taboos.  People of my generation tend to put too much premium on experience.  But I now realize experience has its down side.  With age comes not only the erosion of physical capabilities but also stiffness of mental fibre, the incapability of appreciating the new and the unfamiliar. I think the best strategy is to have trust – trust in their judgment and ability and pray to God that your trust is not misplaced.

But reverting to the core issue, the debilitation of genuine literacy in favour of the digital, the deliberate renunciation of the vast resources of language in the interest of expediency, economy of both time and money (I am told mobile service providers charge per character instead of words), the dumbing down by way of homage to the intellectual democracy, has a direct bearing on the whole issue.  We live inside the language of our discourse.  And as Wittgenstein once said, “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world”.  A few lines from Romeo and Juliet, the emblematic symbol of romantic aspirations in our less unhurried times in the world that has gone by, juxtaposed against two lines from the chart buster song “You and Me Baby” which inaugurated the third millennium for us, would perhaps illustrate the point .

If I profane with my unworthy hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.

Have not saints lips and holy palmers too?

Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

The great ceremony of the courting ritual, the obliquities of speech, the passionate yearning and that awful daring of the proposition that demands but a kiss, will be thrown into sharper relief by this direct and uncomplicated exhortation of the Bloodhound Gang pop music group of this Brave New World:

You and me, baby, we ain’t nothing but mammals.
So let‘s do it like they do on the discovery channel.

Romeo and Juliet would be left stranded and speechless, in this world of naked apes and instant gratification of desire.  But I am not worried about the plight of the iconic lovers, nor about the elimination of all possibilities of romantic love.  I can rationalize my own little dialogic problems with my children.  We will soldier along, since we must.  My worry is how their generation and the succeeding generations will be able to strike even a conversation between themselves, each a separate island , seated or strapped variously, to their laptops and iPhones or playstations and desktops.


Amitabh and Nutan said...

U write superbly sir. It is really worth going thru- full of emotions and inner thoughts

Amitabh Thakur
Currently at IIM Lucknow
# 94155-34526

Manoje Nath said...

thanks very much for your complments.

Unknown said...

Brilliant.Romeo and Juliet are great litery characters,but the family members,dipicted in the article,far outshine them.It is a story of every urban family confronting grown up Net savy children.

Manoje Nath said...

thanks very much. and welcome to the leaders we must follow our followers.

ENT S. K. Prasad said...

Maoje Nath ji, Your personal experience & comments incorporate philosophical yet factual vision of modern but confused life-style. What the youth to-day faces is partly the outcome of mismatch of the elders'expectation & youths' resposibilities.
It is good to visit your blog !
-- Dr Sheo Kumar Prasad, Patna.

BMD said...

I remember a call from my friend in 1980 and I said "No Probs!" My father got so upset he said " Why is your response to everything 'no probs' All of us have problems! He was extremely upset with abbreviations of words!
Technology has only enhanced abbreviations. I have no idea of what many mean, but I enjoy trying to figure out what they are: like in crosswords!
Like for instance today's HT (another acronym) ad for matrimonial in Patna: PQM4: I will find it out soon.!!!!!

Ah! Ah! Even Nostalgia is not what it used to be!!! What you did to your parents should be another post in Musings!!!!!

Manoje Nath said...

thanks very much for your visit and your crisp and insightful comment . i have been threatened by the younger generation that the empire will strike back . iwait in fear and trembling.

BMD said...

As we age we pretend we are angels, if not gods. When we were young, god(s) did not give their comments LoL ................

BMD said...

Hum log sunna chha henge appki shara rat!

Manoje Nath said...

you may like to see fathers day one of the earlier posts.

Vivek said...

Gr8 wrtng thorghly njyd. Vivek

BMD said...

I read the father's day piece. A great piece.
But I'm afraid the kind of stuff I've done to bring despair to my parents and teachers are what I expected to see. BTW, I'll reveal them on a later date. And yet again, BTW, LoL!

Professor Shanker Dutt said...

Great reading!!!
Doesn't Lyotard's dystopian vision picture a world where forces of technoscience are concerned to prolong life past the end of the universe? He sketches a vision of computers that will replace humans because they are more efficient and less vulnerable. Technoscientists are more easily tractable. Under the dispensation of death, the human body is a liability, a hardware that is disposable. The software is prized. This project is ruthlessly efficient and will not encounter dissent( like some of the academics !!!)The final grand narrative to end all grand narratives. The fading members of our generation are the last users of the manner in which Her Highness is supposed to use the language. This is what Henry Higgins and the BBC have informed over the years. And some of our teachers as well. When English was spoken in English. Beyond this is the language you have described so eloquently, a language without history and therefore without the baggage of the sources of human misunderstandings. LOL. Let us celebrate the brave new world and be brought up like well-behaved parents.

Dr. Gonzo said...

Good afternoon Sir,

I am perhaps mid-way between the older generation (which my father and you would represent for me) and the new lot of kids (I am 30).

Perhaps the first indication of that divide is how I completely love your writing and yet think to myself that you are quite verbose while communicating an idea.

I quite readily understand and agree to the so called technological divide (my father still refuses to handle a computer "Ye mouse touse ab is umra mein humse nahi hoga"). There is also a very ready tendency to denounce most new things that shake up one's inertia of enjoyment of things as they exist now. We who hunger for "the next big thing" everyday across the internet see this in our own reactions everyday. And somehow, most new such diversions do not stem from the traditional ask-the-customer-what-he-needs-make it-and-sell model. The mobile phone, for example. One never feels the need for it, until one has used it. A million denouncers come up to the usage of it, it would kill privacy, face to face interactions, etc etc all of which are true. And yet, a user understands a million uses of it only after getting familiar with it.

Not just ways of talking but entire business models are changing. There was a time when content was money. One "bought" media. In cassettes, in cds, in magazines, in newspapers. The world has already moved to a point where "choice" is the central plank. Everything is available free, articles are put up online even before they are published (and rightly so), movies and songs are available for free. Yes, it is piracy, yes it impinges on creative money, as I said before, those are true. And yet, the advantages are mind boggling. Sitting in a remote corner of the world, without considerations of money, a kid can see and educate himself to ANYTHING in the world today. If that is not democratization (without a structured method to bring the same), I don't know what is.

Kevin Kelly, as a Wired magazine editor, back in 1999 (I think), wrote this absolutely brilliant, prescient article about just HOW much is changing in the world, and what that implies to basically anything that you see, feel or believe in about the world.

He later converted this into a book, and umpteen other authors have picked up each of these principles and converted them into books.

The point being, yes it is very scary to see how things exist right now, and whether

"the succeeding generations will be able to strike even a conversation between themselves, each a separate island , seated or strapped variously, to their laptops and iPhones or playstations and desktops."

That may very well be true. And yet, as with every single new step the world has taken, it will lead to advantages that one cannot foresee right now.

Thank you :),

Aravind Pandey said...


kindly guide me in improving my Singing of English Songs..

This is My first one..

My Heart is Beating from hindi film Julie ..


मै अंग्रेजी पढ़ा लिखा तो हूँ नहीं फिर आपके लेख पर टिपण्णी लिखने का साहस कैसे कर सकता हूँ .. मेरे पिता जी श्री रघुपति सहाय फ़िराक की एक गर्वोक्ति सुनाया करते थे जिसे मै अक्षरशः सहमति देता हूँ.. फ़िराक साहब कहा करते थे -- हिन्दुस्तान में सिर्फ ढाई लोग अंगरेजी जानते हैं.. एक मैं ( स्वयं फ़िराक ) दूसरे राधाकृष्णन और आधा जवाहर लाल नेहरू.. इस हिसाब से मै अंगरेजी बिलकुल नहीं जानता..

Er. AMOD KUMAR said...

Respected Sir,
A great personal experience you have shared with us.. which is useful for all …with warm regards

Manoje Nath said...

dr. gonzo
If you give the piece another reading you will find that I do plead an inability
to understand the new and unfamiliar. My post is certainly not against technology nor I am against the younger generation. I merely expressed an opinion
that the pace of change is such that the generations are receding from each other at greater and greater speed. No value judgements attached to that. I look forward to visiting your blog. Meanwhile Welcome!

Manoje Nath said...

Hello Shankar,
Your comments are incisive, topical and beautifully articulated. Butdo take notice of the comments of Dr Gonzo-above- who describes himself as belonging to the in- between generation. He may have a point when he says I am being"verbose."

Y K Suman, CTO said...

Dear Sir - good to see a bureacrat so tech/net savvy. Kudos to people such as yourselves, we still hope India would be able to achieve its rightful place in the world !

Neer said...

now am convinced that i need to "bloggerise" my dad!

this, sir, was an amazing piece! :)

Manoje Nath said...

thanks, neer.

if i understand you correctly , you mean to give your view point on our generation . is that so? then please do.i am all ears and even ready to modify my views should they be convinving enough.

d'c said...

Dear sir....

First of all, I really like your blog... the note that was written on elections is also quite good, but this obviously was more intriguing...

Reading this made me feel how my parents must feel when they read the messages I send them... I'ts weird, since I read all the comments on this post and everyone seemed tot think that this generation is isolated and getting even more, by the use of technology and things like that..

But somehow I feel that all this is something youngsters my age have had to learn to cope with, to understand and to adapt to. We were given this as part of our generation, and probably a lot of us dont know how we landed up amidst one-liners on twitter and 'poke's on facebook...

My blog is named CHAOS, simply because I feel it defines the world around me. For everyone who believes my generation and the ones to come (I dont think you do), just stop and look back. Our lives are just a million times more complicated. And its getting worse every day...

Thats all I wanted to say... Not to offend anyone, but only to say that the grass is just greener on the other side... Its probably digital grass, with 3D effects. you never know...

Manoje Nath said...

thanks very much. ill visit your blog very soon.
i get your point but it is not that we are right or you are wrong . the problem is the pace of change.

Pegasus said...

I came here after reading a TOI piece on you...felt very disturbed after reading the article..

being a uniformed Govt servant myself...I can understand the pangs of pathos you would have faced but what amazed me was that you continued to stay on and reach this rank. I would sincerely request you to write a candid autobiography of these trying times. It would be very encouraging for the many aspirants and serving officers today.
Your blog was very pictorially articulated...I could almost picture your daughter and you trying to communicate with each other. The pace of change has not dulled the love and affection...certainly it has got less verbose than it was in the yesteryears. This generation needs handholding and cuckolding only when they are at crossroads...they certainly need instant gratification because thats what followed, advertised, depicted in various media splashed all around them.
They need the gentle encouragement that whatever they do is right while knowing all the while that they alone are responsible for the consequences. That idiom of "I told you so" when it goes wrong is what irritates them and farthens the distance between the generations...

would follow your blog for more updates.


aks said...

Pace of change has made me sad too..

ajoyipsbhr85 said...

this is the first time a Generation has been forced to accept that their next is Smarter...
a generation that opens its eye to the TV screen before knowing the mom, is really a tortured one..
every body is forced to study, everybody is forced to compete, everybody is unsure of the other,
everybody has to weave her/his way through a maze of very effective and capable electronic devices...
one moment i lose alertness and my son records my verbal assault made securely inside the confines of home... and which can have serious consequences...
one emotional slip/ one moment of emotional weakness and the child becomes a video on the internet...
the Gen X is really a tortured generation...
it has to live on a planet where Carnivores do really exist..
if they do not live the way they do, they will get burdened by peer-pressure...!
every Girl has dreams, but now she is scared to accept them even to herself.. if she thinks her life partner should be good looking, then she is scared to even admit that he could have a past that he would not like to reveal to her, even after 40 years of marriage...!
if she dreams that her partner should have a lot of money, then she runs the risk of joining the ranks of Geetika Sharmas...!
they have to work in Private Sector, where efficiency is over-coming the advances of the Boss is more necessary than efficiency in achieving targets...!
we are living in the age when an airline having a fleet of six aircrafts can have 60 airhostesses...!
we must accept sir, that we were not required to lead such a scary life... our rules were much simpler and we had so much less risk to run..
i feel we have to accept that they are better adjusted to their world and we are not even aware of the torment life throws at them...
let us as 'Gen O' allow them to find their path to salvation in their own way, enjoying every moment of their Linguistic Innovation.. and awaiting their nod for personal subjects like marriage...!

Smith said...

good post