Ranjona Banerji: The inclusive India 'in my day'
We never discussed religion or caste in school. But it may have been because the politics of the time was less interested in dividing us
There was also a time when you had to stand for hours in queues at banks to withdraw your own... Oh, sorry, I forgot that we were back to the past. Pic/PTI
The older I get the more I realise the younger I should be. It is comforting to fall back into lectures and homilies about "in my day". After all, they were an integral part of my growing up years. If an American "soft drink" cost 50 paisa in my school in the 1960s, my great-grandfather's annual salary was 6 annas or some such. That is, any figure that was incomprehensible to my six-year-old mind.
I myself have fallen victim to this error. Looking at those younger than me and rueing that they are not now as I am now — forgetting conveniently how I was then. Or what is even worse — pretending as if nothing has changed since I was 25 to justify my feeling that everyone should behave or think as I did then.
I often hear my friends complaining about how materialistic their children are and how we weren't. There is a very good reason for that. People my age grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, in one of India's most socialistic and inward-looking phases. Everything had to be Indian or nothing and India manufactured very little extraneous fun stuff at the time. And it's a lie that we were not greedy — it's just that we had little to be greedy about.
It is an even bigger fallacy that life was so much better and more carefree "in my day". Maybe if you were middle class, you spent your childhood climbing trees and running around in playgrounds. Other children, from a different social strata, were working in homes as domestic drudges, in factories, at tea stalls, in manufacturing units or some place even worse.
The worst fear of the "in my day" person has to be the openness brought to us by technology and communication. To be honest, I do not remotely regret that the age of writing letters is behind us. I am so unaccustomed to writing by hand, thanks to evil inventions like typewriters and computers, that my handwriting resembles a few very drunk ink-sodden ants trying to crawl across a page. I would reckon people who would have had to read my handwritten letters are pretty happy now.
Yes, there was a time when you "booked" trunk calls and where many merry moments were spent shouting at telephone operators.
There were also times when you shouted in bird call across a forest to warn Robin Hood that the Sherriff of Nottingham was looking for him. Times change and there is something to be said for that. No more trunk calls for one.
There was also a time when you had to stand for hours in queues at banks to withdraw your own... Oh, sorry, I forgot that we were back to the past. Ignore me. I was nostalgically looking back to the days of cash dispensing machines full of cash. I quite liked those days, I have to confess.
One argument about "when we were young", however, seems to have at least one leg in reality — that in a more innocent, idealistic India, we were more inclusive. It is true that in school we almost never discussed religion and caste during break time or at any time. But, looking back, it may have been because our schools themselves were less inclusive. And that the politics of the time was less interested in dividing us.
I have been intrigued by articles I have been reading about gender choices made by young people today, many of them in their early teens, still in school. In schools in England, where I am now on a short holiday, toilets are made for girls, boys and "i" genders.
Some teens identify themselves as "gender-fluid". The third gender has been recognised by courts in India and it is the young who will be most accepting of these changes. What is the point of objecting for the sake of objecting because no one in your memory of your childhood seemed to feel like this?
However, I do feel that I have to stand up for myself in some ways and not be all open and sweet and accepting. Part of the advantage of ageing is the right to be curmudgeonly.
Also, I suspect that young people do not fully appreciate oldies who try to be young. Therefore, sorry but I say no to music post 1992. You can cry if you want to.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona Send your feedback to email@example.com