Sunday, April 20, 2008

Manohar And Rohan

The story of Manohar and his son Rohan is also the story of the Indian middle class renaissance, a transformation that happened between three to four decades. Manohar was in his teens at the height of the Naxalite movement. He observed from the sidelines but never participated - he did not buy into the ideology.

He had a couple of expensive hobbies - mountaineering and photography but not a day job to pay for them. His other passions included obscure foreign cinema and literature. Unfortunately, none of those interests alone or in combination translated to a paying job. His only vice was smoking but that was part of being an "intellectual" or "antel" as they would say in Bengali.

Graduating near the bottom of his class he was a commerce graduate with absolutely no job prospects. Family members did what they could to call for favors, make connections and the like but even so Manohar remained a "bekar jubak" (unemployed youth in Bengali). Back in the 70s it was common to see youths like Manohar - they came home for their meals and to sleep at night, for the rest of the day they stayed out of sight mostly to preserve what they could of their dignity in the guise of seeking employment. They continued with the education even if they had no interest or aptitude in what they were studying. It was important to stay busy.

At age thirty Manohar found work as teller in a nationalized bank - a job that paid little but was very secure. He would never have to look for work for the rest of his life. It was time for him to get married now. The family got busy finding him a bride. Manohar has just one request of his elders - that they make sure all facts that need checking were checked out before he saw the girl because he would not decline to marry a woman purely on the basis of her looks - that would be too humiliating for her. So he would marry the first girl his elders took him to meet.

Manohar got married to the first girl on the short list of prospective brides. He still works as in the same bank. Rohan, their only child is close to twenty two and very unlike his father. He sports shoulder length hair pulled back into a pony tail. His hair color is as transient as most other things in his life. He is the lead vocalist in a rock band some kids in his neighborhood with had cobbled together a few years ago and they have performed at minor local events.

Girls find him very attractive and he has been in several relationships, suffered and caused some heartbreaks. It’s been a few years since he lost his virginity. What he lacks in academic brightness he makes up for by being street smart. He can talk his way in and out of situations and gets the system well enough to game it. He realizes that his current call center job will burn him out very quickly but he loves the money and the independence it has brought him.

In a few years he will hitch his star to some gig with more staying power - he does not know what it is but is sure he will recognize opportunities when they present themselves. He is highly networked and is always in the know. Marriage is at least ten years away and his parents know to stay out of the match-making business.

Unlike his father he has no real passions and is not particularly good at anything. But he does not let his mediocrity cramp his style - in fact it is not something he is even aware of. Unlike his father he is not bogged down by middle class mores and morality. He lives the life he wants to without any compunctions.

Manohar finds it impossible to relate to this young man who is his own flesh and blood. He prefers to look away from his son's obvious moral and ethical transgressions. He blames it all on generation gap and the rapid erosion of tradition with the opening of the Indian economy. His son with his faux-American accent and world view is no longer representative of India or Indianness as he understood those things. He wonders sometimes if he would have ended up like his son if he had born thirty years later - he hates to admit it but he envies the "dissolute", "immoral", "materialistic" and "selfish" life his son is leading.

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