Living through Change!
Experts have taken from the Book ‘Wise and Otherwise – A Salute to Life!” by Sudha Murty.
Life and times have changed in truly revolutionary ways. Yet, we seldom feel the impact of change because we live right in the middle of it. Old ways have changed, our festivals have changed, our attitudes have changed, our norms, values and ideas have changed. Two festivals in which I participated recently brought this point home to me fairly dramatically. In both cases, the extent of change that had taken place was conveyed to me through conversation. This added a personal touch and helped underline the fundamental nature of the changes through which we are living. The first event was a Diwali celebration. The second was a music festival.
Diwali is an occasion for great celebration in our country. Everybody buys gifts, prepares sweets and visits friends. Offices remain closed for days. Children buy crackers.
Last Diwali, I saw an advertisement saying that some orphanages were selling sweets prepared by the orphans. I thought that buying these sweets would be the best way to help and encourage the orphanages. I bought a few packets of sweets and went to the house of a close friend.
I expected her to be in a joyous mood, celebrating this great festival with enthusiasm. She was a housewife, hailing from a small town. Her father owned plenty of land in the village. Surprisingly, I found her far from joyous. She didn’t seem enthusiastic at all about the festival I had gone to celebrate with her.
‘Diwali has lost its real meaning,’ she said.
I was frankly surprised to hear this. ‘Why do you say that?’ I asked her.
She had her reasons. ‘In the small town I grew up in, our food pattern was so
different from what it is today. Everyone used to have healthy but simple food like roti, rice, dal and vegetables every day, irrespective of the family’s income. Sweets were prepared only when there was a festival like Dussera or Diwali.
That being so, we children looked forward to the festivals.’
My thoughts went back to my own childhood days. They were similar to hers.
We used to eat a healthy and balanced diet like she said.
‘But nowadays,’ she went on, ‘food patterns have changed. One reason is that we have only two children and are keen to give them what they like. We cook accordingly. In case we cannot cook what they want, then in a city like ours we can order it instantly from any restaurant. So children today have no reason to look forward to festivals and sweets like we used to.’
Of course she was right. Food habits have indeed changed. This is particularly true of the middle class and the upper middle class. But I still had a question.
Was the availability of sweets throughout the year the only reason for people to lose interest in Diwali?
‘No,’ said my friend, ‘the whole attitude has changed. People buy whatever clothes they want, whenever they want. They don’t wait for any festival.
Families are scattered all over India, and sometimes all over the world. Meeting one’s relatives is not easy. Even amongst my friends, many of them would like to go to their home town. But getting reservations by rail, air or even by bus, has become so difficult that it is better to stay at home.’
How true! For the trip I would take over Diwali, I had booked my tickets a month in advance.
My friend raised the most fundamental issue when she asked, ‘How many of us really know the significance of Diwali? The real meaning of the festival of lights? What our sacred epics say about this festival? The reality is that nobody is bothered. In our country, each state has a special story about this festival. All the stories are from parts of the Mahabharatha and the Krishna legend. But how many know about them?’
I thought that perhaps she was feeling homesick. In such a situation, I told myself, the best thing to do would be to take her out of the house.
‘Let us go to Renu’s house or Mridula’s house,’ I suggested. They were old friends and therefore real friends. Nowadays many people refer to me as their friend though I may not know them. Renu and Mridula were different and I thought visiting them would cheer up my depressed friend. But she had news for
‘No, Renu got bored,’ my friend said. ‘She works as HRD head in a big firm and she is really tired of having to take care of so many visitors during the Diwali season. So, she has gone to Goa for a holiday. And Mridula is writing a book. She told me not to tell anybody that she is in the company guest house.’
This was something new to me—this method of celebrating Diwali by
escaping or hibernating.
My friend had not finished. ‘There is one more headache. Some relatives bring gifts, so we have to reciprocate. It has become a racket. I did not unpack last year’s gifts hoping that I could give them to somebody this year. I am tired of candle stands and boxes of dry fruits and sweets. We are all getting old. Extra calories and cholesterol-rich sweets are not good for us.’
‘So what did you do with them?’ I asked.
‘I gave them to an orphanage. Let the poor children enjoy themselves.’
I was curious to know to whom she had given the sweets. She named a well- known orphanage. Now I knew what happens to the sweets or candles gifted at Diwali! They are labelled in the name of some charitable organization and sold in the market. What a wonderful way to raise funds! Of course, the little children in the orphanages may still not get to eat any sweets on Diwali.
My music festival experience was quite different but equally illuminating.
These days, I am often invited to inaugurate music festivals, philosophy lectures or charity shows. Often, I do not know anything about the subject concerned.
But people get offended if I refuse. So, I accept these invitations on the condition that I should not be called to the dais.
I attended one such festival recently. I just wanted to enjoy the music. I went late, so I sat at the back, quite happy that nobody had noticed me. There were retired officers, middle-aged housewives and old ladies, but I could not see any youngsters in the hall. Two middle-aged housewives wearing Dharmavaram saris were sitting right in front of me. They looked elegant with fresh jasmine flowers in their silvery hair. Since the rows were close, I couldn’t help but hear what they were talking about. They were discussing the problems of finding grooms for girls these days.
‘The software boom has made it difficult to get grooms above twenty-eight years these days,’ said one woman profoundly.
The other woman was also interested in the topic. Obviously, the subject of grooms was far more important to them than the music.
The first woman went on to explain, ‘Today, when a boy completes his BE, he may be twenty-two years, and he will get a job in one of the software companies. He will work for two years and then he will go abroad for a year. By that time he will be twenty-five and probably would have earned more money than his father, who might have been a bank officer, an honest government employee or a professor. Tell me, why should he not marry and settle down?’
Unaware that someone was eavesdropping, she answered her own question. ‘His parents will search for a software engineer girl. Today, I’ve been told that about 50 per cent of the students in engineering colleges are girls. An engineering college is just like an arts college these days. I am sure the boy’s father will get a software girl. The marriage is good for both of them in every sense of the word. He will have someone with him when he works abroad. He will have home-cooked food and there will be somebody to look after him. For the girl also it will be such an advantage. So, at twenty-five, these young men will get married—just like in the old days.’
This woman definitely deserves a medal for her logical and accurate analysis, I told myself. Now it was the turn of the other woman to give her views. She had a different perspective.
‘This software boom is really bad in some ways,’ she said. ‘Look at how it affects others. Nowadays, girls say they do not want to marry electrical engineers, mechanical engineers or even doctors. The chances of these boys going abroad are limited. Their salaries are also not very attractive. Most important of all, they are not respected in the family.’
I was really surprised by this last statement and was eager to hear an explanation for it. I was not disappointed.
‘If the boy is abroad,’ the lady continued, ‘then he will come home for three weeks, bringing gifts with him. Everybody likes him for that. But engineers or doctors don’t get the same opportunities to work abroad. Also, if the daughter- in-law stays with her mother-in-law all the time, she is not respected. Today, no girl likes to stay with her mother-in-law. Going abroad is the best solution, but this must be immediately after marriage, not later.’
‘Why not later?’
‘Later, it is better to be with the in-laws. There will be children and the in- laws will look after them. There will be nothing to worry about. No need to depend on servants. This kind of shuttling between India and the US is possible only in a software job.’
I could not control myself any longer. A whole new window had opened before my eyes and I wanted to know who these women were. They had come to such a beautiful music concert, but preferred to exchange notes on the social aspects of software development. I knew it was bad manners, but I couldn’t help interrupting their conversation. ‘Excuse me,’ I said, ‘I am curious to know how you both know so much about software sociology.’
They were startled and turned around to stare at me. I felt that they did not like my question. And I could not blame them. After all, I had broken into what was a private conversation.
‘Who are you?’ they asked.
I introduced myself and said, ‘I have known the software industry for the last two decades but I did not know these social details. I must really compliment both of you on your knowledge.’
My compliment seemed to put them at ease for they smiled as they replied together, ‘We are marriage brokers.’