Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Lesson 9: Who is the Indian Shitizen?

I will be polite to the housekeeping boys and security guards, or will at least keep my mouth shut each time I want to be rude. That would be my contribution today. Yours?

Contributed by Citizen Mohit (on the Rocks)

Who is this Indian Shitizen? That’s the question I asked myself the first time I came across this term and that exactly was the question I could hear in my friends’ tones. I guess everyone who has been on our sites has their own interpretation of this term. Here’s mine!

Please Note: Using ‘he’ comes more natural to me but this generally applies to the ‘she’ too – unless noted otherwise.

The Shitizen's Past
He was brought up in a middle class house with middle class dreams. He is mostly the child of a government servant or a small business owner (the parchun ki dukaan types a.k.a the Mom ‘n’ Pop stores in the West). Not very long ago, he used to study in a school and dream of becoming an engineer or doctor and work hard to buy his own new motorcycle, not a Harley Davidson but a more down to earth Hero Honda Splendor or a Kawasaki Bajaj RTZ. It was supposed to be an upgrade from his father’s Bajaj Super/Chetak (or, as in my case, a Vijay Super!).

Maruti 800 would be the next step towards a successful life. While he was opening up with cable television in his home bringing an end to the monopoly of the monotonous Doordarshan with the advent of Zee TV and MTV, there was still no competition to the 20 minute news capsule (back to back at 09:20 PM in Hindi and at 09:40 PM in English) that would update him on all that was to know in the world of politics, states, sports and the weather. Entertainment folks never made it to the news unless they died.

He would dream of getting into an IIT and make it to the big companies which at that time meant Samtel (makers of picture tubes for almost all brand TVs in India, at least at that time) or one of the TV makers themselves (Onida, Videocon) or of course the core manufacturing giants like BHEL, SAIL (remember the “There’s a little bit of SAIL in everyone’s lives” ad before the news?), Tata Steel and the like. His career choice was made (or doomed) at the age of 16 when he was asked to choose Science or Commerce. Did I say choice? Ha … a big HAH! It was mostly on the basis of marks in the Class X Board exams (remember your parents and teachers telling you, “These are the exams that will define your life beta”?). Commerce was not an option; it was a majboori. People taking commerce were looked down upon. They were not seen as people who genuinely wanted to study Commerce; they obviously didn’t get science.

USA was not a friend; we were not aligned with any of the super powers. So what if we just had a fascination for all things Russian when it came to strategic defense infrastructure and know-how? To appear fair to the world, we did let US planes refuel their tanks in Indian airbases during the Gulf War. USA was supposed to be for Punjabi and Gujarati families who would sell off their assets in India to fly to Amreeka [America] to work in gas stations and motels. People looked at the angry-young-man of Bollywood and public leaders for inspiration.

Marriage between a Punjabi and a Madrasi was only possible in Ek Duje Ke Liye. Fair skin was the number one criterion for considering a girl beautiful. Amitabh Bachchan would be seen with Rajiv Gandhi. Anu Malik was the favorite whipping boy for his “inspired” music and outspokenness. Prannoy Roy with his Friday night program, The World This Week, was the favorite newsman while Vinod Dua had a similar status in Hindi journalism. Sardar+ music meant bhangra and Daler Mehndi, of course, TV serials meant a span of 13 episodes (for whatever reason).

Rules Back Then
There were some basic rules of the game in those days.
1. You never get into a fight with a government servant; he could be a line man, postman or a chapraasi but if he works for the government, it meant that he had control over a lot of luxuries in your life. You could say goodbye to your letters or telephone service if you so much as hinted of an altercation with the Sarkari Karamchari unless, of course, you were the offspring of either his boss or a policewallah.
2. A girl and a boy could never be friends. They were either brother-sister or husband-wife. Apart from that, a boy had to be a friend of the girl’s younger brother to be able to talk to her and that too only to ask her to call her brother. He would have to imagine the rest of the conversation later at night, in his dreams.
3. Sikhs were supposed to be Khalistan; Christians were peaceful and loving people as long as they stuck to teaching in English-medium convent schools. Muslims were supposed to be Muslims first and Indians later. Hindus were obviously the righteous ones because their political leaders were the ones setting the perspectives about all others.
4. Politicians cared and worked for their vote bank only: So what if a certain Rajiv Goswami burns himself alive to protest against their policies?

His Present
The Indian Shitizen of today is young and works out of plush offices not the sarkari daftars.
He suddenly found himself in this new world where Kawasaki Bajaj RTZ went out of production and Hero Honda Splendor became just another entry level bike. The Indian Shitizen can realistically buy an expensive Harley Davidson clone now, if he wants.

He can afford to buy a Ford Ikon as soon as he gets his first job (and a lot of them do buy one). Yes, loans are no more a social taboo they once were. Cable television is the only television for him now. News is now broadcast 24 hours a day for him on exclusive news channels. 20 minutes news? Are you kidding? That would be the time that is spent on just “our top story tonight” with everybody and their mommy chipping in with their analysis. Yes, news items became “stories”.

IIT is still a dream today but you can get into any of the big multinational software companies with a degree from your friendly neighborhood engineering college, which is only a little unfriendly to the pocket. Shimla and Ooty have given way to Phuket Island and Mauritius as top honeymoon spots… and New Year parties. You don’t have to pack your assets in India to go to US now – software engineers go for a few years and come back (or not); some even go just for vacations. The US consulate in Mumbai now has a dedicated separate counter for “Shahs and Patels”; the Delhi counterpart has one for those speaking only Punjabi or Hindi.

Angry young man is out; today’s Shitizen looks at reality show stars for inspiration. The Aneek Dhars (Sa Re Ga Ma Pa 2007) and the Amit Sanas (first Indian Idol ), coming from small towns to make it big on or behind the silver screen have made it to our drawing rooms (which are now known as living rooms, by the way). Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the most favorite politician of the youth of today; (With all due respect to Vajpayee ji) I will not be completely wrong if I say that it was because the youth did not know of any other leaders.

Marriages between a Punjabi and a Madrasi have come out from Bollywood movies to real life even as Bollywood itself gets more real than ever in movies like Satya. Girls are no more judged beautiful based on their fair skin. Amitabh Bachchan is now seen with Amar Singh. Baaju hat (move aside) Anu Malik; Himesh Reshammiya has taken over as the favorite whipping boy as he becomes bigger than Anu Malik ever was (and, as he claims, even RD Burman)! He espouses the Indian Shitizen like few other – does what he wants and likes to do and does not give a damn about what his detractors think of it, as long as he enjoys his work and knows that. Prannoy Roy is still respected but Rajdeep Sardesai (whom my father describes as “ek puraane first class cricketer ka ladka hai, achcha bolta hai, kaafi achche achche points uthata hai” [he is the son of an old first class cricketer, speaks well, brings out very good points]) has captured the imagination of the current youth. Sardar + music now also means guitar based Sufi-Rock! TV serials now go for so long that characters have to die because an actor leaves midway for another serial (also starting with K, of course).

The current Indian Shitizen has seen a world of change in his lifetime. Looking back now, it seems that till one fine day, it was the past and suddenly he came into the present with all its changes, for good or bad.

But some things didn’t change
So a lot of things changed for the Indian youth from his adolescence years to adulthood. But there has been little change in his attitude towards the government and vice versa. Public corporations, for the most part, have become synonymous with losses and red-tapism and corruption. A girl and a boy can be friends today (not all agree to this even today) but they run the risk of being pulled up and beaten by Shiv Sainiks or RSS workers, especially close to Valentine’s Day. Parents don’t mind if their daughter comes back from the college with her guy friend but the self-appointed custodians of Indian culture don’t care for what you and I think.
Religion is still a controversial subject. Sikhs have been absolved of the terrorism ‘charge’ but the Muslims have been put in that mold now. A normal Hindu and Muslim still don’t have any problem with each other but “Hindu-Muslim relations” as portrayed by the politicians are at an all time low with riots and bomb blasts occurring recursively. Politicians still make policies to please the vote bank –Rajiv Goswami is dead now and the striking doctors protesting against the govt are shown as heartless people not tending to their patients. Arjun Singh scares the hell out of the Indian Shitizen by recommending reservation in the private sector too.

Problems facing the country are frustrating but the common man has found alternate ways. For example - No electricity? No problem – get an apartment in one of the buildings selling two bedroom flats for 40 lacs with a clubhouse and 24 hour electricity and water supply. For every thing public, there is a private (and more often better, even if more expensive) counterpart. Schools, Hospitals, even roads (e.g. toll roads like the Noida toll road); the list goes on.

Since the common man found ways to circumvent the things that didn’t change, he lost interest in the nation. Talking about politics became passé. It was a surprise if someone knew the names of the chief ministers of more than 2 or three states. People today don’t know the number of states we have in the country. They know about the Osama and Clinton campaign more than the fact that we could be facing mid-term elections in this country.

But some of them have had enough shit from the politicians and people who have their own personal agenda in keeping the country backwards or in inciting revengeful religious sentiments. They are the people who want to bring India back into our mental frame; to at least increase the awareness of issues facing us and, where possible, take steps to help. Those people, I believe, are the INDIAN SHITIZENS!

(PS: It was difficult reading Mohit's piece in one go, simply because even as I was reading the story, I kept pinging Mohit to tell how this-has-happened-in-my-life-too. The Indian Shitizen could be a liquor baron and son, the next top supermodel, someone not just born with a silver spoon but the entire effing cutlery set in his mouth... and as Mohit has written, a HUGE population of our country, are the Middle Classes Children. Bajaj Priya was Papa's first scooter and I stood before him on that scooter for 12 long years before we got our first car - a Maruti 800 that was electric blue in colour, second-hand -- in 1991. It's funny and amusing how a LOT of my younger friends today and never-been-on-a-scooter types often say when they spot a "family" on a two-wheeler, "Oh my gaaaawd, HOW can they sit with kids dangling like that on scooters? It is dangerous, they should not. Seat belts bhi nahi hai!" Right. For those 12 years that Papa drove with me infront and Mamma at the back and bhai on her lap; we never had an accident. NEVER. Oh that scooter is STILL around -- and called Akbar -- I learnt gears on that and forever since, MISTRUSTED anything gear-less. It's like riding a goat.
Thanks Mohit: Very nostalgic.
Task Force: I missed a date today, please understand, my sense of time zones SUCKS. So I might be thinking I am uploading on 4th while it ends up becoming 5th. :| One post missed. SO PLEASE point out.

6 comments:

Angad said...

that was sooo cool.

i was thinking about the day i saw my first cellphone. it was this big black monstrosity, an erricson i think (was there an indian cellphone ever?) and i remember my parents telling me not to call my dad because in those days one would get charged for incoming. It had this really crappy dot matrix display, monochromatic ofcourse.

Snap back to today and we got funky phones with million colour displays that can take 5mp pictures. Yet the beggar at the red light is still only 20cm away from me and all i can think about is why she hasnt called me back.

Mohit said...

well said angad, i dunno how i missed the cell phone ... but as J Bo & I discussed, there r gonna be a million things that have changed and each reader brings in his own perspective!
If we can bring about even a percent of the change, that has happened in our cell phones and cars, in our country's actual problems, we would have done our bit! Chak de INDIAN SHITIZENS!!!!

sector7 said...

B.R.I.L.L.I.A.N.T.E!

Crimson Feet said...

so obvious and yet so though provoking...!

fijas said...

Hats off. The resemblance to my life is uncanny. But then again, each and every Indian reader must be feeling the same. The Science ya Commerce turmoil struck me the hardest! How I wish I had chosen Commerce! :-( But that is the way India is. Beautiful in its disarray!

Nishant Verma said...

Well done Mohit! You just vroomed (word shamelessly copied from ‘One night at call center’) me through the lanes of memories right from the time when my size was small enough for people to play with me like a ball to now when playing seems such a dream:).
Each word on your post gave me a small little tickle on my so called brain which sent so called emotions from the blood pumping organ to every little corner of my big body!
One this I wanted to add to all the thoughts jotted down – today the Indian shitizen looks so clear in ideas but I very confused deep inside.. may be because he has been offered much more than what his parents were offered and having the Indian parents’ blood in veins (the so called culture) and standing in a globe full of offers sometimes makes the Indian shitizen as confused as a baby in a topless bar!
Anyway, I am sure each Indian shitizen shall enjoy this post as I did…
Keep it up and hope to read more of your posts very soon!