Column published in DNA Bangalore, July 24th
“Where are you from? India, huh? Bangalore? Computer engineer? “ The New York cabbie sized me up quickly. “You guys are pretty smart” he admitted grudgingly. I smiled inwardly at how quickly the stereotype had shifted from naked fakirs riding elephants, to IT geek saving the World from Y2K blackouts . The new image was smart, but boring. Limited in social skills but able to work magic with bits and bytes. Six men in a chummery, spending Friday nights trying to cook sambar rice in the pressure cooker, while the Xbox screams for attention. The stereotype back home isn’t that different either. Add in good husband material, high salaries, foreign trips and boringly stable to the list, and it just about sums up. But how much of this generalization is really true? Sure, there is a class of cyber coolies who justify the stereotype. But my focus today is on a huge section of young men and women who have climbed Maslows hierarchy of needs assiduously. And are now seeking adventure, driving change, empowering social transformation and impacting cultural shifts in India in a big way.
What do you do when you are in your late 20’s, earn more money than your dad did at the time of his retirement, and marriage is only a hazy vision on the horizon? Well… first, you spend! Our Indian forefathers would turn in their graves, bless their sainted souls. But these youngsters are busy turning the Indian paradigm of saving onto its head. And pumping up our economy in the process. Spend, youth is short! The wife, when she appears will be employed and adding to the family income. Kids will plan their own futures. So spend on today! Then… the next step; self actualize! Look for meaning in life, travel, search for answers, join activist groups, absorb art and patronize culture. Most important of all, start to place value on the aesthetic, as opposed to the utilitarian. The kind of stuff that sets human beings apart from the apes. That’s the reason why Bangalore had the earliest and most active adventure sports groups. Thats why boutique restaurants and art galleries have sprung up across Bangalore. Herein lies the secret behind the profusion of meditation centers, Tai Chi classes, marathon runners and passionate cycling groups. Thats why you hear of offbeat and bizarre careers ranging from balcony gardeners to past life regression trainers and aura therapy. And very significantly, the reason why you see more and more round-neck T shirts waiting patiently in voting lines at election time. Sure you can complain that these youngsters have invaded the city and pushed prices up to levels bordering on fringe lunacy. But thats simply capitalism in motion. And the gut wrenching process of change, that does not treat everyone fairly.
Certainly, liquid cash and exposure is one reason for all this. But so is a changing demographic and mindset. One simple proof point is the increasing number of young people who are spending money while they have it, but are also moving away to alternate careers that pay lesser, but are more fulfilling. As an “NGO” friend pointed out to me recently, young people today are even negotiating their donations to include a chance for them to volunteer, and actually do work on the ground. Take my money, but I want to work too! What a wonderful ethos. We are changing India, whether we like it or not! Maybe some day we’ll even develop an online voting system, integrated with our unique id’s, which allows secure and easy exercise of franchise for everyone. And that could revolutionize voting patterns and completely trip up the well laid plans of politicians in India. Move over midnight deadlines, out of sync administrators and fundamentalist goons. Bangalore’s “geeks” are showing the way to a new order in young India!
Now if you’re reading all this and wondering “hey, I’m young and hip. But I have nothing to do?” then go out join one of the dozens of interest groups flourishing in Bangalore and nourished by Yahoo or Google groups. To the best of my knowledge, there are at least a dozen adventure biking groups, more than a few cycling groups, a couple of movie marathons, theater enthusiasts, wildlife warriors, dozens of photography communes, bird watchers, meditation groups, trekking and camping groups, singing opportunities, quizzers, new age political activists and aspiring organic farmers to name a few. Ask Mr. Google for contact details… we don’t really have the space here. But you can certainly lead a life less ordinary in Bangalore today, if you really want to!