India has produced a generation of urban, English-speaking, educated millennials who have grown on a diet of Western sitcoms, romcoms and popular literary fiction. How has this binging on western pop culture affected their perception of love and attitude towards concepts like dating and courtship? I asked a few of my friends. Here are their responses. (The first part was published on May 15. You can find it here.)
Confused between Western and Indian cultures? Nahh, We Youth Aren’t”
The influences of cinema and TV shows stir up extremely strong emotions in each one of us. Technology brought the craziest of notions to the most obscure parts of this great democracy called India. We, the youth of the nation, have seen our overpopulated country as the burgeoning model of young-blood driven development and progress. The economic stability that growing call centers and SEZs provided, mostly to the kids of the lower middle class, quite suddenly pulled them from near poverty to a novelty filled with sparkly new things and a blooming market. The world was suddenly at everyone’s doorstep. The youth drew hungrily towards fast food joints from all over the world. India in the remote villages with TVs to ogle at when there is electricity, show them about worlds so different that they refuse to see fine lines between fiction and fact. The line between the middle class and the poor is slowly becoming a ravine.
But hey, we kids in our naivete are all alike. We all have the same cravings for wishful thinking, a craving more urgent than for burgers. So we watch Hannah Montana, a spunky teen from a small town leading secret life as a rockstar. We try to emulate what we think we understand — Valentine’s day, Mistle Toes, Thanksgiving, Halloween — seemingly innocent until we realize that they make absolutely no sense in our geographical and cultural settings. American TV shows show young people “enjoying” life. But nobody wants to know the truth. People don’t all look that good, dating isn’t like it’s made out to be and not everyone has that kind of money because it is ridiculous how much time one can sit in cafes and bars and still look that good and make money and have the most amazing kind of relationship with the hottest looking people.
The young Indian now hopes to have a glorious “white wedding” in a chapel someplace. Our minds are filled with thoughts of ideal first dates, candle light dinners, kisses in rains, walks by beaches, etc. India has an entire monsoon season in most parts. It’s hardly soft quiet rain you kiss in and might be kissing a signboard with paan spit on it. The beaches of metros are dirty and hand-in-hand walks would mean both the people stepping in non-biodegradable pollutants together.
But this “new unruly generation” is a media-created frenzy, not the whole truth. It will take time for us to realize the follies of blindly believing in a tooth fairy but we are not stupid and a study of history will tell you that everything, including our liberal views on sex, is not recently acquired. The youth of our nation of all generations have fought hard against what their elders thought was right for them including occupation, life-partners, etc. We’re no longer bound by the regional, communal, economic, educational or technological limitations of our parents. But, somehow, it is still not easy.
Our ever accommodating culture has/will “Indianise” the values of the West to suit our needs. That is how it has always been; otherwise we would not be one of the oldest cultures in the world. The youth easily see through the veil of hypocrisy called “sanskriti”. We might not always call out the bluff because our society, like all societies, runs on its fair share of suffocating traditions and farce ideals, to make sure that we do not turn into dystopian worlds like Gotham.
We will learn to separate fact from fiction shown to us by the West, popularised by their media, sold by our media and marketed in glossy wrapping by our local supermarkets. Pixar movies and Scorsese may have rotted my brain but India would nevertheless have had Salman Rushdie, MF Husain, Vatsayana and so many more. Inspiration would have come eventually!
Yes, we’d all love to lazily lounge, occasionally sipping the nectar of gods but reality bites, reminding of obesity, cholesterol, DUI charges and scary “preservers of traditions” beating the crap out of us. Nevertheless, the courage to fantasize, to persevere, despite threats of “log kya kahenge“, that is progress and if you blame Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady for that, then the echoes of thanks from the young will muffle those sounds.
[Megha is a science freak who blogs at (http://nimbusmyname.wordpress.com/) ]
The Unscripted Reality Show Called Dating
Mainstream media has often held up a mirror to society and demonstrated its power to influence viewers, either consciously or subconsciously. In this write-up I will present a list of notions that the middle-class urban teenagers have about love and dating where they often believe in an idealized version of relationships.
I hope you are ready to leave your logic aside to empathize with the people who believe in “Bollywood version of true love!” Now before I move onto the effects of popular culture on dating, let me first shed some light on the portrayal of love in media.
- Squint at First Sight: The phenomenon of “Love at first sight” in a Bollywood movie is as believable as Narendra Modi’s claims about maintaining secularism in the country. Let’s just say the pretty Bollywood heroine also known as “the damsel in distress” has probably had a few shots of tequila and is as clumsy as ever. She suddenly falls down and her man in shining armor picks her up and stares deep into her eyes and steals her heart away. Honestly, I’d probably turn squint if I kept staring into somebody’s eyes for so long (unless it was my oculist of course)!
- RIP Friendship Mode: The symbiotic nature of the portrayal of these relationships on television and Indian culture is exemplified in this stage. I’ve been through this often and lost too many guy friends! This stage is usually a direct implication of the “friendship eventually waters down into love” notion. I call it watering down because there have been times when you start hallucinating about those weird feelings in the pit of your stomach (which possibly have occurred because you ate more than you could digest at an Indian wedding).
- Saree Fallacy: The arena of adolescent romance in the 1990s reached its “saree fallacy” stage when millions of couples in India were divinely inspired by the song “Tip Tip Barsa Paani”. This lasted till 2000 when suddenly many men had imbibed Akshay Kumar’s claptrap of unbuttoning the first few buttons of their shirts unveiling what could only be described as “hairy and hideous” or even women who wore translucent sarees. The custom of wearing a saree and looking sexy still prevails but it makes reality extremely comical, for example if I were to run in a saree to avert the love of my life from leaving, I swear to Goddess Aphrodite I would fall into the muck before I even started running. And although I would still make it to the airport, I can guarantee when I see him there, he would just give me an exasperated look when I say “What? You are supposed to hug me now.” Lesson I would learn: Mucky was NEVER the new sexy!
I remember, once my 13-year-old little neighbour came jumping into my room like an over-excited rabbit and told me that he had a new girlfriend. For once, I wasn’t surprised. I asked him who the girl was and he told me she was his classmate who looked very similar to him and how their friends had started teasing them, so he wrote her a note that said “I luv u” (he actually showed me this note and I made a mental note to teach him some spellings that evening). She blushed and ran away. He was grinning at me like an idiot when he said “hasli tar phasli na?” I took my time in assimilating this bit of information and thought to myself: “This is just great, now this 13-year-old kid has a girlfriend who looks like his sister”.
And the reason is YOU: “This isn’t working anymore, and it’s not you but me!” I have heard this as many times as I have heard people grumble about the heat this summer. Relationships today have an expiry date, some last for a day, the others for a decade. The most amusing part is the reasons for a break up. The first and the most inconsiderate thing I do when someone breaks up is that I ask them “the reason”. If you are a How I Met Your Mother Fan, you would know that Ted Mosby loved girls who loved Star Wars and believe me, my heart almost broke when I realized I had never watched it. In my head I had already married Ted, but after that particular episode, the divorce papers were looming in all my fantasies. Reasons for a break up may range from:
- You hug me too much,
- You dress like a hippie,
- she likes the band one direction,
- I am sorry I realized I am a lesbian!
- Awkward Friendships: People loved Chandler and Monica in Friends and many drew inspiration from this couple. The direct implication of the RIP friendship mode is that many teenagers or even adults end up dating a very close friend, but then life happens! Love turns into hatred, friendship ends horribly, things get awkward and you lose two most important things at the same time: friendship and your confidence.
- Pit of Passion: We all love dark, dangerous and mysterious people. The passion quotient when it comes to bad romance is extremely high. Have you seen “Sleeping with an Enemy” or even “Mr and Mrs Smith”? If you have, then you will know exactly what I am talking about. Nowadays the number of abusive relationships has increased because often the bad boys and girls seem irresistible and alluring. But then again, bad romance is a pit of passion that you fall into and just can’t get out of!
- Travelling for Love: Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge mass-produced a generation of people who wanted to travel just so that they could meet their soulmates. If you are travelling to find a person you want to fall in love with, you could meet too many people and confuse yourself or end up meeting all the wrong ones. Travel for a better reason!
- Dating the Alter Ego: The Dark Knight fantasies are still alive inside our hearts. Too many DC and Marvel comics sell the idea of how a man transmutes into a superhero with the help of a simple mask. In the real world too we can be who we want to be (secretly) with the help of the world wide web. Online dating is a rage when you are in the teenage. Just be very sure that the guy or girl you are head over heels for isn’t a 70-year-old creep looking for some galvanizing experiences.
- Waiting for the Perfect One: A long time ago a friend of mine and I had made a stupid checklist of the qualities we wanted in our “dream man”.(Confession: I was too jobless at the time and she was bored.) But then again I hadn’t discovered just how uncomfortable I get when I meet someone perfect. Bollywood, for instance, has a plot where the girl describes her dream guy to her friends, and just when she is about to give up on the idea of her dream man, she meets him and falls in love. On the contrary, I remember meeting someone who was exactly the way I wanted him to be, he was my very first crush but whenever I met him I acted completely dorky. When I think about it now, I realize even I wouldn’t fall for myself if I act like the way I do when I meet perfect men. To tell you the truth imperfections in a guy helped me converse with them easily. A perfect man scares the hell out of me, I get nervous. The perfect one is one that you can be your most imperfect self with. If you are waiting for a perfect man you will only transform into an old lady with a 1000 cats even though you’ve earned enough money to conduct your own swayamvar.
In the medieval times when Bollywood depicted the “no touching, only seeing kind of love” on screen but even in those days off screen romances were just as scandalous and bold as they are in today’s era. The real shift of trend has been in the previously “western approach towards transitory relationships” which was just limited to the high class and the upper middle class, now this approach has percolated down to the middle class since we all have access to television and new media. We all want to go to restaurants on dates, dress up for them, meet perfect people! But in the end what matters is that when two people start dating they spend quality time irrespective of the place, their appearances and maintain that bond no matter what. Like George Burns once said: “Love is a lot like a backache, it doesn’t show up on the X-rays, but you know it’s there.”
[Rutika loves bantering about uncanny things and binge on Bollywood movies and sitcoms with a rapacious appetite. You can find her rants on (http://duchessofbanterbar.blogspot.in/). She is a feminist who finds eating food amorous enough and so avoids eating men.]