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December 20, 2017

A Quiet Revolution: What Matters To Gen Now

Text by Madhu Jain. Illustration by Swati Sinha

While Generation Now lives life on their own terms and tends to focus on itself, many of the youngsters are concerned with issues beyond their personal lives

My friend is beside herself with anxiety. Her son and his girlfriend have just walked through the dining room, to his bedroom at the far end of the apartment. Perhaps, her discomfort is brought on by the eyebrow of a dinner guest arching up ever so slowly as she petulantly forks biryani into her mouth. In several conversations we have had, she has been quite accepting of the couple oscillating between her home and the one of her son’s girlfriend’s parents, in New Delhi. The problem that night lay elsewhere — her judgmental dinner guests, even though our hostess and her husband are quite supportive of the living arrangements and lifestyle of the young couple.

It is simply put, l’air du temps, the zeitgeist if you will. The two are not on the sunny side of their twenties; nor are they rebels with a cause, flaunting their defiance in the face of others. They are, in fact, in a serious relationship — not the revolving-door kind. But, like many others of the same age, the idea of settling down or formalising their relationship is not for them.

It isn’t merely commitment phobia, which has in the past few decades made the journey from the declaration of love to the altar or the mandap much longer. It is the adherence to a way of life their parents and generations before them led that they are shying away from. They don’t want to be tied down: to a home and almost everlasting EMIs; to a car (same reason); or to a city, because they cherish the freedom to pick up their belongings and move wherever whim and purpose take them.

They don’t want the yoke of marriage and children that ties them down to a place and lifestyle. Even pets — in fact, any responsibility that hinders their freedom. In other words, rooted lives with parenting that involves helping out with homework, PTA meetings, ferrying their children to football practice as well as to flute and dance classes. And, as is increasingly required of parents, becoming friends with the parents of the children who go to the same schools as theirs.

The commitment of Gen Now, a growing number of them at any rate, is to focus on themselves and planet earth. Travel is big, as is notching up experiences, and experiencing life. The ‘me-too, me-first’ mantra that appears to govern their lives is not quite as selfish as it sounds. They are concerned about issues that go far beyond their individual lives. You could call it a quiet revolution.

Not only are their life choices and lifestyles indicative of a volte-face from those of preceding generations, there is a sense of urgency in their concern about the environment and climate change. These concerns were not on the front burner earlier. In fact, they were considered ‘boring’ subjects for media bosses. “Not sexy enough,” as I was told by an editor then. What was in was the lifestyle of the noughties and with it a celebration (and emulation thereof) of froth and celebrity. And, of course, features which seductively urged the readers to emulate the rich and the famous and buy into their lifestyles, their clothes, jewellery, accessories, interior decor — the works.

Climactic Concerns
The winds of change blowing over our landscape may be barely discernible. But, quietly and unannounced from any pulpit, many young people are trying to undo the damage caused to the environment, and much else, by preceding generations. It is almost as if they view our planet as a ticking bomb, scarred by unhealthy lifestyles, with depleting resources. I wonder if we are seeing a backlash in respect to consumerism.

A friend whose two children have just about stepped into their third decade tells me: “My kids are concerned about the environment and climate change. They are not into brands. They buy clothes that are comfortable and don’t have a ‘wear by such-and-such date’ stamp on them. They have watches that serve the purpose of stating time alone, and they save their money for travel. And, yes food, that’s big with them.”

Sexy at 72
Health is a major concern, as is a healthy lifestyle. There is a move towards (for those who can afford it) organic food and vegetables as well as poultry sourced from farms. Workouts in gyms and runs in the park are no longer only motivated by weight loss and looking good but by the desire to be healthy. Similarly, drinking binges are frowned upon, unlike their forbears — as are serious drugs. However, marijuana could well be the stimulant du jour.

Possibly, there is a correlation between the deteriorating planet and an individual abusing his or her body with unhealthy food and a frenzied lifestyle. Hence, one also celebrates the zest for life of those not cowed down by the prevailing cult of youth. Like Helen Mirren, for example. There she was on the cover of Allure magazine, all of 72, radiant and sexy without obvious cosmetic surgery, clutching the tattooed arm of a man barely out of his teens. She was decidedly the sexy one.

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