Teenagers – the most exciting and excited set of youngsters – bubbling with the effervescence of life. The popular notion is that they are tough to handle as they consider that they are grown-up while the elders do not! The elders claim that this is the toughest period of life while teenagers feel it is this self-proclaimed ‘well-meaning’ advisory committee that makes it so. Looking back through the decades, the common factor in the teenagers of different periods is the sudden surge of excitement and thrill of independence and the resultant feeling of assertiveness bordering on rebellion. Only the levels were different, so too the societal norms.
I have this good family friend of mine who’s known to me for more than three decades. A typical middle class family of urban India – they can easily be representatives of their generations – I present them as the mouthpieces to project the teenagers of their times? Let’s hear straight from the horse’s mouth.
Lakshmi – teenager of the early 70s
“My teenage years? Were they turbulent? I don’t think so; nor was it for most of my generation.
Parents had the last word and we didn’t feel the urge to argue – but my brother did - at times. Guess it was true of all the boys. Mom was a housewife and so she was always there for us. I have two siblings – a brother and a sister – we shared a room and our possessions. We shared our joy, our little secrets and our worries. Each of us being two years apart, we formed an excellent support system for one another.
Hm… what was our routine like? Early morning saw us rush through our rituals to be in college on time. Classes were demanding but had an element of fun too. After enthusiastic interaction with friends throughout the day, we’d get to speak to our friends only the next morning – not that we missed anything! After returning home and freshening up, we girls would spend time at home while my brother would zoom off on his bicycle for an outing with friends. Tuitions? That was for the ones who had to struggle even to pass!! We’d enjoy humming while listening to film songs on Radio Ceylon / Vividh Bharati / local radio station on our transistor. Then an hour or two of studies. Then all of us would sit down to enjoy dinner, exchanging the anecdotes of the day and then retire for the night. We’d have family outings on Sundays – an evening at the beach or park or a shopping spree or an occasional movie. Only once have I gone for a movie with my friends – all girls, mind you. That was after our SSLC exams. All the moms insisted we go for the matinee show and we girls had no option. We compromised on the theatre to save for snacks and returned home with a splitting headache after 3 hours in the non-A/C theatre. Four years later, when my bro had come down on summer vacation, both of us planned a movie programme but mom vetoed it. Her argument was that seeing us together, strangers / acquaintances who were not familiar with my brother (he was in hostel in another city) would have a misconception about our relationship. Such were the times. Teenage girls rarely spoke to boys – if they could help it…
That being the case, need I specify that I went to a girls’ college? College was fun – yes, even then…. We had our fair share of giggles and groans and snores and pranks at the expense of gullible / inexperienced teachers. But everything was definitely in moderation and never affected the teaching schedule. But my brother would regale us with tales of classroom ‘hungama’ – echoing with continuous chants, catcalls and whistles drowning the novice-teacher’s brave bellows in retaliation! Boys wore bell-bottoms and sported side burns and aped the mannerisms of the chocolate heroes of the silver screen.
Western outfits were very uncommon among girls - stuck to traditional clothes – half-sari if we were in South India and salwar-kameez if in the North. But we’d imitate hairstyles and trends of the most popular screen goddesses. I still remember we all combed our hair in such a fashion that covered the top half of our ears – my mom would object and I’d pay a deaf ear! That was rebellion, if you please!
I was one of the toppers in college but as I hailed from a conservative family which believed in marrying off the daughter after graduation, I didn’t join a professional course but opted for B.Sc. – like so many of the girls. But since the town had only a coed college, we had no choice! Girls formed a very small percentage of the college population – after having been the cynosure of my teachers in a girls’ college earlier, I found here that the girls were being sidelined by the young professors – for whatever reasons! And we girls always moved in a group and kept the boys at bay – we would even commute by the first ‘girls only’ trip of the college bus to escape boys’ riddling stares and wagging tongues. We would exchange notes about studies with a couple of studious boys. That was it. The campus would come abuzz only during recess. As for the rest of the time, every one of us would be cooped up in classrooms. Library? It was mostly for issue of books and not a set of cozy corners for chit-chat – definitely with no real scenes like the cute reel scenes of the film ‘Bobby’. I can only remember one Romeo-Juliet love story blossoming in our campus in my three years there ….."
Preeti – teenager of the early 90s
"Hi! I’m Preeti. Lakshmi is my mom. I was born when she was 22; my brother two years later. Mom took up a job only after we had become sort of independent – that was when I was nine. And she’d be home by the time we were and so we never missed her. Some of our friends also had working moms and most of the households had two children.
My parents were still the conservative lot and sent my bro and me to convent schools located adjacent to each other. We commuted by the same public transport and mingled with all. We carried an emergency fund of some thirty rupees – just for emergency. A couple of our friends would show up on scooters on rare occasions and my brother had even sneaked a pillion-ride only to be severely reprimanded when discovered. Parents generally never allowed their teenage children ride scooters – they expected them to wait till they turned 18 and were eligible for license. Both of us had bicycles – we’d go our separate ways to meet some friend on some specific purpose if needed. Otherwise we did our own stuff – bro would be out playing cricket with friends or simply hanging out with them. I would catch up with the girls around. Cable TV had invaded our drawing rooms. Both of us would have a tussle for the remote – he would root for Star Sports / MTV and I for the sitcoms. It would be resolved when Dad took control of the remote! Otherwise our schedule was somewhat like mom’s in the 60’s & 70’s – an occasional movie with family / friends. I’d rarely call up friends as there was no need to and anyway very few had telephones. But we could if we needed – as every street had PCOs.
Though both my parents were working, they still stuck to middle class mentality. Both of us siblings planned to go in for engineering and that might have been the reason for their caution and thrift. We would demand Archie’s Digest / Hardy Boys whenever we passed by any bookstore. Parents knew when to draw the line and sideline our request. I still remember how we treasured our books – ironing out the creases and dog-ears. My brother was fiercely possessive of his ‘Hot Wheels’ collection even as a teenager and never allowed any visiting kid handle them!
We had our share of fun in college – we’d even bunk a boring lecture now and then and trot to the nearby restaurant in a group for a snack and discussion – on studies, of course, what did you expect? Most of us were focussed – coaching classes had sprouted and many made a beeline to them for improving their scores in SSC and HSC. Very few like us stayed away from the temptation of following the crowd. But then we too ended up for the Test series for more practice. A few of my friends who had opted for the Commerce / Arts stream took up part- time jobs and started earning while learning. But the rush was for Engineering and Medical professions. Were teenage years stressful? Definitely – for the competitive ones! The studious ones were stressed - to get into premier institutes for higher studies, the hardworking ones – to make the cut to professional colleges and the rest – to postpone career options till after a basic degree….."
Aditya – teenager of the last decade
"I’m Aditya. Preeti is my mom and Sanjay my dad. Both of them are IT professionals. You see ours is a ‘DIOK’ family – like so many around. Yes, you’ve guessed it – ‘Double Income One Kid’ family. Though I have working parents, I do get to spend quality time with them. Do I miss a sibling? Not at all! I am the nucleus of the family and everyone revolves round me. Don’t I enjoy all the attention I get! On some weekends the three of us take off on long drives or to some resort at times to unwind ourselves. Otherwise I hang out with my friends while mom and dad are busy with their profession and social life. We believe in respecting our privacy and giving space to one another!
Of course I have an excellent support system in my friends too – and they are just a call away. I can bank on them to rally round me whenever I want. In fact we are together most of our waking hours – at college, then at the coaching classes, at one another’s homes – for combined study and discussions as most of us have very busy parents. Some of my friends are from broken homes; it’s really hard for them. My parents also let me have fun with my friends – we go trekking or biking or simply end up making a round of the hot spots in town or hip hop places or chilling at the malls or movies or pizza places.
Mom and Dad are very understanding – they know that times are changing and the world is not the same as before. My uncle who noticed that I go in only for branded stuff was quick to mention that he got his first Reebok for his graduation! I am lucky to possess an expensive cell phone and a resplendent bike – to keep in touch and to save time. And whenever I step out of the house I carry at least five hundred rupees if not my credit card – for emergency. Don’t you agree all this is perfectly justified – in the current scenario? But no, my grandma would raise hell about these issues whenever she is around. She’d accuse mom of spoiling me silly and giving me excessive freedom. I don’t blame her – generation gap, you see - but she simply won’t understand. Mom simply lets the storm in the teacup subside on its own. Another thing - I also give lift to my friends Sheela and Ann and Hasina … – we don’t see anything wrong with that. But I tell you, grandma would riddle me with her bullet-stares but I wouldn’t be affected in the least! Don’t I give rides to Alok and Rohit as well? Move on Grandma, times have changed!
If we friends have to move around it has to be on our own vehicle – even girls zoom around on two-wheelers cooing, “Why should boys have all the fun?” Quite right. And they dress up in jeans and top – the most convenient outfit to zip-zap-zoom! We boys on our part love to sport different hair styles and tattoo and ear rings, chains and bracelets. All campuses are abuzz with girls and boys - there’s no distinction – all of us are just students. Many of us are gizmo-geeks – while jogging we’re wired to our iPods. While waiting or even riding anywhere, we’re busy texting or talking on our cell phones. Our backpacks carry our laptops – needed for presentations and assignments. A few lucky ones keep downloading apps on our iPads. And some of us have the ‘Kindle’ for instant access to books/ journals. See we have everything at our finger tips – thanks to internet! We go to college of course – a lot of crowd is outside the classrooms. And we do gain a lot from the animated discussions with our friends. The craze is still for professional colleges – for Engineering and Medicine. Till we land up there, life is a never-ending whirlwind of school/college and tuitions/coaching classes. New fields are opening up and attracting students; fees are skyrocketing. But trust our parents to provide us with the best they can! Things have become highly competitive but all those who can afford, can still make it to the course of their choice. Some who don’t have the inclination or funds, opt for Commerce / Arts stream and they wisely take up Call Centre jobs and get training and a decent pay packet – even as they are swift in adapting themselves to the Western influence. Levi’s, Nike, cell phone, iPod, Blackberry … are symbols of the modern teenager’s status.