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Friday, January 02, 2009

New-generation thinking?

There was an Op-Ed article in the Hindu yesterday titled "Young, educated & 'modern' but with an ancient outlook" by Hasan Suroor, which seemed to touch upon an idea that I've found quite intriguing for some time now, albeit from a slightly different angle. The article takes a gander at the somewhat startling phenomenon of Asian youth born and raised in "the West" exhibiting a Byzantine mindset when it comes to institutions like marriage.

Suroor begins by examining the case of Sahar Daftary, a 23-yr-old Manchester resident, former "Miss Face of Asia" who died under 'mysterious circumstances' involving the balcony of her twelfth-floor apartment. As it so happens, she was in the process of getting a divorce from her husband, Rashid Jamil, a 33-yr-old property developer who happened to already be married. Strange? Not for Mr. Jamil who claimed that his only crime was that he didn't inform Sahar about his first wife, because having more than one wife is clearly permissible under Islam. However, the author contends that, "There is something slightly unreal about the idea that an educated and modern man, who grew up in a Western society, can be so culturally regressive at a time when polygamy is rare even among conservative Muslims." And I agree with this viewpoint.

I find it equally suprising when I hear stories about young Malayalee men, born and raised in the US, coming back to Kerala to find suitable brides, and expecting huge dowries from the bride's family. The immediate question is "Why?" Why do people insist on returning to 'tradition', specifically aspects of age-old customs that seem to benefit them? How's that for a rhetorical question, eh?

To point this finger at my own life, I find that I seem unable to find the harmony between being Indian, as a matter of having Indian parents and living in this country for most of my life, and thinking Indian. The mindset of the people of this country, my homeland no less, is still a bit of a conundrum to me. I don't seem to be able to relate to the way in which people think and do business here in India. Having said that, however, I recently discovered through my last failed relationship that I was displaying signs of being the quintessential MCP -- Malayalee Chauvinist Pig. Characteristics of this pigheadedness include making sure that the person playing "wife" is somehow less worthy of a life. Well, in all fairness, I know I didn't go this far, simply because I anticipated doing this and worked myself away from it. Of course, you'll have to ask 'her' to get the other side of the story. But, this feedback prompts a very interesting question. Why does a person see it fit to return to the roots of one's adopted identity? Or maybe I should ask when. When is it a good time to do this?

Moving beyond supposed causes like family and community, I'm going to argue that there's never a good time, at least not in the face of logical thinking and common sense. The only reason that comes to mind is greed. And, if we establish this to be the cause, well, there's no use in arguing anything, quite frankly. If greed is the motivation, then we will unfortunately be reading about more Sahar Daftarys in the near future. Is there a cure for greed? More importantly, should there be?

So, maybe it's time to ensure that our children and grandchildren are empowered with the knowledge of what has come to pass. Teaching them about what's right and wrong is, well, pointless. It's like taking a horse to the water.

Maybe leaving the future to its own devices is the kind of new-generation thinking that will get us through the madness we see all around us today. Or maybe it isn't. What do you think?
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