The Youth Today : Caught in a Bind and Yet Daring to Dream – and Act

india youth

It was a performance “to narrate and retell the stories of women of Delhi who have been resilient in the face of adversities….. [and] have changed/ altered some parts of their lives by being their true selves.” A performance that more or less seamlessly “flowed into” what is characterized as “Playback Theatre” in which, after the main performance, someone from the audience is invited to share a real-life experience which is then, instantly, transformed into an impromptu enactment of that experience. Two separate, prepared performances re-telling the stories of two lower middle-class women braving it out against heavy odds and eking out a dignified existence for themselves were followed by, if I recall well, five impromptu “playbacks” based on experiences shared by young girls in the audience (yes, it was striking that none of the males present shared any).

The ‘Playback’ was, indeed, fascinating but just as striking was the fact that the stories shared had an underlying commonality to them – all the sharings were of young women facing up to challenging situations and responding to them – within the family, and without. Confusion, bewilderment, a sense of loss, a bit of dejection in the face of opposition and adverse circumstances, and yet the courage to hold up came out as some sort of a “theme song”.

These were real stories of real young women living in real families and interacting with a real world – and that is what made them all the more thought-provoking. Equally significant is the fact that the youngsters – the performers as well as those in the audience – seemed to have so much to share from their lives. Not just through performance but individually too. Except for the intelligent, gutsy, ever ready to experiment, self-respecting, upright young girl who had actually shared the information of this performance and the wish that I be there, I was a stranger to them all – and yet most of them ever so readily opened up with me to share their stories of small yet important struggles in daily life, especially within the family.

A one-to-one conversation with one of the performers post-performance brought me face-to-face with someone who’s been doing such performances as a part of a small group now working in Delhi for around an year – without regular funding from any agency. Obviously a young woman with a mind of her own, not ready to compromise with her principles, short stints in jobs convinced her that the suffocation at work-places is not her cup of tea. And so, she is now a freelancer, doing what she likes, financially sustaining herself through work that is of interest to her even though the earning might be much less than what she would be getting in a settled job. Quite obviously, parents concerned about her future would have their reservations but she chooses to have her freedom of thought and action even as she tries to convince them about why she does what she does.

She is not the first such girl I have met. There are many – young boys too – though even these ‘many’ are few if viewed in the overall scenario. But what comes out so very strong in most of these narratives is the daunting struggle they face and yet negotiate and confront undaunted, in spite of all the psychological pulls and pressures, the most difficult part being to be in a smooth relationship with folk at home even as they try to convince them about the path they have chosen for themselves.

The nuances and shades of these struggles within households were reflected in the conversation I had with the small group of the organisers of the programme, students of a university pursuing their Master’s degree. A striking observation made by one of them was the ‘double role’ they have to play daily. The sense of independence and freedom they have within the university campus – interacting and mingling with each other, boys and girls alike, and also with a faculty that is probably much more egalitarian than in other universities – sort of vanishes the moment they are home. It is a struggle between the tradition-bound mindset of the parents and the forward-looking, cliché-free, ‘modernist’ youth with a mind of their own. Not that the parents would not have had to struggle the same way with their own parents – but the winds of change post the era of liberalization in an internet age are probably too much for them to handle and digest. They are apparently unable to comprehend and sympathise, let alone empathise, with the changing trends and patterns of thought of the youth. Right from seemingly such small aspects as the clothes they wear to the hairstyles they adopt to the hours they spend outside of home to the more serious issues of the studies to undertake, the jobs to go for and the life-partner to choose, it is a difficult-to-negotiate relationship – even if not akin to a tug-of-war, comparable all the same to an elastic that is stretched and loosened up a bit every now and then, sometimes going right up to the moment of breaking and gradually coming back from the brink. What else but the emotional bond between parent and child would ensure that it doesn’t break?

And yet, I found the youngsters so very understanding of where and why their parents are coming from. They understand the parents’ dilemma – unable to get out of their traditional mindsets, worried for the future of their children, willing to be accommodative perhaps and yet being unable to do so under the pressure of their fears, feeling hedged in also by societal mores and customs. This understanding along with the emotional bond is probably what makes the relationship get to an even keel for itself, even as things go topsy-turvy every now and then.

It was a happy co-incidence that we had this discussion on Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s birth anniversary, even though that was not the occasion for getting together for the performance. One of the youngsters posed a question – to himself, and for all his friends. “I am 21”, he said. “More or less Bhagat Singh’s age.” What he said was probably a way of asking himself – what have I achieved as yet? And he continued – “I often think, had he not been hanged, had he lived long, would he have retained the same enthusiasm and zeal for his aims, as is evidently visible in the short life he lived to the hilt?” And along with Bhagat Singh, the young boy brought in Martin Luther King Jr. and his famous “I have a Dream” speech even as his question hung in the air. The query elicited a ready response from one of his friends – “What is important is to have single-minded purpose in life – an aim and objective for yourself – and work towards it assiduously.” An all-consuming passion for which one is ready to sacrifice everything in life, I thought – and said so. But that is a tough act to deliver, for sure; to sustain it is all the more difficult.

It was heartening to see that these young souls have their hearts and minds in the right place. For all one knows, their icons might well include sportspersons and personalities from the world of films but here, in tune with the occasion, the icons were the Indian martyr and the American civil rights activist, both of whom died young. A passing, contextual reference came about Gandhi too – if he could sustain his single-minded purpose in life and work towards it till age 79, Bhagat Singh would surely have done the same.

We parted friends, shaking hands after this interaction that must have lasted possibly not even an hour. Last thoughts in my mind were: there still are people working with the single-minded sense of purpose we were talking of, some leading nationally known struggles like (to name just a few) the Narmada Bachao Andolan and making the Right to Information and the Right to Food possible, or working towards making Education for All a reality ; others working quietly, at their own places, in their own personal lives, may be unseen, unknown, their stories not as glorious as the sagas of the icons that found mention in this inter-action but all the same working for a better society to live in – and that is what sustains all that is good in society, I thought, even as I thanked, deep within my self, the wonderful girl who had invited me and made this interaction possible.

The author works freelance and is engaged with issues of social concern. Email – [email protected]


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