By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Monday, December 17, 2012

Gengappa's Generation Gap

A couple of days ago (Dec. 15) I had recalled an essay I had written in THE HINDU in 1991, in which I had visualized the concept of  'generation cycles', as an extension of the well-known phenomenon of generation gaps.  As I was keying in the 21-year-old text, I spotted an error of omission; so I wrote a postscript at once, introducing the elusive idea of 'parallel generation gaps/cycles'.

But logic is such a coiled labyrinth!   Remembering and reading a humorous article I had written on the generation gap in the evening paper in New Delhi in 1975, I noticed a still more intricate point  --  that an almost identical turn of phrase I had used in the two articles (with a 16-year interval between them) had very different connotations altogether.  I wouldn't call it an error, or even a flaw;  --  rather, it's just a fascinating aspect of  grammar.

In the 1991 article I said:  ". . . . In many cases yesterday's rebel happens to be today's conservative, and may well turn out to be tomorrow's  fossil. . . "  --  here, although 'rebel' and 'conservative' aren't plural expressions, they actually signify a whole set of persons belonging to the same generation;  and the conflict is between groups of people belonging to different generations, and not between an individual and the prevailing norms of his own generation.

In the other article, my imaginary friend Gengappa  (who was presumably my own alter ego) had declared:  ". . . I've been a rebel against my own generation, and yet I feel like a crusty old conservative when I look at the youngsters now!"  --  and here the contrast is between one person and a whole set of others belonging to his own generation.  The difference isn't easily visible  --  but it's there, like the dark side of the moon!

Well, is your head reeling, and getting overheated by all this fuss about logic and language?  Don't worry, just read the hilarious 1975 article and relax!  It was meant to be pure fun and not an exercise in psychology, though it turned out to be both.

By the way,  although 'Gengappa' was an imaginary name, it sounded quite real because it rhymed so well with Chengappa and Lingappa, which are very common names in the Telugu-speaking parts of India.  But then, the artificial names I used to concoct for Delhiberations, so as to evoke the elements of the given contexts  --  like the American spacemen Bill Concorde and Joe Goodfellow  -- always sounded authentic and very real!

Evening News, New Delhi
2 May 1975

Generation gap

"I can understand how  the generation gap occurs in the case of other people," my friend Gengappa said, "But I can't understand how it occurs in my own case!"

"How do you mean?"  I asked. 

"I used to be 20 years ahead of my own generation when I was young,"  Gengappa said.  "And that was 10 years ago.  Which means I should be on the same wavelength as the youngsters today.  But I'm not!  There's such a wide gap between us!"

"In what way were you ahead of your own generation?"

"Well, in so many ways!  For example, I had shockingly long hair. . .  And it wasn't only my elders who condemned me for it!  Even my class-fellows used to tease me and ask me whether I was wearing a wig.  But look at the youngsters now!  Some of them have hair half a metre long!  And such awful sideburns, too !  It shocks even me. . .

"Or take the question of clothes!  I was in Delhi in 1955, and everybody in my age-group was wearing wide trousers with 22-inch legs.  I was the only chap having 18-inch legs made in Madras, and all my friends used to laugh at me.   Ten years later everybody in the world switched over to drain-pipes and I cut my own width to 15 inches.  But look at the boys now!  They're all wearing bell-bottoms which look like an elephant's legs! Man, it's crazy! . . .

"Or take the case of art and culture!"  Gengappa rattled on.  "I used to love Western music when I was young.  When all my friends were listening to Carnatic music or Hindustani music. I was listening to classical Western music, jazz, Russian folk songs, Hungarian gypsy orchestras, Portuguese fado, Spanish guitar, Latin American rhumba, samba, mambo and cha-cha-cha. . .

"I even liked rock-'n'-roll and calypso when they bacame fads in America and Europe in the early sixties.  All my friends thought I was crazy, listening to LP records and short-wave radio stations all night long!   But look at the youngsters these days!  They seem to be crazy  about all the awful things which are called Western music now! And so many of them actually perform on TV or give public recitals or cut LP records!  And they sound so awful!"

"Shall I tell you something, Gengy?"  I said.  "It seems to me your arithmetic is all wrong. . .

You said you were 20 years ahead of your generation when you were young.  But it seems to me you were only 10 years ahead.  That's why nothing which happened till the mid-sixties shocked you, and everything which is happening now shocks you!"

"Well, maybe you are right,"  Gengappa said.  "All I know is, I've always been a rebel against my own generation, and yet I feel like a crusty old conservative when I look at the youngsters now!"

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