Friday, 22 April 2011

Small town mentality

This was a phrase often used in big cities like Delhi, when I was growing up. It is a bit like "that sounds so middle class". It was not such a nice thing to belong to a small town, the overall conviction being that people from small towns don't have what it takes, to chase their dreams with ruthless determination....possibly pushing everything and everyone who comes in the way, I would have thought.

No wonder then that so much is being made out about the fact that a lot of the world class cricketers in Team India actually belong to small towns. Though I believe their love and passion for the game rather than where they came from has brought them where they are today.

But talking of small towns, they were small towns before Indira Gandhi linked them with Doordarshan and before the Indian National Satellite System (INSAT) helped desperate housewives in small towns swoon over handsome hulks in The Bold and the Beautiful.

Before the television took up everybody's time and before the remote became the crown in the house, women had time to hang out of their balconies and solve the problems of the universe, starting with the neighbour's children, garden or pet.

This was when my brother would complain that everytime he enters or leaves the house he can see curtains moving in the house in front and can feel that he is being watched. Don't people have anything better to do? Probably not.

This was when my friend's mom in the neighbourhood would tell me that my frock needed retiring as it was too short for anyone's good or that I did not seem to have had a "head bath" today (an essential for Bengalis, wonder if it is so today).

It was also when people knew which couples argued into the night and would be at hand to mediate when the wife got beaten or was turned out of the house. If you were a couple, who were found out having some indiscrete fun in a house (the owners being on holiday and having asked someone to sleep there at night as a security measure), you could be taken to court by the "unemployed brothers" and forced to get married to make your escapade legitimate.

Pillion riding with a young man on his bike was the ultimate escapade for young girls, which if witnessed by an "uncle" enjoying paan on the roadside would mean a huge showdown at home with threats of binding matrimony for the young girl or termination of any further education for her.

Similar fate would await boys if someone in the neighbourhood (usually a spoilt sport frustrated adult in the youngster's view) decided he or she had definitely seen cigarette smoke puffing out of the young man's mouth. For God's sake- Get a life!

But with everybody knowing everything about everybody, the pluses were many. Festivals, marriages, births as well as sickness and death were shared experiences with in-built support in societies. Marriage counsellers, career counsellers, business advisors, health promoters were all free and would pop up anywhere. It would be up to you to take their advice or just smile and sit through it.

I am talking about the time when modes of communication were love letters or slips of paper tucked into people's fists, books or snacks and when the girl's longlasting looks rather than her facebook profile told you whether she was single and what or who she was interested in.

It was also the time it was customary to enjoy a cup of tea with neighbours, just like that, without prior warning or without an agenda at hand.

Then came Satellite Television. MTV and its saucy music videos changed the way young India dressed and behaved. Salwar kameez and braids became extinct while synthetic spaghetti tops, figure hugging jeans and shocks of hair covering the face in the sweltering temperatures of North India became the norm.

Today Small towns are no longer small because they are connected with the television, internet and mobiles to the rest of the world and it has opened up numerous oppurtunities. More and more corporates are seeing the advantages of including them in the big growth story. While living in big cities like Bangalore is a headache for anyone trying to get home after work in the rush hour traffic, Magarpatta (a new township) in Pune allows you to live and work in the same area.

With the world being so connected all youngsters seem to watch the same Disney channels, like the same menus in McDonalds and use the same software to upload stuff on You Tube.

I realized how small towns had changed when I witnessed the brisk business the florist in Raipur was doing on Valentines day and when I actually saw the young people in the street, atleast a hundred of them in bikes...girls clinging on, all naturally in Western wear, carrying balloons, shouting laughing creating a riot on the busy street- all in the name of Valentine's day! I felt definitely old and ancient and that was a good few years ago.

Today, being able to see the moonlight flood my bedroom and my garden or being able greet the wood pigeon on my window as I try to do yoga are the pluses of being in a small place but other than that we are all connected, are able to keep track of world events, are able to take advantage of possible oppurtunities and thus no longer isolated and prisoner of "small town mentality"!

Whether the erosion of small town communities as a result, is an essential fallout is a debate we can have in our own time. Howzzat!