Book Excerpts

How do you survive at 49 in a country where everyone else is 25?

A Guy Growing Old In A Country Growing Young, by Desmond Macedo

A Guy Growing Old In A Country Growing YoungIn April 2013, when Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar was accused of links with arms dealers, he rubbished the allegations as ‘baseless, scurrilous, unfounded and ludicrous, with the sole intention of besmirching my personal integrity, reputation and competence’.

Dan Mullagathanny wondered if anyone could have got away with such affluent and well-heeled vocabulary just twenty-five-odd years ago. India was a socialist democracy. Any use of such vocabulary would’ve been allowed purely on a quota basis. ‘Ludicrous’ would’ve been banned anyway for extravagance since there was already an equivalent permitted: ‘ridiculous’. As for ‘besmirching’ and ‘scurrilous’, they would’ve attracted heavy import duty.

Likewise, multitasking would’ve been banned in socialist India. No one would ever have been allowed to do several jobs at once because then some people would have the unfair advantage of shirking several jobs at the same time whilst the rest of India was allowed to shirk only one job at a time, socialism dictating that everyone should be equally lazy. No one was allowed to be lazier than the other.

Then came the ’90s, and India became a free economy. Overnight private enterprise boomed. Indians started buying more and more packaged goods so more and more stores came up, followed by malls, since shopping was getting leisurely and stylish, overall producing more garbage than the staff detailed by municipal offices could clear every morning because they were still busy framing the Rules & Guidelines of Laziness to be observed in their wards that gave rise to a new breed of Indian entrepreneurs: ragpickers.

And one of them, Sanjay Parmar, joined the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, listed amongst the top design schools in the world, in May 2013.

Dan considered himself fortunate never to have had competition from ragpickers in school. He had competition from the children of army officers, doctors, teachers, scientists and lecturers. Then there were the laboratory technician’s children, the engineer, fitter and machinist’s children, and the occasional trader and industrialist’s children.

To be beaten in studies by India’s middle class was socially acceptable. But to be beaten by a ragpicker would’ve been a new standard of embarrassment.

~~~

If he was fortunate never to have had competition from ragpickers, he was just as grateful to have never had the same from newspaper boys. One of them, N. Shiva Kumar, walked into the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, a topper among management institutions, in May 2013.

In any other country, Dan would be considered in his prime, ripe for the big promotion, ready for the big responsibility. If he were already married, he could start an affair. If he were into an affair, he could end it, go back to his wife and reflect on his foolishness. At forty-nine, there was plenty to do in any other part of the world.

Who distributed newspapers in the years prior to the ’90s? It was a vegetable vendor or factory worker, moonlighting, early in the morning—people who didn’t bother with low-level jobs; they bothered about survival. National aspiration levels and competition at jobs were a great deal lower then, hence it was convenient to classify jobs.

Today, it was the youngsters who wanted extra money to fund their college education. And it wasn’t about surviving; it was about a future.

Dan went from childhood to adulthood without knowing there was a future. He learned about it only when it arrived, by which time another bit of it would be arriving, stacking up, one on top of the other, so that, if he ever had to look into it, he’d have difficulty sorting out that stack chronologically. Still, one day he got up right early, and before anything could start, took a quick look into his future, didn’t see anything spectacular there and went right back to bed.

On another occasion, while on a busy road in Dadar, Mumbai, in the afternoon, he decided to look again into the future to see who was there: there were thirty-year- olds taking their wives on holidays; there were executives doing part-time courses to gain specialized professional skills while they scanned job sites, shared vacancy tips and discussed salaries; there were couples driving their new cars or filling in forms to apply for car loans; and there were couples moving into new homes, moving out of one-bedroom flats into two-bedroom ones, filling forms to apply for home loans and buying insurance to protect home loan repayments.

It seemed they had their lives set up and ready in the future and were making their way there steadily to occupy on arrival without any distraction on the way. Beyond reading the future in horoscopes, and with greater accuracy, they knew what was waiting for them there.

Back to the hot, sweaty afternoon of Mumbai. Dan scanned the crowds around and noticed an old man sitting on the steps of a shop closed for lunch. Another stepped out sloppily from a country liquor bar. One patted a stray dog under a pavement tree. And there was himself. These four seemed to be the only people with nothing to do in Dadar, a place in Mumbai where there is never ever nothing to do. In a simultaneous moment, all four of them glared at each other, then turned their faces away.

‘When you’re turning old, your best reminder of it is another old person,’ Dan felt.

~~~

The elderly loved to dish out advice and wisdom, and Dan avoided them. He felt it was possibly a trait that stemmed from a government job. A nine-to-five sinecure would give a person plenty of opportunity for advice and wisdom. Or it was simply an elderly pastime.

And if in those days people went to work to be able to afford a child’s education, marriage, the grocer’s bills, etc., today people went to work for a variety of reasons:

Some had to escape nagging parents; some needed money for gas, guzzle and talktime; some needed something to do between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., the time their friends were at work; some had to pick up work experience for B-school admissions; some needed to be eligible for loans; some went to work because, like BPOs, advertising, journalism and media, the office was a good place to find girlfriends and boyfriends; some needed to finance their college education; and some needed money to squander.

Some went to work because, suddenly, it was hip to work.

Some went to work just to observe what went on in an office, and Dan was sure this wasn’t an exaggeration because he remembered a colleague, who, upon seeing someone in the office run around like a blue-arse fly trying to meet a client deadline, remarked, ‘What stupid things people do for a living,’ and who, a short while later, quit to start his own venture—selling cupcakes—that made Dan wonder whether it was a more intelligent occupation than running around like a blue-arse fly trying to meet a deadline.

Some went to work to while away time until they got married, and though these were taking up vacancies that rightfully should have gone to the more needy of society, advanced management thinking, widely available in India from plentiful MBAs coming out of plentiful B-schools set up from the ’90s onwards, was of the opinion that a person who didn’t need a job made a better employee than one who did. Dan also took note since he could be needing a job any time.

Some had to while away time until they got pregnant.

Still others had to while away time until their husbands were able to get them pregnant.

~~~

There was yet another sector in India that was moving fast. Perilously fast. It was Dan’s age.

He was forty-nine. Now forty-nine was never considered old. It still isn’t in most parts of the world. In any other country, Dan would’ve aged at the natural rate, that is twelve months per year. But in India, with the youth everywhere, he felt he was ageing faster, in the same way a person of average wealth feels poorer in a rich neighbourhood.

In any other country, Dan would be considered in his prime, ripe for the big promotion, ready for the big responsibility. If he were already married, he could start an affair. If he were into an affair, he could end it, go back to his wife and reflect on his foolishness. At forty-nine, there was plenty to do in any other part of the world.

Dan couldn’t understand why the Americans made a noise about losing their jobs to cheaper skills in India. He was facing the same situation in his own country. He was getting shafted in preference to younger employees — another reason that made him feel older. At least the Americans had the backing of their government that tried to intervene, amend laws and policies and find ways to discourage their companies from outsourcing work. Dan had no such backing in India. How could his government support a minority workforce to the disadvantage of the majority? He had to face the problem all by himself.

Those in the US also had the benefit of double standards – accuse India of not allowing a level playing field in global trade by not fully opening its markets to foreign investment and participation while simultaneously trying to thwart their companies’ outsourcing efforts.

Dan could see that Indians weren’t making a noise about their situation. Instead, just making do with whatever they had. The call centre job, answering 400 calls per shift, sometimes a lot more, came to be regarded by the workforce as most disgusting and sickening. Yet they did it, did it well, and turned it into a multi-billion-dollar monopoly.

From the ragpicker onwards, nobody in India asked for a level playing field.

In a country where 50 per cent of the population is younger than twenty-five, what does it mean to be old? Ask Dan Mullagathanny. Not that Dan is old. He is only forty-nine. But in India, with youngsters all around, he is ageing faster. A funny-sad story about being a misfit in a rapidly changing world.

Desmond MacedoDesmond Macedo is a copywriter with several years of experience in agencies like Ulka, Lintas, Ogilvy & Mather, MAA and Contract. He lives in Pune with his wife, whom he helps in a home business and writes in between. Their son works in Dubai. This is Macedo’s first book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s