Some time ago, I was chatting with a friend and she said something on the lines of “I was talking about people like us”. It made me think. Who are people like us?
Demographically, people like us (I’m doing away with the quote marks out of convenience) would be characterized as Indian, urban, middle-class, English-speaking, Gen X or Gen Y.
But there is vast variation in this group, and many of the people included would not be, according to my friend and I, very like us at all. We had a much narrower definition.
People like us (to name a few characteristics off the top of my head):
- Spoke English as a first language, even to our parents.
- Grew up reading Enid Blyton, watching English movies and dancing to English songs and probably missed out on the whole of 80s Bollywood.
- Wore shorts around the house and sometimes outside the house.
- Didn’t wear a bra at home even in front of our fathers.
- Ate meat. Ate with cutlery, rarely using our fingers. Ate a mix of Indian and non-Indian food (or at least Indian versions of non-Indian food).
- Were not exposed to a world where brothers and male cousins lounged around while the girls ‘helped’ out. Rather, all young people did very little work around the house. Mothers, though, tended to do most of the housework, dads rarely cooked.
- Had cousins living outside India so had some access to pop culture beyond India.
- Did not have a life that was completely secret from our parents; our parents – at least our mothers and eventually our fathers – knew our childhood crushes and later our boyfriends/girlfriends.
- Starting drinking alcohol and went out pubbing when we were at least 18, for some of us earlier. And our parents knew we were going. Having a drink with parents was not a big deal.
- Didn’t have to sneak our party clothes out of the houses. We got dressed for a night out, in short skirts and strappy tops or whatever, at home.
- Were part of families where arranged marriages in our generation were rare. Our parents would be nonplussed by a request to help ‘arrange’ a marriage and would have to probably consult some friends as to how to go about it.
There are probably more, can’t think of them. An overarching commonality was religion. We were all Catholic and/or went to English-medium convent schools in Bombay. It is possible for people of other religions to be like us, though I don’t know that many. It is also possible for there to be Catholics who were/are nothing like us.
On the other hand, even among people like us there were differences:
- Some people’s mums worked, others’ didn’t.
- In some people’s parental circles, women smoking was common, in other’s not.
- Some people’s parents were religious, other’s not.
- Attitude to drinking and partying varied in the late teens. The ones whose parents had a strict curfew or a ‘don’t drink’ policy carried the glamour of partying into the next decade while most people like us, by our late 20s just saw it as something to do, sometimes.
- Attitude to travel. Some parents were ok with out-of-town travel, in mixed gender groups, even in late teens, others were ok only with an adult chaperone, others were ok only with all-girl groups, others were just not with any kind of travel except with family.
- Which college you went to and whether you studied arts or science/commerce.
- Some had stable families, others didn’t.
What I have realised having gone out into the world is that while a lot of people seem like us, scratch the surface and they are not. For example, V and his sisters seem to be people like us. So imagine my surprise when I went to his parent’s home and realised they are really not. The difference being that the liberalism is self-created, it doesn’t even go one generation back, so they are not deeply shocked by conservatism, they just shrug it off or are somewhat amused.
- They did not bring their boyfriends/girlfriends home to meet their parents, or even let their parents know there was a boyfriend/girlfriend.
- They didn’t go out partying with their parents’ knowledge permission until much later in life. They sneaked out.
- My Sil’s wedding was probably the first non-arranged marriage in the family and caused much drama.
- They spoke Malyalam to their parents.
- Girls kind of ended up eating last in their parents home. Nothing explicitly stated, it just happened.
The point of this post was that if I restricted my discussions to people who are really like us, I would be talking about a group so small as to be statistically insignificant – basically the seven or eight girls who formed my core group of friends in college, and that even within that group there were differences that would make the actual people like us countable on one hand.
However, in listing out the commonalities, I realize that there are quite a lot of them and that while the group is small, if I allow for some characteristics not applying to some people, it might not be as small or as diverse as initially thought. So maybe ‘people like us’ is a fair characterization after all.