I once suggested to my daughter that she should start preparing for the civil service examination. ”What for, amma?’ She asked. “To have some Lalu’s beetle stained spittle sprayed on my face? I think I can do without that face pack!”
And she was not even twenty then but, I noticed, she had the poise of a person who knew what she was talking about.
I was taken aback. Apparently, a lot of water had flowed under the bridge since my time, and I had not kept pace with the changing perceptions of the youth, despite being a teacher and a mother. My generation had looked upon the IAS tag as the most credible index of an educated person’s outstanding calibre, for, the Indian administrative Service was a site that could be inhabited only by a select group - the very best. To us, getting selected for the Indian Administrative Service was the ultimate achievement for an educated person. It’d make you an instant celebrity. We thought of nothing beyond the prestige, glamour and the challenge of this elite service. It was a dream – an unattainable one for most.
For today’s youngsters, it’s not a dream – both in terms of its attractiveness and unattainability.
Today’s youth (I am talking of the youth in their twenties) are a different lot. The difference, I realize, is born out of the changed world in which they grew up.
As teenagers, they lived in an India where Dr.Manmohan Singh and Dr. Sam Pitroda were among the most celebrated names. Dr. Manmohan Singh’s maiden budget was watched by all TV owning families in Kerala, the viewers comprising the teenage children, their parents and grandparents. Expectation was high, though comprehension of the nuances of the budget was inadequate. But all sensed that a fundamental change was in the offing.
By the time it was time for these teenagers to decide what to do with their lives, the path was well beaten and laid for them. India was opening up. The triple mantra of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation had begun to partially ease out the License Raj and protectionism in our economy.
The IT sector boomed all over the world and Indian Engineers became a much sought after commodity. Even the critics who were vociferous about India exporting techno-coolies had the smirk wiped out from their faces when the young Indian engineers and B school products (not from the premier ones alone)started earning in a month what the earlier generation could not in a year or more – sometimes even in a lifetime!
Engineering colleges and B schools mushroomed all over. So did software companies. It no longer mattered what branch of engineering they took. The companies would recruit them if they were ready to “unlearn & then learn”. Opportunities beckoned them with great eagerness from within India too.
And with outsourcing becoming the order of the day, the very gait of the youngsters became different from what it was in our time. New horizons opened up not just for the professionally qualified youngsters, but mere graduates too. Sometimes, the companies did not even ask for a degree. Certain types of employment began to be de-linked from degrees.
The uncertainties and the sense of insecurity did not stalk them. Even stop gap employments were well paying.
Attrition rates troubled IT companies and BPOs and the confidence level of the youngsters rose proportionately. Job jumping became a regular feature in the IT industry.
This is the scene which greeted the present generation as they entered the world in search of a job. They breathed the air of promise - promise of sure livelihood and immense prosperity.
Their self- confidence and poise are indicators of the ambiance in a growing economic superpower.
What I admire about today’s youth is their focus. They know what they want from life. They know what they don’t want from life. And they are honest about it. They don’t get carried away by idealism or dreams. They are smart enough to know that with an engineering degree or management degree, their future is made. Hence, one often hears such remarks:
“I love literature – but what’s the point in doing a degree in literature?”
”Chemistry is my first and last love, but I’ll go in for engineering. No scope for pure science”
“No medicine for me. It’ll take me more than 7 years to start earning. And the uncertainties too”.
Yes. They are down to earth. And their pragmatism pays. They become lucratively employed even before they complete their courses.
The demands of the job make them a disciplined lot. They don’t squander away money but invest it wisely. To think that these youngsters were part responsible for the boom in the real estate industry in Kochin and elsewhere!
Now to come to our story.
As youngsters, we were so different. The world in which we grew up was also different. The India of the sixties and seventies (the period of our teenage and twenties) was still a young nation. Idealism and faith in the system were high, though in the seventies they began to suffer erosion. For a quick reconnaissance of the memories of the sixties and the seventies – the famine of the sixties, Nehru, Socialist Democracy, Shastri, break up of the Indian Nation Congress, the rise of Indira Gandhi. Garibi Hatao, Family planning drive, minor subversion of democratic systems, Bangle Desh victory, Russia our friend, Jayaprakash Narayan, the Emergency, Janata government fiasco, protected economy - -
Yes. We grew up in a nation in its infancy, struggling to recover from four centuries of colonial exploitation. Those were difficult days, but optimism was high. Cynicism about the political system hadn’t set in.
But as job seekers, we struggled. The mismatch between education and employment was huge. Even, marks were difficult to earn. A first class in the family was an event that called for a big celebration. Jobs were hard to come by. In Kerala, the number of unemployed graduates was on the increase.
The youngsters in my days were insecure about the future. The obsession with public sector jobs was an indication of the sense of insecurity the youth experienced on the job front. The number of young girls who wished to pursue a career was rather low. A graduate degree was a qualification more for the marriage market than the job market.
Today girls have broken free of that mindset. They have a level playing field in both education and employment. IT industry is a great leveller of sexes.
And the salary scales in those days were pathetic. An average employee’s dream did not stray beyond a hand to mouth existence. Yet job jumping was unheard of. Jobs were simply not there. The car was a luxury which many could not afford till the onset of middle age.
The creamy layer (financially) discouraged its youth from taking up a job. Family business s or taking care of the family estates were more lucrative.
The comfortable jobs - the executive in a bank or companies or in the public sector – were not as paying a they are today, and the competition to secure them was stiff.
No, we did not possess the self-confidence, poise and affluence of today’s youth. But we soldiered on, cheerfully. WE scrimped and saved. And contributed our mite to the growth of this nation.
And our country acknowledged our efforts by giving our children a better life.
Disclaimer: The source is my memory and observation. This is just my take. Please excuse inaccuracies and false information, if any.