Honey, it's just all about money

September 1, 2000

The other day, I was pondering about a subject that reflects the changing times. In this era of individualism where money is all important, is hospitality and shared living cherished? Does the I-me-myself generation's relentless pursuit of power and glory has anything to do with this?

Whatever happened to the good old hospitality and camaraderie of yesteryears? This question keeps popping up all the time like the ubiquitous dialogue boxes on your PC screen. To make you understand the gravity of the question, consider the following contrasting situations.

I happened to chance upon an incident reported in mainstream media. This story gives a very touching feel of the truth experienced by the reporter. Somewhere along the Indo-Pak border in Barmer district of Rajastan, the reporter's jeep rushes past the burning sands of Indian Thar desert. The scene is a perfect cut and paste job from the burning cinders of hell fire. Around a hundred miles there is no water. No greenery. There is that unmistakable stench of putrefying animal carcasses. The reporter actually witness animals gripped in dying agony. Women walk miles on the blazing sands in search of an elusive pot of water. Completely exhausted, the reporter stop in front of a lonely hut after hours of travel. The reporter hesitatingly ask for water. The man in the hut brightens up with a broad smile and offers us several glasses of the precious commodity. The reporter senses the generosity despite the unimaginable sufferings these people face in this hell. With pity and embarrassment, the reporter offer to pay some money. Apparently pained, the man replies, 'Saheb, hum garib to hai lekin insaan hai. Hum insanyath ko nahi bejthe' (We may be poor. But we are humans. We don't sell human dignity). The episode displays a fast disappearing if not obsolete societal behaviour called hospitality.

Now to a scene near home in an urban setting. You drop in at a friend's place one evening unannounced. The folks there are waiting in front of the TV for the latest episode of the most popular TV serial. You sense the general air of embarrassment laced with perceptible annoyance. Totally disconcerted, you walk away mumbling something like you had been passing that way and peeped in to say hello, etc...

Let us come back to the subject question. Whatever happened to the togetherness and camaraderie? My friend's cousin recently visited US and where he tried to locate his another long lost cousin also in the US. With tremendous effort, he located the place and rang the doorbell. The person, whom he has not seen for years, responded rudely stating that in America it is not proper manners to visit anyone without prior announcement and consent.

Back in villages and small towns in India, where globalised sophistication has not permeated to any degree, even in spite of the all pervading cable television, one can visit anybody in the neighbourhood without a cue. In case of a function like wedding in a household, the entire village would give a helping hand in arranging and conducting the event. Such courtesies are embedded in this country's cultural fabric. But why are we becoming cold and unfriendly? Can we blame it on the Western influence or the the new found consumerism for this decadence in values? People today are obsessed with the one-point agenda -- that of making money, more and more of it. There is no time for niceties, no room for old-fashioned human sentiments. Money and status are the purpose and meaning of existence in the new millennium. The emergence of e-society has signaled the death of social conscience and community living. It has to happen. The concept of permanent jobs, job security, loyalty to organisations are crumbling fast. The new mantra is personal growth for the employer and the employee alike. The so-called loyalties, sense of belonging and togetherness are revolting cliches. Switch jobs; axe the employee if it serves your intents.

Parents are considered a nuisance and hindrance to elite lifestyle and heady nightlife that governs the status of high fliers. How do you justify the life of old folks languishing in a shelter for the aged in Bangalore even with sons and daughter successfully settled? I happened to see a recent advertisment in an Indian newspaper by a developer who has built recluse homes for aged parents far away on the distant outskirts of Bangalore city? The advertisment mainly targeting the NRIs entices you to send your parents there and promises full comfort. You may even visit them whenever you have time, the advertisment says, but does not say if they can visit you.

The pursuit to power and wealth has to be ruthless and any obstacle including your mother, father, brother or sister must be eliminated. Social commitments are absent. Friendship and social interactions have obtained new dimensions as seen in elite clubs and hangouts. It is all justified in this fabulous era of corporatised life. No. This is no shriek of an alarmist. Right now it all looks fine. On occasions we do visit our friends and relatives. We still distribute sweets on festival days. But don't you sense that change stealthily creeping in? It is only a matter of time when you will perceive a severe erosion of established values in our country -- India. But then eventually the generations that lament about such changes will also vanish.

- VM Jaishankar, Chicago, USA

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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