Food is a sensitive subject among Bengalis, a topic that can launch a thousand attacks. I walked right into one when I advised a cousin to eat carefully. The cousin is 50 years old and despite a 15-year age gap we bond rather well owing to our shared love of literature. Food has been a divisive factor, though. My cousin is all about fried stuff, red meats, and sodas, while I indulge once in a blue moon. The cousin got diagnosed with high blood pressure, sugar, and cholesterol, and somehow I felt it was my duty to advise him to eat carefully. Tweak your diet a bit, I told him. Why, he asked. A lifestyle change can make a lot of difference. Walk a bit, breathe in, breathe out. Stop breathing down my neck, he retorted. By now, the argument had heated. Always wanting to have the last word, he said I would never understand how he should be leading his life because I was younger and had seen less of the world. The rest of the cousins on Zoom could not spot the inappropriateness of the remark. So used to are we of shutting the young up because of their lighter baggage of experience that this almost sounds and feels normal.
Seen less of the world — it is both the truth as well as the charge that I often find myself fighting at home and the world. As soon as my brother weaponised our age gap to silence me into submission, I began to think that there is surely someone who has seen more of the world than him. An octogenarian, for instance, has seen more of the world than a septuagenarian, but does that make the latter’s view of the world less real? Let us widen the age gap — the young do not know what it is like to be old, but the old surely know what it was like to be young. Why must then their experiences seem not good enough? When we make ageism a talking point, why does reverse ageism also not make us as uncomfortable?
I am what textbooks would call ‘an older millennial’, who was born in the mid-80s. Our feelings and thoughts, as interpreted by reams of articles, seem sandwiched between Gen Xers’ patterns and those of the younger, ‘born-in-the-90s’ lot. If I often conceal my age, it has less to do with female vanity and more with the fear of how I will be perceived. After all, being a millennial comes with its own labels that can be hard to fight. To the world, we are avocado-chomping, money-splurging mavericks with no purpose but a sense of entitlement. We are often too careless or frivolous to be understood by a generation that has had to fight for the basics, and perhaps that’s why it is easy to dismiss us. If someone is aghast when we wear our emotions on our sleeves, it may be because they have been used to of people cloaking their thoughts. If we are charged with being self-centred, it may have something to do with the knowledge that selflessness and denial, despite being made out to be virtues to aspire for, cannot bring happiness. And had our previous generation grown up with smartphones, they, too, would have had to fight the charge of narcissism.
This is not to say the previous generations have not gone through the grind themselves. As writer Lindsey Pallak notes, “Gen Xers, like me, were called slackers. Baby Boomers were the original ‘me’ generation. Why are we so committed to bashing our future generation after generation? And what would happen if we stopped doing this?” More doors will open, that’s all.
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