Saturday, October 06, 2007

Where Am I?

That was my first reaction when I first heard what was going on right outside my front door - to ask myself where I am. Because this isn't a scene I have witnessed before. I was chatting with my buddy Ashwin, and it was 1am at night here in Austin, and he was surprised when I asked him too - Where Am I? Call me naive, but I have never heard this kinda talk in my life before.

The Conversation

Girl A : comes the birthday girl! And here is her birthday boy, her birthday gift.

Girl B : This is a birthday party? should have told me. I just got a fresh stash yesterday. We could have smoked some pot tonight. Hey, have you done it before?

Birthday Girl : Nope.

Girl B : friend here..what's your name?..

Birthday Girl : Gina.

Girl B : Yeah, Gina, here has never done it before people. Do we still have time?

Boy C : that Cigga-weed?... Ha? ...Ha? How come you are doing it alone. Come on give me some.

Girl B : C'mon Gina. Give it a shot. It's just marijuana. It's clinically approved.

Loud cheers sound out.

What is so weird?

Well, I have never had friends that indulge in such acts. Never. Neither have I ever been in the neighbourhood of such activities all my life. No wonder then that this incident, happening right outside my door, late at night, with some of the people that poured out of the loud, obnoxious party next door, gave me a little shock.

Except at work and at the stores, I hardly interact with StrangeLandians here. Atleast, most of my friendly chats are limited to Indians, and that made me feel I am still in India, to some extent. But, this kinda jolted me back to reality. It's hard to escape this here in StrangeLand, no matter where you live, what with the "fresh stash" apparently available freely.

Is India clean?

With all the overnight prosperity HomeLand is seeing, with bloated salaries and extravagant lifestyles, which is only true of the urban classes, how far can we be from this way of life? A life where your only intention is to live happily, with no consideration to morals and with no attachment to one's culture that parents try hard to inculcate. "What I like, is what I shall do."

With both parents increasingly deciding to take up full-time jobs to support the family's lavish needs, kids are thrust relatively early into life on their own, with no protection whatsoever of the parent's guiding words to keep them away from vices. I have lived in Pune, and witnessed how a mass of young students and highly-paid young professionals exploit their new-found freedom. Exposed to the western way of life on TV, chat shows, tabloids, gloss magazines, movies, they are beginning to discover what they are missing out on, in life. The old adage, "You only have one life" is beaten to death to explain all the vices one will indulge into.

I have encountered people who acknowledge, very openly, that they are into smoking gaanja, or marijuana, right there in Pune. I have heard them talk about finding their way through the police bandobast to get their hands on some "maal" for the weekend. They are even known to make the cigga-weed mentioned above and present it as a cigarette to unsuspecting friends, to help them grow their circle; you know, increase the demand, so that the supply chain stays strong.

Not too long ago, a rave party was organised in the outskirts of Pune, apparently by a drug-dealer, and it lured over 250 youngsters from Mumbai and Pune, all having cash and the will to have a good time. They were rounded up by the cops, and a few kilograms of stuff, a large stack of alcohol, and a couple hundred condoms, were recovered from the site. The worst aspect of this was that a large number of them were under 18. And, where were all the logistics finalised and people invited? The friendly neighbourhood social community - Orkut. No, we aren't too far behind in HomeLand ourselves.

Ok, now Where Am I Going?

I have no right to comment on what people do, and what they shouldn't. But, if there are laws against some activities, and are widely approved, I believe they were meant to maintain order. And to provide security to the innocent little kids who can be dragged into this way of life, especially when there is a parent who isn't keeping tabs on their offspring. Freedom and having fun, is very good. One empowers you and prepares you for the life ahead, and the other, gives life a certain refreshment to keep you chugging along.

But, there is only one end to all this. A shorter life. Losing touch with life itself, and ending up disillusioned about its purpose. Losing your parents, your family, and ending up with friends that do fill up your holes enough, but are only around as long as you are like them - high.

I am worried, and only because I have now seen with my own eyes how HomeLand is transforming. With all the good that is happening in the country, slowly sneaking up, unnoticed or ignored, behind all the limelight, is this evil, the unmistakable side-effect of growing prosperity. I fear for whether my country will end up being exactly what I hate about StrangeLand. I fear we are too quickly replacing thousands of years of heritage with the brash attitudes of the West, instead of letting the natural confluence of the cultures happen to bring out the best in them. Is HomeLand growing too fast for its own good?