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2 The Production of Tradition, Modernity, and a New Middle Class To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world—and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are. . . . It pours us all into a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish. To be modern is to be part of a universe in which, as Marx said, “all that is solid melts into air.” —Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts into Air (1988:15) Modernity is more often perceived as lure than as threat, and people (not just the elite) everywhere, at every national or cultural site, rise to meet it, negotiate it, and appropriate it in their own fashion. —Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, Alternative Modernities (2001:21) Perceived as both a lure and a threat, modernity was experienced by many I grew to know in India in the early 2000s as a time, indeed, when “all that is solid melts into air.” Such perceptions of modernity were intimately tied as well to visions of the past; for as scholars have long pointed out, the project of fashioning modernity is always also one of fashioning a past that is now lost or pushed away. As we were winding our way through heavy traffic one warm Kolkata evening, I mentioned to my driver Sharfuddin Ahmad that the next day I was pleased to be visiting the daughter of a married couple living in an old age home whom I had come to know well. I remarked that I was very interested in meeting the daughter, as I had barely ever seen any sign of 1-LAMB_pages_i-132.indd 29 5/12/09 3:47:00 PM Aging and the Indian Diaspora  the children of old-age-home residents.The daughter has a brother, I mentioned , so maybe I’ll be able to find out from her why her brother doesn’t look after his parents? My driver, a middle-aged man of four children approaching their marriageable years, promptly and pensively replied: Oh, madam, these days children (chelera)1 have become such a way that they just don’t (emni, for no particular reason) look after their parents. This age (yug) is very bad, you know? If old parents have some money, then the children will stay with them and look after them, as long as the parents are advantageous to them financially. But if they don’t have money, after they retire, the children will just push them aside. After you give a son’s marriage, you never know—What will the wife-daughterin -law (bouma) be like? Will she or will she not want to look after her mother-in-law? Both those who have love marriages, and those whose parents arrange their marriages—in either case, there’s no certainty what the wife will be like. And the younger generation these days prefers to live separately. I’ve seen movies and things about the youth of these days—what has gotten into their heads, I just can’t understand! Those who have money put their parents into some kind of an old age home, and those who don’t just push their parents out somewhere into the street. Kerala film director Jayaraj’s award-winning movie, Pathos (Karunam), portrays an aging Kerala couple, abandoned by their children who have settled in America. The couple eagerly plans for a visit from their sons, cleaning the house, preparing food, and putting up a swing in the garden for the grandchildren. Then the news comes: the children have canceled in favor of a trip to the Niagara Falls. Worse yet: the sons arrange to sell the ancestral property and place their parents in an old age home. Director Jayaraj comments on his motivations in making the film: “In Europe, it may be normal that children leave home. But in our society, we have roots, and suddenly, all these families have started sending their children abroad; the children lose contact with their past; they forget to come home.” Critiquing the contemporary materialism that has supplanted family intimacy, he adds: “These children who have settled in America are not poor. They make a lot of money and they just want to make more 1-LAMB_pages_i-132.indd 30 5/12/09 3:47:01 PM  The Production of Tradition, Modernity, and a New...


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MARC Record
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