Being a Millennial
As a child, I was often underwhelmed by the amount of knowledge I was processing and assimilating because it just never felt enough. I grew up in the quietly enterprising city Abu Dhabi, much less known, (but much more financially solvent,) than its louder neighbour and sister city, Dubai. Though the media I encountered rarely portrayed matters that did not show the city’s local inhabitants or institutions in a good light, it was much less shackled than most other Arab states, less so, in fact, than democratic India. Yet, somehow, I was still unimpressed. I needed convincing. I desired growth and intellectual stimulation in the most honest way possible. But I never found the right avenues.
My adolescence continued, lackluster, in much the same fashion. I never felt encouraged to seek out and understand alternative perspectives to the mainstream notions I consumed, ideas as simple as “The BJP is only pro-Hindutva,” or “the Congress is very corrupt.” I don’t recall a time when adults around me ever debated or questioned these notions around my presence. Certain topics, such as politics, law, and revolt remained taboo. Our job was to sit and study, get good marks, enter the corporate world, and earn hefty paychecks, like everyone else. However, somewhere down the line, the sum total of these middle class aspirations began to look hollow.
However, somewhere under the surface, I began to happily succumb to stronger influences around me, to counter ideologies that my predecessors could not even dream existed. I was raised a millennial, and the one defining (and unifying) trait of our generation, this generation of the selfie, is that we like to think of ourselves as special. Our predecessors, (ie; our parents,) did not look at life like this. Something about the way they operated made them happy to function as another cog in a very large framework, a framework that they were freer to question than we are, but never found cause to. Sure, the economy was working against them, (and more so, their children, but I’m coming to that,) sure, their own belief in religion was shakier than their parents’, sure they hated their desk job, sure they had to provide for their aging parents and their increasingly grasping children, but it was all right. Our elders believed in perseverance, in struggle, in complaining ceaselessly at their dinner tables while smiling sunshine at work. But I swear to you, our generation is not like that. And we will not tolerate this system.
“In some respects the young have never had it so good. They are richer and likely to live longer than any previous generation. On their smartphones they can find all the information in the world. If they are female or gay, in most countries they enjoy freedoms that their predecessors could barely have imagined. They are also brainier than any previous generation. Yet much of their talent is squandered. They are twice as likely as their elders to be unemployed. The job market they are entering is more competitive than ever. Education has become so expensive that many students rack up heavy debts. Housing has grown costlier, too, especially in the globally connected megacities where the best jobs are. Throughout human history, the old have subsidised the young. In rich countries, however, that flow has recently started to reverse. In rich countries, public spending favours pensions and health care for the old over education for the young. Much of this is paid for by borrowing, and the bill will one day land on the young.”
The millennials are criticized for their very “all bite and no bark” attitudes, because their passionate desire for reform hardly ever sees itself ushered into action. And though this attitude is steadily diminishing, as recent activism across campuses in India today suggest, we are still terrified. Once again, rightly so. We, the millennials, find resonance with the Angry Young Man of the 60’s, because once again, we feel completely bound by a system, though the conflicts are vastly different now. We are shackled by commitments to families that house us, terrified of the wrath of a corrupt system ready to pounce on any and all voices of dissent, unable to escape to set up households of our own for lack of funds or prospects.
Where am I going with this? In typically postmodern fashion, let me break the fourth wall and say, “I don’t know, you tell me.” I know that I’m trapped, in so many different ways I cannot even begin to count them. I do not yet have a graduation certificate, (though my Convocation is in 2016, I will receive this precious document in December 2017,) so I can’t work. Even if I can and do, starting salaries are generally pathetic for someone who is only a graduate. Unless I have a foreign post graduate degree, I have no hopes of faring any better, and to acquire one costs anywhere between 40–50 lakhs in Indian rupees, having me to be steeped in debt before I even start making money- and all of this to make money, in the first place! By the time I retire, I can expect to be paying hospital bills for my predecessors, (life expectancy is constantly on the rise,) who have no recourse to a social security system, regardless of, despite the heavy taxes they’ve paid all their lives. I will have my own family to look after, as well.
What’s the solution? Anything other than the capitalist debt trap we find ourselves in from the outset. Elections across the world are steadily becoming polarized; disillusioned millennials are seeking recourse in men like Bernie Sanders, whose policies, like his voters, have become so unhinged from reality that they seem almost out of a utopian film. But it still points to a trend in something we millennials have felt in our very bones; it is time for change more radical than we’ve ever seen before. Votes for Bernie and the rise of theorists like Thomas Piketty are signs that these disillusioned youths will assume office someday, and take axe and shovel to deconstruct systems whose running, not foundations, are perilously toppling. And how that angst is channeled will represent a change that will impact the world for decades to come.
But one of the most striking ideas that come to me when I think of my generation is that of loneliness- of the old man in the park, waiting, wanting to tell his life story to anyone who would care to listen. I know that we are knowledgeable, more so than generations before us; we know of human rights, we laud gender fluidity and performance, we preach and push for sexual equality and gay rights across the board, we boo right wing ideologists with their narrow focuses, we combat and confront radicalism, and we stand for free exchange of thought. But we do not know how to connect. We do not know how to define, or even indicate interest in someone standing right in front of our eyes. We don’t know what to say or do on dates, and we have forgotten the blissful intimacy involved in a private conversation without a smartphone beeping at our waists. We cannot pay attention. We have become so cynical of our elders, so absorbed in a world that hints at our ever diminishing prospects, that we no longer know where personal goal fulfillment ends and selfishness begins. And we are afraid. For ourselves, for our futures, for everything.
In the end, I know that we will persevere. We are strong, we are determined, we are courageous. Most importantly, we believe that we are unique, and so, deserve the best. Our voices, quietened by generations of political silence handed down to us year after year, is finally rising. And though we find words to express the anguish we feel, we are also aware of the consequences. And we are prepared to take the steps necessary to secure our lives, knowing that they will be worth their repercussions…. or we will make them so.
Being a millennial is hard work, my friends. But trust me when I say this: you wouldn’t rather be born anytime else. Take out your selfie sticks, hashtags, memes, what have you. Our time is now.