Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Stuck in a Time Frame

The topic of some mutual friends came up during a recent conversation I had with a friend. After I filled her in about their whereabouts and activities she remarked that said friends and yours truly were "stuck in a time frame". I understood what she meant in the context of our conversation. I realised that she had merely expressed in a catchy phrase an opinion others had expressed before using different words. In order to fully understand the import of 'stuck in a time frame' I will first try to illustrate its opposite concept. 'Moving through time frames', if you will.

The basis of my explanation is my understanding that the (suburban, educated) Indian society expects individuals to live their life in a certain way based on their age "time frame". In Kerala the teen years are considered to be the time for education. You are expected to be in college by your late teens. Some of the non-curricular pursuits of a typical student include dabbling in new hobbies and other activities. These are mostly but not always tolerated. For instance I picked up Miniature Wargaming as a hobby in college. I hasten to add that individuals are expected to outgrow their hobbies or interests as they move on to the next stage in life.

For my generation a person's twenties is the time for seeking gainful employment, sometimes after completing higher studies. As travelling overseas became more common and affordable people were expected to switch to "explore" mode after landing a job. Non-curricular activities of this time frame include visiting various places, picking up hobbies that are made more affordable by technology etc. Most notable among the latter is Photography. Of course there are people I know who used to save their allowances to make money for Photography while in college but that is another story.

Mid to late twenties, as I was told by more than one person, is the time to move on again. Marriage is *the* key social event marking the end of this time frame. This is such a strong social expectation that unmarried people are treated almost as if they are in mortal danger and pose a threat to others. It is common for bachelors and spinsters to be asked even by virtual strangers why they haven't married. Marriage itself is the outcome of a filtration process demanded by society and community and initiated by parents. Criteria of filtration include religion, caste, community, state, and language to mention a few. A list of desirables passing the filter conditions is presented to the "end user" and he or she can pick any one. There indeed are exceptions but these remain a very small minority.

A man in his thirties is expected to start a family and "engage society more actively". "Engaging society" means, among other things, actively participating in social events that you were given permission to avoid as a twenty-something. Hobbies are frowned upon unless they are strictly mainstream. Non work related pursuits are allowed as long as they are for buying a new car, apartment or real estate.

I don't know quite clearly what my generation is expected to do in our forties, fifties and subsequent decades. I speculate that our forties would be the time to focus on children and career growth punctuated by the occasional mid life crisis. The fifties would be time to coordinate marriages of children born to the Indian software generation.

It is interesting to note how a bit of this progression is reflected in the photo galleries of a social networking site popular with Indians. First, snaps of the protagonist in various places around the globe. Some capture their first car or apartment. Marriage photos and pictures of the sweetheart appear some time later. These are in turn replaced by pictures of children and group photographs.

Coming back to my conversation I found that my friend's opinion was apparently based on her observations of the individuals' lives. None of the people we discussed including yours truly had "moved on" as she expected. At least two in the list are pursuing higher studies in their thirties, that too in subjects not necessarily related to their present careers. Three are not married and don't plan to. Not to mention their hobbies. I counted several different hobbies in the group ranging from dancing to miniature wargaming to semi-professional poker to playing the Mridangam.

I told my friend that all the people we discussed had merely chosen to define the (time) segments making up their life differently. I was not convinced by her arguments that one should drastically change his outlook on life for the sole purpose of meeting popular definitions of "moving on". As far as I see each one of these people *have* been moving on. They are more skilled, know more about their favourite subjects now than they did five years ago and are by no means staying still in any of their chosen fields of endeavour. If anything almost all of them rue that they are not moving forward as fast as they would like to.


James said...

your policy of forcing yourself to blog more frequently is bearing fruit Manoj; this is an interesting post. I will think about it a bit before commenting further.

Madhav G S said...

You can't explain it more than this…..

There was lot of questions and advices thrown upon me on the "moving ahead with life" problem. "Stuck in a time frame" is I should say quite original.

If we are stuck in a time frame then I would say the “others” are "stuck in a cycle". Living through the same kind of cycle again and again, though in a different time frame… The circumstance changes, people around you changes, the responsibilities increases, but what remain constant would be the same bitter after taste of the thought that, what you have done so far in your life that’s worthwhile?

I am happy stuck in the time frame with out that after taste..

You are correct in what you said about hobbies. I haven’t heard about a hobby for the last 5 years other than traveling, reading, sleeping (wonder how would it qualifies as a hobby)…

Now that was a post.. keep it up

James said...

OK I am ready to comment. The thing that made me pause is that being older than any of you "young bloods" I can see both sides.
Certainly, marriage DOES force changes and usher in a different phase of life.
I am not the same person I was in my 20s nor would I wish to turn back the clock.
I have been married twice, the first time did not work out. Looking back on it now, I did it because my girlfriend seemed pleasant enough and all my friends were tying the knot. Incredibly,I really didn't give it much thought.
The second time I did feel that I was in control of my life.
Therein lies the difference I guess.
I would say that marriage is the making of a man and the experience will enrich your life (with the right person)BUT it has to be on one's own terms.
Giving up hobbies? A hobby is a personal thing. Wider society should not have a say in the matter.

Manoj Govindan said...

[quote]I would say that marriage is the making of a man and the experience will enrich your life (with the right person)BUT it has to be on one's own terms.[end quote]

That is *exactly* the point. I would say the steps are in order 1) Be in control of your life 2) meet the right person 3) get married.

Looks like in spite of being an "young turk" I agree with your post ;)

Sarath said...

If I may throw my two cents in, I believe that every society has its own set of time frames. Majority of the people, knowingly or unknowingly pass through these time frames. You have painted a beautiful picture of the set of frames our society holds - Can't put it any better. But I also believe that we are all endowed with the ability to create and move through our own Frames, let me call them "Personal Frames". Once you realise this, then it is upto you to choose whether you want to pass through your personal frames or the generic societal frames. I assume I know some of these mutual friends that you have mentioned, and I think they have been bold enough to go with their personal frames - whose boundaries may or may not overlap with the societal frames. :-)

If you look at human lives (as I do) as a never ending pusuit of X, Y, Z where the variables can be Money, Happiness, Peace, Knowledge ..etc, a better phrase would be "Stuck in an Orbit". With every higher orbit having more of X, Y Z, it is likely that people might get "stuck in an orbit" for a while. All these people that you have mentioned are indeed jumping to higher orbits with every passing day. But for someone who looks at life as meaningless, clueless passages through frames, people may be seen "Stuck in frames" or "Stuck in Cycles" :-).

James said...

Hi Manoj,

thanks for looking in on my blog. Your suggestions were all good ones. I know you yourself have done some map illustrations in the past- and I enjoyed using your Piquet army generator.

T R I P T I said...

Reading ur blog made me look into my and people surrounding me’s lives more closely and defined my feelings in a more verbal fashion. Surely I would not have been able to define it so well, probably cos of my age as u may point at.

Looks like the reasons you gave for your friends for being “Stuck in a time frame” are substantial eg following their intellects in order to form a certificate which proves the same, following their hobbies in order to make them reach a tangible depth. But my question here is what if someone’s stuck in a time frame like few others but not for achieving any of the few discussed. What if they’re stuck just cos they don’t want to follow this “cycle” cos they find it meaningless too to follow and get bound into some cycles which don’t seem to carry as much meaning in their life’s right now?

Good post I must say!