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What’s age got to do with shedding inhibitions?

Shobhit Mahajan | Updated on May 24, 2019 Published on May 24, 2019

There was a time when adult males hardly ever wore shorts or slurped on ice lollies. But the elderly are now shedding their full pants and self-consciousness

One of my fondest memories of childhood is having a meal at a restaurant — something which was not as common as it is today. Going out for a meal to a restaurant in Delhi’s Connaught Place was an event, typically preceded by watching a film at Odeon or Plaza. The fare ordered was pretty much standard, Punjabi (pretentiously called Mughlai) food — naan, daal makhni, tandoori chicken and a vegetable dish. After the hearty meal, the kids ate ice cream (with a JB Mangharam wafer) and the adults always had coffee.

This was how the world was supposed to be — adults did not eat ice cream, and certainly not one of those lollies which were available at the Kwality ice cream carts. It was just not done. And so I was totally taken aback when I went to the US in the early ’80s and saw an elderly Indian couple, possibly visiting their NRI son in the Silicon Valley, happily slurping on an ice candy in the parking lot of a grocery store. Somehow, adults licking an ice cream didn’t fit into my world view. And that too desi adults enjoying an ice cream?

But that was in the ’80s. The other day, when I had gone for a walk, I actually did see a grandfather stopping an ice cream vendor and eating an ice cream — not just a vanilla cup but an ice lolly! Things have indeed changed; it is fairly common now to see parents enjoying ice cream with their children while shopping. So what could be the reason for this?

It is obviously not that ice creams were not easily available earlier — they certainly were, though admittedly of limited variety. It also cannot be that the Indian adult has suddenly developed a taste for this sweet — we have, since time immemorial, been one of the largest consumers of sugar in the world.

Maybe it is because Indian adults have lost their inhibitions and decided that in this day when they have no problem behaving like juvenile children on television and elsewhere, being seen enjoying an ice lolly is all right!

Something similar happened with the wearing of shorts. As far as I remember, shorts — or nikkars, as they were called — were worn by children. In fact, teenaged boys would look forward to the rite of passage when they would graduate to wearing full pants instead of showing off their hairy legs in shorts. Two events marked a teenager’s graduation to an adult: Using a fountain pen instead of a pencil and wearing pants.

One never saw adults wearing shorts — not at home, and certainly not outside. All this somehow changed over the last two decades. It is now fairly common to see adults, in the summer months, wearing shorts not only at home but also outside. And this is not just confined to the ‘modern’, professional class of people; it is much more widespread.

Go to the neighbourhood park in the morning and you will see not just the local shakha people but almost everyone else taking their morning constitutionals in shorts. Of course, the economics comes out in the kind of apparel worn — the yuppie type will be wearing designer shorts with Reebok shoes while the neighbourhood shopkeeper will be content with a poor Chinese imitation and white tennis shoes.

Once again, it was not as if shorts were not available earlier — they certainly were, though mostly of the khaki, makhan zeen variety preferred by members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. And though we do know that there has been global warming, surely the temperatures have not gone up enough to persuade the Indian adult male to widely embrace shorts or half-pants, as they were once called? Maybe, once again, as in the case of the ice lollies, adults have shed their inhibitions. And the male adult has decided that shorts are more comfortable in the Indian summers and hairy legs are, well, just hairy legs.

These phenomena are somewhat different from other culinary and sartorial changes that we have witnessed over the last few years. The popularity of instant noodles can be directly correlated to the availability and marketing of Maggi noodles. Similarly, pao bhaji was almost unknown in North India but is now a “must-have” dish in weddings because it is available. Track pants replaced the kurta pyjama among the middle class as a night dress when they became cheap and were easily available.

The case of ice cream and shorts is clearly not in the same category. Maybe one day, a sociologist will investigate the reasons for these amazing changes in personal lifestyles that we have witnessed in the short span of a couple of decades.

Shobhit Mahajan teaches Physics in Delhi University

Published on May 24, 2019
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