Liberal Indians, Remember to Thank Your “Non-Woke” Parents For Your Broadmindedness


Liberal Indians, Remember to Thank Your “Non-Woke” Parents For Your Broadmindedness

Illustration: Arati Gujar

When it comes to desirable qualities among millennials, social consciousness tops the list. A gorgeous head of hair or a killer smile is worth as much as a US dollar in North Korea if your bae isn’t #woke. A study from Stanford Graduate School of Business shows that a whopping 90 per cent of MBAs from European and North American business schools prefer working for socially responsible organisations. Neilson’s 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report indicated that 73 per cent of surveyed millennials prefer spending more (of whatever little) money we have on products that come from sustainable brands, but I could have told you that with one look at my shower cabinet full of organic soap.

So why are we, the liberal youth, so “woke”? I believe we owe it to our parents. What a perfect Indian beti answer; my mother would be proud. But wait, there’s more. In my experience, most of my fellow free thinkers are also privileged AF. We grew up fairly comfortably, with well-educated parents who strived to give us everything they could. Parents who were liberal… for their time.

My dad was the first feminist I knew. One of his favourite jokes to tell me was, “You can grow up to be anything you want, except a dad!” Similarly, my mom was the first empowered woman I met. As someone who raised her daughters in a small town with an even smaller mindset, she dressed us as she saw fit, whispers of “revealing” clothes be damned. Even as the neighbourhood would thump with the sounds of Falguni Pathak every Navratri, Cliff Richards, The Eagles, Beethoven, and Elvis resounded in our house. My parents did their best: We were an Indian family with a global attitude, even if we were a paradox.

Growing up, my highly educated, intelligent parents, who ran a double-income household even before Cosmopolitan said it was in, were an inspiration. They taught me to question everything – politics, religion, and social hierarchies – and take nothing at face value. This worked out great, until I started questioning things they never thought to. Until I started questioning them.

As my aggressive wokeness made my life quite miserable and impossible to enjoy, my parents retreated deeper and deeper into their bubble.

It started innocuously. I used to be the girl who happily laughed along with her parents at F.R.I.E.N.D.S. reruns, but as buzzwords like homophobia, fat-shaming, slut-shaming, and transphobia crept into my consciousness, I found myself cringing at the same jokes I once enjoyed. Suddenly, I found myself explaining what a “micro-aggression” was to my mother when she questioned why Muslim women want to wear burqas on European beaches. Where earlier I dressed as I saw fit with no reproach, I now have my dad to remind me that “we’re broad-minded, not nudists” every time I step out at night. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve voiced a criticism of the government only to be told that “Acche Din” are here because onions are cheaper in the marketplace.

There was a new #movement every day that I outraged over and that, in turn, bewildered my parents.

As my aggressive wokeness made my life quite miserable and impossible to enjoy, my parents retreated deeper and deeper into their bubble. Our conversations had devolved from being about art and literature, to religion, the life I should be leading “as a woman” (as opposed to the “manly” life I’m currently leading, flashing my penis at everyone), and questions about when I’m getting married. My parents and I are now locked in a struggle where we aggressively push our views down each other’s throats at every chance we get.

I suppose this is Adulting 101 – when you watch your idols fall, or at least realise they have flaws too. It’s also a bit of a bind. My upbringing has ensured that I am able to question the very people who brought me up, much to their displeasure. At the same time, I know I have to cut my parents some slack. On the scale of wokeness, I might have gone from 10 to 15. My parents, however, have probably gone from -10 to 10. Theirs is a longer arc, a longer journey.     

Perhaps my parents and I are simply enacting a cycle that repeats itself in every generation. Our parents are a product of their time. There must have been a time when they became too liberal for their own parents, who were probably much more conservative. They then raised us to be as socially aware and forward-thinking as they could, and watched sadly as we left them behind on the endless ladder of wokeness.

So, here’s my theory – our liberal parents (T&C apply) did their job so well that we eventually outpaced them in defying conventions, possibly to the point of causing them some discomfort. Now, while my decision to bring up #FreeTheNipple over breakfast cereal might make them lose their appetite, I owe my wokeness to them, even if it doesn’t feel like it anymore. I’ve come to realise that their liberalism shaped mine, and can once again see them for the inspiring individuals they’ve always been. Isn’t that what being woke is all about?