Author tracks tales of India's technicolour youth

NEW DELHI Thu Apr 19, 2012 3:50pm IST

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Youngsters spend time at a coffee shop in Chandigarh, June 9, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/Ajay Verma

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A scriptwriter living with his girlfriend in Mumbai is put on the spot when the disapproving parents turn up. A doomed call centre worker lives in a cloud of numbing drug addiction financed by his high salary.

These are just a few of the lives chronicled by author Palash Krishna Mehrotra in his non-fictional account of the changes that have swept over India over the last three decades, specifically how the lives of its youth have changed.

"I thought it would be interesting to write a book about the youth in the 80s, about a journey from socialism to capitalism and all the changes that came about," he told Reuters.

"I wanted to write from the perspective of someone who has been here all throughout, grew up here and how we reconcile these two worlds - the one we grew up in, and the world we came of age in."

The result was "The Butterfly Generation: A Personal Journey into the Passions and Follies of India's Technicolour Youth," the second book by Mehrotra, who at 36 falls straight into the age group he is portraying.

At the start of the period chronicled in the book, India was opening to Western markets, bringing about a stronger economy that led to a technological revolution.

Socially, people began moving away from traditional elite careers of medicine and engineering, experimenting with the humanities and the arts. Youth culture began to come to the fore as control by family elders weakened.

"People living on their own, new jobs, (the) single life. All this has happened in the last ten to 15 years," he said, adding that he tried to avoid a preachy tone.

"What this generation ought to do and ought not to do was never part of my agenda. This is an important segment of society, a section of a generation which I identify with."

This is the first generation that grew up with MTV, which was an instant hit with those who had access to it. Then the call centres arrived, luring many of the same young people in with the high salaries those multinational firms offered.

The fast money led some to fall prey to drugs, such as one call centre employee, referred to only as Bobby Brown, whose addiction ended his life.

Mehrotra aimed at variety for his profiles, from a corporate lawyer in Mumbai who looks up traditional Indian recipes online to an autorickshaw driver who makes money by supplying rich Indian boys at boarding school with junk food and pizza.

"I was also trying to move away from the software engineers, trying to get some unusual stories. Things they couldn't have done 15 years ago," he said.

"I was not interested in the office hours. What happens in the bedroom, the relationships they have, do they go to karaoke bars, etcetera."

In the old days, when dating in general was frowned on by conservative society, shopping malls helped legitimise romance since spending time together in parks could have led to harassment from the police.

One of the biggest changes he sees is that young people these days are less touchy about where they come from and take things much less seriously, giving as an example a Sikh musician and singer who isn't afraid of writing songs that poke fun at his own community.

"There are no more sacred cows," he said. "This generation is more self-assured and willing to challenge things."

(Reporting by Anuja Jaiman, editing by Elaine Lies and Paul Casciato)

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