We were both '90s kids. We just happened to grow up half a world apart
The world lives in divisive times, but more unites us than you might think
Time is a bizarre creature.
It has the power to make the young feel old and the old feel young. As new parents, my husband and I often find ourselves reminiscing about our growing years — the 1990s.
Yes, the years of floppy disks, Minesweeper, the dial-up internet … not to mention stirring events such as Princess Diana's death, Bill Clinton's presidency and Saddam Hussein's regime.
But, for two kids who grew up (more than) seven seas apart, how similar — or different — were our collective experiences?
The India of the '90s is an interesting chapter in history. The period created an environment that enhanced the world's influence on the existing, beautiful Indian culture.
For two kids who grew up (more than) seven seas apart, how similar — or different — were our collective experiences?
While some choose to see this phenomenon as a dilution of the ancient and rich Indian heritage, I believe that growing up with a variety of influences — religious, cultural, gastronomical and literary — has moulded me into an individual capable of a pluralistic outlook, giving me the ability to embrace the various facets of a human experience.
While I grew up in India, my husband was raised in Canada. You might think we have very little in common. But there is more than what meets the eye.
So, how similar — or different — were our collective experiences?
Liberalizing a generation
First, a bit of history.
Post-independent India's economic policy was moulded on the (mostly negative) colonial experience that began with the East India Company. Influenced by this, India focused on harnessing local industries and curbing foreign investment.
- No pay, no benefits, fussy client … and it's still the best job ever
- You never know what's around the corner, including in a tunnel at MUN
However, economic liberalization in the 1990s in India changed things. Private and foreign investment expanded, and then began a shift — a tidal shift — in the cultural landscape.
That's what affected me as a girl growing up in a country now more connected to the rest of the world.
Liberalization mean cable TV and VHS cassettes. Pop music channels like MTV and VH1 arrived. Alongside learning classical Carnatic music from my grandmother and dancing to Hindi film music, I grew up crooning Wannabe by the Spice Girls and having a major crush on Nick from the Backstreet Boys!
Every evening after school and on the weekends, I would religiously watch my cartoon shows. I watched Captain Planet save the world and Powerpuff Girls teach Mojo Jojo a lesson.
Walt Disney had captured an entire generation of kids in India through Cinderella and Aladdin. The anime series The Jungle Book, aired by Doordarshan (the public broadcaster in India), was 52 episodes of sheer joy! Eclectic and entertaining, these cartoons got me through flus and asthma.
My husband and I didn't know it at the time, but we grew up having all kinds of shared experiences.
Today, living the shared experience of our love for cartoons, my husband and I sing catchy intro-songs of our favourite cartoons — in English and Hindi, respectively — to our bewildered one-year-old, who has no clue why these "loony tunes" make her parents turn into a bunch of silly kids.
The '90s saw me laughing at Kramer and George's antics on Seinfeld, crying over Ross and Rachel's breakup on Friends, and watching the Olsen twins turn from babies to fashion industry moguls.
With the advent of the Internet in India, my choices quadrupled.
Food, glorious food
Liberalization brought the food of the world to my doorstep. PepsiCo's Lay's customized its flavours, creating India's Magic Masala, which I devour to this day when I visit India.
In addition to the already available vast and delectable fast-food choices in India, McDonald's, Domino's and Pizza Hut were new market entrants in the '90s that quickly found their niche by tailoring their menus for the Indian market.
Amalgamating the flavours of the west with east, these market-savvy chains created mouth-watering paneer-topped pizzas and McAloo Tikkis (a potato and pea patty filled with Indian spices served with burger buns).
While these chains aren't considered high-end restaurants in Canada, they are pretty plush in India, complete with comfortable seating, a likable ambience and air conditioning, making it — in the '90s — a cool spot to hang out with friends and family.
But no McDonald's or Pizza Hut can substitute for a nice home-cooked meal. To the chagrin of my mother, I loved what my neighbours cooked more than her food (shhhhh … let's not tell her this secret!).
Riding our bicycles and arriving unannounced at each other's homes, my group of friends and I were always welcome to stay over for breakfast-lunch-supper at the neighbours', adding merit to the statement "it takes a village to raise a child".
The variety of food, from different parts of India, tantalized my tastebuds and opened up my palette to different types of cuisine.
Cards? Oh, we collected them
Ask any Canadian who raised kids during the '90s and they'll tell you about the collectible card mania.
You can ask the same thing of any Indian parent, too.
In Canada, you had hockey. In India, we had cricket. We both had wrestling. We would go bananas buying these cards, playing and trading them.
Lay's had an entire generation of kids hooked with "Tazos" (just like Pogs in North America). A huge hit, Tazos made and broke friendships! I knew of classmates who would throw away the gum or packet of chips and only keep the collectible that came along. Such was the mania!
Who knew then that these mere pieces of plastic and paper would sell for a fortune today?
Capturing the world 'literally'
From Rabindranath Tagore's Kabuliwala to Enid Blyton's Secret Seven, I was fortunate to have access to a wide variety of literature.
Ancient Indian epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata (narrated by my grandmothers) and Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are fantastical stories that sated my imagination.
The Panchatantra and Aesop's Fables always found an audience in me.
But this section would be incomplete without mentioning Pottermania.
Harry Potter gripped the world, not leaving India and Canada immune, and was an integral part of my childhood and adolescence. J.K. Rowling's vivid imagination created a realm filled with interesting plot lines and well-detailed characters.
One couldn't help but fall in love with the series. As a 10-year-old, I remember closing my eyes and grimacing as the book revealed that Professor Quirrell was two-faced — pun intended.
"Expecto patronum" and "wingardium leviosa" were all spells I diligently practised with my "wand," which was, in reality, a thick twig from a tree.
A voracious reader like myself was lucky to find influences from the four corners of the world.
Having access to a plethora of literature has made me accepting of and tolerant to diverse cultures and opinions.
Similarities in our differences
An article such as this one is written with the hopes of showing the importance of a global value system that impacts lives of children, across the world, from Canada to India.
Neighbourly love, the informality of playing — without the need of setting a "play-date" — and sharing lunches at school are all common experiences my husband and I share despite being raised on different continents. They have instilled in us a sense of community and responsibility towards society.
All of the above amazing experiences can be credited to the values and the culture of the 1990s which, sadly, I believe have been diluted in the din of materialism and commercialization.
The global value system today can seem bleak, discriminating against individuals based on their caste, creed and colour.
However although we live in such divisive times, I believe we are more similar than different.
Hence, with hope shining big and bright, I share my childhood stories to celebrate our commonalities and with an optimistic outlook that it will translate to the harmony and peace we strive for personally, nationally and globally.