“Am I a millennial?” N pondered aloud. I Googled it. Yes, I told her, she was. I was too.
“But I don’t feel like one,” she said.
“How so?” “I hate avocados. I love hierarchy. I don’t care what brand of grass the cow ate, as long as the milk I buy is white. I am not gender fluid. I am not Hashtag Body Positivity. I actually want to lose weight and be thin,” N argued.
Being “millennial” is not about what year you were born in (millennials are all those born between 1980 and 2000) – it is about the lifestyle and worldview you have or aspire for. The term also includes post-millennials, who were born between 1995 and 2005 and (from a marketing POV) are the individuals who were born into the digital age.
I explained this to N, as she sipped her locally-sourced, milk-bathed, sun-dried Kashmiri jasmine-flavoured kehwa. Millennials are more into experiences than acquisitions, I said, which is why they are spending more on guacamole than guest bedrooms. They travel a lot, get married late, don’t care much for children, burn a lot of sage, slather mud on their faces, love juice cleanses and vipasana, grow their beards, attend sound therapies, wear khadi and have jobs like “ambience visualiser” or “vibe consultant”. N laughed.
“A warm pile of bullshit,” she added.
“But people are ready to bend over backwards to make the millennial experience as amazing as possible,” I said. There are gourmet travel companies, vegan biryanis (a crime) and Himalayan black salt foot creams today. Millennials have money and love to spend it because they get married late – or not at all. Even if they do, they aspire for #CleanEating and #VacayGoals more than mortgages.
I personally believe that Millennial Entitlement ™ (yes, I am TMing it) was born out of two things – the internet and the Jaa Simran Jee Le Apni Zindagi (JSJLAZ) syndrome. The internet made life easy for everybody. Older millennials lived through cassettes and floppy disks, burning their favourite songs on CDs, not having too many restaurants to go to or TV shows to watch. They depended on the printed word – remember encyclopedias and fat-ass phone directories? Remember landline telephones and ISD phone calls? Remember dial-up internet connections? But, because they were in the midst of the digital revolution, they seamlessly moved on from Walkmans to Discmans – with just one difference in attitude. They didn’t believe technology was their birthright – it was a reward. You got an MP3 player if you did well in your exams, or for your birthday. The latter millennials were born into a world that was much more familiar with technology; they weren’t afraid of it. It was a basic necessity, exemplified by Ranveer Singh’s character spraying graffiti on a wall in Gully Boy – Roti, Kapda, Makaan aur Internet. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has to be updated. Among other things, self-actualisation has to be replaced with “1 Billion Instagram Followers”.
The internet has made “impossible is nothing” a reality. There is nothing you cannot do, as long as you’ve got a data connection.
The second point – Jaa Simran Jee Le Apni Zindagi (JSJLAZ) syndrome – is a little more nuanced. On average, an Indian millennial’s father would have been born in the 1950s, making the grandfather a 1920s kid, approximately. The grandfather’s generation, while reasonably well off during its youth, would have faced immense economic hardships during Independence (when the grandfather would have been a fresher in the job market), leading to a dent in the family resources, so he would have had to struggle, work hard and build a new life from scratch. The family was more important than the individual. Everyone worked to make sure that the family (which used to be big) was doing well.
Thus, when the father was born, words like “tradition”, “family”, “hard work” and “security” were the buzzwords. Engineering and medicine, along with government jobs, were considered prestigious and safe. While many in the father’s generation could stretch their limbs a bit, most of them didn’t, because, while families grew smaller, they were still the onus of everybody’s lives. Everything was parampara and agli-pidi oriented.
The Indian middle-class was properly born around the 1970s, and everyone was obsessed with futures and investments and FDs and PPF. Life insurance became a priority, because families had gotten smaller and were slowly turning into single-income units. Remember that LIC ad about a widow being able to get her daughter married because the husband had saved up all his life before he passed away? That is exactly what the father’s generation’s job was – to make the future secure.
This is why, when the first batch of millennials was born, they were born into Jaa Simran Jee Le Apni Zindagi (JSJLAZ). The father, while dreaming of an engineer or MBBS son, tried to come to terms with the fact that the son might not want to crack the JEE exam. And the father wanted to be okay with that, because after everything the grandfather and father had gone through since Independence, their family – albeit tiny – was a part of a shiny India that was becoming as cool as the rest of the world. You heard “Yeh toh humaare wahaan bhi milta hai” more often. The father didn’t want the millennial to struggle as much as he had done. He didn’t want the millennial to just sing or play the tabla during dinner parties – if he was good enough, the millennial could also make a career out of it.
Thus the early millennial became the first generation in India that had the freedom to dream. The concept of “I” was finally accepted in Indian families. Slowly, millennials began fighting the oppression of traditional jobs, the father tried to come to terms with an F in Maths, media degrees became popular, marketing, advertising and journalism became cool new career options, consumerism increased and while the father still had only three pairs of shoes (all formal, all black, all Bata), he would be okay with buying his son ten pairs (all cool, all branded). All millennials are Simran, and the paradigm shift happens when Bauji finally lets go of her hand and accepts her individuality.
This brings us to today, and the Millennial Entitlement ™ we live with. This is a generation that has had it easy and has been allowed to do whatever they want with their lives. They have seen their parents and grandparents slog for security and savings, and they don’t want to do that. Making money is easy, and spending it is easier. Everyone wants to be on fleek, so nobody cares about authenticity. To be seen wearing Gucci is more important than wearing OG Gucci because nobody cares about the quality of a product beyond that one post on Instagram – a million views today, forgotten tomorrow.
So, what do you do to make that kind of money? Interesting question. Earlier, the A grade students went to the country’s best colleges and then studied abroad. They still function similarly today. The drastic shift has been the rise and rise of the Average Joe. In the father’s generation, the Average Joe didn’t know what to study, so it meant “joining Papa’s business” or “getting a bank job”. The Average Joe wasn’t good at science and didn’t have ambitions, so he took up commerce and got an accounting job somewhere. The Average Joe had no future.
Today, other than the multitude of career options, the Average Joe can also ride the wave with soft skills, personality and presence. Thanks to the birth of influencers, the Average Joe can make money from looking good, dressing well, posing smartly, making funny videos, doing pull ups and so on. The Average Joe can learn how to use a couple of cameras and become a photographer and shoot portfolios. The Average Joe can become a wedding photographer. The Average Joe can model, can be a choreographer, can be a YouTuber, can be PewDiePie, can be Bhuvan Bam, can be DIVINE, can write three lines of poetry and get a million views on Instagram and call themselves a poet – they can be anybody, and make money out of it.
This is what the father’s generation hates because it had to work a hundred times harder to make half the money millennials make these days. And they cannot comprehend why millennials are not inclined to save money, because the father had been brought up by the grandfather, who had seen firsthand how you could lose it all. They cannot comprehend the irreverence and taken-for-granted attitude millennials have for money and objects. They cannot comprehend the demolition of hierarchy and seniority that our society is going through, how young people respect “perspective” more than “age” and are not afraid to speak their minds, irrespective of who they are talking to. Millennials don’t bow, don’t look down, and they don’t pledge aapka-namak-khaya-hai levels of loyalty. While they drive into the future at breakneck speed, with Netflix, sneakers and TikTok, the generation gap between the father and son grows ever deeper.
N stared at me as I ended my spiel and caught my breath. She pulled her phone out and Insta-storied me with the Oslo filter, and #OldSoul #PartyPooper #BFF #STFU