Highlights, lowlights & leading lights

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Highlights, lowlights & leading lights

At the turn of the century, life was very different for the average Indian. Manmohan Singh may have begun the process of economic reforms in the early nineties, but it was only in the last decade that India and her children truly began to feel its effects. From media to airlines, fashion to fine wines, liberalisation spawned a host of changes, improving our lives in most ways, if not all.

Some of these changes we celebrated instantaneously, others we were hard put to appreciate as they happened and only understood in hindsight — nevertheless, life on the cusp of 2010 is far, far different from what it was in 1999.

Here, then, is my very personal list of the great shifts the decade has witnessed.

Consumer is king

In the west, they called it the democratisation of luxury, where anyone could buy Louis Vuitton — and we’re not talking Bangkok versions. Rather, as high-end brands became more accessible to consumers internationally, so too in India, as runaway GDP growth suddenly empowered the middle-classes, we were looking at luxury in a new light.

Once-fancy cars are commonplace on our streets now, snooty wines pour easily in our homes and everything from Gouda cheese to Gucci watches is available at a downtown mall near you. This was the decade we stopped writing begging letters to friends and family abroad, because everything is now available in India.

Relationship freedom

Perhaps inspired by the new stories suddenly being told in Bollywood — or maybe it’s the other way about — this was the decade we finally updated the traditional middle-class values so beloved of our chauvinistic politicians to reflect the times we live in. Across the country, more couples are now living together — shock, horror! — before marriage and open relationships are no longer the subject of whispered sniggers. Swap parties at farmhouses outside the city are old news and films such as Wake Up Sid merely serve to mirror the new relationship dynamics of our times. This was the decade we took our love lives into our own hands — and even Bollywood followed suit as Rakhi Sawant showed us how to shed our inhibitions and our clothes.

The gaygenda to the fore

With relationship freedom came freedom of gender and sexual orientation. Films such as Mango Soufflé and My Brother Nikhil proved the Noughties generation weren’t strait-jacketed like their parents and that Indian society as a whole has matured immensely since Deepa Mehta’s Fire got political activists burned up about a tiny genetic differential. Not only is it now legal to have homosexual sex (it has always been legal to be gay), but there are now beauty contests for the transgender community, a group now recognised even by the country’s Election Commission. This was the decade the majority of Indians realised the queer community isn’t actively recruiting young people like some on-campus political party, and that being gay, straight, lesbian or otherwise is not so remarkable any more.

Technological mobility for all

As CDMA took the nation by storm, everyone from carpenters to kaamwali bais could suddenly be reached on a mobile phone, throwing up a new set of frustrations and conveniences. In the villages, farmers used their phones to determine what prices other farmers in nearby districts were being paid, thus avoiding being cheated out of a fair price by middlemen.

But technology empowered in more ways than one — the other facet of this widespread availability of technology, though, has been the rise of cyberbullying, home video porn and the dirty Bollywood MMS — as Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapur know only too well. It also meant, rather unfortunately, that all your friends were suddenly either farmers or crooks — at least on Facebook.

This was the decade technology both brought us closer together (over VOIP and instant messaging) and drew us further apart (as social media created the illusion of keeping in touch with internet-savvy grandma).

Bags packed, ready to go

An increase in cheap domestic flights and the number of international connections to India (from places as far afield as Fiji) meant we were flying across the planet like never before, the days of queueing up at the Reserve Bank of India to ask for our $2,000 a hazy memory. The last decade of the 1900s finally bridged the distance between the page three crowds in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad.

Reality is a TV show

From Jhalak Dikhlaja to Nach Baliye and Big Boss, the Noughties brought those proverbial 15 minutes of fame within everyone’s reach. Like Simon Cowell proved in the west, there’s nothing quite as much fun as watching Anaida pass live fish to Mona Wasu with her mouth. This was the decade everybody could become famous enough to judge acting competitions at the local college — because they’d suddenly been on TV.

India unleashed

From two Oscars in one night to emerging as one of the world’s new growth engines as one of the BRIC nations and standing firm on climate change as part of Chindia, India finally became a global power of sorts in the Noughties — even as terrorism and internal politics periodically disrupted the country. This was the decade the global Indian finally emerged as an entity different from NRIs and PIOs, when the Indian passport was suddenly not such a difficult one to possess after all. This may not have been India’s decade —that honour belongs to China, but despite the farmer suicides, honour killings and dying from starvation, it was when our country finally realised its potential.  And that in itself may be the biggest game-changer of all.

Online dating

Perhaps the biggest relationship trend of all, over the last decade, was the rise of online dating and the internet matrimonial. While the gay community had long embraced online dating, as sites such as gay.com and gaydar replaced cruising in Cubbon Park, the world at large only abandoned traditional ways of finding partners (like getting drunk in bars) over the last few years, caught up as they were in a haze of lies, deceit and out-of-date profile pictures. Nowadays, as Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites allow users to compare different profiles of the same person all at once, ages only vary by a year or two and profile pictures aren’t that old any more. The rise of this trend means the mail-order bride has re-emerged, and arranged marriages can now get infinitely more specific — as well as the fact that cheating is now so easy multiple partners and commitment-phobia threaten to destroy society as we know it, at least in traditionalists’ eyes!

Partying...at home!

2009 will go down as the year of the house party. As the rest of the world cut back on a decade’s excesses in the wake of what economists have called the deepest recession in recent memory, Bangalore was not far behind. While social networking was all the rage online, in the real world, socialising took on a new meaning as the majority of city denizens chose the home entertainment route.

While Vijay Mallya continued to host lavish shindigs attended by film, fashion, Formula One and corporate royalty (most notably at Cannes and Monaco), other Bangaloreans decided prudence was the way forward as house parties became the rage.

Those of us without unlimited expense accounts stayed home, choosing to invite people for more intimate home-cooked meals that we pretended proved we cared about those close to us, while really saving money in these lean times.

Smaller expense accounts was one reason pubs were off limits for many of us, but a new curfew that shut watering holes by 11.30pm meant good citizens simply kept the partying behind close doors, whether it was a weeknight in the city or a night-long weekend bender at a convenient farmhouse.

And the ban on smoking didn’t help. Worldwide, bars and clubs lost business as smokers decided they didn’t want to hang around street corners anymore — the garden city followed suit.

When even Microsoft decides the best way to launch a new product, in this case Windows 7, is with a series of house parties, who are we to argue? Besides, everything’s so much more comfortable at home.

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