Nowadays, everybody I meet seems to be bemoaning the fact that Gen Z doesn’t want to procreate. In my yoga group, on the litfest circuit, at cocktail parties, it is the same familiar lament, “Aiyyo, I want to be a grandmother but my useless son/daughter simply wants to adopt a cat/dog/goldfish.” As a mother of three 20-somethings, I can confirm that this indeed seems to be the sitch. Of course, I am generalising wildly and speaking only from personal experience but it really looks like let alone procreate, kids today don’t even seem to want a committed relationship, or a long-term career. They all seem to float and drift and flit, or focus too hard and burn out. The older auntiejis and unclejis are happy to lump the blame of the grand old institution of marriage collapsing squarely on feminism. “Girls want to dress up and go out and earn money and party,” they say, like these are somehow bad things to want. “They don’t want to put in the work anymore.” Point out to them that boys have been getting away without putting in the work since time began and they just shake their heads sadly.
See, there is no denying the fact that marriage is expensive and so are children. We live in shaky times—with retrenching, layoffs, rampant unemployment, yawning wealth inequalities and climate change imploding all around us. We also live in times of conspicuous consumption, with celebrity accounts and social media algorithms urging haut couture fancy phones, gourmet FNB and exotic vacations and ‘curated experiences’ at us constantly. Time was, we paid EMIs for a house, but today’s generation pays EMIs for a phone or a lehenga or whitebait fritters. As my grandmother would say, “Batao!” Add to this, early exposure to pornography and sex, and the fact that sex mostly happens without dating or being in a committed relationship. They are growing up jaded, and emotionally damaged, and with exposure to all kinds of sexual diseases. Which brings us right to the rise of therapy culture and the trillion dollar wellness industry... “Where have we gone wrong as parents,” asks an elegant 50-plus mother at a pre-Diwali party, worried that her childless children are in danger of morphing either into chota-mota Gautam Buddhas (Why is there so much suffering in the world?) or full-on nihilists—believing in nothing, with no meaning or purpose or spiritual direction. “What can we even do about it?” The truth, frankly, is that Gen Z makes a damn good point. And the photographs and reports from Gaza prove it. That the people who suffered a holocaust are now unleashing exactly the same horror on another people while quoting Isaiah to justify their slaughter of innocents, fills me with utter hopelessness about the future of our race. I guess the lesson for every semi-retired 50 pluser hankering to be a grandparent is this—you may think what’s happening in Gaza is nothing to do with you (except that it may upset your investment portfolio a tad), you may think what’s happening in Manipur is nothing to do with you. But the fact is that if you want your young ones to lead sane, non-anxious, healthy, fulfilled lives in the future, you cannot afford to not call out rampant hate, greed, callousness and large-scale murder when you see it unfold in plain sight before your eyes. If you want to dandle grandkids on your knees tomorrow (and not a granddog, or a grandcat) you have to speak up for a saner, fairer world today.