Mr Chainwalla is in Sydney. "My daughter Dolly is responsible for this," he says, with a hint of pride. One soon learns Mr Chainwalla is a man of confusing utterances. "She paid, both ways," he states.

I assume he is referring to the air fare, Mumbai to Sydney and back, but he chips in, "In spite of her lazy, good for nothing husband!"

Although it is revealed later that Joe, the son-in-law, did pay one leg of the fare, this apparently doesn't wash.

"Nonsense," says Mr Chainwalla, "He's the big IT whiz-kid earning mega bucks. Why couldn't he pay the whole damn thing instead of making his pregnant wife open her wallet?"

"I am a daddy's man," he intones ruefully, before correcting himself to say, "I mean she's a daddy's girl."

He is staying in the adjacent apartment from me, and is reading Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance.

"Staying true to my tribe," he says. "Do you know he's Parsee also? Bombay boy. Using his pen in Canada now to mint Canadian dollars. Good for him. Damn nice writer." I wonder, idly, whether praise would have been as lavish if Mistry were his son-in-law.

Mr Chainwalla, who insists I call him Jimmy, appears to read my mind for he says, "Materialism is rampant here, too. Have you seen this home theatre system Dolly's husband has? It has taken out all the joy of going to the cinema. Now they sit at home in the dark and watch aircraft flying about bombarding cities. It's crazy. Before, you sat in a big hall with hundreds of people and got terrified together. Now you shiver alone!"

Joe, it appears, loves a life of comfort but the commentary on Joe doesn't cease there. "Youngsters these days are totally different from our times," says Jimmy. "Do you know there's something they call ‘multi-tasking'?"

The question is rhetorical for Jimmy carries on, "Dolly's husband can bang away on his keyboard while carrying on a conversation with me."

A sad shake of the head and he says, "If that's not disrespect to an elder, what is? He doesn't even look me in the eye when speaking."

Playing safe

My own gaze is wandering but I pin it back quickly on Mr Chainwalla, lest he credit me with similarly shifty motives.

"His opinion is the only thing that matters," he adds. "Whatever I say is ‘Old hat', as he puts it. I am never right. Dolly is never right. And he is never wrong. Never, ever. Mr Know-It-All knows it all!"

I have encountered Joe a few times and he seems a pleasant guy. On Jimmy's evidence, however, the Joe outside is far removed from the Joe on the inside.

"In our day the family gathered at the table for a meal. It was a great time for bonding and togetherness. Things have changed. You should take one look at Joe's computer table," he says, adding, "It's somewhere underneath all those paper plates and cups, tissues and traces of ketchup. The future for the next generation is pretty hopeless."

I struggle to restrain an overpowering feeling of mirth, for I recall a quote from my own days as a swatting student of literature. Socrates was moaning about something similar back then.

The quote goes: ‘The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannise their teachers'.

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney.