Generational advantageOur generation witnessed epoch-making events at both national and global levels
The generation born immediately after independence and the partition in India is a highly advantaged one in terms of witnessing epoch-making events at both national and global levels—transformation from a low-old technology to sophisticated hi-fi gadgets and shifts in the nature, style and quality of life and livelihood.
Droughts and famines including the devastating Bengal famine of 1943, a harrowing feature of colonial India, continued its perpetration even after 1947. During the mid-1960s, people had no option but to eat very poor quality wheat. Rice was virtually inaccessible. Then came the Green Revolution in the 1960s under eminent scientists like MS Swaminathan. Its wide-scale penetration into various geographical locations with newer farming technology and critical inputs like high yielding variety seeds raised productivity levels and diversified cropping patterns and made the country food surplus. India received skimmed milk powder and butter oil as food aid under PL-480 and the World Food Programme to meet the acute milk deficit. A visionary like Verghese Kurien transformed India into the largest milk producing country under the Operation Flood programme.
In the world of sports, hockey wizard Dhyanchand’s son Ashok Kumar’s team won the Men’s Hockey World Cup in Kuala Lumpur in 1975 after trouncing insurmountable heroes like Islahuddin and Samiullah of Pakistan. What a treat it was to see Indonesia’s Liem Swie King, China’s Han Jian and India’s Prakash Padukone playing in the Asiad in New Delhi in 1982. We witnessed four generations of one
single illustrious family’s domineering impact on Indian politics: Nehru-Indira-Rajiv-Rahul and the vast spectrum of national leaders from Sardar Patel and Lohia to Jai Prakash Narayan and Morarji Desai to Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, and, of course, BP Koirala of Nepal. The devastating emergency days with the Maintenance of Internal Security Act and the emergence of coalition politics later added an absolutely new dimension to Indian polity.
Who will forget the charms of regional leaders that influenced national politics like MGR, NT Rama Rao, Jyoti Basu, NB Bhandari, Hokishe Sema, Farooq Abdullah, Karpoori Thakur and ND Tiwari? We also saw the rise and fall of dreaded dacoits like Phoolan Devi and Veerapan, and speculator Harshad Mehta and godmen Brahmachari and Chandraswamy and, of course, the hippies. Besides the launching of Neil Armstrong and Rakesh Sharma into space, there has been no dearth of crises in the world—the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam War, Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, unification of Germany, end of glasnost and perestroika and the fragmentation of the Soviet Union and the invasion by the US of Iraq and decimation of Saddam Hussein. The rise of China from the ruins of the Cultural Revolution has been just as conspicuous.
I was a witness to the historic hugs of Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat with Indira Gandhi at the Seventh Non-aligned Movement Summit in New Delhi in 1983. This is where we had a firsthand glimpse of king Birendra, Zia-ul-Haq, Muammar Gaddafi, and Julius Nyerere. Besides the Sino-India war of 1962, we witnessed violence-ridden internal conflicts in India like from Kanu Sanyal’s Naxalite movement to Muivah’s Naga insurgency. These were the years that brought to an end to protractedly violent movements that even led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi. So many peace accords were signed including that of Gorkhaland, Punjab, Assam and Mizoram. Once the fiercest rebel Laldenga even became the chief minister of Mizoram.
Four decades ago, we lived in an India where trunk calls booked through the telephone exchange were used extensively along with the telegram and telex. Soon, we had a Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) of Sam Pitroda that revolutionised communication through STD and ISD call booths. Then came fax and now mobiles and social media. Our PhD theses were typed on Halda and Remington typewriters; letterpress compositors picked up alphabets after alphabets to form a word and produce a book. Lotus and dBase-based programming was done on AT personal computers that had 360 KB RAM and used 5.25-inch floppies.
Uptron and Onida TVs, Philips and Murphy radios, Kelvinator fridges, and Austin, Land Rover and Ambassador vehicles were pride possessions. They moved alongside Harke Kaka’s Gorugari ox-drawn carts at Singamari and the army’s Patton tanks in Delhi Cantonment. Sulekha and Pilot inks and fountain pens and tin geometry boxes were our school friends. Our teachers were well dressed and red cheeked, and enjoyed cigars and brandy in frigid Darjeeling. Refugees came in hordes from Tibet, East Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Chittagong and Bhutan. India hosted them generously and even permitted a government-in-exile of the Dalai Lama. Bangladesh became an independent country.
We witnessed the referendum-based merger of the then Kingdom of Sikkim into India, and also the creation of several new states ranging from Nagaland to Telangana. Charminar, No 10, Rolex and Cool cigarettes existed along with Anacin and Aspro selling chemists. Buying beef at IRs3.75 per kg and Rahu fish at IRs2 behind Darjeeling’s motor stand was big marketing. When the innings of Melville de Mellow, Latika Ratnam, Jasdev Singh, Devki Nadan Pande, Darshan Thakur and PK Sinha on All India Radio, and Sadhana, Rini and Geetanjali on Doordarshan were just over, soon came Pranoy, Binod Dua and Barkha. What a difference, black and white TV and intermittent ‘Rukawat ke liye Khed Hai’ to 24-hour channels with lots of spice, noise and encroachment.
Mother Teresa, Saibaba and Rajneesh were another world that gave us so very vital positive energy and social engagements. Intellectual giants like Radha Krishnan, KR Narayanan, Amartya Sen, diplomats like G Parathasarathy and MK Rasgotra, militarymen like Manekshaw, strategists like RN Kao and K Subramanyam, governance experts like LK Jha, AL Dias and BK Nehru, journalists like Nikhil Chakroborty, Kuldip Nayyar and Shekhar Gupta, writers like Thakazhi Pillai, Amrita Pritam and Shiva Kumar Rai, industrialists like Tata and Ambani, scientists like Sarabhai and Raja Ramanna, cine experts like Satyajit Ray, Rafi, Bhonsle, Mala Sinha and Gabbar, and successors like Manisha Koirala, Madhuri, Amir and Shah Rukh decorated the Indian panorama for decades. Oh then, we miss our heroes in the Western world like George Harrison, Charles Bronson, Christopher Lee, Bruce Lee, Charlie Chaplin and, of course, John Lennon.
So our generation saw the worst and the best, the slowest and the fastest, the crudest and the most sophisticated, and the simplest and the complex. Both were equally beautiful, deeply joyful and, more critically, always semi-fully satisfying.
- Lama is a senior professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University.