Friday, 24 July 2015

Station 50

Man had not walked on the moon when I was born. It took another five years for that “giant step for mankind.” I was born a long time ago; a rather long time.

In the year I was born India lost its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. So perhaps my birth led to a leadership change in the country.

Even while I was a young boy, a not-so-silent change was happening in my country. Seeds of high-yielding food crop varieties were being introduced in the fields of farmers who had access to irrigation. The gift hamper that these farmers received from the government also included chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Together, the ingredients helped these farmers to increase food production in their farms, leading the country to food self-sufficiency. Exempted from the need to import food, there was a new vigour in the country.

Irrigation plus a package of support ensured that the country was self sufficient in food
The political map was also being redrawn simultaneously. While farmers with irrigation were recipients of government largesse to produce more crops from their farms, those who tended rain-fed farms were being ignored. While the Green Revolution was sowing the seeds of growth in less than one-third of country’s farmlands, seeds of discontent were being sown in the remaining two-thirds. I continue to see my country suffer from the fruits that the seeds of discontent produced.

My generation did not face famines that our fathers faced. But, we did live through shortages. And we did realise that jaggery was a reasonably good substitute for sugar in coffee.

We were not the wallflower generation. We just missed it. Thankfully. We did not need acid to see what others could not. We saw what we saw. We didn’t believe that there was anything more to see, or know.

Neither were we from the consumerist generation. We were before that. We believe that taking care of our parents is as important as supporting our children.

We did not know much about Vietnam. But we knew of Bangladesh, Mukti Bahini and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. As our fathers tuned Marconi-valve radios to catch the latest from the front, we found new games to be played during blackouts. We had heard about Sam Maneckshaw and Jagjit Singh Aurora, the sardar general to whom Niazi had surrendered his revolver. We remember pictures of starvation and genocide from the war, refugees walking across the border.

Manoj Kumar injected us with patriotism – “Meri desh ki dharti.” He also gave us more advice. It was in his nature to do so. He told us not to trust blondes – “Koi jab tumhara hriday tod de, tadapta hua jab koyi chod de …”

Even in our childhood we knew Manoj Kumar’s patriotism was kitsch. But we got a lump in our throat whenever we heard Lata’s Aye mere watan ke logon. We still do, even though the Indo-China War happened before we were born.

We were rather young when the Emergency happened. Our parents experienced it, and through them us. The impact was forceful – we promised that we would never gamble with our democracy ever again.

We saw the turmoil in Assam, Kashmir and Punjab. We heard about killings in Punjab in our daily news on radio. We followed Operation Bluestar and its sequels – Indira Gandhi assassination and the post-assassination riots with apprehension and pain.

We realised that if the earth shakes when a tree falls, it will shake again, and again. It shook in 1984, 1992, 1993 and again in 2002.

India became a nuclear power in our lifetime. Not once, but twice. Some among us gave our lives in the Kargil War that followed.

Our rockets reached space in our lifetimes, though they first landed in the sea. Recently we saw our leader take credit for our spacecraft reaching the Mars orbit – a project that was conceived and implemented well before his time. The media applauded. A senior journalist repeated that his fingerprints were on the Mangalyaan.

That is where we are, when the media is no longer a chronicler of events but considers itself a driver of history. Every evening at nine, when we return from work to the comfort of our living rooms, we watch our political proxy – Arnab Goswami – demand answers for the nation.

Arnab Goswami-ko gussa bahut aata hai. He is the embodiment of our collective anger. He rallies against the “corrupt”, and stumps them in their answers every evening. And, if through the week we have residual anger left in us, then Aamir Khan provides us the platform for catharsis on Sunday mornings. The truth shall prevail, he insists.

We are angry, and impatient. For the first time since the Freedom Movement, we have been able to collectivise our anger. Anna-ji did it for us first; Arvind-ji turned it into a political force; and Narendra-ji continues to harvest the fruits of our collective anger and impatience.

We use QWERTY keyboards to register our anger. Only birds tweeted during our childhood. Now we tweet through our laptops and smart phones, but are unable to hear the tweet of the common house sparrow.

It is ironic that my greatest regret in the past 50 years relates to our first angry young man. He exhorted us to be angry, act and change our lives.

Flash back to boarding school days. Those were the days in the ninth grade when Amitabh Bachchan, Sashi Kapoor, Parveen Babi and Hema Malini were at school to shoot Do aur do paanch. More than a month at the location, they had enough time to indulge us with long autographs. “To Gopi, all the best,” wrote Bachchan when I stretched my notebook to him.

Later, when I came to Thrissur for my graduation the Coolie accident happened. The diehard fans among my friends were anguished. They prayed, sent telegrams to him for his recovery. I mentioned that I had an autograph. They wanted to buy it off me. The bidding began, and finally the deal was struck at one tea and two aloo bondas. Yes, I should have got more. I certainly should have got more for Amitabh Bachchan’s autograph. I was young and unaware of the ways of the market.

Today, I cannot claim to be young, but am still not very aware of the market. I get my high from my work. I write as I understand – as the truth unfolds before me. Unlike the oncologist, I do not need to climb the Everest to get a sense of being. Or, unlike the investment banker, I do not need to dive in the Andamans to look inside. God has been kind; immensely kind.

[I reached Station 50 a few months ago].

1 comment:

  1. So brilliant, poignant, reminiscent, witty all in one breath & of course with your trademark smileys peppered all through! Were the aloo bondas good??