Those who know me know that I have a serious weakness for Broadway shows… musicals to be more specific. Today I saw a show called ‘Memphis’, and no I will not mention the incredible energy of the performers, or the pretty African American ladies with voices as powerful as express trains… those are things that you in a way expect in a Broadway show. What moves me is the ability of a society to look back at a difficult past and put it to music. The subtext of racialism in the USA comes out beautifully in ‘Memphis’. And it also left me admiring, a country willing to accept differences…again. Here is something I felt like writing after the show… perhaps a blog post I want to write in the year 2050 !
Hey kiddo, come sit with me a while. And let your old grandfather talk to you a bit. Listen while you can, I wont be here for long!
Do you know, that there was a time when India almost broke up into pieces? I know its hard to imagine, but do you know that just 40 years ago, Indians still used language as a barrier to move across states, not like today, when knowing languages other than English and your regional language is considered not only cool but the only way to be.
No, I do not know the regional languages of all the states I have lived in… not something I am proud of.
I still remember, there were talks of using the army against insurgency within the country. Don’t shake your heads, the glittering memorials to development you see along the eastern coast of India came at a very high price. Its easy for you to forget how much our country has had to change to be what it is now. We were still a country with poor on the streets and problems in the hinterland. Yes, there was hope that things will change… but you know what? There were places where even hope was in a very short supply.
They even tried to turn the wheel backwards and do a caste based census 50 years after independence.
Caste? Well its kind of difficult for me to explain it to you… but lets put it this way. Caste was the elephant in the room of our times… no one talked about it, but practiced it in private. It was ingrained in our children as they grew up to understand what caste meant, and how in a way it made them different and in some cases superior from others.
Yeah I know… it was a bad idea, but it took us so long to realize something then that even a kid like you can recognize as being extremely stupid today ! There is much to learn from history…. Even an imperfect past makes a great bad example.
Yes you are right, your grandmother is from a different caste. Yeah it was a big deal for some people. Thankfully your grand mother is stronger than she appears to be, there is some strength behind that pretty face, trust me on that one. Was she pretty then? What do you mean? She is still the prettiest girl I know!
I find it extremely comforting to see an India where marrying a person from a different community is seen not as a social catastrophe but a cultural opportunity. Do you know people used to be killed sometimes because they got married to some one who worshipped a different God? No India was never a part of Africa… really. Yes, we had a middle class then too, and people had just started creating high end industries in our cities. But yeah, we still killed people for offences such as falling in love, being from a different state, or religion, or well, just being different.
No, no one from my family, or your grandmother’s threatened to kill us for marrying each other.
At least none did so publicly.
Do you remember getting a ticket for littering the road yesterday? You complained for the entire day after that. Well, you know all those year ago you could throw crap wherever you wanted and no body would give a damn. How cool is that?
But thankfully, we did give a damn when we realized that as a country we were on fast track to disaster. When our new found industrial pride took a ding when all the car manufactures started shifting base to cheaper and more peaceful joint Korea. Or when the engines of our IT industry sounded hollow when business started moving to the eastern bloc countries. Yes, the same countries that are now the ones you want to go vacation in this summer.
Imagine, just 40 years after being in a bloody world war, those countries had managed to share the same currency across Europe. While we were still trying to decide whether a train derailment is a state or federal subject.
So how did it change? I don’t know…
I find myself wondering how the hell did we get where we are now… perhaps it was the fact that economic prosperity lead to better education… the kind where people actually learnt something rather than collecting degrees. Or perhaps, with a controlled population, we finally struck a balance between what we had and what we wanted. Or just maybe, we matured and realized how we had been screwing away our freedom.
But yes, you are lucky. You have the luxury of pointing out the mistakes of my generation. Oh yeah, we did make a lot of them I and I make no bones about it. But then, isn’t each great nation built on the mistakes of its founders? We were no different. We took our time to find our way, but goddamn it, we eventually did a fine job of it.
So the next time you shake your head at some of the darkest episodes of Indian history, thank your stars that we managed to pull through. Smile at the way the Maharashtrian Vada Pav is now sold on Delhi streets… or the tandoori grills of northern India that are now big in Kerala. And can you imagine, the beautiful noodle bowls of the north east that you eat for lunch every day? No one knew about them in the 2010 !
And that is why I wanted to tell you all this… the more we understand differences, the more complete we become ourselves…
Yes my child, you grandfather has come a long way. From being born in a socialist country struggling with its own interpretations of freedom to being in one where you can be whatever you want and are capable of being…
It was a bumpy ride at times…. but trust me kid, this old man would not have had it any other way…