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The Land Of Golden Reminiscences

By Kartheik Iyer

The seventies were a glorious period. Any coherent person you ask will affirm that. Even the sickliest, most weather-beaten, cynical old codger will tell you that, with the wrinkles on his face tightening with concentration as he makes an effort to remember. ‘Woh bhi kya din the, kya zamaana tha’

Of course, from the land of golden reminiscences, there is a lot to be remembered, when the west had come to meet the east and had gotten incredibly screwed up in the process, the result of which brought change and a reinvention of the modern Indian household, along with black and white television (and the occasional colour one, admired possession and source of envy of all the neighbours), of listening to cricket matches on transistor radios while commuting to work, of bellbottoms and maxis and ray-bans, of the Phantom (who, I have it from very good sources, never sleeps), and Mandrake (and towels as makeshift capes) and Chacha Chaudhary (and Sabu, big giant ‘Jupitar’ guy), of Raspberry dollies, and Hawa Mahal and Doordarshan, of fridge covers and tinted glasses and fiats and ambassadors. 

And before I move on, I’ll just mention the names. That should be enough to get you started, you who have lived through those times. (And if you haven’t, then you’re just a lowly pipsqueak who knows not what he’s missed.) Shammi Kapoor, Rekha, Zeenat, Amitabh B., Dharmendra, Shatrugan Sinha, Jaya Bhaduri, the Khannas, Rajesh and Vinod, Mumtaz, Hema Malini, Helen... (Please do not lose track, though, and once you’re done smiling abjectly into the middle distance, please acknowledge the rest of this humble article.)

But amidst all these fond memories  lies more, for much occurred in these ten small years, enough to be called an epoch in its own right. Wiki, my hitherto reliable source of information, summarizes it in one sentence, poor thing. It says, ‘... multiple conflicts and crises occur in India and Pakistan during the 1970s including the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Bangladesh Liberation War, and the Indian Emergency 1975- 1977...’. But that barely skims the surface, ask anyone from those times, and they’ll tell you. Tens of thousands of different stories, some interwoven, some cut short, some glorified, others vilified, were written in this period. A hurricane in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of Orissa in 1971 killed over ten thousand people, and those are just the officially reported number. Politics was reaching new heights, with competing factions causing unrest both within the country and with its neighbours. 

The Soviet inspired communist movement was spreading across Bengal, who saw it as an ideal method of governance. Meanwhile, Indira Gandhi was coming up for a second term as the Prime Minister, and the propaganda was in fool swing, literally. Previously, the Congress, the then ruling party, had split into two, the Socialist and Communist parties, led by Gandhi, and the conservatives, let by Morarji Desai. The amount of internal friction had to be seen to be believed, with some fanatics going as far as to claim that the ‘other party’ was all part of a conspiracy theory that was plotting the downfall of the nation, and even the more sensible of the ranks claiming that they could ‘not see any road to social, economic or financial security, with [the other party’s] approach’   


On top of this internal infirmity, India went to war with Pakistan in 1971, after all that the Pakistani army had done to the civilian populations of East Pakistan, and the Kashmir tussle reached epic proportions, with the LoC coming into existence. All throughout, the then American president (he of the tapes) Nixon’s blatant bias against Gandhi didn’t help matters along, and the alliances he formed with Pakistan causing trouble in the decades that followed. Meanwhile, news was being spread like wildfire, (if you were among the politically concerned lot, the rest simply didn’t care), that Mrs. Gandhi had been using government money to fund her election campaigns, and it was once again time to take sides, and there were mass demonstrations outside the Gandhi’s residence, both by ardent followers proclaiming their loyalty and angry demonstrators demanding repair. The skirmish that followed quickly becomes too technical to go into here, but everyone knows the fallout. Mrs. Gandhi declared a state of emergency from 1975-1977, the only instance of that clause to be used to date, which basically meant that useless and obstructive petty things like rights and civil liberties were suspended until further notice. A lot of events followed, which can now be found on Wikipedia, but one thing remains. No matter how much money may have been siphoned off to private bank accounts, and loyal people installed in powerful positions, most people maintain that the Gandhi reign did a world of good for the country. The green revolution, for one kicked off in the seventies. Side by side the government started the white revolution or operation flood which greatly increased India’s milk production. These two together helped produce the potatoes and milk that I and you now so easily find available. The story of Amul began in the 70s, the rest as they is history. 

Technology-wise too, the 70s were a decade of great importance. In 1974, under the project called Smiling Buddha, India demonstrated its military might by successfully testing a nuclear weapon in a small unknown village, which would have otherwise remained unknown, called Pokharan, right near the Pakistan border. Only time will tell whether we curse that day for being the beginning of the end of the world. It was also the decade in which India launched its first satellite Aryabhatta into orbit. Ironically we established ourselves in space before we did on the global platform. But really the greatest achievement of the 70s was Indira Gandhi’s leadership. She took a crawling country by the scruff of the neck and made it stand upright. She ruled with an iron hand so powerful that the world woke up to India again and took notice. She took a stagnant ailing society and changed its psyche. Indeed the India of 1970s can be summarized in this one line “India is Indira, and Indira is India…”.


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