That picture of our rejoicing women space scientists was fantastic. They were totally themselves, wearing jasmine and silk, exuding sincerity, commitment and values as solid as the granite that holds up South India.
When I compare it to confused, unhappy states at the other end, which won’t even let their young people play in bands, I know where I’d rather belong. This India has a future and works hard for it without expecting ‘appeasement’ and handouts. It has come up through its own effort, sustained on curd-rice, some of it through sturdy regional engineering colleges. Transcending its own culturally regressive elements, this India will and shall move positively ahead, its women scientists wearing flowers in their hair.
The picture affirms that there are Indians out there who have a life, who refuse to be dumbed down by cricket-Bollywood, who know things without showing off. In our wasteland of bad behaviour, narrow thinking and loud voices, their wonderful smiles brought back, of all things, the memorial evening for General Sundarji some days after his passing, at Baird Place, Delhi Cantt. Diplomat AP Venkateswaran was the flawless compere for the programme of music chosen by the general’s wife. It included recordings of Ms Subbulakshmi, Rabindra Sangeet, KL Saigal, Pankaj Mullick, Lata Mangeshkar, jazz — many wonderful songs, ending with Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’.
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In between, nuclear physicist Dr Raja Ramanna, whose piano had been sent for, played two of General Sundarji’s favourite Western classical pieces, Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ and Schumann’s ‘Traumerai’. Afterwards I told Dr Ramanna what a perfect ‘whisky- sambar’ evening it had been, not that either was served but as a metaphor for the tremendous zest that marked a number of interesting Indian lives. The evening was a celebration of that India, ‘at home in the world’, that we were raised to work for. Dr Ramanna laughed and said that his translation of the Mukundamala Stotra (by Kulasekhara Alwar, one of the last Chera kings, c. 1100 CE) from Sanskrit to English was then in its 18th edition. His response to my remark was not out of context, he was saying that we could and did have ‘everything’.
It was not about tamashas, vulgar weddings and giving conspicuous consumption a bad name. It was about making an effort, cultural confidence, tehzeeb and tameez, vidya and rasa to furnish the mind and heart. It was heritage, hard work and being punctual, it was authentic ahar that gave you strength. It was not money-rich. It was an effort-rich, content-rich quality of life, engaged and enthusiastic, open-minded and appreciative. I thought it was headed for extinction.
Seeing those happy faces at ISRO brought it all back, connecting with the general’s memorial that it’s positive effort that makes life beautiful. ‘That’ India would perhaps be valued more today if we had upheld high standards in key life areas? But then, those women scientists and older achievers don’t seem to have hung around waiting for perfect circumstances to acquire a work ethic nor did they have to be cajoled into a sense of common cause to work for India. They just got on with it.