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The past is another planet

india Updated: Aug 26, 2006 03:48 IST
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Change, it seems, is the only constant in life. From 1930 to 2006, Pluto occupied space in our consciousness as a planet of our solar system. Though it  will take 10 years for a space craft launched earlier this year to reach there, it was seen as family. Now, rudely, it has been reclassified as a new category of dwarf planets.

Actually, as we go through life, our set of experiences, beliefs and values, our perception of reality and the manner in which we respond to that perception keep changing. The teenagers of today live with parents and contemporaries who may have visited the Soviet Union or two Germanys, used rotary dial telephones and heard music scratched out of vinyl records. For those born in the Seventies, open war with Pakistan, with blackouts and air-raid wardens are an abstraction. Just as World War II and Partition was for our grandparents and parents. This is all about mindsets that help provide a sort of certainty about the world we live in, but also tends to promote mental inertia and laziness. In 1900, Lord Kelvin grandly declared there was nothing left to be discovered in physics, and about the same time Lord Acton felt that all the history to be known about the world was now known. There were leading scientists and engineers who declared that man could not venture into space, nor fly in heavier-than-air machines.

Unlike the US where mindset and object shift is much more rapid — try buying summer clothes at a supermarket in autumn — India is the land of time travellers. The man on the bullock-cart has no problem operating the cell-phone and computers sit adjacent to manual typewriters, and carbon paper, though rare, is still around alongside Xerox machines. To enable people to connect between generations, Beloit college in Wisconsin in the US has an interesting exercise. Every year it produces a mindset list created by its students and faculty that gives us a good idea of where we have come from and where we are going.