Reminiscing about the India I grew up in

I feel I live in a country that is very different to the one I grew up in. You could say that’s true for all old people. But there’s a difference. You expect the change to be progress. is this what we call progress?
If the past is another country, I want to go back to it. I don’t like the country India has become today. (AFP via Getty Images)
If the past is another country, I want to go back to it. I don’t like the country India has become today. (AFP via Getty Images)
Published on Jul 10, 2021 08:17 PM IST
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I was in my early teens when I read LP Hartley’s book, The Go-Between. At that age, I was captivated by the story far more than its deeper philosophical point of view. But I was still a child and the concept of a past was incomprehensible. I hardly had one! How different things are today when I’m in my 60s.

In the last seven years, I’ve realised the full truth of Hartley’s words: “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.” To be honest, this was dawning on me for a while, but a small yet telling incident last week confirmed it beyond doubt.

The Principal of Welham Boys’ School has been charged under Section 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code which covers “creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes”.

This section is cognisable and non-bailable. If found guilty, he could get three years imprisonment.

What did he do that was so terrible? He advertised a tender for halal meat for the school. This was enough to work Vikas Verma, the Bajrang Dal’s Dehradun coordinator, into a froth. “The step to invite tenders for supply of halal meat was the first step by the school towards religious conversion,” Verma told the Indian Express. “The religious sentiments of (the) Hindu community have been hurt,” he told The Times of India. On June 29, Verma registered a complaint at Dehradun’s Dalanwala Police Station. Mahavir Singh, the police officer in charge, promptly registered a case.

I was never at Welhams, but I spent six years at Doon School next door. This sort of thing could never have happened in the 1960s. We didn’t know, and we didn’t care, what sort of meat we were served. Nor did our parents. There was no Bajrang Dal to bother on our behalf. The police officers would have politely, but very firmly, dismissed any protest by an interfering busybody. I’m not exaggerating when I say that 50 years ago, this would have been unimaginable.

Let me illustrate how different our lives were and how, consequently, our attitudes and values bear no comparison to what prevails today. In my time at Doon, we didn’t care about religion and we were unaware of caste.

It’s not that the school shielded us. It didn’t need to because caste and creed did not define our identity. Nor did wealth or colour. Or the fact that someone’s father was important or just another father.

The only difference we recognised was that some of us were better at sport, while others were proficient scholars. But the bonds that tied us together were stronger — and they’ve also proved everlasting. We all missed home and we were always hungry for grub. That mattered more than anything else. And, of course, everyone had a nasty nickname — masters most of all!

In my youth, there was no “love jihad”, although we often whistled and winked at pretty girls. There were no cow lynchings. We knew that the cow was holy, but that didn’t stop us from calling it a beast. Ten million East Pakistani refugees sought sanctuary in our country. We didn’t call them termites. Instead, the government imposed a five paisa stamp as tax on every postal article to pay for their stay. Tell me, doesn’t the past feel like a foreign country?

I feel I live in a country that is very different to the one I grew up in. You could say that’s true for all old people. After all, the world is constantly changing. So is each and every one of us. But there’s a difference and the more I think of it the more it distresses me. You expect the change to be progress. You may not approve, but that’s often because you’re getting left behind. But in our case, is this what we call progress?

If the past is another country, I want to go back to it. I don’t like the country India has become today.

Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story

The views expressed are personal

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Wednesday, October 27, 2021