Life was much simpler growing up in the 1980s and 90s because we did not have lot going on back then. There was no cable TV or fast food outlets like Pizza Hut or Dominos. The only amusement park we had was Appu Ghar which is now closed and every year in the month of November we would go to India International Trade Fair. My mother for this arduous journey would prepare her own version of sandwiches. The entire experience was exciting because it was fancy and it was one of those rare moments when we all got to eat potato chips (Uncle Chips), usually servedon special occasions. Anyway it was a simpler time yet in many ways tumultuous with riots, terrorism and assassinations.
But still growing up in Delhi in the last century was not all that bad. Life was slow, people still talked to each other and I played outside without any fear in our Mohalla.
It was the 80s and television had just forayed into the lives of many middle class Indians who previously considered it a luxury item. In 1981 my father bought our first TV and it was Dyanora black and white set. It soon became the center of our house, a mantel piece on top of which fake plastic flowers were placed and a special cover was bought to protect the TV from dust. It was indeed “neighbor’s envy owner’s pride” though that catch phrase belonged to some other TV company (Onida). The days of going to the neighbor’s house to watch some of the most popular programs was coming to an end. Owning a color TV, Fridge, VCR and VCP back then was still a distant dream unless you had someone living in the Middle East. Back then an electronic item to smugglers was what heroin and cocaine is to today'sgoons. Also not many people owned a car and owning one was as good as being a royalty. The plus side was it was safe to walk and getting hit by car was far and few. At least that is what I think.
There were no multiplexes or malls to go to or amusement parks. Summer or winter vacations were spent with relatives who either visited us or we visited them. The concept of taking an actual vacation had still not arrived for most folks. I must also say the environment was much cleaner and the air was crisp and fresh, something which is impossible to even fathom these days. Latest English films were released in our theatres after months and sometimes may be after a year. We also had no access to porn and the only way possible was to rent a color tv and VCR from the parlor when the parents were out. To us watching Porn was a rare privilege but these days Porn is just a mouse click away.
Life was quite and the TV programs were broadcasted only few hours in a day and if I remember correctly, the timings were between Six PM to Nine PM in the evening and then all lights out. Not many apartment and housing societies were in existence either and people lived in close knit communities without barriers.
I remember, during summers people would sleep in their verandas and if any delicacy was prepared it was shared among neighbours. Doors and windows were always open and children would walk up to practically anyone’s house to drink a glass of water. I still remember when one of our neighbor purchased a fridge and all of us children lined up just to drink cold water! If guests were visiting, advanced notice was given, extra ice chips and cold drinks were stored to be served. People also used to borrow each other’s furniture for special occasions like engagement etc.
I also played a lot in the evening and not concerning myself with what was on television and looling back I would say, playing with my friends felt much better than playing video games. Back in the day it was all analog and we had no clue what the hell was digital. Also festivals like Holi and Diwali were special because the entire neighbourhood would get together and celebrate as one. In my house it was a ritual to prepare rice idli with coconut chutney and sambahr on holi as we were the only south Indian family living in that locality totally assimilated which was predominately dominated by people from Uttar Pradesh and Punjab and this was one particular South Indian dish which everybody loved. It was a good neighbourhood and my family felt safe. Not once were we ever made to feel any different.
Recently I was talking with my niece who is almost twelve years old and when I told her we did not have any computers or internet when I was growing up, she completely flipped out and asked me how in the world we managed to communicate. I replied, by writing letters or by booking trunk calls which took another ten minutes to explain. Come to think of it, one had to be either very rich or a senior government servant to have the privilege of owning a telephone. The fact was if you booked for telephone installation it would take months and even years before you got a connection because back then it was all about how well connected you were. People used to have locks on their telephones in homes and at offices and one would cringe if you asked to make just one phone call. Also telegrams would scare the hell out of people because usually it was used to deliver bad news.
But all started to change in the 90s with economic liberalization and opening of our markets. Thanks to former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, now long forgotten by the bourgeois and by his own political party, who revived our fortunes. India saw its largest growth after independence and people no longer had to wait for years to own a telephone connection, even cars became affordable. VCR gave way to DVD and fridge and color television adorned every household. Even Children have cell phones these days. They spend more time talking or playing mindless games. The parks which were once filled with the noise of children playing are now empty and all one sees are the old people walking or sitting, sharing their sob stories about how they barely get to speak with their children and grandchildren.
I may not have had access to a cell phone or the internet, I may have not owned a motorcycle or even a car back when I was growing up and for the record I was twenty one years old when I first saw an actual porn video. Fact is, it was a good childhood, an innocent childhood which allowed me to mature emotionally at the right pace. I feel very happy when I see some remnants of innocence still lingering to be exhausted in my niece before she is forced to grow up. Kids these days know things I would not have understood if I was hit on the head when I was a teenager. We may have all the modern luxuries but there is disconnect and we are running so fast, our eyes have barely enough time to focus and notice maybe the various milestones of life are arriving too soon.
When people ask me what my thoughts are on Pakistan, I simply say one thing “Cognitive Dissonance.” It was Dr. Leon Festinger who coined this term and for the better part of the last fifty years psychologist have conducted several experiments to give more meaning to this very broad term which just keeps unraveling itself.