How it sounded over the years (1981-1988 continued…)

These years saw the return of Indira Gandhi.  As a child I was proud of the fact that India had such a personable and powerful woman prime minister.  She was always impressive to me despite what I heard about her tyranny and her abuse of power.  She always appeared energetic and purposeful unlike the Morarji and Charan Singh crowd of the years that saw Coca Cola disappear.  Who needed them running the country?  A woman who radiated power was so much more desirable.  It felt as though we were well-governed again.

1981 was the year of Silsila.  The Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha rumors were at their peak.  Every magazine that the magazine wallahs delivered at home were grabbed for the latest on this particular rumor.  I refused to believe them.  I was never willing to entertain any negative thoughts about the people I liked and AB was on that list, despite Shaan.  But is was shocking to see a movie based on these rumors, it seemed to lend them some credence.  Everyone acting in it, with the exception of Shashi Kapoor and Sanjeev Kumar, was an affected party.  It appeared nothing short of audacious.  But the songs were memorable, the yellow tulips in Amsterdam amidst which the rumored lovebirds pranced, making them even more so.  Each song had to me memorized.  Each one became a part of our three-home sing-off.  There was Neela aasman so gaya, Dekha ek khwab to yeh silsile hue, Rang barse.

There was a sense of the nation fracturing a bit during these years.  Zail Singh was the President of India and I still remember his speech calling for national integration, “Hamein rash-ter ko ek suttar mein bandhna hai“.  Doordarshan liked to hammer this message home whenever they could, stressing unity in diversity by playing this 1974 Films Division of India film over and over again:

Some names were often on the news, like Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.  Some tensions were brewing, building, something was absorbing latent heat.

1981 was the year dad visited Philippines and he brought back a gorgeous embroidered, wraparound skirt and top for me.  I was in love with this dress and wore it at ever special occasion.  The photograph below was one of those special occasions.  Mrs Gandhi was going to inaugurate the annual Science Exhibition at Teen Murti Bhavan and I was going to hold the plate with the scissors she would use to cut the ribbon.  There was excitement in the air.  I couldn’t believe I was actually going to see her! And then I saw her, this powerhouse of a woman, so petite, so pink-cheeked and so much in awe of my Filipino dress!  Good times 🙂

 That was one unforgettable celebrity contact.

Life went on for the moment with more stellar performances from AB in Namak Halal and Shakti and catchy numbers like:

Aaj rapat jayein to hamein na uthaiyo 
Jaane kaise kab kahan ikraar ho gaya

There was also the Farooque Shaikh and Deepti Naval starrer Saath-Saath with stellar musical performances by the late Jagjit Singh and Chitra Singh:

Yeh tera ghar yeh mera ghar
Pyar mujhse jo kiya tumne to kya paogi
Yeh bata de mujhe zindagi

Tumko dekha to yeh khayal aaya
Kyun zindagi ke raah mein

I think Umrao Jaan was made around the same time – an amazing movie with an immortal songs and singing:

Dil cheez kya hai
In aankhon ki masti ke
Justaju jiski thi
Yeh kya jagah hai doston

Then came the movie Coolie.  I never saw it and am not sure if it had any songs worth remembering but it was the one where AB got gravely injured on the sets of this movie and a new actor, playing the part of villain – Puneet Issar – caught a lot of heat for it.

Meanwhile things kept heating up on the political front.  There were growing concerns about Sikh militancy and a separatist movement.  Indira Gandhi kept toughening up her stance.  Until we got to Operation Blue Star and the raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in early 1984.  The news on television, the newspaper headlines, were full of shocking images of the arms and weapons that had been stockpiled at this holy shrine.  Through it all there were the national integration messages still coming at us through every mass communication channel around us.

1984 was the college year and on October 31st, 1984 we were in an Economic History class with Mrs Mathur when our class was interrupted and she was called out.  She came to make the tearful announcement that Indira Gandhi had been shot.  Our class, stunned in disbelief, was dismissed and we were asked to go home.

The television was on all the time as we heard of the multiple rounds that her bodyguards Beant Singh and Satwant Singh had fired into her petite frame.  I had seen that petite frame.

The next several days were beyond being the darkest period in the history of Delhi.  Sikh homes were burnt, there were riots, killings, carnage everywhere.  We just stayed huddled inside, worrying about and praying for the safety of all our Sikh friends and acquaintances.

I wonder, as I recollect these times, if we are a scaled down representation of the Yugas from Hindu lore.   We start our lives in Satya Yug, the Dharma Bull on all four legs, all is well in our worlds (some fortunate worlds), we are not the actors or the initiators in our lives at this early, perhaps five year long stretch.

Then we get to the Treta Yuga of our lives – the world takes on a bilious green hue from certain angles, we become sensitive to slights, we fear certain things, certain people, but things are still more or less rosy.

Dwapar Yuga, we are in the 12-20 period of our lives and the world has disappointed us quite a bit more.  We’ve probably experienced every negative emotion by now, we’ve seen the evil in some people, we’ve acquired some shells to keep our innermost child safe and secure but we get a good sense of the darkness all around.  This is when we learn to take things in stride, if we’re strong, because not doing so could destroy us.  We develop defense or offense mechanisms.  The bull is on two legs by now.

In this Dwapar phase of my life I saw the violence with which Mrs Gandhi was assassinated, I saw the ensuing genocide and in December of the same year, we saw the tragedy of Bhopal, thanks to the negligence and greed of the battery maker Union Carbide.

Two years later, after years of hearing about the Cold War, the “balance of terror”, the escalation in nuclear arms we heard of the worst nuclear disaster in the history of human kind at Chernobyl.  This was the world we were about to inherit in all its rotting glory.

And then we arrive into the Kal Yug of our lives.  This phase doesn’t end in five years.  We stay here for the rest of our lives, in the thick of it, riding a roller coaster of despair or euphoria on a one-legged bull.  It has its moments, its bright sparks but the periods of darkness are powerful and potent when they arrive.

Speaking of Kal Yug, there was a movie of the same name, perhaps 1981, directed by Shyam Benegal.   It was very well made, or so I thought at the time. Trying to track the modern story as though it was the Mahabharata was an interesting exercise.

All this time, I thought Kal Yug had one song filmed on Rekha but I was so very wrong; memory conflation at play.  The song I was thinking of was actually from the film Vijeta and I remember it well now.  The song was Man anand anand chayo.

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