When we came to Delhi in 1974, my parents were only five years into the post-US phase of their lives.  My dad, who had done his Masters at IARI, on Pusa Road, had lived in Delhi twelve years before he brought his family to Delhi.  He used to remark on the difference in the city, on how things had changed in 1974 relative to how they were in 1962.  Apparently there were new structures that now filled spaces that were previously open.

When he talked about 1962 Delhi in 1974 I felt as though he was reminiscing about ancient times, especially since all the pictures from that time were black and white, when I had become accustomed to technicolor, Kodachrome clarity of pictures of me, documenting all seven years of my life until that point.  Men in the pictures from the early sixties wore what I heard the adults around me refer to as “drainpipe” pants.  The women wore flouncy sleeved blouses and sported elaborate hairstyles piled high up on their heads or really tight churidars and kurtas with dark horn-rimmed sunglasses and big purses.  The things that seem insanely abnormal about the 1970s fashion preferences to me, in retrospect – the long hair and sideburns, the bell-bottoms, the long tab collars – seemed quite normal back then.

Adults talked about Jawaharlal Nehru, who to me was a historical figure whose picture hung on every school, hospital or office wall while the person who was a headline maker in print and on television in the early 70s was Indira Gandhi, his daughter.  She was larger than life and a “tanashah“, said the graffiti on the walls.  I probably understood what a dictatorship meant for the first time in my life when I inquired about the meaning of the phrase, “tanashahi nahin chalegi“.

The things adults talked about were ancient, black and white things.

When I think about the 5 or 12 elapsed years that colored my parents’ recollections “ancient” for me, I am amused.  I tell my daughter about things that happened when I was in school or college, I tell her about my first job, my first boss, my first car and about how and when I met her dad. The memories that are at the ready for me, easily retrieved within fractions of a second, happened some twenty years ago or more, in a different century.

How ancient must I appear to her when I reminisce even as I insist that I laid my fingers on a laptop in 1986, or played on a handheld video game or read Archie comics just like she does.  No wonder Dali felt compelled to paint a melting clock!

I think of the racist and sexist attitudes that were still prevalent in an American workplace in the late 80s.  While in India, with years of perusing the American Library’s magazine – Span – I had expected an America that was above it all but in 1988 I realized that the country wasn’t quite there yet despite all the job applications that now stated that the employer was an EOE.  I noticed whispered comments about colleagues who were a shade different than white and the unfortunate phrase – “political correctness” – had not yet been coined.   Attitudes change over time and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was only twenty years old when I joined the American workforce.  Twenty years are not enough, the generational slide ensures this.

It seems we’re always in a time warp and the meaning of what’s recent and what’s ancient depends on one’s own advancing age and one’s own perception of time.







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