By Ankit Varma:
I was born in an India which was on the edge of economic hopelessness, opportunities were hard to come by and dreaming was a luxury. Like a set of responsible middle class parents, my mother dreamt of the day her son will have a loving wife and kids and my father’s dream was of seeing his son work for the local Steel Giant. But in some corner of the North block in the capital city of Delhi, Mr. Mannmohan Singh had other plans for me and others who belong to my generation. He was drafting renovation plans for a near-dead economy but I’m not sure if he realized that he was unleashing a revolution. The ‘balance of payment crisis’ and I were born in the same decade. Although I was unaware of its existence till recent times, its extinction was something we should pay attention to. Dinosaurs’ extinction cleared way for humans to flourish, similarly the extinction of economic crisis paved way for hope. The economic reforms started in the year 1991 but little did a toddler know that he was going to be a part of the most exciting journey of India.
Far from the metros, the economic reforms reached the sleepy town of Jamshedpur (which can be equated with any other small-town of early 90s) very late. There was no or very little change in either the lifestyle or disposable income of the people. The only word that can precisely describe the life-style of the city was ‘simple’, no frills attached. Bajaj scooter continued to be the national transport and Maruti 800 a ‘head-turner’. I believe that this simplicity was not an attribute that they had voluntarily chosen, it was more of a by- product of an economy reeling under a debt-crisis and modest disposable incomes. But this was about to change. The economic reforms that had already romanced the big cities of the country were now aiming for smaller pastures.
In my head the year ‘Y2K’ is etched as the tipping point. The new decade started and brought with it new energy, fresh hope and most importantly high salaries. Although very young, I always had the sense of energy which was breaking the usual ennui of the middle class house hold. For a child who has barely learnt percentage and fractions, 6% growth didn’t make much sense. But thoughts of having an air conditioner or a car were clear indications that there was a shift. Away from the booming IT sector of Bangalore and NCR, I entered teenage. For a small town teenager, globalisation manifested itself in different forms, the most visible being Nike, Lays and Nokia. Unaware of absurdly high call rates, I loved playing the good old snake game on the Nokia mobile phone. The undisputed champion of the road Maruti 800 was now facing stiff competition from the Santro and the Indica. New cars were being introduced every day and were flying off the shelf. Scooters made way for trendy motor cycles .The quiet roads of Jamshedpur were swarming with vehicles of all shapes and sizes. As the country inched towards 9% mark, ambitions of people were growing at much higher pace. Ancestral homes made way for luxury apartments. The local market was now home to show rooms of International brands but for me they were just another brightly lit apparel shop which we visited once every year. All this changed on the advent of the satellite television. We got a glimpse of the first world. Steadily burgers and pizzas shunned their junk food tag. The staple attire of cotton pants and shirt were no longer in vogue. People of the developed world provided us with inspiration and guidance. Blue jeans and burgers were the talk of the town. ATM and credit cards were the new toys.
Ironically the education system remained uninfluenced, although I had no clue what I wanted to become in life, my parents were more than glad to make that choice for me. The occupants of an industrial town always have great amount of respect for engineers and the booming IT sector reinforced this. Slowly IIT and engineering became an obsession, coaching classes became manufacturing units. Every year the city honoured the bright minds that made it to the prestigious engineering colleges (but ignored the thousands who did not). Off beat career was unheard of and won no recognition and except for few (talents like Madhavan and Imtiaz Ali belong to this city) most sacrificed themselves to fuel the economy and fulfil their parents dream. Technology was reaching the shores of the city and my people were leaving the home shores in search of education and before I could understand I was part of the rat-race.
On the social front things were looking great. Our town now was now playing host to brands like Van Heusen and Ray Ban, shopping was now a weekly affair. No home was now complete without an army of electronic goods. LG and Samsung literally became the house hold names. Sky scrapers blocked the view of the skies but no one complained because no one these days was looking at the stars, TV made a great substitute. Internet and e-mail made the postman an endangered specie. People were spending generously on health care products which was unheard of till recent times like the much sought after fast slimming potions. Foreign education, luxury cars and villas top the wish list. We are living the dream.
Are we? I have asked this question innumerable times but never found an answer. Is money key to happiness? Are we becoming mere puppets in the hands of capitalism? Have we lost the power to differentiate between the living and non-living? I am sure that these questions have crossed our minds sometime or the other but we have drowned them in loud music or glittering lights. Is this anxiety about the future, cut throat competition, falling health and violence by-product of the economic growth? I don’t know and no one can tell because I belong to the generation which in some ways will be an experiment but what I can say with certainty is that people around me are no longer happy. Modern world offers a never ending supply of anaesthetics to suppress your emptiness. People ask if the rich are becoming richer and the poor poorer. I don’t know because I belong to neither. I have not made any bold decisions in my life so I have lost the right to complain. The economy is still very young and growing at impressive rates, I sincerely hope that it continues to grow for years’ to come. But at the same time each one of us should take time to think and to introspect the meaning of our lives.