Friday, May 18, 2007

Between 50’s New York and today’s Pune

Richard is an American, half-vagabond, half-intellectual - a good company when you have nothing better to do than sipping beer - and an incessant chatterbox. The subject of the talk was Indian economy. Richard was all excited. It’s the most exciting time for India, says he. India is moving forward, you can feel this in the air, on the roads, filled with vehicles of every possible shapes and sizes… Everyone is busy. Everyone has a plan. Everyone is earning. Everyone has a place to spend his money. What more do you want? A rupee spent is a rupee earned.
But what do you see the future like? Oh, great. Replies Richard. Like all things American, he too is prone to exaggeration. Indian has the potential to become the next superpower. Not China, not a chance! I remember, Richard abhors Chinese cuisine.
But how do you think will Uncle Sam react? I venture to ask, cautiously. With the Americans, you never know when and how their patriotism burst out. Survival of the fittest, man, Richard continues. You guys are better than us. So, let the best man win. There is no shame in that. Here he stops, and offers me one of his enormous grins, an overwhelmingly friendly gesture. You never know, says he, probably some twenty years from now, my grandson will be selling mobile phones to your son. Yeah, man, today’s Pune reminds me of 50’s New York, an economy brimming with hope, and everything is possible.
Richard is an old man. He has seen 50’s New York, as a school-going boy, before moving to Maine to work in his father’s factory, before running away to India. That’s a different story. Those were the days, remembers Richard. It was the height of materialism. Everybody had money and money could do anything. That’s good, isn’t it?
Why then Richard turned into a hippie? I had to ask him. He grins again. Otherwise, how could I come to live here? Why, I became a hippie, because there was so much money. And because there was so much of money, I did not have to worry about doing anything, and those days, substance were really cheap…
That’s enough. I admonish myself. Don’t encourage him. Once he starts talking about his hay days, there is no stopping him.
I say goodbye to Richard, but his comments refuse to leave me. 50’s New York and today’s Pune. What a comparison! But is it really happening? Is history repeating itself as it was always supposed to do? But history is already dead. We live in a post-historic society.
I don’t want to think. Nobody does these day. I visit a multiplex and buy a ticket. If nothing else, I can spend a good two hours enjoying the AC. The movie is called Metro. And halfway through the film, I get this sense of déjà vu that I have seen this film before. But the film was released just last week! Then I remember. It was Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. That was Los Angeles in late fifties. This is Mumbai today. The plot is the same. Only the cast has changed. Richard is right then!
I don’t like the comparison. Why must we always be measured against America? I want to prove Richard wrong. I head for an internet café and seek Google’s help. I want see what happened in US in the 50s.
The first thing that hits me is the statistic: In 1950, the GNP nearly tripled since 1940, reaching $284 million. Wow! That’s the growth rate everyone is screaming about! The next thing: Land value increased up to 3000%, in prime suburban neighbourhoods, where population grew by 44%. My heart tells, Richard may just be right. I take a quick rewind to US history: 1951: Salinger publishes The Catcher in the Rye. 1952: Hemingway publishes The Old Man in the Sea. 1953: Stalin dies. DNA is discovered. 1954: Elvis Presley sings, "That’s All Right Mama." 1955: Ray Kroc buys out McDonald. KFC begins. Rebel without a Cause James Dean dies. 1956: Ginsberg publishes Howl. 1958: American Express card debuts. 1959: Fidel Castro comes to power. 1960: OPEC meets in Baghdad to force up oil prices.
The decade ended with the rise of oil prices. And in Pune, it’s beginning with the cars. Richard may just be right!

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