Glorious 60 (Part 1 – The Age of Innocence)

It’s been 60 years, some glorious and some not so glorious, but they have been my 60 years, full of experience, which I treasure and make me what I am today. Why is reaching 60 considered such a landmark? Apparently it marks completion of half the years of one’s lifetime. 120 years is considered the life span of a human being and reaching 60 is said to be a rebirth of sorts.

On my 60th birthday I can’t help but look back, and think of just how much life has changed. Interesting little snippets crop up in my mind and I want to store them somewhere as little nuggets for my children and their children. Imagine someday my great great grandchild chances upon this blog? It will be a small window for him or her to know a little bit about their great-great grandfather. As I ponder and walk down memory lane I think of chronicling periods from my life to give a flavour of what the times used to be like then.

ADONI – THE AGE OF INNOCENCE

These were the first twenty years of my life spend in a small town of India. Life was easy, life was simple and we had TIME…. the most precious commodity which is in short supply today.

Reuse and Repair

Everything we owned then was valued. Clothes in good condition were handed down within the family or recycled into nappies or kitchen cloths. Buttons, tears, holes in clothes were all stitched or repaired. Cycles, toys, newspapers, plastic boxes, packets, bags, shoes everything was used and nothing was discarded. People back then would have been shocked to see today’s throw away culture.

My text books too were passed down from my elder brother and I actually looked forward to the notes made in the margins by him.

The Baths

The bathrooms as we know them today were not how they used to be. The bathing area was seperate from the toilet. This was very efficient as two people could do their business at the same time. Unlike today where the space is common and hence can be used only by one person at a time.

Hot water came from a Bamba (a cylindrical, 25 or 30 litre, bronze or copper vessel) which needed to be heated from below, using coal or wood. Oh my! What a task it was to get it going and man how it smoked.

Domestic pumps to fill up water to overhead tanks never existed. We used to have something called a Gacchi (an overhead tank) which had to be manually filled and you needed to ensure this was filled at all times. Else oops! No water, no business. An unlimited supply of water, cold or hot, from showers or taps was unheard of.

Lifebuoy was the brand of soap we used and it was common to all family members men, women, elders, teenagers, new born alike. And for all purposes cuts, wounds, acne, hair, body you name it. The diversity we have today is mind boggling shower gels, face wash, scrubs, beauty bars, medicated bars, shampoo, conditioners…. Tsk tsk.

The Luxuries

Camel colour pencils, black & white Natraj pencils, weekend movies, circus, were things we craved for. The Bournvita bottle which was kept on a high ledge was doled out only on very exemplary behavior. Today, kids crave for expensive high end gadgets like mobiles, tablets and gaming devices. Our wants were fairly simple. Eating out, oh my god was taboo. I remember that one time I was caught by my brother’s friend eating a dosa in a small restaurant and the walloping I got for it. Yemmganurrrr how I remember you. This was our only vacation to my sister’s house to attend the annual Jatra. It lasted a delicious long week.

News & Entertainment

Our only access to entertainment was Chandamama or Vikram Vetal Comics begged, borrowed or stolen from cousins or friends. A day old Hindu from an uncle was our access to the world back in the 60s and 70s. We then moved onto Kushwant Singh’s Illustrated Weekly, Dharmayug and Sarita. Not to miss the scandalous Blitz just because of its last page.

We had a transistor at home, imagine a TV without a screen, only voice. This was out of bounds for all of us except my eldest brother. How we looked forward to the weekly Geetmala on wednesdays at 8p.m. A medley of the latest film songs presented by Amin Sahani, a presenter with an intoxicating voice.

Another access to local, national and international news was from the radio attached to the speaker installed at the municipality garden.

One very innovative hangout place for us was, you won’t believe it, the railway station. Our entire goal was to reach the station when the train arrived from Mumbai, just to wave and check out the smartly turned out people, who only could have come from Mumbai.

Doctors

Back then we had the concept of family doctors. Ours was known as Bombay Doctor because he had studied in Mumbai. He was one of the smartest, most sophisticated doctors I have seen. Bombay Doctor would be consulted for any and everything. Usually he was paid on an annual basis and the fee was based on the number of home visits he made in the past year. Oh! the comfort of a family doctor. He usually treated a minimum of 4 generations and knew the family inside and out.

Matters of the Heart

In school asking for notes from a member of the opposite sex was considered tantamount to professing your love for the girl.  Drawing a heart in the bathroom with a chalk piece, with the couple’s initials, was the ultimate expression of love. To the time in college when one of the most good looking girls lived above the library. Evenings were spent with the male gang, outside the library, to get a glimpse of her, on the pretext of studying.

School and College

How practical our parents were back then. We were put into the local Telugu medium school just because it was next door. Schools were not sought out based on their core competency, language of instruction or access to rated colleges. It was purely based on proximity. So we had the luxury of running to school when the first bell rang and could rush back home for a tiny snack in the short break. The highlight was some very special friends were allowed to come outside the house for a drink of water or borrow notes which made us hot property in the class.

I completed my 1st to 5th standard in 3 years. Can you imagine through all the three years, the 1st to 5th class students all sat together, in the same classroom. Oh boy! did we have strict teachers.

From there, bunking classes, sitting on the last bench became a in fashion statement in college. Driving my brother’s Lambretta to college, was like having arrived and giving a professor a lift was the epitome of showing off. Taking the transistor to college to follow the cricket commentary was a huge thing. Branded stores were unheard of in my youth, so wearing a Chirag Din shirt from Mumbai meant you were a true blue hero.

In college I played tennis and represented the district level. Not because I was a good player but because I was one of the only three players who played tennis. Traveling on college expenses to play a tournament was huge. And did we make the most of those travel days, it was bliss. Tennis taught me a big lesson. On one of these tournament I was in luck and played really well, we were 3 all at the end of play. So heightened was our excitement that we celebrated by watching a movie. Next day we got thrashed 6-3 I learnt never to count my chickens before they hatch.

However bad my behavior was in college I was pretty studious and cracked the math exam scoring a 100 on 100 in my final year degree. Stood 2nd in college and 8th in the university. I had an opportunity to apply to some of the top notch colleges however so many things were dependent on extraneous factors. We had to look out for the applications in newspapers with hawk eyes, then the postal department had to ensure we got the application on time, to the application reaching the college before deadline and making it to the interview on the allocated day and date. It was all dependent on karma.

Finally I got admission to MSC Physics at Venkateshwara University in Ananatpur. I even went ahead and submitted all my originals, but life had something else in store for me. My father suggested moving to Bangalore to start another office. My originals still must be lying in one of the storerooms at Venkateshwara University because I never had a chance to bring them back. The next chapter of my life was in Bangalore which I will tell you all about in my next blog.

Opinions in this piece belong to the author: Ramesh Kumar Shah

Ramesh Kumar Shah is the founder of the RK Group, founder of RK Trust (rktrust.in) and co-founder of Harvard Business School Angels of India. Apart from being a businessman, he is keenly involved in making as much of a difference in people’s lives as he can, most recently through the Let’s Mask India initiative, that provides a free mask to all the residents of Bangalore.

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