If it is Thursday, and if it is approaching 7 pm, you would most likely find me hovering around the Royal Cafe waiting for the IT College girls to arrive for their weekly coffee and give us layabouts (with plenty of time to spare) a chance, if not to mingle, then at least to feast our eyes, if only for an hour or so, on the second sex. Very few, no one in my circle at least, was actually on talking terms with any of the girls. However, no one could stop us from zeroing in on the table opposite where they sat. We made up imaginary conversations and if per chance one of them looked in our direction for more than 10 seconds, our evening was made. Indeed, several evenings were made.
On days besides Thursday, you would find me busy playing table tennis, also called ping pong. Some of the top players in Lucknow were Muslims: Abrar Alvi, Mansoor Ahmed, Sultan Ahmed, who played barefoot in pyjamas and tight sherwanis. In 1959, I won the UP table tennis championship for the fifth successive year, and if memory serves me right, I was ranked number seven in India in an era which produced Farokh Khodaiji, Gautam Divan, Dilip Sampat, Sudhir Thackersey, Jayant Vohra—all Bombay boys. Uttar Pradesh, in table tennis terms, was then an area of darkness and for that state to have produced a player competing with the best in the country was quite an achievement. In my study, I have displayed proudly the splendid cups and shields I collected, all of which are polished at regular intervals. My mother preserved a file of cuttings, mostly from The Pioneer and National Herald detailing all my victories and a few defeats. However, I can’t seem to find the file.
I was still studying at La Martiniere College for my intermediate exams. Having got a second class in my Senior Cambridge is the pinnacle of my brief academic career. Otherwise, I consistently stayed at third class. I opted to stay on and do my intermediate from Lamarts, before spending two undistinguished years trying to get a BA at Lucknow University. I finally got it through a prolonged and acrimonious dispute with the university. Interested in the gory details? Refer to my memoir, Lucknow Boy, still on sale!
What was it like to be a 17-year-old in Lucknow? If I use the word “bliss”, it would not be an exaggeration. We were foolish, uncorrupted, free from communal and casteist feeling, unaware of the complexities of nation-building but somehow confident that a bright future awaited us. What the basis for that hope, I cannot say; all I can confirm is that it was very much present.
It was a treat reading the 17th anniversary issue, and I refer to Vinod Mehta’s piece (‘Foolish, uncorrupted, confident’). The ’50s in India were notably free of communal and casteist issues, unlike now. So what led to this morass of votebank and reservation politics? The failure to follow Gandhiji’s wish of abolishing the Congress, or the failure to follow Ambedkar’s plan of abolishing reservation in 10 years? Or both?
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
If in fifties the time was free of communal and castiest feeling the important question is who or what brought the communal and castiest feeling in the entire country. RSS has been active fully for a long time by that time. So who or what? Reservation politics? Vote-bank politics? Was it because of the failure to follow Mahtma Gandhi's wish of abolishing the Congress party? Was it because of the failure to follow Mr. Ambedkar's wish of abolishing reservation in ten years?
@ BVG Rao,
Ref Post D50/4
I fully agree with you Mr.Rao.
@As for the starvation for women, the women these days are far better at starving todays men, given the appetite the media gives the boys
I like that comment. Now a days the great progress has (as compared to Vinod's 17 years) been that Girls look at boys without blinking an eye, in fact staring at them and boys are looking away.
Another factor is present society is highly corrupt, highly materialistic. Along with that we see a lack of taste ( finesse) in films, in art and even in life !!
Masses have come forward bringing along with them crudeness, vulgarity, and all those who serve these in ample doses ; cheap ,ugly looking actors, much more obscene actresses and their vulgarity. And so are our Netas and Babus who become billionaires within no time.
We have become corrupt, we have become cheap ,very materialistic without any values but we are progressing. For present day students 80 or 90% is a very low scoring. Almost everyone uses a bike and nobody is really interested in wearing a sherwani or to play tennis in the evening. Now tennis playing is a highly commercial venture.
How true this all rings at 17 in Kolkata too!!! All 3 - the girls, the table tennis and free from the burden of "caste, religion and nation building". I like the American idea - "if each person is allowed to build themselves to their best potential, the nation is built automatically" - nothing special needs to be done.
>> "to feast our eyes, if only for an hour or so, on the second sex."
Second sex? For a moment I thought you were homoerotic in those days!
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