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Wednesday, Oct 27, 2021
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A Decade On A 70mm Screen

The ’50s wasn’t a placid pool of idealism. In grappling with the Partition and forging a new polity, it fashioned modern India. This wide-angle view serves it well.

A Decade On A 70mm Screen
A Decade On A 70mm Screen
outlookindia.com
2017-11-13T12:50:15+05:30

If tectonic events—transformative at the ‘deep structure’ level—are to be privileged as markers of time, the “long decade” offered in this book is beyond reproach. The twentieth century, they say, was properly born only in 1914, kicking and screaming like Stravinsky’s pagan sacrifice. And collapsed into clouds of anomic dust on 9/11. Here, we get the “1950s” as a five-act play that begins in the night-infused dawn of 1947. When the curtains go up, it’s midnight actually: a modern nation is in its first rites of passage, and it’s astrology that decided on that cusp time of August 15 as its birth date. With that founding irony hanging in the air, the ‘founding fathers’ are writing a new genetic code, fretting and arguing over its inner grammar, even as millions of refugees stream in from east and west.  And it's the 1962 war (not its details, nor its genesis, just the date) that provides the coda. 

But the temporal canvas, and how the embroiderer’s hoop circles out a portion of it for concentrated work, is not the point of emphasis. The five chapters are not dedicated to blocks or sub-units of time within this frame. They are, rather, arranged thematically. The first one is a study of the refugee crisis of Partition. Not at the level of human tragedy, but at how the system coped—a State in its infancy being baptised through a challenge unprecedented in history.

Three elements stand out here. One is how the successful resettlement of Punjab refugees across the north, culminating triumphally with the imagining of the new city of Chandigarh, contrasts with the mess in Bengal—where the event horizon (it’s a ‘long Partition’ that stretched over a decade) and economic particulars (the ‘unending trail’...

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