I couldn’t have written this column at a better time. As I sit in my car, with a note-pad and my favourite pen, after a long day’s tiring work, I find myself stuck in a terrible jam, now synonymous with the city. It wasn’t like this when I was a young boy. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, there were no jams to talk about. Empty roads in the middle of large fields, lush green forests or huge isolated grounds took us to our destinations. Sardar Patel Road, were we lived in my grandfather’s house, would be completely deserted after 8pm. Today, we head out of our homes for a party or a social gathering, well after eight or nine—or even later. And the way we go out socialising now is another story altogether. Fiats and Ambassadors were the most popular cars back then. There wasn’t much choice. Today, people, especially children, are spoilt for choice. Earlier, each family had one car. Now, every member of the family has their own independent car. In fact, then, we didn’t need individual cars of our own at all.
Life was simple. We didn’t have malls and clubs keeping us away from our families. We played a lot. Mostly outdoors. As the clock ticked five, we would be out playing football and a sometimes pitthu, although kids also played gilli danda, stapu and pakdan pakdai—games our children have never even heard of. Thanks to my privileged background, which I am most grateful for, I would go horse riding at the President’s Bodyguard Club at the Ridge. TV was limited to Doordarshan’s hour long programme— Chitrahaar, the most widely watched programme in the 1970s. We would buy an orange bar for 50 paise and glue ourselves to the television set to watch the latest songs every Friday. With the advent of cable TV, however, very few in Delhi watches Doordarshan anymore and ice-cream costs much much more.
Another thing that costs a lot these days is time. One has to seek appointments for everything. From getting your hair cut to meeting a prospective client, one has to seek a time, date and place. Back in those days, nothing like that was necessary. People were happy to meet other people at all times. Today, even if one has to meet relatives or family, they are informed well in advance. Such formalities didn’t exist earlier.
Another interesting memory I have is of the long process we had to undergo to make international calls. Since one couldn’t call directly; a call operator had to be contacted and given details of the person the call was being made to. The return call could come during any time of the day or night and one had to stay constantly aware and alert. Thank God that’s changed now. Letter writing was common too.
Since my family was always culturally oriented, I have vivid memories of listening to Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, George Harrison and others at home. An exciting time was when the team of Apollo 11 comprising Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin and others had come home.
Besides those culturally rich experiences, Republic Day and Independence Day were happy days. We would watch the Parade right from our balcony and no security personnel intervened. The truth is that Delhi was by and large a safe city to live in. I cannot say that about it now. When the Geeta and Sanjay Chopra kidnapping case happened in 1978, when the two kids were kidnapped and killed by Ranga Khus and Billa, it shocked the entire city. Today, with so many rapes, murders and molestations happening on a daily basis, one doesn’t even pay much attention. We live in dark times and the memories of my childhood and younger days bring back some light that I constantly keep near me. Hopefully, things will change one day.
(Ram is President, DCM Limited)
As told to Ayesha Singh