Sunday, December 4, 2011

80's India

It's almost a year now since I wrote the post on 70's India and almost immediately drafted the one on 80's India. My whole idea was to blog a piece on every decade till the present one. However, for reasons which I can't fathom, I could not set myself to finish this one which I had drafted a long time back. Today, I am in a mood to finish this, lets see. When I look back on the 80's it's my school days in Rourkela. The events which I read in newspapers or influenced me were the ones which I mostly read through nwespapers and magazines (no TV for most of the decade then, Internet not heard of!!). When I write on this, I write through the prism of my growing up years, it's nice to look back and see how your thoughts were at that time.

Diego Armado Maradona:-
He is probably the greatest footballer of all time. Most of the world believes this too, he finished first in the FIFA player of the century award which he shared with Pele. You may wonder why he figures in 80's India, but try going down memory lane and remember those days of the 1986 world cup when television was such a rare commodity in India and still this nation (not a great football crazy nation) sits up the whole night to watch this small little man take football to a whole new level. You may love Maradona, like Maradona, hate Maradona but you simply couldn't ignore him. 
He had no peers......... he was the one. Awesomely talented, fiercely controversial on and off the field, he made a potent combination for the press to get it's daily dose from. This the man who stands out all alone........When this man walked up the podium at Mexico city to lift the cup, it was one of the most outstanding moments of the decade. People were on two sides - one going berserk at the genius of the man and the team he lifted by his sheer presence and the other seething from his "hand of God" episode. Either way he is the decades number one icon. 
In soccer crazy parts of India people started wearing T-shirts with 10 and Maradona pics. Sports magazines in India started writing endless pages on him. This man made a lasting impression on a cricket-crazy nation (mind that)!!! To my mind, he is the decade's icon number one....just remember the midnight of 22nd June 1986, Maradona second goal vs England at Azteca, Mexico, Maradona receiving the ball in his own half , swivelling around , with 11 touches running more than half the field dribbling past five English outfielders and finally the goalkeeper Peter Shilton for the goal of the century!!!

Bhopal Gas tragedy :- 
This is the night of December 2nd 1984 in sleepy Bhopal when Methyl Isocyanate gas leaked from the Union carbide factory and changed the face of industrial hazards forever. It's a tragedy of unimaginable proportions, no real count of people dead or affected till date (some estimates have put it at 15,000 with effects still there, no one prosecuted even after 25 years). 
Legal wangles and procedural delays have ensured that after leaking 390 tons of lethal gases to a city who had gone to a sleep that night, not one person is behind bars!!! Bhopal has changed forever after this. This is truly the decade's darkest moment and stands out for all the wrong reasons. It's a curse to the nation that we had to fight for 15 years of legal battles to extract 470 million USD as a compensation for millions of affected lives.With our aid distribution system in such a pathetic state most of us are not very optimistic that this amount has reached the right places at all.

Rajiv Gandhi: 

He is the man who ruled or mattered the most in India during the eighties.He had all the right genes, which makes any kind of rise in India all the more easier) but had for his own reasons had chosen to be a commercial pilot. Fate intervened and he was unwillingly thrust into the hot seat of politics. Within no time he took his party to a landslide victory and had a long stint as the Prime minster. A likable personality...... he was the face which Indians had to see everyday on television those days in the news programs. He is remembered for all the right reasons as well as wrong - reducing the licence raj, increasing India's international exposure especially with the US and balancing it's equation with the then USSR...... go to his credit while the bungling in Sri Lanka's affairs (LTTE mess!!), Bofors scandal and the Shah Bano case stand as dark spots for which the country is still paying. To be fair to him, he was a man with open and good intentions and very forward looking. India benefited in a lot of ways during his years at the helm.


This is one fabric which came to India and caught on the imagination. Men tired of wearing traditional attire or having their trousers stitched by the neighborhood tailor in a most shapeless fashion where more than happy to have this new piece of cloth around their legs...women were not to be left far behind...... although it took them some more years to break the traditional mold and try denim. Having a pair of jeans meant you had arrived ..." I like jeans" is a sentence you started hearing then. However, very strangely jeans was treated like an alien piece of clothing specially in the 80's decade for reasons nobody understood. I read an interesting article that jeans always had a strong Indian connection because the main dye (then blue) for the jeans came from Indian Indigo. Although the term jeans owes its name to the Italian town of Genoa, the coarse Genoa denim which preceded the modern jeans was made from the fabric - un-dyed calico which owes its name to Calicut.It took us sometime to accept that this "rough" piece of cloth was actually quite comfortable and a fashion statement too!

 Iran Iraq war:

This was the single consistent news item in television news from 1980 to 1988 with news reader routinely reading out the number of daily casualties in this decade long war. The war initially began when Iraq invaded Iran following a long history of border disputes. However, the reasons soon lost its larger meaning. At least to people in India. The eight year brought no results on either side, it neither changed borders or any other significant difference to either countries. It did however leave half a million human lives..... dead and countless affected by chemical warfare and families and generations scarred forever. Probably, this decade taught humanity , the cruel lesson that no war however long and bloody leads us anywhere. Hope leaders remember this in subsequent decades!

End of communist era: 

Probably the single most politically earth shattering event of the decade was the rise of the fall of communism. The Berlin wall came crashing down. There were protests from Poland to China and it seemed that the red book would go down to history books. It all began in Poland in 1989 and continued in East Germany, Bulgaria and the eastern bloc countries. The symbolic Berlin Wall came crashing down a year later. Many winters later, I was fortunate to be at the Brandenburg gate and walk across it. It was ironic to think that such a thing was impossible five years ago. What started towards the end of the 80's decade was to change the political landscape of the world in the next one. Only China withstood the change although there was a strong rumble for several weeks. Mikhail Gorbachev went down in history as the leader who triggered this. He would never have thought the humble glasnost and perestroika would ultimately lead such huge consequences.

HIV :- 

A pandemic disease HIV was discovered in 1981 and although people didn't bother about it in the 80's decade it has taken 25 million lives so far and a large part of it could be attributed to complacency, lack of awareness and medical care, more so in the 80's decade. Although it took a lot of hard work, awareness creation and scientific research in the the subsequent two decades to bring the disease down from its peak casualty levels it still remains one of the most dreaded disease having consumed 0.6% of the world's population with a disproportionate number in Africa. A lot of global charity work is happening in this field coupled with scientific research so one hopes to see better days ahead in our fight to conquer this disease.

Ramanand Sagar's Ramayan and B.R Chopra's Mahabharat: 

In 1987 Ramanad Sagar started airing the Ramayan television series. I series which he would not have imagined would take such a fan following. The whole nation used to come to a halt for one hour on Sunday morning when the mythology used to be relived by Arun Govil and Deepika. High melodrama and low production quality hardly mattered in a nation where Ram was one of the greatest Gods. An estimated 100 million people stopped all work, huddled up in their drawing rooms or in their neighbors, sometimes at electronic stores, pavements and what not..... to catch a glimpse of the religious mythology.

VCR : 

Suddenly this electro - mechanical device surfaced in the 80's promising Indian middle class families the comfort to watch movies from home on a cassette rent of Rupees twenty. The operator would come in a scooter with a huge suitcase carrying this magic equipment and connect it to the TV with an array of wires. The whole family had already huddled up for the "show". This man would press some buttons and Voila; the film show would start in the drawing room. People went on from renting to buying this fancy equipment whose craze lasted a few years and was taken over with the CD whose sleek looks and clarity made this equipment sunset.

There were a lot of other events which had shaped up the psyche of this decade but I chose these, more on the basis of the impression they had left on our minds.

I enjoyed reliving this decade while writing it.

(pics courtesy: Google images)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The greying of India

"We are not limited by our old age; we are liberated by it."

Sounds nice........ but in a lot of cases it is too good to be true. One thing that particularly strikes me and on which I thought of blogging for quite some time is the greying of India. As one looks around, the one thing which strikes is the increase in the number of old people compared to say twenty years back.

Population ageing is an universal and irreversible phenomenon. Of course, it varies from country to country depending on mortality rates, fertility and migration trends. One of India's most stunning achievements post independence has been longevity. While other countries even developed nations have struggled to increase longevity. We have increased our longevity to quite a decent level. All this brings with it a lot of questions and issues. We need to provide health, economic and social security to this vast population of greying India within a short span of time. India's older population is projected to quadruple by mid-century, while that of the world is expected to triple.

Several years ago I was associated with a project which was working on old age pensions and this is a topic which has always been close to my heart. A generation of Indians especially govt employees have been assured of fixed pensions from their date of retirement. However, the government took a different view of assured / guaranteed amount of pensions after it understood that the load on the exchequer would be staggering considering India's rate of increasing ageing population. The OASIS committee which was formed to suggest pension reforms in India came out with a few eye opening facts:-

  1. India's total population is expected to rise by 49% between 1991 and 2016. The share of aged in the total population by 2016 would stand at 8.9% and at 13.9% at 2026.

  2. Males and females aged 60 are expected to live beyond 75 years which means that they would need to have means to support themselves for 15 years after retirement.

  3. Approximately 74% of India's population is rural which does not have a defined pension system as the population mainly consists of farming or contract labour. A total of 11% population in India is presently covered under a pension system and thus the threat of old population sinking into poverty after retirement/ out of work is very high.

  4. The unorganised and private sector have no real laid down pension system and the risks of their standards of living falling drastically on retirement is very large.

  5. Families are becoming smaller and the joint family system is considered unattractive thus leaving the old largely to fend for themselves economically and socially.

I am not going to blog on the details of the pension system but what I wanted to bring about is a change in thinking which is needed for all Indians. Indians are traditionally savers, an average 35% of the money goes into savings ....but how much into retirement savings? Most people's priority of savings are housing, children's marriage, higher education and health care or emergency costs. This leaves aside very little corpus to take care of retirement needs for the elderly couple.

The second larger issue is of a system nation wide which can address the unorganised sector, self-employed, partially employed and people who cannot contribute to a pension system regularly, yet need a security cover and a certain amount of money during their greying years. Current the little population largely government employees which the defined pension system covers is one of defined contribution, defined returns which actually means falling returns as the inflation keeps on increasing. Any pension reform has to bring the unorganised sector into the reform process.

The third issue is educating the people on the issue of retirement planning. Today a large percentage of people with large disposable incomes accord a very small percentages of their income on creating a retirement corpus. ( A holiday abroad, fancy cars, gadgets etc all take precedence). Education also means creating a realistic awareness of the level of returns expected from the retirement plans. Too much optimism from a retirement fund scheme can also be equally harmful. A large section of our working force still relies on premature withdrawal of possible retirement savings like provident fund to fund immediate financial needs.

The fourth issue is including the poorest of the poor- BPL families in the scheme of the things. Currently govt plans provide for certain days of guaranteed employment for families below poverty line but govt and NGO's needs to step in when they are unemployable. The poorest of the poor largely live on daily wages and it is impossible to think that they can create a retirement corpus on their own.Any reform or pension system should be targeted to include this large population with almost zero savings.

The next issue(fifth) is in a large section of employed population , there is a seeming problem that one may outlive the accumulated wealth which has been set aside for retirement years.In the absence of a pension system , a prudent saver may have saved in a disciplined manner . However with increasing inflation there is always the fear of outliving the accumulated wealth.

There is also an issue of a large section of women outliving the men which means that the man's contribution to household income may stop a long before and the woman has to fend a long number of years all by herself.This assumes a more complex dimension if the woman has not been employed ever.

Another complex issue which needs to be sorted is - How old is old? I raise this because the corpus of providing retirement benefits or social security to an increasing population is shrinking and one needs to take an unbiased view of the same. My personal opinion is that , although 60 and above is considered the old age, people in any sector who are employed and are able to earn their livelihood should receive less preference for benefits than people who are unemployed or with special needs.

I want to treat this blog as a living article which I will keep on updating as I personally get more enlightened on this subject. However, the topic of " Greying of India" cannot be complete without thinking of what one does during the greying years. These can turn out to be the most glorious years in a person's life provided one is able to pursue hobbies,read travel or blog, listen to music , enjoy good times with family and friends, volunteer for social work, give free coaching on a subject and basically stay active.