Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The past and the present. A transformation...

Today I received a mail from a friend that talked about the good old days, when our generation was much younger. The mail showed all the TV serials we saw as teenagers, on Doordarshan. It talked about how life and times then were much simpler....

I read the mail and it suddenly struck my mind, that ours must be a unique generation. Unique in the sense that it is this generation that would have seen the biggest change in the World, in one lifetime. And by change in the World I mean change in the way the World around us was, as early as, say, when we were born, and the way life and the World is for us, today, when we are somewhere near middle age.

Our elders could contest that. The logic being, that every generation sees a huge amount of change in a span of 60-70 years. Be that as it may. Without comparing, I would still consider my generation to be lucky to have seen such a transformation in the way we live our lives.

One of the aspects of life that immediately impacts us is technology. And I believe that amongst all types of technological changes, the one area that saw the most significant progress and transformation, is telecommunications.

Consider this...

When I was about 10 years of age, there typically was one TV set in the entire colony. (It was Black & White transmission till as late as 1982 when color TV started, coinciding with the Asiad held in Delhi). The rest of the residents of the colony helped themselves to three to four hours of TV entertainment at that neighbour's home. The neighbour's convenience or enthusiasm about hosting thirty to forty people in his home every evening was not a consideration. Like my friend said in her mail - those WERE real friends, weren't they?

About Doordarshan, many might not recall - that the Sunday movie long back was actually shown in two installments - the first half on Saturday evening, and the rest on Sunday !

Technology was poor, and I am sure we all lost count of the number of times we saw on the screen the "Rukawat ke kiye khed hai" message...And every now and then, one had to go up to the terrace, to re-align the antenna, because the picture had become blurred.

Then there was radio which more stations, so more choice. There was 'Vivid Bharati" Delhi 'A' /'B' etc. And for those that could spend sometime patiently trying to tune in their sets, there was Radio Ceylon on short wave...

A telephone connection was a luxury. My memory is fairly clear up to a time, when telephone numbers in Delhi were of 5 digits, against the 8 now. Getting a telephone connection was a long, long wait. In 1979, the Tis Hazari telephone exchange in Delhi, had a waiting list of 19 years! To talk to a relative in another city, one had to book a 'trunk call" and wait sometimes up to 4-5 hours, till one's turn came. And one had to be happy with a poor connection, wherein the voice at the other end was barely audible.

When I started my career selling computers, as late as in 1987, the Personal Computer or the PC, was an alien concept to Indians. I knocked doors, but no one seemed to figure out the need to invest huge amounts to buy a machine which they were not familiar with. By the way a PC AT model in 1987 cost Rs 1 lac.

Those were days, when you had to submit proof of your antecedents to open a savings account in a Bank. Seems ridiculuous now because YOU were giving YOUR money to be kept in safe custody, so it should have been you asking for some security from the Bankers. Likewise a Bank would do you a big favor by granting you a loan for a house or a car, or issuing you a credit card. That too, after pages and pages of declarations, affidavits and attachments.

There were two makes of cars and two makes of scooters available in India. Fiat and Ambassador, and Bajaj (earlier Vespa) and Lambretta. The choice really was - new or second hand? And by the way -there was no A/C or a stereo in the cars...

And consider where we are now. More than a hundred channels on TV? Two maybe three sets in each home? FM radio.

In 1987 when we lamented the state of telephone exchanges and long waits for connections, our proud relatives in the US would boast about a telephone connection being installed in their homes in a matter of hours....That is a reality in good old India - a sure transformations from a seemingly a hopeless state twenty years ago.

Today when telephone callers pester us for loans, credit cards etc. we curse them, abuse them and hang up. And we do this from our mobile phones (which incidentally are also our computers), sitting in air conditioned luxury of our Hondas, Toyotas, Skodas, and what not. These cars that we came to own, the minute we signed some papers, on our first or second visit to the car dealer. We sit in the comfort of our homes, and pay all our bills - electricity, phones etc. with a 'click' of our mouse, on our computers. Computers that run hundred times faster and cost one fifth. All of us have computers, and a person who doesn't know how to use one - doesn't exist !

So how's that? Isn't that transformation? I am sure our parents cannot boast about a similar experience in their life time.

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