In 1988, a mysterious thing called the internet connected USA and Europe. What was it? No one knew, and none cared. An organization called the CERN, named a strange electronic contraption, the World Wide Web. The same year, saw the first famous computer virus, ‘The Internet Worm’.
A McDonald’s outlet opened for the first time in a communist country. It was in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. A mysterious word called ‘Peristroika’ began to appear in the papers and TV. A strange man, with a large black birthmark on his bald head spoke in Russian, and blabbered something about ‘Gastnost’.
A thing called Laser Phaco probe was invented, and that would completely change how cataract surgery was done, and this would make my father stop doing eye surgeries and restrict himself to a purely medical ophthalmology practice.
Coronary stents were exploding into Interventional Cardiology, and the greater-than-God Cardiac Surgeons were about to lose their place in the divine pantheon.
Back home, Indira Gandhi was dead, and terrorism, meant Sikh terrorism. It is strange that we seem to have forgotten that, when some, with a short memory and shorter, constricted mind space say- ‘all Muslims are not terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims’. This seems even more ridiculous, when we can easily recall that across a short sea-bridge, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ezham, were famous for their devastating suicide missions, and that would, both literally and figuratively, wipe out Rajiv Gandhi from the face of the Earth in a few years’ time, but who was the Prime Minister of India in 1988.
Nehru understood the importance of Science in a poor country. He also realized that religion was a keg of gun powder that could devastate a medieval society like ours. But he did not understand the power and focus of market competition. Indira cared neither for science, nor for the competitive economy. But she was a hero of the India- Paksitan war that created Bangladesh, and was a keen politician who thought that constitutional machinery could and should be tamed, and power must be amassed at a personal level, and that this could be managed by speaking directly to the people, and by being populist.
Rajiv understood both Science and Technology and Market Economics. But his grasp of Political India could have been better. He reversed the Supreme Court decision to curtail the power of the Muslim Mullahs in the Shah Banu case, and on another occasion, allowed the Ram Janmabhoomi temple to be opened for prayers. He thought that he could appease Muslims and Hindus by these moves. But together, it opened a buried dungeon, in which a poisonous dragon was kept chained for decades.
More important for me, was the fact that my swollen breasts, each the size of a lemon, had disappeared. I could jut my chest out and one could see the outline of the Pectoralis Major, the muscle that gave shape to male chests. Quite suddenly, I had put on a few inches, enabling me to cross the heart rending divide that separated the short boys from the acceptably average. This thrilled me no end. A nascent shadow had bloomed on my face that marked the territory where my future moustache and beard were going to be.
Growing up in the eighties was a sexually frustrating experience. Your body parts have arrived in mint condition. The hormones were hard at work, doing their job. The balls were secreting the bitter sweet hormone, testosterone, in admirably adequate amounts, just as the creator, if he exists, had intended. Just a thought, a look, or even a bra-ad was enough to give one an embarrassingly difficult–to-conceal erection, a state of affairs that would seem astonishing by middle age standards.
But one cannot do anything about it. You are stuck in a school where only boys are admitted, and you fight, exchange abuses and dirty pictures, jerk off and use your imagination. Or use your imagination and jerk off- whatever.
Doordarshan was all you got, Chithrahar was heaven and the newsreader Rincy Zinta was hot. Very hot. Shaktiman did his twisted dance and even Krishi Darshan was watched.
The phone, now it would seem quite unbelievable, was permanently attached to the wall.
I spent my time playing cricket and reading in the public library. I remember reading four paperbacks in a single, sleepless night. Many were non- fiction, and spanned the entire gamut of human knowledge.
I passed my tenth standard examination in moderately flying colours. Then, School stopped at ten. If you wanted to study further, you had to go to college.
Life was very simple. Thousands upon thousands of youngsters were finishing school, and all were given two enormous options. Not an enormous number of options.
Medicine and Engineering. Engineering or Medicine.
Computer Science was a hitherto completely unknown and a brand new branch within the broad umbrella of Engineering. No one knew what it was and none of us had ever seen a live computer. Nor a dead one, for that matter.
I wanted to study pure science. Biology was my interest.
When 1990 dawned, two years later, there was a McDonalds in Moscow. Moscow! The massive, awe-inspiring, fear inducing, iron curtain was in smithereens. The colossal edifice of the United Soviet Socialist Republic was teetering on the brink of collapse. In 1991, it would no longer be on the map. It would have Gone- peacefully, silently, and without a single shot being fired. Unbelievable- wasn’t it?
Germany was again one; the Berlin wall was still standing, but one could see it shaking in anticipation.
The World Wide Web was launched and the first search engine, named ‘Archie’, made its appearance. I missed these events as I did not hear about it.
The Human Genome Project got flagged off, and the Hubble telescope tumbled into space.
Rajiv Gandhi lost the election, and V P Singh came to power by coalition. A man name Lal Krishna Advani had his Rath Yathra, and it was accompanied by a minor blood bath. He was stopped, and arrested, and the Government fell.
I got into Medical School; a sort of historical accident. The details are another story. (Jimmy Mathew)