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I am 67

| Updated on August 27, 2014 Published on January 25, 2014

Anubrotto (Dunu) Roy, director, Hazards Centre, Delhi   -  Kamal Narang/BLink

Vinayak Namjoshi, former executive director, Tata Administrative Services, Pune

Shailesh Gandhi, first chief information commissioner and RTI activist, Mumbai

We track down the protagonists of SNS Sastry’s iconic documentary I am 20, which went viral recently

In 1967, SNS Sastry, a Films Division director who is regarded by many as one of the first Indian masters of the short non-fiction documentary, released I am 20. In his documentary, which won the “Best Film on Social Documentation” award at the 15th National Film Awards, Sastry speaks to Indians, all of whom are either born on August 15, 1947 or in the same year that the country was “born”. He asks them questions, about themselves, about the country and what they feel has been achieved and what is to be done moving forward. The documentary is filled with sharp questions and honest answers. As one of the characters say, “ For me security is a government job, I’d like to join the IAS, sit in an AC room, drink lots of coffee, attend meetings and just be a cog in the machine. What else do you want me to do?”

Forty seven years have passed since this documentary was made. But recently, it found its way to YouTube where it has received more than 1.06 lakh hits at last count. The film is both shocking and revealing in that much of what the interviewees say is as relevant today as it was in 1967.

BLink tracked down a few people featured in the documentary, and asked them the same questions Sastry asked, along with a few more. Their answers reveal that some promises have been kept but others remain unfulfilled. This is what they had to say...

Anubrotto (Dunu) Roy, director, Hazards Centre, Delhi

Both for me and the country, it seems to be a long history of failures right through, but I think it’s very valuable because failures give insights into what should be done and what shouldn’t be. August 15, 1947 was a moment of high aspiration.

Whether the aspirations got fulfilled since, is another issue. Regardless, it’s definitely a high point which is part of our national memory now. I think our generation, the 20-year-olds of the 1960s, was incredibly privileged, we didn’t realise this in ’67. It was not just a question of financial privilege. It was also the privilege to explore various ideas. I don’t think any other generation has had it since in India.

After finishing Chemical Engineering at IIT Bombay, I travelled around the country, spent 20 years in Shahdol, Madhya Pradesh, trying to run a small mechanical workshop, one of the first experiments in environment planning and education.

Then I came back to Delhi, worked for the World Wildlife Fund for Nature till they kicked me out and started the Hazards Centre. For how the country has developed and is developing,

I’m not so optimistic though. India is going in a completely wrong direction, particularly now and by “now”, I mean since 1990 when liberalisation kicked in. We seem to have completely lost the social welfare dimension since.

I think drastic changes are required to turn things around, especially in the government model. The current model is to a large extent going to satisfy only the wealthy and is actually geared towards helping them retain their power.

And often, economic power translates to political power, so the corporate powerhouses are able to determine which way the nation is going to go, and I don’t think this is good. Having said this, India is basically the place where one has roots, and is also the society that one is most comfortable in, apart from providing a plank for looking at the rest of the world. There might be a high degree of inequality but at the same time there is also an extremely stubborn and wonderful sense of survival within that inequality, which is what I find most amazing.

What are my plans for the future? Well, not much more than eat, sing and retire...

Vinayak Namjoshi, former executive director, Tata Administrative Services, Pune

I was very lucky that I got into IIT and got the best of facilities for education and subsequently, it might be because of the selection process, I was able to get into good management course. After IIT, I was to go abroad, but I could not get my work permit so I decided to while away my time at CIDCO and that’s when I learnt about this thing they called an MBA. We must have been the third or fourth batch of MBA students in India. I was also very fortunate to get into the Tata Administrative Services and work for them for a number of years.

One thing I am bitter about is the corruption I’ve seen. During my years with TAS in Delhi, I saw many of the other big corporations like the Ambanis and all would just walk in with the government in their pockets. I think corruption has only become more rampant. Hitting down from top is not the answer.

The answer is to cut out the reasons for corruption. I realise it’s easy to sit here and criticise people who did the work. I think a lot of work happened earlier but we did not move apace. We started losing momentum after Nehru died. And it’s because of this that I admire people like Kejriwal. What he has done is what everyone wants to do but no one does.

It’s a wonder that we have remained one country for so long and I think the idea means to me that, if we have managed to be one for so long, we should strive to continue as one as well.

What do I do for entertainment? Well, earlier, I used to love playing tennis, swimming and even a little bit of rugby. Now I farm, and I enjoy it. In a personal sense, I don’t really need very much more but when it comes to the country, I’m just hoping we get a stable government.

Shailesh Gandhi, first chief information commissioner and RTI activist, Mumbai

In our 20s, we used to criticise society, but over the years I have developed the belief that we will do better. In those days, we could afford to blame society for all our troubles, but at 67, I feel responsible for the way things are in the country, whether good or bad.

If you remember, in the film I talk about people of this tribal village I saw in Gujarat, who had never heard of flights or even trains. While change has arrived, in some ways, for people like them, the situation remains the same for many. People like Dhirubhai Ambani or Indira Gandhi being revered as national icons gives a false sense of pride, these people should receive a gold medal in intolerance, if you ask me. No one should ignore the fact that a first-rate government is important, citizens can’t start running behind privatisation and give up on the public machinery, nothing good is going to come out of that.

It’s not all grim though, the RTI movement, the AAP are definitely empowering. There is hope of a great future ahead. And I for one at least hope to leave the place in the same form that I found it in.

On another note, about the documentary itself, Sastry ended up in IIT-Bombay after scouring the entire country, quite disappointed with the footage he had collected. After interviewing us at IIT (I think at least five-six of the interviewees are from there), I remember Sastry saying, “I have now got my film.”

(I am 20 is available on the FD Zone channel on YouTube.com)

(As told to Sibi Arasu)

Published on January 25, 2014
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