What were the British residents like? How did the city look when you grew up? Tell me again about Gandhi and Nehru’s activism. Do you remember hearing King George’s speeches? What did people think of the five-year plans at the time? How did you feel during the India-Pakistan wars? What were the reactions to the emergency? Tell me what you remember about Aug. 15, 1947.
We’re sitting in chairs in my grandfather’s bedroom, in the same house his father bought 50 years ago, and the same house where my father was born.
It’s my last day in India, the end of a month-long stay, and I pepper my grandfather with history questions for hours about the things we haven’t yet discussed this visit. I have asked him all of the same questions for many years, but I always find it incredible to hear history directly from the source. My grandfather talks about British officers standing on street corners, and he remembers when Gandhi launched the Quit India movement at my grandfather’s high school. He remembers Bombay as a sleepy port town, where he could bike with his friends to the suburbs. He was frightened when air raid sirens went off during the India-Pakistan wars and bitter during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. He remembers the fireworks on India’s first Independence Day, and the excitement at what lay ahead. He has voted in every election India has ever held.
We talk about it for a while, but to be honest, my grandfather is not all that interested in talking about the past. I’m always swept away by the fact that my grandfather has lived through so much history, and that his life is practically a Salman Rushdie novel; but my grandfather reads seven newspapers a day, and he wants to talk about current events. We talk about corruption scandals and the economy. He has strong opinions on who should be the next prime minister, and is excited for upcoming cricket matches. He, at 80, and like India, is looking forward. I’m the only one looking backwards.