Total Recall | Back to 90s | Final Chapter

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By Siddhartha Krishnan 5 Min Read

They say,

“Nostalgia is a dirty liar that insists things were better than they seemed.”

We humans are often guilty of picking the rosy parts from our past in a bout of nostalgia. In other words, we crib about our “now” only to say good things about it, years later. Hence, a retired man sheds tears of joy when he recalls his glory days under the sun, a hapless lover—now happily married, laughs when he recollects his failed attempts at finding love and a successful corporate person, who was once an inattentive student, smirks when he remembers a cheating episode during an examination.

In this context our reminiscences of the 90s era could be as flawed as the decade itself was. Come to think of it—the 90s began with an assassination and ended with a hijacking. In between there was the demolition of a mosque, terrorist bombings, riots, several political upheavals and even a war. Hence, it is safe to say that this wasn’t a golden era by any stretch of the imagination. In many ways, it was a decade like any other, with its own share of the good and bad. The 90s too grew out of the doings of previous generations as any other decade prior to it.

Hence, let us pause for a minute and ask ourselves – What was different in this decade and why do we 90s kids repeatedly go gaga over it?

The answer may be found in two major events that took place in the 90s and which turned out to be game changers for a country which at that time was struggling to stand on its feet. These were the Economic Liberalization of India in 1991 and the Declaration of India as a full-fledged Nuclear State in 1998. Both these events managed to challenge the status quo and gave the country a chance to become a probable superpower of the future.

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While economic liberalization opened up the economy to private and foreign investment thereby creating lakhs of job opportunities in multiple sectors, the success of the Pokhran-II nuclear tests ensured, that India was a force to be reckoned with, in a hostile neighbourhood, while also providing an alternative source of energy to a nation, which was fast depleting its resources. We can debate about the good and bad aspects of these policies, which were initiated by two different governments, belonging to two distinct ideologies (one secular and the other nationalist), but there is no doubt that these were defining moments in our post-independence history.

For the civilian population, the effects of economic liberalization were more visible and as a result, the kids of the 90s, like me, were witness to a few firsts. Among these were the advent of satellite television, introduction to the first PCs/Mobile phones/CDs & DVDs and the emergence of the world wide web. Apart from technological breakthroughs there were many FMCG products that were introduced into the Indian markets, during this decade, which became part of our daily lives.

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But in my opinion what set us apart from the generation before us, which lived in the protectionist era and the generation that came after us, post the turn of the millennium, was the convergence of the old and new in a way that had never been seen before. It is this aspect of growing up in the 90s which I want to delve into because in my opinion this is the differentiating factor.

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The fact that we 90s kids lived dichotomous lives was no secret and we showed off this duality unabashedly. Since, the new had just arrived, the old still had its relevance. So, we played street games like Pithoo or Kho Kho with the same fervour with which we indulged ourselves in video games like Mario or Contra. Detective Byomkesh Bakshi’s keen sense of observation appealed to us as much as Mulder and Scully’s adventures with the paranormal in the X-Files. And, during lunch break, at school, pen fights were as enjoyable as a game of trump cards.

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There was no danger of being side-lined since newer traditions were just beginning to make its way into our lives. Hence, it was cool to climb trees, get drenched in the rain or play Gili Danda while also learning to toggle our joysticks efficiently to move to the next level of a video game. The 90s, in that sense, was a nice blend of the old and new, a kichdi of sorts.

My fondest recollections of the 90s, oddly, are the simple experiences, which I cherish till date. Like,

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Pic credit: Pinterest

Enjoying a bar of ice-candy in the 40-degree heat of Palakkad (my hometown in Kerala) while turning the pages of my favourite comic books which included the likes of Marvel, Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle and Chacha Chaudhary. The delicious ice-candies, made from fresh fruits, turned out to be as unputdownable as the comics I read.

Similarly, in Kolkata (where I spent most of my growing up years), after a gruelling game of gully cricket, we would usually treat ourselves to a glass of Fountain Pepsi—a new arrival into the Indian market at that time. However, a glass of Shikanji at the Maidan, also revived our spirits equally.

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This dichotomy could be seen in the entertainment we sought as well. The Bollywood movies of the 90s were outright bad barring a few exceptions, hence we found solace in the TV programmes of that era. Thanks to satellite television, TV channels like ESPN, Star TV and Cartoon Network had just hit our TV screens and watching WWE on ESPN or Flintstones on Cartoon Network with friends was something we looked forward to in the weekends. But we were equally eager to see what Swami & Friends were up to in Malgudi Days or what mischief Nitu Singh and Noni Singh were going to cause in the next episode of Philips Top 10 due to their ignorance?

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Pic credit: Sportskeeda

However, apart from entertainment, satellite television and later the internet, gave us something that was going to be pathbreaking. This gift of the post liberalization era was access. Thus, Sachin’s straight drive of a 6’5” Australian fast bowler became as aspirational as the rhythms created by Rahman’s piano. A rendezvous with superstar Shah Rukh Khan or Tom Cruise was as inspiring as an interview with emerging business leaders like Narayana Murthy or Bill Gates. And, we realized what Sanjeev Kapoor was doing inside the kitchen was a subtle art and that he wasn’t a “Bawarchi” but a chef.

Today, as the balance shifts heavily towards the new with each passing day, I feel it is this dichotomy and specifically the simpler moments, that we crave for the most. Think about it—We aren’t really complaining about the creature comforts that we have currently and the subsequent materialism that came with it. But neither are we fully adhering to the ways of today, like our children are doing. It’s a strange conundrum that we find ourselves in.

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Pic credit: magicpin

So, when we cajole our children to watch the cartoons and TV programmes, we once watched or introduce them to the games that we played or take them to theme resorts which kindle old memories, it’s the longing for the old, that is manifesting itself. While, we are comfortable with ways of a fast-changing world, there is still a deep yearning for the simpler times.

At a time when the world is under the grip of a deadly pandemic and humanity is locked inside their homes while nature reclaims its spaces—I urge the kids of the 90s to contemplate and decide what they want to take from their experience of the 90s and pass onto their children which might enrich their lives.

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It’s a difficult question to answer, considering the complexities but one that you must seek an answer to.

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6 Thoughts

  1. Hello Sid. I’m writing from Pennsylvania, USA. In the States, almost no movies or TV shows from your country are screened/aired in the States. How much American entertainment product is shown in India? Take care.

    Neil Scheinin

    1. Hi Neil,
      In terms of American entertainment we have a lot to choose from in India. In fact we are bombarded with it. Both in terms of movies and tv programs. Our theatres too show most hollywood releases. So, it is safe to say that there is no dearth of American entertainment in India.
      I wasn’t aware that too little of Indian entertainment is shown at your place. I am assuming that this is specific to Pennsylvania or is it elsewhere as well? Indian movies have evolved a lot with time. Although a lot is left to be desired and we do stick to formula as far as commercial cinema is concerned. However, I would urge you to check out Indian cinema available on Netflix and Amazon Prime, but go for Indian regional cinema/languages. It will be different from what you are used to and you might be in for a pleasant surprise. I can suggest you a few if you are interested.
      Thanks for reading my blog and commenting. TC. Stay safe.
      Regards,
      Sid.

      1. As far as I know, very, very little in the way of movies and TV shows from India is shown in theaters or on American TV networks. Almost nothing, I’d say.

        Indian food is pretty popular in the USA.

        My wife and I subscribe to Netflix. So if you have any Netflix recommendations, you can let me know here or in the comments section of my latest story. My latest opus is a humor piece that’s partly about Netflix. Take care.

      2. As far as I know, almost no movies or tv shows from India play in American theaters or on American tv networks.

        Indian food is pretty popular in the USA.

        My wife and I get Netflix, so if you have any recommendations you can leave them here or in the comments section of my latest story. My latest opus is a humor piece that’s partly about Netflix. Take care.

        1. On Netflix you can start with these two movies:
          Andhadun – Its a Hindi thriller and the screenplay will remind you of Coen brothers. Its original,dark, humourous and gripping.
          Super Deluxe – This is a Tamil language film and easily one of the best films of last year. Its unlike anything i had seen in Indian cinema before.
          But Malayalam films are the ones that you should check out. They make the kind of movies that American audiences can relate to and get a glimpse into our culture. They have the best technicians in the business, especially cinematography. Amazon prime video has a good collection of Malayalam movies and if you can check out these movies – “Kumbalangi nights” , “Jallikattu” and “Ee Ma Yau” there. You can also check out “Uyare” on Netflix which is a Malayalam film.
          I am keen to check out your humor peice and will do it today.

          Tc.
          Thanks
          Sid

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