Producing a special issue to commemorate a special date is always a tricky project. One wants to say it all and show it all. But this is a magazine and not a tome, so how does one strike a fine balance? And what lens does one choose to zoom into the past 75 years, a lens that neither distorts nor magnifies but simply reflects.
Seventy-five years after independence is that rare moment when one can pause, look back, and take stock. A juncture in history when one can think about what brought us here. What were those seemingly minor events that set in motion a series of outcomes, some expected and some wildly unpredictable, that would change forever the trajectory of the country’s progress, its character and morals, its cultural preferences and social mores, its politics and laws.
We therefore embarked on a challenging but also engaging exercise to choose the epochal moments from these past 75 years that have impacted the country for the long term. Who would have thought that a rocket head transported by bicycle would grow into a sophisticated space programme sending science missions to the moon and Mars? Or that an innocuous television mythological would unleash an angry beast of hatred.
We asked historian and writer Manu Pillai to talk to Rajmohan Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, who was 12 years old that historic day, and get him to share his thoughts.
We traced the timelines of some crucial segments, such as science, cinema or environment, to see how laws and institutions have evolved in these areas. And we compiled a list of the most crucial books that have emerged since Independence. We believe such exercises offer clues to how a ravaged postcolonial country got its act together.
I expect indignant letters from some of you demanding to know why a certain book has been left out or why, for instance, the 2004 tsunami does not make it to our “epochal” moments. But do remember that the purpose of such lists is merely to point to the riches that exist. As for the second, India has experienced umpteen catastrophes, both natural and man-made, but not each one has irrevocably changed the course of development or governance or life as we know it, so not everything gory or noisy or colourful is on our list.
I will be remiss if I end without doffing my hat to Frontline’s invisible dream team, which worked impossible hours and subsisted on chai and samosa to make it all come together.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed making it.