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Revolutionary Road

You don’t know when a revolution sweeps past you, but they end up bringing you back where you started from…

Revolutions come and go like monsoon showers, but you don’t even know it was one until it has swept past you. Right now, we are in the midst of quite a few, beginning with the so-called Arab spring, which has already taken toll of three countries and is set to engulf three or four more. In addition, there is trouble on Wall Street in New York and the City of London, not to speak of Greece and Italy. When we are all exhausted, it will all be quiet again, until, presumably, the next revolution.

I have been involved, if that is the right word, in at least two major revolutions, both of them in India. The first was in 1942, that is, 70 years ago, when Mahatma Gandhi asked the British to quit India. I was a college-going boy at that time and got enough in the swirl of things, as did thousands of others. A day or two after Gandhi and others were arrested, we took out a procession in Pune and just when we were about to cross the river, the police pounced on us and ferried us to jail.

I had never been inside a jail before and my first reaction was that they would take us to the nearest firing squad and start shooting, which is what, we were told, the Nazis did. But the British were different and gave us a meal of rice, no chapattis, and threw some coarse blankets at us and asked us to spend the night under the skies. We could see leaders like Nehru and Patel being brought in.

Three or four days later, the magistrate, an Englishman with ginger moustaches, who looked like Alec Guinness, asked us what the problem was. Then he gave us a lecture and warned us that unless we mended our ways that would be the last time he would see us, which sounded very ominous. Five years later, I saw him again, in London, minus the moustaches, but by then we had nothing to do with each other. That was the end of Revolution One.

Revolution Two began with Jayaprakash Narain crisscrossing the country with cries of total revolution. I was editor of a newspaper in Delhi at that time and wrote fierce editorials which, I suspect, were read with avid interest only by the local district magistrate.

I was wrong. One day, two burly men walked into my room one afternoon and told me that my time was up - whatever that meant - and if I “didn’t pipe down” I would be in trouble. What kind of trouble, I asked, as innocently as I could, with an eye on the exit. The bigger fellow drew a manicured finger across his throat, and I had seen enough Hollywood films to know what it meant. It was June, I think, a couple of days before the Emergency was declared. I quietly left the room, purchased a ticket to Bombay and disappeared.

There were no e-mails then and no long-distance automatic telephones. When I returned to Delhi six months later, things were unusually quiet and you could move about even in Connaught Place with the police looking the other way. This was one revolution that was not going according to plan, for things were too quiet, the sole policeman outside my house had disappeared and I could even resume my writings under a pseudonym. I used to drive past the prime minister’s house almost regularly every morning, but nobody took any notice, and we were left twiddling our thumbs.

When elections were announced, the dam broke, and when the results came I happened to be in a cafe in Janpath watching the commotion on TV, and, of course, the end of Revolution Two. A few weeks later, I found my self in a ministry in Delhi, with a posh office and people coming and going, including businessmen from Bombay who had taken no notice of me only a few days earlier.

It was, of course, too good to last. I am not cut out to spend time in government offices and was soon out doing what I always liked to do-write fierce editorials that nobody read. This is what revolutions do to you-they always bring you back where you started from, because that is where you belong!