Sunday, September 30, 2012

Birthday wishes!

In a country where the birthdays of political leaders are celebrated with much pomp and fanfare (think Mayawati!) , there was a quiet birthday celebration last week. Of course, the nature of the celebration was appropriate for the personality of the birthday person, India's third longest serving prime minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. Singh completed 80 years of his life on 26th September, although this is only notionally his birthday. The events of his life are a true indication  of the extent to  which chance and destiny shapes even the lives of highly able and intelligent people.

Manmohan Singh was born in 1932 in the district of  Gah, now  in Pakistan, and came over with his family to India in 1947, like many other families displaced by partition. He studied economics at Panjab University, then in Hoshiarpur, and excelled as a student, leading to postgraduate studies, and a Ph.D. at Oxford. His initial career was that of a distinguished academic and U.N. official,  and his mild mannered demeanour is still consistent with that phase.However, fate had planned for him a larger role in the life of the nation. Lalit Narain Mishra, who then headed the Ministry of Foreign Trade, inducted him as economic adviser to the ministry. Then the distinguished bureaucratic positions came one after the other, including stints at the Planning commission and as Governor of the Reserve bank. Then fate stepped in again. The economic crisis of 1991, brought Manmohan Singh in as Finance minister to initiate, implement and preside over the economic liberalisation of India. The rest was history.  Under the new policies, the nation made strides that would have looked unbelievable, just a decade  before. That, however, was far from being the end of his tryst with destiny. In 2004,Sonia Gandhi, having led the United Progressive Alliance to a convincing victory, decided not to take up electoral office, leaving the Prime Ministership to the soft spoken Singh.In 2005, under Singh's prime ministership came the historic Indo-US nuclear deal, which finally accepted India's membership to the exclusive nuclear club, and ended the era of international nuclear sanctions. This was another historic moment in the life of the nation, and again it took place under Singh's stewardship.                                                       

The year 2009 saw the UPA return to power again, with Singh again as the prime minister. However, recent times have not been happy. The government has been plagued by scandal after scandal, by insurgency and strife, by terrorism and destruction. The worlds' economies have taken a beating with the inevitable consequences for India, a slowing down of growth, and a serious dampening of the optimism that the nation had enjoyed, about its own  future, since the nineties. The prime minister's own image has taken a beating, with the press and the public having turned hostile to a once admired figure. Is this the end, or will the tide turn again? Singh has come back, with a new slew of measures, and some bitter pills, going some way towards fulfilling the promises left to keep. Whether or not the measures will work, only time can tell. Meanwhile we can only hope they will, otherwise the doomsday prophets and the vultures will be proved right. Best of luck, Dr. Singh, for a steady hand at the wheel. You need it, and so do we!

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Neil Armstrong 05/08/1930-25/08/2012

Last weekend brought around the news of another take-off. Neil Armstrong, the first man from Earth to step on another celestial body, left this earth forever on August 25th. To anyone who had watched the grey, grainy footage of two men in bulky astronaut gear moving awkwardly on the powdery surface at the edge of the Sea of Tranquility, on July 21, 1969, it is the end of an era of exploration and excitement. The unmanned planetary probes of the present day, despite their utility and ingenuity are not quite the same.

 The man who said, `This is a small step for man, a giant leap for mankind', (and is widely suspected of having fluffed his lines), was a more than worthy representative of the species. An aeronautical engineer, a crack test pilot, a Korean war hero, a veteran astronaut,   a good family man, and a boy scout to boot (he even sent greetings to his local scout troupe from Columbia,  the mission ship of Apollo 11), he was an embodiment of the American dream. After his historic mission, he held senior administrative positions in NASA, but found them tedious, and left NASA for a professorship in Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Cincinnati, as well as the directorship of several companies.  His loss is mourned by not just his immediate family, but by everyone who has looked at the sky and recalled that mankind is no longer confined to this Earth.

Rest in Peace.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao. 

For a song of those times, click here.