In 1967, 20 years after the British left India, the film-maker S.N.S. Sastry was asked to interrogate a host of 20-year-olds about their nation. This 19-minute-long black and white documentary was called 'I am 20' and it was commissioned by the state-run Films Division.
Sastry himself never appears on screen, so one can only reconstruct the questions he posed. What does freedom mean to you? Do you love your country? How much progress has India made? What do you want out of your life in India? Are we better off now than two decades ago? What problems still plague India? What does freedom mean to you? What does your country mean to you?
Sastry interviews a number of young people from various backgrounds and professions. Some even speak regional languages. While the urban youth seem concerned with travel and dancing and films, rural India talks about poverty without rancour or hope and how hard it is to plough a field with just two bulls. The urban youth discusses meteorite research and the rural youth says it has never been to school. While the urban youth laughs off when asked about marriage, the rural youth talks of the ever-growing size of their families and recalls how all they remember about their wedding day from more than a decade a ago is that they were given sweets and nice clothes.
Twenty years after India's tryst with destiny; this is what its midnight's children had to say:
- Freedom has only meant that man has freedom to starve, to go naked, to die of hunger, and to go uneducated.
- Terribly difficult to get admission but I don't understand really there being so may colleges there are so many who just waste a year or two because they don't get a seat in a college. If you don't get admission to a college and you just ask them how much extra you'll take, you are sure to get a seat the next minute.
- It's okay to whistle at women from a distance but boys these days they come and push you and do some worse kind of mischief
- I'd like to be a rich young man ad I want all the worldly comforts, all that our modern science and development has to offer and I believe in high living you know, doing things in style.
- For some people security is a warm blanket. For me security is a government job. I would like to join the IAS. I would like to sit in a comfortable chair in an air conditioned room. Sign a couple of files here and there. Write my comments in the margin. Drink cups of coffee. Attend a meeting and just sort of be a cog in the machine. What more do you want me to do?
- I feel happy when I see the big industries of India but I feel unhappy when I see all these industries have been built at the cost of agriculture. I feel very happy when I see all these fertilisers being made in the factories. Well they mean that we have progressed a great deal, that we have more food because we have more land irrigated, that we will have more industries because there'll be more electricity. It will also mean we will have more production, more happiness.
- If we compare ourselves to Germany and Japan, we have made o progress at all.
- I have been to a village in Saurashtra some three years back ad I saw a very happy life. I saw that there was an LST bus coming to the village, there were roads, there was a gram panchayat radio, there is a windmill in that village, it's all very good. Then a year later, I went to an adivasi area in Gujarat again and I saw that people had not yet heard of a plane or a train and I felt that this was not progress.
- Our achievement is that we have hope for tomorrow, our failure is that our today is very precarious but if a country can industrialise itself so well in 15 years, I am sure that we can lick the problem of agriculture also in another 15 years.
- What do you want me to do for the country? I think I do enough by being a honest citizen, by doing my job to the best of my abilities, by working 8 hours a day, by not complaining much about the other issues, about the unavailability of sugar.
- I don't think there is any future left for us. There is only a big past to boast of.
- It's not a question of what the country can do for you but what you can do for the country. Of course, frustration is in fashion today. but I think deep within every Indian, despite all this frustration, we are underestimating him, he has a capacity to work.
- If all the people in this country could fancy the prospect that we are allowed to quit the country, I will stay because it's something big, it's a huge experiment and I would like to be a part of it.
There are two startling things about this video where these young people share their hopes and aspirations.
This video was made 48 years back but almost everything that these young people have to say is so 2015. There is nothing that we don't or can't identify with. The boy speaking in Bengali says that true freedom is the freedom of thought. Isn't that what we are still fighting for? The issues that these young people talk about after 20 years of Independence are still the issues we talk about 68 years after August 15, 1947. This brings us to the second startling realisation...
Does that mean we have not progressed at all? Despite all the scientific innovations and all the modernisation, are we still stuck where we were 48 years back?