Retrobrowsings:Old Enough to be Young

Neelum revisits a February 1977 issue of JS, in her weekly column. She relives the quintessential 1970s and the search for identity by the youth then. She reminisces that being self-consciously a JS-type young person was an act we’d put together, we who pinned up posters of rock stars, who wrote depressive poetry as though we were all potential suicides, who wore our rebellions as though they were the latest ramp-certified wear. Yes, we were so happy in our stylised sadness set to music, our put-on, existential solitudes, our sick poetry and melancholic love-lives. We were the poor little rich brats. Sometimes now when you watch the deeply discursive parallel cinema of the seventies you get the same sinister feeling. Here’s a peek into our past exclusively in Different Truths.

Many of us were addicted to that lovely magazine called JS, short for Junior Statesman. Flipping through the February 12-26, issue of 1977, I wondered what that specifically ‘young’ ingredient was that defined JS and, by extension, us. Was it those articles about pop music, country, rock, blues that overpowered the elite, urban imagination of a very limited section of teenagers? Was it the iconic ‘Love Is…’posters which became such a rage as an eminently gift-able item to sundry objects of our romantic fantasies? Was it those pieces about models, those psychedelic centrespreads, those blow-ups of musicians and starlets whose image dictated our own? It was all these and also the natty, off-beat lay-out. We got to know who had streaked nude on which beach and why, we got to know who the star pot-smoking live-in couples were. We got a peek into the inner lives of the well-heeled clientele of the Park Street and South Bombay hotspots. Before our callow eyes, stellar success-stories sprang into being. Usha Uthup (then Iyer), Valerie Agha, Nandini Sen, Benjamin Gilani, Nafisa Ali. Mind you, it was all before the TV Flood and several aeons before the digital ice-cap.

Compared with the present it all sounds tame. I see no stereotypes being subverted, no ideas being challenged. There is fun, or a good mimicry of it, there is some information, there is also some tolerable wit and humour, but what is it that I miss, leafing through it in 2016? This is a bright little sheet for the brat pack of the seventies, among which number may be counted the present author! Yes, there is a provoking little piece by Ashok Row Kavi about a man finding a handsome young pickpocket on the Bombay locals. He positively slurps over the fellow’s looks and charm. But, as it stands, the story is almost coy. You pine for the truth, the whole raucous truth, the in-your- face, upfront truth, and not this strangely sanitised showroom youth. All my days I have labored under the illusion that those were glam times, classy, perverse, questioning, wonky, witty. Almost forty years down the line I revisit my illusion and turn homesick for 2016! Yes, I loved JS but exactly what did I love? Was it, dare I say it this way?- the feeling of belonging to that privileged constituency called youth, that exclusive club called youth, that parade in the flamboyant carnival called youth, my role cut out, my dress-code pre-decided, my boundaries fixed? Being self-consciously a JS-type young person was an act we’d put together, we who pinned up posters of rock stars, who wrote depressive poetry as though we were all potential suicides, who wore our rebellions as though they were the latest ramp-certified wear. Yes, we were so happy in our stylised sadness set to music, our put-on, existential solitudes, our sick poetry and melancholic love-lives. We were the poor little rich brats. Sometimes now when you watch the deeply discursive parallel cinema of the seventies you get the same sinister feeling.

Yet JS had its points. It was trying to put together a vocabulary for the young. This issue has the fortnightly word ‘Shtomp’, which, the reader is informed, ‘everybody but everybody we know is using. A word that will do fabulous things for your vocabulary. Amaze your friends, insult your foes, confound your betters – slip the JS word of the fortnight into your conversation…. To Shtomp, or go shtomping (derived from stomping and stomping and stomping) means to tread insensitively, so as to raze to the ground, on delicate things like feelings, porcelain, multi-storeyed buildings and sensibilities. Has to be uttered with a heavy Teutonic accent.’ Then there is the inimitable Jug Suraiya, in the pink of youth, plying his pen as only he can. There are names we devoured like starvelings – Nondon Bagchi, C.Y.Gopinath and Deb. There were features like Just Fings’ by Julie which contain gems of (how tame!) social behavior like the following: ‘Ex-friends, when of the opposite sex, pose even stranger patterns of behavior. If married, the situation and the look on their faces, is, what a friend would unerringly describe as, fraught. It is, and this, anyone would agree with, is comical. Wives, more understanding than their husbands would give them credit for, have to go through the charade of furtive hellos, even if the bloke was honestly your most platonic acquaintance. It doesn’t help if you try to explain how chummy you were and how you both had a whale of a time misunderstanding the Theory of Relativity. It makes matters worse….’And more in the same vein, till you wonder which decade of the Middle Ages you have time-travelled to! (And the Middle Ages surely were more riotously gutsy!)Young? –Forsooth! There’s that popular inset called Kookie Kol. A crazy Q and A game in which a nerdy Kooks answers corny queries designed to trip him up. ‘Darling Kooks’, goes one, ‘Your answers reveal that you are a very ‘chaalu’ thing. But darl, don’t live so tense that you may soon become past-tense.’ Kooks’s answer to that one is: ‘Being ‘chaalu’ is only a pre-tense on my part.’ Did we really laugh at that? And to think that those were the days of the letter-box and the postman and these guys actually wrote their queries in inland-letter, letter-paper or post-card and posted them to Kooks, care of JS! The innocence of that is stupefying. Verily the young then were younger than they are now! Then there is Rekha as Beauty advisor and Zeenat Aman as Agony Aunt. And once again I encounter that unbelievable tameness, even in tragic romance! The situation runs like this: ‘I’m 19 and engaged to a boy of 22. Lately he’s been roaming around with other girls and treating me like a stranger. The only thing I can remember having done is not go with him to a disco a few days ago. I did promise but something came up and I had to back out. Normally he’s extremely understanding.’ Zeenat’s answer is amazing to a 2016 reader: She says: ‘What was that ‘something’ that happened? Must have been the straw that finally ‘broke’ his understanding nature. Sure you weren’t to blame? What you two really need is to get together and learn to know each other, adjust to each other’s egos and moods. That, after all, is the real reason for an engagement.’ A 2016 Agony Aunt would have said: ‘A kick in the pants is what he needs. Time for you to move on.’ And I am a citizen of the present in this, I do not vote for that self-abnegating past that asked a girl to search her conscience just because her man was traipsing around with others! How old-fashioned were our fashionable young in 1977!

Then there is the JS Exchange which is a whole sociological document in itself. It has things like: ‘Will exchange my song books, each containing 250 old and new pop hits by 85 different singers, with their pix, for pop posters, ‘Love Is…’Blow-Ups, disks or anything worthwhile. Write to Bubly Roy etc. etc.’; ‘I would like to buy the second and third Bruce Lee calendar Blow Ups. Write to Jan Salhoff etc.etc.;’ ‘Wanted urgently a pair of Levis or Wranglers jeans and jacket. They must be in good condition. Will pay reasonably. Contact Pawandeep etc.’; ‘ Wanted the Super Blow-Up of Zeenat Aman, wanted comics like Tintin, Tiger, Asterix, Dennis etc., second-hand okay’; ‘ Is there anybody who can teach me the Jeet Kune Do style of kung fu personally?’ ‘Anybody ready to part with the book ‘Piccadilly Jim’ by P.G. Wodehouse for a couple of weeks?’ ‘Groovy 15 year-old kid interested in contemporary Western music wants latest Disco LPs in good condition’. ‘Want to know more about hypnotism and voodooism’. ‘Want to design and build a one-seater, engine-powered ‘heavier than air’ flying machine for low altitude flying. Construction material to include old automobile and mobike parts, junk, plywood, canvas, etc. Seeking help, assistance and advice from interested parties’. And finally this sparkling jewel: ‘Will some kind souls please tell me the address of the Raye Burns School for Cartooning, New Delhi? Will reciprocate the favour with cute cartoons.’

Have I been hasty? It all sounds rather more innocent than the sort of thing that occupies the young now. Should I eat my words or merely refrigerate them for further processing on a later day?

©Neelum Saran Gour

Pix sourced from author and Net.

Neelum S. Gour

Neelum S. Gour

Neelum Saran Gour is a well known IndianEnglish fiction writer and academic. She has been an active book reviewer, critic, translator, humour columnist, creative writing guide and jury member in the award of national literary prizes. She works as Professor of English Literature at the University of Allahabad.
Neelum S. Gour