The year – Y2K (2000)

This is an excerpt from an article in National Geographic which sheds light on the anxieties that the world was grappling with, in the lead-up to Y2K…

“…A computer flaw, the so-called “Millennium Bug,” led to anxiety and the Y2K (Year 2000) scare. When complex computer programs were first written in the 1960s, engineers used a two-digit code for the year, leaving out the “19.” As the year 2000 approached, many believed that the systems would not interpret the “00” correctly, therefore causing a major glitch in the system…”

My world in the same period

While across the world there was anxiety about what would happen to life post the advent of Y2K, given we were already dependent on computer-based banking and other functions, all the buzz passed by my family and me without even touching us. We were grappling with personal challenges that made the Y2K problem seem like a mere pimple on the nose.

On the last day of the old millennium, my husband had gone to bed early and I had sat up watching TV without really watching, waiting for our daughter to return home after her new year’s party. Our phone had not rung at midnight like it had on previous years, with people wanting to wish us. We had not called anyone either. We had not gone out and not reached out to anyone. No one had reached out to us. It was a very lonely beginning to the new millennium. All I remember of that night is the sinking despondent feeling in the pit of my stomach which somehow indicated that the coming years were to change our lives forever.

Other people, other stories

As I watched TV before and during those first days of the New Year of a brand new millennium, I saw coverage which told me that there were some very high profile families who were also facing the heat of turmoil and disaster. President Clinton of the USA and his family were being hauled over the coals in full public view for his extra-marital indiscretions and inability to check his overactive libido while in office. While there was intense media glare on what the world’s most powerful man was going through professionally, I could only imagine what the family was enduring in private. He was a father and a husband and I’m sure the fabric of his family life  was torn to shreds and it would take a lot to mend it again.

Elsewhere, in Mumbai, one of Bollywood’s biggest stars, Amitabh Bachchan was facing bankruptcy and other fall-outs of some business decisions he had taken. He is on record for having said that the birth of the new millennium brought with it the ignominy of his having to face dozens of creditors from daybreak to dusk. His situation resulted in derision being directed at him by all and sundry – a feature all too common in the society we live in. While his professional problems were being dissected by the media and the industry, his identify as a father and husband too must have taken a beating and his family would have felt stretched trying to cope.

At this same time, ensconced in the comfort of anonymity,  my household help was struggling to bring order into her life. A widow with four daughters, her problems were a vicious circle of debt, creditors, joblessness, unmet needs and fatalistic resignation. There were no ups in her life – there was only a flat line of suffering and struggle.

Common yet not common…

Common to all of us was that regardless of who we were in the pecking order of the world, we all had families that were being affected by our situations; common to all of us was that we were spouses and parents; also common was that we  had to live in communities and face flak, enjoy support or feel isolated. Our decisions made a difference to the people who were bound to us by birth, or in other ways. But the commonalities ended here.

Turmoil, disruption and despair did not mean the same to all of us. We, each of us, got it served to us in different ways. Some were served trouble in sterling silver, some in humble porcelain and yet others had troubles thrown at them like stones at a passing train.

How different were we?

The difference lay in the degree of isolation, humiliation and censure each had to face. Two had to face intense media glare and hasty public conclusions and judgments, regardless of whether they were based on fact or fiction. My household help and I were probably luckier in that we had the luxury of anonymity and the opportunity to lick our wounds in private. The opportunities for recovery available to each of us also varied vastly.

President Clinton, I remember took frequent breaks at Camp David with his family, equipped with every conceivable luxury that a person in his position was entitled to. This probably gave the family the much-needed time to work out things. Amitabh Bachchan had the opportunity to walk into the house of one of Bollywood’s biggest film-makers and request he make a film, which could enable a come back and another chance in life for him. He had friends in high places who it is rumoured helped him during lean days.

We had opportunities too. Of course we had. But they were not quite the same. The road was rough, the journey was hard and recovery was much, much tougher. It very often tested our tolerance to the very limits. I don’t mean to inject melodrama into this narrative. But I have to say that on days when I had to return home from work, drenched to the skin, with a chill rain-laden wind blowing at me from both the open ends of an auto, turning me into a block of ice, I wished I had the comforts of Air Force One, like President Clinton had, to reduce the harshness of what I was enduring! I wished that despite being in trouble, I could sign a few hundred autographs every time I stepped out of home, which I’m sure Amitabh was still doing!

The years rolled by…

The years rolled by… We were recovering a little every passing day. In ways that were invisible, because we did not feel the differences (there was no dramatic recovery), one day I suddenly realized that we had had no nuisance (aka creditor) calls for weeks. That for me was surely a signal that better times were upon us. The grind of a 9-5 was still a part of my life, but I was thankful I had that 9-5. The implications of not having a 9-5 was horrible to even think of. Through all our trials, I found good people who rooted for me, and stood by me. That is the good side of starting to write your life story afresh. You get to know who is capable of standing with you because of YOU and not because of the tags that go with your name. I built a stronger support system because this was what I had built on sheer merit.

Clinton and an ordinary woman - uncommon yet common
President Clinton and a very ordinary woman – uncommon yet common!

Fourteen years make for a very long chronicle but I’m going to cut it short by narrating an incident which proved to me that I had not only survived, but had made a fairly good come back.

Providence brought President Clinton and me face to face a few years ago. As I shook hands with him, I looked into his crinkly, smiling eyes. He looked the same and not any worse for the trials he had gone through. I was also smiling as I spoke to him (two words to be precise). But there was a sombre thought going through my head. He had flown to India in his own aircraft but I had also flown to meet him. I held a senior position in one of India’s most respected organizations that had given me the opportunity to make a come back. My head was held high as I had earned my place on the delegation that was meeting him.

I don’t know how he had negotiated his tough journey, but we both had travelled a very rough path and were still standing! And the commonalities were kicking in again! Whether it is President Clinton, or a very ordinary woman you will pass by on the street tomorrow without giving her a second glance – troubles test all of us and only the toughest survive!

Bharathi Ghanashyam







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