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A dream of past and present

Achala Moulik has just completed her fourth novel, "Dream Journey" set in the period of World War II when the European empires crumbled and India gained Independence. ANJANA RAJAN speaks to the author whose story weaves events and princ iples still relevant to India's notions of statehood and liberty... .



Achala Moulik... a true internationalist. Photo: V. Sudershan.

TO KNOW that youngsters of Indian origin are undergoing internships with U.S. Senators and visiting India to get a hang of the Indian political and social experience is hardly worth a surprised look in the age of the second and third generation NRI making waves in all parts of the world. But it wasn't always like that. In the early 1960s and `70s, those who adventured across the seven seas rarely came back in a hurry to tell their exciting tales. Yet if today's generation of achievers is dominated by the kind who concentrate on their own good and that of their immediate family, willing to settle in foreign lands for the sake of the monetary benefits and a lifestyle beyond the normal Indian middle class, the achievers of the generation now retired were cast in a different mould.

Bangalore-based Achala Moulik, author of "Dream Journey" - a novel brought out by UBS Publishers and Distributors - lived in the U.S., Britain and Italy as a young girl with her parents but returned to India at the age of 22, armed with a degree from London University and joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1964. "It was a decision we had to make," she reflects. "But when you have lived most of your formative years abroad it is quite a change."

Yet she opted for what might seem to the foreign educated youngster one of the biggest "stuffed shirt" job profiles - an administrative service in the thrall of politicians and choking on its own red tape - and served with distinction in a number of capacities including Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India and Education Secretary, Government of India. The times however were different, she agrees with the slightest twang in her accent that betrays her American antecedents and an amiable smile all her own. Apart from fewer job opportunities for Indians abroad, there was also greater idealism. Most people in her position did come back to serve the country, she says.

"We had a much more austere lifestyle, and many of us, I think had a sense of doing something," she says of the attitude of service to the motherland. "But that continues," she adds. "The officers who want to do things, can, and those who want to have a good time can - those who are `adjustable' in every way."

With parents who were highly principled, "We became hyper nationalistic". She remembers feeling the pressure as a school child of being well behaved for the sake of upholding a whole nation's reputation. But the "hyper nationalism" ceased with the older generation that had seen independence being won. Part of the reason, she feels, is that we received Independence on a platter so to speak - a view held by many and one she touches on in the novel in which Subhash Chandra Bose meets Mussolini to negotiate for arms.

With due respect to Mahatma Gandhi, Achala Moulik states: "I do believe in a baptism by fire. If you pay a price for it you cherish it some more."

Like the IAS, that remains, despite its drawbacks, as relevant to India's economy, polity and society today as in the years after Independence, Achala Moulik is hopeful that "Dream Journey", set in the years leading up to World War II and covering the period after Indian Independence, seen through the eyes of an Indian journalist - who covers much the same itinerary as the author in her travels - is still relevant to Indian thought.

"This period affected us because the dismantling of the empires was certainly affected by war. The Indian national movement of course played a part. This book focuses on that and the price of liberty."

What India needs today, says this author of three novels and 10 books on cultural and literary history, is "much more of self discipline, a greater sense of humanity. You don't need to be patriotic. If you have a sense of personal pride it automatically transmutes itself into national honour."

Another Dream Journey, perhaps that India needs to undertake.

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