A century of change

Exactly a hundred years ago,in 1914,we had encountered one of last century’s most remarkable years.

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Updated: January 9, 2014 9:35 pm

Exactly a hundred years ago,in 1914,we had encountered one of last century’s most remarkable years. A new era started,particularly in the Western world with change that encompassed the great,bad and ugly. In several aspects,change became significant — from incredible invention after invention to the social,political,education,technology,science,art and literature,changing agrarian culture to socio-economic living standards. Let me pick three events,social,business and political,that turned the world upside down,before looking at India through a century.

Reality through entertainment: In 1914,Charlie Chaplin invented his immortal “Little Tramp” character quite by chance when he was rummaging through the film studio props. A pair of baggy pants,a coat too small and tight,a bowler hat,oversize pair of shoes,a cane and the now famous moustache make up the Tramp. He walks uncomfortably because of the ill-fitting,second-hand gear. In the Tramp Chaplin created a bumbling,but good-hearted character who tries to display a gentleman’s dignity and manners while actually being a vagrant. He tries to take paying jobs but ends up using his cunning to escape authority figures out to catch him for his childlike antics. Usually the victim of circumstance,the Tramp can perhaps represent poor people who always have to put up with authoritarian attitudes. Chaplin himself came from humble beginnings,so he perhaps wanted to sensitise people through artistic expression and through the humour route on the plight of poor people.

Changing the manufacturing industry practice: In spite of automaker Henry Ford having an anti-Semitic reputation because his political leanings were towards Nazi human exterminator Adolf Hitler,he stunned American industry in 1914 by increasing the wages of his workers to $5 per day. The growing demand for Ford Model T vehicles made Ford develop production on a grand scale. His single greatest contribution to the automotive manufacturing process was introducing the moving assembly line. Being tremendously efficient,the assembly line helped the company surpass production levels of its competitors and made the vehicles more affordable. But the assembly line was tedious work,so attrition was high. Ford’s revolutionary idea to stop attrition was doubling of wages. He declared that he wanted every Ford worker to be proud of his work,and the higher wages was to allow them to buy and drive the car they manufactured at Ford Motor Company. This idea of well-paid workers owning the cars they manufactured changed manufacturing practices forever,set the industry standard for manufacturing in other industries and significantly contributed to creating the American middle class.

End of Europe’s five-century dominance over the world: The political dimension took a totally new route with the world’s first high technology war in World War I,1914. The champs du bataille or battlefield tactics changed from human exertion and physical power to become switch-button warfare. Mass annihilation,crass brutality and size of armies were all unprecedented in the history of the world. The new weapons used were airplanes,submarines,machine guns,tanks and poison gas,and new war horrors were crated. Over nine million soldiers died,civilian populations became a target of war,both the Germans and British tried to starve each other by cutting off supplies. Triggered by the Austrian heir apparent,Franz Ferdinand,being murdered in Sarajevo,Bosnia-Herzegovina,all of Europe and the Balkans felt jittery. Their long term causes of nationalism,militarism,imperialism,the fatalistic mood of 1914,armaments and mobilisation plans came on top to start World War I. History has since proved that such suspicions have not abated till today.

India from 1914 to 2014: The effect of the 1914 dose of change that the West went through may not have reached our country at the mass level as that’s when we were still dominated in colonial slavery by the British Raj. In India,we felt the real impact of change after 1945 when World War II ended. It would be interesting to investigate the fate of our Freedom Movement if the Labour Party had not entered the British Parliament with a landslide victory after the War. That’s when the Conservative party lost the election although personally the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill,who had masterminded the Allied Forces victory with US President Dwight Eisenhower,won the election. The British people,led by the Labour Party,were totally opposed to Great Britain having colonies and in the mood to liberate the colonised. They found that colonisation and Hitler’s dictatorship where he had subjugated and exterminated the Jews,gypsies and homosexuals,are not so different by nature. Another question in the air could be that if there were no World War I & II,India may still have been under the British governance today.

Since the last 67 years after Independence,we’ve had traditional dogmatic politics running in India,very monopolistic,sometimes imported or otherwise continuing the ‘Raj’ style for political leaders. The illiterate masses are only required for their votes. They’ve had no choice to claim their rightful demands to survive with dignity and aspiration. It’s quite possible that India in 2014 is now turning to a new political platform era,breaking with traditional political manifestation. The effectiveness of exploiting Internet social networking for electioneering became evident when such usage ushered in US President Barack Obama into the White House for his first term. In India the Government of Delhi was formed via similar means.

On a touristic visit of India I’m now making with a few old visiting French friends,I’ve observed that our consuming society is being exposed to all the new winds of change from around the globe. Next week I’d love to narrate to you different aspects of changing consuming patterns among both rural and urban Indians.

Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management. Reach him at http://www.shiningconsulting.com

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