Home / Opinion / Views /  A century back is not as long ago as it may seem
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They say a hundred years is a long time, though there is apparently an English proverb that intones that it will all be the same in a hundred years. Viewed philosophically, 100 years is but a blip in humanity’s long arc of existence. Materially speaking, however, it might be instructive to weigh developments from a century ago to understand the distance travelled—or not—and gauge the progress made. At first glance, much has changed since 1922: industry, telephony, media, medicine, trade, communication, science, entertainment, travel and even the climate. Yet, as some other big events of that year demonstrate, the more things change, the more they have tended to stay the same. A temptation might be to invest dates with a bit of flexibility and compare two public health crises: the Spanish flu epidemic that broke out in 1918 at the end of World War I and the covid outbreak which engulfed the world in 2020 and continues to linger. Progress has been mixed: while the world was able to launch a vaccine in record time for covid, thereby reducing its death count across the world, another oddly-named crisis—monkeypox—has sprung close on its heels.

But, if we are to be rigid about dates, two significant developments from 1922 stand out which should give us some pause for thought. This is the year when the chips of the October 1917 Russian revolution began to fall in place, with the Red Army finally capturing Vladivostok on the eastern coast of Russia’s vast landmass. More significantly, this was a year when the revolution’s architect Vladimir Lenin fell ill and his comrade Josef Stalin was appointed general secretary of the central committee of the Soviet Communist Party. This was crucial because in 1922 Stalin deviated from Lenin’s grand plan for a federal union of states, which had envisaged devolution of power to satellite states, and created a centralized Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, with all power concentrated in the Moscow politburo. After the interregnum of 1990, when these states regained independence, the Russian juggernaut seems to be on the move again, trying to re-establish central control over them, first in Crimea and now in Ukraine. The second major development in 1922 was Weimar Germany’s hyper- inflation, with its currency going from 320 marks to a dollar in the first half of 1922 to 7,400 marks by year-end, resulting in massive unemployment and general impoverishment. This was when Adolf Hitler became the undisputed leader of the Nazi party and leveraged economic distress and the World War snub of Versailles to start amassing popular support for successive putsches. In India, the gruesome Chauri Chaura incident of 1922 strengthened Mahatma Gandhi’s resolve in favour of a non- violent movement to achieve freedom.

But, like always, the healing touch came from the arts and a shift in cultural understanding. The year saw two landmark publications: James Joyce published his stream-of-consciousness novel Ulysses and T.S. Eliot’s 434-line poem Wasteland firmly established the modernist canon in Western literature. It was also the year Gandhi pleaded guilty to a charge of sedition for his writings, calling Section 124A “perhaps the prince among political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen." His works, of course, live on. Hopefully, in these fraught times of war, inflation and health insecurity, the arts and culture will continue to offer us a therapeutic touch.

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