Times change, but people and their aspirations don't

One afternoon a few weeks ago, while trying to dig up information about the formation of the DMK, I found myself sitting in the library of The Hindu, turning the laminated pages of the September 1949 file (the party was founded on September 17 that year).

Glancing at the headlines and lingering on the advertisements, I found the voices around me diminishing into a drone and the voices in the old issues of the newspaper — the headlines, the catchlines, the public notices — coming alive sharp and clear. My body was stationed in a 21st-Century library but my mind had floated back to 1949.

There are many ways to travel back in time, but none as effective as being immersed in the old issues of a newspaper. You can visit a historical monument to get a feel of bygone centuries, but the cellular phone towers jutting into the skyline will remind you that you live in the modern day. You can watch a 1949 film hoping to be taken 62 years back in time, but to watch such a movie you will need the help of a modern gadget called the DVD player — you will be acutely aware that you are only a tourist visiting that era.

But when you go through an archived copy of a newspaper, you actually start reliving that era. That's because the paper is a part of your daily habit, something you trust. When you hold the paper in your hands and start reading, the date on the masthead ceases to matter after a while.

Cruising through September 1949 that afternoon, I found my attention drawn to various luxuries and necessities — and also simple pleasures of life. Everyone wants Parry's sweets — declared a large advertisement on the front page (which was reserved for ads) of one issue — The office boy likes them because they taste so good. The managing director likes them because they're pure and wholesome. Simple, direct and effective!

My heart leaped with joy when I noticed an advertisement that declared: ‘FOUNTAIN PENS OF ALL KINDS…  RANEE & CO., 20 Sunkurama Chetty Street, Next to YMCA, Madras - 1.' And another: Favourite pen of the world! PARKER “51”. What morecould a fountain-pen collector ask for. My day — in 1949 — was made.

September 1949 seemed to be a good month for movie-lovers. “Bari Behen” (Elder Sister), starring Suraiya, Geeta Bali and Rahman, had just released and was going to show ‘very shortly' at Sagar and Broadway theatres in Madras. GREAT STORY! FAMOUS STARS! POPULAR TUNES! — the advertisement screamed. For those with a religious bent of mind, there was a benefit show of M.S. Subbulakshmi's “Meera”. Its advertisement said: Come & have darsan of great saints. At Prabhat, Madras, on Thursday — 22-9-'49. Casino, meanwhile, was showing “Africa Screams”.

Smoking was still decades from being taboo. Thus, a large ad on a front page, showing a member of the audience telling the conductor of an orchestra in the midst of a performance — More and more people are saying… Better buy Capstan. They're blended better. Berkeley was another popular cigarette in 1949. A Brylcreem ad showed a bespectacled European man grinning at you. CHOSEN FOR THE WORLD SCIENCE CONGRESS! — is his introduction. He looks smart — he uses Brylcreem. Another slender ad showed a European — wearing either a swimming costume or a sleeveless dress — with her hands raised behind her head: Over 50000 women use Depil perfumed hair remover.

And then it struck me: times may change, headlines may change, advertising styles may change, but the needs of city-dwellers remain the same. They want to look good, feel good and aspire for good things in life. They want to live in style.