THERE ARE EPOCHAL years of history, such as when the World Wars started, or when pandemics like Spanish Flu or Covid began. But 1923 had none of that. There is almost nothing of consequence in that year. In India, politically, you had the Swaraj Party being formed just as the year began but after a brief flourish it became extinct after merging with the Congress. Culturally, it was just as staid. In terms of movies being made, most are related to gods or mythological figures. The hangover of Raja Harishchandra, the first full-length feature movie in these shores, was still ongoing as the overriding genre. Internationally, too, a big ticket event is absent. If you have to see how 1923 impacts the present, you have to take a different angle. Move away from the idea that history is a collection of events and personalities, but that it is the slow drudge of many little things.
It was, for one, the year that Hitler failed. He tried to grab power in what would be known as the Beer Hall Putsch. It was easily stopped and Hitler arrested. If he had taken power, the world would be a different place today. In 1923 neither England nor France would have been as pacifist as they were in 1939, and with the memory of World War I fresh, they would not have allowed the rearmament of Germany as Hitler did later. He would have been just a tinpot dictator in a field of many such aspirants and possibly with a shorter shelf life. But the fact that he failed in his putsch was the impetus for what would follow in the future, with all the aftereffects of World War II.
Another event that happened in 1923 is connected to you being able to watch Avatar 2. Because that was the year The Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio got going and would then become the Walt Disney Studio and now they are the factory churning out the superhero movies that have come to define entertainment’s biggest commercial driver today. The British mandate for Palestine, taking over administration of the region, came into full force in 1923 and would be a factor in the creation of Israel after World War II, and that would then lead to the bitterness which makes the Middle East a volatile place in global geopolitics today. The lesson is that historical events have long preludes. But even what occurs after the prelude can burn out.
May 1, 1923 was when India saw the raising of a red flag in Chennai and marks a moment for the public break out of communism in the country. It saw its hey days, almost getting a prime minister, and then the movement, along with its appeal and power petered out.
If you were in 1923, could you imagine at all how the world would be in 2023? You could be the smartest human being that ever lived and still be 99 per cent wrong. Nothing in the timeline of civilization goes by any understood trajectory even though human beings like to believe that they can alter its course and they often do, just not in the way they planned.