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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dark days ahead

Gopalkrishna Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma, a retired senior civil servant and ex-governor of West Bengal, an erudite man whom I respect for his balanced views and innate sense of decency (not a common thing these days) has hit out bluntly and harshly against Narendra Modi and Reliance Industries, the latter by name, at a major high-level gathering: see this.

Even if we discount some of the fire and brimstone because of the consideration that his brother Rajmohan is contesting the elections on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket from East Delhi, the content of his speech bears reflection, and that too with furrowed brows. Certainly a somewhat more serious issue than IPL auctions and gay ‘rights’ and the ‘permissible’ length of skirts, if you know anything at all about how the world works and have got your head screwed on right. And this bears repetition: I am not a card-carrying member of any communist organization.

The world is run by power. If you belong to the comfortable urban ten per cent and count on daddy’s savings and connections to see you through every little crisis you don’t feel it bluntly every day, but that doesn’t change anything. In the contemporary world – and by contemporary I can go back to ancient Rome – power stems largely from money (even to organize large and significant ‘revolutionary’ organizations you need big money, as the Maoists know, and Arvind Kejriwal is beginning to find out). There are times when the spirit of rapacious capitalism has run amok (and please, capitalism has only partly to do with introducing new techniques and gadgets, it’s much more about getting control of banks, wage rates and natural resources like land, iron and oil…ask the Rothschilds, Krupps, Rockefellers, Abramovich-s and Ambanis), using government only as its executive committee in Marx’s memorable phrase, as in mid-19th century France and Britain; at times governments have asserted their independence somewhat more strongly, as in Lincoln’s or FDR’s USA, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China, when, to be honest, results have been mixed: enormous advances have been made, such as the abolition of slavery and fixing minimum wage rates and social security provisions and near-universal basic education and health care, but the costs have been tremendous, the record of oppression too brutal,  no use whitewashing that.

Be that as it may, since the demise of the Soviet Union and China’s sharp rightward turn in the early 1980s, which coincided with the Reagan- and Thatcher eras in the Anglo-Saxon world, rapacious and unabashed capitalism has been on the rampage again, with the entire globe as its playing field, quite the way it was in the days of the East India Company, except that no MNC today would dare to think aloud of invading any recalcitrant country to bring it to heel, else Google would have done that with China already. Some countries are gaining/hurting more as a result, but one fact is undeniable: whether it is India or the US, economic inequalities are widening rapidly and vastly as money gets concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. There are fewer than 1000 billionaires in the world, and they control more money than 99.9% of the human population (and to think that the chief argument against communism is that it concentrates power into too few hands!). That means barely a thousand people control mankind’s destiny, more or less. The system is still running because a) it has allowed a few million people to become at least millionaires (even some journos, doctors and teachers among them!) b) it lets at least a billion people to live in relative comfort and freedom while dreaming that they too or their children might become millionaires someday, c) through the pretence of upholding democracy and liberal values, combined with circuses of every variety (remember the Roman emperors and their ‘bread and circuses’?)  it keeps the vast unwashed masses quiescent: so what if we live in slums and feed on leftovers and can’t afford heated bedrooms, we can watch Miley Cyrus or Katrina Kaif ‘dancing’, can’t we? But now even the rudiments of democracy are under threat, if the likes of Gandhi are to be believed. India – and, strangely enough, especially India’s youth (or is it very strange at all, overwhelmingly pinheads with no sense of history as the bulk of our youth are, even those who come out of engineering college these days…?) seems hell-bent on ushering in an era of in your face authoritarianism, while crony capitalism seems on the verge of taking over all the country’s silver. Any vision of India 2020, anybody?

P.S.: Nivedita sent me this link after reading this post. Remember, it has been well said that in a democracy people get the kind of government they deserve. Moon Moon Sen, puppet in Mamata Banerjee's hands, casting her vote in the Lok Sabha as ordered in the hope of wangling little favours out of Narendra Modi's PMO, which in turn is remote controlled from the Reliance boardroom: why ever not?

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

TMD status update

(signing Arnab Chakraborty's copy of TMD for him because he insisted. And he sent me the photo :) )

I am pleasantly surprised by the early feedback about To My Daughter (see previous post). It was released only a couple of weeks ago, and apparently it has already sold a couple of hundred copies online! If some of the numerous ‘likes’ on our Facebook page translate into sales, it will keep selling some more. So the time might not be far off when the book will be on display in stores, too. In fact, as Sriranjani has notified on the fb page, Crossword has already agreed to vend it from all its outlets in Bengal, and we are looking into the possibility of arranging for the same in other metros too.

There is another sort of feedback – something much more valuable and heartwarming – that I am now looking forward to. First, those who have already read the book telling me (and not in one-liners!) how they liked it, and passing on the word to friends and relatives, so that they too might have a chance to read the book and judge for themselves. Some messages I have already begun to receive, such as an ex-student’s father writing ‘Thank you for letting us know you better’, a current student coming over with a list of very interesting questions, and someone who was never directly my student writing ‘I am no longer sad I couldn’t attend your classes!’ I should be very glad indeed to get more of the same. And will be even more if some people write in to say that the book has been an eye-opener in some ways, and a help in some others. Exactly why I wrote it in the first place.

Holding the book in my hands gives me a wonderful inner glow. And it doesn’t matter whether it sells well. I shall be able to leave behind more than a little of good things for my daughter and many others like her: that’s all that counts. But, as I have said in the book itself, if it does sell, and much more importantly, if it does get read, a lot of people will have reason to thank me, tomorrow or many years later…

‘Justify your existence!’ I heard the terrible injunction long ago. With TMD, I shall be able to do that for myself to my heart’s content.

Monday, March 24, 2014

To My Daughter in print

Some people have lots of books inside them, some have just one. I have written a great deal of stuff since my writing was first published at age 13, but where whole books are concerned, I tend to think I belong to the second category.

Many years ago I wrote a book. It was meant to be something for my own daughter, for my many thousand ex students now scattered around the world, and a kind of summary of all the most important things about life and living that I had learnt and have always tried to teach for anyone who might be interested.

The manuscript was gathering dust for a long time. Now, thanks to the patient goading of a lot of people, my parents and daughter not least among them, it has finally seen the light of day. The book (click on the picture for a bigger view) is currently available via the websites of amazon, flipkart, bookadda and the publishers themselves, notionpress. Also look up this facebook page or twitter page, both kindly designed by Sriranjani. Some of us enthusiasts are hoping that it will eventually hit the bookstores. But of course then it will be a bit more expensive.

So – any reader of mine who was ever really interested in me – go ahead, buy the book, read it, get some friends and relatives and neighbours to buy it, and tell us what you felt about it via your reviews at any of the sites mentioned above, or my website, of which you can become a member and participant. Also talk about it on any social network you might be on, Facebook or some such: that will be a nice favour. It thrills me to see that five copies have been bought almost as soon as the book was formally launched: I wonder by whom!

I promise you nothing except – to quote what I have written in the introduction to the book itself (yes, do please read the introduction too) – it is not the most trivial book that I have read in my own life.

P.S. March 31: Sriranjani has written a bit about TMD here which I should like everyone to read. It's something vastly better than someone else I remember, who couldn't in one whole year think of anything to say about it beyond that 'it's a great book' (some of my students should know how I loathe that sort of adjective, tired street-coin substitutes for thought). And Vaishnavi has written some wonderful emails about it: I wish she'd summarise them and write something as a comment here, or on our facebook page...

P.P.S, April 02: It seems the book is slightly cheaper if bought from the amazon store than from flipkart. And now that I know that a lot of people have already ordered/got the book, I am hoping that they are reading it avidly and thoughtfully, and that many of them will make me happy by spreading the word and by writing reviews about the book on the amazon or flipkart pages, or at my own website (links given above). Meanwhile, thank you to all 78 people who have rated the book with four or five stars on the flipkart page: I am luckier than I thought!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Students looking back...

I get strange messages via email every now and then.

The following is something that someone from the ICSE 1991 batch, a woman, wrote recently:

“Last night I dreamt of you… yes, again, after ages.
You were teaching me something very seriously about Cassius’ lean and hungry look. Woke up with a smile. It’s strange how we do not age in our memories and dreams.
Much love…”

And here’s another, from someone four years her junior, a male. I reproduce it unedited.

“I am really grateful to you to have you as my teacher, though for only a year. I presume that you are keeping well.
Sir, I still cannot forget the aroma of the perfume which you used to use in those days. In fact, I was crazy about that but did not have enough guts to ask you.
That aroma was too sweet and so good since our homework copies which you used to check had that sweet scent for a very long time.
I know that it is years together and the topic is not important, but would really love and appreciate if you could suggest me the name of the brand of that particular perfume which you used to put on those days since I shall try to use it forever.”

P.S., March 22: The first correspondent took just a fortnight to sour me up, entirely as I had expected her to. But God, how many of the same type must I still see? 'Would some pow'r the Giftie gie us/ to see oursel's as others see us!/ 'twould frae many a blunder free us/ and foolish notion'.

See why I have titled this blog ‘bemused’?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Life is but a dream

On this day, one year ago, I wrote about grace.

Today, I recall the Bard's immortal words: 'some there be that shadows kiss/ such have but a shadow's bliss'.

And, in another poet's words, 'fled is that music. Do I wake, or sleep?'

Friday, March 07, 2014

My daughter's new blogpost, etc

My daughter has written a post on her blog describing things that annoy her about living in India. Made me sad, but I can hardly argue with anything she has said there. Take a look.

I am thrilled to see that people are now reading my blog from all over the American continents, even the South, where I did not have readers for a long time. I wonder who started the ball rolling?

General elections have been announced, so the country, I guess, is going to gear up for what is really ‘the biggest show on earth’! Everybody seems to be sure that it’s going to be a hung parliament this time round, and the only thing worth speculating upon is what sort of coalition will be cobbled together to stake a claim to the new government, who will lead the team, and how long it will last…

The papers have been full of the crisis brewing over the international standoff centred on Ukraine (some people have gone to the extent of predicting that World War III is looming.) But the same papers are also solemnly informing us that midi-skirts are ‘in’ again this season: ‘too much leg looks jarring, borderline wag’ (t2, p.8, The Telegraph Calcutta, March 6, 2014). I also read an article about how TV makes all sorts of professions look artificially easy for the gullible teenage reader, from physics to law to math. I was laughing inwardly all the time while discussing ideas for an essay in class titled ‘News is not news today, it’s what the media manufacture for us’. I hope my own pupils will be a little better equipped to negotiate the world they are growing up in, forewarned.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Two different kinds of book

I read J.K. Rowling’s debut detective novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, and wasn’t too impressed. Yes, she has introduced a new kind of private eye – not an easy thing to do in this day and age – and managed to make him a fairly sympathetic figure, warts and all. She plans to develop the template into another seven-part series. Let us see how it fares with the readership: I shall keep my fingers crossed. The first book, it seems, has sold well, though it’s not a patch on the Harry Potter series, and one swallow doth not a summer make. The fact that Ms. Rowling tried a pseudonym first and then quickly ‘leaked’ the fact that it was she because otherwise the book was not selling is a worrisome datum. A rather interesting relationship seems to be developing between the detective Cormoran Strike and his new young secretary Robin Ellacott, so that is one thing I shall watch with interest. Ms. Rowling knows a great deal about the high life in London, and that comes across rather well, as well as her visceral hatred of the paparazzi, and her rather low opinion of womankind in general, which I find both just and admirable. The storyline is rather thin: if you plan to enjoy the book, you must be prepared to do so for the sake of atmosphere rather than plot. What I found most deplorable and utterly unwarranted – unless Ms. Rowling has assumed that her readership is slightly sick – is the endless and intense use of obscenities in virtually everyone’s conversation. If this has been done for the sake of ‘realism’, I have two observations about this: a) one might as well condone detailed descriptions of excretory functions in movies, for they are of course a necessary and permanent part of ‘reality’, and b) Ms. Rowling has herself demonstrated, as have many others, that perfectly good writing can be achieved without it. Also, if this is the kind of conversation I must hear all around me if I am ever in England, I am glad I won’t have to go there. Things are bad enough in the streets of Bengal… one thing I can definitely say is, unlike with Sherlock Holmes, or Hercule Poirot or Dr. Thorndyke – or even Harry Potter – I won’t want to re-read this book over and over after gaps of a few years.

I have also just finished the second book in the Ibis trilogy series by Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke (Sea of Poppies I read a year ago). I have deeply admired Ghosh as perhaps the finest of living Indian authors in English ever since The Hungry Tide, and my admiration has been redoubled since. He is writing a grand saga in the classical style, not afraid to make each volume several hundred pages long and demanding intense and focussed attention from the reader all through – that he can make a living that way, as can Khaled Hosseini, tells me something most reassuring in the age of twitter.

Every good book leaves you a little wiser, a little better, a little changed. Ghosh’s writing is definitely of that category: he does not write for a moment’s sensation. I pride myself on my knowledge of history, yet he has  humbled me with a delicious and highly digestible history of India and China around the 1830s. And the books are a veritable feast for the gourmet of detail, be it about food or ships or flowering plants or paintings or the marvellous and intricate richness and variety of languages (for a lot of readers, of course, that would be the major turn-off: I am glad that to Ghosh as to me, such readers’ opinions don’t count). In the tradition of the best writers of all lands and ages, he has also created a very wide variety of characters who are live enough for you to empathize deeply with. And he left me wondering impatiently what new twists and turns the story would take when I had reached the last page, knowing that the third book, Flood of Fire, is going to be released not before spring 2015.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Happy hour

Ankan (Saha), a very favourite old boy, came visiting yesterday. His classmate and one-time batchmate Raunak Chandak the budding businessman and car aficionado who never forgets to let me drive the latest acquisition of his accompanied him. We had a fun three hours chatting.

Ankan was a whiz kid all through. He sailed through school, studied at IIT Kanpur on scholarship, flew off to the US, got a PhD in computer science from the U. of Chicago, is currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area and commuting to work at Mountain View, working on research at Linkedin. By Indian middle-class standards, he is, of course, top of the heap. Thinking of a startup: who knows but sometime soon he might be another zillionaire. But that is not why I have always had a soft corner for him…

First, despite rough patches and long gaps, he has always been fond of me (I think) and kept in touch. Second, it was he who got me into blogging: this thing owes its existence to him. Third, the poor boy lost his dad too early, and the coping has been hard, but he seems to have done well. Fourth, though unlike his batchmate Nishant (Kamath), we talk much less often, it is always good when we do. Three hours passed by in a flash: I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, Ankan and Raunak. We talked of – let me see – science, math, computers, economics, big business, history, movies, marriage, culture or the lack of it where we respectively live, books we have read recently, exercise, travelling, batchmates of theirs whom I know and how much they have changed or not, fun aspects of social psychology... I forget the rest. It set me wondering what it is about female ex students that they rarely visit, and hardly have anything interesting to talk about!

Thank you for coming, Ankan. And thanks for City of Djinns (Nishant, if you are reading this, we collectively remembered how good the Colorado whisky was! So thank you, too). Take care. May life shower its choicest blessings on you all. And keep a little more closely in touch…

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Love is a bore

Look this up in today's edition of Anandabazar Patrika, all my Bengali readers. There is a reason why I put this up here instead of on the other blog.

If you want a further belly laugh, click on 'translate' at the top of the linked article and check out the result. Long live IT-geeks...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Musing over the weekend

         (the road from Ilambazar to Shantiniketan. My local favourite)

Winter is going away too fast. The chill vanished with almost military punctuality on Saraswati pujo day. There is the all-too-evanescent spring in the air, it’s terribly dusty all around, and if it doesn’t rain soon, yet another awful summer is going to be upon us within weeks…

My old faithful scooter wrought a miracle yesterday. I drove to Shantiniketan on a whim with someone riding pillion, and yet it went all the way and back without so much as a hiccup, only to break down virtually when I was back home (minor hitch, soon resolved). I am not going to exchange it for a new bike in a hurry!

I was visiting Shantiniketan after quite some time. The grounds look much tidier and more colourful with trees and flowers than I remember seeing them ever before. Someone is obviously paying attention to these things at last. And there were Ananda pathshaala classes going on in the open air as always. But the museum at Rabindra Bhavan was a disappointment. Many of the exhibits have been put beyond the public gaze, apparently after the original Nobel Prize medallion was stolen: a classic case of shutting the gates after the horse has bolted if ever there was one!

I am missing some of my frequent comment-writers here. Where have you folks gone?

Sriranjani is the latest in a long line of ex-students whom I have encouraged to write their own blogs, and often. I find her writing refreshing and thought-provoking, too, not the usual girlie fluff and self-obsessed teenage-never-going-away angst. Do visit her blog, and enthuse her to keep at it with your comments.

My yearly admissions will begin on February 22, and for more than a week the house will be swarming with people. The notices are up on display at the gate, and folks are ringing up at all hours to find out when they must turn up and what they must do for their kids to get in. Every year this time gives me a rush of mixed feelings – wonder, about why they keep coming year after year in such numbers, profound thankfulness that they do, discomfiture over how much I’ll have to talk and how much silliness and worse I’ll have to deal with until the admissions are over, trepidation over whether I can do my thing with the fresh batches as well as I have unfailingly done all these years (I started in Durgapur in 1987, and the batches grew large from 1992), pride that I must have made some name for myself doing something that many people have found worth their time and money, else this would have been just a figment of my imagination, gladness that not a few have taken away so much more than merely a few notes and marked exercises for some piffling examinations, sadness that so many have not (or have forgotten since leaving my classes, or simply never told me how I helped to make their lives better in some lasting sense)… it’s been a good life, and I am looking forward to retirement in a few years’ time, and so many people’s voices ring in my ears, too, saying ‘Sir, you can never retire!’

Monday, February 03, 2014

Is there going to be a 'Great Leap'?

Rajdeep sent me this link all the way from Japan. He has noticed – as I hope some others have, too – that I have been writing in the same vein for a long time now. Good to see that a hot-shot ‘with-it’ management consultant is saying the same sort of thing now, and though he thinks of himself as an outlier still, he can hear his echo in as stolid an establishment figure as Larry Summers, and his article has been published in the Harvard Business Review, as dyed in the wool as they come this side of the Pope (am I being unfair to the Pope?)

The whole of the current young generation faces Stagnation, with a capital S, regardless of how many overnight puppy-billionaires in the Mark Zuckerberg mould our global freakonomy keeps throwing up.To quote Haque, “Stagnation means, in plain English, that living standards in many rich nations are going to fall for young people. That’s a fancy way of saying that life is going to get shorter, harder, nastier, dumber, and bleaker. No, sorry, just because you can buy a gigantic 4D plasma TV on 4000% APR credit and a bag of Doritos the size of an Escalade for 99 cents doesn’t mean you will live longer, be healthier or happier, or be able to afford an education for yourself or your children”. And that’s the bright picture, because he is talking about rich nations here. There’s a couple of lines about IT-hack types in India and China, too: find them yourself. I worry, for my daughter is on the threshold of adulthood, and has been brought up to be unusually aware and sensitive.

There are two sad things about this situation. One, that even the Umair Haque types have no concrete agenda (read the third paragraph from the end), just as the Arvind Kejriwals and the ‘We are the 99%’ gangs don’t. So, in Rajiv Gandhi’s long-forgotten words uttered in another era and another context, ‘the future is being determined by drift and not by direction’. At least the Bolsheviks had some sense of direction back in 1917, or thought they had. Hard to believe it’s been almost a hundred years since…Two, it makes me feel horrible to think that 99% of those who read stuff like this are those who can afford to live in denial, either because they have got slightly better-than-average jobs-plus no family responsibilities (there’s an incredible number of this type around these days among under-35s!) or because they are still living on mummy-and daddy’s support (a lot of them ‘disguised unemployed’ – oops, I meant doing PhDs), or in low-paid-dead-end jobs and piling up debts with no thought of the morrow, and therefore hate to be reminded. If change for the better comes about in my lifetime, it will not be their doing. The sans culottes, or their latter-day equivalents, don’t read blogs on the internet…

Ah well. I shall keep faith in my old guru John Maynard Keynes, who once famously wrote ‘The ideas of economists and political philosophers are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler… sooner or later, it is ideas rather than vested interests which are dangerous for good and evil’.

Thank you, Rajdeep.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The trouble with being well-off

This recent article in The American Scholar caught my eye and made me ponder. I am rather surprised at the title, though, because it seems that the author is saying that the rich are different. Tell me if I read it wrong.

I am especially pleased by two things in it. One, that the author quotes a contemporary psychologist cum science journalist in the same breath as Shakespeare: as I say to my pupils, these days you have to be a ‘scientific expert’ to say things that our finest poets said long ago, and far more beautifully and memorably. Two, that the author echoes something I wrote recently (see the post titled That’s it on the homepage) and years ago: we live in an age that allows us to live the ha-ha la-la life for far too long, and it is only when we are sobered up by close proximity to poverty and death that things that ought really to matter start mattering again, and we grow up more in a day or week than in the last several decades. Some people, I have myself written elsewhere, ‘need Auschwitz and Hiroshima to sober up’. Millions of well-off but insignificant people with a bloated sense of self-importance currently in their late twenties and thirties certainly need to have a major accident, or hear that a loved parent has got terminal cancer, or lose a real friend forever out of cussed stupidity. Or maybe the rot has gone so deep that even that won’t make a difference?

On one point, at least, I’d beg to differ with the author. She says that not being always vulnerable has its benefits: ‘because we are not vulnerable, and aren’t preoccupied with it, we are free to achieve many things and contribute to society in creative and constructive ways’. Perhaps she has not heard that lots of people have lived in poverty and under the shadow of death and yet ‘achieved great things and contributed to society’ in far more creative and constructive ways than most contemporary suburbanites with their pretty villas/condos, sleek cars and fancy phones ever will.

Could it be that our ancestors, even till the mid-20th century, were simply made of far more heroic stuff? I compare my grandfather (see the post The End of an era) who was a young man in the 1930s with people I have seen growing up in front of my eyes, and I wonder that they even belong to the same species... people who have been brought up by "helicopter moms" or people who have never yet handled a single real crisis in their lives all by themselves, and are not even aware of what they are.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

New Year's tidings

‘… and the new sun rose, bringing the New Year’.

So it’s a new year again. I try to make fresh new beginnings every time, and this new year seems to augur well, after the annus horribilis that is now nine days behind me.

I have decided not to compromise my essential self any longer for anybody’s sake. I have rediscovered that love, though it may be unsatisfactory or passing, is not always and necessarily a chimera, and I am looking forward to some good things happening in my life again. Which I shall notify my readers about, as and when they materialize: watch this space. I am not poor, I am not ill, I am not devoid of a sense of purpose, my classes are full, and insofar as a man can ever be happy, I am happy. Not a small thing to be, as I should know. No man or woman will be allowed to rob me of this happiness: that is my single New Year’s Resolution. For too long have I tried to live for other people. It doesn’t work, and that was the mistake I had been making for a long, long time.

I said in the last post that I want my most serious readers to explore some of my old posts, and comment on them. I am waiting. No better way of showing you are interested in me than in engaging me in conversation about things that interest me. Conversely, I have no better way of finding out who is really interested and who is faking it.

My daughter got a smartphone recently. She might write about her own experience herself, but watching her using it, I now know more certainly than ever that I am not going to need one in the near future. How the world is filling up with useless trifles… it makes me wonder how Shakespeare wrote all those plays without the aid of a ballpoint pen, leave alone a word processor, and how Newton discovered all that he did without even a calculator at his elbow. Shall I live long enough to see a world filled with hairy apes again?

The coldest part of the year is rapidly passing by, and I am sorry to see that it never became really cold in these parts this time. Especially considering that other parts of the world are being swept by once in a decade snowstorms. How capricious Mother Nature is, really.

I have gotten back to books with a vengeance. And also decided not to talk about them except with people who are capable of reading and thinking, by my standards.

A woman friend of mine runs a playschool for very small children in my neighbourhood. My daughter went there too, 15 years ago. I met her at her doorstep one morning recently, and struck her speechless by offering to come and teach her classes in a few years’ time.

Arvind Kejriwal has gone remarkably quiet on the question of ‘doing away with corruption’ within days of assuming office as chief minister of Delhi. I was wondering what he is up to.

That’s enough by way of an update. Have a happy New Year. And old boys, do look me up if you are around: I have a light workload till mid-February.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

That's it!

We are nearing the end of the year now, and this is my 52nd post of the year. Also, I have been writing non-stop, at a steady rate, for seven and a half years. It’s time, I think, to take a break. So I am bidding my readers – and I know there are at least several hundred – au revoir, though not adieu. And since the festive season is coming up, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, all, wherever on this planet you might be located.

I have nearly 370 posts on this blog now. I am glad and proud of having acquired a readership spread across the world, including a few hundred regular visitors. This blog has helped me to renew and deepen some old connections, and make some worthy new friends. I am especially glad that this year the visit count has accelerated: there have been more than 50,000 page views since January, and five of the ten most-read posts were written this year itself. All to the good…

Now, as I wrote in a recent post, I am beginning to falter. Firstly, because no one can endlessly think of new and interesting things to say. Secondly because I have already created a wide and varied corpus of musing here that serious readers should explore much more assiduously than they have till date: few people can claim that they have read all, far fewer still that they remember everything and have reflected upon everything – I know, because if they had, their manner of interacting with me, by phone, chat, email or face to face would have changed greatly by now, and permanently. Thirdly, because I hate to think that I am being forced to repeat myself, simply because some people won’t listen and remember and take to heart. Fourthly, I wait until I am satisfied that the waiting has been long enough, and the paucity of sensible comments on anything I write, in sharp contrast to the number of visits, makes me think I have waited long enough: it’s not a nice feeling having to talk to a wall (one of the primary reasons I quit journalism in favour of teaching: the latter gave me live feedback every day). Fifthly, because this year I really poured myself out, and there’s a point where one needs to tell oneself ‘Stop!’

Besides, after what I wrote in the last post, everything else would sound silly and trivial to me, whether I write about the passage of Nelson Mandela or the recent Supreme Court judgment on homosexuality or the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York. I leave that to people who have all the time in the world for trifles…I want people to engage with me henceforth, if they want to at all, because posts like that one have resonated somewhere deep and essential inside them. arasikesu rasasya nivedanang/ shirosi ma likho, ma likho, ma likho.

I am not going to stop writing here. I am only going to become irregular. Henceforth, only when the fancy seizes me. After a quarter million page views, I don’t have to prove anything to myself, and those who are really interested will wait, and prod, and talk to me.

So also with relatives, so-called friends, and old acquaintances. As I myself teach, all a man has to do to go to sleep in peace at the end of each day is to look his conscience in the eye and reply to its question ‘Did you try all you could?’ as I can say, with total and calm confidence, ‘I did’. After now, the ball is in other people’s court. They want to keep in touch with me, they will abide by my terms. Otherwise, I am well rid.

Just one request, all. Don’t pretend what you don’t feel. Be it respect, love, or longing... faking is faking, and it hurts.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Ah, music, once more, and despair

Taatal saikat e baribindu sama
suta mita ramani samaje
tohe bisari mann, tahe samarpilun
aba majhu habo kon kaaje?

Madhav, hum parinaam nirasha,
tnuhu jagataaran, deen dayamaye,
ataye tohare bisoasa.

(I have wasted my life bothering about child, friend, women and society, which are all like drops of rainwater falling on a heated beach - forgetting You. Now what good am I? Lord, I despair of redemption. But they say you save even the most hopeless and helpless, so I put my last trust in You: written by Vidyapati, about 700 years ago).

I found an incredible echo of this song in a 2013 Bollywood movie. Here.

I have loved too many, not wisely, perhaps, but only too well. Now there's only He. The only question is, when do I turn to Him at last? And how do I reconcile myself to the fact that a lot of pathetic humans will then lament they wish they had tried a bit harder to get close to me...?

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The shape of things to come?

Hunger - what a dirty word! - has not gone away from the Third World, and is gradually becoming rife and rampant in the First World again, too gross and obvious to hide, even as the number of billionaires multiplies. See here. So I am hoping for more literature of the likes of Dickens and Hugo and Steinbeck and Tagore and Bibhutibhushan and Premchand in the years to come, and less of the type that deals with the trivial angst of pampered,vapid techies and fashion models, the type about whom it can be truly said that once you've seen one you've seen them all, the type which, if they die by the million, will not be missed by anyone outside their families, and that for not more than a few months...

Many thanks to young Akash Ganguly for drawing my attention to this article. Here is a 15-year old I can respect much more than most people his parents' age...

and in this connection, here's a five-year old post of mine. As I like to boast, since I don't write about toys, nothing really dates on my blog.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bangla once more

এক যে ছিল ছোট্ট মেয়ে 
 দেখত জগত দুচোখ চেয়ে 
বাবার প্রানের লক্ষ্মী পুপে 
ভুবন আলো তারই রূপে 
দেখতে খুকুর লাগত ভাল 
নিশার শেষে ভোরের আলো 
নিদ্রা মগন মা আর বাবার 
মাঝখানেতে রইত চুপে। 

একটুখানি বাড়লে বেলা 
আকাশ বাতাস চাইত তারে 
তখন ভারী ব্যস্ত হয়ে 
ডাকত সবায়  তারস্বরে 
সুপ্তিকাতর বাবাটিকে 
তুলতে চাইত প্রানপনেতে 
আঁচড়ে , কামড়ে , খিমচে , মেরে 
যত ক্ষণ না মামণি তার 
বাবার প্রতি মায়ার বশে 
অতি কষ্টে শয্যা ছেড়ে 
বুকের মধ্যে জাপ্টে ধরে 
দিয়ে আসত  বাহির দ্বারে 
দোকান ঘরে রূপার পাশে 
সেইখানেতে আধেক সকাল 
কাটত খুকুর হেসেখেলে। 

I am not much of a versifier, but I have written a poem now and then. I composed this one upon a sudden whim to entertain my own daughter, when she was about seven or eight, I think. Can't be sure...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thank you, Dr. Rao!

Professor C.N.R. Rao, the first scientist to be nominated for the Bharat Ratna award since C. V. Raman, has in a recent interview done yeoman service to the nation by shattering some long held and most ridiculous myths about this country – though I am sure that very few Indians will thank him for it. Here is the link to the relevant news item. The text of the report on the front page of my newspaper is slightly different, but no matter.

This is also a subject I have written on, and not once, on this blog. Something very close to my heart, perennially.

I discovered that very little science is done in India – as westerners (who have, let’s face it, done 99% of all the science in the last 200 years) understand doing science – and that very badly, when I was still an adolescent. Otherwise, I might quite possibly have gone in for higher studies in some branch of science myself (and wanted my daughter to do the same): I had the brains, and upto quite an advanced age, sufficient interest. I am glad to be vindicated in my views by a scientist of such preeminence, though it has come rather late in the day, and Professor Rao, being in a very high public position, has pulled a lot of punches, as I don’t have to.

Still, I am glad that he has said a) IT has very little to do with science, and might actually be blamed for having done a lot of harm to science as a whole in the last 20 years (as cricket has done to every other kind of sport), b) a lot of scientific fields have been grossly and persistently neglected, c) the IT-rich (and other rich, and successive governments) have done much less for the advancement of science in this country than they should have, d) our scientists, many of them lazy careerists with too little interest in their work, too little nationalistic pride and ambition, must take a big share of the blame too, e) since Nehru’s time, there might actually have been a sharp retrogression in the development of a scientific temper in our society, f) neither science nor God have anything to do with superstition, which is what is rife in India, g) without spread of mass education with a stress on nurturing the scientific temper, there can be no real and long term development, no matter what the stock market says. I find myself agreeing with every bit of the above.

I wish India would become a truly cultured and progressive nation again. Which would mean being far less fanatical about fads (and I call the recent madness over Chennai Express as well as Sachin’s retirement – not Sachin’s career itself, mind you – fads), far less blindly, narrowly, stupidly, cravenly materialistic, far less superstitious (which – and I am with both Tagore and Subramaniam Chandreshekhar here – means being far more seriously interested in God, art, beauty, justice as well as real science, as distinct from technical gimmickry and dhandaa and hogging and partying), far less interested in pubbing and mall-crawling, far more keen on good reading, far more serious about real education (look up my posts under the label education: cramming a bit of physics and chemistry has very little to do with it). Which means that greater people than Nandan Nilekani and Chetan Bhagat and Anna Hazare must be called visionaries. Which means going back to the golden – or at least silver – age we had just before and after independence, when cerebral men living simple lives were accorded the highest social esteem, at least among those who dared to call themselves educated, when no mere bania, politician, doctor or engineer would have dared to talk as though he were the equal of Satyen Bose or Bibhutibhushan Banerjee or Nandalal Bose or Alauddin Khan sahib, when teachers were accorded the respect due to them because society at least dimly understood the value of what they do, and every Tom, Dick and Harry couldn’t become a teacher, when corruption would become a minor irritant and non-issue simply because the vast majority would have realized that life is not to be wasted making a bit of sleazy money…

P.S., Nov. 19: This editorial in my newspaper today, in connection with Sachin, science and the Bharat Ratna,  is one of the sanest things I have read in a long time.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thought past fifty

Having seen and heard what sometimes seems to be way too much, it occurred to me recently that it wouldn't have been such a bad thing to have been born blind and deaf.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Designer babies and related issues

The first part of this post is directed at Santanu Chatterjee, who has been very kindly and closely reading up and commenting upon several older posts. Why suddenly now, I wonder? But many thanks.

Also thanks for the prodding (this is with reference to your comment on my last post), but there were reasons why I haven't been writing for a while. Firstly, because I had already written four posts in October: that's about the monthly average. Secondly, I wanted the last post to stay on top for some time (you may be surprised to know that most visitors don't read anything beyond the last post - not even the comments). Thirdly, because a lot of momentous things have been happening in my life lately, and I have been rather more than usually preoccupied. Fourthly, I have written a very great deal on a very wide range subjects already over the last seven years and a half: no one is endlessly fertile with thoughts and ideas, and besides, one wants that readers keep visiting and reflecting and commenting upon older posts, as you have been doing lately: why should I have to keep coming up with new ones at the drop of a hat with unfailing regularity? Novelty for its own sake is neither very great nor good, and I don't work for Apple anyway... so thank you for prodding, but I hope this is a fairly adequate explanation.

Now as to things I have been thinking upon in between everything, here's one sample. Think about it, all, and let me know what you think. My take I shall mention if and when some sensible and thought-provoking comments come in.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

And so, it is done

I am fifty as of today.

For once, at a loss for words. Or rather, don't feel like writing much...

If you are interested, I shall point you to old posts titled 'Auld lang syne', 'Forty five and counting' and the recent one titled 'Almost there'.

Biggest lesson learnt in all these years: love is too commonly faked. And people do it quite unselfconsciously,  too.

Most important resolution: to be much more picky, and much less forgiving. I absolutely hate being taken for granted, and that's what everybody seems to do, sooner or later. Surely I am now at an age when I can do without it?

Enough said.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Best in years

It’s been a far better pujo than I had hoped for: indeed, the best in more years than I can remember.

First of all, the weather helped. It was rainy all through, even with the occasional chill, interrupted only now and then by muggy patches. Then, the luxury of sleeping whenever you like, as much as you like, without being bound to a routine, and with family around you.  Going around the city just once before my wife was convinced that staying at home and watching pujo on television would be a far better idea. And then having our own pujo downstairs... all the fun and colour and gaiety you want, with the added assurance that you could slip off unnoticed to the peace and quiet of your own flat anytime things got too much for you, either by way of fanfare or boredom. Saw the contemporary urban Bengali middle class at its best and worst: all the bonhomie and cattiness, all the friendly conversation and backstabbing, all the cultural wealth and crass parvenu ostentation (everyone from the auto driver to the doc brandishing smartphones – diamond jewellery is better to look at, at least!), all the obsession with rabindrasangeet that no one cares to reflect upon and ‘cool’ distortion of the mother tongue, all the gourmandizing, the drunken dancing and faux-respectful distancing of elders from such display of ‘oposanskriti’... I took in a  fun Bangla movie in between, and read up a bit of a new biography of Babur, and watched the gorgeous skyline of nights, and shubho Bijoya has arrived in the wink of an eye.

Made some nice acquaintances, too, aged between barely thirty and eighty. Our housing estate has a rather diverse collection of residents, many of them absentee owners who live elsewhere in India or abroad, but gather here for the pujo. This is the first time I was staying here for some length of time on a festive occasion, and it didn’t take long to be found out – ‘Aren’t you Suvro Sir? My son used to be your pupil many years ago...’ and bang goes my hope of coming and going incognito. And a lot of them told me to come over and open up shop in Calcutta. Which is where it all started, three decades ago! If only I were twenty five again, or at least had money enough to go haring off on another adventure...

Anyway, I have had to promise a lot of people that I am coming over for Kali pujo. And we are all together looking forward to a lovely long winter. 

For a few photos, click here

Thursday, October 10, 2013

pujo once more

It's pujo time once more, and everybody who knows me knows too what I feel about it (see the post titled Bengal's annual madness if you don't). What is new this time is that I shall be in Calcutta - for the first time in nearly thirty years, I think. Only because my family is there, of course. Wish me luck. And have a happy pujo your own way, everybody, without hurting yourself or making too much of a nuisance of yourself if possible.

Oh, of one thing I am glad, I cannot hide it: there's rabindrasangeet in the air, thankfully, instead of the crassest kind of noise from Bollywood 'superhits' that has passed for music in this country for longer than I can remember. And though there's been a brief respite from the rains since yesterday, there's a pretty serious cyclone coming up from the Bay of Bengal, I hear...

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Holy mother!

The first editorial in Anandabazar Patrika, Sunday 22nd September edition, was as follows (the translation is mine):

Mothers and lies

Worship of mothers is a perennial thing. It is taken for granted that a mother would hug her child to her breast and gladly make any sacrifice for its sake. A child may be a black sheep, a mother never, she cannot be. No doubt there is some truth in this notion, but a great deal of blind faith and melodrama also work to keep it alive. A stern look at reality will show us a lot of mothers who make mincemeat of their wards’ love lives and sex lives, or otherwise perpetually cramp their personal space and limit their individual growth as human beings. In most of the cases of ‘honour killings’ that have been reported in recent times, a mother has been either directly involved, or given her full consent to the horror. Giving birth is merely a biological ability: it does not by itself glorify anybody spiritually. To raise a child well and educate him to live a valuable life is no mean task, and to do that one has to work hard at evolving into a good human being first. Mothers all around us incite their children to win the ratrace even by hurting the interests of their friends, and drive deep into them the disgusting habit of blaming everybody but themselves for their woes. And in most cases they inculcate this kind of meanness because they ‘love’ their children. Just as many animals enthusiastically devour some of their young so that the rest might have a better chance of survival. A certain species of eagle watches quietly while the stronger of its fledglings bully and kill the weaker ones. The panda bear mother, if it gives birth to twins, nurtures one and abandons the other. Perhaps natural selection favours this kind of arrangement, but surely the babies that are rejected and killed do not find much truth in the adage that a mother’s love is the most wonderful thing in the world!

Recently an American wrote this obituary shortly after the death of his mother: ‘Six of her eight children are alive, whom she subjected to every sort of persecution all her life…on behalf of all the children she made part of her unholy, malice-driven life, I am happily celebrating her demise, and hoping that next time round she might be at the receiving end of the same kind of barbarous cruelty and humiliation.’ This particular mother might have been an aberration, but even ordinary mothers all around us beat their children, mock them harshly, drown them in the pit of self-loathing by comparing them endlessly with others to their disadvantage, obstructing every attempt they make to find a little happiness in their own lives, and drive myriad little needles so deep into their souls that the wounds rankle lifelong, and destroy all possibility of their living decent lives of their own. Many mothers are certainly good mothers; however, it is equally true that many of them are cruel, abusive, or at least totally indifferent to their children. On the internet you can find blogs titled ‘I hate my kids’; there are even ‘groups’ of such like-minded mothers. All relationships can be the cause of either joy or sorrow: the mother-child relation is no exception to this rule. Camus created quite a stir by asserting this unpleasant truth in The Outsider. In that novel it was the son who was unbothered about his mother’s death. One rarely meets mothers who are indifferent to their children, even abusive in dealing with them, in literature. But one does in reality.”

S.C.: To the above, I shall add only that I do not personally think this is a gender thing. It’s only that the indiscriminate deification of mothers gets to me sometimes, seeing that there are lots of fathers who try very hard to be good parents, and lots of mothers who don’t. The crucial point is that so few people work at being good parents, so few even know that it has to be worked at, or that it is such hard work: and yet, especially in this country, somehow manage to raise children who feel it is their ‘duty’ to feel love and respect and be attentive to their parents’ needs lifelong, including the need to be shielded from all criticism within the family and without: my parents, my parents über alles. Also, for the sake of variety I suppose, there are parents who try very hard, and eventually get kicked in the face for their pains... it is indeed the best of all possible worlds.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Riding on top of the world

My young friend Gourav is a biker with a difference. He has recently returned from a motorcycle odyssey from Manali to Leh and back. He had asked me to go with him: for a lot of reasons, some silly and some serious, I couldn't. In the event he went alone. He has now sent me this link to some wonderful photographs he took on the way. Do send in your words of appreciation, here or at his blog where he has recently put up his own post based on his travel diary.