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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

chhotolok

In the early days of my tutoring in this town, there were some people who did not pay their wards’ fees for the last month, guessing (rightly) that I was too self-respecting a man to come to their door over and over again to ask for my dues. These were all well-off ‘gentlefolk’, too. Eventually I made it a rule that everyone must pay their fees by the 10th of the current month, and that it is my right to throw out anyone who has to be reminded two months in succession. I am sure that earned me the reputation of a money-grubbing rogue in some quarters, but it has ensured that for nearly a quarter century almost no one has got away with cheating.

There have been teachers in several schools around this town who have abused me in the safety of their classrooms, but that has not stopped them from stealing my notes and passing them off as their own, or even sending their own children to my tuition when their time came.

Their children being counted among my favourites apparently helps some people to score some brownie points off their ‘friends’, so fathers have boasted that ‘My daughter is special to Sir’ and mothers have told me ‘After all, you are his real father’ ( I ask you!!!) And then, of course – you got that right, they have all forgotten me completely, if not bad-mouthed me too.

A girl I thought I loved, long ago when I was a boy, got back in touch after a gap of 27 years. She was on the wrong side of 45 then. She had had a very sheltered and luxurious upbringing. In one of her emails she asked ‘Are you very rich? I have heard that some private tutors make pots of money…’ and another woman, about the same age, and from the same ‘cultured’ milieu, when she heard that Oxford University Press had published a collection of translations of Tagore among which there were some contributions of mine, had only one question to ask my wife: ‘Sir will make a lot of money from this, won’t he?’

A very famous Bengali author, now long dead, got one of his novellas translated by me in a tearing hurry because he had to read it out at an embassy dinner in his honour. As a sort of afterthought, a few months later, he sent me the princely fee of two hundred rupees so that, the message said, I could get myself a new shirt and pair of trousers. This was in my early college days. Today for this sort of job I’d charge five hundred a page, half the total payable in advance. Another of his ilk, also on the editorial board of a national newspaper, passed off one of my articles under his byline. He maintained a lofty and strongly moral tone in almost all his writing, too.

As I have said before, a lot of people have borrowed from me. It started with a professor in the university I attended, who said he was in dire need and took six thousand rupees from me, ostensibly for just a month (that amount thirty years ago would be the equivalent of at least 40,000 today, and remember I was scrounging to keep my head above the water in those days). I had to chase him around for a year and eventually threaten to shame him in public before he returned the money, and that too with the worst possible grace. Many others, in Tagore’s words, have remained ‘forever indebted’ to me, literally. So it made me very proud when recently an old boy returned the full amount he had borrowed at one go the first time he came home from abroad to see me, without my having to bring up the matter even once. Glad to see there are still a few men of honour left.

There was a police booth at the point where the road crosses over to Birganj from Raxaul in north Bihar as it enters Nepal. As a tourist, I stopped at the checkpost and insisted over and over again that my old Yashica camera be registered as part of my luggage, because I had heard of people being harassed on the way back. The fat, leery, nose-picking cops refused to oblige and waved me through, saying there was absolutely no need. A week later, on my way back, the same cops waylaid me, pounced on that ancient camera, and fined me for carrying undeclared electronic goods which I had allegedly bought abroad. What is worse, they talked down to me, saying ‘How can we control the riff-raff if educated people like you break rules like this?’ This happened in 1994; it still rankles like an old wound which never properly healed.

There have been people who have borrowed books from me, knowing full well that books matter to me more than virtually anything else in the world, and then simply lost them or ‘forgotten’ to return them. If I remember them as vermin, I know I shall be forgiven from On High.

When I was in the process of getting married, my about-to-become brother in law came over to Durgapur to make a sort of background check on me. Someone at a bank who claimed to know me well assured him that I was already married. There are several thousand people like this one – many of them have hardly ever seen me, let alone knowing me closely – who know much more about me than my parents, wife and child, and little of what they ‘know’ is complimentary.

One neighbour, none of whose family members had ever deigned to give me a civil greeting when we met, came over to see me because he wanted me to put in a good word on behalf of his daughter, who had applied for a job in the school where I taught. Obviously I was not dying to do him a favour, but I merely told him the truth: that at that point of time relations between the headmaster and me were so bad (I quit the school shortly thereafter) that my recommendation would make it a dead certainty that the girl did not get the job. That family has never visited me again, nor even nodded on the street. Another one only recently accosted me in the local bazaar, insisting that I admit his two nieces out of turn next year, because, after all, we were neighbours, weren’t we, and he ‘respected’ me so much! (so much, indeed, that he too had never once bade me good morning or evening in 27 years). I gave him the short shrift, of course, ensuring that I had added one more to the huge list of people who call me snooty and unsocial and suchlike – but tell me, does it matter?

There have been people – their own children, once grown up, have confessed to me – who cringe and fawn and beg to get their wards admitted to my tuition, yet warn the same children that while they should take down my ‘notes’ very carefully, they should not pay any heed to a word of what I say ‘outside the syllabus’, all of which, they know, is dangerous nonsense. Naturally they cannot recognize me once their kids’ tuitions are over. And the most shameless of them come over years later to ask for special favours on behalf of their younger children or other kids in the family, because, I suppose, they think they once did me a big favour by sending their older children to me. When I send them off with a flea in their ear, they are merely confirmed in their opinion as to what a bad man I am.

Outside my house, I try to be as quiet, modest and self-effacing as I can. Alas, all I have got for my pains is the accusation that I am superciliously aloof. Also, some people take unthinkably crass advantage of it. A few months ago the father of an ex-student met me in the market, and asked ‘You here, at this time of the day?’ It was around ten in the morning on a weekday, and he happens to have a salaried job, so I would have been far more justified in asking him that question, but I don’t like to be nosey, and prefer silence to stupid questions. I laughed at myself instead, saying ‘A jobless man has all the time in the world!’ To which any half-civilized man would have said (as indeed, hundreds have, I have checked) ‘Oh, come on Sir, jobless, you?’ but this creature decided that the right thing to say would be ‘Oh, everyone would like to be jobless like you!’ I know a lot of people half his age who have a better appreciation of, and more respect for, what it takes to be jobless like me. Everyone, is it? And mind you, all these people are quite sure they deserve the label of bhadralok! I have been telling pupils for thirty odd years to reflect on the conundrum of how the country has become full of the corrupt and the base when all our parents are honest and decent folks…

I could go on and on. Life has been hard to me. I started off instinctively trying to like people and trust them and treat them gently, but the fire of experience has burnt a hard and prickly shell around me. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ I still consider very sage advice, but ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself?’ You’ve got to be kidding!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

No more skunks, please!

It’s been four years since I wrote something expressly by way of bidding farewell to my outgoing batches (Bye bye time again). If you look it up, you will find a link to an even older post in the same vein (To those about to become ex-students), which I think you should read first, if you intend to read at all. This year there were some boys (and a very tiny handful of girls) who have been reading this blog in a sustained way for quite some time, so maybe they – and a few much older old boys – might not be entirely uninterested if I added something to these last two posts.

Some of the boys hung back for quite some time after the rest of the horde had left. One of them, imagining he was revealing a great secret, whispered into my ear, ‘Do you know, Sir, many of these people who were eagerly clicking photographs of you speak ill of you in the coarsest way behind your back?’ I disappointed him, I think, with a smile: ‘Of course I do, and how does their very existence matter after they have paid their fees in full? It’s a democratic country, after all, and the essence of democracy is that the worst of absurdity and filth passing under the name of opinions must be tolerated and ignored, isn’t it?’

Some of those boys, as always, had tears in their eyes. And it was they whom I hurt most, quite deliberately, by shooing them off, saying after 33 years and 5,000-plus students, I must be excused for not being affected by their ephemeral sentimentality. Most of them would forget me completely within a couple of years; some would remember, and wish in a vague, lazy sort of way that they could get back in touch again but never muster the courage or energy to do so; only a very tiny number would surprise me pleasantly by staying closely and warmly in touch for years and decades together. Tanmoy and Rajdeep and Nishant and Aakash and Subhadip and Harman would know what I am talking about. And all those who would forget and drop out of my life for good, may they know that they are certainly not the ones whom I would despise and condemn: they are just no better and no worse than the commonest human beings. If God has made them that way, the fault is God’s, not theirs. And besides, I have always had a certain grudging respect for people who stand permanently by their opinions even if they are silly or uncouth: those who have disliked me from the start and expressed their feelings without inhibition in their own circles are at least integral personalities…Jayastu Senapati was certainly not the worst human being in his batch. There was a skunk compared to whom he was a saint, only it took me a decade to find out!

All my contempt and disgust is reserved for those skunks.  In earlier posts I have adequately hinted at what sort of people I call skunks. This is my plea to every single pupil in my outgoing batch: don’t get close to me and then reveal yourself to be a skunk. The stench is truly unbearable, and I have had more than enough of it to suffice for a lifetime, thank you very much. A skunk cannot help being a skunk: so let it be, just so long as s/he doesn’t come too close to me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Love

An idiot who pretended to have read To My Daughter once asked ‘Why isn’t there a chapter on love?’ But the whole book is about love! I do now realize that my interlocutor was simply not sufficiently endowed to figure that out. Be that as it may, I have been asked for too long by too many people to write down my ideas of love. So here’s a (most certainly incomplete -)  attempt.

It might be a good thing to start off by listing what love is not. It is not the kind of loyalty that stems from mere biological connection and/or financial dependence: no son or daughter is competent to declare that s/he loves their parents before turning forty, and before the parents are retired and infirm (and even there should be a caveat: they might honestly think they love their parents, but all they are actually doing is executing socially-expected filial duty, with an eye on the inheritance). Yes, go ahead, call me a cynic. I like to think I am a man of the world, who stopped being dewy-eyed when he was fifteen.

It is not mere carnal desire – as with teenagers in hot pants – though I laugh in the face of any man or woman who thinks everybody can be ‘just friends’, and good, true friends at that. That’s one average sized sentence, but I have found hardly ten people in all my life who understand it, and agree on the basis of understanding. Something to do with deficient or unbalanced hormones, and a sadly common condition, I incline to think.

It is not trying to possess another person, and yet if both parties make ‘freedom’ their fundamental priority, let them spare me the lie that they also love. No more pathetic rubbish has ever been spoken. They may sleep together and make babies and have joint bank accounts and accompany each other to parties or malls, work as colleagues and even depend on each other in emergencies, but they have never cared to know what love is. And indeed, hundreds of millions manage to get through life without knowing, or feeling the need to know.

It is not preventing children from ever growing up in the name of caring for them, it is not imposing one’s dreams on them. By that token, very few parents, at least in this country, have ever loved.

It is not pretending that I am a better person than I can be in the hope that the other person will be duped, and give me the attention and affection and care that I crave, for a while at least: then I’ll simply move on in search of fresh prey.

So what is love, then?

Well, to mention just a few essential things, love is first and foremost something that just does not obey the dictates of convention: one does not fall in love only after checking that daddy and mummy approve, and that one’s love belongs to the right age-, income-, caste-, religious-, community- or national bracket, or the right ‘crowd’. That sort of thing is simply too pat and too easy not to arouse the strongest suspicion. I know of far too many who will sagely agree, yet never dream of rocking the boat in their own lives. They always find their ‘loves’ from among the ‘right’ groups by nothing but sheer happy coincidence!

Next, love is a question of being happy doing things for the loved one, even if it ‘inconveniences’ one, even rather badly sometimes.

Love is sharing. And I don’t mean silly things like towels and toothbrushes and email passwords.

Love is belonging. If one loves someone truly, one does not hanker for hordes of ‘friends’, nor for going out all the time.

Love is admiring each other for a lot of things. It may be for something as humble as how well she can cook or console people in distress, as much as for how learned or clever or influential s/he is. And the fastest, least painful way of falling out of love is acknowledging to oneself, after trying very hard to find out, that there is simply nothing to admire about him or her.

Love is being a comfort, and doing all one can not to be a tormentor instead.

Love is wanting to improve oneself in the other’s eyes, and trying to improve the other at the same time. Opinions vary very greatly on this, but I know exactly where I stand, and that I am right, whether the ‘other’ is my daughter or my pupil or my wife. As Shakespeare writes, when Brutus says ‘I do not like your faults’, and Cassius retorts that ‘A friendly eye could never see such faults’, Brutus tells him of a crucial difference, ‘A flatterer’s would not, though they appear as huge as high Olympus’. I shall always be a teacher, and proud to be. That has lost me a lot of friends, and I shall probably die sad and lonely, but I shall be remembered with respect,  gratitude and perchance even longing by a great many long after I am gone, and that is all I care for. For I have loved.


There are other things. Lots. But I don’t like repeating myself, and there’s To My Daughter waiting to be read. Only, I hope you read it better than the idiot I mentioned at the start. I tried to teach so many of you to read, and it hurts to see that you couldn’t learn…

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I am still around, but changed. Or have I?

As everybody who visits this blog will have noticed, I have not written for an uncharacteristically long time. It was gratifying to hear from some of them asking ‘Are you alright, Sir?’ It was equally salutary to notice how many who gushed so much once upon a time – not always long ago, either – couldn’t be bothered. Keeping all such people in mind, here are some explanations and a notice of changes.

I stopped writing because I felt

1.      I had written a great deal already, and continuously for a very long time. Few bloggers except those who have kept going for more than a year at my pace will even begin to understand what that entails.
2.      I have discovered to my entire conviction that not many people were interested – in the sense of wanting to/being capable of writing intelligent and decent comments every now and then,
3. I have received a lot of bad vibes, in the form of irrelevant/stupid/offensive comments, not always from complete strangers, and everyone has a limit to his patience,
4.      My basic purpose all along was to keep in touch with ex-students, and after eight years (four of them overlapping with my orkut community), I know now that it doesn’t work, and it is not on the whole very rewarding,
5.      Now that my book has been published, just about anybody can have access to the full range of my thoughts for a mere three hundred and fifty rupees – and I am happy to note that it is selling slowly but steadily all the time.
6.      I have said this before: I have discovered to my chagrin that while most people never have anything to say, those who do, or think they do, lose all sense of manners and decorum when they communicate via the internet, and write in a tone they wouldn’t dream of assuming with me face to face without wetting their pants. I don’t like rats trying to act like lions, nor pinheads presuming to be thinking human beings. So enough.

And now to the changes. Anyone with half an eye cannot fail to notice that the number of ‘members’ of this blog has suddenly dropped drastically. Not an accident: I have been winnowing, and I am not done yet. I discovered that most of these ‘members’ are people I don’t know/have quite forgotten/have hardly ever written a sensible comment on anything at all. They don’t deserve to be here, nor do they have to be. Anybody can read this blog, it’s still in the public domain. But when it comes to commenting, I have changed my settings so that henceforth only members can comment, and I shall be very careful whom I let in hereafter.

Between 43 and 51, after having lived the kind of intense mental life that I have lived, one doesn’t really find out much that is new about humanity. This entire experience of blogging has only confirmed me in my conviction that most human beings are banal, flighty, opportunistic and insensitive at best, and wholly evil at worst. Oh, I have met some good people who have warmed my heart every now and then, but that has been so badly offset by nasty experiences – the worst of which has always been discovering that ‘nice’ people never meant a word of the nice things they said to me, at least for any length of time, that it has left me, if not deeply cynical, at least world-weary beyond redemption. As a (still-) favourite old boy recently said to me quoting the poet, if anyone comes to look me up now,

“they would not find me changed from him they knew/ only more sure of all I thought was true”.

And with this kind of gift from one who has been both daughter and pupil, what do I care about what the rest of the world thinks? Let it only be remembered that I am on the whole very deeply disappointed in my students who are all grown up now: that’s the gentlest thing I can say about them. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

boro aasha kore

আর কত দুরে আছে সে আনন্দধাম। 
আমি শ্রান্ত, আমি অন্ধ, আমি পথ নাহি জানি।
রবি যায় অস্তাচলে আঁধারে ঢাকে ধরণী -
কর কৃপা অনাথে হে বিশ্বজনজননী। 

অতৃপ্ত বাসনা লাগি ফিরিয়াছি পথে পথে -
বৃথা খেলা, বৃথা মেলা, বৃথা বেলা গেল বহে। 
আজি সন্ধ্যাসমীরণে লহ শান্তিনিকেতনে,
স্নেহকরপরশনে চিরশান্তি দেহ আনি। 


How far yet to the house of bliss?
I am weary, I am blind, I do not know the way.
The sun sets, there comes the gathering dark.
O please, Mother of the world, have pity on the orphan lost.

Driven by unfulfilled longings, I have wandered long on the road
The games, the fairs, all came to naught and wore out my day –
Now the evening breeze begins to blow, let it waft me to the abode of peace.

Put your loving hand on my head, Mother, bring me the final rest.

Friday, August 15, 2014

15th August

मा, तुझे सालाम।  

আমার এই দেশেতেই জন্ম, যেন এই দেশেতেই মরি। 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Things that make me sad

1. Look at this post. I wish far more people abided by these basic norms.

2. ...and at this one. This is the world we live in, and we keep pretending to ourselves that we needn't bother, because after all we are not the ones who are suffering.

I shall elaborate - perhaps - later on.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

O saathi re

I have been living with this song since I was fourteen. I react to it at 51 as I did then. (Listen to the instrumental: I find it even grander...)

All that has changed is that today I know there exists no woman who deserves to be serenaded like this by a man who is a man.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Women!

I read Anita Nair’s 2001 opus Ladies’ Coupé recently. Many thanks to Sunandini, who lent me the book, saying she didn’t much like it herself. As for me, I am not too sure. But the writing quality is pretty good, and despite writing about women’s travails, Nair does not come across as a rabid feminist (‘My identity and self-worth depend in a very important way on the shortness of my skirt and on how loudly I can quarrel with my elders’), so I shall certainly encourage everybody to try it before forming opinions.

See the wikipedia summary here. Akhila has grown up in a closed and orthodox Brahmin community in small-town Tamil Nadu, she has had to become the ‘man’ of the family since her father’s untimely death – working as a clerk in the income tax department in Bangalore – looking after her mother, sister and brothers, she has never had much chance to have romantic flings or time to get married, she has always been one who tries to think for herself, she is lonely and frustrated, and finally at 45, egged on to live her own life by a school friend who is now a widow and lives with her daughter, she decides to do herself the favour of taking a holiday, and goes travelling by train towards Kanyakumari, even having to fight to assert that much freedom of action for herself. On the train, in a ladies’ coupe (the kind that existed on Indian Railways till the early 1990s), she makes an acquaintance with five other women of varying ages and from considerably different social strata, and overnight, they all tell her their own stories.

The stories are well told. Though nothing here is new or really shocking to my kind of reader, you cannot help feeling shame, sorrow, pity and a strong sense of the ridiculous about the way most women are still treated in our society, regardless of which part of India one belongs to, whether they are educated and well-off or not (ridiculous that one woman finds a modicum of ‘liberation’ in eating eggs on the sly, another from learning to swim in middle age without her husband’s knowledge. My daughter has much to be thankful for!). Horrifying and disgusting, too, that women have so strongly internalized all the iniquitous mores supposedly imposed by a patriarchal dispensation that they are the first and cruellest to condemn other women in distress, so they will heap opprobrium on the head of a mother who sells her daughter into prostitution for want of any other way to keep the headless family going but won’t do anything to help; other mothers will routinely blame daughters for ‘tempting’ men into raping them, and women who find brief pleasure in lesbian relationships will then turn around on themselves and their partners in revulsion and self-loathing. The writer is honest enough to show how women can use deadly wile in all stages of life to keep their men under their control, as far as they can. And moreover, that men – real men, not the straw monsters constructed by feminists to hurl their barbs at – are not all bad and ugly but merely weak and stupid creatures, often trying to simply do the best they can and failing miserably to make their women happy, either because it is beyond their power or the  women simply do not know what they really want.

That brings me to the crux of the matter: what is it that Akhila wants, and does she ever really find it? From her childhood she has been resentful of other people’s happiness (even her own parents’ – why should they be so devoted to each other in such a conventional way, and why should they ‘make’ her feel neglected owing to their own closeness?), unable to find any for herself: is it entirely a matter of unfavourable circumstances or something to do with her character? Love does come her way, but she runs away, convincing herself that a much younger man would be highly unsuitable – leaving him shocked and apparently heartbroken. Later, on her time out, she exults in seducing another younger man literally off the street and having a one-night stand with him before rubbing him out of her life without so much as a goodbye, and immediately thereafter rings up her former beau, no doubt to check if the old flame still burns, and whether something can be made out of it yet. Remember, she had set out to find out for herself whether a woman really ever needs a man in her life (other than as a stud, I presume), and this is how it ends. Look at the last lines of a blogpost written about it by a woman here. Just what I ended up feeling myself.

P.S.: My family is just different, I guess. My aunt has lived unmarried all her life, and alone since her mother died several years ago. She retired as a professor in a Calcutta college 14 years back, and has travelled all over India and more than twenty other countries all by herself. I wonder what the Akhila type would say if they met her?

[Ladies’ Coupé, by Anita Nair, Penguin Books India 2001, pp. 276, Rs. 350, ISBN 978-0-141-00595-9]

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

As the days pass

I have been lately engaged in preparing examination notes for my daughter, and it has led me to read up and reflect upon a lot of modern poetry, including some I encountered for the first time. So I have written on Heaney’s Punishment, and Lawrence’s Snake, Musée and Unknown Citizen and Shield of Achilles by Auden, and Church going by Larkin. It has been good exercise for the brain cells, and besides, it amused me to think that though I have stopped teaching plus-two level students, the plus-two curriculum hasn’t let go of me. Someday others will come running to get their hands on these notes… I know for a fact how many have found them useful even in college.

It’s been fifteen months that I have been living by myself now – for most of the time, that is – my wife and daughter being in Kolkata. Learning anew to live the bachelor life at this age (and that too, devoid of the kind of ‘compensations’ that a metro city could provide) has been hard, but I think I am getting into my stride now. It’s not fun, and it’s risky, but then things could be a lot worse, like having to live cheek by jowl with impossible relatives who make you feel murderous… and I’d much rather live alone than have to consort with ‘friends’ who care only about what they can get out of me. It’s been my great misfortune that I have known far too many of that kind. 2013 was a particularly bad year – or an intense learning experience if you want – and I’d much rather stay unsocial for the rest of my life than bear with ‘friends’. I have been missing my grandfather, and Sudhirda, and I miss my daughter all the time, and it has occurred to me that I have met very few other people in my life, despite an enormous number of acquaintances, who have given me reason to miss them.

Which brings me to the issue of charity. I have written about it at least twice before in years past (see this and this). My own life is replete with ironies, one of them being that I have fended for myself since an unusually early age, and I have never begged anyone for charity yet, at least of the monetary kind, and at the same time I have been sought out for help nearly all my life, until this very morning. I cannot tell you how many and how very different people turn up at my door with what an incredible variety of sob stories, assured that they will not go away empty handed. I know I am different, because I have checked: they never go to anybody else at least on my own street! I sometimes get exasperated, and yell at them, but I have to work very hard to persuade any one of them that I don’t want him or her to come begging at my door any more. It doesn’t even make me feel good any longer – I’ve been giving for far too long, and know that there will hardly ever be any reciprocation, even by way of a word of gratitude, so heaven knows why I keep doing it. Some are born suckers, is my best guess. Or maybe somewhere deep down I do believe in compensation in the hereafter. But another kind of charity I have needed, and occasionally even asked for – the kind of charity that involves giving someone part of one’s time and attention and empathy – and this I have learnt: whatever the reason may be, I am not the sort who can get that kind of charity from anybody. People only come to take; they either can’t or don’t want to give any. I have sometimes thought that it is the curse of being strong: people give only to those whom they find to be weak.

So it must be my daughter alone, I think. The kind of person she has grown up into, she actually does love me with the kind of love I have always wanted; and she should be enough. I have already seen more charity in her, at least for me, than I have seen in anybody else now living. In another ten years or so, I might even be asking her for money (it feels odd even as I write this: I have been giving money to people for thirty-odd years now; how will it feel to take money for a change?!).  But this much I have decided: I am never going to ask anyone else again. Someone told me some time ago ‘I am not Pupu’. That will stay with me forever. And at my situation in life, I am not seriously interested in anyone who is less than Pupu in his or her attitude towards me…

Friday, June 27, 2014

Neoliberal education, and its likely future

The Statesman of Calcutta recently carried a deeply disturbing essay written by a former professor at Gokhale Institute, Pune (one of those few places left where they still apparently try to teach economics proper rather than just another branch of applied mathematics, designed to train one more brand of technician rather than thinkers). It is about which way ‘education’ has been going all over the world. Click on this and then this.

It is a dense essay: it will need focused ploughing through. Don’t read it when you are busy and distracted.

Those who have been reading this blog all these years cannot fail to note how many of the writer’s ideas resonate with mine, as articulated in all the essays clubbed under the label ‘education’.

Someday those essays of mine might come out together in the shape of a book. Maharatna’s article is the sort that I would like to use as part of my references. Hence I have ‘bookmarked’ it here, to be looked up maybe many years later.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Others and us

I love to see that other people are thinking the same way I do about matters close to my heart. Here’s an article by Jug Suraiya in The Times of India that a pupil in my current class sent me the link to, and another, related one, which both Navin Rustagi and Rajdeep Seth thought fit to draw my attention to. Navin is doing a post-doc in math in the US, while Rajdeep teaches English in Japan. That sort of thing does not stop them from thinking about other things, including civilisational issues. Thanks, Pritam, Navin and Rajdeep.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tough steps in the offing?

Good to hear that the new PM has announced/threatened early in his tenure that the people will have to put up with some ‘tough decisions’ if the economy is to be put back quickly on a high-growth track. I am all for tough decisions, only I remember Gunnar Myrdal writing two generations ago that the Indian state has always been tough with the have-nots, and treated the haves with kid gloves. Let’s see what being tough might mean:

Cut subsidies? By all means, but let it start with subsidies that pamper the upper middle class and the rich, such as those on cooking gas, and diesel fuel for fancy cars, and government-run universities, and near unlimited expense accounts for senior government officials and corporate honchos alike (remember, the rest of us not only have to earn our daily bread but pay taxes for it).

Raise taxes? Sure, but start with a special income-tax slab for those who earn, say, above a crore a year. And how about a luxury consumption tax of 50% on five-star dinners? The Indian rich have always been among the most lightly taxed in the world. Then listen to them scream: it will be music to the ears of at least half a billion other Indians who can  be given more bijli-sadak-paani-makaan with that kind of money.

How about really doing something to bring home the fabled hoard of black money that the super rich have stashed away in banks abroad? It is alleged that the amount involved could wipe out India’s entire foreign debt at one stroke!

I am sure that opening up many sectors of the economy to competition domestic and foreign would be on the whole a good thing – insurance and banking and retail and education and healthcare, for instance – but given the huge potential for ripping off the consumer if history is any guide, how about giving our consumer protection laws some real teeth? CEOs should know that spending half a lifetime in jail is always possible if they try any funny business. Surely we could do with fewer Ramalinga Rajus, Subrata Roys and Sudipto Sens? As of now, the system protects them too well, not least because there is so much public adulation and awe of anybody who has managed to make a big pile somehow. And by ‘public’ I don’t mean just the illiterate riff-raff: ‘journalists’ warn solemnly how arresting William Pinckney could seriously hurt the economy, drawing their wisdom from people who dine with Pinckney at the same clubs, or from economists in the pay of the same…

I can list offhand a dozen more tough measures that will do us good. I am sure Mr. Modi can think of many more. Question is, will he have the gumption to take those steps? He might do well to remember that when ‘experts’ say it is essential to turn the economy into a lean and mean machine, they take good care to ensure that their own dinner will not be affected. As John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out, Milton Friedman, the arch-doyen of laissez faire economists, never once in his life suggested that the salaries of university professors like himself should be subjected to the cruel vagaries of free market competition. It’s only those who are already lean if not mean who are always called upon to tighten their belts a little more for the ‘greater good’. That is not progress. There used to be a word for it: barbarism. Yes, that’s the way the world works by and large, but who said the world is a nice place?

P.S., June 22: I am delighted to see that the new government has implemented the long, long-delayed decision to hike railway fares, even if in a rather small way. Good beginning. First big public decision in a month, but way to go, Mr. Modi!

P.P.S., July 01: In this article, Professor Sukanta Chaudhuri has given a very timely and dire warning of what could be the shape of things to come. He deserves to be read with the closest attention.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Where are the teachers?

Only last year we heard Manmohan Singh bemoaning the fact that not one of India’s institutes of so-called higher learning ranks among the top 200 in the world; now we see the incumbent President of India (himself a most uncommonly erudite man) doing the same. In this context, I find it remarkable that Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, in the capacity of Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, had lamented the ‘isolation and stagnation’ in academics almost a century ago (long before Amartya Sen had gone to college, or I)! What has changed, if not for the worse, though India churns out several million college graduates a year today?

Very closely connected to the issue of perpetually falling standards in education, from KG to PG, far more serious than lack of funds or infrastructure I have always held, is the lack of competent and dedicated teachers. If anything, things have become worse over the last three decades: despite the considerable hike in salaries (and despite the fact that many private tutors earn very sizeable incomes – certainly much more than the average IT worker, bank officer or journo can aspire to), very few of my brightest ex students even consider becoming teachers, especially at the school level, where the foundations are laid and futures are made. So I am more than a little pleased to see that even the new Prime Minister has gone public saying that ‘good teachers are one of the biggest needs of society’, and he has ‘rued that there were very few available’: see this news item.  Not that it will make the slightest difference – children and parents alike are convinced that what matters is a combination of reasonable (not great-) pay and slight requirement of learning, skill, patience and hard work, therefore if one good student opts for a teaching career, ten thousand will want to be engineers or hotel managers or stringers for TV…making even 100K a month as a private tutor at home, one’s own boss and everyone calling you ‘Sir’ is a vastly better career proposition than slogging for 40-50K (or even 100K) as an insignificant cog in a vast corporate wheel in Bangalore or Mumbai, but I guess the only youngster I have really convinced is my own daughter.

Which brings me to something that our Chief Minister said in a public speech the other day. She is one of those brave politicians (or driven by desperate circumstances) who can take the bull by the horns. She has candidly admitted that it is not within the government’s power to provide millions of new jobs every year, so young people had better look out for themselves, and there is nothing shameful or pathetic about self-employment: a lot of hardworking people are doing  very well indeed, she said, citing the example of a telebhaaja (fried savouries) vendor in her own neighbourhood, even if you forget arguments about the dignity of all labour. What I found imbecile and risible in the same news article is that some ‘professor of marketing in a Calcutta based B-school’ has remarked ‘at a time highly educated students are suffering because of lack of employment opportunities, such comments are extremely insensitive’. Let us take this comment apart, piece by piece:

1.      ‘Highly educated’ students? 90% of those in the age-group 18-24 who are attending some private engineering or management school (the kind where this kind of oaf can be a ‘professor’), I happen to know, would make pathetic cartoons of themselves if they were asked to teach any subject to kids in class ten.
2.      ‘Suffering’? These kids are the most pampered generation the planet has ever seen, the type whose parents buy them bikes, smartphones and seats in private colleges – what are they ‘suffering’ from, except maybe obesity and boredom?
3.      How much less would they ‘suffer’ if instead of taking up some sort of self-employment they became shopfloor supervisors in Big Bazaar, or insurance policy sellers, or cybercoolies, or ‘professors’ in private colleges who – I happen to know – are frequently paid less than government schoolteachers and treated like slaves by the owners?
4.      Why ‘at a time’? Of course this ‘professor’ and others of his ilk are history-illiterate, but it just so happens that Indians have been suffering from ‘lack of employment opportunities’ for at least four generations. Only, strangely, there are far more Bengalis among them than Biharis, Punjabis, Gujaratis, Marwaris and Sindhis. Something to learn here? What might this ‘professor’ say?
5.      Why is it less glamorous or respectable to be a roadside dhaaba owner who makes several lakhs a month (there are many in Kolkata, and I am sure in all the other metropolitan cities) than to be a ‘professor of marketing’, who basically teaches young people tricks to fool people into buying things they don’t really need? (think: do you need to market insulin?)
6.      What is ‘extremely insensitive’ about advising people to stand on their own feet instead of expecting parents and the government to do things for them all their lives? Is it actually a fact that if a lot of youngsters got interested in fending for themselves instead of wasting a few years in a run of the mill B-school, a lot of ‘professors’ like this one would lose their jobs (is it really a job? Look up this old post of mine…), and that is what he found most frightening to contemplate?

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A holiday long overdue

All through May I just slogged, slept, followed the unavoidable election mania and survived. Then on the 23rd I left for Kolkata. From Saturday the 24th to Friday the 30th my daughter and I were away, travelling in the hills of north Bengal and east Sikkim. It was an unusual trip in more ways than one.

To start with, this was the first time ever I was travelling with only my daughter for company (it turned out to be so pleasurable that I hope there will be many, many more). Secondly, the flight to Bagdogra was a repeat of the very first one in my life, 43 years ago, and nothing significant seemed to have changed, except that the aeroplanes are far more crowded these days, and full of the hoi polloi (I simply can’t help sneering, sorry. Democracy combined with rapidly spreading and increasing incomes can be an awful thing, since people tend to carry their lack of potty training everywhere). Thirdly because this was the first ever ‘package tour’ that I did in a long lifetime of travelling, and I shall pull the veil lightly over the experience with a heartfelt ‘never again’: if the poet’s lines ‘where every prospect pleases and only man is vile’ passed through my mind once during the course of the trip, it must have done so a hundred times. Thankfully my daughter, after her very first experience, is absolutely in agreement with me on this. And to think that it was only a small group, with no loud and messy children in tow, either...

Fourthly, instead of putting up in hotels as we usually do, we stayed for the most part in what they locally call ‘homestay’ facilities, cottages put up, maintained and serviced by the denizens of remote and picturesque villages. It is an idea that has caught on in various parts of India, and in Bengal and Sikkim, they get help and encouragement from the state governments’ departments of tourism. Well, things have gotten off the ground pretty recently there, and unlike their equivalents in, say, Kerala or Rajasthan, these places are definitely downmarket, with all the pros and cons that entails. They are easy on the pocket, and you can really get away from the madding crowds, for one thing. The hosts are friendly, helpful and kind. The facilities are just one step above spartan (thick blankets yes, hot water, mostly, at least once a day, but in one place they didn’t even have an  electric supply, and I for one don’t find that enjoyable or romantic, not if there’s no power supply round the clock. In most of the locations there was no internet connection, and phone services were erratic and patchy). Calling the roads ‘terrible’ in some places would be an understatement, and on our way back twice the car nearly got stuck in knee deep mud, which would have meant our missing the train. But all’s well that ends well.

Fifthly, we left Kolkata in blazing heat, and back on Friday morning it was sweltering again, yet in between the rain, sometimes squally rain, followed us all the way through, turning into a brief snowstorm when we were visiting Kupup Lake above Dzuluk at 13,000 feet, close to the border with China. The sky had grown overcast by Sunday evening, and Monday through Wednesday it just kept on raining. So it was a very, very wet mountain tour, and it didn’t help that between us my daughter and I had one umbrella and no waterproof clothing at all, but were determined to walk around as much as we could. I’ve got this nasty cold that will take some time to go away...

We followed what the tourism people call the ‘Old Silk Route’. Thrilling to think that this was the route Sir Francis Younghusband followed on his (in-)famous expedition to Lhasa back in 1903-4. So from Siliguri we drove to Kalimpong, then Pedong, and then up six km or so of what used to be a foot track until only a short while ago to Sillery Gaon for our first night’s stay. Our walk through the woods as dusk was falling, enchanting as it was, had to be cut short when we remembered that a policeman on election duty had been badly mauled by a stray bear not too far away, and that too in broad daylight!  The next morning we went on to Aritar for a view of the picturesque little lake, then put up at a hotel where the biggest attraction was a very furry and sleepy old dog that couldn’t have enough of cuddling. Off to Lingtam the next day, through driving rain and fog. They are building a road to Bhutan from there, the locals told me. Then the tough drive up to Dzuluk on the coldest day yet, and further upwards along one of the snakiest mountain roads I have ever encountered to Kupup or Elephant Lake, from where Gangtok is barely 50 km away, albeit across very rough and high-altitude terrain. The army was an unobtrusive but highly visible presence everywhere. On the last day, it was a glorious dawn with blue sky and bright sunshine again. It was a long drive via Rongli and Rangpo to New Jalpaiguri, where a clean railway retiring room gave us privacy and rest and a chance to freshen up before we took the train in the evening for a quiet and comfortable ride back home.

Our travelling companions, typical middle class Bengalis, grumbled about everything all the way, from the food to the lack of comforts to the absence of views of snow capped mountain peaks (just like those who visit some wildlife park and if they don’t manage to glimpse a tiger complain that they couldn’t see ‘anything’), but Pupu and I found the scenery wonderful, lush rainwashed greenery and wild flowers in such profusion, and the fog casting a magic spell over it all. Little roadside cascades gushing down through the dense foliage, every one of them beckoning you to stop, stand and stare. And when you were walking along the pine forests enveloped in deep shadows, you could sometimes cut the silence with a knife: I have a chance to hear water dripping in the woods and crickets chirping in the thousands in the daytime only once in a while, and can never have enough. And my God, the variety of butterflies... they even came into your room at night by the dozen if you kept the door open for a bit. What restful sleep we had those four nights, despite having to get up early every morning! To come back to the city, though only about 700 km or so away, was far more of a wrench than going from New York to Shanghai, when just about nothing changes except for the faces and the skin colour.

So now I am back in the Big Bad City once more, and by day after tomorrow I shall be back to the old grind (I hope my several hundred children will be glad to see me again). It’s been a nice break on the whole, and I am already wondering what I should do with the next one. I hope clean, quiet and green places sparsely inhabited by nice, slow, easy going people survive a while longer for those of future generations who get fed up with city life every now and then. In this I am only echoing Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay from back in the 1930s.

P.S., June 02: To see a few photos, click here

June 08: last of the photos added.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Patriotism? pshaw!

Patriotism seems to be the flavour of the season, now that we have got a ‘nationalist’ prime minister. What kind of patriotic upsurge should I like to see in India? Let’s see:

I’d like schools to pay much more attention to the teaching of history, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea if all young people were familiarized with Sanskrit, so that they could explore a little of our intellectual and spiritual treasures for themselves (or at least be taught some of the same in translations into their vernaculars).

I should like people not just putting up bumper stickers saying ‘mera Bharat mahaan’, but doing things to make her so – myriad little things from not cheating in examinations and using foul language and littering the streets to earning their pay.

I should like them (at least as far as the French and Japanese  and Russians have managed to do) to come out from the spell of the worst of Anglo-Saxon pop culture, whether that means shopping for ‘entertainment’ or chatting night and day on Facebook or drinking Pepsi instead of lassi or deliberately avoiding or bastardizing their mother tongues or calling monkeying music or flirting with the opposite sex for most of their lifetimes without any serious commitment of any kind, not even to one’s children.

I should like all Indians regardless of religion to commit their loyalty unequivocally to this nation and her Constitution, without demanding any kind of special privileges whatsoever beyond what extreme poverty and helplessness might entitle any human being to. Specifically, raising foreign flags must meet with immediate and severe punishment under the law, and claims for separate civil codes.

I should like Indian men to aim at becoming men rather than crooks, time-servers or lafungas (regardless of whether they are lafungas with bicycles or BMWs), and women to become worthy of respect by virtue of their work, not because they just happen to be women. Both sexes have a whole pantheon of ideals to choose from, yet their abiding sin is that they all want simultaneously to be ‘ordinary’ and be ‘respected’. And a billion ‘ordinary’ people keep dreaming that some great leader will turn them into an extraordinary nation. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

I want Indians to relearn the virtue of respect. If you want to get it someday, start by giving it today to those who deserve it. Deserve it, mind you, not merely because they are older or more powerful in one way or the other. We are as good at faking respect as we are bad at showing the real thing: trying to be truly respectful discomfits and angers us, because it forces us to face up to our own inferiority.

I would like ‘ordinary’ Indians to think and talk more about things like the Himalayas, and the great rivers and forests, and real science, and art, and justice, rather than to gossip about cricket and Bollywood and what the neighbours are doing.

I would like Indians to shed hypocrisy to the furthest extent possible. Specifically, if all you can do with life is to get a nondescript job and get married, don’t talk about things of the mind and spirit. And don’t mouth ideals that you know your parents will never allow you to uphold in real life, or even if they did, you just don’t have the guts to practise. At least get beaten up on the street once for the sake of one of those underdogs you so love to defend in the cosy safety of your bedroom via the internet. I have, and not once. Leave big talk to big people. Democracy does not mean mouthing platitudes or howling with the mob, especially when your favourite mob is saying things that are currently politically correct and safe, like giving one more thumbs up to Malala Yousufzai. You want to wear hardly-there skirts or defend gay rights, go and do it in a Haryana village, not on the Jadavpur University campus. Wimps sound like lions when they know they are perfectly safe…

You love India, show it by staying here and doing the best you can all your life. Don’t slaver after a green card or boast about how many successful relatives of yours are settled in the United States, nor groan about how India does not offer ‘good enough opportunities’ for someone as wonderful as you. C.V. Raman and Satyajit Ray didn’t. In any  case, India has done enough for the Ambanis and Aamir Khan and MS Dhoni and me: maybe you are just worthless, and don’t deserve anything better than what you have got? Stick to that cybercoolie’s job in Bangalore and thank your lucky stars you are not a farmer in Andhra Pradesh…

Friday, May 16, 2014

Dawn of a new era?

The people have spoken, and more decisively than for a long time in the recent past.

Here are a few off-the-cuff observations, entirely personal in nature, looking at the results as available on the night of 16th May.

1.      I am glad that the Congress has not just been soundly trounced, but reduced almost to insignificance. Perhaps they will at last start the many-decades delayed process of cleaning the Augean stables, starting with getting rid of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty once and for all?
2.      I confess I did not expect the BJP to win absolute majority on its own. This changes the game like nothing else could – given that a) they don’t even need the other NDA partners to form a government, and b) that one man had been projected almost unanimously as the new leader right from the start of the electoral campaign. Whether we like it or not, we are going to get a ‘strong’ government with a vengeance.
3.      Giving all political pundits the lie, regional parties have suddenly shrunk into insignificance on the national stage. For some time to come, at least, it is only what the top leadership of the BJP think that will matter so far as Indian governmental policy is concerned. This was not the case on Vajpayee’s watch. There will be a lot of interesting developments following from this, I am sure.
4.      The Aam Admi Party has vanished into the inconsequence it richly deserved. I was fed to the back teeth with the politically illiterate and puerile ‘anti-corruption’ melodrama conducted by someone whose basic claim to public attention – for the short while it lasted – was that he graduated from IIT and was good at using twitter. The fellow had begun to dream that he could at least become kingmaker. RIP.
5.      Ms. Mamata Banerjee has seen the fulfilment of her life’s dream – to see the CPI(M) being virtually wiped out of West Bengal at every level from the panchayats to the Lok Sabha. (Given that the Left Front hardly existed without West Bengal, and given that they have won about 12 seats in the Lok Sabha this time, their very survival might be at stake). I wonder, though, whether she will be able to deliver good governance to the state in the next few years – and the fact that she has queered the pitch with the incoming Union government by campaigning virulently and very personally against Narendra Modi is not going to help matters where the state’s interests are concerned, since her 30-odd seats in the Lok Sabha are worth nothing to the PM-to-be.
6.      The government of the United States must be squirming and sweating blood. The man who is about to become PM of India is still on their list of people to whom a visa remains banned! Talk about having to swallow humble pie. And I wonder what they are thinking in Islamabad and Beijing…?
7.      Modi’s sweeping success at the hustings underscores something I have believed for a long time – that the opinions of the urban, well-off intelligentsia or the chattering classes or whatever you call them, especially as expressed through English-language newspapers and TV channels, just don’t matter. They are most of the time – maybe they choose to be – hopelessly out of touch with ground realities.
8.      Corporate India seems to be happy, and the stock markets are on a roll. Shape of things to come, or will the dream sour within months? I won’t lay bets, just wait and watch…
9.      I have not suddenly become a Narendra Modi fan. Just let it go on record that I am awestruck by the speed with which he went from someone who was hardly known outside his home state even a year ago (unless it was for his so-called ‘tainted’ record of being communal) to being the anointed claimant to the national throne. And I certainly believe that he is a determined, full-time politician not a dilettante (the type I most despise), that unlike many of his fellow politicians he knows his own mind, and that he deserves a chance now that he has come this far, if only to prove that he wasn’t worth the hype and hoopla. After all, he has played by the rules, and he has never shown any signs that he wants to break the basic rules – what else do you want in a democracy? And it makes my blood boil to hear the argument that ‘after all he started as a chaiwallah’. I am an unabashed elitist in many ways, but this is not the kind of elitism I believe in. Finally, the fact that there has been a wave in favour of the BJP even in Uttar Pradesh, with its very sizeable Muslim population, seems to indicate that despite everything, our Muslims have not decided en masse to treat him like an untouchable demon. Vox populi, vox dei, remember, all you disgruntled folks?

India 2014-2019 is going to be an interesting place to live in.

P.S.: This blogpost of mine provides what I should think is an unexceptionable roadmap for any government that wants to make a real and permanent difference for the better.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

It's hard to be a father!

‘When does a dad go wrong? And when he does, can he ever forgive himself?’

So I wrote in a post here four years ago, recalling an incident from the life of my daughter (and mine) when she was a tiny tot. I can assure my readers that the incident is still as vivid in my mind as if it happened yesterday.

And now my daughter is going to be eighteen in a few months’ time, and I have nearly had a quarrel with her (as close as we can ever come to quarrelling, that is, and that has never happened till now), and had to say ‘no’ to something she very badly wanted to do, and all I can say is that it broke my heart to do it, and I shall never know whether I did the right thing or not, but being the kind of father I am, I just couldn’t help it.

As my daughter wrote in a recent blogpost of hers, she participated on behalf of her school in a ‘peer guide training’ programme for a travelling exhibition organised in Kolkata by the world-renowned Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She apparently made a mark on them, because they contacted her later on and asked her to write for their newsletter, which she did. Events rolled on, until just a few weeks ago they called her to say she was invited to attend a one-week international students’ conference in August at Anne Frank House itself, all expenses paid. Naturally she was ecstatic at the opportunity – I do not know too many people of her age anywhere who can boast of as much earned entirely by their own merit – and I virtually gave her permission to go. And then I had to backtrack, alas! I shall spare my readers the details, but suffice it to say that I found out she had to travel to and fro entirely alone, and I had banked on an ex student of mine who lives close to Amsterdam to keep an eye on her, but as luck would have it, it turned out that he wouldn’t be there at that time. I realized I simply couldn’t take the risk – as I told my daughter, I am just a timid old stick in the mud – and though I even for a while considered the possibility of going over with her, I eventually rejected it as being just too impractical.

So now she has been bitterly disappointed, and had to tell Anne Frank House that she isn’t coming. They have been very nice about it. It is of course entirely possible that she will get such an invitation again in future, and if my prayers and blessings count for anything at all, she will get many similar opportunities in the years to come. She has been kind enough to say she has forgiven me, and even that on second thoughts she feels it would indeed have been too big a risk to take, and in any case she has already turned her mind to the holiday trips we have planned, and the exams ahead. But she also knows that baba will be sorry and feel guilty for the rest of his life.

Why does the Almighty test fathers so sorely?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

shudhu asha jawa, or aller et venir continuel

I teach very serious things very seriously from day one of my classes with every batch: by personal example, as much as is within my power. I also tell them ‘Tomorrow never comes’, and ‘You can take a horse to the water but you cannot make it drink’. Because I know that despite my most earnest efforts, most people will learn little of what I try to teach, or forget all too soon, and therefore never benefit from what they learnt here for the rest of their lives, even actually abuse me simply because they never learnt even a little bit of what I tried to teach, simply because I was just being what I always clearly told them I was, and proud to be.

The value of time, for instance, and never procrastinating. The importance of being clean, courteous and articulate in your thought and speech. How much little details matter, even details of spelling and grammar. The value of laughter, and how to distinguish clean, good, healthy laughter from the all-too-common gutter variety. How utterly crucial it is to become your own man/woman, and how incredibly hard it is, how easy to think that you are like that! How bad it is to jeer at others’ faults and follies, when you have come to learn and you are full of them yourself. How great a sickness gossip is, and soulless socializing simply because you are afraid to be alone with yourself, and want to be constantly reassured that the world is full of people quite as trivial as you are. How utterly evil it is to lie, even if one thinks that one is doing it just for fun. How love is the most used and abused word in the world, how cruel it is to say ‘I love you’ to someone again and again, and then turn around sometime later – a week or a year – to say ‘I only wanted a simple friendship’, or to drop out of his or her life completely without so much as a by your leave. ‘Don’t do it,’ I tell my children as they grow up, ‘don’t add to all the badness and baseness there already is in the world. Don’t pretend to be deeper than you are. You cannot keep it up for any length of time. And they forget.

Also, the number and variety of people who come over for counsel, and tell me so much of their private joys and woes – though they hardly know me from Adam, and would be scandalized if I ever talked about what they tell me – makes me wonder, too. What do they seek in me? Just a shoulder to lean upon for a while, somewhere to unburden themselves, a sympathetic and non-judgmental listener? If that is indeed true, such listeners must be rare indeed, and the need for them great, for they keep coming, and some hang around for years, and even assure me they are grateful that I was there for them, people in the teens and seventies, men and women, ‘smart’ and not so; people who have suffered devastation and people who love to make mountains out of molehills. Like Mr. Chips dozing by the fireside in his dotage, the names and faces pass through my mind in an endless fading pageant… Some are even thoughtful and humane enough to wonder aloud how I find so much time for them, and why I care. So many gladly offer to pay. And sooner or later they all go away, either because they don’t like me any more (that happens gradually with some and very suddenly and unexpectedly with others), or they no longer have any need for me.


Put yourself imaginatively in my shoes. Why do you think I still keep at it? And what is likely to be my opinion of the mass of mankind by now, including and especially those who have this opinion of themselves that they are good human beings? 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Summer of 2014


I recently got my house painted, after ages. That's a picture above. Must say it looks fresh and cheerful.

Summer has set in in right earnest: by 9 it becomes blazing hot outdoors, and without my dark glasses I'd be blinded. Thank God for the airconditioners, and the swimming pool, and the chilled Budweisers! While in the pool, especially when my daughter is with me, I am happy enough to be humming Nat King Cole's 'Those lazy hazy crazy days of summer', though the man himself would have been aghast if he had been asked to sing it in this kind of heat. Sometimes I go with a favourite ex-student. For a few pictures of the pool, click here

I am waiting for the krishnachura and radhachura to burst out in a bloom of crimson and gold, and the first of the nor'westers, which have been playing truant this year...

Some people try very hard to make me unhappy, but don't succeed. On the other hand, some really make my day, like the old girl whose email I found in my inbox first thing in the morning a few days ago: 'Sir, I had to tell you this: you are a little like Atticus Finch!' So, where the bad and the boring are concerned, I can afford to smile with Tagore, dhulaar ja dhon taha jete dao dhulite... I am looking forward to my holiday trip already.