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Friday, October 02, 2015

On Gandhi Jayanti

When one is handicapped, one gets nasty scares and also feels monstrously proud about doing very little things. This morning I cleaned the bathroom thoroughly for the first time since the accident – I mean thoroughly, not only scrubbing the wc and the washbasin but also the entire floor and even the drain pipe and grille. I nearly slipped and fell on the soapy floor once, and God alone knows what would have happened if I did, my leg still being held up by a plate screwed into the bone. Then I thought it prudent to kneel on the floor. After the first ten minutes the pain started becoming unbearable, and I began sweating like a pig, but worse was to come: when I tried to get up, I found I couldn’t! And I was entirely alone, it goes without saying, without even a phone in my pocket. I’d have died before I would scream for help. Anyway, to make a long story short, I managed to scramble up eventually by using both hands, the door handle and the towel rod – thank heaven one of them didn’t come off at just the critical moment. If this is a foretaste of the future, it is sombre indeed… of course I shall cope till I can’t cope any more, but karma could have been a little kinder.

Rajdeep sent me a couple of links that have made me sombre too. I just read a book about Japan going through difficult times, now that growth has slowed to near zero for decades. And yet an Indian who visited Japan recently found this. I am quite sure now that India will never catch up, not in a decade, not in a century. Meanwhile, what do Indians do? Well, an ex-justice of the Supreme Court goes around abusing Subhas Bose (can’t even think of original insults!) – someone who has personally achieved nothing in his life that will put him in the history books, too – while Tagore’s ancestral house is being allowed to degenerate into a slum, Arvind Kejriwal has (quite predictably) become a hugely forgettable sick joke, and while India ranked 135 out of 187 in the Human Development Index 2014 after 67 years of trying, the sickest (read most privileged-) part of the population is going gaga over how Zomato is ‘conquering’ the world and how our dollar billionaires are proliferating. And the absolutely real problem with this section is that they feel neither retarded nor ashamed. I would so like to know that a few of my old boys and girls are doing something meaningful for the India that matters: the billion people who still just keep scrounging to keep their heads above the water. One particularly moronic ex-student actually wrote that Facebook deserves 'respect' because it has a billion users. Respect. Respect.

The parents of a current pupil came over to discuss her progress, and in the course of the conversation told me that they run a clutch of family businesses, one of which has 700-odd employees. That impressed me, and I am not easily impressed. But what really made my eyes light up was hearing how much the lady’s old and ‘retired’ father contributes still – from managing the finances to looking after the household to dropping off the child at school and tuitions when the parents are not around: the woman tearfully and gratefully admitted that ‘without my father none of this would have been possible’. If I have any prayers at all, I would pray that I can be that kind of father to Pupu in the years to come.

It’s October now. How quickly the year has flown! The days are still muggy, but the nights are much less so: it’s time to start hoping that we’ll have a long, chilly winter. It rained heavily today, but that didn’t much help to get rid of the sweltering heat, so I am sulking.

When I narrated my ordeal of the morning to a class in the evening, several girls laughed. Yes, they laughed. Not one boy did.

oh, what the hell.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A week's holiday

Life is nothing if not full of ironies. All through the last year I was thinking and talking about taking more frequent if not also longer breaks. I ended up doing the single longest stretch of continuous work in probably my whole life – all of six months at the rate of seven days a week, except for a week after the accident! And for all those six months I never went more than ten kilometres from my house, either.

So I finally cried off after Thursday, the 10th of September, and next morning I had myself driven to Kolkata. Everybody’s fears notwithstanding, it was a smooth, uneventful and painless drive. And this last week I have enjoyed the kind of leisure that can come only from a clean conscience, a full belly and (reasonably-) good health after you have worked long and hard, also provided that the air-conditioner is working full time, and you have a daughter like Pupu with you.

We have watched three movies together – Gone Girl, Hercule Poirot’s Halloween Party and Inside Out. The first two were unfortunately about pathological killers; the third was good. Animation movies are so heartwarming and even thought-provoking these days that I sometimes think I’d rather watch those than the ones with real humans in them. I also read out Macbeth to Pupu, and even my wife found it fascinating enough to sit through the entire session. Good friends came visiting, as well as my parents. I finished a very serious and most interesting book on the socio-economics of contemporary Japan: Bending Adversity by David Pilling, 2014. Many thanks for the gift, Rajdeep; I am a more educated man now. It compelled me to wonder again and again – is that the direction India is heading? But heaven knows when I shall find the concentrated time to finish all your other books. …and now I have started on Nirad C. Chaudhuri’s Bangali Jibone Romoni, something that I last read at least 25 years ago. I’ll write what I feel about the book at this stage of my life.

The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Jadavpur University campus. I had missed out on Pupu’s admission process because of the broken leg. This time, too, I had to be driven there and back, and I could only slowly walk around with a crutch, but I did walk and see a great deal. Nearly three decades have passed since I was a student there, so predictably there had been some changes. The road that skirts the campus is much greener and tidier now. The campus is swarming with cars and motorbikes – they were not allowed in our time (the head of the department of history drives a Mercedes: I wish the engineer-manager babus of PSUs in Durgapur could just see this!). Few girls wear saris, and almost all of them smoke – far more, in fact, than boys do! Everybody has earphones dangling, but when they chat face to face in groups, they rarely irritate one another by texting all the time. There are far more buildings around; most of them have lifts, and many classrooms are airconditioned (Lord, the tuition fee is 75 rupees a month). The posters and graffiti are as silly, strident and ubiquitous as they have always been.  The façade of the Arts Faculty Students’ Union office bears a painting from Tagore’s Shohoj Paath, alongside a quote from one his poems. I was glad to see that a lot of youngsters spoke good, fluent Bengali – and, as with the smoking, far more girls used Banglish than boys did. There were far more canteens and open-air eateries selling a much wider variety of food than before. Some of my professors had become history, as I saw with the Anita Banerjee Memorial Hall (she was wife of Milon Banerjee the then solicitor general of India, and my favourite teacher, not only because she taught public finance but she alone could speak English with the kind of fluency, accent, poise and allusive style that I would have expected an Oxford don to do, which distanced her from her very Bengali middle class colleagues). But the miracle was how much had not changed: walking out through the ‘Bengal Lamp’ gate to the line of tea stalls across the road, I might have jumped back in time. The young man behind the counter said he had been manning it for only eight years: when I told him I was a regular more than thirty years ago, he said his grandfather must have waited on us. The nicest thing I discovered was how handicapped-friendly the university has become, and the saddest thing was how the college crowd – they who belong to the most privileged and educated section of the populace – litter their surroundings, despite bins and warning notices all around them. Swachh Bharat, ever? I wonder.

I am thankful to my daughter’s new friends, both male and female, for giving me a most un-selfconscious and chirpy welcome. The one that made my day was the girl who said ‘Thank you for the next treat!’ I am heartbroken to have forgotten to take a group photo with them, but I’m sure I’ll visit again. I have told them that if their gang ever lands up in my place, I shall do my best to give them a gala time.

My twelve-year old car, with an ace driver behind the wheel, did the whole highway from Santragachhi Station to Muchipara crossing in two hours flat today. I did not know the old boy still had it in him!

And now I am back home to work, but cheerful and rejuvenated, and determined to give myself more and longer breaks, inshallah.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

'Nivedita on Sir' removed

I have, after two years of pondering, removed the blogpost titled "Nivedita on Sir" dated June 12, 2013 from this blog. This is because I am ashamed of what I wrote in it, having realized to my complete conviction that she didn't mean a word of what she wrote about me in her blogpost titled "Sir". I have never been her 'teacher, friend, father, mentor and confidant', for the simple reason that she never let me. I have no idea what led her to write such a preposterous post at a certain point in her life: I know she has moved on, and I never did matter to her in any sense that she would listen to me if it caused her the very slightest bit of inconvenience.

I am an ageing teacher, a serious man, not entirely unlearned, who thought he had a modicum of intelligence. So I would like to put on public record that it feels very bad to realize I can be duped so easily and completely and for such a long time by someone so young, still. Anyway, I can at least own up to my mistakes, bad mistakes, even, and that brings a little bit of solace. I can still learn, though the learning becomes harder with the passage of years.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

postscript to yesterday's

...and Lavona just sent me this, which is somehow of a piece with what I wrote yesterday:

Subj: Pondering  As I was lying around, pondering the problems of the world, I realized that at my age I don't really give a dang anymore. If walking is good for your health, the postman would be immortal. A whale swims all day, only eats fish, drinks water, but is still fat. A rabbit runs and hops and only lives 15 years, while a tortoise doesn't run and does mostly nothing, yet it lives for 150 years. And you tell me to exercise?? I don't think so. Just grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked, the good fortune to remember the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.

Now that I'm older here's what I've discovered:

1. I started out with nothing, and I still have most of it.

2. My wild oats are mostly enjoyed with prunes and all-bran.

3. I finally got my head together, and now my body is falling apart.

4. Funny, I don't remember being absent-minded.

5. Funny, I don't remember being absent-minded.

6. If all is not lost, then where the heck is it ?

7. It was a whole lot easier to get older, than to get wiser.

8. Some days, you're the top dog, some days you're the fire hydrant.

9. I wish the buck really did stop here, I sure could use a few of them.

10. Kids in the back seat cause accidents.

11. Accidents in the back seat cause kids.

12. It's hard to make a comeback when you haven't been anywhere.

13. The world only beats a path to your door when you're in the bathroom.

14. If God wanted me to touch my toes, he'd have put them on my knees.

15. When I'm finally holding all the right cards, everyone wants to play chess.

16. It's not hard to meet expenses . . . they're everywhere.

17. The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.

18. These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about the hereafter . . .. I go somewhere to get something, and then wonder what I'm "here after".

19. Funny, I don't remember being absent-minded.

20. HAVE I SENT THIS MESSAGE TO YOU BEFORE.......? or did I get it from you? 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

One's own education

A few of the things I have learnt from teaching for a lifetime:

People are overwhelmingly silly, too silly even to know what is good for them.
Far too many people are motivated strongly by overt or subconscious malice, stemming usually from greed, jealousy, fear and frustration.
People are as ready to flatter for trivial advantage as to jeer at others who do.
Girls as a rule don’t read, and of those who do, most are utterly unaffected by what they have read. And these girls grow up to be mothers who fear their children reading as though they are dealing with rabid animals. But of course, they can kill for their children to score well in exams.
Alas, even reading a lot of books is no guarantee that one will grow up into a decent and useful human being. For a lot of people, it is just a pretty affectation.
Most people drift away after a while, even those who claim I influenced them deeply.
Most people betray their own professed ideals and ‘loves’ when the chips are down. Ideals and maxims are only for essays and speeches.
Most people have no high sense of achievement, especially of the sort that does good to others.
Most people become brain dead (and this regardless of whether they are surgeons or computer programmers or schoolteachers or insurance agents) by the time they are twenty five. And also, I find signs of brains in the most unexpected people, including those who have never had the benefit of an expensive education.
Advertizing works wonders. People by the millions actually believe that a certain tutorial will make their kids ‘brilliant’, a certain brand of pen will improve their examination performance, a certain deodorant will make them popular with the opposite sex, a certain smartphone will bring about ‘more love’.
Besides advertizing, the only things that drive them are ingrained personal habits and the herd instinct.
I believe I have understood what Vivekananda predicted more than a century ago – the coming of shudra raaj – in a sense that cannot today even be mentioned publicly without raising far too many hackles, so true it has proved to be.
I believe this is my own coinage, and I want to be remembered for it: A fool when he grows old only becomes an old fool.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The First Noble Truth

'Life is pain. If anyone claims otherwise, he is selling something'.

This was a remark made in a fantasy movie titled Princess Bride that my daughter showed me recently. 

The Buddha would have approved. And I prefer to heed the Buddha than Madison Avenue and its clones around the world, whether they are selling anti-ageing creams, insurance, cars or smartphones.

The point is how best to cope with pain. And the longer you live in denial, the harder it becomes.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Bizarre highways

I truly liked this video. The 'Singing Highway' made me think 'What a lovely idea!', the Karakoram Highway left me worried, the one crossing an aircraft runway made me gasp, and the one that gets the prize is the one which doesn't allow cars to ply, except for rare exceptions.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Sixth August, 2015

Hiroshima Day. How the world has forgotten.

Since I wrote about Ruby, a lot of reactions have come in, many people expressing surprise, many of them saying thanks, many of them harking back to their own memories. Just to dispel the notion (for the creation of which I myself am to a great extent responsible) that I am a hardboiled misogynist, I shall write now and then about favourite old girls. One whose name springs to mind is Priyanka Mullick (née Pobi). Never knew she was fond of me, but she visited me a few years after marriage, and disarmed me with the confession that she had brought her little boy along because surely Sir wouldn’t scold her – if he at all wanted to – in front of her child. She confessed rather shamefacedly that she hadn’t done much beyond what I predict for most girls, namely getting married; yet she has turned out to be far more active and responsible a person than most people her age, happily playing a big part in the large family business even while being, I think, a good mother and daughter. And money hasn’t gone to her head: she went to a humble but very caring religious-run hospital to have her second baby recently. My daughter showed me her photograph with the child on whatsapp, and she sounded pleased but abashed when I called to tell her that not just the baby but the mother looks fabulous. I think what is common to the girls I still love is that they are fond of me, they know how to respect, they have no affectations or pretensions, and most importantly of all, they never ask for what they themselves cannot give. This is why I increasingly think that outside the family the only women one should deal with are thoroughbred professionals, whether they be doctors or ladies of the night. Most others expect too much, and are willing to give too little. There, I suppose I am back to being a misogynist again.

It is already that time of the year when I start saying ‘Sorry’ to parents who wish to enroll their kids for the next year’s class, and only God and my family know what I go through with people who just won’t take no for an answer. You might look up a post titled ‘Weirdos’ that my daughter wrote in her blog back in 2010. And talking of weirdos, I don’t know how many of you will believe this, but there are even folks who first show every sign of desperation to get their kids in – to the extent of filling in forms and paying the requisite fees – and then go and admit their kids to schools whose pupils I do not teach!

It has just struck me that it won’t be too long before this blog becomes ten years old. I have seen very few bloggers stick to it for more than a year or two, and even those who do write just la-la stuff and/or only two or three times a year, not fifty or more. When I do something I do it seriously, here’s one more proof. Which is precisely also why once I cry off, it’s for good. I swore I won’t enter the St. Xavier’s School campus again when I left in May 2002, and I haven’t. After a few years of orkut, I set my face against social networking sites, and look, I have lost nothing by ignoring facebook and twitter. If I use them or whatsapp or something like that again, it will be strictly for family- or business purposes. So with this blog. Ankan Saha, do you remember telling me to start a blog so that many old boys could keep in touch? You have yourself confessed – as have so many others – that you have been remiss in doing your bit, and so I wonder, despite the pageviews count that keeps climbing relentlessly. How much longer beyond the tenth anniversary should I continue?

Economics, history and psychology are three subjects which I never stop pondering over. The thoughtful among my readers and the grown-ups, have you noticed a secular trend which I have been observing over at least three decades – that while computers and mobiles and TV sets and cars and stuff get ever cheaper, the essentials of life, namely land/living space, food, medicines and education become ever more expensive? Any guesses why this is happening, and where it is leading us? To paraphrase Barack Obama, disaster is not something likely to happen during the lives of our grandchildren.

For now, a conclusion with another passing thought: my old editors at The Telegraph of Calcutta gave me opportunities to write lots of stuff on lots of subjects. Would some of you be interested in reading some of them? I have never displayed them publicly, and though one girl – a so called journalist – pushed the file aside when I offered to show her, there have been lots of others who have rifled through it with avid interest.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Just musing

I badly need a haircut, and no one in the household is up to it. Can any old boy do it for me?

Is Tom Cruise really dating his 22-year old personal assistant? Why the outraged denials? – Natural when looks and glamour and money are all working for you, so why shouldn’t he?

Just watched Boyhood the movie. Very well made, and extraordinary doesn’t begin to describe what the director and cast have achieved – following the growth of the same pair of children over a period of twelve years. Made me sad, too, watching how badly parental disharmony and discord hurts kids; how bad the worship of individual self-fulfilment can become if pushed too far (especially because ‘free’ people don’t do much with their lives anyway). I have always thought that very few people ought to be licensed to have children at all: that would solve a great many very serious problems at one stroke. And it feels good that I am neither a politician nor a celebrity on TV, so I can voice my honest opinions in public. The denouement made me sigh, of course, because I too have an empty nest now, though my family, and especially my daughter, are still far closer in the real sense that most people can dream of: I know adults who have told me they would ‘die’ if they had to live with their native families in their native place for a month. Oh, and for the umpteenth time: I cannot but wince to see how so much of the contemporary world has become so casually foul-mouthed. Just one of my tics, I guess. Watch the movie and tell me what you felt. I wonder more strongly than ever what kind of parents today’s youngsters – those in the 20-30 age group, given the way they have grown up – are going to make. Or are they going to leave all the caring and mentoring to the grandparents, in a throwback to older mores?

I got excited when they took away the walker and after the first physiotherapy session worked well, so I tried walking around (just inside the house, of course) without the crutches, and the pain came back. I am being much more careful now. But with the crutches I can do quite a bit, even venture to the local marketplace. And Pupu and an old girl worked wonders for my morale, the first by telling me that I look like Dr. House in the eponymous TV series, the latter by saying that the crutch gives me more character – not that I had been feeling I am much in need of that! And alas, it will be quite some time still before I can even drive a four-wheeler, leave alone the scooter. But I can travel to Calcutta in my own car within another month if things don’t go awry, that much I have been assured.

One thing about being handicapped for a prolonged period – you have to be careful not only to avoid succumbing to depression but not to become self-obsessed. No greater blessing than to have a fixed daily work routine. It also makes one think about a lot of things. How so many ordinary people matter in your lives: and I am not talking merely of family, to whom we often attach a bloated and quite undeserved importance. How important it is to practice charity at home. How useful it is to count your blessings. How to differentiate between those who really care and those who do not. How one might best cope with a future when one may never be as fit and ‘normal’ as one used to be (such as that I might never climb hills or walk fast for long distances again). How good it is to find real pleasure in the happiness of others. What a treasure children are, if you can attract their love. How wise it is never to expect anything from anyone in the long run. How more caution can save you from getting hurt in a lot of ways.

So I have been re-thinking the question of charity. I think I am going to go with ‘charity begins at home’, and set out on a systematic program of helping out people in need – specifically people who have helped me out in times of distress and helplessness. There are so many people who touch our lives in so many humble yet essential ways whom are too little valued. Even your cook and maid and the grocer who makes home deliveries when you are indisposed. And these are as a rule proud people, so you have to work hard to find out what they need, and when.

The season is beautiful, with occasional bursts of glorious sunshine alternating with long spells of rain. Making a virtue of necessity, I am sitting outdoors for hours in the daytime, helping the sun to speed up the process of synthesizing vitamin D which is good for the healing of my bones, and I thank God for being lucky enough to find so much time to admire the gorgeousness of the world around me: the azure of the sky, the play of the clouds, the lush rainwashed greenery all around, the profusion of flowers, the busy activity of squirrels and birds and butterflies in my garden… I can’t have enough of ‘standing and staring’. Sometimes it feels as though it was really worthwhile breaking a leg. How sad it is to be a busy man, really.

Rajdeep of the 1994 batch and Chitra of the 2000 batch visited recently. Thank you to both. It was good to see you after a long time. Chitra, as I told you, one reason I dislike female visitors is that they by and large have no conversation – do keep that in mind and I am sure both of us will enjoy your next visit even more. And keep in touch, both.

My daughter has already found a kind of happiness in college that she never got in school except during the very early years, touch wood. I have been pestering her to write about her entire school life. This is a reminder again, Pupu! And may your working life be even better…

In passing: I have got some truly gratifying reviews of To My Daughter. I only wish more people who have read it would get in touch with me. Or at least tell me why they can’t/won’t comment.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


I wrote in the last post that I expect to meet unusual girls about once in a decade. If asked whether I have met any at all, I shall say ‘Of course! Why else do you think I keep an expectant corner in my heart for all my children?’

Ruby was my pupil twenty years ago. She belonged to the batch which was invited to my wedding. A quiet, humble girl with no affectations or pretensions to being ‘cool’ despite going to Carmel School, she said little in class. Her parents became somewhat more than nodding acquaintances too. She kept in touch, through college, and marriage, and the coming of her children, and her artistic ventures and teaching experiences; she has always kept in touch, while every other member of that large group has fallen off completely. She never went in for trendy clothes or mouthing abuse or gushing and tittering over boys or posting selfies on Facebook as most girls do. With me, there has never been any fuss, any nyakami, any over-the-top protestations of undying love and devotion and that kind of rot, only a phone call once every few months when I know she expects to talk to a very attentive Sir for half an hour, and a visit once in a year or two when she is in this part of the country (she’s lived in Mumbai for a long time now). She is a very ordinary person in some ways, yet she has won an extraordinary place in my heart for two virtues that I so rarely find – integrity and constancy. She has never had to change her mind about what she feels about me, and she has till the time of writing maintained without a break, in her calm, slow, self-possessed way, that she doesn’t want to break off the connection. To someone like me, who has seen so incredibly many of the other sort, she is a rare gem indeed.

Now her poor husband is seriously ill, and has recently undergone surgery. Ruby has had a very hard time tackling everything on her own, including her two very lively little boys. It goes without saying that she has my most earnest blessings and prayers, and I am sure she has earned a lot of sunshine in her life hereafter.

I hope the little girl who recently wrote a passionate essay about Sir will read this and understand – a bit – what I meant when I told her ‘Rewrite this essay when you are thirty, if you still remember Sir.’ I know she wrote that essay ‘from her heart’, as it is customarily said; my point is that right now she doesn’t even know her heart, and chances are she never will, at thirty or at sixty. I am in a position to know what that means. But if she does, and if she turns out to be another Ruby, I shall have reason to be grateful and content, in this world and the next.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Looking back and ahead, again

After 35 years at it, I still laughingly wonder aloud before my most favourite ex students why people sign up in droves for my classes – indeed, I have to beg scores of parents to be forgiven that I cannot take in any more. Especially given so many handicaps, including my legendary bad temper, the fact that syllabi have been shrinking slowly but steadily, and even idiots get 90 per cent-plus marks in board examinations these days, with or without my help. Not even counting how hard my ex unlamented colleagues worked to give me a bad name once upon a time.

Many explanations have been suggested: a) that parents follow the herd instinct to the exclusion of almost anything else, b) I have become a local status symbol, c) that there are too few competent English tutors around, d) My market value remains high precisely because I play hard to get, what with all those rules and stuff, and throwing out the odd pupil now and then, e) lots of old boys and girls have given me precious word-of-mouth publicity, f) once students get in, they are visibly enchanted by some kind of sorcery, and parents can’t help noticing it, g) I have not yet made my services too expensive, etc. etc. Maybe all of them are partly true – but somehow that sounds rather unsatisfactory, like why someone got a heart attack, given there are 150-odd known risk factors…I mean, if somebody decided to wreck my reputation and livelihood today, how would she go about doing it?

I am being neither facetious nor vain. God knows that I had to learn the hard way how tough it is to build up a paying and satisfying career on your own: most people who got jobs through campus interviews while still in college will never begin to find out, and the desperation with which they cling to salaried jobs, however vacuous or unpleasant, tells me adequately that they don’t want to know in their worst nightmares. Indeed, though I have been teaching since 1980, my earnings became substantial only from 1992, and enough to make me happy only since I quit that school and set out on my own, just 13 years ago. Now, as I grow tired and a trifle bored and much irritated with the kind of students I don’t want to teach (a large fraction, believe me), the numbers are swelling to bursting point, and I have no idea how to deal with it.

It has been a long and relentless working life. I have been thirsting for a long time for more breaks, more holidays, more chances to do things I really like, whether it be travelling or social work or charity or romance or just sleeping twelve hours a day. I have been trying to figure out just how to accomplish that without completely retiring from work – which I can’t do, not yet, both because I need some income still, and I’d be bored stiff within a month. I had been looking forward to mid-2015, and now it is here. My daughter’s got into a reputed government college where she wanted to read the subject of her choice, she lives at home and can take better care of herself than most of her contemporaries, I had put aside enough money to see her through a good private college if need be, food, clothing, tuition, books, travel and all even if I am no longer around, and right now things have so shaped up that that would be considerably more than what she needs. My home loan will be fully paid up next month, and, to cut a long story short, unless I consider the compulsory savings I still continue to make, I am right now, at least financially speaking, more of a free man than I have been in the last thirty years, and solvently so. I am going through the seven-days-a-week grind as though nothing has changed – simply because I haven’t yet worked out how to change!

Raise fees, take fewer classes, keep the weekends free was one suggestion that came from the whole family. Then they themselves backtracked – realizing, firstly, what a riot I’d have to turn away, and secondly that I wouldn’t gain much from it, and since weekends are too short to make good getaways, I’d simply sit at home and brood. Much better if I could carry on with the normal routine for six weeks to two months at a stretch, then zoom off on a holiday, with family, daughter, some good old friend or ex student, or just by myself, for a week every time at least. Can I organize my routine that way without seriously hurting the reputation I have built up over so long? And can I at the same time figure out some way to filter out all but those I seriously like to teach – meaning those who have brains (not merely the math problem solving type), and hearts that can be touched, and lively curiosity about lots of things, and willingness to work earnestly at assignments I give them, and most important of all, those who show some signs that they will remember me fondly and respectfully many years down the line, and not break my heart by proving that I had expected far more from them as human beings than they were capable of understanding, leave alone giving? Females, it goes without saying, I exclude out of hand: let anyone prove that she is different from the average of her kind and I shall salute and hug her, but this I know – I might have to do that only once or twice in a decade.

There are things to look forward to. Relishing a very old and fond memory of what a friend’s father used to do, I have promised several of Pupu’s friends, all of whom were once my pupils and all of whom are now in Calcutta colleges, that I am going to take them out for dinner. I know they are waiting for me to get well. The college Pupu is going to is one on which we might be said to have a sort of family claim, and I intend to tour the campus with her, and smoke with her beside one of the landmarks – I’m sure that no matter how ‘cool’ her friends think they are, this will take their breath away. We missed a holiday trip this May because of my accident: that has to be made up for. As for travelling, I can’t make up my mind about what would be the best way – slum it out, as I have not done in twenty years, take trains or planes, or hit the road? If the last, would it be a good thing to buy a new car or would hiring one be a better idea, given how rarely my family makes road trips? I haven’t travelled long distances all by myself since 1992: would that be worth trying again? So many old boys have been calling for years from around the world – can I make it work?

How incredible this journey has been! main aur meri tanhayi/ aksar yeh baaten karte hain… I have vivid memories of what I was doing in and around the college campus in the early eighties: the stage that my daughter has reached now. So much hard study, so many loves, so much journalistic and teaching work, so many movies in the days you could only see them in theatres, so much flirting with drugs, so much family suffering and angst, such increasing hopelessness with academics (even earning gold medals and corresponding with Nobel Prize winners brought no solace and sense of direction) right through 1987. Then a period of blackest despair (look it up in To My Daughter), then the school job like a sudden unexpected ray of sunshine, then a rapidly building up reputation as a teacher. And then the next two decades, despite all the slogging without let up, passed by in a flash – so many little children of the early nineties are parents themselves now, and their kids are under my tutelage, or they are seeking my counsel and consolation that they are doing alright as parents. My sisters were married off, one settled abroad, my own marriage was quickly followed by my daughter, and a whole fabulous new story began, and now she’s nineteen, that magical age that Pilar told Maria about in For whom the bell tolls. My wife is growing old before her time and ill, but there’s a faint hope that she will turn the corner sooner or later. And I am looking at the prospect of maturing insurance plans and pension funds… just imagine, me! And so many little comedies and tragedies involving so many people who came and went: it will be a whole book if I could scribble down a third of the things I remember.  Maybe someday I shall get around to writing it. The only thought that holds me back is Shaw’s warning about writing autobiographies: those who don’t know you won’t believe it, and those who know will be furious.

Teeing off in another direction: here is a wonderful critique of Harper Lee’s classic To kill a Mockingbird. It is written soberly, sensibly and respectfully, and it has something of substance to say: that is how real opinions should be formed, and such opinions have become scarce indeed. Of course I don’t wholly endorse the writer’s views, and if we were talking face to face I’d have pointed out quite a few things he hasn’t noticed or ignored or glossed over which have helped very substantially to make it a great book – but I shall do him the courtesy of going through the book with a fine-toothed comb and making extensive notes before joining issue with him: it has been a cardinal virtue I have preached all my teaching life, that opinions are worthless unless supported by well-researched and coherent facts. Otherwise, they are worse than garbage, they pollute minds not merely streets. Consider this, for example, from the facebook post of someone who has gone crazy ‘fighting’ (from the safety of the bedroom via only the net, of course) for gay rights – such rights demand recognition in toto, because ‘Attraction is not a choice’. Nobody ever pointed out to him that the very same thing can be said about revulsion: try persuading a thousand normal girls how loveable roaches and spiders and lizards are. Someone told me long ago that you can be so open-minded that your brains fall out.

And how this disease has been spreading like a scourge – from American campuses around the world, it goes without saying – you can read here, though I might have almost written this article myself. That this is happening with a vengeance in India too you can see here. ‘Give me the facts’, they used to say in the age of Enlightenment; ‘If the theory does not fit the facts, throw away the theory’, said people like Sherlock Holmes; now apparently in American schools teachers say ‘Just your opinion, child, just give me your opinion’. All that counts is that your opinion should be politically correct. So millions of American schoolkids who can’t identify Lincoln in a photograph and can’t speak five lines about the Declaration of Independence grow up certified to be educated and responsible citizens eligible to vote. SAT verbal scores are at an all-time low, but what does it matter if they can sing rock, or play basketball, or shake cocktails or do nail art or, better still, work out differential equations in their heads – those are the ones Google and Facebook hire, don’t they? We don’t need educated people any more, we (the whole system) need unthinking technically competent drudges and consumers. And this is how it is being done – via that man-making/man-destroying system called ‘education’.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Rains, physiotherapy, history, accidents

The IMD predicted a scant monsoon this year, so it has been raining heavily all through June, and incessantly over the last few days. And I love it as much as ever, surrounded as I am by space, quiet and greenery. Things are far worse in the metros, I know, but it is good to hear that Calcuttans are now much better off than those in Mumbai, from what I get to hear from my family and ex students. Anyway, as I have always maintained, I shall never live in an anthill, unless I earn five lakhs a month post taxes at least, and can work from home. If I have to move about for a living, it had better be fifteen lakhs, and preferably a police car with a red beacon and hooter following me about. When I think of good living, I don’t think smartphones: I was not born a gwala’s son.

Physiotherapy is stopping just short of torture, did you know that? It comforts and it hurts, and slowly the latter’s proportion increases until they stop just before you think you are going to yell. I’ve been given crutches now, by the way. It hurts still, so I am interspersing it with the walker. I have defied doctor’s orders to go upstairs, and to visit the bank once already. But anything like normal will be another three months at least. I should have broken a bone 35 years ago: kids grow so fast! … this boy Hasan is good. I have promised to fetch him a lot of custom. He charges just one hundred rupees for a one-on-one session, can you believe it? It makes me see red when I think of so many people his age or thereabouts, whose ‘work’ does not have a hundredth of the social value, earning ten times that much. Many tens of millions should thank God that someone like me would never become a socialist dictator.

Surveillance and parenting and Big Brother. I posted a cartoon on the other blog, now read this article. Thank God again I quit that school before smoking on campus was banned, and the day they make it mandatory to install CCTV cameras in my classroom I am going to call it a day. All workplaces are becoming what prisons and lunatic asylums used to be only fifty years ago: that’s progress for you. Bengali readers, have you watched Ichchhe yet? Recognized somebody you know?

My daughter’s college life starts next week. With her, it’s almost become a time-honoured tradition to read history in our family. I couldn’t (or so I thought in my youth) afford it, so it feels good to think I have at least played a part in enthusing a few others in the days when they were growing up. Sad that I couldn’t pass it on to any of my thousands of bright kids, so many of whom have discovered in their mid-twenties or even later that history is a far more interesting subject than engineering!

I have passed yet another milestone in my life: a very pretty young thing actually asked to be petted in class (ador koro)! Soon I’ll give them permission to call me dadu. As for sitting under a tree in the rain at Humayun’s tomb, I guess Krishna wants I reserve that for Pupu alone in this lifetime. I have got much without asking; I shall not insult myself any more by asking those who cannot even understand what they were being given.

How much Indians care about things that matter (such as saving life and limb from road accidents) as opposed to say cricket and skirt lengths and ‘rights’ for homosexuals has always been an issue close to my heart (along with peeing by the roadside), as countless ex students can aver. That Indian roads have become the most dangerous in the world is, for obvious reasons, no longer just a statistic for me, if it ever was. I would give a very great deal to see laws enacted and enforced that would make our roads safer for our children. Mine was a typical hit and run case, with the biker driving at high speed along the wrong side of a national highway running alongside a very busy marketplace. And he got away without a scratch, without a beating, without a fine. Just one of thousands of such incidents happening every day in this wretched country. I insist, it will never happen in any truly civilized country, and that is an infinitely more important index of development than autorickshaw drivers using smartphones. Alas, what hope is there in a country where university educated folks in their thirties and forties are imbecile enough not to know what matters and what doesn’t? This I know – if their fathers, brothers and husbands became roadkill or were maimed for life, they’d weep for a week or two and then ‘move on’. With such an ‘educated and enlightened’ populace, what wonder that the government doesn’t care? Last year, after Gopinath Munde’s tragic death, the Modi sarkar had promised to bring in a tough amended road law – that seems to have died a quiet death, as this report says. Our aam janta is at one with the auto lobbies in wishing more and ever more vehicles with wild and reckless drivers on the roads: a few lakh lives lost and a million or so temporarily or permanently crippled is too small a price to bother about. And if we are intellectuals or hacks, we must spare time to think about terrorists – after all, they kill hundreds a year, don’t they?

This is a link to some people who do care. Think: could you do something to help them? For your own sake and for your loved ones?

Saturday, July 04, 2015


A prolonged convalescence has helped greatly to talk at length with my parents, and I have been picking their brains, tracing my genealogical and intellectual inheritance – my roots if you like. I had heard most of it in disjointed snatches over decades, since I was so high, but it is fun piecing it all together at this age, and discovering bits and pieces I hadn’t known. My grandfather’s grandfather on my father’s side was naib/dewan of the Maharajah of Burdwan (when his women travelled by palanquin through forests escorted by paiks – armed guards – the notorious dacoits who lorded it over those parts salaamed and moved aside when they heard it was his folks passing by), a famed astrologer, and more than a dabbler in tantra. His son made a fortune as a muqhtaar, and my granddad was part owner of one of the most famous bookstores in College Street, Kolkata in its time – Chatterjee Brothers – who saved a lot of innocent lives both Hindu and Muslim at enormous risk to his own out on the streets during the Great Riot of 1946, sometimes browbeating bloodthirsty mobs into quiescence by the sheer weight of his aroused personality. I can see where the temper has come from, and how valuable it can be, and anyway it makes me proud that I was not born into a typical Bengali middle-class family of mealy-mouthed, time-serving rats. The tradition has continued powerfully through my own father, who was never formally much of anything for most of his life, and yet chief ministers have sought his counsel, and violent trade unionists have sought his protection to save their skins, and on occasion he has had the ineffable gall to grab the hand of the Dalai Lama himself and put it on his own head, leaving the entire entourage open mouthed – as someone VERY high in the government said then, not many presidents of nations would dare do that. All His Holiness did was to smile and say ‘Happy? Can I have my hand back now?’ There are stories galore, but much has to be filtered for a blog, given the average quality of readership these days…

I have written more about my mother’s side, but only recently I discovered that Sagarmoy Ghose, the legendary founding editor of Desh magazine, to which Rabindranath himself used to contribute once upon a time, when he heard about me, remarked ‘Ore rokte lekha achhe toh’ (he has writing in his blood), because my great granddad the doctor had been a good friend since the days of his youth. What I didn’t know was that I was distantly related to no less a scholar/teacher than Basudev Sarbobhoum himself, with whom Sri Chaitanya stayed during his sojourn in Nilachal, being particularly fond of the malpua that Sarbobhoum’s daughter in law prepared, and whose recipe was handed down as far as boroma, Saraswati, my mother’s grandmother, a legend in her own right, wife of a self-made tycoon who made half of modern Assam (including the only road that still connects Guwahati with Shillong today), a devout and truly simple woman as only very deep women can be, coached in English at home in Shimla by the governess to the children of a certain provincial Governor, whose brother was a police commissioner terribly harassed and disgraced because he had sheltered ‘terrorists’ in the days of the Raj and let them escape, who distributed truckloads of blankets to the needy every winter at Kalighat and Kamakshya and died alone in dire but proud and independent poverty as an ancient widow in Vrindavan. She once defied the whole gang of purohits with apt quotes from the shastras to perform puja despite being a woman at the latter shrine. What do today’s girls know about strong women? One of her sons, my ma’s mamas, was a dashingly handsome playboy in the 1930s, importing Harley Davidsons on a whim and filling his dad’s cinemas with his friends, and another, a doctor, who could speak Latin and Sanskrit with the ease of a master and was a wizard at chess among other things, I have always been told, is the man I resemble most closely, though I shall never put anyone but my dadu in that seat. Add to that what I have done as a scholar and teacher and writer and father all my life, and unless you are the lowest of the vulgar who cannot judge a man by anything but his bank balance, his car and his TRP rating, you will concede I have more than enough reason to be an elitist or a snob ... not with the young and the good at heart, never, but yes, with creatures who will never learn even as much as I have forgotten, and still imagine, assured by the swarm of people of exactly the same mental caliber around them all the time, that they are knowledgeable, they can think, and they have both an ability and a right to form opinions on every subject under the sun. No wonder so many of that type have become either engineers or journalists! A doctor friend of mine, a far better human being than all the hacks he has had to deal with, used the term ‘presstitutes’ for them, and I agreed perfectly, a flood of memories bringing back the reasons why I quit journalism long ago, when it was far less of a sewer than it is now.

Anyway, I am glad I belong to a long family tradition where the permanent – if not always uttered and enforced – injunction has been ‘Consider only what you are leaving behind that people outside your little family will value and revere and cherish’. And I hope that my daughter’s life, and my book, and Shilpi’s thesis, and the fond and awed recollections of a few thousand students will hold back something of me long after I am gone – as Basudev Sarbobhoum is remembered in circles that matter, even six hundred years after his demise. Paris Hilton and Lionel Messi won’t, that’s for sure.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Update, and good wishes

·         An ex-student who has just finished B-Tech from IIT with specialisation in data analysis has been hired on campus by Flipkart. That and other e-commerce companies, as even journalists know, are going great guns right now. Here is a thought-provoking article which I am linking without comment. I shall welcome an informed discussion on the subject. Be warned, however, that I am broadly in agreement with the writer and I am not known to make up my mind hurriedly and superficially.
·         Wonder of wonders, the Pope is now siding with mainstream scientists when it comes to concern for our ecological future, and he is ranged against all kinds neo-liberals and conservatives whose two chief accusations against him are a) he does not understand economics, and b) he does not understand science. I am hoping that sparks will fly when he addresses the UN General Assembly and wondering what the ghosts of Galileo, Cardinal Bellarmine and Adam Smith would have said to one another if they were listening in on the debate.
·         The “best” colleges in India have set 99% aggregate as a cut-off for their most preferred undergraduate courses this year. Everyone, including the head of St. Stephen’s college New Delhi, recognises the utter absurdity of the situation, but pleads helplessness: the aforementioned has publicly remarked that nothing can be done about it until the school boards decide once more to mark exam papers “realistically”. Having been a teacher for most of my life, I know just what he means. At least two horrible things have been happening to our school education over the last two decades (apart from an almost complete extinction of good teachers): syllabi have been continually slashed because ‘our children cannot bear the terrible load’ (heaven knows how we did it, or even our pupils before 1995, and board examination marks have gone through the roof, with literally tens of thousands (including hundreds whom I can personally vouch to be barely literate) routinely scoring over 90% in the aggregate – and countless people scoring more in English and History than in mathematics. I don’t know whether this black comedy will end before the whole system collapses, but I know this much: teachers like me will either become extinct soon, or dollar millionaires.
·         Do look up this article. It is one more contribution to the idea – much scorned and distorted – that ancient Indians knew much more than they are given credit for. We knew they made steel long before Europe found out how to; we learn here that the finest steel for making swords was forged in India too (they used carbon nanotubes! though they might not have been able to use the modern terminology, just as the Egyptians used the right-angled triangle theorem for their buildings long before Pythagoras and others came up with formal proofs). When shall we realize that we need to look back more in order to forge ahead faster – that organizing a worldwide Yoga Day might be something far more than pushing a narrow sectarian agenda?
·         Reading some good new books, such as Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant and The Heat and Dust Project by Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha. Both make for good reading, and both are about long journeys – quite apposite for someone who can hardly walk, don’t you think?

I was warned that sitting in bed all the time I am not hobbling around painfully, depression was soon going to become my greatest problem, and so it has. The following is in the nature of a status update for those too-numerous people who have asked: the pain is now only a dull occasional ache in the hurt leg, but the walker is seriously damaging the other one from the way it is being grossly overstrained; the staples and bandages were taken out on June 08, and the surface wounds have healed well enough, leaving behind only ugly scars; I can sit with folded legs for only short stretches, and it’s mighty awkward, I can tell you; I have no way of knowing what is happening inside, and it’s only following the X-ray pictures to be taken on July 06 to see how much calcification has taken place that the doc will see if I can start using that leg again soon; my teaching is keeping me going in more senses than one, and my daughter and parents are doing virtually all the housework: though I try all I can to lend a hand, it doesn’t  amount to much. The gloom deepens every time I think that Pupu will be going away to college very soon now, though both she and her mother will keep visiting. I am discovering little things all the time, such as how difficult it is to dress and undress when you can use only one leg, and let go of all support only at your peril! I am fighting depression by doing what I have listed above, besides sleeping more than I ever have before (pills don’t work).

Thank you to all who have sent their good wishes (and when I can feel they mean it), especially those who have suffered from broken bones and assured me I’ll be fine eventually, and to Lavona, who told me she survived surgery of a far more serious kind a few years ago. And my very best wishes to Prerana, whose mother has just had a kidney replaced after years of suffering. I am praying most for the father, having learnt a bit about what he has gone through.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015


Pain. It is a great enemy, a great cleanser, a great teacher. It has been my fate to suffer a very great deal of pain, of the body and of the mind, intermittently ever since childhood. I am currently going through yet another course of it right now. I vacillate eternally between thinking that I don’t wish it on my worst enemy, and that no one ever became human before knowing pain first hand: the kind of pain that sears away all dross forever, and turns you from Facebook and short skirts to God. And I can also feel a massive surge of despair, having lived long enough to know that there are lots of people who can get back to partying and mall-hopping within weeks of losing their ‘loved ones’…

And as always, it is a very great learning experience about what people are really like. You can never find out without being in extremis. Supremely above all I have had confirmation, if ever I needed it, that my daughter is so great a gift that I have forfeited all right to ask God for any other in this lifetime. And I am saying this as anything but a besotted father: I know for a fact that one dad in a million gets a grown up daughter that willingly useful and helpful and still cheerful for any length of time, especially in this country. As the song goes, ‘somewhere in my youth or childhood/ I must have done something good’!

At the next level, it never ceases to amaze me how many people of how many sorts are not only helping all they can but are only too eager to help if I’d let them. From doctors to rickshawwallahs, grocers to bankers, maidservants to neighbours… not to mention hundreds and hundreds of old boys far away and near. Doing everything from easing me into the car and cleaning up the cobwebs to offering me money and expressing willingness to go pay my bills to asking if there’s some special book or movie that they can send over to while away the terrible monotony. It takes my breath away to think so many people know me and care – me, with zero frndz on FB and no whatsapp connection! Especially when I contrast such good people with all the scum it has been my great misfortune to know: someone, one of the few I had personally called up to give the news, who simply forgot to respond for a whole week because he was oh-so-busy, and someone who knows perfectly well she has demonstrated over more than a decade she neither can nor really wants to do anything for me – exams and parents and job and marriage and ‘other social responsibilities’ and a very recherché coyness have always prevented and will go on preventing her from doing anything beyond losing things I valued, trivializing things I wrote because they were far beyond her grasp, and disobeying injunctions she herself had once pretended I had a ‘right’ to insist on as a teacher and father figure (few expressions bring me closer to puking: I am going to murder the uncouth pinhead who next applies that term to me) – sanctimoniously asking me if she could ‘do something’ for me. God save me from creatures who say such things because it makes them feel good without having to do a thing: I’d rather sleep with a cobra in my room. My lessons have all been learned the hard way.

Then there is the helplessness. I know it will be incomprehensible to people who have been petted and mollycoddled all their lives – I know someone who never visited a doctor alone until she was in college. I have slept alone since I was five, and did almost everything for myself since I was fifteen, and lived alone for a very large part of my life: what happens to a man like that if he loses the use of his legs? Christ, I even went to the toilet hobbling on a walker before the bones were set, despite the agony and the doctor’s strict warning against it, and I have continued to do so back home, for I have lived and want to die like a man, not a vegetable with a bedpan: may He who hears all prayers grant this one of mine. And yet there are a thousand things I can’t do. Funny they become so serious and urgent just when you can’t! I can’t climb upstairs, so I am being fed in bed after a gap of more than 47-8 years; I can’t clean the bathroom myself; I can’t go for a walk, I can’t exercise or swim or ride my scooter for many months to come. This is what purgatory means, I guess. Who could have imagined I’d have so looked forward to a mere elbow crutch so that I can hobble around a bit on my own again? The shame of it: I, who have been a help to so many in need.

I have gone back to work, of course. The doctor wanted me to stay in hospital for five days after the operation; I came home on the second. I was supposed to take ‘bed rest’ for at least a fortnight after that; the Tuesday after the accident I was taking classes, full schedule. It hurts, and it is tiring me out, but I still say ‘Thank God I can’. It is not yet time for me to rest, and besides, I’d have gone mad with boredom and guilt. I shall NOT become Piku’s father. I am waiting for the clamps to be taken out, and hoping the doctor will ask me to try walking soon, really soon…

How strange that the incident brought a large part of my scattered family together, at least for a bit. And how strange that people, even those who have known you all your life, care so much more about your body than your mind!  The most wonderful thing is that after I am gone, they will all be talking about my mind and what I did with it; the body will be gone and forgotten. If I were to be born again, I’d ask to be born in a very different kind of world.

And I am truly bemused to see the unbelieving, dazed look on people’s faces, young and old alike. ‘This can’t be happening to Sir’, they are saying with their eyes or sometimes even voices, ‘Everybody else takes unannounced holidays, everybody else has illnesses and accidents, not Sir!’ Only Pupu smiles and says “I said you were a Rock when I was just so high, didn’t I? Well, I am not the only one who is used to thinking that way about you. People are naturally bewildered when the Rock sways.”

And the prize goes to the lovely child who said in a whisper, ‘Sir, tomar accident hoyechhe shune amar khub koshto hoyechhilo’. God bless. I know how precious that is – and also how little it means in the long run. Such is a teacher’s fate. Take the cash, and let the credit go/ nor heed the rumble of a distant drum.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Down but not out

Something unexpected and thoroughly nasty happened to me recently. Read about it as seen through my daughter's eyes, here

Thursday, May 14, 2015

In the days of the super-civilized

Dr. Pashupati Bhattacharyya, my great-grandfather on my mother’s side, was the scion of a fairly well-known family in north Calcutta (his father, an engineer, earned the title of Rai Bahadur for playing a supervisory role in laying the Grand Chord portion of the Eastern Railway). He was also, for a long time, close to Rabindranath Tagore as devotee, physician on call, supplier of the great man’s favourite Bagbazaari rosogollas, and accomplished singer. He was a gifted man of letters himself, and, as I have written elsewhere, under Tagore’s commission he wrote the first general health care books for laymen’s consumption for the Lokshiksha series. He wrote  a little tome about The Mother of Pondicherry at Sri Aurobindo’s behest, and a book of reminiscences around Tagore too, titled Ontorongo Rabindrakatha (Rabindranath from up close), which I revisited recently after a gap of I suppose at least thirty years. It makes some difference if you read the same book first at twenty and then post fifty, even if the reader is myself. I felt some readers might be interested in a few short translated passages. Here is one.

Mohakobir moharaag (The great wrath of the great poet)

This happened a long time ago. That year in midsummer I stayed two months in Shantiniketan with my family. The Poet had said ‘If you come here during the summer holidays, I can give you a house to live in.’ We got a whole bungalow to ourselves, so it was a happy stay.

Dinubabu (Dinendranath Tagore, Rabindranath’s nephew, noted musician and singer) was still alive then. The Poet had told him to teach us how to sing. He himself came over to instruct, especially when he had composed a new song. All the ashramites learnt, too. There was a gathering of an evening every now and then where the Poet would read out some new poem or story he had written.

Food was not a worry. Vast amounts of the best arrived from the communal kitchen twice a day. We only had to make breakfast and afternoon tea on our stoves. Every morning the Poet came over, umbrella overhead, to ask if all was well. Andrews (Charles Freer ‘Deenabandhu’ Andrews) was there; he too came over sometimes. My younger son, a naughty boy (my grandfather Ramendra Sundar… S.C.), would leap into his arms, but he only smiled, and didn’t mind at all. We ourselves went over to see the Poet, sometimes in the late morning and sometimes in the evening. He held us back for a long time, chatting, singing songs, treating us to tea.

I might have mentioned in passing that I was married on the second of ashaadh. The Poet remembered, though I myself forgot. On the first of ashaadh he said, ‘You must come to dine with me tomorrow.’ What was the occasion, I asked. He smiled and said, ‘It’s the first of ashaadh, isn’t it?’ (the allusion is to Kalidasa, find out for yourself – S.C.). It took me a while to take the hint. There was a lavish feast for us the next day, served on little square marble-topped tables; bouma (Protima Devi) supervised the service. Then it was decided that the Poet himself would take us before four o’clock in his station wagon to visit Sriniketan, where some sort of musical soirée had been arranged. On arriving there we found that arrangements had been made on a grand scale. Elmhirst was there (Leonard Elmhirst, agronomist, philanthrope, Tagore’s secretary and founder of the Institute for Rural Reconstruction); he showed us around the Sriniketan campus, and we had a good look at all the varied handicrafts produced by the inmates and students. Then there was a music recital, followed by a round of snacks.

When we set out from there, it was still not evening, but the sun had dimmed, and the sky was overcast. No one had looked up at the sky, though, everyone being happily preoccupied with seeing us off. Tagore himself was smiling merrily as we clambered into his car. Then we set off.

The storm broke within minutes. It was the first of the season that year. Instantly the surroundings grew dark with swirling sand, and so violent was the squall that the big car was buffeted about like a toy. When we tried to roll up the windows the driver warned us not to: we were reasonably safe with the windows open, but with all of them closed the car might easily overturn. We grew afraid of being crushed by some falling tree. Huge branches of the trees on both sides of the road were bending down, as if they might break off any moment. They swept down almost to touch our rooftop, then swung back again, whiplike. The car crawled along in the midst of this mayhem; one had to drive with utmost caution, so it was impossible to go fast.

We were dumbstruck with apprehension, but the Poet suddenly flew into a rage. He leant forward towards the driver and ordered, ‘Turn back, turn back at once; don’t go any further!’

The driver humbly replied that it would be very hard to turn the car around under the circumstances, and besides, we had come more than halfway already, so it would be wiser to carry on homewards. Much annoyed, the Poet thundered, ‘You want all of us to be killed by a falling tree, all these children too? Why didn’t you check out the sky before setting out? What kind of driver are you? Were you out of your senses?’
The poor driver was struggling at the wheel, and had neither time nor inclination to make a reply. He simply drove on.

The Poet grew even more indignant at his silence. He nearly yelled into the driver’s ear ‘Why don’t you reply? Don’t want to admit to a mistake, do you? Why didn’t you tell me a storm was coming? What am I going to do now?’

Finally the driver spoke up, ‘Please don’t agitate yourself, Sir. Just sit quietly, and I shall take you home.’

That seemed to enrage the Poet even more. ‘Do you imagine I am frightened for myself? It is you people I am scared about. You will die too if something goes wrong! And everybody is going to blame me! What a pretty pass you have got me into, you idiot!’

He kept on fuming and fretting all the way in the same vein. We were all startled, for we had all known him to be of a most placid disposition, and had no idea he could ever be so upset – least of all I.

Thankfully the storm subsided soon. It began to rain instead. The driving rain soaked the Poet’s clothes, but miraculously soothed his temper. He called out to the driver again: ‘Why don’t you roll up your window, my boy? You are getting all wet!’ His voice was very different now; as gentle as you could ask for.

The driver said, ‘It’s okay, I am fine.’

The poet grew very worried at that. ‘No no, you will catch a cold. I depend on you to get around; if you fall ill I shall get into big trouble’.

The driver only smiled and said nothing.

The Poet then turned back towards us and started chatting most cheerfully. He assured us that he himself had terrific immunity; getting wet never gave him a cold, and so forth. He told us stories about how he had got thoroughly wet in the rain more than once. He was a completely different man now. Of his towering rage only a few minutes ago there was not a trace.