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Saturday, December 08, 2018

Skyrocketing exam scores!

A minister in the Union government (looking after 'human resource development', too) has remarked critically on the habit that school-leaving examination bodies like the CBSE and CISCE have acquired of awarding astronomically high exam. scores to candidates: see this. 100 on 100 in mathematics, maybe, he's said, but in languages and history, too? How is that even possible, what sense does it make?

I have been teaching high-school students since the late 1980s, and I can vouch that this pernicious practice took off around then, but accelerated into cloud-cuckooland only since the early 2000s. The minister, who is 63, reminisces that when he scored 73% overall in his board exams, he was the regional topper, and I, who am 55, scored 'only' 87.5%, something that would be considered pretty pathetic today when tens of thousands routinely score in the 90s! But two things have happened - I know for a fact that those who go on to score in the 90s in the boards rarely got more than 70% in the tests I gave them (and that despite the fact that I have perforce become far more open-fisted with marks than I was 25 years ago), and after a brief euphoria over their 'fantastic achievement' (which serves no greater purpose than fuelling their mothers' preening at kitty parties), they come up against the harsh reality that the few decent colleges have upped the ante so much at admission time that even with 95%-plus scores they are often turned away from the gates, and have to queue up before the ever-mushrooming private colleges, which are eager to sell dubious degrees to everybody  for big or small mountains of cash... who is fooling whom, and who is really gaining anything from all this?

The said minister wants the boards to take a good, hard look at the way exam. papers are being marked. Will his request/order be taken up seriously, or given a quiet burial?

Sunday, December 02, 2018

December has arrived

Datum to note: the pageviews counter has just crossed the 600,000 mark.
A thank you is again due to all those dedicated readers who have kept me going. Do wish me luck that I may hang around till the million mark is crossed!

A complaint, too: a lot of you who visit this blog regularly have not yet visited my YouTube channel, or even if you have, haven't bothered to subscribe, like and comment. Go ahead and do it!

The YouTube channel analytics page tells me that of all the visitors so far, 81%+ are male and only the rest female. Would anyone like to suggest an explanation?

There's news that will amuse many of my old boys: I have become a voracious reader of books on my phone! Indeed, I have been able to locate, download and re-read some books I had been searching for in vain on the hardcopy-book market for a long time. Never say I am a tech dinosaur. 

Winter is finally here. And while people are getting married like there'd be no tomorrow, I am sleeping long... and watching the new Christmas special movies on netflix and amazon video, as I have been doing around this time for years now. Never fail to warm my heart.

To all those who write only on special days, like Teachers' Day and the day they had their last class with me, I say, ho-hum.

I shall look forward to old boys writing in to say what sort of posts they would like to read next.

P.S.: I am delighted to see that a favourite old post titled A small dose of political philosophy has come back on the most-read list. I wonder what sort of people are searching my blog for old posts these days, and I shall be even more delighted if the conversation there, which had stopped in 2012, could be revived by current readers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Corruption, part three

Continuing with the discussion of the type I ended the last post with, the problem with this type has become rather serious of late. This is because of the intolerant majoritarian tendencies that have become highly visible (and politicians are stoking the fire with very short-term goals in mind, blithely unaware that they might be releasing a Frankenstein’s monster) of late in many countries, certainly in India. When I mention majoritarianism, a lot of people will think that I have only religious divides in mind, but that is not so, though I am definitely thinking of that, too. But let me first talk about the Hindu majority community in India, which is the milieu to which I belong, and which I know best.

The problem with India is that it is far from becoming a true nation in the sense that much smaller, far more culturally homogeneous communities became nations centuries ago. ‘Hindu’ is a vast, portmanteau term that denotes nearly a billion diverse people, and these people are sharply divided by looks, language, caste, tradition, and local customs, to the extent that a lot of nominally Hindu folks do not recognize many others as proper Hindus at all (there are brahmins in the south and the Deccan who refuse, for example, to acknowledge any Bengali as a real brahmin, seeing that he eats fish, and even – horror of horrors! – meat, and casteism, unfortunately, still divides one Hindu from another at least as sharply and cruelly as religions do; some, especially educated high-income urban types find it quite okay that a girl has multiple sexual partners before marriage, which anyway has become just an option, while millions still shudder to think that their daughter can know a man before marriage, or that there could be any other goal of a girl’s life). Regardless of the – I believe misguided – efforts of numerous strong-willed individuals and organizations, there has not emerged any monolithic Hindu community, no matter how much we gush that we all have roots in the vedas, epics, puranas and Manusmriti. So what we do in real life is give primacy to local – very, very local – custom and tradition. Wherever you live, you must do as your mummy and neighbours do, or else. It would not be very wrong to say, I think, that, except perhaps in urban condominiums where nobody knows anybody else nor cares what she is doing, India is a vast congeries of little villages under the sway of absolutely local majoritarian tyrannies. In the neighbourhood I live in, despite the fact that most people fear me enough to give me a wide berth, and despite the fact that I don’t socialize, I could not openly declare I am gay if I were and continue in my present profession; a quite decent Hindu middle-aged gentleman confessed to me without a trace of shame a few years ago that in the housing cooperative he lives in, there is an unwritten law that no flat owner can rent it out to a ‘Mohammedan’, and the very smart female who lives it up mini-skirted late nights in Bangalore pubs will be seen in very proper saree-sindoor-bindi during the puja days at her neighbourhood pandal back home – nyaka chondi as she is, she would neither notice the absurdity nor quarrel with it. And I have always had to live with the knowledge that many of the same mummies who desperately shove their kids into my tuition because they are convinced I know some magic to get those kids the all-important marks in examinations also sternly warn them not to pay heed to all the ‘nonsense’ I say in class ‘outside the syllabus’.

What has all this got to do with corruption? Well, if I have to spell it out, I have actually lost you already. Anything that the local Mrs. Grundy says is out stays out, and who cares what the Constitution of India says? Mummies and aunts hold far stronger sway over the minds of the young – and by that I mean even people in their twenties and thirties, beyond which age you, of course, have safely become clones of them! – and the best you can do if you are a young or very old woman living in a tribal village where people have begun to look askance at you because you mumble to yourself and wander about at nights, is to get out and go far away if you don’t want to be burnt alive as a witch one fine evening. The majority has dubbed you corrupt and dangerous, so your dignity, freedom, life itself, is not worth a busted nickel. If anything, the millions of bigoted idiots slogging all sorts of ‘issues’ out on Facebook and twitter are merely strengthening these atavistic tendencies: you call someone a thief and he becomes a thief overnight, no proof needed. Which is why I decided long ago not to make a single friend on Facebook, and never to use twitter. Those who frequent those sites take great care to see that they interact only with ‘people like us’, wasting days, months and years persuading people who are already persuaded beyond the reach of fact and reason! How pathetic some people can get, really. You and I live in a democratic country, so you have every right to agree with me, as long as I myself am comfortably ensconced in the politically correct cocoon; if you don’t, we shall ostracize you or hound you out of the country. Notice anything ‘corrupt’ about all this, or do I have to spell it out further?

Coming to the third category, this is the most pitiable of the lot. I find this type particularly distasteful, so I shall pass lightly over it. Suffice it to say that it is this (very numerous-) category, people who cannot help doing what they have been told is wrong, that ensures that prostitution, legal and otherwise, remains one of the largest and most profitable professions, and pornography rules the roost on the internet.  Humans make rules which most humans find it impossible to obey, at least all the time: hence cheating in examinations, and job-shirking, and breaking traffic rules, and shoplifting and marital infidelity, etc etc. Talking pruriently about these things and pretending to be horrified and condemning them serves nothing except fill the gossip columns of our rags and clog our courts; at best we drive them underground, and they find ever new ways of making themselves evident. The only remedy for such ‘corruption’ is to be more understanding and forgiving in making laws, and administering those laws with more fairness and leniency, too. Also, when you accuse someone’s dad of being a serial molester just because you hate him or are jealous of him, remember your dad is just as vulnerable, unless he is just too insignificant for anyone to take note of his existence: when others do that sort of thing to you, you suddenly discover that it is not a good thing to do at all. People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

For the rest, we shall always have to live with them, as long as human beings are the way they are; there is no help for it. I believe that some societies are generally more moral and law-abiding than others: how they have managed to become that way without tyranny is something I still haven’t been able to figure out. Maybe education of a certain sort helps; in India, at least, that kind of education has never been available for the masses, rich or poor. All my pupils write essays about how their parents teach them to be ‘good’ people: I have never stopped wondering how, then, this country remains one of the most corrupt in the world (if you think of cheating in exams, breaking traffic rules, taking bribes, job-shirking,  shoplifting… maybe our only true moral is that it’s alright when I or my dad does it, but wrong when you or you dad is guilty of the same?).

The long and short of the matter is, after observing and thinking for several decades, I have decided, once and for all, that the issue of ‘corruption’, so popular a talking point in this country, does not arouse my interest any longer. This three-part series of essays was my effort to explain why. Unless we are truly interested in taming the monster, which would require greatly changing ourselves first, we had all better stop talking about it: that by itself would make a considerably cleaner country.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Dear Aritra,

Thank you most gratefully for your latest comment on the recent post titled My channel on YouTube (I hope you are the Aritra Roy who made a short movie with me as one of the characters in it).

Just how happy it made me should be apparent from the fact that this is the very first blogpost of this sort that I have written – a response to a comment in the form of a letter uploaded as a separate post on the blog itself.

All my life as a teacher – and it’s been a long time, starting at 17, and past 55 now – I have tried to be not merely an instructor making a living but, as they used to say in the olden days, friend, philosopher and guide with the best long-term interests of my students at heart. My blog, and lately my YouTube channel, is meant to complement the same effort that I have been making all along. Also, gradually to build up a network of old boys and girls who will not only warm the cockles of my heart in my old age, assuring me that I have lived well, and that I am not fated to suffer alone in my misery when I can no longer look after myself, but also, who will interact with one another, keep in touch with one another for years and years, make precious friendships with one another, benefit (even in very practical, immediate, material terms, like someone finding a good doctor or the sympathetic ear of a senior policeman or judge or a useful business contact or  shelter and sustenance in an alien city far from home when one’s pocket has been picked clean, simply because both were Sir’s ex students) from one another, and thank their lucky stars that Sir made the effort, and kept making it for as long as he could.

With many, despite my best efforts, I have not succeeded. With female students, it appears at my station in life, I have failed almost entirely. With you, it seems I have scored. Nothing more wonderful than to hear that often and again a voice inside has assured you that Sir will be there for you when you really need him. Yes, I will.

The tragedy of my life is that, whereas a tiny number of stupid and vulgar people who absolutely hate me are very vociferous in spewing foul venom at me wherever they can (though, of course, the spittle falls on their own faces, as it is supposed to do), there exists, I know, a vastly larger number who feel thankful and grateful and affectionate and respectful as you do, but for some reason they will not take the trouble to say it loud from the rooftops. Filthy rancour must be spread far and wide, humanity seems to believe very strongly, love and respect and adoration must be kept secret in the deepest chambers of the heart.

Which makes an occasional message of the sort you sent recently so very rare and precious. Thank you once again, and all my love and blessings. I shall be glad to see you face to face again, soon if possible.


Saturday, November 03, 2018

Sardarji singing shyamasangeet

Gurujit/Gurjit Singh from Durgapur has become a music sensation on the Zee Bangla Saregama TV show. I have just been listening, alongwith my mother, to his rendition of Ramprosad's famous song

মন রে কৃষিকাজ জাননা ,
এমন মানবজমিন রইলো পতিত 
আবাদ করলে ফলতো সোনা। ...

Wonderful. Here you can listen to him singing another very well-known shyamasangeet number, 

আমার সাধ না মিটিল আশা না পুরিলো 
সকলি ফুরায়ে যায় মা।  

Young Gurujit apparently lives somewhere close by. I hope to meet him someday. It is people like him who keep me abidingly in love with India, despite all the horror, ugliness, vulgarity and triviality that I have seen.

I wonder whether they think deeply about the lyrics as they sing?

Readers interested in my taste in this matter are welcome to look up an old post titled Ah, music!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

On YouTube: To my current pupils

A new post has just been put up on my YouTube channel. Just type in Suvro Chatterjee on YouTube, remember?

And I shall be glad to have more subscriptions and more comments, it goes without saying. To those comments which have already come in, I shall respond soon. Meanwhile, many thanks to those who have taken the trouble to subscribe. To all the others who have visited already but haven't subscribed yet, why haven't you?

Saturday, October 20, 2018

My channel on YouTube

This is something I have been thinking about doing for a few years now, but after uploading one or two posts the project somehow languished. Meanwhile not a few students and ex-students have been urging me to start posting on YouTube on a regular basis. Let me see whether I can get another good thing going.

Just go to YouTube and type in Suvro Chatterjee in the search bar. It will take you straight to my channel. Do start by watching the post called 'Making this channel regular'. All intelligent feedback will be appreciated. The best way you can show me that you want me to carry on - I have hundreds of ideas about what to say next - is by clicking on 'Subscribe'. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Homo Deus

As a historian, Harari should have known better than most people (actually I am sure he does, but he is being disingenuous because he has an axe to grind) that people have been predicting that the doom of humankind is near for several thousand years, each time more sure of themselves than the last, but that has not happened, not due to floods and earthquakes and world wars and nuclear weapons, not due to God’s wrath or Mary Shelley’s 200-year old warning (Frankenstein’s monster), not due to rapidly dwindling natural resources (despite the Club of Rome’s very gloomy prognosis which is soon going to be half a century old). Indeed, mankind has handled and emerged from every crisis stronger and better off on the whole. So his basic threat – that by 2030 or ’40 most traditional professions, including doctors and teachers, will be obsolete thanks to the rise of artificial intelligence, and within a hundred years at most humankind as we know will cease to exist, thanks to the rise of autonomous non-conscious intelligences which will be vastly superior to us (what he calls the Internet of All Things) – really need not be taken very seriously. This is what I decided after closely reading and mulling over an otherwise quite readable and (at one level, at least) deeply disturbing book. Robots will do to us what we have done to weaker animals, he writes almost gleefully, and it made me feel only that like many self-righteous vegans/vegetarians, he hates the majority of mankind because it still insists on eating meat and fish. Loving animals and hating humans – what kind of human does that make you, even though pigs and rats and roaches might love you for it?

He doesn’t start off by sounding so gloomy, of course – probably because his editor warned him that nobody would buy his book otherwise. He says that thanks to our multiplicity of special skills, we humans have within a few thousand years nearly conquered our greatest scourges, to wit famine, pestilence and war – nothing very original about that realization, though many like me are glad that it has happened – and we are on the verge of the grandest epoch in history, when  we can reach out for immortality coupled with bliss, and thus become as gods: hence the title. I turn up my eyebrows very high at this, because, and Harari himself acknowledges this quietly, right now even old age is a curse to the vast majority of people who live that long, and scientists would be (I hope they are) far better occupied in just learning how to keep people from becoming decrepit in their 80s and 90s; in any case, I don’t think immortality is either desireable or technically achieveable any time soon; and as for bliss, the vast majority of people neither know nor can agree upon what makes and keeps them happy for any length of time, so achieving bliss, however defined, without enormously changing our basic values and developing our spiritual strength would be well-nigh a pipe dream. I have written enough about this elsewhere, even if tangentially, so I shall desist for now after just suggesting that the reader look up Tennyson’s poem Tithonus.

Of course, Harari admits that our folly (allowing obesity through overeating and lack of exercise to kill off too many of us early, for example) and imminent dangers such as those born out of rapidly growing economic inequality, which, without sane, concerted global social re-engineering might soon become intolerable enough to create an explosive situation, combined with catastrophic environmental degradation stemming out of climate change, might seriously threaten even known levels of peace and prosperity soon, and need immediate attention and corrective action. Again, nothing very original here, though it is indeed sad and worrisome that too little is being done yet.

But then Harari goes off in another, wild direction, trying to terrify his readers with dire predictions that AI is developing so fast that very soon, the robots are going to take over. I shall skip over the several hundred pages that he has written about this, because I have been reading science fiction and watching sci-fi movies from the days of The Time Machine to 2001 and the Matrix series and beyond, and I am now too old to take these things seriously: Harari should have grown up too. Indeed, if you look up my old blogpost titled How my world has changed, you will find that I am actually quite disappointed that most things that the best scientists confidently predicted in 1980 were sure to happen within 25 years haven’t happened, while on the other hand a lot of things happened which virtually nobody anticipated (Keynes the great economist wrote that by the time my generation grew up the economic problem would have been solved once and for all, and mankind would at last be able to turn its full attention to things that it was really created to think about, to wit matters of the spirit, such as love and justice and art; but today billions of people are having to work harder and longer like drudges than ever before just to make a living well into old age) – but the point is, while the trajectories of individual lives always vary too greatly to be predictable (which is why people like me have to fall back upon ideas like Providence and karma to understand what is happening to us), humanity as a whole has coped pretty well enough, and barring the poorest billion, are better off and safer than ever before.

I don’t take this ‘prediction’ (or, as Harari says almost towards the end of the book, possibility) seriously for numerous reasons. Firstly, Tim Berners Lee is already building Solid to protect data privacy, so Google, or some latter-day clone of it, will not be able to watch us like Big Brother and learn more about us than we ourselves do for much longer. Second, contrary to all dire predictions from two decades ago, more people are writing more good books and more people are reading them than ever before, both in print and on electronic readers; all those writers and readers do not seem to be seriously frightened that they will become outdated within a decade or two: ask J.K. Rowling or Amitav Ghosh. Third, the techno-billionaires are sending their kids to virtually gizmo-free schools and strictly limiting their screen time; they know what is good for their children’s future, and very soon millions of people are going to learn the same (I just heard of a very successful coaching class in Mumbai run by father and sons who openly say that they do not believe in ‘smart classes’: like me, they find chalk, blackboard, brain and speech quite enough, thank you very much). Fourth, despite all the hoopla about going all-out digital in monetary transactions, most POS machines in millions of small shops all around India are gathering dust unused, and cash shows no signs of ‘vanishing’ by 2021 anywhere in the world, as some geek predicted in 2016. Fifth, despite all the talk about robots taking over, I don’t think that anywhere except Japan have robots become visible in households or offices, and when it comes to human teachers being replaced soon, my own experience and that of vast organisations like FIIT-JEE tell a very different story still. Fifth, statements like ‘for the first time in history our schools have no idea what to teach’ make the whole book begin to sound silly, because what is far closer to the truth is that millions of schools around the world are happily stuck with almost-ancient curricula which could greatly benefit from some serious updating. Sixthly, I really do think that environmental disaster triggered by drastic climate change is a far more immediate and serious concern. Seventhly, despite all the talk of vanishing jobs, there are lots of places I see every day, my banks, for example, or the hospitals or the police force, where there is an acute shortage of competent staff, and no, robots powered by AI are not showing signs of rapidly filling up those spaces. I could write eighthly, ninethly, tenthly, but I already think I have been taking Harari far more seriously than he deserves.

What is really galling about the book is that Harari says so confidently till almost the end that scientists (who he believes have the last word on everything) are all agreed at last that all organisms are nothing but algorithms, and life is nothing but data processing, and we humans, though far better at that than all other life forms seen so far (I don’t know – bacteria and ants might strongly disagree, and they rather than robots might eventually inherit the earth!), are sure to be superseded soon by superior intelligences which were originally developed by ourselves, to wit, computer programs.  I shall not deign to waste time, energy and words refuting this puerile absurdity because I have seen and read and thought too much of this sort of stuff already. Far too many ‘wise’ men for too long have claimed to have discovered once and for all, many with far more messianic confidence, that man is ‘nothing but-’, life is nothing but-, history is nothing but this or that simple idea. Man is nothing but a reproducing machine, for example, history is nothing but the story of endless (and very boring-) class struggles. The individual is nothing but an insignificant, ineffectual and evanescent blip in the cosmos. You get the idea. Yeah, sure: if you know nothing, respect nothing, believe nothing, create nothing. You are simply stupid, or sick. A team of monkeys on a set of typewriters, given sufficient time, will come out with all the plays of Shakespeare, certainly. The Buddha didn’t matter, nor Newton, nor Michelangelo or Mozart or Gandhi or Tagore. Sure, Richard Dawkins doesn’t matter, and Harari doesn’t either. Let’s leave it at that.

He has the decency (or sanity) to say nearly at the end of the book that perhaps he and his ilk have got it all wrong, and perhaps the rest of the story of Man will be different after all. My point is (and I have told hundreds of people to read the notes at the end of another such utterly sensational but pointless book, The Selfish Gene, which has mercifully been all but forgotten now, to find out how the author himself has virtually cancelled out all the tall claims he has made throughout the book with a long litany of ifs and buts and thoughs and howevers in the Index), why write such a book at all, then? He also takes some pains to insist that he has not tried to make prophecies, but only give indications and warnings about the shape of things to come. Which would always be welcome from any informed thinker around the globe, provided they didn’t make their books sound like The Day After Tomorrow. Protesting too much only weakens your case, whatever you are trying to do. Otherwise I should have said I am glad that he has written a warning like this. Mankind keeps writing and rewriting its own history because it keeps heeding warnings like this. Which is precisely why it is impossible to predict the twists and turns that history is going to take. I can guarantee that the world of 2030 will be far from ‘unrecognizable’. As for what it is going to be like a hundred years later, Harari knows as little as I do. And anyway, I don’t care what it is going to be like by the time my great-granddaughter is an old woman. Her generation can take care of itself.

Didn’t I like anything about Harari’s book? Of course I did. The very best thing that he has said is that mankind lives on ‘stories’ it creates for itself. Religions, nations, corporations, money, these are at bottom only stories we have convinced ourselves to believe in. When some stories don’t work any more, we start doubting them, then rejecting them, then replacing them. I am betting that that will go on indefinitely. Alas, even this is not really an original thought – as Muriel Rukeyser wrote, ‘The universe is made of stories, not of atoms’.

Here are one or two other reviews of the book you might be interested in reading: this and this and this.

[Homo Deus, A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Youval Noah Harari, Penguin/Vintage 2017, ISBN 9781784703936, pp. 499, Rs. 499]

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Pseudo introverts

I have been mulling over the two successive posts I wrote about introverts and extroverts in connection with Susan Cain's book, ever since Shilpi suggested that I should mention that pseudo-introverts exist just as pseudo-extroverts do. And I think she is right. A lot of people do pretend to be introverts because of this silly notion that if they are solemn and aloof most of the time, others will be impressed by them as thoughtful and wise people. 

This is certainly not a new phenomenon. Shakespeare warns in The Merchant of Venice (Act I, sc. i) that only fools try to impress other fools that way. And one of my favourite quotes from Bertrand Russell is a fixture on the other blog, 'I should not be thought to be serious only when I am solemn'. But maybe the tendency has been aggravated in this age of the internet, where everybody is desperate to project some sort of 'impressive' self on social media, and some - a significant number - of people feel that pretending to be introverted (which has been in their minds made synonymous with 'clever', which is actually very far from the truth, as an old boy, Subhashis Chakraborty, has rightly pointed out) would make them a little more impressive than they actually are. Shilpi says that it is a very common thing in academia, and she should know, having spent a whole decade at a famous university. But I see such people all around me too, even among teenagers, and widely among people above forty, especially among Bengalis (aantel is a disparaging term invented by Bengalis themselves for this type). It is fairly easy to make out who is faking it, though. A true introvert will not be gushing all the time on twitter, or be more interested in shoes and clothes and dancing and selfies than in books and mathematics and hard sustained thinking of any kind, and there are many other markers which I would rather not discuss in public. But if you want to know how to catch them out, you can talk to me.

One last thing in this context. Merely being able to categorize people into the introvert-extrovert binary does not make you a know-all. Ms. Cain has over-exaggerated the importance of this one way of judging people, as anybody with a favourite hobby horse will. The human personality is far too complex for that. Those who are really interested are welcome to read the chapter called On Personality Development in my own book, To My Daughter. They might be led on a very rewarding voyage of discovery, and motivated to read many more important books by many different scholars on this most interesting of all subjects.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Eshechhe shorot

Which means, as every Bengali should know, that (the Indian version of-) autumn is in the air.

It's still hot in the daytime, but the sky is turning azure, the rains have virtually stopped (though we are still expecting a few showers), the air conditioner is no longer strictly necessary, and though I am still sweating profusely whenever I go out for a walk, which is every evening, I can feel an ever-so-slight chill in the air if I go out on the scooter late or very early. The winter is coming, though it might still take a whole month to make itself seriously felt. I live for the four months November to February. Please God, let it be a good winter this time round.

I have been reading several interesting books lately. About one or two of them, soon. I had begun to feel that the blog had been going unattended for too long...

Monday, September 24, 2018

Corruption... installment two

Consider the first case. In this instance at least, it would be simple to catch and punish the guilty, wouldn’t you think?  You would be surprised. Both petty corruption of the pecuniary sort and great big swindles of the public routinely take place in virtually all countries of the world – the variation is only a matter of degree, though admittedly, there is very considerable variation in degree between what goes on in some African countries or India and say, Japan or the Scandinavian countries. Petty bureaucrats are offered, and accept, hush money and speed money as a matter of course just about everywhere, just a little more or a little less; businessmen in cahoots with politicians regularly think up one or other variety of Ponzi scheme. One reason this ‘evil’ can never be summarily done away with is that said petty bureaucrats, policemen and other keepers of the law are paid too little to be happy; another is that the law everywhere in all civilized countries has become too labyrinthine and byzantine to make even a semblance of normal life possible if it couldn’t be flouted, or at least winked at now and then, another is that trying to tighten the kind of administrative apparatus that could drastically curb this kind of ‘corruption’ would invariably usher in an intolerably oppressive police state (our PM has recently proved, I hope to his own lasting satisfaction, that merely replacing one set of currency notes by another does not even begin to make a dent on this kind of corruption), and succeed maybe only in confining corruption to the very top of the social pyramid (read Jeffrey Archer’s priceless short story Clean Sweep Ignatius to find out what I mean). Besides, it is in the very nature of the democratic-capitalist dispensation that a lot of people are directly and indirectly running after the prospect of big and easy money all the time, so how could things be otherwise? And from what I have seen and known of socialism in practice, it doesn’t make the slightest real difference, so I do not have any hopes in that direction.

Add to that a) the situation in countries like India, heavily overpopulated, a large part either desperately poor or teetering on the brink of poverty, where every necessity is in short supply – from land to water to jobs and health care and personal security and what have you – and it is only a fool who wastes time lamenting over corruption (unless, as I strongly suspect, they do it merely for entertainment). Every sane man and woman knows that you survive and prosper in this country through jugaad, making do, and a very large part of  that involves making money and avoiding trouble by every possible means, ‘honest’ or otherwise be damned. Especially when the lowest echelons (police constables, government clerks, petty shopkeepers, day labourers, rural schoolteachers…) see the uppermost ones getting ahead through the same means, and rarely being seriously punished for it, who can stop the former with either threats or moral admonitions? And so we have made a joke for public consumption: if you steal millions you are corrupt, if you steal only a few thousands, you are a good man eking out an honest living under difficult circumstances. And no one even cares to discuss that other kind of corruption,  job-shirking, which is endemic, and which, translated into financial terms, probably costs the economy hundreds of billions a year!

…and b) that in India at least, no matter what people say for public consumption, it is understood that in whatever position of power you might be, a bank manager or a cabinet minister, your first loyalty is NOT to something vague called the nation or society but to your own family or at most clan. So when people grumble that somebody is feathering his own nest and furthering his son’s interests, the real grouch is not that he is hurting the common weal but that the accuser cannot do the same (or as much) for his own! By the same token, see how many Indians are truly happy to see their fathers or sons being ‘duly’ punished for being caught with his hand in the till.

So are things likely to change for the better in the foreseeable future, and if so, how? I am pretty sure that if they do, it will be for the same reasons that some countries have become significantly less corrupt than others – viz. greater prosperity, meaning far fewer shortages of essentials, coupled with a much better distribution of income and wealth, so that the great majority are assured of sustained access to those essentials without resorting to corrupt means, spreading ethical education which stresses at all social levels regardless of age and gender that cheating of any kind is simply not done, topped off by much more fair, firm and efficient law enforcement. Do I have much hope of seeing such a development in my lifetime? Frankly, no.

Which brings me to the second kind of situation: where values are in flux, and most people, more or less confused and scared and unwilling or unable to think through every individual circumstance as it asks to be, simply go with custom and the herd. This situation applies in this country, I think, most in matters of things like food, clothes and sexual deviance. So a very ‘modern’ and ‘liberated’ young woman who normally goes around in micro-mini skirts (uncaring that her legs are simply gross, too) wouldn’t dream of getting married in anything but benarasi saree or lehnga-choli because her mother, grandmother and all sorts of aunts will be there; the Umrica-returned IT person will swear by vegetarian food as long as he is within hailing distance of his ancestral town or village, though virtually everyone in the family knows he loves pork and beef, and the journalist who screams bloody murder at old sticks-in-the-mud who publicly wrinkle their noses at gays will have a fit if her son comes out of the closet and declares to the biradari that he is one. And the very post-modern supporter of ‘open marriages’ does the same when she hears of a grown man having an affair with a teenager, because she has been indoctrinated in political correctness far more effectively than the Soviet secret police ever managed with anyone, biology, Dushyant-Shakuntala or Romeo and Juliet be damned. These people also go to see the Khajuraho temple carvings and titter and cover their children's eyes. More of this in the next post…

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Corruption: how much can we live with?

A well-travelled Chinaman who had lived through the 1970s and 80s in India will observe wryly when he goes back home that in this country people talk as much about corruption as the English (at least used to talk -) about their weather and the French about their livers. And, in general, they mean as little, and care as little, about changing things for the better. When I was younger, I felt righteously indignant about much iniquity and sham around me – in part as a gut reaction, for I had become aware how more than one ancestor in my family had burnt his fingers badly trying to fight the hydra-headed monster – and read a lot of fat books, done a lot of soul-searching and talked myself hoarse under the impression that I was contributing my mite to the crusade. I have learnt much more since then, and grown quieter; I haven’t, I trust, become cynical, nor do I think that those ancestors whom I once thought to have been noble were actually misguided or silly, but these days I am neither so ready to condemn everything that is popularly dubbed ‘corruption’ nor so eager to believe that if only we were all nicer and willing to say ‘boo’ to the dragon once all together, corruption would directly and forever vanish from the earth. I have learnt that things are not so simple as all that.

For one thing, people are not agreed on what constitutes corruption. For another, much corruption is unconsciously indulged in. Nor is there much social consensus about how much corruption may be tolerated (for the sake of preventing greater evils) and when it is to be punished, and how severely.

Corruption is certainly not a ‘modern’ problem; some of its forms are age old (just read our epics) – perhaps they are only more noticed and talked about today, but our innate love of colourful fiction, scandal and gossip, now institutionalized, organized and disseminated on a vast scale by the mass media, coupled with booming populations and mass audiences, may have been responsible for creating the impression that the world is rapidly filling up with bad people, rather than any truth in that idea itself. The very fact that certain kinds of corruption have proved to be so durable raises certain important questions. Perhaps the critics refuse to appreciate and accept certain unalterable features of human nature? – but more of this later. It is also interesting to note that whereas certain indicators of corruption have remained constant over time (at least for several hundred years), certain other yardsticks have been given up more or less completely. As in Kautilya’s time or Elizabeth I’s, we still say that a man who steals from the public purse is corrupt, but vivisection is no longer so regarded, and sporting unusual clothes, if sometimes frowned upon, no longer calls for being burnt as a witch in most places. Last but not the least, instinctive hypocrisy – itself one of the most durable and reprehensible forms of corruption – leads us to condemn our fellow humans for doing things that we ourselves surreptitiously do (or would love to do, if we were not afraid): and so the great religious masters were right when they taught ‘judge not, so thou may’st not be judged’. They knew what sort of creatures they were talking to. That is one piece of advice that stern clerics and Mrs. Grundys do not like to be reminded of.

Well then, shorn of verbiage and cant, what does corruption mean? The word has etymological associations with putrefaction and decay; it referred once upon a time to clogged sewers, disgusting sores and suppurating wounds – people still say of foul play that ‘it stinks’. In medieval times, those who ‘sold their souls to the devil’ and practised necromancy and witchcraft were said to be involved in corruption. It usually pays to hark back to the roots when you are grappling with a protean idea. These days it refers to activities which lack broad moral legitimacy: it is interesting to note that any accusation of corruption presupposes some degree of common consent regarding where the limits of legitimacy lie. In my time, in this country (and more or less in all reasonably ‘open’ societies, including western Europe and North America) the most common accusations of corruption are levelled against acts of defrauding the public, especially through abuse of political power for private economic gain (business is generally quite as culpable, but not as frequently and strenuously condemned), and against acts – or thoughts, through literature and the visual media – of sexual deviance. Let us examine their forms, causes and possible remedies in turn.

First, about corruption in politics. Historically in India and elsewhere, men in power have always thought it perfectly alright to use the privileges of office to feather their own nests – Charles II’s courtiers, except when they were extraordinarily naïve or pretentious, would not have been surprised or shocked by the goings-on in the contemporary courts of the Mughal badshahs or their provincial subedars and nawabs. Their only restraints were the need to keep in the sovereign’s good books (which was generally quite easily achieved by ensuring that the king himself had enough money, palaces, horses, wine and women to live in the grand style) and to see that the common masses were not goaded beyond endurance by extortion and rapine into a general uprising. It was only when powerful interest groups began to multiply beyond the traditional triad of church-barony-and king, first by the rise of the mercantile- and industrial bourgeoisie and later by the trickling down of affluence and education and the spread of democratic and all sorts of socialistic ideas in increasingly urban environments, until they could no longer be fully co-opted by the old elite but had to be granted codified rights to exist, flourish and wield power on their own, that new moral norms about the public responsibilities of public men began to be laid down in ‘society’s’ interest. And simultaneously, as the mass media proliferated and judiciaries became more independent, more and more people started playing watchdog in the public interest to ensure that corruption, if not actually reduced, was held in tolerable check.

In the liberal democracies of the west, the movement went on gathering momentum throughout the 19th century (it is surprising to note how recent a development this is, considering that men have been living under organized large-scale government for thousands of years) until it reached a sort of watershed in the 1970s – there is some reason to suppose that in the last forty odd years it has distinctly slowed down, if not begun to be rolled back (we hear of living in an era of ‘post-truth’ and SPIN doctors, and there are murmurs about being ruled by ‘deep states’, and, long after Watergate, Donald Trump has managed to become President of the United States) – and, to the extent that the same sociopolitical environment was replicated in other parts of the world, including India, the same movement took root and began to spread.

There are at least four different contexts in which men (and women too, of course) may be accused of corruption. One, when public standards of probity have been clearly established, and some men are observed or suspected to be betraying the standards which they have been entrusted and empowered to uphold. Two, when standards are in flux, and the standards of one large social group clash with those of others, which the former are not willing to respect or even tolerate. Three, there is the case where we might say, in a manner of speaking, that ‘the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’, that is, people find their instincts rebelling against politically correct behavioral norms which they can neither internalize nor defy openly – these are the people who most easily become moral vigilantes and indulge in witchhunts, ferreting out deviants and hounding them, deriving from persecution something akin to the pleasure that they can no longer get from ‘incorrect’ behaviour on their own part. Finally, there are situations where all the above types may overlap, and these are particularly nasty.

[I began this essay around the year 2000, I think, and stopped after the previous sentence – except for the line I have just introduced about post-truth and so forth. I recently decided to revive it, and carry on from there. So there is likely to be a sequel: I take care not to make my posts too long]

Thursday, September 13, 2018

He's gone... for a year now

It's been exactly a year since my father left us. I wrote He's gone after coming back from the cremation ground, and Remembering baba a few days later. 

I wonder where he is now, if he 'is' at all in any sense that we can understand.

But of course, he lives on in many memories, and I miss him.

This is life:

A  moment's halt, a momentary taste
Of Being, at the well amid the waste,
And lo! the phantom caravan has reached
The Nothing it set out from: O, make haste!

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Introverts, extroverts and my classes...

Let me start off by saying that the ‘introvert/extrovert’ binary is not as simple as it sounds. Take my own case. When I was a boy, two very opposite things were true about me – I loved to talk, I almost always had lots of things to talk about (one primary schoolteacher dubbed me a chatterbox), and at the same time, I was morbidly shy in strange company, especially when they were adults. With my friends (and when I was young I had quite a few) I could be chummy enough, but circumstances dictated that I was thrown upon my own resources most of the time, so most of my time was spent reading and daydreaming and swimming and watching movies and cycling around all by myself around the town. So where would you put me on the introvert-extovert continuum? As I grew up, I discovered even better that I could talk well when I wanted to, even among large groups, even on stage, and obviously as a teacher – anyone who has tried to coach people of his own age while still a teenager will know just how difficult that is. At the same time, I began to abhor adults already, not because I was actually shy any more, but I was discovering with ever growing disdain how ignorant, foolish yet opinionated and patronizing the average adult was (this included everyone from parents’ friends to professors and my nominal superiors at the newspaper office, and as I grew older, my contemporaries and increasingly people far junior), how quick to take offence if their silliness and ignorance and crudeness was exposed even accidentally (and more and more, I began to do it very deliberately, because I was touchy, and getting sick of such presumptuousness, and enjoyed rubbing their noses in the dirt). That applied very strongly to parties – before I was in my late twenties I began to hate having to rub shoulders with people whose average IQ, GK as well as manners (courtesy, consideration and dislike of noisiness, to name just three things that were becoming more and more essential to me) were vastly inferior, whose taste in jokes was poor at best and vulgar at worst, who were only constantly measuring one another in material terms and either preening or burning with envy, whose smiles were quite apparently plastic, who scorned my success and scoffed at my failure, who would never be of any use to me, material, intellectual or spiritual, many of whom, I knew, were speaking falsehood and ill behind my back even while uttering oily platitudes to my face if they thought their ‘interests’ required it. So I began to avoid socialization as a matter of principle – the last party I went to in a hotel was in 1993, I can count on one finger how many weddings I have attended in the last twelve years, and I never invite people in any significant number to dinner.

Classic introvert? Well, how does that explain my success as a teacher, then? Thousands who have been through my classes will remember fondly how much they enjoyed themselves here. Some of that was indeed due to the fact that they found me to be a far more attentive, understanding and sympathetic listener than most teachers are (again, sign of a typical introvert – but then, are such people so rare in this country?), but some of it was certainly because I entertained them so much in so many ways, and no teacher can be like that without being at least a very successful pseudo-extrovert, which I mentioned in the previous post. So I am proof that it can be done. People who have seen me holding classes in thrall for years and years will find it hard to believe that I am an introvert at all. So all those introverts out there who are reading this, take heart: if you badly want to do it for the sake of some specific purpose, you can do it with sufficient resolution and practice, over time, though your essential character won’t change. I will always like both large numbers (but only when they are ready to listen to me) and small, intimate one-on-ones, but I will never be the life and soul of any party, nor do I want to be.

As for what happens in my classes. Ever since I started teaching large batches (by which I mean any number more than ten) I have seen two things going on simultaneously. You must remember that pupils come to me after they have already had nine or ten years of schooling at least, so some bad habits are, alas, too deeply set for me to do much about it. I keep telling them you cannot learn a language without speaking it, and most of them have pathetic speaking skills, despite the fact that they go to so-called English-medium schools, fundamentally because oral exams have never been given seriously in school, and because most teachers themselves speak at best a pidgin English these days, and do nothing to encourage English speaking in class. I want them to answer questions and ask them – the more the merrier – but most of them are desperately averse, either because they are too lazy to listen to lectures or do homework (so where will the questions come from?) and too uninterested in any kind of serious learning, or because they are morbidly shy of being laughed at by their peers: which happens only too frequently, even though the peers themselves are no better, and have no right to jeer and titter. Try to hold any kind of elocution session, or debate, or extempore speaking class, and they are desperate to hide behind one another; very, very few participate eagerly. Telling them how important a skill public speaking will prove to be in later life is like beating your head against a wall.

Juxtapose this with the fact that left to themselves (and often even while a class is in session) they chatter loudly or in whispers, incessantly, compulsively, and most of their chatter is pointless drivel – they don’t even listen to themselves, and don’t remember what they themselves said five minutes ago. I know, I have checked a thousand times. So what are these kids, introverts, extroverts, or something else entirely? Simply creatures who lost their minds and sense of direction and purpose a long time ago? I know too, now teaching kids whose previous generation was in my class, that most of them will stay that way for the rest of their lives…

There are a few genuine introverts, always – quiet, observant, thoughtful, interested young people – and it is for them that I feel bad, because, given the large numbers, and the distraction caused by the too numerous other type (I have to waste far too much time keeping them on a tight leash), I cannot reach out to them as well as I would have liked to, though God knows I have tried very hard. I know some of them wish to get closer, be better attended to, and learn more, but leave a little disappointed. I wish, though, that they too would do their bit, try a little harder to communicate with me. A few have, over the years; they are the ones who remember thoughtfully and gratefully, and keep in touch even though decades roll by. The rest forget within days or weeks of the classes being dissolved. My only consolation is that they pay their fees, and the numbers keep coming year after year. Maybe a time will come soon when I will be able to sort and sieve, and retain only the former type in my class after the first three months… for again and again, a thousand times over, it is this type that has made it all feel worthwhile.

I wish Susan Cain had seen some classes in Indian schools and colleges before writing that chapter. And on Teachers’ Day, after 38 years of it, I cannot, alas, convey a general love, benevolence and admiration for the student community any more. It has been too long.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Quiet - book review

Susan Cain wrote a remarkable book in 2012 titled Quiet, which I have just read. A lawyer by training, social psychologist by choice, happy family woman and quite a balanced character who writes good English even in this day and age despite being American, she got me hooked from the very first page, so much so that I shoved several other books aside (I am still in the habit of reading multiple books at a time) to finish it from cover to cover, reflecting thoughtfully all the while. The book talks about the value and importance of introverts (‘quiet’ people) in an age when a quite unhealthy (in her opinion and mine) premium is put on extroversion – variously called gregariousness or sociability.

The basic thesis is that there is nothing bad or shameful about being introverted (which, by the way, is not the same thing as shyness, which can and should be cured through assiduous practice with deliberate social interaction), nor can people born that way do very much about it. In any large population, from one-third to half are born introverted. We need both introverts and extroverts to make a healthy and progressive society, but it is bad to force one type to become the other, as it is bad to force naturally left-handed people to become right-handed: which unfortunately, we do too strenuously (at least, in the author’s opinion, the way most children are being brought up in western countries). Each type should be allowed to grow up in its own preferred way, nurturing their best native talents, inclinations and drives, while also learning to know, understand and cope with those who are of the other type: we have everything to gain from doing that everywhere, from the domestic hearth to schools to the business- or political workplace.

It is also to be remembered that there are few people (though indeed there are some) who are ‘pure’ extroverts or introverts; many introverts, especially, learn to become very efficient pseudo-extroverts because they discover early – sometimes through very painful experience – that it helps a lot to get along even with people they don’t really like or vibe with. I was grinning hugely to myself while reading this part, because that is what has helped me most to succeed professionally, though I am a very strong introvert by nature, and that is what I have tried to teach hundreds of otherwise gifted introverts to do while they were my pupils, because it helps to ‘succeed’ in the practical world. But no true introvert ever really becomes an extrovert: because, and I shall underline this much more strongly than the author has, (I don’t have to fear loss of readership), most introverts not only dislike the other type but actually hold them in greater or less contempt for being basically shallow. After all, introverts have always had another name – ‘thinkers’ – and they have always taken pride in it, and felt angry because the majority pretend to scoff at what they are not gifted enough to understand. Remember, as the author has said, from the theory of gravitation to Harry Potter, the world owes almost all works of creative thought to the introverts (‘nerds’), who like to focus and work alone or in small groups of appreciative peers. The best that the extroverts can show are warriors and footballers (some of the very best salespeople and Presidents even, though this might sound paradoxical to many, have been introverts); far, far more commonly, they are of no more consequence than compulsive fashionistas, members of football beer gangs and party animals!

The book is full of memorable lines that you can quote at people. I won’t make it easy for you: read it yourself, and see how many of the things said there click with your knowledge of yourself and people around you. A lot of folks, I am sure, will find reassuring ideas as well as useful self-improvement tips here.  Most importantly, for the likes of my own daughter, if you are otherwise gifted and know that you have many positive qualities but are thin-skinned and easily bored by chatter as introverts usually are, don’t go out of your way to make yourself appear cheerful and superficial and falsely friendly to the riffraff. Wholly wasted energy.

I should also give at least one serious warning, especially to Indian readers, as I guess most of my readers are. All my life I have found Americans to be very blinkered and gullible about a lot of things outside their immediate ken, despite their obvious sincerity and vaunted fondness for meticulous ‘research’. The biggest bloomer that this author has made is the chapter on how ‘Asians’ are by and large more introverted – quiet, thoughtful, humble, disciplined, sensitive to other people’s feelings and needs – and that, apparently, helps them to succeed both at school and in the workplace far beyond the dreams of the average American. Now ever since the Japanese economic ‘miracle’ that began in the 1950s, lately replicated by the Chinese, Americans by the droves have been searching for the ‘right’ explanation for the extraordinary phenomenon, and Ms. Cain believes that this is it. She has drawn such utterly silly and superficial conclusions on the basis of investigations with a few hundred Japanese, Chinese and Koreans studying and working in the US (anybody could have told her that this is too small and too biased a sample to draw such sweeping conclusions from, since Asians who successfully migrate and thrive in the west are by definition very different from the common type in their own countries): all 1.3 billion Indians have been completely ignored. We know what we are like, don’t we? The only Indian she has mentioned is one M. K. Gandhi, and millions of Indians, both among his devotees and those who name him only to spit upon it, will tell you how ‘typical’ an Indian he was anyway. So alas, Ms. Cain, if Asia is rising today, you have to look for explanations elsewhere. And it made me grimace to think that only a hundred or a little more years ago, when we Asians/Indians were poor and supine, these same white people found us disgusting and stupid and venal and hardly human; now that we are giving them frightening competition, they have suddenly ‘discovered’ such wonderful virtues in us! One more reason why I have come to regard all sorts of ‘scientific findings’ with not a grain but a whole bagful of salt. - however, I must hasten to point out that this one rather ludicrous chapter does not detract much from the value of the book.

[Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, by Susan Cain, Penguin Books 2012, ISBN 978-0-141-02919-1, pp. 333, Rs. 499. You can also hear her TED Talk here.]

P.S.: I am deeply delighted that a girl who is barely 16 read this book and gave it to me to read. Restores my dimming hopes. I know lots of educated people in their 30s and 40s who can’t or won’t read a book like this. Thank you, Anny.

P.P.S., later in the day: How I have dealt with my own introversion, and handled it in my (pretty large -) classes for more than thirty years will be the topic of the next blogpost. Coming up soon.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Phone nightmare

In the 1980s, India had only fixed line telephones, and very few of them (in the early seventies I had read that New York City had more phones than the whole of India, but that was another era); call rates were like one rupee a minute – that would be equivalent to Rs. 20 or more a minute now, or thereabouts? – among the highest in the world.

The telecom ‘revolution’ began around the turn of the century (even 20 years ago, smartphones were toys for the rich to show off – only maidservants’ sons do that today). The business was opened up to the private sector just as worldwide the technology started developing and proliferating at the speed of a nuclear chain reaction. Phone ownership has since crossed 700 million and rising steeply, and there are more than 300 million smartphones in use. Call rates have dropped to near zero – you pay something like Rs. 150 (that’s little more than two US dollars) and get ‘unlimited’ calls for about a month, plus a lot of net surfing thrown in.  Meanwhile there is a dog eat dog fight going on among the service providers: they have already spent tens of thousands of crores to buy bandwith and licences, and as much again on building infrastructure, even as revenues are plummeting. Result: tens of millions of people who can’t afford (or don’t want) a good education or good housing and health care have phones glued to their ears more or less all their waking hours, on foot and in vehicles, at home and on the road, while the massively overstretched infrastructure is creaking and groaning at the joints. As any Indian who needs to talk urgently to someone far away for a few minutes at a stretch can tell you, getting through and finishing an important conversation is a nightmare, or else you must have two or three SIM cards to try with.

Unless I am much mistaken, this is a classic oligopoly in the making. A few gigantic (and ever growing-) firms with bottomless pockets – aided, no doubt by monstrous loans from banks which they have no strong intention of repaying in the foreseeable future – are slugging it out, hoping to remove all small rivals from the market who cannot take losses on that scale for long, so that those three or four gargantuan firms will finally have the whole market to themselves, and then they will in all likelihood carve it up among themselves to create regional monopolies (Only Mio in south India, only Windtel in the North and North West, only Concept in the centre and east, with TSNL to pick up the intermediate crumbs if it survives at all), following which they will at last begin the process of jacking up the tariffs to profitable levels again: and by God, they are going to be hefty jackups indeed, to compensate for the astronomical losses of yesteryear and then make the sort of profits that alone can satisfy those who are racing ahead to become the world’s first trillionaires…

For very, very small fish like me who do not want to use phones as playthings of an idle hour but would like to be able to make calls that get through instantly, always, and without interference and interruption, it couldn’t happen soon enough. At call rates of 20-30 rupees a minute, the lines would at last be clear again. How many would like to bet seriously against me that it wouldn’t happen within the next, say, five years?

P.S.: Oh, and before I leave… I am delighted to see that the blogpost titled To My Daughter in print has made it to the most-read list. As I have said before, it is a good feeling to see that the book keeps selling, and the publishers keep sending little amounts of royalty to the bank. Someday somebody is going to really read the book and write to me about it. Better still, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Just scribbling

I have just been video-chatting with loved ones and old boys, back to back in London, Delhi and Singapore. Now I am at peace at home, having talked happily for a bit after class with a young old boy learning to become a doctor, come back after a vigorous evening walk and listening to raaga jaunpuri on youtube as I write while sipping cold beer. Imagine, I tell myself. See how far you have come, and life is good, getting better by the year! How often I say to the little ones currently under my tutelage that you shouldn’t be too nostalgic about childhood passing by – the best is yet to come.

The posts on Rani Rashmoni and the Mahabharata have at long last been dislodged from the top of the most-read list. Several thousand have read them already. I would so have liked to hear from some of them… but if you cannot otherwise create, keep writing, I tell them, it is one of the few things about you that will endure, or at least might. I was watching King Alfred of the 9th century CE saying in a Netflix series that the written word will carry civilization on its shoulders, and I couldn’t agree more.

To Rajdeep, thank you for the books that you keep sending. I am now deep into Mythos – never knew that Stephen Fry was such a good author! (Can somebody send me that movie of his called General Blackadder?) And thank you vastly more for being there for close to a quarter century now: few can claim as much. I really must make that Japan trip sometime soon. France too, if Nishant stays put for a bit longer…

To Subhadip Dutta and Saikat Chakraborty: are you, too, like so many others, beginning to forget?

To all of the younger  ’uns: don’t confuse Google with knowledge, leave alone wisdom.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

A pat on my daughter's back

My daughter recently wrote a review of Chandrahas Choudhury's new novel, Clouds, on her blog. Mr. Choudhury has liked it enough to write glowingly about it on his Facebook page. I am quoting the whole comment below. If you are really interested, you might look up Choudhury's FB page for the actual post, and the comments that have come in. He wrote it last night, meaning August 01 [here is the link:  https://bit.ly/2LJEdgO ]

'Read a wonderful review of Clouds by Urbi Chatterjee, a Young India fellow at Ashoka University -- written in much more elegant prose, and with many more interesting thoughts and much more understanding of narrative and aesthetic motives, than most of the reviews of Clouds in the newspapers. Which newspaper editor on my friends' list wants to give this very bright young writer, formerly a student of history at Jadavpur, some book-review or journalistic work? We need more good reviewers in this country!
Especially loved this bit: "Witnessing Farhad fall in love is also quite a comic treat for the reader – he steps into that same bubble of buoyant optimism and nothing-can-ever-go-wrong-again sense of confidence, and his mind builds the same castles in the air that do people decades younger than him. Love makes a happy, goofy fool out of human beings, and it is comforting to realise that people much older and more experienced than I can end up behaving in the exact same manner when assailed by the arrows of Cupid." '