My daughter has written a post on her blog describing things that
annoy her about living in India. Made me sad, but I can hardly argue with
anything she has said there. Take a look.
I am thrilled to see that people are now reading my blog from
all over the American continents, even the South, where I did not have readers
for a long time. I wonder who started the ball rolling?
General elections have been announced, so the country, I guess,
is going to gear up for what is really ‘the biggest show on earth’! Everybody
seems to be sure that it’s going to be a hung parliament this time round, and
the only thing worth speculating upon is what sort of coalition will be cobbled
together to stake a claim to the new government, who will lead the team, and
how long it will last…
The papers have been full of the crisis brewing over the
international standoff centred on Ukraine (some people have gone to the extent
of predicting that World War III is looming.) But the same papers are also
solemnly informing us that midi-skirts are ‘in’ again this season: ‘too much leg
looks jarring, borderline wag’ (t2, p.8, The
Telegraph Calcutta, March 6, 2014). I also read an article about how TV
makes all sorts of professions look artificially easy for the gullible teenage
reader, from physics to law to math. I was laughing inwardly all the time while
discussing ideas for an essay in class titled ‘News is not news today, it’s
what the media manufacture for us’. I hope my own pupils will be a little
better equipped to negotiate the world they are growing up in, forewarned.
I read J.K. Rowling’s debut detective novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, and wasn’t too impressed. Yes, she has
introduced a new kind of private eye – not an easy thing to do in this day and
age – and managed to make him a fairly sympathetic figure, warts and all. She
plans to develop the template into another seven-part series. Let us see how it
fares with the readership: I shall keep my fingers crossed. The first book, it
seems, has sold well, though it’s not a patch on the Harry Potter series, and one swallow doth not a summer make. The
fact that Ms. Rowling tried a pseudonym first and then quickly ‘leaked’ the
fact that it was she because otherwise the book was not selling is a worrisome
datum. A rather interesting relationship seems to be developing between the
detective Cormoran Strike and his new young secretary Robin Ellacott, so that
is one thing I shall watch with interest. Ms. Rowling knows a great deal about
the high life in London, and that comes across rather well, as well as her
visceral hatred of the paparazzi, and her rather low opinion of womankind in
general, which I find both just and admirable. The storyline is rather thin: if
you plan to enjoy the book, you must be prepared to do so for the sake of
atmosphere rather than plot. What I found most deplorable and utterly
unwarranted – unless Ms. Rowling has assumed that her readership is slightly
sick – is the endless and intense use of obscenities in virtually everyone’s
conversation. If this has been done for the sake of ‘realism’, I have two
observations about this: a) one might as well condone detailed descriptions of
excretory functions in movies, for they are of course a necessary and permanent
part of ‘reality’, and b) Ms. Rowling has herself demonstrated, as have many
others, that perfectly good writing can be achieved without it. Also, if this
is the kind of conversation I must hear all around me if I am ever in England,
I am glad I won’t have to go there. Things are bad enough in the streets of
Bengal… one thing I can definitely say is, unlike with Sherlock Holmes, or
Hercule Poirot or Dr. Thorndyke – or even Harry Potter – I won’t want to
re-read this book over and over after gaps of a few years.
I have also just finished the second book in the Ibis trilogy series by Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke (Sea of
Poppies I read a year ago). I have deeply admired Ghosh as perhaps the
finest of living Indian authors in English ever since The Hungry Tide, and my admiration has been redoubled since. He is
writing a grand saga in the classical style, not afraid to make each volume
several hundred pages long and demanding intense and focussed attention from
the reader all through – that he can make a living that way, as can Khaled
Hosseini, tells me something most reassuring in the age of twitter.
Every good book leaves you a little wiser, a little better, a
little changed. Ghosh’s writing is definitely of that category: he does not write for a moment’s sensation. I pride myself on my knowledge of
history, yet he has humbled me with a
delicious and highly digestible history of India and China around the 1830s.
And the books are a veritable feast for the gourmet of detail, be it about food
or ships or flowering plants or paintings or the marvellous and intricate richness
and variety of languages (for a lot of readers, of course, that would be the
major turn-off: I am glad that to Ghosh as to me, such readers’ opinions don’t
count). In the tradition of the best writers of all lands and ages, he has also
created a very wide variety of characters who are live enough for you to
empathize deeply with. And he left me wondering impatiently what new twists and
turns the story would take when I had reached the last page, knowing that the
third book, Flood of Fire, is going
to be released not before spring 2015.
Ankan (Saha), a very favourite old boy, came visiting yesterday.
His classmate and one-time batchmate Raunak Chandak the budding businessman and car
aficionado who never forgets to let me drive the latest acquisition of his accompanied
him. We had a fun three hours chatting.
Ankan was a whiz kid all through. He sailed through school,
studied at IIT Kanpur on scholarship, flew off to the US, got a PhD in computer
science from the U. of Chicago, is currently living in the San Francisco Bay
Area and commuting to work at Mountain View, working on research at Linkedin.
By Indian middle-class standards, he is, of course, top of the heap. Thinking
of a startup: who knows but sometime soon he might be another zillionaire. But
that is not why I have always had a soft corner for him…
First, despite rough patches and long gaps, he has always been
fond of me (I think) and kept in touch. Second, it was he who got me into
blogging: this thing owes its existence to him. Third, the poor boy lost his
dad too early, and the coping has been hard, but he seems to have done well.
Fourth, though unlike his batchmate Nishant (Kamath), we talk much less often,
it is always good when we do. Three hours passed by in a flash: I hope you
enjoyed it as much as I did, Ankan and Raunak. We talked of – let me see –
science, math, computers, economics, big business, history, movies, marriage, culture or
the lack of it where we respectively live, books we have read recently, exercise,
travelling, batchmates of theirs whom I know and how much they have changed or
not, fun aspects of social psychology... I forget the rest. It set me wondering
what it is about female ex students that they rarely visit, and hardly have
anything interesting to talk about!
Thank you for coming, Ankan. And thanks for City of Djinns (Nishant, if you are reading this, we collectively
remembered how good the Colorado whisky was! So thank you, too). Take care. May
life shower its choicest blessings on you all. And keep a little more closely
(the road from Ilambazar to Shantiniketan. My local favourite)
Winter is going away too fast. The chill vanished with almost
military punctuality on Saraswati pujo day. There is the all-too-evanescent
spring in the air, it’s terribly dusty all around, and if it doesn’t rain soon,
yet another awful summer is going to be upon us within weeks…
My old faithful scooter wrought a miracle yesterday. I drove to
Shantiniketan on a whim with someone riding pillion, and yet it went all the
way and back without so much as a hiccup, only to break down virtually when I
was back home (minor hitch, soon resolved). I am not going to exchange it for a
new bike in a hurry!
I was visiting Shantiniketan after quite some time. The grounds
look much tidier and more colourful with trees and flowers than I remember
seeing them ever before. Someone is obviously paying attention to these things
at last. And there were Ananda pathshaala
classes going on in the open air as always. But the museum at Rabindra Bhavan
was a disappointment. Many of the exhibits have been put beyond the public
gaze, apparently after the original Nobel Prize medallion was stolen: a classic
case of shutting the gates after the horse has bolted if ever there was one!
I am missing some of my frequent comment-writers here. Where
have you folks gone?
Sriranjani is the latest in a long line of ex-students whom I
have encouraged to write their own blogs, and often. I find her writing
refreshing and thought-provoking, too, not the usual girlie fluff and
self-obsessed teenage-never-going-away angst. Do visit her blog, and enthuse
her to keep at it with your comments.
My yearly admissions will begin on February 22, and for more
than a week the house will be swarming with people. The notices are up on
display at the gate, and folks are ringing up at all hours to find out when
they must turn up and what they must do for their kids to get in. Every year
this time gives me a rush of mixed feelings – wonder, about why they keep
coming year after year in such numbers, profound thankfulness that they do,
discomfiture over how much I’ll have to talk and how much silliness and worse I’ll
have to deal with until the admissions are over, trepidation over whether I can
do my thing with the fresh batches as well as I have unfailingly done all these
years (I started in Durgapur in 1987, and the batches grew large from 1992),
pride that I must have made some name for myself doing something that many
people have found worth their time and money, else this would have been just a
figment of my imagination, gladness that not a few have taken away so much more
than merely a few notes and marked exercises for some piffling examinations,
sadness that so many have not (or have forgotten since leaving my classes, or
simply never told me how I helped to make their lives better in some lasting
sense)… it’s been a good life, and I am looking forward to retirement in a few
years’ time, and so many people’s voices ring in my ears, too, saying ‘Sir, you
can never retire!’
Rajdeep sent me this link all the way from Japan. He has noticed
– as I hope some others have, too – that I have been writing in the same vein
for a long time now. Good to see that a hot-shot ‘with-it’ management
consultant is saying the same sort of thing now, and though he thinks of himself as an outlier
still, he can hear his echo in as stolid an establishment figure as Larry
Summers, and his article has been published in the Harvard Business Review, as dyed in the wool as they come this side
of the Pope (am I being unfair to the Pope?)
The whole of the current young generation faces Stagnation, with
a capital S, regardless of how many overnight puppy-billionaires in the Mark
Zuckerberg mould our global freakonomy keeps throwing up.To quote Haque, “Stagnation
means, in plain English, that living standards in many rich nations are going
to fall for young people. That’s a fancy way of saying that life is going to
get shorter, harder, nastier, dumber, and bleaker. No, sorry, just because you
can buy a gigantic 4D plasma TV on 4000% APR credit and a bag of Doritos the
size of an Escalade for 99 cents doesn’t mean you will live longer, be
healthier or happier, or be able to afford an education for yourself or your
children”. And that’s the bright picture, because he is talking about rich
nations here. There’s a couple of lines about IT-hack types in India and China,
too: find them yourself. I worry, for my daughter is on the threshold of
adulthood, and has been brought up to be unusually aware and sensitive.
There are two sad things about this situation. One, that even
the Umair Haque types have no concrete agenda (read the third paragraph from
the end), just as the Arvind Kejriwals and the ‘We are the 99%’ gangs don’t.
So, in Rajiv Gandhi’s long-forgotten words uttered in another era and another
context, ‘the future is being determined by drift and not by direction’. At
least the Bolsheviks had some sense of direction back in 1917, or thought they
had. Hard to believe it’s been almost a hundred years since…Two, it makes me
feel horrible to think that 99% of those who read stuff like this are those who
can afford to live in denial, either because they have got slightly
better-than-average jobs-plus no family responsibilities (there’s an incredible
number of this type around these days among under-35s!) or because they are still living on
mummy-and daddy’s support (a lot of them ‘disguised unemployed’ – oops, I meant
doing PhDs), or in low-paid-dead-end jobs and piling up debts with no thought
of the morrow, and therefore hate to be reminded. If change for the better
comes about in my lifetime, it will not be their
doing. The sans culottes, or their
latter-day equivalents, don’t read blogs on the internet…
Ah well. I shall keep faith in my old guru John Maynard Keynes,
who once famously wrote ‘The ideas of economists and political philosophers are
more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little
else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from
intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.
Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy
from some academic scribbler… sooner or later, it is ideas rather than vested
interests which are dangerous for good and evil’.
This recent article in The
American Scholar caught my eye and made me ponder. I am rather surprised at
the title, though, because it seems that the author is saying that the rich are different. Tell me if I read it
I am especially pleased by two things in it. One, that the
author quotes a contemporary psychologist cum science journalist in the same
breath as Shakespeare: as I say to my pupils, these days you have to be a
‘scientific expert’ to say things that our finest poets said long ago, and far
more beautifully and memorably. Two, that the author echoes something I wrote
recently (see the post titled That’s it
on the homepage) and years ago: we live in an age that allows us to live the
ha-ha la-la life for far too long, and it is only when we are sobered up by
close proximity to poverty and death that things that ought really to matter
start mattering again, and we grow up more in a day or week than in the last
several decades. Some people, I have myself written elsewhere, ‘need Auschwitz and Hiroshima to
sober up’. Millions of well-off but insignificant people with a bloated sense of self-importance currently in their
late twenties and thirties certainly need to have a major accident, or hear
that a loved parent has got terminal cancer, or lose a real friend forever out of cussed stupidity. Or maybe the rot has gone so deep
that even that won’t make a
On one point, at least, I’d beg to differ with the author. She
says that not being always vulnerable has its benefits: ‘because we are not
vulnerable, and aren’t preoccupied with it, we are free to achieve many things
and contribute to society in creative and constructive ways’. Perhaps she has
not heard that lots of people have lived in poverty and under the shadow of
death and yet ‘achieved great things and contributed to society’ in far more
creative and constructive ways than most contemporary suburbanites with their
pretty villas/condos, sleek cars and fancy phones ever will.
Could it be that our ancestors, even till the mid-20th century, were simply made of far more heroic stuff? I compare my grandfather (see the post The End of an era) who was a young man in the 1930s with people I have seen growing up in front of my eyes, and I wonder that they even belong to the same species... people who have been brought up by "helicopter moms" or people who have never yet handled a single real crisis in their lives all by themselves, and are not even aware of what they are.
So it’s a new year again. I try to make fresh new beginnings
every time, and this new year seems to augur well, after the annus horribilis that is now nine days
I have decided not to compromise my essential self any longer
for anybody’s sake. I have rediscovered that love, though it may be
unsatisfactory or passing, is not always and necessarily a chimera, and I am
looking forward to some good things happening in my life again. Which I shall
notify my readers about, as and when they materialize: watch this space. I am
not poor, I am not ill, I am not devoid of a sense of purpose, my classes are
full, and insofar as a man can ever be happy, I am happy. Not a small thing to
be, as I should know. No man or woman will be allowed to rob me of this
happiness: that is my single New Year’s Resolution. For too long have I tried
to live for other people. It doesn’t work, and that was the mistake I had been
making for a long, long time.
I said in the last post that I want my most serious readers to
explore some of my old posts, and comment on them. I am waiting. No better way
of showing you are interested in me than in engaging me in conversation about
things that interest me. Conversely, I have no better way of finding out who is
really interested and who is faking it.
My daughter got a smartphone recently. She might write about her
own experience herself, but watching her using it, I now know more certainly
than ever that I am not going to need one in the near future. How the world is
filling up with useless trifles… it makes me wonder how Shakespeare wrote all
those plays without the aid of a ballpoint pen, leave alone a word processor,
and how Newton discovered all that he did without even a calculator at his
elbow. Shall I live long enough to see a world filled with hairy apes again?
The coldest part of the year is rapidly passing by, and I am
sorry to see that it never became really cold in these parts this time.
Especially considering that other parts of the world are being swept by once in
a decade snowstorms. How capricious Mother Nature is, really.
I have gotten back to books with a vengeance. And also decided
not to talk about them except with people who are capable of reading and
thinking, by my standards.
A woman friend of mine runs a playschool for very small children
in my neighbourhood. My daughter went there too, 15 years ago. I met her at her
doorstep one morning recently, and struck her speechless by offering to come
and teach her classes in a few years’ time.
Arvind Kejriwal has gone remarkably quiet on the question of ‘doing
away with corruption’ within days of assuming office as chief minister of
Delhi. I was wondering what he is up to.
That’s enough by way of an update. Have a happy New Year.
And old boys, do look me up if you are around: I have a light workload till mid-February.
We are nearing the end of the year now, and this is my 52nd
post of the year. Also, I have been writing non-stop, at a steady rate, for
seven and a half years. It’s time, I think, to take a break. So I am
bidding my readers – and I know there are at least several hundred – au revoir, though not adieu. And since
the festive season is coming up, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,
all, wherever on this planet you might be located.
I have nearly 370 posts on this blog now. I am glad and proud of
having acquired a readership spread across the world, including a few hundred regular visitors. This blog has
helped me to renew and deepen some old connections, and make some worthy new
friends. I am especially glad that this year the visit count has accelerated:
there have been more than 50,000 page views since January, and five of the ten
most-read posts were written this year itself. All to the good…
Now, as I wrote in a recent post, I am beginning to falter.
Firstly, because no one can endlessly think of new and interesting things to
say. Secondly because I have already created a wide and varied corpus of musing
here that serious readers should explore much more assiduously than they have
till date: few people can claim that they have read all, far fewer still that
they remember everything and have reflected upon everything – I know, because
if they had, their manner of interacting with me, by phone, chat, email or face
to face would have changed greatly by now, and permanently. Thirdly, because I
hate to think that I am being forced to repeat myself, simply because some
people won’t listen and remember and take to heart. Fourthly, I wait until I am
satisfied that the waiting has been long enough, and the paucity of sensible
comments on anything I write, in sharp contrast to the number of visits, makes
me think I have waited long enough: it’s not a nice feeling having to talk to a
wall (one of the primary reasons I quit journalism in favour of teaching: the
latter gave me live feedback every day). Fifthly, because this year I really
poured myself out, and there’s a point where one needs to tell oneself ‘Stop!’
Besides, after what I wrote in the last post, everything else
would sound silly and trivial to me, whether I write about the passage of
Nelson Mandela or the recent Supreme Court judgment on homosexuality or the
arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York. I leave that to people who have all
the time in the world for trifles…I want people to engage with me henceforth,
if they want to at all, because posts like that one have resonated somewhere
deep and essential inside them. arasikesu
rasasya nivedanang/ shirosi ma likho, ma likho, ma likho.
I am not going to stop writing here. I am only going to become
irregular. Henceforth, only when the fancy seizes me. After a quarter million
page views, I don’t have to prove anything to myself, and those who are really
interested will wait, and prod, and talk to me.
So also with relatives, so-called friends, and old
acquaintances. As I myself teach, all a man has to do to go to sleep in peace
at the end of each day is to look his conscience in the eye and reply to its
question ‘Did you try all you could?’ as I can say, with total and calm
confidence, ‘I did’. After now, the ball is in other people’s court. They want
to keep in touch with me, they will abide by my terms. Otherwise, I am well
Just one request, all. Don’t pretend what you don’t feel. Be it respect, love, or longing... faking is faking, and it hurts.
(I have wasted my life bothering about child, friend, women and society, which are all like drops of rainwater falling on a heated beach - forgetting You. Now what good am I? Lord, I despair of redemption. But they say you save even the most hopeless and helpless, so I put my last trust in You: written by Vidyapati, about 700 years ago).
I found an incredible echo of this song in a 2013 Bollywood movie. Here.
I have loved too many, not wisely, perhaps, but only too well. Now there's only He. The only question is, when do I turn to Him at last? And how do I reconcile myself to the fact that a lot of pathetic humans will then lament they wish they had tried a bit harder to get close to me...?
Hunger - what a dirty word! - has not gone away from the Third World, and is gradually becoming rife and rampant in the First World again, too gross and obvious to hide, even as the number of billionaires multiplies. See here. So I am hoping for more literature of the likes of Dickens and Hugo and Steinbeck and Tagore and Bibhutibhushan and Premchand in the years to come, and less of the type that deals with the trivial angst of pampered,vapid techies and fashion models, the type about whom it can be truly said that once you've seen one you've seen them all, the type which, if they die by the million, will not be missed by anyone outside their families, and that for not more than a few months...
Many thanks to young Akash Ganguly for drawing my attention to this article. Here is a 15-year old I can respect much more than most people his parents' age...
and in this connection, here's a five-year old post of mine. As I like to boast, since I don't write about toys, nothing really dates on my blog.
Professor C.N.R. Rao, the first scientist to be nominated for
the Bharat Ratna award since C. V. Raman, has in a recent interview done yeoman
service to the nation by shattering some long held and most ridiculous myths
about this country – though I am sure that very few Indians will thank him for
it. Here is the link to the relevant news item. The text of the report on the
front page of my newspaper is slightly different, but no matter.
This is also a subject I have written on, and not once, on this
blog. Something very close to my heart, perennially.
I discovered that very little science is done in India – as westerners
(who have, let’s face it, done 99% of all the science in the last 200 years) understand
doing science – and that very badly, when I was still an adolescent. Otherwise,
I might quite possibly have gone in for higher studies in some branch of
science myself (and wanted my daughter to do the same): I had the brains, and
upto quite an advanced age, sufficient interest. I am glad to be vindicated in
my views by a scientist of such preeminence, though it has come rather late in
the day, and Professor Rao, being in a very high public position, has pulled a
lot of punches, as I don’t have to.
Still, I am glad that he has said a) IT has very little to do
with science, and might actually be blamed for having done a lot of harm to
science as a whole in the last 20 years (as cricket has done to every other
kind of sport), b) a lot of scientific fields have been grossly and
persistently neglected, c) the IT-rich (and other rich, and successive
governments) have done much less for the advancement of science in this country
than they should have, d) our scientists, many of them lazy careerists with too
little interest in their work, too little nationalistic pride and ambition,
must take a big share of the blame too, e) since Nehru’s time, there might
actually have been a sharp retrogression in the development of a scientific
temper in our society, f) neither science nor God have anything to do with
superstition, which is what is rife in India, g) without spread of mass
education with a stress on nurturing the scientific temper, there can be no
real and long term development, no matter what the stock market says. I find
myself agreeing with every bit of the above.
I wish India would become a truly cultured and progressive
nation again. Which would mean being far less fanatical about fads (and I call
the recent madness over Chennai Express
as well as Sachin’s retirement – not Sachin’s career itself, mind you – fads),
far less blindly, narrowly, stupidly, cravenly materialistic, far less
superstitious (which – and I am with both Tagore and Subramaniam Chandreshekhar
here – means being far more seriously interested in God, art, beauty,
justice as well as real science, as distinct from technical gimmickry and dhandaa and hogging and partying), far
less interested in pubbing and mall-crawling, far more keen on good reading,
far more serious about real education (look up my posts under the label
education: cramming a bit of physics and chemistry has very little to do with
it). Which means that greater people than Nandan Nilekani and Chetan Bhagat and
Anna Hazare must be called visionaries. Which means going back to the golden –
or at least silver – age we had just before and after independence, when
cerebral men living simple lives were accorded the highest social esteem, at
least among those who dared to call themselves educated, when no mere bania,
politician, doctor or engineer would have dared to talk as though he were the
equal of Satyen Bose or Bibhutibhushan Banerjee or Nandalal Bose or Alauddin Khan
sahib, when teachers were accorded the respect due to them because society at
least dimly understood the value of what they do, and every Tom, Dick and Harry
couldn’t become a teacher, when corruption would become a minor irritant and
non-issue simply because the vast majority would have realized that life is not
to be wasted making a bit of sleazy money…
P.S., Nov. 19: This editorial in my newspaper today, in connection with Sachin, science and the Bharat Ratna, is one of the sanest things I have read in a long time.
The first part of this post is directed at Santanu Chatterjee, who has been very kindly and closely reading up and commenting upon several older posts. Why suddenly now, I wonder? But many thanks.
Also thanks for the prodding (this is with reference to your comment on my last post), but there were reasons why I haven't been writing for a while. Firstly, because I had already written four posts in October: that's about the monthly average. Secondly, I wanted the last post to stay on top for some time (you may be surprised to know that most visitors don't read anything beyond the last post - not even the comments). Thirdly, because a lot of momentous things have been happening in my life lately, and I have been rather more than usually preoccupied. Fourthly, I have written a very great deal on a very wide range subjects already over the last seven years and a half: no one is endlessly fertile with thoughts and ideas, and besides, one wants that readers keep visiting and reflecting and commenting upon older posts, as you have been doing lately: why should I have to keep coming up with new ones at the drop of a hat with unfailing regularity? Novelty for its own sake is neither very great nor good, and I don't work for Apple anyway... so thank you for prodding, but I hope this is a fairly adequate explanation.
Now as to things I have been thinking upon in between everything, here's one sample. Think about it, all, and let me know what you think. My take I shall mention if and when some sensible and thought-provoking comments come in.
For once, at a loss for words. Or rather, don't feel like writing much...
If you are interested, I shall point you to old posts titled 'Auld lang syne', 'Forty five and counting' and the recent one titled 'Almost there'.
Biggest lesson learnt in all these years: love is too commonly faked. And people do it quite unselfconsciously, too.
Most important resolution: to be much more picky, and much less forgiving. I absolutely hate being taken for granted, and that's what everybody seems to do, sooner or later. Surely I am now at an age when I can do without it?
been a far better pujo than I had hoped for: indeed, the best in more years
than I can remember.
of all, the weather helped. It was rainy all through, even with the occasional
chill, interrupted only now and then by muggy patches. Then, the luxury of
sleeping whenever you like, as much as you like, without being bound to a
routine, and with family around you. Going around the city just once before my wife
was convinced that staying at home and watching pujo on television would be a
far better idea. And then having our own pujo downstairs... all the fun and
colour and gaiety you want, with the added assurance that you could slip off
unnoticed to the peace and quiet of your own flat anytime things got too much
for you, either by way of fanfare or boredom. Saw the contemporary urban
Bengali middle class at its best and worst: all the bonhomie and cattiness, all
the friendly conversation and backstabbing, all the cultural wealth and crass
parvenu ostentation (everyone from the auto driver to the doc brandishing
smartphones – diamond jewellery is better to look at, at least!), all the
obsession with rabindrasangeet that no one cares to reflect upon and ‘cool’
distortion of the mother tongue, all the gourmandizing, the drunken dancing and
faux-respectful distancing of elders from such display of ‘oposanskriti’... I
took in a fun Bangla movie in between,
and read up a bit of a new biography of Babur, and watched the gorgeous skyline
of nights, and shubho Bijoya has arrived in the wink of an eye.
some nice acquaintances, too, aged between barely thirty and eighty. Our
housing estate has a rather diverse collection of residents, many of them
absentee owners who live elsewhere in India or abroad, but gather here for the
pujo. This is the first time I was staying here for some length of time on a
festive occasion, and it didn’t take long to be found out – ‘Aren’t you Suvro
Sir? My son used to be your pupil many years ago...’ and bang goes my hope of
coming and going incognito. And a lot of them told me to come over and open up
shop in Calcutta. Which is where it all started, three decades ago! If only I
were twenty five again, or at least had money enough to go haring off on
I have had to promise a lot of people that I am coming over for Kali pujo. And
we are all together looking forward to a lovely long winter.
It's pujo time once more, and everybody who knows me knows too what I feel about it (see the post titled Bengal's annual madness if you don't). What is new this time is that I shall be in Calcutta - for the first time in nearly thirty years, I think. Only because my family is there, of course. Wish me luck. And have a happy pujo your own way, everybody, without hurting yourself or making too much of a nuisance of yourself if possible.
Oh, of one thing I am glad, I cannot hide it: there's rabindrasangeet in the air, thankfully, instead of the crassest kind of noise from Bollywood 'superhits' that has passed for music in this country for longer than I can remember. And though there's been a brief respite from the rains since yesterday, there's a pretty serious cyclone coming up from the Bay of Bengal, I hear...
The first editorial in Anandabazar
Patrika, Sunday 22nd September edition, was as follows (the
translation is mine):
“Mothers and lies
Worship of mothers is a perennial
thing. It is taken for granted that a mother would hug her child to her breast
and gladly make any sacrifice for its sake. A child may be a black sheep, a
mother never, she cannot be. No doubt there is some truth in this notion, but a
great deal of blind faith and melodrama also work to keep it alive. A stern
look at reality will show us a lot of mothers who make mincemeat of their
wards’ love lives and sex lives, or otherwise perpetually cramp their personal
space and limit their individual growth as human beings. In most of the cases
of ‘honour killings’ that have been reported in recent times, a mother has been
either directly involved, or given her full consent to the horror. Giving birth
is merely a biological ability: it does not by itself glorify anybody
spiritually. To raise a child well and educate him to live a valuable life is
no mean task, and to do that one has to work hard at evolving into a good human
being first. Mothers all around us incite their children to win the ratrace
even by hurting the interests of their friends, and drive deep into them the
disgusting habit of blaming everybody but themselves for their woes. And in
most cases they inculcate this kind of meanness because they ‘love’ their
children. Just as many animals enthusiastically devour some of their young so
that the rest might have a better chance of survival. A certain species of
eagle watches quietly while the stronger of its fledglings bully and kill the
weaker ones. The panda bear mother, if it gives birth to twins, nurtures one
and abandons the other. Perhaps natural selection favours this kind of
arrangement, but surely the babies that are rejected and killed do not find
much truth in the adage that a mother’s love is the most wonderful thing in the
Recently an American wrote this
obituary shortly after the death of his mother: ‘Six of her eight children are
alive, whom she subjected to every sort of persecution all her life…on behalf
of all the children she made part of her unholy, malice-driven life, I am
happily celebrating her demise, and hoping that next time round she might be at
the receiving end of the same kind of barbarous cruelty and humiliation.’ This
particular mother might have been an aberration, but even ordinary mothers all
around us beat their children, mock them harshly, drown them in the pit of self-loathing
by comparing them endlessly with others to their disadvantage, obstructing
every attempt they make to find a little happiness in their own lives, and
drive myriad little needles so deep into their souls that the wounds rankle
lifelong, and destroy all possibility of their living decent lives of their
own. Many mothers are certainly good mothers; however, it is equally true that
many of them are cruel, abusive, or at least totally indifferent to their
children. On the internet you can find blogs titled ‘I hate my kids’; there are
even ‘groups’ of such like-minded mothers. All relationships can be the cause
of either joy or sorrow: the mother-child relation is no exception to this
rule. Camus created quite a stir by asserting this unpleasant truth in The
Outsider. In that novel it was the son who was unbothered about his mother’s
death. One rarely meets mothers who are indifferent to their children, even
abusive in dealing with them, in literature. But one does in reality.”
S.C.: To the above, I shall add only that I
do not personally think this is a gender thing. It’s only that the indiscriminate deification of mothers gets to me sometimes, seeing that there are lots of
fathers who try very hard to be good parents, and lots of mothers who don’t.
The crucial point is that so few people work at being good parents, so few even
know that it has to be worked at, or
that it is such hard work: and yet, especially in this country, somehow manage
to raise children who feel it is their ‘duty’ to feel love and respect and be
attentive to their parents’ needs lifelong, including the need to be shielded
from all criticism within the family and without: my parents, my parents über alles. Also, for the sake of variety I suppose, there are parents who try very hard, and eventually get kicked in the face for their pains... it is indeed the best of all possible worlds.
My young friend Gourav is a biker with a difference. He has recently returned from a motorcycle odyssey from Manali to Leh and back. He had asked me to go with him: for a lot of reasons, some silly and some serious, I couldn't. In the event he went alone. He has now sent me this link to some wonderful photographs he took on the way. Do send in your words of appreciation, here or at his blog where he has recently put up his own post based on his travel diary.
I just found this article in The Guardian. It’s about how people feel
these days when they turn fifty. Since I am one of those myself, I was
There are a lot of things said there
that fit me completely, so read the article, it will save me much repetition. I
am ‘creaking’ much less than most people do, though. I could have creaked much
less too if God had allowed me to live a more vigorous lifestyle, but I count
my blessings, and try not to crib. However, I don’t like people who joke about
getting old, for a number of reasons: firstly, it’s not a crime; secondly, though
I have been referring to myself as ‘the old man’ in my classes for a decade
now, fifty is not that old, when there are so many busy people around in their
late seventies and even eighties; thirdly, one grows old only because one has
lived long and worked hard and done a lot of things for a lot of people, which
is something to be proud of, not ashamed about, especially if they have done good things for people outside the family; fourthly because even in this
day and age one does usually acquire qualities of a non-trivial nature, such as
poise, self-possession, clarity of thought and equanimity, which youth is not
distinguished for; fifthly because, as I have said before, I was in a sense
forever ‘old’, sixthly because only those who are mentally teenagers think
they are going to stay that way forever, and therefore cannot feel any empathy.
I wish them luck with the botox injections, anti-depressants, tummy tucks and
late night orgies which are going to become increasingly indispensable as they
try to cling on in vain to passing youth for a little longer. So many like that
are already in their forties and fifties!
About this blog – which I have called
an extension of my classroom – the pageviews figure bothers me. No
non-celebrity in as ‘boring’ a profession as teaching gets that kind of score.
And so I wonder: who are those who are listening to me, who have learnt things
that matter from me, whose lives have become better in a lasting sense because
of me? Too many people assure me I should count them in, but then all too soon
they seem to forget, and revert to saying silly things, or contradicting themselves,
or irritating me, or actually hurting me after promising not to, and I get back
to wondering ‘Have I ever taught anybody anything at all, or has this whole
life gone in vain? Has it just been a bit of money in the bank after all? Have
I even been able to teach anybody how essential it is to give basic courtesy to people I claim to like and respect, not just
expect it from them?’
I have been going through parts of the
incredible amount of correspondence I have had with an enormous number of
people over the last decades. So many of them told me ‘You matter to me… I
shall always want you to be around’, and talked so much with me so intensely for
a time – which sometimes stretched for years – and then vanished completely
from my life. Do people really have anything called memory? Do they ever listen
to themselves? Do they ever feel bad about how they have treated someone who
tried to care so much for them once upon a time? Do they have any idea of the weariness
and futility that weighs me down after all these years? Is it really very difficult for those who say they love me to figure out why I feel this way?
For newcomers as well as old timers, it might be well to look up the post titled 'What sort of person am I? ', the link to which is fixtured on the top of this blog. Nothing written therein has changed, nor do I have any intention of changing anything. Read especially carefully the very last paragraph. Maybe it will help some people to understand better why I am writing in this vein now.
As Shilpi was telling me, this year
almost all my blogposts have been connected by a common thread. It’s called
pain. I wonder how many others have noticed it, and to how many of them it
mattered, as in making a mark on their minds. It has been a tumultuous year, a
year of great changes, and now it is rapidly drawing to a close. Is there a
little happiness in store for me somewhere? Do I dare hope?
I was reading my 15-month old blogpost, 'Make up your own mind'. Read or re-read it, it won't hurt you. In the course of two days I have had to goad one person to get her tooth cavities filled before things get worse, another to decide upon which of several flats available to rent, another not to stay the night with me if he was unsure, another on whether he should make a job change right now or not, another to admit that it would be indeed much more convenient to have a car available for her work all the time... these are all reasonably intelligent and grown-up people, too, and while they sometimes clamour for me to decide things for them, they also sometimes resent my 'imposing' my decisions on them, despite knowing from long experience that I am most likely to be proved right (in their own interest, too, not mine!). Also, as a teacher/husband/father/mentor I have always insisted that people need to be able to make up their minds, and not after too much dilly-dallying, and it is my job to show them how, and persuade them why - not to make up their minds for them: not something I relish, really, even if some people believe to the contrary.
Are our lives guided more by circumstance/destiny or character? I have always said the two work together: as with the two hands of a pair of scissors, you can't say this one does the cutting or that. Of course, I am willing to grant you that one or the other plays the bigger role in different people's lives. Also this much I know - circumstances I cannot as a rule control, nor will they always be to my liking, but it definitely rests with me how I deal with them, and that says something about my character. I must be able to tell myself, at the end of the day, that I did all I could under the circumstances, decisively, diligently, sanely, farsightedly, and, if I am advising somebody, with her best interests in mind. Being decisive also has a vital time dimension - you hesitate too long and opportunity passes you by. It hurts and costs more if you delay going to the dentist, and starting to save when you are fifty isn't going to ensure a comfortable retirement! 'There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune/ omitted, all the voyage of life is bound in shallows and in miseries...' It is sad if not pathetic to see people in their late 20s and early 30s still looking for meaning and purpose in their lives. For heaven's sake, get a move on!
It has been well said that not taking a decision is itself a decision. In India, not only people as individuals but people as society and government, when they are not being guided by entrenched habit or custom, prefer to procrastinate endlessly instead of bearing the pain of having to take decisions and acting upon them, especially when the consequences are in some doubt (will the next job be 'better' in every sense? Will he love me back 'sufficiently' if I love him? Will the public really appreciate the new law we are going to make?...) And so essential things never get done, or what is done is too little, too late: the filling is no good so you have to go for much costlier root-canal treatment or extraction, someone else gets that job or flat, love withers away, the new road takes ages to be built, the population explodes unchecked. All because people will not take wise and timely decisions on their own, and will always try to keep scapegoats available just in case their own decisions go wrong. I see little difference in this respect between teenagers and people in their fifties, for all the talk of 'maturing' with age. And from older people, all I hear is about regret, that most futile of all emotions: 'I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that... when there was still time'! May God spare me that, at least.
Making up your own mind also means having the resolution to stick to what you have decided, and not wonder endlessly about whether you are doing the right thing every once in a while after the decision is taken. People change their minds far too easily, I think. And it doesn't help that people have so many utterly contradictory desires. I have seen mothers who goaded their sons all through childhood to get into engineering college at any cost lamenting heartbrokenly, even to the kid's own extreme discomfiture, when it's time for the successful kid to go far away. I have seen ardent sweethearts vanish without a trace and without so much as a by your leave. I have seen marriages break up over trivial quarrels. I have seen 'dream jobs' souring up after just a setback or two. I have seen in my own professional life how people gush over you and how fast they forget - out of sight, out of mind. I keep dealing with people of both sexes who talk to me one day as though they adore me and another day as though they hardly know me at all... and blame it either on their being busy or distracted or my being moody, being offended because I express strong displeasure at such cantankerousness: me, 'moody', me, from whom so many have learnt to cultivate calm and steady self-possession in the face of all trials and tribulations!
One thing that often occurs to me is how greatly beneficial it is to have just a few strong and abiding desires. Socrates struck the keynote for me when I was hardly out of boyhood: 'The world is filled with so many wonderful things that I have absolutely no need for'. I know they are wonderful, I know they are without number, and I know I just don't have any real need for them. Be they rave parties or smartphones, fine hotels or closeness to celebrities, be it whether people are being impressed by my looks or 'exotic' locales which I have not yet visited. On the other hand, I have always been sure of things I need and want, regardless of what other people have to say about such things (and in this matter the opinions of parents and spouse and child are as immaterial as those of the most distant stranger). I have always hated to call someone boss; life has allowed me to do almost entirely without them (my father tried to boss me around, and the loss was his; two bosses I had I adored; one was an uncouth clown, I quit). I have always hated to get up early, and I have been able to survive and prosper without having to. Since my daughter was born, I was determined that no one will have higher priority when she wants me, and I have been able to convey her to the threshold of adulthood without having to break that promise to myself. I tried on a pair of jeans when I was ten and decided I didn't want to wear them: I have reached fifty without another pair. And so it goes...
People who are congenitally incapable of focusing on fulfilling a few clear, strong, permanent desires, people who cannot take firm decisions and stick firmly to them no matter what, can neither be real friends with me nor gain much from such a friendship. The sooner they accept that, the better. If it helps them to persuade themselves that I am not really worth knowing and keeping in their lives, so be it. I don't really lose much if I lose people to whom I am not indispensable. As I often say, I can die my own death, thank you very much. As far as I am concerned, I give people very long ropes, but if all they want with them is to hang themselves, there is little I can or want to do for them!
All ex students of mine who are currently located in Kolkata and have sometimes thought they'd like to be of some use to me, I need your help. Please do get in touch with me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
I said in my last post on the other
blog ‘Ask if you want to know what I have been thinking’,
and nobody has done so yet. So I shall go ahead and write about it anyway, for
my own pleasure, and the few who I know actually love to read what I write.
Lately my mind has been full of Krishna
– in spite of the fact that I have been just as busy and preoccupied as always:
if not more.
In one sense it has always been, at
least since I first read vaishnav
padavali in teenage, around the time I wrote Natalie. Much the most important thing I read during that time, I
still feel sure, though I also learnt enough science and math to qualify for
engineering and medical college – passing and trifling details, much more so
now, this far removed. And how interested I have been in Krishna, as distinct
from things like wars and aeroplanes and money and fashion and stuff should be
apparent to anyone who has read my post on the Mahabharata. My recent heightening of interest has been fired by two absolutely wonderful
books, Kiran Nagarkar’s Cuckold (the
story of Meerabai’s ‘affair of the soul’ with Krishna as told by her earthly
husband) and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The
Palace of Illusions, the story of the Mahabharata in English, told in 360
pages by Draupadi. The first I shall not discuss here. The second I have just
finished reading, at my daughter’s and Nivedita’s behest, and I shall try not
to repeat anything that my daughter has written on her own blog about the book.
Just read it. I am a proud father when I say I have taught thousands, both boys
and girls, and I can say with total conviction that I know of only one other
who could have written that essay at age 17.
To start with, the book is magnificently
written. The prose is radiant and mellifluous – I can definitely say about it that
‘the music in my heart I bore/long after it was heard no more’. The imagination,
too is Olympian: with a book as daunting as the Mahabharat, Chitra Banerjee has
still managed to make her own oeuvre a permanently valuable re-telling of the
eternal classic – I wouldn’t have thought that was possible in this day and age
(I am ashamed to say I have heard it has been done by a few others, but I
haven’t read Shivaji Sawant’s Mrityunjay
yet. Sayantika has promised to help me rectify the defect). The book really takes you there, and I cannot think of
higher praise. I also regret that though the book was written in 2008, it took
me so long to read it. I believe and hope that it should be read by millions,
Indians and non-Indians alike, who are too little acquainted with the glory and
wonder and horror that India has been, but would like to know. And with Amitav
Ghosh and Vikram Seth and Divakaruni alive and working, I can now confidently say
that current Indian writing in English is as good as the best in the world,
embarrassments like Chetan Bhagat notwithstanding.
Being narrated by one – almost wholly
human – character (unlike, say, Vyas or Krishna), the book covers only a small
part of the vast epic, but certainly it is the central part. It goes from
Draupadi’s fiery mythic birth through her childhood, education, marriage, exaltation,
dishonour, exile and the great war to her death on the mountain in the course
of the Pandavas’ mahaprasthaan. Now
she is one of the most powerful and absorbingly interesting women in the whole
world’s literature, and even in the real world I haven’t heard of anyone quite
like her. Not just because it was foretold that she was born to change history,
or that she lived simultaneously with five husbands, either, though that too in
no small measure. So this certainly gives the book a powerful appeal, just how
Draupadi saw her own life and times, tumultuously eventful and epoch-making (or
–ending) as they were. When the writer interpolates things born of her own
imagination, she makes them sound not only highly plausible but most appealing. Also, even though you the reader may be a male, you deeply empathize
with Draupadi, even when she is being (sometimes consciously) naughty or contrary
or even perverse: and that is no mean feat. A woman in a man’s world, and what
a woman! A woman who had to live so intensely, yet under the crushing grip of
so many (and often so unfair) rules, and what a life she lived…
I developed a new respect and profound
pity for Bheem, for he of all the Pandavas really and unabashedly loved her
though she didn’t love him back the way he wanted, as much as he wanted, and he
taught himself to find pleasure in being and remaining till the end her most
eager helpmate. In some things the author has altered, as in turning Bheeshma
into much more of a grandfather than all the other things he was, son, politician,
warrior, protector, mentor and sage, she is charmingly persuasive; and in
making Drona fanatical enough to be almost evil, she has my wholehearted
support. In other things, she makes you think hard, and wonder. Did
Draupadi, for example, really yearn like that for Karna all her life since she
first set eyes on him, and did he yearn back so keenly, silently, hopelessly
till the very end? – by the way, my conviction is reconfirmed that no Greek
tragic hero has ever come close to Karna.
Well, I shouldn’t be any more of a
spoiler: read the book yourself, and tell me about it. Besides, I really only
wanted to talk about Krishna, didn’t I?
The way my daughter has ended her
blogpost, it seems she, at such an early age, has already accepted him wholly
as the God of all our longings, and is content with it. I wish her luck and
give her my blessings. Me, at my age, I still only wonder, most of all. I think
there was an oddly-dark skinned prince who grew up among commoners somewhere
once long ago, and he was uncommonly bright and pesky and loveable and strong
as a child, who had a way with the birds and beasts and the flute, and was a
wonderful lover as a youth (in a way that Casanova or even Don Juan wouldn’t
even begin to understand) to quite a lot of girls – and not all of them giggly
teenagers either – who grew up into a very astute politician and leader of men
and laughing sage for all seasons. The legends started growing and spreading
even while he was alive, until some people were telling each other that he was
a god, as Indians will when they see a great man, and some perhaps started
whispering to themselves that he was no less than God himself, born human to
correct our ways, to show us the way to the Life Eternal. Heaven knows there
are countless signs, along with the miracles, and notwithstanding the Geeta, in
Vyasa’s Mahabharat itself, that often
he was very much ‘just’ a man: but yes, a man in a billion. Then there came all the stories
that people made up and told one another over two millennia, along with the
huge literature from the Bhagavat Purana
to the Geeta Govindam and the charitamritas, and the lives of Meera
and Chaitanya, and the legend was complete. Titans like Tagore were being
fascinated right into the middle of the 20th century, as the likes
of CBD and I are being today…who and what was Krishna? tnuhu kaise Madhav, kaho tnuhu moye…"We ask and ask, thou smil'st, and art still".adi anadi ka nath kahayasi/ jaga
taaran bhaar tohara…
despite those five exceptional husbands, despite her (alleged-) longing for
Karna, it seems – CBD’s book only underlines it lyrically and movingly – she
really always counted on Krishna to give her the best kind of company and
advice and fish her out of the worst kind of trouble, although she doesn’t
hesitate to call him ‘my exasperation’. And he was ‘always there’ for her, no
matter how preoccupied he was elsewhere, no matter how many wives he had at
home, no matter how godly or mundane he was being. In this passage from the
episode of the quarrel among kings during the Rajasuya yagna, when all present have been traumatized by Sisupal’s
attempt to kill him before being himself annihilated, Krishna soothes his
Krishnaa sakhi inside her mind thus:
“I said, ‘When I thought you had died, I wanted to die, too’. Krishna gazed
into my eyes. Was it love I saw in his face? If so, it was different in kind
from all the loves I knew. Or perhaps the loves I had known had been something different,
and this alone was love. It reached past my body, my thoughts, my shaking
heart, into some part of me that I hadn’t known existed. My eyes closed of their
own accord. I felt myself coming apart like the braided edge of a shawl, the
threads reaching everywhere. How long did I stand there? A moment or an eon?
Some things can’t be measured. I know this much: I didn’t want it to end… then
his voice intruded into my reverie, laughter stitched into its edges, just as I
had feared. ‘You’d better not let my dear friends the Pandavas hear that! It
could get me into a lot of trouble!’ ‘Can’t you ever be serious?’ I said,
mortified. ‘It’s difficult,’ he said. ‘There’s so little in life that’s worth
In the final dialogue on the
mountain, he comes back to her again as her earthly consciousness begins to
fade and dissolve, though he is physically dead, and (in a scene hauntingly
reminiscent of Harry’s meeting with Dumbledore at King’s Cross Station
somewhere in limbo) she realizes that all her life she has found bliss only
Did she ever really need
anyone else, she who was loved by God? Meera knew
she didn’t as a woman, Sri Chaitanya knew he didn’t, as a man. As for me, this
yearning has become too great to bear, and am I looking for ‘just’ a man or woman any
[The Palace of Illusions,
by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Doubleday/Picador 2008, ISBN 978-0-330-45853-5,