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Thursday, July 19, 2018

I am thrilled

...to see that old and lovingly written posts such as the one on The Mahabharata have suddenly climbed to the top of the most-read list, and old posts like the one I wrote about one of Google's billionaire owners going to work on a bicycle have appeared there too. It is obvious that some people are browsing vigorously through my blog, and my thanks are due to them.

What puzzles me is the complete lack of comments. Are people having trouble posting them? If so, please let me know at suvro.chatterjee@gmail.com. Also note that before posting a comment you must log in with your google i.d. and password, click the box which says 'I am not a robot', press 'publish' and little things like that before the system will allow you to send anything over. And it's all done much more conveniently on a large screen; with a tiny mobile phone, you are very likely to miss out on one thing or the other!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

A turning point


I went to Delhi on Tuesday after doing regular classes on Monday, dropped off my daughter at her new university about 60 km from the city on Wednesday, came back home on Thursday and returned to my usual work routine on Friday. Only those who know me really well will understand how unusual and breathtaking that is. Even at 22 I hated running around unless it was bringing me pots of money or I was going on holiday (yet another reason why I quit journalism – so much of it was pointless running around to interview very ornery and forgettable people), and now I am 55! And yet I enjoyed it for more than one reason. Most important of all was, of course, the fact that my daughter was looking forward to having a good time in the sense that we understand that expression. The next was that I like to drop in at Shilpi’s, partly for those endlessly satisfying chats and partly because we keep planning future projects even as she keeps filling me in about her current work (she is a departmental director with a renowned NGO now) while being a very good hostess, and partly because I discovered that no matter how often and strenuously I keep telling people that I am growing old, I can in fact look after myself and travel around without anybody’s help quite as easily and confidently as I could when I was 25. Ten years ago I wrote Forty five and counting. If I am still around ten years from now, and still going as strong as I am now, I can ease back without a trace of guilt. Perhaps I’ll get myself a walking stick, if only to show off. And maybe I’ll let myself be driven around by a Google/Tesla electric self-driving car!

A Volvo bus dropped me off near Kolkata airport (don’t try it if you have to lug a lot of luggage). We had a little excess baggage, but they winked at it. Shilpi didn’t allow me to try the airport to city metro service, but I am determined to do it next time round. For the next day, of course, we had a car with us all through. Pupu’s new campus is pretty and swank, but strolling around in the midday heat was not really fun, so we kept retreating to airconditioned havens. Back to Delhi in the afternoon, and a game of badminton with young ladies, me with my bad leg, and they didn’t roll their eyes at me, believe it or not – or maybe they were just being kind. Turned up early at Terminal 1 for an interminable wait, a smooth flight back, a/c bus from the airport to Esplanade (first time I tried it), veg-thaali lunch which cost me all of fifty rupees (while the little bottle of water at Delhi airport had put me back by 60!), then a quick and quiet bus trip home. All of ten hours from the time I left the house at Delhi: I really think I’ll take the Air India flight to Durgapur next time, even if I have to wake up at an ungodly hour.

This stuff, from a certain point of view, is quite mundane and not likely to interest too many people, I know. I am still writing about it because for me it had a dreamlike quality of a good sort, and I have been given to understand that some of my writing resonates quite pleasurably with a few readers at least; they tell me they like to know what goes on in my mind as I go through ordinary life. Of the many thoughts that kept going through my mind one was a deep sense of thankful wonder – I am still doing, profitably enough, what I was doing before my daughter came into this world, and now she’s gone to university, ready to make a life of her own, and I have been allowed to be at her side, still, in more senses than one. Another was that it feels good to have grown slowly more affluent even as the whole country itself did so over my working lifetime: I still vividly recollect the horror and disgust that I felt as a young man to have to rub shoulders with the dirty, smelly, ill-mannered hoi polloi to get around, and even though India has become vastly more crowded since the early eighties, I can travel far more swiftly and comfortably now. The third thought, intensely pleasurable, was that, despite very great odds, I have, with the grace of God, managed to raise my only child to a point when she is about to set out making her own life and career, and is still the very best friend I have as a matter of daily reconfirmed reality – I know how few fathers can claim as much, and placed beside that, all my angst about things I have not got from life pale into insignificance, especially when I eagerly anticipate all the wonderful things she will be telling me henceforth she is doing, hopefully for as long as I live, whether that be one more year or twenty five. It’s been a good life, and that is not an easy thing to claim when it has also been very very hard and unfair in patches.

And naturally, my thoughts kept coming back to the work I have done for nearly four decades now, and whether and how people who have gone through my classes have benefited from them.  Not that it matters very much any more: I have enough letters and emails to reassure me that I have been of some non-trivial use to many, and a modest but swelling fortune to prove that I have not done too badly for myself in the process. Only, I wonder about creatures like that so-called journalist who assured the world through her blog that she had learned a great deal from me (and hasn’t deleted that post yet despite my strongest objection) but proved by the way she has chosen to live her life that she didn’t learn a thing.  I wonder whose fault it is – mine, that I failed to be a true teacher, hers, because she was either unwilling to learn or congenitally incapable of learning, or God’s, because He decreed that I would have to deal with such creatures endlessly for my sins? If as a teacher I have anything to ask of Him, I should beg Him not to send that type to my classes for the rest of my working years.  

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Lust Stories


Just watched the new Netflix original Lust Stories made by the same quartet of directors who had done Bombay Talkies, and which I had enjoyed. This too is a four in one, and touted to be, if you go by the review in The Telegraph of Kolkata, about lust from the woman’s perspective, and what is more important, does not shame her but makes her feel more liberated, more powerful.

I found the first story delightful in a cynical way. The young woman says she is wary about men with whom she has one-night stands, because they get attached and emotional too easily, and start stalking her and attempting to control her life and making a nuisance of themselves in every possible way: they apparently lack the maturity to ‘take it and leave it’ as every smart, modern, liberated person should. Then she turns  around and behaves in exactly the way she says she despises in men as soon as she has bedded a very young man – who happens to be one of her students in college – she haunts him, follows him around, rings him up incessantly, screams at him at every imagined slight, tries her utmost to break up his other relationship because she cannot bear to see him with another female, even at a restaurant, and yet, when he, embarrassed and shocked and guilty for no real fault of his own, offers to make her his permanent one and only, snaps at him without  a trace of self-consciousness ‘Are you mad? I am a married woman!’ I do hope that the writer/director has been trying to tell us precisely what I have been saying all my adult life: there is nothing universally good about women, many of them can be just as crazy and unpleasant as the worst of men. And I wonder whether it was a deliberate stroke of artistry to show that highly unstable and immature characters like that can become teachers these days... one last thing that this mini-movie brought to mind is something that I have been alternately laughing and grimacing over for quite some time now – the way people all over the world have gone stark, raving mad about ensuring whether or not the sex was consensual, the time is not far off when all men who know what is good for them will get audio recorded- (or better still, written and signed) statements from their about-to-be partners in bed that it was just so, even their own wives, preferably every time they are thinking of doing it, and file the growing mass of paper away in a burglar-proof safe for the day when they will be called for in court.  Watch the movie to find out which scene I am talking about (and one very personal take: Radhika Apte is ageing fast and not gracefully, unless the makeup man was told to present her that way).

The second story is very real, very common, and very sad. The domestic help pleasures her employer in bed and hopes that something like a good and lasting relationship might come of it, only to see a match being fixed up for him right before her eyes, and he going around as if she has ceased to exist, entirely insouciant and unapologetic. I know just how she feels, as did Tagore – in more than one poignant story (The Postmaster and The Castaway spring immediately to mind) he has shown how the slighted party feels, how it can happen to either gender and regardless of age, and how there is no help for it; the victim has to grin and bear it. Which is exactly what Sudha does when she bites into the mithai and smiles resignedly if a trifle ruefully to herself before deciding to move on. The sex bit is actually irrelevant unless you are a prurient teen regardless of your physical age. Which is of course actually a very common type of adult in India still (you should see the prudish and ignorant mother in the fourth movie who came to yell at the schoolteachers for not scolding her daughter for chatting on Facebook and giving her ‘bad books’ – Lolita – to read), but that is neither the director’s fault nor mine.

The third story is about a failing marriage and the woman finding solace in the arms of her husband’s lifelong best friend. The husband, though overtly more assertive and domineering, is actually much the weaker character (haven’t I seen far too many!), and the woman, as portrayed by Monisha Koirala, is not a very sympathetic character either. I doubt very strongly whether this can actually be called one of the ‘lust’ stories, because the lovers seem neither to get much pleasure out of the sex nor to be too eager about it; I would have said they are in it because they have found true companionship, but the man is not keen on making new, deep commitments which conflict with an old one, to wit the friendship, and in any case the curtain drops over ambiguity, because the woman tells the lover that her husband has ordered ‘this must end’ and goes back with and to him... the reviewer in The Telegraph called this one the ‘most mature’ story, but I think I am much older than she and have seen much more of the world, and to me it remained very unclear what the whole point was, unless it was simply to show that lots of people are caught up in nasty relational tangles and have no real idea how to get out of them, though they might thrash around like landed fish for a while. Yes, indeed, such is life, whether you are filthy rich or not.

The last one is the most hilarious, though one cannot miss the sadness. But at least there is hope here. The young husband cannot sufficiently satisfy his new bride, and she finds a better substitute for him in a vibrator (the woman from whom she had filched it had called it her real husband: this one character at least was in-your-face about not wanting much out of marriage beyond sex), but unfortunately drops a bomb in the household while doing it, and it nearly comes to a divorce, were it not that the husband wants to see if the marriage can be made to work, still, because he has apparently fallen in love. What a pity that so many marriages remain loveless and unfulfilling in this country for reasons like this, simply because ‘nice people’ prefer not to talk about ‘such things’ if they can help it, whereas a little bit of honesty and candour would quickly bring a happy resolution via the doctor’s prescription or a shrink’s counsel. I wonder whether the juxtaposition of sharply contrary women’s views was inadvertent or not, but it is good to see that we are beginning to acknowledge in a forum as public as the cinema that while many women still think that having children is the be all and end all of a woman’s life, there are many others who think it’s all about sex and nothing else. I have never been able to decide which is the more pathetic, the more revolting attitude.

Nice though not unforgettable cinema, slickly made, provoking thoughts that I had and shared thirty and more years ago. But I wonder about that reviewer’s opinion. It is good if this sort of thing does not shame women any more – I have never really believed that shyness (lojja) is woman’s ornament, and have seen that in practice this lojja comes out as coyness and prudishness and opportunism, which most men find both mildly disgusting and very difficult to handle. But, how do these situations make women feel ‘more liberated and powerful’? That could at best be said about the woman in the last movie: watch and judge for yourself. And if behaving like the cantankerous female in the first one is what smart urban Indian women think does make them liberated and powerful, I will have difficulty stifling yawns when it comes to dealing with women who claim they are grown up. I have known women of a bygone age who were far stronger, deeper, more interesting specimens of humanity, you see – women who did worthwhile things and whom you could have intelligent conversations with. Alas, I have hardly met half a dozen like that in the 25 to 60 age-group in the last thirty odd years, in person or over the net, though I have dealt with thousands. I wonder if the directors could make a movie based on what I have had the misfortune to see?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

While it rains


It pleases me greatly to see that The worship of the wealthy has crept into the most-read posts list. This is an issue that has been close to my heart all my thinking life, which would be nearly fifty years now; my views were set in stone early, and all I have seen of the world over a lifetime has convinced me that I am right. Great private wealth, like great poverty, is a great crime, a very large blot on civilization. If we have not been able to design a world where we can all live reasonably well without having to tolerate a tiny handful of plutocrats and billions who salivate over them and mimic them strenuously, we are not only in a bad way but hastening our collective doom. If I through my writing can manage to persuade a hundred decent and sensible men about it, I will not have lived in vain. But I don’t believe in bloody revolutions to change the world – they achieve nothing much over the long run at very great cost – so Chesterton’s way is the best: kill off the vermin with ridicule.

It has occurred to me that though I have tried my hand at poetry and short stories, I was meant to be first and foremost an essayist. And many of my best essays have found a place in this blog over the years. A blog attended to by thousands (I guess) is fine, but I like to think that someday someone will cull the hundred best essays from it and make a book.

It is early afternoon, but the sky is overcast, so it is dark inside my room as I write. The monsoon has set in in right earnest, and it is drizzling off and on all day and night. The temperature has fallen so fast that whereas only three or four days ago the a/c was working ten hours a day, the tap water is distinctly chilly right now. As the poet wrote,

নীল নবঘনে আষাঢ় গগনে তিল ঠাঁই আর নাহি রে,
ওরে আজ তোরা যাসনে ঘরের বাহিরে। 

I love this season, I am grateful to God that I don’t have to travel in this weather to make a living, I have P.G. Wodehouse at my elbow and lively children to fill up my house with chatter and laughter every day, and I am happy. Maybe I’ll write a bit more here later, but let me put this much up on the blog for now...

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Words from the dimly remembered past

মানুষ আজও ছাই এত লেখে কেন? কোন অদ্ভুত নেশার টানে, কি উদ্দাম অভিপ্রায়ের বশে এই অন্তহীন অপকর্ম চলতেই থাকে? মানুষের মনের মধ্যে যত বোধ, অনুভূতি, যত আশা আকাঙ্ক্ষা সুখ-দুঃখ ভয়-ভীতির পাকচক্র, এসবের সমুদ্রমন্থন তো বাস্তবিক সেই কবে শেষ হয়ে গেছে! যদি শুধু প্রকাশভঙ্গির প্রকারভেদই সাহিত্যকে চালনা করত, তবেও তো একথা মানতেই হয় যে বিগত দুই-তিন সহস্র বছরে সংখ্যাহীন রথী-মহারথীরা মিলে নান্দনিক চরমোৎকর্ষের সকল নিদর্শন সৃষ্টি করে রেখেই গেছেন: আজকের মানুষ তো কেবল পাঠক হওয়ার যোগ্যতাই রাখে, গ্রন্থাগারে গিয়ে দান্তে কি শেক্সপীয়ার, কালিদাস কি রবীন্দ্রনাথের পাতা ওল্টালেই হয়, নতুন কথা বলবার, চিরপুরাতন কথা নতুন করে বলবার আর বাকি আছে কি? - আরেক ধরণের লেখা অবশ্য হয়, রাজনীতি-অর্থনীতি-বিজ্ঞান-দর্শন-সমাজতত্ত্বের জগতে "যুগান্তকারী" যেসব লেখা, যেমনটা এককালে অ্যারিস্টট্ল-নিউটন-ডারউইন-মার্কস-ফ্রয়েডদের মতো সাহেবসুবোরা লিখে পৃথিবী কাঁপিয়ে থাকতেন। এই বিংশ শতাব্দীর শেষভাগে এসে দাঁড়িয়ে যেন দেখি, তেমন তেমন লেখা আজ বহুদিন আর বিশেষ লেখাও হয়না। অথবা হয়তো ছাপাশব্দের অধুনাকালীন বাঁধভাঙা বন্যায়, অত্যুচ্চ প্রযুক্তির জগতে দৈনন্দিন বৈপ্লবিক পরিবর্তনের যুগে বুঝি বা মনুষ্যজাতি সেভাবে কোনো লেখা বা লেখকের দ্বারা প্রভাবিত হওয়ার ক্ষমতাটাই হারিয়ে ফেলেছে!

সে যাই হোক, যাদের সেরকম লেখা লেখবার ক্ষমতা বা প্রবৃত্তি কোনটাই নেই, তারা আজও লিখতে চেয়ে, লিখতে যায় কোন সাহসে? থাক, পরের কথা তুলে কাজ নেই, এক্ষুনি বিশ্বের অর্ধেক মহাবোদ্ধা শিঙ নেড়ে তেড়ে আসবেন এমনতরো আকাটের জ্ঞানচক্ষু অনতিবিলম্বে উন্মিলিত করে দেওয়ার সদুদ্দেশ্য নিয়ে; শৈল্পিক সৃষ্টিতত্ত্বের শতশত ভিন্ন ভিন্ন দুরূহ ব্যাখ্যার তোড়ে বেচারা একেবারে ভেসে যাবে। বিশ্বের তাবড় সাহিত্যিক নিজ নিজ আদর্শ-দায়িত্ব- উদ্দেশ্য বুঝে নিয়ে ব্যস্ত থাকুন, আমি এ-প্রশ্নটা শুধু নিজেকেই করি। 

আমি কেন লিখব? কোন দুর্লভ জ্ঞান আমার আছে, এমন কোন শিল্পবোধ আমার হয়েছে, জগতের কাছে যেনতেনপ্রকারেন আত্মপ্রকাশ করার জন্যেই বা প্রাণটা আজ আমার এমন কি আকুল হয়ে উঠল যে না লিখলে আর চলে না? কি জানি। আজ থেকে অনে-ক  দিন আগে একটা বিশেষ বয়সে আমারও একদা মনে হয়েছিল বৈকি...

কত কথা আছে, কত গান আছে, কত প্রাণ আছে মোর 
কত সুখ আছে, কত সাধ আছে, প্রাণ হয়ে আছে ভোর। 

আজ আর তার কী-ই  বা বাকি রইল? এখনো কি সত্যি আমার অনেক কথা বলার আছে, না তা লেখায় ধরে রাখার তেমন আগ্রহ রয়েছে মনের ভিতর? যদি বা তাও থাকে, সে লেখা লেখবার ভীষণ দরকার কি আছে আজও? কে বলে দেবে আমায়? 

তবু লিখব; লিখতে লিখতেই হয়তো সে প্রাণ, সে সাধ, সে গানের পুরোনো রেশ, পিছনে ফেলে আসা আবেশের খানিকটা ফিরে আসবে, তখন আবার নতুন উদ্যম, নতুন উদ্দেশ্য নিয়ে হাল ধরা যাবে। ততদিন পর্যন্ত আমার এই মাঝিহারা শব্দের নৌকা অস্ফুট অসংহত লক্ষ অনুভূতির এলোমেলো হাওয়ার ঠেলায় উত্তাল চিন্তানদী বেয়ে ভেসে চলুক।

I wrote the above essaylet back in mid-1989. Imagine! How much I have written since then, including My Master's Word, the essay on women, the Tagore translations, the five-hundred odd posts on this blog so far over the last twelve years, and over and above everything else, To My Daughter!

Monday, June 04, 2018

Delhi and Kasauli

[Some photos are here. Sorry for being late!]

That Air India flight in an Airbus A319 was a dream (the 319, which I flew for the first time, seems to be an upgraded version of the old workhorse the Boeing 737 – quieter, if nothing else). The staff at the tiny Kazi Nazrul Islam airport, which is less than a half-hour drive from my house, was friendly and helpful in an easygoing way. It felt unreal that I was at home in Delhi less than six hours since I left Durgapur.

‘Home’ is somewhere in south Delhi, near a very posh housing enclave not far from the IIT and JNU campuses – more details I shall fill in later. I found Delhi – all of 19 million souls now, and slated according to some estimates to become the world’s largest city within a decade – far more green and orderly and pretty this time round than most other big Indian cities I have seen or heard in great detail about, and that is saying a lot, considering how much I hate metros without exception. Believe it or not, there’s a lot of verdure just behind the house, and I can hear the cuckoos and crickets even in the daytime, despite the not-too-distant roar of traffic. The flat is small but clean, quiet and almost swank, and I kept the airconditioner working virtually all day, so I was comfortable notwithstanding the searing heat. The first two days I mostly slept and went for walks, besides reading up my old boy Sayan Bhattacharya’s latest little opus, Ancient Cities of India (you can download it from here). Memories crowded in, and it felt blissful, given the way my youth was spent, that I can afford this kind of ease and luxury on my own terms these days…

Then Pupu flew over from Kolkata (first time I received her at an airport!), and next morning we made a seven hour drive to Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh through the blazing heat of the Punjab (Bernier wrote in the 17th century that not even the Arabian desert in summer had prepared him for this experience, and you had better believe it). We could breathe only after we had climbed several thousand feet. We stopped at a tiny hamlet (which nevertheless boasts of a Café Coffee Day outlet, and where dhabas supply chilled beer) called Sukhi Johari just before Dharampur, and checked into a lovely resort called the Whispering Winds Villa – it truly lives up to its name, and well worth the tariff, despite a few little shortcomings. The Kalka-Shimla toy train chugged along musically just below us, clearly visible through the pine forest; it brought back memories of 2004. The first day we arrived so tired that we went to sleep immediately after a cool bath, and the airconditioner was turned off only at night. The view from the terrace was mesmerizing. I spent part of the time reading out a story by a favourite Bengali author to Pupu and Shilpi before turning in. Talk about beauty sleep…

Next morning we made a four-hour sightseeing trip to Kasauli, passing the famous Lawrence School, Sanawar on the way. Kasauli at 6,000 feet is basically a military cantonment, with both army and air force bases, and so both very clean and very heavily patrolled and guarded. We gave the long trudge up several hundred stairs to the Hanuman temple a miss, having seen high-altitude views galore and not being fond of being assaulted by thieving monkeys and excited ‘devotees’. Walked around the pretty little town instead, church and Mall Road and club house and Khushwant Singh’s old house (what an unpretentious man he was! Just his name on the gate pillar, and nothing else). Afterwards we took another walk through the pine forest in the afternoon, and lazed on the soft turf for a bit. Everything went dark and a terrific storm came up from nowhere when we were still in bed late in the afternoon, accompanied by torrential rain – the last time this happened to us was on May 16, 2007 in Nainital – by the time it quite stopped an hour and a half later, the temperature had dropped so much that we briefly wrapped ourselves up in blankets, creeping down the slippery goat track later on to Giani da Dhaba for hot poori-sabzi. The night was crystal clear once again, all the hills around twinkling with lights, and so quiet, so quiet.

A late departure next morning, and we were back in Delhi by five p.m. The return drive was much quicker and smoother, with far fewer stops for paying tolls and road taxes, heaven knows why. We made a meal of little cheese sandwiches, sausages, salad and beer and went to sleep before it was eight (when there was still light in the sky), woke up briefly at around 10:30, fell asleep again, got up at 2:30, and were at IGI airport Terminal 3 shortly before 4. The same Air India flight, and we were back home by 8:45. God bless the service: may it survive and prosper. And yes, I am looking forward to many more such trips in the near future.

P.S.: Here is what Pupu wrote on her blog about the same trip. She has noted details far more lovingly and carefully.

P.P.S.: On a different note, here's what I think of people who drive luxury cars these days.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Lesson well learnt


As I had myself predicted, the last two months have gone off at a breathless pace – but in a peaceful and orderly and most satisfying way. After a few welcome showers of rain, it is now the turn for horribly muggy weather, though the evenings are sometimes breezy. But my week-long mid-year break is about to begin, so that is something to look forward to. I shall be pushing off to Delhi tomorrow, via the spanking new airport that has come up in our town. Let us see what the experience is like. I hope, of course, that everything will go smoothly enough for it to be a pleasure, because I intend to use the service frequently through the coming year. If I am not in Durgapur, I shall very likely be in Delhi. My daughter’s undergraduate career is just about to end, and a new phase of both her life and mine seems to be beginning…

Children’s sense of time is indeed a very different thing from how adults feel about it. Looking back upon the days of my childhood and early youth, the years seemed to have moved so slowly, and they are so densely packed with memories, not many of them very nice. Since I returned to Durgapur and got into harness, three decades have, in comparsion, eventful though they were, gone in a flash. And I thank God a zillion times that I am still – at least till the moment of writing – fit and fresh enough to anticipate more good things to come. Who knows but ‘the best is yet to be’?

I notice that in a recent post, Sorry to be late, I have mentioned God three times in a short essay. It was not accidental. In retrospect – and I can do that much better than most people, my memories still being so abundant and sharp – it has been just God and me (if you don’t like God, call it Providence, karma, fate, chance or what you will); people haven’t really mattered, except as and when I have let them matter, by carrying them in my mind much longer than was necessary. I know everybody’s life does not work out the same way, but you may keep that in mind as one person’s lesson from life. Even in India, where family, relatives and ‘society’ are supposed to matter a great deal, they don’t, really, unless you let them. I hope some readers will know this is directed at them, and take heart from it. Unless you very truly, deeply, lastingly care for some people (and that can be at most only a handful, else you are pretending to yourself, which is a sin), don’t let them ruffle you or shove you out of your own orbit. It is your life, really. Nobody is yours unless she or he actually and often, if not always shares your enjoyment and stands beside you in your pain, suffering and loneliness over a very long stretch of time, so don’t give anyone too much of yourself. I am saying this with authority. I hope I have at long last learnt to do it myself, for that way alone lies serenity and real self-possession.

There is much that is wrong with this country, and I have often thought and written about all that, but today it seems to me that Nirad Chaudhuri was right in his diagnosis in The Continent of Circe, as I read Shashi Tharoor repeating – quoting his father in his recent book Why I am a Hindu – ‘remember that India is not only the world’s largest democracy, it is also the world’s largest hypocrisy’. That covers virtually the whole of our upper and middle classes. You will be safe if you remember that for the typical Indian, everything is coin for immediate transactions and passing gratifications, even what they call love and respect. Be safe. Don’t get needlessly hurt.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Beware of (only?) the meat


I have been both laughing and grimacing over the great meat scandal that has exploded over West Bengal during the last fortnight.

Here is my take on it. To start with, it would do Bengalis much good to eat less and eat better: look at the bulging bellies and behinds! This craze to eat out at the drop of a hat which has become endemic over my lifetime as the children of the ’80s and ’90s grew up is not good – not even in a country like the United States, where food safety standards are taken far more seriously by all and sundry. I remember my grandfather saying to me, only half in joke, in the early 1980s: ‘Dadabhai, avoid eating in restaurants, I hear they serve dog meat’. So I can’t say I am particularly surprised or horrified to hear that that, or worse, has been rampant of late, in high end restaurants and cheap roadside eateries alike, in Kolkata as well as in the small towns. This is India, after all, always has been, so why do so many behave as if it were ever otherwise?

First, the population has ballooned: there’s quite possibly far too little good quality food available at reasonable prices to supply the demand. Second, we as a nation – whether we are part of the government or the general public – hate stringent standards, because it cramps our ‘freedom’ to do as we like; we clamour for them only when there spreads a sudden (and transient) awareness that ‘others’ are making hay by flouting all kinds of rules. Third, we, virtually all of us these days, worship money like nothing else, and admire (or envy, which most of us consider the same thing) only those who have very quickly, and preferably with very little effort, made a big pile for themselves. Fourth, unemployment is rampant, and the great majority of honest jobs that are going around pay only a pittance. Given a conjunction of these factors, who pretends to be shocked, and why, that a lot of people will be tempted to take the primrose path to success, which always involves cheating people and hurting the common good? The fact, then, that such ‘scandals’ have become a dime a dozen should evoke only caution and despair, especially since as a society or nation we are determined not to take stern steps to end such antisocial ways to ‘success’ once and for all, or maybe secretly know that it is simply impossible.

And finally one cannot, no matter how high one raises one’s eyebrows at Didi’s penchant for smelling conspiracies, entirely dismiss the idea that there is political mischief afoot. Is it really a complete coincidence that this scandal broke virtually on the eve of the statewide panchayat elections, or that the media are giving it such shrill publicity (for what I think about them in general, scroll just a little bit down)? Let the meat-loving Bengali be warned, then, that food poisoning most commonly happens through fish, and that tomorrow another scandal may break over poisoned paneer, or that vegetables of all kinds are these days tainted with fertilizer, pesticides and weedicides which contain known carcinogenic agents. A doctor friend of mine got a virulent form of hepatitis after drinking scotch at one of the fanciest hotels in Kolkata, and later told me that it was probably from the ice: eateries, even the best of them, routinely cut costs by using industrial ice, or the sort of ice they pack fish with. And you are every sort of fool if you think you are safe because you live in Delhi or Bangalore. Eat less, eat healthy stuff, eat more at home, and be careful.

Last word of caution: be particularly careful of ‘branded’ eateries and caterers. If only because they have the biggest opportunity to cheat. Every canny Indian should know that your trust in big names is exactly what they commonly betray to get rich and stay rich.

P.S., May 14: Here is an article written in today's newspaper which might regale my Bengali readers.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Sorry to be late!


Yes, I have not written anything for a while, as some of my more regular and eager readers have started reminding me. Multiple reasons actually – I wanted the last post to be there at the top for some time, I am really  all tied up with the start of the new session, when the days start passing like a blur (and we are not growing younger!), I have been planning the near future with my daughter, I have been swimming and walking and watching movies with gusto, and enjoying the remarkably balmy summer we have been having so far for a welcome change (switching off the fan and pulling on a rug around daybreak, can you believe it?). Also, occasionally putting on the nosebag with an old boy whose daughter has now joined my classes. God is being kind to me, and I have observed, like so many others, that you write less when you are busy being happy!

Also, anyway, what do I want to write about? We are living in the times of Trump and Kim and Modi playing antics in the so-called real world which are as quaint and juvenile, and often cruder than, superheroes killing off one another on screen with the world going gaga over them. And we are living in a country where adults – the same country where ‘adults’ relentlessly keep telling the young how they should be respected for being wise and ‘experienced’ – have to be reminded with public advertisements, again and again, and with apparently very little effect, that listening to music, chatting or taking selfies while walking along railway tracks can get you killed: see here. I also happen to be the kind of man who was mulling over Socrates and Manu and Shakespeare and Russell before I was 16, and have to live among people who in their forties and fifties have the mental range and depth of tiny tots, though they have all acquired such great self-esteem that they take offence at the drop of a hat, even at people pointing out that they are needlessly giving offence with their anti-social behaviour. There comes a time when you just roll your eyes and cut the world dead – or focus on planning how to make more money by fleecing the hordes of intellectual and spiritual riffraff. Sell a still more snazzy smartphone/ set up a coaching centre that guarantees seats in the ‘best’ engineering colleges even if you can hardly spell/ advertize a fitness regime that can turn hippos into gazelles without any diet, exercise or pills… I used to say that overpopulation was at the root of all our troubles: at my age and station I can assert very strongly that far too many uncivilized people with too much time and money to spend and no regard for rules of any kind also makes for a nightmare of a country to live in. Especially since we have never had our own version of Emily Post: that has never been considered even by the 'bhadralok' to be a truly essential part of education.

I have been musing aloud more and more about how I mean to change the way I conduct my classes. The first given is that I cannot stop completely – I will be bored stiff soon, people won’t let me, and everything said and done, I have loved the money for too long ever to become entirely dependent on my daughter unless God renders me a cripple. The second is that I have to turn away so many simply because I can’t personally handle any more, and it’s too personalized a business to be turned into a franchise (which in this age of mass-marketed anonymity makes me very proud too).  Did you know that even thirty years ago some starry-eyed students were telling me they wished I were doing these classes on TV so that thousands or who knows, even millions, could attend them? Ten years down the line, I tried to make a beginning with the new technology, the internet – my website was called suvrodaonline – but it didn’t get off the ground, because the net was too novel, and the vast majority, especially in small town India, had no idea of using it for a purpose like education. Now that even rickshawpullers watch videos on youtube just about everywhere, and websites can be launched and run for a song, and so many organizations big and small are teaching all kinds of courses, I might try it once more, especially since very soon my daughter will be grown up enough to help me with everything. I shall probably go about very slowly, beginning with enrolling pupils online to get rid of the annual hassle of admissions; move on to putting some lectures on youtube, and then some notes and exercises: there might eventually come a time when a lot of parents will decide that it is a better bargain on the whole to access most of the stuff online for a fee. That way I might be able to have at least a few free days every week. And then I shall go on adding more course content, and spreading the net beyond this town… who knows what might happen by the time I am truly retired, and my daughter fully at the helm? Certainly, unlike most fathers, I am in a position to reassure her that if she can slip into my shoes, and perchance build something bigger out of it by and by, there would be few salaried jobs in this country that she would wish to have instead. Only God can decide otherwise. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Why I have come to despise journalists


I myself quit journalism in 1988, but I have been following the profession closely – not least because my father was in it for several decades, and ran a daily virtually singlehanded with a team of young greenhorns for the last almost fifteen years of his life. I have profound respect for the greats in the profession, so it pains much more than pleases me to write this invective. The essay is, therefore, written with apologies to the ‘choice and master spirits’, of whom I have known a few in the flesh: alas, almost all would be older than 65 now, if they were all alive still. My only angst and complaint, in fact, is that so many hide behind the aura of the few greats to live despicable lives, and that things have been steadily growing worse over my working lifetime.

1.     Journalists keep talking about others, and it’s often just to cover up the fact that their own lives are boring, aimless and empty.
2.  They flit from sensation to sensation, because they cannot focus on anything that is really serious over the long term. The honourable exceptions are there only to underline the fact that they are painfully, almost invisibly few.
3.   They find fault with and sermonize to the whole world, but are more sensitive than all others to any suggestions that their own morals be monitored – how much what they say contradicts what they do.
4.    When coups and earthquakes aren’t happening, as on most days of the year, they ‘cook’ news. But catch them admitting it before they are stone drunk!
5.  They are far more interested in sales/TRPs than in either truth or human feelings.
6.  They are pathetically easy to bribe. I have seen it done with whiskey bottles and suit lengths or saris.
7.   ‘Power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages’… it attracts the basest sort of people on the average, those who themselves know they are not good enough for any real profession, be it politics or medicine, teaching or writing, being a judge or a bureaucrat or even a good plumber.
8.    Over the last twenty five years, it has drawn unfocussed and untalented young people in droves in India, exactly like engineering, though perhaps more of females, who have brought down standards drastically. Today, even writing about what restaurants are serving or how rich men’s wives are partying dares to be called journalism.
9.     Many make much money through simple blackmail: ‘I have found out this stinker about you; how much will you pay me not to publish it?’
10.  Once journalists saw themselves as freedom fighters. These days often their highest ambition is to become page-three celebrities. And while as a rule they claim to be all in favour of democracy, they fawn shamefully (and shamelessly) on the rich, powerful and famous – even if they are famous only for walking the ramp three quarters naked.
11.  They mutilate and coarsen language as if their lives depend on it. Most would write ‘The PM on Sunday said’… I leave it to anyone who claims to know English to remember what the right syntax is.
12. They are as a rule schizophrenic personalities: too many preach extreme forms of liberalism for others while maintaining rigid old-fashioned regimes for their spouses and children at home. Go ahead and quiz twenty journalists privately about how many of them will be delighted to hear that their children are gay.
13.  They are eager to tell you bad things about people (a teacher has caned a student unconscious) but they will virtually never take the trouble to write good things (a teacher has devoted forty years of his life, 340 days a year, to working quietly and diligently for the common good) – and they are not ashamed to justify this ugliness with ‘But that’s what the public wants!’ To a very large extent the whole profession is about washing people’s dirty linen in public for the consumption of the voyeur that is there in most of us, claiming endless gratification.
14.  They get very angry when they are told that they are merely serving this or that businessman’s interest.
15. I was taught as a cub reporter that after a cursory glance, official handouts and press releases should go straight into the waste bin, and if a mandarin, minister or big-ticket CEO makes tall claims, your job is to immediately smell a rat and probe where s/he is lying, covering up or window dressing. Alas, far too many ‘journalists’ pass off such handouts as news, often unedited! After all, a CEO has deigned to acknowledge their existence – shouldn’t they suck up to him to show how grateful they are?
16. In India, the average journalist’s loftiest ambition (unless it is as mentioned in point 10 above) is to be handed out a government sinecure – ambassadorship to some obscure country or a membership to the Rajya Sabha. Imagine what you have to do for thirty years or more to ‘earn’ that!

A female who was once my pupil – for my sins – and grew up to be a most despicable (unless it were pathetic) character has also become a so-called journalist. Another reason for my much-diminished regard for the tribe. You can make a quick survey of this blog to find out what sort of women I hold in high regard, and what sort attracts only my contempt and ridicule.

I end with yet another apology, especially to the likes of Kipling and Hemingway and Graham Greene, who graduated from journalism to something immeasurably higher, and the likes of Mayuri Mukherjee,  another old girl, who have in recent times been trying hard to become journalists who can be taken seriously.  

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Poetic condemnation

A well-known poet in Kerala (I thought the tribe had become extinct in India!) has 'begged' the government to exclude his poems from school textbooks, because he hates to see them mutilated and insulted by dumb teachers and dumber students alike. Alongwith he has said some harsh home truths about what education has become in India over the last thirty years. The same sort of thing that I have been saying for donkey's years. Do read the news item.

Meanwhile, the same paper carried on its front page a full-page advertisement from one of those hugely successful cram shops which promise, for an outlandish fee, to make your idiot son an Einstein (read cybercoolie in Bangalore). That is exactly what both the poet and I condemn. But that, alas, is all that 99 per cent of Indian parents want out of education. You want shit, you get shit.

P.S., April 05: 1) Devi Kar, Director of Modern High School Kolkata, whose writing I have quoted before, has written this article about the growing and obnoxious 'commodification' of education. I hope the parents of today's kids in school, who would be the generation that I coached and harangued 25 to 30 years ago, would take note, and look at themselves in the mirror, and wonder how they have become this gullible, this stupid, this harmful for their children. I conclude, as Mrs. Kar does, that I realize how out of sync I am with the times. I also keep advising my own daughter that if ever she comes into this profession in any capacity, she must be very well aware of the current reality, both if she wants to change it a little for the better and if she just wants to profit from it.

2) The same newspaper today informs me that certain doctors in Kolkata hospitals are being paid two to three crore rupees a year by way of salary. Now I know very clearly why medical costs have gone through the roof. Once upon a time medicine was supposed to be a crucial service, and doctors, while they had as much right as the next man to a decent living, were expected not to be greedy like any other trader. And let not anybody give me crap about how much they had to study and how hard they have to work to make money. Lots of others, from rural schoolteachers to soldiers and senior bureaucrats, research scholars and people who do very unpleasant and risky manual labour all their lives have to do with much less, simply because they have not been able to con the public and corner the market as well have doctors have. It is all, as we socialists have always said, about who manipulates the levers of the political economy (the same goes for education, too. In a dispensation where all schools hired only competent teachers, paid them decent salaries and forced them to do their duty properly, private tutors and cram shops would not have made hay as they are doing now - myself included).

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Last free Sunday


Sunday evening. The last free Sunday I shall have for another long season. The admission storm begins next weekend. This year I am as amused as anxious, for I have sensed a panic among hundreds of people phoning and visiting over the last few months, and one ex student, whose own daughter is going to join up, told me the other day that the rumour is that a vast number have enrolled, and most of them are not going to get a chance, so they are sweating blood and losing sleep, while I am a little scared of being mobbed, and at the same time I cannot help laughing at the irony of the fact that my services are so much in demand now that I am less and less interested in carrying on making a more than adequate living. I needed money much more thirty years ago: where were all these people then? What very special service have I given the public lately that the demand (I am sure the right word is craze – I keep telling people ‘do not regard tuition as a shortcut to marks without merit and effort’, and insist that I don’t primarily teach for marks, and remind them that lots of kids get good marks without attending my tuition, but obviously all in vain) has surged like this? These people will do anything to get their kids in, from telling sob stories to flattering me shamelessly and embarrassingly – the only two things they haven’t done yet is offering extra money and threatening physical violence! Yet I know that most of these people will badmouth me foully if their kids can’t get in or are dismissed for some reason at a later date, forget me the moment the tuition is over and often explicitly order the kids never to see me again, and if and when my reputation begins to flag and the numbers dwindle, nobody will care two hoots whether I can survive and look after my family or not. I get more and more why real celebrities privately so despise the same fan mob they profess to adore and thank, and why they are so insecure despite making vast fortunes… think of Sachin Tendulkar today, all of you who are more than thirty, and compare with where he was even ten years ago.

We live in such an incredibly stupid country. A country where ‘educated’ people are so painfully lacking in manners and consideration for others, a country which is so violent and so bigoted despite pretensions to ahimsa and broadmindedness and the loftiest of ideals, a country so interested in trivia like fashion, a country so steeped in superstition. Despite all this talk about how it is compulsory to read science and go in for professions like engineering, people are still actually driven by the likes of babajis and movie stars and netas whom we have begun to adore. So as long as a man has not somehow made a mark as someone special, we can only nitpick and find fault with him – we hate few things more than to hear someone whom we consider ‘just like us’ to be praised for anything at all – but let once a man convince some people that he has something special (the power to work miracles, whether as a tutor or healer or politico) and we start falling over ourselves to get a sprinkling of his blessings. And now, I guess, I have become something like that, a brand name, a babaji, someone who can get kids marks in the all-important exams regardless of their brains and whether they have worked for it or not. The rest of what I try to teach be damned – indeed, I have heard often and again that many parents, the same parents who seem to be ready to kill for admission, warn their children not to heed all the ‘rubbish’ I say ‘outside the syllabus’. So now I am getting old and tired, and warning people that very soon I am going to reduce the numbers and become much more choosy about whom I take in and whom I allow to continue, but apparently that is serving only to fuel the panic, the craze to get in! Those of my senior old boys who know the details and wish me well keep telling me to make hay while the sun still shines – jack up your fees drastically, Sir, and for the few more years that you keep working, laugh all the way to the bank. I still have some morals left, alas, and don’t yet feel that particular need, but who knows, I might take their advice before it’s time for the last hurrah.

And the kind of things that people say is beyond belief. They ring up at daybreak or close to midnight to say they want to enroll their kids. They ring up to say they have heard I am a well-known teacher, then ask what I teach, and cannot figure out why I lose my temper. Some come five years in advance to ask when they should enroll the kid (one couple did a few minutes ago), and scores come at the last moment, long after the lists have been closed, to say ‘they didn’t know, but would I please make a special concession for them?’ and they nag and nag and nag, as if not knowing gives them a special privilege somehow (and completely ignoring the fact that I get angry after I have told them umpteen times very politely why some people cannot be taken in out of turn, and that they didn’t know – which I flatly disbelieve, of course: after thirty years, only those cannot know me who didn’t want to know – doesn’t make a difference). Some tell the most fantastic stories about why their kids must get in – the most common being that they couldn’t come on time because somebody or the other in the family was on the deathbed or something like that, though how that kind of condition can last in any family for months on end is something I’ve never been able to figure out. And these days a lot of old boys and girls are coming back to enroll their kids, and act as though they are hurt or offended that I can’t remember them, but have they looked at themselves in the mirror lately and compared with what they looked like twenty five years ago, and can they remember thousands of people who have never met them for twenty years or more?

Meanwhile I keep longing for what I probably will never get: interested old boys (and just maybe a few non-girlie girls) coming back. Within the last three days, in quick succession, one has done so, and another has expressed the desire to do so. Usually they get back with a lot of uncertainty and trepidation about what they might expect: most go away pleasantly surprised. There are cranks among them too: some, after joyfully re-establishing the connection, cut it off again, permanently, without a word of explanation. As I have said before and not once, my faith in and love for humankind has reached a nadir. In my worst distress and helplessness I have been hugely helped by complete strangers; those who should remember me with the greatest affection and gratitude have by and large cut me dead, or cheated me most horridly. I can no longer look at people except as either sources of income or worth avoiding like a disease. And yet I used to be so different. I had so wanted and tried to create that most hyped and overused word these days long before it came into fashion, a network of like-minded, decent, mutually caring and helpful people who have a lot of good conversation. Not fated for me, apparently. Ah, well.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Mukutmanipur revisited


I was at a loose end, what with Ma gone to Kolkata and Pupu off to Mumbai. I was also rapidly running out of free Sundays, and didn’t want to stay at home. The new car needed running, and the weather was still tolerable to fine, with a chill in the air in the early morning before the sun rose. So I made a quick trip to Mukutmanipur on Sunday the 11th. Indranil Panigrahi of the ICSE ’98 batch, one of those old boys who have always kept in touch, happened to drop in on Saturday, so I took him along.

Mukutmanipur, which became a picnic spot ever since CM Dr. Bidhan Ray had a several-kilometer-long earthen dam put across the Kangshabati river close to where it meets the Kumari, is only 100 km away, but for some reason I visit rarely. The last time I went was in 2004, during the rains, and stayed at the Peerless Resort. I am glad to report that the roads have improved vastly since then, and our current CM has done a great deal to give the place a face-lift, so it was a very nice trip. Leaving home at about 6:45 a.m., we were there at the WBFDC (‘Sonajhuri’) resort in three hours. Unfortunately cottages had to be booked online, and there was a poor internet connection on the spot, so we missed out on that, but we were allowed to look around, and the staff was surprisingly friendly and accommodating, considering that they were government employees. The hilltop viewpoint gives a lovely panoramic view. We drove off to the Sutan forest, which is the first real forest I have seen in southern Bengal – never having gone to the Sunderbans – where we saw the ruins of a police outpost which had been blown up by the Maoists when they used to rule the roost in these parts, and then to Jhilimili, which is 35 km. from Mukutmanipur, and which you can safely give a miss. Back to Mukutmanipur, where we lunched at Sonajhuri, checked into a little hotel at the foot of said resort, and went to sleep in air-conditioned comfort. By the time we awoke the sun was setting, and it wasn’t hot anymore, so we went for a long boat ride on the reservoir. The whole surroundings were ablaze with palash flowers, and gradually it grew dark, and the lights of many colours, which were there in profusion, began to glow and twinkle, until amidst the silence of the river, with only the water lapping around us, it became magical.

The riverfront reminded me strongly of the seaside promenade at Digha and the Motijheel Park at Murshidabad: Didi’s signature is only too apparent. I have never seen a more tastefully designed Sulabh Shauchalaya anywhere in India. We sat in the little park for a long time, watching the multi-coloured fountain and listening to rabindrasangeet, then drove off towards the other bank, which is dark and eerie save for the Peerless Resort, and another hotel, Aparajita, where we stopped for a quick chilled beer. Then back to the hotel, where we eased back for a bit, and finished the day with dinner at Sonajhuri again, because we had liked the food. A quiet night’s sleep, and we woke up at dawn with a multitude of birds whistling, singing, warbling and chirping all around us in the woods. We went for a long walk along the dam. The breeze was strong and cool, and the sun, mercifully, went behind a large dark cloud again and again. Indranil remarked that though it was a Sunday, when the place should have been crawling with noisy tourists, we had the whole place nearly to ourselves, the Madhyamik exams. starting the next day having kept most people away. Stopping once more at the park to photograph the flowers growing in rich abundance, we drove off, stopping near Bankura for a quick breakfast of poori-ghoogni and hot nikhunti, and we were back at home by 11:30, so I had time to see Indranil off, do a bit of tidying up, a bath, lunch and half-hour snooze before taking two classes as on every Monday.

My old Indica was always faithful and true, but the new Dzire is definitely one notch above. Thanks, Maruti.

Indranil, I do hope you enjoyed yourself enough to want to bring over your wife next time around. And remember to ask your dad to arrange that trip to the Sunderbans at a time of mutual convenience.

I guess my travels are now truly over till at least end-May, but as I said, I shall be looking forward keenly to suggestions about little trips like this one, which can be done in one or two days at the most.

When I was a child, our family did only a few trips together, but I remember enjoying them. Immediately after finishing the ICSE exams, I went on a long tour of Himachal Pradesh with the family of a friend, and liked it so much that I vowed to travel all my life, to everywhere that sounded interesting. I am glad that God has given me time, money, health and continued interest to keep at it for nearly four decades now. And as I have said before, I’d like to take old boys along: that is a special pleasure. Of late I have got to know that several of them have stayed on or returned to settle here in Durgapur, and most of them are doing financially okay or better. I hope to build up a network with them – I never give up hoping! Kaushik, Anupam, Tuhin, Abhik, Shakya, Prashant, Sayan Roy (and the likes of him who live not too far away)… are you listening? Tell others you know about this, too, if you can.

For photos, click here. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Devbhoomi

[Shilpi has written her own little travelogue, here. See how different people see the same things differently.]

Ever since Pupu grew up, I have been taking advantage of mid-to end February to go travelling. The weather is still fine to tolerable, my work schedule is slack, and it is ‘off-season’ almost everywhere, because millions of kids are taking year-end exams in school, and so their parents are tied up too. I have just come back from another long trip. This one was a repetition in some ways, and a first in some others. I took my mother along with me – for the first time in my life, when I am running fifty five. She was tough enough to cope with the whole thing and enjoy it. Not easy, when I see women half her age – and a lot of men too – who are decrepit already. But then she still teaches mathematics, and insists on doing a lot of the housework…

We started off with Hardwar. I am not religious in any conventional sense, yet Devbhoomi, as they call the Garhwal hills in those parts, holds an ineffable fascination for me. This was the fifth time I was visiting, the first being in 1989, when I took the Xavier’s kids along (is any of them reading? Those boys would be past 40 now!) I checked into my favourite hotel, the Teerth at Subhas Ghat, because it is bang on the river, and a few paces away from the most happening location in town, Har ki Pauri, where the river which is mother of India descends to the plains. We arrived late at night, so that day was wasted, but driver Munna Lal took us to Neelkanth Mahadev the next day, and on the way back we took in Laxmanjhula and Hrishikesh: it almost felt like coming home. Munna was just the kind of driver I like, courteous and friendly without being garrulous and presumptuous, and very staid at the wheel, so I fixed up the rest of the tour with him.

Off we went to Devaprayag, where the Bhagirathi joins the Alaknanda and becomes Mother Ganga (-ji. They consider it sacrilege to refer to her by name without the suffix – a mannerism of which I strongly approve). Ma offered her prayers, then we pushed on to Rudraprayag, where the Mandakini, river of heaven, meets the Alaknanda. Checked into a roadside hotel, nothing special, but it overhung the river from a ledge, and the view was breathtaking. It was not cold until I had sat on the balcony watching a forest fire on the hill in front for more than two hours. The river sang to me all through the night.

Next day we followed the Mandakini to Chandrapuri, where the picturesque Tourist Lodge had been washed away by the terrible flood of 2013 (the office still works out of a tent). I had planned to stay the night there, but in the event the down-in-the-mouth cottages didn’t seem too appealing, so we pushed on to Ukhimath, where, as luck would have it, Lord Omkareshwar was residing (he comes down from Kedarnath for the winter every year). And so, agnostic that I am, I managed to pray to him without actually going to Kedar, which I probably never will, given my bad leg. Then back to the same hotel in Rudraprayag, stopping at Dhari Mata temple on the way (which they had removed to build a dam, and then came the flood, and so they are rebuilding it at the insistence of the locals, who don’t want the Mother to be angry again) and the Sangam, where I went all the way down to actually stand in the Mandakini and collect a bottleful of water for someone who had begged for it. I stopped also at the tiny Jim Corbett Park (opposite to the Panchayat office and RTO now – Corbett would have gaped) which marks the precise spot where he shot the notorious maneating leopard back in 1926. I badly wished that Pupu had been beside me: the story is so alive and vivid for both of us…

A very long drive to Mussoorie the next day, because we had to stop again and again at places where the mountain was being blasted, dug up and removed so that the road could be widened into a highway (presumably so that the Dilliwala fat cats with their luxury cars and coarse manners could drive up faster and easier). Stopped at Sahasradhara just outside Dehradun, and it was a disappointment. Dehradun itself has sprawled, become rich and brash and nearly faceless (but for the still extant greenery) like so many other cities around India ever since it became a state capital. The drive up to Mussoorie was, however, still just as beautiful as always. Munna drove us into a hotel he knew, and it was good, especially because they were offering a 50% off-season discount. The next day was spent in a leisurely way, strolling around the Mall, walking up to Landour where Ruskin Bond lives and visiting Kempty falls, the Buddhist Temple (close to the LBSNAA, where they train IAS officers – strictly a no-photography zone, enforced by stengun-toting and very stern looking commandos) and the cute little ‘Company Garden’. Mussoorie is even more troubled by monkeys than Hardwar: one took away and broke my teacup when I had turned away for ten seconds on the balcony!)  The city blazed like a carpet of lights below me. And it was the last cold night I had this season…

Down to Hardwar on the morning of the 23rd. I had invited Shilpi, who is now working in Delhi, to come over for the day. Ma was tired out, and wanted to sleep through the afternoon. They were hammering away somewhere on the roof of the hotel, so sleep wouldn’t come to me: at four I gave up trying and went up via ropeway to the Manasa Mandir for a bird’s eye view of the town. I am glad that two Bengalis have been greatly honoured in the Hindi heartland: Subhas Bose, after whom my ghat was named, and then there is Vivekananda park, where you see the swami’s diminutive statue standing right in front of the monumental Shiva as you drive out of the city. We watched the aarti at evenfall again, and strolled along the ghat and sat on the balcony watching the river flowing by till late at night. There was the wretched chore of having to get up at daybreak to take the Jan Shatabdi to New Delhi (that station is still the pits – you can’t get even a cup of tea on the platforms!), where the tedium of the long wait was greatly alleviated by Akash’s visit, and finally a quiet trip on the Rajdhani back to Durgapur on Sunday the 25th.

The Ganga was unbelievably green for mile after mile. When am I finally going to go rafting down her? Unfortunately, wherever there is even a small town or a place with some claim to holiness, there are now far too many people everywhere, and so also too many shops and motor vehicles – worse still, two-wheelers swarm the roads. The fact that our numbers have swollen by a billion since independence is becoming more painfully, intolerably clear with every passing year. These days you have to trek far beyond the motorable roads and the reach of TV-dishes and mobile towers to enjoy the beauty that is still pristine, and the silence amidst vastness that never fails to wash away the silly and futile cares of the world far below, when you can at last be alone with yourself. I have seen almost everything that metro life offers, and I promise you, until you have had this experience you have not lived. But one warning: if you travel around these parts, be ready to climb up and down thousands of breathless stairs, and live for the most part on pure vegetarian food (Well, that's two warnings actually!)

So my travels are more or less over for the season. Now summer is around the corner, and I have to gear up for the admission storm in late March. After that, two continuous months of class, then a mid-summer break, when Pupu will decide where I should go along. The rest of the year belongs to her. But I shall be searching for pretty and quiet two-day getaways all the time – any suggestions beyond the usuals, which I have seen already? I am particularly interested in the new homestay facilities which, I hear, are sprouting all around the state.

Photos can be seen here. Also, here is a little video that I have put up on youtube. This young man was playing the flute beside the Ganga at Laxmanjhula. That’s the kind of small roadside miracle that you can catch anywhere in Devbhoomi.