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Friday, July 29, 2016

Mahasweta Devi, pronaam, Hillary Clinton, good luck!

Mahasweta Devi has just passed away. The internet is awash with obituaries, so I won’t add one of my own. This is just to say that she was precisely the sort of liberated and socially valuable woman that I respected, and I have seen very few in my lifetime. I say this despite her legendary foul mouth, her chain smoking of beedis, her two failed marriages, and because of the fact that she never had to bare her body or wear anything but saris to assert her independence and freedom of choice. ‘Feminists’ who are utterly materialistic, completely selfish, obsessed with exhibitionism and have nothing beyond shopping, dressing up, partying and abusing men to live for – no real purpose for being alive – might want to learn a thing or two from her, not just about how to be a remarkable woman, but, far more importantly, how to be worthy of the proud name of human. I saw her at close quarters only once, during my sojourn as a young volunteer at the Calcutta Book Fair in the mid-80s; I heard from an old boy who was escorting her in a cab, and when he started talking about her books, she burst into tears, saying ‘orey, era akhono amar boi porey!’ (Hey, these kids still read my books), and my sister the historian once got a great deal of unstinted help from her in connection with her research. A deep thank you to the departed soul, one of those rare few in this age I can call ‘noble’ and take inspiration from.


And now Hillary Clinton has won the Democratic Party’s nomination for the Presidentship of the United States. If she is elected, it will be a double whammy for the US to crow about – first black POTUS followed by the first woman. Maybe they will decide on a black woman soon? Tokenism, yes, but given the prominence and power of the post, tokenism of the highest significance. However, I read that while a large part of the electorate will probably vote for her because they want a woman in the Oval Office, a very large number of them have strong misgivings about her worthiness as a candidate, because she is widely unpopular as a person, and considered to be too much of a Washington insider to be likely to bring about major policy changes that have long been hoped for. We Indians could tell them that profiles don’t really matter – we have had Dalits and Muslims for Presidents, lived under a woman Prime Minister for nearly two decades, and several women are running several states at this moment. Their caste, religion and gender really don’t make much of a difference. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Women and I

This essay was written 21 years ago. It lays out, as clearly as was within my power, what I used to think about women then. Go through it and let me know what you think about my views. Please, I really want to know, as long as you are a coherent, reasonable and polite adult. Because I have changed them considerably, and I am going to write hereafter how and why.

Friday, July 08, 2016

DUS BARAS!

This blog is ten years old today.

I last wrote a birthday post back in 2008. Look it up and mark the contrast with this one.

One doesn’t learn a great many things in life after one is forty three – which is when I started this thing – and has learnt so much already (such diverse, curious and unpleasant stuff, too), yet this experience has taught me a few significant things still. And it has been an enjoyable pastime on the whole.

What a lot can happen in ten years, despite time often seeming to stand still! Of the boys who joined my classes in 2006, one is just about to go off for training as a civil servant, another, an architect engineer, is going to set up shop on his own. Sudhirda has been gone for a whole decade: hard to believe. So are my grandparents. My parents are back home. My little daughter is a college sophomore now. I have twice had surgery. The apartment that I was not even planning to buy then has been lived in for more than three years. ‘Smart-’phones, which were still a bit of a novelty then, are now ubiquitous. There are many more highrises all around, many more cars on the roads. The National Highway that skirts this town is being upgraded, and we’ve nearly got an airport. There is a looming water crisis. Education has absolutely gone to the dogs: people who can’t spell, compose one sensible paragraph or score more than twenty per cent in impromptu quizzes to save their lives routinely get top grades in public examinations. And so on…

One thing that using the internet has taught me over a period of nearly twenty years is that, while it is useful for things like booking tickets and home-delivery shopping and summoning cabs and exchanging business letters and hunting for information and suchlike, it is absolutely no good where establishing and maintaining warm, close, intelligent relationships is concerned. I say this after experimenting strenuously with ‘social networking’ sites for years, and Skype, and writing this blog itself. I don’t know how true this is about other countries, but it’s definitely true about India. Or that at least has been my own experience. So after an entire decade – so many posts (this is the 461st), on such a huge variety of subjects – I have realized that if I keep writing, it will be primarily because I enjoy doing so, and a little for the sake of numerous readers who rarely or never comment (I have published, in ten years, just over 4,500 comments, and trashed maybe another 500 or so which were merely abusive or nonsensical). I could never turn this blog into a forum for informed and thoughtful people, as I had originally hoped to since the days when the Net was just a gleam in some nerd’s eye. But I don’t blame myself.

I was re-reading the entries in the ‘earliest posts’ section. It’s like turning over an old photo album. They sound so recent! I am proud to see that virtually nothing has dated. Also, it feels strange to see the names of some people who were avid comment writers once, and who have dropped completely out of my life. Truly indeed in this age whether you keep in touch or not is entirely a matter of volition. So thank you, Shilpi, Tanmoy, Rajdeep, Nishant, Subhadip, Saikat and the handful of others who have kept in touch throughout. Think about it: what a pitiful number it is, considering the size of my ex-student crowd, and the fact that every year a very large percentage of them vow at the time of leaving never to fall out of touch! How offended they are when I laugh and tell them ‘You don’t know you are talking crap, but I do.’ Tells you something about humankind, doesn’t it?

I may or may not stop writing here at some future date. But I don’t think I’ll ever take the blog off the net. Perhaps someday my daughter will want to cull a few of her most favourite posts and make a book out of it? She can at least boast that her baba kept far more gainfully engaged in his spare time than most people of his generation did.

Speaking of generations, I met Mr. Parameshwaran at the marketplace a few days ago. Sir is past eighty, but he was teaching until recently, and he is still so active and sprightly that I can’t help envying him even while wishing him well. It feels more than weird to think that in seven years I too shall be officially a senior citizen. I hope if I am around at his age I can still be fully alive, mentally even more than physically. And maybe, like old Wang Lung in The Good Earth, I shall find love anew! What else is worth living for? Shoes, makeup, parties? Gabbling about new apps on my mobile?

I named the blog ‘bemused’. Those of you who have been reading it for years, don’t you think, in retrospect, that it was apt?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A book worth reading

I have written often and again in this blog and elsewhere about books, and what they do for us, and how much I have gained from them. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that, carrying my genes and having been brought up with all the focused and reasoned care that I could muster, my daughter has become an avid reader. And I am using that word in the ancient, respectable sense.

I used to tell her when she was a child, with reference to the parochial and foolishly bigoted Bengali middle class we are surrounded by, that there are nothing called boroder boi (books for adults), as they call erotica in these parts. If you can read them, they are readable; and if you find them readable, read. Only, learn to discriminate. If you are reading too much Enid Blyton or Mills and Boon or Chetan Bhagat, you are having trouble growing up. Look around you, and you will find lots of adults who have never grown up: they will cluck and simper and giggle and roll their eyes over Fifty Shades of Gray, but give them one serious book to read – leave alone understand, remember and discuss – and they will run for their lives. The last books they ever pretended to read were the texts that were prescribed in college.

So I am gladder than I can say that she has recently read, reflected upon and written about a very boroder boi – meaning one that 95% of adults I know won’t be able to make head or tail of, even if they can plough through the first hundred pages, and I am talking of ‘educated’ adults, mind you – Erich Fromm’s Fear of Freedom. Read it here. It has been one of the fifty most influential books in my life, and those who know me will understand what that means.

Wide and deep reading does not necessarily make a good or wise human being. I have closely known at least four whom books didn’t improve. Still, at my age, I cannot yet think of anything with higher potential. And so I am hopeful for my daughter. Also, sad, because, given the kind of mind she has developed, she is destined to be lonely for most of her life. But, as a very wise grandfather told his bright, headstrong, frequently wayward but essentially good granddaughter, being lonely isn’t a bad thing. It makes you strong as nothing else does. It can perchance makes you creative and valuable: such qualities are not developed amidst noisy crowds of idiots ‘having fun’. And, God willing, it can make you free, inasmuch as anybody in this world can be free.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

More memories

…but once one gets into the reminiscent vein, there’s no stopping it. It’s as if a mountain torrent, long dammed up, has suddenly burst forth. I can hardly decide what to touch upon and what to let go!

I often go driving through the ABL (once AVB -, now Alstom) township, not only because I love the tree-lined avenue that has remained unspoilt for more than four decades, but also because it brings back bitter-sweet memories. I have shared them with my wife and daughter, and today, so many years later, there’s no harm in talking about it publicly: the girl’s own daughter is past thirty. That place will always be associated in my mind with the one true love affair that I ever had. Not the first, not the last, but certainly the best. It was utterly silly, and wholly romantic, and entirely doomed from the start; it taught me better than any book what Tennyson meant when he wrote ‘It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’, it left behind good memories as no consummated affair ever does, it gave me friendships (yes, in the plural) that I gained much from and long cherished, and it created a deep, lifelong affection for teenagers that thousands have benefited from: much more than the run of the mill affair offers, what?

The Kolkata years are almost unremittingly dark, so I prefer to draw a veil over them. There are indeed memories that still gleam like fireflies in the dark, but overwhelmingly they were years of learning, and hopeless yearning, and genteel poverty. Over and above everything, it drove the idea into the deepest recesses of my psyche that the world is not a nice place; and no matter how hard I try to look for good things, it is going to disappoint me and hurt me more often than not. Whether I was doing French or the calculus or economics, whether I was reviewing theatrical productions or teaching or working for my father’s fledgling printing business, whether I was living alone or with family, whether I was ‘into relationships’ as the kids like to put it these days or alone, not belonging, not being able to decide what I was going to do with my life, not being able to afford many of the simplest pleasures of life was what made living a gloomy burden. So many things seemed just about to work for me, but didn’t. Thank God I came away: I was saved. But working for a little-magazine-sponsored stall year after year at the Book Fair was one of the high points of my sojourn. There I met the girl after whom my daughter is named. And I am still very proud of writing columns called Potpourri and City Lights for my father’s weekly paper, Durgapur Perspective.

When I returned to Durgapur, I had been coaching final-year college students. Then I suddenly had to cope with schoolboys and –girls again. It was a bit of a climbdown, especially because I had had no idea that kids 14 to 16 years old had, on average (I had evidently not consorted with average pupils before!) so poor a grasp of spelling and basic grammar, had read so very little outside their textbooks, and were virtually clueless when it came to writing even a 400-500 word essay on their own. But people were willing to pay for learning that sort of thing, and apparently a lot of young people found my classes fun, so I had found my life’s work. It will soon be thirty years of it now: my first pupil here is 45. If anything, they have grown less admirable with the passage of time. They still read virtually nothing; they (or rather, their parents) are still obsessed with becoming engineers, very few of them have clear and well-founded opinions on anything at all under the sun. The only significant change that I have seen over a generation is that today’s girls are even more helpless and molly-coddled: nobody seems to be able to move around without being constantly chaperoned. And they seem to be quite happy about it. They much prefer to chatter away on Facebook or Whatsapp from their bedrooms all the time, unless daddy is taking them shopping or dining out. ‘Babies until they have babies’, my daughter sometimes says, and I feel like adding ‘If that!’ Real life is what they show on ‘reality’ TV. I keep wondering about what kind of parents the first generation of my pupils have become…

Speaking of reading brings to my mind a circular sent to all schools (I had just taken charge of the library) sometime around 1989 or ’90 by the NCERT, reminding teachers that they have a ‘special responsibility’ to spread the reading habit among young people. Inspired, I spent a lot of time and money, running around the town, organizing little bands of boys and girls, and managed for a while to run three ‘Student Reader Circles’ in three separate neighbourhoods. Playing Vidyasagar and/or Derozio. And like them, I learnt the hard way that it doesn’t work: India is not a reading civilization; parents who are desperate that their kids get ‘educated’ hate and fear books a little more than the plague. I lost money, and a lot of books of my own, and earned a fair amount of opprobrium to the effect that I was wasting the children’s time, misguiding them, filling their heads with all sorts of silly/bad/dangerous ideas, and, worst of all, that I was trying to make a business out of it (strangely, the same parents were all too eager to send their children to my tuitions!) The lessons that I learnt will last a lifetime.

Likewise with taking kids out on excursions. I think I have written about this in some earlier blogpost, so suffice it to say that I won’t do it again, however much my current pupils plead and crib, because I have discovered the hard way that it doesn’t ‘pay’: I got too little thanks for all the fun I arranged for, and the unpleasantries were too many and too undeserved. If people cannot appreciate the good things they get, I don’t have an obligation to keep supplying them with the same.

There was a time when people used to come over to invite me to preside over cultural festivals in local colleges and clubs as judge for elocution contests and suchlike, or to officiate as quizmaster. I obliged a lot of such people for a long time, until I began to get tired and bored (a lot of folks who would cut off their right arm to be on stage with a microphone before the floodlights and the cameras clicking away might find this hard to believe), and started asking for a fee. Immediately the invitations dried up: apparently people want your services most if they are free – meaning they want to fob you off with a car pickup, a bouquet of flowers, a packet of snacks and some kind of knick knack ( a tie, an alarm clock, a set of overpriced pens) for a gift.

It has been the same with people who want ‘a little bit of help’ with anything that involves thinking and writing. I lost count long ago of how many I have helped, with how many different things. Just to give you an idea, that means everything from love letters to applications for this or that college/university to speeches to addresses for puja souvenirs to preparing for various kinds of competitive examinations (from SAT to banking services, SSC and what have you) to drafting doctoral theses to a quick course in ‘spoken English’. And all these people impose upon you; they won’t listen however much you say you are tired and you don’t have the time; most insult me by implying that the favour they are asking for is neither big nor really important (and yet they can’t think of anybody else who can do it for them!), everyone forgets me after the job is done, and they all get miffed when I finally lose my temper and send them away unsatisfied. Very few even do me the courtesy of asking what fee I expect for my service, and fewer still (the only ones I look upon benignly, because money, alas, is one very robust sign of how much you are ‘worth’ in someone’s eyes, even if for a passing moment) make really handsome offers. So here’s a public warning: don’t look me up if you only want to use me for some immediate need, there’s no better way to turn me off. You won’t understand this if you are doing it for the first time, but you bring back a thousand unpalatable memories.

There have of course been happy memories too. The kind of help I have got at times of dire need from people is something that I quietly exult over in the recesses of my mind. Funnily enough, it has mostly been from those who owed me nothing! And going on holiday trips has been great fun again and again over the years when my daughter was growing up. December 21, for instance, will forever be etched in my memory as the day we took off every year for one destination or another, because my daughter’s school had just closed for the winter vacation. As a rule I took classes till hours before we caught the train, after many successive months of working seven days a week, so it was relaxing with true relish as we travelled, always. That schedule is beginning to change a bit, now that Pupu is in college.

And so the memories roll on, like waves upon the beach, unceasingly. I could go on forever. But let me stop, at least for now. It’s 1600+ words already. I wonder who reads this stuff, that the counter keeps jumping by several hundred every day! One ex student, just out of college, surprised me recently; I had not imagined that someone like her would be a regular reader. Oh, well.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Looking back again

Back in May 1988, I was feeling rather sorry for myself. Then, in June, I was suddenly called to teach at St. Xavier’s, my old school. There followed some of the happiest years of my life. What I still miss, and still dream of now and then, are the trees and the library.

Nothing good lasts forever, so of course things soured up after a while, and I started saying publicly that I couldn’t imagine dragging on for donkey’s years and retiring with a measly pension when I was sixty. And things so worked out that after fourteen years of it, I quit. My daughter was a shade over five then.

It’s been another fourteen years since. My daughter is going on twenty now. It was a busy time, working all alone, and it has passed in the twinkling of an eye. If I am still working fourteen years from now (I’ll be 67), I do hope and pray it will be for the sake of pleasure alone. Pleasure I have had aplenty, and He who alone matters knows how grateful I am for it, yet it has not been enough, and the long, thankless, rigidly routine-bound drudgery has taken its toll – I am much greyer inside than out. So it would be fun to relax a bit, not to have to work because I must. Indeed, it would be a novel experience too!

I like to think that I haven’t changed much over the decades despite all the usual trials and tribulations that life throws at everyone, but that is not entirely true. Some very big changes have indeed come about. I like physical comfort and ease much more than I used to. Function of age, you’ll say, and you are probably right. I expect far less of people than I once did, and prefer to avoid company far more aggresively. I care less and less about what people say about me (a lot for a non-celeb, it seems, still). Biggest discovery over a lifetime – most people themselves don’t think about what they are saying, and they certainly don’t remember afterwards, so what the heck? Also, I expect ever fewer good things to happen: if seriously bad things happen infrequently, that’s good enough for me. And though I have always deeply appreciated the little good things of everyday life, I do that more and more now. Every day when the sky is blue and the air is clean after a shower of rain, and the flowers blooming in my garden, and the wonderful lunch the family had together a few days ago, for example. Every good night’s sleep, every chore outdoors done without too much hassle. Things could have been so much worse.

While reading autobiographical works, I am often struck by the incredibly vivid recall that some people seem to have. I mean, they are talking of something that happened maybe twenty years ago, and they fill in details of every little sort, not only quoting others verbatim, but even enlightening us about what the colour of the sky was, and what birds were chirping, and what make of car went by honking and who was scratching the back of his ear, and stuff like that. Is that really humanly possible, or do they just make it up? I am supposed to have an unusually powerful memory, yet I can’t do it to save my life. Which is why, when I try to write about interesting things that happened long ago I feel distressingly inadequate. A few particular words and gestures remain crystal clear, while all the background, as it were, has become infuriatingly vague. Does that happen to you too, or is it only me?

That is exactly why I don’t reminisce too much here, though I have often been asked to. It will all sound so unconnected, and therefore so meaningless! I can remember a thousand little things about my time at college, and the newspaper, and the school, and the years during which my daughter grew up, but if I try to write them down, I don’t think it will make much sense to anybody…

I remember, for instance, the summer afternoon in Father Wavreil’s office at the school, with the long slanting rays of the sun casting a mellow golden glow all over the room, and the shadows falling all over the compound, and how delicious I found the breeze and the woods and the thought that I could come back. He told me ‘I need a few more male teachers around here’, and we discussed my latest book review for The Telegraph – Professor Amlan Dutta’s The Gandhian Way, and he said ‘Since I am assigning you to a senior class, you must stay one whole session at the least’, and I said ‘Done, but I must get a full salary from the first month, because I must go back to the newspaper office and tell them I’m quitting’, and ‘Bargaining already?’ he twinkled. That was all the ‘interview’ I had; in all the years I worked there nobody ever asked me to submit a formal job application letter or show them my cv.

I have vivid memories of organizing the school silver jubilee (they have airbrushed me out of the golden jubilee souvenir), and the first ever school excursion. I remember what fun we had, me and my old-boy gang, bringing my wife ceremonially over to Durgapur. I remember inviting the entire school staff over to my wedding reception, headmaster to gatekeeper: has any other teacher ever done that, before or since? I remember how I attended to my wife hand and foot, all night, while the nurses slept, when my daughter was about to be born – and her first cry is as sharp and clear in my mind as if it was yesterday. When I told old Father Wautier about it, he was standing upstairs on his balcony, and he danced a little jig with hands raised high in the air. I remember a lot of detail about America, and about deciding not to go back for a PhD, and about getting job offers from a variety of places, including The Times of India and Doon School and Oxford University Press (Neil O’Brien interviewed me for that one, and surprised me by listening to my long monologue about myself – I thought he had fallen asleep), as well as a request from the BBC Bengali service to work as a stringer – all of which I declined, because nothing seemed even remotely more attractive than what I was doing. And as the nineties rolled on, it was more and more about watching my daughter grow up, and participating vigorously in almost everything she tried her hand at.

I remember working hard and eagerly on the Tagore translations, and going over to Shantiniketan to work with our general editor, and the interminable wait before the book was published. I recall how I heard about the 9/11 attacks on a normal day at school. I remember telling a particular tuition batch in April 2002 ‘I have quit that school now. Do any of you want to leave?’ and nobody did. I remember that, even while the numbers were rapidly swelling, somebody commiserated with me on the street, now that I did not have a salaried job any more. I remember buying my first computer, back in 2001 (I had been using someone else’s for the previous six years), and how some old boys worried I couldn’t possibly handle it on my own – it was still such an esoteric machine for domestic use in those days! And I remember how To My Daughter came to me all in a rush: I sat and hammered away at the keyboard continuously almost every evening from August 2003 to February 2004, and it was done.

Kolkata passed through its darkest days – literally, with eight- to ten hour power cuts almost every day – during the time I was there as a student. I was glad to leave after eight years of it, and never wanted to go back there for a long spell again (indeed, from all I have seen and heard, that holds good for every metropolis on earth). But I kept visiting every now and then, of course, and it has changed before my eyes. What with so many flyovers, it is difficult to find my way about, and I increasingly rely on directions from my daughter. The only thing I am happy about is that apart from the crowds and the drainage, everything is better now. But many of my favourite old haunts are gone, or at least can’t be easily found.

More and more, when young people come over to talk to me, I keep thinking ‘This kid wasn’t born when I was finishing college, and look, she thinks she has earned the right to engage me as though she’s an equal!’ Those who are joining up my classes now were just being born when I quit the school, approaching middle age, and I am sure that they too will become insufferably presumptuous when they look me up ten years later. Unless they have meanwhile learnt some manners, I hope they don’t. I thoroughly dislike people whose opinions vastly outweigh their knowledge and intelligence, and who are hyper-eager to let me have the benefit of such opinions – and that, alas, describes the mass of mankind.

This blog is going to be ten years old in a month’s time. Beginning on this project: that too I vividly remember. Maybe this will remain a place worth visiting long after I am gone. If anything at all is remembered for more than a few months these days…

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Interesting developments

On two unconnected themes:

I am glad that the country’s lawmakers are beginning to move (however glacially) towards recognizing the open secret that men can be harassed and abused by women too. The UGC has notified that all universities must take cognizance of this fact of life. It’s a beginning; there’s a long, long way to go. Especially since, over the last few decades, women have been so relentlessly portrayed as victims who forever need special help, protection and consideration in every sphere of life (even the marital bed!) that it has become politically incorrect to mention that millions of women make life hell for millions of men, by being sirens, nags, shrews and viragos – the way they are born and brought up – always have. As mothers, girlfriends, wives and colleagues. If it had not been so acutely embarrassing for men to admit that they can’t do anything about it – unlike with women, we hate to portray ourselves as pathetic victims – it would have become a major political issue long ago. But maybe there’s hope yet. Maybe a time will come when men will start speaking up and admitting openly how much thankless trouble women have been in their lives, how much better things could become if we could draw legal lines around them as they have been so intent for so long to draw lines around us!


I wrote in a recent blogpost that ‘it is a very sick world where people are constantly trying to have fun… and whole industries are devoted to it’. In that context, Subhadip Dutta sent me this link to an article written by some yuppie. It merely confirms what I wrote. The only caveat I shall add is that the writer at least earns well – that cannot be said about millions like her, who barely survive yet have to pretend night and day that they are millionaires (if you are located in New Delhi or Bangalore, have people to support and have a post tax monthly income of less than a hundred thousand rupees, you are only a shade better than a beggar. Now how many can claim to have legitimate incomes larger than that… what percentage of our yuppie crowd?)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Kashmir

(click on the picture)

I have just returned from that trip to Kashmir which I had promised myself six months in advance. In many ways it was a journey down memory lane, because I was revisiting after nearly forty years. There are far more cars around, and the roads are much more congested, but, as I feel more and more frequently these days, the truly remarkable thing was how much had not changed.

We took a train from Durgapur to New Delhi, then a GoAir flight to Srinagar; we returned a week later the same way. Saves a great deal of time, which is good, because trains bore me more and more: that is one way in which I have changed. If and when I go again, it will be by air all the way and back. But the airports, clean though they might be, are another crashing bore: I wonder why they had to turn them into shopping malls. One funny thing about Srinagar airport is that there are birds hovering and chirping all over the lounge, and you are always at risk of being bombed with poo. And the multiple-level security check at daybreak on the way back really tests your patience.

The hotels are overpriced everywhere, but the service is good. Weirdly, all the tourist hotspots are choc a bloc with eateries offering shuddh shaakaahari fare: evidently, Punjabi and Bengali tourists have become a minority. The only time we tasted good meat was when we sampled Kashmiri wazwan in Gulmarg. The men, I found, are in-your-face chauvinistic about their good looks, but the girls are awfully pretty too, despite hiding almost everything behind their burqas – you can’t beat nature, no matter how short your dresses are. I was tickled to see that even the IndiGo airhostesses, normally attired in the tiniest of frocks, had been ordered to don trousers for the duration of their stay in Kashmir.

There are notices in English all around you, and the Kashmiris are truly creative with spelling. One sample: a sticker behind a car read ‘Peopels die, memory is feed, but love romens’. And the Pahalgam Development Authority uses the acronym PDA unabashedly even in parks; evidently, like those who named the ADDA in Durgapur, nobody told them. A restaurant was named Taj Mehal. I was pleased, though, to read the word ‘cashmere’ on at least one shop signboard. And one legend that I read on a great many cabs and autorickshaws was ‘Believe a snake, but not a girl’. Make of that what you will.

Something most irritating is that hawkers and touts (for everything from clothes and hotels to horses) crowd and badger you wherever you go, as though just walking around or drinking in the beauty of the surroundings without constantly paying people is a crime. And everybody sells genuine pashmina and kesar, like your joynogorer mowa in Bengal.

Walk around, and sit and look, if you really want to savour Kashmir. Yes, just walk, walk, walk. And don’t travel to too many places: you get all you want – hills, snow, forests and rivers, deeply soothing silence – in any one place you visit. My tip is, just go to Pahalgam and stay for a few days. It will be enough (add Gulmarg if you wish – it’s beautiful too – but avoid Sonamarg: there’s nothing different and special to see, and that is one place where they go all out to fleece you, the whole tourist business being totally unregulated).

Srinagar was warm to hot: in the afternoons the sun was blazing. The last light faded only when it was 8 p.m. The other spots were much cooler: in Pahalgam, after sundown, the mercury went down to about 20 celsius, if the internet app could be trusted. The shikhara ride is truly enjoyable, especially if you can make it early in the morning or late in the evening, but remember to bargain shamelessly. Climb up the hill to the Shankaracharya temple only if you are very devout (the temple itself being strictly ho-hum, artistically speaking) or if you want to enjoy the view – and it being a CRPF camp, photography is prohibited, remember. As for the famed Mughal gardens, we were lucky to see them in full bloom, but if you are in a hurry, just see the Shalimar. And stroll along the lakeside boulevard as far as you can; it’s a treat. But the ambience would improve vastly if all motor traffic could be driven off at least for a stretch along that road, as they have done in Nainital. The only vehicles that might be allowed are the spanking clean, bright red topless double-decker buses that saunter up and down inviting tourists to ‘hop in, hop out’.

Stopping by the Indus (on the way to Sonamarg this time) has always been a skin-crawling experience for me – this is the river after which the land and probably the religion is named, this is the river which bears mute testimony to so many thousand years of history, from Mohenjodaro to the early Aryans and the visit of Alexander. That was one high point of the trip; another was horse-riding in the rain around Gulmarg. Pupu agreed, which made it even more satisfying. Aru valley above Pahalgam could really be a part of the Tyrol were it not for the colour of the people’s skins: one could almost hear ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music’ ringing in one’s ears. At Chandanwari – where the pedestrian pilgrimage to Amarnath begins – the best thing was sitting beside a cascade gurgling from beneath the tongue of a glacier, azure sky above, lush green conifer-studded hills all around, the sun dazzling yet the wind cold even at midday.

But I am getting old, indeed, for I found that what I enjoyed most, after everything, was the leisure and escape from work. And having Pupu beside me and enjoying herself: it’s being rewarded far beyond anything one had hoped for all one’s life.

Countless thanks to Aakash for being there for us, twice over, in Delhi. It is old boys like him who make me feel truly rich, and blessed. I look at my current crop of pupils and keep wondering which ones will turn out to be like him fifteen years from now.

I came back to Durgapur tired but content to get back into harness again. And the weather has improved vastly, what with it having rained repeatedly over the last few days (indeed, we were chased around by rain from day one!): so my fear of being boiled or baked upon returning turned out to be unfounded. The first news I got was grand: after ages, someone from Durgapur has cracked the central civil services examination in his first attempt, and he happens to be an old boy of mine who remembers me with respect and I hope some affection, because he came over personally to give the good news, and we had a long chat. Power to your elbow, Debotosh Chatterjee, and keep in touch: I hope to hear great things from you in the years to come…


P.S.: Some photos can be seen here. I am tinkering with Google Photos, and compared to Picasa it 'sucks'. For captions, click on each picture and look for 'Info' at the top right - that's the best I could do for now.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Socialism, capitalism and human nature

Observation one: a lot of people are reading this blog now. I only wish that far more people wrote in like Rajarshi (see his comment on the post ‘Socialism calling’). Maybe most people simply can’t! What a pity.

Observation two: I mentioned human nature in the last post, and I intend to adumbrate some of my views on the subject in this one. But wait a bit.

Observation three: April has been the cruellest month in this part of the world indeed, in a way that Tom Eliot probably wouldn’t have survived. Temperature and dryness broke century-old records, and there wasn’t a drop of rain. You can gauge how bad it was from just one datum – on the night of Saturday April 30 a storm arose, and the wind seemed to be howling straight out of a furnace (at night, that’s right). Since then – at last! – the temperature has gone down a bit, but millions, like me, are waiting desperately for rain. Funny how all our vaunted technology can’t do a thing about it...

Observation four: The assembly elections have gone more or less peacefully as well as honestly only due to the imposition of near-military rule by the Election Commission. Again, what a pity, seen from one point of view; from another, what a salutary lesson. If I were the ruler of this land, I would not need anybody’s permission to rule with an iron hand, as long as everything I did was demonstrably for the greater common good. And it works, by God! All that I must do is ignore the journalists.

To come now to what I was saying about human nature. If you are an attentive and long-time reader (or even if you have simply looked up the links I provided in my last post), you will have some idea about my thinking. So this is only by way of an addendum. In connection with all that I have written so far about socialism and capitalism, I think the latter ‘works’ and the former doesn’t (or rather, hasn’t so far) primarily because capitalism makes efficient use of people as they are – mind you, I am not saying that that’s a good thing! – while socialism puts too much faith in the ‘essential goodness’ and/or malleability of human nature, which is by and large a sad piece of fiction. Men as a rule are not essentially good – or that has been my experience – Christianity was far closer to the mark when it claimed that every man is a sinner, and needs to be saved. And men can be restrained or encouraged in myriad ways, but there are strict limits to how far they can be changed. So, for instance, capitalism premises itself on three fixed aspects of human nature a) that most people for the most part are far more concerned about self-interest than larger, social ones – even if they pretend otherwise; b) that most are far more focused on immediate and obvious interests than on more nebulous, long-term ones, and c) for most people, material self-interest overrides all other forms of the same, whether they are chasing bread or private jets. Big capitalists are like that, and they safely assume that their humblest servants are like that too: nothing significant differentiates them other than the size of their earnings. So that’s the way capitalism works: by exploiting things that are (as soon as they go too far) essentially bad about human nature. The irony is that it has ‘succeeded’ hugely in increasing the overall material wealth of humanity, there’s no denying that: that speaks volumes about how right it has always been about what humans are like, and how they can be best manipulated. The problem is that it has succeeded too well, and, unless restrained and modified and sternly guided, it will bring doom upon humanity yet (as I never tire of saying, watch movies like Wall-E).  

Therefore we have our work cut out: not to try and change men, but to make use of their inbuilt characteristics to their own best long-term advantage. Most men are narrowly selfish – so try widening the ambit of self-interest: get people to identify more and more strongly with larger interests (to take just one example, by making them understand that clean air is more important to them and their children than motor cars) – by law and fiscal measures as much as through education, stern policing and relentless public exhortation. At the same time, give the fullest possible encouragement to people who are by nature less selfish, who instinctively care more for the greater common good – publicize and subsidize their work, idolize them, reward them – they are the ones who are doing the most to make a better world; lessen a bit the odds they struggle against. Tell people in the mass that one genuine social worker is worth ten thousand moneybags, movie idols and sports icons. It is bound to make a difference over a generation or two: from all I have seen of youngsters over a lifetime, they blindly imitate those who are tomtommed as social heroes. That is the herd instinct, and basically something bad, but it can be directed towards great social good. Why not? If bad things won’t go away, the best thing is to harness them and exploit them to advantage!

There are other things about human nature which are worse still, and I frankly do not know whether they can be either changed or used in any worthwhile way. Meanness and possessiveness, love of ostentation and jealousy (the Bangla word porosreekatorota is more vivid), and the urge to talk through one’s hat merely for the sake of ego assertion are among the most harmful yet powerful elements in our psyche, and both politics and politicians suffer from it: it makes the best of them world weary and cynical after a while, unwilling to lift a finger any more for the welfare of their ungrateful and perverse fellow men. I know: I didn’t need to make a career in politics to know how they feel.  Only education rightly understood – something unimaginably far removed from what our schools, colleges and coaching classes dole out night and day – can somewhat weaken their infernal grip, and it makes me despair, because the most vital part of that education begins with what parents teach by example, and as my whole working life has taught me, parents in this country, at least the last two generations of them, have made a complete mess of it.

There is a line in Tagore’s anondolokey mongolalokey which says sneho, prem, doya, bhokti komol kore pran..., affection, love, compassion and reverence soften and soothe the heart. The kind of man that I am, I have craved these things far in excess of any craving for the riches of this world, and found only demons and idiots chasing what I never much cared for, and mucking up the world more and more for the likes of me with their craving, chasing, flaunting and noisy make-believe, their hearts – whatever little they were born with – increasingly turned to stone. I gave all those four to literally thousands, starting from the family hearth, in the vain hope that giving unstintedly will make me somehow, someday eligible for getting some of it back.  Got kicked soundly in the face for it, not once, not a dozen times, but hundreds of times over, until today most people around me regard me as a very prickly, irascible, unsocial ogre, and quite rightly too: only they will never understand or admit that thousands of them have slowly made me like that over half a lifetime, and now it is probably too late. Show me ten good men like Dr. (John) Arbuthnot, the great misanthrope Jonathan Swift had said, and I will burn all my books. There you have me at 53 in a nutshell. Show me ten good men before I die, and I shall die a happy man. It’s not a nice world, and smartphones are not making it nicer, regardless of what several hundred million tech-drunk pinheads might claim. Let them live in their fool’s paradise: they have nothing of any value to share with me. A highly-advanced world which cannot produce one Gandhi and one Tagore is a desert. In another of his songs which will live ages after Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift are forgotten,  Tagore says kichhu bandha porilo na keboli bashona bandhoney/ keho nahi dilo dhora keboli shuduro sadhoney... no one fulfilled my desire, nor did anyone give me company in the search for the infinite: that could be a one-line description of my life. I have been shortchanged both ways. What do you think the cumulative effect on a thinking and feeling mind could be? These days I take a lot of pleasure in telling a lot of people to go to hell. Doesn’t make me proud, but under the circumstances, content.  When I thought they deserved better, I made an utter fool of myself. Why carry on like that forever? If there is an afterlife, I definitely don’t want to come back to this one.

Postscript: The rains came tonight, however briefly and sporadically. Luxuriated in the garden till late. Will sleep soundly. As long as I have my castle, and hundreds queuing up yearly at my door, the rest of the world can really go to hell. You are not someone I like and have specifically invited? The visiting fee is two thousand rupees for every half hour or part thereof, and God help you if there is something about your demeanour or language that irks me...


If there are to be comments on this post at all, I shall entertain only those from my long-term favourite old boys.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Socialism calling, part three

So: anyone who will not be persuaded that socialism deserves to be given another chance will have to stand up and be identified as someone who a) either believes the world as it is is perfect or, if it isn’t, cannot be bettered, b) is quite happy with the prospect of seeing a small minority living extremely sybaritic, environmentally damaging, unsocial lives (remember, often with money they have not even earned – to wit the spouses and children of tycoons, and winners of lotteries, or those who have found the proverbial oil well in their gardens, or plain thieves), while the great majority simply scrounges along, their condition at best improving by trickles and at worst steadily growing worse (consider the case of environmental refugees, overwhelmingly from countries which have been ravaged by rampant capitalism, and also look at this, which I found as a link given in an article that Subhadip Dutta sent me recently), c) is sure that there is nothing wrong with the fact that capitalism increasingly makes a world where everyone becomes nothing more or less than just a buyer and seller – all thought (accumulated over millennia of philosophizing and preaching) of reaching for higher modes of living having been discarded as being either meaningless or unattainable, and d) thinks that political democracy makes a lot of sense in the context of gross and growing economic inequality. Fine, then: I know what sort of person I don’t want to hear from for the rest of my life. If I still retain some zest for living, it is because I still believe that not all people have yet become like that, not the best human beings that are around, pitifully few though they might have become.

My hope springs from the fact that I encounter so many young people who, despite being far wealthier than their ancestors, keep grouching that they can’t find rest, they can’t find security, they can’t find love, they can’t find contentment, they can’t find things to live for. And I have watched so many such youngsters growing old and finally giving up looking, resigned themselves to the idea that though they may buy another car or flat, travel to a few touristy places still, get married for a second or third time, draw out their existences for a few more years in modest comfort or even great luxury counting likes on Facebook and trying ever new video games, will never find these things in their lives: given up on them as people give up on mirages. They will come round, sooner or later (usually happens when it’s too late, when their lives are done, alas!) to the realization that a) money alone, especially when you have been chasing it obsessively in conjunction with the very unhealthy ‘high life’ you have been leading, will never make you happy, b) most people will simply burn out or go to jail trying to make money, and still won’t get significantly rich – that’s the iron rule of capitalism: millions must fail or nearly fail for a handful to become super successful celebrities, c) if great wealth made the happiest people on earth, psychiatrists would have routinely held up the Forbes’ 100 richest persons list as models of happy people, d) making a better world calls for simultaneously improving ourselves as individuals and working to create a world where such increasingly improved people set the standards.

Now however hard that second bit in (d) might sound, it pales in comparison with the earlier. And this is not newfangled wisdom: it is part of very deep human instinct that one tries very hard to deny even that one has faults, let alone trying to rectify them: people interfere desperately in others’ lives trying to change them not only because most of them love to play God, but that is the most effective way of hiding lifelong from one’s own defects (think equally of an average mother or father, a very very common human being, lecturing the son on morals as though they are Sri Ramakrishna reincarnate, and of a typical minister haranguing his constituents to be good in the same vein).  

Changing ourselves is hard, firstly because so much badness, crassness and meanness is hardwired into our genes, and/or absorbed from our parents and immediate family, friends and neighbours while we are still young (think of peeing on the roadside or yelling into phones or telling tales or leching after girls or cheating in exams or spending hours before the mirror or faking love to get and hold someone’s attention). Besides, as one grows up one instinctively gravitates towards people who have the same faults (indeed, are either unconscious about them or deny that they are faults at all – the worst of them shrill ‘oh, come on, we just do that sort of thing for fun!’), because in numbers there is safety and comfort, and thus they make strong resistant groups to any kind of effort at improvement. By the time they reach thirty, they are virtually all like that: zombies for all practical purposes. It is harder still in a country where ‘good’ people are routinely mocked, harassed, ignored and taken advantage of, because good people make the rest feel bad about themselves, and that is unforgiveable. Where does one even start the job of clearing the Augean stables?

Looking at the countries which have gone a long distance in that direction, I feel that it should start with education and policing. And that in turn starts with politics, because everywhere politicians formulate policies about education and policing. Which brings us to a conundrum – if politicians are to start the reform process, who will reform the politicians?

It is easy to give up in despair at this point, but I console myself with the knowledge that all countries which are doing better than us today didn’t use to be so good always, which means they gradually  changed for the better, and if it was possible elsewhere, it could be done here. All it needs is a critical mass of people who agree not only that things need to be changed and can be changed, but also broadly on the basic things that need to be changed. For that to happen, a lot of decent people must get into politics, and that in turn will happen as and when some sweeping electoral reforms a) sharply reduce the role of money and muscle power, b) ensure that legislators can be recalled and political parties banned on proven grounds of corruption and incompetence, and c) assure aspiring politicians of at least a modest living lifelong, so that they are not pulled irresistibly by both greed and insecurity towards corruption. Difficult, and time consuming, but not impossible.

Such a critical mass of politicians is bound to make a change for the better, in the sense that I understand ‘better’: I don’t think they can help it. But only up to a point. Whether they can change things that are fundamentally and very badly wrong with our national psyche, I don’t know, and there I honestly don’t have much hope. Remember that in a democracy people get the kind of government they deserve, a government that reflects them, warts and all. Now that I am growing old, I increasingly tend to think that good people are born in India to suffer purgatory by the decree of karma. And that, alas, is not within human power to change.

For what I think about ‘our national psyche’ and the problems that stem from it, the following earlier blogposts would help to jog your memory: My India, Freedom and responsibility, The world we are making for our children, A small dose of political philosophy, Juvenilia, India twenty years after and chhotolok.

[I should strongly recommend that this trio of essays, ending with this one, be read together, along with all the links provided.]

Friday, April 15, 2016

Socialism calling, part two

I should clarify at the outset that I am not even trying to persuade those who will simply not listen: who, even if they agree (sometimes only inwardly) that much is wrong with the capitalist order, will never admit that there could be a possibility of improving things. This could be because they have benefitted too richly from the current system; they hope to benefit, even if the hope is very tenuous (so many engineer-drudges dreaming of becoming overnight startup-zillionaires, so many stockbrokers hoping to hit the pot of gold); they have been brainwashed into being brain dead (every ideology banks on a huge number of such people) or they are simply too frightened of any kind of serious change.

Secondly, I shall admit at the very start that much of the initial promises were very cruelly and hideously betrayed by the big and small experiments with socialism that were tried between the mid-19th century and the mid-20th, be it Robert Owen’s voluntary commune or Tolstoy’s farms or the USSR and PRC, leave alone tinpot regimes as in Vietnam, Cuba, Korea, Cambodia and so on. The reasons are too many, but I think the most important were a) the early leaders were too romantic, had too poor a grasp of basic human nature (or thought it was much more malleable than it really was), quarreled too much, and tried to change too many things too soon; b) later leaders (often the same ones as they grew older) invariably became mere despots, with little to distinguish them from dictators of the far right except in the rhetoric, whose fundamental aim was simply to hang on to power regardless of the social cost, and c) they all became straddled by slothful, apathetic, self-serving bureaucracies. It will not do to forget, either, that the entire capitalist world ganged up to ensure that they never got a chance to develop their own way in peace. I am not going to write a history lesson here, but do read up on the subject. If the US and Britain, then the dominant world powers, had helped rather than hindered (which is putting it mildly – ‘tried everything possible to destroy’ would be much closer to the truth) Lenin and Sun Yat Sen and later the young Mao, the world would have been a very different and, I dare say, much nicer place today. But of course that would be wishful thinking: how could they not do their utmost to destroy a system that was so great a challenge to their own legitimacy, so great a threat to their own survival?

Thirdly, about real world models. Yes, there are, and not a few. My vote goes to all those social-democracies which consistently rank not only among countries with the highest per capita incomes and human development index ranks, but are also among the highest achievers in terms of clean environments, low crime rates, affirmation of women’s rights, religious tolerance, comprehensive social security and attention to non-material needs. Whether it is Germany or France or Switzerland or Japan, whether it is the Scandinavian countries or Singapore or New Zealand (I should like to include Israel in this list, thanks to the legacy of the kibbutz movement), whether they formally call themselves socialist or not, they have managed to steer between the Scylla and Charybdis of the US model and the Soviet model and attain the best possible standards of living as well as quality of life for the vast majority of their citizens. They are also relatively peaceful, ‘unexciting’, not-happening countries (at least they used to be until Islamic terrorism recently began to become a serious problem) – so you read much less about them than about what is happening in the US or India. Their super-rich pay very high taxes, they are not yet so crazed about the pop or techie cultures, but they also have virtually no beggars nor millions scrounging lifelong just to keep their heads above water – and their public facilities, be they sanitation or transport or libraries or child care, are way ahead of US standards, leave alone India’s. And yes, to my mind, that is as close to paradise as we have yet gotten anywhere. And they have achieved all this more or less democratically and with very little violence. They still have scope for improvement, but for the rest of us, why don’t we first get there? One thing is certain: it won’t happen by letting brazen capitalism rule. That is why I worry about India and China, which between them account for almost 40% of humanity: if they take the wrong way, as they seem to be doing, mankind is doomed.

So what is the kind of socialism that I envisage and look forward to? Well, if you have been reading closely, you have a fair idea of it already. It does not deny civil liberties, but keeps strict control over anti-social abuse of such liberties. It does not try to do away with capitalism, because it accepts that capitalism generates wealth – but it sternly guides capitalist urges (‘animal spirits’ in Keynes’ unforgettable words) in the direction of greater and broader social welfare, refusing to put wealth generation permanently over and above all other priorities: ‘the public use of private interests’, to quote the title of an essay once written by a prominent American economist. It will be a system where great private wealth and great inequality will be regarded, just like poverty, as crimes. It will be a state (yes, a state: I have never had any sympathy for anarchists) where the Constitution will spell out clear goals and limitations of government, and the political class will be a class of trained professionals, respected, well-paid, stringently monitored and assessed for performance, the way we expect, say, pilots and doctors to be: opportunists, mad ideologues, narrow-minded selfseekers and plain incompetents will be barred or quickly detected and weeded out. It would be a dispensation where education and policing alike will be oriented primarily towards making reasonable, decent, civic-minded citizens, those who have gradually become convinced that caring and sharing and non-violence make for a far better world than blind, compulsive, lifelong pursuit of self-interest and hedonism. It would be a society where bureaucracy really serves the public as the best private companies do, because their careers depend on that. It would be a society where children grow up persuaded that cultivating the four cardinal principles urged by the Buddha long ago – karuna, maitri, upeksha and mudita – would help all of us far more to live better than cramming a lot of physics, chemistry, math and ‘managerial techniques’, or shopping and partying as if there would be no tomorrow simply because they have never learnt of better things to do. Above all, it will be a society which does away with the false egalitarianism of both the traditional right and left, and distinguishes between the common and the great on the basis not of wealth and muscle and looks and notoriety but in terms of mental attributes alone – remembering that being a mathematical wizard is not the same thing as being a great mind (Bertrand Russell was both, and knew the vital difference) – distinguishes not to humiliate the common, but to prevent them from trying all the time to pull the great down to their own level instead of respecting them and trying to better themselves. As to what I mean by great, look up the relevant chapter in To My Daughter.

Which brings me to a most important point: I do not regard socialism as a purely economic ideal. It must be able to give people a spiritual meaning to life – something that both traditional capitalist and socialist societies fail to do. People in the mass need gods: always done, always will do unless they mutate genetically. In the absence of a true God, they will worship baser and often sick things, such as fuehrer and nation and dialectical materialism, the free market or movie icons or football stars or beer. In this matter, I believe, most capitalist societies, being at least nominally democratic, have done better by practising secularism, meaning that they have tolerated if not encouraged all kinds of faiths, including faithlessness, as long as they do not violently quarrel with one another or otherwise break the laws seriously. But religion sits uncomfortably with a worldview that insists that money-making and self-aggrandizement, even if that calls for turning one’s eyes ruthlessly away from all kinds of suffering and cultivating contempt for all human activity that cannot be turned to commercial profit, are the only real ideals. To quote Tagore again, in most western countries (and now in all countries which have been blindly aping the west, such as ours), it has been church on Sundays, and business as usual the rest of the week. That leads to warped, confused and discontented lives. We need to do better.

Mind you, when I think of a spiritually oriented life, I am neither keen nor insistent that people have to subscribe to some kind of formal organized religion at all, leave alone believe in a traditional God. I don’t myself (some of the religions I have very great respect for, like Jainism and Buddhism, either explicitly deny God or discourage any discourse on the subject among laymen, and the kind of ‘religion of Man’ that Tagore aspired to visualize and practise lifelong, inspired by the sufi and baul traditions, does not insist on any formal God beyond the jeevan devata or moner manush). By spiritual, I mean living as if I have non-material needs too – and that, beyond a certain point (getting adequate air, water, food, shelter, rest and medical care when I am ill), they are far and away the more important needs. Living a good life means having something great and good to live for, not just endlessly indulging my animal appetites to ‘have fun’ – it is a very sick world where people are constantly trying to have fun because they are empty inside, and whole industries are devoted to it. Living for love and not just for sex (without being frigid or puritanical, of course), to cite one example; studying to understand, enjoy and reflect, not just to get a job, to cite another; preferring a good quiet conversation with one or two good friends to partying with a crowd of noisy, silly, half-drunk near-strangers; doing charity with the conviction that it is good for my own soul; pursuing hobbies like art and music and rearing pets and nurturing gardens because they keep you fit in body and mind and make you feel good in relatively inexpensive, socially harmless ways; avoiding all excess in thought, word and deed because one knows it is BAD for everyone including oneself. A spiritual person will not lie or steal or gossip; he will not regard dressing up as an important daily activity; he will not fake emotions; he will not take up an essentially bad job merely because it pays well, whether that means burglary or conning people into buying things they don’t need or cooking news. A spiritual person will always try very hard not to use other human beings merely as instruments to further his personal well-being, but instead deal with everyone – however large the number he has to deal with – as if each of them individually matters, counts for something (it goes without saying that – I am thinking of teachers and doctors here, but this applies to many others – he will try to limit that number to what he can sanely deal with, day in, day out). A spiritual person must live for an ideal – and it goes without saying that something like merely building up a big business organization, however useful a pursuit in many ways, cannot be regarded as an ideal in the sense that building a monastic order could be. A spiritual person habitually tries to make a difference for the better (in non-trivial ways, not merely telling jokes, though I have great regard for good comedians) wherever he goes. He is someone who cultivates courtesy to all because it is good, not just because it helps to attract customers or helps to stay in the boss’ good books, and expects the same from all who deal with him. He is someone who cares for the future, because he cares (really cares, as few of us do) for his children and grandchildren.

What has all this got to do with socialism? Aren’t these all very personal things? Yes and no. These are all very personal attributes, true, but they flourish or wither given the kind of social ambience in which a man has to live and function, and I dream of a social order where all these personal attributes will be publicly lauded and encouraged, their opposites held up to contempt, ridicule and institutionalized discouragement. It will help a very great deal to construct such a society where most men do not feel compelled to run after money to the exclusion of everything else most of the time, where consumption beyond essential needs is no longer regarded as either necessary or admirable, and where both poverty and extreme material inequality have been done away with. In such a world a lot of people will feel more inclined to live good lives, and those who are naturally inclined that way will find it easier to live.


Do I have some hope that the world will evolve towards such a happy situation? A little, yes. Firstly because the best people I have known, in person and through books, have dreamt such a dream. Secondly because some countries have gone very far in that direction already, and many others are tentatively following in their footsteps (despite all the rhetoric against it, government expenditure as a proportion of GDP, to use just one crude measure of social control, has grown relentlessly over almost the entire postwar era even in the US, supposedly the Mecca of capitalism). Thirdly because a lot of people, even if they are not very erudite or deep thinkers, are feeling that all is not well with the world, that it needs a big change. Fourthly because I have some faith in the herd instinct: as soon as a small but influential minority of leaders (in politics, education, business, social work and art of diverse kinds) start determinedly showing the way, the rest follow, and very soon they develop new habits, and then start believing that things were always that way (few Europeans these days can imagine how unclean or how violent their ancestors were just a few generations ago; few middle class Indians today can imagine how their ancestors could live happily yet so much more frugally just forty years ago). Fifthly because things as they are can’t go on for much longer: something is bound to give, by way of war or environmental disaster or something we cannot yet imagine. And lastly because if I cannot hold on to a dream of a better world, what is the point of living any more? I have seen life as it is, and people as they are, and it has left me deeply disappointed, even disgusted. Yet I shall not commit the ultimate sin of losing faith in Man… children keep being born, and surely they cannot be deluded and misguided forever?

P.S., April 22: A newspaper as shallow and as brazenly committed to neo-capitalism as The Telegraph of Kolkata published this editorial on April 10, two days after I wrote the previous blogpost. Sheer meaningless coincidence, this bhooter mukhey raam naam?