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Monday, August 22, 2016

Coaching for parents?

Only a few days ago I posted this news item in the other blog; now there’s this one.

There are parents who go riding bikes in rainstorms with little children in tow, not even wearing helmets, and there are those (increasingly numerous-) parents who feed their kids like pigs until they swell up like balloons and, when they finally start showing signs of morbidity, take them to the doctors only to get miffed when they are told that all that the kid needs is far less food of a far more healthy kind, along with a lot of vigorous and regular exercise. I am also thinking of all those parents – ‘loving’ ones, too – who frequently indulge in what to me seems gross physical abuse (only the other day a girl was telling me her mother throws anything at all at her, even knives and choppers, when she loses her temper, and I have seen children scalded on their arms and legs with hot irons) often for no better reason than that, being control freaks, they can’t bear to see that their kids sometimes won’t listen to some direct order, no matter how trivial the issue is (sometimes it’s like the girl wanted to wear the red frock instead of the white one). And also of all those tens of thousands of kids who die annually on our roads – one of my students did just two days before my own accident – because their ‘loving’ parents bought them motorbikes because they could not resist the importuning, or thought it important in order to keep up with the Joneses. Then there are those who are so obsessed with school examination scores as the sole determinant of a child ‘doing well’ that they hardly notice that the kids are either growing up into rote-learning machines totally deprived of intelligence, creativity, general knowledge and human sympathy, or falling prey to debility and diseases of weird kinds (hypertension, diabetes, gastric ulcers, breathing problems, migraine), or both. Add to that the recent phenomenon of more and more parents grooming their children like circus animals so they can all appear on ‘reality TV’ and perchance win some prize money. You think all these weirdos are sad exceptions? I beg to differ. Remember, I have been dealing with parents of youngsters all my life, and keeping notes. The saddest thing of all is that, if my experience is any guide, most of those unhappy kids, if they survive, grow up to be clones of the same parents…

There is a very broad presumption in this country that you need to learn a lot of things – music and painting and language and surgery and cooking and things like that – but there’s nothing to learn about parenting, or rather, couples automatically become qualified to be parents as soon as they go through the biological process of birthing (strangely enough, it doesn’t occur to anybody that you don’t even have to be human in order to do that: being four-legged suffices!). This is, of course, arrant nonsense, especially in a country where most people become parents only under the pressure of ‘social expectation’ or ‘accidentally’ – I apologize for stating this most unpleasant truth to all those  ex-student readers who are still young enough to be shocked. There was a little saving grace when most children grew up in joint families, where at least there were grandparents who not only had the time and inclination but also somewhat more experience regarding the essential do’s and don’ts than most young, harried and impatient parents, and therefore could provide some sane guidance and counsel. These days, apart from consulting their own peers (who are as a rule just as clueless or misguided as they are), they have nothing except memories of what their own parents did, and the results are there for all to see. Oh yes, a few are beginning to look for advice on the Net or in glossy magazines, but I have seen some of that stuff  myself, and alas, most of them encourage either hyperparenting or too little, apart from pushing the agenda of large companies selling every kind of expensive gimmick from ‘special’ soaps and shampoos to tablet phones and coaching classes aimed at toddlers below two.

I have been told that there are countries where you can attend classes if you are planning parenthood. There are three things I would like to say in that context: firstly, that first-time-to-be-parents should feel the need for such an education (remember, our society encourages them to feel they are know-alls, and most are really not interested in raising children well anyway, being far more involved in other things, including shopping and partying and beautifying themselves and chatting on Facebook); secondly that doctors, psychiatrists, good teachers and wise old parents should run such classes jointly; thirdly, that it would be a wonderful idea to gradually move towards a social setup where such classes are made mandatory, and failing the exams disqualifies you from having a baby.

Too draconian? I dare say it will sound like that to many, especially to those who are already good at it, and don’t want outside agencies to play nosey parker. Unfortunately, if a very large fraction (who knows but a majority) of the population cannot be trusted to do the job well, perhaps it has become necessary? If driving needs to be licensed following a test (and in some countries those tests are not easy to pass), shouldn’t parenting – beyond argument a far more important responsibility – be subject to similar checks? When it suits us, we proudly claim that we live in an ‘advanced and enlightened age’. Perhaps we need to do things to prove that to ourselves? Maybe instinct and tradition are just not good enough?

Monday, August 15, 2016

When shadows lengthen

I have been preoccupied with health issues over the last month. Not mine, my father’s. He has shrunk greatly from the hulk of a man he used to be, and behaviorally, as my sister put it, the lion has become a rabbit. My mother, having suffered him lifelong, is happy about it, but I am not. I miss the lion, frightened as I was of him more than any other man alive for decades, and often resentful: who could have imagined I was also secretly so proud? For having dealt with so many thousand fathers over so long a time, I know how few deserve the slightest attention, leave alone regard and respect and awe.

So anyway, he had a cataract removed and artificial lens implanted in one eye recently, but little did we know that it was the beginning of his troubles (he had had a severe breakdown three years ago, and though he had recovered somewhat, he had become uncharacteristically slow and quiet and hesitant). A dizzy spell induced by a sudden drop in blood pressure caused him to slip and fall while ambling about his room, breaking a femur near the hip. A few days passed in pain until the doctors were sure that he needed to be hospitalized for surgery. Same hospital and same surgeon that treated me last year. Having well-placed connections always helps in this country, as does having money, so the procedure – replacement of the hip joint ball with a prosthetic – went smoothly enough. He is convalescing well by all indications, but I am keeping my fingers crossed until he is certified fit to be discharged and can walk normally again. Heaven knows what is next in store for him… the father of a friend of mine, now 86, is in the ICU as I write, having suffered a massive brain haemorrhage, and it is near-certain that if he should survive, it would be only to drag on in a purely vegetative state for a few weeks or months more.

Is this what the techno-commercial society has done for us, in the end: prolonging life without being able to prevent the gradual decline and decay into helplessness, paying through the nose if one or one’s loved ones can afford it, and ending with a whimper, leaving only sad memories of glory days behind? Is this what is waiting for me, too, and for my daughter to witness and suffer? And is there really no way out of this suffering of the mind except to anesthetize it for as long as possible with shopping and partying and gaming on the cellphone? Is that all that six thousand years of civilization has given us? 

Monday, August 01, 2016

Lazing in Calcutta

I read out Othello to Pupu and Shilpi two days ago. They enjoy that sort of thing. I can now smile to myself at the thought that I have handled Shakespearean plays over a whole year and also at a single sitting.

Othello I last read a very long time ago: must have been thirty five years at least, if not more. It didn’t strike me as a great play then, and this time it sounded, frankly, melodramatic enough to be called silly. Seriously, much that I admire Shakespeare for (he has fed me for a long time  now), and however blasphemous this might sound, many of his plays are so far below par that I sometimes wonder what gave him the kind of reputation he enjoys, four centuries after his death. Maybe the succession of events that could have seemed plausible if drawn out carefully over a novel that spans several years (some people do change considerably over years) seems absurd because enacted over a play that is supposed to last only a few days! I mean, look at this man – widely regarded as not only a great military leader and pillar of society (though much reviled in some quarters for the colour of his skin), who supposedly won a young, innocent, sweet (ugh… I found it saccharine sweet) girl over with his noble-minded love, who thought the world of her – he could be seduced into mindless, murderous jealousy within a couple of days into throttling her dead! and then, convinced within minutes that he has done a great wrong out of stupidity and haste, kill himself? I don’t know about others, but I refuse to call it a great and tragic love story: at best I shall call it a most disturbing study in psychopathology, a remarkable instance of how some people, otherwise successful, can stumble for a while through life with dangerously immature emotions and unstable minds. On top of that the plot is obsessed with sex as virtually the only real meaning of love: it’s so adolescent it takes one’s breath away. Filled as the play is with standalone memorable lines, I was repeatedly reminded of Coleridge’s famous putdown that ‘Shake was a dramatist of note/ who lived by writing things to quote’. The lines I found most piquantly ironical come at the very end, when the Moor describes himself as ‘one that loved not wisely but too well’ (that’s true, if by too well you mean an obsessive possessiveness which can instantly turn to hate)… one not easily jealous (hahaha!)’. It’s like Hitler lamenting in his last minutes that all his labour and sacrifice for his country had gone in vain.

Talking of immature minds, I have been reading about this boy who died at a friend’s birthday party in Kolkata recently. The local media, obsessed with sensation, is predictably agog over it, given the drought in real news. I link here something that the mayor wrote on his Facebook page in this connection, and a rejoinder from a certain ‘adolescent psychiatrist’ which I found both pretentious and foolish. Can you figure out why? I’d have written at length about it, but given the lack of interest among my readers in writing comments, I was suddenly seized with ennui. But here’s one more reason for my refusal to use Facebook. What I think about adolescents and parenting today, I shall restrict to my classroom and my blog.

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. I have changed my views considerably, and I am going to write hereafter how and why. But maybe not yet.

Friday, July 08, 2016


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


(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.]