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Saturday, January 12, 2008

A small dose of political philosophy

Some people fondle puppies, some kick out at them or wrinkle their noses.

Some weep to watch tragic movies, some yawn or titter.

Some people litter, some go about cleaning it up unasked.

Some eat little and eat healthy, others bring great sorrow upon themselves through gluttony, but deeply resent the suggestion that they would be well advised to change their ways.

Some people cannot imagine there can be a more delightful and rewarding occupation than reading books, others consider them mad.

Some luxuriate in fine art or mathematics, others cannot see what is there in such things to be interested in.

Some people fight lifelong and at great personal risk and loss for the kind of justice that they have nothing immediate and personal to gain from, while some break the laws because they find it 'fun'.

Some people work hard and save and try to make life a little easier, a little safer, a little more comfortable for their families, some squander away their parents’/spouses’ wealth on partying and shopping for expensive and basically useless trifles.

Some try all they can to make the best of the chances life has given them, while some blame all their unsuccess on luck.

Some people take delight in silence, others do all they can to make noise.

Some give away much of what they have in charity, others call them fools.

Some try to love as many as they can, as much as they can, others scoff at love or pretend to love to milk their ‘loved ones’ dry.

Some worship intelligence and wisdom and courage and courtesy, others deny that such things exist, or that they matter, or that they ought to feel bad for lacking these things entirely.

Some would build lovely things, others can only destroy them.

Now consider thoughtfully for a while the host of paired opposites listed above. The latter types are always and everywhere far more numerous than the former, nobody can doubt that, I think. Nobody in her right mind should doubt, either, that the former kind are better people than the latter, if only because they cause less harm to themselves and others by the way they live, talk and act. Then reflect upon a very difficult conundrum we face in contemporary society:

Democracy insists that every man is entitled to hold his own opinions and live by them. I have no quarrel with that: if pressed, I shall confess that I concur entirely with Voltaire’s famous retort to a foolish critic: ‘I don’t agree with a word of what you are saying, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it!’ – because without the assurance that every man can have his say without fear of the tyrant’s rod, whip or gun, liberty and everything good that comes with it will vanish from the earth, and then life would be liveable only for unthinking and spineless clods. And if we withdraw that assurance, we should also being doing immeasurable injustice to the memory of all those millions of great and brave men and women, famous and nameless, who have fought all over the world for millennia so that someday (as now, in most reasonably civilized countries) all men may breathe the glorious air of liberty.

My problem with the democratic ideal is that, however grand and edifying that immortal line in the American Declaration of Independence sounds, all men are neither ‘created equal’ (a fact at even the biological level – compare two identical twins as they grow up even in the same family!), but, more importantly, don’t even want to be equal: while a few reach for the stars, regardless of all obstacles in their path (and so become Michelangelos and Faradays and Beethovens and Lincolns and Chaplins and Peles), the vast majority of us are quite content to wallow in the gutters lifelong, morally, intellectually and aesthetically speaking (what more could there be in life beyond leching, mall-hopping and pub-crawling, unless it were gossiping and lounging before the TV set?). I could condone even that – why should all men and women be expected to reach for the stars? – but the one thing I cannot swallow is the tendency (growing more and more insistent in recent times, I can see) to believe, and impose the belief on all and sundry, that not only do all men have a right to hold their own opinions, but all men deserve to be accorded the same attention and admiration and respect for their opinions. So the superstitious grandma’s opinion should be given the same value as the trained surgeon’s, the illiterate coolie’s opinion should be given the same value as the learned lawyer’s or economist’s, the schoolboy’s opinion about what is a good movie should be given the same credence as the veteran director’s, the man who never reads a book will demand (especially if he has an MBA, and can talk for two minutes on all subjects under the sun, but knows nothing about any one subject to talk intelligently for an hour) that his opinion on anything should be heard as attentively as the savant’s! Now we are living in such a highly-commercialised world that everything is becoming oriented towards just one maxim – that alone is good which sells in large numbers/volumes, be it food items or clothes, books or movies, lifestyles or philosophies. The inevitable consequence is that Everyman has acquired a bloated, monstrous importance: since trivial and uncouth people are the most numerous, their tastes and appetites must be accepted and made universal, so that sales can be maximized; and all that does not sell because Everyman does not like it or understand it must be sneered at, shoved under the carpet and forgotten. The world may not care that someone like me worries so much about this, but a day will come (and it isn’t too far away either!) when the Ajanta caves will be demolished to make way for massage parlours or shopping malls, when people worldwide will use the roadside as a toilet, and democracy (which Plato called a ‘pig’s philosophy’ with some reason - democrats voted to kill his master, Socrates) will drown and die under its own excesses.

So are you counselling despair, my readers will ask: is there no cure for the malady? I am no doomsayer, and I shall go on believing (or hoping) that things can be changed for the better, and there is still time – if only more and more decent people will acknowledge that there is a serious problem which needs curing. I am the last man to suggest something so foolish as the idea of a return to some kind of totalitarianism: that a small coterie of dictators, religious or secular, modern-minded or atavistic, should compel us how to talk, act and behave every moment of our lives. But this much we must all agree upon: the need for true leaders of thought and manners (and the need for them to be respected and obeyed, though never slavishly) will always be there. Some people will have to teach and persuade the rest to behave better, for their own long-term safety and welfare. In an age when so many of us blindly follow either our parents/bosses/netas or whatever the advertisements are saying, it is important for teachers at all levels, from the school classroom to the universities and parliaments, to convince people that there is a difference between high and low, vulgar and sublime, cheap and precious, fads of the moment and things of eternal value – and that the former ought always to be given up for the latter. We should all be taught to be free and yet at the same time remember that we ought to defer to our betters, because there are always people who are better than us, and we will gain, and the world would gain, if we could sometimes swallow our silly vanity and listen to good things that our betters are trying to tell us.


Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda,

Like probably all the apparently "growth oriented" economies have faced from time to time, India is right now to my mind facing this social imbalance. This happens more when the policy makers cannot encompass economic growth objectives with social sustainability causes. Like you pointed out the situation can only be better if only more and more decent people will acknowledge that there is a serious problem which needs curing .

But sadly, to-day's urban youth is not just self-centered but mostly shortsighted. I believe everyone is looking at the glitters and glory without even realising that sustaining the same needs harder work.A society is not known by the "stock market" boom but of course its growth depends upon how the humanity grows with it.Thus, despite Americans having all the luxury that normally Indian sought now sadly every second American visits a shrink from time to time. (Though I wonder if they don't what would the people studying psychiatry end up doing!Thus God bless them for their help.)

I sincerely believe, if everyone does their little bit to contribute to our nurture our social fabric, we may be able to preserve it. May be it is a self-oriented approach but a self-oriented approach to be a good human being in the true sense of the term may create a city full of decent human beings - who do not take bribe, who acquire knowledge, who argue and accept rational views, who does business within the domain of fairness and who don't succumb to the pressure of being just another tolerant, ignorant and irresponsible citizens of the globe.

I hope this is not an utopian dream.


Anshu Singh said...

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

The above lines from the poem Reluctance by Robert Frost tells it all.

The whole process of true learning should be and has always been mutual. For people to understand that, they will have to respect each other. I think respect is one thing, which can develop the awareness towards themselves as well as their fellow human beings. We can go on creating different societies governed by different laws, giving them new names, debating it’s worthiness, experimenting. But unless a society develops a feeling of self-respect with equal amounts of respect for others in people, it will go nowhere.
I get to learn a lot from a rickshaw-puller and I am sure that if I am open he will also get to learn a lot from me.
The glitch lies in the part that most of us humans are doing what they are right now out of some limitations (financial, social, patriarchal, self inflicted). This does instill the feeling of low self-esteem in most of them, which has to be vented in some form or other (shopping spree every weekend, road-rage, wildly celebrating New-Year parties). Now they have a chance of getting their esteem back simply by spending and fighting. Rest will take care of itself via discussion (round table conferences, parties in five star hotels by those socially aware people belonging to some “club”).
Are they really more civilized than the rest?
I think so and I also think that they will take their individual civilization along with them to the other world.
There is no problem in it but since everything is interrelated, their individualistic civilization is affecting others too, creating more and more islands with no bridges to connect them.

sukant said...

After going through such a passionately written article on your blogspot I for one is so deeply impacted and involved in the discussion that I feel such a compelling urge to join it, regardless of my own lack of philosophical and substantial knowledge. Though your intense writing has indeed left me at a loss of word, there is definitely a thing or two I would like to be accepted as my humble submissions.

I totally agree with your biological perspective of not every person being 'created equal', but do you not think that we are taking this thing too far,are we not delving a little too deep into science. May be we would be better off in realising that God has given us all the same, the beautiful, the pure chance to live. For a moment let us leave aside how beautiful or short lived or hampered it is. Do we all not have the chance to win other's respect, no matter however difficult and different the path is.

Rather than having one's own opinion what is more sought in democracy is the importance of respect for the life of the subjects.It is not important in democracy that every person is accorded the same attention and respect for his opinion( at the end of the day i guess it all boils down to the context and credibility of it) but what is protected is his right to have that opinion.

What I am saying is not that the superstitious advise of my grandma to be given the same value as a trained surgeon but I would like to appreciate the concern and love present in her opinion as much as the sensibility of the surgeaon's.I would definitely liked to be suggested by my grandma as well as the doctor for democracy does give us a good chance to make our own decision.Sometimes emotions do overpower logics.

I don't think that democracy says Einsteen and an ordinary man is the same but yes it definitely says that the source and beauty of his creation is the same. By the same yardstick I can also very humbly say that the path chosen by the greats like Gandhi or Lincoln can never be so faulty. I know there are problems and they are huge, but I still would like to believe that the problem is not the system but us and so I admit that I am convinced that there is a difference between high and low but that should be done in a more subtle manner.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Dear Anshu,
I did not quite get the hang of what you were trying to say in the last but one paragraph: I think it could have been more lucidly worded.

...and Dear Sukant,
While I am glad that you have commented on my blog, I am saddened by the feeling that you didn't read the blogpost closely enough. I have not said a word against 'equality of opportunity'; I am only against (the widely-presumed) 'equality of status', and you cannot deny that far too many unworthy and uncultured people (especially those with degrees under their belts and money in their pockets) are indeed presuming such equality and freedom today all around us in this country: people get very angry when you tell them not to litter, or jump queues, or yell into mobiles at cinemas, or talk down to the poor - because they believe that in a democracy they have a 'right' to be as crude and rude as they please.

As for 'delving a little too deeply into science', I don't know what you mean by that. Is it unscientific to claim that people are not equal? Why then do we subject people to IQ and EQ and GK tests - precisely because we acknowledge their inequality and recognise an important need to grade them according to merit and ability, isn't it? And my real point was that people don't WANT to be equal; they don't want to improve themselves, morally, culturally, physically, financially and otherwise, because it's too much hard work, and they couldn't be bothered: yet they want to be treated as the equals of those who are better than they (or rather, they refuse to admit that others can be better), which augurs ill for the health of any society.

Finally, where exactly have I been 'unsubtle'? I have only said that those who deserve to teach, and know what is to be taught, ought to take their work more seriously. I meant that we need more of the Socrates and Buddha and Sri Ramkrishna type of people in order to civilise society. What was 'unsubtle' about that?

Sayan said...

On the biological perspective that not all people are created equal - does the word 'unequal' necessarily invoke a sense of high and low or good and bad? It seems to me that 'unequal' (with respect to intellectual ability) refers to being different. I recently heard Susan Polgar say on Discovery Channel that men and women think differently; but that does not necessarily mean that one is more intellectually able than the other.
Every human being has some ability or another. The trick is in knowing what that ability is and fostering and nourishing it. It sounds simple enough, but most people are unable to conjure enough courage to accomplish it. Hence, perhaps the only quality that defines ones destiny is courage. Or rather it's love; for there is always courage where there is true love.
Sir, if my memory doesn't fail me it was you who had written this poem on the blackboard of our classroom-
You are what your deep driven desire is,
As your desire is so is your will,
As your will is so is your deed,
As your deed is so is your destiny.
Sayan Datta.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

If you looked very closely at the long list of paired opposites as I have written them, Sayan, I don't think that you or anyone else could rationally deny that the former kind are 'better' people than the latter. I agree with you, of course, that sometimes being 'unequal' or 'different' does not imply being better or worse, but the cases I cited are unambiguous enough, I believe: the man who gets out of his car to pee by the roadside in full public view has no right to claim that he is as good as any man of culture. I believe if I am a certain way because I cannot help it (such as being of a certain skin colour or sex, or being blind from birth) no blame attaches to me, but if I know I could improve myself but I don't out of sheer complacency or laziness or uncouth habits of mind, I don't have a right to claim equality with those who do try, and often succeed through sheer courage and grit (blind people have climbed mountains and painted pictures!)

One request to all commentators: it hurts to see you commenting on particular lines or ideas lifted piecemeal instead of taking the entire essay as one whole, as you should. That takes patience and meticulous attention, I know, but surely I deserve that much from you?

Sayan said...

I am sorry to have picked out one line and taken it out of context. But at no point was I trying to disagree with you. I did not comment on the rest of the essay only because you had said it all. There was no way I could have added something more original to it. I agree one-hundred percent that the latter group of people are to be despised and held in contempt. They have made society unbearable and unliveable for others, and the lesser of such people the better off we will be. You know, in Kolkata, they put mikes everywhere whenever there is some kind of a gathering or a social function, and at this very moment some kind of a bhakti geet is blowing my ears off! Here I am trying to do something, and it seems to me that some madmen have vowed not to let me concentrate by dancing to the tunes of this bhakti song. I have no problem with them listening to this song, but they would have served God better by not disturbing others. There is a vast preponderance of such people in our society. How can I ever approve of their actions?
Finally, I do read your essays with patience and attention. I keep visiting this blog because of two reasons
1. I keep learning.
2. In many ways it reiterates my own feelings about the world around me.
I don't do anything just for the sake of doing it. This much I can assure you. If visiting this blog did not serve a good purpose, I would have quit long ago.
Sorry once again. Next time I will try to write with the entire essay in mind.
Sayan Datta.

tanmoy chakrabarti said...

Dear Suvroda,

I completely agree to the comments you made.

Your blogposts and of course the comment box is indeed an interesting read especially since one can see younger people (the current set of readers it seems are very young to me!) have so much to share. This is optimistic and I hope all of them retain the belief and spirit.

Like Buddha asked people to light their own lamp, I do believe unless and until we the people are concious about our moral obligations, any kind of political / social theory - be it democracy or dictatorship shall continue to fail us. To-day we might be looking bright and beautiful as a country but progress of a Nation is charted over a course of time and thus if we do not realise the "humane" obligations, may be twenty-thirty or hundred years from hence ow we will turn numb. And mind you, "humane" obligation is not "charity" - it is doing your duties properly.

Don't get me wrong though. I am not trying to spread pessimism in the atmosphere but just that over time I have seen spirits dying down among the youth (I shall not exclude myself completely as I know I am part of the system myself but I am trying to beat the tide in my own small way!) when they are engulfed in the wrongs.

A model of development that has probably fit one country can never fit another as every country and its people are known by their uniqueness (this is with reference to people who talk statistics and forget economics is a social science that can't be viewed in isolation!- most people do that).

Thus,howsoever idealistic it might sound but I feel we should try and find a Buddha inside ourselves rather than waiting for someone to emerge amongst us.

This can be achieved only when we bring our ideals into practice. It is a challenge especially when all of us are or will be in some kind of profession (sadly our country does not provide enough opportunities to pursue dreams and yet earn decently and most lack guts to try the available ones out) and will continuously encounter people who are "not-proper" but that is battle we need to win - everyday perhaps every second.

One has to take the decision - are you game for the challenge? One should as it is for their and their future generations betterment.


PS: Forgive me for writing in a hurry. You might find my comment lacking a bit of clarity but shall try and collate my views in a more proper manner on a future blogpost on my blog.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

As you have rightly noted, Tanmoy, most commentators on my blog are very young ex-students: people in late teenage or early 20s. While I am glad that they write, it does make me wonder, and sometimes saddens me, that older people do not read my blog much (or, if they do, don't comment). I have two groups in mind: ex-students who are now in their early or late 30s, and the parents of current students, who would be in their late 40s. Is it that they are not familiar/comfortable with net-surfing, or they are too busy, or they couldn't bother to read the kind of stuff I write, or simply never have anything to say? Whatever the reason(s) may be, I wish older people would actively join in: they can bring in different perspectives. Everybody is welcome, so long as they write decently and write sense.

tanmoy chakrabarti said...

Dear Suvroda,

First, let me share that you are being linked by my friend Alka at


Request you to please visit her blog sometime. If you recall once I wrote about her to you. She is one of the most interesting person that I have ever come across. I shall write to you over email why I say so.

Secondly,about the age group you described, it is a sad truth that probably for many being busy have become a reality. to give you an example : I for myself have always tried to retain my hobbies because I feel like a "dead man" without these things but it is true I am also one of those Consulting coolies who slog at times 13 hours of a day in office / travelling for work etc consistently - then I spend time with family, do some usual household errands and finally get physically exhausted.

Despite being "busy", I find time to read, watch nearly two classic movies on DVD a week, write on my blog. At times I force myself to do so. And so far, my wife has not complained that I don't give her adequate time.

Having said that, even if I take my life as a normal "busy" professional life I do feel to MOST the definition of enriching oneself with knowledge and fruitful discussions have undergone massive changes. People use "being busy" as a mere excuse to avoid some stark realities about themselves - which reading / commenting on your blog might expose them to.

Thus,perhaps they choose to spend time unwinding in pubs (Just a bad joke but apt one here probably - once I heard the rich in India hired courtesans to dance for them, but now the rich pay at the nightclubs to dance themselves!) rather than doing something fruitful.

I feel pity for such people but they indeed dominate among my age group. True, all of them were different 15 years back and somehow had shown same promise that the current majority of your readership is showing.

Thus, I hope all these students remain as they are now - spirited, enthusiastic, full of life and ideas.

But then there are lot many people even in my age group of just 30 who are different. I met some like Alka over the internet only and have become stunned. Probably once you visit some of the blogs of people whom you do not know and comment on them they will start reciprocating the same. Some of the people on Alka's list are really interesting and somehow she has managed a very thoughtful readership. You might like interacting with them too.


PS: By the way, my apologies to anyone who love indulging in such passionate activities like "frequenting nightclubs". Though it was used as a mere example but somehow, I have very amusing views about such indulgence

Asima said...

Dear Sir,
Thanks for the nice article. I share your thoughts when you say that good mentors who can help us identify and choose good from bad is the need of the hour. However, whenever I have thought deeply on this I have always ended up confused. Maybe you can help.
When I was young I thought it was easy to change the world, at least the world around you and any determined and well meaning person could do that. Today I look at it with a lot of apathy. Not that I do not want to see a beautiful world, bereft of all the grossness you have talked about and with everybody coexisting peacefully, but I shudder to think of the plight of the people who would actually bother to take up the cause. Good and bad is so deeply intertwined in the society that it is difficult to be able to do the right thing always without hurting others.
For example, recently there was huge destruction in one of Kolkata’s busiest markets. All these years the authorities were “being good” to these traders by letting them continue their livelihood in these very precarious buildings – there might be some mutual benefit coming out of it, I do not know, but today the same authorities are being blamed because they could not control the damage! They were not doing anything good in the first place but what do you do when the very people for whose safety you would be taking certain measures don’t let you do it without force? Sometimes I truly feel that our country needs a dictator!
Leaders, who can guide us, show us the right path will have to be perfect themselves. How many of our leaders are? To lead us away from the present state we will need thousands of them. Do you really think it is possible?
I agree with your readers that we can do our bit by changing ourselves for the better. But what happens to the huge population who still will believe anything their leaders, who visit them once in a while, will tell them?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I think you might look at the whole thing from a different angle, Asima. In my opinion, it would be a good thing if people did listen to their leaders a little more often, because our leaders often do say wise things. It would be a good thing, too, if our leaders had the wits and the guts to say and do wise things more often.

In the context of the current crisis over the Nandaram market in Kolkata, the problem is that our leaders do not dare to pull down the dangerous and largely-ruined building for fear of losing the votes (and the donations, both legal and illegal) of a few hundred businessmen, despite the law empowering them to do so, and even though everybody knows that going by the law would greatly add to the safety and welfare of the public at large (and tragically, that public is usually too apathetic to support the politicians loudly in doing the right thing!) Compare this with the legal, sane and very public way in which Lindsay Lohan is being punished right now for irresponsible driving: it's meant to be a warning that even the rich/famous/powerful cannot easily and always get away by cocking a snook at the law in any truly civilised country. That's the kind of civilising guidance/control we desperately need in this country - and notice that you don't need dictatorial oppression to achieve it: Lindsay Lohan is being punished strictly according to the law, not at all cruelly, in a highly democratic country!

Our real problem, as I see it (and I have discussed this extensively both on my blog and in my orkut community) is that our whole so-called 'educated' middle and upper classes are complicit in keeping things the way they are, because deep within we know that most of us have been brought up to be unsocial, irresponsible, arrogant and narrowly selfish (whenever do parents seriously tell their children that they should have principles/ideals higher than getting good marks and well-paid jobs?), so we are all secretly afraid that too many of us would get punished like Lindsay Lohan if the law were strictly and impartially applied all the time! Better let things continue to be lawless forever, and let's keep on hypocritically lamenting that things never seem to get better in this country - so the best our children can do would be to take the best of everything this country can give them and then run away to America. Isn't that what millions of us have actually been doing for nearly 50 years now? Why do you think so many of my pupils were advised by their parents not to waste their time and be distracted by a 'silly' movie like Swadesh?

To get very clearly what I mean, imagine what would happen, for instance, if our millions of teachers and doctors were warned that each would lose his job as soon as 100 complaints about proven negligence/rudeness/incompetence were filed against him! And imagine how vastly things would have improved if all our teachers and doctors had to work with that kind of sword dangling over their heads night and day! Unfortunately, our teachers and doctors will work very hard in every way they can (including voting and bribing) to see that our netas never do something so 'draconian', and most of us are actually quite happy to let things be that way, though we keep grumbling in private about how bad our educational and medical services have become! Not for nothing has it been said that in a democracy, people get the kind of government they deserve.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

It has been three years since I wrote that last comment, and in all these three years, not one reader has responded to it. Nor did anyone notice, by the way, that this particular article was written on Vivekananda's birthday. I did it on purpose.

Dipanwita Shome said...

The other day, I went to eat at Bijoli Grill in Dilli Haat. It was really hot and the evening was expecting rainfall, and so was exceptionally sultry. Bijoli Grill in Dilli Haat, is in an open space like the rest of the eating places. We chose a place that was close to a stand-fan. Not far from us an old Bengali man sat with a young relative. He too had chosen a seat close to a fan. We were eating when we suddenly heard an outcry from him. We looked up and saw another youngish (in his mid thirties) man walking back to his seat with a smug smile on his face. He had rotated the fan entirely towards his own seat. The old man got up from his seat and went to the fan and rotated it a bit to face him and his relative. The other guy got up, lifted the fan up and took it close to where he was sitting with his family. Surprisingly (or perhaps I should not be surprised at all), his wife and perhaps sister sat comfortably laughing and enjoying his victory. His wife was cuddling an unfortunate child on her lap.
The old man appealed to a waiter to do something, but the waiters only shied away from him. Now, all this was happening in front of the owner. Seeing the old man appealing, the guy got up from his seat, came around to the former’s seat and began to shout at him and gesticulate as if he would beat him up if he said another word. After he had gone back to his seat, wallowing in triumph, the old man got up, came around to the owner’s counter and appealed to him. His appeal was honest and helpless. The other guy got up, came around and said, “Aare chharoon to, eke jete din, jete din. Poishar bapar to, ami diye debo. Ja, tui ja.” It was unbelievable. I could not decide if I should go and fight with him or not. I sat at my table, scared both for my companion and myself, because I knew the guy would not wink before saying something provocative or doing something ugly.

Dipanwita Shome said...

I couldn’t eat there. It seemed sacrilegious to me. I got up and went around to the owner’s counter and shouted at him. I told him that the only person who possessed a legal right to throw out a criminal of that sort was him. Mediocre as he was, he gave me the “atithi narayan” angle. I just couldn’t control myself, I told him that he was a coward who didn’t want to lose any customer or his reputation. I told him that he was a Bengali, but that he had forgotten that had this been Kolkata, people would have gheraoed him before beating the idiot up. I walked out with my mood thoroughly spoilt.
That guy’s swagger, half pants, smug gestures, stupid wife and sister, and poor unfortunate child (a descendant of his loins and born with his genes) haunt me even today. No doubt he had a lot of money, a house and a car, and perhaps an MBA, the last making him exactly what it stands for—mediocre but arrogant. It seemed that he really did have an MBA behind him.
I agree with you completely. I have always felt this, and I am glad I could see this post today.
I create books. But, in today’s date they are “products”. Instead of being told anything about quality, we are given a deadline and a “revenue target”. Whether you bring out bull or cow is your business, but don’t delay the deadline in order to improve product quality. Nope, that is not acceptable. After all, that which sells is known to be the best. So, the logic is, that if you give it to us on time, then we will sell it with gab, moolah and women, and then your product will be known as the best. I made a brilliant series last season, it was late by a month (we were supposed to conceive eighteen books in three months). They could not sell it because other companies had got into the fray. This year the target is seventy-two new books and twenty four revisions in five months. This is of course one of the best in the industry—in one, it is one hundred and ten new titles in six months. So yes, selling sells.
Therefore, I am with you here. But, I go beyond you to say that I have always supported a meritocracy of some sort. I am willing to take anyone on on this. My only fear is that the mode of deciding who is meritorious might be another CAT/GMAT given the proliferation of the MBA breed.
Yes, teaching of the abiding and eternally valuable values is very important. I have read literature. I get very irritated when swaggering, Nike-wearing, swanky sports watch flashing, consonant over-enunciating fools ask, “Yaar, lit-rature mein kya rakhha hai. Kabka mar gaya Sakespeare, tum log abh bhi dhoke pani pi rahe ho. Kya hai, novel hi to likh tat ha. Bhasha bhi nahi samajh me aati hai. Ha ha. Math shath par lo, Eco par lo, MBA ki degree(thry don’t know it is a diploma) le lo. Paisa kamao. Kya kar rahe ho.” Such people should be shot, I believe. And, I would gladly do the shooting. Really.
You know, I am not saying the above only because I like reading Shakespeare, but I was just so elated to see somebody at last talk about the amazing certainty of people who have never read a book, never improved themselves, are completely self-assured, whose voices don’t ever quiver in uncertainty, and most remarkably, to whom it never even occurs that they should improve! I mean, is there no limit to stupidity, to dumb, daft behavior?

Dipanwita Shome said...

And, do I even have to compare Sanjay Dutt, Salman Khan, Saif Ali Khan to Lindsay Lohan’s fate? We build temples here for our stars. We even stand outside their homes and tear our clothes begging for their autographs on any part of our bodies that they may think luring enough. We worship Amitabh beyond the screens quite forgetting that he has a mediocre oil thief and now a certain party member (a crook, for God’s sake) for a friend. I mean, do I have to believe in this “friendship”? Is it not an open secret about a mutually lucrative liaison? After all, “The Bachhans”, as they call themselves, do have a lot of land in UP that is quite unaccounted for. Oh, yes, he has built a temple and a school there. Wonderfully smart way of bypassing taxation. If the likes of Shahrukh, Sachin and Amitabh were appropriately taxed, and the money saw the light of day rather than of khadi, it would take care of most of the farmer suicides of this country. But no, we will still cry at the sight of Amitabh and curfew roads for an MP’s passage. And then there is Rahul Gandhi and his dimple. But, that is another story, and I am getting angry.
And, yes, teachers should have a taste of Damocles’ fate. I was taught flower arrangement, good behavior, good and clean living, embroidery and my subjects, by most of my teachers in school. What that does not do, I have learnt from a friend of mine when he talks about his teacher. So there. I will let go before I am angrier!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

First off, many thanks for writing comments on this long-neglected post, Dipanwita.

Next, your experience at the restaurant is the sort that makes my blood boil too, much older though I am, then I remind myself that I should have the courage to change things I can, and the patience to endure things that I cannot. The likes of that scum flush with money (I wonder how much money he really had, though. Really rich men rarely behave like that) are exactly the type which to my mind makes democracy look like a pig's philosophy. One consolation is that someday they will have their comeuppance - it often works out that way, though not immediately!

So also, alas, with the utter morons who make comments like that about great works of art, and who have these bizarre notions about quality. This, however, is a price that we must pay for living in an utterly philistinic age. One can only pray that it will draw to a close soon...

Stars bypassing taxation and Rahul Gandhi trying to make the best of his inheritance, under the given circumstances, are not, to my mind, things to get too angry about. This is the way I think: in their position, would I have done anything different? As Aristotle said, and not a jot of it has become irrelevant in 2300 years: 'Anyone can become angry - that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not easy'!

Rashmi Datta said...

Dear Sir,

I have been reading this post of yours again and again for the past few days and please allow me to say that I have been marveling at your various abilities: the way you understand the problem and its consequences, the way you are able to pinpoint the cause of the problem, the way in which you prove that the knowledge of history, philosophy, civics and poetry is not only relevant in our lives but that it is indispensable for living a sane, meaningful and thoughtful life, the way you never counsel despair and always encourage us to act to the best of our ability to solve the problem and the way you put your thoughts into words- I have often felt your essays to be a form of poetry.

This post has opened yet another door of thought for me: that all men are not equal. How can we ever say that all men are equal? It is a crime to lower the status of all the great men who lived and live on this earth- men who have endured all the challenges and miseries of life and yet have stood for justice, goodness, courage, passion and perfection- and place them on the same platform where the most common and insignificant of men stand. This is one of the most important realisations in life because we can look up to our betters and inspire to become better only when we believe wholeheartedly that all men are not equal and there are people who live a more significant life than us. Indeed a nation can truly progress only when it acknowledges, respects and tries to walk in the path laid down by its great men and women.

Will Durant, in his essay ‘Shameless worship of heroes’ shares your views saying,
“Our democratic dogma has leveled not only all voters but all leaders; we delight to show that living geniuses are only mediocrities, and that dead ones are myths………why should we stand reverent before waterfalls and mountain tops, or a summer moon on a quiet sea, and not before the highest miracle of all: a man who is both great and good?”

I have been able to understand Will Durant’s essay only because of this post. Thank you for this most edifying post, Sir.

Warm regards

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for commenting, Rashmi.

I've been feeling sad, thinking about why so few people comment on posts like this. At my current station in life, I am now deeply convinced that I'd have had far more correspondents if, instead of all becoming (low grade-) doctors and engineers, a lot of my ex-students had become lawyers, judges, artists, writers, administrators, teachers, movie makers, social workers - in short, thinkers. To that extent, my life's labour's been lost, and I have been too small to make a difference to the socio-cultural profile of even the city I have spent my life in.If anything, it is even dumber, cruder and more totally aimless today than it was when I came back more than a quarter century ago. Believe me, I can't find anybody between the ages of 20 and 70 with whom I can have a meaningful conversation any more...