Explore this blog by clicking on the labels listed along the right-hand sidebar. There are lots of interesting stuff which you won't find on the home page
Seriously curious about me? Click on ' What sort of person am I?'

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A very good read...

See Shilpi's recent blogpost: click here.

All those who really love to think are sure to relish this.

You are welcome to comment here and/or on Shilpi's blog.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A future for marriage?

The Statesman recently published the following article on the current status of the age-old institution called marriage
It is based on the situation in the UK, and might come as a shocker to a lot of conservative-minded (which is usually another way of saying dull-) people in India still, but those who know a bit about the world will agree, even if sadly, that things are going the same way in this country too.

As far as I am concerned, I am still on the whole happily married, but both my wife and I agree that we have been very lucky, and keep praying that our luck holds. I often quote the old wisecrack in my classes that marriage is a curse for many, a blessing for a few, and a washout for most (one much-suffering father recently told me, pointing at his wife and daughter, ‘I am just their ATM!’, and those two only grinned foolishly. I’m sure a lot of unhappily-married women feel the same way about their families). And I never forget the lines I read in a poem called The Enchanted Shirt in middle school, where two men were lamenting, ‘one wept that he had buried his wife/ the other, that he had not’!

So I have always been wide-enough eyed to know that things often do go very badly wrong with marriage for a lot of people, and having seen so many bad marriages among the young and the old alike, I strongly believe that such marriages are better dissolved than persevered with permanent cold-war or cat-and-dog style, so that people can make a fresh start, however late in the day it might be. And now that the world has grown much more permissive – one sees very late marriages, live-in relationships, increasing numbers of bachelors and spinsters who seem to be happy enough living by themselves (and frequently changing girlfriends and boyfriends … not just college-goers but people my age and older), increasingly frequent divorces and common second or third marriages (even for women), same-sex relationships and what have you, perhaps the halo around this most hoary of social institutions has really lost its sheen (provided the fundamentalists don’t get the upper hand again: then God help us!) I think only two things are really keeping marriage going still (apart from social pressure, wherever it is still strong) – a lot of women still do not make a living for themselves, and a lot of people cannot imagine who else but family will look after them in extreme old age. As solutions for these problems become more commonly available, marriage is sure to fall into disuse. Far too many people have always felt, after the first excitement evaporates (which might take a few days or a few months, but certainly never lasts a lifetime for anybody!) that it’s just not worth it: it takes too much out of you and gives back too little.

I think Indians have always known this instinctively. That is why they have put so much emphasis on being ‘chaste’ before marriage, and on the occasion of getting married (all the noise, lights, raucous music, gorgeous clothes and jewellery, lavish feasting and swarms of guests…): since you are being let into (presumably) a lifetime of boredom and drudgery and making-do, at least have some pleasant memories of one day in your life when you were special in a fairytale way to help you cope with the gloomiest hours that are coming, because they are sure to be many. That is why, also, unlike in the more liberal ‘developed’ countries, people are so reluctant here to admit that their marriages have been failures, and to look for solutions. I think it’s the same mentality that sends people in droves to sadhus for counsel, but avoid shrinks like the plague – the former is considered ‘safe’, the latter is likely to brand you as insane! The obsession with children (and corresponding indifference to spouses) is one thing that lets the cat out of the bag – what can you say about women who go to the extent of leaving home to stay with their college-going children rather than continuing as they have done for two decades to live with their husbands (who probably need them more – or do they?) All you can conclude is that they don’t just ‘care’ for their children, but are relieved that they are at last rid of the ‘burden’ of housekeeping for their husbands, and found a way of doing it which does not meet with strong social disapproval. I have seen elderly women looking much happier and healthier after their husbands passed away. And the growing phenomenon of married women coming back to live with their parents once they have got a child is further confirmation that many women have never liked living with husbands for long (though it is the men alone who have traditionally been blamed for sowing wild oats!) I have always said that women who are really interested in their husbands as human beings cannot devote so much of their time to brooding over children’s marks and dolling themselves up for kitty parties. Of course, the same goes for men too: it makes me sick to see how many men grow cold toward their wives – the same women whom they had courted with celluloid gusto only a few years ago – to the extent of cutting them out of their ‘personal’ lives almost completely. (I don’t know, though, whether the other type isn’t even more horrible – the ‘devoted’ spouse who treats his/her partner as absolutely personal physical property, and snoops on him/her night and day for a whiff of ‘infidelity’. Such folks often make their spouses want to cop out of marriage at any cost, even through madness, violence or suicide).

A lot of people in my one-horse little town condemn me roundly for talking about these facts of life before my young pupils: the common accusation is that I am making them grow up too fast (knowledge of physics or math or chemistry, on the other hand, never poses the danger of making them 'grow up')! But I thought it fit to write this essay because so many of my ex-students (still in their 20s or early 30s) are at least once-divorced already, even while the current crop of teenagers are mooning over their ‘heartthrobs’ as silly teenagers have always done, utterly confusing raging hormones with love and devotion and eternal fidelity and all that sort of rot. No one who warns them of what lies ahead, and advises them to keep their feet firmly on the ground, can be doing them a bad turn.

Monday, March 16, 2009


I mentioned something about juvenile people “15 or 55 years old” in an earlier blogpost, and someone wanted to know what I meant by juvenile. Well, in my book, you are juvenile if:

· You think you can (or should try to) please everybody,
· You imagine that money-making is all-important,
· You have no ideas of your own about what to do with your money but blindly follow your local herd,
· You obsess over marks in school, and looks, and what your neighbours and relatives will say,
· You go starry-eyed over celebrities, and they are all of the non-cerebral types,
· You have no concern or appreciation for good books, music, art or philosophy,
· You act and talk as if you will be young and healthy forever, and never die,
· You think using abuse and slang makes you smart,
· You think you will be respected and admired (rather than envied and reviled behind your back) for being rich and famous,
· You rely on your job designation and calling card and car and house to give you an identity, rather than the nature and quality of your work,
· You think your credit card and mobile make you smart,
· You believe you can ignore the doctor and eat like a pig and live without a routine and still stay healthy forever,
· You think you can do well in examinations by studying for just a fortnight before they start,
· You believe in keeping children ignorant, silly and dependent till their mid-twenties,
· You grow up into your mid-twenties thinking that parents who kept you dependent like that are wonderful rather than disgusting,
· You are sure that engineering and law and accounts and medical texts teach you more important things than Aesop’s Fables and the Panchatantra and the Jataka Tales and suchlike,
· You cannot imagine relying on your own resources and keeping your own counsel and avoiding crowds, and you think that quiet people are merely being arrogant,
· You don’t think you need to learn a lot and become a better person before you can even start becoming a good parent, worker, neighbour and friend,
· You call yourself ‘busy’, yet spend most of your time in malls and pubs and parties, or before the TV or playing games on the computer or chatting for hours on the phone or sleeping till almost mid-day,
· You are confused about whether it would be better for your daughter to become a fashion model than a scientist,
· You expect respect from people merely because you are older than they, without ever having done anything to earn that respect.

Think of that list, and then look around you. By these yardsticks, how many mature people can we see around us? It is no wonder that Sri Ramakrishna used to say to his flock of disciples again and again ‘tomaader chaitanya hok’, which, loosely translated, means ‘get some sense into your heads’!

Monday, March 09, 2009

A troubled fortnight

A protracted harrowing experience shakes one out of the ever-deepening stupor induced by routine-bound, ‘normal’ everyday life – and, in our family at least, nothing does that better than a medical emergency (perhaps because we do not obsess over weddings and parties and children’s school-examination scores and shopping and looks and meeting celebrities and other trivia of the same sort, as most people do these days!).

My wife was being prodded by her doctors to get a hysterectomy done without delay for quite some time, and we together (that includes my daughter, whose opinions are given far greater weightage already than most parents I know give to 18-year olds) decided that it should be done in one of the supposedly best (and most expensive) hospitals in Calcutta, because my wife had liked the ambience, and even more so, the surgeon who had dealt with her. We firmly believe that since most senior surgeons have more or less the same academic ‘qualifications’ and a couple of decades of hands-on experience, it is the way that they talk to patients that should decide which of them we should entrust with a major operation (an open-abdomen hysterectomy has become more or less routine these days, especially if the patient’s vital signs are okay, but one keeps hearing horror stories about things that can and do go wrong now and then that can keep one’s teeth on edge for days on end, give one sleepless nights and several score grey hairs within the space of a week!)

Except when in the midst of a full-blown emergency I absolutely refuse to break my seven-days-a-week work schedule, so my wife (poor dear) ran to and fro alone first to confirm the date of admission and surgery, and then, two weeks later, to deal with the insurance details and submit the results of some last-minute critical tests. We eventually left town, the two of us, the very same day she was to be admitted, leaving our 12-year old daughter behind with an elderly couple next-door, because she had her annual examinations in school to attend to, and she had herself suggested and permitted us to use this twelve-day time slot because I would not have to miss classes then, since all my pupils had their own exams, and had therefore told me they wouldn’t attend classes (so no parent – believe me, there are lots of them – would have a chance to complain I was charging fees without doing all the classes I should).

The operation took place the very next day. God is (sometimes, at least) kind to those who have hardly anybody but Him to rely upon – so not only did the surgery go swiftly and smoothly (the lady in the bed next to my wife wasn’t half so lucky!), but the patient, who looked half-dead when she was being wheeled out of the O.T., and was in considerable pain the whole of the rest of the day, recovered dramatically over the next 24 hours, and was already eating solid food and hobbling about unaided within two days: the hospital discharged her on the fourth day, the stitches were taken out three days after that, and she came back home to Durgapur last night without any great discomfort. She will have a final checkup a week down the line, and will have to live under some strict restrictions – which has turned me and my daughter into round-the-clock domestic helps for the time being! – but the only thing that matters is that we have got back our priceless mother, and she is not only alive but showing every sign that she will be kicking within a fortnight.

However, since as I said before, I have my hands full (ably assisted by my daughter though I am), no one makes me angrier than those who, despite having some idea about the state of affairs in my home, want to come over for idle chatter or to get some little urgent favour – the same people who are otherwise too ‘busy’ for months on end even to ring and say hello! Such people had better beware of a very nasty tongue-lashing: you have been warned. The same goes for those who call on my cellphone though I have not personally given them the number.

Now here are a few observations regarding everything that passed through my mind over this last fortnight:

The new, much-widened, much-improved NH2 which now links Durgapur with Calcuttta is a marvel, and travelling along it in a swift air-conditioned Volvo bus is a dream. But I wish this improvement had happened 20 years earlier – today I am old and tired, and even with such luxury, coming and going six times along that route within ten days was a drag.

I have been to many metro cities around the world, from Calcutta to New Delhi to New York, and I hate them all with the same cold, implacable hatred, because of the congestion, the pollution, the slowness of traffic, and the heartlessness of people all around you. That said, Calcutta today is just a wee bit better than it was 25 years ago, when I went to college there.

I was terribly lucky that the doctors and nurses didn’t just smile and charge the earth for their services – so far, every sign indicates that they gave me excellent service (though not without giving me a few nasty and irritating moments!). I know very well indeed how horribly things can go bad with people seeking serious medical care in this country, and hospitals with the most excellent credentials often make a hash of their jobs even while they make you pay through the nose. I fear that until our mothers start teaching their children that they shouldn't become doctors solely to make money (show me such a mother and I'll show you a pink elephant), or the Consumer Protection Act really begins to bite, most of us will have to count on luck, even if we have a lot of money in the bank. But that reminds me: lots of people who should know have assured me that the state of medical care even in the US leaves much to be desired (I shall be glad to take questions on this point). No one has yet found a really good substitute for prayer!

I am grateful to all the people, young and old, who gave me help, sometimes just by being beside me (even if only via the net and telephone from thousands of miles away) to render moral support. They are too numerous to name individually here, but I am saying a heartfelt thank you to every one of them, and I am not the sort of person to forget such kind favours. At the same time, I could not but take note of how many people knew but simply didn’t bother even to ask if they could help in some way, or did so in such tones of cold formality (some took care to do so only after the event) that it was only too evident I was not expected to ask for anything. Many such people, mind you, have got unstinted help from me when they were in need. Their baseness, too, I shall long remember. Their ranks, by the way, include some family members. I was born in a truly wonderful family. No wonder P.G. Wodehouse wrote in his ripe old age that one key requirement for happiness is ‘loved ones’ being far away.

Finally, my daughter worked a miracle I shall ever be wonderstruck and grateful for. For almost a fortnight she stayed with neighbours (actually in her own house, alone for most of the time, attending to all kinds of household chores and studying all by herself for her annual examinations at school, and even doing more than reasonably well). How grown-up she has become I can judge from the fact that very few parents I know would dream of putting so much pressure and responsibility on their 'immature' children in class 10, 12 or (in extreme cases I know) even in college! To say I am proud of my daughter would be an understatement, and no matter what her school exam-results are, I know she has passed a far tougher examination with flying colours, and to me, nothing matters more.

Every disturbing event like this changes a man ever so little, and today I am certainly a somewhat changed man. As a lot of people will find out, soon. I am not sure they will all like what they see.

Small request

I am back after a busy and stressful fortnight-long hiatus, though it will take a while yet to get back into my normal stride. Please bear with me...
Meanwhile, a request. Please visit Shilpi's blog and Amrit's blog, read and comment there. I do not easily endorse other people's work. Unless you are a no-brainer (in which case you shouldn't be visiting this blog either), you will find these blogs rewarding, thought-provoking and even disturbing.
[Disclaimer: all my recommendations do not apply to juvenile people, whether they are 15 or 55!]