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?'

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Scary news and views

On some days the newspaper is bland and empty of content, and then there are days when it bombards you with strange news from around the world that is bound to put worry lines on any thinking man’s brow. Today was one such.

First, here is a startling revelation of how China’s much-vaunted ‘one-child policy’ (which had lots of loopholes and escape clauses I didn’t know about) designed to check explosive population growth is now backfiring on it, and they are so worried there will be too many old people around (too many ‘unproductive’ people to support) soon that they are thinking about relaxing the rule. They have even begun to feel that one-child families are not healthy – children grow up to be spoilt or lonely (we can see that all around us in middle-class urban India, too!) But then, China is three times the size of India and already very considerably better off, so their population pressure (except in big cities) can be nowhere as nightmarish as ours…

Then there is the update on the ongoing row over the arrest of a black professor at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., USA, because the arrest was carried out by a white police officer. I was nowhere around, nor do I have the remotest chance of getting the inside story (even from neighbours of the professor), but the more I read the news the more I grow suspicious that this is a case of knee-jerk reverse discrimination: the white western world is bending over backwards to ‘make amends’ for all the nasty things that their racially biased and cruel forefathers did to the blacks in days gone by, and clever and none-too-nice blacks are having a field day taking advantage of all that accumulated social guilt… I wish that President Obama had not got into the fray with an off-the-cuff comment before checking on the details. Apparently the head of the Cambridge police department has strongly backed up Sergeant Crowley, the officer in the dock, saying that he has a perfectly clean service record, and was acting strictly according to protocol, and the prof in question, Henry Gates, had forced his hand by raising an almighty ruckus which could have been easily avoided. If Gates had been white, or if the policeman had also been a black, it might not have been news at all. Just because blacks have long been sinned against does not make all living blacks good people, nor should it be that whenever a black is ‘troubled’ by a white for what the law calls wrongdoing all society should scream bloody murder blaming the white for being racist in a stupid and dangerous attempt to prove how ‘liberal and open-minded’ they are. That only encourages opportunists and trouble-makers of all hues, until things get out of control. The same sort of thing is happening with women and other ‘disadvantaged’ groups in our country, because the law is now biased in their favour, and do-gooders with too much heart and too little brains are falling over themselves to help them regardless of whether they are guilty or not.

And then there is this article about how Britain is being taken over by folks of alien races and strange mores. It made me shiver. I shall desist from making any comments on it, beyond saying that I am all for good and healthy cultural inclusiveness (that’s what Rammohun Roy, Tagore, Vivekananda and Gandhi stood for, after all – enrich yourself by borrowing the best of every culture you encounter), and I see nothing to object to if native-born white Britons wear the burqa for fun, or vote for chicken tikka masala as their most favourite dish, or choose to marry Sikhs or Muslims of their own free will… but the things that Mr. Datta Ray has hinted make my skin crawl. Read, and you will see why. From all that I know and have read of him, I have no reason to regard him as an irresponsible and uninformed scare-monger. Maybe I won’t want my daughter to settle down in a country like Britain thirty years from now, after all!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Goodbye, old man, RIP

I was much cheered to read (here) about how Henry Allingham of the UK passed away on July 18: at 113, he was then the world’s oldest man. He was one of the last of the veteran soldiers of World War I (lesson: if you are blessed with a long life, even a world war can’t kill you), he had a vivid memory well into his ripe old age, and he died peacefully in his sleep. Most comfortingly for the likes of sinners like me, he had once laughingly attributed his longevity to ‘whisky, cigarettes and wild, wild women’ (so much for the medics who keep trying to take all the fun out of your life by telling you how bad these ‘risk factors’ are, statistically speaking. Someday someone should tell these statistical experts just what they can do with their expertise. I studied quite a bit of statistics once, and the most important thing I learnt was its limitations, especially where human lives and minds are concerned…)

On a more sober note, how terrible it must be to live to 113! His wife (second? third?) must have passed away decades ago (the news item didn’t say). His children must be in their 80s, dotards themselves if not already dead. His grandchildren must be in their mid-50s. He seems to have seen one great-great-grandchild! How long has he worn that silly toothless grin (had he been handsome, with a magnetic personality, as a young man)? How long has he been out of touch with the world, and how hard and sad did it feel? Could he even move about without help and difficulty these last twenty years, or use his mind to do anything worthwhile? I feel only pity for people who live too long. The Bible prescribes three score years and ten as a full life, and I agree entirely. Unless you are very fit physically, and have a lot of interesting work to do, rich, and surrounded by a lot of friends and admirers (chances of which diminish rapidly as you grow old), living much beyond seventy is a drag like no other. For every old man and woman my most sympathetic prayer is that they may be taken soon, without pain, horror and humiliation… and if I do manage to survive beyond seventy, I’ll be praying the same night and day for myself.

I am reminded of the sad joke about the man who goes to consult his doctor about how he can live to be a hundred. ‘Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t womanize, don’t keep late hours, don’t eat meat, don’t party, don’t worry about money, wake up at daybreak, do a lot of manual labour daily…’ chants the doctor. ‘Doctor,’ says the dismayed patient doubtfully, ‘if I follow all those rules, am I really going to live a hundred years?’ ‘Well, let me put it this way,’ says the doctor, ‘you may not actually live that long, but it sure will feel like it!’

Science says it has ‘blessed’ mankind with ever longer lifespans. I wonder. I also wonder that people these days are so afraid even to think about their own dying, even when most of their lives are behind them – they are scared witless of letting go of the only reality they have ever known, I suppose. I hope I can look death gladly in the eye when it’s my turn, looking forward to ‘quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over’. As Professor Dumbledore said, echoing the greatest sages of all lands and times, ‘To a well-ordered mind, death is only the next great adventure.’ If I do long for anything, it is that I might be twinkling out of a picture as D. does for Harry, long after I have gone, for a lot of people, who can still hear my voice inside their heads when they badly need it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

They live beyond the lights

My father told me very few stories, but the ones he did left permanent imprints on my mind. This one, for example, I heard when I was a mere child, and so I don’t recall the details, but the impression is indelible. I realized after I grew up that he was probably speaking from his own experience, trained as a geologist as he had been, and familiar with the atmosphere of mines and miners. I remember him telling me about how someone like us (an engineer, probably, and young, middle-class, and smug) was going home at night after a tour of the mines, when the car stopped along the dark road beside the forest, and he saw shadows of hollow-eyed, ghostly men and women and children lurking silently among the trees just beyond the reach of the headlamps – and one of his companions, his driver or colleague probably, told him that this is how the labourers in the mines (many of them tribals, and other very poor folk) lived, scrounging for the merest subsistence, treated like pack animals, no one taking moral or legal responsibility for them, not reckoned as human beings at all, living and dying in pain and misery as though they never mattered – though this country boasted of itself as a democratic nation wedded to ‘socialistic ideals’. They live permanently beyond the lights.

Well, my father was talking about conditions forty years or more ago. Nothing much seems to have changed, except for a vast increase in our numbers. I was reading (here) about how the workers at the construction sites of the grandiose Delhi Metro are treated in this day and age, and how villagers living close to Pune have to live and die amidst the mountains of filth that that city dumps upon them day in, day out, without a care (here).

And then I wonder that people like us boast so shrilly about how rapidly India is ‘advancing’, and react indignantly when some such wretched folks here and there cannot take it any more and break out in violent rebellion … sporadic of the street-riot kind, or organized and sustained, as with the many forms of guerilla insurgency currently rampaging all around this country.

P.S.: Interested readers might like to read this about what I wrote regarding my dreams for India on August 15, 2007.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

How different!

I have always loved travelling, but fate has decided that I should get to travel comparatively little in the flesh – so all my life I have travelled in my mind, through books and movies and stories and pictures that my favourite old-boys bring me from around the world. I travel through their eyes and minds, and I don’t regret it: it’s so much safer, less taxing, less hectic, less of a strain on the pocket... all strong arguments for someone getting on in years, and no longer eager to exert himself as much as he was twenty years ago!

One young man, just back from a trip to New Zealand, brought me a story this evening that I must share. He put up for a couple of days with family friends there – Indians – and by way of explaining why he had elected to settle down there (not a very common destination for Indians), the man of the house told him the following story.

He (let’s call him Mr. X) was tanking up at a petrol pump one day, when he saw a smartly-dressed man, obviously a well-heeled businessman or executive, who had just driven up in a Mercedes, reading up a notice saying ‘Help wanted for a day’ for some sort of manual work. On finding out that the manager of the pump was willing to hire him, he took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and set to work at once. It took him only a few hours. As Mr. X found out afterwards, he finished his work, collected his pay – a bunch of small notes which he didn’t so much as look at – shoved it all into a collection box for some sort of children’s charity, and drove away. By way of explanation for his ‘weird’ behaviour, he only said that he had driven into town to look up a friend, and learning that it would be a few hours before they could meet, and not having anything to do, and being unwilling to spend his time guzzling away in a bar (one of the few pastimes available), he had opted for this one-off job.

On hearing the story, Mr. X decided on the spot that this was the country where he wanted to live. He has been there for about five years now, and holds the status of a permanent resident (something like a Green Card holder in the US), and has no plans to move out.

If some of my readers feel that this sounds like a fairy tale, I shall only say that I am glad that such places exist on this planet (still), and I hope I may be able to die in one. Physically, too, NZ is a dream: hardly any people around, lots of unspoilt natural scenery, endlessly variable weather, all mod. cons, decent folks… to me, it sounds like heaven!

Another old boy, Tanmoy, has been stationed in Auckland, NZ, for more than a year now, and he has written variously and often on his blog (link provided along the right sidebar). I hope he enjoys this story.

I shall be delighted to hear more such interesting and unusual stories from other ex-students scattered around the globe. The really good ones will be narrated here…