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Monday, August 31, 2009

Use the 'search' box

If you scroll down along the right-hand sidebar, you will see a little white window below a line saying 'Search this blog'. You can type in all sorts of key words, such as 'orkut', or 'religion', or 'democracy', or 'Harry Potter' or 'Obama' or 'children' to see if and what I may have written earlier on those subjects. Alternatively, please click on any of the 'labels' to find out what they lead to. I am requesting this because I have a feeling that a lot of visitors, especially new arrivals, don't find out about earlier posts (there are now lots of them) simply because they don't know how to.

Use these facilities, read earlier posts, and keep commenting. Nothing in this blog has yet become dated, and I would like renewed discussion on any of them. I am the last person who would say only the latest matters...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dirty Harry revisited

Film review: Gran Torino

Walt Kowalski brought back old and glad boyhood memories.

I haven’t watched Clint Eastwood since Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, but boy, he can still do his stuff! Old and bent and hoarse and tired, at 78, he brought back a rush of delight as I remembered the days of Dirty Harry, The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, Where Eagles Dare, For a few dollars more, and even Every which way but loose.

Gran Torino (name of a Ford classic car, actually) was released worldwide in January this year. The disk was lying with me for a few months: I wish I had made time to watch it sooner.

You can read all the summaries and reviews on the Net, so I won’t bother telling the story here. Or even to write an exhaustive essay about why I liked the movie. This is just to say that I am happily amazed to see that all the old fire is still there, though he doesn’t do one whit to make himself look and sound a day younger than he is. He wheezes up stairs, spits blood in the washbasin, can’t pull heavy loads any more. But he stubbornly prefers living alone to living with grown children who don’t want him or in an old age home. He is nastily narrow-minded and racially prejudiced and foul-mouthed, yet a lot of people can’t help feeling there is a good man in there, struggling to come out… always has been. A decorated Korean-War veteran, he carries bitter memories of a horrid past. His guns are always close at hand. He dies heroically to save people he apparently cared so little for that he called them gooks to their faces. He doesn’t even fight the way he used to in his old movies: the heroics are of a far higher, understated order. And he goes, the old diehard atheist, with a ‘Hail Mary’ on his lips, leaving his house to the church because his wife would have liked it, and his beloved Gran Torino to the only friend he had found. As some people acknowledge, he was a man, to the last.

Mr. Amitabh Bachchan - with all due respect - still has to learn a great deal from geezers like Sean Connery and Eastwood. I remembered the Modesty Blaise story A few flowers for the colonel (wonder how many readers will even know what I am talking about!) And I remembered the line from The Old Man and the Sea: ‘A man can be destroyed but not defeated’. If Hemingway had been around, I think he would have begged Eastwood to play Santiago before he died.

Watch the movie.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


In connection with discussing (I much prefer that word to ‘teaching’ in this context) Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn in class this evening, the conversation veered to concepts of beauty, its meaning for different people, the degrees of intensity with which different people admire and appreciate and remember things of beauty, how beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, how very many different things can seem beautiful to different people (equations, natural scenery, the human body, music, paintings) not only according as how people have different personalities and tastes, but also depending on how much attention they are willing to give, and how much patient reflection, and how in a distracted age where haste and hurry are not only obligatory but ‘in’ and ‘cool’, all kinds of appreciation of beauty might be in danger of vanishing, the ‘Love aajkal’ way, to be replaced by merely sensual and momentary titillation…
As is my wont, I tried to weave in as many diverse kinds of material as possible, examples, anecdotes, jokes, quotes, appeals to pupils’ own experiences, tips on what they could find out with a bit of googling (like a famous scientist agreeing that ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’…). I was rewarded with some laughs, and some attentive listening, and some shining, focused eyes: but I could give my right hand, even after so many years of this work, to know what really goes on behind those eyes, how many of them enjoy, understand, think, remember, allow themselves to be subtly changed by what they have been led to think and feel and find out. How much has so many thousands of hours of talking mattered to people, beyond getting them some marks in examinations and me some money to live upon?
How hard it is to explain something without becoming dull, or crass, or highbrow, or just plain vague. And how sad that despite all one’s efforts, one can find out so little about how much one has succeeded!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Looking back on a nasty experience

If there is one important truth about me, it is that I have tried to be a true and good teacher to the best of my ability all my life. Nothing hurts such a person more than a sign that someone who pretended to be a devoted and special student for years and years finally proved to be an insensitive ingrate. I am referring to the blogpost I wrote on May 01, 2008, titled "Don't be a teacher with a heart". I do wish more people would chip in with comments on that post, telling me how they would feel if they had been cheated like that after they had done their best to be a teacher with a difference... and whether they can honestly condemn teachers who become scoundrels with not a care about whether their old boys and girls go to blazes after they have paid their fees in full, once they have had experiences as painful and galling as I have had.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Oh democracy!

The Washington Post apparently conducted a socio-psychological experiment in 2007 involving Joshua Bell, a great contemporary violinist. The sad results are provided and commented upon here. I thank my bright young pupil Harsha for bringing this to my notice.

Rarely do men and women of even the highest talent and skill and goodness get the respect and attention they deserve from the public unless they happen to be in the right time, place and ambience. That is because individuals among masses of people do not have minds and tastes and opinions of their own, they do just what everybody else is doing because that is ‘expected’ of them, and that applies as much to gossiping as to gaping at paintings of great masters in art galleries, pretending that they understand and admire…

In my very modest station in life, I have had enough opportunity to witness this phenomenon. When they come in droves to admit their children to my tuitions, they cringe and fawn as though they are begging an all-powerful emperor for favours (I am still embarrassed by the kind of language they use), and then they cannot recognize me at shops and hospitals and banks, and yet I know they would come in droves again if they heard I was being lynched, just to watch the fun.

Plato called democracy a pig’s philosophy, and despite still being committed to it myself (if only because I know too well how much more awful all other alternatives can be!), I can perfectly understand why he did so, and why the greatest democrats of all ages have rued its shortcomings, sometimes in good humour, sometimes bitterly, as when Churchill said he knew very well that though large crowds came to hear him speak, they would be far larger if they were going to see him hanged. And Einstein said he had no illusions about who would draw much larger crowds if he and a famous Hollywood star got off the same train. Democrats murdered Socrates, after all, being led by nothing nobler than mob hysterics, and Browning’s patriot found out only too late how foolish and deadly it was to trust public memory and adulation. It is a sad and pitiable world indeed, where the stupidest, crudest, most ignorant and aggressive of men and women are put at par, where questions of tastes and opinions are concerned – people who would prefer shopping malls and pubs and football brawls and wedding feasts any time over libraries and museums and research labs and philosophy – with the most learned, wise and decent of men. Since the vulgar folk form the majority almost everywhere, any society which pins all its faith in their tastes and opinions is always in danger of going the way of madness and decadence…the greatest democrats down the ages had hoped that education would make better men of the vulgar majority and so ensure continuous progress, but after several centuries of experimentation, there are now grave reasons for doubt and concern. Education as it is given and absorbed these days makes vulgar people richer and more arrogant and more demanding by the million, yes (the classic contemporary example being the Dursley family in the Harry Potter books… I can see so many like them all around me), but it certainly does not make men with more taste, decency, sensitivity, charity, imagination, courage … all the qualities that distinguish true elites from the riff-raff.

I have mused in the same vein myself time and again (as for instance here and here) on this blog.

Just one little ray of light: the first link says that at least a lot of children stopped to watch the musician, in wonder or at least idle curiosity. Children are born intelligent and sensitive, they are made dull and crude and ‘busy’ and callous by their elders (see the quote from the great psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, at the bottom of this page). But, as Tagore said, the birth of every child is proof that God has not yet lost faith in Man…