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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Laughing all day

With reference to what has been happening in connection with St. Xavier's School, Durgapur, as has been flashed on so many TV channels in West Bengal all day today since the fracas this morning (a first for the school, and I'm sure they are all very proud of it!), I must put on record that I have been laughing all day. They had it coming: I told them so back in 2000, and then quit because they wouldn't listen, they all thought they were much cleverer and more worldly-wise than I am! It's always good to feel vindicated, though it sometimes takes ages... in this context, I should ask all my readers to read, or re-read, what I wrote here quite some time ago. Somebody objected to my using the word 'cesspool' then (see the comments). I hope, if that person has been following the news, s/he is now convinced that I was justified!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thanksgiving

Setting up this blog and keeping at it for more than three years without a break is the best thing I have done over the last decade. I cannot thank blogger deeply enough for what it has done for me. Every now and then, thanks to it, someone or the other who had lost touch with me a long time ago and badly wanted to get back in touch but didn't know how to, manages to contact me and say hello and pick up the threads. It has happened once again, with a very bright and pretty young thing whom I loved heart and soul when she was a child. She has now grown up into a fine young woman, and I didn't know she remembered so much and so well and so lovingly, and that she was so keen to say hello and start afresh. She has come back into my life like a gust of the purest scented air, and I suddenly feel ten years younger - though rueful, too, that so many years have gone waste. In the interests of privacy I cannot say who she is, but when she reads this she will know, and I guess she will join me in saying 'Thank you' to blogger.com. Long live the internet!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Anyways, whatever, lol, duh...

I would like every one of my readers to go through this article. Everyone who writes stuff like that ('yo, man, at the end of the day, that babe/dude's mindblowing/awesome...') needs to know that s/he is not being smart but simply stupid and crude, and I am not the only one who thinks that way.

As for textese, it goes without saying that I am one of those who are determined to fight the scourge all my life. Except on the mobile phone (and that too, I personally avoid doing it as much as I can), I will not tolerate the use of sms-text anywhere: anyone, but anyone, who tries that with me will be cut off and blocked for good. I don't want or need to know such people, and I don't care how many of them there are out there. They don't want to talk to me, the loss is theirs. Texters, I agree with John Humphrys, are "vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours 800 years ago. They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation, savaging our sentences, raping our vocabulary." They are no better people than those who enjoy mutilating children and don't bother to wash after shitting; they must be given no quarter. If that brands me as a 'conservative', I am happy to be called guilty as accused. A conservative is often a man who is convinced that something is worth conserving because it is of immeasurable value, but easily destroyed by moronic philistines who will never take the trouble to find out why and how it is valuable...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Shame!

This front-page story in The Telegraph today draws attention to one of the (numerous) reasons why I can neither be proud of today’s India nor gush over our many recent ‘achievements’, nor believe that she is going to be respected as a global leader anytime soon.

It’s not so much that half the population of India still shits in the open (but do compare the figure with China’s, which has an equally vast population, and with which, we often claim, we are nearly at par by many indices of ‘progress’) but that so many of our ‘educated’ populace either don’t know about it or don’t care, leave alone feel ashamed about, and dare to claim that we are nevertheless ‘progressing’ tremendously, witness all kinds of yardsticks like the booming IT sector and the growing number of our dollar billionaires and our prowess in cricket and NRIs winning Nobel Prizes and the sheer number of dazzling and mindless flicks churned out by Bollywood year after year…

A land where so many cannot or don’t bother to use sanitary toilets, and so many others, far better off, do not consider it a matter deserving immediate, urgent, all-out remedial action, cannot be acknowledged to be civilized, or even remotely interested in ‘progress’ of any sensible sort. And by the way, I think that this ties in quite neatly with the fact that there are so many ‘educated’ people in this country who never read a book if they can help it. These things go together in the mind, though to see the connection requires far greater cerebration than most of us are capable of, our college-degrees notwithstanding.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fool in the sea

Some people have been asking for personal reminiscences, especially of the out-of-the-way sort. Well, I have some pretty odd ones, but I don’t like much to write about them, because unembellished they don’t sound very exciting, and I hate embellishing or caricaturing real-life memories: I’d much rather write full-blooded fiction if and when I can. But here goes. If some reader’s fancy is tickled enough to ask for more, I might be encouraged.

This happened way back in 1986, when I was still at the university. I won’t go into irrelevant details, because I want to cut to the really interesting experience, so suffice it to say that we were a largeish party of students in their early twenties who were visiting Gopalpur-on-sea in Orissa. I have heard that things have gotten much more shabby and crowded since, but at the time it was a lonely sort of place, with hardly anything on the beach except the (rather forlorn-looking) lighthouse; there were certainly no cheek-by-jowl hotels and swarms of importunate hawkers selling foodstuff and knick-knacks of the sort that have been spoiling the beachfront scenery in Puri or Goa for a long time. We had checked into the Youth Hostel, and were putting up cheerfully with the rather spartan facilities available, because we were there only for a couple of days, and most of our time was spent revelling on the beach. Now this beach, unlike other places I have visited, was rather remarkable in that it sloped down very steeply, and unlike, say, in Chandipur or even Digha where you can walk a long distance before the water comes up to shoulder height, here you were out of your depth almost immediately you stepped into the water – which was a most disconcerting experience for landlubbers like us. And the sea was choppier than elsewhere, too: it didn’t seem wise to take risks with those rather scary, noisy, foamy swells as they came crashing on the beach. This was, by the way, just after the pujo-season in Bengal.

Anyway, for two successive days we spent most of the daytime on the beach, splashing about, yelling and shrieking and cursing and laughing wildly (there were several girls with us), swallowing large mouthfuls of sand and saltwater in equal proportions, sunbathing, singing raucously and tunelessly, gorging ourselves and getting slightly drunk late into the nights – enjoying ourselves foolishly, thoughtlessly and rather vapidly, as all youngsters are wont to do. The odd thing happened on the third morning. We were supposed to pack and drive off to the nearest railhead in a few hours: most of the girls had gone for a last-minute dekko around the little bazaar inland, most of the boys were still lazing in bed or tottering around groggily, complaining about the cloudiness and the slight chill in the air and the imminent prospect of departure homewards. In the event I found no companion to take a last dip in the sea with me, so I went alone.

Well, maybe I was still a bit sleepy, but I saw or sensed nothing out of the ordinary, and the sea looked unusually calm, and although the water seemed cool in comparison to the previous days (which I casually put down to the early hour), I had no premonitions at all as I waded in, and in fact, though I am most certainly not overly adventurous or brave, I didn’t think much about swimming out… and I kept swimming for quite some time, lazily, comfortably, without a care, until I began to feel slightly out of breath. Then I stopped, treading water, and turned to look back at the shore. And that is when I got the fright of my life.

It suddenly seemed to me that I had come out much too far, and for a panic-stricken moment the thought flashed across my mind that I’d never be able to swim back all that way; the landmarks on the beach looked tiny and hazy, and the sea seemed to be tugging me gently outwards. The bigger scare was the bizarre sight of an absolutely deserted beach: there was not a human soul as far as I could see, from the left horizon to the right, not a stray dog, not, when I looked up, a single bird wheeling in the sky. Why hadn’t I noticed such a huge and obvious oddity when I stepped into the water, for God’s sake? If I drowned, no one would notice, no one would know! But this wasn’t the worst of it. What really made my skin crawl was the out-of-this-world sensation of the sea in which I was bobbing gently up and down: there were no breakers, no foam, no noise at all, but the gigantic thing was heaving slowly up and down, as though it were a living thing breathing, a vast, silent, cruel leviathan which knew it had a tiny mite of a lonely human in its inexorable clutches, and was enjoying itself, biding its time…

I struck out desperately. I swam harder than I have swum before or since. In the process I probably did harm to my muscles and my nervous system, and actually lowered my chances of getting back to shore safely, for I could have exhausted myself and got the deadly cramps. In any case, I did get back to shore without much real difficulty, and already by the time I was heading back to the Youth Hostel I had begun to feel foolish about having given myself a fright for nothing. Oddly, though, they were looking worriedly for me by the time I got back. The sky was overcast, a wind was rising, it had started drizzling, and someone said something vague about a storm warning heard on a transistor radio. Well, the jeeps dropped us off at Berhampore station without incident, though it was raining now, not drizzling any more; but we even boarded the train and got going before all hell broke loose. The cyclone had struck with infernal fury. The thunderstorm was so violent that within half an hour the inside of our coach was dripping wet even with the windows tightly shut; the train crawled along at a snail’s pace for a couple of hours more before being forced to stop at a small wayside station, and we were many hours late in arriving at Howrah terminus – but we were the lucky ones, because the news told us that overhead power wires had been torn and railway tracks washed away in several places soon after we passed through, and the trains that came after us were delayed not by hours but by days. In Gopalpur, which had taken a direct hit, the banshee wind had driven thousands of tonnes of sand hundreds of yards beyond the usual limits of the beach, half burying buildings like the Youth Hostel we had stayed in, and enormous waves had pounded the shore with titanic power, hurling buses like toys off the roads a long way inland.

The point of this story is, I had found the sea behaving so oddly because that monster of a hurricane was coming up: it was the classic lull before the storm. Why had I been foolish enough to think of taking a bathe in the sea that morning, and why did I live to tell the tale?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Counterculture, postscript

Some serious readers might have been curious about why I was taking so long to write that third part I had promised, the part where I was going to talk about the kind of positive spin-offs that could arise out of mankind abjuring the high life in favour of what I – and a lot of other people – call the ‘good’ life.

Well, the fact is, I have been thinking, and reading those last two blogposts again, and I have begun to have the feeling that it’s not much use talking in this vein for much longer, really. Those who have already been persuaded do not need more persuasion; those who have not will never really be persuaded – much greater men than I have tried and failed – because they are determined not to be, so more talk will be a serious waste of breath.

However, since I promised something, and I do not like to renege on promises, here are a few bits and pieces:

1. There are some hints in the last posts already. There will be an end to (or at least a great amelioration of) problems like poverty and environmental degradation and corruption and excessively-stressed lifestyles and war only when mankind decides once and for all that it is essential to abjure the high life. Without that major global change in tastes and outlook, all talk of solving such problems is futile, and all time spent on criticizing or lamenting over them is a waste. Once upon a time, not too long ago, a global cataclysm called the Second World War forced a lot of people in high places to agree on this: that is why the UNO was founded (tellingly, the UNESCO Charter says that ‘since war begins in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences against war must be constructed’). The world has since forgotten, and gone back to its old ways. I belong to those who worry that another titanic cataclysm might be necessary – and looming – to jerk mankind back to its senses. History certainly tends to repeat itself if we don’t learn lessons from it: the current worldwide recession brought back eerie echoes of the Great Depression of the 1930s (and the Great Depression played a very provocative role in causing the World War!)

2. All mankind’s problems do not have technical fixes. This is because, among other things, every new technology throws up a host of new problems even as it ‘solves’ some older ones. Those who depend on technology to see us through all our woes are fundamentally childish, no matter how clever they may be with words and numbers. We have to change our ways. I am writing this on the birthday of a man who never tired of insisting that the world has enough for man’s needs, but not enough for man’s greed. Again, uncannily enough, a lot of very clever people who never called themselves Gandhian, such as Albert Einstein and T. S. Eliot and Charlie Chaplin and G.K. Chesterton and Ernest Hemingway and Erich Fromm and J.K. Galbraith and E. F. Schumacher have agreed on this. That is why I keep saying that those who refuse to listen are living in denial… the biggest problems of this century do not belong to the realm of physics or mathematics or even biology any more.

3. The greatest economist of the 20th century, John Maynard Keynes, who was an economist only by accident (as geniuses usually are), had dreamt wistfully in a little essay called Economic prospects for our grandchildren (that meant my father’s generation, actually!) that a time might come when ‘the economic problem would be solved’, meaning that thanks to the progress of skill, technology and organization, the world would soon be producing enough material goods to satisfy the basic needs of all human beings (assuming the world’s produce were fairly distributed), and then men could turn their attention to living the good life at last – the kind of life that the sanest and best of men have always wanted to live, the life lived in pursuit of all the higher things that only humans are capable of pursuing, knowledge for its own sake (rather than knowledge for power, or merely making a living), art, music, justice, good health both physical and mental, friendship and willing cooperation among all men and nations to achieve such ends that cannot be accomplished by men single-handedly, and cultivating the highest faculties of the mind, which are necessarily not just intellectual and aesthetic but ultimately spiritual. That is the kind of pursuit that only the bravest of men have been able to aspire to in the world so far, only those who were willing not only to live the hardest of lives but even to die ghastly and untimely deaths, such as being nailed to the cross. Sadly, brilliant as he was, Keynes did not anticipate two utterly horrible developments in the post-war world that have nearly put paid to his dream and set the clock back: the population explosion and the greed explosion. Either of them could be disastrous yet; combined, they are guaranteed to lead us to our doom.

Am I hopeful that things will change for the better? Well, yes and no. I want to believe that they can; what I see all around me, barring little sparks of light in the engulfing dark, prevents me from being too optimistic. Right now, indeed, the tide of global culture is strong in the opposite direction – China and India, which between them account for forty percent of the world’s population, are hell-bent on achieving per-capita consumption levels equal to that of the US, convinced beyond all persuasion that that is the only meaning of progress, and praying that it can be achieved without blowing up the whole world! Men in the mass do not learn easily, even if that learning is good for them, and these days there are lots of clever and ‘educated’ men around to keep assuring them that whatever they are doing is all right, and even good and necessary (such as a particular – common – brand of economist justifying every ill of the consumerist culture by claiming that it is indispensable for the world economy). I keep telling my daughter it is a very nasty world she is growing up in, much nastier in many ways, in fact, than the world I was born into despite all the vaunted ‘progress’ made in these nearly five decades, so like everybody else, she’ll have to learn to cope. But she, too, cannot afford to lose hope, or stop trying to contribute her mite to making things ever so slightly better.