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Saturday, January 30, 2010

This and that

A few things that come to my mind:

First, knowing that a lot more people read my blog often than have enlisted themselves as ‘followers’, I request those who haven’t done so yet to go ahead and enlist: it will help me better to keep in touch, and know which people are serious enough to communicate with.

Second, looking at the geographical spread of my readers on the map linked to my blog, I keep wondering… who reads me from Ulaan Batar in Mongolia, from Bogota in Colombia, from Ghana, from Madrid, from Dubai, and above all from Mountain View, California, home of Google Inc.? I’d really, really love to know.

Third, about comments. Why is it that so many people who assure me face to face or over the phone or by email that they read my blog regularly feel so hesitant or lost when it comes to writing comments? As I have said before, you don't have to be old and wise to do that: even asking questions and expressing appreciation or offering additional information on the subject which I and all other readers could profit from would be welcome comments. Long ago I quit journalism (despite getting paid for it, which isn’t the case with writing this blog) because though I knew that theroretically lakhs of people were reading me, a direct response through a letter to the editor came only now and then, and it made me feel I was writing in vain…

Fourth, I ask my readers once again to write in and let me know what they would like me to write about next. I shall try to oblige within the limits of my interest and ability. Knowing that there are eager people waiting is always a pleasure and a strong motivation.

Fifthly - as Ayan and Pradipto from the ICSE '99 batch found out like so many others a few days ago, anybody who wants to get back to me, even after a long hiatus, via email, phone or personal visit, is assured of a warm welcome and an enjoyable chat, just so long as they are polite and friendly and make their eagerness apparent. You need only to reach out...

Finally, this is just to tell a lot of people that I have broken my heart over a 2004 Iraqi-Kurdish film called Turtles can fly by Bahman Ghobadi. I won’t write why, because so few people seem to be interested in what I write about books and movies – but I shall say do go and see it for yourself.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Subhas Bose

A man called Subhas Bose was born this day, in 1897.

I wonder if it matters to many Indians any more. Nationalism - and everything else that he stood for - has become so passé, and history is so uncool! We remember our loyalty to our nation only when India plays cricket with Pakistan, and when anybody points out any of our myriad flaws.

And I wonder how he would have coped in this era of shopping malls and vanishing education and the obesity epidemic and twitter and trophy wives and designer babies…

Saturday, January 16, 2010

3 Idiots

While I did enjoy the movie (many of my old boys have told me 'Sir, Aamir has used many of the very words and examples you have been saying for years!'), and would like all of my pupils and their parents to see it, I also liked this thought-provoking critique of it. I wrote the following comment there:

"As a teacher for 29 years, I agree with your take. Only, you should have stressed the idea that becoming a wildlife photographer or musician requires the same degree of both talent and hard work. Even more than becoming anti-intellectual, anti-studies, the Indian middle class has become anti-anything that doesn't lead up to so-called 'centres of excellence' like the IITs and IIMs, ignoring the fact that the overwhelming majority of our biggest achievers over the last 50 years never went to either of them, and looking down on anybody who doesn't go in for science at the plus-two level. If we produce Tagores and Satyajit Rays again, it will not be due to but in spite of our IITs and IIMs. Also to be noted: a few dozen corporate honchos and a sprinkling of social do-gooders yes, but how many global product/process patents and Nobel Prizes and the like have these 'centres of excellence' produced since their inception? I think that is what Aamir/Rancho has been asking."

By the way, someone who is an IIT-IIM alumnus wrote in a supportive comment on Sagarika's blog moments after I posted mine!

P.S., Jan. 28: I found this critique of not just 3 Idiots but how Bollywood cinema is evolving most engaging. Any comments from serious aficionados?

Monday, January 11, 2010

A gem of a wit

I was thrilled to read a sarcastic article titled Happy New Havate in the robibashoriyo pullout of Anandabazar Patrika of January 3, written by Parimal Sengupta. I provide my own (somewhat free-) translation of the same herebelow. I could have used louts or layabouts for ‘havate’, but I decided to stick to ‘uncouth’ instead.

Let’s call a spade a spade. In Calcutta Christmas and New Year these days mean carte blanche to the uncouth. So I stay away. A lot of people are going to be up in arms the moment they read this, but I don’t care. I owe nothing to either Santa Claus or to the magi (half-literate Bengalis pronounce the word as maagi), so there’s nothing to be gained by glowering at me.

There was a time when people like you and me really knew a thing or two about ‘western’ culture. I am not talking about heavy stuff like they store in the Asiatic Society library. I am talking of the days when Bengalis who rode in Fiat Mini Centos, Standard Heralds, taxis, or merely trams and buses, and who looked a bit like Nirmal Kumar, N. Vishwanathan, Sumita Sanyal, Subrata Chattopadhyay, Hemanta, Soumitro, Subhendu or Pahari Sanyal, knew the difference between rock, jazz and tango. They could promptly tell you the names of four movies in which Marilyn Monroe or Omar Sharif had acted. They had heard about Billy Halliday, and knew that Charles Lorton was a great actor.

Even then the whole of Bengali society had not become divided into the panchayat and promoter classes: the one addicted to mindless flicks like Punter wife and Hunter Hubby, the other falling drunkenly asleep before websites pandering blue movies. Then Christmas had some meaning. The more we have become ‘English-medium’ en masse, the more we have taught our children to parrot dad and mom for baba and ma, the more our Christmas has become merely an occasion for the uncouth to freak out. The ‘cultured’ Bengali of today is thrilled to bits over rotting chicken drowned in chemical-soaked soya sauce; there is sure to be trouble at home if biryani from Babur’s is missing from the Christmas Day menu. Earlier in very middle-class families our mothers had mastered with difficulty the art of making passable stews, soups and puddings at home. As Bengali midriffs keep swelling, so does ignorance about good food. You can’t have chicken without piling it over with kheer and cashewnuts and raisins and khobani … they call it value addition. One family I know recently went overboard by throwing a few prawns into the chicken curry. Having plastered the flat with marble and force-fed the kid into looking like a mini sumo wrestler, we are now hell bent on adding value to our dining table, too. How else would others like us get to know that we too have made money without getting an education? This new breed actually eats money. Perhaps they ought to be labelled mudra-rakshash?

It is this ignorance combined with gluttony that swells like a tidal wave at Christmas and New-Year time. At the celebratory hot-spots it’s a free for all between the haves and the have-nots. I am not talking about the Marxian rich-poor divide: it’s the difference between those who have females on their arms and those who don’t. The have-nots, again, are of two sorts. The first type consists of those who are too young, but with bloated egos, and strut as though they are quite sure they can pick up any female they want anytime. They are the uncouth of the first degree. Then there are the permanently drunken older louts: those with and without vast beer bellies. Many of them, having failed to hold in their lust, had got married to females even more ignorant than they when they were 21, and now, in their early forties, resemble nothing more closely than the 300-year old tortoise at the zoo. The wives, having gorged for decades on fatty delicacies of the worst sort, are just as vast and as ugly. Any kind of intimate contact, physical or mental, among such couples has of course long become out of the question. But these people have a lot of money, too, and they are adamant that their money can buy them all the pleasure with all the nubile bimbos who catch their fancy. They buy everything, from land to trade permits to lobsters and meat, so why not bimbos? ‘Let me know. How much? Know who I am?’ What self-righteous fury. And seconds later they are throwing up their last dinner all over you. They are the second-degree of the uncouth. All these types need the third degree if you ask me.

If this is your idea of a festival, go ahead and celebrate without me. A long time ago a babe was born in a manger. When he grew up they killed him in the name of a king. That sort of thing calls for politics, not festivals of louts. And as for New Year, both you and I know that nothing’s going to change. We have seen a lot of dadagiri, now it’s time for some didigiri, that is all. 2009 wasn’t a ‘new’ year for Bengalis; neither will be 2010.

[P.S.: Formal permission for this translation is pending. I hope they will grant it gladly, because I am only giving the paper and the author some free publicity before a non-Bengali audience - and also lots of Bengalis who don't/can't read Bangla. In case they let me know about any objection, I shall take this post off my blog.]

Thursday, January 07, 2010

On twitter

This is just to let everybody know that despite strong misgivings, I yielded to a friend's request and have just got into twitter. You can search for me by name. Let's see what follows. If (as I expect) I get bored stiff, I'll quit in a month or two.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Year-end diary

This time I won’t write the usual travelogue, because I did not travel far, and did not visit any place remote and exciting – merely Puri, along with literally tens of thousands of other Bengalis – and lazed a great deal for a few heavenly work-and worry-free days in Kolkata. Let me instead just jot down a few random impressions.

I arrived in Puri by train for the second time in my life after a gap of exactly forty years. Same train, same snail's pace in the last single-track stretch as it was back in 1969! At the beach, the sand was warm but the water cold, except briefly at midday. The sea and the beach, alas, are getting visibly more polluted every year. The hotel we stayed in, upmarket but not posh, served pretty good food. I wish, though, that boarders would stop shouting all the time and at all hours of day and night in hotel corridors – about absolutely private matters, too. If only this country learnt a few good manners… And the sight of an open and busy crematorium right in the heart of a throbbing marketplace was something to remember for the sheer disturbing incongruity of it. The drive to Chillika lake and the three-hour boat ride was pleasant, and we saw dolphins frolicking and people selling pearls which they were taking out of live oysters (though I do suspect some sleight of hand there), but hardly anything of the fabled flocks of migratory birds, hard luck. The locals are gentle souls, though they sound like they are fighting when they are chatting heartily among themselves. Cars are still definitely much cheaper to hire than in tourist spots in western and northern India. I noticed that the gentleman from whom we rented the car, and who apparently owns seven or eight of them, is basically a private tutor just like myself – I fleetingly wished Durgapur were a tourist hotspot! We were granted darshan by the lord of the world without suffering a stampede, crowded though the temple precincts were (and much more heavily guarded than before).

One big bonus was meeting an old boy, Anirvan Choudhury – ICSE 1991 batch – who works in Bhuvaneshwar and came over all the way with his mother in tow to see us. We spent a very happy Christmas afternoon chatting in the sun, re-living olden times. Nothing gratifies me more than meeting ex-students who have such obviously rich and grateful memories, and who have grown up to be such decent and cultured human beings. I wish his whole family long lives, health and happiness, and hope to meet them again and again, especially the delightful little daughter of his, whom we missed this time round because she was too ill to travel.

On the trip back to Kolkata, I wished, for once, that the train had been late. I hate to get up and going at daybreak, and that too in cold weather: Kolkata had become unusually chilly in the few days we had been away. I spent a large part of my time eating heartily, sleeping, dozing in the sun and watching TV, a routine I cannot afford for 340 days a year. Also, meeting some people I had badly wanted to meet, and having very nice experiences, except for one … but then, you win some and you lose some, and I hadn’t expected much better anyway, knowing the sort of person I was trying one last time to build bridges with. Then there were all sorts of chores, like collecting a prize for something my daughter had written for a newspaper, and getting tooth cavities filled, and airing the new house, the sort of stuff nobody wants to read about, I’m sure.

We spent New Year’s Day lunching out with a family of very good friends. The next morning we came back to Durgapur. I fear for my daughter's future, because the moment we were back she said ‘There’s no place like home’. And it is wonderfully cold here, so though I am back to the old grind already, I am enjoying myself still, especially while the sun is bright and warm and when it’s time to snuggle inside the blankets, and I hope to God that this absolutely lovely spell lasts a while yet. If only there hadn’t been so much coal dust in the air, I could have been living in heaven.