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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I love Lalit Modi!

He personifies so self-assuredly, so brazenly, so happily, everything that is true about the contemporary Indian wannabe high-profile success (shades of Harshad Mehta, Ramalinga Raju, and others too numerous to mention, including thousands who, more wisely in my poor opinion, stay out of the media glare…).

Here, in a thumbnail sketch, is his ideology:

1. Money buys everything, including fame and the power to dodge the clutches of the law, so nothing else is worth aiming for;

2. Use the money to live the high life of luxury yachts, private jets, fleets of limousines, armies of bodyguards, an endless supply of nubile and willing bimbos – and the ‘public’ (read mass media) will simultaneously envy you and admire you as they used to admire gods in the olden days;

3. Use whatever your native animal cunning is best at manipulating to make and squander money – be it sports, politics, crime, IT, real estate, movies, healthcare, education or the stock market: it makes no difference at all.

4. When in trouble, be even more brazen than before, and chances are 1000 to 1 that you’ll be able to ride it out. And even if you can’t, what harm can a few months in a five-star jail specially built for you do? A long holiday, all comforts paid for, while the public forgets why it was mad at you, and then you can happily go back to your shenanigans. After all, this is India: no big-time crook ever gets seriously punished!

And – except when their stars are bad – these are the sort of ‘great’ men who will make India proud as a great nation soon: about that our prime minister is still firmly convinced. baaki sab bakwaas…

(If the reader is interested, I recommend her/him to a series of essays I wrote through September and October 2009 on this blog, titled Poor little rich thug, Ministers flying cattle class, Counterculture and Counterculture: postscript. The search bar will help you. It might strike you that in India, a truly democratic country, literally anyone can be ‘successful’ these days, whether you are an ex-rickshawwallah or a friend of chief ministers, if only you are shameless enough, arrogant enough, violent enough and greedy enough. Absolutely no other talents required. The parents of all my students and ex-students should take note. Why waste time chasing the JEE? Your children will be serving masters like these anyway!)

P.S., May 05: Professor Sukanta Chaudhuri, sometime head of the department of English, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, has this to say about the IPL mania and its social significance. Most readers are not going to like it!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A father's abiding woe...

When does a dad go wrong? And when he does, can he ever forgive himself?

Pupu was born a more than normally lively and intelligent child. She loved to listen to stories, yet she was already past two and having difficulty concentrating on making the effort that every child must make to start on the long journey to literacy – learning the alphabet. Being persuaded that it was best to start with the mother tongue, my wife and I had been trying gently, but with ever increasing anxiety, to get her to start reading on her own (we didn’t believe in relegating even such basic responsibilities to those cram shops that call themselves by the fancy name of play school). Already precocious at that early age, she had memorized all the writing in her first picture book by simply listening to us chanting the rhymes over and over again, and naughtily tried to pass it off as ability to read! Naturally, she was caught out when we switched books. And one evening, when her mother had complained after several months of fruitless struggle, I lost my temper.

I had always been, both by training and temperament, a firm believer in Asimov’s aphorism ‘Violence is the last resort of the incompetent’. Never in two decades of teaching had I ever hit a pupil. Yet that evening I put her firmly on my lap and gave her an ultimatum: ‘I’m not letting you go until you have started reading on your own!’ I find it agonizing to recall the next half hour, though more than a decade has passed by – it seems like yesterday. I scolded and threatened, even cuffed her on the head and boxed her ears two or three times (I am ashamed to say I probably even slapped her once), all the while holding her tightly to my breast and urging her ‘Go on, go on, keep trying, again, again, again, you can do it…’ and she sniffled and sobbed and wriggled and kept whining ‘I can’t, I can’t, I can’t’ and went on trying desperately, poor child. I had almost given up in despair when I saw that the miracle had taken place without either of us noticing it: she was reading fluently, and quite unconscious of the fact that she had done it!

I stopped her short in mid-rhyme and said, ‘Look, darling, you can read now!’ And you should have seen her look of startled, unbelieving surprise, and then the lovely, heavenly smile of delight and pride lighting up her tear-stained face: ‘Oh, yes, daddy, I can really read now, can’t I?’ and we hugged each other as though we had just been declared lords of the world…

It has been years, and now Pupu is a very grown-up sort of teenager, big and smart and talkative, a voracious reader in two languages far ahead of most people of her age, and learning two more languages with hardly any prompting on daddy’s part. Every time I ask her for forgiveness, she says, ‘Oh, come on, Dad, I should say thank God you took a firm line that day!’

So did I do the right thing after all, and can I be forgiven when I stand before the Lord’s Judgment seat?




[That was mum and daughter studying together a few months after the nightmare was behind them...]

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bangla new year: a nice feeling

Right from the morning we have been inundated with Bengali shubho noboborsho greetings - by phone, email, e-card, and lots of personal visits - from literally scores of people, and literally from around the world. It makes one feel good. Happy New Year to all, and many, many thanks to all who took the trouble to wish us well. A pity that I couldn't respond to everybody personally...

Thursday, April 08, 2010

It's the money, honey

Of the millions of words being said and written in the mass media following the Maoist-organized massacre of CRPF policemen in Dantewada, Chattisgarh, this particular news item caught my attention. Look at the last paragraph. It seems that the families of the jawans who were killed will receive a total of Rs. 38 lakhs (3.8 million) each as compensation, besides one job per family on humanitarian grounds.

Now I have no intention of belittling or insulting the soldiers who die fighting for the government (notice I didn’t say ‘for their country’, though), but a few reflections are in order:

1. A lot of people work in very harsh conditions ‘for their country’ (postmen and firemen and ordinary policemen and teachers in private schools – who are usually paid much less than their government counterparts – and coolies at construction sites, to name just a few), and cannot expect even a tiny fraction of that kind of reward whether they die at work or live beyond normal retirement age;

2. Given that these policemen come from humble or even poor backgrounds, the compensation is truly princely – now I know why there’s never a dearth of people eager to sign on, despite the risks;

3. Since these people know they can look forward to that kind of reward for their families in case they are killed on duty, don’t expressions like ‘they made the supreme sacrifice for their country’ sound a little hollow, not to say pretentious?

4. Make a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation. The government doles out several tens of crores in such compensation to the families of dead soldiers/policemen every year. Mightn’t it have been a better idea to spend that money on the kind of genuine and much needed development of those most backward regions of this country where mass discontent is the breeding ground of militant rebellion?

5. A few years ago the father of a pupil of mine, a civil engineer working for the army’s Border Roads Organization, had volunteered to work on a highway construction project in Afghanistan, despite the huge risk from resurgent terrorists there, because, he said, the pay was really good. Since these people love money more than their lives (remember, the man was, if not rich, quite comfortably off here, and nobody had forced him to go), do we really need to shed copious collective tears over them when they are picked off by terrorists or brigands? Why do we want to have our cake and eat it too?

6. I have been a teacher all my life. For the last eight years I have been entirely self-employed. The government happily takes income tax from me every year, but promises my family no reward, no compensation of any kind should I die early. A beautician charges ten times what I do for a tenth of the kind of work I do, whether you count mental skills or physical exertion (of late my doctor has been urging me to take it easy). Everybody in this country pretends to ‘honour’ teachers and the work they do. Yet there are so many people who say behind our backs that we teachers have become 'greedy'. Whereas Shah Rukh Khan is not, and Sachin is the pride of India, and fashion models 'deserve' to be paid little fortunes for posing in underwear, and soldiers make ‘supreme sacrifices’ killing their own countrymen. (Just to silence armchair cynics, I'd be glad to 'die for my country' anytime provided I knew that my family would be comfortably off as a result for the rest of their lives. And I wouldn't care whether people called it 'the supreme sacrifice' or not.)

Any comments?