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Sunday, May 23, 2010

About old posts, fathers, and other things

There was a post I put up more than three years ago titled How my world has changed, and I have got very few satisfactory (informative, thought-provoking…) comments on it yet, though it aimed to stimulate thinking in various different directions. Now that I have so many readers, I ask them once more: do please visit it, and reflect, and let me have the benefit of your reactions - after you have gone carefully through the comments already there.

As anyone who knows me (or at least has been following this blog closely for some time) will realize, fatherhood, and more broadly, parenting, is an issue that is perennially close to my heart. I also keep lamenting that of late so many parents – even if they know their real responsibilities, which is not a common thing in this country – delegate them by and large to servants, schools and tutors, imagining that spending money lavishly on their children is all they need to do. Worse still, countless children are growing up before my eyes thinking that that is indeed true, and the best parents are those who either scold all the time or indulge their every material whim – sometimes both together ( I have met a great many like that myself)!

Contrast this with the attitude of a father I admire here (there are two webpages: read both). It so happens that this man is also the current President of the United States. Unlike so many fathers I know, he doesn’t claim he is too busy to take an active, sympathetic, helpful part in the growing up of his children; instead, he publicly laments that he has been an ‘imperfect’ father. And, writing from the White House, he also asserts that good parenting is fundamental to making a better society: we cannot hope for good results by foisting our failures as parents on either schools or the police or the church or the Net. Also, note that not once does he say that being a good parent means merely providing a comfortable and irresponsible childhood to his wards and ensuring that they ‘study hard’ in order to get a job. At the same time he (following in the breathtaking tradition supposedly set by Lincoln. As any sensible reader will understand, it doesn't matter one whit, of course, whether it was really Lincoln himself who wrote that letter) asserts that the task is infinitely more difficult, because the real goals are so infinitely harder to reach!

I should like some of my readers to assure me, after having read this post (and the links) very carefully, that their fathers did their job really well. A good father doesn't sermonize, snoop and boss; nor does he hold himself aloof: he is a friend who teaches by example - solving sums, telling stories, cleaning the toilet, playing games with his child. He doesn't molly-coddle, but he is always there when his child needs him. He has some genuine ideals (meaning those which he won't instantly desert the moment they get him into trouble). And he practises anything that he preaches, whether it is hard work or punctuality or not spreading malicious gossip. Remember also that they clearly said in the Aamir Khan starrer Rang de basanti that the least children can do is to find out how their fathers made their money before they decide whether to be proud or ashamed of such fathers! Leaking question papers for example, and awarding 'grace' marks for a consideration - is that okay as long as it pays for the childrens' frequent trips to the restaurant? Or prescribing quite unnecessary tests as a doctor, because the clinics pay commission on them? Or asking for 'cut money' in return for sanctioning building projects, as public engineers and administrators habitually do? Or simply sleeping at work, as so many dads do in this country? Why don't the kids go and look at them in the office sometimes?

Meanwhile, I am trying as a constant daily practice to ensure that I can respect and live up to such standards for my own daughter, because I have taught her already to be very critical of everybody, daddy included, and not to be ignorantly and easily proud…

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Now this is something I like!

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google Inc, went to work riding a bicycle, on a day when shareholders were meeting too, because it was Bike to work day at the company, which encourages green (eco-friendly) policies.

Brin, when I last checked, was worth $14 billion. As far as I know, he is a reasonably busy man. I should guess he ought to have some 'status' (the way Indians understand it) to maintain, too. None of these things stopped him from biking to his office. And hundreds of his humbler colleagues did the same   - some came from 50-plus miles away!

But of course, we Indians (however more or less 'successful' we are, from clerks to celebrities, and their children) are far too 'busy' and 'important' to do such silly things...

P.S.: I have put Sergey's blog on my blogroll.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Just FYI

Seven hundred visits in seven days. Odd. The last time this happened was when I wrote I wish I had resigned sooner. Makes one think, doesn't it?

After a gap of years I have been experimenting with the 'look and feel' of this blog. I was getting a little tired of the same old (and rather bland-) template. Within two days one reader has sent in some positive feedback, one has complained, one has sounded doubtful. So I guess it is hard to please all. But I am not entirely pleased myself, so look forward to further changes soon.

I am glad some old boys are trying their hand at writing on their own blogs and telling me about it. I wish them good luck, and many happy hours of writing. Just don't give up too soon!

P.S., May 16: I am done tinkering with the blog template - for the time being. Please do let me know if and why you like it. As some kind readers have noted, they visit my blog far more for the sake of the contents than for the 'packaging', and I wouldn't have it any other way. But even looks need a makeover now and then, I'm sure most will agree... (by the way, you may have problems with reading this blog if you are still using an old browser like IE6: so the blogger administrator tells me. Try IE8 or Google Chrome, or a recent version of Mozilla Firefox).

I have 135 followers now, and the number keeps climbing, so I guess it should be close to the 150 mark by the time of the blog's fourth birthday in July. The 50,000-visits mark, of course, has already been crossed...

Friday, May 07, 2010

Not impressed...

I am now really tired of people trying to impress me.

Partly due to predisposition, and partly due to the way I grew up, I have always been very hard to impress.

I saw chairmen of ultra-large companies and union cabinet ministers in my father’s drawing room even when I was a child, because of the kind of politicking he then did. And I was brought up on stories of the kind of fabulous wealth my ancestors had piled up (before they threw it all away: that is another story) – someone paid Rs. 100,000 plus as income tax way back in the 1930s, when anyone earning a thousand a month was regarded as a very rich man, and his son got the latest Harley Davidson imported the week he saw it advertised in a British magazine when 99.9% of Indians didn’t even know what it was – and about others whose photos and exploits featured frequently on the front page of national newspapers, and yet others who were intellectual geniuses, like the doctor who could speak in nine languages, paint beautifully and play chess with grandmasters.

As a boy in school and college I myself got the kind of praise from teachers that is the stuff of dreams for most people, and even taught my own class at university on a professor’s request. My only boast about the Joint Entrance Examination is not that I got through with a decent rank (which, I have always maintained, is something that any half-wit crammer can do with a little bit of luck) but that I did it without going to any tutor, and while reading enormously ‘outside the syllabus’, including poetry in brajabuli and philosophy in French, and while tutoring many people almost my own age and helping out with my father’s fledgling business at a time of great financial distress and having a very intense love affair, and I don’t know of one other man of my generation in my own social set who has done that: if there is any, I’d love to meet him!

I drank the finest wines and spirits long before most of my classmates had heard about them (they are doing it now, and preening like children!) I was drafting editorials for a major newspaper and getting into the high security VVIP enclave of Government House (Writers’ Building) in Calcutta before I was 21, and had a company car to pick me up for work, and dozens of bylines in a year – and those were times when these things were not available to every newly-hired Tom, Dick and Harry, which is why I attracted the envious wrath of so many seniors that became a major stumbling block to my career. I grew sick of tycoons and big-shot ‘educationists’ sucking up to me in the hope that I could give them a few column inches in the paper.

Even when I came back to Durgapur and took a job with St. Xavier’s School, it was all most informal: I never wrote an application, never appeared for an official interview; the Jesuit fathers in charge simply invited me over, one because he knew what kind of student I had been, and the other because he was a regular reader of my newspaper columns (the one he had read most recently was my review of Dr. Amlan Dutta’s book on Gandhi). I chucked up jobs for the asking with employers like the Doon School and The Times of India and Oxford University Press only because they could not simultaneously pay me what I wanted and assure me the kind of quiet, free, organized lifestyle that I demanded. I have travelled abroad, and seen wonderful sights, and stayed at palaces and five-star hotels, and have always maintained that only crude and ignorant fools think these are things to show off: indeed, reading HergĂ© or Premendra Mitra or Isaac Asimov on distant lands they had never seen with their own eyes, I know for a fact that not one in ten thousand people who travel abroad these days can come anywhere close to entertaining and educating me as those giants of the mind could, for the simple reason that these people don’t have eyes to see with.

And now folks my age and twenty years junior are trying to impress me (when they are not spinning malicious yarns about me) about their bylines, and their trips abroad, and their piddling new cars and their ‘executive’ designations (I keep remembering the gag that in the US even in the 1970s a sweeper had become a ‘waste disposal executive’…)! The oldest so far was someone in his mid-70s on his recent business trip to China, the youngest was an early-20s idiot who told me this very morning that he was now in France. So big deal!

I am at peace with my station in life, and if I blame anybody at all for things that didn’t work out, I blame only my karma and no human being, and I am impressed only by a) simplicity and earnestness of character, and hardiness in facing misfortune (as I find far more commonly among rickshaw pullers and greengrocers, baul singers and maidservants than among ‘successful’ doctors and lawyers and executives, or b) men of really great wealth and power – and I expressly don’t mean the local thug or some engineer or doctor who makes just a few lakhs a month and is worth nothing more yet thinks the world of himself, and most of all c) when I see a combination of great and diverse knowledge with imagination, courage and charity. Alas, the number of people in the last category whom I have met in all the forty odd years of conscious life so far I can count on the fingers of one hand. But I refuse to lower my standards simply because most people don’t fit the bill.

Otherwise, I am fine with old boys who drop in with gifts (most important of which are chats about their work and about places they have been to without ego-hassles, chats which I enjoy). But please – this is meant for all readers regardless of age and sex and location and occupation – please don’t try so hard to impress me. You are only likely to burst a vein!

Afterthought, May 09: And then there were the titans, about all of whom it can be aptly said that generations to come will scarce believe that men such as they ever in flesh and blood walked the face of this earth. The greatest of all my sorrows is that I never had the inestimable privilege of prostrating myself before one such man. Today is Rabindra jayanti.

hey mahaguru, shorboshastrashaar, tirthoshreshtho, chiropother shongi - loho pronaam.

Monday, May 03, 2010

In praise of nerds

Tanmoy’s recent musing on nerds set me thinking, and presently it occurred to me that humanity can be safely divided into nerds, lunatics and automatons (let me know if I have missed some important category). The lunatics, of course, are a threat either to themselves or to society or both, whether they are of the trivial type like the housewife I mentioned in my last post on the other blog, or of the Ivan the Terrible/Adolf Hitler sort. The less we have to take notice of them the better.
Most of us are not born to become anything better than automatons, first at school and later on as workers and neighbours and family men… even those (a very small minority) who seem in their youth to be gifted with energy and imagination and a sense of personal direction by and large become that way by the time they have lived forty years on earth. Most of us have to, simply in order to cope with life as it is; the dullness of unavoidable routine not only eventually grinds out all sparks of the divine fire, but maybe that is the way it should be for ‘civilization’ to survive, seeing that most kinds of necessary work is of a menial, low-IQ, repetitive kind, whether you are pushing files or removing tumours or repairing boilers or balancing account books or selling insurance or managing a shop or cooking daily for the family. Thank God mankind produces far more of the Telemachus type than the Ulysses…
But, although defined in a rather sneering way, it is the nerds who keep not only the individual life but civilization as a whole from dying of stagnation. Every great invention or discovery was made (if not accidentally) by some unsocial nerd who stayed obsessed with finding out the why or how of something he found irresistibly curious, some problem he felt just had to be solved, no matter whether he could see any kind of immediate benefit from it or not – whether it was vast questions like why the apple always falls straight to the ground or finding out if something could shut bags and other things better than hooks, clasps or buttons could (I am thinking of the zip fastener), or figuring out what a strange inscription on a rock in a desert meant, or how to remove seeds from a juicy fruit. And where would sensitive and thinking people be without the likes of Homer and Shakespeare and Stevenson and Rowling, who were all nerds of the finest types? All mankind owes a debt to nerds that can never be repaid. Without them, we should still be swinging from the trees. And turning to the individual life, I admire no one more than a man who can say, at age 50, that he has started mastering sudoku or learning a new language, or watching a new genre of movies, or cultivating a new talent such as music or painting that he has just discovered inside himself. All of us who cannot do that are already dead, even if we might physically survive (and continue to pollute the earth, and irritate our families and neighbours with endless grumbling and preening) for some more decades still. Without a strong nerdy instinct, men and women become insufferably boring by the time they reach my age, as I can see very clearly among my own contemporaries: I’d hate to spend an evening with them instead of with their children, who, mercifully, are still not quite so brain-dead … though, alas, they are trying very hard to become like that, with Facebook and video games and Hannah Montana to help them!
P.S., May 05: Someone who probably wouldn't want himself named here (otherwise he could have sent in a comment directly) wrote that I might consider a fourth category of 'idiotic dreamers'. What do my regular readers think?