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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.


Suvendu Ghosh said...

and yet you are just a private tutor :-(

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you, Suvendu, whoever you are are. I had quite forgotten what I was!

I am sure that you have read the blogpost very carefully. And maybe you belong to category (b) or (c)?

Aakash said...

I'm not sure what you mean by 'just a private tutor' Suvendu. As far as I know we're all 'mere mortals'. I'm just an editor, if you want to know. And, I'm not sure just what you are.

I was trying to figure out how your thought fits as a comment on this blogpost. If you read closely, these are the words of a man who is satisfied with what he's doing. '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,' just to quote.

Now to what you really meant. It takes a lot of courage and learning to make an honest living out of teaching. A lot of people do so, making enough to give many techies feel poor. The future belongs to knowledge providers, private more than the institutionalized (like the CAT/JEE coaching centres)--just for your knowledge. It has already happened in places like Delhi and Bombay, where you have students lining up at the doors of these 'just private tutors' at 4 a.m. in the morning just to become a bureaucrat. I'm sure you're just not one.

Someday some fancy MNC will set up some sweat shop and use a tagline 'Providing Knowledge Solutions' and you will be all praises for such enterprises and you may even give your right arm off to work in one.

Just learn to think!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Oh, come on, Aakash: both of us know these types. If they had learnt to think (and to understand, and to respect), and had the courage to admire people who can stand on their own feet (even if they couldn't dream of trying it themselves) they wouldn't have been what they are, nor burnt with impotent envy of their betters!

I recently found out that a top-flight private tutor coaching CA students in New Delhi makes more than three crores a year. I'd like to know what this fellow Suvendu gets, and which A-list company he is the CEO of.

By the way, nice play on the word 'just'!

Alka said...

Hummm... I am more interested in knowing the secret of your success. How you managed multitasking so beautifully?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for commenting, Alka. After a long time...!

I really don't know the answer to that one. Would you believe it: in my youth I actually found myself bored with too little to do, despite that kind of work-and-fun schedule! My mother and wife have both averred that some people have vastly stronger appetites and energy levels than most others, and I just happen to be one of them. In my classes my 15-18 year olds get tired and out of focus far more easily than me, though I do 90% of the talking and thinking, even at this age... as for multi-tasking, I was doing it instinctively long before it became a smart catchword, and the missus says she seriously started believing what I was capable of in my youth after watching my teenage daughter, who can write email, watch TV, listen to music and read a book or do math all at the same time.

Soham Mukhopadhyay said...

Dear Sir,
I'm dumbstruck on reading this.Those 20 months were the best part of my life so far. I fell very lucky to be acquainted with you.I really wonder about your multitasking talent.I am reminded of the line from Village Schoolmaster- "How such a head could carry all he knew"!

Alka said...

God bless your daughter! One day we might be reading your books and biography :-)

Nishant Choudhary said...

I almost had the same question in my mind all throughout while reading the article, that Alka has put. I mean, I didn't know even 25% of what you have disclosed in here. Hats off to you.

(And yes, I'd seriously like to know who or rather WHAT Mr.Suvendu Ghosh actually is!!)


Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvro da,

God bless you. You have certainly managed to influence some lives and shape some thoughts.

I sincerely wish there are more people who can come close to what you have achieved and how you have done it.

Yet again all my sincere wishes always for you.



Sayak Shome said...

I just watch and wonder at the hideous asymmetry of nature, err life. Although this is how the world is divided into 'somebodies' and 'nobodies', isn't it sad that some people crave for a little attention and not getting any spend their entire lives in solitude whereas a few get so much attention that they come to loathe it? Actually, it's sad for both of the categories. The former doesn't know what it feels like to get attention and the latter doesn't want to feel anymore what it's like to get attention.
I don't question your abhorrence towards people who try to impress you, or towards people who unjustifiably judge you and hurl abuses at you; that's justified.(I'm no one to judge anyway!) What I want to say is that those people, good or bad, do affect you, they make you think they make you write, they take a part of your precious time. So, even if in a very menial way those people do win over you; the day you will be indifferent towards them will be the day they'll lose.


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks, Nishant. It was you who told me about that crorepati tutor, remember?

As for this creature called Suvendu Ghosh (I doubt even whether that's the comment-writer's real name), I can wager ten to one that he is going to become very, very quiet, now that he has seen what kind of reactions his smart-alecky comment has fetched. Again, chances are ten to one that neither his father nor he has been able to do much in life, in any sense whatsoever, including the monetary one, despite doing all the 'right' things - like going to so many 'just' tutors, reading science, taking the JEE, getting a third-rate job with some company that hires cybercoolies - and cannot bear to see that there are still people in the world who have done all kinds of 'wrong' things and are still doing far better than they, financially, morally and otherwise. Hence they spit upwards at the sky, with predictable results.

Sayak, I ignore the type most of the time - you have no idea how fast my trash folder fills up! However, every now and then some people get my goat, so they need to be firmly put back in their proper place... which, of course, is the gutter!

Tanmoy, thanks too. I only wish more people would vocally acknowledge how much they owe me...

Navin said...

Dear Sir,

I wish you the very best in all of your efforts and sincerely thank you for your sincerity in your efforts.

I wish god continues to give you the strength to be as active and successful as you already are.


Shilpi said...

Suvro da,
This is one curious essay...

I’m sorry you have to put up with the cretins who come and blow on their noisy, slimy, and out-of-tune trumpets hoping to impress you, and I wish they’d leave you alone. I find them both annoying and ridiculous. Don't they know how pitiable and ridiculous they are? Yet I can’t help but love what you wrote here. This has got to be one of my favourite pieces inspite of a certain bit…

There is the matter-of-factness, the inimitable, stinging wit, the breathless pace of the piece - all of which carry me on a roller-coaster of a ride filled with sudden scenes, broken images, places, and people...and I rush along. The essay takes me well beyond the intended end. Or maybe the whole ride was wholly intended.

And yes, the less said of the pitiable sod who was trying to impress you with his smart alecky and stupid comment (and for this essay of all essays! But how dumb can one be?), the better. I hope he’s gone and burst his vein. That would serve him right.

You take care.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

It has been well said that (impotent) envy is the worst of the deadly sins, Shilpi. And nobody attracts more vicious envy than one who chooses to walk alone, and still doesn't come to grief... it makes the herd mad, and some of them just cannot help barking and yowling! How dare a man who is not an engineer or doctor be proud and happy with his life, and make his contempt for the herd so apparent? It proves us and all our parents wrong, and makes us look foolish. How dare he?

Did you notice the 'afterthought'? I am not incapable of respecting people; my only problem is that I cannot respect greedy, selfish, utter mediocrity simply because I cannot see great men around myself.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

hmm... 300-plus visits in three days. Interesting!

Someone just asked 'Does anybody impress you at all?' I don't think s/he has read the blogpost closely. In any case, anybody with a question like that is welcome to look up the posts under the label 'tributes'. I said I have high standards, not absurd ones!

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

The main reason why I like this post (and many others that you have written) is because it sets me thinking about things that I might not have given much attention to, previously. I am envious of anyone who has held on to high standards in all spheres. How shall I be twenty years later? I hope I will be the kind of person who can read this post again without flinching.


Shilpi said...

I did read the afterthought, and I smiled but couldn't think of anything else to add.

I was going to write 'why on earth would people think you're incapable of respecting people: you've always talked of people whom who do respect and admire...' but then as I read your last comment…

Why would anyone admire or respect silly, greedy, vain, and average people simply because there are such few individuals around who genuinely merit one's respect? That seems to me to be a stupid thing to do.

And on a connected though - I quite get it that envy burns people...…

I'll be the first to admit that I very badly hope that I can do or be something or someone that does you proud but at least I've always known that one has to be really outstanding (and not by the herd standards, goes without saying) for you to be impressed. So I don't understand why people try to impress you with their silly baubles and sillier tales. Do they really think you'll be impressed or what?....

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

I have been Suvro's batch-mate for years - since grade 5 I think, that's when the guys from Mirabai section from Steel merged into the main AVB pool - till JU. In JU he had different major though. So, about 16+ years of his educational achievements, minus the +2.

He has been a phenomenon, always. Things like his essays in school in both English and Bangla being read out to students two grades senior were well known stories of the time.

Nothing but awe and admiration for him from what I know.

On my favorite topic though, I'll have to ask him -
quoting - "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!)"

Had quite a few sessions with you - Nilu, you and me. Remember Grants scotch - what else dude? You must have had great stuff and parties other than us.

come on, share with us please.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Subhashis, a lot of kids with clucking mothers read this blog, too! I live, alas, in what is still basically a 19th century village. Still, to satisfy your curiosity just a little bit: thanks to the journalistic stint, and a few dirty-rich personal patrons, I had sampled at least thirty different types of cocktails, and several varieties of vintage cognac, and could tell the difference between Glenfiddich and Glenlivet before I was 21.

And I said 'most of my contemporaries', not a tiny exclusive bunch! Remember all the bumpkins and mamas' little pets while we were at Xavier's Calcutta? Remember Amit Banerjee, for instance? I can't tell you how their numbers have swelled!

Don't die soon, old friend. There are young ignorant morons around who even doubt that I sat for the JEE. I need the likes of you to tell them to keep their sub-human standards to themselves...!

And do comment a little more frquently.

devdas said...

Hello Suvro-da,
I also agree with you about the rich standards which Tagore set before us. I admired him from my childhood days which matured into deep love for his thoughts when I was studying in his esteemed institution and this bond grows ever and ever.

But I must say I also admire another and he is the Man and about whom Tagore once felt as "a personality who is like a tall tree in his times when others were mere bushes" .....Ishwar Chandra VidyaSagar and some more about him in the link below:


"The poet, RabindranathTagore was hard pressed to find a comparable personality in the West and according to him, the closest that he found who could come to resemble Vidyasagar in his words and deeds, was the English writer, Dr. Samuel Johnson."

best regards,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I used 'titans', in the plural, Debasish. Vidyasagar ranks very high on my list. Indeed, when so many ask me 'Why did you, so good a student yourself, go in for teaching, and that too at school level?' I have always retorted 'If Vidyasagar did not consider it demeaning, should I?' To the literate few among them, I also recommend Robert Fulghum's wonderful book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten'.

A wag once told me 'All our great men were born in the 19th century; we of the 20th have been born only to celebrate their centenaries!'

It is the contemporary Indian's manic determination to be ordinary in the middle-class sense and then call it success that I despise so much, not to say loathe, because it is ensuring that India will keep producing vast numbers of midgets, intellectually, morally and spiritually speaking...

devdas said...

I fully Agree with you Suvro-da!
Lets not bother too much ...."kuch to log kahenge"... I guess I did not make things too light, I fear.
best regards,

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

aah...Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, finest of single malts.

On the main topic - if you think of a person who's extremely well read, tremendously talented and hard working then the following is true -

the person can do anything (s)he wishes for a living or hobby, without any worries of not being highly successful.

Unfortunately, such a person would also like to have the following -

1. Do what (s)he really loves and enjoys - financial and economic sense be damned.

2. Not have to deal with people of much lower skill and competence levels as colleagues to 'work with' in 'team spirit'.

3. Have no boss, be own boss.

4. Not have to deal with politics, unhealthy and unethical rivalry, cheating, lying, stealing, back stabbing and a zillion other "skills" and "competencies" which are absolute musts to be successful in a 'professional environment'.

That pretty much eliminates most jobs and most work environments. Suvro's choice of running his own tutoring shop for school students is probably the closest to the best profession and work environment given the above considerations.

As for being a tutor of school students, here's something interesting which is well known but either people forget or a screwed up system tries to force the opposite.

Foreign coaches have been hired, sometimes at exorbitant compensation packages to improve performance of Indian sportpersons in various sports since long. Very few have been really honest and frank about the whole thing. Those who have, keep pointing out that coaches, however great, can make little difference at such a late stage when a player is playing for big clubs or the country. In countries where there is a culture of excellence, the best of coaches are given the responsibility of training the most junior players who are in their formative years. If the fundamentals are not developed properly then having the greatest of coaches for the advanced and final stages wouldn't make much of a difference.

Shouldn't the best teach school students then?

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...


at the new 'look and feel' theme of the blog. thought of suggesting this but knew the artist in him would call soon..


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Ah yes, I have been experimenting. The picture of the saguaro cactus brought back memories of the Arizona desert. But I might change the format again soon: not everything about this template is to my liking...

Once upon a time the finest students became teachers. India, I am convinced, will never really progress until that happens again.

Mr. Suvendu Ghosh has still not told me why I should be ashamed of being a private tutor (Aristotle was one, in case he has heard the name), nor how well placed he is in his own life that I should be impressed!

Navin said...

Dear Sir,

I do not like the current layout. It is hard on the eyes. It has a darkish tone, and I have to change the font size on my browser to be most comfortable in reading this.
I think I liked the previous one better than this one. It was "brighter" than this one


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Navin, I have changed the blog template/background again. You might like it better this time round.

About the new look of the blog, please comment on the later post titled Just FYI. Here I was lamenting over how our standards have fallen lately, how we are so easily impressed, and that too only by material things... everything from skin tone to academic degrees and money and notoriety, and so little by true achievers in the field of the mind, and even more so, spirit. No more comments on that?

Thinker said...

Though i was not your student nor have we met,but i felt your presence through the quality of books that you have left with us at thee st xavier's library while you were there as a teacher.It might pain you to know that the school currently sells away the books which are a little damaged or torn for 10 or maybe 15 rupees(for heavens sake if that might have been the policy of all library's then we would not have had a single book at the national library).Anyway i feel a little guilty to say that i took the chance as well to buy the works of some old masters.Have you read any of the works of Giovanni Guarresci(He wrote the Don Camillo Series).Considering the fact that penguin has stopped printing them,its tough to find even a single copy anywhere,except for $50-60(I got a copy of Comrade Don Camillo from the library for Rs10).Considering your taste i presume it was you who procured them for the library as none of the other teachers had ever heard of the author let alone his books...

Suvro Chatterjee said...

First, "Thinker", I wish you had let me know your name. I posted this comment only because it was polite and serious, but I normally don't, as said on the blog itself.

Second, thanks for telling me, but this is hardly news. I know what has been happening to the SXS library ever since I left. What can you expect with a headmaster who never goes anywhere near books but loves to flaunt his mobiles, and a 'librarian' who was once a menial staff?

Good for you that you got a few books on the cheap. In fact, the Guareschi collection was Fr. Gilson's; it was he who got me hooked. As for the teachers never having heard the name, I'm not surprised. Even in my day there were very few genuine readers among the so-called teachers, leave alone book lovers, and as for the current crop, knowing their backgrounds as I do, the less said the better!

It may pain you to know that some rare books which were only available in the SXSD library (and maybe with the University of Burdwan) within this district have been sold off as junk (they didn't even have an idea of the real money-value of the books, poor sods), to be replaced with stuff like titles from the Nancy Drew series. In any case, virtually no one, neither pupils nor their parents, complains, because after all their almost universal ambition is to become cybercoolies, and who needs to read books for that, whether it's Don Camillo or Caesar's diaries?

My only sorrow is that the school website still claims that it is one of the 'premier' educational institutions around. It all depends on what people understand by education... that is why I said in this post that these days few people impress me!

Riddhi said...

It would perhaps help if ex-Xavierians, book lovers that is - at least those who are in Durgapur or those who temporarily visit the city - visit the school library and salvage as many titles as they could. Maybe if you exhort them to the task with a post...

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I have tried, and been rewarded by being called a thief - or rather, someone who encouraged boys to steal from the library. Pigs cannot think that anybody can be better than a pig!

subhro sengupta said...

well u might remember me...my name is subhro as well.subhro sengupta.nice to know that now i have something that is a part of history.sorry for the thinker tag.i forgot to remove it.at last it feels great that some people have enjoyed guareschi before it is sold away as mere scrap.and you are right about the nancy drew thing.the school spends all of its library budget on nancy drew and obriens quiz series.and god knows what is the use of having nat geo magazines if you wont let students read them

Suvro Chatterjee said...

It's always delightful to hear celebrities speaking up for teachers: not many do. The last I remember was J.K. Rowling ('I'd probably have been a teacher if I hadn't become an author'), and now it's Aamir Khan, flush with the success of Taarey Zameen Par and 3 idiots:


He says that teaching should become the highest paid profession, and I can only say 'Hear, hear!'

But - as I would never stop reminding people - we need to do a great cleaning up of the Augean stables that our teachers have made of education in this country, too. There are not only far too many incompetent time-servers and boors in this profession now, but too many greedy mercenaries, who sell education the way they would sell vegetables or cement. Those who take classes in the FIIT-JEE cramshops cannot be called teachers in the same breath with Vidyasagar without corrupting the very idea of education beyond redemption!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Just a fortuitous coincidence that I found a newspaper article saying exactly what I had said in the above comment, only a day after I wrote it:


Ignorance, bad taste, lack of accountability and greed make a deadly combination in this walk of life!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

People seem to have lost track of this particular post. Anyway...

I wanted to add that it is not only sublime geniuses who impress me. I am deeply impressed by the young man who arrived in my neighbourhood to sell rolls and pakoras and chow mein and suchlike fast food from a push-cart almost a quarter century ago, and today does a very flourishing business from his own well-organized permanent establishment. What impresses me is that despite the fact that he makes more money than 90% of the doctors and engineers in this town, he remains as humble and down-to-earth and careful with his money as always (still riding around on his moped when every bank clerk has a car!) but that he has, unlike so many parents I know, been able to persuade his madhyamik-passed son that learning the ropes of the family business will be far more rewarding in the long run than any petty salaried job that he could find... I cannot wish more for my own daughter, which, for those who really know me, is saying something!