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
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. Calcutta
Even when I came back to
and took a job with St. Xavier’s School, it was all most informal: I Durgapur 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 and The Times of India and Doon School 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 Hergé 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 . So big deal! France
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.