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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What news is news?

Very big recent news headlines:

Satya Sai Baba has passed away.

Prince William is getting married.

Winds of change are blowing strongly in West Bengal, as will soon be apparent to one and all when the Assembly election results come out.

Alas, all three leave me unmoved.

Is it because I have grown old and cynical, or is it that there is something lacking in my mental makeup that I simply cannot get excited when millions of others do?

If pressed, I would say that to me, the first item was of the greatest significance. Not because I liked the Sai Baba’s looks, his love of wealth and pomp, his taste in clothes or interior décor, his (or rather, his followers’) claims that he was God incarnate, or his penchant for magic shows.

I had a certain degree of respect for him because of the immense amount of good works that he had done in one lifetime: from bringing water to some of the most drought-prone areas of the south to setting up schools and colleges where a lot of young people got fairly good-quality education to his several A-grade hospitals where hundreds of thousands have got medical treatment for almost free. I have also seen the educational booklets that they use at his Bal Vikaas Kendras (a type of playschool, of which there are hundreds around the country), and found them eminently sane and relevant to a good upbringing of children: they teach very practical things about resource conservation and environmental protection, about good manners and social responsibility, and about relying on one’s own spiritual strength to tackle all the hurdles and challenges of life. Whether or not such ideas are spread with a religious backing, heaven knows that this country desperately needs to spread that kind of education among its young.

To all those who turn up their noses because he was regarded as a godman, I can only say ‘do more than he did for social welfare, then start criticizing him’. I know, too, about many kinds of unsavoury rumours and canards that go around about him – and all I can say is, with a millionth of his fame, I have suffered lifelong from the same insane rumour-mongering industry, so I know how much they are worth. Finally, for all those who consider themselves too ‘smart and scientific’ to revere godmen, all I’ll say is that they are calling all sorts of people from Mukesh Ambani to APJ Abdul Kalam, from Sachin Tendulkar to Manmohan Singh and literally millions of ordinary devotees (who include all sorts of highly educated professionals) superstitious fools. I prefer to be humble, and adopt an agnostic position, choosing to judge a man by his words and deeds. I have no idea whether Vivekananda saw God (I don’t even know what that means, after reading both science and religion all my life), but I respect him profoundly for the life he lived.

And I certainly believe that Vivekananda living or Sai baba dying matters considerably more than Prince William getting married, or what the election results in West Bengal may say (about this last, see my comment on Tanmoy's blogpost).


Debotosh Chatterjee said...

This is what Mr. A.P.J.Abdul Kalam thinks about Sathya Sai Baba :

Anand Tiwari said...

Dear Suvro da,

Fantastic post. I agree 100% with you. I too am not sure about whether Sathya Sai Baba was truly a Godman or saint but through his trust he did a lot of social good. You are spot on in your post about this aspect of his life.

There should be mandatory training on resource conservation for both children and adults. I run into adults everyday who do not even blink an eye while consuming 2 feet of paper towel to wipe their hands. A large number of such ignorant people are unfortunately of Indian descent.

I am eagerly looking forward to the WB assembly results. A more than 20 year old bet with my father will be settled.... Hopefully

Sunup said...

I agree with your views on Sai Baba. Though there are umpteen 'crore-patis' in India, how many would actually think of spending a part of their fortune for the lesser privileged? My workplace in Whitefield, Bangalore, is close to the General and Super Specialty Hospitals run by his trust. The daily serpentine queue to avail the free consultation/medication/hospitalization is to be seen to be believed. And this is in an era when most privately run hospitals admit people into their casualty wards only if they have thousands to deposit. As if people can foresee their medical emergencies and always carry wads of currency with them.
As for William's wedding, maybe our media still haven't got over the colonial hangover. And Sir, I read Tanmay's post and your comment there. Though I like Ms. Bannerjee's pro-poor attitude, it may not do any good for Bengal's economic revival. Sometimes I feel that her views are more Marxian than any genuine communist around today. Like when someone asked her about the deteriorating financial condition of the Indian Railways, she said that she doesn't care as in her view the Railways is a public service utility for the benefit of the people of India, and not for making profits and money. As for the cultural change, I would like to tell something that I recently saw in a Malayalam regional TV channel. They were covering a feature on Mr. P. Thankappan Nair, who is a noted 'Calcutta-centric' historian, who has written a lot on Calcutta's history. It seems he had thousands of rare and invaluable books and manuscripts, which he wanted to donate to the Calcutta Town Hall library some years back when he and his family were about to come back to his home state Kerala. On hearing the news, Mamata Banerjee personally visited him and told him not to donate the books to the Town Hall, as the Calcutta Municipal Corporation was ruled by the Left at that time. In the meantime he got offers running to crores of rupees from foreign universities, libraries and some Indian corporates. A few weeks later he called her up and said he had some lucrative offers for his collection. Her answer was something to the effect 'give it to the one who pleases you most'. Of course, he donated the entire collection to CMC's Town Hall library, but he was laughing over the incident.
Sir, my apologies for deviating a bit off topic.


Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

(I tried posting a comment yesterday but perhaps there was some issues with the system so it did not get posted).

I completely agree with your view on Saibaba. I too believe a person should be judged by his actions. Most Indian origin spiritual leaders are very rich but I wonder whether they have invested money on social services. At a time when “activism” is being discussed so much thanks to Lokpal – I think Saibaba’s social work speaks volume.

As far as WB elections are concerned, I am pessimistic because I am not sure whether the “Bengali” urge to change can be seen as a change in mindset. I am proud of Bengali literature, food and culture but I have personally never tried to use them as an excuse to be lazy and backward. Most of us Bengalis, who live in cities and towns, love to live in a denial and call our arrogance a matter of Bengali pride. Hence, we burn buses etc when Sourav Ganguly is not picked to play cricket and we think that is our showing of love. For similar reasons we dirty our universities and colleges and blame it on ruling Government. We make our cities and towns dirty and think that is our birthright because the entire country is doing it. We do heaps of things and like you said a change in Government would not change anything. Government is not responsible for everything that has gone wrong in West Bengal. People’s acceptance of everything that supports laziness and filth has ruined West Bengal. And I don’t expect anything will change when Mamata Banerji comes to power. The people who have joined her (the “civil society members”) are all beneficiaries of the CPIM government and now they may end up stealing much more under her. Some of those civil society members have already suited themselves with new benefits. Again I repeat I welcome the change but I wish it was for better.

But I don’t have any choice at this moment. I wish that our educational establishments gets back their ethos, I wish that on streets of Kolkata the auto drivers don’t threaten people of my dad’s age, I wish institutes like Motor Vehicle corporation offer service with smile and I hope we have pavements back again. I have not seen many villages in my life so far but I sincerely hope that the larger part of Bengali population lives a better life.

Most of my friends (batch mates) who are rooting for the change scare me because I don’t think their miseries are entirely caused by any Government. They just love the hype – like most Bengalis do.

As far as Prince William getting married, I am bothered the least. I cannot believe taxpayers in UK are so liberal about paying for this wedding. I am sick of the coverage that the wedding is getting in news media here and I am happy that it is going to be over tonight.



Dipanwita Shome said...

I have been following your blog for some time now.I was directed to it by an ardent follower and a grateful and talented student of yours.I do not venture to write much today except to say that your writing is as, if not far more, educational than booklets by many. And,this is despite the much referred-to cynicism. The self-reliant assurance that is a sinuous feature in the word-weave makes it a pleasure to read this blog. To add to the pleasure, it affirms many who are otherwise touted as 'katkhotta'. Hopefully, you will understand that the preceding line is no insult. It is gratitude from many that are unfortunate and misunderstood for solace provided.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

No offence taken, Ms. Shome: you are welcome. It is always good to know that my blog is read and enjoyed by people whom I didn't even know. Thus the net spreads ever wider. I shall hope to hear more from you.