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Monday, May 28, 2012

Midsummer musing

Several unconnected musings for this time.

We are going through the worst part of summer. What with temperatures soaring to 470 C combined with the sort of very high humidity that is more commonly associated with Kolkata, life has been made miserable around here; everybody’s praying for rain, despite knowing that the monsoon is at least a fortnight away. Perhaps I grow more sensitive to extreme heat and cold with age, but it is a matter of fact that we are hearing of sunstroke deaths in the papers. Oh, by the way, the latest fashion among women around here – at least those who ride two-wheelers – is to clothe themselves head to toe in burqua-like apparel, face masks and elbow length gloves and all, presumably to avoid sunburn. I wonder how I survived so many years without any kind of special protection at all!

Starting today, I am taking the usual mid-year week off, but this time we are not travelling anywhere. That’s because we couldn’t think of any nice place to go to. We tried hill stations at this time of year, and got blisters and heat fever and upset stomachs after coming back; we also tried places which blaze, such as Varanasi, and had to virtually stay cooped up in airconditioned hotel rooms round the clock, which is no fun: if we are going to be cooked, we’d rather do it on the cheap, at home. So it will be housework, movies, books, sleep, swimming, chatting and maybe dining out once or twice, that’s all. And helping my daughter to get through the mountain of projects assigned in school…

I was looking at the list of ‘most-read’ blogposts, and couldn’t help wondering about some of them. The top two have been fixtures for a long time now, but why is Subarnalata on that list and so high for so long? The post relating to Anna Hazare’s mission (A most frightening prospect) is still relevant, so I am glad that people are reading it. The same goes for the one on Indian English and the one titled Are you sure (because it makes me feel good to think that maybe it has set a lot of people thinking a little!). Growing up in Durgapur obviously struck a chord somewhere, so let it enjoy its place in the sun. But I wrote very little in the post on 3 Idiots, so I cannot figure out why it should be permanently on that list, and placed so high too. That the post on Steve Jobs should still hang on there while the one on The Mahabharata has dropped away I find truly dismaying: how badly people these days have got their priorities mixed up, really. An epic will be remembered – at least if civilization survives – long, long after PCs and iPads have become as trivial and uncommented upon as the washing machine and refrigerator are today, yet readers are more interested in finding out what I have said about Steve Jobs? What a pity. And there are at least half a dozen other posts which I think deserve a place on that most-read list, too. I wish my readers would go back to older posts a little more often.

Finally, a reflection on my work again. Given the number of people who keep coming to ask me to admit their kids in my classes, virtually the only thing that has been stopping me all these years from increasing the number of batches is the fact that I cannot cope with so much homework. As thousands of ex-pupils know, I correct homework with a fine-toothed comb and write detailed comments, and it gobbles up time like nobody’s business (besides hurting the eyes and trying my patience, after having been at it for so long); beyond a certain limit I simply couldn’t handle it. I have been telling ex-students that I’d gladly pay 10,000 rupees a month to anybody who could do this job for me, in keeping with my standards. Let’s put that in perspective: people with master’s degrees are teaching full time in schools around here for as little as five thousand rupees a month, whereas I am offering double that for four or five evenings’ work a week, not more than three hours a day. Imagine how hard an insurance- or vacuum cleaner salesman has to work to earn that much in commissions. Reflect that engineers at sponge iron plants hereabouts start at 12-15,000 a month for doing 12 hour days, six days a week. And yet the wonder of it is that I have never had any takers on my offer in more than a decade…


Sayan Datta said...

Dear Suvro Sir,
The first part of your post reminded me of Kipling, who had said -" No one - man or woman - feels an angel when the hot weather is approaching" The killing heat coupled with high humidity is taking its toll on me among a lot of other people. At least I have to work indoors; I have been thinking about how vegetable vendors, shopkeepers and those who have to go from door to door like salesmen and those who deliver newspapers are coping. I have heard of some private tutors who have installed air conditioners in their classroom and I think that maybe you could do the same.

Travelling is something I really enjoy and your second paragraph made me feel slightly nostalgic, probably because I haven't been able to visit any place new in a long while wanting desperately to...you know the reason why.

I have often wondered, Sir, about when we lost it really? At which point in history, after what turn of events did we start becoming more akin to animals and less human? This reminds me of your post on your other blog titled ‘Orangs and ipads’

The amount which you are offering made my jaw drop initially, but then I realized why. To keep up with your standards is no easy task; also the work requires concentrated effort and that you will obviously not accept a 'chalta hai' attitude, which has become so common among teachers and students alike.

Sayan Datta

Anonymous said...

A week long tour to Kerela can be fun in spite of the equally-hot weather over there. A place called Alleppey (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alappuzha) comes to mind. A six hours ride on the houseboat can at once make up for all the summer-sweat.

I see you have raised a question there in the third paragraph about people not wanting to take up the job you are offering at a reasonable salary. I will try to answer that in the following points:

1. A person working under you will not enjoy the work atmosphere that a school by-default has: interaction which colleagues, students and authorities is an important part of which.

2. An engineer in the steel plant or a teacher in a school working for the same money simultaneously earns something called "work experience" which would prove valuable when he/she would apply for another job.

3. A person needs security in the job he does. A teacher signs an agreement before joining the school which promises her 'work' for a particular tenure( say three years). Consequently he/she remains on a safer side without the fear of getting fired. The same person working under you could have been fired within a week, if you did not feel him/her to be upto the mark. To say, your job doesn't have a "warrantee"!

Manoshij Banerjee

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Haha, Manoshij, that should be Kerala, not Kerela, and warranty, not warrantee. One major reason why, as Sayan has pointed out, nobody wants to take me up on my offer. As for the third part of your 'explanation', I suggest that you find out a little more about the current state of the job market. Most teachers, and engineers, are currently taken on short term contracts, and they can usually be dismissed without a day's notice. One young man I know hereabouts got the boot only last week... as for points 1 and 2, I need not comment at all. Other readers much older than you are will know why not.

Shilpi said...

What makes me wonder about this new one - apart from the title (sounds like a title for a story..) - is that you can sound amusing and humourous even when it's blistering hot over there....
It's definitely gotten hotter over there though through the decades. I am sure of this even though I stayed away from a/c rooms. There was one nice afternoon from very many years ago when I left my stoic ideals (about braving the heat) at the door. I do, do hope the rains come soon. This is the year that I know I've grown old for not only do I get confused about how old I am in terms of years but also that I was secretly pleased even about the abnormally mild winter here. So much about the weather, although I could go on about it.

I think there are lots of old blogposts which should show up but the one on time not being there perplexes me and some of the ones that I visit off and on - old and new - never show up - like the way my world has changed, at sea, the one on music, being change resistant, Debjaan, father's woe and fighterplanes, and the book-lovers post, and some more...but let me keep this list short. I do wonder why the Amitabh post doesn't show up higher though, although it's nice to see that people read your person post...

I think I should hold my peace and maintain my silence for the last bit of your post, at least for the nonce since you say that none of your ex-students have ever taken your offer in the last decade...

But this also reminds me: just the other day, Pupu was telling me what a homophone was...while telling me about her massive load of projects and while finishing one too. Best of luck to both of you on the projects. And God be with you through these times.

As for Manoshij's comment above:
Manoshij, you really should not talk about matters that you know nothing about and become a laughing stock among Suvro da's regular readers. I'm assuming none of the other sensible readers have responded to your comment out of sheer politeness. You obviously don't know anything about Suvro da himself which is why you talk about somebody 'not enjoying the work experience' with him or not gaining any 'work experience' while working for him - so one can only emit a very loud "Ha!" at your utterly, excuse me, rather daft points. Working for Suvro da would mean one would have all the possible, impossible, profound and enjoyable experiences, and Suvro da would be the one doing the favour of a lifetime - and he knows that too - and the one hired wouldn't want another job nor ever worry about looking for another job. Read the latest comment that Suvro da has written to Rashmi recently - in his A waking nightmare post - then you might just understand what I'm talking about. Of course you might not understand any of this because maybe most/all of what he writes on his blogs also clean goes off the top of your head?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Shilpi, don't blast off like that: these poor kids cannot really be faulted for the poverty of their language, knowledge, imagination and power of appreciation - how often have I told you about how they are brought up? The wonder is that some of you out there at all appreciate what I know, and do, and stand for, and work at: it is far, far more common in this one-horse industrial town caught in a time warp for people, both children and their parents, to regard me as just another private tutor, because they simply cannot think that anybody could be anything else, anything more! As you should have noticed, this boy tripped himself up on elementary spelling, and cannot understand that that is by far the most serious reason why no one takes up my offer, for the simple reason s/he won't last my scrutiny for a day! That old boy I mentioned in an earlier comment who said we had 'teached' him was an IIT entrance topper - that's the mental level we are dealing with or worse all the time, never forget that!

Debarshi Saha said...

Respected Sir,

Warm regards.The title is very reminiscent of the beautiful,dreamy Shakespearean drama-"A Midsummer Night's Dream".Sir,you are,and always will be,a very keen observer of the human drama unfolding in front of our eyes each single moment,every passing day.The manner in which you paint every single eccentricity and humorous quirks of our race,the deep insights of wisdom that accompany all your posts,and your inimitable narration-Why,to be working for you,is something that I would deeply cherish,and treasure every moment!I would guard my job from prying eyes,lest I become the object of envy among others.Life amidst the heat and dust cannot be easy,but your stories are like oases for the world-weary traveller-fountains of well-being and peace!And I will never tire of your words,Sir!If I were able to work for you,I would be sure of travelling to far-away and exotic lands,laced with colourful cultures,each and every single day-That would be an experience of a lifetime,and much more highly valued than "work experience".

As for Manoshij,you really shouldn't comment on issues you might not know.For one,it is silly and finally,all of Sir's readers here are eager for more stories,more musings of his,to add passion,colour and authentic emotions to their lives.You cannot possibly deter him in this regard.

Finally,learn how to begin a comment with the proper requisite salutation.Until you learn the art of politeness,don't hang around sending comments.You are writing a comment to an elder person,many years your senior,an eminent teacher by profession-so learn to greet him courteously,with proper deference.

With best wishes,

Diptokirti said...

Dear Sir,
I was wondering how abysmally dull a person would have to be to say that someone working under you will not enjoy the 'work atmosphere'. Personally speaking "aami dhonno hoye jetam" as we Bengalis say it, if I was offered that post. Maybe it is another of those stupid notions that the IT industry has given most people, that in order to gain work experience you have to do something which which you do not enjoy. Of course it is a very Bengali sentiment that in order to enjoy the work atmosphere one has to do as less work as is possible without losing one's job (which is not much at all in our country), and spend time in 'PNPC' ( I absolutely refuse to believe that at least ninety percent of 'interaction with colleagues' is anything more than that).
More than anything else I want to question a person's attitude towards work when he says that work under you does not provide experience or enjoyment. I would like to know what kind of work is it then, which provides enjoyment and experience? Changing nuts and screws and greasing machines and bosses in a steel plant? I have no qualms in admitting that whatever little I know comes from being your student for four years and that is entirely because whatever you taught, was more interesting than anything else I did. Like a very generous Aslan you opened the doors to your personal Narnia, and I will be forever in your debt for it.
Yours faithfully,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

As you can see from the comments here itself, Diptokirti, people are very different in the kind of judgments they make about the same person. Many, alas, are not even stable and clear-headed; they gush over you one day and revile you the next. That having been said, let us move on. No one, notice, has yet commented upon why certain posts seem to be hanging on permanently on the most-read list, while others, perhaps equally or more important, do not seem to find a place there at all...

Anand Tiwari said...

Dear Suvro da,

When can I start?


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Ha! Anand, but very kind of you indeed; many thanks. Nice start of a day, seeing a comment like that in my mailbox.

Diptokirti said...

Dear Sir,
I personally love posts like the one you put up on the 24th of August 2008 entitled 'stay hungry, stay foolish', 'Growing up in Durgapur', 'If winter comes...' because they provide a picture of what you were like at our age, what your times were like and because I have always loved to hear about the childhood of people who inspire me. I also loved 'Engineering or Bust' and believe that it is because what you wrote was an extremely inconvenient social truth that it is not on top of the 'most discussed posts' list. I would really love it if you would put up a few new posts especially dealing with books, films and music, partly because they would like all the other posts and your classes give me a myriad new books to read (to name only a few books I came to know about, The Agony and The Ecstasy, Putul Nacher Itikatha, The Naked Ape, A Thousand Splendid Suns...), films to watch (Spartacus, The Good The Bad And The Ugly, Gran Torrino...), and new music to listen to (you introduced me to Jim Reeves and Pink Floyd...).
Yours Faithfully

Kalpataru Sinha said...


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Dear Kalpataru/Mr. Sinha,

Thanks for the link. It made interesting reading, though it contained nothing of very novel and earth-shaking significance for me, I am afraid. I have read too many lectures/memoirs on that site and elsewhere already. What I didn't understand was the lack of an explanatory line from you: what, according to you, is the precise connection between that scientist's biography and the contents of my current blogpost?

Mayuri said...

Dear Sir,

If the position is still available, I'd like to start right away.

I do not know how much of a help I would be to you (not something you mention on a job application, I know) but I am absolutely confident that working with you will be the best thing for my editing career.

I just hope I don't have to be in Durgapur for the job.


Kalpataru Sinha said...

Dear Mr. Chatterjee,

I am sorry for my mistake; I intended to write a lot accompanying the link, but mistakenly pressed the button after pasting the link alone. Having done that, however, I remained undecided about what to do, but since you not only published my comment, but went through the link as well, I owe you an explanation. Sincere apologies, again.

I came across your blog for the first time two days ago, and the sheer breadth of the topics on which you choose to write has simply taken my breath away. I am sure there are many other posts like these, but a few that readily come to mind are the one on how the world has changed, the summary of the mahabharata, the essay on chance/karma, one on the meaning of beauty and an example of the kind of essays that you could write when you were in your early twenties.

I don't know where to start on them, but the first thing that struck me was the clarity of the posts, flowing like a beautiful mountain river. I am no great shakes at writing, but your use of language is something that even lesser mortals like me can marvel at, now like the lashing of a whip, then the caring gentleness of a lover.

The second is , of course, the hawk-like vision, the ability to see things on the whole, in how the parts connect up seamlessly in your posts, all the diverse topics, vast vistas, like the merging of different colours to form a beautiful rainbow (except one with thousands of colours instead of 7 !).

It was all this, and much much more, that I wanted to write in the first post, but ended up sending only the link instead. The link isn't really terribly relevant, I'm afraid; I just thought that I would share with you the story of a scientist who isn't as popular among the public like the 'cowboy' scientists Weinberg, Dawkins or Hawking, but is nonetheless equally, if not more, creative, and has spent a lifetime devoted to very fundamental problems (in physics and chemistry mainly, but some have found applications in biology and computers as well) which could be directly experimentally verified, even being responsible for understanding the basic theory behind the Higgs mechanism (in the context of the relatively uninteresting(!) workings of a superconductor).

I am sorry that this comment ended up being rather long, boring and maybe ultimately pointless, but I just thought maybe you would find the link interesting (which you did!).

Thank you for your indulgence and apologies, again.

Kalpataru Sinha