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Friday, February 22, 2013

Look back, look around, connect

I wish to remind my readers that I keep writing on my blogs with the express hope of creating an ever-expanding worldwide network of like-minded people who want to share thoughts, ideas, experiences, realizations, fancies, joys and woes as they all soldier through life, and keenly feel the lack of good people to talk with around them. Remember the cartoon which shows a man’s funeral service being attended by two people though he had in excess of 1700 ‘friends’ on Facebook: that defines the world we live in much more truthfully than most of us like to admit even to ourselves.

Now – and this bears repetition – that does not mean just regularly visiting and reading my blogs, not even commenting often and thoughtfully on my posts. It does not even only mean writing your own blogs now and then. It also means (especially if your are a blogger yourself-) writing fairly regularly: at least once a month. And above all it means visiting the blogs of others like yourself, who too write sensible stuff on a lot of subjects, and who too could do with more visitors and more comments. That means you should often read up some of the blogs I have linked on my blog roll (even Arani’s and Shubho’s and Rajarshi’s and Saptarshi’s, though they write so rarely), and tell them, in a friendly and helpful way, that you have liked what you read. We hug our own loneliness too dearly, and blame the world for being cold and unconcerned, but we forget too often and too easily that we are not setting better examples: it is not guaranteed that you will make good friends if you take the trouble to reach out and shake hands, but it certainly increases the probability!

Also, those who have made initial forays into my blogs and liked what they have read, them I’d strongly urge to look up older posts (the labels along the right hand side bar would help greatly). Shilpi is one reader who has literally read and digested everything, but I know a few others have been making the effort lately, and they have told me they are glad that they decided to do so. This is something I’d exhort two particular categories to try: those who are right now  attending my classes (I consciously try to make these blogs extensions of both my classroom and  my personality), and those, who, looking back over the years, feel a new urge to find out more about this particular Sir. They will discover that they probably don’t know another contemporary man who has tried so hard and so long to know himself and help others know him for what he really is, warts and all – and contrary to what someone hurt me badly by telling me a while ago, there is probably no better way of getting to know me really well if they are interested than reading up (both) my blogs thoroughly. It is, I repeat, a matter of being interested – as a lot of people not wholly unemployed have assured me, it’s not a question of being busy at all. Someone who is interested will always find time. All I shall add is that you might grow more interested as you go along.

And finally for now, it fills me with a never-ending sad wonder to think of so many old boys and girls who once came so close and have now fallen completely out of my life, often with utter suddenness and without so much as a by your leave. They include a considerable number of people who were enthusiastic readers and comment writers on my blogs even a few years ago. Today itself a few very young girls were asking me why I have become increasingly cynical, and why I assume that they too would go the same way by and by. I could only smile wryly. I have been working since I was little older than they, and now I am approaching fifty, and I have a very long memory, and so I simply cannot help it. The question that is constantly uppermost in my mind these days is ‘Who will cry when you die?’ along with ‘How genuine will those tears be, how long will they last?’

Friday, February 15, 2013

A glorious morning

Lavona Areghini and her husband Jim were, apart from Arthur and Bernice Lundh, my finest hosts while I was touring Arizona on a Rotary club-sponsored trip back in the summer of 1991. She kept up a correspondence via snail mail (kids of the current generation will find this incredible) for years after that. Then this year she found me on the internet, God bless her soul. She’s now 84, but still feisty enough to drive a new car home alone on a dark rainy night.

This morning I found this YouTube link from her in my email inbox. Many thanks, Lavona. I truly can’t have enough of it. I shall in return draw your attention to The Interview with God, which is there on my blog roll, as well as two posts I wrote quite some time ago: Look, for heaven’s sake look! and The Sense of Wonder.

So I guess you sent the link to the right person. And thanks to you, several hundred people are going to have a very edifying experience via this blog…

[P.S.: If readers want to search for any older post of mine by title, I recommend the search bar on the top left hand corner of this blog]

Friday, February 08, 2013

'I don't really know you'

There is a girl who used to be a pupil of mine more than a decade ago (I call them girls and boys, though technically all of them are grown men and women now, and some even like to affect that they are very worldly wise and growing old, but it is impossible for me to forget that when they first came to my classes in their mid-teens, very silly and very ignorant about the world, I had been a teacher for twenty odd years already…). She now lives far away: I haven’t seen her face to face for ages. I was always uncommonly fond of her – maybe I credited her with far more sensitivity and affectionateness than she would herself claim – and I have been in touch with her almost continuously since she left.

I have listened for years and years to her whimsical outbursts, tales of trouble and woe, complications in her love life, academic grouches, career-related uncertainties, family imbroglios, mundane problems with daily living… and I have tried all through to lend an attentive and sympathetic ear, and offer what little advice and help I could. Lots of girls will know what that means, even those with whom I have been corresponding for only two or three years, Rashmi and Vaishnavi and Dipanwita and Sayantika, to name just a few: I wouldn’t even bother to mention the hundreds of old boys who’d say an impassioned ‘Of course!’. Of late, I had been growing irritable and even querulous with her, because I had a feeling I was wasting my time on someone who simply did not want to listen to what I was saying, who was too different a person to vibe with me, who was getting me angry all too often with needlessly callous offhand remarks (lately her uniform excuse has been she can write only from the office, where she is constantly busy and harassed), and who yet kept knocking, if only via email and google chat, for reasons she wouldn’t even care to explain. Very recently I exploded when she wrote ‘I don’t really know you except through your blogs’.  

What does it mean to know somebody? I am almost sure that she is not sophisticated enough to think of making innuendos with Biblical undertones. Then again, it is easy for someone to say ‘I don’t even know myself very well’, and for someone like me, married for seventeen years, to say ‘My wife doesn’t really know me’. These things are fine for occasional idle philosophical speculations, I suppose. But the world doesn’t – couldn’t – function from day to day on the basis of such woolliness, right? Surely, for the sake of all practical purposes any person with whom I have spent hundreds of hours talking/chatting, besides taking classes for two years (given the deeply involved way I teach), should be someone who knows enough about me to carry on dealing with me knowingly (and liking what she knows, if she bothers to keep in touch for years and years)? Besides – and this is directed at all those who claim to have been reading my blogs thoughtfully and consistently for years – is it possible for someone like that to claim ‘I don’t really know you’? Is it possible, on the other hand, that it was meant as a deliberate insult – whether the girl in question admits it even to herself or not? She insists that she can’t understand what I am saying, what has made me so angry. How many will concur with her?

Let me be totally fair to the girl. She has said sorry, almost towards the end of the last chat she wrote ‘… not sure how to take back words, but if I could I would’. Only thing why that cuts no ice with me any more is that she has said that kind of sorry a hundred times before, so it’s become kind of stale. Keeps reminding me of the fool of an employer who, when I exploded in anger, got scared and said ‘If you are so angry then I am sorry’! Only because I was angry and that frightened him, note, not at all because he had admitted to himself that he had done something wrong and was feeling ashamed about it.

So if I now decide, very regretfully (and that’s God’s truth), that I want to forget this girl, to shake her off, to write her out of my life because it’s become a thankless exercise to keep knowing her, how many will say that I am being impatient and intolerant and cruel, that I don’t understand girls and their very special problems and needs? Feel free to comment: no matter how unflattering, I promise to publish everything that comes in except for anonymous messages and pure abuse. If you do write sympathetically (towards me), no expletives please, no wanton female bashing. My overriding feelings are shock, disappointment and sorrow, not rancour. Many girls and women have been kind and good to me, even if they have eventually forgotten and dropped out of my life: I don’t want anybody to forget that, least of all myself.

And since I am waiting eagerly for comments on this one, no further blogposts till I feel that I have got enough. So those of you who are thinking of commenting, don’t hesitate but get going.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Things happening around me

A few isolated thoughts for now.

It truly bemuses me to see that more and more of my old boys who have gone in for engineering are turning to cinema as a serious hobby now, and even secretly dreaming that they might succeed in making a profession out of it. One has left behind two short movies that he and his friends have made which I found to be pretty good, given that they have been done by young amateurs with very basic equipment and software. I wish them luck (they want me to act in their next production – what will people think of next?)

A girl in college who was visiting recently told me that her boyfriend has been shocked witless by the teachers at a coaching class he has just joined in the hope of ‘cracking’ the CAT (toughest management-school entrance test in the country) because they have told him he will have to read up at least a hundred story books in the next six months.

Will someone run a survey to find out whether in this country there is a strong correlation between people growing up in culturally deprived backgrounds (no music, no art, no good movies, no political, economic or philosophical discussion at home, and above all, no books) and those professing to be interested in physics and math from an early age? I am talking about people who have grown up in the last thirty years, of course: I am perfectly well aware that people were different earlier.

I have been seeing photographs on Facebook of some who used to be my friends and students in the 1980s and ’90s, and I wouldn’t be saying this if it didn’t hurt badly, but many of them look not just old but positively decrepit and ugly. What have they been doing to themselves, for God’s sake?

Listening to people all around me speaking a strange hybrid of broken Bengali and pidgin English, I wonder how much longer the Bengali language will survive. Indeed, had it not been for Bangladesh, maybe it would have been dead already (how often do you hear people saying dhonyobaad or suprabhat, or amar duschinta hochchhe instead of tension korchhi?)

And finally, I am feeling rather doleful because the long winter (it lasted a full three months this time) seems to be leaving. That means we shall not only have to brace ourselves for another – presumably unbearable – summer, but I shall be doing double duty round the week as soon as a host of new batches come in, which will be from the end of this month. Every year I fear a little more that I cannot take this for very much longer.

But my daughter is growing up fast. My mind keeps going back to February 1980, when my friends and I were getting ready for our ICSE examination. An entire generation has passed, and it’s my daughter’s turn now. She’s been studying at the same table which I used back then – that’s good teak wood for you! Dollops of nostalgia...