‘Spring’, such as it is in this part of the world, lasted through February. Through the first half of the month I had a leisurely time, most of my pupils having dropped off to take their annual examinations. Then there was the once a year rush of admissions. I have reason to be content: my new classes will be full again, and the thankfulness I see in the eyes of the parents who managed to get their wards in and the desperation among those who are still waiting to be called gives me a nice warm feeling of having done something worthwhile in this lifetime and for my family – without soiling my hands, bending my head or holding my nose. By God, it hasn’t been easy.
Now my daughter’s board examinations have begun, too, and so I came over to Calcutta for a long weekend. Still balmy weather, and good food, and long hours of sleep, and books and movies and long walks with trees and lakes around: heavens, things could have turned out to be so much worse. Just finished reading Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. All I shall say is that it is by far the finest book I have read against the background of the Second World War barring only Anne Frank’s Diary and Exodus, and that Zusak, to my mind, almost comes up to Remarque’s level: I cannot think of higher accolades. Read the review in my daughter’s blog – she’s booked it before I could. I cannot put into words the kind of thankfulness I feel that there are still people around who write and read books like this, rather than Fifty Shades or Chetan Bhagat, if they can take their minds off Facebook and shopping malls and beauty parlours at all, that is.
I am still in Calcutta – will be back tomorrow, Monday the 2nd. One thing I must say: despite the crowds and the noise, the city is certainly somewhat nicer and more liveable now than it was in my time, the early 1980s. The road in front of Jadavpur University is a lot cleaner and greener; far more buildings are freshly painted, far less trouble with power cuts; the metro and the ubiquitous autos and so many new flyovers have made travelling a lot less painful (the number of airconditioned buses is growing apace too), and soon my daughter and I plan to zip around on our own two-wheeler, which is far more convenient than the car except during the rains. Besides, probably because I only visit occasionally, I really don’t mind hearing rabindrasangeet at traffic junctions: at least, it beats political speeches and the lungi dance kind of stuff every time.
Back in Durgapur, I have installed an airconditioner in the classroom (I can hear so many old boys smiling to themselves, ‘At last the old skinflint has done it. About time too!’), so I can look forward to a less gruelling summer. Then there is the swimming pool waiting. Given the fact that the day I returned after depositing my daughter in Calcutta back in 2013 I literally dragged myself home, and was almost sure I wouldn’t last these two years, I feel miraculously delivered, and I am not exaggerating. Someone said ‘the days are long, but the years are short’, and for this once at least, I can say ‘thank God for that!’ How I was tested, how I remained sane and kept functioning as if nothing had changed only God and I and a very tiny handful of people know. But the important thing is that the nightmare – inshallah – is behind me now, and the wheel is turning, and unless I am suddenly struck down by a stroke or an infarction or cancer or failed kidneys or something like that, I can look forward to achchhe din again, no thanks to our prime minister. My daughter will be going to college in July, and, though I have no intention of discussing my finances threadbare on this blog, the fact is that by the end of this year I will be financially almost a free man, not really needing to earn a large and regular income any more beyond my personal upkeep (which has always been a modest requirement) – and I alone know what that means, a luxury I have not known for thirty years and more. I am in the process of dreaming how I intend to reinvent myself, and right now much is still nebulous, except for a few items: a) I’ll take many short breaks round the year, b) I’d like to travel much again, but definitely not to big cities and tourist hotspots, c) I’d love to luxuriate in the freedom of ticking off a lot of people with ‘Go away, I don’t want to teach you, because I don’t like you/ your parents’ anytime I feel like it (something I am going to announce as a warning in the very first class of the new batches this year itself), d) there might be a dog in the offing, if my daughter has her way – the only thing that has kept me from getting one is what to do with it when I go travelling, and e) there will never again be any question of going out of my way to be nice to females: any such who wants a share of my life had better come prepared to like me just the way I am. As my daughter says, and I have at last decided to believe it, ‘You’ve done bloody too much for vulgar and flighty ingrates, and only got kicked in the face for your pains. Learn a lesson, and keep your niceness for the few who like it, want it and earn it’.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention this: I will grow increasingly more ‘eccentric’ with what I teach and how I teach, and I want to see how fast the numbers drop off (keep rising? stay unchanged?) And yes, venture in a much bigger way than I have all these years into the stockmarket and charity. And maybe writing fiction again.