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Friday, April 17, 2015

in that sleep, what dreams may come...

A few years ago Sandip Mohapatra came over from Delhi and chatted for two whole hours of an evening. He was my neighbour more than forty years ago, and ‘Suvroda, technically I am your first pupil, you know. You were in class four when I was in class two, and I often came over to have my lessons explained’. That means I have been tutoring since I was ten years old. But joking apart, I have been paid as a tutor since I was just past 16, so that’s 35 years now. It’s been a long haul indeed, and I have taught people from five to 70, and more subjects than I can count (an old boy recounted on this blog that I even taught physics and he found it fascinating, God help me), alone and in batches forty strong, and now I begin to tire and wonder…

What I have learnt about people in all this time while teaching and counselling I have written elsewhere, more than once. What I feel as an individual, a man, a husband and father and social unit, is not entirely the same thing. Today, pushing fifty two, I bear a grudge only against God (which is a way of saying I blame no man, society, government or ideology) for not giving me a chance to rest when I want to. I went down from ease and comfort to poverty, and poverty hurt me, when I was far too young. Since then I have been struggling to make good – without compromising on any basic principle – and today all I have managed to do is to ensure that my parents and wife and daughter live comfortably, and will be high and dry if I pop off tomorrow. I am well-off only as long as I keep slogging like the devil, seven days a week, forty eight weeks a year. There is no pension waiting for me, no large lifelong royalties, no inheritance, no rentier income to look after me in my old age, nothing to support me if I simply want to take a long holiday of the sort I never had since I passed secondary school. For a long long time I was too poor to invest anything significant in the stockmarket, and when I finally got my head above the water, I found I had lost both the courage and the interest. I just look and wonder at so many young people who have grown up in the last twenty five years who never had to know what hardship or taking responsibility means, who earn modest or largeish sums only for themselves, and do nothing but live lazy and sybaritic lives, from one party to another, one shopping spree to another, one Facebook chat to another, one chance to sway one’s hips before slobbering crowds of horny morons after another… how much I could have done if I had been in their place when I was young! And when I look at old people, I more often than not feel like throwing up. It has been so well said, si la jeunesse savait, si la vieillesse pouvait!

Time. That is my biggest obstacle now, not money. They keep calling from all over the world, ‘Sir, please do drop in sometime, I have been asking you for a decade or more now’… and yet I just don’t know how I can make the time. How can someone like me make a trip abroad of only a week or a fortnight, and how can I spare more time than that? In the years just ahead, I shall certainly move around a great deal more than I have done in the two preceding decades, God willing, but only in little snatches, and that means they will have to be limited to within the country. But I’d have liked to look some people up in Japan, and New Zealand, and London, and Arizona and California…

As far as trips within the country are concerned, my daughter has vowed to accompany me as often as she can. At other times, I think, I’ll be a backpacker, if I can summon up the energy for it: no better way of seeing the land. Are some of my old boys game? Do let me know. Ruskin Bond had his Binya. I am going to look for mine. One thing I finally know: I won’t find her in the nyaka, self-obsessed, pinhead middle-class urban crowd (hahaha… if I had that kind of money, I’d retire to an old-fashioned chalet in the middle reaches of the Himalayas, say somewhere above Nainital, or the Sangla valley, with only a middle aged male help and a couple of dogs for company: at least until it was time to bring up my granddaughter. I saw village girls going to a school in one such place: I’d have loved to teach there part time, even for free).

Here, as I grow old, I remember more and more the days and years gone by. An old girl, now finishing her undergraduate course in psychology, rang up the other day to say ‘Sir, remember I once said that I find every new acquaintance interesting, and you wryly smiled and said, wait a few more years and then tell me again? Well, Sir, you were so right: I already find people so utterly the same, and so wretchedly uninteresting!’ And she is hardly 21. In my mind, the endless march of students has become almost a blur, more so those who have passed through in these last ten years. I turn to books more and more to realize that authors create so many characters and situations largely to get rid of the killing dreariness of ‘real’ life. Many of these are the same books that I read as a youth, but I read them differently now, having seen the ‘real’ world to my fill. I recently re-read Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape, for instance, and I was truly amazed to see how much of contemporary human behaviour, despite all its surface complication and sophistication, can be explained by remembering that we have basically been very aggressive and over-sexed carnivorous apes living in tiny colonies for several hundred thousand years, and started becoming ‘civilized’ only a few thousand years ago. I’d have liked to discuss with Morris what he makes of the fact that a few have become vastly more civilized than the masses, and the consequences of that… Colin Wilson’s A Criminal History of Mankind and Arthur Koestler’s The Ghost in the Machine also make me think as most books don’t.

I sometimes think that like Michael Corleone, life has gradually turned me bad. I mean, people near and far have been such terrible disappointments and so often, that it is very lucky for a lot of them that I didn’t take up politics or crime or even business of the most rapacious sort, as in The Wolf of Wall Street. I might have fleeced and ruined a lot of people without a qualm in pursuit of self interest, perhaps, today, even enjoyed hurting them without ever culpably stepping beyond the limits of the law: read the Jeffrey Archer stories. At least, even if I am still kind and considerate to others, I sneer at myself for it. And I know I wasn’t born this way. Neither, I guess, were a lot of others. People cheat you simply because they cannot live up to the best words they utter, but they cannot help portraying themselves as deeper and worthier creatures than they are; it happens too often, and even the best of us are embittered forever. In my youth, I often wondered why some people, especially beyond a certain age, were so cold and rude, even churlish, without provocation; now I think I know. Anyway.

Another thing I now know: children are interesting and have potential as adults do not, and the harder the latter try to emulate children (while endlessly lecturing children to follow in their footsteps!), the more pathetic and despicable they become, whether it is by trying to look ‘hot’ by  sporting ever shorter skirts or by pretending to be learned and clever conversationalists. I shall happily keep any two-bit CEO or cabinet minister waiting if I am having a good chat with a sharp teenager, unless the former can entice me with a really big carrot (and by God, that will have to be BIG, because nothing turns me off faster than big noises!) By the time they reach thirty, the vast mass of them – most of them lazy dullards to start with – are tired and jaded and dulled by professional and domestic routine and have fewer questions than a ten-year old does; their bloated bellies and sagging skins are matched only by their risible bloated and brittle egos. I dealt with a few such recently: the disgust will stay with me for a lifetime. Much better to live out my life alone than to be so polluted.

I shall continue. I am posting this because I haven’t written for quite some time.


Soham Mukhopadhyay said...

Dear Sir,

It has been really long since I commented on any post of yours and it really saddened me to read this post of yours.

The moment I read the lines where you complained that you don't have enough time- I was reminded of Michaelangelo complaining about the sane thing- as described by Irving Stone in "The Agony and Ecstasy". Thank you again for telling me to read that book.

You are indeed a very rare person- I have seen teachers throughout my school and college life- but to be a teacher like you- I can vouch that none of them will even dare to live a life like you- let alone to be rid of all the benefits that one gets on landing a well-paid job in some good school or university.

It has been five years since I attended your last class and all this time I have felt my affection and respect growing for you. We had our farewell in college today and though I was sad that I will be leaving this place in a few months time, I was even sadder for the fact that I did not come across a single professor in college comparable to your standards.

My friends don't understand me when I speak of you. Most possibly, they think of yet another 'good' teacher from my school. But they don't get it- they simply don't get it- you are not just another teacher. You have changed people's lives, including mine. You taught us to think- a very important aspect of a man that most of us tend to forget.

Even the most shy person in the backbenches at school would feel supremely confident of himself/herself after attending your classes. And no- it's not one of those fancy 'mental gurus' I have been speaking of.

I am at a loss of words here- I wish I could convey myself more appropriately. It really pains me to read a blogpost like this- given the fact that every time I visit you- you laugh off your hardships very easily. But I know at the back of my mind that it takes a really big heart and equally noble soul to do that.

I am proud to be your student Sir and I hope that I can live up to your expectations.

with warm regards,
Soham Mukhopadhyay

P.S - I wrote my post in a rambling style as I couldn't think of a better way to do this. I hope it doesn't look too bad.

Subhadip Dutta said...


You already wrote what I was thinking of writing. I officially attended Sir's last class in December 2001, but after that I have attended so many unofficial classes in the form of face to face talks at his house, Gtalk chats, emails, and most importantly this blog, and have never paid a penny for all these unofficial classes.

Other teachers, or rather instructors, prefer to keep themselves at bay from their ex-students lest they should ask for unpaid favours. But this person here is of a different kind. Although he values money a lot, deep inside he believes and has incorporated in me also the belief that there is something much much bigger than money, and probably this is the biggest reason why he has allowed me to get so close to him (we are almost friends but I never forget that he is my teacher) throughout all these years right from when it all started with his classes in the year 2000. (I have never met another teacher in my life who told me not to come to his private tuition because I was in the same section of which he was the class teacher). I am happy to say that I have been successful in conveying the same belief to my parents, and now they are happy that I had listened so Sir and not to them at that time, and I have learnt not to be so obsessed with money and do not lead the kind of stressed and extravagant life that people in big cities nowadays normally live.

I am sure that if you stay in touch with Sir, meet him more often, and have face to face talks more often, you will discover more of him which you still do not know.


Subhanjan Sengupta said...

Sometimes it so happens that I leave all the work at hand and sit down, quietly, and ponder upon what I am doing, what we do, and what the world is going to be like in future. And those thoughts leave me with worries which I find hard to ignore, at the same time difficult to find out a way to confront all those. I think all of us understand what these things are. They are all around us, in what we do or don't want to do, among people we meet, and then remember or forget. Most of the things we know to exist, around us in our lives, have started to have such a short shelf-life, that I feel quite bothered, skeptical, and thoughtful. And it feels helpless. It makes me ponder on what to do and what not to cope with that. And then I do not have an answer.

In one such evening, I suddenly stumbled upon this post of yours. I am sorry to say that I am noticing it more than one month after it was written. But I think I came across it at a time when I was supposed to. And what I sense from all that you have written, is that these feelings of yours spring from a deep anguish coming from the basic fact that you have given so much in your life for your profession and the people who have come in touch with you over the years, that all those efforts hardly get balanced by what the world has given back to you. Yet you made it very apparent to some of your old students (who understand what you say, if not grow able enough to follow all of it, or even a small fraction of it) that there is so much that they need to do till they can earn the right to criticize the world around. I am not sure if I have been able to put down exactly what I am thinking right now. But I needed this post. I thank you for that. If it had not been you, I would have never realized what it means to be a good teacher or have a good teacher.


Anurupa Ganguli said...

This is one post that I could relate instantly and made a lot of sense to me. So, I'll take some of your time here,knowing it's chasing us all somehow.
Knowing the person you are, I don't think you'd enjoy a long vacation too much. A small trip, yes, definitely and please count Arijit and me too, if you'd like our company. Arijit; in this case would love to escape the monotony and spend quality time with you. He is always sulking for not having you as his teacher when I've had that privilege.
As for all the hardships you've faced, I find your life fascinating. Perhaps you'd be a very different person if you had some of the "privileges" that my generation enjoys now and guess what? I wouldn't like you at all.
A good friend of mine had this lovely phone until she found another attractive and technologically advanced one (I don't understand this at all). And Sir, it actually took her a week of whining to get it from her father. I mean, was it even necessary? Here I am, using a perfectly simple phone and my life is still normal. I wonder what's wrong with the parents these days.
What really put a smile to my face is, you are still looking for your Binya. I feel finding that one person is something we should all look for, no matter how old or established or rich we turn out to be. And even if I found my Binya already, what if I lose him? Or things don't urn out well.. This one thought keeps bothering me very often.
I'll be quoting a line here. " I guess when you're young you just believe there'll be many people you'll connect with. Later in life you realise it only happens a few times." This is exactly what happened to me. I'm just glad the realisation dawned upon me early. I've been living in Calcutta for three years now and Sir I haven't found one person I could relate to (leaving Arijit and Shilpi di) and Sir I'm not faintly disappointed. I mean of course, it's life! One has got to lower one's expectations.
I don't know if you like memes but I'm sure you'll enjoy this
https://m.facebook.com/officialjoshblue/p hotos/a.521668194537907.1073741825.132733440098053/972798012758254/?type=1&refid=17&_ft_=top_level_post_id.395803667285309&__tn__=E
Lastly, children truly amuse me. Their curiosity is what makes me happy and adds colour to life.
P.S. I absolutely enjoy being a loner, unsocial, uncool and old fashioned.