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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Update, and good wishes

·         An ex-student who has just finished B-Tech from IIT with specialisation in data analysis has been hired on campus by Flipkart. That and other e-commerce companies, as even journalists know, are going great guns right now. Here is a thought-provoking article which I am linking without comment. I shall welcome an informed discussion on the subject. Be warned, however, that I am broadly in agreement with the writer and I am not known to make up my mind hurriedly and superficially.
·         Wonder of wonders, the Pope is now siding with mainstream scientists when it comes to concern for our ecological future, and he is ranged against all kinds neo-liberals and conservatives whose two chief accusations against him are a) he does not understand economics, and b) he does not understand science. I am hoping that sparks will fly when he addresses the UN General Assembly and wondering what the ghosts of Galileo, Cardinal Bellarmine and Adam Smith would have said to one another if they were listening in on the debate.
·         The “best” colleges in India have set 99% aggregate as a cut-off for their most preferred undergraduate courses this year. Everyone, including the head of St. Stephen’s college New Delhi, recognises the utter absurdity of the situation, but pleads helplessness: the aforementioned has publicly remarked that nothing can be done about it until the school boards decide once more to mark exam papers “realistically”. Having been a teacher for most of my life, I know just what he means. At least two horrible things have been happening to our school education over the last two decades (apart from an almost complete extinction of good teachers): syllabi have been continually slashed because ‘our children cannot bear the terrible load’ (heaven knows how we did it, or even our pupils before 1995, and board examination marks have gone through the roof, with literally tens of thousands (including hundreds whom I can personally vouch to be barely literate) routinely scoring over 90% in the aggregate – and countless people scoring more in English and History than in mathematics. I don’t know whether this black comedy will end before the whole system collapses, but I know this much: teachers like me will either become extinct soon, or dollar millionaires.
·         Do look up this article. It is one more contribution to the idea – much scorned and distorted – that ancient Indians knew much more than they are given credit for. We knew they made steel long before Europe found out how to; we learn here that the finest steel for making swords was forged in India too (they used carbon nanotubes! though they might not have been able to use the modern terminology, just as the Egyptians used the right-angled triangle theorem for their buildings long before Pythagoras and others came up with formal proofs). When shall we realize that we need to look back more in order to forge ahead faster – that organizing a worldwide Yoga Day might be something far more than pushing a narrow sectarian agenda?
·         Reading some good new books, such as Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant and The Heat and Dust Project by Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha. Both make for good reading, and both are about long journeys – quite apposite for someone who can hardly walk, don’t you think?

I was warned that sitting in bed all the time I am not hobbling around painfully, depression was soon going to become my greatest problem, and so it has. The following is in the nature of a status update for those too-numerous people who have asked: the pain is now only a dull occasional ache in the hurt leg, but the walker is seriously damaging the other one from the way it is being grossly overstrained; the staples and bandages were taken out on June 08, and the surface wounds have healed well enough, leaving behind only ugly scars; I can sit with folded legs for only short stretches, and it’s mighty awkward, I can tell you; I have no way of knowing what is happening inside, and it’s only following the X-ray pictures to be taken on July 06 to see how much calcification has taken place that the doc will see if I can start using that leg again soon; my teaching is keeping me going in more senses than one, and my daughter and parents are doing virtually all the housework: though I try all I can to lend a hand, it doesn’t  amount to much. The gloom deepens every time I think that Pupu will be going away to college very soon now, though both she and her mother will keep visiting. I am discovering little things all the time, such as how difficult it is to dress and undress when you can use only one leg, and let go of all support only at your peril! I am fighting depression by doing what I have listed above, besides sleeping more than I ever have before (pills don’t work).

Thank you to all who have sent their good wishes (and when I can feel they mean it), especially those who have suffered from broken bones and assured me I’ll be fine eventually, and to Lavona, who told me she survived surgery of a far more serious kind a few years ago. And my very best wishes to Prerana, whose mother has just had a kidney replaced after years of suffering. I am praying most for the father, having learnt a bit about what he has gone through.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015


Pain. It is a great enemy, a great cleanser, a great teacher. It has been my fate to suffer a very great deal of pain, of the body and of the mind, intermittently ever since childhood. I am currently going through yet another course of it right now. I vacillate eternally between thinking that I don’t wish it on my worst enemy, and that no one ever became human before knowing pain first hand: the kind of pain that sears away all dross forever, and turns you from Facebook and short skirts to God. And I can also feel a massive surge of despair, having lived long enough to know that there are lots of people who can get back to partying and mall-hopping within weeks of losing their ‘loved ones’…

And as always, it is a very great learning experience about what people are really like. You can never find out without being in extremis. Supremely above all I have had confirmation, if ever I needed it, that my daughter is so great a gift that I have forfeited all right to ask God for any other in this lifetime. And I am saying this as anything but a besotted father: I know for a fact that one dad in a million gets a grown up daughter that willingly useful and helpful and still cheerful for any length of time, especially in this country. As the song goes, ‘somewhere in my youth or childhood/ I must have done something good’!

At the next level, it never ceases to amaze me how many people of how many sorts are not only helping all they can but are only too eager to help if I’d let them. From doctors to rickshawwallahs, grocers to bankers, maidservants to neighbours… not to mention hundreds and hundreds of old boys far away and near. Doing everything from easing me into the car and cleaning up the cobwebs to offering me money and expressing willingness to go pay my bills to asking if there’s some special book or movie that they can send over to while away the terrible monotony. It takes my breath away to think so many people know me and care – me, with zero frndz on FB and no whatsapp connection! Especially when I contrast such good people with all the scum it has been my great misfortune to know: someone, one of the few I had personally called up to give the news, who simply forgot to respond for a whole week because he was oh-so-busy, and someone who knows perfectly well she has demonstrated over more than a decade she neither can nor really wants to do anything for me – exams and parents and job and marriage and ‘other social responsibilities’ and a very recherch√© coyness have always prevented and will go on preventing her from doing anything beyond losing things I valued, trivializing things I wrote because they were far beyond her grasp, and disobeying injunctions she herself had once pretended I had a ‘right’ to insist on as a teacher and father figure (few expressions bring me closer to puking: I am going to murder the uncouth pinhead who next applies that term to me) – sanctimoniously asking me if she could ‘do something’ for me. God save me from creatures who say such things because it makes them feel good without having to do a thing: I’d rather sleep with a cobra in my room. My lessons have all been learned the hard way.

Then there is the helplessness. I know it will be incomprehensible to people who have been petted and mollycoddled all their lives – I know someone who never visited a doctor alone until she was in college. I have slept alone since I was five, and did almost everything for myself since I was fifteen, and lived alone for a very large part of my life: what happens to a man like that if he loses the use of his legs? Christ, I even went to the toilet hobbling on a walker before the bones were set, despite the agony and the doctor’s strict warning against it, and I have continued to do so back home, for I have lived and want to die like a man, not a vegetable with a bedpan: may He who hears all prayers grant this one of mine. And yet there are a thousand things I can’t do. Funny they become so serious and urgent just when you can’t! I can’t climb upstairs, so I am being fed in bed after a gap of more than 47-8 years; I can’t clean the bathroom myself; I can’t go for a walk, I can’t exercise or swim or ride my scooter for many months to come. This is what purgatory means, I guess. Who could have imagined I’d have so looked forward to a mere elbow crutch so that I can hobble around a bit on my own again? The shame of it: I, who have been a help to so many in need.

I have gone back to work, of course. The doctor wanted me to stay in hospital for five days after the operation; I came home on the second. I was supposed to take ‘bed rest’ for at least a fortnight after that; the Tuesday after the accident I was taking classes, full schedule. It hurts, and it is tiring me out, but I still say ‘Thank God I can’. It is not yet time for me to rest, and besides, I’d have gone mad with boredom and guilt. I shall NOT become Piku’s father. I am waiting for the clamps to be taken out, and hoping the doctor will ask me to try walking soon, really soon…

How strange that the incident brought a large part of my scattered family together, at least for a bit. And how strange that people, even those who have known you all your life, care so much more about your body than your mind!  The most wonderful thing is that after I am gone, they will all be talking about my mind and what I did with it; the body will be gone and forgotten. If I were to be born again, I’d ask to be born in a very different kind of world.

And I am truly bemused to see the unbelieving, dazed look on people’s faces, young and old alike. ‘This can’t be happening to Sir’, they are saying with their eyes or sometimes even voices, ‘Everybody else takes unannounced holidays, everybody else has illnesses and accidents, not Sir!’ Only Pupu smiles and says “I said you were a Rock when I was just so high, didn’t I? Well, I am not the only one who is used to thinking that way about you. People are naturally bewildered when the Rock sways.”

And the prize goes to the lovely child who said in a whisper, ‘Sir, tomar accident hoyechhe shune amar khub koshto hoyechhilo’. God bless. I know how precious that is – and also how little it means in the long run. Such is a teacher’s fate. Take the cash, and let the credit go/ nor heed the rumble of a distant drum.