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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Devipaksha

Mahalaya tomorow. The day I was born, a long time ago. All through my childhood I used to wake up at dawn and wait with eager anticipation for the Mahishasurmardini programme to be aired on the radio, formally marking for millions of Bengalis the start of devipaksha. For many years now I have been sleeping through it, and not missing it much. The older you grow, the fewer things matter…

I have always been a reflective person, but now I can indulge it with far less feeling of guilt. I have done more than my fair share of work and shouldering responsibility, and I am now well and truly in the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. More and more I just look back to smile or grimace. In Toni Morrison’s book Love, the narrator, now an old woman, says ‘Nowadays silence is looked on as odd… now tongues work with no help from the mind… back in the seventies, when women began to straddle chairs and dance crotch out on television, when all the magazines began to feature behinds and inner thighs as though that’s all there is to a woman, well, I shut up altogether… barefaced being the order of the day, I hum’. That’s just the way I feel.

Swami Vivekananda used to say ‘All is character’. The world is as it is, neither good nor bad I suppose, though some have called it a vale of tears. Be that as it may, the fact remains that our experiences differ because according to our characters we react very differently to what we see happening around ourselves, and happening to us. Some find fun and laughter even in concentration camps and hospital beds, I have heard. And some crib over examination marks and acne as though these are life-changing events. Maybe I am the cribbing and worrying sort, though God knows how much laughter and sunshine I have tried to bring into how many lives. And that is why, despite all the blessings that I have always desperately kept counting, life has seemed a grim, relentless, and often futile struggle most of the time.

Here are some things I have missed badly or rued, not because I have never got them, but the good ones happen so rarely, and the opposites are so much more common.

Lack of politeness and courtesy, if not compassion, for people around you. Is it that we as Indians – especially in the class to which I belong – put too little store by those things? What rankles is not just the absence of these markers of high civilization, but the fact that most of us are too ready to flatter and fawn when there is the slightest possibility of advantage to be gained, or danger of harm to ourselves if we get into someone’s bad books. I have had a surfeit of it as a mere teacher, so imagine what politicians have to handle! God knows they wouldn’t have survived without growing ultra-thick skins, especially because they know that the very same people who are falling all over you now will forget you as soon as you have become ‘useless’ to them, and even rejoice loudly if and when they hear that bad things have happened to you…

People pretending. It ties up with what I wrote in the last paragraph. And my God, I have seen far too much of it, among boys and girls, men and women, family and strangers… why do they do it? Why do they tell you things that they don’t believe themselves, or they will forget within days or months of saying? I love you, I respect you, you mean so much to me, you have given me such a lot to treasure. If that has soured me up very badly, can I really be blamed for it?

Contempt for, or indifference towards people who have no money. That, coupled with blind awe, if not worship, of anyone who has money by the sackfuls, no matter how he got it. This has to some extent always been there in our society – I have read Al Beruni lamenting over it, and that was the 11th century – but it has become virulent across all social classes, now that the most admired country, to wit the US of A, is globally triumphant, and dominated by the same outlook. America was not always like that.

Too little cleanliness and greenery around me, too much noise and litter and rubble and foul smells – and the fact that so few people care, as long as they have cars and houses of their own, and can spend hours at the shopping mall and beauty parlour.

Nothing called social security outside the corporate sector – and that employs a tiny fraction of the population. We the self-employed are entirely on our own since the day our parents let go, and till our dying day, unless the children care: society and government have done virtually nothing for us. Slightly lower tax rates at least for those who have no non-salary perks, and slightly higher interest on public provident fund deposits? But who cares? Certainly not the last ten finance ministers, unless my memory is failing me.

The fact that the best loved of my ex students go away, so far away. One of my dreams has hardly ever been fulfilled – getting them to come and talk to my current classes, speaking from their own recent hard-earned experience, telling the children how much they would gain if they listened more to me…

People calling and expecting me to remember them, though they were here many years and many thousands of pupils ago, and haven’t kept in touch for years.

Girls growing into utterly disappointing women.

That I could never persuade the vast majority of children in my care to read good books, and these days I cannot persuade them that the internet is good for far more useful things than Facebook and whatsapp. So the best among them score pitifully on impromptu quizzes I give them, and the essays they write are of a standard I once (in the days when I wrote If Winter Comes) would have associated with ten-year olds or younger. And yet they go on to land cushy jobs with Google, Amazon, HSBC, Bloomberg and suchlike, leaving me to wonder what such jobs take, intellectually speaking. My common taunt these days, when I am particularly disgusted with someone’s performance, is to assure him or her that s/he too will get a job like that, no fear. Who cares if you are literate as long as you can do sums and have the periodic table by heart? Besides, bosses rarely hire people who can show them up...

3 comments:

Shilpi said...

I would never have known you used to feel guilty about reflecting and being a reflective person, Suvro da. But why would you have ever felt guilty earlier? It’s not as though you were ever just reflecting and just thinking without shouldering responsibility and working hard and doing various things simultaneously…

I do still think you are an ‘incorrigible worrier’ even as you spread laughter, sunshine, joy and meaning in other people’s lives but I don’t think you can be called a cribber by any stretch of the imagination. This piece of yours reminded me instantly of what you mentioned in your previous post: about wishing that fate had been a little kinder and also the line from Ibsen you’d quoted many years ago: Life is a heavy price for being born – I think it went. I want to comment for each one of your points but my comment will become rather too long but I can’t help saying that among a few of my dreams, I do wish still that maybe one day you’ll let me talk with your students and even do a couple of workshops with them. It’s a good dream, among other ones.

It’s in between Mahalaya and the 17th – so I’ll wish you a Happy Birthday for all its worth. May a few of your best dreams come true while you’re in the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. - Shilpi

Debasish Das said...

Nice one Suvro-da.....I could not manage to have an adda this puja , but I am thinking "why so much violence these days...???"...subho bijoya...
---debasish.

Avik Mitra said...

Dear Sir, what could anyone do if people take immense pleasure in being judgemental(I wonder if I'm being one right now) without any good reason and premise; it makes them happy or at least they think it does. What I've personally discovered so far is that people tend to map or equate one phenomenon with another; money with power and respect, pity with poverty and so on. Any digression from this skewed rule makes them go berserk. It is painful and at the same time intriguing how people "think" that they love or care but in reality what they end up doing is bribing.

I would deem it an honour to talk to your present students and send some chills down their spines if I may.