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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Child prodigy, birthday, and brilliant policies

A ten-year old girl came to see me with her dad and elder brother, having heard a lot about me from the latter. For a space of fifteen minutes or so, she bombarded me with questions – ‘How did magic originate? Do you believe in the curse of Tutankhamen? Does the universe have a beginning or end? Do you think Antonio in The Merchant of Venice was really a good Christian? Did the Red Sea really part? Do swans really sing before they die?’... I hope you get the drift. I cannot say when I last met a child of this kind of mental calibre, and how much I am looking forward to having her in my class. It goes without saying that she, unlike 90% of Indian children, is a voracious reader, and that most of her teachers regard her as a dangerous pest. I was reminded of Sigmund Freud’s aphorism that I myself have fixtured at the bottom of this blog, and I blessed her by saying, ‘Ma, grow up into a human being, not a mere female’.

My daughter became nineteen today. We celebrated with lunch at a fancy restaurant, and the crème brûlée for dessert was especially good. The waiters were superbly trained: they brought the customer feedback slip for my daughter to fill in, and the bill to me. Which is just as it should be in a world where girls were not stupidly dying to be treated as ‘equals’. The day I start treating women as equals, I shall not look back to see whether they are having trouble with heavy luggage, flat tyres, roaches, shortage of money or perverts harassing them on the road. And I shall expect them to talk politics, economics, psychology, history and philosophy with me. That will be the day.

Our leaders have finally woken up to the deadly threat of pollution, it seems. So one genius of a chief minister has ordered only odd- and even numbered cars to come out on the roads on alternate days, and another district magistrate of similarly sharp intellect has ordered that one block in his district will be closed to all private vehicles every day. It seems only our rulers cannot figure out the either disastrous or ludicrous consequences of the decisions they take. In the 1980s I was already writing that the way things were going in this country, lack of land for any kind of developmental activity and overwhelming pollution of the soil, air and water would eventually spell our doom. I quote myself: ‘By the time China and India catch up with the American standard of living, there won’t be enough oxygen left in the air to breathe’. Woe to this country that a few years after I wrote those lines in a national newspaper, our government embarked on a policy of wholesale Americanization of – if possible – every walk of life. Whereas if sanity had prevailed, we should have gone with the European/Japanese model as far as we could. In the sphere of transportation, for instance, a poor, overpopulated, resource-scarce country should have made an all-out effort to develop public transport, not indulged the latent craze for private cars. And now that today the floodtide of cars is threatening to overwhelm us, we are trying absolutely crazy ideas to control it. God help us.

Monday, December 21, 2015

As the year draws to a close

Towards the end of the first ten years of this blog, I have started making a few small changes. There was a widget called Members/followers till recently. I have been winnowing the list there, having discovered that being a ‘member’ has no meaning at all: most so-called members never write in (many have probably forgotten about it entirely), most of my readers are non-members, and one doesn’t need to be a member to read the blog or to comment on posts. I have never been a trophy collector on the net anyway (so many ‘scraps’ on orkut, so many ‘likes’ on facebook). So I have now removed that widget. Nobody has to be a member any more.

It’s 21st December, and very pleasantly cold. My work schedule is now much reduced, so I am in the relaxed mode. On this day every year for more than a decade we used to dash off on a holiday trip – this year has been different. My daughter has just finished her ‘end-sem’ exams and is living it up with her friends. The holiday has been postponed till January: I am hoping that with all schools and colleges having reopened, I am going to have a far less crowded experience this time round. So I am already breaking a routine that was set for almost two decades – taking classes right through the end of the year. I must see how the kids cope with it. Most have told me they’d rather not miss classes…

My leafy babies are giving me a headache. They are growing and blooming, but too slowly, and they have given me occasion to resent my fellow bipeds even more – did you know how many thieves there are who prowl the streets at dawn to steal flowers from people’s gardens, so that they can make offerings to some deity with the same? And you can talk yourself blue in the face without being able to persuade them that there is something wrong about the habit. I lock the gates every night, but that keeps out only the old and infirm among the miscreants. I’ll try this season through, then probably give it up as a bad job if the harassment and plunder is too intense to bear.

I have a diary where at each year-end I jot down the most memorable things that happened. The list starts with 1969, and I haven’t missed a single year yet. This year will be noted for just three things – my home loan was paid up in full, Pupu went to college, and I found out first-hand what being a cripple feels like.

The newspapers announced yesterday that Air India is beginning flights to Delhi from Durgapur airport. More flights, and to other metros, will presumably follow. Good news for a lot of people, including me, because when my daughter goes to live farther away, she can come and go faster, and so can I.

A rash of new schools has also come up – all of them privately owned, all of them expensive, all affiliated to the CBSE, all equipped with ‘smart’ classrooms and promising to turn every kid into a ‘genius’ (read engineer from some private college). We shall see a lot of fireworks in the near future. I hope I can just sit back, watch the fun, and say to a lot of people ‘I told you so’.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Robi Thakurer golpo

কালার্স বাংলা টিভি চ্যানেলে "রবি ঠাকুরের গল্প" নামে ধারাবাহিক ছবি দেখাচ্ছে। এখন পর্যন্ত দেনাপাওনা, সমাপ্তি আর মণিহারা  দেখিয়েছে, এ সপ্তাহে স্ত্রীর পত্র হওয়ার কথা। খুব যে উঁচুদরের পরিচালনা বা অভিনয় হচ্ছে তা বলতে পারি না, তবে এতে করে অশিক্ষিত নব্য-সভ্য বাঙালি যদি নতুন করে নিজের সাহিত্যকে চিনতে শেখে তো মন্দ হয় না, আর আমারও আবার করে গল্পগুচ্ছ নিয়ে বসার ইচ্ছে হলো।  রবীন্দ্রনাথের লেখা নিয়ে বেশি কথা ছোট মুখে বলার ধৃষ্টতা করতে চাই না - ওটা মার্কন্ডেয় কাটজুদেরই সাজে। আপাতত শুধু এইটুকু ভাবছিলাম :কত গভীর পর্যবেক্ষণশক্তি থাকলে, কত নিরাসক্ত, নির্মোহ চোখ থাকলে, সাহিত্যের প্রতি কতখানি আনুগত্য থাকলে তবে একই লেখক নিরুপমা, মৃন্ময়ী, মৃণালদের মত মেয়েদেরও সৃষ্টি করতে পারেন, আবার মণিমালিকাদেরও - "যাহাদের হৃতপিন্ড বরফের পিণ্ড, যাহাদের বুকের মধ্যে ভালোবাসার জ্বালাযন্ত্রণা স্থান  পায় না, তাহারা বোধকরি সুদীর্ঘকাল তাজা  থাকে, তাহারা কৃপণের মত অন্তরে বাহিরে আপনাকে জমিয়ে রাখতে পারে।" তবু বলব - হয়ত যুগোপযোগী ভাবেই - ওনার মেয়েদের প্রতি পক্ষপাত দোষ ছিল।  হয়ত আরো পঞ্চাশ বছর বাঁচলে ওনার আর অবরুদ্ধ পরাধীন 'অসহায়' মেয়েদের প্রতি অত মায়া থাকত না, হয়ত দ্বিতীয় কিসিমের চরিত্রই অনেক বেশি করে সৃষ্টি করতেন? বিমলা-জাতীয় মেয়েরা স্বাধীনতাকে কিভাবে কাজে লাগায়  সে তো তিনি একশ' বছর আগেই দেখিয়ে দিয়েছিলেন! 

আমি এককালে কিছু গল্প লেখার চেষ্টা করেছিলাম।  বলতে লজ্জা নেই, কারো কারো পড়ে ভালোও লেগেছিল। রবীন্দ্রনাথের চেয়ে আমি অনেক বেশি দরদী রোমান্টিক ছিলাম: মেয়েদের আমি তরলমতি, স্বার্থপর, কর্কশ, সুবিধাবাদী বানাতে পারিনি। আমার লেখায় তাই কষ্টকল্পনাই বেশি ছিল। বয়স বাড়ার সঙ্গেসঙ্গে বাস্তবের নিষ্ঠুর আঘাতে সে স্বপ্নময়তা কেটে গেছে, কিন্তু তার পরিবর্তে যে তিক্ততা এসেছে তাকে আর সাহিত্যের রূপ দিতে মন চায় না।  তাই অনেকদিন হলো সেধরনের লেখা বন্ধ করে দিয়েছি। 

[The misspellings are Google's fault, not mine. But my apologies, still]