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Friday, July 29, 2016

Mahasweta Devi, pronaam, Hillary Clinton, good luck!

Mahasweta Devi has just passed away. The internet is awash with obituaries, so I won’t add one of my own. This is just to say that she was precisely the sort of liberated and socially valuable woman that I respected, and I have seen very few in my lifetime. I say this despite her legendary foul mouth, her chain smoking of beedis, her two failed marriages, and because of the fact that she never had to bare her body or wear anything but saris to assert her independence and freedom of choice. ‘Feminists’ who are utterly materialistic, completely selfish, obsessed with exhibitionism and have nothing beyond shopping, dressing up, partying and abusing men to live for – no real purpose for being alive – might want to learn a thing or two from her, not just about how to be a remarkable woman, but, far more importantly, how to be worthy of the proud name of human. I saw her at close quarters only once, during my sojourn as a young volunteer at the Calcutta Book Fair in the mid-80s; I heard from an old boy who was escorting her in a cab, and when he started talking about her books, she burst into tears, saying ‘orey, era akhono amar boi porey!’ (Hey, these kids still read my books), and my sister the historian once got a great deal of unstinted help from her in connection with her research. A deep thank you to the departed soul, one of those rare few in this age I can call ‘noble’ and take inspiration from.

And now Hillary Clinton has won the Democratic Party’s nomination for the Presidentship of the United States. If she is elected, it will be a double whammy for the US to crow about – first black POTUS followed by the first woman. Maybe they will decide on a black woman soon? Tokenism, yes, but given the prominence and power of the post, tokenism of the highest significance. However, I read that while a large part of the electorate will probably vote for her because they want a woman in the Oval Office, a very large number of them have strong misgivings about her worthiness as a candidate, because she is widely unpopular as a person, and considered to be too much of a Washington insider to be likely to bring about major policy changes that have long been hoped for. We Indians could tell them that profiles don’t really matter – we have had Dalits and Muslims for Presidents, lived under a woman Prime Minister for nearly two decades, and several women are running several states at this moment. Their caste, religion and gender really don’t make much of a difference. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Women and I

This essay was written 21 years ago. It lays out, as clearly as was within my power, what I used to think about women then. I have changed my views considerably, and I am going to write hereafter how and why. But maybe not yet.

Friday, July 08, 2016


This blog is ten years old today.

I last wrote a birthday post back in 2008. Look it up and mark the contrast with this one.

One doesn’t learn a great many things in life after one is forty three – which is when I started this thing – and has learnt so much already (such diverse, curious and unpleasant stuff, too), yet this experience has taught me a few significant things still. And it has been an enjoyable pastime on the whole.

What a lot can happen in ten years, despite time often seeming to stand still! Of the boys who joined my classes in 2006, one is just about to go off for training as a civil servant, another, an architect engineer, is going to set up shop on his own. Sudhirda has been gone for a whole decade: hard to believe. So are my grandparents. My parents are back home. My little daughter is a college sophomore now. I have twice had surgery. The apartment that I was not even planning to buy then has been lived in for more than three years. ‘Smart-’phones, which were still a bit of a novelty then, are now ubiquitous. There are many more highrises all around, many more cars on the roads. The National Highway that skirts this town is being upgraded, and we’ve nearly got an airport. There is a looming water crisis. Education has absolutely gone to the dogs: people who can’t spell, compose one sensible paragraph or score more than twenty per cent in impromptu quizzes to save their lives routinely get top grades in public examinations. And so on…

One thing that using the internet has taught me over a period of nearly twenty years is that, while it is useful for things like booking tickets and home-delivery shopping and summoning cabs and exchanging business letters and hunting for information and suchlike, it is absolutely no good where establishing and maintaining warm, close, intelligent relationships is concerned. I say this after experimenting strenuously with ‘social networking’ sites for years, and Skype, and writing this blog itself. I don’t know how true this is about other countries, but it’s definitely true about India. Or that at least has been my own experience. So after an entire decade – so many posts (this is the 461st), on such a huge variety of subjects – I have realized that if I keep writing, it will be primarily because I enjoy doing so, and a little for the sake of numerous readers who rarely or never comment (I have published, in ten years, just over 4,500 comments, and trashed maybe another 500 or so which were merely abusive or nonsensical). I could never turn this blog into a forum for informed and thoughtful people, as I had originally hoped to since the days when the Net was just a gleam in some nerd’s eye. But I don’t blame myself.

I was re-reading the entries in the ‘earliest posts’ section. It’s like turning over an old photo album. They sound so recent! I am proud to see that virtually nothing has dated. Also, it feels strange to see the names of some people who were avid comment writers once, and who have dropped completely out of my life. Truly indeed in this age whether you keep in touch or not is entirely a matter of volition. So thank you, Shilpi, Tanmoy, Rajdeep, Nishant, Subhadip, Saikat and the handful of others who have kept in touch throughout. Think about it: what a pitiful number it is, considering the size of my ex-student crowd, and the fact that every year a very large percentage of them vow at the time of leaving never to fall out of touch! How offended they are when I laugh and tell them ‘You don’t know you are talking crap, but I do.’ Tells you something about humankind, doesn’t it?

I may or may not stop writing here at some future date. But I don’t think I’ll ever take the blog off the net. Perhaps someday my daughter will want to cull a few of her most favourite posts and make a book out of it? She can at least boast that her baba kept far more gainfully engaged in his spare time than most people of his generation did.

Speaking of generations, I met Mr. Parameshwaran at the marketplace a few days ago. Sir is past eighty, but he was teaching until recently, and he is still so active and sprightly that I can’t help envying him even while wishing him well. It feels more than weird to think that in seven years I too shall be officially a senior citizen. I hope if I am around at his age I can still be fully alive, mentally even more than physically. And maybe, like old Wang Lung in The Good Earth, I shall find love anew! What else is worth living for? Shoes, makeup, parties? Gabbling about new apps on my mobile?

I named the blog ‘bemused’. Those of you who have been reading it for years, don’t you think, in retrospect, that it was apt?