Autumn is approaching. The sun has slanted southwards, and the days are already markedly shorter, though the muggy heat will not go away until Diwali is past. I am looking forward with relish, as always, to the three months from mid-November to mid-February. The sky is azure, but the sun is still far too hot, and hurts the eyes. I hope things will be better this winter than the last time, which was a big disappointment. The years zip by these days: the Darjeeling trip, back in January, seems so far back in the past already.
Of late, I have been brushing up my French on the net. My progress has been fast, because I remember much more than I have forgotten. But the language has changed somewhat in the last thirty years: they are using words now that we didn’t then. ‘L’internet’ needs no translation, but ‘ordinateur’ (computer) is now all over the place too; surprisingly, so is ‘robot’ – have robots become household gadgets in France, then? And as I suppose it is with colloquialisms in all languages, nice words have been replaced with crude or downright ugly ones, so ‘aimable’ (friendly) is hardly to be seen, since ‘sympa’ (short for sympathetique, obviously) is now preferred, though it also means just plain nice. And while in my time the verb aimer meant both to like and to love, they seem to be using ‘j’aime’ more and more to mean ‘I like’ only these days, reserving ‘j’adore’ to express ‘I love’… and yet ‘I love you’ is still expressed as ‘je t’aime’, the idiots. Anyway, after this is done, I might start learning something all new, or maybe something like Persian or Sanskrit, which I have longed to master for ages.
My daughter has got me hooked to all kinds of serialized TV shows. We have enjoyed several together, such as the Marco Polo series until it was inexplicably cut short, and the new Sherlock Holmes series, until they started becoming too bizarre for my taste. Then there was Boston Legal, and we have both become great fans of James Spader. So I have gone over to The Blacklist. And I am watching Castle too alongside, and the old Star Trek series, both 1966 and 1987. Alongwith which I have been reading a lot of new books, thanks in no small measure to Pupu as well as a few old boys, Rajdeep especially. Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement made for very thought-provoking reading: why is our art and cinema, and literature in particular, deafeningly silent on the environmental question? A work of fiction that I especially enjoyed was A Very English Agent by Julian Rathbone – it’s about a mid-19th century James Bond, if you can imagine it, only without the glitz and swagger, and the author has managed to weave in everybody from the Duke of Wellington and Queen Victoria to Darwin, Shelley and Karl Marx into it. I am eagerly waiting to lay my hands on the sequel. And re-reading Saiyyad Mujtaba Ali’s Deshe Bideshe is a pleasure that never palls. I wish that Khaled Hosseini would read it, even in translation.
Then there are the long evening walks, and the occasional chats with my parents, during which we have a lot of old threads to pick up. All this, mind you, goes hand in hand with the two classes daily, and an extra one now and then. So I have my hands full. Only, I am beginning to withdraw myself even more than before from ‘society’. If I had much more money, I’d already be living in a moated castle, and the uninvited would find it very difficult to enter, leave alone see me. I had already begun to dislike the majority of my species by the time I was a teenager – too ignorant, too crude, too selfish and too distracted – and then I gave more than thirty years to trying to be good to them, and finding out whether they were worth befriending. I have now had enough. I am making it a rule to act upon my own warning: leaving aside a few old favourites, I don’t even communicate with ex-students who have stayed out of touch for longer than a whole year. For long I did them the courtesy of answering letters and emails, even if they had nothing interesting to say; these days I don’t. What is the point? There have been too many instances of being disappointed – the worst type being those who get back in touch with ecstatic expressions of satisfaction, and then drop out for good again after one or two exchanges…well, not the worst, maybe, because I keep recalling the many who at various points of my life averred that they ‘loved’ me, and have since vanished without a trace. I have had a lot of help in the process of losing faith and respect for humanity. So I keep the number of my Facebook friends firmly on zero, and my whatsapp status is a stern tickoff for people who would like to ‘chat’. My public phone is switched off for nearly half the day. The occasional pangs of loneliness are infinitely preferable to the ‘companionship’ of people who have literally nothing to give me, do not sufficiently value what I can give them, and will not cherish memories.
As for the worth of my profession, I regard myself as no better and no worse than, say, a cobbler. They need to get their shoes mended, I can help them, they come, get their work done, pay me, go away and forget. I don’t do something criminal, something I have to be ashamed about, but there is no pride left, no lasting sense of achievement and satisfaction apart from the money that I have been able to make, and the little good that has done for some time to those who have been dependent on me. I don’t think I have been able to teach anybody anything much, anything of lasting value to them and to society at large. I used to think I was making a difference: I am now old enough to believe otherwise. Alongwith that resignation has vanished all expectation. I no longer think that anybody should remember me with gratitude, affection and respect. Those were illusions that hurt a great deal while I clung to them: no more.
Which makes me wonder more and more: have I shortchanged myself all these years? If money was truly all that I could expect in return for my services, haven’t I charged people far less all along than I should have? If that is really true, it’s now far too late to do anything about it, but at least those of my readers who are very young – and they include, most importantly, my daughter – should learn something from my story, at least. As for me, I keep wishing more and more that I’d win a big lottery, or that some rich uncle would leave me a fortune… not that that is ever going to happen, because I don’t buy lottery tickets, and I have no rich uncles. Then for the rest of my life I’d be able to work just for fun, and God, little does this town know how picky I am going to become then! But anyway, I can see the shore now, and things are definitely going to change for the better in a few years’ time, inshallah.
I read about a young doctor in government employ in one of my newspapers today, here. God bless him. It is hard to believe that such youngsters still exist, and very galling to think that I cannot recall any old boy of mine about whom I can boast for being someone like that (are there any? Do let me know). I only pray that this young man does not feel, twenty years from now, that he has wasted his life on ingrates…
DurgaPujo around the corner once more. Yuck.