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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Behold: there cometh the Lord

Christmas Eve.

For many years I was always away from home on this night... Mussoorie, Hrishikesh, Vizag, Darjeeling, Shillong, Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur, Shimla, Nainital, Jabbalpur, Puri and so on and so forth. These days I stay at home, missing my daughter.

I last wrote about Christmas six years ago.

Now I listen to Jim Reeves: Mary's little boy child, Silent Night, O come all ye faithful, Jingle Bells, Senor Santa Claus, Welcome to my world. You will find all of them on Youtube. Sing along with me. And try Abide with me. And Easter by John  Neihardt.

On earth, peace to men of goodwill.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Another year is dying...

It is soon going to be thirty years since I came back to Durgapur, twenty since my daughter was born, and fifteen since I quit my schoolteacher’s job.  In seven years’ time, if I survive, I shall have reached the official age of retirement, and qualify to be a senior citizen.

It’s been a long haul, and not too painful but certainly disappointing and unrewarding on the whole – I have in mind the lives of many a thousand man to compare with when I make that assessment. Maybe that’s the way it turns out for most people. It has also been a long, long slog, and I am not sure whether I can look forward to something better at last. But anyway, 2016 is also done. We are having a long winter this time, so that is good, though I wish it had rained a bit…

It has been a quiet and satisfying year on the whole. A year of travels, a year of living with my parents again after ages, a year of watching my daughter grow into an adult. A year of strange surprises, whose sting is going to be felt in 2017 – the election of Donald Trump, Narendra Modi’s demonetization circus. A year of feeling too often that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. A year of walking on my own feet again: and doing everything a normal man can do with a once-broken leg except jump, but knowing sadly that it will never stop hurting as long as I live. A year without too-serious accidents to self and family, thank God. One more year of hoping and being disappointed about a few good things happening to India. A year of a great deal of reading and TV-serial watching.

I came back from a big city when I had begun to feel that I was not destined for great things, and it would be pathetic to spend a lifetime in a metropolis unless you were doing great things (my view is that if you live in Kolkata, it’s worth it only if you are either Didi or Dada. That is a very short but very pithy summary of my outlook on life. I have seen New York and Delhi at close quarters too, and I have found no reason to change that opinion. In Delhi you are a nobody unless you are at least a Lok Sabha member as well as a national celebrity or dollar billionaire). Much better to be a fairly big fish in a small pond. I am eternally thankful to this one-horse town because it has fed me well and on the whole left me at peace to live my own life. My only regrets are that it is getting too crowded, dusty and noisy for my taste, that I could never have a swimming pool close to home, that ‘educated’ people here by and large don’t have any civic sense and charity, and don’t read anything at all. Not a very big list of grouches, really. Now that there are fairly decent hospitals nearby, and high speed internet at home, and the NH2 is getting better still, I am sitting pretty. My investment advisor assures me that if things keep going as they are, I shall have a pretty good ‘pension’ to draw upon after I am sixty, and by that time my daughter is likely to be looking after herself, so I can be a free bird. The rest is in God’s hands.

I have been travelling more and more often these days, so I need a good car. My own, a small hatchback, is still in fine fettle, but getting old. I am not sure about buying a new one, because my car sits in the garage for most of the year. It makes far more sense to hire one whenever I go out of town. I was delighted to hear that a new startup called Zoomcar has begun to hire out self-driven cars for exactly this purpose, and I contacted them, but they don’t have any plans to start a service in this region anytime soon. There are lots of people in my town who give you cars on hire, but they come with their own drivers, and I insist on taking along my own. So this is a request to my readers: can you put me in touch with someone in the Durgapur-Asansol region who is willing to rent out a Toyota Innova in good condition on those terms, at, say, Rs. 1500 a day, fuel and driver excluded? I shall always ask for it with several days’ notice, and how good care I take of cars will be evident to anyone who tries driving my own.

One good thing about street culture hereabouts in passing: during the time I grew up, Bengalis who were strangers addressed one another as dada (an honorific equivalent to elder brother). I have made fun in the other blog of people who have of late begun to address all females as madam instead of kakima, mashi or didi as they did in the old days. I am pleased to note, though, that of late men of all ages are increasingly addressing one another as kaku (‘uncle’) by default. I think that quaint though it is, it is certainly an improvement – just as I insist that all who address me by my first name though they don’t know me from Adam (as the call centre-operative type, trained ‘American’-style, tend to do) have taken one big step backwards towards monkeyhood.

You’ve got ten days to give India a pleasant surprise for a change, Mr. Modi. We are waiting.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Jayalalithaa, adieu

Puratchi Thalaivi, Amma, Selvi Jayalalithaa has died at age 68. The whole of Tamil Nadu is apparently in shock, and 26 people have already died on receiving the news. Mourning on this scale was apparently last seen when M. G. Ramachandran, her mentor in both filmdom and politics as well as erstwhile chief minister, passed away in 1987. 'She attracted a level of support that verged on the bizarre', says the BBC obituary. Bengalis might also read this article.

I have lived a long time, so I cannot deny that I had read and heard a lot about her, but I must candidly admit that in the last 24 hours I learnt much more than I did before. She was apparently a diversely talented woman – a child prodigy at dance, a much above average student, a superstar on the celluloid screen, very different from all her political colleagues from down south because she could hold her own in Parliament with aplomb in English (besides being able to quote the likes of Chanakya fluently in Sanskrit), a lover of books, much hurt and abused in the course of her rise to power (and she was always very proud that unlike most Asian women leaders, she had done it virtually all on her own), the only chief minister who was disqualified and briefly went to jail, but one who came back again and again to rule in unabashedly despotic and lavishly self-indulgent style, who became more and more fiercely reclusive as she kept growing old, accused of extreme corruption and shameless populism yet successful not only in winning and keeping the passionate adoration of millions but in taking (or at least keeping) her state to nearly the top of the list in terms of literacy, prosperity and order… truly, the stuff of legends quite out of keeping with the age! What does that teach us about India? 

I wish Sonia Gandhi, Mayavati and Mamata Banerjee would take a few leaves out of her book. And her life is one more confirmation of several things I have said, namely that a) vast numbers of voters do not mind ‘corruption’ and self-aggrandizement as long as the leader can ‘deliver’, both in terms of personal charisma and worldly lollies, b) populism* pays, especially in a poor country, so long as you don’t bankrupt the exchequer, c) every politician is not ‘uneducated’ compared to the average engineer, and d) women with energy, talent, grit and clear goals are neither objected to nor thwarted from rising to the top by this so-called male-dominated society. So if most women want to whine instead, they shouldn’t expect much sympathy. Feminists might chew this over. This is what I have taught my daughter anyway.

P.S., Dec. 08: *And maybe it wasn't 'populism' in the pejorative sense that word is normally used. I just read this extract from a recent book by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze.

P.P.S., Jan 08, 2017: I also read this article in today's newspaper. And I wish India had more Chief Ministers like that.

Monday, December 05, 2016


The weather being balmy and my workload lighter, I made a quick trip to Shantiniketan on Sunday the 4th December. I had gone there last on my scooter in February 2014. My two young old boys Swarnava and Jishnu accompanied me.

I never tire of that road, and this time it was in good condition all through. A brief stop at Banalakshmi to pick up a few titbits, then at the new open-air tribal-culture museum called Srijani Shilpagram. Nice, though not deeply memorable, and I could have done with fewer cackling females around. The baul sang tunefully beside the lake: I wish I could listen in greater peace. No wonder the poet wrote ‘stop here, or gently pass’. And that was more than 200 years ago, in a far more civilized country…

The authorities at Vishvabharati seem to be taking greater care of the campus than before: there are No Smoking and No Plastic signs everywhere, you can stop only at designated parking lots, and the Rabindra Bhavan museum has been refurbished, though the collection on display is far smaller than it used to be. My bonus was a portrait of Anna Turkhud that I had never seen before. (Oh, and this is for Mr. Modi, who had declared the night before that even beggars had started accepting alms online: there was a foreign lady and her daughter and husband, and they had to pay Rs. 680 for their tickets, and the man at the counter flatly refused to accept a Visa card, so the three had to fish out currency notes from all their wallets to make up the sum, grumbling all the while).

Sonajhuri was next, much publicized in the movie Belasheshey. The resorts were a disappointment: if you want a nice place to relax, go to Mukutmanipur. And there’s too much dust in the air for the haat-s to suit my taste.

Back to Durgapur just in time for lunch with biryani at a restaurant right next to my house, and I was home by 2:30, time enough for a snooze before the evening class. I hope the boys enjoyed themselves. Swarnava had made egg rolls for breakfast with his own hands. Good job, Swarnava. And Jishnu’s enthusiasm was infectious: I need someone like that to goad me into setting out. But as you see boys, any trip longer than this requires an overnight stay, and the cost shoots up, so think about it. I hope I have adequately explained why I have given up trying to take old boys on long trips.

I keep missing Pupu acutely every time I make a trip like this. I hope I can do the next one with her. This time round she was tied up with her end-semester exams.

Pictures, a little later.