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Sunday, January 29, 2017

That fleeting butterfly, happiness

Am I a sourpuss? I don’t think so, though the world has tried very hard to make me one. There are still a lot of things that make me sometimes quietly and sometimes even boisterously happy.

I am happy that without any kind of sociopolitical clout, I have earned the right to be called ‘Sir’ by just about everybody, from my pupils, ex pupils and their parents to neighbours, policemen and politicians and bankers and shopkeepers and mechanics that I know.
I am happy when old boys reminisce with nostalgia about their class days.
I am happy when I find young people who read a lot of good books.
I am happy every time I see signs of kindness and charity.
I am happy that poverty has visibly reduced in this country: I rarely see the kind of hungry people in rags that I saw everywhere in my childhood.
John Denver sang ‘Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy’, and bright, crisp, balmy days make me happy always, as today was.
Finding good new authors to read never fails to make me happy.
Hearing that my daughter’s friends call me a cool dad makes me happy.
I am happy that medicine and surgery have very significantly improved – people, at least if they have money, suffer much less, for much less time these days than fifty years ago.
It makes me happy that I managed to rise above poverty by my own efforts in my youth, and that I am inching towards affluence, without ever taking recourse to crime or self-abasement.
The internet makes a very private person like me happy by providing so much entertainment at home. I rarely go to the cinema any more – hardly twice in the last five years, in fact.

It is, I have discovered with surprise not unmixed with bemusement, hard even to enjoy one’s happiness. It is not only that other people try very hard to take it away if they become aware of it, because they can’t bear to see anyone happy for long, the likes of me even suffer from a guilty conscience – ‘Do I have a right to be happy?’ There is the voice constantly warning me inside not to turn into a happy fool, like so many I have seen. And if nothing else, there’s always the anxiety over the knowledge that I, like everyone else on earth, am running out of time…

I have made thousands of people laugh, though they all know I am basically a very serious person. I read this story about a monk who made people laugh, while still managing to live a sober, industrious and saintly life, and when he died and was being cremated, he was still making people laugh through their tears because the fireworks he had hidden in his clothes were going off one by one. That is the kind of man that I admire.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


My daughter and I had a lovely time at Digha last weekend, which I was visiting for the first time since my college days. Everything is now vastly improved, from the roads to the resort ambience. Pupu has written about the trip on her blog. For photos, click this link.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Holmes, Harry Potter, and forgetting

Against the background of avidly watching the new Sherlock season episode by episode, and agreeing to like or dislike this or that facet of the show and plot, my daughter and I fell to wondering how in this fast and frenetic age, so many people still cling with such strong nostalgia to the undying saga of the world's most famous fictional detective. So much has changed that Holmes' London, nay the whole world, is well-nigh unrecognizable to us, yet we keep harking back fondly to the old happy memories, and every new attempt to alter, redesign, modernize the stories draws literally tens of millions of people the world over still, all eager to criticize, but unable to stay away. If you don't envy Conan Doyle, whom would you rather envy?

From that, quite naturally, we went on to ask each other whether we could expect the same sort of thing to happen to other, later great stories, such as the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Perhaps not, we agreed sadly, and the fault would not be the writers'. It is a truly sad age we live in, despite all the surface progress and prosperity and glitz: people are poor as never before. Because things keep happening so fast and fade from the collective memory so soon that we can hardly hope to leave anything in the line of a heritage behind for our own older selves, leave alone for posterity. So that the economy can keep moving, and things keep getting sold, and people of the most superficial kind keep being entertained, we have made a world where nothing stays, because nothing really matters, there is nothing that we truly care for any more -- not even ourselves and our memories.

Think about it. I don't feel like carrying on now. Perhaps I shall come back to this post in a few days' time. Meanwhile, do look up this post in my other blog.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The turning of the year

2016 was a year of deaths in my family. I lost three seniors, one of them very very dear to me.

Like most other recent years, this one was full of sound and fury, signifying very little (iPhone 7 launched!!!). One of the most important developments – for those who are educated and care for both science and nature – happened very quietly at the very end of the year: China has officially declared that it is going to ban the ivory trade in 2017.

The most interesting thing I have learnt about Donald Trump so far is that he does not use email. This is all of a piece with several related items of data I have gleaned and remembered over the years: a) that Mother Teresa built up a great organisation and ran a very tight ship till her last breath without a computer, b) that Oprah Winfrey bought a PC only after she was a multi-billionaire, c) that Bill Gates keeps all his most sensitive documents in hardcopy, d) that following the snooping-over-the-Net scandal, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has ordered all the most sensitive government papers to be manually typewritten, e) that employees in France have just won a 'right to disconnect', f) that Raymond Reddington of The Blacklist fame is, like Trump, a smug dinosaur who has lived through the so-called communication revolution with huge success, without having an email, Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp or Twitter account. Considering the size of my internet footprint, I am already ashamed, and I shall want my daughter to keep this in mind while negotiating the brave new world. It makes me glad that she is very wary of the PayTM kind of stuff, and tells me she doesn’t miss it one bit.

The year ended blissfully in my daughter’s company, finishing off the Star Wars saga among other things. I have been privileged to read a lot of good books and watch some good movies recently. Sherlock Holmes season 4 episode 1 was a shocker, though I had become rather bored with the series earlier. Now I must carry on and find out how Holmes/Cumberbatch ‘saves John Watson’, as per Mary’s last wish. And what on earth are the two of them going to do with little Rosamund? Julian Rathbone’s sequel to A Very English Agent, called Birth of a Nation, was a rollicking good yarn: I am eagerly awaiting the third book in the series. Charlie/Eddie Bosham has become one of my great favourites among literary characters now.

A very moving book I read recently was The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony, and once more I must admit I am ashamed that I did not know of a conservationist of his stature till now. Do read up on him and his beloved elephants on the Net; you will find a wealth of interesting information, including the amazing (yes, I meant that word) story of how they came to mourn for him at the Reserve Lodge after he died, tragically, at age 61 of a heart attack. The anecdote about how his beloved bull Mnumzane had to be put down when he needn’t have moved me to tears, and these days that takes some doing. Anthony would have been delighted to hear about the news from China.

Reading Anthony brought back to mind an old and dear love: Gerald Durrell. Much as I now admire Anthony, who wrote ‘To me the only good cage is an empty cage’, I agree, for I believe very good reasons, with Gerry, that without zoos most animals would soon become extinct: therefore zoos must stay, only they must be far better built and managed, as he showed us how. It drove me to look up the website of the love of Gerry’s life, the Jersey Wildlife Trust that he set up, and that is now (fittingly) named Durrell Wildlife Park. I also read up about his (second-) wife, the scientist Lee Wilson, who married Gerry specifically because he had a zoo of his own, and now runs it in his loving memory – as Francoise runs Lawrence’s dream come true, The Thula Thula Wildlife Reserve in South Africa. It is heartbreaking indeed to learn that few youngsters these days read as wonderful a classic as My Family and other Animals, and that the Trust is once again having money problems. I don’t feel charitable about too many things these days, but if I had pots of money I know where much of that would have gone…