Winter is in the air. The breeze is balmy, the sky is blue, the nights are getting long and chilly, it’s ever so much nicer to sleep.
Pupu asked, ‘Baba, why don’t you start writing stories again?’ Indeed, I have been wondering why the wellspring dried up more than a decade ago. As for stories from my own bygone days, I tell them impromptu without conscious effort, but when I sit down at the keyboard to write them down, they don’t come back to me. Maybe some of my readers will help to jog my memory?
Passing reflection: While driving around my town these days, it often strikes me that 90% of the creatures jaywalking or zooming around on bikes and posing a very nasty threat to public safety weren’t even born when I started teaching thirty years ago. Look at this article in my newspaper today (Ei Samay, November 05, 2017). Are you one of those who would shed a passing tear over the lost lives, or would you, like me, mutter ‘the more, the merrier’? My only concern, I am sure, is for all those luckless non-insane drivers and pedestrians on the roads whom these monsters endanger. When will the type be finally chased off the streets and highways, I wonder?
I looked up my twitter account after more than a year today. I never post anything on it, yet there are 126 ‘followers’ there. Heaven knows what they are ‘following’! And most of them haven’t ever got directly in touch with me for ages.
I am writing in my classroom, even as a lot of teenagers are quietly answering a test around me. How many years, how many batches have passed this way! Those who were bubbly kids are dull parents now; I thank my lucky stars that I can still hold the current crop’s interest much better than most people of my age can. It’s not just a romantic thing: they bring me my bread and butter. Some wise old advisors had expressed most solicitous concern about who would come to my tuitions if I quit my schoolmaster’s job. I am glad I have been able to lay their worries to rest.
It is not easy to keep many youngsters in a bunch interested, believe me – and that too with something as ‘boring and burdensome’ as studies, without being ‘cool and fun’ most of the time, day after day, year after year, for decades together, with a reputation for having a ferocious temper on a short fuse. Try it sometime. With me, the same parents who are so desperate to get their kids in here begin to grumble at some point about why those kids are so eager to come here even during vacations and school exams, and why they pay so much attention to things I say. One of the strongest reasons, I suspect, why those parents cut off all connections with me as soon as the ‘course is covered’. Most old teachers become brutes or bores, and it’s very hard not to. School- and college teachers survive only because their jobs are protected, whereas with private tutors, who are being ‘tested’ by every new batch, reputations soar, stagnate and then collapse within fairly short cycles: before my own eyes, many of them have sunk back into obscurity within twenty years or less. It is very hard and slow work to build up a reputation; keeping it is harder. These kids were born in late 2001 or early 2002. Those who were admitted to my classes then had already heard of me as a fairly ‘old’ and irascible teacher, then they discovered me. Now these kids are about to leave, and the children who are coming in next were born to the generation that passed through my classes in the early and mid-90s. It feels strange to think about how the kids of 2030 are going to regard me, if I am around and at it still. They’d be born of those who left my classes between 2000 and 2005!
A friend of mine, a doctor, keeps trying to build one successful hospital after another of which he can be the absolute boss. I was never so materially ambitious – I might even call myself too lazy for that sort of thing. I like my leisure too much, I strongly dislike being harried and worried, I prefer not to be beholden to a lot of people (as you invariably become if you want to make it even halfway big in business or politics), I have lived a large part of my life in the dreamy mode and greatly enjoyed it. But I have found to my own satisfaction that I am good with young people, so I might have done well for myself if I could set up a full-scale boarding school. Ah well, dreams, dreams...
I have been re-reading some of my old blogposts, and, in connection with everything that I have written about the kind of amoral capitalism that is currently rampant all over the world and the need for a new socio-political paradigm, as well as the sheer evil of growing economic inequality all over the world, I am smiling wryly to myself to see how an economist – Thomas Piketty – has suddenly become a bestseller with his Capital in the 21st century, which has not only pinned down said inequality as an incontrovertible fact, but also condemned it as an unmitigated, and quite avoidable, evil. Of course, like everything else these days it is entirely likely to be forgotten soon as a passing sensation, but at least an issue very close to my heart has for a little while found a place in the sun. And there is no harm in hoping that the world might actually sit up and do something about it, with a little more consequence than the launch of iPhone 49.
One supreme lesson that life has taught me is that humans hardly if ever learn to strike a balance in anything. We forever only keep swinging from one insane extreme to another. I noted this first in writing when I was drafting My Master’s Word in late 1993, and the lesson has only been driven deeper by all I have seen in the last quarter century. So in reaction to the likes of Richard Dawkins come movements like the Taliban and ISIS, and I greatly fear that in reaction to the era of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos we shall have the era of Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot all over again. To use Conrad’s telling phrase, we only have a choice of nightmares. Perhaps the poet was right: always the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
I have been reading a lot of serious books lately. Shashi Tharoor’s recent work, An Era of Darkness, was truly impressive: you would have to be as obtuse as Niall Ferguson ever to claim again that the British Empire was at all good for India. It hurts, though, because I belong to that breed, maybe long outmoded, who really thought well of the British for a very long time, and still cannot stop admiring them for a lot of things they did worldwide. Maybe, Tharoor would say, it is so only because I was lucky to be born among the privileged classes, and so we never had to face the full horrid brunt of colonial exploitation. Another recent work, Churchill’s Secret War by Madhusree Mukherjee, has also likewise made me very ambivalent about a supposedly great man. I never went to the extreme of regarding Sir Winston Churchill as the ‘greatest Briton of all time’ (only an ass could say that, someone who had never heard of Shakespeare and Newton); I had always thought that with regard to his attitude towards Gandhi he was not only nasty but ignorant and petty-minded, but at least I always admired him deeply as a magnificent writer, a supreme master of English prose. But this book pretty convincingly demonstrates ( and I have read things like this before) that Churchill was almost personally responsible for killing off nearly three million poor and helpless people through the Great Bengal Famine of 1943, not because he couldn’t help it, but essentially because he liked the prospect, seeing that he thought of Indians (or rather, specifically Hindus, the majority of the population) as ‘a beastly people with a beastly religion’ who dared to challenge the authority of the one thing he loved and adored, the British Empire. Indeed, he lived long enough to admit that he had been wrong about them, but only in private, and the monstrous wrong was done and no amends were ever made about it (somebody, says Tharoor, has estimated that Britain owes India at least three trillion US dollars). I suppose by the time I die, I shall not have too many heroes left.
In the newspaper two days ago, I read this article about a young dance teacher somewhere in my own town lamenting that these days kids don’t seriously want to learn anything, and in this they are wholly supported by their parents, whose only ‘ambition’ is to make their children ‘famous’ overnight, if only by getting up to ‘perform’ (the word now reminds me of circus animals only) on the stage at the neighbourhood pujo. To think that Shakespeare wrote about young people chasing the ‘bubble reputation’ so long ago! What would he have said about us?
Yes, I know I have been rambling. So I had better sign off here before you get really exasperated. On the other hand, if you liked reading till this point, let me know, will you?