Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee declared a sudden lockdown starting Sunday the 15th May after repeatedly saying that she did not want to do it. Perhaps, given the dire Covid situation in the state, her hand was forced, but for once I am really upset with her, because she did it almost as suddenly as the PM had done it countrywide last year, and at that time she and many other opposition leaders had strenuously criticized him for bringing untold hardship and misery quite unnecessarily upon the lives of millions of people, particularly poor migrant workers who were left stranded and near-destitute. Photos on TV and in the papers, showing vast numbers of working people scrambling into buses and trains to go home all through Saturday bore witness to a repetition of the same unnecessary travails visited upon ordinary people again. Why on earth couldn’t they give at least a three-day notice before clamping down? Wouldn’t last-minute crowding in bazaars and transport actually help to accelerate the spread of the contagion? (Actually I have the same question about reducing the number of trains and shopping hours – but neither ‘experts’ nor leaders listen to the voice of common sense any more.)
Pupu says it is raining in Delhi, and the weather has turned pleasant. I am happy for her, and a little jealous too, because it’s sweltering heat in these parts, even while we wait for updates on a probable cyclone coming up from the Bay of Bengal.
I have been musing anew on how we are abusing and mangling the English language, especially in America and in this country (where we combine plain ignorance with awkward Indianisms and a desperation to ape Americans to make a strange ugly caricature of English), to which both the print media and the increasingly influential ‘social’ media contribute mightily. Once upon a time, we have heard our fathers say, people read newspapers like The Statesman or The Hindu to pick up tips on how to write English well: these days I use newspapers in class to give exercises to my pupils, picking out as many mistakes and examples of stilted or unidiomatic usage as they can. Adults develop bad habits, and children, not knowing any better, pick them up. So these days they are all ‘reverting back’ instead of ‘replying’; they write b’day and vacay and prep because they think it makes them sound ‘cool’ (rather than smart or elegant: such words have been forgotten); journos throw around stupid words like ‘Opposition slams government’, ‘Minister flays opposition’ without bothering to know what ‘slam’ and 'flay' mean, just as they write ‘heads will roll’ when they merely mean that some people will be removed from their posts. I was amazed to see someone recently using the expression ‘heart rending’, having long ago accepted with a sigh that everybody keeps writing ‘heart wrenching’ instead, simply because they have never learnt the right word. They are always ‘calling out’ someone or the other these days, simply because Americans no longer know the word ‘criticize’, and 'taking a call' when they could simply 'decide'. How many non sub-editors know that that species of animal habitually uses stupid abbreviations merely out of laziness, or merely because they are concerned with fitting a headline within a given number of column centimetres? – hence suddenly, in the race to vaccinate all humankind, ‘jab’ has become a synonym for ‘injection’. If only they knew how much a jab with a needle hurts, and how gently some medics or their assistants can give you injections if they know their job! Some people are even saying 'sick' when they mean wonderful!... and I read this gem in my newspaper this very morning, a high government official listing all the steps they are going to take if the situation ‘gets deteriorated’ any further (not ‘deteriorates’, as any literate person would say).
But there is much worse around us. I have said this again and again: I have always despised people who confuse independence of thought and speech with vulgar abuse of language, and now, at my age, I firmly draw the line at the foul-mouthed: I shall NOT give them their time of day. I am convinced that it is a civilisational thing, and spouting dirty words right and left without cause or provocation merely means you have an empty or twisted mind incapable of either good taste or reasoned and informed thought (perhaps you were never taught any better, but that’s bad luck for you); therefore there is nothing human about you other than your looks, and I shall deal with you accordingly. Netflix, in the name of spreading ‘freedom of expression’ (but obviously actually only to increase TRP ratings by pandering to the great unwashed – many of whom drive BMWs these days), has been particularly guilty of encouraging this pandemic of filth, so I was delighted to watch, in three movies currently showing there, two starring Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel Esq. and Two Guns) and one called The Kingdom about FBI agents carrying out a lightning investigative raid in Saudi Arabia, where lead characters pointedly berated others for using gutter language. Perhaps the worst perpetrators are finally getting sick and tired of their own excesses! I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Are you listening, Ms. J. K. Rowling? I stopped reading you after the first Robert Galbraith book, and this is why. If you want to find out how absorbing adventure-thriller-mystery books can be written in perfectly clean and mellifluous language, books that a lot of educated adults have greatly enjoyed too, you might like to read up the Harry Potter series.
In fact, it is a wonder that there are still a lot of decent, soft spoken, polite people around, and they keep pleasantly surprising me now and then. I have told this story in my class over and over again: a senior police officer (and they are supposed to be especially foul-mouthed, as portrayed by Prosenjit in Baishey Srabon) had come to pick his daughter up from my tuition, and at the end of the class I strolled out to have a word with him. He had been talking into the wireless, but the moment he saw me approaching he hurriedly got out of the car, despite my urging him to stay put, saying ‘ami garite boshe thakbo ar apni mashtarmoshai hoye baire dariye kotha bolben eta ghor obhodrota hoye jabe Sir’ (it would be grossly discourteous for me to talk with you from inside the car while you, a teacher, are standing outside’)! God bless such folks. I hope the children grow up learning from the right kind of parents. This is not elitism, it is a cry from the heart to put the claims of civilization above the primordial slime…