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Monday, June 10, 2019

Midsummer writer's block

I currently have writer’s block – and the terrible heat is largely responsible. Whenever I have a little time to spare I can only think of snoozing. It’s not that I don’t have things to write about – there are lots of things, really – but I simply cannot summon up the energy for it. If only the rains would come… they are saying that the monsoon this time will be both late and weak. Alas for the likes of me!

My daughter is right now picking and choosing from among several job options. She’s in a hurry to prove herself in the world of adults. To me, it seems like a dream: I remember bringing her home from the hospital three days after she was born as though it was yesterday! God willing, the most fun time in my life is going to begin soon.

Rajdeep has just sent me this link to a newspaper article about how the young scions of ultra-rich families around the world are being trained to make socially valuable investments which are likely to make them even richer (if that is conceivable, leave alone desirable), while also earning them the gratitude of the 99.99% people who will never have one ten-thousandth part of that kind of money. The greatest proponents of the socialist ideal must be turning in their graves.

Here is another link to my Bengali newspaper, without comment, where the writer laments what has happened to Bengalis. My Bengali readers might be interested.

A little boy who has just joined made my day three days ago by telling me on his own that he is deeply interested in history. Imagine! In this day and age!

Enough for tonight. If I can still breathe, I shall try to add to this post tomorrow morning.

P.S., June 12: Oooh... it rained tonight! 
I am going to sleep the sleep of the just.

P.P.S., June 15: With reference to Subhasis's latest comment on this post, here is a link to an article in my Bengali newspaper, dated June 13. Something I have been saying for ages. I also wrote a post on this very subject some time ago.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Narendra Modi, round two

BJP 303 seats, NDA 351. Next biggest party, the Congress, 52, the third and fourth, DMK and AITMC, 23 and 22 respectively. Very clear, decisive mandate. Even the Congress has immediately conceded defeat without petty carping and bickering. To that extent, democracy is still safe, and all disgruntled elements must accept the janaadesh, live with it, and, if they really, strongly dislike the current dispensation, try their utmost to change the public mind by open, legitimate means over the next five years.

The era of Indira Gandhi has returned. This election was not really about the BJP but about Narendra Modi. We are definitely going to become a far more Presidential rather than parliamentary state.

The upsurge of the BJP in Bengal is quite as surprising as its virtual non-existence in all but one of the southern states. This is polarization with a capital P! And Ms. Mamata Banerjee has slipped up very badly, seasoned and canny political player as she is: the future might be grim indeed for her and her party unless she can very quickly put her house in order and go on the warpath with a far better strategy in mind.

All inconveniences over things like Aadhar, demonetization and GST have apparently been forgiven or forgotten by the masses. Nor did the Dalit discontent or the farmers’ matter in the end. Whereas Pulwama and Balakot, tragedy and theatrics notwithstanding, have certainly helped a very great deal. Let lessons be learnt from this by all parties concerned.

The political discourse has turned very definitely towards a far more jingoistic and religion-oriented outlook (Rahul Gandhi has been visiting shrine after shrine, and all Didi could do was to keep reiterating that we don’t need Ram and Hanuman, because we have our own Durga and Kali to bow to). Simultaneously, leftism as we have known it has been definitely wiped out. We must not only accept that, but ponder over the why, and over the likely consequences in the medium- and long run.

If politics has always been far more about perception than about hard facts, the opposition must learn, if it wants to survive and bounce back, that its image needs a complete overhaul. The parties involved, barring perhaps Patnaik’s BJD in Odisha, have etched such a deep-seated image in the public mind about being venal, incompetent and fractious, that they never had a chance against the BJP bulldozer. Above everything else, the Congress Party will die as the Left has unless it can shed the albatross called the Gandhi family from around its neck.

The young – educated in science, aspiring to be doctors and engineers – voted BJP in droves. That too, needs to be understood by every party which is hoping to have a future.

Will our Constitution and our higher courts survive? That will be one of the biggest questions that need to be answered. As for the media, I have no hopes – as was said when Mrs. Gandhi declared an Emergency, ‘they were asked to bend, and they crawled’. Especially when I know, from very painful and intimate experience, what kind of scum have become mediapersons over the last twenty years.

Would it be wise for me to don my upabeet (sacred thread) again?

I wrote a post here about the massive BJP victory back in May 2014 with a broadly congratulatory and hopeful attitude. It was titled Dawn of a new era, but there was a question mark at the end. The last five years, the most levelheaded and non-partisan observer will agree, has been a mixed bag at best. The BJP has worked a miracle at the hustings this time, no question about that: as so many have already noted, it’s the first time a ruling party has beaten the anti-incumbency factor so resoundingly since the early 1970s. Surely it would be churlish to deny that Team Modi-Shah have won a thumping approval from the electorate. And certainly, although they have been greatly helped by luck – as all winners must be – they must be admired for their determination, steadfast vision, organizational skill and incredible campaigning energy. Now it remains to be seen what they will do with this huge mandate. There have been bigger ones before which were largely wasted: Rajiv Gandhi’s 1984 victory comes to mind. And no position at the top of the pole can be held for very long, especially in broadly democratic setups: contrary storms rise sooner or later and sweep the most impregnable fortresses away. The PM knows this. He has said, immediately after learning of the victory, that his responsibility has increased manifold. And I believe it is true that he does want to turn India quickly into a really big and powerful economy, so that she can emerge as one of the global leaders on his watch. If only because that would allow him to strut as much as he wants to on the largest of all stages. If so, he will know better than anyone else, that the government needs to focus ferociously on an agenda of domestic peace, stability as well as all-round and inclusive progress. Therein lies the hope for the likes of me.

If I do vote in the general election of 2024, I shall be a senior citizen then!

[P.S., May 26: I should like to link this editorial in The Hindu for reflecting my own mood of cautious hopefulness. On the other hand, here is a harshly critical and grim criticism of the state of affairs in India. If and when the incumbent government takes steps to shut the writer up or worse, I shall know that my worst fears are beginning to come true.]  

Thursday, May 16, 2019

SHAME! ....?

Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar’s statue has been contemptuously demolished – again, fifty years on.

The last time it was ultra-left ‘intellectual idealists’ who did it; this time the blame has been pinned on ultra-right lumpens, no doubt egged on by their masters who incidentally lay no claim to either knowledge or wisdom of any kind beyond blind worship of what they call ‘tradition’, and are actually motivated by the only thing that has ever motivated rightwingers: naked lust for unbridled power.

Apparently the ageing ‘naxalites’ who perpetrated the horror fifty years ago are deeply ashamed now, (same day, same newspaper) as their inheritors today just might be, fifty years later. Thank God the sublime greatness of someone like Vidyasagar does not depend one whit on what they think and value.

But – a little, shameful reminder. Have average Bengalis (even the formally educated among them) ever really known and respected Vidyasagar? Remember how he who struggled to enlighten and succour them for most of his life ultimately gave up in disgust and despair, turned his back on them and went off to vegetate in his old age among Santhal villagers far away from the big ‘happening’ city? Yes, too shameful to remember, perhaps. Having been a teacher myself all my life, having worshipped Vidyasagar in the same breath with the likes of Socrates and Confucius, and having found out exactly how much we (including the teachers among us) respect this profession, I don’t think what has happened really matters. We couldn’t show more disrespect to a man like that merely by smashing a statue of his. Who are we, obsessed with Messi and Deepika and Virat, and GoT and PubG, and Amazon and Zomato and Apple and Uber, to either respect or disrespect someone like him? Do candles matter to the sun?

P.S., June 12: Look up this link in today's newspaper. As I was saying.

Sunday, May 12, 2019


The father of a little girl who has very recently been admitted to my class was saying this evening that one my ex-students, who later became his student at a local engineering college and is now working in Germany, has said, and not once, that he owes everything good in his life to me. I have heard such paeans again and again over a long life of teaching, but the pleasure never palls, especially because Providence has so arranged things that every now and then – once in a few years, at least – I will also hear about vulgar ingrates who remember me only to vilify me with fantastical accusations of neglect and worse, and every time that happens, it sours up a lot of good memories.

A few girls who went to Carmel School and have become my ex-students recently came over to see me, and pointedly said, ‘Look, Sir, you said Carmelites never visit, but we have!’ I smiled, though I know they’ll fall permanently out of touch soon enough. ‘Take the cash, and let the credit go’.

‘Some are born to endless night’, wrote Agatha Christie, quoting William Blake, and I know exactly how it feels. You know what fate has been like to me? Only yesterday I stepped out of my house to find a little boy waiting after my class for his father to come and pick him up, so I gave him company and shared a bit of jhaalmuri with him from the streetside vendor who whips up a very tasty snack. Ten minutes later I felt that I wanted a bit more, having had only a fistful, so I stepped  out again to ask the same vendor to make another packet for me: and he was winding up for the night! I only thank God over and over again that He in His infinite wisdom has let me off with myriad such minor irititants, and allowed me to avoid a lot of far worse things that happen to a lot of people…

My old boy Swarnava, who is reading Physics because he loves it, has written a blogpost on Richard Feynman. I hope a lot of people will read it and write encouraging comments.

The election results will come out in two weeks’ time, and whatever kind of government is cobbled up in Delhi, I believe the outlook for the India that our Founding Fathers dreamed of is grim. Are we eventually going to become a Hindu version of Pakistan, and mired in everything that was bad about the middle ages, because that is what we democratically desire?

At around this time every year, I wonder in a very crabby mood why hundreds of millions of people made this God-forsaken country their home and then bred into a billion. Does muggy heat attract humans as much as it does lizards and roaches? To love India is hard, and nobody understands that better than someone who has quietly tried to do it all his life.

I last went to Delhi for three days on April 01, and I’m going again this Friday. Can’t wait.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Cyclone Phani and after

Well, cyclone Phani came and went, and here in West Bengal - especially in my district - it was a gigantic non-event, though the scare had been spread so widely, intensively for so long (a whole week, whereas at the time of Ayla back in 2009 we hardly got two days' notice, and far more lowkey at that) that the whole state went into holiday mode, so several million mandays of work were lost for nothing. I must admit, though, that if that rainstorm had struck Kolkata head-on the story might have been quite different.

But Odisha bore the brunt, and came out with flying colours. The last time a supercyclone struck - that was in '99 - ten thousand died; this time, thanks to early, strenuous and intelligently coordinated government efforts (how we blame them for every little peccadillo, yet are strangely stingy with our praise when they do wonderful things!), just three people died, and one of them of a heart attack. Shows we can do wonderful things when we really want to, and I certainly want to insist that this is a far more significant and praiseworthy achievement than sending a Mangalyaan up into space - honestly, which of us ordinary Indians have benefited a busted nickel from that non-event: something that the Americans did more than forty years ago? (our PM's boast is that we did it far more cheaply. He forgot to mention that that is largely because Indians are paid a tiny fraction of what Americans, laborers and scientists alike, are paid for the same work). Even the most advanced countries cannot do better when really big natural disasters strike.

Two other good things to note. In our state our CM personally supervised all planned relief and rescue operations all through the anticipated crisis, and it went like clockwork - so I am cocking a snook at all those envious idiots who keep ranting after her eight years in office that she was a very good opposition leader but is hopeless as a ruler. And secondly, I was delighted to read that in the face of a vast looming natural disaster, the BJP officially called a truce in the midst of the election season and joined hands with the TMC government to do their best for the people. Maybe there is still hope...

Saturday, April 27, 2019

End of April notes

Can anybody tell me why they always hold elections in this blazing (or sweltering -) heat?

And while we are on it, why, in an age when we are doing so many things via the internet, can’t they arrange things so that everyone can vote that way too, using their laptops or mobile phones from the comfort and safety of their homes?

This town goes to the polls the day after tomorrow. Given the heat, I am probably not going. [P.S., April 29: I did go and do my civic duty after all, but only because the polling station was peaceful and I had to wait for hardly ten minutes at the booth. Once again, I feel the greatest pity for all those, especially the policemen, who have to work in such horrible conditions all through the day: the temperature has soared beyond 40 degrees C by 9 a.m.! I hope the people who make such decisions will stop torturing so many millions sooner or later.]

I have observed this before: for children time apparently passes far more slowly, so that they are often bored to tears. At least that was my experience. The seventies and eighties seemed to crawl, despite my having lived a life so busy that most teenagers and young adults these days can’t begin to imagine it (those who think they are ‘cool’ because they have started keeping house and visiting pubs at 22 and had their first real sex at 25, often only after marriage!), and then between 1987 and 2019 time has passed in a flash: how did it happen, and why? Or is it only because in childhood one’s memories impinge much more deeply and numerously upon one’s brain, so that while reminiscing it seems so much more ‘happened’ in those days when the world was very young… and then one simply gets tired and bored and busy with routine and stops noticing a lot of things, because one has grown a thick hide and a dulled sensibility? It is a fact that I can remember well a lot of students of the previous generation, while those who have passed through since 2005 have become a blur: most of them anyway. It is only when I see all the white hair and that my insurance policies are beginning to mature one by one and there are girls giggling in the classroom whose mothers were doing exactly the same a while ago that it comes back to me with a resounding sense of amazement that all those years have passed by!

I have been watching a lighthearted Netflix series of somewhat eccentric taste called Brooklyn Nine nine. As always, even when I watch things mainly for a laugh, I notice serious things compulsively. So they work very hard to be politically correct, in the sense that they feature a police captain who is black and openly gay and all his colleagues go around strenuously behaving as if he is just one of the guys… and yet it seems that in today’s climate, where such things are to be taken as perfectly normal and okay, nobody minds using the kind of language that would get them kicked out of my house (I would have said any civilized house, but these days I won’t bet any more) in a jiffy: bosom friends of both sexes loudly calling each other ‘you bitches’ and ‘you whores’, for instance, and constantly, casually, referring to the act of fornication the way middle-class Bengalis exchange notes about their bowel movements! What is the world coming to?

It’s been a long time since I wrote stories. I wish I hadn’t got writer’s block. In which connection, my mother and I have been listening to Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s Sadashib stories on Youtube. I didn’t know that B. wrote them in 1957, at Rajshekhar Basu’s request (look up this blogpost from ten years ago). I was born in 1963, so when my mother first told them to me, they were pretty new! And what lovely stories too… Bandyopadhyay could give Conan Doyle a run for his money if they had a level playing field. They are so cinematic: why hasn’t that occurred to the directors who are obsessed with Byomkesh?

I read in today’s newspaper that they are going to start daily flights to Mumbai from Durgapur from June, and Chennai flights will follow. So that’s one of my wishes coming true. And I have bought a hookah in Delhi and just started getting used to it. I might eventually install one in my classroom. Some people have been urging me to revive my pipe too…

This post was just to tell people who phone or email or send ‘How are you doing?’ messages on Whatsapp. It bores me to repeat myself, so to the likes of them, keep an eye on this blog.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Browsers, Netflix, books

Google’s Big Brother-type surveillance of all my activities on the Net has begun to bother me seriously. I don’t know how aware my readers are about what they do, but believe me, ‘intrusive’ does not begin to describe it. And even if they are doing it for a very innocuous purpose, like profiling me so they can send me ‘tailor-made’ ads only, I don’t like it at all: it seems I can’t call my life my own any more, they don’t want anything called privacy to be left in this world.

Others – many others, including a lot of canny as well as savvy people – are beginning to be equally worried. And they have begun to take remedial steps, and advising us about it. I have started listening to them.

For starters, I am using the Mozilla Firefox browser along with the Duckduckgo search engine on my computer now, and the latter browser on my mobile phone for choice. These promise a higher order of privacy, at least, if not something perfect. I haven’t uninstalled the Chrome browser yet, but I might, and soon. 

If you subscribe to Netflix, I would urge you strongly to watch the new documentary series Our Planet, with voiceover by the redoubtable David Attenborough. Even oldtimers, who like me hugely enjoyed his old BBC presentation The Living Planet should love it, for the truly spectacular visuals if nothing else. And I was glad to hear the few words of commendation that India received for her efforts at wildlife conservation in Season One, Episode Five.

Summer has set in in right earnest. Can’t complain: it was balmy right till the beginning of April, thanks to a spate of nor’westers. Today is the second day of the Bengali New Year, and my swimming session began today. Thank God for swimming pools and airconditioners! The older I grow, the more I hate the heat. If I were lucky, I would be able to spend the whole summer in the hills…

New academic session, too, and I have my hands full, as usual. Not far to go before I am sixty, and I can finally, officially declare that I am a senior citizen and ready to go into semi-retirement! More and more old boys are accosting me on the street, asking with great concern ‘What is going to happen to my kid?’

The general elections are round the corner, but there seems to be a strange apathy in the air this time: only the media are crying themselves hoarse over what the public has apparently decided to be a non-issue. I wonder why.

My old boy Sayan Bhattacharya has just published a new book, Ancient Cities of India. You can locate it here. I wish him luck with his readership.

I am amused to see that the old post on Rani Rashmoni has climbed back into the most-read posts list, after briefly vanishing. Who knows what brings so many readers (back?) to it!

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Readers in Bangalore

I often see that two or three people have been reading this blog simultaneously from Bangalore. I know one or two old boys are among them that I am fond of - Aritra Roy and Subhadip Dutta, to name just two; maybe Nishant Chaudhary and Nishant Kamath's parents as well, and some others who haven't told me. Many ex students have said "If you stand at the MG Road crossing for an hour, a dozen of us are sure to bump into you." But most of them wouldn't dream of 'wasting' their time reading my blog, I'm sure. 

A thought that gives me the creeps: is the person - a female - whom I despise more than any other creature in the world, also among those visitors to this blog? Ugh!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

YouTube channel indefinitely paused

I have said in the last video posted on my channel that I am not putting up new videos there any more, at least until further notice.

Whoever said that people would be far more eager to watch me and listen to me on YouTube than in reading my blog obviously did not know his public. The blog has made me much happier; let me stick to it.

A few have suggested that if I keep slogging at it for several years, the channel is going to pick up a large following. But I have no motivation to do that. The response in the last six months has been very, very tepid, whether I count subscriptions, or comments, 'likes' or just plain views - considering the number of people who know me and might have been expected to visit. Evidently, people are not interested. 

It was an experiment only, and like many others I have made, it did not succeed. Lesson learnt. 

If and when that channel becomes popular again, in terms of views, comments, subscriptions, or requests via email or Facebook or Whatsapp or phone that I resume posting, I shall see. Otherwise, consider that channel defunct.

Saturday, March 16, 2019


Ruchir Joshi, a social observer, writer and newspaper columnist of my own generation (he is 59) is worried about how ‘boorish and thuggish’ we Indians are becoming, as this article in the March 12 edition of The Telegraph says, with a dire warning at the end.

What he has to say about it you can read for yourself: I won’t waste words summarizing him here. The point is this is an issue that has deeply troubled me for ages, and yes, I too have felt that things have been growing worse lately.

Yes, Indians (at least a very large percentage of them) are brash and uncouth and socially callous; yes, they have been growing worse, and yes, if things keep sliding the way they are, there might sooner or later be an ‘explosion’, meaning that far too many random acts of crudeness and cruelty might make our society totally dysfunctional. So even if they can be understood and sympathized with, they cannot be condoned or forgiven. Especially that large section of them who are well-off and claim to be ‘educated’ too, yet count among the most guilty. Refer to the woman at the airport check-in counter described in Mr. Joshi’s article. Look into the mirror inside your mind and ask whether you have not often behaved as badly yourself, unprovoked.

This is not a recent phenomenon. If Indians are growing more insufferable, that has been happening for quite some time now. I remember my grandfather, the nicest, most self-effacing and mild-mannered gentleman I have ever known, grumbling to himself as we walked the streets of posh south Calcutta when he was in his late sixties and I in my late teens, ‘nikiri-te bhorey gelo deshta’… the country is filling up with guttersnipes. And he was not talking about only the poor and ignorant, or only the political class.

I believe, first, that the root of the problem lies not in overpopulation and congestion and poverty and the mad, incessant scramble over scarce essential resources that that terrible combination entails – though they are very important factors indeed, and the situation might be somewhat ameliorated if they no longer dominated our lives (which, I think, would forever remain wishful thinking!) – but in the fact that we have only recently emerged from thousand-year old slavery into self-governance, and it has been said that there is no worse a tyrant than a recently-freed slave. Imagine a billion-plus recently freed slaves, from those who have become prime ministers to those who have managed to do no better than remain chaiwallahs and autorickshaw drivers and clerks and salespersons of varied descriptions. Imagine, then, that they have suddenly begun to enjoy a heady concoction of vastly increased personal liberty (or impunity from harsh punishment for wrongdoing, which for most people is quite the same thing) and rapidly increasing material prosperity, their own or at least all around them, while aspirations rise even faster, much faster than can be fulfilled for most of them, which fills them all with intolerable frustration, jealousy and spite. Combine this with the fact that, the more we are exposed to what is happening all over the world, the more we suffer from a deeply-hurting inferiority complex as a vast nation of underachievers (whether you think in terms of Nobel Prizes or Olympic golds, recent scientific progress or military prowess), and who chafes more, who wants to throw his weight around over trifles than a man with a huge inferiority complex, or a whole nation with the same?

So whether we are shoving ahead in queues or flaunting luxury limousines, whether we are mouthing obscenities or boasting about how brilliant at everything our ancestors were or about giving our neighbouring country – much weaker than us, of course, for otherwise we wouldn’t dare – a bloody nose now and then, whether we are shouting from the rooftops that the IITs are better than MIT or cricket is better than football simply because we cannot produce footballers, whether we are telling everybody who cares to listen and everybody who doesn’t who our dad is or crying down like a pack of wolves baying for blood any fellow countryman who dares to suggest we have faults we need to correct fast – it all comes down to the same causal factor, I think. Too much liberty and wealth too soon, too little political attention to the need for stern rule of law, too widespread and nagging a sense of inferiority and far too little education about why it is important to be civilized and what that means at all.

We supposedly value the family very highly in this country. It follows, then, that it is the immediate family which gives most of the primary value education to children, followed by the early years in school. ‘Higher’ education, for the relatively few who receive it, has always been mostly about learning less or more sophisticated skills for making a living. So the kind of people we grow up into, the kind of doctors, engineers, teachers, policemen, traders, politicians and parents we become, essentially depends on the kind of value education we have received within the first ten years of life. With me so far? Then, if we don’t in the mass become nice and gentle people, isn’t that where we should pin the blame?

I am asking any reader who is a thoughtful person, regardless of whether in the teens or the seventies, to reflect – if the majority of people in some countries we hear about are friendly and polite, unassuming, considerate and helpful, surely that is not a result of blind chance? Surely they have been schooled into it through generations of patient and mindful labour of parents and schoolteachers? (the descendants of the bloodthirsty Vikings are said to be among the gentlest people on earth today!)

Most children are not born either definitely saints or monsters. They are highly malleable creatures, and they imbibe early on the values they see being practised – not just professed, mind you – by their family elders and teachers and being respected by society at large. Now ask yourself, do we in India really, honestly teach our children to grow up to be good people – good in the sense of being kind and gentle, quiet, thoughtful and helpful, modest and honest – because we are convinced that will make a good society in which the same children will flourish best? Or do we instead drive deep into their skulls from a very early age that it’s a dog eat dog world, so callousness, rudeness and aggression are fine and even desirable, and one only needs to ‘succeed’ in material terms, having things to show off is everything, marks and prizes, money and overflowing shopping bags and fancy nameplates and cars with beacons and hooters if possible… oh, I know not many parents put their values in so many words, but isn’t that precisely what the children learn from their acts? Do children ever learn to value and respect good people?

I did early on, you see. I told you about my grandfather. I also picked up the same values from Voltaire and Russell and Maugham’s Salvatore, and Bibhuti Bandyopadhyay’s Dhaotal Sahu, and Tagore’s remark that if there were fewer clever men and more good ones around, the world would have been a much nicer place. I tried being good in that sense for a very long time, and got kicked in the face for it, and not once, by apparent bhadralok of both genders too (see my earlier blogposts titled The banality of evil and chhotolok)*, until I became an unsocial ogre of sorts. So I have advised my daughter that in this world (or at least this country) it is not enough to be good – one needs to be clever and cautious as well in order to avoid being needlessly, undeservingly hurt. And that realization about the kind of country I live in only makes me a sadder man. I shall rejoice if India is someday voted as one of the nicest countries to live in, but I do not expect to see it happening, at least in my lifetime.

Do my readers think I take an unjustifiably dark view of life?

*How unspeakably vulgar some of these bhadralok have become my Bengali readers can see from this news item on the actress Swastika Mukherjee’s lament about them in today’s newspaper. My most abject apologies to her on behalf of all such animals. Nikiri-te bhore gelo deshta

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Good news for a change

China and India are leading the world in greening the planet. So says a multi-country research project conducted by NASA and published by as venerable a science journal as Nature in a recent issue. That is good news indeed - however little, however late.

Do read the article carefully, though, before you start uncorking the champagne. It is riddled with ifs and buts and howevers. We Indians shouldn't be too happy, because in this sphere as almost everything else the Chinese are far ahead of us. Not only that, but while our extra greens have come from extension of croplands, theirs has come from extension of forests, which is a much-better thing, environmentally speaking. Also, the pace might not be sustained for long, if our groundwater reserves begin to dry up more quickly than anticipated. Also, 'the gain in greenness around the world does not necessarily offset the loss of natural vegetation in tropical regions'. Also, 'there are consequences for sustainability and biodiversity in those ecosystems beyond the simple greenness of the landscape'.

But, as I said, good news, however little, however late. Especially in a world where even the majority of 'educated' people below forty will already say 'Duh? Whatever - let's order a pizza on Zomato while we watch the latest romcom on Netflix, then simper on twitter about how cool/hot/amazing the heroine was looking...'

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Is Durgapur a smart city?

On the website of our municipal corporation, they ran  an opinion poll in 2017 asking you to vote on the above question. How do you think I would have voted? (the poll is now closed)

I have criticized people's choice of words for as long as I remember, and I won't let go of this opportunity. It is people who can be smart or dumb, not phones nor cities. If you think the word goes with such things, I have reason to question both your intelligence and grasp of language. And don't tell me that merely a lot of people using words inappropriately (or just plain foolishly) makes their usage valid, and that I have to fall in line.

Moreover, for all its pretensions, Durgapur is far from being a city - yet. For one thing, the population is too small by Indian city standards, and secondly, even by the poor Indian standards, it lacks far too many amenities/facilities which go into making a city. It's a large town, that's all.

But if for the sake of argument I were to accept that it is a city and it could become 'smart', what would I look for to give it that certificate? 

  • All its roads must be well built, -maintained and -lit.
  • Traffic control must be stern enough to make driving and walking a safe pleasure for all decent and sober folk (footpaths along all major roads is a must).
  • Air pollution - which is just plain horrible at present - should be brought down drastically.
  • Clean water supply, modern sanitation, sewerage  and conservancy services must be available to all.
  • Public transport should be comfortable, safe, affordable and available round the clock.
  • Government hospitals must be vastly better endowed and more efficiently run.
  • Above average students must find decent jobs and business opportunities within a 50 km radius, so that they don't have to leave in droves for greener pastures as they have been doing for the last three decades.
  • Noise pollution, especially during the myriad festivals, must be strictly curbed.
  • There should be excellent local facilities available to encourage young talent in diverse spheres, including sports, music and the other fine arts.
  • The elderly and infirm should not feel lonely, insecure and uncared-for.
  • Airlines should connect us to most major cities.
  • There is only one real park in the city at present, the Kumarmangalam Park. There should be at least five or six more in different zones.
Well, yes, that is only my opinion, and I could jot down at least ten other desiderata offhand. But won't most of my readers agree that if only the above twelve things are taken care of, Durgapur could really take a shot at ranking among the 'smart' cities of this country? And until that is done,who but a fool would think that merely making as inessential a thing as free wi-fi available at railway stations and shopping malls could persuade anyone at all to start calling us smart?

I know our mayor is a decent and educated man, an experienced retired civil servant, and full of good intentions. But is he listening?

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Delhi and Lansdowne

On Thursday February 21 the Air India flight from Andal was delayed by four hours (mercifully they have become smart and considerate enough to notify us the evening before by sms) – my first experience here – so I arrived in Delhi only in the afternoon. I bought a smart card and negotiated the Airport Express and then the Yellow Line to arrive home all by myself: I had determined not to use a hired car. If Pupu stays in Delhi for some more time, I must learn to move around the city normally, meaning by auto and metro. The Delhi Metro is a delight anyway.

Pupu arrived from her campus in the evening, and the next two days were spent the way we like best, sleeping, eating savouries, watching all kinds of silly movies and videos, walking around and chatting away to glory about every subject under the sun…

At daybreak on Sunday we took the Dehradun Shatabdi Express (a pathetic misnomer, seeing that it takes more than six hours to travel 310 km) to Hardwar. My old friend Munna was waiting with his car. We paid a quick visit to Hrishikesh and Lakshmanjhula – Pupu had been there last in December 2008, and her memories had become hazy. We saw some white tourists picking up litter at the riverside: shame on us. Then after lunch we went off in the opposite direction. The road upto Najibabad was in rather poor condition, and there were jams on the way, so it was evening and pitch dark before we arrived at Lansdowne, at about 5500 feet above sea level. Pupu found the last part of the journey rather eerie, it being the first-ever drive in the dark through forested hills for her.

The hotel was plush, and they gave us a suite for three for what I felt was a very reasonable price – it being off season helped enormously. Dinner was delicious, and then off to sleep, with extra blankets piled on just in case: one silly weather channel had warned that the temperature might drop below zero (don’t trust advice from the Net too much. Google Maps has a tendency to find the shortest route to everywhere, and manages to push you into narrow bumpy alleys, sometimes blocked by ongoing construction work, even, just to shave off a couple of km of driving).

Late rising next morning, a steaming bath and breakfast, then we went sightseeing. Lansdowne, like Chakrata and Kasauli we’d seen earlier, is basically a little military cantonment town, and so very cleanly maintained, with lavish greenery all around, and multiple rows of rolling hills to feast your eyes upon. Lansdowne was originally called Kaludanda, which in the local dialect means Black Hill, before the sahibs found it, settled it and renamed it after the then viceroy. We did a lot of walking, sucking in great lungfuls of the crisp, clean air, which is the only way to enjoy the mountains, of which we can never have enough. We took in the army’s Durwan Singh Museum, named after the first Indian recipient of the Victoria Cross (during World War I) which taught us a lot of history about Garhwal (did you know that Kotdwar nearby is the place where King Bharata, after whom the country is named, supposedly spent his childhood at the ashram of the sage Kanva?) and the glorious Garhwal Rifles. Then there was Bhulla Tal, a tiny but pretty park, beside which there is a cafĂ© which served us hot aloo paratha with achaar and dahi, and Tiffin Top – or Tip n Top – which offered panoramic views, and where they have built the new Tourist Lodge. Back via St. John’s Church early in the afternoon, after which we went for another walk, then bathed in the slowly fading sunshine on the hotel balcony, working up a good appetite for dinner. I could have been in heaven.

We left for the trip back a little after 11 next morning, and after a brief stopover at the Siddhabali temple at Kotdwar and Khera Punjabi dhaba for lunch, we arrived at Hardwar at around 3:45 p.m. With Munna waiting placidly, we went strolling along the riverside I know so well. Could hardly believe a whole year had flashed by since I was last there. It had been getting overcast, and Lord Shiva played a joke on us by whistling up a storm along with freezing rain, though it didn’t last long: we sheltered and snacked at the Chotiwala restaurant near Har ki Pauri, and we were at the railway station by 5. On the way back the train ran faster, and they fed us better. We were at New Delhi station by 10:50, and home by 11:30.

Half the next day was spent in bed, and the afternoon, walking around a couple of parks, including one at Mehrauli. Prithiviraj Chauhan was there once, followed by Muhammad Ghori. And so well kept, so well kept. More chatting, an early dinner, and we turned in at ten, because I had to get up at three. IGI T3 was swarming, but thanks to the recently installed self check-in kiosks (Air India has been tardy in doing this, but better late than never) and eight or ten gates functioning at the security check-in counter, the process was quick and hassle-free. The flight took off perfectly on schedule this time round, and arrived – through thick cloud cover and not a little turbulence – before time! I was home by 7:50, and it’s been raining off and on all day, so it is almost chilly. I decided to finish writing this post before the day is out. Tomorrow is the first of March, and it will be time to get ready for another admission rush.

This was not really a travel post. I keep pining for my daughter – five or six weeks and I have had enough – and every time we meet, we try to pack in a little trip. Delhi offers so many lovely places not too far away to pop off to. This time again, for both of us, the hills were calling,  and the trip was just right, short and sweet. Much of the time we had was spent on laughter and stories, and planning excitedly for the future. If Pupu stays on in Delhi, I might be travelling there so often that staff at the airports will begin to recognize me! And things could have been much worse: I can travel in comfort, and swiftly. Today I went from home to home in a little more than four hours – it takes me longer to go to my house in Kolkata. If in a couple of years’ time Pupu is actually working in Delhi, and we have daily, perhaps twice daily flights from Durgapur by then, I might work part time both there and here: that will really be fun! So the Lord be praised; I am looking forward to certain things again.

[for a few photos, click here]

Friday, February 22, 2019


For several years now the second half of February has been holiday time for me, seeing that all the schools have their year-ending and board examinations during this time. And I usually don’t fail to grab the opportunity to go travelling. This time round I made a four-day, 900 km trip to Ranchi and back, taking in Rajrappa and Hazaribag on the way. Ma went along, and we picked up Swarnava, who is reading physics at BIT Mesra, and who had been asking me to come over ever since he went there. The new car got its first long trip, and went like a dream. I drove it for more than five hours on the whole myself, and would have done much more, if only my leg and back hadn’t hurt, and people on the road hadn't made driving a nightmare with their recklessness.

We went via Purulia, and I am proud to say that most of the road was in excellent condition. Mamata Banerjee has certainly done more in this regard in seven years than the CPI(M) did in 35. The village folk also look far more well-fed and clothed than I saw in the 80s. It was cloudy and drizzling in Durgapur when we set out, then the day cleared up, but it drizzled again in Ranchi after sunset, so we had pleasant weather all through the day. On the way we stopped to see the Hundroo falls; no one had warned me of the thousand steps one had to climb up and down, and then the falls were a disappointment: I have seen many that were much more spectacular. Maybe it will be a tad more awe-inspiring at the height of the monsoons. Ranchi itself is rather an overgrown village, I was disappointed to see, with roads – some very bad ones, despite it being a state capital – clogged with swarming, lawless traffic, frequent power cuts, and all the disadvantages of a city without many of its advantages. The hotel was good though modest, and thankfully quiet, with a very helpful staff. The town does have several well-maintained parks, though, as I found out next day – I shall especially recommend the Rock Garden overlooking Kanke Lake. Swarnava showed us around the BIT campus: the huge sal forest there is a treasure. Then off we went to Rajrappa, origin of the Damodar, beside which stands the Chhinnamasta Temple, made famous by Satyajit Ray’s Feluda. The drive was lovely, going partly through low hills; the temple was ugly and crowded, as most Hindu holy places are; the riverfront was spoiled with carelessly dumped trash, but otherwise it could have been the Marble Rocks near Jabbalpur on a small scale. 

I had planned to visit Netarhat the next day, but the only decent hotel there was overbooked as I learnt via phone and net, and I didn’t want to make a twelve-hour round trip, so I dropped it for the sake of Hazaribag, which is less than three hours away. Nice, clean town, though there isn’t much in the way of sightseeing, except for a little private museum of tribal art which strongly stirred my interest because of the eccentric people who run it: I think I shall write separately about them later, and, God willing, visit them again for a longer stay. On the way back to Ranchi, we stopped at Tagore Hill, once home to Rabindranath’s elder brother Jyotirindranath, and now preserved as a museum. Made me wonder why we know so little about these other brothers of the great man after he became a super-celebrity…

A quiet drive home the next day, and on Thursday the 21st I flew over to Delhi. Now looking forward to the next part of my holiday, this time with Pupu and Shilpi for company.

[for photos click here]