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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sal forests and driftwood collectors

My wife and I often simply run away together on the scooter to take a deep breath of fresh air whenever the life of the city begins to stifle us. We have been doing this unremittingly for the last 16 years. Once every two or three months, that is. There is a long tree-lined drive through the country that leads to the Ajoy river, and that is the route we invariably take. In all these years we haven’t tired of it. As the first picture shows, the Forest Department’s desultory efforts at conservation have managed to preserve only a thin line of sal trees bordering the road, but even that is enough for our thirsty eyes: the silence, disturbed only by the loud chirp of crickets even under the mid-day sun, the gentle breeze, the lush green of new and freshly-rain washed profusion of leaves, the absence of traffic (though it’s much worse now than 16 years ago) – the magic never fails to work. I took a few photos on my mobile phone (I keep forgetting to take my real camera along), and here are two of them, with apologies for the poor quality.

Where we stopped – I for a smoke and my wife for a drink of water – today, there was this villager struggling to tie up a huge bundle of dry twigs and driftwood that he had collected (fuel for the hearth) on to the carrier of his bicycle. He was huffing and puffing and making a bad job of it, and he let out a plaintive cry for help when he saw me. We fought with the bundle together until we had securely roped it up, then we paused to regain our breaths, and that is when I took the second photograph (he addressed me as ‘kakababu’: just imagine!)

I reflected that if the new government which has just assumed power can do something for this man, it will have achieved something praiseworthy indeed. And by something I don’t mean turning him into a drudge at a sponge-iron plant: he’s much better off as he is…

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Salaam Mamata!

Shabaash, Mamata!

Be careful. Remember your promises. And God be with you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

An archive of infinite value

Google has done all mankind a signal service by helping to put online the historical resources of Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem based centre for remembering the Holocaust.

The work of this kind of research centre grows increasingly more important and valuable every day, as the last survivors die, and as hundreds of millions of children worldwide grow up history-illiterate (or, what is just as bad, unconcerned), and so they can be fed any nonsense, any vile and motivated garbage about what some of our ancestors did to their contemporaries.

Holocaust denial has become a kind of industry in many parts of the world. They say everything from ‘It never happened’, to ‘it was vastly exaggerated’. As if saying that ‘only’ fifty thousand or a hundred thousand Jews were slaughtered like sheep somehow makes the crime less ghastly, less mind-numbing than saying the number was close to six million; or as if saying a few million Jews were ‘only’ thrown out of their jobs and houses and countries, or robbed and beaten and raped and jailed as a national mission-cum-pastime for years together for no crime they had committed except the fact that they were Jews makes the horror less damning, more tolerable. I dare anyone who knows what it means to be human, to be a father/mother, a son/daughter or a husband/wife, and who knows about the Holocaust, to stand up and assert that a) it wouldn’t matter to him/her if it happened to ‘only’ his dearest one, and that b) knowing physics is ‘more important’ than knowing that kind of history, so s/he just doesn’t ‘have time’ for that kind of knowledge.

It didn’t happen to Jews only in Germany or German-occupied territories such as Poland during World War II, by the way. To cite just one instance, the Nazis did the Russians a service of incalculable value by deflecting the world’s attention from the record of the endless pogroms in which heaven knows how many million Jews suffered and died. And there are many countries, if truth be known, which have no right to hold their heads high over their record of treating the Jews, though they might never have descended to downright, cold-blooded mass slaughter.

And it hasn’t happened only to Jews, either. Even if we restrict our attention to the 20th century alone, humans of every description who were unfortunate enough to be hated and weak minorities in the countries where they lived have been humiliated and slaughtered savagely in vast numbers, in all places from south America to the Balkans to Africa, the Indian subcontinent and East Asia. No one who has had both the energy and the stomach to go through that history of endless night should dare to say that the 20th century was an era of spectacular and unsullied ‘progress’. No one except the technology-drunk (and also personally unaffected) can make a claim like that.

I carry no brief for what the state of Israel stands for today, nor have any wish to defend it if in their historical turn the Jews have turned oppressors in some places (about which, though, there can be more than one opinion). But using Holocaust denial to bash the Israel of today is not just ignorant and silly, it is diabolical. And the same goes for all those elsewhere on earth who want to forget or deny what their forefathers did because it makes them ashamed to call themselves human beings.

Keep up the good work, Yad Vashem. Your kind of work is of ever-increasing necessity. I can vouch for the ignorance and unconcern of only a very tiny section of the human population – to wit, teenagers who are studying in my town for the secondary board examination and have to read about the Holocaust as part of a short chapter on the Second World War in history – and I know just how clueless they are, all of them. If I can get even a handful of them to click on the links provided here (and I am not very hopeful) I shall consider that I have been doing my job well.

[You can go to their photo archive and take a look for yourself.]

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Poll update

I feel more enthusiastic to cast my vote as I grow older: when I was young, I was too cynical to take the trouble.

Today was polling day in Durgapur – the fifth phase of the West Bengal Assembly elections, 2011. My wife and I checked out with neighbours that there was a big crowd at our designated polling centre in the early morning, so we turned up there at about 11:30, hoping that the blazing and sultry heat would discourage a lot of people from turning up. We were not disappointed, and we were lucky too, for there were two long queues at the other booth, whereas ours was deserted, so we were in and out within five minutes flat.

I was deeply satisfied and not a little proud to see how quietly and efficiently the whole show was being conducted. Three cheers for the Election Commission! I sighed to think, for the umpteenth time, that things can be done very well indeed in this country whenever the administration makes up its mind to do so. Shall we ever see the day when everything runs smoothly and speedily like that, every kind of public service that goes into making a great country?

Now I am watching talking heads pontificating on TV, and catching up on the unraveling news. Barring stray untoward incidents, things seem to be going equally quietly and smoothly everywhere. One noteworthy thing is that the voter turnout is likely to be very high. It is heartening to know that the real common man (and woman – women are highly visible at all the booths) still pins so much hope on the electoral process. I hope, for the long-term welfare of this country, that our ‘leaders’, regardless of their party affiliations, learn to take the faith reposed in them more seriously: our people have been betrayed too often for too long…

One thing that I have been missing on TV is that young voters (those in their 20s) are not being interviewed at length anywhere. Is it because the news channels have a blind spot, or because the young generation doesn’t count, not having any coherent and articulate political views of their own at all? If the latter is true, what a shame!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Self-assured, or merely pig-headed?

A very interesting idea raised by a recent comment-writer is that I sound very ‘self-assured’ in this blog.

I could choose to be facetious (or unkind) and imagine that she meant dogmatic or pig-headed, and was just being polite.

However, I prefer to give her the benefit of the doubt, and believe that she meant it as a compliment, as a recognition of a good and rare trait. And then I turn around to take a good hard look at myself, and ask – am I really as self-assured as I sound?

Well, here are a few things that occurred to me off the cuff:

Firstly, I grew up rather quickly and started fending for myself (not just financially but morally, aesthetically and intellectually) from a very unusually early age (I meet so many 30-plus children these days!). And I have been buffeted by not only the slings and arrows of fortune but by contrary ideologies and ways of life rather more than most men, even if I say so myself. So God knows if I hadn’t had that kernel of self-assurance (and consequent self-reliance) to see me through the bad patches, I’d probably not have survived and functioned sanely till this late date. I congratulate myself for it, and consider myself deucedly lucky too. There have been times galore when I have felt lost and drained out, and just somehow managed to keep dragging myself onwards. (If in the process I have grown a bit of a thick skin and a habit of raising eyebrows at people who want to re-educate me, I guess that cannot be helped).

Then again, I am not really as self-assured as I give the impression of being. I am not really very sure that I have done the right thing by not wearing jeans and not bothering about cricket all my life, and by laughing at and steering clear of every brand of organized fanaticism – from traditional religion to the gospel of the market to Marxism to arcane “Theories of Everything” in Physics. I am not at all sure that I have a lot of ‘valuable’ advice to give to my daughter about how she should grow up (as so many parents and teachers do – I marvel at their self-assurance!). And I have no clue if there’s one person alive and kicking in this world today whose life I have strongly influenced. How’s that for modesty?

But there are indeed a few things about life that I have learnt well, and on them I won’t budge an inch. If someone has been a regular, long-time, attentive reader of this blog, s/he’ll know exactly what I am talking about. If the above-mentioned comment writer had that sort of thing in mind, I thank her for noticing. And I hope she will wish that I may continue that sort of pig-headed, hard-nosed, unrepentant self-assertion for some more time before I hand in my dinner pail. Reed I may be, and a very unimportant reed to boot, but I shall not be deterred from having my say – if and when I have something to say.