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Thursday, May 30, 2013


In the queer light, in twilight
In April of the year
I meet a thousand women
But I never meet my Dear.
Yet each of them has something
A turn of neck or knee
A line of breast or shoulder
That brings my Dear to me.
One has a way of swaying
I’d swear to anywhere
One has a hat, and one a laugh
And one a trick of hair –

Oh, hints and glints and gestures,
When shall I find complete
The Dear that's walking somewhere
The Dear that I’ve yet to meet?                 

Rupert Brooke wrote that poem a long time ago, when he was a very young man. The poem is titled ‘The Young man in April’. Then he wrote ‘If I should die...’, and then went to war and got himself killed. Lucky boy.  Not all of us have the same good fortune to go early, and leave behind only our works for people to admire and sigh over, and perchance to think “I wish I had known him”...

Now I have been a young man in a certain sense for a very long time, and I am growing old now, and I was also the sort of young man  who read Manusmriti and Arthasastra and Kamasutra and Paradise Lost of his own volition in teenage, and admired old men of the likes of Bertrand Russell and Tennyson’s Ulysses, you need to keep that in mind too. And I have been looking for my Dear for a very long time.

That hasn’t stopped me from having many nice-to-wonderful ‘affairs’ as people call them, a good marriage, a most satisfactory family life, and a daughter I am very proud of.  Yet, as the poet says, ‘always roaming with a hungry heart’, hethaa noy, hothaa noy, onyo kothaa, onyo konokhane... it has been an extraordinarily rich life, in a sense, therefore, but most intensely frustrating too. My Natalie I have never found.

‘Who’s Natalie?’ asked an old boy in his late '30s today, and I reminded him of If winter comes.  I created Natalie, and she has been all that I have wanted from a woman.  In the so-called real world, to paraphrase Russell, ‘I found ecstasy, I found anguish, I found madness, I found loneliness/ I found the solitary pain that gnaws the heart/ but peace I did not find’. What I did find was a lot of gifted and good women, and also crazed ones and foolish ones, obsessed ones and misguided ones galore, women who eventually hurt me more than they gave joyance (to use an archaic word), and yet women I am thankful for having known, however long or briefly. But the fact remains that I didn’t find Natalie. I have had girls asking me to adopt them too, but no one has ever said ‘I want to be your Natalie’. She is my manaskanya, girl born of my mind, and she will go to the grave with me.

I am not sad as I write this. There are feelings much deeper than sadness.  Some people say they know, but of course, that is just a form of words. In the end, we are all alone, and too foolish even to get close to those who have tried hardest...

Rituparno the noted filmmaker has died suddenly of a cardiac arrest. He was just about my age. I could very easily be marked for the axe, too - my doctors assure me I am a prime candidate! There are many who delude themselves with the thought that there's lots of time in hand to make things right. Of all the saddest things ever written, nothing is sadder than the words 'It might have been'.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


I am in the Big Bad City again. My mid-year break.

We drove along the national highway very early in the morning.  I had a kind of grim satisfaction from proving to myself that what the legendary Chandragupta Maurya could do in his early twenties, I can still do in reality at fifty: I am still a man.

I do not need great luxury and out of the way activity to enjoy a holiday. Just a break from routine (remember, I've been working non-stop since January 03), and lazing and sleeping and the glory of knowing there will be no classes to take, no homework to mark, no visitors to talk to and no phone calls in the line of business is ‘paradise enow’ for me. Especially when you have this kind of rainy, squally weather all day. There is a depression over the Bay, the dark rolling clouds have been hanging low, the wind is actually whistling and howling through the little gaps we have left in the windows, and we were chilled enough to turn off the fan and pull on the coverlets this afternoon, in end May!

And even more especially when you are located where I am.  My block of flats is minutes off the great Eastern Metropolitan Bypass which is choc a bloc with traffic at almost all hours, and lined with some of the snazziest and busiest new high-rises in the city, and yet my immediate neighbourhood still retains a certain rustic charm, with a vast water body on one side and an endless line of greenery on the other, when I look Bangladesh-way from the rooftop (which would be ten minutes flying time from here, I think). So I can think poetry from here, and dream of entropy, and wish my Natalie were here with me. While my wife and daughter are happily pottering away in the new home that they have lately decked up for dad to see.

Nice way to spend one's seventeenth anniversary. Things might have been better, and some readers will know how, but I am not complaining. God says 'This I am giving to you. Enjoy if you can. If you cannot, you lose.'

                                  (Three pix of the vistas from my roof)


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Last dream

Why are the very best of my ex students so scared to take up teaching as a calling/vocation?

It goes without saying that since I have been a teacher by conviction, and have taught all sorts of things to people over a wide range of ages for more than three decades, and it has given me so much satisfaction, pride, an unusually wide reputation, a very great deal of respect, and a  comfortable living besides (which could easily have been upgraded to affluent if I had worked harder, and in a metropolitan city where the fees are far higher), I do very badly want a lot of good and bright young people – especially those who have learnt from me what teaching might be – to come into this profession, and especially so at the school level, where most of our real education takes place for most of us. Some say it’s too risky, some that it requires too much knowledge always ready at hand, some are too frightened to face students’ criticism and questions, some insist that it calls for too much self-discipline, orderliness, assiduity and patience, considering which it doesn’t really ‘pay’ enough… and it doesn’t make me happy. Partly because I know they are not right, and partly because even if all that were true, some of them, some of the best of them, should, must take the plunge: because it is a truism that without many good and a few great teachers, no country can hope to progress and prosper, because teachers make every other kind of men, be they politicians or tycoons, doctors or engineers, artists or scientists, parents or policemen…

My last and best dream is that I should be able to start a small thing with my most favourite, best persuaded old boys and girls, then spread out a countrywide chain of enfranchised tutorials – the only difference from the familiar sort lying in the two facts that a) we would teach how to live good lives, not merely how to get a ‘good’ job, which after all is a trivial aim of education, and b) my colleagues/partners would be committed to teaching as religious men are committed to worship, not merely in it to make a fast buck: though, the way I see it, if the thing does come to fruition some day, there will be more than enough money going around to make us all deeply contented.

How many of my ex students are game? You don’t have to commit publicly on the blog. Use email if you like. This year I shall want to lay the foundation stone, even if only metaphorically speaking, meaning that I want to get the most interested ones chatting and planning together on the net to start with. All else can follow. That, by the way, would be both the best way to express their love for me and pay me gurudakshina…

This is my last and best dream. I might die with the dream unrealized, but so what? It is good to die with a good, clean, big dream. And I know that my fellow countrymen don’t stand to lose anything if my dream does come true. Besides, it would be sad if I could not pass on the baton when my time’s up.

P.S.: In the few hours since I posted this one, several interested people have been talking to me already, via phone and chat and email. I want to start the thing properly off by setting up a discussion forum, to which membership will be only by request or invitation. What would be the best way of doing that? Launch a new, separate blog? Or...?

P.P.S., May 28: Well, no time like the present. I am taking advantage of my mid-year break to set the ball rolling. I have now set up the forum in the form of a blog, which readers can access by invitation only, and I have sent off invitations to a tiny set already. Now I am waiting for responses...

Friday, May 17, 2013

ICSE 2013 and us

Well, my daughter has passed the secondary level public examination called ICSE with close to 92 per cent marks in the aggregate. Which is on the one hand more than her dad did, and on the other hand no big deal at all, because a) these days, owing to massive ‘marks inflation’, a lot of candidates have scored as much or more, including many I know who are far inferior students, which will become apparent by and by as they study at higher levels and appear for tougher examinations, and b) if she had scored a few percentage points less or more, it would not have made the slightest difference to her career in the long run. All that matters is that she has crossed one major milestone in her life, and a great deal of growing up is ahead of her.

The point I wish to make here is that she did it all without living the kind of hothouse-plant life that virtually everyone of her contemporaries and classmates has done. She has wasted very little time on worthless tuitions, she has never been bullied or harried to ‘study hard’, she has not been held prisoner in the house at all times unless she was going to a wedding feast or some shopping mall with her parents, she has slept and exercised a great deal, she has tried singing and dancing and karate and swimming and painting and handicrafts and cooking, she has read widely and watched a lot of good movies with the active encouragement of her parents, she has had some fun  with boys, she has handled money, she has spent days away from her parents, she has surfed the net thoroughly and written her own blog, she has spent thousands of hours chatting about all sorts of  interesting things with mom and dad, she has made good friends across a wide spectrum of ages…in short, she has had a rich childhood, and without sacrificing anything significant at all that her contemporaries have enjoyed. Good genes, yes, but I shall take a great deal of credit for it, too, and as a teacher I do believe that a lot of parents would become much better parents if they swallowed their silly egos and learnt from my example. I am proud, and again, I know I have reason to be. I also believe that the way she has been brought up, she will be able to live much more richly, in the broadest sense of the word, than 99% of her contemporaries, only God willing.

So today I am unfazed about my daughter’s ICSE results, again unlike the parents of most of her contemporaries, for whom it is very big news: they will be preening or moaning in their own tiny circles for weeks and months while we get on with life. So unfazed, in fact, that my phones have stayed switched off or unanswered all day, because I was keen neither to hear a lot of people tell me their scores, nor to tell them my daughter’s. Those who are really interested in us will know that we have far better things to think and talk about: we always do. And if they like us or love us, they will wish us things that really count.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Saradha and me

Sudipta Sen of Saradha fame seems to have a very long reach, even though he might currently be in police custody and awaiting trial. Not only are more bits and pieces of his vast ill-gotten fortune coming to light, but people are committing suicide right and left, unable to bear the financial disaster and/or social humiliation that he has brought upon them. And the tide has spread so far that it has even affected me: a man who has always worked and saved steadily and assiduously all his life, avoiding all get-rich-quick schemes like the plague.

The father of one of my pupils came over yesterday to beg for a fee waiver. He has been working for Sen’s company for many years, presumably at a very low level, clerk or field agent or such. And now they have downed shutters, and employees like him haven’t been paid for almost three months, and they are virtually reduced to scraping the barrel. ‘They are only talking of saving the investors, Sir. Who will look after us? What are we going to eat?’ He really looked like he was in dire straits, or else he was a fantastic actor.  I couldn’t be hard hearted enough to refuse the little help I could give him, though I was inwardly furious at the way people like us are being forced to pay for others’ sins of stupidity and greed – and also for the way some politicians are forcing us to pay even more: ‘Smokers, get ready to pay more taxes to bail out all those poor investors who have burnt themselves badly’!

Through a long teaching life I’ve given partial or full fee waivers to a lot of people, of course. Especially when their parents were going through hard times. My overall experience has not been edifying at all. Most of those have been indifferent students; not one ever showed any signs of being deeply interested and influenced by my classes; few (students and parents alike) have ever got back with respect and affection; I haven’t heard of many who have spoken of me elsewhere with lasting gratitude. Some have duped me with made up stories about hardship; a few have actually bad-mouthed me. Whereas my most favourite old boys and girls have paid their fees in full. So if I did an act of charity today, I certainly have no reason to feel good about it: I am calling myself a sucker. And I am praying that more Saradha victims might not queue up at my door…

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

About Urbi's new post, and about books

My daughter has written her first post about how she is adapting to her new environs, separated from daddy for the first time in her life at the age of 16. To some people, such writing should be important, interesting and thought-provoking. I'd like the most decent and humane of my readers, old boys and girls especially, to write back to her telling her how they feel; it is sure to warm her heart.

Personally, I am trying to cope with enforced quasi-bachelorhood in middle age. Some people of the same age group and of both sexes have told me they envy me, but I don't think I am enjoying this at all. A kind of purgatory, at best, and the cheeriest thing I can think about it is that perhaps it is washing away a lot of accumulated sins! And though I am doing my classes with as much regularity, earnestness and cheerfulness (on the surface, that is) as ever, I am only looking forward to my mid-year break, which should be sometimes towards the end of this month.

It's the first of May.We are bang in the middle of the worst season of the year. After two successive years of roasting us, the weather gods have decided to give us a very muggy summer for a change. I could never decide which is the worse of the two...

One sad passing thought for now. As I must have said in some old blogpost, I have stopped routinely lending books to my pupils to read  for a variety of reasons, but when some of them keep begging, and sound really earnest about reading a good book, I sometimes relent. Lately I have been finding out that all that eagerness is fake or a momentary enthusiasm at best: even if they insist that they have read the books, it takes them ages, and still when I quiz them afterwards, it takes me only minutes to discover that they haven't really read at all in my sense of reading. Of course, they routinely give the explanation that they have been busy. I suppose they are all sure that they are talking to the only man in the world who has nothing to do but read and think. I wonder what is worse here too - that most people don't read, or that some people pretend to?

OK for now. Remember, my daughter's latest blogpost.