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Sunday, April 27, 2014

shudhu asha jawa, or aller et venir continuel

I teach very serious things very seriously from day one of my classes with every batch: by personal example, as much as is within my power. I also tell them ‘Tomorrow never comes’, and ‘You can take a horse to the water but you cannot make it drink’. Because I know that despite my most earnest efforts, most people will learn little of what I try to teach, or forget all too soon, and therefore never benefit from what they learnt here for the rest of their lives, even actually abuse me simply because they never learnt even a little bit of what I tried to teach, simply because I was just being what I always clearly told them I was, and proud to be.

The value of time, for instance, and never procrastinating. The importance of being clean, courteous and articulate in your thought and speech. How much little details matter, even details of spelling and grammar. The value of laughter, and how to distinguish clean, good, healthy laughter from the all-too-common gutter variety. How utterly crucial it is to become your own man/woman, and how incredibly hard it is, how easy to think that you are like that! How bad it is to jeer at others’ faults and follies, when you have come to learn and you are full of them yourself. How great a sickness gossip is, and soulless socializing simply because you are afraid to be alone with yourself, and want to be constantly reassured that the world is full of people quite as trivial as you are. How utterly evil it is to lie, even if one thinks that one is doing it just for fun. How love is the most used and abused word in the world, how cruel it is to say ‘I love you’ to someone again and again, and then turn around sometime later – a week or a year – to say ‘I only wanted a simple friendship’, or to drop out of his or her life completely without so much as a by your leave. ‘Don’t do it,’ I tell my children as they grow up, ‘don’t add to all the badness and baseness there already is in the world. Don’t pretend to be deeper than you are. You cannot keep it up for any length of time. And they forget.

Also, the number and variety of people who come over for counsel, and tell me so much of their private joys and woes – though they hardly know me from Adam, and would be scandalized if I ever talked about what they tell me – makes me wonder, too. What do they seek in me? Just a shoulder to lean upon for a while, somewhere to unburden themselves, a sympathetic and non-judgmental listener? If that is indeed true, such listeners must be rare indeed, and the need for them great, for they keep coming, and some hang around for years, and even assure me they are grateful that I was there for them, people in the teens and seventies, men and women, ‘smart’ and not so; people who have suffered devastation and people who love to make mountains out of molehills. Like Mr. Chips dozing by the fireside in his dotage, the names and faces pass through my mind in an endless fading pageant… Some are even thoughtful and humane enough to wonder aloud how I find so much time for them, and why I care. So many gladly offer to pay. And sooner or later they all go away, either because they don’t like me any more (that happens gradually with some and very suddenly and unexpectedly with others), or they no longer have any need for me.

Put yourself imaginatively in my shoes. Why do you think I still keep at it? And what is likely to be my opinion of the mass of mankind by now, including and especially those who have this opinion of themselves that they are good human beings? 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Summer of 2014

I recently got my house painted, after ages. That's a picture above. Must say it looks fresh and cheerful.

Summer has set in in right earnest: by 9 it becomes blazing hot outdoors, and without my dark glasses I'd be blinded. Thank God for the airconditioners, and the swimming pool, and the chilled Budweisers! While in the pool, especially when my daughter is with me, I am happy enough to be humming Nat King Cole's 'Those lazy hazy crazy days of summer', though the man himself would have been aghast if he had been asked to sing it in this kind of heat. Sometimes I go with a favourite ex-student. For a few pictures of the pool, click here

I am waiting for the krishnachura and radhachura to burst out in a bloom of crimson and gold, and the first of the nor'westers, which have been playing truant this year...

Some people try very hard to make me unhappy, but don't succeed. On the other hand, some really make my day, like the old girl whose email I found in my inbox first thing in the morning a few days ago: 'Sir, I had to tell you this: you are a little like Atticus Finch!' So, where the bad and the boring are concerned, I can afford to smile with Tagore, dhulaar ja dhon taha jete dao dhulite... I am looking forward to my holiday trip already.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dark days ahead

Gopalkrishna Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma, a retired senior civil servant and ex-governor of West Bengal, an erudite man whom I respect for his balanced views and innate sense of decency (not a common thing these days) has hit out bluntly and harshly against Narendra Modi and Reliance Industries, the latter by name, at a major high-level gathering: see this.

Even if we discount some of the fire and brimstone because of the consideration that his brother Rajmohan is contesting the elections on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket from East Delhi, the content of his speech bears reflection, and that too with furrowed brows. Certainly a somewhat more serious issue than IPL auctions and gay ‘rights’ and the ‘permissible’ length of skirts, if you know anything at all about how the world works and have got your head screwed on right. And this bears repetition: I am not a card-carrying member of any communist organization.

The world is run by power. If you belong to the comfortable urban ten per cent and count on daddy’s savings and connections to see you through every little crisis you don’t feel it bluntly every day, but that doesn’t change anything. In the contemporary world – and by contemporary I can go back to ancient Rome – power stems largely from money (even to organize large and significant ‘revolutionary’ organizations you need big money, as the Maoists know, and Arvind Kejriwal is beginning to find out). There are times when the spirit of rapacious capitalism has run amok (and please, capitalism has only partly to do with introducing new techniques and gadgets, it’s much more about getting control of banks, wage rates and natural resources like land, iron and oil…ask the Rothschilds, Krupps, Rockefellers, Abramovich-s and Ambanis), using government only as its executive committee in Marx’s memorable phrase, as in mid-19th century France and Britain; at times governments have asserted their independence somewhat more strongly, as in Lincoln’s or FDR’s USA, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China, when, to be honest, results have been mixed: enormous advances have been made, such as the abolition of slavery and fixing minimum wage rates and social security provisions and near-universal basic education and health care, but the costs have been tremendous, the record of oppression too brutal,  no use whitewashing that.

Be that as it may, since the demise of the Soviet Union and China’s sharp rightward turn in the early 1980s, which coincided with the Reagan- and Thatcher eras in the Anglo-Saxon world, rapacious and unabashed capitalism has been on the rampage again, with the entire globe as its playing field, quite the way it was in the days of the East India Company, except that no MNC today would dare to think aloud of invading any recalcitrant country to bring it to heel, else Google would have done that with China already. Some countries are gaining/hurting more as a result, but one fact is undeniable: whether it is India or the US, economic inequalities are widening rapidly and vastly as money gets concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. There are fewer than 1000 billionaires in the world, and they control more money than 99.9% of the human population (and to think that the chief argument against communism is that it concentrates power into too few hands!). That means barely a thousand people control mankind’s destiny, more or less. The system is still running because a) it has allowed a few million people to become at least millionaires (even some journos, doctors and teachers among them!) b) it lets at least a billion people to live in relative comfort and freedom while dreaming that they too or their children might become millionaires someday, c) through the pretence of upholding democracy and liberal values, combined with circuses of every variety (remember the Roman emperors and their ‘bread and circuses’?)  it keeps the vast unwashed masses quiescent: so what if we live in slums and feed on leftovers and can’t afford heated bedrooms, we can watch Miley Cyrus or Katrina Kaif ‘dancing’, can’t we? But now even the rudiments of democracy are under threat, if the likes of Gandhi are to be believed. India – and, strangely enough, especially India’s youth (or is it very strange at all, overwhelmingly pinheads with no sense of history as the bulk of our youth are, even those who come out of engineering college these days…?) seems hell-bent on ushering in an era of in your face authoritarianism, while crony capitalism seems on the verge of taking over all the country’s silver. Any vision of India 2020, anybody?

P.S.: A reader sent me this link after reading this post. Remember, it has been well said that in a democracy people get the kind of government they deserve. Moon Moon Sen, puppet in Mamata Banerjee's hands, casting her vote in the Lok Sabha as ordered in the hope of wangling little favours out of Narendra Modi's PMO, which in turn is remote controlled from the Reliance boardroom: why ever not?

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

TMD status update

(signing Arnab Chakraborty's copy of TMD for him because he insisted. And he sent me the photo :) )

I am pleasantly surprised by the early feedback about To My Daughter (see previous post). It was released only a couple of weeks ago, and apparently it has already sold a couple of hundred copies online! If some of the numerous ‘likes’ on our Facebook page translate into sales, it will keep selling some more. So the time might not be far off when the book will be on display in stores, too. 

There is another sort of feedback – something much more valuable and heartwarming – that I am now looking forward to. First, those who have already read the book telling me (and not in one-liners!) how they liked it, and passing on the word to friends and relatives, so that they too might have a chance to read the book and judge for themselves. Some messages I have already begun to receive, such as an ex-student’s father writing ‘Thank you for letting us know you better’, a current student coming over with a list of very interesting questions, and someone who was never directly my student writing ‘I am no longer sad I couldn’t attend your classes!’ I should be very glad indeed to get more of the same. And will be even more if some people write in to say that the book has been an eye-opener in some ways, and a help in some others. Exactly why I wrote it in the first place.

Holding the book in my hands gives me a wonderful inner glow. And it doesn’t matter whether it sells well. I shall be able to leave behind more than a little of good things for my daughter and many others like her: that’s all that counts. But, as I have said in the book itself, if it does sell, and much more importantly, if it does get read, a lot of people will have reason to thank me, tomorrow or many years later…

‘Justify your existence!’ I heard the terrible injunction long ago. With TMD, I shall be able to do that for myself to my heart’s content.