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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Lesson well learnt

As I had myself predicted, the last two months have gone off at a breathless pace – but in a peaceful and orderly and most satisfying way. After a few welcome showers of rain, it is now the turn for horribly muggy weather, though the evenings are sometimes breezy. But my week-long mid-year break is about to begin, so that is something to look forward to. I shall be pushing off to Delhi tomorrow, via the spanking new airport that has come up in our town. Let us see what the experience is like. I hope, of course, that everything will go smoothly enough for it to be a pleasure, because I intend to use the service frequently through the coming year. If I am not in Durgapur, I shall very likely be in Delhi. My daughter’s undergraduate career is just about to end, and a new phase of both her life and mine seems to be beginning…

Children’s sense of time is indeed a very different thing from how adults feel about it. Looking back upon the days of my childhood and early youth, the years seemed to have moved so slowly, and they are so densely packed with memories, not many of them very nice. Since I returned to Durgapur and got into harness, three decades have, in comparsion, eventful though they were, gone in a flash. And I thank God a zillion times that I am still – at least till the moment of writing – fit and fresh enough to anticipate more good things to come. Who knows but ‘the best is yet to be’?

I notice that in a recent post, Sorry to be late, I have mentioned God three times in a short essay. It was not accidental. In retrospect – and I can do that much better than most people, my memories still being so abundant and sharp – it has been just God and me (if you don’t like God, call it Providence, karma, fate, chance or what you will); people haven’t really mattered, except as and when I have let them matter, by carrying them in my mind much longer than was necessary. I know everybody’s life does not work out the same way, but you may keep that in mind as one person’s lesson from life. Even in India, where family, relatives and ‘society’ are supposed to matter a great deal, they don’t, really, unless you let them. I hope some readers will know this is directed at them, and take heart from it. Unless you very truly, deeply, lastingly care for some people (and that can be at most only a handful, else you are pretending to yourself, which is a sin), don’t let them ruffle you or shove you out of your own orbit. It is your life, really. Nobody is yours unless she or he actually and often, if not always shares your enjoyment and stands beside you in your pain, suffering and loneliness over a very long stretch of time, so don’t give anyone too much of yourself. I am saying this with authority. I hope I have at long last learnt to do it myself, for that way alone lies serenity and real self-possession.

There is much that is wrong with this country, and I have often thought and written about all that, but today it seems to me that Nirad Chaudhuri was right in his diagnosis in The Continent of Circe, as I read Shashi Tharoor repeating – quoting his father in his recent book Why I am a Hindu – ‘remember that India is not only the world’s largest democracy, it is also the world’s largest hypocrisy’. That covers virtually the whole of our upper and middle classes. You will be safe if you remember that for the typical Indian, everything is coin for immediate transactions and passing gratifications, even what they call love and respect. Be safe. Don’t get needlessly hurt.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Beware of (only?) the meat

I have been both laughing and grimacing over the great meat scandal that has exploded over West Bengal during the last fortnight.

Here is my take on it. To start with, it would do Bengalis much good to eat less and eat better: look at the bulging bellies and behinds! This craze to eat out at the drop of a hat which has become endemic over my lifetime as the children of the ’80s and ’90s grew up is not good – not even in a country like the United States, where food safety standards are taken far more seriously by all and sundry. I remember my grandfather saying to me, only half in joke, in the early 1980s: ‘Dadabhai, avoid eating in restaurants, I hear they serve dog meat’. So I can’t say I am particularly surprised or horrified to hear that that, or worse, has been rampant of late, in high end restaurants and cheap roadside eateries alike, in Kolkata as well as in the small towns. This is India, after all, always has been, so why do so many behave as if it were ever otherwise?

First, the population has ballooned: there’s quite possibly far too little good quality food available at reasonable prices to supply the demand. Second, we as a nation – whether we are part of the government or the general public – hate stringent standards, because it cramps our ‘freedom’ to do as we like; we clamour for them only when there spreads a sudden (and transient) awareness that ‘others’ are making hay by flouting all kinds of rules. Third, we, virtually all of us these days, worship money like nothing else, and admire (or envy, which most of us consider the same thing) only those who have very quickly, and preferably with very little effort, made a big pile for themselves. Fourth, unemployment is rampant, and the great majority of honest jobs that are going around pay only a pittance. Given a conjunction of these factors, who pretends to be shocked, and why, that a lot of people will be tempted to take the primrose path to success, which always involves cheating people and hurting the common good? The fact, then, that such ‘scandals’ have become a dime a dozen should evoke only caution and despair, especially since as a society or nation we are determined not to take stern steps to end such antisocial ways to ‘success’ once and for all, or maybe secretly know that it is simply impossible.

And finally one cannot, no matter how high one raises one’s eyebrows at Didi’s penchant for smelling conspiracies, entirely dismiss the idea that there is political mischief afoot. Is it really a complete coincidence that this scandal broke virtually on the eve of the statewide panchayat elections, or that the media are giving it such shrill publicity (for what I think about them in general, scroll just a little bit down)? Let the meat-loving Bengali be warned, then, that food poisoning most commonly happens through fish, and that tomorrow another scandal may break over poisoned paneer, or that vegetables of all kinds are these days tainted with fertilizer, pesticides and weedicides which contain known carcinogenic agents. A doctor friend of mine got a virulent form of hepatitis after drinking scotch at one of the fanciest hotels in Kolkata, and later told me that it was probably from the ice: eateries, even the best of them, routinely cut costs by using industrial ice, or the sort of ice they pack fish with. And you are every sort of fool if you think you are safe because you live in Delhi or Bangalore. Eat less, eat healthy stuff, eat more at home, and be careful.

Last word of caution: be particularly careful of ‘branded’ eateries and caterers. If only because they have the biggest opportunity to cheat. Every canny Indian should know that your trust in big names is exactly what they commonly betray to get rich and stay rich.

P.S., May 14: Here is an article written in today's newspaper which might regale my Bengali readers.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Sorry to be late!

Yes, I have not written anything for a while, as some of my more regular and eager readers have started reminding me. Multiple reasons actually – I wanted the last post to be there at the top for some time, I am really  all tied up with the start of the new session, when the days start passing like a blur (and we are not growing younger!), I have been planning the near future with my daughter, I have been swimming and walking and watching movies with gusto, and enjoying the remarkably balmy summer we have been having so far for a welcome change (switching off the fan and pulling on a rug around daybreak, can you believe it?). Also, occasionally putting on the nosebag with an old boy whose daughter has now joined my classes. God is being kind to me, and I have observed, like so many others, that you write less when you are busy being happy!

Also, anyway, what do I want to write about? We are living in the times of Trump and Kim and Modi playing antics in the so-called real world which are as quaint and juvenile, and often cruder than, superheroes killing off one another on screen with the world going gaga over them. And we are living in a country where adults – the same country where ‘adults’ relentlessly keep telling the young how they should be respected for being wise and ‘experienced’ – have to be reminded with public advertisements, again and again, and with apparently very little effect, that listening to music, chatting or taking selfies while walking along railway tracks can get you killed: see here. I also happen to be the kind of man who was mulling over Socrates and Manu and Shakespeare and Russell before I was 16, and have to live among people who in their forties and fifties have the mental range and depth of tiny tots, though they have all acquired such great self-esteem that they take offence at the drop of a hat, even at people pointing out that they are needlessly giving offence with their anti-social behaviour. There comes a time when you just roll your eyes and cut the world dead – or focus on planning how to make more money by fleecing the hordes of intellectual and spiritual riffraff. Sell a still more snazzy smartphone/ set up a coaching centre that guarantees seats in the ‘best’ engineering colleges even if you can hardly spell/ advertize a fitness regime that can turn hippos into gazelles without any diet, exercise or pills… I used to say that overpopulation was at the root of all our troubles: at my age and station I can assert very strongly that far too many uncivilized people with too much time and money to spend and no regard for rules of any kind also makes for a nightmare of a country to live in. Especially since we have never had our own version of Emily Post: that has never been considered even by the 'bhadralok' to be a truly essential part of education.

I have been musing aloud more and more about how I mean to change the way I conduct my classes. The first given is that I cannot stop completely – I will be bored stiff soon, people won’t let me, and everything said and done, I have loved the money for too long ever to become entirely dependent on my daughter unless God renders me a cripple. The second is that I have to turn away so many simply because I can’t personally handle any more, and it’s too personalized a business to be turned into a franchise (which in this age of mass-marketed anonymity makes me very proud too).  Did you know that even thirty years ago some starry-eyed students were telling me they wished I were doing these classes on TV so that thousands or who knows, even millions, could attend them? Ten years down the line, I tried to make a beginning with the new technology, the internet – my website was called suvrodaonline – but it didn’t get off the ground, because the net was too novel, and the vast majority, especially in small town India, had no idea of using it for a purpose like education. Now that even rickshawpullers watch videos on youtube just about everywhere, and websites can be launched and run for a song, and so many organizations big and small are teaching all kinds of courses, I might try it once more, especially since very soon my daughter will be grown up enough to help me with everything. I shall probably go about very slowly, beginning with enrolling pupils online to get rid of the annual hassle of admissions; move on to putting some lectures on youtube, and then some notes and exercises: there might eventually come a time when a lot of parents will decide that it is a better bargain on the whole to access most of the stuff online for a fee. That way I might be able to have at least a few free days every week. And then I shall go on adding more course content, and spreading the net beyond this town… who knows what might happen by the time I am truly retired, and my daughter fully at the helm? Certainly, unlike most fathers, I am in a position to reassure her that if she can slip into my shoes, and perchance build something bigger out of it by and by, there would be few salaried jobs in this country that she would wish to have instead. Only God can decide otherwise.