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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?