Sunday, December 7, 2008

Afterword

One of the most damaging fall-outs of terrorism is mistrust. Sometimes it pays to be suspicious, but most of the times that is used as a tool against harmony by petty interests. While the bullet and the bomb know nothing of religion-caste-creed-colour yet they becomes invaluable instruments of separatism. While we focus on gun-trotting, grenade-hurling brain-washed men and women, we forget that victims are very hard to define. Blood spills on all sides of the borders drawn by men – political or conceptual. Life is precious, but the precision of these intellects who graph the destructions make life seem fluid. Security, backlash, revenge are all cries for the moment – no one really wants to stop the thing at its root. It is never really enough to counter-strike in any and all ways, one has to investigate deeper, to stop the evil at its root. One has to find out who is responsible, what powers are dominating the field, who is allowing innocent lives to be spent in the name of idiotic ideals. Unless and until that is done terror will breed, and it will continue to take life at will. It will not be only one area, one city, one nation – but each and every individual would have to live in fear, in distrust, until each becomes an enemy of the other. Awareness and friendship seem like flimsy, clichéd, cowardly words – but courage lies in positive action, in reticence, in wisdom, muscle-flexing is the fool’s way of solving problems. Violence is sometimes necessary, but civilization should teach us that it is the last possible option. Fighting fire with fire is perhaps one of the ways, but water and foam must not be forgotten. Or fire from our own hearts will engulf the world.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Crossing

About two days back my wife and I were crossing Park Street at a particularly congested place. Seeing a zebra crossing we went towards it and patiently waited and for the flow of cars to stop, with a few tentative attempts when things seemed crossable. This is just a few steps away from St Xavier’s College, and Park Street Police Station. A constable was on duty. He watched us for a bit of time. Now I am not amongst those who find a fantastic rush of adrenaline negotiating rush hour traffic rushing to his/her destination as if the fate of the world and beyond depended on it. Plenty of people have accidents on the streets and I have no intention of becoming another statistic. My wife is not the patient kind, but she also understands that losing limb or life is not an option. So we take care before crossing anything.


This particular place has a peculiar character. It has a “T” crossing. Since it is a one-way road cars freely flow into the stem of the “T” and they as freely move forward. There is nothing that stops them as such. Only the signal in the last crossing thins the flow a little. So even the best civic mannered person would have to be dashing and we were preparing ourselves for such a window of opportunity. But this was not to be. The cars kept on coming relentlessly. It was almost 15 minutes and we were naturally getting impatient. All on a sudden we saw this constable coming running, taking a hard look at the two of us, then going to the middle of the road, stopping all the cars, and waving towards us to cross the road. We did that and I nodded a bit of thanks which he regally brushed aside – a gesture which doubled as a signal for the cars to move forward again.

The question is: why did he help us? It was not his sense of duty, which is almost negligible in most Indians these days, particularly in the law-business kind. Did it have something to do with something of sexual nature? He was looking at the both of us – so can it be that he was quite taken in with either of us and was trying to impress us with his show of strength as all juvenile minds do? I did say this to my wife and she was none too happy with this explanation – according to her apparently I was the one with the juvenile Freud-infested mind! What else do you expect from a person standing practically in front of a Mother and Childcare Hospital! The other option was that this cop-man was trying to impress his superiors or some ministerial personage – but at that time of afternoon happy-hour all the big bosses were safely tucked in within their dreamy bubbles.

The explanation I am left with is one of human nature. I have this favourite story by Shibram Chakrabarty. This gentleman, in the story, was arrested by the police (in our pre-independence days) for slapping a white woman. When the British judge wanted an explanation he gave an elaborate explanation. He was in a bus with the lady. When the conductor came she opened her big bag, brought out a small purse, then closed her big bag, opened her small purse, took out a coin, closed her small purse, opened the big bag, put the small purse inside, then closed the big bag. By this time the conductor had gone away. So she opened her big bag, took out the small purse, closed the big bag, opened the small purse, put the coin inside, closed the small purse, opened the big bag, put the small purse inside and closed the big bag. By this time the conductor was back. So she opened her big bag, brought out a small purse, then closed her big bag, opened her small purse, took out a coin, closed her small purse, opened the big bag, put the small purse inside, then closed the big bag. Again the conductor was gone. She opened her big bag, took out the small purse, closed the big bag, opened the small purse, put the coin inside, closed the small purse, opened the big bag, put the small purse inside and closed the big bag. The whole thing was repeated twice.

The judge could not take it anymore. He came down and slapped this man. And the man said, ‘Your Honour, I have done nothing more!’

I believe this was the condition of the constable. He saw us go two steps forward, then come back one step, then jump back another three steps because of a too enthusiastic car coming towards us, then go another couple of steps forward, and then come back again on the pavement, and then venturing again and so on. He simply could not take it anymore. It was not the goodness of his heart, but simple impatience. He simply got sick of us and doing his duty, he got rid of us.

Apology: I am probably doing injustice to a good soul. We thank him for whatever little he did for us. Even a little is much in this world.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In Custody

My wife and I were traveling to Hyderabad. This was in January 2006. We came back by plane (cheap Deccan tickets) but went by Falaknuma Express. The train leaves Howrah Station (on the other side of the river Hooghly, but the main railway entry to Kolkata) at 8:30 a.m. and we were there right on time. As always, we were a bit apprehensive about our co-passengers – particularly so since it was to be a 40 hour journey. Our apprehensions were somewhat increased when we saw eight extremely rough looking men, with two extremely emaciated and nervous type of fellows taking the cubicle right next to us. We were on the side lower and side upper births (which I always prefer because we can have a bit of privacy). The cubicle was for six people and the presence of ten did not bode well. But I still have some faith in the Ticket Inspectors, they always try to maintain a semblance of propriety. But the Inspector came, asked about the extra four, some mysterious conversations occurred and the men remained exactly where they were. Needless to say I was not exactly relieved.

After the train left the district of Howrah, and we were deep into the Medinipur (Midnapore in the Anglicized lingo) area one of the emaciated lunghi-clad men wanted to go to the toilet. They were speaking mostly in broken Hindi and gesticulations, but I understood that the head-rough-looking fellow was saying that both of them would have to go. The other lunghi-clad timidly objected. But ultimately both went. At that point I saw a chain was attached to the window next to which the two lunghis were sitting. Luggage chains perhaps! When the two came back I saw they were tied together to the window with that chain! Obviously my curiosity peaked. My wife was busy looking at the scenery outside, while I was busy catching the drama inside. What I could not get was chance to enter into their conversation.

The chance came soon enough. One of the rough guys came to me and asked if he could keep his bag on the side-upper bunk. Apparently he had bought an image of the goddess Kali and it was in the bag. He did not want to keep it on the floor at daytime lest someone steps on it. I had no problem. Then he introduced himself. As did I. He was a constable, a part of a Andhra Police contingent which came to Kolkata to arrest some dangerous criminals. The two chained were notorious criminals. They had the occupation of drugging passengers on trains and looting them. One of their victims found himself unconscious in Hyderabad and lodged a complaint there. Based on that complaint they had come to Kolkata and picked these two up from Metiaburuz. This oldish guy very kind to us and introduced us to all of his colleagues. The two robbers were happily ignored.

Although the prospect of spending a night with two notorious criminals was not exactly inviting, as uninviting as spending the night with a bunch of policemen, yet there were a lot of advantages. Throughout the trip we had free special tea from the pantry car. They simply would not let us buy any tea at all. Then none of the beggars or any other riffraff dared to come to our side of the compartment. This was the best night’s sleep I ever had on a train because there was no tension of losing luggage or shoes. At night they did indulge in a bit of drinking, after politely putting up a drape. But the noise of the glasses and bottles is far too familiar.

When we reached Hyderabad after a two-hour delay they offered to give us a life to our hotel, something I very politely rejected. I did not want to get off from a police-car in front of the hotel. Somehow I did not feel it would make a good impression.

What was wonderful was the behaviour the two criminals got. They were never for once misbehaved with. They were given food, taken to the toilets, the senior officer told them if they were innocent then they had nothing to fear. I don’t know what awaited them in custody, but on the train they were given due respect apart from the chains.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Miscellaneous

The Day of Pollution

I have never been a fan of fire-crackers. As long as I can remember I have disliked all sorts of loud-sounding chocolate bombs. As a matter of fact I have been afraid of them. Somehow they have always represented an atavistic, ultra-barbaric exposure of the malevolent subconscious. As a quiet and (somewhat cowardly perhaps) peace-loving man I have always looked at the days of Kali Puja and Deepavali with apprehension. Whereas Deepavali the festival of lights has always fascinated me, the noise and the tendency of throwing fire-crackers at people, vehicles and animals have repelled me. This Kali Pujo I was as usual homebound (keeping myself bound in my home), stepping out for the community thing only. If you have ever been in Kolkata then you will know what to expect on a day like this. Hundreds of people find themselves in hospitals with degrees of burn injuries, some self-inflicted, others mass-conflicted. And the air becomes unbearable. Throughout evening and night there is a thick layer of gunpowder smoke covering everything – this is not the T.S.Eliot yellow urban Prufrockish smoke – but the smoke of burning frustration released through petty acts of apparently harmless violence. I believe that in this one day we achieve as much pollution as in the rest of the year. I do not mean to be a spoilsport, but some sports should be spoiled. This is the evening when the fantastic amount of anti-legislative impulses (that we usually hide) comes out. There is a secret pleasure in using contraband, and contrary to all ban all kinds of minor explosives are used! Each year there are hundreds of arrests, yet people defy the law. The Law has become more of a challenge.

Right to Awaken

Recently there is an advertisement of some Tea Company that shows a few young boys distributing tea in a (cinema?) queue apparently trying to awaken the en-queued. When one lady finally protests saying she is awake, the main boy says “Election ka din agar up vote nehin de rahen hain to up so rahen hain” (“If you are not voting on the day of election then you are sleeping”). I guess it is very noble and awareness-provoking among the youngsters. But what they are missing is that all citizens have the right of not voting or canceling their votes. The attitude of the boys at the end of the advertisement presents a very disturbing face, a face of being ultra-self-righteousness that brings in all the extremes in a person. It also shows the coercive face of Indian politics. No one should tell us whether we should vote or not vote.

Monday, October 13, 2008

At Random

Durga Pujo ends. Lights, lightings, idols, pandals, pandal-hoppers, crowds, relaxation of curfew for youngsters, death for the emergency cases stuck in traffic, new clothes, new shoes – the great Bengali festival ends. The consolation prize of Kali Pujo, with all the crackers and rockets and goat-meat and booze, remains in the offing. The single time when the regressive (as against aggressive) Bengalis taste the Carnivalesque is gone for this cycle of seasons. Gone for another year – Kali Pujo immersion being slightly lesser – is another opportunity for the great Bengali hip-shaking.
For the first time in my life I spent almost the entire Pujo involved in a Marriage ceremony. Usually there is no good ‘muhurat’ (auspicious date) during this particular time. But since it was inter-provincial there were no rules, actually a jumble of them. A Bengali man was marrying a Punjabi woman. My relationship with the Punjabi family in question is quite interesting. Her husband (the man – obviously – from our side) is the brother of the husband of my wife’s elder sister. Technically her family is my in-laws’ in-laws’ in-laws. I found myself – though practically unrelated to the groom – in a position of seriousness, as my own brother-in-law is no more and men in that family are something of an endangered species, I had to take the role of an Elder. I am younger than the groom. But I had to spend a lot of time involved in plenty of rituals, though I often found myself in very difficult situations. These came whenever I was asked what manner of relation I shared with the groom. Explaining all this to Punjabi elders in Hindi is something that even I faltered in. After about six tries I settled for the ‘friend’ tag – though I can safely say that that is not quite the case! My Hindi is workable up to a point, and this whole occasion pointed out that point rather effectively.

The other point that stands true for most Bengalis, and which I think is a major factor in Bengali-ness, is the inability to dance. The Punjabis were dancing to their hearts’ content, without any frigidity, and we were falling short in every step. Feeling not unlike Pappu from the song “Pappu can’t dance....” This gave me a profound realization. One of the reasons Bengal is so much in the backwaters right now is that there is no popular dance form – Rabindra Nritya is something many Bengali girls and boys learn but that is semi-classical, if not neo-classical. The popular description of it is changing bulbs or picking flowers.

Whatever it might be, it is not something that one can instinctively engage in when in a festive mood. As a matter of fact one may say that dancing is not really in Bengali blood. Bengalis still are extremely in love with the ‘intellectual’ tag – they would rather blog than dance! Take me for instance, I would love to go down to the dance floor and thrash about like a person having an epileptic fit. But I simply can’t. Every year that I go on immersion processions I see plenty of my friends and others – some inebriated by the dhaak, some in good spirits and vice versa – shake like nothing else in the world. I want to join, but something holds me back. This something, thankfully, is slowly losing its grip over recent generations. Although I am not against intellect or cerebration, but there should always be a balance. One must learn to think, and one must also learn to act. Too much of something is as bad of too much of nothing.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Memoriam

He was the only man I knew who had no human links as far as blood relations were concerned. He was not an orphan, he had his relatives. But for some reason they had vowed not to “see his face” ever. He had a wife. She had run away with someone very long ago. I had never seen him mourn any of these losses. Of course, when I met him he was past middle age, and he was beyond the age of confiding to someone fifteen years younger. There was another difference which I think was vital. I was a school-teacher then, and he ran the small tea-stall on the boundary wall of the school.

He was everybody’s favourite. Beginning from the Head Master to the Door Keeper, every single person always remembered him. Not only for tea, but we often passed our time of day with him in inane conversation. Quite often he would participate in serious discussions about the school – things which usually generate teacup tempests! He was to be seen in all the School events, may it be Sports or Annual Prize Distribution programme or Students’ Drama Presentations. Without him the School would not run. Everyday after taking my seat in the Staff Room, I would holler through the window and a small glass of tea would be ready for me. I remember I introduced him to someone as belonging to the School, he was unfazed. He did not even look happy because of such an august introduction. I believe he thought of himself as belonging to the school, so my introduction was normal as far as he was concerned.

His great love was country liquor. He would often be under the influence. During these times he would rarely make an appearance within the School campus. Most of the time he would remain covered from head to toe in a multi-holed bed-cover which I don’t think had ever covered a bed in its life. He lived in his 6'/4' tea stall. Morning, evening, night he would be in it. Drunk or sober, happy or melancholy, that was his refuge. Lately he had started to sleep in one of the classrooms – an arrangement probably secured with some financial assistance to one of the night-guards.

I left the School eight and half years ago. There was a bit of money I owed him for the last cups of tea. We never paid him everyday, he kept the record of our tabs. How honestly we never asked! I believe he was very honest. Sometimes a bit of hangover might have made his accounts tipsy, but that’s about it. When I went to pay him he refused. He was not sentimental, he simply told me to pay him later. I tried several times. But his reply was always the same. One of my friends from the School jokingly asked me not to worry, he probably has already recovered his money from their accounts! Probably. But I still owe him that money.

The day before yesterday I was talking to my friend, who is the Assistant Head Master now, and he told me that Tapas-da is dead. He was not that old, was my first reaction. Apparently he was sick and was sleeping in one of the classrooms (someone was being kind to him), had a massive heart attack, fell down from the bench and cracked his skull. No one knows if he suffered, if he did then for how long. There was no one else in the building. His body was taken away by the Police. They would do all kinds of things to his body. And since there is no next of kin available – they all summarily refused to accept him even after his death – his body would be cremated as an unclaimed one. Unceremoniously, without anyone to bid goodbye.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Commodity

The other day I saw an advertisement in the Readers’ Digest that amused me to no end. I am one of those unfortunate people who suffer from chronic bowel disorder and hence spend a large part of the day in the water closet. One might say that the loo looms large in my layout. Everyone learns to adapt to their situation and make the best of it, and therefore my w.c. has become a reading room as well where I read most of my fiction (fiction does not include the newspapers). So I have this peculiar attachment to the stool of release. Do forgive me for using such a scatological pun – but as my friends know I have this other disorder of verbal diarrhea. Every time I return from a trip I get reunited with my very own you know what (and with my side-pillow, which I gather is a typical Bengali habit). Such passion about any object also becomes aroused by the new. I am not one who indulges in xenophobia. I believe in new things, I believe in trying out new things.

So you can imagine my joy when I saw that a certain company has unveiled the latest breakthrough in toilet technology. The invention happens to be a state of the art aerodynamic digitalized commode. Yes, you may ask anything, you may remain agape for a while as I was. (It wasn’t the April issue.) But the advertisement promised a completely automated robotic ‘chamber pot’ which is smart, efficient and perhaps one day will even be called sexy! To top everything, it comes with a remote control. Excuse my ignorance, but such a thing I have never seen before. In the series Ally McBeal the character nicknamed The Biscuit had a remote flushing device for common toilets, but I thought that was just a joke. But one should not undermine the power of the joke, many a grand invention began as something silly. If no one had scoffed at Mr Edison, or Mr Beard and a number of other such people, modern civilization would hardly be modern.

But I am intrigued by this latest addition to human greatness. This intelligent thing will sense what you need and when. It will flush for you; it will spray two jets of water aiming at certain embarrassing places. It will raise its lid when you arrive – no other machine has ever been so polite – or was that something you have to do with the remote? I don’t remember if it can play music or not, but soon enough, I believe, this will be the ultimate entertainment unit. FM channels might even start a programme called Hit Sheet or something like that in strategic times in the morning! Isn’t technology wonderful!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Nostalgia

Music has this peculiar characteristic, it attaches itself to events, to memory. There are quite a few bits of music, and many songs which remind of particular incidents, or of a time in general, or even a portion of my life which is long gone. When I hear these songs or these bits I get all nostalgic, sometimes even downcast.

The other day my wife was listening to Pehla Nasha (translations kill, and this is one good example, “First Intoxication” hardly does justice to the evocation of the original!) from an oldish movie called Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (“The One who wins is Alexander” – another example of translatory murder). The movie was released at a time when I had just cleared my Higher Secondary Council examination. The movie – loosely based on Breaking Away – was a huge hit. The song was heard everywhere. Our College Union Room had a PowerHouse – a music system – and the song was often played. Since one of our classrooms was directly above, there were a couple of times when attention drifted from lectures to elsewhere.

However, that is not the association that this song carries. Just after the Council Examination I had our first taste of freedom. I was allowed to go on a trip with close school friends. Puri is a seaside town very familiar to all of us. And since it was to be my nth time there, my parents had no objections. Four of us had many a misadventure in the temple-town, including a cyclone. The whole trip was wet with rain – we were not introduced to alcohol as yet (as a matter of fact we had our first cigarettes on that trip, well hidden inside our room, scared stiff that the elders might ‘see’ us). Asheshananda took a music player with him, and I had a couple of cassettes (CD and DVD were unknown concepts in the world then!). One of the songs that frequently played was Pehla Nasha. The cloudy sky, the infrequent drizzle that turned into a torrent, the powerless candlelit night which filled our room with rain, a night in which emergency Jam and Bread was dinner, four of us wet to the bones – we had the time of our lives.

Of the four Asheshananda is lost. The other two are still very much a part of my life still. One is in Bristol. The other is here in my hometown. He is a doctor now. To think this year we celebrate 22 years of friendship! I am lucky as far as friendship goes. I have friends with whom I have remained close for the last 30 years. Sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it? These people I know from the age of four! But number of years hardly matters. Even my college friends are as close, though I know them for a mere 16 years now.

In many ways I was truly fortunate because I found my college friends. When I joined Presidency College I was what a very good friend described as “A Babe out o’the Woods”. I could not speak English properly – nervousness is the reason, I am from a Bengali medium school. No one mocked me, the support I had from my friends and my teachers is something I shall cherish forever. I was a friend in need. The others proved that they were friends indeed. Mockery would have destroyed whatever little confidence I had. There are many things that seem to be amiss with my life – many things that people normally get that are denied to us as yet – but as far as friendship goes I think life has compensated for all the things that I do not have.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

In Dependence

Much to my dismay and displeasure I was recently made a building representative (our housing complex has 30 buildings, each building has its own building committee, there is a central committee made up of building representatives). My main complain was that no one single person should have more than one portfolio (I am already joint treasurer, a job which has its own demands). All these jobs are even more demanding because all these jobs are honorary. Being a building representative means that you have to attend a meeting of the central committee on the last Sunday of each month, and attend all the other incidental events as they come.

Such an event was Independence Day. At 9:30 a.m. the flag hoisting ceremony was supposed to take place, followed by a football tournament. What better way to ‘celebrate’ our independence! The flag hoisting occurred amid a drizzle with about 20 people gathered, and about 25 kids looking patiently at the toffee packets to be opened soon. Our complex has about a 1000 residents.

This is the first flag-hoisting I have attended since I was a kid in school. I would not have attended it if I did not have a portfolio sort of a thing. The national anthem was sung. People looked serious and attentive and patriotic. Then everyone shouted Vande Mataram – Hail Mother. Then everyone was busy with the football match. I came home because I had loads of script checking to do and it was drizzling harder anyway.

After a decent amount of script-checking I got a call from my friends, arrangements are made to pay tribute to the Indian Spirit. Going to a friend’s place I found that arrangements indeed were made – made rather well as a matter of fact. There was chicken, there were fruits, there was salad, and there was something from Vijay Mallya’s cellar as well. As promised by the scenes in front of all Foreign Liquor Off Shops (why Off I never have found out!) the last evening, I was certain that we were celebrating the day just like majority of Indians. What better way to celebrate democracy!

As a matter of fact democracy is in Indian blood. The other day I had an argument with a student. He was saying since everyone takes bribe why should it not be turned into a rule! I did not know what to say. Majority wins.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

De-Bat-ed

The Batman is an all-time favourite Superhero. Mind you, he is not a Hero, but a Superhero. Although he has no super-power, being a mere mortal, yet Batman lore has always presented him as extra-human. This is so because his strength, perseverance, apparent oblivion to physical pain and his abilities spring from a scarred psyche, a scar in his mind so deep that does make him a psychopath, a maniac. He is not to be loved, but to be feared. Apart from his abnormal sense of justice – again manically enhanced – there is nothing to stop him from doing bad. He is a terror to criminals because he is more terrible, because he is unpredictable, because he relies on rumors and darkness. Through his psychosis he has cultivated an aura, a mystique which covers him, turns him into a shadow. He is not a man, he is the Batman. And when he appears, he makes things right, or he does not stop.


Bruce Wayne is the mask he wears. Repeatedly in graphic representations it has been shown that Alfred had had to teach him how to be normal. He has not succeeded. Bruce Wayne is abnormal. It is an act put up by the Batman. He does not call himself Bruce, he called himself Batman. That is all. This is a mind you should not disturb, it is already disturbed.

Neither the awesome, at the same time awful, nor the mysterious bit did I find in the latest movie. It is true that the Batman cannot do everything alone. He needs help. Alfred also cannot do everything alone. Expecting that would be idiotic. But even after all the help, in urban folk, the Batman remains the Batman. In this movie, sadly, he is no more than the people who pretended to be the Batman. He is just an ill-tempered, impatient but honest do-gooder who can only use brute force. The Joker-beating scene is fit for a mafia movie, not a Superhero one. It brings the Batman down to such mundane levels. The psychological edge, the fear, the intelligence are entirely missing. Nobody really is bothered about him – though we are told repeatedly that crime has become less in Gotham. Joker’s henchmen are unafraid; Moroni and his moronic mob remain unaffected. If the Batman is just a name to scare pick-pockets and muggers, then I think it is a sad state of affairs.
Joker, on the other hand, is everything one may expect. He is the epitome of what we are afraid of. Evil is too clichéd a term. He is unpredictable, he is homicidal, and he is sharper than a chainsaw. Against him this Batman is nothing. When against him you can take away the Bat part from our hero at any point of time. He can play the Batman like a homeless guy’s guitar. Heath Ledger, all my salutations. I am a great fan of Mr. Nicholson. He was scary. But so was the Bat. Here, you take the cake away. And regrettably, the Bat can but help. The White Knight of Gotham is also passable. He is not wimpy, he is not unwilling to look the other way for the greater cause, and he is the great American hero of now. He is also vain. He is also in love. Comic-book legend tells us that he could not tolerate his defacement, his defeat, and like the Batman became an extreme. Unlike the Batman, he became injustice. Here too he becomes that. He is a monster with a perverted sense of justice – a justice left to a coin. And as long he is human, not a super-villain, he is good. The moment he has the CGI-face, you feel the strain. Talk to the face – that becomes his attitude.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe it’s a wonderful film. Mr. Nolan had commented somewhere that he was inspired by ‘Heat’. I respect that. It was a gritty, very human, very hard-hitting film, as is Nolan’s. But – strictly my opinion of course – that’s exactly where the film fails. It’s a cop-versus mob film, and everything that you expect and do not expect happens. It’s a film where the mob is using the ultra-villain, a trump card they themselves cannot control. The Joker who does not bother blowing up hospitals, who tells different stories of how his face became thus, is an extension of the already hyper-villain terrorists we see everyday. But the hyper-hero, let alone the Superhero, is nowhere to be found. This Batman is extremely inadequate. Perhaps this is what Mr. Nolan wanted to represent. That such mystique, such illusions are no longer valid. But I object. The entire idea about the Batman is that he is a symbol, a symbol against all the evil, all the corrupt, and all the terrible that there is. He is not simply a fall-guy, a Christ-like taker of sin in a black suit. The Batman is the inspiration we all need to go on. In the present world that inspiration is more than necessary – it’s almost the lifeline with people being killed without rhyme or reason Right and Left. If Joel Schumacher lost it because he thought the Batman has been taking himself too seriously, because he wanted to give the guy a break, then Mr. Nolan should also think again. In all his sincerity is he killing the superhero and creating just a hero out of him? I am not asking for the Justice League, but I still want to believe that some of us can be more than human; some of us can be Super.

Michael Keaton was the best Bruce Wayne ever. I am sorry, but I feel that Christian Bale was a better Bat in ‘Batman Begins’. In this one, towering presences like Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine has overshadowed the Bat. The Batman is respected, trusted and distrusted, but always kept at a distance by all others – he cannot be a pretty regular guy who tries. The feeling in this film was that just anybody with enough guts, goodwill and enough money could have been in that suit. It is not the suit that makes the Batman, the Batman is always, and that is why he is what he is. That is why he was not what he should have been in ‘The Dark Knight’.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Crumbling Cookie

There was a time when two cookies were there every night on top of my mailbox. This created a lot of curiosity and confusion among my neighbours. As a matter of fact one of them, albeit a young one, mustered enough courage and asked me who sends me these nocturnal biscuits! He had not been able to take any more of the variety of speculations that were going around – whether it was a prank, whether it was symbolic, religious, whether it was a new form of terrorism, and so on and so forth. I realized it was time that ended all the hypotheses and told him plainly that it was I who was the deliverer as well as receiver.

I am not crazy. Nor am I insane. Not even slightly on the edge. At that point of time we had a thriving friend circle. I was living in my old neighbourhood. About ten of us used to hang around a little sitting place next to the football field at night. It was a post-dinner meeting for me. I take my dinner at 9:30. I was punctually at my adda at 10. It was the best of times for all of us. Still young, still students, the world were full of possibilities. None of us were married, some of us were going through courtships, some through broken hearts, and others waiting for someone to make or break their respective hearts.

There were many dogs in the neighbourhood. Stray ones – as you find all over India. This particular species (Roadasians – “dogs which roam the roads of Asia”) is very friendly, most of the time harmless, all bark practically no bite. Until one goes mad, but that holds true for Homo sapiens also. Every season these dogs would embarrassingly breed. One such dog had its litter of six puppies just next to our building. They were all taken care of by most of our neighbours. Among the six one was run over by a car. Two died of diseases. One died of malnutrition. Another one went away in search of fortune to some far-away locality.

One was left. This one became everyone’s favourite. He had several names. My mother called him Y because he had a Y shaped design on his head. We used to call him Bhootoo (bhoot is the Bengali word for ‘ghost’, bhootoo is the affectionate version: though I sincerely doubt if a real bhoot would inspire any affection at all). Bhootoo was a singularly stupid dog. When walking he would bump into people. As a puppy he used to think that pallu ends (however do you describe an aanchal in the language of England?) of Saris and dupattas were designed for him to grab with his mouth and swing around, causing quite a bit of havoc I must add.

My friendship with him started the day I found him sitting in a garden on top of a very small flower-tub. He was just a couple of months old then, all alone, his brothers and sisters all gone, his mother (the bitch!) busy with another dog. I gestured and he scampered towards me, still wobbly and still very enthusiastic. The way he stretched his neck to look at my face turned me into an aficionado. Then every time he saw me he would follow me to a certain invisible fence, over which dangers lurked for him I suppose. From that point he would keep looking at me with a curious expression on his face. I don’t know what it meant. Then began the cookie episode. Bhootoo was well fed. The ground-floor residents of our apartment building once had their own dog, and they loved all canines. So young Bhootoo ate better than many Indians. But what my sister and I decided was that he was not getting enough dessert. Chocolates are deadly for dogs, ice-cream too problematic, so we settled on cookies. At the beginning we took it from our own home. That came under parental scrutiny, so we began buying the stuff especially for him.

My sister is scared stiff whenever, wherever a canine is concerned. She felt kindly to Bhootoo, but her love was only from a distance. Feeding the cookies was my job. I had no objections. The only problem was that everyday I would have to push the cookies into his mouth, because he was too dumb to find the pieces on the ground. The other problem was when I went down at 10 o’clock Bhootoo was nowhere to be seen. This was the time of his dinner. And dogs are very jealous of their food – so I am told. Bhootoo made it a habit to take his food elsewhere. Somewhere beyond the ken of other dogs. And I could not carry the cookies to the adda. Simply because they would be eaten. It did not matter that they were for a dog, they were delicious, ones I myself liked. So human need being greater than the dogly, the cookies would be devoured without wastage of temporal space.

So I ended up with the solution of keeping the cookies on top of the letterbox. Ants could not reach them, humans would not touch them, no other animal could think of such a place. When I returned from my adda I would give them to my four-legged friend. So I believe my case for my sanity is sound.

Bhootoo died when I was in UK. He had met with an accident. Some car had gone over his left-hind-leg. He was taken to a hospital, treated, medicated and everything. But he never did heal. I was not there when he died. The people who used to feed him, and take care of him, gave me this tragic news. There have been many litters since, many dogs, a few of them still swing from pallu ends, but we have not had another one like Bhootoo. I am no longer there. I guess some other kid will have some other stray yet pet dog who will give him/her as much love.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Booked

I just finished reading Piccadilly Jim by P.G. Wodehouse. As ever, it was a most enjoyable reading experience. Regardless of the fact that the plot contained little new, and the humour was the same and the people immediately familiar. Though, I must say that this novel looks at life and baseball in the US of A, and contains some exquisite comparisons between the two batty games, things which are somewhat newish to one who has been long in Jeeves-Wooster-Ukridge-Blandings-Psmith fold.

I think it is the sameness that is most enduring and attractive part of the Wodehouse works. There is no possibility of anything nasty happening, you are always sure that everything will end happily, people who want to marry will marry, people who accidentally get engaged will be disengaged, theft of various articles from cow-creamers to the pig Empress of Blandings will yield fruitful results. Most importantly, you will get a glimpse of a life which is now impossible. The idyllic settings of country houses and city clubs, faithful butlers and fantastic escapades, easy living and little thinking (no terrorism or such violence, no worries about work-pressure, no spousy arguments), the only fear in existence is of scheming rivals in pig-competitions and rich aunts – such is the stuff many dreams are made of. Dreams of decent and witty people – I should hastily add – not of those who dream of power and glory and money! This is no insidious Wildean satire, this is no social-evil-mirroring comedy of manners, nor Shavian close-shaves – what this is perhaps the only genuine good-hearted, good-humoured, good-natured look at life and things like it. This is the proverbial underneath of greenwood tree, truly far from the madding crowd.

What is also surprising, even in this pre-everything time, is that men and women are mostly on the same page (forgive my usage, could not help using this idiomatic idiocy). Mr Wodehouse is as fair as one can be. True, he has gentleman suitors and vague blondes, but he has equally powerful females and equally vague Gussy Fink-Nottle types. Here women are rescued by men, men are rescued by women, men and women rescued from each other. Romances are sometimes complicated and sometimes as easy as shouting “My mate!” and taking the other into one’s bosom! In our days of idiotic hustle and bustle and rustle, this is the medicine. Though I never wish life should have been like this, but why not partially, why not at times?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Culture in Anarchy

Modern popular (and academic) criticism has this habit of bracketing everything with broad labels. We went to see a movie the other day and I was telling my friend that certain parts of it were rather loud. [I did leave the cinema hall with a splitting headache, unfortunately this is the condition of mono-screen old fashioned cinema houses!] This friend is a lot younger than me; as a matter of fact once upon a time he was a student of mine. I am very fortunate that over the years many of my students have graduated into my friends. He pointed out politely that there is nothing wrong with ‘loud’ – we may prefer subtle, we may pretend sophistication, but if someone likes the raucous and flashy then where is the harm? The terms ‘loud’ or ‘melodramatic’ have been branded bad by people who have decided the good – such constructions are rather unfair. Turning the popular into the other has been a tendency of academia for ever. The fact that something is a ‘hit’ is a surefire sign that it is not intellectual! I don’t know about the rest of the world but here in India we certainly have all this nonsense about mainstream and parallel. People who cannot achieve a decent execution always want to justify themselves at the cost of the other type. Alright, not all can become Shakespeares or Rabindranaths or Bernard Shaws, but that does not mean that offence-defence ideal should rule. No type should be good or bad. They should exist and be respected.


The same thing applies to urban and folk-cultures. Nowadays folk has become a fad, but at one time it was almost as bad as the other four-letter word starting with ‘f’ and ending with ‘k’ (not really, I am exaggerating folks, couldn’t really resist the temptation. Anyway what the other letter means is not bad at all is it? Problems arise only when you turn it into an expletive). We now have folk-fusions, in the hand of tune/word stealers, it becomes con-fusions. Of course, the philosophy now is there is no need of any philosophy, anything that sells is good, anything that sells to the greater number of people is for the greater good of a small number of sellers. But the point of fact remains how is folk to be defined? Everything coming from a rural sector? Everything that seems ever so slightly rustic?

One critic had written that Superman is the ultimate US folk-hero. The Beatles are supposed to be folksy. And then there is this term urban-folk. Again the country and the city divide which Mr Raymond Williams had so aptly pointed out years ago. You know, I myself am confused. I believe in classification. But when did taxonomy become a comparative scale to be used by a bunch of non-creative scholars who think the world of themselves. Such condescending attitudes, such patronizing always makes me mad. Folk is popular by definition, that is why it is less respectable – have you ever heard anything so ridiculous.



This whole thing requires a lot of thought. Popular should not be non-intellectual. But intellectual should not be non-popular. There is a lot of pseudo-intellectual stuff which takes itself very seriously. Nobody else does. It is time that is understood, and understood mostly by the so called culture-vultures.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Plane and Simple

Plane Plane Plane, Pilot Plane,
Down the steps came Suchitra Sen,

O Mrs Sen,
What is in your bag?

“Mutton Curry for Uttam,
Don’t be such a nag!”


Once upon a time, flying as a mode of travel was for the elite within the financial elite. It was for the glamorous people. As the little poem from our childhood (freely translated) suggests, only stars like Suchitra Sen and Uttam Kumar, in their very sixties and seventies sunglasses, were expected to walk down the portable stairs leading to Fokker Friendships or Super Constellations. Of course, even shady people, also in sixties and seventies shades, were expected to fly! Air travel was tremendously expensive, there were fewer planes, and I suppose people had more time. The difference between plane fares and train fares were huge. If a ticket from our city to Delhi cost Rs. 500/- in the deluxe air-conditioned coaches, the corresponding plane fare would be around Rs. 5000/- (this bit of info is pure guesswork, though I am sure the actual figures are quite similar).

Then came the flying boom. There were cheaper airlines offering cheap tickets. The idea was good, they cut cost in the hospitality section. Who bothers about food on a two hour flight! Friendly smiles from Air Hostesses were enough. This of course you could rarely get from the official Indian airline – which I still believe is a kind of rehab home for aged air hostesses. Sorry, I am being massively politically incorrect, but being politically correct (since no politician ever bothers to be so) can be such a bore sometimes. I firmly believe in one definition of friendship – “Friends are people with whom you need not be politically (in any form of politics) correct.” As you can guess this very wise definition is all Sidhubaba’s.

The cheaper airlines also cut costs as far as ticketing was concerned. No counters, no salespeople. All you need is internet and a printer and a credit card. Print your own tickets and you are ready to fly. But this boom came a little late. Or, rather, the oil prices soared a little too fast. Now again we are back to the first square. Flying is again expensive. Even if the base fare is Rs. 1/-, you have to pay somewhere around Rs. 2800/- with the taxes and surcharges (surcharge = surreal charge?) and so on.

Good thing too. Our skies were getting too crowded. In the last couple of months there were at least three reports of near misses in the sky. Can you imagine a midair collision! Wonderful isn’t it. How big a sky do we need? Speaks volumes about our efficiency and equipments. I wonder if Air Traffic Control also falls under the almost militant all powerful CITU! Also the airports were becoming too small. No proper facilities! People were actually standing or sitting on the floor! Flights were being delayed. I remember waiting for 3½ hours because the flight did not have runway clearance. The actual time of travel was 1 hour. The total time taken from reaching the source airport and leaving the destination airport was something around seven hours. This included the baggage delays and shouting at taxi drivers.

I love to fly. But flying in a system of air traffic jams is becoming scary. Not that I will not jump at the next opportunity of a cheap ticket, but trains do have their charm. Why not use this wonderful facility where you can spend days sleeping eating in a moving and rocking train as if it was your own household. There are problems, hazards, risks. But what exists without them? In UK they were thoroughly impressed when they learnt we have overnight express trains, and were thoroughly appalled when I told them that some journeys take more than 48 hours. You see, if you start from any end of UK and travel in an express train for 48 hours, you will be in the middle of the sea!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Unfortunate Bugger

A Czech scientist collecting insects from the Singalila National Park was arrested because such collecting is not allowed by Indian Laws regarding Conservation.

It is wonderful that this gentleman was actually apprehended, though it is my guess he had the best of intentions in mind. Singalila National Park is not the best known Conservation in the country, neither is it at all glamorous. Situated just off Siliguri it is one place where no one I know has ever visited. Trust me; people I know have visited everywhere (Antarctica excepted). Apart from a few signboards it is difficult to know that it is a Reserve Forest. So I guess this scientist just walked in it absent-mindedly, having all his concentration on the insects. It is difficult to shift from the minute to the macro with the velocity of Speedy Gonzales. Of course, there might be a host of other reasons why this man was apprehended. He might be an international man of mystery and so on and so forth, and if he is a colleague of James Bond why should he be excused for collecting bugs? You never know where he will place this bugs and what kind of info he might collect!

The magnitude of his crime is gradually sinking in. First of all he probably had scientific intentions in mind; second, he entered the forest unaware of the law of the land (a crime in itself); then he tampered with the basic fauna. Well, just thinking about it gives me goosebumps. It isn’t as if he stole a couple of trees or such, neither did he harm a few Royal Bengals – which are rarely noticed. Millions of trees are stolen each year from our forests, mostly by foresters. The tiger population is practically nil compared to earlier times. Rhinos are being found dead so frequently that it makes the head spin. But these are regular, hence not necessary to notice, occurrences. Of course, in a country where human beings lie dying and the system does not allow anybody to do anything, why should there be any special treatment for sub-human species! If you try to help then the whole system would try to stop you burying you in red tape and other harassments. You might end up becoming the criminal in the process.

So this initiative to stop debugging seems refreshing. Bugs are an integral part of the system. Without them where will we be?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Reserved Forest

I just returned from a short trip to a farmhouse resort in a place called Dwaronda. It is a village about 20 minutes from the town of Bolpur (adjoining Shantiniketan which is the home of Rabindranath Thakur’s Vishwa-Bharati). This farmhouse was part of a non-government initiative called Swayambhar (loosely translated as Self-Reliance) which was looking to make the poor locals self reliant. I say was because many of the locals have become self reliant and this farmhouse is struggling a bit now. The cooking is exquisite. The cook apparently was a bandit at one point of time. Now he is reformed, and has been dishing out these fantastic recipes for the last 19 years. The place is quite charming, though a trifle dangerous this time of year because it boasts of hosting poisonous snakes like Kharish and Russell’s Viper. Apart from that it is an idyllic place for rest and long walks in the forest (a wildlife sanctuary called Chaupahari or the Four Hills) or to the river or to the lake. All kinds of birds chirping, a slow rustle of leaves all the time, a bit of rain now and then – such a soothing effect is absent in contemporary holidays which rush you from place to place as if you are in a competition to see more.

The fauna of this place was as amazing as the flora. There was a warning in the welcome note framed on the wall. I quote:

Keep your eyes open – we are situated at the edge of the Chaupahari Reserve Forest, and so there is a considerable presence of wildlife within the project area. We have a variety of foxes, hnerols (a species of the wolf family), hares, mongooses, squirrels, mice and bats of different kinds, occasional turtles who venture out of surrounding water-bodies, snakes, scorpions, chameleons, monitor lizards, though they are hard to come by, and a substantial variety of birds and insects. Even a stray elephant has visited us on one occasion! However, there is hardly any reason to be worried, as long as you remember to look where you are stepping and check before you stick your hand into nooks and corners . . .

I did not find this exactly reassuring. We did see a few snakes from a distance not too happy. But in winter most of these become theoretical, thereby automatically introducing the concept of less thrill, more fun.

Such places give you a lot of time and things to think about. This is the first time in my life when I went three whole days without reading. I had my books around, but they stayed in my sack. Even my pen and paper remained idle. To be honest I did sleep a handsome bit, much more than I do at home (never at work). But long afternoons and evenings, when you can’t venture out in the darkness, were spent leisurely, luxuriously almost. Such casual disregard for time is what humanity is forgetting fast. The watch was only functional when it told us that we must eat – with the stomach’s help of course.

Thankfully there were no untoward incidents with wild or tamelife. There were so many lifeforms that I was left amazed. From the story of the elephant to the minute frogs that we saw, no bigger than the nail on my little finger, it reminded me of Rabindranath’s song:

The heavens brimming with the Sun and the Stars
Life ever fills the universe
Among all I have been given a space
Wondering stands awake my verse


(Please forgive my inadequate translation.)


The insects which filled our room, the geckos, even the dogs and cats which were a part of the whole project, had a curious sense of harmony. I was mortified when one tiny frog died because I had stepped onto it. It was hidden in grass, probably hiding because I the monster was coming its way, if it did not hide I could have avoided it. Such is life. I was wondering if it knew death! If it had anything more than instinct! Our planet is brimming with life. But can all of it be called life? Where does instinct end and imagination begin? How many animals are conscious of being alive? For that matter how many humans?

I guess it is because we have such an abundance of life in our world that we value it so little. Humans, being conscious of all, show the least amount of concern in this particular matter. As it is the world is too much with us, more so now than when Wordsworth had written; so this blatant disregard for life, human or otherwise, is not entirely surprising.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Best Policy

There is a joke, if there are a bunch of drunken, unruly Englishmen in a pub, how do you get rid of them? It’s rather simple really, you just go and say, “Please leave!” This, of course, is impossible. Even a race as allegedly disciplined as the English do produce football hooligans, they have their brand of rowdies, and they are in no way a backward nation when it comes to rioting, looting, stealing, colonizing, politics, raping, and all such noble things.

Having said that, one must, nevertheless, appreciate the basic honesty of the English in England. It might be true of all Europeans but I have only first hand experience of English systematic. It is wonderful how people will obey each and every signboard, not do what they forbid, and do what they ask to be done. There is little surveillance required to ensure that the prescribed rules are being followed or not. I remember going to the 9 century old Norwich Cathedral. There was a ban on photography inside the Cathedral until one donated £3 (although I am not against such donations because I realize the cost of upkeep of these huge structures, but trust the English to put a ticket booth wherever they can, Napoleon was not very wrong with his shopkeeper remark!). I went to every nook and corner of the Cathedral, with a camera visibly dangling from my neck, I found no one keeping watch. There were no receipts for the donation – a simple transparent plastic box received all the money. If I took photos and claimed that I have donated no one could legally argue. People were taking snaps – no one asked them whether they had bequeathed or not. Such trust makes you become honest. I did not feel the urge to take photos inside as I did not donate (at that point £3 was a lot of money to me) and I believe that no one but the most crooked would do it.

My friend was posted in Taunton at that time. He is as big a fan of cricket as I am. So he made a pilgrimage to the Taunton cricket ground because Sourav Ganguly was the Highest Indian Run-getter in the World Cup (1999) against Sri Lanka there. He told me that it is a lovely ground, and there are yards of low fencing around it. In India fences are minor details, they signify little. Unless there are other security arrangements, one can be fairly sure of the fence being defenceless – sorry for the pun, couldn’t resist! I remember there was a huge uproar because one of the golf clubs in Calcutta had wanted to repair a breach in their boundary wall, but people said that it served as a short cut, so it could not be repaired, the fact that it was private property did not matter. Thankfully the club-owners were expectedly rich and hence logic won. Anyway, my pilgrim friend told me that there was a little signboard “Please Leap” in a certain place. No Englishman would ever think of doing that, they will walk round and round and round, and go back with broken hearts. But the moment they come across this sign their faces will light up.

The other surprising thing I saw was that there were Luggage spaces in buses and people coolly left their bags and stuff and go to the upper deck! Even in the empty bus from Heathrow to the Hotel I had sat next to my suitcase and held onto it as if my life depended on it (to be fair to myself, it did actually did). This bit is not at all common in London. Of course, that is a place where you will actually have to make an effort to see an English face, I would say the ratio of ‘others’ to the English would be 3 : 1; of course they are redefining the term British to include all.

The image of the honest Indian is becoming something rather rare even in India. The Orientalist image of the spiritual Indian might be all very objectionable, but becoming corrupt is not the way to protest against it! The signboard thing I can understand. Recently I saw this huge expensive electronic signboard put up in Shyambazar Five Point Crossing – it advised people to drive safely. Such effort on part of the cops is quite appropriate but for two facts, first, people pay no attention to any kind of advice; and second, most people cannot read. The target audience being drivers, they barely manage to read Bengali and Hindi, and all these signs are in English. Otherwise, the other wise people already know that they should drive safely! As far as corruption is concerned, it is a global phenomenon. Poor countries with rich rulers would always have such problems.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Trousers Rolled

In recent days there have been many occasions when I have been reminded of my gradually advancing years. Not that I have reached the advanced age, which will come inevitably, but the fact that I am on the way is jumping out of the bushes and startling me in the most surprising moments possible!

The first one came a few years back. A couple of friends had come to my place and we were discussing everything under the sun. There was a time when we were great fans of horror/suspense movies (bits of nudity helped). But to my surprise I could not, and still can not, face all those disquieting scary scenes, the sudden shockers (the nudity bit is alright though). Even simple things like lots of death, dismemberment, blood, torture left me disturbed. And sentimental ‘heart-warming’ films actually warmed my heart! I could associate with those more than notionally. One of my friends was having similar reactions. The other one apparently was still intrepid. And he said, and I quote, “This is age!” Apparently we had seen life – which I think even till today the brave lad has not – and we could identify with many a thing from these movies. Movies or books or music or everything were no longer ‘academic’ experiences. Speaking of academic experiences, I think I should explain my ultra-erudite heading. It’s from T.S.Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’:
I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Quite often I get questions from my students which are past-related. They kind of expect an antediluvian history from me. I politely but firmly tell them that when I was young my father did not take me by the hand and teach me how to kill two T-rexes with one stone.

Last night we watched a movie called Meet Me in St Louis. This movie, made in 1944, represents Hollywood musicals at their best. This is the nth time I watched the movie. There used to be a TV station called TNT, which had later become TCM (Turner Classic Movies), and they showed all these wonderful movies all the time. That channel is no longer there, and the classic movies are all gone. So I was quite pleased when I got Meet Me in St Louis on DVD, and bought it immediately.

Right through the movie I was on a nostalgia trip. The last time I had seen this movie, about 15 years back, my family was the true extended, alive, and close-knit thing one would covet. Since then there has been five major deaths – five people who kept the whole thing going. Three of them were old, so there was some logic, though no easy acceptance is ever possible. Two of them were young. I remember one of my aunts telling me when I was just a wee lad of 12 to go to her if I ever had any amorous causes. She herself was a pioneer – being in love with a slightly disabled man from the age of 15 and marrying him after a bit of impediment. She died one fine morning. She apparently had a massive cerebral attack. She was my father’s youngest sister. The other person who had always supplied me with all the toys and bats and balls (sports related term please) and wickets and books and bourbon biscuits was my aunt on my mother’s side. She died after eight years of prolonged illness. She suffered from something called Motor Neuron Disease, in which the brain remains perfectly functional but the body slowly deteriorates. The person dies fully experiencing the failure of each and every function of the body. One of the most horrible deaths invented by nature. Then I got married. Please do not read the last sentence as a continuation of the list of disasters – though I will accept that there are moments when I myself feel that way! And after a while things started happening. The person responsible for getting us together committed suicide – professional troubles as I have gathered, not out of remorse on our account. Both my brothers-in-law died within a year of each other. One from a massive heart attack, the other from a kitchen accident involving fire. Now our family is just a shadow of what it used to be, as is my wife’s own family. But I guess it is more or less the same with all families! When Judy Garland was singing my favourite song, I could not keep the tears away. The song goes like this:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yuletide gay
Next year all our troubles will be miles away

Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us once more
Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow

Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now


The fates allow little in real life. Most of the faithful family is gone! The rest are drifting away for various reasons. I have shifted to a new flat. Everything that I know has changed. But that, I guess, is life.

I apologize for this long and morbid post. As I was telling one of my blogger friends, if there were no friends, life would become impossible. Thank God that I have many friends of many ages within and without my family.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Marriage Indian Style

My friend got married yesterday. The problem he was facing was in adjusting to the process of marriage in the Hindu tradition. As most of you know the Hindu system entwines the bride and the groom in a ritual where they have to circle the Holy Fire seven times. These seven holy rounds apparently are designed to bind the souls together for seven (re)incarnations. If the rebirth is as a sub-human species then I don’t know if that one counts. That of course would not be logical because no species other than Homo sapiens obeying natural laws have such elaborate mating rituals. So, one may conclude that only human rebirths would get this Holy contract.

Towards the end of the ceremony proper, which would last for almost 4 hours if thoroughly done, the groom puts some vermilion (sindoor) on the bride’s forehead and on the fore-parting of hair. Some say such red colouring of the fore-most-skin preserve in symbolic form the primeval system of bashing women over the head before taking them. (Taking them to the caves in case of pre-civilization polite people.) The same applies to the bangles and foot-ornaments – the latter gradually becoming obsolete – made of gold, iron, conch etc. They represent the chains and ropes with which these women were held before they were properly tamed. In most cases women were stolen from other tribes, and they were neither polite nor philosophical, so they had to be forcefully detained. I guess it was only after a good bit of bashing up that these women understood their predicament and surrendered. Of course, in essence, the A.M. system is mostly the same. Many cases still are as primitive, only superficially refined or redefined.

I should explain, the A.M. system is the Arranged Marriage system, whereas the P.M. system is the Precipitated Marriage system. The cases which stay clear of marriages are of course differently nomenclatured. They may be classified as LT1 and LT2 – Living Together and Lying Together respectively.

The entire ritual lasts for 36 hours, the whole ceremony lasts for 72. Beginning from the early morning fire-worshipping to the last bit where they are pronounced bride and groom is a period of 24 to 36 hours. After that it’s very social. The reception is where the groom’s side throws a party and receives gifts from people. The number of people treated can be anything from 10 to 10,00,000 or more.

When I got married I was trying to kind of interfere. It was after all my marriage. But I was summarily told that I had nothing to do with the whole thing. As a matter of fact I have a creeping doubt other than being the butt of all entertainment I was not even required. Even the smartest man becomes somewhat dazed when he is in two things – striped underwear and topor.

It was thoroughly impressed upon me that such a system is more about the family, the extended one, than any individual. I could not argue with such community communication. So I sat back and enjoyed. I did it all, incantations and everything. At the end of the day it was fun. One of the advantages of being the groom in a household where there are many able bodied people is that you don’t have to do a thing. And that is a rare privilege. After all, we ended up with each other, and in the process the whole family – uncles and aunts, grand-relatives, all my friends and colleagues, neighbours – got together and had a lot of fun. Some money was spent, but I would say it was well spent. The amount never matters, but the value you get for it is all.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sucharita Sarkar had tagged me.



Right now I am reading a play called Noises Off by Michael Frayn.



Here are the 6-7-8th lines from page 123:

Garry starts downstairs to
attack
Frederick. But he is
still hobbled and in any case . . .




It is farce within a farce. As a play it is excellent, but I must mention that it is a bit of a difficult read. Primarily because it is not meant for reading but for performance. But that is a problem with all plays (not Shavian ones since he kept the reader as well the viewer in mind). The play within the play, the same character playing another one in the play within the play becomes a bit confusing at times. I am sure you understand that from my sentence. The lines are from a bit of stage direction. I would ask all those who are truly interested in theatre to read it, but for the uninitiated the movie (starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve et al) is a much more enjoyable bet.



I am tagging, for my severe friendly-blogger crisis, the following. Please excuse me if this is the umpteenth tag that you have had.



Peter Rozovsky

Jyotsana

Mystic Margarita

Sayani

Arindam



Thanks guys. If there are any play-readers around, it sure would be nice to know them.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Wisdom Channeled

Yester-evening I had my sort of radio debut. Not that I am looking at or even dreaming of a professional career in sound business (is radio a part of show business? they show nothing!), it was just a request from a friend and colleague and curiosity on my part. Dr Sk Makbul Islam was to talk about his research on the comparative study of the Gita and the Koran (I have a translation which spells the text as Qu'ran), he needed someone to interview him, and for some reason he thought I would be good as that someone. I accepted without batting or bowling an eyelid. I have been to an FM studio before, Radio Mirchi, where a friend of mine worked. But to actually sit in the biggish air-conditioned, sound+echo-proofed studio with those big head-phones on your head, and speaking to a live audience, that was something. New experiences are always welcome.

This studio was different. Gyan Vani (Words of Wisdom) is an academic network. Its office is homely, in a residential locality and the people are nothing like the fast-talking jockeys that I had met in the other place. There was a gentle and calm young man, and a quiet and efficient young lady who were dealing with the technical stuff and making the occasional announcements. Patiently the gentle-man explained everything to us, both of us being new to the radio business.

Well, apart from a slight blooper from me at the beginning, everything went rather well. It was a live phone-in programme. Apparently this station is quite a favourite with many. The programme was of a nature that drew much enthusiasm and interest. After about 10 minutes into the programme (it was a 50 minute slot without break) phone calls rained in. Yesterday many parts of the city were under water, and we were flooded with phone calls. Some callers expressed gratitude, some had queries, and others wanted to share their take on the matter. Some people were precise. Some were regular chatterboxes. But overall it was an enjoyable experience. And the main speaker of the night, Dr Islam, was very capable.

His topic, the comparative study of Gita and Koran, is in itself fascinating. One of the reasons of it being fascinating for me is that I know nothing about either – but then how many do? It is all the more fascinating because these two religions are at each other all the time, and not with friendly garlands. The more we talk about harmony, the more we grow accustomed to the discord. Some surprising reactions came from the younger audience. One young man asked how religion can be made more popular, another expressed anguish that the present young generation is moving away from religion. A lady who studies Micro-Biology in our College wanted to expound how religion is undermined by science and why it should not be so. I am not a religious-minded person. For me the word ‘religion’ represents a structured institution which always has vested interests. I am not that sure about faith either. I am kind of a part-time faithful, believing only when there is a crisis, even then not very sure what I am believing in. But the idea of a supreme spirit attracts me. It is as much Wordsworth as Vivekananda I guess. This fascination with religious texts presents to me anthropological interests, nothing more. But if one wants to believe, no one has the right to disturb.

What was great about Dr Islam’s presentation (he is also called Ananda, Ananda-da to me because he is older; also, despite being a Muslim he is a disciple of the Hindu Sage Anukul Thakur) was that he pointed out that both the texts talk about lifestyles, none of them contain anything about intolerance. The moot point was that it is necessary to understand / realize, and not to blindly follow. I guess the major problem now is not religion, nor religious texts. But how they are misrepresented and misconceived. How they are politically manipulated. Dr Islam said that both texts speak to mankind; the Gita never says that its shlokas are for Hindus, the Koran never says that its wisdom is for Muslims only. Both speak to all humanity.

If only humanity spoke to each other!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Struck Again

Calvin was asked by his teacher “What state do we live in?” He did not know. So he just said “Denial.” The teacher could say nothing.

Whenever we calculate leave for the upcoming year, we crack the same joke. We can count on three extra holidays, because the political parties would be calling at least three “Bandhs” every year. The S word which ends with “trike” was illegitimised. But what it denoted is perfectly allowed. Such is the system in our great country. The number of Bandhs used to be one, one day of great fun playing cricket and standing in the middle of the usually killing Barrackpore Trunk Road; but since no party is number one right now (at least on a National basis) we have a coalition system of protest as well. Here in the East, in a state called West B, we have become habituated to this regular thing called a holiday if you have no money to lose, called a work-busting day if you have some money to lose, and a life-losing day if you are either dependant on daily wages or are sick. Of course, we have many such religious/ political / religio-political occasions over the year, but these days are hard to digest because of their motivation. Having said that, one may question this motivation. Political muscle-flexing is a good motive. Making a show out of an issue which is already settled is another motive. Envy, or competition is a much more idiotic motive. The first Bandh is to be followed by a second the very next day! And the second day’s action is a direct and opposite reaction of today’s tools-down. Only the result will be somewhat similar.

What has happened with all these stoppages, is that we are slowly forgetting to move forward. If you have any experience of the private bus system in Kolkata then you know what I am talking about. They stop everywhere. But the moment they see a competitor they become machines of destruction. They do not even bother to let passengers get off. If you object, anything can happen. If the operators are in their best of moods (the safe way of intercourse) then you get only a handful of learned descriptive socially explosive expletive appellations. If the conductor-helper-driver trinity is angry then you might even be pushed out of the moving vehicle! Such is the wrath of the street-gods. Similar things are happening in the state (development-wise) as well. After many stoppages there seems to be a sudden change of gear taking all by general surprise and some by nasty ones. And if you have anything to say, then be prepared to be shoved off. Even a couple of bullets may answer your query. Intercourse, sorry, talks or discussions are no longer fasionable.

The first bandh by the ruling party was favoured by the gods. It rained very hard all morning, so even if it was a normal day, the waiting-to-be-piped and dug and water-logged roads would have ensured low turnouts everywhere. The second one will have the entire management and political machinery against it – in such situations non-violence is unexpected. This fear becomes the perfect excuse for immobility. The holiday mood is creeping over, and once this inertia takes firm root, any kind of progress will become difficult.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Traveling Blues

I have recently left the area I stayed in for the last 30 years. I have shifted to a place which is about 10 minutes from my old locality. I have many very close friends with whom I am in constant touch. Today on my way to work I saw one of them also on his way to work. This friend of mine is very trend-conscious. He wears the latest Ray-Ban or Sen-Ban or Ghatak-Ban or such companies I have never heard of. He wears branded clothing, cheap but chic footwear. His watches, his handkerchief, his cologne are all carefully chosen. As expected I, rather gladly, tried to attract his attention. He was in the rear of the bus, and I was towards the front. This long distance communication failed like old trunk-call connections. I even tried calling him on his mobile, but apparently it was switched off. The net profit was that I had become quite a point of interest for the other passengers who were fascinated by my various gesticulations. Bus journeys are boring, anything with the slightest entertainment value becomes of immense merit. This situation was full of potential. Why I was so summarily ignored was a matter of great consideration. Someone even consoled me with bits of idiotic philosophy. I am just grateful that he was a he and not a she!

Later today I gave him a call. Not in the chattiest, old-friendly, full-of-bonhomie manner – but in a somewhat upset one. He was unapologetic. He told me that whenever he boards a bus, he puts on his sunglasses, puts his ear-phones in their rightful places, starts music, closes his eyes and withdraws like a saint in a deep bit of meditation. His mobile-phone plays 40 odd minutes (in which time he unravels one mystery of the universe each day I guess) of music, mostly the Blues, and unless traffic is unusually disjointed, often by the Reds, he reaches 5 minutes after the final musical bit stops. These 5 minutes are his safety period. He has overshot a couple of times because his bus had had formula one drivers on those particular days. He puts his mobile on the music-player mode and does not take any calls during the period! He plainly told me that he does not believe in wasting time, and this really is the only window he has for enjoying music. I could say nothing to such sanctity / insight.

Personally I am a person who likes windows. The window seat in a bus is the ultimate bit of temptation whenever I am on a bus. Consciously I tell myself that it does not really matter, the journey would be over in a matter of minutes. But deep inside I crave that window seat like a child. Not that the other seats are any different. A seat is a matter of much discord. People find all sorts of individuals’ rights and human rights and right and wrong in general in such issues. These discussions invariably end with a lambasting of the condition of the country. These discussions are invariably forgotten within 5 minutes of leaving the bus.

What I was wondering about was his claim of utilizing time. No one can question the value of music, or the necessity of it in one’s life. Though I know fantastic people who are not that habituated to music – such exceptional quality is a mark of genius. But this withdrawal into one’s self makes me uncomfortable. As I said, bus journeys are boring. But it is one of the fewest, growing fewer, times when people get to meet people. When I say people, I mean people I/we do not know. It is very important to be in touch. These people actually denote life. If you are not connecting with your environment, if you are increasingly moving within, then you are losing a large portion of life’s experiences. A window seat lets you see without, the rest is the inside, and even the greatest bits of daydreams or worries can take you completely away.

Day by day things are being invented which are alienating people. Technology has taken this role as if it is a mission. Chatting, e-mails, blogs and stuff are cold connections. Words on a screen. Even video chatting is digital. Let me clarify – I am not against it. As a matter of fact I am one of the fascinated believers in the tech-no-logic. But they should remain supplementary; they should not become the foremost social interaction. As it is urban life is selfish. Lack of green, lack of friends, lack of siblings, lack of family – all are contributing to this isolation effect. When someone pushes you or tramples your foot in the bus/train/plane/boat/van or whichever regular mode of transport you take, cherish that, cherish the fight, it proves that we are alive. All the stupid arguments show the face of the country, the face of its 95%. Of course if you don’t want to know it that is a whole different question. That is a choice we all have.

But those People, who move around in cars with air-conditioning and tinted windows (often accompanied by other flashy and flashing all-importance-claiming cars), move away from the streets. They move away from the nation.

Friday, May 30, 2008

What’s wrong with people?

Today I saw the new Indiana Jones movie. Frankly speaking I am disappointed. Of course, my expectations were high. Well, you have every right to expect good things from the Spielberg-Lucas-Ford combination. They have worked before. But it seems that not all formulae are fool-proof. Watching the movie I had the same impression I have been having with quite a few movies these days. The days of good old-fashioned stunts are gone. All we have are bunches of (seamless) special effects. CGI has taken over. Yes, now effects are mind-blowing, film-makers are being able to what no one ever had imagined. But there seems to have begun a competition of fantasy. Each and every film must out-do some other in terms of sheer action. The end result is, my opinion strictly, instead of superhuman (but human nevertheless) heroes and heroines, now we have inhuman (cold, softwarish) images. With that comes a host of other problems. The old Indy movies were irreverent, funny, mysterious and above all intelligent. Spectacle without a strong plot is – even Aristotle knew – something of a disaster.

I am a big fan of the old Star Wars movies. They are sci-fi, they are a fairy-tale shifted to stars. They are full of effects. But they are warm, human. When a stunt-(wo)man is doing something, even with all the illusion, all the effects, all the precautions, it has a faint touch of reality. One can somehow associate/aspire to that. But when it is a cold computer image doing the impossible it ceases to have a soul (could not think of a better word at the moment, with due apologies to Mr Asimov). Star Wars Episode III made me sick, because 90% of the film was digital. When I saw the new Superman I was duly impressed. But when I compare it to the old one (Christopher Reeve proved that he was in life a superman) I miss the wow factor. Playing the role of old Clarke Kent was tough. They had to hang the actors with wires and do all sorts of things to them. Now a blue screen is more or less is gone. Where is the credit? Pretty soon CGI would take place of actors – forgive me, if you have seen Final Fantasy then you know they already have started to do so.

I know I am old-fashioned. Give me a romance like Casablanca any day, or give me an action-thriller like Dirty Harry, even give me a sci-fi like Outland – but give me men and women. It does not have to be mushy (or pissy) human interest story. It can be trash (the latest Die Hard struck a good balance), it can be anything. But it should have the digital as a tool, not as the USP. Thank God Indian cinema are still tech-wise a little backward. Good old Akshay Kumar (why does he steal Thums Up bottles? I thought he had a good career and was earning enough!) can jump to his heart’s content. Fans like me can actually be impressed. Incidentally, a 70 year old Harrison Ford did some stuff which, at half his age, I would be hard-pressed to do!

Bit of a spoiler so don’t read on if you are planning to watch Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – but I think it is high time that Lucas and Spielberg grow out of their obsession with those typical Lucas+Spielberg alien types. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was boring enough. E.T. was cool. Even War of the Worlds impressed more than the other disaster movies. But even there the digital rules. Christopher Nolan thankfully has the right idea. He uses CGI only when required. In his Batman Begins he actually tied a Stunt Man to the top of a building. See Ironman – Robert Downey Jr takes the whole thing to a different level. He takes nothing very seriously, not even being Ironman. That touch was there in Ford. The casual swagger, the weakness for the hat, sometimes a bit of overconfidence – here he is not given that chance. Neither is Cate Blanchett. She is probably the saving grace of the movie. But she has no counterpoint. The only point of interest could have been Henry Jones Junior Junior. In this respect Superman Returns scores better. But that is the trend now. Preparing the path for the next generation. Nothing wrong with that. But it should be done properly. It should be done entertainingly.

There is nothing wrong with people, and with people-like qualities. A human touch is always welcome. The digital should not replace the human.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Those Who Do

I don’t know her name. I have met her quite a few times, but I have never asked! There are places where you can’t really socialize beyond a point. Since the owner of the Press calls her Madam, I call her Madam too. She calls me Sir. Such mutual polite political correctness is quite rare in these days. How old is she? Around 40 would be my guess. She is small, unimpressive, not exactly a brilliant typist. But she is special.

I was working on some journal or the other. This particular Press is famous for its product quality, honesty, and unbelievable prices. The one single problem is that it is short of space, it is a two-seater, hence short of staff. So whenever there is a deadline, it becomes the client’s privilege to do much of the work in the Press sitting alongside our friend the owner or if before 5 p.m. alongside this lady. It was one such occasion.

It is difficult not to talk especially if you are sitting two feet away from another person for an hour or so. She casually said that she will leave early. I nodded. Not my problem – that probably was my reaction. I was deeply pressed for time. A lot was to be done. After an interval she told me that she has to go home early because she has brought a small one home. Very unsure of what she meant I managed to look interested. Words in such situations are more of an embarrassment than help. I have Mr. Pinter to thank for this little bit of insight. I think she was looking for approval, perhaps even applause. I don’t blame her. What she had done was worth it. Encouraged by my fascinated face she told me that she had named the child something. So it was a child. Now my problem was what “brought a child home” meant! Was it her’s or was it brought? She answered me without being questioned.

Apparently the child was born of a woman of very low financial stature. Her husband had died after she had conceived and was in a period when abortion is not advisable. She had no standing of any kind, and did not know what to do. It was not a difficult choice for Madam. She went there and legally adopted the baby. No hesitation. Not that she was in a much more comfortable position moneywise. What was even more surprising was her mother-in-law’s out and out support. Apparently she had said that their blood was of no royal stock, so who cares if the baby is born of her son or of her daughter-in-law! There were some more pearls of wisdom, in the nature of fraternity of mankind, but they are the ones you would expect. Madam frankly told me that they might have been able to afford treatment; her problem was not so great. But why waste so much money! That money will now come in handy, the baby can now be properly educated.

How many people spend how much money on similar problems? I am not for once saying that they should not. Motherhood is a right that I firmly believe in. Fatherhood, of course, is a whole different affair. As a wise friend often says that children may or may not be Mama’s Babies, but they are always Papa’s Maybes! I have a very good friend (and a very good writer) to thank for this bit of angst.

I actually did not know what to say to Madam. This left me silent. I suppose this is how we learn everyday, from every surprising corner.

No morals. Just life.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Kyunki Cricket Bhi Kabhi Sports Tha
or
Because Cricket was Once a Sport

The soapy situation of a crooked sister-in-law or a vicious mother-in-law slapping the (proto?)typical daughter-in-law might reflect a not-so-bloated social state, but it never has had anything to do with cricket. Cricket has always been hailed as the game of the gentleman. But recent trends, of course, show otherwise. Not only in the non-gendered way. Aunts weren't gentlemen, but cricketers were! It has become a game of violence, even worse, it has become an Indian reality show.

Once upon a time there was a sport called Professional Wrestling. Not only the WWF or TNA or such stuff, history says that even India had its ‘pro’ version. Anyone who has seen the modern version of this so-called sport with eyes open would know how unreal the entire thing is. It has become the great American show, with ‘show-men’ and ‘show-women’. It is all about spectacle, skin, sex and violence, emotion and words – not much time or skill left for wrestling, is there? I must apologize here. Wrestling is very much there, even if it is just an excuse to do all the other things and bring in the money. There are peculiar and apparently death-giving blows exchanged. Reaction-time for these fellows is remarkably slow as the whole thing depends a lot on live audience. Why take the unnecessary 'replay' hazards when the performers can slow down a bit for the spectators’ advantage!

My question was what was/is wrong with cricket itself? Wasn’t tickets selling, wasn’t media rights being viciously fought over? Why is it that in order to draw the crowd there has to be busty cleavages? Excuse me, thanks to morally conscious ministers, you get to see only lusty hippages – sorry, hip-shakings or should I say hip-hoppings (I still think busty cleavages and lusty hippages go rather well together). Not that I have anything against such entertainment. Freedom of (s)expression and stuff has always been my favourite cause.

Shah Rukh Khan said that he wanted to give the crowd the multiplex experience. If you want the multiplex experience go to the multiple multiplexes there are, why come to the cricket ground! People who are entertained by such things can have such things elsewhere. They can have celluloid versions of teasing dance ‘item’ numbers. Nobody seems to be bothered by them, but the culture-vultures will take up arms whenever there is a mini-skirt or tight t-shirt (perhaps with multiple windows) on a real live woman! In all the protests everywhere all the focus is on the cheer-leaders, nobody is bothered about the game. Strangely enough, this is one occasion where a section of the crowd needs the cheerers, not the game!

It is not as if the game was money-starved. Cricket is the richest game in India. There are so many economically and politically (never sportingly) lesser games which could have used the extra attention and would have been enriched financially and popularity-wise. But money draws money, and money also draws some other creatures too. We all know the golden rule – he who has the gold rules. Manoj Kumar had sung (rather lip-sync-ed) about how his country soil is a giver of gold. His agricultural idea has been taken up by the current minister. He of course is not interested in the soil, only in the gold.

The advertisements for the Kolkata Knight Riders are the slickest. They are also the sickest. They show no respect for the game, no respect to the ideals of sportsperson spirit. Aggression added to vulgar boorishness with a handsome sprinkling of money is the ingredient for destruction of all things civilized. These ads promise exactly that. Sense of humour is one thing, being cool is another, but being abusively distasteful is completely beyond boundaries. However, the fact that advertisements do not promote performance, thankfully, is proved!

When I saw a certain Southern Bowler playing for a Northern city crying in the field, all I could say was Change the Channel please. Thank God for remote controls!
 
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