10 December 2007
Ten years ago, 'What must I do?' was a question that had very definite answers, or at least that's what I was conditioned to believe. No such illusions today. In fact, 'What's the point of it all?' is a question that am quite fed up of, frankly. I have thought about it ever since I remember beginning to think.
It really doesn't matter what you do: time passes. You could have children, or maybe you could trade on the stock market. You could write books, or you could renounce the world, if there's anything called the world and if you could indeed renounce it.
I feel old today. No, it's not pessimism. (You cant be pessimistic or optimistic about life.
Well, life's life and there's not much you can do about it.) It's just a slow weariness. An intense desire for nothing. It's like wanting to sit on the sea shore. Am open to all that the sea brings me. But I will not move. The sea must come to me, and bring what it will. I have no desire to go to the sea, nor do I want to go away from it. I want to 'not be'. They call it 'zeroising' in bank jargon.
Another night is coming on. And all I want to ask you is, 'Can I hold you tonight?'
10 November 2007
2. If you can, get a copy of tomorrow's Dainik Statesman. The lead story presents the number of people killed during the last 30 years of Left rule: 55,000. And this is according to police records.
3. I think we must institute some sort of an award for fearless reporting and give it to Tara News for being the bravest news channel of India and all its Medinipur and Nandigram correspondents for being as intrepid as they have proved themselves to be. Truly, hats off to them. They smuggle cameras to conflict areas and send footages god knows how.
4. Gopalakrishna Gandhi. Yes, you are the last hope we have. Please take the one step you have been mulling about since the last couple of days. It's time you made the anarchy of this state official.
5. Oh, do remember to keep those apolitical candle light vigils going. As long as you light a candle and strike a pose, it doesnt matter what you do on election day. The movie buff bhadralok at Nandan was miffed because the film fest was disrupted by the Trinamul party. The bhadralok said on TV that though he was very sorry about what was happening in Nandigram, the film fest shouldnt have been disrupted, because the two things were 'different' and 'not connected'. The CPI-M owes a lot to people like him. I wonder what the bhadralok has to say about Mahasweta Devi's vocal presence in any protest relating to Singur and Nandigram. What could a novelist have anything to do with politics, he might wonder.
6. Bengal's fate in the recent past (that is, since the beginning of coalition politics) has been closely linked to the politics at the Centre. Tomorrow the Left and Manmohan Singh meet, ostentatiously for the nuclear deal. And Bengal's politics can go to hell, once again.
03 November 2007
When I first joined the classes, I was about 12; my voice was good, but raw... unused to modulations, to 'bhaava'. Mrs Sampath told us to practise at home at least once a week. Prashanti, the little brat and my music classmate, and I would 'practise' all the way from my house to Mrs Sampath's, a distance of about 15 mins. But the good thing about us was when we began to sing in class, we poured our heart out. And Mrs Sampath would be impressed, and would say, "So, you have practised."
But Mrs Sampath was no fool: soon, she told us that our voices were good and we sang well, but we had no bhaava. Now, what is bhaava, I remember thinking. And then she sang the same kruti that we had just sung, and I began to listen. I heard many sounds in her voice, many ups and downs, many twists and turns, many a thing that made me close my eyes and rock my head. (That's among the many similarities music has with the process of an orgasm: you cant stand or for that matter lay still when you are experiencing either.) And I knew I didnt produce these sounds; at least not then.
So, I began to practise. Not much, maybe an hour or two a day. I also began to listen to more music. One day at class, after I finished singing a pancharatna kriti, Mrs Sampath looked hard at me, as if trying to search for something, and then gave an approving nod of her head. The beginnings of musical insight - that's what she was looking for in me, and she said she found them.
Mrs Sampath was a perfectionist. Weeks used to go by with me stuck on a line. There was no going ahead unless she heard what she wanted to hear. It was excruciating for me because I could see where she was tweaking it a little, but to do that myself made me sweat. There was only one way to sing it the way she did: shut my eyes tight, map out her voice exactly in my mind, and imitate it. And, bingo! If you hear it right, you've got it. This was how I picked up Bengali, too. Works with language and music.
Must find a teacher here. Must practise, must sing, must breathe!
21 October 2007
(Image and video of the Bagbazar Puja by Lincoln. Thank yee)
Everyone's been about the whole town last night like there's not gonna be another puja. Even the people who sleep on the street are still tucked in in their makeshift beds at ten thirty in the morning. No one wants to wake up. Maybe if you kept on sleeping, the day wouldnt begin and night wouldnt come, and Ma didnt have to be sent away so soon. Well, we do try.
Maybe it's just my imagination, but I find Kolkata quite sad on Dashami mornings. People look wistfully at the pandals, sigh, and resign themselves to another year's wait.
Puja's a good time to introspect. Because, three days of holidays can get a little too much for just going out, sleeping, hogging, etc. So, by Navami or dashami day when I did start to think (yeah, have learnt to stop thinking nowadays. No, not meditate, just stop all thought processes until further notice), I thought of my three pujas in Kolkata, and what has happened in between.
I looked around with wide-eyed wonder the first time round. I was working with a newspaper but had already given notice. Kolkata was still not home then. I was out on all the puja nights and days. Was fascinated most by the dhaak and surprised that the kaamini/chaatim (not sure about the right name. Have got two names for this flower from two different sources.) flower bloomed just in time for the puja. It's like Ma made sure her brand of city freshener was in place before her visit.
A couple of months after the pujas, I took, what many would term, a big career leap. From gigantic mainstream to little-known but purposeful small-time. I've been doin the same thing for about two years now, with a brief gap. (It's been good, but more about my salaried work in another post.)
But the most important thing that's happened/happening personally is developing the guts to take risk. Financial ones, that is. Sometime this year I realised that if I must work my ass off, I'd be better off doin it for myself, ahem, I mean working for myself. Actually, am not really on my own, but working with Linc in his business.
It was one of the most mulled-over decisions in my life, considering that most life-defining ones have been taken in a matter of a few seconds. But I am beginning to think it's perhaps the best decision work satisfaction-wise.
Of course, this has meant a huge cut in salary plus uncertainties that tag along with any business. It has also meant a lot of belief in my self, patience, number-crunching, and daring to dream, oh, what dreams. Also, I love it.
By next Puja, I should have lots more to report. And hopefully, Ma Durga willing, lots of blogging will happen.
16 October 2007
11 October 2007
I wondered whether it was calm or Silence, the Deafening type.
Just before I joined journalism college five years ago, the Left had won the state elections. And Frontline magazine had attributed the victory to, what else, land reforms. It struck me as weird.
However great or dismal an achievement or event may be, how could it continue to be the trump card 30 years later? Had nothing changed in 30 years in Bengal? What about people who were born 10 years after the land reforms? They would be around 20 now... was there no difference between their and their parents' aspirations? How could Bengal be so different from what was happening everywhere else in the country?
Last year, the Left won again. There was jubilation in my office. I couldnt understand that. Didnt the very fact that one party continued to rule for 30 years in a democratic set-up strike you as somewhat odd? To this question too, I got the same answer: land reforms. And someone also told me: probity in public life.
Let's not talk about the Left and its land reforms. There is only so much their frayed nerves can take. Probity in public life: well, it's all over the papers now. Dont know if national television has picked it up yet (I have stopped watching news on TV; bollywood is better.).
Rizwan-ur Rehman's death is the latest squeak from behind the wall of Silence. No, it's not limited to religion, money and status. It's got everything to do with the state of things in Bengal. The suspect cops have not even been suspended, let alone their being ever punished. Right from Buddha babu to the cops, everyone knows that if they sit mum and sit tight through, say, a month more, it will be business as usual.
They also know that the people who staged a candle light protest against Rehman's death will not see the connection between things.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?
11 September 2007
03 September 2007
I almost fell of my seat. Was this guy a facereader or something? A tantrik, perhaps? I could only muster a "huh?"
"Ke u tram e uthe shonge shonge taka bar kore na ki! (Does anyone get on a tram and immediately pay the fare!)"
In my three years of living in Kolkata, I fooled each person I met into believing am a Bong, thanks to the Bangla I picked up. But, then, the tramwala had insight. And I hadnt, thank God, absorbed the many push-shove-grab ways of the Kolkatan.
Kolkatans avoid paying the fare till the last moment. Best would be to pay it just before getting off. It's as if they are unwilling to let go of the warmth of the coins for that extra moment.
The queues are not linear here; they are semi-circular. When a person reaches the head of a queue, the 3-4 people behind him will quickly cluster around and lean on him.
People cross the street after making sure the signal is green. After all, they have that hand raised up, you see, that will ward off all evil, even a ten-ton truck.
Yesterday, I'd been to Shyambazar to buy new clothes for the thakur. My ferocious bargaining had to come to an end, thanks to a six-year-old. I just watched with my mouth open and meekly made way as he pushed and shoved and led his mother to the stall.
The tramwala would be proud of him.
04 August 2007
Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University
By Subroto Roy
Dear Professor Sen,
Everyone will be delighted that someone of your worldwide stature has joined the debate on Singur and Nandigram; The Telegraph deserves congratulations for having made it possible on July 23.
I was sorry to find though that you may have missed the wood for the trees and also some of the trees themselves. Perhaps you have relied on Government statements for the facts. But the Government party in West Bengal represents official Indian communism and has been in power for 30 years at a stretch. It may be unwise to take at face-value what they say about their own deeds on this very grave issue! Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and there are many candid communists who privately recognise this dismal truth about themselves. To say this is not to be praising those whom you call the “Opposition” ~ after all, Bengal’s politics has seen emasculation of the Congress as an opposition because the Congress and communists are allies in Delhi. It is the Government party that must reform itself from within sua sponte for the good of everyone in the State.
The comparisons and mentions of history you have made seem to me surprising. Bengal’s economy now or in the past has little or nothing similar to the economy of Northern England or the whole of England or Britain itself, and certainly Indian agriculture has little to do with agriculture in the new lands of Australia or North America. British economic history was marked by rapid technological innovations in manufacturing and rapid development of social and political institutions in context of being a major naval, maritime and mercantile power for centuries. Britain’s geography and history hardly ever permitted it to be an agricultural country of any importance whereas Bengal, to the contrary, has been among the most agriculturally fertile and hence densely populated regions of the world for millennia.
Om Prakash’s brilliant pioneering book The Dutch East India Company and the Economy of Bengal 1630-1720 (Princeton 1985) records all this clearly. He reports the French traveller François Bernier saying in the 1660s “Bengal abounds with every necessary of life”, and a century before him the Italian traveller Verthema saying Bengal “abounds more in grain, flesh of every kind, in great quantity of sugar, also of ginger, and of great abundance of cotton, than any country in the world”. Om Prakash says “The premier industry in the region was the textile industry comprising manufacture from cotton, silk and mixed yarns”. Bengal’s major exports were foodstuffs, textiles, raw silk, opium, sugar and saltpetre; imports notably included metals (as Montesquieu had said would always be the case).
Bengal did, as you say, have industries at the time the Europeans came but you have failed to mention these were mostly “agro-based” and, if anything, a clear indicator of our agricultural fecundity and comparative advantage. If “deindustrialization” occurred in 19th Century India, that had nothing to do with the “deindustrialization” in West Bengal from the 1960s onwards due to the influence of official communism.
You remind us Fa Hiaen left from Tamralipta which is modern day Tamluk, though he went not to China but to Ceylon. You suggest that because he did so Tamluk effectively “was greater Calcutta”. I cannot see how this can be said of the 5th Century AD when no notion of Calcutta existed. Besides, modern Tamluk at 22º18’N, 87º56’E is more than 50 miles inland from the ancient port due to land-making that has occurred at the mouth of the Hooghly. I am afraid the relevance of the mention of Fa Hiaen to today’s Singur and Nandigram has thus escaped me.
You say “In countries like Australia, the US or Canada where agriculture has prospered, only a very tiny population is involved in agriculture. Most people move out to industry. Industry has to be convenient, has to be absorbing”. Last January, a national daily published a similar view: “For India to become a developed country, the area under agriculture has to shrink, urban and industrial land development has to take place, and about 100 million workers have to move out from agriculture into industry and services. This is the only way forward for bringing prosperity to the rural population”.
Rice is indeed grown in Arkansas or Texas as it is in Bengal but there is a world of difference between the technological and geographical situation here and that in the vast, sparsely populated New World areas with mechanized farming! Like shoe-making or a hundred other crafts, agriculture can be capital-intensive or labour-intensive ~ ours is relatively labour-intensive, theirs is relatively capital-intensive. Our economy is relatively labour-abundant and capital-scarce; their economies are relatively labour-scarce and capital-abundant (and also land-abundant). Indeed, if anything, the apt comparison is with China, and you doubtless know of the horror stories and civil war conditions erupting across China in recent years as the Communist Party and their businessman friends forcibly take over the land of peasants and agricultural workers, e.g. in Dongzhou.
All plans of long-distance social engineering to “move out” 40 per cent of India’s population (at 4 persons per “worker”) from the rural hinterlands must also face FA Hayek’s fundamental question in The Road to Serfdom: “Who plans whom, who directs whom, who assigns to other people their station in life, and who is to have his due allotted by others?”
Your late Harvard colleague, Robert Nozick, opened his brilliant 1974 book Anarchy, State and Utopia saying: “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)”. You have rightly deplored the violence seen at Singur and Nandigram. But you will agree it is a gross error to equate violence perpetrated by the Government which is supposed to be protecting all people regardless of political affiliation, and the self-defence of poor unorganised peasants seeking to protect their meagre lands and livelihoods from state-sponsored pogroms. Kitchen utensils, pitchforks or rural implements and flintlock guns can hardly match the organised firepower controlled by a modern Government.
Fortunately, India is not China and the press, media and civil institutions are not totally in the hands of the ruling party alone. In China, no amount of hue and cry among the peasants could save them from the power of organised big business and the Communist Party. In India, a handful of brave women have managed to single-handedly organise mass movements of protest which the press and media have then broadcast that has shocked the whole nation to its senses.
You rightly say the land pricing process has been faulty. Irrelevant historical prices have been averaged when the sum of discounted expected future values in an inflationary economy should have been used. Matters are even worse. “The fear of famine can itself cause famine. The people of Bengal are afraid of a famine. It was repeatedly charged that the famine (of 1943) was man-made.” That is what T. W. Schultz said in 1946 in the India Famine Emergency Committee led by Pearl Buck, concerned that the 1943 Bengal famine should not be repeated following dislocations after World War II. Of course since that time our agriculture has undergone a Green Revolution, at least in wheat if not in rice, and a White Revolution in milk and many other agricultural products. But catastrophic collapses in agricultural incentives may still occur as functioning farmland comes to be taken by government and industry from India’s peasantry using force, fraud or even means nominally sanctioned by law. If new famines come to be provoked because farmers’ incentives collapse, let future historians know where responsibility lay.
West Bengal’s real economic problems have to do with its dismal macroeconomic and fiscal position which is what Government economists should be addressing candidly. As for land, the Government’s first task remains improving grossly inadequate systems of land-description and definition, as well as the implementation and recording of property rights.
With my most respectful personal regards, I remain
(The author is Contributing Editor, The Statesman)
28 July 2007
22 July 2007
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09 May 2007
According to a new proposal to save tigers, its better to commercially farm them, because we havent been able to stop illegal poaching so far. God!! What's with this urge to domesticate, to use, to consume?! Tigers are not an essential commodity, I thought. Maybe am wrong. Somehow, I found this proposal very weird.
Public hearing for Posco project in Orissa inconclusive
The agitators received a boost with leaders of Orissa Gana Parishad, cpi, cpi(m) and the Janata Dal (s) submitting a memorandum to the prime minister demanding shifting of the project. “Let the project be shifted to barren stretches instead of fertile agricultural land,” the memorandum said.
Now, really? Look who's talking!
What do we get after drowning all those villages and evacuating thousands of people? A water supply sytem which is so unviable, no one wants it.
05 May 2007
Ebenezer, the protagonist, is a second-generation converted Christian. Pre-conversion, his family belonged to a backward caste, and was regarded untouchable. The conversion doesn’t change their social status much.
But what Ebenezer is bothered about is securing admission into a top engineering college. A couple of months before his exams, he is injured and his mother and sister killed in a caste riot, and he is unable to take the exams. His classmates go their ways, some making it to the top institutes, some not.
Ebenezer eventually fails to get into any of the top or even middle-rank engineering institutes, and enrols for a diploma in a course-vending firm, where he meets Gayatri, the daughter of a rich Hindu rightist. They later end up working together in Mumbai, and falling in love. There is the predictable uproar by Gayatri’s family, and they gradually wean her away.
Desperate to get Gayatri back, Ebenezer converts to Hinduism on an impulse. That seals his love affair, because Gayatri had always wanted him ‘just as he was.’ The Global Evangelical Church, to which his family owes allegiance, is eager to get him back, though. But Ebenezer has had enough with religion. That, now, is the summary of the story.
I came away from the book untouched, unmoved, except for the last couple of pages. Many reasons for this:
i) Too many characters, too little characterisation: People keep coming in through various stages of the book and disappearing just as fast. The story would have lost nothing if some characters weren’t there at all. Like Ebenezer’s numerous friends. Or his teachers. What happens is we end up with too many loose ends. Halfway through the book, I stopped raising eyebrows when the next character popped in and out.
Also, I hardly get to know the characters intimately, even the main ones, barring Ebenezer perhaps. What do I know about Gayatri, except that she’s Ebenezer’s lady love and is the daughter of a wealthy Hindu upper class man? How does she look like? What was their love affair like? Passionate? Platonic? Did they get to create a lot of memories together? Well, I don’t know.
ii) Imbalanced plot: Much time is spent on describing how Ebenezer and his friends are gearing up for the exams, what their dreams are, etc. Now, really, in middle-class India, don’t we know all this? And even if someone didn’t, I think the initial chapters needed some pace.
The initial chapters are filled with such detail that the lack of it in the later ones shows.
iii) Distractions: I agree it’s tempting to narrate all the stories you know. And, Vinod realizes that each of us has one. But frankly, unless you tie them all up, they are like sudden voices in the dark, which leave you unsure from which direction they came, or whether you heard them at all. Example: the death of Ebenezer’s colleague’s wife in the Gujarat riots. And the whole sub-plot about the NRI Gujarati family in UK. And various people’s rambling opinions on world events.
Though the Gujarati family was linked to Gayatri’s dad, did it help in the development of the plot? Using rich sub-plots can be great, but they need to be weaved into the story, else they stand out.
iv) Editing, or the lack of it: Did this book pass under the blue pencil at all? I don’t think so. Innumerable idiomatic, punctuation, and grammatical mistakes abound. Also, for God’s sake, why has a sans serif font been used? (Looks like Arial!!) It’s quite an effort for the eye to go through page after page of sans serif font. Use serif font when you have a lot of text - that’s the first lesson you learn in page layout.
v) Drama: Except towards the end of the story when Ebenezer converts to Hinduism, the story lacks in drama, the capacity to move, the capacity to touch. When Ebenezer’s mother and sister died, why didn’t I feel anything?
Hitchhiker does have a lot of dialogue, which is good. If some of the sub-plots were gotten rid of and some strengthened, the characters more rounded and given depth, and some technical things like editing taken care of, the story definitely has something going for it.
Vinod, thank you for sending the book, and am really sorry this took so long. Keep in touch.
27 April 2007
11 April 2007
At first glance, I thought this was something to do with the UP High Court's ruling on minorities. Must say plesantly surprised to know why Hindu priests want to boycott Uttar Pradesh polls. For whatever reason, save the river.
04 April 2007
They were about 7-8 men, all dressed in either semi-cotton or terycot shirts and trousers with their shirts hanging out, and seemed to be animatedly discussing something. And, as it happens, there were cross-conversations that were part of the bigger conversation. A man, perhaps the oldest in the group, was sitting down in the centre of the group on a stool borrowed from the street food vendors.
But I couldnt eavesdrop, I couldnt understand what they were talkin about. Theirs was a language which made no sound. Fingers danced about in the air angrily, and lips moved. But it was all silence to me.
Perhaps that's how it feels to be left out.
24 March 2007
I had wanted to post something a couple of days ago, but varied news about Nandigram has been pouring in, and has been quite depressing. I love Suman Kabir's daily talk show on current affairs on Tara Bangla. As a poet-singer, Suman is original, refreshing, and stays with you. But that's just part of the story. He's almost a cult figure here. He changed his name from Suman to Suman Kabir, so that he'd be neither Hindu nor Muslim. What I like about his show is his complete ease with the camera, perhaps because he's just being himself. His smiles are spontaneous. When something worries him, it shows. He's been doing a series of shows on Nandigram and related events. In one episode, a doctor, who went as part of a team to Nandigram, said there were about 400-500 people missing from the villages. He had many other gruesome things to tell. At the end of the show, Suman asked his viewers to not write to him, or to anyone in West Bengal, because it would be in vain.
14 March 2007
Unconfirmed reports say that around 10 people were killed and nearly 50 were injured in the clashes.
If nothing else, such crimes as were committed here today would have guaranteed the end of the road for the state government anywhere else in India.
13 March 2007
Also, today we come to know that TATA will pay back the Rs 150 crore, which the government spent on acquiring land in Singur, in 90 years. Neat.
Linc read these reports on the front pages of Bartaman, a leading Bangla daily. At home, we get two other newspapers: The Statesman and the Times of India. Though The Statesman carried today's bit, I think it missed the High Court story. TOI, of course, had no mention of either stories. And I assume the rest of the media, both Bangla and English, passed it over. I'd love to be corrected, though.
This is how the CPI-M has conducted business over the years. Remember, information is power?
06 March 2007
A Goan friend and I were once discussing this tendency of how certain kind of stories get billed as 'what people are interested in' and certain others are not. Like, for instance, most news from Goa that you have read would have something to do with tourism, film festival, etc. But what about the story that unfolds after the tourists have left? Goa has a huge waste disposal problem, thanks to all of us rushing there, and creating crap. But this is not a nice Goan story. So, let that be.
And I told my Goan friend how the most hard-hitting of Bengal's stories never get reported outside the state. It's an inverse logic here that news editors follow. Like, Singur, they said, was what happens in Bengal day in and day out. So, let's focus on emerging Bengal stories, eh? (The Telegraph, by the way, specialises in the emerging Bengal section.)
05 March 2007
I have often thought about what this article says. At workplaces, mothers are often considered less productive. This asumption, Naomi Klein points out in her book No Logo, obviously ignores the fact that humans need a womb to spring from. Reproduction has more than a personal value. All these people slogging away in offices, hospitals, factories, etc., were born to mothers who took time off or simply thought of nothing else. Might sound like a lot of obvious things being stated here, but then nowadays, I think it's better that way.
Because, for instance, isnt it common sense that your hi-flyin life comes to nothing if you dont have simple things like water. The way builders are filling up lakebeds, doesnt seem like it's very obvious any more.
27 February 2007
Ghosh keeps returning to coincidences: everyone you meet and everything that happens in his books will appear again and show more meaning. It gets quite tiring sometimes. His Calcutta Chromosome is choked with such coincidences, until your head spins.
Ba alias Win Ross, whom we met on our train journey to Hubli last month, mentioned the book and said Ghosh was a great writer. So, I took up the book again, and was quite disappointed. No insights whatever.
Oh, by the way, Ba was quite a find. Since he got on at Bhubaneswar at 7 in the morning, till we got off at Hubli next day at 12 noon, we talked and talked and talked. And he's got 5,000 books in his house in Madgaon!! At least now I should make that long put-off trip. Talking to him was like travelling the world.
Meanwhile, on Singur and land acquisition, the story continues to get funnier by the day. The CPI-M without Anil Biswas seems like too many cooks. Only hope they continue to be at it. We want the broth to spoil.
Was watching the rail budget coverage on some Hindi channels yesterday. I guess they were trying to entertain (sic! on a news channel?!), but it was downright stupid. Song and dance with Laloo and Rabdi look-alikes. As broadcast people fall over themselves trying to newstain, therein might lie some hope for print.