If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Tribute to an ordinary person from another

Conventionally, human beings are divided into three categories.

The first group consists of a small number who do important things and leave their footprints far beyond their immediate circle. In this group you find a wide variety, from captains of industries to scientists to sportspersons, from politicians to practitioners of performing arts.

To the second group belong “successful” people: surgeons who earn lakhs before their breakfast, always-busy men and women who run governments and big companies, or lawyers who can turn a saint into sinner if they choose, but mostly earn their millions by turning sinners into saints. You can easily identify these people by the size of their cars and other trappings of success, as we commonly understand the term.

In the third group are we, the common people, variously called the masses, the hoi polloi, the aam aadmi, and so on. This morning, I am going to write about one of them. And as I begin to write, the question that agitates my mind is: Was he really ordinary?

An uncle of mine, Jappu Mama passed away last month; he was in his mid-seventies. Fortunately, his condition, cancer in the brain, was detected rather late, and his suffering didn’t stretch too long. I happened to be in Kolkata the day before he died. For the half-hour I sat by his bed, I found it difficult to watch him suffering. As I left their home, I secretly bowed to the calm fortitude of my mamima, who had been taking care of her husband for months with infinite patience and tenderness. That perhaps is not very unusual, but what is unusual was the serenity with which my aunt accepted her pain. She didn’t utter a word of complaint, didn’t say what could have happened if …, didn’t give the hint of a sigh. She was, in fact, teaching a student at home when I visited them.

As I left their home, I also wished that my uncle’s suffering end soon. It did, as I have said earlier.


My relationship with Jappu Mama began early when he was in college and I was a child. He was – I believe – just under six feet, at which height a Bengali male is considered tall. He was slim and didn’t have an extra ounce of fat in his body. And like all sensible young men of his age, Jappu Mama paid careful attention to his clothes. I was graduating from shorts to trousers at that time, (in our language, from half-pant to full-pant,) and Jappu Mama was my first fashion icon. I can close my eyes and think back to the day when I saw him in a maroon full-sleeve shirt, milk-white drainpipe trousers, which had just arrived on the sartorial scene, and black leather shoes with pointed toes. He was always smiling and cheerful. I never saw him otherwise. But he had the dreadful stamp of “ordinariness” on him, he studied B Sc, not engineering or medicine, and that too, not at a fancy college!

But as we both grew older, I learned that Jappu Mama was special. One of the several things that set him apart was his complete lack of interest in criticising people. In the sixty years I knew him intimately, I didn’t hear him say ONE negative word about anyone. In general, he never complained about anything. And as a complementary strength, he got on with people exceedingly well. He had a large circle of friends, some of whom he had acquired when he was posted near Delhi and maintained his friendship with.

His immediate family was a model of happiness. That he was extremely considerate and supportive towards his wife, we could be make out. Also, anyone would be affectionate towards their only son and grandson, but Jappu Mama seemed to be equally fond of his daughter-in-law. In the extended family, there was no one who didn’t love him. He was perhaps the youngest of his generation, and most amiably disposed. Consequently, his older cousins constantly placed demands on him, to which he never said “No”. He was ever ready to help.

After B Sc, he worked in the department of defence production. I am absolutely certain that he was a good worker and was admired in his workplace too, but on the whole, he was firmly rooted in the third category of people I have described above, like most of us. But here again, he was special. People from similar stations in life often try to prove that their greatness. Many of them, particularly Bengalis, have intellectual pretentions. Or at least, they try to prove they are special by recalling their true or imaginary exploits. But Jappu Mama shunned the first-person-singular throughout. I have never heard him talk about himself, nor seen a more modest man in my life.

For a very long time until the end, he volunteered for Nehru Children’s Museum in Kolkata, an organisation that does genuinely good work for children and young adults. After retirement, he used to go to their office regularly.

Over the years, he shed his youthful love for fancy clothes and was always seen in a grey or brown khadi kurta, white pyjamas, and leather slippers. Once, we both had to attend a dinner at a fancy club run by brown-sahibs, which didn’t let in people wearing slippers. Jappu Mama was in trouble. He had just one pair of shoes, which he had acquired for the purpose of meeting the President of India, no less, at a function in Rashtrapati Bhavan on behalf of Nehru Children’s Museum months ago. He hadn’t put it on ever since.

In the middle of the dinner, Jappu Mama, who sat next to me, surreptitiously showed me something which he was holding under the table. It was one of the heels of his old new shoes. Perhaps protesting against disuse, it had decided to come off. Mama quietly said, “Shalader dhorte hobe”, that is, “I must catch hold of the rascals”, the rascals under reference being Bata Shoe Company. But he took the mishap in his stride. By the time the dinner was over, he had managed to pull out the other heel too and walked away as if nothing had happened.

The other side of humility and friendliness is warmth. It was always a pleasure to meet him. Whenever I could, I used to drop in at his place. It was one home in Kolkata where I could drop in unannounced, without a prior appointment, and be received with all the warmth in the world.

Christianity and Judaism specify certain first names which people of different linguistic communities can use. Islam prescribes the same set of names throughout the world, which Bangladeshi Muslims have been changing of late. But no community in the world is possibly as inventive as Hindu Bengalis when it comes to names of boys and girls. We have a plethora of formal and informal first names. Yet, “Jappu” is a name perhaps no one else in the wold has had. And as a human being, Jappu Mama was almost equally unique.


I was wrong at the beginning of this note. People should be divided into just two groups, a minority that make the world a better place to live in, and a majority that don’t. I was fortunate to have a close relative and friend who belonged to the first group.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Shabaash Bangladesh! Once Again

At the risk of being called an antinational renegade, I would say that my heart broke when, on the last ball of the match, Dinesh Karthik’s flat lofted shot barely sailed over the ropes. Why?

Undoubtedly, it is partly because Bangladeshi cricketers speak my language, because they look like me. Because, as they sang their national anthem before the match – most of them with palpable emotional involvement – they touched a chord deep within me. “Chirodin tomar akash, tomar batash, amar praane / Oma amar praane bajay banshi.” Because I could feel that eternal sky, that quivering breeze they sang about. In a way, that sky, that breeze are a part of my inalienable personal world and I don’t see any dichotomy between that identity and the identity of being an Indian. And between the two, my being a Bengali is more natural than my being an Indian. However, I must quickly add that I believe there’s nothing great about either, just as there is nothing wrong. They are just fine. The problem arises when some scoundrels hijack these identities to abuse and hurt “the other”.

Secondly, and I believe more importantly, supporting the underdog is a decent moral position irrespective of the language you speak or the anthem you stand up for. There is little doubt that the present crop of Bangladeshi cricketers are just about “there”, that they are the world champions in the making. But there is inevitably a time lag before the contender turns into a champion. We saw the Indian and Sri Lankan team go through this phase. When they almost defeated the champions but buckled at the last post.

And what a fabulous team Bangladeshis lost to! The Indian cricket team today is what Steve Wagh’s Australia used to be a few decades ago. Or Pele’s Brazil in football. They would lose an odd match all right, but even their B Team could defeat any other team with ease. Just as the present Indian team can win routinely even when the top four aren’t playing. Look at how Dinesh Karthik not only filled the enormously large boots of MSD, but in fact, bested the very best! Also, India has successfully built an assembly line that produces champion players almost every month. Look at Yazuvendra Chahal and Washington Sundar! Look at Shardul Thakur turning a certain six into a wicket. If he hadn’t caught Tamim Iqbal so brilliantly, who knows …? It can’t be easy to defeat these guys!

Therefore, the bottom line is: India are outstanding, the incontestable champions today, in all the formats of the game, despite their creditable defeat in test matches in South Africa. And … if you are fond of cricket, watch out for Bangladesh!

Monday, 19 March 2018

Saturday, 17 February 2018

What kind of a role model are you Sir?

The prime minister certainly has the right to interact directly with school children across the country, which he did yesterday, at Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi, and through video links – to all the CBSE schools in the country. But besides rights, he has an obligation too: to share with the nation what his motives are. We, the ordinary people, too have obligations – to ask questions about those motives, and his moral credentials to address our youth.

Firstly, should it be aired to and made mandatory for every CBSE affiliated school? Should every school be compelled to send a video to prove their compliance? The moment state-sponsored compulsion comes in, the interaction ceases to be free and two-sided. It becomes a case of ramming down a talkative PM and his ideology down the throat of young people who cannot protest.

Secondly, and more importantly, what prime minister?

A man who tears into his political opponents with lies and nothing but lies every day? A man without the faintest sense of history or science? A man whose academic records are fuzzy? A man who has demonstratively lied about selling tea in a non-existing railway station in order to build a fake subaltern image?

A man under whose direct charge 1,500 Indians were brutally murdered and countless more families destroyed? A man whose government went out of its way to protect the murderers and rapists? A man whose political comrades and pet bureaucrats have been hauled up for extra-judicial killings time and again? And in order to prove their innocence, attempts have been made to kill the justice delivery system itself, if not a judge in flesh and blood? A man who equates Muslims being killed in communal strife with puppies coming under a car? A man – despite having unlimited powers in his party and government – who has done nothing to protect innocent Muslims, Christians, and Dalits against brutal violence initiated by his saffron stooges?

No Prime Minister, you are hardly a role model to be presented to the children of our country. If I had school-going children, I would say, ‘No Prime Minister, I don’t think my daughter or son should waste their time on you. In fact, you make a terrible model for the youth of our country.'

Dear Reader, if you were reading this and if you were a parent, what would you do?

Our future depends on your answer.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Carl Marx, died in Russia, buried in Bengal

Rabindra Kumar Dasgupta 
(11 July 1915 – 3 February 2009)

[Translated from ALEEK SANGLAP (UNREAL DIALOGUES) (pp 57-58) published by Gangcheel, Kolkata (2008), in Bangla. To appreciate the context, please keep in mind that this was written towards the end of the Left rule in Bengal, Shortly before the author passed away.]

Engels: The party devoured the society [in Russia].
Marx:  In the end, the society devoured the party.
Engels: But it will never happen in Bengal. For almost two hundred years, Bengalis accepted the British rule. In Bengal today, the party has replaced the British. Everyone seems to be begging for its favours. I can see that in this city [of Kolkata], a new breed of Rai Bahadurs and Rai Sahibs have been created.
Marx:   It saddens me that all this has been happening in my name. I died in Russia; I have been buried here.


Engels: Our theory talked about class struggle. It didn’t talk about uniting the human society. We understood economics, but couldn’t fathom the human mind.
Marx:   Now I see that the world, having forgotten everything else I said, remember only my last speech. On 4th September, 1872, I said in Amsterdam: “I do not deny that there exists countries like America, England, and if I know your institutions better, I would add Holland, where the workers may be able to attain their ends by peaceful means.”
Engels: Even then, I’d say that our philosophy will remain at a special place in the history of human thoughts.
Marx:   But I didn’t want to become history, I wanted to create history.

Translated Tuesday, 6 July 2010