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

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Ordinary Indian, extraordinary Indian

Deepu has been driving our car for the last two months. A young man of around 30 years, he is reasonably punctual, hardworking, and never says no if he is needed to go to the railway station or airport at odd hours. At the end of the day, he gives me an account of how much has been spent on parking and toll tax, and unfailingly returns the surplus of what was given to him in the morning. In short, he carries himself with dignity.

Yesterday, Deepu had to report for work at 12 noon. He was late by ten minutes and was given a sermon by yours truly. On reaching our destination, I offered him the customary lunch allowance. It was not part of my original deal with Deepu, but it is only fair that I reimburse the expenses if he has to eat out while on duty.

Yesterday, Deepu politely declined the money saying he had had his lunch before coming to our house. ‘That’s the reason I was late’, he added with a shy smile.

Deepu doesn't read newspapers. If he did, he would possibly take the money, keep it quietly, and invest it on his son’s education.

Hasn’t Ms Kiran Bedi, one of the conscience keepers of the nation, done the same thing? She lectures people on value and ethics (I guess in every city that’s connected by air) and her hosts pay for her travel and stay.

The Indian Express has recently reported that she has been travelling Air India paying one fourth of the normal fare as she was a gallantry award winner as an IPS officer, but has been claiming full fare, at times, executive class fare. In some cases, after travelling economy class on private airlines, she claimed business class fare. In one instance, she travelled from Delhi to Hyderabad to deliver a speech and then went on to Chennai to speak at a meeting held by another group. Ms Bedi claimed full fares from Delhi to Hyderabad and Delhi to Chennai from her two hosts! So in effect, she claimed reimbursement for ghost journeys.

Her defence? (A) She did whatever she did with the full knowledge of her hosts and (B) She hasn’t put the amounts into her pocket, but into the pocket of “her” NGO, which uses the money to educate children.

Both arguments are disingenuous, to put it mildly. Firstly, the claim that her hosts know everything is subject to verification. Secondly, and most importantly, the 75% discount that the government of India forces Air India to sacrifice is meant to help a gallant individual. It cannot be used to make a profit for anyone, even if it be an NGO with noble missions. Also, politicians caught taking money can say that they took it for their party! Could that be an excuse?

Thirdly, the tax payers’ money keeps the loss-making Air India alive, and very few of them, beside Ms Bedi, would like their money to go into an unverifiable NGO through fudged accounting.

So who is a better role model and conscience keeper? Deepu Paik or Kiran Bedi?

PS. On 21 October, a former IAS officer and Team Anna member, Arun Bhatia appeared on CNN IBN. He told Rajdeep Sardesai and the rest of the world that many government officers travel economy class and claim business class fare. Nothing happens to them, it is quite normal. I couldn’t believe my ears. Can you, Gentle Reader?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Soumyajit Basu

Soumyajit is a common Bengali first name, but Soumyajit Basu’s wife’s name is rather unusual: Swachhotoya.  A bit of a tongue-twister for people unfamiliar with the Bengali language, the word means a river of transparent waters. His son’s name is even more remarkable, Aranyak, which means of the forests. At home, the boy is called Roddur, Sunlight. Aranyak is also the name of a beautiful autobiographical novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. A forest is the main character in the novel. Soumyajit was fond of Bibhutibhushan and Jibanananda Das, the finest writers on Nature in Bengali, respectively in prose and verse.

Soumyajit grew up in the teagardens of Assam. Since childhood, he was fond of plants, animals, birds, and butterflies. As a child, he had a pet deer. His love for Mother Nature didn’t end after he grew up. Once, when he saw an owl with a broken wing, tears came to his eyes. Owls were his favourite birds. He would nurse birds and squirrels with broken limbs back to health. Even now, there is a tailor bird’s nest in the front veranda of his house, and an old beehive. These were some of the collections from his numerous trips to remote places.

Fond of travelling and trekking, he earned his living by teaching geography in a school, an apt profession for someone who lived with a river and a forest at home. Last October, he went to the Ayodhya Hills of Purulia to watch full moon from the top of the hill. He never came back.

In the treacherous terrain of the Ayodhya Hills, steep peaks hide tiny hamlets peopled by the wretched of the earth. For outsiders, the unmarked alleys, narrow passes and small streams are quite a maze.  The Indian government is irrelevant in the area; it is ruled by Maoists.

Partha Sarathi and Soumyajit
Soumyajit and his friend Partha Sarathi Biswas – both in their thirties – went to trek in this dangerous valley. Partha Sarathi was a police-officer. In the night of 22/23 October 2010, after crossing the unseen border into Maoist land, they were abducted by Maoists.

According to newspaper reports, the reason for their abduction was not clear. Police said Partha and Soumyajit were both involved with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working on wildlife conservation and tribal issues. They had not informed the local police and administration about their visit.

Five months later, two decomposed bodies were found from a jungle near Ayodhya hills in Purulia. The bodies were identified to be that of Partha and Soumyajit through DNA tests.

Why did the Maoists kill them? Partha Sarathi’s police identity would certainly have gone against him. Maybe, the Maoists presumed he was spying. Even if he was, he committed no offense. He was doing his duty. It doesn't justify his murder. If it did, the government forces too would be "justified" to kill suspected Maoists.

While condemning state violence, how do we deal with Maoist counter-violence? How could they kill someone like Soumyajit Basu? Perhaps a group of people can kill, in cold blood, an unarmed man who hasn’t committed any offence only when they cease to be humans. Shorn of their rhetoric, the Maoist movement is exactly that, an exercise in inhumanity. That doesn’t mean the social and economic inequities that breed such violent rebellions are any less inhuman. But let’s keep it aside for another day.

Police often torture and kill politically inconvenient people. State violence against rebels, whether in Kashmir or Chhattisgarh, must stop. In a civilised society, the government must follow its own laws. This is more or less a settled principle. No one, not even the staunchest advocate of the state would say otherwise, at least in public.

But there is a lot of vagueness when it comes to reflecting on Maoist violence. There are sections of intelligentsia that tacitly or openly support the Maoists, which means their violence too, because you cannot think of Maoists without their wanton violence.

No one can fight a war unless they believe they are fighting for a just cause. And the support that Maoists get from well-meaning Left intellectuals certainly helps them to keep their faith alive. Sooner this moral support ends, the better it is.

Bengaluru, 08 October, 2011

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Two poems


Octavio Paz

I am a human, my transient life is
Cocooned in an endless, everexpanding night.
Yet I look up to see
Stars writing on the wall of sky.
I don’t follow their language, but I know
My story too is being written there,
And at this precise moment,
Throughout the sky
Someone is reciting
The letters of my name.

A song of wonder

Rabindranath Tagore

I’ve found my space
In a sky filled with suns and stars,
In a cosmos brimming with life.
From a spring of wonder
Flow out my songs.

In a surge of endless time,
The universe rolls on a tidal wave
And the torrent is felt
In bloodstreams deep in my veins.

Walking on a jungle trail,
I’ve stepped out on grass
My mind leaps out in joy
As a waft of flowers drifts by.
Bliss is scattered all around!

I’ve tried to hear and see
I’ve poured my life out on this world
Looked out for the unknown in the common.
From the spring of wonder
Flow out my songs..

[The Octavio Paz poem has been translated from a Bengali translation of the original by my friend Soumya Shankar Mitra]