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

Monday, 22 April 2013

You can’t get raped in West Bengal

On 10 April 2013, a bunch of angry young men carrying Trinamool Congress (TMC) flags entered the Presidency University, Kolkata after breaking a lock at its main entrance. They had good reasons to be angry. A few days before, their party chief and the chief minister of Bengal was heckled at Delhi by goons belonging to the CPIM, their rivals. We also saw on TV a minister, perhaps the finest and the most competent of the present lot, being manhandled. And how did TMC register their protest against the reprehensible act?

They attacked CPIM party offices across the state, beat up rival activists, and burned houses. The “protest” at Presidency was a part of this big picture. The protesters vandalised the oldest physics lab in the country, thrashed male students, abused girl students in filthy language and threatened to rape them. The authorities repeatedly called the police. Kolkata Police did nothing.

The ruling party of Bengal, including its senior ministers, brazenly claim that vandals don’t become party members just by carrying party flags. The argument is incontrovertible, but so are these facts: (a) the police, whose minister-in-charge is the chief minister herself, did nothing to stop the so-called fake TMC members, and there is no explanation why they didn't respond to the frantic calls from the Univ., (b) some ruling party leaders were caught on camera pushing the main gate when the lock was still intact, and (c) the few men later arrested by the police (after a storm of protests) have all been identified as ruling party activists.

We in Bengal have seen so much violence and heard so much of obnoxious self-serving arguments from both sides of the political divide that we hardly lose our sleep over incidents like this. We accept them as fait accompli and move on. Mere mal-governance does not rile us: college principals are beaten up, a police officer is shot dead by ruling party goons in full view of TV cameras, a young student protester is killed in police custody, physical violence against women is rampant … the list is endless. And after almost every incident the CM and her cohorts either say the incident was “minor” or it was “concocted”. In West Bengal today, you just can’t get raped. You can only pretend to have been raped, and make up a case to malign the government.

Incidents of violence, which keep happening at metronomic regularity, engage our attention so completely that we hardly remember that there hasn’t been one new industry in the state in years; that hardly any new jobs are created. On the other hand, we tend to ignore the few good things the present government has been doing. You don’t worry about your long-term health when your house is on fire. Perhaps you only hope that the political opposition will articulate the public’s views and take the government to task.

But presently in Bengal, the political opposition is a joke. Except for a few pockets of influence, no one takes the bickering, self-seeking Congressmen seriously. And the Left Front, despite the drubbing they got in the last general election, has changed neither their ways nor their discredited leaders. We continue to see the same old (and elderly) faces parroting their hackneyed lines, without ever expressing remorse over the havoc the wreaked on Bengal over 34 years.

There is no political party to look up to. The ancient empty street is too dead for dreaming … people have nowhere to go, except Bengaluru for the privileged few and construction sites in Kerala or Maharashtra for the underprivileged. There are no protests, except on rare occasions when a few people stand up. Two of them are the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar of Presidency. Displaying enormous courage, they came out to openly join the students' protests. However, these are only exceptions, West Bengal today is a good place to rule. The ruling party should be happy.

Yet, our rulers have become so complacent that they often cross the limits and make people seethe in silent anger. For example, some time ago a lady minister said about a rape victim, who is still trying to get justice, that it was not a case of rape, it was a dispute between her and her clients.

Another minister did something very similar a day after the Presidency incident. He said this about the Vice Chancellor of the university: “The manner in which she participated in the students’ protest is unacceptable. Everyone knows her history, geography, and science.” [Ei Samay, 12 April]

If such language is used by a minister against a lady vice chancellor, or any woman for that matter, should we be surprised that his lumpen foot soldiers would fancy raping girls? And this gives rise to another, more serious question.

How much deeper can we sink?

Thursday, 11 April 2013

An email from Joe

I have written a couple of memoirs on my friend Joy Joseph Manimury, who was known and loved as Joe. This morning, as I was cleaning my mailbox, this missive from Joe (dated 10 August 2005) narrowly missed being exiled to oblivion. I think it's worth sharing with my readers. But first, let me give you the background.

Joe wrote this after reading an article of mine in the Statesman. I had written the piece after reading some tall claims in an advert by a mutual fund, an advert in which the copywriters conveniently forgot to mention that lakhs of investors had lost money by investing in their funds earlier.  

I haven’t changed anything much in the mail except deleting some personal details and masking the names of Joe’s wife (C), and two daughters, (A) and (N). 

As I read this again, I laughed out silently several times. And along with silent laughter were invisible tears. Joe needn’t have left us so early. 

Happy reading! 


Dear Santanu,

What a pleasant surprise! I read the mail more than a week back but I was in Ernakulam that time and couldn’t reply. But I had half cmpleted a rebuttal to the Statesman but left the draft in N’s computer. Incidentally, the article was really good and C and N enjoyed it very much.

To bring you up to date, A passed her BA History with a creditable 70% … So [she] is in Hyderabad since July 12th. N is in class X now.

C and N are at Ernakulam since 2002. C is in the College of … and drives a fantastic 11 kms to work every day. She is happy, since she is the Head (& tail) of the Dept of English. No office politics like in [her earlier college], no great fear of somebody with influence ‘ousting’ her as the term is, and the students really need her – these talented kids are mostly from rural and rather poor families and can hardly spell their names in English.

Centurion Bank has a new management and a lot f new top executives have joined – deadly combination f Citibank and others. So we all became pariahs and I decided to quit. It took some time to get a job but finally something in Nairobi, Kenya has come up. It is a small bank but I will practically be No.2 and the money is decent considering the country and the distance. What the hell, I ran thru SBT, IndusInd and Centurion salaries regularly and I expect to do the same here too, so it doesn’t make much of a difference. C was quite realistic about it. As she says, I am never there when she has a problem so it doesn’t matter whether I am in Mumbai or Timbuktu. Realism is alright but I wish she hadn’t put so much enthusiasm into it. Anyway she has no plans of joining me immediately. With us, Love at A Distance works better.

Why I wanted to write a rebuttal was this – some time back C had dusted up some share certificates, mutual funds, etc. and given them to me. I took them to Mumbai and promptly forgot about them. Once I decided to go to Kenya, I had a look at them – lng disappeared companies and even funds like Apple Starshare, IDBI Bonds, the famus Mastergain 92, mutual funds bught mainly as tax shelter, but they turned out to be sheltering at my expense. I also had things like Indusind shares ‘allotted’ in staff quota at Rs.45 which promptly stabilized at Rs.11. Anyway when I looked up the prices I had a very pleasant surprise. Mastergain 92 was 19.60! Indusind 77!! Some company called Hexaware which apparently had bought some forgotten company I had invested in, also doing extremely well!!! Mastergain in C’s name came back because the signature differed. By the time we got the bank to attest her signature and re-lodged it, the price was 24. All in all, about 60,000 invested between 92 and 98 is worth 150,000 now. I am cashing them as fast as I can sign. So my advice to all is to invest in stocks more and more and stay invested till I get out.

You will find a lot of missing o’s in this mail. Like all Malayalees and their relations, my computer keyboard also has a problem with O.

How’s Arundhati? And Doel and Tatai? Write in detail. Do yu publish a lot? C does a fair bit of creative writing in Malayalam & English, mostly short stories but couple of one-act plays too. A story of hers had come in Antara Sen’s ‘The Little Magazine’ also, apart from a translation of a Malayalam story by N.S. Madhavan. A story came in an anthology by OUP. 

I am making a cc to Damu also. Poor fellow had tried a lot to get me into his company. Luckily for his reputation, they finally decided not to fill the post now.

Reply in detail.


P.S.: In case you need anything from Kenya, let me know. I believe spears, drums and shrunken heads are quite cheap there.