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

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A Question

A Question 
You've sent your messengers, Oh Lord,
Time and again to this pitiless world.
They’ve said, “Forgive,” said “Love and be kind,
Wipe hatred off your mind.”
I revere them, bow to them, but still, in this terrible time,
I’ve sent them back into frosty rime.

I’ve seen hidden violence in decaying nights
Has maimed innocents, snuffed out lights.
I’ve seen because of crimes by men with boundless power
Messages of justice cringe and cower.
I have seen a young boy running helpless … in terrible pain,
In distress, hitting’s head on a wall again 'n again.

My voice is choked today, my flute has lost its tune
A moonless night has banished my world to a dark cocoon
I'd ask you why?
With tears streaming my eyes, 

Those poisoning your air, crushing every spark of light,
Do you love them? Do you forgive their might?

                                                             – Rabindranath Tagore

Mohammed Afroz, the torturer of 23-year old Jyoti Singh, who will have a permanent place in the conscience of India as “Nirbhaya”, has been set free because when he raped and tortured Jyoti, he was a few months under 18. And to our blind law, anyone under eighteen is a child. A child? A child can rape and torture a girl with such unimaginable ferocity? When the girl was squirming in pain and begging for reprieve, this “child” increased the intensity of torture, pushing an iron rod deeper into her. These are not lurid details concocted by a journalist, this is what Jyoti's male friend, who too was critically injured, told the world.
I do believe there are humans who are beyond the bounds of humanity. I don’t know if they can ever be reformed, but even if they can be, such experiments should be done behind impregnable walls of a prison. Afroz has been set free, he knows that the whole world is against him except for a stupid state government and imbecile do-gooders who are trying to “reform” him by giving him a sewing machine. But if I have any understanding of the human nature, it is just a question of time before Afroz finds another girl and repeats his act. Reform is possible with humans, a leopard doesn’t change its spots.
And it is not about the safety of individual girls alone. Setting Afroz free is a slap on the face of every Indian woman. The people who have conspired to set him free, and the people who have interpreted the law just as a mindless computer would do, didn’t do so because they are magnanimous or meticulous.
I am not a social anthropologist, but I believe that the male dominated Indian society – like many others – still nurtures deep-rooted hatred against women. And the visible progress that women in India have made since independence makes them uncomfortable somewhere deep within. It also makes some of them think that the bitches should be shown their place. Remember the lawyer who defended Jyoti’s rapist(s) said he would burn his daughter if she went out for late-night movies? At the end of the day, our society just doesn’t care for women. Setting free Afroz confirms that fact.
The wave of anger against the decision to set him free for no reason other than the accident of his date of birth is natural. But what can we do? Our only power is to elect a bunch of goons every five years. Do we have any say in our affairs after that?
I went through routine activities yesterday, but inside, I was deeply disturbed. I really didn’t know what to think. But last night, my cousin Subhoreminded me that we Bengalis are fortunate. When everything else fails, we can sit on the shores of a vast ocean called Rabindranath. I began this article with my incompetent translation of a poem by Tagore which is perhaps more relevant today than at any other time.

Kolkata / 22 December 2015

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Aamir Khan must go to Pakistan

According to Merriam-Webster, a kangaroo court is a “mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted.”

Just as wild mobs in parts of India lynch men suspected to be thieves, or burn helpless old women suspected to be witches, just as khap panchayats brutally murder young couples for having married outside their castes, over the last two days, lots of educated Indians who use the Internet – including people I know and respect – have passed their judgement on Aamir Khan because of something he said on 23 Nov in an interview. Let’s see what three kangaroo court judges have said. (These are random samples taken from thousands of similar views most of which are more vitriolic and a lot of which are in unprintable language):

  • ‪#‎AamirKhan‬ requesting tolerable AK to move out of this intolerant country where he was reigning since 3 decades (sic.)
  • Ya please go PAKISTAN, MR #AamirKhan (sic.)
  • #AamirKhan Don't spread COMMUNAL atmosphere in my India and YES, YOUR STATEMENT IS TOTALLY COMMUNAL.

It’s quite possible that many of these people haven’t taken into account Aamir’s astounding contribution to the Indian society, or even cared to read his entire statement on intolerance. First, let’s look back to what he has done for his country. He is not just another celebrity actor. He has contributed hugely to the Indian society over three decades. In this respect, he stands out tall and alone. Besides masala films, Aamir Khan has consistently chosen to act in films with a strong social message, e.g., Mangal Pandey: the Rising, Rang de Basanti, 3 Idiots, and so on.

Let’s ignore everything else except just two of his films and a TV talk show. He has produced and acted in Lagaan and Taare Zameen Par. The second movie was also directed by him. And he brilliantly hosted Satyamev Jayate, a TV talk show, between 2012 and 2015.

Lagaan (Taxation) was a film that introduced millions of post-independence Indians to the violence and injustices of colonial India. It was not history, but carried the essence of the history of colonialism beautifully.

Taare Zameen Par (Like Stars on Earth) has educated Indians about autism – and has perhaps saved tens of thousands of dyslexic children from ridicule and lack of empathy. Admittedly, the solution shown in the film was simplistic, but we’re talking about its impact on the society, not other aspects.

About Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails), Wikipedia writes:
The show focuses on sensitive social issues … in India such as female foeticide, child sexual abuse, rape, honour killing, domestic violence, untouchability, alcoholism, and the criminalization of politics.
The first season of Satyamev Jayate saw responses from viewers in 165 countries, including Djibouti, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, ... and Papua New Guinea. A sum of Rs.22.3 crore was received as donations by the NGOs featured on this season. The second season was watched by 600 million Indians. The causes raised in the second season were supported by over 30 million people and the season generated more than one billion impressions online.
To put it simply, what Aamir Khan has contributed to India, his detractors won’t be able to match even if they lived 500 years. And yet, we, peanut-munching, chai-sipping Indians without a sense of history but with access to the Net are so quick to rubbish this wonderful individual.

You can read detailed excerpts of the interview in Indian Express, 25 Nov. Two days before, at an event hosted by the same newspaper in New Delhi, Aamir Khan didn’t refer to Dadri, where a mob lynched a 51-year-old man and grievously injured his son because they suspected the family had consumed beef. Neither did he refer to the prime minister, but said, “Often, on television debates … BJP that is ruling right now, is accused of various things. They say, ‘But what happened in 1984?’ But that doesn’t make right what is happening now. What happened in 1984 was disastrous and horrendous, but whenever there is a violent act, when an innocent person is killed, be it one or in large number, that’s very unfortunate. And these unfortunate moments are the ones when we look towards our leaders to take a strong step … to make statements that are reassuring to us as citizens of this country. I also feel a sense of insecurity. There is a sense of fear.”

Let’s recall that two weeks after the Dadri lynching, our globe-trotting PM found the time to describe the event as ‘unfortunate’, and that too, after the President prodded him subtly.

Answering a follow-up question, he said about his wife, “Kiran and I have lived all our life in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That’s a disastrous and very big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child, she fears what this atmosphere around us will be, she feels scared to open the newspapers every day.”

Responding to a question from the audience about the link between Islam and the recent Paris attacks, Aamir said he didn’t regard any terrorist claiming to be acting in the name of Islam as a Muslim, “He may feel he’s doing an Islamic act but as a Muslim I don’t feel he’s doing an Islamic act,” said Aamir.


Has Aamir Khan said anything against Hindus or Indians? Has he said anything about going to Pakistan?

Does he not have the right to express his fears in “tolerant” India? Are his fears unfounded? Please don’t forget that he lives and works in Mumbai, where everyone, from Karan Johar to the Bihari porter, is scared of the two factions of a rabidly communal Maratha Hindu outfit whose writ runs on many matters from how to write signboards to who can sing or play cricket there. Are we morons who have forgotten what happened to a man called Maqbul Fida Hussain, who was no less a celebrity than Aamir Khan? No Dear Reader, even Aamir Khan can feel unsafe.

Or are the detractors saying Aamir is actually not scared, but is pretending to be scared? Can any sane person – after going through his public record over the last three decades – believe that Aamir is saying all this just to embarrass the government of the day?

Instead of throwing mud at him in the virtual world and blackening and burning his posters in the real world, can we not stop and think if there is any reason for even such an eminent person to feel insecure? And if he does, what is going through the minds or ordinary Muslims (and other minorities) in far corners of India where law and order is just a concept, not a reality?

Ironically, the thousands of Indians who are abusing Aamir Khan today in the vilest language are just proving his point – minorities in India have every reason to feel threatened today.

Kolkata, Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Tuesday, 17 November 2015


I think it was cultural psychologist Sudhir Kakar who said songs of Rabindranath Tagore is a shared memory of all educated Bengalis. It is true, but is the statement entirely accurate?
Rabindrasangeet – which is now the commonest compound word in Bangla – was hardly as popular in Tagore’s lifetime (1861-1941). It started catching up in the 1930s and 40s thanks to some marvellous singers: Sahana Devi, Kanak Das, Rajeswari Dutta, Pankaj Kumar Mullick, etc. By the 1950s, it had become a part of every Bengali middleclass home courtesy AIR (All India Radio) and a now-extinct but then-revolutionary gadget called gramophone. Today, you won’t possibly find an educated Bengali woman between thirty and seventy whose parents didn’t try to make a Rabindra-sangeet singer out of her when she was a child. In the process, we have had two generations of exceedingly competent (mostly female) singers. For example, the English Language School that I teach at, almost every Bengali woman teacher sings beautifully.
Secondly and perhaps more importantly, Tagore’s songs became a mellifluous bond between the two Bengals. While between the fifties and the eighties most of the famous Rabindra Sangeet singers were from West Bengal, towards the end of the Twentieth Century, Bangladesh produced an array of captivating young singers, and the tradition continues. Iffat Aara Khan, Rezwana Chowdhury Banya, Papiya Sarwar, Aditi Mahasin, are just a few names from this Hall of Fame. And there are brilliant Bangladeshi singers in other genres too, for example, the incomparable folk singer Anuseh Anadil.
Thirdly and sadly, Rabindrasangeet almost pushed the other genres out of the musical landscape of West Bengal. And this happened despite the presence of composers like Sachin Dev Barman and Salil Chowdhury in the second half of the Twentieth Century. I am sure lots of educated music lovers will disagree on this, but no one can contest the fact that other Bengali lyricist-composers, particularly some contemporaries of Tagore, Atul Prasad Sen, Rajanikanta Sen, Dwijendralal Roy, and to a lesser extent, Kazi Nazrul Islam haven’t got the attention they deserve because of the dominance of Tagore songs.
And this is where Sounak Chattopadhyay, can play, is playing a fantastic role. Sounak, who has had a long training in classical music, sings intricate Bangla songs based on ragas. And he covers the gamut of early twentieth century composers I have just mentioned, including Tagore. And I find Sounak interesting for another important reason.
The common music lover is fond of popular music. They just love it. However, if someone helps them to connect popular music with its classical foundation, untrained music lovers get the pleasure of discovering a fascinating world that is hidden behind the wall that separates music lovers and trained musicians. For example, being musically illiterate, I didn’t know that the Mira bhajan “Shyam mane chakar raakho ji” and Tagore’s “Oi asan tole” are based on the same raga, despite hearing both scores of times. Sounak’s songs are a delightful fusion between Indian Classical Music and well-known Bangla songs. And someone who is untrained in music can see how the popular songs created by Bengali masters evolved from their classical base. The blurb on one of Sounak’s albums says “Experience the evolution”. Nothing could be truer.
It is not that the fusion between classical and popular Bangla music is entirely new. But I am inclined to believe that earlier experiments were leaning towards one of the two genres. Sounak has managed to strike the balance beautifully. I bow to this brilliant singer who has been reinterpreting well known Bangla songs to lay listeners like me.
One evening about a year ago, my wife and I were at a Starmark outlet. We heard a fascinating song being played on the PA system that almost numbed us. And we bought the three CDs that you see in this picture. Welcome Sounak Chattopadhyay to our life.
Since then, we would have played these CDs a thousand times. You read good books and watch good films again and again, because they never become old, on the contrary, every time you read or watch them, you discover some finer shades, subtle nuances that you missed earlier. Take The Old Man and the Sea or Bibhuti Bhushan’s Aranyak. They contain layers and layers of fascination. They become better with time, like wine and friendship.
I am not comparing incomparables, but our experience with Sounak’s songs has been similar.
Bengaluru / 14 November 2015
PS: If you speak Bengali, you'll most probably love Sounak's songs. If you don't, these songs could provide a beautiful introduction to Bengali music for you.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Has Bihar confirmed that India will survive?

After the spectacular victory of the alliance of Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad, and Congress yesterday, I put a short three-line post on my FB page that read:
I bow to the people of Bihar. They have once again reiterated that the only possible idea for India is a democratic and pluralistic India. Let there be early Diwali, let fireworks light up the horizons of India, and everywhere else for people who value democracy, including people in Pakistan. Cheers.
I would like to share with you the response I got, particularly the negative responses. But before that, let’s go back in time for a moment.
For the last two years, it has been horrifying to note the deluge of bitter, uncouth, abusive remarks made by Hindutwa supporters on the social media against anyone who has a different opinion from theirs. I have wondered how people of a particular political camp could be so intolerant and aggressive. And I also wondered if there were really so few people among the social media users who would stand up for
  • freedom of speech and rational enquiry,
  • not redrawing the educational map of the country to suit political agenda,
  • running institutions by experts and not by incompetent people with “right” political connections,
  • respecting women, and finally,
  • religious tolerance and treating minorities with the respect every citizen deserves, nothing more, nothing less.
But yesterday, not only did the common man in Bihar give a categorical verdict against all that, since then, the common people of India has shown, through thousands of Facebook posts and tweets, that they support a democratic and pluralistic India. This I believe is as important as the victory of the alliance in Bihar. Even my humble three-line post on FB has got 61 likes, 16 comments, and two shares.
While thirteen of the commentators agreed with me three of my friends disagreed and questioned the choice made by Bihar. One of them, a well-known motivational speaker, wrote, “Yes, people like Lalu should be Prime Minister. The right leader for the right country!!”
Another close friend for whom I have a lot of regard wrote somewhat angrily: “What is your view on the Great Lalu? Do you feel Bihar shall not return to the good old days of "Lalu” (jungle) raj? How can a conscious person like yourself support a corrupt buffoon? Strange!”
Another friend too said something very similar.
I am absolutely certain what they have expressed is their genuine fear, and it is not unfounded. However, aren't all elections in India exercises to choose the least evil? In this case on one side was Nitish Kumar, a positive force beyond a shadow of a doubt. I agree Lalu will most probably pull him down and make his life difficult. I too fear that at least some of Lalu’s goons will return and there might be pockets of jungle raj in Bihar.
But on the other side was BJP, which has been attacking the very foundation of a pluralistic India. The people of Bihar have displayed tremendous political sagacity by rejecting a party which, given a free hand, will turn India into a Hindu Pakistan.

Coming back to Nitish Kumar, let me share with you a personal anecdote. When I went to Patna in 2012 to run some workshops, a taxi driver took me around the city. I was surprised to see a spick-and-span city. There was NOT ONE encroachment on the roads – only a few push carts selling peanuts etc. (Nitish’s new admirer, Ms Mamta Banerjee will do well to visit Patna instead of London to observe a model city. Eighty percent of Kolkata footpaths has been taken over by hawkers with her blessings.) At 9.00 in the evening, I saw young girls unescorted, going around laughing and enjoying themselves (something that is not happening in Kolkata anymore). The cab driver said, ‘Saab, I wouldn’t have taken you around at this time 10 years ago. Both you and I would have been robbed by now.’
He also added that there was something called “Rangdari Tax” in Bihar, every square inch of Bihar had been divided among dons who would collect tax from citizens. (Something very similar is happening in Bengal today under ….) I asked the driver, ‘Where have all the goons gone?’
‘Some have gone to Nepal, some to UP, and the rest are in jail.’
And please remember, this was only one aspect of good governance that Nitish Kumar offered Bihar, there has been spectacular all round development in Bihar in the last decade.
Therefore can we do anything but celebrate BJP’s defeat in Bihar? Another friend, Suresh Viswanathan has summed it up beautifully:
Suddenly everyone wakes up and is wishing that Lalu's association with Nitish will be his death knell. The people have given the verdict and from the verdict it is clearly visible that none of us had an inkling of the ground realities. Instead of wishing an elected Government well what is the point in wishing that they fall. Let us wait and see just like we are willing to give time to Modi why not to the Maha Gathbandhan. Bihar has chosen and they will live with that for the next five years as India will under the NDA!!!!!!

Bengaluru, 09 Nov 2015

Mother Patience and Her Children

We came to Bengaluru exactly a week ago. All this time, I have been observing a bird … almost continuously.
The evening we arrived, as I absently walked into the balcony adjacent to our room, a bird suddenly fluttered away almost violently. But she didn’t leave the balcony, she perched herself on the grille and looked daggers at me. It was a pigeon. In a moment, I understood the reason for her fury: there were two eggs in a make-shift nest at a corner of the balcony. She had laid the eggs there and was brooding upon them.
In the last one week, seven days, 168 hours, she hasn’t moved an inch from her nest. She ate almost nothing, and neither did she make any move to fly out and gather food. She has been continuously sitting on her eggs, rain or shine, with apparently no concern about herself. We were not sure whether we should go into the balcony and give her some food. However, after observing her for two days, when it was clear that she wasn’t actually eating or drinking anything, my wife gave her some grains and put a little water for her. And she helped herself.

Do mother pigeons go through the period incubation all alone? Yes and no. Her live-in-partner, who doesn’t live in the balcony, comes in every day exactly at 4.45 PM. He brings in a few blades of grass and maybe, a little food, but I am not sure if he brings anything substantial. He spends exactly 15 minutes with his partner and flies away – perhaps to chase younger chicks. I tried to take his pics too, but he seems to be terribly camera-phobic. The moment I touch my camera, he flies away.
So Mother Patience does all the hard work and starves herself, while Father Irresponsible has all the fun. I don’t know why Nature is so biased against females. My friend Uma Sankar’s daughter Ponni recently told me something very similar.
When I went to see her first-born, her mom gave four idols as gift. Apparently, it’s a custom among their community that the girl’s parents have to shower gifts on everyone around. Ponni then asked me a question to which I had no answer. She said, ‘Uncle, I do all the hard work to bring the baby to the world and my parents have to pay for it. Why should it be like this?’
But that too is perhaps “natural”. Mother Nature is biased against females, and the human society has made women’s position even worse, even more skewed.
I do respect women, like any normal civilized man. But I think Mother Patience has given me a great lesson and has helped me understand what it means to bring a new life to the world.
Saturday, 07 November 2015
PS: I hope the chicks will hatch normally. I am looking forward to the day.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

The fake Big Ben: Pride or Shame of Kolkata?

Pashcim aaji khuliachhe dwar
Setha hote sobe aane upahar
Dibe are nibe, milabe milibe
Jabena phire, ei Bharater
Mahamanaber saagara teere
The West has opened its doors
People are coming in with gifts
They will give and take,
Join us and connect us with others,
But they’ll forever remain on the shores
Of the great ocean of humanity that India is.
When Rabindranath Tagore wrote these lines, he obviously referred to the culture of openness, the spirit of scientific enquiry, institutions of democracy and judiciary, and in general, modern ideas that came in from Europe like fresh air into a moribund Indian society groaning under the twin oppressions of feudalism and imperialism. Rabindranath also possibly had in mind people like William Kerry, Norman Bethune, David Hare, great Englishmen who devoted their lives to spread education and knowledge in colonial India.
When Rabindranath wrote these lines, he didn’t certainly think of Lord Clive and the succession of blood-thirsty Heads of British East India Company that followed him, or the later day British Governor Generals. Within the first 25 years of their brutal rule, these scoundrels turned India from the most prosperous country in the world – yes, India had 25 percent of the global wealth during the Mughal period – into a land of perpetual hunger, while ship-loads of Indian gold and silver set sails from Murshidabad, Calcutta, and Madras. The 190 years of British Rule of India was punctuated by periodical famines that killed millions, the last of which happened in 1943 when three to four million people perished in a man-made famine directly organised by the India-hating poster-boy of the British Raj – Winston Churchill. [Please read Madhushree Mukherjee’s Churchill’s Secret War. “It is a terrifying account of how colonial rule is direly exploitative and, in this case, made worse by a man who made no bones of his contempt for India and its people.”]
And where did our wealth go? To “Great” Britain of course, where else? Thanks to the ruthless exploitation of the colonies, particularly the jewel in its crown India, England became a prosperous nation and the biggest power on earth. London turned from a dirty beggar-and-rat-infested city into the most sparkling metropolis of the world.
The original
One of the mascots of the power of the nineteenth-century GB was the magnificent Tower Clock in the West Minister Palace in London. It is somewhat erroneously called the Big Ben, although actually the Big Ben is the huge bell of the Tower clock. The clock, which was known simply as the Tower Clock or St. Something Clock in the past, was rechristened ELIZABETH CLOCK in 2012 to commemorate 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. I am mentioning this just to show how important a cultural mascot the Big Ben is even now for the declining world power that the UK is today.
Returning to the history of the Big Ben (let’s call it by its popular nick name), it was designed by architects Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin, who was celebrated for reviving the Gothic style. Interestingly, the Big Ben was completed in 1858, a year after the Great Indian Rebellion in which thousands of Indians who craved for independence were killed, some of them literally as cannon fodder. Therefore, will it be too far-fetched to say that the Big Ben contains a few bricks that had been bought with the blood of the famine-stricken farmers of Bengal or the sweat of cotton mill workers in Bombay?
I might also add that until now, the interiors of the Big Ben is out of bounds for outsiders, only UK citizens can visit it with the help of their MPs. It is difficult to guess why entry to the tower is restricted to outsiders, could it just be hang-over of Imperialist hubris?
Let’s fast forward to West Bengal 2015. For the last four years the state has been ruled by a party of illiterate goons most of whom wouldn’t know if the Big Ben is a clock or a brand of potato chips. And it is led by a party “suprimo” and Chief Minister who, whenever she opens her mouth – she is fond of talking on every subject under the sun – exhibits complete lack of education. I am giving you just three examples that have either been reported in newspapers or happened live on the TV. Thus spake the supreme leader:
(a) The despicable Hindu Sati system (in which the wife used to be burnt alive in the pyre of her dead husband) was abolished by the (post-independence) West Bengal Assembly. (The bill was actually passed by the British in 1829 after tremendous pressure had been mounted by progressive Indians lead by Ram Mohan Roy.)
(b) Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941) met the English poet John Keats (1795 – 1821).
(c) When a Bengali mountaineer climbed the Mount Everest, the Chief Minister encouraged him to climb even higher mountains.
And this wonderful Chief Minister, whose word is law in the state today, has taken it into her head that Kolkata should be turned into another London, (and if possible the Ganga into the Thames?). And with her somewhat limited sense of history, her initiative has been limited to copying some London landmarks thoughtlessly and putting them in Kolkata. Her original aim was to replicate the London Eye, an eyesore of a Ferris Wheel on the London horizon which very few Londoners can afford because of its prohibitive cost even by their standards. Unfortunately for the CM, the Central Government Authorities that control the riverfront in Kolkata didn’t allow her this ego trip.
The copy
So what? One of her minions has built a smaller version of the Big Ben on the main road leading from the airport from the city, so that every outsider visiting Kolkata is introduced to the intellectual vacuum that is the hallmark of the present state government. Let there be violence on the streets and college campuses, let college principals and vice chancellors be beaten up by ruling party goons, let industries run away from the state, let education reach abysmal depths, let policemen be murdered in open day-light by you-know-who, let rapists and murderers roam the city free, let women be scared to leave home in the evening … how the hell does it matter?
I am an insignificant person, but let me offer a suggestion to everyone who has some emotional attachment to Kolkata in particular and West Bengal in general. Let this stupid symbol of intellectual slavery be demolished immediately and replaced with something that has a connection with Bengal’s cultural or historical pride. Can we for example have a huge replica of a terracotta horse from Bankura, or a Dokra sculpture?

05 Nov 2015

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Solar storm and eating beef

According to Astronomy Now, the most powerful solar storm was recorded in 1859. It was known as the Carrington Flare in honour of the English Astronomer Richard Carrington who observed it at the Colaba Observatory in India. Thanks to this solar storm, auroras (or the Northern Lights) were seen at latitudes as low as Madrid and even the Caribbean Sea. And more importantly, the solar storm caused power outages and fires at telegraph facilities all over Europe and North America.
Ever since, geomagnetic storms caused by the sun pose a serious threat to a society that is increasingly reliant on technology by directly affecting power and communication networks.
Recently (10 October 2015), NASA's orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory has mapped an enormous coronal hole – a gap in the Sun's outer layer and magnetic field – which is the size of 50 earths and is releasing an extra-fast solar wind in Earth's direction.
The gap lets out a stream of particles travelling at up to 800 kilometres per second that if aimed towards Earth, could result in a geomagnetic storm, a phenomenon that can affect power and navigation for satellites orbiting the Earth as well as radio communication. Newspaper reports don’t say how big the impact might be. Could it shut down the Internet or telephone networks?
But it says as the coronal hole continues its slow march westward on the sun's surface (to the right, from earth's perspective), solar winds will stay strong, according to US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
As far as I can understand, our life is dependent on huge cosmic forces over which we have NO control. (And I don’t mean the positions of the so-called planets on your astrological chart). What would happen if the coronal hole was the size of 500 Earths instead of 50? What if it was 5000?
Surely, there is a tipping point. If the hole goes beyond that point, it might lead to the end of the world as we know it. And this is just one aspect of the sun. There would be thousands of other cosmic phenomena that might kill everyone on earth, everyone, irrespective of whether they eat beef, pork, or just vegetables.
India has been one of the oldest civilisations on earth that nurtured rationality and intellectual openness. It produced Boudhayana, who had propounded the "Pythagorean Theorem" 200 years before Pythagoras, the same Boudhayana and Aryabhatta who discovered irrational numbers, and finally, Brahmagupata, who introduced the decimal system with place values in 628 AD, the one revolutionary concept that changed the future of maths, accounting, and science – yet, in the same country, THE RAGING DEBATE TODAY IS WHETHER THE VEDAS APPROVE OF LYNCHING A MAN WHO MIGHT HAVE EATEN BEEF.
In the last fortnight or so, three innocent law-abiding Indians like you or me have been brutally murdered in three states in India merely on the suspicion that they had eaten beef or killed a cow. Shame and disgust are bloody inadequate words for what our ruling party, the BJP and its armies of goons are systematically doing to our polity, or even at a more fundamental societal level. If this violent march of unreason and hatred continues, India will be destroyed as a country long before any solar flare destroys the earth.
Let’s respect everyone’s right to eat what they wish, to do what they wish, as long as it doesn’t harm others. Let me accept that you have the right to have an opinion different from mine. Let everyone accept that intolerance to others’ views or beliefs or life-style is unacceptable in the civilised world. The moment we start tolerating intolerance, we too begin our inexorable journey towards being a Taliban or IS perhaps with a different religious tag.
And certainly, the time has come when everyone must stand up and protest against irrationality and bigotry that kill others. One must protest against the not-so-hidden agenda of turning India into a Hindu Pakistan.
If you agree with my views, the least you can do is to share this post and spread the message to a wider audience. Today. Because tomorrow may be too late.
If you disagree, you are welcome to enter a civilised debate here. Will you?

Bengaluru / Monday, 19 October 2015

Monday, 5 October 2015


It’s good that
You’ve broken your promise
I would have died of happiness
If you hadn’t

The news that you’re coming today
Has spread like wildfire
And on this special day
I don’t even have a mat to offer you

I gave my life,
But the life was His.
And the truth is
I’m yet to repay my debt.

The wound has healed
But the bleeding hasn’t stopped
My work had petered out
Before it began

She trusts me as her only lover
But the sad story is
She’s angry with me
If anyone else sighs

I wished to be free
From the shackles of her love
But she wouldn’t even
Let me die

Every drop of my heart
Roars like the ocean
Should you even ask
If I am hers?

Every breath of mine
Is immersed in ecstasy
So how does it matter
If the saqi ignores me?

She’s neither understood me
Nor will she ever do, Oh God!
Please give her a new heart
Even if you didn’t give me a new tongue to talk with

She’s asking,
‘Who is Ghālib?’
Someone please tell me,
What I should say.

Translated on Monday, 05 October 2015 / Kolkata

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Notes to my students and me: Life writing!

As a teacher, I often learn from my students more than what I teach teach them. My learning happens in many different ways and it usually it goes far beyond the classroom.

Last night, I was checking some papers – essays written by my students. It was an essay they had to write in 40 minutes and they had to write at least 250 words. I found two scripts where the writers wrote far below their capacity because they wrote too much. They seemed to be in a tearing hurry to write whatever they knew and had to say on the topic. Should you do this, particularly if you have to complete the task within a given time-frame?

The answer obviously is a big NO. If you tried something like that, you would commit avoidable errors and have no time to check the work in the end. Besides, since you were trying to cover far too many points, you wouldn’t be able to develop them adequately or offer evidence to prove them. So your essay could well be a hodgepodge of semi-developed ideas and taste like uncooked biriyani. Whatever great ideas you might have would be wasted. Just as the finest basmati rice would be, if it wasn’t cooked properly!

So dear Students, whenever you have to write an essay, do write slowly. Write only as much as you can within the given time. Give your brain the time to process and organise thoughts and give your fingers the opportunity to write neatly. First, decide what the most important points are, and then think: how many of them can you write down neatly in the given time, leaving a few minutes for checking in the end? In any exam, it is the quality of your writing that matters primarily. The quantity matters too – but that’s far too secondary.


When I opened my eyes this morning, I was thinking about these answer sheets. Suddenly, my long to-do list flashed before my eyes. And then the penny dropped. Don’t we commit the same mistake in life all the time? Aren’t we trying to do far too many things than what our time and energy would permit? Is everything that I think is important really important? Can I have less worries and more peace? Less junk and more quality?

How many of the things to do in my list really matter?  Let me strike off half of them, for good!


Wednesday, 05 August 2015

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Writing on writing 3

Writing in paragraphs

In the previous essay on this blog (Writing on Writing 2, Notes on how to write articles or essays) we have seen how we should plan our essay – think of the readers, identify relevant points, and put them in a structure. In this essay, I am going to discuss how we can convey our message clearly by writing sleek paragraphs. But before I go on, let me ask you a question. These are two images of the same article. Which one of them would you prefer to read and why?

 I am sure you would vote for the second image. You would prefer to read it because it is easier to read paragraphs separated by a blank line in between. But is the issue only about comfort of your eyes?

The anatomy of a paragraph

The answer obviously is NO. If you write in paragraphs, it is a lot easier for your reader to follow your arguments. And that brings us to the question: What is a paragraph? It would be a good idea if instead of reading the definition you define the term yourself. Please write down the definition of “paragraph”, or write it in your head before you read ahead.

And once you’ve done so, you’ll see your definition is very close to this: A paragraph is a section of a piece of writing usually consisting of number of sentences that deal with a single idea.

So that’s it. A paragraph is a packet containing a single idea. When you write, make sure that you don’t put two different ideas in a single paragraph.  If you follow this rule, you will win half the battle. In order to win the other half, let’s ask ourselves the question: What is the anatomy of a paragraph? To put it simply, does every paragraph contain similar sections?

The answer is: not always, but usually they do. And often, a paragraph has four sections. The main section is the single idea on which you are writing the paragraph. You write a sentence or two to describe the central idea of a paragraph. In all, a paragraph usually has the following parts.

1.       The main idea in a sentence or two, which is/are called topic sentence(s)
2.       Sentences leading to the topic sentence(s) or the main idea
3.       Supporting ideas – very often, they are evidence in support of the main idea.
4.       A sentence to establish a link with the following paragraph.

Please remember: this is only a general pattern. Every paragraph doesn’t have all these elements and neither do they always come in the above order.

Also note that the fourth element above is an essential ingredient of fine writing. It makes the difference between lucid writing and boring writing as it creates “curiosity” in the mind of the reader to continue reading and find out what lies ahead. If you don’t bring in this element consciously, there is every chance that your reader won’t bother to continue till the end.

Dissecting a paragraph

We are going to read a report on a cricket match between Bangladesh and South Africa. Here is the first paragraph of the report:

Of late, I’ve hated watching cricket primarily because rather than sport it’s now more of showbiz. An awful lot of hoopla is created around the game (at least in India) and public opinion is manipulated to ensure enormous TV viewership. And just as any business has ruthless practitioners who would break any rules – moral or legal – to maximize profit, cricket too has its share of con-men, a well-known fact that has just become official thanks to the recent indictment of some big names who ran the business in India. But last night, I loved watching Bangladesh destroy the mighty South Africans in Chittagong. And this is how it unfolded.

Can you identify the four elements in this paragraph? Here is my take:

Topic sentences
Of late, I’ve hated watching cricket primarily because rather than sport it’s now more of showbiz. … But last night, I loved watching Bangladesh destroy the mighty South Africans in Chittagong.
Introductory sentences
There are no introductory sentence in this paragraph
Supporting sentences or evidence
An awful lot of hoopla is created around the game (at least in India) and public opinion is manipulated to ensure enormous TV viewership. And just as any business has ruthless practitioners who would break any rules – moral or legal – to maximize profit, cricket too has its share of con-men, a well-known fact that has just become official thanks to the recent indictment of some big names who ran the business in India.
Connecting sentence
And this is how it unfolded.

Let’s now move on to the next paragraph of the story.

While returning from my workplace, I saw on my phone – South Africa was at a little over hundred for four. I didn’t think much of it as I expected them come out of the hole. After coming home, I casually switched on the TV. And was astounded to see the way the game was panning out!

As you can see, this paragraph has only two of the four elements, three introductory sentences and then the topic sentence, which is in bold. You will also notice that here the topic sentence is also performing the role of a connecting sentence as it creates a curiosity in the mind of the reader to check what happened next.

Your turn

Now identify the four elements of the following paragraph:

The softer sub-continental pitches are not friendly towards fast bowlers and Bangladesh had never produced awe-inspiring seamers. Yet, last night, Rubel Hussains and Mustafizur Rehmans of Bangladesh looked more like Mitchell Johnsons or Morne Morkels. They had such a vice-like grip on the South Africans – the batsmen seemed to be shaking in their boots. At one time, it seemed they wouldn’t last the 40 overs. And in the end, they scored only 168 for nine. I thought maybe, there is some demon in the wicket that is evading my untrained eyes.

Please scroll down to check the answer at the end of this article.

So as you can see, by following a few simple rules, you can write beautiful paragraphs that are not only easy to follow, but also make an impact. In the next essay of this series, we will discuss how to connect different parts of a piece of writing to improve coherence.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Key to the task:

Topic sentence
They had such a vice-like grip on the South Africans – the batsmen seemed to be shaking in their boots.
Introductory sentences
The softer sub-continental pitches are not friendly towards fast bowlers and Bangladesh had never produced awe-inspiring seamers.
Supporting sentences or evidence
Yet, last night, Rubel Hussains and Mustafizur Rehmans of Bangladesh looked more like Mitchell Johnsons or Morne Morkels. … At one time, it seemed they wouldn’t last the 40 overs. And in the end, they scored only 168 for nine.
Connecting sentence
I thought maybe, there is some demon in the wicket that is evading my untrained eyes.