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

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Odd-even and just odd

Beyond a shred of doubt, the present rulers of Delhi, the Aam Admi Party (AAP) are just another bunch of political opportunists with a fair share of skeletons in their cupboard, like fake degrees and domestic violence.

However, their attempt to introduce the odd-even rule (allowing on road vehicles with odd number plates one day and those with even numbers the next) to reduce pollution is certainly a step in the right direction. Let's congratulate AAP for it.

I believe anyone who cares for the environment will welcome this step, even if it leads to some inconvenience. The common people of Delhi have accepted the law gracefully. Isn't it odd that our MPs, who make laws, are against this unquestionably positive legislation? Even when the government has arranged special air-conditioned buses for them? They, cutting across party lines, want exemptions from the law! Only one BJP MP, Anshul Verma hasn't joined this flock of sheep. (But I am sure there are others.)

Indians know that most of their MPs are ruthless fortune-seekers who care for lining their pockets and nothing else - including the grave threats posed by overuse of fossil fuel.

But dear MPs, do you have to prove it time and again?

Kolkata / 27 April 2016

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Spine

By Shankha Ghosh

[I saw this poem on my friend Senjuti's Facebook page this morning. Here is my translation followed by the original in Bangla. Thanks, Senjuti.
I might add that Shankha Ghosh is one of the front-line poets in Bangla. In fact, he is even more than that. In the dystopia that West Bengal is today, he is a moral compass for all of us.]
I woke up with a start. Is there a storm raging outside?
The windows are thrashing about,
There are flashes of lightning now and again.
As I was about to go back to sleep, in the transient light of lightning
I felt there was someone in the room, crawling.
‘Who, who is there?’
The crawler didn’t respond.
I get up, go close, and ask him once again,
‘Who are you? What are you looking for?’
But he remains mute,
Just crawls from one end of the room to the other
He isn’t looking up, and is refusing to look into my eyes.
‘Are you searching for something, Sir?’
And I hear: ‘Yes of course, I am. And I must keep searching.
I’ll leave as soon as I find it – I will walk away on my own.’
‘What are you looking for?’
In a feeble voice, he says, ‘My spine.’
That moment, lightning flashes again. And I’m shocked to see
Not one, but lots of them
Crawling all over the room, from one corner to the other,
Looking for the same thing.
Sunday, 24 April 2016

শঙখ ঘোষ
ঘুমটা ভেঙে গেল হঠাৎ। বাইরে কি ঝড় হচ্ছে?
দাপাদাপি করছে জানলার পাল্লাদুটো
মাঝে মাঝে বিজলি ঝলকাচ্ছে।
ফের শুয়ে পড়তে গিয়ে সেই বিদ্যুতের ছটফটে আলোয় মনে হল ঘরের মধ্যে যেন হামা দিচ্ছে কেউ।
'কে ওখানে? কে?'
হামা কোনো শব্দই করে না।
উঠে আসি কাছে, আবারও জিজ্ঞেস করিঃ 'কে আপনি? কী চান?'
সে তবু নিশ্চুপ থেকে এ - কোণে ও -কোণে ঘুরছে
মাথা তুলছে না কিছুতেই, চোখে চোখ নয়।
'কিছু কি খুঁজছেন আপনি?'
শুনতে পাচ্ছিঃ 'খুঁজছি ঠিকই, খুঁজতে তো হবেই -
পেলেই বেরিয়ে যাব, নিজে নিজে হেঁটে।'
'কি খুঁজছেন?'
মিহি স্বরে বললেন তিনিঃ 'মেরুদণ্ডখানা।'
সেই মুহুর্তে বিদ্যুৎ ঝলকালো ফের। চমকে উঠে দেখিঃ
একা নয়, বহু বহু জন
একই খোঁজে হামা দিচ্ছে এ-কোণে ও কোণে ঘর জুড়ে।

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Welcome home!

Haroun, 7+, is a bit like a fizzy bottle. The moment he opens up, words gush out of him like a cascading waterfall in the peak of good monsoon. Yesterday, when I reached our Bengaluru home, he had had his lunch and was watching a cartoon channel as usual. After opening the door, he had to resolve the issue of dividing his loyalty between the TV and me. In the end, he told me, ‘Dadabhai, can I watch this final episode please?’
It was a huge sacrifice for him. And he kept his words. Soon afterwards he came into my room as I was unpacking my bag, and opened the fizzy bottle. … His school, classmates, ma’ams, the new day-care centre and the new friend he had just made. (It was the first day for him at a new day-care.) As usual, he had forgotten the name of his new friend. Incidentally, I know from whom he has got the gene that makes one forget names and faces. Ask my students, they will tell you. …
During an entire term, I kept calling Bipasha Visakha, and managed to get her name right only towards the end of the term. So when I saw her again in class recently, besides being happy to meet an old young student again, I took a vow not to forget her name ever. So in the course of a classroom discussion, I confidently addressed her as Bipasha with a sense of satisfaction and a bit of pride. From another corner of the room, Gurmeet, another former student, helpfully suggested, ‘No Sir, she is Visakha.’
For a moment, I stood in the middle of a classroom like an idiot, looking uncertainly at Bipasha/Visakha, not knowing what to say. Then the penny dropped as the class broke into a loud guffaw. See how naughty kids are these days!
Coming back to Bengaluru, Haroun had a lot more things to describe, including the 11 stages of skateboard. In the middle he digressed and said, ‘Dadabhai, Please don’t let your feet go too deep under the table.’
‘Because, two velociraptors have built their nests under the table – their egg will hatch next Monday, when you have gone.’
(While writing this, naturally, I had to check the spelling of velociraptor in a dictionary. They are “small dinosaurs that move fairly quickly”.)
Anyway, after explaining the first six stages of skateboarding, pushing off, mellow turn, sharp turn and so on, Haroun vanished. The next moment, I found him fast asleep, hugging his younger brother Toto.
For me too, it was time for a siesta. So I dozed off. When I woke up, Haroun was still sleeping, but Toto was half awake. He said with a serious face, ‘Welcome Dadabhai.’
Then he went back to sleep.
Bengaluru / Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Monday, 18 April 2016

If you are a voter in Bengal, please save the state


After living in this country for over six decades, I have no illusion that the Indian democracy is anything but for the rich, by the rich, and it feeds off the poor. It has always been like this, and we hardly see any light at the end of the tunnel.
But in West Bengal today, it is even worse: it is democracy for the goons and by the goons. Nowhere else in the country are voters openly threatened of physical violence as done by the illiterate and uncouth leaders of the ruling party in Bengal. (These are no empty threats - they are carried out regularly and with impunity.) And these criminals have the benevolent hand of the all-powerful chief minster on their head.
Already, the megalomaniac Chief minister of this state has destroyed as many institutions of democracy and governance as she could: from the Human Rights Commission to School Service Commission. The education system is in a shambles, it is controlled by ruling party goons and some spineless boot-licking teachers / administrators. The police machinery has been reduced to a bunch of personal valets of the ruling party. When a teen-age girl was raped and killed by ruling party goons in North Bengal for protesting against the humiliation of her father at a kangaroo court called by the ruling party, it was her father who was arrested. (The case has chilling similarity with the murder of Tapasi Malik, another brave girl who paid with her honour and life for protesting against CPM goons, who were in power in 2011. The CPM stooped to the level of accusing her father for her rape and murder). An ordinary housewife from Sattor was picked up from her home by police and ruling party goons, taken to a jungle and subjected to inhuman torture through the night. A few days later, the victim was arrested in a trumped up charge. These instances are not exceptions, they are the rule in Bengal today. Corruption is the only industry that thrives in Bengal today -- we have just seen almost the entire top brass of the ruling party pocketing wads of currency notes as bribe from a journalist masquerading as a businessman.
Are you a voter in the state? You would do a great disservice to the nine crore people of West Bengal if you didn't vote for anyone who had the best chance of defeating the ruling party candidate. Let the question "who shall I vote for?" not bother you. I am certainly not saying the opposition are angels. But at this hour of danger, what is important is who must go, not who might come in.
Please mark my words, if the present CM gets another term, in another five years, she will will have destroyed the state completely. Already, Bengal has been reduced to the state of Bihar under the worst days of Lalu-Rabri-Sadhu Yadav rule.


Kolkata / 16 April 2016

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Collapsed: Just a flyover?

A painting by my friend Soumya Sankar Mitra

Last month, a TV journalist put on the public domain some videos of a sting operation in which almost the entire top leadership of the Bengal ruling party, TMC had been caught accepting bribe in hundreds of thousands of rupees from a fictitious company. Clearly, they were doing it in the normal course of business, just as any businessman would accept an advance for a legal contract. The Number-2 in the party didn’t accept the bribe himself, but wanted it to be handed over to his pimp, who is – hold your breath – a senior police officer in charge of law and order in the most prosperous district of West Bengal.

However, there was an exception. On one leader’s face, we did see a shadow of guilt – Sougata Roy, MP and ex-prof of physics. Poor idiot – it seemed such a big bribe was for the first time in his hardly illustrious career. Confused, while pocketing Rs.500,000 in currency notes, he said, বাবা, এত’ অনেক টাকা!” (Oh God! It’s a lot of money.)

On the other end of the spectrum was Bobby Hakim, the urban development minister and a close confidant of the plenipotentiary chief minister of West Bengal. He said, “I don’t deal in peanuts.”

Yeah, he’s a big fish. And he continued to brag before the hidden camera. Like any good don, he took care of his underlings: “What will be left for the kids if we dealt in small stuff?”

My wife and I were discussing what could happen if the ultimate authority in sanctioning large infrastructure projects in Bengal deals in “big stuff”. No wonder reputable civil contractors like L&T or Gammon India have stopped bidding for projects in West Bengal.

And as we talked, a flyover collapsed before our eyes on the TV screen. At one of the busiest junctions in Kolkata. In a moment, buried under the debris were dozens of men and women, auto-rickshaws, taxies, SUVs, … and hopes, aspirations, and future of many a family. …

It’s 2.30 in the afternoon, we have just turned on the TV. A tragedy unfolds before our eyes in real time. It is mind-numbing, physically sickening. As we sit in the comfort of our home, the TV shows bloody legs jutting out from under thousands of tonnes of rubble … a fortyish driver hopelessly trapped in his taxi crumpled like a sheet of useless paper. He opened his door and tried to escape, but managed to free only his head – groaning and looking at the world possibly for the last time with blank eyes. There was no anger in his face, just pain and helpless acceptance of fate. He seemed to be one of the thousands of Bihari taxi drivers in Kolkata. My mind drifted away to his family in Darbhanga or Madhubani. What if his mother, wife, and little kids are watching him at this moment? Couldn’t the TV channels show a little compassion and blur the image of his face?

The flyover has collapsed shortly before 1.00. The channels have already managed to grab a footage from a roadside CCTV camera which shows a span of the bridge collapse on moving traffic. They are showing it every five minutes. But there is still hardly any sign of disaster management except firemen who are on the job, but totally unprepared to handle a disaster of this magnitude. Local people are trying to disentangle bodies. A man splashes water on the head of the dying taxi driver from a plastic bottle and gives him some to drink. The chief minister has cancelled her election campaign and is helicoptering back to Kolkata.

3.00 PM: Over two hours has passed since the tragedy. Still, the rescue operations are hopelessly disorganised and inadequate. You can see the National Disaster Management Team in action – their orange jackets stand out. But there are only a few bubbles of orange in that sea of humanity. Fort William, the HQ of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army is less than five kilometres away – but there is no sign of Army jawans, who are most well-equipped to handle such calamities. Why? The Indian Army has never been accused of taking things lightly in emergencies. But in West Bengal today, the bureaucracy doesn’t dare pee without the CM’s consent. Possibly no one risk calling in the army in the CM’s absence.

3.00 PM: The Chief Minister arrives, but is hardly bothered about the shoddy rescue efforts or the absence of the army in the scene. Always paranoid with self-publicity, she grabs a mike and starts addressing TV cameras, even when people are dying before her eyes. Rather than checking where things stand, she says: “Nobody should play politics over this tragedy…. The contract was given in 2007 during the Left Front regime.” [That is, before we came to power.]

Then she goes on to add something bizarre: “All the drawings are with them [them who? The Left Front?] Although we asked for the designs a number of times, they haven’t given it to us.”

The CM is not particularly famous for her intelligence or education, but with incredible stupidity, she in fact indicts her own government. The construction of the flyover is supervised by Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authorities (KMDA), which has been under the above mentioned Bobby Hakim, who – you might recall – doesn’t deal in peanuts. If the CM is correct, it would mean the Government of WB allowed the flyover to be constructed for five long years, without even having the design, which ought to be the first point to begin supervision of any civil structure. Her minister and the KMDA authorities who supervised the construction without the drawings ought to be in jail.

3.10 PM: Neat columns of army men arrive, every one of them carrying a shovel or some other equipment. They rush in – they will save a number of people by pulling them out alive.

3.15 PM: The CM, the chief secretary of the state, the home secretary are sitting on plastic chairs by the roadside … no communication devices with them except cell phones. Sundry politicians including the mayor of Kolkata are hanging around. The top officials of the state are doing nothing except giving their boss company. The CM is giving instructions randomly: “Ei Mayor, you go to Medical College (Hospital), I will take care of things here.” Shouldn’t these worthies be in a control room now and coordinating activities of the different agencies engaged in rescue?

3.37 PM: Ordinary people (none of them in uniform) carry a lump of flesh and blood on a stretcher. The untrained hands cannot hold the stretcher – the body falls off. Dead or alive?

4.28 PM: The army men cut through a part of the debris – recovers more bodies.

4.30 PM: The CM and her team still sitting by the roadside. But a table covered with a white sheet and a laptop has appeared before them. In three and a half hours not even an emergency telephone number has been given for anxious relatives to enquire about lost people. Can a government be more incompetent?

8.00 PM (Approximately): There is still hope of finding people alive under the debris, but the army contingent is standing on one side of the road. Apparently, a police officer has just told the army men to keep off.


Many conjectures have been made, tonnes of newsprint have been used to analyse the reasons behind the collapse. Let’s not go into them. The reason for the collapse can be summed up in just one word: CORRUPTION. In most parts of West Bengal today, you cannot lay a brick without paying money to the ruling party and without buying materials from goons controlled by them.

On the day of the collapse, the civil contractor who had been constructing the particular span closed his office and vanished from the scene. He is the nephew of a senior TMC leader. He’s one of the “kids who deals in small stuff”?

In short, long before the flyover collapsed, governance had collapsed in West Bengal.

Kolkata / 14 April 2016

Friday, 8 April 2016

Can I ask for a bigger prize?

Certain mornings come in with a special message. Maybe, an unusual colour of the rising sun, maybe, dark nimbus clouds after weeks of scorching heat, or maybe, a story in the newspaper that reinforces your faith in human beings. For me, the morning today began with an amazingly beautiful note from a student.
Two points before I share the note. When I first met her last year, she was an excellent student, but was still learning to stitch together sentences in English. After just a year, I find the grace and beauty of her language is so refined! And I can honestly say that -- maybe, we teachers at the British Council have showed her the way -- but the actual learning had to be done by her. It's always so.
So if you are a student of English who is still struggling, do take heart from her language. I will be proud to write as beautifully as she does. And here is her message, with NO editing:
Thanks a lot for your support and guidance.
I can still remember those days when I was looking for someone who could assist me developing my CV meticulously. I did not find any expert or any of my teachers (except one of my sisters). May be that was my mistake, I could not ask them properly. Yesterday, when you asked me to forward my CV for your review and feedback, I felt delighted.
I am feeling much confident now only because you have vetted my CV and other documents. Until now I believe that, except my parents no one has time to take out from their busy schedule. But I am happy that you proved me wrong.
I have had a face like a wet week-end when I saw you are moving to B’lore shortly. I wish I had attended your last term in the British Council. I always feel motivated after attending your class. I hardly found any repetition in your classes. You always explore innovative teaching techniques, which make your sessions more and more interesting. Thanks to the British Council for gifting us an enthusiastic, experienced, affectionate English teacher. I haven’t ever seen any language teacher as good as you.
Take care, stay healthy and keep posting on FB. Please keep in touch and I am always there to extend any kind of support to you.
Warm regards & affection,
Kolkata / 5 April 2016