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

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Chile in an unfair world

Over the last few days, billions of words have been spoken on the Internet, televisions, and newspapers to describe the tragedy of Lionel Messi, who had missed a penalty against Chile in the Copa America finals, at what was virtually the “championship point” in tennis parlance. However, sadly, very sadly, in comparison, there was hardly and praise for the quiet, stupendous efforts of Chile in winning two Copas in a row, both times as underdogs.
If you google for “Copa America champions” you’ll see that the tournament has been dominated by the three giants of Latin American football, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. Very few other teams have won the championship ever, and no one else consecutively. And Chile had never won it before 2015. Therefore, the second championship for them – that too in the centenary year of the Copa – is real good news not only for South American football, but for world football too. Chile has established themselves as the new powerhouse of international soccer. Let’s bow to the new champions. (What a dream match it will be if there be a stand-off between Chile and the European champions in 2016!)
Yet, our focus is on a goal that Lionel Messi didn't score!
Lionel Messi is undoubtedly one of the greatest sportsmen that have ever walked onto a football pitch. His trophy cabinet is overfull and he is superb both on and off the field, almost never getting involved in a controversy of his own making. A lot of experts agree that he is one of the best three footballers ever. And for such a wonderful player, there is nothing wrong if he misses a penalty. It just shows that he too is human, and not the hybrid of superman and batman created by news peddlers for their commercial interests. A Bangla paper I read loves to refer to him as "footballer rajputro" (Prince of Football)
It’s fine that we salute princes, supermen, and gladiators, it’s fine that the world is still fascinated with fairy tales, but can we be a little more even-headed, can we be fairer to the unheralded people who just work hard and produce results?
It has been long recognized that there is something seriously wrong with the history as most of us know it. The history that we’ve read in schools is the history of kings, queens, and victors. You can rarely feel the heartbeat of the common people or the tears of the vanquished in conventional history books. And it seems to have gone into our head as well.
I believe in our time, we are far more bothered with icons and heroes than we need to. And we love to ignore the common man that sweats blood, away from the glare of TV cameras. Don't we unconsciously love to live in the ethereal world of the royalty and its stupid regalia, which has been turned into the hoopla around superstars and manufactured supermen, the world of Sharukh Khans and Leonardo DiCaprios?
Are we really crying for Leonel Messi? Or are we shocked because we've just had another reality check that there are no supermen? And there is no fairy-tale in real life either?
Bengaluru / Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Saturday, 18 June 2016

A chance encounter

When I have to take a train or flight, I usually leave home three to four hours ahead of time. The idea is to reach the station/airport at least an hour before, and keep another in pocket to take care of glitches like traffic jams, flat tyres, and so on …. Naturally, my children, who belong to the unfortunate generation that believes speed is more important than the destination, make fun of me. They think it’s just another sign that their old man is getting on in years. But they don’t know why I do what I do.
Actually, I love watching life pass by at stations and airports. At the major rail stations in my home town Kolkata, there is always a long queue of people waiting for long distance trains. They wait for hours to board the “general” coaches, which are actually quite special. While most express trains in India have cushioned seats in reasonably clean “reserved” carriages, the few “general compartments” at the head and tail of the trains are unreserved dabbas for the aam admi, who – a politician described with disarming honesty – belong to the “cattle class”. These are coaches with naked wooden seats and non-functional dirty toilets and stationary fans where people pack themselves like dead sardines.
I watch the blank faces of the men in the queues, most of them young, uneducated migrant labourers travelling to faraway Gujarat or Kerala, where they will live a sub-human life to make a living. Their faces are blank, but it can be seen they are dreaming of the day – months later – when they would return to Malda, Murshidabad, or Medinipur, with currency notes hidden in their underwear and sometimes, AIDS in their bloodstream, to spread a bit of prosperity and death in rural Bengal, which is dying in any case.
At airports, the story is different, but equally captivating. You might come across celebrities like film stars or potbellied politicos whose picture you saw last week when they were released on bail on fictitious grounds. If you are lucky, you might come across a woman in a sari and a magic blouse that has no back … and of course, men in extra-large shirts giving instructions loudly over phone to their minions and telling the world how important they are. There are also “ordinary” people at airports – like yours truly – but unlike in other parts of the country, they do not outnumber the high and mighty.
Last week, when I had to catch a flight from Bengaluru, I checked in two hours before departure as usual, but despite that, I nearly missed my flight, and I am going to tell you why.
To catch a bite, I went into Madras Tiffin, an eatery opposite the Departure Gate No. 4, where you get reasonably good idlies at unreasonably bad price. As I collected my plate and looked around, I found all the tables had been occupied. So I approached the nearest table with a free chair where a charming fiftyish woman was having her breakfast alone. I asked her if I could sit down.
‘Yes of course, please do’, she said with a touch of warmth that’s not too common in today’s world. With curly hair and thick glasses, she had an intelligent face with sad eyes that would make her stand out in a crowd.
When I went to pick up a paper napkin, I brought one for her too. She said with a smile, ‘Thank you. Where are you going?’
A brilliant Bengali writer Syed Mujtaba Ali once wrote that some people, for example, an Englishman, would never ask you this question if you met him on a train. In was unlikely that he would be interested where you were going. Even if he was, he would rather ask: ‘Going far?’ A vague question that could be answered with equal vagueness if you wished.
But my companion at the breakfast table was an Indian, and a charming thing about us is that we are less inaccessible to perfect strangers.
‘Kolkata’, I answered.
‘Oh! Apni Bangali?’
I nodded. And it was time to switch over to Bangla and ask, ‘And you?’
‘I am going to Visag. But I don’t have a home there.’ After a pause, she continued, ‘Actually, my husband and I bought a flat in Bangalore. I came here to get some documentation done. My husband used to work in Visag.’
Then she said, ‘I am going to settle down in Bangalore in a few months.’
‘Really? In a few months’ time, my wife and I too are moving to Bangalore.’
As I answered her, I found it rather odd she said “I”. Hadn’t she said her husband “used to work” in Visag? But naturally, I didn’t ask her why. That would be too much even between two Indians.
Grandparents tend to become talkative when they get an opportunity to talk about their grandchildren. I found myself talking about Haroun and Toto, who were the reason behind our decision to move. She too suddenly brightened up as she told me about her granddaughter who lives in Toronto. A chirpy five-year-old with two swinging plaits floated before my eyes. And time flew as two grandparents happily shared notes on their respective grandkids.
After some time, she suddenly fell silent. She was thinking about something rather deeply as I drank my coffee. Then quite abruptly, she said, ‘My daughter will come down to help me when I shift to Bangalore. … My husband is no more. You would have read about a helicopter crash near an off-shore rig in the Krishna Godavari Basin last year? My husband was one of the two pilots …. He was a Colonel in the Army. A helicopter pilot, he was on deputation to Pawan Hans.’
She was controlling herself with great effort as I heard the announcement: “This is the last and final boarding call for Mr Sinha Chaudhuri, passenger flying to …”
02 May 2016

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Gregory Rabassa

“Vicitacíon did not recognise him when she opened the door and thought he had come with the idea of selling something unaware that nothing could be sold in a town that was sinking irrevocably into the quicksand of forgetfulness. He was a decrepit man. Although his voice was also broken by uncertainty and his hands seemed to doubt the existence of things, it was evident that he came from a world where men could still sleep and remember. José Arcadio Buendía found him sitting in the living room fanning himself with a patched black hat as he read with compassionate attention the signs pasted on the wall. He greeted him with a broad show of affection, afraid that he had known him at another time and he did not know him now. But the visitor was aware of his falseness. He felt himself forgotten, not with the irremediable forgetfulness of the heart, but with a different kind of forgetfulness, which was more cruel and irrevocable and which he knew very well because it was the forgetfulness of death.”

Could you describe the text above as anything other than poetry in prose? Welcome to the magical world of Gabriel García Márquez and Gregory Rabassa. If you have read ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, you would know that the novel is actually four-hundred-and-twenty-two-pages of sublime poetry.

This book ranks among the three of the finest novels I have read, which include War and Peace and The Old Man and the Sea. I had begun my journey through the world of Márquez with this masterpiece. And although I had experienced the beauty of poesy in prose in the beautiful language called English, as I read One Hundred Years … I couldn’t believe that such poetry could be created in translation. I was therefore hardly surprised when I read somewhere that Márquez had said Rabassa’s translation of Cien Años de Soledad was better than the original.

Gregory Rabassa passed away in Connecticut two days ago at the age of 94. Let’s bow to the great man. 

Bengaluru / Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Every evening

We have moved into our new flat a week ago. Every evening after sunset, these bright lights get switched on automatically. They are not turned off until at least 11 in the night. Although mercifully, they aren't seen burning during the day.
As I look out at the dark sky from our balcony, I don't see any stars. The blanket of dust and automobile exhaust that envelops the city does not allow stars to peep into our lives. And the dusty landscape is dominated by this torn billboard without a message lit up by three monster lights.
Is it symbolic? Does this pointless sign represent India today, where a colossal amount of energy and other resources are wasted on rubbish?
Bengaluru / 08 June 2016

Friday, 3 June 2016

Donald Trump and …

Duriing the run-up to the US presidential election scheduled later this year, Donald Trump has astounded the world with his unconcealed hatred towards Muslims, Latino, Chicano, and other immigrants in the USA, American Democrats, and also the Third World (read the poor of the world) in general. Such filthy, always-unsubstantiated verbal aggression against anyone who is not perceived to be on his side is shocking even by the standards of the US Republicans. In the New York Times, Charles M Blow writes on 2 June 2016:
“Donald Trump, a man who tosses the truth around with the callous disdain of a spoiled child with a toy he has outgrown, has spent much of his campaign calling the media dishonest ….
 “He seems to view any unflattering, or otherwise critical, coverage as an attack. His rhetoric suggests that in his mind, adulation is the only honesty. 
“But there is a strand of these comments and behavior that heralds something more dangerous than an ideological animosity toward the press. Trump keeps signaling that if he had his [way], he would silence dissent altogether.”
As I was reading the article, I couldn’t but think back to the just concluded elections in West Bengal. The similarities are chilling!

Replace Donald Trump with Mamata Banerjee, he with she, his with her, and the text above fits in perfectly with the WB elections in April / May 2016. Particularly, the expression “adulation is the only honesty” seems to have been written with Ms MB in mind.

Donald Trump will most probably lose the elections, although his opponent, Hillary Clinton, is carrying her own baggage. However, Mamata Banerjee has won a thumping victory. Let’s see where she takes West Bengal in the next five years.

And please pray, if you are a believer.

Bengaluru / 3 June 2016