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

Monday, 28 November 2016

Demonetisation at a Kolkata street corner

My friend, let me call him Amit, has been living in their own house in an upmarket residential area in South Kolkata for as long as I know him, that is, 58 years. Their two-storey house is just off the main road. Yesterday, he said this over the phone:

“Demonetisation happened in the night of 8/9 November. Within two days, the phuchka-wallah (panipuri vendor) vanished from our street corner. In another few days, the bhelpuri-wallah stopped coming. The ice cream vendor hung on for a week. Then he too was gone.” Then he added, “I had seen three generations of the phuchka-wallah. First his grandfather, then his father, and finally him. Since my childhood, hardly a day passed when they hadn’t been at the street corner in the evening.”

That was to be expected, wasn’t it? When people don’t have cash to buy vegetables, they aren’t expected to have panipuri. So although our prime minister believes the poor are sleeping peacefully after high-value notes were scrapped, the reality is quite the opposite.

We have lived in independent India where urban middleclass families were far from well-off fifty years ago, but now they are. Like my family

My parents struggled through their life to make two ends meet, but my sister and I don’t. In my childhood, the ceiling fan was the last word in comfort during the summer. Now we have air-conditioners. My mother used to take a public bus every day to go to her school at the other end of Kolkata, despite severe arthritic pains. A taxi ride was a luxury for her. These days, I rarely see the inside of a public bus. In contrast, Amit’s family have always been well-off. 

Every panipuri vendor in Kolkata is from either Bihar or Jharkhand. And for some reason, not one of them wears trousers. They still wear dhotis that barely cover their knees, and a long shirt. I can bet my shirt that nothing has changed for Kolkata’s panipuri vendors in three generations. The man who sold panipuri until 8 November 2016 is as poor as his grandfather.

Did I say “nothing has changed”? I was wrong. Something has just changed for them. These poor men who continued to eke out a living through economic ups and downs, through the Emergency and destructive communist governments, have suddenly been deprived of their livelihood. And as my friend was telling, if they go hungry for long, they might eat away their capital and they won’t have the cash to buy atta and suji to make panipuris when normalcy returns. The economist in Dr. Manmohan Singh expressed precisely this in the Parliament when he said, "Fifty days is a long time in a poor man's life." This will have one of the two consequences. Either they will fall into a debt trap and die slowly, or become paupers straightaway.

I would love to conclude with a stinging last paragraph, but I don't have to. The Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen, who has worked through his life on the economics of poverty and development, has summed it up beautifully. Please let me quote from the Indian Express of 26 Nov.

He said that both the idea [of demonetisation] and the way it was implemented, was akin to a “despotic action” and betrayed the “authoritarian nature of the government …”

“It is hard to see how [the move is going to cause any good]. This will be as much of a failure as the government’s earlier promise of bringing black money stacked away abroad back to India (and giving all Indians a sudden gift — what an empty promise!). The people who are best equipped to avoid the intended trap of demonetisation are precisely the ones who are seasoned dealers in black money — not the common people and small traders who are undergoing one more misery in addition to all the deprivations and indignities from which they suffer.”

PS: On Facebook, two of my readers have shared their experience on the topic. Quoting them with their permission:

Soma Sinha Sarkar: I have noticed that the junk jewellery sellers who stationed themselves at various points in South Kolkata have either vanished or their numbers gone down drastically. When enquired, they mentioned cash crunch as the reason for their ordeal.

Satyajit Mitra: I now stay in a place surrounded by villages who regularly take their vegetable produce to local market. The number of them started diminishing from the next day of historical announcement. I cycled to a few villages to find out the cause of their disappearance, they told that they don't have smaller denomination notes to give the customers who are giving 2000 rupees note they got from banks. The saddest part is that they are giving their produce to cattle as their food. Another fallout of 


Bengaluru / Monday, 28 November, 2016

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Ethiopia and West Bengal

A friend of mine who visited the country recently told me that Ethiopia (population 99.5 million, that is, approximately 10 crores) is a democratic country. But there, 100% parliamentary seats were won by the ruling parties, EPRDF and its allies in the last elections.

He also said that there is no civil law in Ethiopia. Every offence is a criminal offence. So if there is a car crash, the driver is put behind the bars straight away. And nobody knows when the trial will begin. If the poor bloke happens to be an opponent of the ruling party, the trial will possibly never begin. So there are no road accidents in Ethiopia. :) Great!

A little search on the Net … and I found that in the latest incident of human rights violation, 97 peaceful protestors were killed in Oromia and Amhara regions of the country (as estimated by the Amnesty International) in 2016. Ah! These perpetual protestors and their old whines: lack of freedom, rising prices, etc. etc.

I also found a report by Al Jazeera (11 August 2016) that says: A government spokesman, Getachew Reda told them that the Ethiopian government won’t allow the UN to investigate the killings as they (the government) alone were responsible for the safety of their own people.

How sweet of them, and how wonderfully they were discharging their responsibility towards their own people.

Also: “He (Reda) blamed what he called “terrorist elements” for stoking the violence from abroad, without giving further detail.” You knew it, didn’t you?

Gentle Reader, let’s move on to another bastion of democracy, the state of West Bengal in India, a state just about Ethiopia's size in terms of population. Just six months ago, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), swept the state elections with just under 72% of the assembly seats, although the margin of victory was slender to moderate in a majority of the seats. And it was a free and fair election – to a great extent – and even cynics like yours truly couldn’t complain of vote fraud. The national Election Commission had done a commendable job and there were central forces in large numbers.

Recently, in Bengal there have been by-elections in a few constituencies for various reasons and unlike six months ago, the Election Commission had given up. In these elections, the ruling party openly threatened voters, physically assaulted opposition leaders, not to mention workers, and openly rigged the elections while the servile state police cringed in deference to the ruling party goons.

The results? Let’s check the winning margins in different constituencies:


Manteswar – TMC won, 706 in May / 1,27,423 in November

Coochbehar – TMC, 87,000 in May / 4,23,000 in November

Haldia – TMC lost by 21,000 votes in May / won by over 1,00,000 votes in November

The omnipotent leader of TMC routinely urges her followers to win ALL the seats in every election. Yes, like Ethiopia’s EPRDF, she would love to win 100% of the assembly seats.

Human rights? Freedom of expression? Democratic right to protest? My bloody left foot!

Bengaluru / November 26, 2016

Pictures: Courtesy Wikipedia

By Africa_(orthographic_projection).svg: Martin23230LocationEritrea.svg: User:Rei-arturderivative work: Sémhur (talk) - Africa_(orthographic_projection).svgLocationEritrea.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8841388

By Filpro - File:India grey.svg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50825723

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The New Decree

Javed Akhtar

[A friend, Sourindra sent me the link to a YouTube video of Javed Akhtar reciting his poem Naya Hukumnama. It was captivating. Here is a translation followed by the original in Hindi. Thank you Ruchi and Aditi for giving me the English equivalents for the Hindi words I didn’t know. And of course, thanks Sourindra.

Please read. But you must listen to the original recital. You can go to YouTube and search for “Javed Akhtar + Naya Hukumnama”.]

Someone has decreed that from now on
The wind must always declare before it blows 
Which way it would like to travel.
Also, It must report 
At what speed it would flow,
Because right now, storms are not allowed 
And this caravan of sand dunes, 
The towers being built with paper
They must be secure.
And everyone knows 
Storms are their old enemies.

Someone has ordained that the waves on seas
Must control themselves and 
Be still.
Rising, falling, and then rising again
It’s illegal to create such a raucous disorder.
These are just signs of madness,
Symptoms of rebellion.
No rebellion will be allowed
No madness tolerated.
If waves wish to be, 
They must be quiet.

Someone has ordered that from now on 
All bouquets must have flowers of the same colour.
And an officer will decide
How bouquets are to be made. 
Indeed, the flowers must be of the same colour,
And how deep or how light the shade should be,
There’ll be an officer to decide.
How can you tell someone 
That a bouquet isn’t made with flowers of the same colour
It can never be.
Because a single colour hides countless shades.

Please look at the people 
Who tried to create monochrome gardens. 
When different colours leapt out of one, 
They were so upset, so broken …
How can you tell someone 
That the wind and the wave never follow decrees
That a magistrate’s clenched fist, or handcuffs, or jails 
Cannot hold a gust of wind,
And when waves are still, the sea gets livid
And later,
Her anger takes the shape of a calamity.
How can you tell someone …

Translated / Bengaluru / 22 November 2016

नया हुकुमनामा
जावेद अख्तर

किसी का हुक्म है सारी हवाएं,
हमेशा चलने से पहले बताएं,
कि इनकी सम्त क्या है.
हवाओं को बताना ये भी होगा,
चलेंगी जब तो क्या रफ्तार होगी,
कि आंधी की इजाज़त अब नहीं है.
हमारी रेत की सब ये फसीलें,
ये कागज़ के महल जो बन रहे हैं,
हिफाज़त इनकी करना है ज़रूरी.
और आंधी है पुरानी इनकी दुश्मन,
ये सभी जानते हैं.
किसी का हुक्म है दरिया की लहरें,
ज़रा ये सरकशी कम कर लें अपनी,
हद में ठहरें.
उभरना, फिर बिखरना, और बिखरकर फिर उभरना,
गलत है उनका ये हंगामा करना.
ये सब है सिर्फ वहशत की अलामत,
बगावत की अलामत.
बगावत तो नहीं बर्दाश्त होगी,
ये वहशत तो नहीं बर्दाश्त होगी.
अगर लहरों को है दरिया में रहना,
तो उनको होगा अब चुपचाप बहना.
किसी का हुक्म है इस गुलिस्तां में,
बस अब एक रंग के ही फूल होंगे,
कुछ अफसर होंगे जो ये तय करेंगे,
गुलिस्तां किस तरह बनना है कल का.
यकीनन फूल यकरंगी तो होंगे,
मगर ये रंग होगा कितना गहरा कितना हल्का,
ये अफसर तय करेंगे.
किसी को कोई ये कैसे बताए,
गुलिस्तां में कहीं भी फूल यकरंगी नहीं होते.
कभी हो ही नहीं सकते.
कि हर एक रंग में छुपकर बहुत से रंग रहते हैं,
जिन्होंने बाग यकरंगी बनाना चाहे थे, उनको ज़रा देखो.
कि जब यकरंग में सौ रंग ज़ाहिर हो गए हैं तो,
वो अब कितने परेशां हैं, वो कितने तंग रहते हैं.
किसी को ये कोई कैसे बताए,
हवाएं और लहरें कब किसी का हुक्म सुनती हैं.
हवाएं, हाकिमों की मुट्ठियों में, हथकड़ी में, कैदखानों में नहीं रुकतीं.
ये लहरें रोकी जाती हैं, तो दरिया कितना भी हो पुरसुकून, बेताब होता है.
और इस बेताबी का अगला कदम, सैलाब होता है.
किसी को कोई ये कैसे बताए.

@javed akhtar poetry

Monday, 21 November 2016

Notes to my Students # 16: Please do the needful

This is an Indian English expression we use at the end of almost every business email / letter. But sadly, the rest of the world doesn't understand it. I always thought there is hardly any other more self-explanatory phrase in English than this, particularly in the context of business communication. And I always believed it is just a matter of time before it became part of what is vaguely called Standard English.
But the world has started learning English from us! Please read this from wwwDOTgrammarilyDOTcom.


"Do the needful originated in India, is commonly used in African countries, and was once heard frequently in the United Kingdom as well. After the Victorian period, its usage in the West died out, but with the increase in outsourcing to and from India, it started catching the ear of English speakers in the West again.
"Do the needful means do that which is needed. It’s mainly used in formal written communication, especially when dealing with bureaucracy. It can be preceded by the words “kindly” or “please.” Ideally, it should follow an explanation of a problem that needs to be fixed or a request that is being made. It’s important to provide enough context about what “the needful” actually is, because the phrase itself doesn’t specify.
"There are many other phrases you could use instead of do the needful. “Please do what I asked” or “could you please fix this” might suffice, although “please do what needs to be done” or “please do what is required” are the phrases closest to the original meaning."


Here are a few illustrative sentences that I could think of:
1. "Madam, Of late, your dog has been using our porch as a free open-air toilet, with particular focus on my car tyres. I would request you to please do the needful."
2. "Sir, Raghu has started a side business of exchanging high-denomination notes at a discount. And unfortunately, he is doing this during office hours. Kindly do the needful."

So, if you think you'd like to use this phrase, please do the needful. That is, jot it down in your word book, frame a few sentences around it, and say the sentences in your head, and finally, look for an opportunity to use the expression. Cheers!

20 Nov 2016

Friday, 11 November 2016

The end of the world? JK!!!

A pathological liar, a disgusting dunce 
Who knows nothing about
Things beyond the borders of his country,
A dishonest businessman, hasn’t paid taxes for ages,
And cheated his contractors time and again,
A shameless racist who reminds us 
Of the USA a hundred years ago,
A sexual predator who 
On TV measured women’s bodies on a scale of 10 to 1,
Who routinely walked into women’s changing room because 
The hapless youngsters were participating in a pageant owned by rogue,
An employer who regularly assaulted his women employees sexually. 
A first-class passenger who browbeat / bribed flight attendants to 
Upgrade an economy-class lady passenger to his next seat 
So that he could attempt to rape her.
And to cap it all,
Bragged about his exploits.
Has just been elected the president of the US of A.

Because the so-called disenfranchised white Americans,
Including a majority of white women,
Many of whom university graduates
Voted for him. 


It happened because
Once upon a time
A white immigrant’s children 
Could enjoy a lavish life-style 
By a lot of real hard work 
Without any real education.
A school drop-out 
Could drive a truck 
And own a bungalow with a garden and two cars,
Could have six children, 
And send all of them to college if they qualified. 


Because, there was a time when they had to open their doors 
For qualified non-white immigrants who could 
Fill in the gaps 
That drivers and tradesmen with enviable life-style couldn’t.
The next generation of these new imports became 
University profs, and some even Nobel Laureates.
And the uneducated well-off just couldn’t compete.

But more importantly,
It refused to be bullied.

And brutal American businessmen 
Could no longer run banana farms in Columbia,
Or drug cartels in Venezuela.
Local thugs took their place.

Because the new tyrants in the Middle East 
Refused American Corporations to
Take their liquid gold for a pittance.

Because it was no longer possible 
To set up a cyanide plant in the middle of an Indian city,
Ignore safety rules completely,
Murder 30,000 people,
Maim many more,
And get away scot-free – no criminal charges at all –
And wash their sins
By paying a holy $750 for every human life they extinguished.

Because in the mean while
The world had become a lot more competitive.
Chinese workers produced computers,
Bangladeshi women stitched shirts,
And Indian engineers wrote codes
At a fraction of what it would cost in the USA.

But the stupid white Americans,
Who hate people who can read and “think”,
And don’t read the superb American newspapers
Produced by brilliant white, black, yellow, and brown Americans, ….
World affairs have never been their strong point,
Staunch anti-communists who’ve painted their country “red”
Had no clue, didn’t know, couldn’t believe that

And chose to elect the stupidest of their lot
Who happened to be a crook too,
and had promised them the moon.

The world has survived many dirty wielders of power.
It will survive Donald Trump.
Because for every dirty Donald Trump
There is a decent Barack Obama
Because for every Hitler,
There has been a Gandhi.
For every Mussolini, a Nelson Mandela,
For every McCarthy, a Martin Luther King.

So Cheers! 
This is not the end of the world.

[With thanks to Moumita for opening my eyes to some of the facts.]

Bangalore / 10 November 2016

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Stephen Hawking on Donald Trump

I have been trying to follow the US Presidential elections, which is due in two days, because the outcome will have a bearing not only on the USA, but on the entire world. Donald Trump’s victory – which is still possible – will be a great fillip to the forces of lack of reason, illiteracy, and bigotry. A lot of countries in the world including the land of “Bharat Mata” are being ruled by such people, let’s not have any illusion about that. On a day when 1700 schools in Delhi have been shut down because children cannot breathe in the toxic Delhi air any more, our wonderful Urban Development minister, who looks and talks like a mawali, is busy defending shutting down NDTV’s Hindi Channel for a day. What sense of priorities! (Don’t know who a mawali is? You must, if you are an Indian. Please google for the word.)

The American election has been one of the nastiest political battles which would put even our Mamtas, Mulayams, and Mayavatis to shame. In a way, it’s good. It has removed the façade of the so-called “liberal democracy” of the West. When the times are bad and the chips are down, most preachers show their teeth and claws.

Another aspect, which has been generally overlooked by the commentators on both either of the Atlantic, is that this election has been singularly devoid of humour. Lack of humour is a bad thing, it indicates something is seriously wrong somewhere. But no problem, the world is fine!

Stephen Hawking, said to be the greatest theoretical physicist of our time, did the job. Please read this hilarious New Yorker report (31 May 2016).

LONDON … Stephen Hawking angered supporters of Donald J. Trump on Monday by responding to a question about the billionaire with a baffling array of long words.

Speaking to a television interviewer in London, Hawking called Trump “a demagogue who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator,” a statement that many Trump supporters believed was intentionally designed to confuse them.

Moments after Hawking made the remark, Google reported a sharp increase in searches for the terms “demagogue,” “denominator,” and “Stephen Hawking.”

“For a so-called genius, this was an epic fail,” Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said. “If Professor Hawking wants to do some damage, maybe he should try talking in English next time.”

Later in the day, Hawking attempted to clarify his remark about the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee, telling a reporter, “Trump bad man. Real bad man.”

In case you have missed the point, the USA is a land of native speakers of English. Political illiterates of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your ignorance.

Bengaluru / 6 November 2016