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

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Dismantling democracy

It takes years or decades to create something, but just days, if not hours to dismantle it. It is true for buildings and bridges. And it is true for democracies.
Indian democracy has been built by people who led the freedom struggle, and while we are rightly unhappy with many aspects of how our country functions, the greatness of the Indian democracy becomes clear when we compare ourselves with the other countries that achieved freedom after the Second World War. Look at our neighbours: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka … every one of them has gone through tremendous civil strife and seen mass killings and instability from time to time. It is true for Nepal too, to a lesser extent. And of these countries, Pakistan and Burma aren’t democracies by any stretch of imagination. We would shudder to think of living in either of them. Comparatively, we have had a stable democracy, barring a two-year aberration during the hated Emergency regime of 1975-77.
Any government with commitment to liberal democracy should try to protect and strengthen the institutions of democracy. The much maligned UPA regime (2004-14) – despite the thieves and thugs in their ranks – did exactly that when they introduced the Right to Information Act or the RTI Act in 2005.
It offers every citizen the right to seek and obtain information on government activities. Naturally, the Act has been a deterrent against corruption. A politician or bureaucrat trying to bend rules for personal benefits stand to be exposed in the future, thanks to this Act.
Many people have tried to catch politicians and babus for their wrongdoings, but it hasn’t been easy. There have been 400 physical attacks against RTI activists and as many as 65 of them have been murdered in the last 11 years. Maharashtra tops the list with 19 murders. The latest victim too is from the state. Suhas Haldankar was the latest RTI activist to be killed on 9 April by hitting him repeatedly with concrete blocks.
A protest against Suhas Haldankar’s killing in Kharalwadi area of Pune. (Express Photo by Rajesh Stephan)
It is essential that laws are strengthened to protect people like Suhas Haldankar. However, Narendra Modi led BJP government is doing exactly the opposite. Let me explain.
The government is trying to modify Rule 12 of the Act to “permit the Central Information Commission to allow appeals to abate on the death of the appellant or for their withdrawal.” The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), a human rights group, demands that the Rule 12, instead of being diluted, “must be dropped without any delay.”
To put it simply, the changes that the government is trying to introduce is this: If an RTI activist is killed, people who might be affected by the information the former was trying to discover, may appeal to close the chapter.
Therefore, if the change happens, a corrupt politician or bureaucrat will have a strong incentive to murder the activist who is trying to unearth the former’s wrongdoings.
How wonderful of the government! While a civilized system should demand that whistle-blowers (people who are trying to fight corruption) be given protection, our present government is doing exactly the opposite.
“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
My heart goes out to the family and friends of this young man who gave his life for us. But the bigger question is: How many of us realise that the Indian Democracy is being dismantled bit by bit by the present ruling dispensation?
You can read the entire story here. But let me warn you: In my opinion, it is a rather badly written article. In fact, that is the reason I tried to make rewrite it and make it shorter.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Noor Mohammed and other Indian Muslims

I didn’t think there would be a direct bus from the Old Airport Road to my home. So, I boarded one for Marathalli, a junction on the way, where you could find a bus to anywhere in the world.

The conductor is a charming young woman in uniform: a khaki jacket over a khaki sari – only sarkari babus can have the imagination to contemplate a khaki sari! I am sure the girl hates it.

And why khaki for all so-called low level jobs? It’s a kind of apartheid, isn’t it? If I was the chairman of BMTC (Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation), I would introduce bright orange uniform with floral designs for women employees, and dark blue shirts with paisleys for men, like those my fashion icon Nelson Mandela used to wear.

My meditation is interrupted by the woman in khaki as she approaches me for ticket. She has a good look at my head and issues a senior citizen ticket for ₹14. It doesn’t matter these days, but even a few years ago, I would have been mildly irritated to have been bracketed with oldies. Alas! Time changes. And I guess I got a concession of 30%.

I secretly thanked BMTC (Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation) for the compassion, although, thanks to an accident of my birth in a certain social milieu, I belong to the microscopic minority of Indians for whom six rupees means nothing. But it does matter to most, particularly those who are on the outskirts of a physically active life.

Looking for an auto rickshaw, I met a fellow senior citizen who looked at least twenty years older than me. He asked me for a reasonable amount, but I haggled a bit out of sheer habit. And more importantly, because I think of senior-citizen concessions only when I am a potential beneficiary.

Noor Mohammed had completely gray hair and a seven-day stubble. He looked quite frail and I wondered how he managed to drive an auto rickshaw in the hot summer in Bangalore traffic. In India, it is politically correct to ask a man’s age, and so I asked, ‘How old are you, Noor Mohammed?’


‘That means you are exactly my age!’, He didn’t notice the touch of surprise in my voice. And I continued with the small talk, ‘Where do you live in Bengaluru?’

‘I don’t live in Bengaluru, I am from Ramanagara, a distance of three-four hours.’

‘Ramanagara? Where Sholay was shot?’

‘Yes’, he replied tersely. He obviously didn’t care much for the fame conferred upon his hometown by Sholay, or for that matter, David Lean’s Passage to India.

‘Then how come you are here?’

‘I don’t have children. I have a foster daughter. She is 21. Bees aur ek.’ After a pause, he repeated as if from far away, ‘Bees aur ek. She has a hole in her heart. So, we brought her here and put her in a hospital. My wife too is in the hospital. The doctors are doing some tests. By this evening, they will tell us when the surgery will happen. She was an orphan. … My wife and I brought her up since she was this small’, he took his left hand off the clutch lever and put the straightened palm about six inches above the floor. ‘What can I do now? Throw her away?’

He seemed to read the unasked question in my mind, and continued, ‘We are staying with some distant relatives here. They have this auto rickshaw. They asked me to drive it and earn something. Bahut achche aadmi hai woh log.’

Of course, they are wonderful people. I ask, ‘How much will the surgery cost?’

‘A lakh and seventy-six thousand. I have a little bit. For the rest, I’ll take a loan. … maybe, I’ll ask the people with whom I'm staying. Udhar le lenge.’

I was not surprised. The poor in India have a unique social security network where they help each other to tide over crises. Only recently, our domestic help asked for a small loan as she had to send ₹30,000 (roughly her three months’ earnings) to her sister in Delhi. Her sister is taking a house on rent and needs the cash to pay security deposit.

The calm fortitude with which the poor in India faces financial turmoil is amazing. Noor Mohammed’s daughter is in hospital, she needs a life-saving surgery, he doesn’t have the money, and he isn’t sure who he can approach for a loan. But at least on the surface, he is completely unfazed. He hopes to get a loan. Period.

Noor Mohammed is not an exception. He is the rule. The poor slog it out to earn two meals a day and a roof over their head. The unique phase in life called retirement that some people have between work life and death doesn’t exist for them. They invariably age prematurely and die uncomplainingly when the time comes.

If a hole is discovered in the heart of a child, they will try their best to fill it. But if they can’t, so be it. They will accept it gracefully. I recall Ajijul, a mason in Kolkata, who told me – as if he was giving me information about a distant cousin – that his oldest son and principal assistant in work had died in an accident a few weeks ago. That boy too, incidentally, was 21. Bees aur ek.


Noor Mohammed’s daughter would have all the dreams that a girl like her would. A loving husband, children, a little less of drudgery and insecurity, and a little more comfort and stability.

Please join me in wishing her all the very best.


In normal times, I wouldn't add this. But today, I feel compelled to.

Life is not easy for the poor in India. And countless authentic statistics tell us that a huge majority of the 17 crores (170 m) Indian Muslims are much more like Noor Mohammed and Ajijul, and much less like Mr. Azim Hashim Premji, an Indian industrialist near the top of the Forbes list of rich people. 

Let me also ask a question to some of my friends who are educated and compassionate and love the present BJP regime: How does it feel to be poor in India? And how does it feel, on top of it, to live in the fear that any day, protectors of cows might lynch you to avenge the death of a cow that never died?

Friday, April 7, 2017 

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

I protest!

NDTV reports:
A senior CPM leader was attacked by alleged Trinamool supporters today (01 April 2017) when he went to Goghat, about 100 kilometres from Kolkata, to meet villagers protesting land acquisition for a railway project.
Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, a senior lawyer and former Kolkata mayor, had gone with an NGO to look into the issue. A few weeks ago, locals had attacked a Trinamool office at Goghat to protest the land acquisition.
"I was pulled out of my car and slapped and kicked," Mr Bhattacharya said. "This is the first time I have ever been physically attacked in my political career," he added.
The incident occurred at around noon. Police rushed Mr Bhattacharya and other members of the NGO, Save Democracy, into their cars and sent them away.

Mr. Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, a senior lawyer and leader of the CPIM, was easily the worst mayor the Calcutta Municipal Corporation I have seen in my adult life. It is difficult to forget the huge garbage dumps on streets, broken roads, and almost-zero developmental initiative that we saw in Kolkata during his time. The only well-maintained road in in the city then was the stretch by which the chief minister Jyoti Basu (another specimen, more about him later) travelled from home to office. While Calcutta reeked, the mayor often spent time in swanky cities in the Occident.
On the positive side, he has been at the forefront to a number of public-interest litigation since the CPIM lost power in 2011. For example, the case to get the Sarda mega-scam out of the clutches of Ms Mamta Banerjee's police, and handing it over to the CBI.
The Left Front Government lost power after 34 years of uninterrupted rule mainly because of their hubris, disconnect with people, and thuggery by party members, who made money out of everything, including marital discords. However, the proximate cause was Singur, where the Left government gave away over 1000 acres of the MOST PRODUCTIVE AGRICULTURAL LAND in West Bengal to Tatas for a car factory. I did some arithmetic at that time and my sense was this: the LF government had ruined the livelihood of many more families than those who would have been benefited by the car factory. And to impose their stupid decision, the CPIM let loose the police and party goons on unarmed protesters. The ruthless beating of ordinary village folk was seen live on television and I believe that afternoon, the CPIM's goose had been cooked.
It is therefore a bit of an irony that Bikash Bhattacharya was beaten up by Mamta's goons when "he went to Goghat, about 100 kilometres from Kolkata, to meet villagers protesting land acquisition for a railway project."
How shamelessly opportunistic can politicians be? Evict people needlessly (there was plenty of less fertile land in West Bengal) for a private project when you are in power and support people who are being evicted for a railway project when you are out of power?
But even then, I protest this incident in the strongest terms.
West Bengal is being ruled by a ruthless gang today. No one has a right to beat up anyone for expressing their views. This must stop.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Old sadness, new sadness

Shakti Chattopadhyaya

The sadness that’s been around me for some time,
I ask him to sit down, close to me.
I’m here, beside me is shadow, and if my old sadness too joins us,
It would be great. And maybe, to my new sadness, I’ll say,
‘Go away, please, for some time
Storm through another sunny garden,
Crush some flowers, burn green leaves, upset everything.
And after some time, if all that effort wears you down, do come back,
Sit by my side.

But for now, let my old sadness sit with me on this meadow,
Poor fellow, after rushing through orchards, burning and ravaging homes,
He wants to be with me; let him be, for a while.
Let my old sadness have peace, let him feel the warmth of togetherness.

And then you come back, my New Sadness,
Please do come back then.

পুরোনো নতুন দু:খ
শক্তি চট্টোপাধ্যায়
যে - দু:খ পুরোনো তাকে কাছে এসে বসতে বলি আজ 
আমি বসে আছি , আছে ছায়া , তার পাশে যদি দু:খ এসে বসে 
বেশ লাগে , মনে হয় , নতুন দু:খকে বলি যাও
কিছুদিন ঘুরে এসো অন্য কোনো সুখের বাগানে
নষ্ট কর কিছু ফুল , জ্বালাও সবুজ পাতা , তছনছ কর
কিছুদিন ঘুরে দু:খ ক্লান্ত হও , এসো তারপর 
পাশে বসো 
এখন পুরনো এই দু:খকে বসার জায়গা দাও 
অনেক বাগান ঘুরে , মানুষের বাড়ি ঘুরে , উড়িয়ে - পুড়িয়ে 
ও আমার কাছে এসে বসতে চায় . কিছু দিন থাক 
শান্তি পাক , সঙ্গ পাক,এসো তারপর...
ও নতুন দু:খ তুমি এসো তারপর .....

Translated at Bengaluru / 15 March 2017

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

How can I improve my English?

[This is an expanded version of Section 2.4 of my book Learn English, A fun book of functional language, grammar and vocabulary © 2013 by McGraw Hill Education India Private Limited, India

You will also find it on Linked In.]

English has become the language that connects the world, and every educated non-native speaker of English asks this question at some time or other: “How can I improve my English?”. As you are reading this article, I presume you too have.  

Let me begin by telling you – without a shred of doubt – that everyone can become an effective speaker and writer in English. In this brief article, I would try to offer you some simple strategies you could adopt to improve your English language skills.

Most adult learners have a simple aim: to speak and write clearly, accurately, and fluently. Unfortunately, after 12 years of school in the vernacular medium, where pupils attend say, 1,800 hours of classroom teaching in English, most of them cannot speak or write English with confidence. Why?

The reason is simple: A second language cannot be taught. It must be learned. Language is a skill, and it’s true for any other skill – cooking, singing, or driving. For example, in India, you get a driving licence typically after thirty hours and 300 kilometres of training. But the day you get the licence, can you say you have become a driver?

The answer is a resounding NO. You become a driver only after you have driven a car alone in a busy city road. The journey between getting a licence and driving in a market place is a long and difficult one, and you must travel this distance all alone.

The process of learning a foreign language is similar. And you’ve got to do it alone, mostly. It isn’t easy. You must work smartly and consistently, over a long time. From my experience of teaching English for 16 years, I would say if you have the basic communication skills, you will need at least two years to become fluent and reasonably accurate in English.

Why can’t I speak in English?

Let’s move on to analysing the problems. Look at the two sentences:
·         Smoking is injurious to health.
·         She got off the bus.

I can bet my silk pyjamas that you won’t have a problem with the first sentence. If there is an occasion to tell someone that he/she shouldn’t smoke, you will use the first sentence easily, without hunting for words. However, when it comes to the second sentence, most South Asians would say:
·         She got down from the bus. û

It may look like a fine sentence, but it isn’t. A native speaker of English will perhaps never use it. They say: She got off the bus.

So, where’s the hitch? Why don’t we have a problem with the first sentence, although injurious is not a common word, but we’re unsure about the second? Please think about the answer and write it down before you move to the next section.

Three simple rules

You have possibly got it: we don’t have a problem with the first expression because we’ve heard and read it thousands of times. That brings us to our first mantra.

Mantra No.1: We learn English by reading and listening to good, accurate English repeatedly.

If you read, it will help you to improve your written language. When you listen to good speakers, it will help you speak better. Therefore,

·         Read books, particularly books that have been around for ten years or more.

·     Read newspapers that use correct English (e.g. The Hindu) or the Internet editions of the finest newspapers of the world. I am fond of The Guardian (London) and The New York Times. The first one is available on the Net for free. (They’ll ask you to contribute from time to time, which I think is fair.) For reading the NY Times regularly, you have to subscribe to it.

·   Read magazines like The Frontline, Outlook, the Scientific American, The New Yorker, the Economist, and so on. Most good magazines are available online. And you can read some articles gratis. But it would be better if you subscribe to at least one of them.

·      Watch news programmes and debates on TV. But be selective. Please do not watch TV channels where the anchor and the participators fight like hungry street dogs at a garbage dump. English is a polite language. It is not to be spoken aggressively. So, I would recommend you stick to NDTV 24X7, BBC, Al Jazeera, and CNN IBN.

·   Follow speeches and debates on the YouTube, which is a vast reservoir. Another wonderful resource of our time are the TED talks. Visit www.ted.com/ if you haven’t been visiting the site already.

·         Watch English films as often as you can.

The best way to learn a foreign language is to follow good speakers and writers. The operative word here is “follow”. If you read or listen passively, if you do not make mental notes of the new language you come across, you won’t improve. You must focus on new expressions, remember them, and use them when you get an opportunity.

A word of caution: Lots of people believe – may God forgive them – that good English means using long sentences with impossible-to-pronounce words like sesquipedalianism or subdermatoglyphic. It is not true, trust me! You can live happily and produce healthy children without ever using these words.

In fact, language is a tool to communicate and the simpler you are, the better it is. However, you need to write complex sentences with uncommon words (with precise meanings) if you are an academic, diplomat, or lawyer. You will need long complex sentences only for two reasons: (a) to make your language more compact and incisive, or (b) to hide what you wish to say.

So instead of focussing on just difficult words, look for words and expressions you are likely to use in your life. Like she got off the bus. Let me give you another example. You know what the word “look” means. But the meaning alone doesn’t help. You must learn how to use the word. For example: Look at me.

Here are a few more examples of how the verb look can be used:

ü  Sir, can you please look into the problem of frequent power outages?
ü  Our company is looking for fresh graduates with strong communication skills.
ü  Radhika and Ravi have a nanny to look after their children during the day.

You don’t have to learn all of them at one go. The point is: whenever you read or hear the word look, note what other words go with it. And try to remember the combination.

Also, look for brilliant turns of phrase while watching TV or reading. For example, when Iran was first given the go-ahead to build a nuclear reactor for peaceful purposes during the Barack Obama regime, I watched this interview with a diplomat:

Interviewer:        How will you ensure that Iran doesn’t produce weapon-grade material in the plant?
Diplomat:           Well, we have an agreement.
Interviewer:        But is it set in concrete?

The interviewer could have asked the question in hundreds of ways, but he chose to put it in a phrase that not only captured the idea, but also captured the listener’s attention. From now on, as you listen / read, note brilliant expressions that you think might be useful in the context of your life.
But how will you remember those phrases? Language experts tell us that unless you go back to new words and expressions five or six times, you may not remember them. And that brings us to our second mantra.

Mantra No. 2: I will record new expressions in a personal wordbook and review them from time to time.

Here is what you can do.
1.       Write down new words, their meanings, and a few illustrative sentences in a personal word book. If necessary, refer to a dictionary that gives lots of illustrative sentences. For example: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/. Listen to the pronunciation of the word. Write down the pronunciation in your own language.

2.       Go back to every new word after a day, after a week, after a fortnight, after a month, and whenever you can.

Most importantly, practise writing and speaking and try to use the word. First, you should use the new expressions in your mind. Think about them, think of a situation when you can use the new language you’ve just learned. And use the expressions whenever you get an opportunity. So, our next mantra is:

Mantra No.3: I will imagine situations where I can use the new language I’ve just learned and frame sentences in my head. I’ll wait for an opportunity and use the new expression the moment I find one.

Besides, keep a good dictionary and a reliable grammar book that you can refer to whenever a question arises in your mind. My favourite dictionary is The Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (Oxford University Press). But please remember, a grammar book can only be a supporting tool. It can never become the main prop!

To sum up:
1.       Read and listen to good, accurate English regularly.
2.       Record the new language you come across and review them.
3.       Use the new language you have learned.

Mastering a second language is not a hundred-metre dash, it is a fascinating journey that never ends. But the good news is: you can teach yourself to become a fine speaker and writer. Cheers!

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri
Bengaluru / 14 March 2017

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Why Gurmehar Kaur cannot be tolerated

I bow to the brave teachers of the English Faculty of Lady Sriram College, New Delhi for standing up against vicious trolls, and stepping out for Gurmehar Kaur, one of their students who has presented a strong case against the combination of ultra-nationalism and vandalism we’re witnessing in India today.

So where do we stand? On one side are the ordinary people who don't believe that the present prime minister is the best thing that has happened to India since the glory days prehistoric aeronautical engineering / plastic surgery, those who believe the government is doing lots of terrible things, the primary among which are dividing the country on religious lines, increasing the gulf between the rich and the poor, and damaging our educational infrastructure.

On the other side, we have the thugs and vandals of the students' wing of the ruling party, semi-literate wrestlers and cricketers, and leaders, including ministers and MPs, who are just incapable of understanding the nuanced position Gurmehar has taken, whose boringly repetitive response to any criticism against them is: "YOU CANNOT SPEAK AGAINST THE NATION."

Oh dear! when did the ruling party and its goons become "the nation"? Then who are we? Who am I?

The physical attacks and filthy verbal abuses on the students and teachers of Delhi University don't seem to be a sporadic event. It seems part of a bigger agenda to limit the space for free thoughts. The strategy seems to be something like this: beat up protesters on the street (Ramjas College), harass / jail their leaders on fake charges (Kanhaiah Kumar), push inconvenient students to a corner from where they can never escape (Rohith Vemula), suspend, if possible, sack teacher who support free debates (Rajshree Ranawat of JNV University, Jodhpur), have an army of trolls who are led by some of the leading lights of the ruling party. Stop all forms of expression of dissent, hopefully, dissent itself will vanish from the minds of the people!

Why has the ruling party become so desperate?

For every autocratic political dispensation, the biggest threat is not the opposing political parties, it is not agitations on the streets, it is not the fear of losing elections, it is not even the possibility of a revolution.

It is the people’s ability to T H I N K!!!

Gurmehar Kaur, a girl all of 20 years, has the ability to put his father’s death in a war with Pakistan in a different perspective, she can say, “Pakistan didn’t kill my father, war did.”

Now, if a war hero’s daughter says that, it is difficult to sell the narrative of ultra-nationalism, the core of which is Pakistan bashing, which goes well with the agenda of whipping up passions against Indian Muslims.

So the ruling party has started a war to conquer the mind-space of the people. Whether they succeed or not depends on you, Dear Reader.

Bangalore / 1 March 2017

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

It’s an epic tragedy, please do not gloat!

Online newspapers and the social media, that is, everybody whose opinions matter, is exulting today – with unparalleled smugness and malignant pleasure – about the conviction of a could-have-been chief minister of Tamilnadu, a state with a glorious tradition in graft. I hope this sweeping statement wouldn’t hurt readers from other states of the Indian Republic, and let me quickly add that this is not to belittle anyone, we are all experts in milking cash cows, and our politicians are the finest in the art. But what sets them apart from ordinary thieves is that they are equally good at slipping out of jails. Good that Harry Houdini is no more; had the poor bloke been alive, he would have died of shame.

Take the case of late lamented Dr JJ, in whose case, an honourable judge of the Karnataka High Court goofed up his maths and acquitted the mother of Tamilnadu in a DA case (DA stands for Disproportionate Assets, which is essentially similar to the DA or Dearness Allowance paid to babus to tide over cash crunch). I’m sure you’ll agree we shouldn’t question such minimal errors. After all, the laws of the land don’t stipulate that judges should be good in maths! Arithmetic is not even a part of law curriculums anywhere, please correct me if I am wrong. But coming to think of it, the political future of a state of nine crore took a different turn because of an error in addition committed by some otherwise brilliant IT officials, which went undetected by an even more brilliant judge.

Sorry about the digression. Being senile, I tend to veer off the main topic. Let me return to the theme of this incoherent babble. That is, please think of Sasikala, the tragic heroine of this sad tale.

For long, she unflinchingly served a leading light of the Great Indian Cash-and-carry Democracy and helped her make a little money on the side. And if she (Ms Kala) picked up a few crumbs, that is, a few hundred or thousand crores (please forgive me, beyond five or six zeroes, all figures look the same to me – and that makes me even more sympathetic to judges who botch up maths!) for her hubby or sonny, no one should grudge. But bloody crabby Indians – they just cannot accept if a poor person, particularly a woman, manages to climb close to the rim of the filthy bucket of poverty.

Dear Reader, please forget everything else, just put yourself in Sasikala’s humble shoes for a moment. God opened a door for this poor woman – after a life of slavery under a reportedly ruthless and vindictive master, after decades of humiliations that no one would ever know – to lay her hands on a huge safe, the finest Kanjipuram silks, and shoes (700 as per the last census) plus a chair that the Almighty had added almost as an afterthought. So sweet of Him!

When good fortune smiles at you ear to ear, you can overlook minor doubts about a court case that has gone into a coma, and look forward to entering the ornate door. And dream of the power … the glory … Cayman Island bank accounts … foreign trips with ambassadors fawning on you … earning even more by voting for this bill or that in the parliament … roads paved with flower petals and beds made of solid teakwood processed out of freshly minted post-demonetisation high-value currency notes … and ah! the almost erotic thought of Triple-X-L men in dyed black mustache and starched white dhotis falling at your feet!

But alas! Such a rude awakening ... the road suddenly leads to a walled home with rough floors and pre-used blankets with petty thieves and prostitutes to keep you company!

The dreams shattered so rudely by two mere mortals who dare to close the door opened by God. They will surely pay for it, if not here, in the other world!

And the bigger shame is people gloating over it. If it were two thousand years ago, new epics would be written on this tragedy, and people would read it for another two thousand years.

Bengaluru / Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

A boozy friend meets God

The condo we’ve moved in is in the developing world of Bengaluru. That means there are still open spaces around. But they won’t be open for long. All around us, massive multi-storey buildings are coming up, just like the one we are in. But the infrastructure is still poor. There are no street lights, and after dusk only tired workers in dirty clothes carrying yellow helmets are seen trudging back towards home along broken, muddy apology of a foot path.

The nearest supermarket where you can buy anything from papayas to pressure cookers is about a kilometre from our home. But as far as I know Bengaluru, lots of shops will come up along the road in a year or two. The first one came up a few months ago, MAYURI BAR AND RESTAURANT. It’s doing good business.

This evening, as I was walking along the dark road towards the super market, a fortyish man wearing a seven-day stubble in a lungi and florescent yellow T-shirt stopped me at particularly dark point, and with great dignity, asked me in Hindi, ‘Sir, do you speak Hindi?’

When I said yes, he responded by saying, ‘Could you please help me out with twenty rupees?’

Instinctively, I wanted to tell him to get lost, but I checked myself at the last moment and instead, asked, ‘How much booze do you get for twenty bucks here?’

At that moment, the man’s face was lit up by the headlight of a truck coming from afar. In that light I saw a range of emotions wade across his face: anger, frustration, sorrow …. Finally, he put on an air of deeply injured innocence and said, ‘Saab, Daaru?’

He uttered the two words with such pathos, and looked so dumbfounded that you could think he had heard the word daaru for the first time in his life. Then he said with difficulty, ‘No Sir, I don’t drink, I have hungry children to feed at home.’

I said, ‘That’s too bad. I booze, every day. I love my booze and I help only fellow drunkards.’

Having said my prepared line, I turned around and started walking. He almost fell at my feet and said, ‘Saab, aap jaisa deotako jhut bolna paap hai. It’s sin to tell a lie to God like you. Sir please ….’

What could I do? Well, gods are supposed to be benevolent, aren’t they?

Bengaluru / Monday, 06 February 2017

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Sir Nicholas Winton

Nicholas Winton's statue at Prague rail station 
While doing research for a book I am writing, I came across the extraordinary story of Nicholas George Winton, an ordinary man who proved himself to be a true hero at an extremely dangerous time in history. I cannot but share it here. The Photograph is from Wikipedia and the information is from Wikipedia and a few other sources.

In 1939, just days before the Second World War began, Nicholas Winton risked his life to save 669 mostly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia in an operation later known as the Czech Kindertransport (German for "child transportation"). He ensured their safe passage to Britain.  They would have been dead otherwise. And some of the children saved by Winton grew up to become mathematician, paediatric geneticist, film maker, parliamentarian, and so on. 

If Winton’s feat was incredible, what followed was even more so.
Like a true hero, he never publicised his efforts. Neither did he try to profit from it. Fifty years later, his wife found a scrapbook in their attic that contained the names, pictures, and documents of the children he had saved. 

And the world came to know his humongous exploits much later, through an episode of the BBC television programme That’s Life! in 1988. BBC invited Winton to the programme as a member of the audience. During the programme, the host of the programme, Esther Rantzen showed Winton's scrapbook and narrated his achievements. Then she asked if anybody in the audience owed their live to Winton, and if so, to stand up. More than two dozen people sitting around Winton and his wife rose and applauded.

Sir Nicholas was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003 and received the highest Czech honour, the Order of the White Lion in 2014. He died on 1 July 2015, aged 106. 

Nicholas Winton was born on 19 May 1909 in Hampstead, London. His parents were German Jews who had relocated to London two years before. The family name was Wertheim, but they changed it to Winton in an effort at integration. They also converted to Christianity, and Winton was baptised. 

In 1923, Winton entered school, but left without qualifications. He attended night school while volunteering at the Midland Bank. He then moved to Hamburg, Berlin, and Paris, working for different banks. He also earned a banking qualification in France. Returning to London, he became a broker at the London Stock Exchange. 

Shortly before Christmas 1938, Winton was planning to travel to Switzerland for a skiing holiday. But he decided instead to visit Prague and help the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, then in the process of being occupied by Germany. 

Winton single-handedly established an organization to aid children from Jewish families at risk from the Nazis. He set up his office at a dining room table in his Prague hotel. 

In the night of 9-10 November 1938, paramilitary forces and German civilians killed Jews throughout Nazi Germany, while the German authorities looked on. The pogrom was known as the Night of Broken Glass. The name comes from shards of broken glass that littered the streets of German cities after windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues were smashed.

After the Night of the broken glass, the British Parliament allowed the entry into Britain of refugees younger than 17, provided they had a place to stay and a warranty of £50 was deposited for their eventual return to their own country. 

However, the Dutch government refused Jewish refugees to enter the Netherlands, and the children were to board a ferry from there. The Dutch border guards sent the refugees back to Germany, despite the horrors being well known. 

Winton was able to overcome the impediment thanks to guarantees he had obtained from Britain. After the first train, the process of crossing the Netherlands went smoothly. Winton ultimately found homes in Britain for 669 children, many of whose parents would later perish in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Throughout the summer of 1939, he, with the help of his mother, placed photographs of the children in Picture Post seeking families to adopt them. He also wrote to US politicians such as Roosevelt, asking them to take in more children. 

Winton later said that two thousand more might have been saved if they had helped, but only Sweden accepted some refugee children, besides Britain. 

The last group of 250, scheduled to leave Prague on 1 September 1939, was unable to depart as Hitler invaded Poland on the same day, and the Second World War had begun. Of the children due to leave by that train, only two survived the war.

Sadly, 2017 looks disturbingly like 1938. As I write this, millions of refugees are living in terrible camps unprotected from cold, rain, and snow. And borders are being sealed. People who could have had the same fate as the Syrian refugees if history had moved in a different direction, are trying their best to throw out starving children from their doors. 

The world needs lots of Nichlas George Wintons today.

Bengaluru / 05 Feb 2017