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

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

Thursday, 2 February 2017

We can't afford to sit back

From global warming to terrorism, from intolerance to destruction of democratic institutions, from "alternative truth" to post-truth democracy, from millions of refugees to economic disparity rising everywhere. Plus despots in power from the US to Turkey to Israel to Russia to India to the Philippines (China has never had a taste of democracy) ... uneducated charlatans pretending to be world leaders and behaving like leaders of savage clans ...
If there was anyone out there who wished the world destroyed, 2017 would be heady time for them. Cheers!
But we, the ordinary people, the young and the not so young, the middle-aged and the elderly, children, parents, and grandparents, have a huge stake in this planet. We just cannot sit back and watch the slide towards a violent end.
If you think a course correction is essential, millions of people, mainly women, have shown us the way, in cities as diverse as Vancouver and Nairobi, Washington and Wellington, on 21 January 2017.
Stand up, protest!!!
Kolkata / 01 February 2017
Map - Courtesy the New York Times. Sadly there hasn't been a murmur of protest in India, the only dot on the subcontinent is Dhaka.