Wednesday, August 31, 2011

West Bengal or Paschimbanga ?

Paschimbanga. I should have no problem with this name for our state. Nor would have an average Bengali . After all, we use this name often enough in Bengali correspondence or in our conversation though 'Paschim Bangla' is used at times.
The name also contains the historical as well as the geographical memories of Bengalis. It reminds us that Bengal was once undivided and there was an eastern part and western part each with some distinctiveness - within the overall cultural umbrella there were differences, in dialects and food habits. We had the 'Bangals' of East Bengal or Purbabanga and 'Ghotis' from the west or Paschimbanga.
And of course, the name also reminds us that there was a partition, a traumatic event in the life of Bengalis associated with the birth pangs of the new nation, India, that is, Bharat. A name like 'Banga' or 'Bangabhumi'  would have ignored this history and might have led future generations to forget the historical perspective.
Some of the objections raised by non- Bengalis of the state, as I find from articles in the newspapers, are not really valid. Paschim is not an exclusively Bengali word, it is in fact Sanskrit and used in Hindi as well. To say that Non-Bengalis will not be able to pronounce this word is unacceptable. They can very well pronounce Uttar of Uttar Pradesh. Why not Paschim of Paschimbanga ? As regards 'Banga', the word 'Bong' (rhymes with Bond) has often been used by non-Bengalis to refer to Bengalis in their conversations. In fact, I came across this word about thirty years back when a public school product, in the instant case a Bengali, used this in a derogatory sense to refer to a Bengali not well versed in the english manners i.e not very sophisticated with forks and spoons and in the dance floor. Now however the word has been brought mainstream by Anjan Dutta in his film 'Bong Connection'. Well, Anjan might have also picked up the expression in his own Darjeeling public school and later at the Park Street restaurants. Be that as it may, Bong is easily pronounced, so Bong-o should not be difficult.
Some one, now settled in the States, wrote about the emotional disconnect she will feel if the name of the State she grew up in was changed from ' West Bengal' to Paschim Banga'. I don't know what she would have felt if she had grown up in Bangalore or Bombay. I think this emotional thing is a bit exaggerated.
If some one talks about Bengali chauvinism in this name change game, I am not prepared to accept that either. Bengalis are undoubtedly chauvinistic in the sense that they are proud of their language, literature , culture and heritage but this chauvinism has never spilled out on the streets and has not affected their secular and cosmopolitan outlook. We should remember that an'Amra Bangali' movement someone tried to start years back in Kolkata never could take off.
Do I then support this proposal to change the name of the state from West Bengal to Paschimbanga? No, I don't. I don't because West Bengal as a name has the same connotations as Paschimbanga has. May be the words are in English, but so is the name of country.  I don't think the change is necessary and will serve any useful purpose. On the other hand it will entail  some the senseless work and expenditure involved in this change of name game - in changing govt. stationeries, car registration numbers, even the drop down lists of online forms and who knows what else. The justification being given for this proposal has no basis in reality. Going up two three steps in the alphabetical list of the states of the country will not fetch extra central assitance for this state not alter its economy in any way as some newspaper reports have shown. By changing the name of the state, you don't change the wretched condition the state is in. Why do it then? That is not the 'Change' people voted for and brought the new government in with a such a massive mandate.
While I hope there is a reconsideration when the proposal is placed in the Assembly, I find it interesting that this proposal got the blessings of an all party meeting. All party meetings are a rarity in this state torn so long by political rivalries and conflict. Should not such meetings take place more often and come to some consensus on the real and intricate developmental issues confronting the state ? If the Chief Minister succeeds in bringing that about, she will indeed be ushering in some real change.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Political roller coaster

Cricket is a game of uncertainty, so is politics.
The roller coaster ride that Mamata Banerjee had in her political career amply demonstrates the point. So does the nosedive that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's  political fortune took in recent times.
In the 2004 parliamentary elections, Mamata was the only one from her party to be elected to the Loksabha. The poor showing of her party in the polls did marginalise  it to some extent, more so after the Left Front strode to a convincing victory in the ensuing Assembly elections. She continued to make headlines however and kept herself politically relevant through protests and agitations against the government  but at least at that stage she could not attract many adherents except for her die-hard supporters. Nobody could foresee what was to happen in a few years time and in fact, there were many who thought her politics were merely disruptive, as the CPM's had been in the sixties and seventies of the last century, stalling the progress and development of the state.
Meanwhile, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's star was rising. He was seen as a man of refinement and culture,  talking of development and industrialisation in the state and of creating an environment conducive to achieve that goal. He spoke against gheraos and trade union militancy which many considered as root causes of the state's industrial decline and flight of capital from it. His govt. was seen as investor-friendly and his sincerity was not doubted, though doubts remained in some quarters about his ability to carry his party along with him given the party's past antagonism to big businesses and its culture of dictating terms in every sphere of activity.
People were optimistic by and large. In Kolkata they saw flyovers coming up, roads being widened, shopping malls proping up here and there and lot of construction activity going on. They felt something was happening, for a change, in this state.
In 2006 Assembly election, the highly organised, well oiled party apparatus, adept at electoral battles, no doubt did its bit, but this feeling of optimism and Buddhadebbabu's reformist and liberal image contributed to a great extent to the resounding victory that the Left Front had.
The euphoria did not last long though. The turning point came with the fiasco at Nandigram, the block in East Medinipur chosen for a Special Economic Zone ( SEZ ) and a chemical hub where the resistance of the villagers to the proposed acquisition of farm lands under the Land Acquisition Act was sought to be suppressed and crushed by the joint efforts of the police and the CPM's cadres. This area was known to be dominated by the CPM  which possibly never anticipated such  a strong resistance from the villagers and reacted viciously, using terror tactics to force them into submission. Some of the pitched battles that ensued at different parts of Nandigram were beamed on different TV channels. Then came the fateful day in March 2007 when  14 villagers ( official estimate ) were killed in police firing. The incident caused wide spread outrage not only in the state but all across the nation. Even left leaning intellectuals came out on the street in a protest march in Kolkata to condemn the incident which shattered the pro people image of the government and  the CPM and revealed the ugly face of a cadre raj that Mamata Banerjee was all along complaining about.
Mamata was already agitating against forcible acquisition of land at Singur where the Tatas had been granted a lease to set up their automobile factory to manufacture a small car Nano - the newest kid on the block - advertised as the cheapest car in the world. She had gone on a hunger strike on this issue, but her agitations did not have much of an impact till then. On the contrary, many in the urban middle class thought that, in her strident opposition to any project of the CPM led government, she was only destroying a chance that the state was getting for economic regeneration. It was generally accepted that in a land starved state like West Bengal, agricultural land needed to be taken over in any industrialisation drive but the plight of the evicted farmers who may not have known any other form of livelihood, as a consequence of any forcible take over by the government under an archaic law had not really penetrated the consciousness of many in the urban educated classes but after the Nandigram episode they realised that the land vs industry was a complex and sensitive  issue which needed greater attention and consideration to the interests of the affected farmers and could not and should not be resolved by brute force alone in a democratic and politically aware society. The episode caused widespread resentment against the government and gave Mamata's agitation a new lease of life. With an expanded  support base now, she launched a demonstration blocking the national highway outside Singur for ten days or so, a discredited government remaining a mute spectator. The government did not concede to her uncompromising demand that the lands of the unwilling farmers were to be returned but the Tatas had no option but to pull out from Singur though their factory was nearing completion.
Singur was a dream that never came true, not only for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee but many others  in the state who were not necessarily CPM sympathisers, but Mamata was already on the road to achieve her dreams which seemed nearly impossibly only a few months back.
The downward slide in the CPM's as well as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's political fortune which started then was only helped by the party's obdurate behaviour at the national level and was reflected in successive elections thereafter culminating in the Left's defeat in the Assembly elections which changed the power structure in the state after 34 years and made Mamata Banerjee the newest CM of West Bengal.
These ups and downs will remain an important chapter in the history of West Bengal. Much has been written about it, more will be. Not only about the rise of Mamata Banerjee as a phenomenon in West Bengal and Indian politics but also about the rise and fall of the CPM dominated Left and their 34 years of rule which also is a phenomenon of sorts in the context of a democracy which allows people to exercise their options for a change every five years.
While looking back, one may feel happy about a democracy which allows opposition to operate and take up causes of interest to the people, a democracy that allows a free and independent media capable of bringing under scrutiny and debate every action of the government or a party, and finally about the people generally docile, mostly silent, sometimes even dumb, but who can at times say - this far, and no further. But a doubt lingers. Will our politicians as a class continue to rely on street agitations and blockades as the only forms of political action or shift the emphasis to well argued and informed debates in the Assembly of elected representatives ? Further, in these days of the electronic media whose reach is far and wide, even in the rural areas, and which is ever ready to take up controversial issues for a debate and panel discussions involving not only politicians, but also civil society members, a political message can be sent out to a wider audience than can be done in a rally to influence people in general and  thereby the government if need be. It is not that politicians have not learnt to do that, they are doing it already and had to do it during the period rallies and processions were not allowed before the last election. Why not make it the general practice, instead of flexing muscles at mass meetings to put pressure on a democratically elected government?


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Friday for all

Friday is a lucky day for Mamata Banerjee. Apparently it has always been so, as the Newspapers say. 13 has turned out to be a lucky number for her too. It is the 13th year after she broke away from Congress to form her own party and continue her struggle against the CPM and the Left Front which ruled the state.
And on Friday, the13th May,2011 she achieved what she set out to do. She defeated the CPM led Left Front in the Assembly election convincingly. Her party, Trinamul Congress, and the allies got an overwhelming majority and ousted the CPM from power after a prolonged rule of 34 years.
She is undoubtedly the architect of this victory. People rallied around her, they responded to her call for 'change' and voted for her, her party and her allies. Even her detractors could not but admire her courage, her determination, her uncompromising and determined struggle against the CPM and as she never failed to point out, its misrule.
Now as the Chief Minister of West Bengal , a position she assumed last Friday (Friday again !), she has many challenges ahead, many expectations to fulfill but if one starts with the basics, she has to  deliver on the promise she has made to the people of restoration of the rule of law and peoples' faith in it and to run a government on the basis of policies and programmes framed, initiated and implemented by it in a transparent manner and not a government run by the party's diktats at all levels. She has repeatedly said  'Dalatantra noi, Ganatantra chai' . That is the 'change' she has talked of and if she has to bring that about, she has to ensure that her party functionaries at different levels do not fall prey to the lures of the same ' Dalatantra' that she opposed so vehemently, for power can be too tempting and leads easily to its abuse.
In a meeting with district police chiefs, the new CM has sent this message as reported in today's papers. She has asked them to maintain law and order at all costs and act impartially without bowing to any political pressure.She has also asked his party colleagues to ensure that there is no political interference in the work of the police and the administration. She is reportedly proposing a citizen's committee of eminent people for every police station to act as an interface between the police and the people of the area.
This, no doubt, is a good beginning but I hope she is talking not only of tackling political clashes and violence which is of course essential, but also of law and order in the broader sense encompassing such matters as regulating processions and rallies so that they do not block the flow of traffic, ensuring observance of traffic rules by both pedestrians and vehicular traffic, taking errant buses, minibuses and autos to task, not allowing organised groups to stop work or block roads on the slightest pretext or indulge in vandalism on roads, hospitals or educational institutions. There are many such things ( one can go on enlarging the list ) where a 'few' dictate terms to 'many', which are assumed to be and accepted as exercise of democratic rights in our culture but are really antithetical to true and proper democracy and they need to be set right.
It is a tall order and can not happen overnight but any visible steps in controlling the chaos that we witness  on a day-to day basis will go a long way in ushering in the 'change' that we believe she has been talking about and pave the way for development in the state. She is the unquestioned leader of her party and is already attaining an iconic status in the minds of the people which is evident from the frenzy of the crowd that collects wherever she goes - she can possibly take the tough, mostly non-populist decisions required to bring in this transformation.
History has given her the opportunity.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Friday, the 13th

( I posted this on 12th, but Blogger went into maintenance and the post vanished. I have reposted it from a copy which I kept because of the Blogger's uncertain behaviour )

Friday, the 13th has ominous connotations in the Western culture. Many believe it is an inauspicious day, a day on which one does not undertake a journey or start a new venture. The superstition, it is said, dates back to Friday, the 13th October, 1307 - the day on which king Philip of France arrested, in a sweeping and simultaneous action, all members of the Knights Templar in France and subsequently tortured them to extract false confessions and burned them at stakes. He also pressurised the then Pope to take similar action on the Knights Templar  all over Europe virtually eliminating a highly respected christian military order which had existed for two centuries and served as the main fighting units in the Crusades.
(In his best selling novel Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown resurrected the Knights Templar as a secret organisation which continued through the efforts of the survivors of that onslaught and helped preserve the Holy Grail. But that is   fiction, though Friday, the 13th October,1307 is part of Europe's history which led to many legends and myths and gave rise to the superstition associated with the day and date.)
Nearer home, on Friday, the 13th May, the results of the Assembly election will be declared in West Bengal and if the analysts and the pre and post poll surveys are to be believed, the Party in power for the last 34 years, no Knights Templar though, will be routed in the hustings. Not with the help of the sword but through a democratic exercise of power.
If that happens, it will be a 'change', a great 'change' undoubtedly which many people have been talking about for sometime, but will it mean a change in the political and economic culture in the state ? It is hard to tell.
The polls had to be spaced out in six phases and conducted under the watchful eyes of security forces to ensure they are free and fair. It is common knowledge that without those security forces there could be rigging, intimidation, booth capturing and in many places people would not have felt free to exercise their choices.  But this happens in most of the states in this country, not only in West Bengal, even though we never tire of proclaiming our democratic credentials and their reaffirmation every time there is an election.
What is special here is the culture of protests and of rallies,strikes and bandhs which bring public life and economy to a standstill pretty often . What is worrisome is the possibility of continuation of a state of war between contending  political parties both inside and outside the legislature and the resulting turf war to gain political control of geographical areas as well as social, cultural and educational institutions.
With a stagnating economy, finances in poor shape, high level of unemployment, infrastructural bottlenecks for industrial development accentuated by land acquisition problems ( which probably is most important cause that turned the tide against the ruling regime ),education and healthcare needing attention and volatile interest groups ready to be mobilised on the streets, any new government will have a lot on its plate.
Mamata Banerjee has unquestionable qualities of leadership. She has built a party almost singlehandedly and has become a symbol of resistance which has drawn people from all walks of life under her banner to fight against the might of a highly organised CPM in power. She is a great fighter and has shown considerable political acumen and savoir faire in her long and sustained battle against the CPM and the Left Front, but if her party wins tomorrow, which seems most likely, she will need to show an additional quality, that of statesmanship, to steer the unstable ship that West Bengal is, if she has to succeed in implementing the road map for development her party manifesto promises for the State.     
To start with, what people need is a functioning democracy which allows them freedom of speech and dissent, provides them dignity, and opportunities regardless of party affiliation, where opposition is accommodated and listened to and most importantly which brings about a rule of law people respect and follow, on the streets, in schools and colleges, in their places of employment and in voicing their grievances. That would presuppose a responsive bureaucratic and law enforcing machinery free from political interference.
According to all reports, Nitish Kumar has turned the tide in Bihar. There is no reason why it can't happen in West Bengal. I hope  Friday, the 13th May, 2011 turns out lucky for the State else we have to be content with a democracy that only comes into existence every five years (it could be less ) at the voting time under increasingly heavier armed guard.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In the wonderland of computers

My love affair with the computer started a little over twenty years back.
IBM's PC, though a wonder child, was still in its infancy and the model that had recently entered the market in our country was called the PC AT. Though AT stood for 'advanced technology - an improvement on the earlier versions of PC XTs - with its processing power of about 8 mhz and 1 MB of memory, it would really be considered primitive by today's standards. Computers have evolved so fast in the last twenty odd years that kids toying with powerful PCs or laptops today won't give the AT a second look and would rather be amused at the word 'advanced' applied to its configuration.
Let me put this in the historical context. IBM came out with the PC in 1981. It took a few years for the PCs to reach our shore. Though the PC was a personal computer, very few were thinking of using it at home - it was too expensive ! Moreover, there was not much you could do with it at home unless you were into programming. You had to learn at least the commands of DOS ( disk operating system ). The 'user friendly' graphic user interface - GUI - ushered in by Windows 3.1 was still somewhat away and the 'mouse' was safely hidden in the corner of a room behind the cupboard ! There were some earlier versions of Windows, but I have not come across any.
Some of the foreign banks at that time were trying to introduce computers to simplify their operations in Calcutta, but were facing stiff resistance from the trade unions apprehensive of  job losses. One or two tea companies were also facing similar problems in their tea gardens in the Dooars. I was involved in negotiations with some of the trade unions to try and persuade them to accept computerisation in the interested tea gardens. I had only a vague idea of what the computers did, but was a firm believer in new technology and knew, from whatever little I had read, that computers held a great promise. In discussing with the unions I was not merely doing a job, I was doing so out of conviction.
We were then executing a ILO-UNFPA project for the welfare of the families of tea garden workers in the Dooars. Our office soon got a computer, a dot-matrix printer and a photocopier on the project's account. The computer was meant for preparing a database of the tea gardens and for processing information relating to  various  project activities. There was a catch though. Nobody knew how to operate the computer ! The desktop remained on top of the desk with its black and white monitor gazing idly at the horizon and if someone thought of switching it on, after some irritating noise and few letters flitting by on the screen, it showed a cursor blinking invitingly against the letter C in capital.
We were in a place known as Binnaguri in the middle of the Dooars, in the back of the beyond so to say, about 100 kms from Siliguri - the nearest city where one could hope to get someone who knew about PCs and programming, though programmers those days were hard to come across. I was meanwhile going through the DOS manuals which came with the PC  and trying to familiarise myself with its commands, but it did not take me far. I was yet to understand that we needed a programming language to develop our database and an interpreter or compiler on our computer for the purpose.
Our project director got in touch with a professor of physics heading the newly formed computer centre at the North Bengal University near Siliguri. He agreed to help and came over to our office one day. He told us candidly that he was new to a PC and its programming though he had some experience with mainframe computers, but he would be able to prepare a database management system with dBase III plus, a software  he had brought along in a floppy to install  in our computer. I was fascinated as I watched him make a new directory and transfer the files from the floppy. But when he started giving a brief outline about how to go about dbase programming, my attention was riveted to the book he had brought along. It was a book on dbase III plus. With his consent, I got the book photocopied, all 200 odd pages of it - thanks to the copier we got for the project, this was no problem !
Armed with the DOS manuals and the book on dbase, and with a computer at my disposal, I got neck deep into my own project - to understand the computer, its operating system and dbase III plus programming.  I would be in the computer room every day in the evening after office hours. Every one knew where I could be found in the evenings those days. Since  my bungalow was in the same compound, there was no problem about getting a cup of tea or any other beverage for that matter, to keep me going. It finally paid dividends- I created the database system for the project and the professor did not have to come again.
When I was able to generate a report for the first time after all the inputs had been given, I felt an exhilaration which I thought could be compared to the feeling of a farmer at harvest time when he watches his fully grown crop that he has so painstakingly planted and nurtured.
This was the beginning of an affair that continues, an affair that has gone through many phases - firstly, it was learning some of the languages like Basic and C and making simple programs with them till I realised that the computer world was moving too fast for an amateur like me dependent solely on books and his own methods of trial and error, then flirting with newer and newer application programmes that I could get hold of freely thanks to my subscription to PC Quest, a magazine which I think did the most to popularise computers and the internet in this country in their early stages ( by this time I had shifted to Calcutta and had my own computer, a 66 mhz 486, my costliest purchase till then i.e end 1994 ), and finally the internet and the World Wide Web.
The internet when it came, provided three options. The graphic option which is commonplace today was very expensive, the shell account which allowed text based access was only slightly less so, but there was a concessional shell option for students. I took the third one of course in the name of my son who had just been admitted to the degree course in Electronic Engineering. Incidentally, my son was taking some interest in programming those days and learning pretty fast. He has gone on to become a software professional and possibly my old 486 had some contribution to it !
In the text based internet access, you could not see the images in any website, but you could know their locations and download any if you wanted to view the same with a picture viewer or imaging software some of which you could get free from the net itself. Still surfing was not a pleasant chore. It was at this time I came across a program called 'shellsock' floated by some young men in Bangalore. I downloaded and installed it in my computer. A bit of tweaking was necessary with the Internet Explorer or Netscape and I had graphic access to the net ! And had no problems thereafter. Except that access was always slow and frequently interrupted.
I still marvel at how two youngsters who came out with the 'shellsock' beat the system. VSNL, the only provider those days and wholly Govt.controlled then, soon started lowering the access charges and though graphic access charge was still moderately high, I switched over soon.
Today of course the net is almost a lifeline. It not only helps me pay my bills, book my tickets, speak to my son in UK and write this post, it remains a vast reservoir of information which I can tap whenever I need. I was just checking with the net when Microsoft came out with Windows 3.1 and found it was in 1992. I started out on my journey into the wonderland of computers a year or so before that. I think I am one of the few oldies to do so.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

English and me

I think it was in one of the episodes of Dadagiri hosted by Sourav Ganguly which I happened to watch. A well known Bengali film actress was an invitee in this episode. She was giving forthright answers to the questions she was being asked and when asked if she had any regrets in life she said yes ; one of her regrets was not studying in an English medium school.
Her answer struck a chord in me. She did not explain or elaborate, but I felt I understood what she meant. From whatever I knew of her from the newspapers I knew she was a smart and educated person. Someone who lived in Mumbai for long periods in different spells, has attended numerous International Film festivals and must have had interactions with people in English over the years and from the few expressions of English that she used in the episode while talking, I could see that she knew English well. Then why this regret ?
We are a country with many regional languages. Though Hindi has been and continues to be promoted as an official language, English retains its importance as a link language, a language you need to know to pursue higher education and to have better job opportunities and greater career options. More importantly, in the common perception all over the country, anyone who knows English well is considered an educated person and in fact some amount of 'superiority' is attributed to a him if he speaks and writes in English with some amount of fluency - this may be a legacy of 200 hundred years of British rule which we have not been able to shed off yet.
As a result, someone with just a smattering of English learnt through indifferent schooling may find it hard to move up - in careers or in social circles. He may have to do a lot of hard work to brush up his English to be able to belong, and till then suffer from a feeling of inadequacy for no fault of his.It could be a he or she, but the position remains the same and a regret is quite possible.
I faced some problems myself. English literature was one of the subjects we had in our Intermediate Science years in the college. I used to feel quite uncomfortable in the class of one our English professors who taught us English poetry. I did not have much of a problem in following his lectures even though they were at times in quite a flowery language and had too much T.S.Eliot thrown in for a first year student to comprehend, but he had this habit of asking one of the students to stand up and narrate in his own language some points he had been explaining. Being unable to speak in English, I used to be afraid of being called up. More so because, branded as a good student, I dreaded being exposed as one who could not express himself in that language. Instead of facing up to this challenge- after all a bit of broken English would not have mattered that much and in any case, most of the other students were facing a similar situation   - I chose an easier route, a psychologically weaker one I must admit, I started skipping his classes.
The problem lay in the way we were taught English at our Bengali medium schools. We learnt the letters of the English alphabet more or less at the same time we learnt those of our own language and English was a major subject we were taught in school. In our time in the fifties out of eight papers in the School Final, two and a half were of English. But no classes were there even at the senior level on spoken English nor were there classes to teach you how to write in the language on your own. Some schools or some teachers might have been exceptions, but what I am saying was generally true. There was some emphasis on grammar, rightly so, but otherwise we had to answer question from texts, prose or poetry, which the teachers more or less explained in a class. We prepared the the answers either from some notes given by the teacher in school, or from a private tutor (for those who could afford) or from the numerous books- the so called 'notebooks' - that were available in the market with suggested questions and answers. So, it finally came down to memorising some of these answers and hoping for the best in the final exams.
The situation may not have changed much over the years. In fact with 'objective' questions where you have to choose from multiple answers and less emphasis on composition, the situation could have only got worse. When the Left Front came into power in 1977, it banned teaching of English in primary schools and the primary sections of the Govt. or Govt. aided schools. There was a lot of uproar about this at that time and a section of the intelligentsia came out strongly against this policy. I thought at that time that the debate missed the main point. It is not when you start teaching a student a language, but how you you teach him is more important.
My own experience is quite illustrative in this regard. When we were in class VII, we were for the first time required to answer questions from English texts in English only. Our English teacher would come to the class, write out a question from a prose or poetry piece on the blackboard and then its answer from a notebook he kept for the purpose. We used to copy whatever he wrote and memorise the same. That is how we were being taught the language. I wish he had acted differently and taught us in those preparatory years to write on simple and familiar topics, including those in the textbook  and tried to develop our speaking and writing skills, but I realise now that he was just a product of  a system, an exam oriented mindset and a syllabus that did not leave him any time or inclination or for that matter much of a scope to do so.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The gentleman's game

I felt I didn't have much of an option. When the whole country would be glued to the TV to watch the match, I could not afford to be the odd man out. An unprecedented hype had been generated in the week before with all the newspapers devoting their first pages to its possible outcome, analysing the past history of clashes between the two teams and their current strengths and weaknesses. Someone even went into a hyperbole and wrote that it was the game of the century which, of course, was a tall claim considering that the century is as yet too young. But then, it was not just a World Cup semi final played by India, it was a semi final between India and Pakistan. And that makes it different. It was not only two highly skilled teams meeting in the cricket field, but two nations born twins in 1947 and having a long tradition of rivalry clashing metaphorically, in a simulated war - a Kurukshetra of cricket in which national prides get involved.
I watched the game and was glad that I did. What happened is now history. India won though there were times when it looked like they wouldn't. The game went almost through a roller coaster and there were occasions when you could bet either way. It was undoubtedly enjoyable cricket with some good batting, some good bowling and fielding, some goof ups and some miraculous escapes.
Any way much has already been written on this game and on individual performances by better experts than me. I don't intend to cover the same grounds here. I will leave it to the political analysts to speculate over the outcome of our Prime Minister's diplomatic initiative in inviting the Pakistan PM to watch the match and having a cosy chat with him during the game and then at the official dinner hosted in his honour. It is better left to them to speculate on the political significance of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi's presence amongst the aam admi in the stands at Mohali and of course on her smile which is indeed rare and the jubilation expressed by her after the Indian victory.  For me, this only indicates the significance of this game and also shows how much cricket has become part of our popular culture.
Oh, well, I forgot to mention Sourav Ganguly who seems to have added another feather to his cap by debuting as a commentator in this match. His was the sole Bengali presence, if not in the field, at least associated with it.
Those things apart, what I felt and I am sure everyone else who watched the game did too, was the palpable tension all through and the strain on the nerves individual players must have undergone with the burden of expectations they were carrying from their respective countries. What really was praiseworthy was the total absence of any foulmouthed abuses or lack of decency during the game which is not very uncommon these days. Even in this war of nerves, the teams kept their cool and played like gentlemen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reality Shows

I was reading a news item from the Times, London published in one of our newspapers about a question in this year's SAT that puzzled students in America aspiring to enter the Ivy league institutions, Harvard and Yale. As SAT questions usually centre around grammar, algebra and problem solving, the students who prepared for them assiduously, as they do in this country, were quite unprepared for  writing an essay on  " Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality or are such forms of entertainment harmful ?"
There were certain aspects in the details given in this news which are quite revealing to me. I have watched some movies on American campus life and the students in them seemed more interested in fun and their prom than in their studies but this column made me realise that the students there and their parents too, are as serious about tests and exams as their counterparts in our country. They spend considerable sums of money on private tuition to prepare for the SAT exam as a good score in it is essential for getting entry into any University . One father who was quoted as saying that his son worked too hard to watch TV ( how could he, therefore, answer such a question on reality shows ? ) could be anyone from this country too.
The question itself is not easy to answer. And since I have not watched most of the reality shows and none consistently, I know I am not the right person to do so. Still I thought I will make some observation particularly in the light of a film I happened to watch.
Reality shows are coming up in different formats all over the world and newer ones are being added now and then. These shows include ordinary people, and not professional actors, in various settings. It may be a quiz contest like the 'Kon Banega Croropati' or a singing contest like the Indian Idol modelled after the American shows 'who wants to be Millionaire' and the 'American Idol' respectively. It may be a show like the 'Big Brother' and its Indian counterpart the 'Big Boss' in which a group of contestants are required to live in a house isolated from the outside world and interact with one another over a period of time under the watchful eyes of a camera all along. It could be a show in which the participants are required to overcome various challenges and perform some daring acts (with proper safeguards provided to prevent mishaps ). In one of the shows, Survivor , the participants are required to live in the wilderness and perform various acts to test their endurance and resourcefulness  with the camera recording their activities. The list  goes on.
The element of competition is there in each of these shows ( huge cash prizes are involved ) and that does provide varying degrees of thrill which attract all types of viewers but otherwise the audience for each type of show is obviously different.
A show like the 'Indian Idol'  surely attracts more of the musically inclined. Talking of this show a few episodes of which I did watch, I felt that it provided a platform for many a talented singer to show their talents not only in front of the judges or the studio audience but in front of a much larger national audience. This is an opportunity the contestants would not have got otherwise - an opportunity which may have helped quite a few of them, not only the winner of the show - in launching a career in music or show business instead of remaining a local sensation amongst friends,colleagues and relatives.I have however some reservations about the children's show like 'Sa Re Ga Ma Pa' (song) and ''Dance Bangla Dance' (dance ). I am impressed by the performances  of the children some of whom are amazingly gifted. These shows are so popular that I think a second or third series is now going on.The parents must be very keen to see their children getting into the shows and performing. I feel though that these children are too young to be brought into such public competition. Some may find it difficult to cope with failure emotionally and as for those who are being lauded and praised sky high for genuinely good performances, the celebrity status at such a young and tender age may be counterproductive.
The dangerous potential of a reality show was however revealed to me when I watched the movie 'Condemned' in one of the movie channels on my TV. The film tells the story of a multi-millionaire TV producer who gets ten convicts sentenced to death for various crimes of extremely violent nature released from prison and releases them in an island in a secret location on condition that they will have to kill one another in a 30- hour period and the sole survivor will get his freedom and a huge prize money. None of them can attempt to flee as an anklet is fitted to each of their ankles with a powerful explosive timed to detonate after thirty hours or before if anyone tries to remove them. The convicts have no option but to do his bidding. The man has arranged for a multitude of TV cameras fitted at strategic points all over the island to be able to record the movements of each and every one of these convicts and the violent actions to follow. He has a control room with computer and electronic experts to record all their actions and upload them in real time to the internet to their website for people to watch in streaming videos after paying a fee for registering to the site. The payments are directly routed to his bank account.
He also arranges ads to inform prospective viewers about the reality show and in fact gives an interview brazenly to a TV channel with the same object confident that he will have finished his project and made his money by the time the authorities discover the island's location.
The film thereafter rolls on with gruesome killings being enacted on the island as each one of the convicts tries to track and kill another, all being fed in real time to all the computers which log on to their site in the internet.Their console records more than a million hits in no time and the man makes some millions in that time. 
I do not want to go into further details. It is a film depicting violence, though it ends with the indirect message that crime does not pay ( which most of such films does ), it feeds on people's voyeuristic tendencies and their desire to experience vicarious thrills. These are the same traits that the protagonist in the film banks on in his project to make money. Though it is fiction, can one rule out the possibility of someone getting such a grotesque idea and exploit this human weakness- is it the male psyche only ? - to make money ? After all, pornographic sites which panders to such base instincts dominated the internet in its early stages and possibly does so even now.
The internet is a powerful tool. It is a tool that can be used as a source of information and knowledge, for education and entertainment, for communication and networking, for running the economy and business and myriad other useful purposes, but it can also spread garbage and filth or stir up dark embers lying dormant in many of us as shown in the above example. One can always argue it is the viewers' choice, it is up to him to watch or not, but that argument is more like the drug traffickers'  who would like to pass the buck on to the addicts who sustain a demand. But the young addict who tries a drug for fun or a kick mostly under peer pressure or sometimes being duped by someone else, gets unwittingly hooked and addicted. It is only possible because the supply is there and readily available. Even Adam could not resist the temptation of the fruit firstly because it was there and  secondly, it was too tempting and forbidden.
Contents shown on the TV can be and are sometimes controlled on the basis of a social consensus. It is not that easy to monitor and control the contents in a vast network like the internet, but there should be continuing efforts to do so.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Dog beneath the Skin

The expression ' the Dog beneath the skin' which I used in my post 'Women : on the march' was borrowed from the name of a play written by the poets Auden and Isherwood though I gave it a meaning  all my own. In the play it was a dog's skin that was used by a missing baronet Sir Francis Crewe as a disguise to move around as a dog and watch the people whom he found out to be mean, hypocritical and vulgar creatures - under their apparently sophisticated skins.The dog I was referring to is an animal and as dogs are, may be quite lovable and loyal and in fact a thoroughbred, but not being much of a dog lover myself, I was restricting it to its other characteristics which Pavlov so successfully used in his 'conditioned reflex' experiment. It is a creature of habit. And if one has been conditioned for ages into such a habit - in fact from the beginning of agricultural society- it may not be easy to grow out of the same inspite of all the refinement that even a liberal education  provides.
So the idea of the second sex and male prominence continue to persist even in these days of gender equality which is pronounced from all public platforms. At home, in the workplace and on the streets.
At home, it can and does often lead to marital friction. It would not be fair to put all the blame on the male attitude though on the increasing instances of marital discord or divorces that are taking place these days ; women marching ahead are sometimes marching too much ahead.  After all as someone remarked  on my last post  " it's the dog in question,who runs the risk of being starved to death these days. " She has a point. A woman too, financially independent and her own 'woman' so to say, is often too assertive about her own demand and  personal freedom to allow the necessary space for adjustment  which is essential in any relationship, more so an intimate one.
It is possibly the pompous male ego which led to the term ' male chauvinistic pig ' to  describe the attitude of some males of our species. It would be most unfortunate if there is a role reversal and the female equivalents go on increasing in this feminist era.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The real and the unreal

My son Anindya wrote this comment on my last post 'Japan Earthquake' :
'Same reaction with gargi :), we were telling her lets see the news , there is a big earthquake, but she was least interested. For her these scenes are common in movies and so she was not much interested. Nowadays such a small kid is exposed to so many unreal things that they miss the reality.'
(Gargi is my granddaughter, not yet 5 years old )
I was in fact pondering over this as I wrote the piece and had continued, but I  decided to keep the extended portion for another post. This is what I had penned :
'I remember about forty or forty five years back, a film called King Kong ( the original one ) was released in Calcutta and when King Kong appeared on the scene, I am told, some people fainted. I am sure even a child today would not do so now as he is growing immune to such shocks with the continued exposure to giant and monster films that are so common today.
The films will be there because we want them. People love to watch violence, they also love to watch the macabre and the weird. They thronged the Colosseum in ancient Rome to watch the gladiators fight to the finish. They love to watch bullfights in Spain and cockfights in rural India. If two bulls start fighting on a Kolkata street, a crowd will immediately form to watch the fight and some would start cheering one or the other. Public execution was quite common in America at one time. Though the authorities thought they were setting an example for would-be criminals to be afraid of, people actually gathered to watch the show for entertainment only.
There is something about violence, even in nature's fury, which makes the adrenaline flow when we watch. From a distance, personally unaffected. In the civilised world we no longer have the gladiator fights ( except in some moderated form in boxing or freestyle wrestling ), we have shifted to other forms of competitive sports  which provide similar tensions and thrills to watch. The evolution of cricket from its 5 day test matches to a faster ODIs and then to its present T 20 form is an example, it fulfils  our craze for the 'fast and the furious', but all these still do not fully satisfy the primitive human desire which drew us to the gladiator's arena. The modern films pander to this desire.They know that is where the business is.
We  watch them, so do the young children. It is for us to make sure they retain their sanity and remain sensitive to the real world and its joys and sorrows.'
It is however easier said than done.
There is one consolation though. Even before the TV invaded our homes with an extension of the visual world with various doses of unreality, children all over the world were being fed with stories of fantasy, of giants and dwarfs, of the lands beyond the seven seas, and of the imprisoned princess and the prince charming who fights the demons of all shapes and sizes to rescue her from a  distant castle or a cave. And later, with comic book stories of super heroes or of Tintin in his various adventure trails. It allowed their imagination a free run, but they learnt to tune in with reality as they grew up. So will the children of today given the right direction.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan Earthquake

The dividing line between the real and the unreal is getting increasingly blurred in today's world.
I was watching  BBC World News when they came up with the story of the Japan earthquake. At 8.9 in the Reichter scale it is one of the most severe earthquake to have occurred in recent times and it has caused an unprecedented devastation in a country which is quake prone and known to be well prepared to meet such an eventuality.
As I sat watching the TV, they showed live video footages of the earthquake as it was taking place. An office room was shown shaking with papers flying around, a retail store could be seen with all the racks of canned goods rattling, the cans falling off and people with perplexed faces moving around. They showed the Tsunami wave triggered by the earthquake which struck the shores and swept away a township crumbling all the houses like so many match boxes and then rumbling water everywhere with cars and vans and rooftops floating here and there.
I sat there watching, transfixed, heard the voices in the TV talking about the number of people who have died or are missing, and the number of homes destroyed. I suddenly realised to my horror that I was not being moved emotionally. My head was registering all the news and its seriousness but my heart was not reaching out in sympathy to all these people, thousands of them, who have lost their lives or their friends and relatives or their homes.
Because it seemed so unreal, like in a film. I watch films often in the TV, in Star Movies or HBO or such other channels and most of them depict violence, disasters, destruction or devastation in graphic details. Today's technology allows them to be so realistic that you feel it is really happening. What have I not seen ? What have you not seen ? Violence, brutality, people being shot at and killed or blown off, cars blown to smithereens, towering infernos, nature's fury - you name it, it is there. You retain your sanity because you know, deep in your heart, it is only a film you are watching, not something real but your senses get numbed, the shock factor wears off, you are rendered insensitive.  Even if something similar is happening in the real world, you refuse to believe it is your world.
That is what I suppose was my first reaction, as I watched the live TV coverage. Was it really happening or was it just another series of scenes from a movie ? I had to stir myself as if from a stupor and wake up to the enormity of the tragedy that struck some parts of Japan that day.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Women : On the march

I was in my second year in Presidency college in 1959 when Prof. Kajal Sengupta was appointed as a teacher in the English department. Presidency being a  co-educational college, there was no dearth of female faces in the campus and addition of a new one would not have aroused much of an interest  except for the fact that Prof. Sengupta was the first woman teacher to be appointed in the college. We used to look at her with a bit of awe as she walked briskly past us along the corridor and up the wide stairs to take up her classes. Being the only woman among the teaching fraternity could not have been easy for her. That too in a college which took great pride in maintaining its tradition of excellence . She must have been conscious of the responsibility that she had taken as a lone representative of her sex to prove herself equal to the task. That probably explains the reserve and aura she maintained at all times. It could be a defensive shield also in a predominantly male preserve. At that time some of us youngsters who never knew her or attended her classes, did not realise it though . We mistook it for a superior air which we thought she had imbibed from Oxford.
Girls were going to schools and colleges in quite large numbers by then but not many could be found going to work.Women were already in some professions like the medical or teaching professions but those were still in the nature of exceptions. This reminds me of the first working woman I came across few  years before. It was in the mid fifties when I was possibly in class eight. I would often meet this young lady on my way to school.  Dressed in a starched and pressed cotton saree, she would be crossing the wooden bridge connecting Kalighat and Chetla  on her way to catch a bus at the Rashbehari crossing. I could guess she was going to the office like all the men rushing  from the Chetla side of the bridge at that hour.
As time passed, more and more women were joining the workforce in various fields. Economic compulsions brought middle class women out of their homes to look for and join work - in the telephone department, in post offices and other organisations. Slowly and imperceptibly social mores were changing, though it was not easy for the Bengali middle class to accept and adjust to them.
Satyajit Ray's Mahanagar captures this period of transition. The film was released in 1963 and narrates the story of a traditional family in which the housewife is compelled to join work as a door to door sales person to supplement her husband's income and make both ends meet. There are  tensions in the family as a result which form the theme of the movie.The husband's parents do not approve of her going out to work and the husband himself starts developing a complex when he finds his wife become the major breadwinner of the family.
The film records the hesitant and tentative steps a middle class woman was taking as she stepped out of home and into the outer world and the stresses she had to go through, both in the family as well as in the workplace, as she proceeded to gain confidence and achieve a sense of independence.
The period of transition is still not over. Women are in large numbers at the workplaces today, they are in almost every profession, in every sphere of economic activity. They have proved themselves equal to men and many have excelled in their chosen fields. Society has grudgingly accepted the emergence of the new woman but has not yet been able to shake off its ambivalent attitude towards her. Habits die hard, social attitudes die harder. The dog beneath the skin -  it lurks beneath many a liberal skin - longing for the stereotype of the demure, submissive woman who should better be at home tending to her folks, bares its fangs only too often.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Egypt Burning

'It started as a demonstration and turned into a revolution.'
Why and how did it happen ? It could not have been a cake walk with at least 300 dead and thousands injured. It could not have been easy for men and women, boys and girls, staying together in thousands in Tahrir square day and night, some sleeping, if and when sleep was possible, in makeshift tents and some in the open, in that cold and without any toilet facilities.
After writing my last post on Egypt which I felt  lacked the flesh and meat, the blood and sweat of the uprising, I read some blogs in the net and through them came across the website of Al Jazeera, a highly respected news network in the Arab world known for its independent news coverage. Al Jazeera had its journalists on the ground with the demonstrators  recording and reporting every event during the turmoil. I turned to their page 'Egypt Burning' which includes video films in three parts covering the 18 days that it took for Mubarak to step down. These videos give a 'feel' to what happened.

( These videos are available in YouTube too. One problem I face in watching these videos most of the time is the frequent interruptions and sometimes indefinite wait for the streaming to take place. This taxes anyone's patience. I downloaded one of these videos to my computer for uploading to the blog in order to circumvent the problem and convert it to a local video. I have done this in the past successfully, but in this case, the server rejected the upload from my computer each time I tried possibly because of the video's size - about 135 mb each or copyright restrictions. In this day and age when the internet is an enabler in social and political changes, I find it ridiculous to be unable to watch a YouTube video without unnecessary hang-ups.I have so far found no solution.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bengali and the Blogger - 2

It is just to record that the Blogger has finally come up with a Bengali option. It is unlikely to be a result of my post, but coming so soon after my write-up, it gives me some satisfaction.

বাংলায় যারা লিখতে চায় তাদের খুব সুবিধে হোলো |


The ripple from Tunisia soon started spreading  across the Arab world. As it travelled along the Nile, it turned into a massive wave of protest that lashed onto the Hosni Mubarak regime at Cairo. On the 25th of January a million or more people collected at the Tahrir square with their one point demand - Mubarak to step down and go. They were mostly youngsters, men and women, Muslim and Christians, from all walks of life. With the national flag of Egypt in most hands they were there for eighteen days in a non-violent protest, assault by police and pro Mubarak thugs notwithstanding, till Mubarak stepped down and left the country.That's how the 30 year rule by a strong man who was supposed to have brought stability to Egypt and maintained it with an iron hand, ended. In ignominy.
What happened in Egypt has been etched into its history and is now common knowledge in the world but without undermining the resolve of the people of Egypt and the grandeur of this revolution, my layman's mind has been pondering over some intriguing questions about the role of the Army. The Army was very much there at Tahrir square, but they did not intervene. If they did, it would surely have meant considerably lot more bloodshed and a long drawn battle for the people to achieve their goal. This is what is happening at the moment in Libya where another strong man is ruling for the last 40 years.
It is obvious that the Army did not support the Mubarak regime any more, but what is not so obvious to me is why. Army normally is a beneficiary in any dictatorial dispensation and must have been so in Egypt also. Still they remained silent when the status quo was challenged and finally changed. Is it some internal power dynamics in Egypt or possible international reactions ? I have not found the answer from the reports and analyses I have come across so far.
But the Army did earn as a result the goodwill and respect of the people. The Army is now in effective control of the State and has promised to help in the formation of a civilian government to which it will hand over power with an amended constitution in six months time. Power, however, is too alluring to give up easily and with stern measures required to handle the strikes that have reportedly broken out in many government establishments and banks by employees who could not raise their voices in the previous regime and the economy at a standstill, the Army may have a justification in continuing in power for a longer period. This has happened elsewhere before. The positive sign though is the existence now of the Trustees of the revolution, a body of academics and politicians, working as a watchdog and also the alertness and vigilance of the youth movement displayed in the gathering of nearly a million again at Tahrir square to celebrate one week of their revolution.
The other concern in many minds is about the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement, which was the main opposition, though banned, in Mubarak's time and has a large following particularly amongst the poorer section of the people because of the social services it has been rendering for years through its educational institutions and hospitals all over Egypt. Though the Brotherhood did not inspire the revolution nor had any leading role, it did participate in it and is likely to have a major role in any future government formation.
The youth movement was and remains secular. It happened not only because of economic frustrations but also because the people wanted to 'breathe free' as one blogger wrote. Just as they would not like to have fetters politically they may not like to have too much of religious constraints either in public life. According to a newspaper report I read today, a women's group came out in a procession yesterday in Tunis in protest against some activities by an allegedly Islamic group and the banner they held up read ' politics ruins religion and religion ruins politics'. Same sentiments may be running in Egypt too.
Under the circumstances whether there will be an Islamic sway in a country with 90% muslim population or the Brotherhood moderates its approach in tune with the aspirations of the youth or other liberal formations come up out of the youth movement directing the country's future remains to be seen.
P.S I have no expert knowledge either of Tunisia or Egypt or for that matter, the Arab world. What I have written is based on news reports, articles here and there and few blogs. What I am interested in is to watch and understand the progress of history which is in the making in our time.     

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Good Morning, Tunisia

Sidi Bouzid is a small nondescript town in Tunisia where it all started on the 17th of December last year when a young fruit and vegetable vendor had his cart and his wares confiscated. When he protested, he was first slapped and then beaten by a woman municipal inspector. He went to the municipal office nearby and then to the district governors office but there was none willing to register his complaint or to listen to his grievance.
Mohamed Bouazizi, the young street vendor, had problems with the municipal employees in the past too as he did not have any license to trade, but this time he could not accept the humiliation any more and set himself on fire in front of the governor's office in the crowded street.Bouazizi suffered 90% burns and later died, but as the news spread the people of Tunisia  perceived his act as an ultimate act of protest  against a regime that denied him justice and the right to live with the minimum of dignity. The fire he lighted spread across the whole of Tunisia and caused a mass upsurge that led to the fall of the authoritarian regime of Ben Ali which ruled the country for 23 years.
Bouazizi's self immolation was a very sad but individual act which under normal circumstances could have agitated not only the onlookers but also many of the people of the town. The emotional response could have led to protests against the highhandedness as well as as the callous indifference of those in authority and perhaps hit the newspaper headlines but who would have thought that it would lead to such mass protests across the whole of Tunisia? Who would have thought that it would launch a revolution and be a definitive moment in the history not only of Tunisia but the whole of the Arab world, particularly Egypt, as it enters the second decade of the 21st century.
In retrospect it appears that the incident occurred at the right moment in history. The anger and frustration in the minds of the people against a corrupt and authoritarian regime which did not allow the right of dissent and the simmering discontent from  rising unemployment and inflation were waiting for a trigger to explode and Bouazizi's act was that trigger.
It was not a revolution led by a charismatic leader nor by any armed group of revolutionaries. Though reportedly helped by the labour unions, it was a people's revolution, a revolution mostly by young people who faced police batons and bullets but stuck to their demand for the end of Ben Ali's government and wanted nothing more than good governance and a corruption free democratic framework which provides basic rights and free speech.And it was powered and sustained by the communication networks that the internet has provided in today's world.
Future will tell what what happens in Tunisia which is in a state of transition today with an interim government that has promised a free and fair election in a short time. It won't be an easy task to bring democracy in a society which has never known it before. Those who had power and vested interests in the old regime will surely be jockeying for power in any structure that emerges. The police and bureaucracy and their attitudes will not change overnight and corruption does not vanish in a democracy as we all know to our cost, but if adequate checks and balances are introduced to protect the rights of the people and the country comes up with a proper democratic and secular constitution in conformity with the demands of the revolution and the people remain vigilant as they have been so far, the process will be on its way to realise the goals the revolution set for itself.

(Source- newspaper reports and articles )  

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sarshe Mach

In the last post, I wrote about a fish preparation I cooked - Sarshe Aar to be exact. It occurred to me while reading the post again that I had come across a number of blog sites  devoted to Bengali cooking recipes and in fact,  had occasionally consulted one or two. Just google  'Ilish Macher Jhol' and you will be given a number of website options to pick up from. That goes for any other food preparations too.Obviously, many housewives have found an alternative way to channel their energies and share their considerable talent thanks to the net and in fact to blog sites.Some even go to considerable lengths to make their sites attractive with pictures of various dishes they make and share with their readers.
Some of these sites have quite a good following not merely because of the dry recipes but the interesting way they are presented. That only shows that to have a readership, you need to focus on one particular subject and follow through, instead of hopping from one subject to another. A butterfly or a grasshopper may be very  interesting to look at in nature, but a hopper like me has little hope.
I do not have any intention of writing recipes here and change my essential character as a hopper but I thought I could share my own thoughts about sarshe mach which is a singular Bengali delicacy. I do not claim to be a good cook. I started more or less at a time when Indians generally turn to Bhagabat Gita  or chalk out plans for various places of pilgrimage. But my progress as a pilgrim took me to the kitchen for some on the job training through the age old trial and error methods with occasional inputs from external sources.
For a restless mind like mine ( possibly the root cause of my smoking ), some one who makes a cup of tea in one burner while cooking in another, cooking needs to be simplified to the extent it does not compromise the essential taste. So what I do generally is for a man, may be even a woman, in a hurry. I use the word generally with some deliberation, for you can not take too much liberties with every dish that you make.
It all started when powdered sarshe ( mustard ) came into the market and made things easier for me. What we need is a few spoonfuls of the powder made into a slightly watery paste with  adequate water and a pinch of salt. It should be left for about ten minutes as recommended on the cover. We also need to have a half spoonful of turmeric paste ( again from readily available powder ) and five or six green chillies.Meanwhile wash five or six fish pieces ( cut pieces for Aar or Ilish, full pieces for Parshe or Prawns), mix them with some turmeric powder and salt, and fry them in mustard oil in a kadai. I prefer the kadai with its curved bottom, it allows me to assess the correct measure of oil.
In case of Ilish and Parshe, you should be careful to fry in low heat, otherwise the skins will start getting stuck to the spatula or hata .
Take the fried pieces of fish out and put four five green chillies, sliced in half to splutter in the same oil in low heat for a little while and then put the turmeric paste in it. As oil starts separating, put the fish pieces back in the oil and spread the mustard paste evenly on it. What I do then is to add water slowly while stirring on one side to make an even gravy. The amount of water needed is based on subjective assessment.
The mix is now brought to a boil in high heat while the stirring continues to prevent any lump formation.Once it reaches the boiling point, I lower the flames and put a cover on the kadai for cooking to continue for six seven minutes. In case of Ilish and Chingri (Prawns), five minutes is good enough. I check the salt at this time and if required, put some salt to taste. The dish is ready to be served with steamed rice.
In case of Chingri, you may think of some grated or scrapped coconut to be added after making a paste with a bit of water. But that is too much of a bother, the Chingri tastes good otherwise too.
Obviously, this preparation may be embellished by better cooks, but if you want a moderately tasty sarshe mach dish, this abridged version seems good enough to me.
Any discerning reader will note that I have not given any measure for the mustard powder or the turmeric powder to be taken unlike the other blog writers who are all meticulous on such matters. I have left it for someone who is interested to discover on his own as I did. The joy of discovery is as much as the dish itself ! The first dish may fail the test, so what, there is always the next one.
If you are cooking for yourself or your family, the world will not crumble if you make a mistake. You may raise a few laughs instead which is equally good for health.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

When was the last time you did something for the first time ?

When was the last time you did something for the first time ? Asks one ad which comes up frequently on my TV screen these says. It set me thinking. I live such a conventional life, every day is really a 'repeat' of the previous day and the following one is not likely to throw up any surprises either. It would have been boring, dull and frustrating if I did not have my TV to watch, the net to surf, the cooking I do, the club I go to for a swim and also to have a chat with one or two friends but with all these activities, there is no novelty, no sense of adventure and no feeling of fulfillment. Well, I read books occasionally and that can be absorbing and at times an uplifting experience, but the books are some one else's creation and not mine.
I was thinking of all these as I walked back from the bazaar in the morning. I realised that this train of thought must have prompted me to buy a species of fish, Ar mach, which I did not have in the last twenty years. I have never cooked this fish before - I did not have to cook twenty years back, nor did I have to do any household chores either - so, it might be a bit of a novelty.
As I was walking, I came across a gentleman I had met a number of times on the streets but never spoken to. He is my next door neighbour, but I, being what I am, have never bothered to introduce myself to any of my neighbours in the locality in the last six years. I stopped him, got ourselves introduced and started chatting. It transpired that both of us finished school in the same year and being a very old resident of this place, he knew my father, a doctor, who used to visit this place pretty often in our childhood. He also knew me by name because of my academic accomplishments in the bygone days. Another friend of his, of the same locality, joined us and after a few minutes of small talk which I am not much good at, I left, but deep within I felt some satisfaction for doing something very ordinary and normal, but new and out of character as far as I am concerned.
I realised suddenly that the blog I have started is also a first for me. Every new post is something I am creating, however humble that is, something new and adventurous, something which did not exist before. I was just reading an interview of Kiran Desai, the winner of the Man Booker Prize of 2006 in Telegraph today and she says " I have the creative energy of Rushdie and the immigrant's heart of Naipul ". I do not have the creative energy of either Desai or Rushdie or for that matter any author, and as regards being an immigrant, I really do not know because living in my own country, sometimes I feel I do not belong, but I always wanted to write. I did not have the confidence to do so.Words were never in my command, they are not so now either. They have a tendency to play hide and seek when I look for them and remain hidden most of the time though I know they are very much there - somewhere.
When I took the first step to write, I was fighting against a mental block, against a feeling of disability and inadequacy. I was crossing a barrier that had planted itself  in my mind long ago like an iron in the soul. But I did. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

কলকাতার কনসার্ট

কুঁদঘাটের বাস স্ট্যান্ড এখন প্রায় ফাঁকা | একটা বাস দাঁড়িয়ে আছে ,ভিতরে দু একটা লোক মাত্র | একদিকে কয়েকটা ফাঁকা  ট্যাক্সি , অন্য দিকে ওদেরই ইউনিয়নের ছাউনিতে বসে কয়েকজন হাতে চায়ের ভাঁর নিয়ে গল্পগুজব করছে | দুটো কুকুর ফেলে দেওয়া কোনো খাবারের উচ্ছিষ্ট নিয়ে ভীষণ ব্যস্ত | দূরের এক কোনে দাঁড়িয়ে একজন  মনে হয় জলত্যাগে  নিবিষ্ট |
রাস্তাঘাটে লোকজন এখন  বেশি নেই | ফুটপাথের পাশে কিছু দোকান খোলা, কিছু খুলব খুলব করছে | উল্টোদিকে রাস্তার ধারের স্টলগুলোর দু একটায় সন্ধ্যার প্রস্তুতি চলছে ,অন্যগুলোয় ঝাঁপ এখনো বন্ধ | এখন বিকেল পাঁচটা , এখানকার কলকাতা শ্বাস নিচ্ছে , সকাল থেকেই ত দৌড়ের শুরু , দুপুরের পর এই একটু বিশ্রাম , সিনেমার ইন্টার ভালের মত আর কি , কিছু পরেই রাস্তার আলো জ্বলে উঠবে ,সন্ধ্যার পর্ব শুরু হয়ে যাবে |
আমি হেঁটে মেট্রো স্টেশনে পৌছলাম , একটা কাউন্টারের সামনে পিস বোর্ডে লেখা 'সঠিক ভাড়া দেবেন' ,সেই কাউন্টারের সামনেই দু একজনের পিছনে লাইনে দাঁড়ালাম | আমি খুচরো নিয়ে বেরই ,সঠিক ভাড়া দেব বলে, তাড়াতাড়ি ও হবার সম্ভাবনা , কিন্তু সব সময় দেখি খুব কম লোকেই সঠিক ভাড়া দেয় | কাউন্টারের লোকটি কিছু বলে না , গুনে গুনে খুচরো ফেরত দেয় | একদিন জিজ্ঞেস করতে বলল, 'কি করবো বলুন, কেউ মানে না ,ঝগড়া করবো ?' সত্যি কেউ  মানে না, ঝগড়া করে কে আর অপ্রিয় হয় |
কেউ কেউ মানে , তাদেরই ভোগান্তি | বেশিরভাগই মানে না ,এটাই কলকাতার বৈশিষ্ট্য | এই যে স্টলগুলো মেট্রো  স্টেশন চালু হবার পর দেখতে দেখতে রাস্তার একধার দিয়ে বেড়ে চলল , এটা নিশ্চয়ই কোন আইন মেনে নয়, কিন্তু লোকে মেনে নিয়েছে |সন্ধ্যের পর এদের রমরমা | কোথাও চপ কাটলেট ভাজা হচ্ছে ,চাউমিন তৈরী হচ্ছে, কোথাও মাটন বা এগ রোল | এক জায়গায় আবার মোমো , তার গুনাগুন যাই হোক না কেন | রাস্তায় আলো জ্বলে উঠলে এই রাস্তায় ভিড় বেড়ে ওঠে , অফিস ফিরতি মানুষ , দোকানে কেনাকাটা করা মানুষ, এছাড়া ত রিক্সা , ট্যাক্সি অটো র চালকেরা  আছেই | পথ চলতি মানুষের অনেকেই দাঁড়িয়ে যায় এই সব স্টলের সামনে , সারাদিনের খাটাখাটুনির পর ক্ষুধার উদ্রেক স্বাভাবিক | অতএব দোকানগুলো লোকের সুবিধেই করে দিয়েছে | এছাড়া এদের পিছেনে কোনো না কোনো রাজনৈতিক দলের মদত থাকতেই পারে , সুতরাং চুপ থাকাই ভালো |
 আমি বাড়ি ফিরছি, রাত আটটা, রাস্তা এখন প্রানবন্ত , প্রানের জোয়ারে ভাসছে | সাইকেল,রিক্সা,অটো,বাস,গাড়ী চলছে ত চলছেই , পথচারীদের কথা আর নাই বললাম | এরই মধ্যে কোথাও একটা রিক্সা রাস্তার মাঝেই সওয়ারী নামিয়ে দরকষাকষি শুরু করলে আর কথা নেই, তার ইচ্ছে হলে সে করতেই পারে, অটোও হটাত দাঁড়িয়ে পড়তে পারে  রাস্তার মাঝে , এটা ওদের গণতান্ত্রিক অধিকার | তাছাড়া ওদের ইউনিয়ন আছে , অতএব পুলিশ থাকলেও নিশ্চুপ | মাঝখান থেকে কিছু সময়ের যানজট , গাড়ির হর্ন, কোলাহল | ওদিকে একটা নতুন স্টলে সিডি,ডিভিডি বিক্রি হয়, সেখানে সবসময় কোনো না কোনো গান বাজছে, বেশ উচু পর্দায় | সব মিলিয়ে একটা কনসার্টের মেজাজ এসে যায়, তবে তার জন্যে শুধু কান থাকলেই হবে না ,মন চাই | অবশ্য কানে টান পড়লে মন কেন, মাথাই চলে আসে এত জানা কথা |
 অসুবিধে গাড়ির চালকদের | আমাকে মাঝে মাঝে গাড়ী নিয়ে বেরোতে হয়, সন্তর্পনে চালাই, পথচারীদের বাঁচিয়ে, রিক্সা ,সাইকেলে ধাক্কা না মেরে চলে আসি কোনমতে | কোথাও একটু লেগে গেলে ত কথাই নেই, দোষ গাড়ির এ ত জানা কথা | দরিদ্র জনসাধারনের এই দেশে গাড়ী থাকা ত কোনো গুনের কথা নয়, হলোই বা আপনি রোড টাক্স দিচ্ছেন, হলোই  বা সাইকেলটা বেখাপ্পা আপনার সামনে এসে পড়েছে অথবা ওর ত লাগেনি | কে শুনবে !
সন্ধ্যের পর কুঁদঘাটের এই মেলা এমন কিছু স্বতন্ত্র নয় অবশ্য , একই চিত্র বেহালার ট্রাম ডিপোর সামনে অথবা যাদবপুরে | এটা কলকাতা স্পেশাল | রাজীব গান্ধী বলেছিলেন কলকাতা মুমূর্ষু , মৃত্যুমুখী, বা মৃতপ্রায় | এ নিয়ে অনেক সোরগোল উঠেছিল অবশ্য, অনেক কলকাতাপ্রেমী প্রতিবাদ জানিয়েছিলেন | সত্যিই ত, কে বলে কলকাতা মুমূর্ষু , অতি সতর্কতার সাথে রাস্তাটা পার হতে হতে ভাবছিলাম , এখানে ত প্রানের আতিশয্য | টলির নালায় জোয়ার না থাকতে পারে, নোংরা ফেলে ফেলে সেটাকে নর্দমা করে ফেলা হয়েছে তাতেই বা কি, আমাদের প্রানের জোয়ার আটকায় কে ?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

স্কুলের প্রথম দিন

আমার ছেলে তখন পাঁচ ছুঁই ছুঁই|নার্সারী ক্লাসে ভর্তি হযেছে|স্কুলের প্রথম দিনে আমি ওকে স্কুলে নিয়ে এসেছি|কোনো কান্নাকাটিই করে নি আসবার সময়|বাবার সঙ্গে এসেছে,বাবা সঙ্গেই থাকবে এরকম কিছু ভেবেছিল হয়তো|আমিও নিশ্চিন্ত ছিলাম, কিন্তু ক্লাসের দরজায় পৌঁছে যেই বুঝল আমি চলে যাব,দিল কান্না জুড়ে|আমায় ছাড়বেনা কিছুতেই|যত বোঝাই স্কুলে অনেক বন্ধু হবে,খেলা ধুলো করতে পারবে,অনেক রাইমস শিখতে পারবে, কত আনন্দ  করতে পারবে, কে শোনে কার কথা|ও কিছুতেই আমার হাত ছাড়বে না,বাড়ি যাবে|বাবা মাকে ছেড়ে নিজের পরিচিত পরিবেশের বাইরে এই অজানা অচেনা ক্লাসের নির্বাসন কক্ষে যেতে ও একেবারেই নারাজ|ওর কান্না থামাতে না পেরে আমি যখন প্রায় হাল ছেড়ে দিয়েছি পাশের ক্লাস থেকে এক কম বয়েসী টিচার বেরিয়ে এসে ছেলের গায়ে মাথায় হাত বুলিয়ে ওকে শান্ত করে হাতে একটা চকচকে আধুলি ধরিয়ে দিলেন|ওই আধুলি টাতেই মন্ত্রের মতো কাজ হল|আমার ছেলে ওই মেয়েটির হাত ধরে ক্লাসে চলে গেল|
টাকার মর্ম তখন আমার ছেলের বোঝার কথা নয়,পারিপার্শিক জগতের 'টাকা স্বর্গ টাকা ধর্ম' মন্ত্র নিশ্চয়ই ওই বয়সে ওর অবচেতন মনে ঢুকে যায় নি| কিন্তু দুটো মিষ্টি কথা আর ওই চকচকে ধাতব আধুলিটাই মন্ত্রের মতো কাজ করেছিল সেদিন,ওই দিয়েই টিচার মেয়েটি সম্ভবত বোঝাতে পেরেছিলেন ও পুরোপুরি শত্রুপুরীতে এসে উপস্থিত হয় নি|
আমার নিজের অভিজ্ঞতা অবশ্য অন্যরকম|আমি যখন প্রথম স্কুলে যাই আমার বয়েস আটের কাছাকাছি|স্কুলে যেতে হবে বলে কান্নাকাটি করার বয়েস পেরিয়ে এসেছি|তাছাড়া বাড়ির চৌহদ্দির বাইরে বন্ধুদের সাথে খেলাধুলোয় তখন আমি অভ্যস্থ|আমার সমস্যা হলো অন্যজায়গায়|আমাদের হেঁটেই স্কুলে যেতে হত,দূরত্ব এমন কিছু নয়,যদিও আজকের দিনে একেই বেশ দূর মনে করেন অনেক বাবা মা|কালিঘাটে আমাদের বাড়ি থেকে চেতলা স্কুলে যেতে পথে আদি গঙ্গার উপরের কাঠের পুল পেরোতে হত|এখন আর সে কাঠের পুল নেই,এখন সেটাই পাকাপোক্ত চেতলা ব্রিজ|কাঠের পুলের পাটাতনগুলোর ফাঁক দিয়ে তলায় বয়ে যাওয়া গঙ্গার ঘোলাটে জলের স্রোত স্পষ্ট দেখা যেত|প্রথম দিন তো বটেই,বেশ কয়েকদিন ওই ব্রিজ পার হতে আমার খুব ভয় করত|মনে হত গলে পরে যাব|হাতে বই খাতা নিয়ে পা টিপে টিপে নাম জপ করতে করতে পার হতাম|দুচারদিনেই ভয়টা চলে গেলো,কবে তা মনে নেই|    

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bengali and the Blogger

If you want to write a blogpost in Bengali in the Blogger, you seem to have three options.
You may install a free software like Ekushe or any commercially available one in your computer and use its virtual keyboard to type in Bengali with the help of your mouse in MS Word and later transfer it to the blogger editor by the usual copy and paste method. It may not be that easy for those unused to a Bengali keyboard. Bengali, unlike English, joins consonants with vowels as in কি , কো    and also have many joined letters like স্থ or জ্ঞ and typing them may prove difficult.
The other option is to use the Google transliteration website and use the editor to write your post. You may have to use  the virtual keyboard at times by clicking an icon, but that is occasional and only for words that the editor does not throw up as an option. It seems O.K after some practice, but the editor does not have a 'save' option and the written piece may vanish, if by chance the touch of a key or on the pad,moves the browser to another page. It can be quite frustrating to have to write the whole thing once again when the thought process might have already changed. It has happened with me more than once. I had then to copy and paste para by para to the blogger. Irritating.
Thirdly, you may download and install Google transliteration IME (input method editor). Now you have an additional language installed and you can switch between English and Bengali at will whether you are using Notepad, Word or the Blogger directly.I was surprised though it did not have the 'dari' to mark the end of a sentence, a drawback that can be managed in the QWERTY key board itself ' এইভাবে |' .
I forgot to mention that Windows itself allows Bengali to be installed as an additional language, but I did not like the font and in any case, the problem with it is the same as the first option I mentioned.
Surprisingly, the blogger does not have an option for using Bengali directly although such option is available for some Indian languages like Hindi, Tamil and one or two others. Apart from its rich literary traditions, Bengali is one of the most widely spoken languages and according to the Wikipedia ranks sixth in the world. It is also the national language of an independent nation, Bangladesh. Google may include Bengali later as an option in the blogger but I find no justification for its not doing it so far.
I doubt if anyone in Google will be reading this post but if he does, he should take note of it.  

Thursday, January 27, 2011


লক্ষ্য করলেই দেখা যাবে যে আমরা কথোপকথনে বহু ইংরিজি শব্দ ব্যবহার করি ৷ কিছু কিছু শব্দ আছে যেমন টেবিল ,চেয়ার ,গেলাস যেগুলো  অনেকদিন হলো  বাংলাভাষার অঙ্গ হয়ে পড়েছে ৷কিছু বাংলা শব্দ আজকাল আমরা আর  ব্যবহার করি না বরঞ্চ ইংরিজি প্রতিশব্দগুলোই সহজতর হয়ে গেছে।যেমন ধরা যাক বিদ্যালয় , মহাবিদ্যালয় ।আমরা এখন ইস্কুল কলেজ বলতেই অভ্যস্ত  এছাড়া আজকের প্রয়োজনের অনেক শব্দই আছে যেগুলো মূলত  ইংরিজি যেমন কপি ,টাইপ, ফ্রিজ ইত্যাদি     সময়ের সাথে সাথে ,নতুন নতুন অভিজ্ঞতা প্রকাশের প্রয়োজনে অথবা নতুন ধরণের উপকরণের বর্ণনায় নতুন শব্দ ভাষায় সংযোজিত হবে এটাই স্বাভাবিক ৷এই কারণেই মুসলিম আমলে আরবি ফার্সি থেকে বাংলাভাষায় অনেক  শব্দ এসেছে পরে ইংরিজি জমানায়  ইংরিজি ভাষা থেকে ৷আজকের দিনে পশ্চিমী দুনিয়ার সাথে আমাদের যোগাযোগ এখনো ইংরিজির মাধ্যমেই , তাই ইংরিজি থেকে আরো শব্দ আসবে এটা মেনে নিতেই হবে ৷যে কোনো জীবন্ত ভাষা এভাবেই এগোয় , এভাবেই সম্বৃদ্ধ হয় তা নিয়ে কিছু বলার নেই ,তবু বলতেই হবে আমরা  নিজেদের ভাষার শুদ্ধতা বা নিজস্বতা  রক্ষার ব্যাপারে যথেষ্ট নিস্পৃহ৷কথায় কথায় ইংরিজি ব্যবহার করা আমাদের স্বভাব ৷শিক্ষিতদের মধ্যে এই প্রবনতাটা যেন বেশি ৷এক্ষেত্রে আমি বাংলায় সাধারনভাবে প্রচলিত ইংরিজি শব্দগুলোর কথাই শুধু বলছি না  আমরা আবেদনপত্র না বলে application বলি, অগ্রাহ্য হয়েছে না বলে rejected হয়েছে বলে থাকি, এরকম উদাহরণ অনেক দেয়া  যেতে পারে, তা ছাড়া মাঝে মধ্যে পুরো ইংরিজি বাক্য এসে যাওয়া অস্বাভাবিক কিছু নয় ৷শুনলে মনে হবে আমরা এক মিশ্র ভাষায় কথা বলছি যেটা বাংলা নয় ,বলা যেতে পারে বাংরেজি 
আমরা যখন কলেজে পড়তাম ,কয়েক বন্ধু মিলে ঠিক করেছিলাম ইংরিজি ব্যবহার না করে শুধু বাংলাতেই কথাবার্তা চালাব ৷পুরোপুরি সফল হবার আগেই আমাদের উসাহে ভাটা পড়ে ৷এখন তার জন্যে দুঃখ হয়, মনে হয় এ বিষয়ে আমাদের সকলেরই আরো বেশি সতর্ক থাকা উচিত ৷ 


 চড়ুইভাতি কথাটা আজকাল আর ব্যবহার হয় না ৷বনভোজন ও নয় ৷আমরা এখন বলি পিকনিক ৷

এই শীতের মরশুমে সবাই নিশ্চই পিকনিকে যাছে , কলকাতার উপকন্ঠে, নদীর পারে অথবা কোনো পুরনো বাগানবাড়িতে৷আমার প্রথম পিকনিকও  তখন্ কার কলকাতার উপকন্ঠে , সে জায়গা এখন কল্লোলিনী কলকাতা ৷সিরিটির থেকে যে রাস্তা এখন বেহালার দিকে গিয়েছে, পঞ্চাশের দশকে সেটার চারপাশে ছিল গ্রামীন পরিবেশ ৷কাঁচা রাস্তা , ধান ক্ষেত আর অনেক পেয়ারার বাগান ৷রাস্তার মোড়ে কোথাও একটা আঁসফলের গাছ ছিল, যে গাছ থেকে আমরা অনেক আঁসফল পেড়ে খেয়েছিলাম৷সেই প্রথম , তার পরে এই বছরখানেক আগে বাজার থেকে কিছু আঁসফল কিনেছিলাম , সে স্বাদ কিন্তু পাই নি
আমার বয়স তখন  নয় বা দশ , আমরা সমবয়সী এক দল ছেলে মিলে এসেছিলাম পিকনিকে ৷টটিদার উদ্যোগে , টটিদারই উৎসাহে ৷টটিদা ছিলেন আমাদের থেকে সাত আট বছরের বড়, তখন স্কুলের উঁচু ক্লাসে পড়েন, কিন্তু আমাদের বয়সী ছেলেদের সঙ্গে ছিল তার বন্ধুত্ব ৷আমাদের নিয়ে তিনি একটা ক্লাব গড়েছিলেন , তাতে কম করে কুড়ি পঁচিশজন  ছেলে জড়ো হয়েছিল ৷টটিদার বাড়ির সামনেই ছিল চারুর মাঠ ,আমাদের খেলার মাঠ , আমাদের বাড়ির খুব কাছেই ৷মাঠটা কোনো এককালে পুকুর বুজিয়ে তৈরি হযেছিল, বর্ষায় খুব জল জমত ৷আমরা বর্ষাকালেও সেই গোড়ালি উঁচু জলে খেলাধুলো করতাম ৷বাড়িতে তার জন্য বকাও কম খেতে হত না ৷
প্রত্যেক বিকেলে আমরা সব জমা হতাম চারুর মাঠে ৷সেখানে টটিদার নির্দেশে আমরা কুচকাওয়াজ করতাম সারি বেঁধে ৷তার পরে হত নানা ধরনের খেলাধুলো ৷ টটিদার এক বিশেষ আকর্ষনি  শক্তি ছিল আর ছিল  নেতৃত্ব দেবার স্বাভাবিক ক্ষমতা, আমরা তাকে ভালবাসতাম, তাকে মান্য করতাম ৷ টটিদার ও ছিল আমাদের সবার প্রতি সমান স্নেহ ৷
টটিদাই উদ্যোগ নিয়ে সেবার আমাদের পিকনিকের আয়োজন করলেন ৷সিরিটিতে ওঁর কোনো আত্মীয়রা থাকতেন , তাদের বাড়ির কাছেই জায়গা ঠিক হযেছিল ৷আমাদেরই বন্ধুদের কেউ একটা ঠেলা গাড়ি জোগাড় করে এনেছিল , তাতে বাসনকোসন চাপিয়ে আমরা এক সকালে হাঁটা পথে রওনা দিলাম সিরিটির উদ্দেশ্যে । কালিঘাট থেকে পথ কিছু কম নয় কিন্তু আমরা তখন ছোট আর উৎসাহে ভরপুর ,হই হট্টগোল করতে করতে পথ পেরিয়ে এলাম ।
একটা পেয়ারা  বাগানের ভিতর আমাদের জায়গা ঠিক হলো , পাশে একটা পুকুর ,একেবারে প্রকৃত বনভোজনের পরিবেশ ৷আমাদের মধ্যে সম্ভবত অরুন ই রান্নার উদ্যোগ নিয়েছিল , আর কে কে আমার মনে নেই , কিন্তু আমরা ভাত মাংসের ঝোল ঠিকই খেয়েছিলাম ।সারাদিন ধরে পেয়ারা  বাগানে দাপাদাপি করেছি , গাছে উঠেছি , পিঁপডের কামড় খেয়েছি , বিনা অনুমতিতে  পেয়ারা পেড়ে খেয়েছি ,কিভাবে দিন কেটে গিয়েছে জানতেই পারিনি ৷সূর্য ডোবার আগেই অবশ্য টটিদা আমাদের জড়ো  করে, জিনিসপত্র গোছগাছ করিয়ে নিলেন ৷তার পর এক  ঝাঁক স্মৃতি নিয়ে বাড়ি ফেরার পালা ।        

সেই আঁসফল গাছটা আর নেই , সেই পেয়ারা বাগান ও কবে বিলীন হযে গেছে , কিন্তু আমার মনের কোনায় রয়ে গেছে আনন্দের এক টুকরো  স্মৃতি, হীরের টুকরোর মত । এতদিন পরে এই  জানুয়ারির শীতে , সূর্যের কোমল আলোয়  হটাৎই সেটা ঝলসে উঠলো ।  

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The pencil between the fingers

I was about five years old when our family came to Kolkata. I did not know how to read and write yet.
I was excited when a neighbour who was very fond of me gave me a gift  on the eve of our departure to Kolkata but when I opened  the gift, I found  it was not a toy that could have interested me, but a book I was unable to read. Unlike the children's books of today it did not have any illustration either for me to browse through and enjoy.I remember I was so disappointed that I wept and wept, and had to be consoled by my elder sister.
As a child I could not appreciate the first gift in my life, nor could I understand the love and affection it contained !
The book, I remember, was named 'Kutkuter Daftar' and was about the life of an Ant and its travails. I read it much later, but I must admit it did not leave much of an imprint then.
I learned to read and write soon enough with the help of my elder sister, my Didi, my first teacher who guided me in my first attempts to write the letters of the Bengali alphabet. Didi must have done the same with her other younger siblings. She was around ten or eleven then and was very fond of reading which she is even today, but surprisingly she never went to school or rather was never admitted to one. Girls were already going to schools and colleges those days though the number was not as large as it is today, and it was becoming a socially accepted phenomenon unlike in the days of my mother's childhood when girls were married off at the age of twelve or thirteen in most families even  fifty sixty years after Vidyasagar's efforts to educate the girlchildren. Social attitudes take time to change whatever revolutionaries may think, but in Didi's case my surprise is all the more because our parents laid a great stress on education. They possibly  thought that a girl's salvation lies in her marriage and though education could be one attribute, it was not the most important one in finding a match for her. They were not wrong in a way for Didi was married off when she was sixteen.
There were a number of children in our age group in the neighbourhood and Dadamoni ( my immediate elder ) and I made many friends. We ran around the lanes and bylanes or played games in a nearby field. We were growing up as normal kids and learning our 3 R s at home. There were many to discipline us for unruly behaviour and occasions for disciplining were not at all infrequent. More so, because Dadamoni and I fought too often over many issues which must have seemed significant at our age. A slap or two and even more severe beatings were not at all uncommon. Of course, Dadamoni bore the brunt more often as he was the older one. I remember one instance  when we were tied together back-to-back still angry and straining to get hold of each other as our mother and some elder brothers looked on.
It was at this time that our father thought of furthering our education at home before sending us to school. Days of blissful ignorance were to be over and we had to prepare for becoming responsible citizens of the world. He appointed a private tutor who used to come to our house generally in the afternoon at around four p.m when we were supposed to be at play. Sometimes when we were not at home, he would walk across to the park nearby to seek us out and bring us back for tution. Apart from his bald head, I do not remember much about Mastermasahai (teacher ). But I do remember he was no miser when it came to meting out punishment for tasks not done or for being naughty.He generally used the scale, but at times he deployed a more severe tactic. He would put a pencil between two fingers and press till you cry out. Needless to mention, Dadamoni, the naughtier one, was the usual recipient of his largesses.
Finally, we were sent to school on the same day. I was not even eight at that time, but since there was no age restriction those days, we were considered good enough to be admitted to class five and six respectively. Obviously tutoring at home had its merits. ( a bit of warning here ! as in some ads with stunts.Parents better not try this out these days, else they will not find any school to take their children in )  
Since there is a lot of learned talk now-a-days about discipline and punishment at school and pundits agree that these are reprehensible, I would like to mention that when we were at school in the fifties, it was quite usual for teachers to use a scale on a student for some wrongdoing or other or ask him to stand on the bench or more humiliating, ask him to kneel down while holding the ears in one corner of the classroom. Being a good student or being considered one, I was fortunate that I never suffered any of these, but I do not know of any of my classmates or for that matter any in my school, having committed suicide as a result. Many on the other hand had gone on to become  very successful persons, just as my Dadamoni has despite those pencil and fingers tricks of our Mastermashai.