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 ?