Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Musings and a Merry Christmas

I am not a feminist. In fact, if there is a term for the exact opposite of a feminist, then I am that. I have spent twelve years of my life in an overwhelmingly female-populated environment. And I certainly do not want to repeat the experience. I do not hate women, but I cannot deny despising them. When I say ‘them’ I mean ninety five percent of women. I acknowledge that I have also met women who are very different, and I pride myself in not being a typical female. However, the fact remains that these are a microscopic fraction of the female population all over the world, and are usually dismissed as whackos and outcasts. Now, before my readers start thinking of me as a prejudiced MCP (yeah, I will probably be called that by feminists in spite of being a girl myself!) let me present my experiences with women and the reasons that have led to my present state of mind. And right at the beginning, I am reiterating that there are women against whom my allegations do not hold true. I am hoping such women will realize that I have nothing against them; in fact, they are the reason why I have not yet become completely misogynistic.  

From what I have seen, the most defining characteristic of most women’s personalities is hypocrisy. Now, before all my female readers start objecting loudly to my very demeaning observation, let me give you some examples (all of these are anecdotes, either from my own experience or of people I know well). I have known parents (and most of them have been mothers) who have been unerringly polite and civil while talking to their children’s teacher, and have started using uncouth language about the same teacher as soon as the former is out of earshot. Speaking ill of people behind their backs is undoubtedly a female trait. Any woman who has ever attended a party will know how much time a group of women will spend criticizing their absentee ‘friends’. And this attitude undergoes no change as women age: on comparing notes after returning from two separate parties, my mother and I have had startlingly similar experiences. So what my contemporaries talk about is in no way different from what their mothers speak of.

In connection to my previous allegation, I have to add that women are so obsessed with their bodies. The other day my father was glancing through one of those numerous women’s magazines, and he commented about how almost the entire magazine was full of advertisements of different beauty products and salons and shopping brands, and articles that give suggestions for enhancing one’s beauty. The same thing can be seen on television. As I have mentioned once in one of my earlier posts, women want to be portrayed as bodies only. Among my classmates a very popular hobby is shopping. I do not have many male acquaintances, so I cannot say this from intimate knowledge,  but I doubt how many males of any age will cite shopping as their favourite hobby! Also, women are so desperate to become clones of one another. When I go out I am often surprised by how all the girls seem to look alike. They wear the same kinds of clothes and make-up, walk, talk, giggle, pout and roll their eyes in the same way. Though we make a lot out of ‘being a unique individual’, the truth is that girls are far more scared of standing out in the crowd than men are. It is true that there is a certain class of boys who also like to imitate each other and become as alike in everything as possible, especially in clothes, motorbikes and attitude. But this is not the majority among males, unlike in females. I still see men wearing clothes as diverse as bermudas and pyjamas and dhoti, and having idiosyncratic personalities much oftener than women.

Women also seem to get some perverted, bestial fun by harming other people, especially other women. They cannot bear to see other women being luckier than they, and will try to inflict harm in one way or the other to their luckier sisters. I happen to be gifted by unusual height in a country where must women are tiny. I cannot help being tall; it is not something I had asked for or worked for, it was just given to me. My height makes me stand out everywhere, and while I see the boys gaping at me as if  I were a phenomenon, the look in most women’s eyes is one of intense jealousy and hatred. They behave as though I have become tall only in order to make them feel inferior!

In most households, it is the mother, the grandmother or one of the older female relatives who take up the role of making their girl children realize that they have been born inferior to boys, and so they should not try to behave like equals at all. Instead, they should invest all their time and energy in dolling up beautifying themselves. I can very well realize and sympathize with many of my father’s male ex-students who seem to have no interest in girls at all. It’s time girls noticed that not all boys are interested in looks alone. Some want more matter and substance in girls, and by concentrating solely on their bodies the girls are losing out on prospective (and, if I may say so, very eligible!) boyfriends and husbands!

I can list many other reasons for my attitude, but it’s Yuletide and I do not want the last blogpost of the year to be a bitter one. So let me draw this subject to a close with the observation that I would be doing grave injustice if I do not mention some of the women I love and respect the most. My mother tops the list. Though I know I have just made a very clichéd remark, I cannot help it. She is a wonderful person, and it is to be said only incidentally that she is also a woman. Some of my best friends are girls, and though they are very much aware of my anti-female mindset, it does not bother them. They know instinctively that when I scoff at women I do not have them in mind. Because, in my definition they are not really girls, but human beings, and lovable ones at that. Then, I have met women who are my father’s ex-students or wives/friends of ex-students who are very unlike the typical woman that I have described, so they automatically fall into the 5% of the female population that I admire. Most of the really successful women in the world are non-feminists, probably because they do not think of themselves as mere women in the first place. When I say this I have in mind J. K. Rowling, Chhanda Kochhar, Naina lal Kidwai, Vinita Bali, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, even Vidya Balan and Julia Roberts. And when I talk of wonderful and respectable women, I cannot forget Beth Morgan and Bronwen of How Green Was My Valley, Pilar of For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ma Joad of The Grapes of Wrath, Mariam of A Thousand Splendid Suns and Professor McGonagall of Harry Potter. They define women in my mind.

Before I sign off, I wish everybody a very merry Christmas and an equally happy New Year. This is my favourite season; the weather is lovely, and there are so many happy days lying ahead in the next two weeks. I am eagerly looking forward to our year-end trip. This year, we’ll have some of dad’s ex-students with us, so hopefully it will be even more enjoyable than usual. I shall be back with many more happy (and interesting too, hopefully) experiences, and that will be my first post the next year. So loads of love good wishes till then. Cheers :)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Diwali Greetings

This year the festival season went rather well for me. Being the home bird that I am, I did not go out much during the Durga Puja. My friends had come to my house on Shoshti, and I had gone out with my parents and Abhirudpa on Shoptomi. That was about all the pandal hopping that I did. The rest of the days I spent reading “Speaks The Nightbird” by Robert McCammon that Abhirupda had lent us earlier. And that was the best way I could possibly have spent the Pujas.

Diwali was a nice way to wrap up the festive month. Like every year, I made a rangoli  on the ground floor verandah. This year I used gulal for my rangoli. Most years I don’t get gulal at this time of the year, but this year I had saved some from Holi. But this year I was not so happy with my design. I felt that mine had become a little coarse and gaudy. The ones I have made in the previous years were much prettier, like the one with only the lamps. My friend Shivangi had made a beautiful one though. Here are their pictures.

I made this one last year

This one is Shivangi's

This one is mine

This year I had intentionally bought fewer crackers. I don’t like the sound of any of the bombs. Even the whistling charkhi (‘catherine wheel’) bothers me. Neither of my parents is particularly keen on burning crackers, and in any case I don’t fancy all the noise and smoke they create. After finishing with the rangoli I went to Shivangi’s house. I took some of my crackers with me, and left some behind. At her house, they had organized Lakshmi Ganesh Puja. They do it every year on Diwali, and it is an informal family affair. I had never attended a Marwari puja before, and I enjoyed my first time. What I liked best about it was that there was very little pretension: the family members prayed for each other’s well-being. There was no loud chanting and ringing of the holy bell (what we call the ghonta). The faith was in their hearts, and they did not make a huge show of it. 

What was even better than the puja was the food! Shivangi’s mother gave me a small dinner of puri and two different preparations of vegetables. There was also desert made of lentils! I do love Marwari food, and if some day I manage to learn how to cook some of their dishes, I might even consider becoming a vegetarian! After the very welcome meal, Shivangi, her younger brother Nikunj, her father and I went to their terrace to burn some of the crackers. But by that time it was getting late, and I knew that dad would be getting worried, so I called him up to come and take me home, and we managed to set off some of the fireworks before he arrived. While I was leaving, Shivangi ran to her kitchen and brought me a packet of Diwali tidbits, and I came back home with that much-loved gift held tight in my hands. 

At home, I persuaded my parents to come up to the terrace to watch while I finished off the rest of the fireworks. Dad took some photos while I lighted the tubris (fire fountains) and the charkhis. Then he went downstairs. Mummy stayed back for half an hour more, as I desperately tried to use up all the crackers. But at last both of us got tired of it and came back even though some of the crackers were still left unused. When I was much younger, dadas, especially those of Abhirupda’s batch used to come to our house on Diwali. They used to light the fireworks while I watched. That used to be fun. But nobody comes these years, and it is boring to light them all by myself. I think I won’t buy any crackers at all from next year. 

The skies looked beautiful with the real stars being complemented by the man-made stars from the rockets and other fireworks. Despite the unpleasant noise, I couldn’t help being mesmerised by the spectacle. The streets looked beautiful too, with most of the housing being decorated with lamps and fairy lights. I wonder whether those who live in the Americas and the European countries have such colourful and lively festivals. The only sad thing about the evening was the nagging feeling of guilt that kept reminding me about how much air and noise pollution we were causing. Our one evening of fun would leave permanent scars on Mother Earth…

That is all for now. This one is a short post, just to let everyone know that I haven’t got tired of blogging and forgotten about writing here! And do let me know how you spent your festive days. 

Ps: My father was telling me just now that I should have written something reflective about what I feel about this festival season every year. I just told him that I don't feel anything much at all: nothing seems to me to be very out of the ordinary. People are being 'excited' about something or the other throughout the year; only the object of thrill changes, human manners (or the lack of the same) don't change. If this view makes me hugely misanthropic and unsocial, so be it. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Do Parents Really Love?

In our society, the idea that parents always work for their children’s best interests is instilled right from infancy in our minds. The statement is so overused as to have become clichéd. The ICSE council has even set an argumentative essay topic based on this concept. For most people, this idea has become such an intrinsic part of the psyche that they can easily overlook the weightiest of proofs against it. For such people, this article might seem to be an outrageous insult to parents and all elders in general. However, to those who like to think logically, it might start a new train of thoughts and beliefs.

In the many ways that my life has been different from my friends’, one very important factor is that people of all ages keep coming to my father looking for advice or just sympathy, and often my father tells me their stories. Nowadays, even my friends have started treating me as a father (mother!) confessor, so that I come to know of the darkest secrets of many of them, and by putting myself in their shoes, I am able to live many lives at once, which helps broaden my mind. And, from the many experiences I have heard of, I find it very difficult to conform with the idea that all elders, especially parents, always know (and want) what is the best for their children.

When I was in primary school, I remember my friends gawking at me with disbelief clearly etched on their faces when I told them that my parents did not beat me. Those were the days when thrashings were a part of everyday life for almost all my friends. One girl had even gone so far as to inform me that since my father did not beat me, he obviously did not love me! It was during this very time when, after the results of a class test had been declared, many of my friends had started weeping profusely. One girl was beside herself with terror, and kept saying that her mother would not let her enter the house, and thrash her for not getting full marks. She had got eighteen out of twenty. Today, I can swear that I have received more love from my parents than half of my class taken together. And no, I have not been beaten more than four or five times throughout my life, but never to the extent of being badly injured, and certainly never because of my results. In fact, the last time I was smacked was five years ago!

This thrashing is not even a childhood thing. One of my friends told me his father regularly hit him even when he was in class twelve. In fact, things had turned so nasty in their family that he had actually started hitting his father back (well, not exactly hitting back since he was not a monster, but the self-defense was violent), and breaking glass windows in his anger! My father had a student in class ten who once came to class with huge angry-red weals on her arms. Apparently, her mother had burnt her with a hot ladle as punishment. As for black eyes and sprained arms, those are regular sights in my class.One girl who came to my father's class had multiple deep scars all over her body.

For some reason, parents seem to feel that hitting their children is their sacred right. This has nothing to do with wanting to correct one’s children; it is just a perverted yearning to display one’s superiority. The mother of one of my father’s students has actually acknowledged this at a counselling session. She says that she somehow cannot stop spanking her daughter even though she understands that it useless.

Hitting children needlessly is only one aspect of how parents think of everything but their children’s welfare. My friends tell me that their parents often shout at them because of their low marks not because of their lack of hard work or knowledge but because the parents won’t be able to show off in front of their neighbours, colleagues and relatives! So basically, what their children learn is the least important consideration; children are just their parents’ status symbols, a means to satisfy their already bloated egos.  

As a rule, parents select the kind of higher education, the career, even the spouse for their children. The children are not allowed to have opinions, choices of their own. I have heard from my friends (and some seniors as well) that their parents have threatened not to pay their school and college fees unless they abide by their parents' choice. So it all comes down to that: the bread-earner is the only one who has any say. At one point, all that counts is sheer animal superiority of one over another. But the paradox lies in the fact that when these same children become adults who earn their own living, the parents will use the sentiments of love and respect to demand the same kind of obedience that they used to get by force earlier.

It is this very mindset which when pushed to the extreme leads to female foeticide and other such heinous deeds. Delhi, the capital and one of the richest cities of the country has the highest rate of female foeticide. Obviously, this has nothing to do with poverty or illiteracy: the elite of the country indulge in such activities. Parents in our country leave their newborn babies in gutters. The rate of abortion is high among urban people who realize too late that they have ‘made a mistake’. I don’t require highbrow theories and far-fetched examples to make my point: it is all there much nearer home. There are many girls in my class who face constant discrimination in their homes because of their gender. The son, no matter what kind of a person he might be, is always better, and so he deserves the best of everything, even if it is at the cost of his sister’s welfare. Well, I should be calling these parents better; they at least stop at discrimination only. There is someone I know whose grandmother tried to poison her (if not with her father’s consent, at least with no strong resistance from him) because she did not like her daughter-in-law and her grandchildren much. So much for parents always loving their children.

In the article from The Hindu, the parents have protested loudly against the idea that they could batter their child badly enough to have to hospitalize him. However, I have fallen down from the bed enough times (once, directly on my head) to know that a mere fall from the bed doesn’t result in such grievous injuries. And judging from all the anecdotes I have heard firsthand, I don’t find it at all difficult to believe that the parents are at fault. So what is it that is lacking in Indian parents? What is wrong with them? Why do they treat their children like their property (and not even property that should be well taken care of)? How can their mentality be changed? I wish I knew, I wish I knew…   

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Corbett National Park

There was something about tigers in the newspaper today, about tigers and Tiger Reserves, that reminded me of the only time that I had been to a jungle. It was way back in 2003, I think, when we went to Corbett National Park. We had gone holidaying in Nainital and other nearby places, and Corbett was on our itinerary. I was really small then, and did not enjoy the beauty of nature much. So naturally, for  me the only object of anticipation was seeing wild animals, especially tigers.

It is strange how one’s mind stores odd snippets of many different events, and sometimes these events get jumbled up, and one talks about one incident when one is really thinking of something completely different. And then, one’s mind sometimes blends the memories of one event with memories of some other event, or of something one has read about or seen in movies, and then one has very vivid ‘memories’ of things that might not have happened to oneself at all! Whenever I think of our trip to Corbett, I visualize a very narrow and shallow rivulet with shoals of multihued fish swimming about in it. Now, I know that while entering the park in the jeep we had crossed a rivulet, but the shoals of fish are almost certainly figments of my imagination, borrowed from various shows on Animal Planet. But in spite of my conscious knowledge, this image of fish is strangely associated with Corbett in my mind!

There is another thing that I always think of in connection with Corbett. That is about my first experience of a sharp chilly wind. As I said, we were travelling in an open jeep. It was December, and the temperature must have been pretty low. My parents had packed me up in a lot of warm clothes. I remember wearing a sweater, a thick jacket, woolen socks, gloves, and a balaclava. Now, ever since childhood, I have suffered much more from heat than from cold. That day, as we entered the forest, I distinctly remember standing up (I was tiny enough then to be able to stand up unobtrusively in the jeep) and pulling off my balaclava, much to my mother’s horror, and grinning widely at the world in general with chattering teeth and watery eyes as the cold wind swept across my face. That is probably one of my best travel memories till date!

We had put up in a place called ‘Jhirna’. I hear that nowadays it has been turned into an expensive resort, but in those days there were just a few cottages and an elephant ride area there. There was an observation tower a little way off from the cottages, and I have a rather exciting memory of the place. My father, mother and I had gone to the tower during the day, which was a pleasant enough experience. But then, my father and I went there again in the evening. I remember looking down on the forest from the tower. It was an ocean of black, with the distant trees looking like oddly shaped human figures. It was twilight then, and the sky was red and black, and there seemed to be no living being around except the two of us. Now that I come to think of it, I think I enjoy that moment much more in retrospect than I did when it was actually happening. At that age, I was more in search of adventure than scenery. After spending some time there, we came down and headed back to the cottage, only to find that a group of men had come to look for us with sticks and lanterns. We later heard that that area was often visited by tigers and other wild beasts, so they had become scared and come to look for us!

The next day we went for an elephant ride in the jungle. Our elephant was a young female called Albeli. She was a very cheerful creature, and was also rather small for an elephant. Then of course, she was not a full grown beast. We climbed onto her back from a raised platform. I sat right behind the mahout. There was one thing that still pains me whenever I think of it. The mahout had a short iron fork with which he kept poking Albeli whenever she tried to be a little naughty. From my position I could see that just behind her head she had numerous small cuts which were obviously the result of this poking. My father says that being an elephant she probably didn’t even feel the cuts, but I feel angry whenever I think of it. Anyway, the ride in itself was lovely. At one point, the mahout told us that there was probably a tiger there a little way ahead, and did we want to go on? My father however told him to turn back; he later told us that since Albeli was a young elephant she might have become frightened on seeing a tiger, and that would certainly have been very unsafe for us! We had our ride and came back, and heard that during our absence a tiger had come and killed a deer a little way behind our cottage! Ah well, we probably weren’t meant to see a tiger that time!

We had another delightful experience with Albeli later that day. My father and I had bought a packet of biscuits, and we took it to the sheds where the elephants were kept. Albeli was there, and believe it or not, she was actually dancing, shaking her head and body in a rhythmic manner! She stopped when she saw us, and daddy started giving her the biscuits. She took them with her trunk and ate them swiftly, and an entire packet was over in the wink of an eye. Then my father told her that there was no more, and as if on cue, she resumed her dance exactly where she had left it, and no trained Kathak dancer could have displayed more grace than she did that day!

We stayed for a very short time in Corbett; I think it was just for one night and two days. But it was a lovely experience, and someday I hope to go back there and spend a much longer time, and this time hopefully, I’ll be lucky enough to catch at least a glimpse of the tiger, the King of the Jungle!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Is my generation insane?

A very sad thing happened this Monday morning; a classmate of mine passed away in a car accident along with her mother, her grandmother and her brother, while her father is admitted in the hospital, fighting for his life. She was not a close friend, but then we have been studying together for the last twelve years, so the incident horrified me. May their souls rest in peace forever.

Generally, I would not be writing about such a sad incident; this is not the kind of news that one bandies about. However, I read a comment in one of my father’s blogposts that hit me hard, and induced me to write about this. Another classmate, a boy, has commented on the post saying that some of his friends were joking and laughing over the accident, as if it were a funny and trivial issue!

The boy wrote in his comment that these boys either have no feelings at all or are confused about what they feel. I will go one step further and say that these boys are bestial. This though would be an insult to animals, since most animals try their best to save a brother in trouble, and often express grief at the death of a member of the  tribe. Jim Corbett has rightly said in one of his stories that if the laws of the jungle were prevalent among human beings, we would be living in a much more civilized and humane society. The boy also wrote about his Biology teacher who jokes about how accidents can help control the population explosion in our country, and says that one or two dying now and then is not a big deal. This really frightens me. In the primary classes we were taught to think of our teachers just like our parents. If I had parents who had such perverse and psychopathic thoughts, I would surely have lived in constant fear for my life. These people are parents too, and I always feel sorry for their children. These are the parents who convince their children that the only reason to be alive is to get marks and get admission in the IITs. And these are the parents whose children can laugh when they hear about a classmate’s death.

I am a member of the generation in question, but since my parents have gone against the herd and consciously brought me up with a different set of values, I often get nasty shocks at my classmates’ behaviour. A very common and seemingly unimportant thing that everyone has witnessed sometime or the other is how youngsters occupy the seats in public buses while the aged remain standing. I remember once a classmate and I were returning from a tuition, and we had both been lucky to get seats in a packed bus. Moments after we had sat down, an elderly couple entered the bus. The man had a bent back, while the woman was limping and was obviously in pain. I immediately vacated my seat, and looked at my classmate, expecting her to do the same. But she kept staring pointedly out of the window and did not budge before I actually told her to do so, and then only because she was afraid I would otherwise haul her off the seat, which I am physically quite capable of doing. She got up unwillingly, gave me a glare and turned away, muttering curses under her breath! Since I have spent such a long time studying in a girls’ school (and those are actually much nastier than a co-ed or a boys’ school; I do wish some more girls/women would have the guts to acknowledge that publicly) I can think of dozens of other such instances which show how frightening the minds of many of these people are. In fact, I would not like to stay alone in a house with a great majority of them for my own safety. There’s no saying what one of them could do to take ‘revenge’ for some imagined hurt or just for the fun of seeing someone else hurt.

So where exactly has society gone wrong to have brought up a generation of teenagers with such warped and retarded senses? We have Art of Living classes galore, and Value Education is compulsory in most schools. In spite of that, we have teenagers who have little or no moral sense and responsibility. In fact, given enough power, I am sure we have a number of potential Hitlers and Stalins amongst us! I know for one that many of them, the girls especially, will grow up to be the worst kind of parents whose only contribution to their children’s lives would be making them miserable.

I often discuss this issue with my father, and we wonder about where the real problem lies. One thing that both of us agree on is that these teenagers have been simultaneously spoiled rotten to the extreme and been subjected to endless irrational restrictions right from childhood. I have had a very different childhood, where my parents have treated me like an equal, and so I have been given the same freedom as well as the same duties and responsibilities that they have. Today, I am obviously very unlike most of my classmates in my likes and dislikes, tastes and preferences, hobbies, and my entire lifestyle is a puzzle to them. Many of my classmates have this idea that I have to live under military discipline and my parents run a concentration camp at home! Otherwise they simply cannot fathom how a teenager could NOT enjoy partying, shopping, gossiping and willingly do things like reading, housekeeping or studying! With the kind of mentality that most of these teenagers have, and the kind of marks- and looks-obsessed, unscrupulous environment that they have grown up in, it is little wonder that terrifying accidents get such disgusting reactions from them. I can now understand how the Romans could enjoy watching ‘games’ like chariot racing and gladiator fighting. People like to say “Nowadays the world is becoming so bad and ugly”, but in reality the world has always been like this, and people have always been saying the same thing, be it four hundred years ago, or a thousand. That’s my only consolation: only a tiny handful try to be different, always, everywhere.

However, there is no denying that good people are still around. While some boys felt like joking about the incident, another girl has organized a prayer-and-donation meet in an orphanage in the memory of the deceased this Friday afternoon. The girl is my classmate, and is someone whom I always took to be a typical senseless teenager. I must say I am pleasantly surprised. All I wish is that we had more people like her around. That would have made the world a much happier and more peaceful place. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Little Prince

[I have been trying to review this book ever since I read it more than a month ago. Somehow, it had turned out to be a very difficult task, so much so that I finally gave it up and simply wrote down whatever thoughts the book had brought to my mind. So this is not a review, strictly speaking; this is the rambling of a restless mind one quiet summer afternoon.]

This is a rather strange book. I have read quite a number of books, both children’s books and books for mature minds. But I cannot think of any book that is quite like The Little Prince. I cannot even decide whether to call it a children’s story or a book for grown-ups. I am sure the author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, in spite of being an adult himself, would have strongly objected to its being called a book for grown-ups. He has even dedicated the book to a grown-up, Leon Werth, “when he was a little boy”!

The day I read the book was the second day of dad’s admissions. It had been a very long day, and by the time it was nine in the evening, we were all dead-beat. I wanted to read something light, so I took The Little Prince out on a whim and curled up in bed with it. I had been expecting a funny and frivolous book, but right from the first page I could sense something very surprising; the author seemed to have turned society as we know it upside down. In his opinion it is the children who are the really deep and thoughtful entities in society, and the adults who insist on giving undue importance to petty and unimportant things!

The author starts the book by telling us how he had drawn a boa constrictor with an elephant inside it when he was six years old, and had asked the grown-ups whether the drawing frightened them, but they had all thought that it was an oddly shaped hat that he had drawn. He must have been a very unusual adult indeed, because right at the start he has made clear his low opinion of the average grown up. And this is a theme that he has continued to harp upon throughout the course of the story. He insists “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them”!

The author, who has grown up to be an aviator, has had to crash land in the Sahara Desert as something has broken down in the engine of his plane. It is there that he meets the little prince, who seems to appear out of nowhere, and asks the author very gravely to draw   him a sheep. And strangely enough, the author does just that for him, as “when a mystery is too overpowering, one dare not disobey.” That is the beginning of what goes on to become a deep friendship between the grown man and the strange child.

The story stretches over ten or eleven days, during which the author comes to know little by little the story of the little prince’s life. The little prince lives on a planet (the author thinks it is the asteroid B-612, though he acknowledges that any child would know such names and figures are of little consequence; it is the adults he is satisfying with this piece of information) which is so small that it is hardly any bigger than a house. He lives there with three volcanoes, and a haughty flower who thinks she is the only one of her kind. He used to live with his flower and watch many sunsets, because his planet is so small that the sun sets and rises numerous times each day. But the little prince was not happy, and wanted to travel around and see the universe. That was how his adventures began.

The author has memorably conveyed many essential lessons of life through the little prince’s adventures. He has also brought out some of the commonest weaknesses that grown-ups suffer from in the characters of the various people the prince meets on his travels. The price meets a king who loves to order people about and rule over people, and his only problem is that there are no subjects he can rule over in his tiny planet. Then the prince meets a conceited man who thinks everybody admires him, and then a drunkard who drinks so that he can forget how ashamed he is of drinking, then a businessman who counts stars all the time (‘stars’ here seem to me to be representative of money). The fifth planet the prince visits has a lamplighter whose plight is that he has to light his lamp and put it off 1440 times every day, as there are so many sunsets and sunrises in his tiny planet. Of all the people he has seen till then, the lamplighter is the only one whom the prince does not find ridiculous. The reason the prince gives for this is “he is thinking of something else besides himself.” The sixth planet has a geographer in it, who directs the prince to the earth.

Once the prince comes to the earth, he (and all of us readers along with him) learns some valuable lessons. He sees a garden of roses which look just like his own flower back home. He sees that she is not unique after all, and this leaves him dejected. Then he meets a fox, who makes him understand that his flower is unique because he had ‘tamed’ it, and was now responsible for it. The fox requests the prince to tame him. Here again, the author has said something wonderful: “One only understands the things that one tames. Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all readymade at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends anymore.”

The prince meets a railway switchman and sees the trains travelling up and down the  tracks. Here the author brings out another very true-to-life sentiment through their conversation. The switchman says that grown-ups are never satisfied with what they have, and are bored with life. Those travelling in the railway carriages are either asleep, or yawning. Only the children have their noses pressed to the windows as they watch the passing scenery. The prince replies “Only the children know what they are looking for.”

The part that has touched me the most is when the prince goes to the snake, who bites him so as to send him back to his own planet. Before going, the prince reassures the author that he will not be dying; he will only be leaving his body behind, as it is too heavy to carry home. This wonderful concept of ‘going home’ seems to take away a lot of the anxieties and miseries of human life. When one knows that death is just going back home after a long and tiring journey, one is able to face it without fear, and with anticipation even.

The line I found most memorable in the book was something that the fox told the prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” I understand now why my father keeps saying this was one of those books which changed his life forever. Somehow, I know that from now, I will be spending much more time and energy in looking at the ‘small and insignificant’ things of life. Maybe, one day I too will have a rose which will have tamed me, and which will be unique to me… 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Raindrops, raindrops, fall upon my window...

The rain is one of the most beautiful gifts of Nature, especially if it is unseasonal rain. A few days back we had a rather unexpected spell of rain here. I had been going around all morning that day with a gloomy face, and after the brief shower I could feel a marked improvement in my spirits. It was as if some invisible load had been lifted from my heart.

Last Wednesday the day had been cloudy right from the beginning. We did not think much of it; rain is the last thing that we expect in February. So we were really surprised to hear the roll of thunder sometime around seven in the evening. I kept thinking it was the sound of cars and furniture being moved around until I saw a flash of lightning through the window of the living room. And then came the rain. It was nothing extraordinary, just a drizzle. But for me it seemed to be a relief, from what I am not sure. Maybe I had just got fed up of the unending dryness all around me for the last few months. I was sitting there in front of the computer, drumming at the keyboard aimlessly, and then when I heard the first drops coming down, I simply ran to the balcony to feel the rain on my hands. The smell of wet mud that always drives me into fits of ecstasy was already there. Any other time of the year I would have stolen off to the terrace to get wet, but the evening was chilly, and getting wet in the rain was not a very pleasant prospect. Instead, I sat in the balcony watching the rain coming down to soothe the thirst of the dry earth, and memories of childhood flooded into my mind.

When I was a kindergartener most of my favourite games were related to splashing around in mud and water. The loner that I have always been, I preferred to go on these watery expeditions all by myself. After the rains a long stretch of puddles would be formed right in front of our house. As long as the sun was in the sky, I would sit in those puddles and make mud toys. At first my mother used to scold me for the soggy state that I got into, and the frocks I managed to spoil in the process. Later though she just resigned herself to the fact that I was not going to change my ways, and simply warned me not to stray into the road. Another game that I loved to play was jumping in the puddles and watching the ripples formed in the water. I remember once I had managed to induce a slightly older and very prim and proper friend of mine to step into the water. She had complied only after making me promise not to splash any water at her. Of course I had no intention of keeping my promise, and the moment she stooped to look closely into the puddle, I picked up a handful of the muddy water and threw it right at her face! I still laugh helplessly when I visualize the horrified expression on her face and her shrill voice screaming that I had spoiled her hair!

When we were in primary school, all of us loved to make paper boats. In fact, I used to return from school every day with at least five of those boats tucked into my bag. Whenever it rained, whether we were at home or at school, we would set afloat dozens of those boats and pretend to be dacoits and princesses on board ships going to distant lands in search of priceless treasures. We had such lovely times then, letting our imaginations run away with us. In fact, I think those were the days when my classmates’ creativity was at its peak. We made up impossible stories and lived them in our make-believe worlds, and found nothing absurd about them. Sometimes it started raining while we were playing with our boats, and then we would pretend that there was a cyclone and the ship was rocking helplessly on the sea, and all of us would pray that we may survive the night without being tossed overboard (this was during the time when the computer game called Sindbad was very popular and all of us had gathered some idea about life on sea from it. Also The Pirates of the Caribbean series had just begun, so we all loved to think of ourselves as future Jack Sparrows!).

But not all of my rainy memories are from primary school. Last year we had a long monsoon, and I spent many of those days getting drenched on the terrace or in the garden. I remember one day more clearly than others. It was a Sunday, and I had been studying all morning. So when the clouds overcast the sky and the rain came down in heavy showers, I ran down to the garden and stood barefoot in the soft grass, facing the sky and feeling the water running down my nose. I had been dancing around and enjoying myself for about five minutes when something like a little pebble fell on my foot. I looked down to see what it was, and to my delight it was a hailstone! By the time I had finished examining it, hailstones were falling in dozens. One the size of an egg fell right in front of me, and at that moment ma called me and asked me to get inside. By the time I had taken a bath and changed into fresh clothes I could hear the hailstorm raging outside. Later we heard that that evening there had been an unusual amount of hail, and some houses had broken window panes and tin roofs. My mother was certainly glad that she called me in when she did; none of us would have liked a big block of ice to fall on my head!

As is the rule of Nature, the most beautiful of her creations can sometimes become pretty troublesome, if not deadly. One day after school last year, those of us who travel by public bus found ourselves in a fix. There had been some accident, so no bus was running on the 8B route that afternoon. None of us carried a mobile, and we did not have enough money with us to book an auto, and the driver was very uncooperative and refused to lower his fare. To top all that, it had started drizzling. Anyway, I managed to call my father from a telephone booth, but he came to pick me up on the scooter, so my friends couldn’t go with me. The next day I heard from them that they had walked all the way to St. Xavier’s school in the heavy shower, getting drenched to the skin, where they had luckily been spotted by a neighbour who was in his car, and had managed to go home with him almost a hour and a half after school was over!

I have heard stories from my father about troubles caused by too much of rain. Once it had rained so much for so long in Durgapur that the river Damodar had flooded. For a day, it had become the largest river on earth, larger than even the Amazon! All the sluice gates of the Durgapur Barrage had been opened, and the area around it had become one gigantic lake, with people going around in boats! Another time he was travelling by train on a hot summer day, and standing at the door of the compartment enjoying the breeze. There was a cyclone, and the rest of the journey he continued to stand at the door freezing to the bone!

Still, I wish we had more of rain here in our place. My mother says that too much of rain makes her gloomy, and she doesn’t like dark cloudy days. But I enjoy myself very much indeed. Even when I am not getting wet, I love to hear the sound of the rain. It helps calm my mind. And in those moments I pity all my classmates who are so poor that they will never learn to savour the richness of Nature and all her different faces…

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Facebook Mania

These days, the ongoing craze among my friends is Facebook. Hardly one or two of my contemporaries do not have an account in Facebook, or ‘Fb’ as it is more popularly called over here. Those few who do not have accounts in Facebook are marked as ‘outdated’ and ‘uncool’. And if one is like me, who has an account but visits it once in four months, then one is termed ‘crazy’. Not that it bothers me much; I am called crazy for numerous other reasons anyway!

Whatever happens in school or in tuition classes, a post has to be made in Facebook. And in spite of an absence of word limit, only sms language should be used. “2day, we hd 2 free periodz in skul, yay!!!!!” is a very typical post. Other than that, whatever petty programs or fights take place, a Facebook post seems to be mandatory. Even the lack of activity, “Jaanish, aajke school e kichhu pora hoeni!!!” has to be posted. As for photos, the less said about it the better. My classmates seem to have this bizarre habit of taking the most awkward and senseless photos possible, and then uploading them on Facebook, only to be bombarded by a series of equally senseless and bizarre comments. Once when I had logged in after a goodly period of time, I had got a bit of a shock to find a group photo of a few of my friends from St. Xavier’s School for boys standing around holding up their pantaloons! That photo had fetched more than sixty comments!

All kinds of weird activities go on in Facebook. Most of my school friends seem to be ‘in a relationship’ with someone or the other in Xavier’s. However, when I ask them about their 'relationships' outside Facebook, they say that they are ‘single’! Both boys and girls together attend my father’s tuition. I have some friends there who are boys. They refuse to speak to me or even look at me when we meet each other, but the same boys send me messages saying “You seem to have forgotten me” on Facebook!

As for that strange business of ‘friend’ing someone, it goes right above my head. How can any Tom, Dick and Harry become your ‘friend’ just by sending a request on Facebook? But that is just what happens there. My classmates have hundreds of ‘friends’ on Facebook, fifty percent of whom they don’t know at all! There is an unwritten competition about who has the maximum number of friends, so most people will accept friend requests from just about everyone!

Facebook has become a worldwide sickness that affects not only teenagers with a lot of free time and nothing to do, but also people of their parents’ ages. Nowadays a number of advertisements feature parents communicating with their children through Facebook. One such advertisement shows a group of college goers who have just checked the latest update on Facebook where the mother of one of the boys has posted “Just made biriyani”! With this also comes the fact that the parents who say that reading books outside the prescribed syllabus is a waste of time do not seem to mind when their children spend hours doing absolutely nothing on sites such as this.

This being the situation everywhere, I am glad to say I have not been affected badly by this disease. As I said before, I have a Facebook account that I hardly ever visit. E-mails and notifications from Facebook are directed to the scrap box of my gmail i.d., and I get along very comfortably with this Facebook-free lifestyle. A few years back some classmates of mine had encouraged me to open a hoax account on Facebook because I was not thirteen yet at that time. The first month had seemed very exciting, but then my father had found out about the account and had forbidden me from using it. Then, sometime last year he told me I could open a Facebook account again if I wanted to. I opened my present one then, but the craze was already a thing of the past, and now it is all but unused.

I wish I could make at least one or two of my friends realize what a big waste of time Facebook is. There are so many other ways in which one could enjoy oneself. But they are determined not to listen, and since I realized that I was fighting a losing battle, I have stopped talking on this subject altogether.

On this subject, I would like my readers to take a look at this wonderful piece written by a newspaper writer called Chandril Bhattacharya. In fact, it was this piece of writing that induced me to write this post. Many thanks to Saikatda who sent this to baba. An advance apology to all my non-Bengali readers; I will not be able to translate this properly, so I am posting the original piece. Sorry!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My Trip to Shillong

A very happy new year everybody. It is amazing how fast yet another year has rolled by. Almost exactly a year ago, I was writing the post “Looking Back on 2010”. Today, I will not write the same thing for 2011. Rather, I will write a little about the lovely trip from which we returned not even a week ago. It was certainly a most wonderful experience. We went to a hill station almost three years later, and I do love the mountains. What is more, this time we went by air, and it was the first time for both ma and me.

We reached the airport at Dumdum by eight thirty. The entire process of checking in was over within forty minutes, and then we were upstairs in the waiting room for Gate 5. Baba was looking around the place, while ma and I found us seats. After we had settled down, baba called me, and showed me my life’s first aeroplane through a window. For some reason, I had this idea that planes are much larger than they really are. So what I saw looked more like a toy plane to me, and to be frank, I was  a bit disappointed. Our boarding time was ten thirty, and so we queued up and went out on the tarmac through the gate, and were asked to walk to our plane, an IndiGo Airbus A320 that was standing just beyond the building. Inside the plane, it was rather small, and the seats were cramp. But I had got a window seat, so that compensated for the slight discomfort with the leg space. I was quite relaxed then, but when the plane finally started to run along the runway, I got so hyperexcited about the jump, that I dug into my hands with my nails, drawing blood! Then the plane finally took off, and the blood momentarily drained from my brain, giving me a strange feeling of emptyheadednss. It took me almost five whole minutes to get back to normal, and though it does not sound like much, the feeling gave me a sense of unreality, and was not altogether a very comfortable sensation. Anyway, after that was gone, I was okay again, and other than the wonderful view of the azure sky, and another plane far away, it was a pretty uneventful ride, and in one hour we were in Guwahati. On the whole my first flight had been a success. We had had a clear sky and a splendid view of the ocean of clouds far below us which made me feel that I was in paradise, and a smooth ride, and what is more, our captain was a lady, so that is one thumbs up for my sex, because she did her job wonderfully, or so I felt.

The ride to Shillong was pleasant, and thankfully I did not have any problem during the ride, unlike many other times when I had suffered from constant dizziness. On the way we stopped for ten minutes at a place called Nongpo which is known for its pineapples. There I took a packet of freshly cut and spiced pineapples, and it was a great treat. We took almost six whole hours to reach the hotel though, while officially the ride should have taken just over three hours. There was a horrendous traffic jam outside the town, and it took us more than an hour to cover the last seven kilometers! The drivers did not seem to mind at all though, and like ours, most of them were busy listening to the radio in their cars. Afterwards our driver told us that this was what happened everyday, so no wander the drivers no longer seemed to notice the jams!

The hotel we checked into was called Hotel Broadway. It was a nice hotel, could also be called posh for its tariffs. I had found this hotel and booked it via the internet when our travel agent had been unable to find a suitable one. This was the first time that we had done internet booking, and it was a good choice. Though it was not really much colder than what it had been in Durgapur when we left, sitting for so long in the car had chilled us, and we were glad to find the heater on and hot running water to freshen up with. By the time the three of us were feeling a little refreshed it was already a quarter past seven. Our hotel was right in the heart of the town, in the area called Police Bazaar. We came out to look around the place a little, and I was surprised to find ourselves amidst a sea of humanity. Surprisingly, most of all the people in the bazaar area seemed to be young men and women in their early twenties. In fact in our entire trip I saw only a handful of school goers! The girls in Shillong seem to spend hours preening in front of the mirror every day. There was hardly anyone who did not look like a partygoer. The ‘in’ fashion at the moment seemed to be stiletto boots and overcoats on top of oh-so-skinny jeans, and hats and caps of all sizes and proportions, and a lot of red and yellow stilettos were also to be seen. The girls had converted their faces into makeup kits, and while some will certainly call them young beauties, to me they looked like artificial little dolls who were really too ashamed to show their real empty selves to anybody, and had taken refuge under a lot of flashy clothing. The market area was too crowded for our taste, so after a short exploration, we returned to the peace of our hotel, and by ten thirty, we had called it a day.

We had kept the next day for local sightseeing. We had already asked the hotel manager to arrange for a car for us. A car was waiting downstairs by the time we came down. Incidentally, Maruti cars are mostly used as taxis and hired cars in Shillong. Mostly the taxis are Maruti Alto, and some are WagonRs. The Alto is a very uncomfortable car, especially for tall people like me. I have huge feet too, and I was wearing walking shoes, so every time we had to come out of the car, they got stuck under the seats, and gave me a lot of trouble. But anyway, that did not deter me from enjoying myself. The first place we went to was called Elephant Falls. There were four falls there, and each exceeded the other in beauty. Thankfully the crowd was not too loud or ill mannered there, and it was a very pleasant visit. While coming out, we found a photography hut where one could put on traditional Khasi dresses and get one’s photo taken. Both ma and I dressed up there. The dress looks very complicated, but is not really so. But the jewelry they wear is very heavy. Ma asked them the price, and we were shocked to hear that each necklace was made of pure silver, and cost anything between ten and fifteen thousand rupees! The next place we visited was Shillong peak, also called Laitkor Peak, which had to be reached through a military cantonment. The view was wonderful there, and we got some excellent snaps there. It was afternoon already, and the next place we visited was called Lady Hydari Park, and that was inside the town once again. There was not much to see there, except a small zoo. There were bears, deer, birds, a leopard cat and a few species of apes. However, we found it very cruel, because the wild beasts had been kept in tiny cages, and hardly had any place to move about. No wonder one bear was sticking out its tongue and growling at all the spectators around its cage! Next on our agenda was a church. It was a beautiful place, and it was attached to a Loreto Girls’ School. It was built in traditional style, with tall windows with stained glass panes, and a huge painting of Our Lord. There were even two confessional boxes on two sides. The church had been decorated in the spirit of Christmas, and carols were being played in the background. It was a happy place. We wanted to visit a state museum next, but unfortunately it was closed for Christmas. The last place on our list was a lake called Ward’s Lake, but by the time we reached there, the driver told us to hurry up, telling us our time was up, though we had never been informed of exactly how much time we had. So after a quick look around the park we came away, determined to come another day, as the driver told us this was a ten minute walk from our hotel.

On the 25th, we went to Cherrapunjee, which was once called the wettest place on earth, though that has now shifted to Mawsynram. To be very frank, Cherrapunjee seemed just okay to me. The ride was long, almost two hours, and since I was determined not to go to sleep, I got a little bored after an hour and a half. There were several viewpoints in Cherrrapunjee, and while all of the places were clean and pleasant, none offered the piercing, haunting beauty that takes one’s breath away in certain areas in the mountains. At one such viewpoint, another group of Bongs had come, and one man was angrily shouting at his wife because she had slipped and fallen down once. Evidently his main complaint was that his wife was wearing a pair of jeans, and since he knew he would sound absurd if he directly said so, he was looking for excuses to blame the jeans! Some people really never seem to grow up. In one of the viewpoints my mother bought a jar of local honey, which was orange flavoured and tasted unlike anything I had ever tried. That was certainly a good investment. Also, cardamom is very cheap there, as it is a local product. We get a huge packet for just ten rupees. The driver took us to a cave a little way off, which we did not enter, since all three of us are claustrophobic, and there was already a huge crowd queuing up for a trip. Then we had seen about all that there was to see in Cherrapunjee, and after being repeatedly told that we would have seen nature in her best if we had come just after the monsoons, we were driven back to Shillong.

The two days that followed were spent lazing around in Shillong. One morning we went for a boating trip in the Ward’s Lake, which was indeed very close to the hotel. We took many photographs there. The next morning my mother went shopping, while my father and I took a long, long walk in the hills. We walked for almost two and a half hours. Some of the roads we took, and one particularly called the Captain Clifford Nongbrum Road was very steep, and while the ascent left me breathless, coming down was unbelievably fast.  What we discovered was that none of the tourist spots were too far from the hotels, and there was really no need to visit them by car. And in any case, baba and I both feel that one cannot really feel the beauty of any place unless one explores it on foot. It was on this walk that my father told me how Jim Corbett used to walk from Kaladhungi to Nainital in the wake of summer every year. Really, those men certainly were made of different stuff!

The next day we left Shillong, with many good memories, and a well deserved rest. The ride back to Guwahati was once again pretty uneventful, but I cannot really say, as I slept almost throughout the ride! That day we went to the Kamakshya temple. The road went through the city of Guwahati, and the traffic was very bad, which made baba rather irritable. But anyway, we reached the temple, and ma was pleased to be able to offer her prayers to the deity. We reached the airport by three thirty, though our flight was due at six thirty. This time we were sent through an aerobridge to the plane, and I let baba take the window seat. As luck would have it, our captain was once again a woman, a Sweety Sylvester from Kerala. There was some bad weather, so the plane jerked a few times, giving me that lightheaded feeling again, but anyway, we went back to Kolkata all in one piece, and I was already completely used to, and even a little bored of the experience of flying.

Overall it was a very pleasant trip, and since I do not know when we will be able to go on a vacation next, I consciously enjoyed this trip wholeheartedly, and I hope all my future trips are as pleasant as this one.