Bombay Bounces Back

Nothing can dampen the spirit of Bombay. I just phoned a friend of mine who's based in Bombay and enquired about the present situation. He told me that things are as usual. Trains and buses are plying and people are busy in doing their daily chores. What happened was yet another nightmare in the nightmarish series of blasts rocking Bombay since 1993. World renowned Danish city-planner Wigen Digmore wrote that, " When a city continuously faces threats. It builds up within it an armour of rsilience and never gives up." This fully applies to Bombay. So many terrorist attacks and blasts haven't been able to shake its inner ability of bouncing back.


Whether it's a natural calamity of July 26, 2005 or 26/11 or the latest one on July 13, anti social elements haven't succeeded to destabilise the collective steely resolve of the people of Bombay. Despite being the easy target of the extremists, life of Bombay has never come to a standstill. I remember, even during 26 July deluge, how people of Bombay helped each other and even strangers extended their helping hands to rank unknown people. Paul Thoreux rightly said about Bombay, " Soon you feel that you're not an outsider here (Bombay)." It's said that a salad-bowl city like Bombay or New York seldom has bonds of connectivity, because most of the migrants don't have roots.
 But Bombay belies this observation. During any calamity, the whole city converges upon one common point: Humanity. A  newspaper has shown a terrified boy who's profusely bleeding just after the mishap but no one is bothered about the faith or place he belongs to. In the ocean of humanity, things like religion, caste and colour are so insignificant. A city's ethos become all the more deep when it has to face relentless threats, assaults and attacks. Baghdad, Samarkand, Bukhara or even Ahmadnagar (yes, Ahmadnagar!!) became historically great cities because of their power to cushion against any pressure.



These cities in their heydays, never wilted under outside forces and flourished to become centres of knowledge and progress. Bombay's like that. It bounces back so fast that it never appears that it'd undergone a turmoil just a few hours back. The more I think of this facet of Bombay, the more I get intrigued. There's a spirit, a palpable spirit that steadfastly refuses to be cowed down by any fear, calamity or even a catastrophe. However hard the extremists may try to unsettle the spirit of Bombay, nothing will succeed. The city never yields to the turns and twists of fate and nefarious designs of fissiparous forces.      
                                                   ----Sumit Paul

Poona's Estranged Beauty

I came to Poona in September, 2002. I vividly remember, while going to NDA, Kharagwasla from Chandni Chowk, I got to see many rabbits, a few deers and peacocks. Today, the landscape is so different that if a person goes there with the same idea of serenity, he'll be in for a rude shock. The greenery's gone, rabbits, deers and birds are no longer there to warm the cockles of your heart. Big, sprawling projects have come up instead. Frankly speaking, it looks like an eyesore. Rapid urbanisation has robbed Poona of nature's soft touch. According to 'Military Gazette Entry', 1926, " Poona in western India is one of the most beautiful towns with its salubrious climate and temperature never exceeding 30 degrees even during summers.


 It's the coolest place on the plains of India. Instead of humid Calcutta, Poona should be the Army Headquarters with the English officers here and the petty native officers of NCO and JCO cadres staying back in Calcutta.." (Brigadier Morris Wescot, Rajputana Rifles). Had Brigadier Wescot been alive, he committed suicide in Calcutta after having fallen in love with an English Maj. General's wife, he'd have committed suicide to see Poona climatically change so drastically since then. The insatiable greed of builders and promoters has destroyed this city. The indiscriminate proliferation of numerous housing projects has taken away Poona's pristine beauty. All erstwhile beautiful spots are now dotted with ugly buildings and the natural feeling of being in a placid jungle has been replaced with concrete jungle. Soon Poona will touch Ahmadnagar and Bombay. It's already spread to Talegaon, a tranquil place until a couple of years back.


 If Greater Noida was recently in news because of illegal land-grabbing by the influential builder-lobby of Delhi and NCR, why doesn't anyone see to it that Poona has also been vandalised, nay ravaged by these builders, who scare the poor villagers and usurp their lands. Lavasa, considered to be one of India's most natural and elite residential locations, is on a disputed land. I went there and found no semblance of natural beauty. How can you expect nature to retain its glory when a serene place is crowded by so many people with a labyrinth of swanky row-houses to sully its scenic beauty? Today, Poona's temperature shoots up to 42-43 degree celsius during summers and AC is almost essential when summer is at its peak. The politicians-promoters nexus has left no greenery,



 Poona was once upon a time proud of. Now every piece of land in Poona has a tacit involvement of politicians, who're the biggest land-sharks. It's indeed a sad sight to see a beautiful place like Poona decline and lose its natural beauty, thanks to undesirable urbanisation prompted and expedited by the unscrupulous elements.      
                                                                           ----Sumit Paul

The Good Old Days of Tongas

It's indeed sad to read in a leading Urdu daily that Delhi tongas are on their way out. One more relic from the past will soon cease to exist and with it, one of the nostalgic memories of olden days will also peter out. Tongas (tangewala / Ikkewala) of Delhi, Agra, Lucknow and Kanpur have a ring of fascinating history. Till sixties, Urdu and Hindi literature was replete with references to tangewalas and interesting anecdotes constituted the corpus of Hindi-Urdu literature of that era. Munshi Premchand used to enjoy a tonga-ride to activate his thoughts and imaginations to write something striking.


When Ashutosh Mukherjee was the VC of Calcutta University during British Raj, he'd go to the varsity in a tonga with a big bowl of rasgullas which he'd consume by the time he reached the gate of the University. He enjoyed tonga-ride because it gave a 'tasty twist' to his fondness for Bengal's legendary rasgullas. You still get to see tongas on the roads of Lahore and Lucknow, albeit the latter has lost that charm in all respects. Emperor Jahangir was the greatest patron of tongas. It was Jahangir, with an artistic and aesthetic bent of mind, who gave carts to the cavaliers who used to give ride to people but were not allowed to carry women because of the close proximity on the horseback! Jahangir gave them decorated carts. Tongawallas, like erstwhile mobile ear-cleaners and palanquin-bearers of Bengal, were great raconteurs and story-tellers. I remember, I'd gone to Sikandara from Agra to see Akbar's tomb.


It was a memorable tonga-ride. And the unlettered tongawala was full of interesting stories that were not mentioned in any history-book. Despite knowing that he was exaggerating, I was all ears. There's a rhythm in a tonga, coupled with the sounds produced by the horse-shoes. This has a very soothing effect on the frayed nerves and if you're a poet, you get new ideas for poetry like Raghupati Sahay Firaq Gorakhpri's immortal quatrain 'Kat-te kat-te kateen raatein/ Hote-hote savera hota/ Raat ki raat kabhi mera ghar/ Tera rain-basera hota' (I wish the night would never come to an end / And the morning would be deliberately delayed / On such an endless night /You (beloved) will accidently drop in to grace my humble abode). Firaq wrote this one of the finest quatrains in Urdu literature while returning from Allahabad's famed Muir College to his home at Mutthiganj.


 Alas, gone are the  days!! In the abominable crowd of two-wheelers and four-wheelers, the musical sounds produced by horse-shoes have been overshadowed by the cacophony of horns. You can't even hear those heart-warming sounds and have to listen to O P Nayyar's numbers from Naya Daur  to revive those days. Government has never been symapthetic toward the tangewallas, whose horses starve and die and with the horses, eventually die their families as well, like en masse suicide of tangewallas of Rampur in 1979. No one cared then. No one ever cares now.     
              
                                                     -----Sumit Paul



'Harvest On Head'

Do you know what troubles all men as well as women the most? If doctors and cosmetic surgeons all over the world are to be believed: More than half of world's population is worried about hair and its related concomitants. Not just women, but men are also equally concerned about the 'crowning glory'. Though Shakespeare tried to console those, suffering from hair-fall that, " What god scanted man in hair, he's given them in wit," cynics point out that Shakespeare wrote this because he too suffered from receding hairline that began when the 'Bard of Avon' was in his early thirties. Two things will never go out of fashion: Saree and long hair.

 A woman's Rapunzel type long and shining tresses prompted all poets in all languages to write exquisite poetry. Man, on this count, are equally touchy. A bald pat is something that has not yet been wholeheartedly accepted by people. Wigs and grafting are the workable remedies to irrigate the top of head and make it look lush black. A famous Hindi film actor was so sensitive about his hairless head that he always ordered for the best wigs from London's famed Selfridges on the Oxford Street. He indeed masquaraded his head until one day his wig flew off by a strong breeze. Even Hollywood actors and actresses have been very much concerned about their hair. Right from the advent of human civilization, man (no gender specification) has been worried about 'the harvest on head' (Robert Frost's phrase). 

World's oldest Medical Treatise, a 16-page Greek book, began with the remedies to stem the hair-fall. Julius Caesar and almost all Roman emperors were bald and Nero, who lost all his hair by the age of 26, was arguably the first man to wear a wig made of the black goat's hair. He made it compulsory for all the young men in his regime to go bald. " Dil bahal toh jayega is khayal se / Haal mil gaya tumhara apne haal se" (This very thought will make me happy that we share the same predicament!!!). " Hair-loss's a much bigger loss than character-loss. Because the latter can be retrieved, but lost hair can never be, " Woody Allen rightly observed.


The first thing on a person's countenance is hair. And if the tresses happen to be shining, there's nothing like that. Newspapers and mags are, therefore, rife with the ads related to hair and virility. I read a few years back that an American doctor presented his paper on 'sex and hair-loss' and tried to prove that bald men were more virile. Needless to say, his 'theory' was rejected soon. Good. Had it not been rejected, almost all men would have gone bald!!           

                               ----Sumit Paul

Common Health Risks of Office Workers

Summary: The nature of work, working environment, sitting postures, long working hours, all these contribute heavily to the(deteriorating) health condition of the office workers. There are some health-related problems exclusively associated with the office goers. Some of these problems along with their remedies are discussed here.

Our body is not made to sit long hours in one posture, our eyes are not made to stare continuously at the computer screen for prolonged spell, our mind does not respond favourly to the tension and anxiety, but it all happens with the officegoers. They have to sit for long hours without changing their postures, stare on their computer screens constantly without any scheduled break, cope with several day-to-day challenges and targets that give rise to mental stress.


Given below are some of the health-related risks associated with the office workers along with remedies:
Back problems
It is rightly said that desk job and back problem go hand in hand. Large chunk of the office workers has to work sitting at their desk. Their seats are not ideal and sitting long hours in a single posture cause pains and aches in their back, prominently in their lower spine.
Remedy
If office workers take frequent and regular breaks from their desks, their back pain can be reduced to a great extent. Maintaining a good posture, adjusting screen and chair will also prove to be of great help and benefit. Plus, they can engage themselves in some domestic works, like making tea, dusting, etc. when they arrive home. If they are too involved in their work to remember these things, they may also take up yoga class.

Heart disease

Office workers do not move much during the entire day of their work due to some reason or the other. All their works remain concentrated on their workstations and hence they do not need to move a bit even to fetch a file. Even after reaching homes, they just enjoy perching on sofa, watching television or doing their pending works in their laptops. Resultantly, they start leading sedentary lifestyle, knowingly or unknowingly. This inactive lifestyle poses higher risk of developing heart disease. A stressful workplace environment also increases possibility of heart disease.

Remedy

If the officegoers get right nutrition, do exercise regularly, get adequate sleep, they will be able to lead a healthier lifestyle. Active and healthy lifestyle will help them prevent heart diseases. In order to manage stress at workplace, they can do stress-busting exercise, yoga, etc. and train their mind not to get carried away with the tension of office.
Eye Stress
Eye stress is the most common health-related risk associated with officegoers, especially the IT employees. The moment they reach office, they sit at a desk and start glaring at their computer screen continuously for long time. In some employees natural winking phenomenon also ceases. Resultantly, they develop eye stress and vision related problems in long term.
Remedy
In order to avoid eye stress, the officegoers need to take their eyes off the screen at regular intervals. Though most of the times it does not seem feasible, but some short period of time spent away from desk will provide great relief to their eyes. Besides, they should also drink lots of water at office to keep headaches and other health-related complications away.
The above-mentioned health-related risks include, but not limited to the health-related risks for officegoers.
                                                                ----Ashish Jha





Soldiers are also Humans

I'm moved to read in The Indian Express  that the pilot of a Pakistani fighter jet, which shot down a civilian aircraft during 1965 war with the then CM of Gujrat, Balwantrai Mehta, apologised to the daughter of IAF pilot Jahangir Engineer. Soldiers are also human beings with same emotions and sensibilities. ' They too feel and even cry after killing their 'enemies' , wrote British military historian Jeremy Black. And here in this case, the slain ones weren't even 'enemies'. They were civilians, caught in the vortex of war to die. In Robert Browning's famous poem 'News from Ghent to Aix', Napoleon Bonaparte cried on the battlefield when the young messenger broke the news and died. I remember reading an article in Pakistan's English daily 'The Nation'.



 A retired Pakistani Air Commodore Shaadaab Mansoor, brother of slain Sq. Leader Imroz Mansoor, who shot down the aircraft of the very brave Nirmaljit Singh Sekho in 1971 war, wrote that, " the three fighter pilots of PAF must have doffed their hats to the intrepid Sekho before joining him to their final journey together, where there's no enmity for anyone, not even for those who killed you."

 It's been written very extensively that the Enola Gay, B-52 aircraft pilot who bombarded Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 respectively, died unrepentent. This is not true. He became demented and admitted to having committed a blunder by eliminating so many innocent lives. Nightmares of those heart-wrenching images plagued him till he died. We're all humans and despite our projected ruthlessness and insensitivity, we get perturbed by death and loss of human lives.


When Babar, who called himself a ' lifelong warrior forever on horseback' in his autobiography Tuzuk-e-Babri, almost fainted when Ibrahim Lodhi's decapitated head was brought before him in the first battle of Panipat in 1526. " I still can't forget that blood-oozing dismembered head of Lodhi. I ask myself, is an empire greater than a person's life? "  I'm happy that Qais Hussain, the PAF fighter pilot, wrote to the daughter of Engineer after close to a half century. And I'm sure, the lady has forgiven the man who'd orders from higher officials of PAF to shoot the plane down.

A very senior Pakistani Army officer of Lt. General rank, wrote in The Muslim  after the death of PVC Arun Khetarpal, who died in 1971 War soon after getting commission, ' Why young men are thrown into the furnace of war to be roasted alive? Sad, very sad..." Humanity's still alive because man has not yet become so insensate even if he happens to be a hardcore soldier, trained to kill his enemies at the drop of a hat and the slightest  provocation. To quote Ahmad Faraz, " Fauji ke seene mein bhi hota hai dil/ Nam hoti hain ankhein jab ujadti hai mahfil " (Even a slodier has a heart/ He does feel when destruction takes place).     
                                                                                                                                           ------I'm moved to read in The Indian Express  that the pilot of a Pakistani fighter jet, which shot down a civilian aircraft during 1965 war with the then CM of Gujrat, Balwantrai Mehta, apologised to the daughter of IAF pilot Jahangir Engineer. Soldiers are also human beings with same emotions and sensibilities. ' They too feel and even cry after killing their 'enemies' , wrote British military historian Jeremy Black. And here in this case, the slain ones weren't even 'enemies'. They were civilians, caught in the vortex of war to die. In Robert Browning's famous poem 'News from Ghent to Aix', Napoleon Bonaparte cried on the battlefield when the young messenger broke the news and died. I remember reading an article in Pakistan's English daily 'The Nation'.

 A retired Pakistani Air Commodore Shaadaab Mansoor, brother of slain Sq. Leader Imroz Mansoor, who shot down the aircraft of the very brave Nirmaljit Singh Sekho in 1971 war, wrote that, " the three fighter pilots of PAF must have doffed their hats to the intrepid Sekho before joining him to their final journey together, where there's no enmity for anyone, not even for those who killed you."


 It's been written very extensively that the Enola Gay, B-52 aircraft pilot who bombarded Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 respectively, died unrepentent. This is not true. He became demented and admitted to having committed a blunder by eliminating so many innocent lives. Nightmares of those heart-wrenching images plagued him till he died. We're all humans and despite our projected ruthlessness and insensitivity, we get perturbed by death and loss of human lives.

When Babar, who called himself a ' lifelong warrior forever on horseback' in his autobiography Tuzuk-e-Babri, almost fainted when Ibrahim Lodhi's decapitated head was brought before him in the first battle of Panipat in 1526. " I still can't forget that blood-oozing dismembered head of Lodhi. I ask myself, is an empire greater than a person's life? "  I'm happy that Qais Hussain, the PAF fighter pilot, wrote to the daughter of Engineer after close to a half century. And I'm sure, the lady has forgiven the man who'd orders from higher officials of PAF to shoot the plane down.

A very senior Pakistani Army officer of Lt. General rank, wrote in The Muslim  after the death of PVC Arun Khetarpal, who died in 1971 War soon after getting commission, ' Why young men are thrown into the furnace of war to be roasted alive? Sad, very sad..." Humanity's still alive because man has not yet become so insensate even if he happens to be a hardcore soldier, trained to kill his enemies at the drop of a hat and the slightest  provocation. To quote Ahmad Faraz, " Fauji ke seene mein bhi hota hai dil/ Nam hoti hain ankhein jab ujadti hai mahfil " (Even a slodier has a heart/ He does feel when destruction takes place).     
                                                                                                                     ----Sumit Paul

  
                                     

                                                                                                           



Making Children Good Human Beings


A man was reading a philosophy book in a mental asylum. He was looking healthy and didn't appear to be a mental patient. I sat beside him and asked why he was there? The man looked at me with astonishment and when he was assured that I wasn't a doctor, he started narrating : ' My father was a famous lawyer. He wanted me to become a lawyer. My mother wanted to see in me the image of her father. Uncle wanted me to become a successful businessman like him. Sister wanted that I followed her husband's footsteps. Brother wanted that I became an athlete like him. In school, tuition and music classes, they wanted me to become like them. No one bothered to look at me as a human being. They all looked at me like a mirror. Frustrated, I decided to come here. I realised that this was the place where I could live with my 'true self'. 

Khalil Gibran's abovementioned short story is an apt commentary on the traditional way of bringing up children. We all want our offspring to become doctors, engineers, I A S, P C S etc. etc. We just don't want to know what the children want to do. This often happens that what we can't achieve in life, we want our children to achieve and accomplish that. We treat our children as the extensions of our dreams. Here lies the problem. When our expectations  are not fulfilled, we blame our children. Can't we teach our children to become good human beings? Should success be determined by a few greenbacks, high designation, a big bungalow and a sparkling car? In a society, where all these materialistic considerations become the priorities and humanity gets sidelined, corruption, immorality and wrong doings will invariably creep in. 


So why to crib and for whom? Aren't we unknowingly bringing up our children in a manner that they ultimately grow up devoid of all moral values? Snowed under the avalanche of our overambitious expectations, aren't children losing their mental equlibrium? Shelving the set patterns of parenting, we need to ponder in a different frame and before making our children ' a big and successful individual ', we should strive to make them  human beings, who can think independently and act responsibly in life. 

Becoming a good individual is the first and foremost priority. Success will automatically follow. To quote Ghalib, ' Bas ke dushwar hai har kaam ka aasaan hona / Aadmi ko bhi mayassar nahin insaan hona' (Pity, every step is such an uphill task/ It's difficult for a man to become a (good) human being). Always remember, children can't be made good by making them happy, but they can be made happy by making them good.  

                                               -----Sumit Paul


Relating a Poet to a Songster


On August 18, Sampooran Singh 'Gulzar' completed 75 years. A leading
Urdu broadsheet called him ' ek umda naghmanigaar ' (a good lyricist). But it doesn't rate him very highly as a poet. In fact, it subtly questions his poetic ' abilities.' This has been the tragedy of all poet-lyricists. Granted, Gulzar can never be considered as a poet par excellence but the man has penned a few beautiful non-filmi ghazals like, " Shaam se ankhon mein nami-si hai / Aaaj phir aapki kami-si hai / Dafn (not dafan) kar do humein ki saans aaye / Nabz kuchh der se thami-si hai...(Album: Marasim, 1994) " (There's a dampness in my eyes / Since the evening has set / I feel your absence once again today/ Bury me, so that I can catch my breath / My pulse has stopped throbbing for quite some time..).

The same fate had befallen Sahir Ludhianavi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Kaifi Azmi among others. Cinema, despite being a very potent artistic medium, has surprisingly never catapulted poetry and music to the level they deserve. This is strange. To make it clear, playback singing is still to be categorised in a particular genre and is often casually called ' popular music' which's frowned upon by the purists. In spite of astoundingly great singers like Muhammad Rafi, Kundanlal Sehgal, Lata and Asha, they've never been included in the mainstream traditional music. Neither the poetry of poet-lyricists has been recognised by the high-brows of poetry and literature.


This prompts one to question whether cinema as a creative medium really accommodates poets and musicians and gives due importance to them? Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who sang just one thumri for 'Mughal-e-Azam', that too, when K Asif implored, was disdainful of film music and went to the extent of advising the great Rafi not to sing for cinema. ' Filmon mein gaana aapko zeb nahin deta..' (Singing for cinema is unbecoming of you), Bade Ghulam Ali Khan admonished his favourite disciple Muhammad Rafi (refer to ' Maiyaar-e-mausiqi-e-cinema ' by Farhat Rizvi, Aligarh, 1981). Great Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi penned a few songs for cinema in the forties and fifties but stopped because the very tag of film songs did injustice to his immense talent as one of the foremost Urdu poets of the sub-continent.

 Raghupati Sahay 'Firaq' Gorakhpuri never wrote for cinema as he didn't want to trivialise his image as a great poet. He got so many offers but declined. " Cinema caters to all walks of life, especially the lowest denomination. That's the reason, till mid forties, girls belonging to respectable families dared not venture into this field and courtesans came to act. Even in the west, very cultured actresses and actors were a rarity in those days. So whatever cinema represented in all eras, it became a banality, something appreciated by the commoners but abused by the class," wrote the late film critic Iqbal Masood in ' The Cinematic Irony'. 



Lyricists therefore never became so great as poets because they could not part with their fixed cinematic image of a lyricist and a singer remained in the shadow of actors despite his / her unquestionable singing skills. Cinema indeed relegates a poet to an ordinary songster and an exponent of singing to a mere roadside crooner.    

                                                    ----Sumit Paul

Fall from the Grace

                                                                                                                             Darjeeling-based BBC correspondent Mark Tully recently said, " Bengalis have still been cashing in on past glories and wallowing in decadence." Many 'true-blue' Bengalis didn't appreciate his comment and they took umbrage at his unflattering observation. Is Tully's observation wide off the mark? It's not. If one (particularly a Bengali) looks back dispassionately, one finds that once great Bengal hasn't produced a truly remarkable personality post independence. Pitted against the luminaries like all-consuming Tagore, Vivekanand, Jagdish Chandra Bose, P C Roy among others, Uttam-Suchitra and to some extent, Saurabh Ganguly appear too pale and non-entities. ' That  a community's groping for heroes and projecting its sports and cinema-personalities as icons, shows its bankruptcy on all fronts and counts,' observed Larry Collins.

Bengal indeed initiated the 'renaissance' but it petered out because of the collective complacency of the nostalgic Bengalis. Yet they still believe what Gopalkrishna Gokhle many moons ago said, " What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow." This ceased to hold water long back. Now Bengalis as a community, indeed looks for an icon to rekindle the cinders of bygone greatness. From socio-cultural perspective, saturation set in rather early among Bengali community. It's a well-known fact that when anything reaches the saturation point, decline follows invariably. And this happens in all spheres as a natural consequence. Once Greeks and Romans thrived and flourished in all aspects, but after that, decline and decadence marred the two great races. Mughals also faced the same fate. Transition comes in the history of all great communities and races. But the problem arises when we remain stuck in the past and refuse even to inch forward. "A community stops growing greats when its references, point toward its once glorious past and the dead heroes', wrote the legendary western sociologist Spangler in his magnum opus, 'Decline of the west.' He further observed that such a community tends to rest on its laurels. This flawed and highly supercilious attitude of ' we've given the mankind so much, we require nothing further' has been the undoing of all great cultures, communities and civilizations.


No one and no community can ever afford to proclaim: I've no more world to conquer. Secondly, the rabidly rigid intolerance to constructive criticism also paves the way for a community's downfall. When Rajiv Gandhi called Calcutta 'a dying city' (mumurshu shahar) and Gavaskar refused to play at Eden garden in 1987 series against Pakistan, Bengalis were livid. They never tried to introspect why their city was called 'a moribund city' or their spectators as 'a pack of wild dogs'. When Roman emperors began to get the candid philosophers beheaded, the empire tumbled. A mature society always takes criticism in its stride. This unfortunately didn't happen in the Bengali community and its 'touch me not' exclusiveness accelerated its fall from the grace.       
                                        


Eating and Listening to Ghazals

A few days back, I was having dinner at a swanky restaurant at Kalyani Nagar, Poona. The swish restaurant had equally elite diners. The al-fresco arrangement had a live ghazal show and the ghazal singer was singing popular ghazals sung by Mehndi Hasan, Ghulam Ali, Jagjit Singh, among others. All people were enjoying their dinner and hardly anyone was attentive to the poor ghazal singer, who earned his bread and butter by belting out popular ghazals. Some, with a sense of patronising generosity, would perfunctorily say, 'wah', 'wah' or ' kya khoob' and that's it. This reminded me of an incident that happened in Lahore many decades back.


The legendary ghazal singer Mehndi Hasan and Ahmad Faraz had gone to a very fine restaurant. They sat in a secluded corner table, far from the stage where an upcoming ghazal singer was singing a ghazal, penned by Faraz and sung by Ghulam Abbas. No one listened to him. It was an insult to that unknown ghazal singer, Ahmad Faraz and Mehndi Hasan. They left the restaurant and never patronised it.

 ' Eating and listening to western classics don't go hand in hand. You either eat or listen to  Beethoven's celestial symphonies. One can't eat the cake and have it too, ' wrote western classical critic Reymond Stewart. Same can be said about all genres of audio-visual expressions. You can't carry eatables to operas in Europe and the theatres in Vienna strictly prohibit eating during a show.


True appreciation of art and artistes depends upon connoisseurs' complete, uninterrupted attention. You can't admire Mozart by having popcorns nonchalantly. That's why, I was surprised to read in a daily a few years back that a cinema hall at Noida (always in news for all wrong reasons) served lunch-dinner during the screening of a movie for 500 bucks!! You can eat and watch in a lying state. I wonder, do you go there to watch a movie or gorge on a sumptuous spread? Nevertheless, today's worthless flicks indeed deserve such indifferent treatment! You can sleep through the movies.


But if you eat salted groundnuts while watching Ritwik Ghatak's poignant 'Meghe dhaka Tara' or 'The Ten Commandments', you're not being respectful to the directors and the actors, who immortalised the movies. Live ghazal shows in hotels, restaurants and receptions are outright demeaning to ghazals and the poor singers. It's like caviar to the general. I've always called it blasphemous. The eccentric genius Firaq Gorakhpuri rightly ordered the audience, ' Sit through my poetry-reading session without eating or going out to relieve yourself.'         

                                                             -----Sumit Paul



Teacher, who Never Behaves Like a Teacher.....

" A real teacher's one, who never behaves like a teacher......."
 
                                                              Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan on becoming the Spalding Professor of 'Eastern Religions & Ethics' at Oxford 
 
 
This short but pithy aphorism by Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan has always been one of my favourite quotations. A teacher, who's accessible to his/ her students with absolutely no airs at all, strikes an instant and lifelong rapport with students. It's said that two of the greatest teachers of all time Socrates and Aristotle never sat on a higher pedestal while teaching their students, who they called their 'cerabral extensions.' A teacher doesn't just impart knowledge, he/ she guides the students and shows them a direction to follow. After parents, it's the teacher a child forever remembers or likes to forget as the case may be. Aurangzeb, who never liked anyone in life and even had doubts about his sons' integrity, loved and respected just one person: His teacher, who taught him history and Quranic verses. A teacher's indeed a child's parental substitute.

The Gurukul system of ancient India had 'parental substitution' at its bottom. Ishopanishad  calls a teacher 'one of the child's three parents' (Ekam isthi tritya abhibhavakam). But can this be said about today's teachers, who've forgotten their objectives and fallen from their lofty positions? When teachers start raping and molesting their students, how can they command respect and the whole teaching fraternity gets sullied. I remember my professors Edward W Said at Columbia, Jacques Derrida at Sorbonne in Paris and Umberto Eco (the greatest exponent of Semiotics, the science of signs and symbols) at Bologna, Italy. It never appeared to me that I was interacting with some of the greatest minds of all time. Once I'd a problem in understanding Derrida's 'Deconstruction'. Exasperated, I told him, " Mr Derrida, at times I think, you've made it intentionally unintelligible." He laughed and said, " You'renot  completely wrong!" This is humility, the most desirable quality that a teacher ought to have.

A teacher must always be ready to learn even from his students as the process of learning is never ending. Then only can a teacher find a place in the students' hearts. On the very first day as a King George Philosophy Professor at Calcutta University in 1925, Radhakrishnan told his students not to call him 'sir'. " You can call me Mr or Dr Radhakrishnan, but not sir. It distances me from you." This must be noted. Nowadays, teachers have distanced themselves from their students. The earlier respectful cordiality between teachers and students has degenerated into over familiarity. There's no respect for teachers as they too have never tried to acquire their students' love and respect.

Today, a junior college teacher calls himself/ herself professor, not knowing that a professor is always at a university teaching at post graduate level and that too after minimum thirteen years does one become a professor. The late orientalist Edward W Said always called himself ' a  mere teacher.' Despite his doctorate and Post Doctorate degrees, he never introduced himself as Dr Said. And all students liked him so much that the day he died, they felt as if a part of their existence also came to an end. A teacher's never condescending. He's never patronising. He's down to earth because he knows that man has limitations but knowledge has no limits.  I salute all those great teachers and expect today's teachers to emulate their examples.           
                        ----Sumit Paul




Desecration of Monuments

' Kyon nahin deewar-e-dil pe apna aur unka naam likhte ho
Ye zaroori toh nahin ke muhabbat ki is tarah numaish ho'

                                                                      -Zafar Gorakhpuri

(Why don't you write your and your beloved's names on the wall of your heart/ Rather than adverise it so blatantly (by writing on the walls of historical monuments)? Seeing this couplet written in Urdu at the entrance of Fathepur-Sikri in Agra, I also felt in the same manner and I'm sure, you too feel likewise. Wherever you go in India, esp, if you go to see a historical monument, you get to see the walls desecrated with assertions of undying love inside a badly drawn heart and an arrow.


This makes me puke. Why this vulgar itch to let the world know that you're a lover par excellence? You see such eyesore insertions even on the outer walls of Tajmahal, one of the greatest monuments in the world.  Despite requests, reminders and rebuke, there're people, who just can't refrain from indulging in this obnoxious pastime to perpetuate their love and leave a 'loving legacy' for the generations to come. On my visit to Mohanjodaro and Harappa in Pakistan's Sindh province (Larkana) in 2005, I didn't get to see anywhere ' Muhammad loves Amina' or ' Shabaaz loves Nadira' etc. etc. I asked the caretaker, how come people of Pakistan were so sensible not to write anything on the walls of historical places? He said matter-of-factly, '' 


They were no different as the common ethos and spirit ran through the collective consciousness of the people of the entire subcontinent. It's just because, Field Marshal Ayyub Khan passed a strict order way back in the sixties that whoever would desecrate the walls (of monuments) would have to delete the names first and then he'd be put behind the bars for minimum six months.


He would also be lashed. The fear of the slammer and lashings desisted the 'great lovers' to restrain and refrain. Hearing that I wondered, is there any such punishment for such vandals and enemies of good things in India ? " In India, no one cares how to behave in a historical place. They treat such places as picnic spots," observed English travel writer Trevor Fishlock in his travalogue in 1997. He was absolutely right. Whether it's Charminar of Hyderabad or Calcutta's Victoria Memorial, no place's spared by the miscreants and extremely casual visitors.  People eat, spit and throw away plastic bags and leftover everywhere in the vicinity of the monuments. In 2004, I saw a group of girls from a reputed college in Delhi.


They were doing History Honors. A couple of 'polished-looking' girls were stealthily  plucking roses from the Tajmahal's complex. If 'educated' girls indulged in such frivolous and clandestine activities in a historical place of international repute, how can we expect others to be decent and responsible while visiting historical sites? More than forcing them to behave properly, I think it's imperative to realise on one's own that this is a national property and belongs to each and every individual. When foreigners can be so respectful of our monuments, why can't we emulate their examples and try to preserve the beauty and sanctity of these spots? After all, you can't teach certain things. One has to learn on one's own.    
 

                                              ----Sumit Paul

'Helpmate' not 'Servant'

' Sorry, I can't meet you today. My helpmate  hasn't come,' phoned a friend of mine. The egalitarian use of the word ' helpmate ' pleased my ears and gladdened my soul. She didn't say that my servant  or, even far better-sounding, maid  hasn't come. This is something we all must learn while treating our helpmates. ' No one is a servant any longer,' stated a famous columnist in her social etiquette column in The Reader's Digest  a few years back. 

In fact, the very term 'servant' is so demeaning to a person who works at your place. He/ she's paid for the duties discharged. S/he's not an ' indentured labourer', who was actually called a 'servant' or even worse, 'a slave' till Victorian era. The literal meaning of a servant is 'one who serves.' But mind you, who serves is not at your beck and call. He too has dignity. I read long back that when General Bewoor was the General of Indian Army, he heard a Brigadier's wife say in an army party, " My orderly is not very punctual." Gen Bewoor politely told her that he was not her 'orderly'.


He was her husband's sahayak(assistant). He was a companion, a helpmate to her husband and even her husband had no right to talk disparagingly of him, much less the lady. General drove home his point. Every individual has a sense of dignity and importance. One could be a sweeper. But he too has his individuality. In 2007, the panel of lexicographers at Oxford Dictionary House, London, decided to retain the word 'servant' but stating that it was a condescending word, if not highly objectionable terms like 'nigger' and 'slave'. We tend to treat those, who work at our place as if they're gentiles or pariahs. We don't treat them on a par with our 'respectable' friends and guests. 'Naukrani', 'kaamwali', 'mahari' and 'bai'  are the terms, we so nonchalantly use for them.


It's strange that the word mahari  is actually associated with a migrated Maharashtrian community (Mahar) based in Malwa, Mhow and Indore. This was fallaciously considered to be a socially low community as its poor women used to work at homes. Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar belonged to this community and when Rahul Sankrityayan objected to the rampant and inconsiderate use of the word mahari  indicating the associated social group, people criticised him for being a false sympathiser. He wasn't. What he objected then is still relevant. Why should we call all maids 'mahari' ? This is not just derogatory, but highly discriminating as well.


Until we give utmost respect to work of any kind, we'll continue to treat people on presumed premises of higher and lower hierarchy. We must change our attitude towards those who work at our places and treat them as independent individuals, if not members of our families.         
                                           
                                                  -----Sumit Paul