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

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Yesterday, today, and …

Yesterday was cloudy and windy. Except for brief moments of life-giving light, the sun was hidden behind the grey smog that covers Bengaluru often. It was gloomy almost through the entire day.

Yesterday was not just another day.  

It had begun brightly. There was a lovely message from a splendid young woman, someone who is like a daughter to me. I was touched.

But then came bad news from two quarters. Two other people who too are close to my heart are going through terrible times. For no fault of theirs, I believe. I believe because I know one of them for twenty years and the other for even longer. They are both wonderful souls and the kind of allegations that have been leveled against them … I would have perhaps believed had they been leveled against me … but not them. Never, not in a million years. They just cannot be true. Period.

And the icing on the bitter cake was a strange, completely unexpected response from a friend. One of our major failings is that we presume we know our friends, and accept them for what they are – good and bad. But every human being is like an ocean, it’s presumptuous to believe you know someone. And the worst part is that if you are hurt by a friend, it’s like a self-goal. There is no consolation.

The treble whammy nearly knocked me off. Gone was my to-do list. I couldn’t even sleep. So at around 11 in the night I went out and walked as briskly as my legs would take me … until I was physically exhausted.


When I got up today, there was clear sunshine. As I looked out, a huge cirrus cloud smiled broadly from the firmament. The blue sky that stretched to infinity. The universe smiled at me … the universe compared to what I, with my happiness and sorrow, fulfilments and failures, friends and strangers, am as insignificant as an isolated sub-atomic particle from my body would be to me.

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter. Nothing does.

Bengaluru / 1 December 2016

Monday, 28 November 2016

Demonetisation at a Kolkata street corner

My friend, let me call him Amit, has been living in their own house in an upmarket residential area in South Kolkata for as long as I know him, that is, 58 years. Their two-storey house is just off the main road. Yesterday, he said this over the phone:

“Demonetisation happened in the night of 8/9 November. Within two days, the phuchka-wallah (panipuri vendor) vanished from our street corner. In another few days, the bhelpuri-wallah stopped coming. The ice cream vendor hung on for a week. Then he too was gone.” Then he added, “I had seen three generations of the phuchka-wallah. First his grandfather, then his father, and finally him. Since my childhood, hardly a day passed when they hadn’t been at the street corner in the evening.”

That was to be expected, wasn’t it? When people don’t have cash to buy vegetables, they aren’t expected to have panipuri. So although our prime minister believes the poor are sleeping peacefully after high-value notes were scrapped, the reality is quite the opposite.

We have lived in independent India where urban middleclass families were far from well-off fifty years ago, but now they are. Like my family

My parents struggled through their life to make two ends meet, but my sister and I don’t. In my childhood, the ceiling fan was the last word in comfort during the summer. Now we have air-conditioners. My mother used to take a public bus every day to go to her school at the other end of Kolkata, despite severe arthritic pains. A taxi ride was a luxury for her. These days, I rarely see the inside of a public bus. In contrast, Amit’s family have always been well-off. 

Every panipuri vendor in Kolkata is from either Bihar or Jharkhand. And for some reason, not one of them wears trousers. They still wear dhotis that barely cover their knees, and a long shirt. I can bet my shirt that nothing has changed for Kolkata’s panipuri vendors in three generations. The man who sold panipuri until 8 November 2016 is as poor as his grandfather.

Did I say “nothing has changed”? I was wrong. Something has just changed for them. These poor men who continued to eke out a living through economic ups and downs, through the Emergency and destructive communist governments, have suddenly been deprived of their livelihood. And as my friend was telling, if they go hungry for long, they might eat away their capital and they won’t have the cash to buy atta and suji to make panipuris when normalcy returns. The economist in Dr. Manmohan Singh expressed precisely this in the Parliament when he said, "Fifty days is a long time in a poor man's life." This will have one of the two consequences. Either they will fall into a debt trap and die slowly, or become paupers straightaway.

I would love to conclude with a stinging last paragraph, but I don't have to. The Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen, who has worked through his life on the economics of poverty and development, has summed it up beautifully. Please let me quote from the Indian Express of 26 Nov.

He said that both the idea [of demonetisation] and the way it was implemented, was akin to a “despotic action” and betrayed the “authoritarian nature of the government …”

“It is hard to see how [the move is going to cause any good]. This will be as much of a failure as the government’s earlier promise of bringing black money stacked away abroad back to India (and giving all Indians a sudden gift — what an empty promise!). The people who are best equipped to avoid the intended trap of demonetisation are precisely the ones who are seasoned dealers in black money — not the common people and small traders who are undergoing one more misery in addition to all the deprivations and indignities from which they suffer.”

PS: On Facebook, two of my readers have shared their experience on the topic. Quoting them with their permission:

Soma Sinha Sarkar: I have noticed that the junk jewellery sellers who stationed themselves at various points in South Kolkata have either vanished or their numbers gone down drastically. When enquired, they mentioned cash crunch as the reason for their ordeal.

Satyajit Mitra: I now stay in a place surrounded by villages who regularly take their vegetable produce to local market. The number of them started diminishing from the next day of historical announcement. I cycled to a few villages to find out the cause of their disappearance, they told that they don't have smaller denomination notes to give the customers who are giving 2000 rupees note they got from banks. The saddest part is that they are giving their produce to cattle as their food. Another fallout of 


Bengaluru / Monday, 28 November, 2016

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Ethiopia and West Bengal

A friend of mine who visited the country recently told me that Ethiopia (population 99.5 million, that is, approximately 10 crores) is a democratic country. But there, 100% parliamentary seats were won by the ruling parties, EPRDF and its allies in the last elections.

He also said that there is no civil law in Ethiopia. Every offence is a criminal offence. So if there is a car crash, the driver is put behind the bars straight away. And nobody knows when the trial will begin. If the poor bloke happens to be an opponent of the ruling party, the trial will possibly never begin. So there are no road accidents in Ethiopia. :) Great!

A little search on the Net … and I found that in the latest incident of human rights violation, 97 peaceful protestors were killed in Oromia and Amhara regions of the country (as estimated by the Amnesty International) in 2016. Ah! These perpetual protestors and their old whines: lack of freedom, rising prices, etc. etc.

I also found a report by Al Jazeera (11 August 2016) that says: A government spokesman, Getachew Reda told them that the Ethiopian government won’t allow the UN to investigate the killings as they (the government) alone were responsible for the safety of their own people.

How sweet of them, and how wonderfully they were discharging their responsibility towards their own people.

Also: “He (Reda) blamed what he called “terrorist elements” for stoking the violence from abroad, without giving further detail.” You knew it, didn’t you?

Gentle Reader, let’s move on to another bastion of democracy, the state of West Bengal in India, a state just about Ethiopia's size in terms of population. Just six months ago, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), swept the state elections with just under 72% of the assembly seats, although the margin of victory was slender to moderate in a majority of the seats. And it was a free and fair election – to a great extent – and even cynics like yours truly couldn’t complain of vote fraud. The national Election Commission had done a commendable job and there were central forces in large numbers.

Recently, in Bengal there have been by-elections in a few constituencies for various reasons and unlike six months ago, the Election Commission had given up. In these elections, the ruling party openly threatened voters, physically assaulted opposition leaders, not to mention workers, and openly rigged the elections while the servile state police cringed in deference to the ruling party goons.

The results? Let’s check the winning margins in different constituencies:


Manteswar – TMC won, 706 in May / 1,27,423 in November

Coochbehar – TMC, 87,000 in May / 4,23,000 in November

Haldia – TMC lost by 21,000 votes in May / won by over 1,00,000 votes in November

The omnipotent leader of TMC routinely urges her followers to win ALL the seats in every election. Yes, like Ethiopia’s EPRDF, she would love to win 100% of the assembly seats.

Human rights? Freedom of expression? Democratic right to protest? My bloody left foot!

Bengaluru / November 26, 2016

Pictures: Courtesy Wikipedia

By Africa_(orthographic_projection).svg: Martin23230LocationEritrea.svg: User:Rei-arturderivative work: Sémhur (talk) - Africa_(orthographic_projection).svgLocationEritrea.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8841388

By Filpro - File:India grey.svg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50825723

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The New Decree

Javed Akhtar

[A friend, Sourindra sent me the link to a YouTube video of Javed Akhtar reciting his poem Naya Hukumnama. It was captivating. Here is a translation followed by the original in Hindi. Thank you Ruchi and Aditi for giving me the English equivalents for the Hindi words I didn’t know. And of course, thanks Sourindra.

Please read. But you must listen to the original recital. You can go to YouTube and search for “Javed Akhtar + Naya Hukumnama”.]

Someone has decreed that from now on
The wind must always declare before it blows 
Which way it would like to go.
It must also report 
At what speed it would blow,
Because right now, there’s no approval for a storm 
And this caravan of paper towers
Being built on sand
The must be secure.
And everyone knows 
Storms are their old enemies.

Someone has ordained that the waves on seas
Must control themselves and 
Be still.
Rising, falling, and then rising again
It’s illegal for them to create such a raucous disorder.
These are just signs of madness,
Symptoms of rebellion.
No rebellion will be allowed
No madness tolerated.
If waves wish to be, 
They have to be quiet.

Someone has ordered that from now on 
All bouquets must have flowers of the same colour.
And some officers will decide
How bouquets will be made. 
Indeed, the flowers must be of the same colour,
And how deep or how light the shade will be,
There’ll be officers to decide.
How can one tell someone 
That a bouquet isn’t made with flowers of the same colour
It can never be.
And also, lots of shades hide in a single colour.

Please look at the people 
Who tried to create monochrome gardens. 
When different colours leapt out of one, 
They were so upset, so broken …
How can one tell someone 
That the wind and the wave never follow decrees
That a magistrate’s clenched fist can't hold a gust of wind, 
Neither a handcuff, nor a jail can. 
And when waves are still, the sea gets livid
And later,
The anger takes the shape of a calamity.
How can one tell someone …

Translated / Bengaluru / 22 November 2016

नया हुकुमनामा
जावेद अख्तर

किसी का हुक्म है सारी हवाएं,
हमेशा चलने से पहले बताएं,
कि इनकी सम्त क्या है.
हवाओं को बताना ये भी होगा,
चलेंगी जब तो क्या रफ्तार होगी,
कि आंधी की इजाज़त अब नहीं है.
हमारी रेत की सब ये फसीलें,
ये कागज़ के महल जो बन रहे हैं,
हिफाज़त इनकी करना है ज़रूरी.
और आंधी है पुरानी इनकी दुश्मन,
ये सभी जानते हैं.
किसी का हुक्म है दरिया की लहरें,
ज़रा ये सरकशी कम कर लें अपनी,
हद में ठहरें.
उभरना, फिर बिखरना, और बिखरकर फिर उभरना,
गलत है उनका ये हंगामा करना.
ये सब है सिर्फ वहशत की अलामत,
बगावत की अलामत.
बगावत तो नहीं बर्दाश्त होगी,
ये वहशत तो नहीं बर्दाश्त होगी.
अगर लहरों को है दरिया में रहना,
तो उनको होगा अब चुपचाप बहना.
किसी का हुक्म है इस गुलिस्तां में,
बस अब एक रंग के ही फूल होंगे,
कुछ अफसर होंगे जो ये तय करेंगे,
गुलिस्तां किस तरह बनना है कल का.
यकीनन फूल यकरंगी तो होंगे,
मगर ये रंग होगा कितना गहरा कितना हल्का,
ये अफसर तय करेंगे.
किसी को कोई ये कैसे बताए,
गुलिस्तां में कहीं भी फूल यकरंगी नहीं होते.
कभी हो ही नहीं सकते.
कि हर एक रंग में छुपकर बहुत से रंग रहते हैं,
जिन्होंने बाग यकरंगी बनाना चाहे थे, उनको ज़रा देखो.
कि जब यकरंग में सौ रंग ज़ाहिर हो गए हैं तो,
वो अब कितने परेशां हैं, वो कितने तंग रहते हैं.
किसी को ये कोई कैसे बताए,
हवाएं और लहरें कब किसी का हुक्म सुनती हैं.
हवाएं, हाकिमों की मुट्ठियों में, हथकड़ी में, कैदखानों में नहीं रुकतीं.
ये लहरें रोकी जाती हैं, तो दरिया कितना भी हो पुरसुकून, बेताब होता है.
और इस बेताबी का अगला कदम, सैलाब होता है.
किसी को कोई ये कैसे बताए.

@javed akhtar poetry