What a blog can set off

I picked the link to this blog entry off a tweet by Runa and, going back and forth through the links was just what was needed to trigger off a chain of memories.

For a long long time in my life, Southern Avenue played an important role – having to traverse that every day for school was one, the other part of course was having the chance to hang by the railings of Vivekananda Park and watch the practice sessions. These days whenever I pass by the park, the first thing that I realize is that I can see the soil – all my memories have the green of grass.

How many folks recall the existence of the boulevard between Golpark and Gariahat ? The one that was cramped choc-a-bloc with stalls (“hawkers”) and, was a reason for the string of curses that came out. It is the same one that, during the “sale” days was a place you would not dare to cross. The only reason I remember that place fondly is because my book gorging habit started via the bookstalls and bookstores around the area. The general trend was to take a bus to Dakshinapan – walk across the bridge and down past the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, swing by the small lane that would bring one right up to where Grub Club is these days and, walk down to the stalls. Many a day has passed when I have picked up a book, sat down on the steps of the RMIC, finished it and, then went back and returned it (this of course was when I had to go towards Jadavpur to get home, when we did finally move to Barisha it became much easier for me to take a tram or, a midi bus and while away time reading the book through).

It would be boring to repeat the unusual delicacies available during those days, but the hojmi/digestive tablets deserve a special mention. What does however take the cake were cards. There were these postcards available with pictures of various personalities or, things on them and, they were a rage – some collected by theme, some by celebrity and, some others just gawked at the sheer variety on display. Looking back, I guess they were tackily done, with poor graphics content – but back then they were just too “hot” and must have.

The last time I was at Kolkata, I took a look at the shops near Charu Medical Hall (at Jadavpur) and, so much has changed – so much is no more. The good old shop which was DCM (it used to dutifully offer pens to young kids when we went there for purchases) isn’t around, the medical hall looked forlon a bit and, the sprawling house next to it, which resisted the conversion into a highrise was looking more run-down. The LIC Building (which was Chandan’s garage a long time back) at the intersection of Raja S C Mullick Road and Ibrahimpur Road is no longer the tallest one around. And, the area around the TB Hospital is just too clean for my memory. I recall that the sports shops next to it (oh ! how much we used to hang out there trying out cricket bats at the onset of the season) were pushed back when I was around, but right now, they seem to have blended into the din. Horrror of horrors ! the New Jadavpur Saloon – that lovable rickety place where each month I trooped in to get that sexy crew cut was closed.

The road that starts off from the intersection of P A Shah Rd and goes all the way down past the Doordarshan Kendra into Golf Green (I forget the name) has changed as well. Green has somewhat morphed into a slapdash section of concrete. Well, it was waiting to happen anyways. However, what still holds up is the SIRPA building(s) – same look and feel and, that multicolored blotches of garments hung outside to dry from the balconies – slowly wafting in a summer breeze.

So much has changed, and yet, so many things remain the same – Deshapriya Park for instance. It really hasn’t changed over the years I have spent time first, trying to get my line and length right and then, watching others take their turns at bowling or, batting. Or, the small shops just around the corner from Deshapriya Park, or, even, Dr Samanta’s “Dog” Clinic – it has that same whitewashed look as if the clinic got a good dip in a truck of lime.

But heh ! given that I have seen Mumbai up close and can write about how it has changed too, I guess it was inevitable that Kolkata would.

Those days of those vinyls

When I was young I was fascinated with LPs/vinyls. It did help that we had a fairly large collection of them. And, once a month or so, I had a blast bringing the player out, getting things arranged, re-ordering the LPs and, playing my favorite ones. More often than not, these would turn out to be a few from Nilima Sen, Debabrata Biswas and Pankaj Mullick. Incidentally, of all the K L Saigal sung Tagore songs that I have heard, the collection which we had was my favorite.

Anyways, what brought about this nostalgic blast from the past was that yesterday I was re-installing my machine with the latest and greatest release of the operating system. And, since I dutifully back up everything to do a clean installation, the script showed all the songs which were there on the hard disk. How easy has it become ? Buy a CD, rip it into .ogg/.mp3 media files and use any of the numerous media players to listen to it. Easy, quick and portable. Things could never have been better. And yet, that quaint charm of actually handling the record player, putting the disc on to the platter, aligning the pin after adjusting the speed and, then reclining on an easy-chair to listen to the sound is something that one actuallly misses.

So much for simplicity. There are times when it takes more than a lifetime to accustom oneself to change. Something to blog later would perhaps be the things I hear at the office when mates are in the queue to get married.

Anyways, post-Aila (what a name !), things are settled at the houses. There is power, water and telephony. So, there isn’t much to worry about.

Of relevance

Had a somewhat interesting discussion the other day around “being relevant”. It is a common fallacy that we end up introspecting and appraising ourselves based on what we had set as targets and, how far we reached down that lane. What we often miss to measure is how relevant we are as a person and, how relevant we are in the lives of those around us. What do we change, how do we change and what changes do we bring about in ourselves ?

Admittedly, it is somewhat odd to be discussing these “touchy-feely” bits over a long discussion, but the back and forth arguments did reveal one thing – it is very difficult to assess somewhat accurately what changes happen because we exist. Being surrounded by competent people, one tends to suffer sometimes from the question “do I really matter in the scheme of things”. It is jarring and eye-opening at the same time. The traditional response of course is to quote (badly) the Gita and say that it is work one has to do and, the results of such efforts are best left unassumed. But, that is somewhat putting a moral high ground somewhere. How many of us do actually get work done without ever thinking about the outcome ?

How do you measure your relevance ?

There are more questions than answers

Since Saturday (the day the poll results came out), I’ve been trawling the intertubes and talking with a few friends in overall terms about the elections, election results, predictions and psephologists. But more importantly, talking about what is this all about ?

Or, in other words – how is this relevant ? The lack of relevance has been what has been skewing voting patterns for a while. For example, what good does government policies bring about. Due to the somewhat depth-first federated nature of the government we have, local issues are strong focal areas for local governments. The central government has an overwhelming part in shaping 3 primary areas – fiscal policy, foreign policy and security policy. To put it mildly simplistically, in all the 3 cases, the policies need to be toe-ing some existing political line of thought. India has been traditionally being part of a “bloc” rather than a lone ranger. In fact, political science and political theory has somewhat mandated that the days of the lone gunslinger is somewhat over in an Friedmanishly flat world.

So, if the pundits are indeed correct and, the election results do indeed prove that people vote for a “stable government at the Centre” then what happens to the multiple splinters of regional parties which have forked off from parent parties ? What constituencies aka vote_banks do they focus on ? Especially interesting is the feedback from Kolkata and, West Bengal. This election has somewhat routed the incumbent coalition across a large spectrum of seats and, the rallying cry for that has been মা, মাটি ও মানুষ : the mother, the soil and, the people. Which is curiously and uncannily similar to the themes that got the ruling coalition into power around 30 years back.

So, did the overwhelming surge towards development along with the inevitable corruption by absolute power cause this backlash ? Or, is it more to do with the fact that as a coalition there isn’t much of a contribution in terms of shaping national agenda ?

The specific bits about the inane results from the elections which bother me are:

* were the results an acceptance that national issues should be now looked into especially because times are tough

* were the results a rejection of the splintered at the drop of a hat regional politics

* were the results more an expression of pro-change

* were the results an inevitable expression of anti-chaos

But more importantly, amidst all this hoopla – who did ask as to how and why most of the parties and the pundits got their predictions so wrong ? Who wasn’t listening with their ear to the ground ?

And, then…

There was the elections and now, post the results, there has been complete silence. In some quirky way, it was a good idea to have the results out on the weekend/Saturday. Sunday would be a different day for the winners and, the losers. And, for those who are still exhibiting punditry about the why-how – it would be good to just sit back and see what the future holds.

Democracy and elections

I was reading through this entry today and figured that years outside of Kolkata have made me somewhat immune to the actual hustle of elections. There are two specific bits that I miss – the run-up-to-elections hustle and, the polling muscle.

Where else would you manage to find such gems like “shuney raakho dillishwar, rakto diye gorbo mora bakreshwar” or, stuff like “kendrer bimatrisulobh achoron” and, “aamaader shobai ke saathey niye unnayaner pathey egotey hobey”. And of course, there are the innumerable ad-hoc meetings at street corners. Primarily organized by SUCI and others the distinguishing factors would be a small huddle of people and, a crescendo of shrill epithets. Then of course there are the quickly sprung campaign/party offices all over the locality which form the well-spring of ill-advised and gossip based political strategies. Tea-stalls, fast food counters and cigarette+pan shops do brisk business in the run up to the voting day.

Somewhat interesting to figure what you really miss. A column I read some days back had a lament that in India, democracy has been reduced to the exercise of right to vote and not a forum where national_level decisions are made. Who else but us are to blame for it ?

Of distances and journeys

I figured out the other day, somewhat not so subtly helped by the odometer, that I hardly travel around. Spending close to 16 hours on office work each day of the working week so zaps the brain that the weekends are more about getting rest. Vicious cycle it is. Work – work – rest – recharge – work – Work. Which is perhaps one reason I love to read about it when people talk about where they went. During an early morning phone conversation, I realized that someone is going to visit Shillong and NEHU. Having heard so much about the place from the wife and, having tried so desperately to make time to visit, I should be going green with envy. And yet, I am eager to get feedback. Not about the place – but about how the mind reacts and adjusts when you visit a new place.

Some journeys are perhaps not measured by the distances travelled by the self. But, by the bridges that the minds build.

On a completely side note, it seems that with each passing year, my capacity to over-extend an already fragile physical system is not working out. Age and the ambitious over-drives of youth have left me somewhat behind in terms of getting to cope. And, it is of somewhat lesser irony since I always fancied and invincible aura around myself.

The immorality of moral decisions

Is what is ‘moral’ also a ‘binary’ ? Or, do moral decisions tantamount to the optimal result set of a series of somewhat moral decisions ? That is, do moral decisions contain within themselves the very elements of immorality that they strive to overcome ?

It is somewhat interesting to note that decisions in life aren’t really always life-changing in a broad way. Every decision we take contributes incrementally to a “change”. And yet, there are always those few moments of decisive thought which are considered to be bringing about massive change. Most of these moments are more of an extrapolation of smaller issues which converge rather than a sum-up of smaller issues. So, what makes few decisions “moral” and, others “simple” ?


But even that does not manage to capture the essence of it all. How can the surrounding stories or, the layered aspects of context make a certain set of decisions – righteous and moral while simultaneously making an alternative set of decisions immoral ? How can something so elusive as context, which is based on personal interpretation of a series of events provide justification to the moral superiority of a decision ? Does the brain then assess further input from an emotional perspective ? Where does this emotional assessment derive ?

Is it morally correct to tag a set of candidate decisions as immoral ? Can context turn today’s moral decisions into tomorrow’s immoral ones ?