Total Pageviews

Friday, October 26, 2018



I do not know the two wrestling mammoths of the CBI personally, nor even through the reports of peers and professionals. But their fight   has led to  not only  a lot of grass being  trampled  in the organisation,  it has also sent shock waves throughout the country, much beyond the confines of the designated turf . Having served for close to 40 years in the IPS I have long since stopped believing in reputations created through media. One of the fighters, for instance was sometime a darling of the local and national media and during the AH scam his image was carved in pure awe. How much of it was due to the fact that Laloo Jee was media’s favourite bĂȘte noir?)Therefore, I will refrain from offering my comments on the current crisis, but I will permit myself a few general observations.

Governments have perfected failsafe mechanisms to separate the chaff from the grain in bureaucracy, more particularly in the IAS and the IPS, and then they invariably opt for the chaff. Regardless of political persuasion, they show a remarkable congruence in their choice of incumbents for sensitive assignments: they carefully assess the risk of emergence of character in the incumbent after he gets the coveted tenure post.
 Governments   are now ruthless in their approach when it comes to dealing with those who do not have a talent to please. The perils of independence are unacceptable just as the rewards of collaboration are unimaginable.

 In general the idea of the neutrality of civil service and police has long since been abandoned and the police officers, civil servant and political masters often show the internal cohesion of predatory gangs. Governments are increasingly being run like private companies. The media is the latest entrant to the elite club and their affiliation to one gang or the other would be evident from the news reporting of the squabbling senior officers.

How do the achievers and ‘succeeders’-if I may say- adapt to the changed priorities and preferences of governments with mutually hostile agenda? They cultivate a palimpsest identity, consisting of layers after layers of alternating political affiliations, the one suitable for the particular occasion is revealed. This is what gives them a foothold through three decades or more of their career, in the fragile ecology of power.

The hierarchy is well established, especially in uniformed services, but if the contenders draw sustenance form the political ecosystem, the laws of the harem come into operation: both are favourites but one is more of a favourite than the other? I know it at first hand; the Bihar Police suffered incalculable harm in terms of morale, organisational cohesiveness, efficiency and its image in the public eye, (such as it was) in the early years of Sushahsan.
PS 1 No reflection on the present contender but as a rule he who beats everyone else to become the Police Commissioner of Delhi and then beats the other two contenders with matching credentials, escapes the Supreme Court criterion for mandatory experience in the CBI, is acceptable to the leader of the government in office and the leader of the government in exile to bag the post of Director CBI is hardly likely to be a Cr PC, police manual wielding fanatic. But yes, Beckets and Black Swans do turn up!

  PS 2 Thinking about the crisis I was reminded of the famous remark of H N Brailsford, “If a Power coerces once, it may dictate for some years afterwards without requiring to repeat the lesson. (A Great Illusion or a War of Steel and Gold? Norman Angel and H N Brailsford on The Causes of International Conflict.)
Officers reared in sweet docility are rarely known to stand up suddenly and beard the lion.

PS 3 I have known at least five CBI directors fairly well in the last decade or so, some of them very closely. One kept hearing on the grapevine how they bagged the post but one of them who had lost the race and then come back from the dead, like Lazarus, to clinch the job   told me his own story. He did not turn out to be a great investigator, in fact, he added a chapter to the rich history of infamy of the CBI, but I could not but marvel at his brilliant understanding of the capillaries that feed the power system.
PS 4 An NGO moves Supreme Court against the removal of CBI Director. Is not this is the same organisation that had opposed the appointment of this Director last year?  
PS 5 Layers after layers of the much vaunted capability of the CBI is being peeled off and every  now and then the Supreme Court steps in to put a stitch or two. But now the frayed vestment looks a patchwork of sorts, a caricature , a scarecrow for bird like the fabled meat exporter  to do the dirt upon.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Disclaimer: The exploitation of women is not unique to film or media industry. Wherever there are gazing male eyes, in the words of Simone de Beauvoir, “She would like to be invisible; it frightens her to become flesh and to show flesh”.
“This is the paradox of public space”, says the maverick Slovenian philospher, polemicist Slavoj Zizek,“even if everyone knows an unpleasant fact, saying it in public changes everything.”Sexual exploitation of women in the film and media industry is now dominating the headlines because someone has gone ahead and uttered the well known secret. Sex as a perk that comes with power has been so well understood on both sides of the gender divide.The entitled demand it as a mode of privilege and the exploited cope with it as best as they can, taking it on their chins, or deeming these as occupational hazard. They may repulse the overtures but to take umbrage at the solicitation itself would be considered signs of prudishness.
Sex as a route to accelerated career advancement for the aspiring – the infamous casting couch – has been scorned, mourned or vehemently denied by the film industry but this also is a fact of life. The hiatus between success and failure here is so great, the stakes are so high, that refusal to abide by the rules of game spells the difference between being and nothingness. Hence it requires courage of heroic proportions to annoy the powerful. But some day someone has had enough of it, the person goes ahead and breaks the code of silence . Gradually more allegations pour in, the fellow is “revealed”. It is not that the fellow was known to be anything else! The mere act of speaking up makes the difference, because it is the silence of the lambs that had made a lion of him. Speaking up is subversion in the system where the rest of the industry revolve like satellites, in silence and sufferance around the star .
But the act of speaking up has reverberations much beyond the local disturbance. Moral revulsion, shock and dismay become the stock reactions because they are the safest alibi, the alibi of ignorance, because to be seized of the guilty knowledge would entail a responsibility to act.
The cyclone me-too which originated in Hollywood has been a hugely disruptive force. After having wreaked havoc in its place of origin it has reached Indian shores to rock our own glitzy Bollywood. The Nirbhaya episode which shook the nation to its moral foundation had already created an area of low depression and this storm hit at a time when it could cause most damage. The film industry has been dogged by scandals and rumours. Media is facing a deep crisis of confidence because of fake and paid news. Now it has been “revealed” to be a bunch of leches also . The serial disclosures makes one wonder whether there would be any media man left who would be “me- too- compliant” and any media woman who did not carry victimhood like a secret petal of fear in her heart? It hit the bohemian part of our world whose ethos and life style are entirely different from the humdrum world of middle class morality, or subaltern exploitation and yet rattled the outside world as well .
Thirty years back I wrote a very mushy paper, “Reflections In the Year of the SAARC on the Rights Of the Girl Child”, for a UNICEF seminar,- which won me some obligatory applauses –wherein I had expressed the confident hope that as we go on to acquire a full member ship of the cybernetic and knowledge society, where brain would have supplanted brawn , women for once will escape Freud’s ‘anatomy is destiny’ and defy Simone de Beauvoir’s, ominous pronouncement , "the body of woman is one of the essential elements of her situation in the world".
Where does the resounding refutation come from? From a group of people to whom the society looks up, who constitute the brains trust , the very moral core of society: from our, media men, our creative geniuses our artists and intellectuals. Liberal, egalitarian, progressive and non sectarian in outlook, they talk big, they make elevating and inspirational films, and they are the most conscious antenna of the race. Sadly when it comes to women their ethereal minds are equally slaves to the instincts of Neanderthal men.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Women do not understand manpower

Disclaimer: It is a long post- more than 1300 words. Those who have the endurance of a Marathon Man can venture in. It is Humour, but there are many who don’t have a stomach for humour and end up in tears. So check for such allergies and other contraindicated medical conditions!
          Women do not understand much about manpower: an autobiographical account.
After a great deal of thought and weighing all the pros and cons I have decided to join a facebook friend  James Joyce on his next expedition to the Pamirs ,exploring the origin of Oxus or with  someone out  hunting the elusive Yeti in the Himalayas.But let me tell you it is not for the thrill of it; I am not a convert to the new   ecumenical faith of adventure tourism. I remain as devoutly and as defiantly  lazy as ever.  I hate adventure from the same core of my heart that I have always hated. But I am left with no choice. Either I go to the Pamirs or search for the Loch Ness Monster in distant locations or find plausible reasons to escape  more hazardous adventures  in the familiar setting of my home. I will tell you what!
After I have undertaken my mandatory walk or stint on the treadmill etc I do not undertake any wasteful expeditions.  My wife is no “mechanical bride”, she is as complete a human being as ever there was and inordinately humane at that, but she is tidying up this, minding that apart from the regular chores all the time.  Like planets she is in a state of perpetual motion.  Her living room is her pride, her bedroom her work of art.  If I had to do that kind of movement  I would  demand a pair of roller-skates – motorised one at that- and three robotic assistants. Having done my quota of   physical activity why should I waste man- power on frivolous movements? Parked in front of my desk top or sprawled on the bed , it gives me the vertigo to watch my wife indulging her pleasure of doing such pointless work.  But women I guess, do not understand much about man power!
I had told my wife very early during our marriage  that it takes many to solve a problem and there are various steps to solving  it. My job was to reflect on the nature of the problem, she could do the solving . That is division of labour. My wife gave me that look which she perfected in a short time  living with me. The translation would run in volumes but I get it in an instant.  Ever since she has gone about doing her things; I   have learnt to managed to cope with  my vertigo reasonably well. But now that domestic helps are becoming a little unpredictable she expects me to join her in these mad pursuits. No one else to divide the labour with except the poor husband who is already  dead tired of watching her at work!
 I have some rule of thumb excuses to dodge the draft. “Is it necessary, we will be leaving in  a couple of days, anyway?” “Is it legal?” I escaped the edict to locate the source of a leak( my version of investigating the source of Oxus) from somewhere behind the geyser. I said the municipality will have to be notified, the power supply company will have to be informed.  “So the government has now entered our bathroom? And in the next move they will be sprawled  right in our bedroom?” She said facetiously. But she let it pass; she was just testing  me. She knew that  my intervention would have resulted in flooding the bathroom any way  and a call to National Disaster Management Authority.
 During the course of the same week I was asked to go up to the terrace to see whether the help was malingering or tending to the many plants and pots. I pleaded that I had lost my cap and standing in the sun for long made me feel giddy and nauseated. My Rayban  aviator glasses were missing. May be this was also just a dry run and she let me get away with this one as well .Now I know why; she  was laying  a perfect ambush ,  she trapped me on  an S- bend!
 My books – or rather poor me in my  untidy environment  of books –are her greatest eye sore .There was a time when we could dedicate one big hall to my books , neatly displayed,easily accessible. If I wanted a book, I could without the help of a Google map, home in right there to the correct shelf, bang in front of my book. Even in the middle of the night if I was seized by an urge to look up a reference or browse a few pages it was no problem.
But gone are days and in   the more frugal circumstances, in the brutal struggle for existence my books have lost out to the many shelfs and almirahs which according to my wife contain objects of absolute necessity. If I could show you how  I and my books have been squeezed into an alcove with some shelves of one corner of the room , you would be moved to tears.  The rest of my books have been despatched to a room on the first floor. I argued with my wife that I and my books had co-evolved , it is like my environment for me, you can’t destroy  my habitat. “Don’t you have any concern for the sole member of that rare species called husband.”My wife said that you could survive with your thousand books and the rest of it is an indulgence.” I said these are not a thousand but only six hundred. She threatened to count each one of them so I climbed down and it was agreed that if I imported some books from upstairs an equal number would have to be deported.
Now my wife has a suspicion that some illegal immigrants from the first floor  are hiding in the pile. Of course my children have sent me a few hundred in last few years but they are all legal. I told her,  “I have papers from Amazon, even for the imported ones. Don’t husbands have human rights?” “So long as they do n’t create pig stys in bedroom,”, she said.   The clutter and the pile are intruding into alien territory of her nicely curated corner. “ Don’t you quote  all the time ‘ I would rather  be an unsatisfied Socrates  than a satisfied pig’. So Mr. Socrates of the slums  don’t be a pig.” My wife has served me notice that either I do the needful or she will take things in her own hand  . And in matters like these she is an  extremist . Either I find a way to somehow accommodate these books  on the uppermost shelves by  weeding out some for extinction or see them deported en masse.I am a human being not an uncaring cruel natural agency like Evolution!
I have avoided the task so far by pointing out that the aluminium ladder has become a little unstable and by generally playing on her insecurity that her aging sixty six plus husband might take a bump. This has worked so far, but for how long? Aluminium ladders can be mended! Our departure from Patna has earned me a reprieve but how long can I be an exile?
I had asked my wife to buy me a pair of walking shoes and a couple of track pants. Normally I am pressurised into accompanying her on these missions because of size issues but over the years I have managed to find comprehensive strategies to evade  the demand. But this time she did not say a word.  I got my pair of shoes and track pants from Decathlon but the inventory included unindented  trekking back pack, a pair of mountain trekking shoes, a rucksack , trekking gloves, trek zip off pants  , a solid looking harness, and waterproof all weather multilayer  peel off  jacket . She sat down triumphantly. “When we get back to Patna you are going to go on  your climbing expedition and plant the books in proper order, tidy up the clutter on the lower reaches and leave no waste on the top.  You are equipped for every season and every eventuality, the activity is perfectly legal and does not violate any of your human rights . I checked up with our family lawyer.”
It has steeled my resolution. I shall arise and go now and go to the Arctic tundra, report triumphantly for the facebook,  wearing all that gear, petting a caribou or riding a sled. Chase the lions chasing  antelopes and gazelles for lunch in the Serengeti  Savannahs in the darkest Africa. At least   I wouild earn some admiring  oohs and aahs from  known and unknown women friends!   

Friday, August 10, 2018

A moral code in Braille for a morally blind society?
My dear friend Ms. Amita Paul, a former IAS officer, conscientious and combative when in service and deeply socially engaged even in retirement, in- boxed me a long post: “Our Missing Mamta.” It is a Crie de Coeur, so to say, which disrupted my sabbatical from fb.There could not be a more appropriate caption for a society which has lost its feeling pulse, whose pulsating heart has gone into a state of cardiac arrest, a society which has generally lost its way in the impenetrable spiritual and moral darkness all around, where pedophilic pleasure becomes regular fare for those in the first circle of power or maybe, the privilege is available throughout the concentric circles. You just have to remain connected. Mamta is one of the 34 girls from Muzaffarpur shelter home who suffered it all, who could spill the beans, who could complicate matters for both the investigative agencies and those whose names could be thrown up, has gone missing. But, for the details, read Amita herself. I do not want one bit of the pathos to be lost in paraphrasing.
Perhaps I was wrong. The darkness around has now been interiorized. We have become morally blind and the society is yet to write its moral code- in Braille. Or perhaps we have regressed to barbaric times- a curious feat in itself, because the arrow of evolution is a barbed arrow, it does not go back in time- a time when the human male could ravish anything female, before taboos about incest and children had been internalized in our psyche and become powerful inhibitory controls. Which other society would permit a continuous and custodial rape of its children some of them aged seven and ten for possibly days, weeks, months or years?
While we are recovering from shock, comes the news that Deoria shelter home for the hapless, helpless, waifs also functioned as a seraglio.Ara, Patna and Hyderabad from beyond the state were in the news for this very reason. Suddenly something which had been going on for years but brushed under the carpet, became the media flavour of the season.(Of that later!)And wait, a girl alleged to have disappeared from one such shelter home has returned, one and a half years later, with just one kidney less!
Brajesh Thakur is merely the symptom of a society that has become immunodeficient. AIDS is as much a medical issue as a socio-political one. Both relate to infamous histories of illicit liaison. In the case of AIDS afflicted individual, it is his promiscuous carnal past. But when the society freely and indiscriminately co-opts people reputed to be corrupt, conspirators and crimininals into positions of power and influence it , people who were outcasts, lepers of the moral order only till 50 60 years back, invites this deadly retribution. If AIDS is the punishment for the violation of sexual taboos by the human victim, the miscegenation, the cohabitation of crime and politics, corruption and illegitimate power begets these midnight children who are the new threats to society: they render its defence mechanism defunct.
Police is charged with the general responsibility of preventing all crimes, but there were dedicated agencies, committees, departments, NGOs, the whole arsenal of institutional safeguards deployed by the state to protect its children. They have failed. All of them . Year after year. Bureaucratic barbarism is not a closely guarded secret. Nor is police apathy, cynicism, and heartlessness but what about the neighbours who heard the nocturnal cries of the victims and pulled their blankets more tightly over their heads so that their collective conscience was lulled into sleep and did not cry “hold”, “hold”.
But this is the limit of this conceit. A person suffering from AIDS is afraid to be ‘revealed’. He tries to dissolve his identity into a non person. His family goes in hiding. That is why there are strict institutional safeguards for protecting the identity of the victim. The other one does not let you forget his foundational crimes which secured his entry to the political fold. No one for a moment suggests that the photographs of the gentleman with bigwigs is in itself any proof of their complicity, but let no one, but no one, deny the strategic value of these photographs in building up a larger than life Brajesh Thakur before whom the law of the land gawks ; uncertain of its powers or purpose.
A society which has become immunodeficient finds itself helpless in face of every invasion, every malady. Because everywhere, in every way the sentinels have been compromised. It cannot procure its defence equipments vital to the defence of the realm, it cannot ensure free and fair examinations, recruitments, and it cannot build bridges that hold. Its institutions gradually disintegrate and decay. If you want confirmation look up the conversation on the social media and the risible contempt with which the takeover of the case by the once respected, feared, and credible CBI has been greeted!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Death Of The Cosmic Communicator

I have used some materiel in this blog from an earlier write up of mine  'EVERY MAN's HAWKING which appeared in a local news paper  quite sometime back.

 While we mourn the death of Stephen Hawking we can chuckle at the      discomfiture of God; He would be forced to welcome to heaven  the man who      debunked the myth that He had created the universe.Science today is more and more a collective enterprise; flashes of intuitive insight or dreams like Edward Kekule’s are rare. Many researchers simultaneously come upon an idea. Ever since Paul Lemaitre proposed his theory of the Big Bang Origin of Universe a host of scientists and researchers- George Gamov, Steven Weinberg, Arno Penzias, Robert Wilson, David Schramm and above all Roger Penrose, to name just a few have refined it and provided its mathematical validation and prepared the ground work for Hawking but they largely remain unknown to the lay public. Stephen Hawking in a flash of brilliance, among many other theories, proposed the extinction of Black Holes as a result of its  leaking radiation. Black holes are the debris of massive stars and everything within the range of its immense gravitational pull is forever destined to end up inside it. Ever since cosmology has become quotidian and the man called Hawking something of a cult! More than a scientist whose contribution was enormous, he became a raging, post modernist cultural phenomenon. He finally lost out to death, yesterday, at the age of seventy six and commoners as well as followers of the recondite discipline mourn his death alike.
 When Einstein came up with his theory of relativity there were not many people who could comprehend it. In fact in a lecture seminar, in the early years of his Theory, he was left wondering, in all humility, as to who was the third person beside he himself and the host, who understood relativity. Even Neil's Bohr once said of quantum mechanics "If you think you understand it that only shows that you don't know the first thing about it."
They were both modest people. They believed  that  scientific ideas had a life of their own in the highly restricted and restrictive symbolic language of say the tensor algebra or non-Euclidean geometry; tools forged and perfected for this purpose. If the contemporary mathematics, which was of considerable sophistication, could not cope with the exegesis and implications of relativity, how can language of daily speech? Scientists, alas! by the nature of their esoteric craft were destined to be a small aristocracy of knowledge.
Einstein was a Promethean figure; he wrested the closely guarded secrets of the universe from the Gods.  As Roland Barth, the French semioticist put it, “There is a single secret to the world, and this secret is held in a word; the universe is a safe of which humanity seeks the combination: Einstein almost found it.” Hawking was seen as a successor to Einstein; he personified the hopes of completing the scientific enterprise that Einstein left behind: fusing quantum mechanics and general relativity in a single seamless "unified" theory. Brief, succinct, and accessible to all, in the same frugal mode as e=mc2.

In the beginning was the word! And ironically enough the hope for uttering the ultimate secret of the universe fell to the lot of a man who was denied the gift of speech. Hawkings' peculiar ailment- Louis Gehrig disorder - now as well known as the man himself- had rendered him totally incapable of caring for himself but it in no way incapacitated the magical brain.Is it that the body had been victimized by a preternaturally active mind or had the mind been compensated in a prodigious manner for the decrepit frame? The synthesized voice emanating through a computer seemed to prefigure the cybernetic utopia of a disembodied mind; of pure intellect, independent of the gross physical frame. People looked up to him for: REVELATION something that was in the domain of religion. Hawking was the new God.

There is another bit of delicious irony at work here. Stephen Hawking was in search of totalizing explanations, the "grand narrative," on the basis of his observations and experiments with the four basic scientific constructs space, time, matter and number. But the post-modernist ethos which 'is suspicious of any claim to absolute, authentic truth etc’ has appropriated him as one of its most celebrated icons; and for Good reasons too!

Make room Mr. Neils Bohr, here comes Stephen Hawking. His A Brief History of Time, in consonance with the cultural logic of late capitalism, declares esoteric scientific knowledge to be the estate of common man. His majesty the Consumer King is entitled to undertake an intellectual safari to the world of high science where, instead of monkeys gamboling, they have electrons jumping from one orbit to another- disappearing from one and materializing into another without so much as a trace of the intervening spaces; one moment it was in this orbit the next in a higher or lower orbit without traveling the intervening distance. Such rare nuggets of scientific curiousity like Pauli’s exclusion principle, or time reversal asymmetry, or naked singularity are strewn across the pages, to be enjoyed, flaunted, or stored away in the attic of the brain.
 Did Stephen Hawking  really  succeed in ushering   intellectual democracy? Do we   really understand the concepts of quantum cosmology- event horizon, naked singularity, entropy-wormholes or time dilation that have  entered the language of public discourse?  Have  issues as hopelessly divorced from reality and beyond any empirical validation-is it an inflationary universe, would the Big Bang be followed by the Big Crunch become the concern of common man or are these just an amusing diversion? It is a participatory universe; there is no reality outside one's own observation of it; by the merest act of observation one influences the observed system which chimes very well with the postmodernist claim in the process of deconstruction whatever random insights the masses can bring upon the nature of the cosmological reality is fair and valid.
The man, who was the expositor of the ideas on the frontiers of physics and cosmology, seemed to have become a rock star and the esoteric bit of knowledge that he spewed became the most happening performance to watch. I had  some years back  ,with great effort, secured a seat in the hall of wisdom where he lectured to a motley group of people, scientists, academicians, industrialists, political big wigs, civil servants and humble folks like us, unlettered in the vocabulary of science, nevertheless no less keen to know what he had to say.
The "artist, illusionist, cosmic joker”, knew how to play up to the gallery, to the cultural market place where kitsch and imitation art, where comic book version of Shakespeare   often do duty for the real thing. In the process he “sold about (8.5million)one copy for every 750 men, women and children of the world… I have sold more books on physics than Madonna on sex”. (Foreword to the illustrated A Brief History of Time; Bantam).If someone could persuade you to buy abstruse texts in preference to titillating tomes on sex, he had to be a charmer par excellence.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Speak Memory: A Hundred Years of Patna University

Shankar Datt (Professor of English Literature, Patna University) has a great sense of anticlimax, I know for sure. Or you can say he likes to balance things, presenting both sides of the case. He called me up to write something about my days in Patna College  for the souvenir to be taken out on the occasion of centenary celebration of Patna University. I could quite imagine that he had already persuaded   the famous and the illustrious, toppers , gold medalists , record breakers , path breakers, pioneers  which my college  produces  as a routine  and in abundance  for their memories or memoirs.  He wanted to throw in sharper relief the fact that intellectual democracy prevailed in Patna College; it had nurtured non- entities like us also. 
So here I am trying to coax my memory. Speak memory, speak! But it won’t break its sphinx like silence.  And for good reasons, too. I did not top any examination, I was not even awarded a bronze medal let alone a gold medal. No record breaker, my academic achievements could at best be described as middling middle; neither irredeemably bad nor enviably outstanding. My presence in the class was not noticed very much, either by my classmates or my teachers, simply because most often I was not there. While some of my friends impersonated me in other classes, thanks to a kindly Hindi professor the shortfall in my lecture in vernacular classes was condoned. He appeared to be a little hypermetropic; he saw great promise in me!
 To tell you the truth the academic curriculum prescribed by the college and the one that I had set for myself did not follow the same trajectory.  But of that sometime later. Patna College gave me the honourable vocation of studentship, the status of a boarder in its Jackson Hostel and the university canteen for endless discussion on subjects marked by fatuity, pompousness and self importance. Taken together all these ensured regular remittances from home which though not princely was enough to keep me afloat and sometimes allowed me to drown my sorrows in a few drops of alcohol.
After a day fruitfully spent in the canteen, drinking endless cups of tepid lemon tea and smoking cigarettes, time that I should have been legitimately utilized listening to lectures, we were ready – I and my friend, he is no more so I shall call him just my friend- to shift the locale of our earth shaking discussions to the Coffee House at Dakbunglow Road. The call of the Coffee House coffee was irresistible and poets, artists, writers, journalists, students flocked together in the evening. Renu jee was the central figure and sometime the Governor Mr. D K Barooah would grace the premises. Emergency was a couple of years away). The coffee nicely brewed and stimulating in its own right, enhanced our self esteem and inflated the worth of   our opinions in our own eyes. The ambience aided our self belief and many a grandiose plan to undertake another revaluation of the English Poetic tradition, F R Leavis was too bloody opinionated   and sweepingly magisterial or to debunk T S Eliot’s Wasteland as the greatest intellectual hoax of our time were conceived and aborted. Under the influence of the non communist left and apostates like Koestler, Orwell, and Samizdat literature Anna Andrevina Akhmatavova, Solzhenitsyn and Mandelstam, given prominence in our Bible, the Encounter we decided that Marx was bound to be relegated to the archeological museum of knowledge.
After the coffee  and  the exalted company of poets and poetasters ,playwrights and confirmed plagiarists  my friend,  who was a day scholar  went home none the worse for having spewed so much gyan, but I was bound to face up to  the music for having missed the study period, in the hostel, which was between 6 and 8 PM. My hostel superintendent Professor B K Lal, though a kindly person  was obliged to fine me 25 paisa  and I  had the ignominy of finding it out from the notice board. It seems he mended his ways later because he found that I was not perhaps capable of mending mine.
 Mr. Mahendra Pratap and Mr. Madan Jee were two personalities who could unsettle me. Madanjee was the durban – the janitor – to Jackson Hostel and Mr. Mahendra Pratap was the Principal of Patna College – later the Vice Chancellor of Patna. He was also for some time our Warden. Madan jee  was the custodian of the keys to our little kingdom  and boarders who came late  had to keep him in good humour  which was quite a task considering that he  was   a  sour faced, mongrelish fellow who could smile , if he could  spare the effort.  To be fair to him he would not grudge very much all those coming back to the hostel after watching a second show. But after that gentle tapping and calls to admit the straggler would be answered with a growl. The more   ferocious his growl would become the more sheepish the voice on the other side of the Hostel gate would become. Night owls like me were quite experienced in handling him but on this occasion things went awry.  Some people said he was not malicious, he was simply snoring. I never found out. Whatever.
 I had come into some money, now I don’t remember how, some honorarium or something. Money meant celebration and celebration meant beer in Amber, a bar which was patronized by the students. In college I was a pure soul. I used to get drunk on a glass of beer, one half of which was pure froth. There were four or five of us including my friend. As usual he parted company on the Ashok Rajpath, headed for home happy as a lark, in Professors’ quarters Ranighat. He had no fear because his mother would keep awake listening for the gentle knock on the door as not to disturb his father who was professor in Patna University. To me devolved the responsibility of transporting my humble self, drunk like a lord, to the hostel. It was late, much later than the curfew hour and Madan jee was in no mood to relent. The gambit of growling and sheepish bleating seemed to have arrived at a stalemate. It was particularly chilly night. Locked out  I was loitering near the kitchen,  wondering whether to  try my friend or go to my local guardian ,  when one of the   mess servants  woke  up  and opened the lock with  the simple  expedient of  an iron  nail .
 Mr. Mahendra Pratap was known to a relative of mine and perhaps in a moment of concern, he entrusted him the job of overseeing my education. Mr. Pratap had been to Cambridge and perhaps in those days they awarded   the  degree  merely only on the strength of knowledge of  Faery Queene and sundry archaic, boring texts.Mr. Mahendra Pratap crystallized his responsibility towards me to one simple task – judging me for my proficiency in Faery Queene. Lurking near the principal’s office for some work or the other I blundered into him twice and on both the occasions he tested me on my knowledge of the above text and found me wanting, notwithstanding the fact that it was not part of our syllabus. Or so I thought!
To pursue my lifestyle of careless and peaceful anarchy I had made one rule for myself: I would break all diplomatic relations with texts which did not interest me and mind you I am not an easy person to please! Unfortunately Spencer and I were not on speaking terms and my conversation with him was only through intermediaries. On the first occasion I bought my freedom by assuring Mr. Pratap that I will read him. On the second the information on Spencer that I had gathered through my friend deserted me because- all my critical sensibility was concentrated in hiding the cigarette. I cut a sorry figure and earned a well merited rebuke but that alienated me to Spencer forever.
I ran into Mr. Mahendra Pratap one more time, a close encounter of the third kind. It was around one AM. I climbed up to the first floor where my room was and I thought I saw Mr. Mahindra Pratap.I had mixed feelings. Was it an apparition but there was some real people, my hostel mates with him? Should I run away, is it going to be a public shaming for my inability to wade through the Faery Queene? But Mr. Mahendra Pratap spoke to me, or tried to speak to, perhaps he was trying to recall my name. I readily supplemented his memory, “Faery Queene, sir.” He laughed and addressed me with my proper name. “We are all going to drive out these book worms out of their rooms.  Man has landed on moon and these fellows are not even celebrating.” I stood dumb founded .Disturbing the serious minded students was one of my most favourite pastimes and now it had   been accorded official sanction. A night of revellery and riot led by the Principal was the culmination of my anarchic dreams. We went to the Cavendish Hostel, to the Faraday Hostel and I think then to the BA lecture theatre where Mr. Mahindra Pratap spoke in his inimitable style to us about Neil Armstrong   and what his achievement meant for the human race. The word globalist was not even coined then but he was a true globalist.
 To me Patna College was not merely a structure made of brick and wood and cement; it was not merely the class rooms and play fields. It was a whole eco system of learning  comprising of  my teachers , my class mates , the fellow  boarders, other students , the  folklore about students and teachers who had been part of its glorious tradition, the library.  My contact with my teachers was largely beyond the confines of the class in informal settings and I got to know some of them very closely. To them I owe my gratitude for having pulled me from crass ignorance into a little bit of awareness.
But above all it was that ineffable feeling of walking in the shadow of countless intellectual giants, formidable minds who had enriched the life of community in many ways, men who had made history and then become part of history.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Three Shades of an Intellectual

Kanchah Ilaih Shepherd must be a learned man.
So is Ravish Kumar,I suppose.
Together they share the self image of “intellectuals”, leading the dangerous crusade against right wing retrograde and authoritarian forces out to vanquish rationalism and spread darkness all around. A compulsive letter writer, Ravish Kumar has cried wolf so often in his epistles that one has ceased to take him seriously.(He reminds me of the protagonist in Saul Bellow’s famous novel Herzog who keeps writing letters to all and sundry, including God). This time round his paranoia has taken him one step further; he fears for his job, which would mean the dissolution of his identity? What would Ravish Kumar be without his very private pulpit to which he retires every evening, to deliver long sermons to the faithful of similar political persuasion? About the making of this unique intellectual later! Let us first address ourselves the concern of two very, very scared intellectuals. If Mr. Modi is following me, my earnest appeal to him is to accord them z+ security. Let them ignite their revolution with police help lest history gripe at the lost opportunity. And yet!
The image of the intellectual in our minds, however , is that of a courageous individual on whom lies a moral onus -to “speak”- in the Biblical phrase popularized by Julian Benda (Traihon de Clerics, The Treason of Intellectuals) “truth to power”. A contrarian figure and an eternal nay sayer, an intellectual is indifferent to the lure of material advantages or personal glory. His convictions do not admit fear of death. Socrates is the archetypal figure; the escape route was available to him but he accepted the cup of hemlock casting derision on death.
Emilie Zola championing the Dreyfus case carved another role for the intellectual (as also the coinage of the word) ; a political activist, an honorary spokesperson for truth and justice for all seasons. In short for an intellectual (in Voltaire’s famous dictum) “Moi, je ne propose rien. J’expose”. ( I proposed nothing , I expose) Zola’s “J’accuse” ( I accuse ) came to symbolize the war cry. He has a full blooded engagement with the vulgate world of politics and yet remains absolutely unaffected by its evil ways.
The political activism of the intellectual was accorded some kind of inevitability by the Bolshevik Revolution. The Revolution was largely made by vanguard fighters, a small band of intellectuals under the direction of Lenin, whom he called “dead men on furlough”. Their fearlessness lent a modish charm to the idea of the soldier- activist- intellectual.
Martyrdom and honour go together. But some intellectuals forsook personal honour; courted infamy, wallowed in filth and mud to advance the cause of revolution as immortalized in Arthur Koestlers famous novel Darkness At Noon. It was clear that the Revolution was not going the way it was expected to and to admit the defeat of the idea would be detrimental to the cause of the Party. So like Rubashov (modeled possibly on  Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin) the protagonist of the novel Darkness At Noon, which foreshadows the horror of the Stalinist shadow trials, confesses to the most absurd charges because he is made to believe that it would help the cause of the party to be told that the failure of the revolution was not due to any fatal flaw in the design but to the treasonable activities of its leaders.
In case the examples seem remote and distant in context, let us remind ourselves of Lasantha Wickramatunga who is very close to us - temporally and spatially. His Letter To Grave shows a philosophical detachment at the prospect of his own death which he embraced with equanimity, because he knew he had a choice.
There are of course other stripes of intellectuals who were being run in 50s and 60s by a middle level police officer and funded by the CIA to think progressive thoughts ; not one but the entire non communist left and liberals which could boast of names like Isaiah Berlin , and Hannah Arendt, Trevor Rooper and Mary McCarthy , Edward Shills and Stephen Spender . You name it they figured there. Any one who has closely followed Frances Stonor Saunders’s detailed investigation into the funding of ENCOUNTER and DER MONET (two of the finest intellectual magazines of their time to which all those named above contributed,) cannot be blamed for wondering WHO PAID THE PIPER?
Which company do you keep gentlemen?