Criticism need not be acerbic

I always advise people never to give advice.

The master of wit, humour and language does not cease to amaze me and in this work read most recently by me, the master PG Wodehouse exceeds all limits in illustrating what subtlety is all about.

Generally, his writings in first person are the events and happenings as being described by Mr Wooster. In one of the rarest cases, the master makes the valet, Jeeves the protagonist who is describing his Governor Mr Wooster as a prelude to a very funny story. He says, “ Mr Wooster is a young gentleman with practically every desirable quality except one. I do not mean brains, for in an employer brains are not desirable. The quality to which I allude is hard to define but perhaps I might call it the gift of dealing with the unusual situation. “

There are two aspects to the above. The first is suaveness of the language where even the undesirable qualities, defects, shortcomings- whatever you may like to call it is described in an exceedingly genteel manner in a very nuanced way, reminding us of our very own Lucknavi culture. It’s said that in Lucknow even abuses are rendered with utmost tahzeeb ( culture) and tameez ( manners) ! The second is that while the emphasis or highlight is on one undesirable quality, the main inadequacy of having no brains is subtly underplayed. And it’s not about Wooster having no brains, but the desirability of all employers to have no brains is a sheer master stroke by the author.

The author’s work, which to some appear dated and this was observed by me too in one of my earlier blogs, holds so much relevance in the current context, when loud, abusive and impure language is the order of the day. People write acerbically, holding no bars and using imperfect language that looks so ugly, especially on social media. Let’s make PG Wodehouse compulsory if we want a generation that speaks and writes not only good and floral English but understand the need for subtlety and understatement in presenting their thoughts.

Why my marks were deducted?

Twin cities can be fascinating as the same geography encompassing two distinct places can be a very interesting subject. The best example of twin cities is Secunderabad and Hyderabad. There is a bit of distinctiveness about two cities that are same yet different. The same is true for Kochi and Ernakulam though in this case the difference is less pronounced. Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar are not twin cities in that sense. People also speak about Durg Raipur or Kota Boondi in the same vein though these are separated by considerable distance and may not even have common border.

Readers must be wondering the context of the above and its relation to the caption of this blog. Actually, I am on a visit to Guwahati and amongst the important things on my agenda was a trip to Dispur, capital of Assam. In our student days, I was quite good at remembering state capitals but twice lost out on marks by naming Guwahati to be the capital of Assam instead of Dispur. But I always wondered if indeed Dispur was capital why was it not gaining popularity and attracting tourists and investors the way the then newly created another capital Gandhinagar was doing! Another case in the point is now being newly set up capital of Andhra- Amaravati, upon division of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh into Telangana and Seemandhra! It’s attracting lots of attention and interest. Why then Dispur has remained so nondescript and relatively unknown, adorning only GK books? I have answers to the above questions now as discerned from my conversations with locals. Upon division of the erstwhile unified state of Assam into NE states, the erstwhile capital of the unified Assam, Shillong became part of the newly created state of Meghalaya and Assam needed a new capital. The decision makers identified a patch of vacant land within Guwahati to create Dispur. In fact, it’s very much embodied in Guwahati and while traveling across the length and breadth of Guwahati you come across this patch called Dispur!

While government may have its logic or compulsions in naming an area within Guwahati to be the capital of Assam and name it Dispur, for me Dispur is nothing but part of Guwahati like Khanapara, Fancy Bazar or Paltan Bazar – the same way like Bandra, Andheri and Borivali are parts of Mumbai and Karol Bagh and Connaught Place are parts of Delhi!

I am having a lovely visit to this lovely state and lovely city, the land of Maa Kamakhya and have no problem with Dispur but I would request my teachers to please return that 1 mark deducted twice in 1975 and 1976 for even if Dispur was the right answer, writing Guwahati shouldn’t have been treated as a wrong answer! 😀

NDE

NDE or near death experience is a much followed subject for there is something eerie and chilling about death and NDE is just a step before it. While it’s not uncommon for patients battling with terminal illness to go through an occasional NDE ( in fact the experiences of those who were brain dead for some moments and then revived have been documented extensively), it could be several times more chilling if in frame of mind of happiness and holiday, you come across one.

The background of the above is today’s encounter with death that we had. On a holiday and in a very happy relaxed frame of mind, looking forward to a great day ahead after sumptuous breakfast, we boarded the lift from our floor, to be stuck midway. The lift stopped with a jerk and it was pitch dark inside with only me and my wife. We thought it would be a momentary power failure with lift to be switched over to backup power supply, but seconds ticked by , while we grappled with emergency bell and tried calling for help using the speaker provided in the lift. But no help seemed to be forthcoming. I tried opening the doors of the lift forcibly, but to no avail. I had started experiencing asphyxiation and my wife, who is usually cooler under such circumstances also seemed to be in distress and agony. We were shouting from inside and slamming on the doors seeking help.

As seconds ticked by, I was out of my wits staring at the tragic eventuality. However, it was not to be as the power could be restored and we landed on the desired floor after an excruciating period of may be 2-3 minutes.

Are we wiser by the experience? There can’t be any great wisdom to be gained out of such an experience as we can’t stop using lifts! Only learning is about the fragility and uncertainty of life and the need to live it fully and well.

Contronyms

Peculiarities of English language never cease to amaze me. Whether it’s about grammatical rules or the use of unusual and difficult words that’s now given a new sobriquet of “Tharoorian” after our very own Shashi Tharoor.

I always wonder as to how the same word can be used in absolutely contrarian contexts. For example – the word oversight. It’s one use is – “ Army’s strict oversight of LOC has ensured that terrorists do not infiltrate into our country from across the line.” Its absolutely contrarian use will be – “ The terrorists could sneak into our country due to oversight by patrolling guards.” Oversight means strict vigil as also slackness of vigil.

Another interesting word that readily comes to mind is cleave. It means both – to cling or adhere as also to sever. For example – “ Though they have an interfaith marriage yet each of them cleaves to his/her own rituals and festivals.” On the contrary cleave can also be used in the sense – “ The party is cleaved by internal differences”.

And I am sure my readers would have come across several such words in their day to day usage. Some of these are quite common such as sanction ( approval and embargo), dust ( as in dirt and removal of dirt) , consult ( offer or obtain advice) etc. However, what at least I didn’t know was that such words were called contronyms as these words are their own antonyms.

What readily comes to mind in our Hindi is the use of the word aage or in front. I have seen this word being used by people in both the contexts as in – “ Aage to aisa nahin hota tha ( such things never happened in earlier days)” and “ Aage aage dekhte hain hota hai kya ( let’s see what future has in store)”. Isn’t aage an absolute contronym?

I welcome more such feedback.

Contronyms

Peculiarities of English language never cease to amaze me. Whether it’s about grammatical rules or the use of unusual and difficult words that’s now given a new sobriquet of “Tharoorian” after our very own Shashi Tharoor.

I always wonder as to how the same word can be used in absolutely contrarian contexts. For example – the word oversight. It’s one use is – “ Army’s strict oversight of LOC has ensured that terrorists do not infiltrate into our country from across the line.” Its absolutely contrarian use will be – “ The terrorists could sneak into our country due to oversight by patrolling guards.” Oversight means strict vigil as also slackness of vigil.

Another interesting word that readily comes to mind is cleave. It means both – to cling or adhere as also to sever. For example – “ Though they have an interfaith marriage yet each of them cleaves to his/her own rituals and festivals.” On the contrary cleave can also be used in the sense – “ The party is cleaved by internal differences”.

And I am sure my readers would have come across several such words in their day to day usage. Some of these are quite common such as sanction ( approval and embargo), dust ( as in dirt and removal of dirt) , consult ( offer or obtain advice) etc. However, what at least I didn’t know was that such words were called contronyms as these words are their own antonyms.

What readily comes to mind in our Hindi is the use of the word aage or in front. I have seen this word being used by people in both the contexts as in – “ Aage to aisa nahin hota tha ( such things never happened in earlier days)” and “ Aage aage dekhte hain hota hai kya ( let’s see what future has in store)”. Isn’t aage an absolute contronym?

I welcome more such feedback.

My Valentine becomes more special on Valentine’s Day

As I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, I probably was born a few decades too early to have looked forward to the relevance of Valentine’s Day. I had neither heard of it nor it was a vogue to flaunt one’s love interest or romantic interludes so to say. Even dating was subdued and was not called dating but “seeing “, though it’s besides the point that I neither dated nor saw anyone. So the romance part of my life very much started post my marriage.

However, that doesn’t take the significance of Valentine’s Day away from it. For today’s youth as also those in love with their partners, it has come to be celebrated as a major festival. The tradition of showering gifts and spending a quite moment with your loved ones makes this day to be extra special. While it can be argued that why only one day in a year be dedicated to your beloved, the fact is that in spite of our hearts overflowing with love for our beloved, we are so much caught up in our routine that we miss to express our feelings. Valentine’s Day reminds us that loving in itself is not enough, one needs to express the same to one’s lover.

There are moralists and self styled conscious keepers who are against celebrating Valentine’s Day, it being against our culture. To my mind, anything that celebrates love, the most beautiful emotion of all, cannot be against any culture. And more so for our society that’s increasingly displaying the symptoms of polarisation on religious, linguistic and ethnic lines, such festivals that propagate love have immense relevance.

There’s nothing called moral turpitude about the pure feeling of love and people should be allowed to celebrate in whichever manner they want to.

I love you deeply but don’t say it ofter

But let me express my feelings this day

For pure love doesn’t need wine, flowers or gifts

But just a reminder of love on Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

This humour cannot be replicated

My journey with P G Wodehouse continues abd I make it a point to read at least 2-3 pages of his compendium of work that I have downloaded on my kindle. In fact, my kindle tells me that currently I have just finished 12% of the total contents and it’s going to be a slow but long roller coaster ride with the Master.

What makes his work exuding old world charm is not the mere fact that most of it was written in the early part of last century in colonial Britain, but that he uses words that are no longer in use- quaint English words. Dictionary itself says for many such words as being used colloquially in Britain or quaint English no longer in use! Moreover, most of his stories cannot be thought of and concocted in today’s scenario when the technology , especially the mobile and internet, rules the roost. Although his main character Bertie’s extended family stays in suburbs or upcountry places drivable within a couple of hours from London today ( in those days when there were no metros, speed trains or expressways, it would take much longer), the only mode of communication in those times was telegram ( I think even personal landlines were rare in those days) and therefore, the surprise element of an event having occurred or not that was possible then would be totally out of place today, when people are connected on real time basis.

To elaborate the above point further, the story I am currently reading has Aunt Agatha announcing expulsion of Bertie’s two cousins from college for their acts of omission and commission and that decision had been taken to onboard them on to the next ship to Johannesburg, South Africa, a British colony for them to start their life afresh there. For that the cousins would be coming a night before to London from their upcountry residence to be spending a night with Bertie so that they could catch the ship next enroute Johannesburg. How these young ruffians spent their last night in London, fell in love ( with the same girl) and deceive each other and Aunt Agatha by not having caught the ship, but staying back much to Bertie’s chagrin is another story and how Aunt Agatha would react to this act of disobedience and irresponsibility of Bertie in not facing ensured that his younger cousins were on their way to Johannesburg , I am sure, is going to make up for an interesting story as I read it further.

But in today’s milieu the above kind of humour or story is not possible. The two cousins needn’t have come a day in advance to fall for London’s charm but started early morning on the day of journey by a fast mode to board their ship. They couldn’t have ditched their ride as they would have been caught in no time based on their mobile and GPS. The humour is quaint as it’s based on telegrams, tram cars, ships and laid back life of British nobility and this can be savoured only by reading the likes of PGW. The humour is subtle, situational and classy and not loud or crass.

Grand slam

While surfing television channels, I bumped into live telecast of Australian Open second round match between World no 6 Alexander Zverev and unseeded Maxime Cressy, a French American player. The unseed was hard serving and backing up his express service ( often crossing 200 Km/ hour) with volley at the net. Of course, while Cressy was erratic, Zverev was steady and he won the match three sets to nil.

It reminded me of the days gone by when I was a sports aficionado and would cuddle up in bed to watch live telecast of Wimbledon semis and finals. With players like Borg and Lendl playing from baseline and McEnroe and Connors playing serve and volley game, the event was a feast for the eyes. I would remember names of up to 16 male seeds and at least top 10 female seeds and would keenly follow their progress.

Also, while Wimbledon was played on fast grassy courts, French open was played on clay courts that were slower and encouraged long baseline rallies.

Like other games, Tennis has also changed. The delectable game of Borg and McEnroe has given way to power show by likes of Cressy. Serve and volley is also becoming rarer. Above all, I am not really sure how closely is today’s generation following with all its nuances and icons?

Connors, McEnroe, Borg, Lendl, Navratilova, Evert, Graf and our very own Amritraj brothers and Ramesh Krishnan are firmly entrenched in my memory. Hopefully, I will create more awareness in myself for the new generation of players playing new brand of tennis .

The first family of Bollywood

Kapoor family is commonly known as the first of Bollywood. The family patriarch Prithviraj Kapoor led a group of artists that gave performances going from place to place and that became the cornerstone of the family’s foray into Bollywood and then its unbroken reign for more than last 7 decades after the eldest son of Prithviraj, Raj Kapoor set up his production house R K Studio. He produced and acted in some of the great movies, a few of which like Aawara and Sangam acquired almost cult status. His younger brothers, other 2 sons of Prithviraj, Shammi and Shashi also established themselves as highly popular and successful actors.

The next generation of the clan comprised three sons of Raj Kapoor – Randhir, Rishi and Rajiv and two sons of Shashi Kapoor – Kunal and Karan and also his daughter Sanjana. Of the above lot, barring Rishi Kapoor, who carried forward his illustrious father’s legacy by acquiring superstar status, others met with limited success. Shashi’s children busied themselves in managing the affairs of Prithvi theatre. Randhir after initial flashes of brilliance, settled for a reclusive life. The youngest son Rajeev had one super hit under his belt, Ram Teri Ganga Maili, directed by the showman Raj Kapoor himself. Thereafter , Rajiv or Chimpu as he was fondly addressed, couldn’t really climb the success ladder of Bollywood.

Unlike his elder brothers, Randhir and Rishi, who married popular Bollywood actresses Babita and Neetu and whose next generation comprising Randhir’s daughters Karishma and Kareena and Rishi’s son Ranbir are the flag bearers of the family tradition, little is known about Rajiv’s personal life. As it now transpired, he was married for a short period of time to one Aarti Sabharwal before getting separated and had no issue.

It’s so ironical that this first family of Bollywood that has been endowed by God with an overdose of beauty and talent has being seeing number of tragedies in the recent past. While Rishi’s death last year after his battle with cancer was a well covered event, the fact is that the family also lost Raj’s daughter Ritu Nanda and Matriarch of the family Krishna Kapoor, Raj’s wife, and with Rajiv’s death now, the life seems to have gone harsh on the family.

Hope the family now sees some pleasant and happy events, which it deserves after a spate of tragedies at close intervals.

A simple housewife much ahead of her time

We sometimes associate modernity with how we speak, what we wear and what’s our social status, to be read as our wealth and assets. But these are all outwardly things – real modernity is one that’s reflected in one’s attitude and action.

Widowed at a young age, lost her only young son to uncertainty and not death, with that uncertainty reigning over the rest of her life, supporting her daughter in an unhappy marriage to get divorce and walk out of her husband along with an infant daughter, encouraging her separated daughter to acquire professional skills to become financially independent, while she looked after her infant granddaughter and remained independent till her last breath thanks to her late husband’s pension.

To my mind, many of us educated folks with high social status and top notch jobs wear a facade of modernity though from inside we remain enmeshed in our deep rooted beliefs, superstitions and old school of thoughts. The above quoted instance of a difficult life full of challenging circumstances and yet lived with utmost pride and forward looking attitude is a true example of modernity or advancement as we think of, especially in the context of women liberation and empowerment.

Mother of my colleague and dear friend Swagata Bhaumik, Aruna Roychowdhury breathed her last a few days back at the ripe old age of 94 after a life full of struggle but extremely well lived!

Rest in peace ! My pronam to you!