The Stool Pigeon



Norman Mailer’s novel The Naked and the Dead describes what happens to a frightened American soldier running away from a battle with the Japanese (during World War II) in an island in the South Pacific. It seems he threw away his weapon and started running from the scene of combat to safety, and while so doing felt an uncontrollable urge to relieve himself.. He didn’t stop for the purpose, allowing the stool to roll down his trouser legs and shook the stuff off as he ran.


In my tenth year, I was not fighting the Japanese but a recurring bout of diarrhea when I was sent to Mamar Badi (maternal uncle’s home) at Madanpur during the school summer vacation to study for the forthcoming half-yearly examination. Mama owned a chemist’s shop there, to replenish the stocks of which he was coming to Kolkata (then Calcutta). He was to pick me up from our suburban home in Uttarpara, take me to my Mashima ( his other sister) at Bhabanipur, Kolkata and we would sleep the night there. Next morning. picking up stocks from the famous Rhymer Chemists at nearby Kalighat Road, we would proceed to Madanpur.


Everything went on smoothly as planned. Depositing me in a chair in front of the sales counter of Rhymer, Mama vanished in the depths of the shop to hunt for his requirements in the forest of tall shelves. Under the benign gaze of the salesman in the counter, I started reading a story about a boy detective when the dreadfully familiar motions in the pit of the stomach began. Biting my lower lip, I drew out blood so as to neutralize those uncontrollable spasms. It worked for a while, and then it was too late to ask the salesman the way to the toilet. Somehow I managed to come out of the shop and then let go. Unlike Mailer’s soldier, there was nothing to shake off; it just flowed out of my shorts into socks, shoes and the pavement.


Seeing my tear-stained face and the condition I was in, a rickshaw puller pointed to me the cast iron water trough on the other side of the road (meant for horses to drink, there were horse-drawn carriages at that time). I washed off the slime but could not get rid of the smell emanating from the soggy shorts, socks and shoes. Dawdling for some time in the sun in front of Rhymer, I tiptoed in when the salesman gave me a quizzical look, puckering his nose. 

 Then, Mama came bustling out with attendants bearing packages. We poured into a taxi, drove to Sealdah station and settled down in a railway compartment. It was then Mama complained of the smell. The lady of the house (Mama’s wife) understood the situation at once. She told me to get rid of my clothes and take a bath with soap aplenty. Next day, I was given a stool and a desk in the verandah for studies. I stood third in order of merit in the examination.

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When Nupur Got a Lesson in Swimming from Bablu

When my kid brother was born in 1941, a distantly-related granny named him as Nupur, meaning anklet. The family objected to that seemingly effeminate name, when the granny in her sweetly reedy voice said that the dah’ling is harir payer nupur. that is, an ornament on the ankle of the god Hari, an avatar of Vishnu. I have no idea how Hari looks, but Nupur certainly was cutely handsome. Mom said I was jealous of him, and maybe I was. Sibling rivalry, after all.


In those days it was possible to keep a family retainer without being rich. We had Jagannath, a young lad in his teens. He became devoted to Nupur, a feeling that was reciprocated by his ward. Actually, getting up from sleep lying by the side of Mom, Nupur would ask all the time, where was Jagannath. One day he mixed up the words and enquired where was Thannagaja. We laughed out loudly, and he cried out equally loudly.

Time passed, World War II ended, Jagannath became a young man, and Nupur was an angelic four-year old. He was still very attached to Jagannath who appeared to be somewhat distracted. Anyway, things went on like that till the time Mom lost her gold necklace. She immediately suspected Jagannath, but Dad put his foot down and told her not to because by then Jagannath was with us for over ten years. There were, of course, nudges, veiled suggestions and whispers but Dad saw to it that Jagannath was left in peace. A month or so later, Jagannath got an offer of employment from the local zamidar Balai Babu’s rich household and left us. 


Two years on, suddenly one day Jagannath was on the door, at least the apparition with a sickly face on a skeletal frame looked like him. We were aghast on seeing his condition. It seemed he was sick for a very long time. After recovery, he had started working in a shop as salesman, no, he didn’t want his job with us back which Mom offered him then and there. He was passing by and wanted to see Nupur baba. A shy, unwilling Nupur was hoisted on his lap, whom he offered some lozenges. Mom gave him lunch and some money after which he left. Returning from college (a day scholar) in the evening, my elder brother saw something gleaming in a step of the stairs. It was Mom’s lost necklace.


Meanwhile, Nupur had grown into a lovely child. A sepia coloured photograph shows him sitting lost in an outsize deckchair with eyes tightly shut. He started going to school but quietly hated the proceedings there. On the excuse of checking his homework, I used to beat him up, when Mom asked me to get rid of my jealousy. Nupur suffered it all silently and didn’t even report my gravest wrongs. Once I tried my cycling skills by towing his toy cart with a rope. The cart broke down and the wreckage dragged Nupur some length resulting in deep cuts and scratches on his arms. The swimming lesson was also an experiment of sorts. To test my swimming abilities, I asked Nupur to climb on my back with his hands circling my neck. The bathing ghat in the river Ganga had a ramp like thing going into the deep waters. I jumped in so enjoined with Nupur and like a lead weight sank to possibly ten feet. I kicked the river bed and surfaced gasping and tried to get Nupur off my back. He wouldn’t let me go (why should he?) and tightened his grip on my neck more. So we went down again, surfaced, down once more…A stern-faced bather on looker watched this for some time and then pulled us up on the ramp to give me a stinging slap.


Tomorrow, I will be seventy-five. I wonder why cancer had to claim Nupur when he was just sixty.             



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Whe Samir Got Bablu Erolled In A School


This blog has nothing to do with the book of poems by Judith Goldman. I thought the title, and on a whim net-checked, and then felt too lazy to change. So there it is. Actually, this post is about the time when jimmy taught me to tie the shoes. That too is a line from a poem.

Samir was my elder brother, born on a Saturday in August like me. He arrived in the morning and I in the evening, same time, 7.30 am and pm. Mom told me all this. Till that time I was going to Sachin Babu’s school. A burly, bald-headed, stoutish person who wielded a cane as the Headmaster of the Rajbari School. But the school was known in the locality as earlier given. The teachers of the school used their canes when the students were unruly or when failed to answer the question asked. In the classes taken by Sachin Babu, I kept quiet like everyone else and had been lucky to answer the questions he asked now and then. Then came the day when we had a game period and since the game teacher was absent, Sachin Babu lead us to the playground. Usually, we fooled around with a football, but that day Sachin Babu asked us just to run around. We were so engaged when suddenly Sachin Babu asked me to catch hold of Neepu. Now Neepu was a budding footballer, all lean muscles whereas I was a flaky weakling who didn’t like vigorous physical activities. So, Neepu remained tantalisingly close, but out of reach. It was jolly good fun for everyone, excepting me. So, change of school for me, I resolved .

It so happened that the year was ending and admissions were going on in government school, an institution of some repute, from where Samir and my otther elder brother Sudhin matriculated. I appeared at the tests, got selected and Dad asked Samir to get me admiteed. After it was over we were returning when from a roadside vendor Barda (that’s how I addressed him) got two oranges
and gave me one. I peeled it and butterfinger that I was, dropped it on the dirt road. Muttering in disgust, Barda gave me half of his orange and years later when I read in a poem jimmy taught me to tie the shoes, I knew what the poet meant.

Barda died last year at the age of eighty-four. When I started writing this in 2010, I thought of sending it to him.  

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Grihapati simply means the head of the family. In the long gone days of the Vedas, it meant a lot more in the pastoral society of the times. Grihapati not only looked after the well-being of the members of the community, but also mentored, protected and provided for the people of his (blame inadequate gender sensitivity of the times) flock. It seems, a Grihapati was regarded as a wee bit more than the first among equals.


Very recently, a new Grihapati has been anointed by the Mandal or congregation of the community. Keeping with the sense of times, the incumbent who bears one of the many names of Vishnu got the mantle from his predecessor, a lady named after the Goddess of Effulgence. In the convened Mandal, shining Angavastram (wrap) brought from the South by an adoring cousin was draped round the shoulders of the somewhat bashful incumbent by a saintly elder while the widow of a supremely brave fallen soldier looked on admiringly. All this ceremony had been shown to the people in their homes in a box-like jantra called the teevee.


Initiation ceremony over, the incumbent set out to cross the length and breadth of the country: from the snow-bound north to the aquamarine sea-kissed south; from the arid and parched west to the lush green east and from the bustling, teeming janapadas and nagaras to the lonely mountainous wilds. There he spoke with the people and requested for their blessings, counsels and good wishes for his tasks ahead as a Grihapati. No wonder the people rose as one to wish him all the best in the days to come.           


Meanwhile, people were asked in confidence of their opinion on the suitability of their future Grihapati. Most of the Pratinidhis, regarded as the mouthpiece of their areas and regions gave their opinion in favour of the incumbent. Thereafter, a Mahamandal was convened, and before the assembly of all the august Pratinidhis, the MahaNyadhish administered the Mantra of Grihapati to the respectful incumbent.


Having accepted the honour of being the Grihapati of nearly 120 crores of people of Mother Prithvi, the newly-anointed Grihapati said that it would be his endeavour to banish the demons of kshuda (hunger), daridra (poverty), and avidya (lack of education) among his people and strive for peace and prosperity everywhere.   


This is a parable of the recently-held Indian Presidential Election. Hope you like it, Dear Reader! 


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                                            HERE  COMES  THE  SUN


Thirty-seven years ago, as a property insurance surveyor, I felt the need of some education and enrolled in a short-course on industrial chemical processes at theImperialCollege,London. Another reason was an Air India ad showing a newly-acquired Boeing 747 under the heading Here Comes the Sun and offering return ticket to JFK via Heathrow from one of the four Indian metros for (take a deep breath) Rs. 4k! The Brits thought that I was going there to snatch a job from one of their compatriots and refused entry. So, I registered for a seminar on fire protection engineering at theUniversityofMarylandand went to the U.S. of A.


This blog is not meant to be a record of my scholastic efforts, but the tribute is to the Sun, under whose benign and at times not so benign rays the universe, correction multi-verse functions. And this omnipresent and omniscient god of energy and light holds the key to a pollution-free and climate-friendly source of inexhaustible energy. Yes, you guessed it right, we’ve now veered to a discussion of photovoltaic panels, mankind’s (and womankind’s) respectful offering to sun god so as to tap some of his shakti.


A recent article in The Economist says…”Solar energy is at a delicate, maybe historic moment. The cost of the glassy photovoltaic panels that generate most solar electricity-by freeing electrons from a semiconducting material such as silicon-is plummeting. In the past four years their average cost has fallen by more than 75%. At less than $1 per watt of generating capacity, solar is now the cheapest power source in some sunny places, especially those, likeIndia, that lack fossil-fuelled alternatives. This is starting to look like a revolution. Everyone who wants a reliable and nonpolluting energy supply…would welcome that.”


Apparently, solar energy is not that exotic inIndia. A few days ago,Gujaratchief minister Narendra Modi opened a photo-voltaic array generating around 600MW.  So, what’s stopping other sun-baked states ofIndiafrom taking Recourse to this renewable form of energy generation?

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It looks farfetched, Anna’s movement, India Against Coruption’s vision of a Spartan India!

But is that really utopian?
Think of Anna of Ralegan Siddhi, Satpathy and Mehta described it as “one of the many villages of India” plagued by acute poverty, deprivation, a fragile ecosystem, neglect and hopelessness.
Admittedly, most of the villagers owned some land, but, cultivation was extremely difficult due to the, unyielding rocky ground preventing retention of the monsoon rains; a situation further compounded by gradual deterioration, as trees cut down, erosion spread and droughts experienced. Water shortage brought as an after effect diseases because conditions became unsanitary and water was re-used for multiple purposes. To survive the village took to the recourse of illegal manufacture and sale of alcohol, a product to which many of the villagers had themselves become addicted. To keep body and soul together, inhabitants took the help of ubiquitous moneylenders, and those lenders would charge monthly interest rates of as much as 10%. Crime and violence, along with domestic violence had became the way to get rid of frustration and violence, while education and employment opportunities became poorer and poorer.
Into this situation, Hazare walked in, relatively wealthy because of the gratuity from his army service. He used that money to restore a run-down, vandalized village temple as a focal point for the community and took his first steps to greatness and perhaps sainthood not, as we shall see without peril, Some of the villagers were able to respond with small financial donations but many others, particularly among the elderly, donated their labor in a process that became known as shramdaan. A part of the youths also became involved in the work, and with them, he created a Tarun Mandal (Youth Association). One of the works of Vivekananda which he had read was Call to the youth for nation building. With apologies, this is perhaps when an inexplicable rigidity entered into the movement.
Though not a bad thing altogether, caveats are (deep south in India and US, to say nothing of Boris Yeltsin), that prohibitions and punishments just don’t work in the long run!
Hazare’s youth group decided to took up the issue of alcoholism as a means to drive a process of reform. It was resolved to close down liquor dens and ban alcohol in the village. Taken as a vow in the temple, they became, in a sense, religious commitments. Many brewing units were closed by the owners voluntarily, while others who did not were forced to close down by smashing up their liquor dens, illegal units, anyway.
Drunk villagers were tied to pillars and then flogged, sometimes personally by Hazare, a chastisement justified this by stating that “rural India was a harsh society”, and that….
Doesn’t a mother administer bitter medicines to a sick child when she knows that the medicine can cure her child? The child may not like the medicine, but the mother does it only because she cares for the child. The alcoholics were punished so that their families would not be destroyed. Such things, however, are a no-no to any thinking adult.

Then there was the deluge!

The Jan Lokpal Bill, a sort of ombudsman, was drafted earlier by N. Santosh Hegde, former justice of the Supreme Court of India and Lokayukta of Karnataka, Prashant Bhusan, a senior lawyer in the Supreme Court and Arvind Kejriwal, a social activist together with members of the India Against Corruption movement. This draft bill recommended slaps where a shove is adquate and vested wider power to the Lokpal (Ombudsman) than the draft Lokpal bill prepared by the government earlier, and included placing “the Prime Minister within the ambit of the proposed lokpal’s powers”. This was
rejected, all hell broke loose, the reverberations due to which are still continuing.

Another bone of contention was the missive from Hazare stating: “Why
are you (government) sending the wrong draft? We have faith in Parliament. But first send the right draft, our agitation is against government, not Parliament. The government has overlooked many points. How will it fight corruption by excluding government employees, CBI and prime minister from the Lokpal’s purview?

Yet another sticking point is the implicit assumption that the Lokpal legislation is the magic wand to deal with corruption. It is undoubtedly a big deterrent. However, mismanaged it will just turn out to be another layer of bureaucracy. The members of that constituency are to be people of impeccable character and integrity, a very difficult proposition, a sort of oligarchy.


So we turn to Sparta. It was around 800 BCE that villages formed by clans and tribal units developed into cities for commercial activities. Increased trade brought in prosperity, and to protect the city from marauders defensive walls were constructed. That was how the city-states of Greece began , which transformed subsequently into political units. Although the citzens of Sparta were from the same origins as most of the other Greek city-states, it politically evolved as an oligarchy consisting of just five aristocratic elders. Isolated by mountains and lacking good ports for ships, Spartans could not make any progress through contacts with the world outside. They were originally Dorian Greeks who came as invaders, and by the end of ninth century BCE established control all over Laconia. They annexed the fertile territory of Messenia next but faced a widespread revolt there in 640 BCE. Laconia was taken over by the rebels, and the Spartans had to fight a bloody war to crush the revolt. All the lands belonging to Messenians were confiscated, their leaders were killed and the entire population was taken as slaves or helots by the Spartans. The victors from then on lived under the fear of a revolt again by the vanquished and grew more and more insular and defensive. It would appear that they devoted their mind entirely to hold on to what they already possessed. And while doing so, willy-nilly converted Sparta to a kind of vast military camp. They became immune to new ideas, increasingly conservative and fiercely protective of the political system developed after the insurrection. Travel to and trade with other countries were prohibited so as to prevent the entry of influences against the interests of the state. As a minority of citizens looked after and controlled a large majority of slaves or helots, strict discipline and regimentation was imposed. Subordination of the individual, an essential requirement in such controlled societies, was the norm. Every thing had to be approved before, there was no room for individual enterprise. Spartan collectivism not only permeated every aspect of political and social life, but also set back cultural developments.

The purpose of the Spartan constitution was to maintain the existing social order, which was done by selecting not one but two kings from two different noble families. They were assigned military and religious work. They were also at the head of a council of 28 members, of noble birth and over 60 years in age. Members of the council were known as gerousia and were selected from the aristocratic families. The Spartan council administered the country, served as the highest court for criminal justice and prepared the measures to be taken by the state for approval by the assembly. Assembly or the third branch of the government was exactly that of all male citizens and could only say yes or no to the proposals brought before it. It also had the power to appoint all public officials except the two kings. If these three elements of the Spartan government were regarded as the branches of a tree, then the trunk holding them up was the five-member board of elders because the board in itself was the government. The elders had their fingers in every pie. They presided over the council and the assembly and could reject any legislation not to their liking. The elders told the citizens how they should live, what they should learn in educational institutions and which properties and lands would be allotted to them. Newborn children were brought to them for inspection, to die if a weakling, to survive and become a soldier or a healthy, fertile mother if otherwise. They had the authority to punish criminals before the council and could (if they willed and the religious omens indicated as much) depose the kings.

There were three classes of Spartans: the spartiates, the floating people and the helots. Spartiates were about twenty percent of the population and the only segment having political rights. The floaters were at one time or other came to Sparta, agreed to respect Spartan superiority and in return allowed to carry out industrial and trading activities. The helots as slaves carried out agricultural work. Spartiates did not live a life of leisure and luxury. As students in military schools, they were caned systemetically from the age of seven to turn them into hardy soldiers and taught nothing but military matters. Men aged between 20 and 60 spent nearly all the time in the service of the state. Even married men had to live in barracks, and there was little time for family. After the age of 30, they were required to take their meals in military canteens. The women were encouraged to raise vigourous children, who would become (nearly) the property of the state. For this purpose helots relieved them of household chores. There is no evidence that the Spartans disliked or resented this kind of rigourous living. Presumably, the sense of belonging to a superior class filled them with pride, a compensation deemed sufficient for the excruciating hardships. The floaters engaged themselves in business and industry, lived better than the average spartiates and enjoyed some measure of freedom. The helots were given a good part of their agricultural produce but were treated exceedingly harshly. On a personal level they remained miserable all the time. Young spartiates were sent in disguise to infiltrate their ranks so as to learn about any fomenting plot for rebellion, and secret killings were not uncommon. Sparta was a country expecting and on guard for a cataclysm any time. No wonder oligarchy is not everybody’s cup of tea!

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My good friend Tom Crowell wrote on his Facebook wall: 

5000 Years Ago, Moses Said To Israel, “Pick Up Your Shovels, Mount Your Asses And Camels, And I Will Lead You To The Promised Land.”

When Welfare Was Introduced, Roosevelt Said, “Lay Down Your Shovels, Sit On Your Asses, And Light Up A Camel, This Is The Promised Land.”

Today The Government Has Stolen Your Shovel, Taxed Your Asses, Raised The Price Of Camels And Mortgaged The Promised Land To China.

And added: 

Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.

Have you ever wondered, if both the Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, WHY do we have deficits?

Have you ever wondered, if all the politicians are against inflation and high taxes, WHY do we have inflation and high taxes?


For elaboration, I read Norman Podhoretz’s article in Wall Street Journal of 13 August, What Happened to Obama? Absolutely Nothing.


Podhoretz says, he (Obama) is being increasingly attacked not only by people in the right like Podhoretz, but also by erstwhile worshipping liberals.


As an example he quotes Roger Kohen in Washington Post, who writes Obama Post, … “is the very personification of cognitive dissonance—the gap between what we (especially liberals) expected of the first serious African American presidential candidate and the man he in fact is.”

Now, here is Der Spiegel, adding its 2 Deutsch Mark worth of opinion:

Almost all the industrialized economies are struggling under the weight of enormous debt levels. The problem is their government revenues are too low. Debt-ridden countries like the United States, Ireland and Japan need to raise their taxes to a similar l evel to Germany.

Call a German to make matters simple!

So, the Tea Party is called in:

In blog, Princess announces:

They live in a bizzarro world where debt celiings don’t matter and the U.S. defaulting on its loans is no big deal. They pay no attention to the signs of unrest sown by Wall Street due to the uncertainty of the nation’s credit rating. They don’t believe or care that reducing our rating from AAA to AA will have any adverse affect whatsoever. They stand by their cap in spending and no taxes stand. They are anarchists who WANT to see the government collapse and WILL BLAME OBAMA for all the disasterous results that their obstructionism has and will bring to the U.S. economy.

The Republicans are all for this. They see the ruination of the American Economy as the way to get rid of Obama…after all, he IS the President and all this is happening on HIS WATCH. It doesn’t matter to them that it is their stupidity that is the cause of this calamity. Reality has no place in their world. It doesn’t matter that over 60% of Americans clammour for compromise and a balanced approach to our budget problems. It doesn’t matter that they are responsible for swelling the ranks of the unemployed by laying off teachers, firefighters, and police officers, among others.

Well, it matters to me. I think that all these hard line Republicans should be fired for their stupidity and obstinance. At the very least, they should be laid off along with the teachers, et al.

Well, let’s say amen to that!


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