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It had to happen. And it happened. But it happened so elegantly, so smoothly, so unabrasively that Marx, had he been alive, would have died of shock. Rest in Peace..!!

    Marx had a great apprehension about the future of Communism. In his much acclaimed, Manifesto of the Communist Party, he wrote, “A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of Communism. All the powers that be have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise the spectre: Pope & Czar, Metternich & Guizot, French radicals & German Police spies.”  In spite of his apprehensions Communism did survive & flourish in Europe. In fact it cost the Czar & his family their lives in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. Communism conquered half the world till 1991 when the death knoll was sounded by none other than Mikhail Gorbachev, the last of the mighty Soviet Premiers.

         In spite of his profundity & erudition, I am pretty sure that Marx had never estimated the suppleness of mind & skill of a Bangali Bhadrolok belonging to the priestly class of Bengal. Yes, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is doing exactly what Gorbachev did about a decade & half back. In an interview to an Indian daily not long back he said, “What we are practising here is Capitalism. Socialism cannot be created in the given situation even if we preach it. I am a realist & not a fool.” Bravo…! I am sure it is music of the highest octave to capitalists (read Opportunists) like me!! He repudiated the Marxian thesis that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle. Freeman & slave, patrician & plebeian, in a word oppresor & oppressed stood in constant opposition to one another, carrying on an uninterrupted fight – a fight that ended either in revolutionary reconstitution of society at large or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”

        My sincere apologies to my readers if I sound a trifle trite after all these months, but if Singur & Nandigram are anything to go by in Bengal’s recent turbulence Mr. Bhattacharjee has denied the inherent contradiction between capital & labour by collaborating with Capitalists(read TATAs, SALIM Group) of the highest order. In doing so, he openly acknowledges the fact that erstwhile Marxists & Communists are nothing but prisoners of their own ideology, which perhaps is better off in bookshelves & debate motions. Its time perhaps CPI-M should read as Capitalists’ Party of India-Marketists!!

Of Soldiers & Heroes

General Douglas MacArthur once made this famous comment, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” He was probably talking about a time when honour, bravado, chivalry were facets to live for & die by. Not anymore, I guess.

   I came across this article in the newspaper a couple of days back of Captain Bana Singh , the only living Param Vir Chakra awardee today who happens to make do with a “princely” sum of Rs. 166 a month as honorarium from the state government of J&K.  General MacArthur couldn’t have been more apt…it is only today that Captain Singh is in the news. Am very sure our generation or even the generation of yore never heard of him & his breed.

      Then there was this issue of whether the serving chiefs of the armed forces(Army, Air Force & Navy) should be exempted from security frisking at the airports. Much to the anguish of every sane & rational Indian, the Ministry of Home Affairs turned down this petition filed by the Defence Ministry – citing reasons that this request might give rise to other “similar” requests from other quarters. To add insult to injury, our honourable politicians & MPs – who very often have a dubious background & in certain cases even there extended family members are exempted from this “ordeal”.

        Fathom this – Our government is not very comfortable trusting people who have been entrusted with the job of ensuring the country’s security!!!

         I met up with a close friend of mine from school after almost a decade! He is a Major in the Infantry arm of the Indian Army currently posted at the front. When I asked him for his comments on all this….he gave me a curt reply,” Writs, am not there to fight for my country, am there to ensure the safety of the men under my command!!” Incidentally, the credo of the Indian Military Academy goes like this “The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.”

   The times they sure are a changin’…….!!

To Paradise & Back….

      It was exactly after a decade that I finally managed to make time for a proper vacation. City life & work does take its toll on you, especially when one fine morning you suddenly realise that you have been merely EXISTING & not LIVING a Life!

       I have always nurtured a “strong” weakness for the hills & so it was to the hills that we went! Shimla, Manali, Rohtang, Keylong…I guess I will never have enough of it!! 

  I wanted my snaps to do all the “writing”  for me &  so this should be it .

    

The Bong Saga continues…..

Dont know the reason, but I never fail to come across interesting snippets on the Bong! Serendipity, one might say…..!! Here is one I came across while archiving my inbox, couldn’t resist the temptation to put it up…enjoy!!

         A – is for office. This is the place where the average Kolkatan goes & spends a day hard(ly) at work. If he is in the Government (read Gor-ment) he will arrive at 10, wipe his forehead till 11, have a teabreak till 12, throw around a few files till 12:30, break for lunch at 1, smoke an unfiltered cigarette at 1:30, break for tea at 2:30, sleep sitting down at 4 & go home at 5. It’s a hard life.

   B – is for Bhision. For some reason most of the bongs do not have good bhision. In Kolkata, most people are wearing spectacles all the time. The effects are pretty much evident in the city.

C – is for Chappell. This is the Bong equivalent of the devil – the worst form of evil. At night, mothers put their impudent children to sleep saying, “Go to sleep, esle Chappell will come & take you away!” 

D – D is for Debashish. By an ancient law every fourth Bengali Child has to be named Debashish. So you have a Debashish everywhere and as an effort at creativity and distinguishing one from another they might also be called Deb, Debu, Deba, Debo with other variations like Debnath and Debprotim thrown in.

E – is for Eeesh. This is a very common Bengali exclamation made famous by Aishwarya Rai in the movie Devdas. It is estimated that on an average a Bengali uses ‘eeesh’ 10,089 times every year. (That’s counting eeesh and other eeesh-ish words).

F – is for Feesh. These are creatures that swim in rivers and seas and are a favourite food of the Bengalis. Despite the fact that a fish market has an overpowering and overwhelming odour, it takes but a sniff for a Bengali to determine if a fish is all right. If not he is liable to say ‘eeesh what feeesh is theesh!’

G – is for Good name. Every Bengali boy will have a good name like Debashish or Debopratim and a pet name like Shontu, Chontu, Dinku while every Bengali Girl will be Paromita or Protima as well as Shampa, Champa and Tuki. Basically your nickname is there to kill your good name.

H – is for Harmonium. The Bengali equivalent of a rock guitar. Take four Bengalis and a Harmonium and you have the successors to “The Bheatles!”

I – is for illeesh. This is a feeesh with 10,000 bones which would kill any ordinary person, but which the Bengalis eat with releeesh! 

J – is for Jhola. No self respecting Bengali feels complete without his Jhola. It is a shapeless cloth bag where he keeps all his belongings and he fits an amazing number of things in it. Even as you read this there are 2 million jholas bobbing around Kolkata- and they all look exactly the same!

K –  is for Kee Kando. It used to be the favourite Bengali exclamation (something like what chaos) till ‘eeesh’ took over because of Aishwarya Rai (now Kee Kando’s agent is trying to hire Bipasha Bosu (nee Basu)).

L – is for Lungi. People in Kolkata manage to play football and cricket wearing it. Now there is talk of a lungi expedition to Mt. Everest.

M – is for Minibash (minibus). These are dangerous half- buses whose antics put those speed-demons on the Formula 1 race track to shame.

N – is for Nangtoe. This is the Bengali word for Naked. It is the most interesting naked word in any language!

O –  is for Oil. The Bengalis believe that a touch of mustard oil will cure anything from cold (oil in the nose), to earache (oil in the ear), to cough (oil on the throat) to piles (oil you know where!)

P – is for Phootball (football). This is always a phavourite paasshon (favourite passion) of the Kolkattan. Every Bengali is born an expert in this game. The two biggest clubs there are Mohun-Bagan FC and East-Bengal AC and whenever they play, the entire city comes to a grinding halt (of course it also comes to a halt as a result of strikes called by some union or political party which could vary from once-a-week to daily during elections).

Q –  is for Queen. This really has nothing to do with the Bengalis or Kolkata, but it’s the only Q word I could think of at this moment. There’s also Quilt but they never use them in Kolkata.

R – is for Rabindranath Tagore. Many years ago Rabindranath got the Nobel prize. This allows everyone in Kolkata to frame their acceptance speeches and walk with their heads held high and look down at the humbler and less accomplished denizens of Delhi and Mumbai.

S –  is for Sardarjee who the Bengalis are very envious of because sardars are born with a semi-monkey cap on.

T – is for Trams. Hundred years later there are still trams in Kolkata. Of course if you are in a hurry it’s faster to walk.

U – is for Umbrella. When a Bengali baby is born they are handed one.

V – is for Violensh (violence). Bengalis are the most non-violent violent people around. When an accident happens they will shout and scream and curse and abuse, but the last time someone actually hit someone was in 1979.

W – is for Water. For three months of the year the city is under water and every year for the last 200 years the authorities have been taken by surprise by this phenomenon!

X – is for Xmas. It’s very big in Kolkata with Park Street fully lit up. Y – is for Yeshtarday (yesterday). Which is always better than today for a Bengali.

Z – is for Jeebra, ..Joo, Jip and Jylophone.

   

A Rendezvous with History

                                                     

A Saturday afternoon after a sterile week is not exactly the time when one would suddenly have the urge to visit a cemetery out of all places…but this is exactly what I did yesterday, & here I am penning down my thoughts on it. Yes, I do love visiting cemeteries, more so when it has a lot to tell..!!

         I am sure not many of us were aware that Kolkata is one of the two cities in India & probably in Asia(the other one being Imphal, Manipur) which boasts of a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery outside Europe.  Me & a friend of mine were among those once-in-a-blue-moon visitors to this place eliciting curious glances from folks, starting off with the cabbie who took us there. 

For the uninitiated, The Commonwealth War Graves  is the resting place of all those defence personnel who lost their lives serving under the British Crown/Allied Supreme Command during both the First & Second World Wars. The CWG in Kolkata was initially a civilian cemetery a section of which later was demarcated as the resting place for the Allied personnel who lost their lives in the Burma Front during the Japanese Invasion.  The place is immaculately maintained by the authorities – the Commonwealth War Graves Commision, UK is responsible for the general upkeep of this section. A must-visit for anyone interested in the history of this city & its role in the great wars.

Sweetheart….

Bob Dylan has always captivated me with his insightful lyrics….I think he has them for each & every occassion of life!

    Came across this from the song “Sweetheart Like You” …..something which Indian politics & politicians can identify with, I guess! Here it goes,

          They say that Patriotism is the last refuge

          To which a scoundrel clings.

          Steal a little & they throw you in jail,

         Steal a lot & they make you king.

         There’s only one step down from here, baby,

         It’s called the land of permanent bliss.

         What’s a sweetheart like you doin’ in a dump like this?

Adios, folks!!

The Joys & Perils of Mathematics

Have been reading this book, Arcimedes’ Revenge which is about the enigma that pure mathematics truly is! Was a lot like getting back to my old love..!!

  Legend has it that the Greek philosopher & mathematician, Archimedes, in a fit of rage, composed an insanely difficult numerical problem about grazing cattle. His revenge was felt for twenty-two hundred years, until 1981, when the problem was finally disposed of by a fledgling super-computer.  The frustration that generations of mathematicians felt in the face of Archimedes’ revenge resembles that caused by simpler mathematical problems that arise more naturally. Here is the original problem as stated by Archimedes!

      The revenge of mathematics on her followers were best summed up by these lines penned by an anonymous writer:

                             “ A formidable student at Trinity

                                Solved the square root of infinity;

                              It gave him such fidgets

                             To count up the digits

                             He chucked math & took up Divinity.”

       

Mark Twain once remarked, ” There are three things that men can do with women-love them, suffer for them or turn them into literature!” If you look a bit deeper, history provides us with a fourth alternative – that of man having changed destinies of whole civilisations because of women! The most remarkable few that I can think of right now are: Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Nur Jahan who in their own subtle ways changed the whole course of history.

        One pertinent question(& yes, please do not mistake me for being a sexist or an MCP) that I feel like asking is: “Are women really so very powerful or is it that man has & still is succumbing to the twists of nature & the flow of hormones?” It really makes one wonder that behind almost every human endeavour lies the inherent, subconscious desire of getting to indulge in procreation with the best possible member of the oppposite sex.

    Primitive man was differentiated by his prowess in hunting skills & his physicality. For women the best man who could father her offspring were those endowed with a good physique which was a direct correlation with the man’s physical prowess. For men an attractive female was & probably still is someone who is endowed with exquisite attributes of the female anatomy.  Cut to the present day – what we have now is nothing but an abstraction of those primitive instincts very much prevalent within our subconscious minds…..well, to verify my claim, check out the matrimonial listings of any newspaper! And what is it that we have here? To quote literatim, here is an excerpt I came across sometime back:” Wanted bride for an energetic young man(IIT-Ivy League university, well settled in the USA, NRI from Delhi. The bride should be of good height & health, sensible,having respect for Indian culture, vegetarian….get more details about the boy on http://www.<website>.com!!”

      Which brings me back to the question..is this world fundamentally what it is because of the flow of hormones somwhere deep inside the human brain? Well, as of now it looks as if it is…& boy, inspite of all our ramblings we are not much different from the dog & bitch out there in the street…you know what I mean!! 

The Psychology of Investing

Thursday Thud“- screamed the ET’s edition of 17th August, 2007.. “Sensex tumbles 643, Nifty 192… ” !! I have been dabbling with financial economics & the stock market of late & this was food for thought & a blog action! A bit of R&D and I came up with a couple of observations offered by the “dismal science” (read Economics)!

       Classical Economics has relied on the assumptions of a ‘homo economicus’ motivated by self-interest & capable of rational decision-making. But history has a different story to tell with stock market anomalies, market bubbles & crashes across the world. So, the question is-if man is rational & the market is efficient, why did all this take place? The answer lies in the vagaries of the human mind such as greed, fear & hubris. This has been the focus area for a growing body of of work called “Behavioural Economics” which explains the impact of human emotions & cognitive errors on the investment process. While classical economics is concerned with how people should behave, behavioural economics focuses on how people actually behaved in the real world.

    One rupee is not the same as another. Richard Thaler coined the term ‘mental accounting’ which refers to the inclination to categorise & treat money differently. To cite an instance, people may go out of their way to save Rs. 5 on purchase of goods worth Rs. 25, but won’t do the same to save Rs. 5 on purchase of their favourite CDs worth Rs. 500! Change in wealth appears to be more important than the ultimate value. It is a proven fact that people are willing to take more risks to avoid losses than to realise gains. People tend to ignore ‘sunk costs’ & dislike accepting losses. A familiar problem with investments  is the sunk cost effect-the tendency to ‘throw good money after bad’. The human mind has such a dislike for incurring losses that many are willing to accept gambles in the hope of avoiding them. 

   Success in the investment world depends on the decisions one makes. Due to ‘irrational exuberance’ investors invest large sums of money in select sectors/stocks without paying heed to one’s asset allocation & risk tolerance. This leads to buying of securities at near-peak prices & selling of securities in a downturn. To cut a long story(research) short keep emotions out of investing!!

Farewell Sir…

  Words are hopelessly inadequate to describe you, Sir & the impact you have had on this country ever since you became its first citizen way back in 2002. Your charming simplicity coupled with your erudition bowled over people from all walks of life…finally they had a reason to live, somebody to look up to & proudly emulate!

    You were a torch-bearer for the beleaguered youth of this country…for the millions oppressed in the name of democracy! You proved to be a spanner in the dirty wheel of Indian politics in your own subtle way….never mising out on the smile on your face. They have finally extracted their “pound of flesh”, but then am sure you are above their petty ways.  You strode the hearts of your countrymen like a Colossus, something which I doubt any Indian President has ever done or will ever be able to do. My humble tribute to you, ” Life is a long drawn battle, some fight as mere soldiers. May you always be the General leading from the front & showing us the way!”

            Behold Him, for when comes another!!

P.S.- Dr. Kalam’s website: http://www.abdulkalam.com/