Words, warmth, and peace

You wander...
You wander through the mindlessness of ether, you wear your trousers rolled, and you see words and images combining and confusing the odd zeroes and ones that supposedly make meaning in the void, your activity limited to a vacuous stare patiently negotiating the occasional and listless flicking of a screen.

Ah, but you still got your old yellowing books, armour, and a rusty sword, dear, and your love for the fantastic, for unusual, unheard-of adventures which once opened up vast horizons, the end of which now can't be foreseen, even when the sound of the motor whirring in the background no longer resembles that of a giant windmill...

Where are you?
Long, long ago, in the company of Pantagruel on a strange beach, you had once encountered words frozen in time from the last winter. The people who’d spoken might be dead, but their words and whispers remain. You used the palms of your hands, breathed some warmth, and held the words close to your ears, and listened to their tales.

Remember? Remember and breathe...
Relax now and breathe. Breathe easy and deep like the man who dreamed of making a fire in the Jack London tale. The year’s almost over, home’s someplace called nowhere, and apart from intentionality, the smiling-faced pecunious people who are usually content with lighting candles and spewing useless words on violence are planning more harm. Others, too, are playing out their confused parts of the zealous activist who is unable to act for himself but can only act for others (“oh, the proletariat”, “ah, the exploited and dispossessed”) or for ends and abstractions (“world peace” and, yes, “global revolution”).

You know nothing will come of the candles and the guns, but smoke; dense, dull, congestive smoke.

Wishes for the dead, the living, and the half-deads...
Refresh your mind, please, once again, this time of the year when there’re only smokes and mirrors. All you’ve got is your memories, and a sobriety shaped by those memories that want meaningful words, and warmth. And a sense of peace- for yourself and others, striving to overcome their isolation, and still looking for meaning.

From a strictly secular and non-religious viewpoint, here’s me wishing you for the new year:
As-Salāmu `Alaykum (“Peace be upon you”) and warmth.

[Pix Credit: The beautiful artwork above is by Anthony Russo, a freelance illustrator living in Rhode Island. I found an illustration of his while googling, and I've been a fan ever since. Here's a link to Russo's homepage.]

Speak to Me

Speak to me when the stars are dead or gone
and the streets are emptied of the pained and painted faces
of reporters howling over their cameras,
when there's solitude of the kind
only you can imagine, a salty breeze playing
and there's always enough blood flowing in the sideways.
You know there're no words melancholic enough
only a strange twisting somewhere deep inside.

Speak to me when it's all over
when those moments of crises are past,
when the answers of pathogenic power are no longer
generalized narcosis or collective stupefaction,
the always delirious and disgusting manifestations
of faith in all its forms,
or when what they ask is only to be left out of it.
But us, what do we do?
Have we truly finished interpreting the world?
Or exhausted all old meanings, perhaps
to make a new point?

[Image: Death and the Mother, 1910, by Kathe Kollwitz.
From Allen Memorial Art Museum]

The best and the worst of martial arts movies

This week resulted in a curious film-viewing adventure when I happened to watch a few martial arts movies, cutting across genres, and downloaded via bit torrents, while there was a state-sponsored film festival in the city. The public's memory is proverbially short, but I still happen to remember the wicked things that happened in some villages during last year's film festival, and I still retain the aversion and the reasons for not going in to the 'festival' again.

Anyway, back to the films I viewed. Here's a brief review of the best and the worst of them.

Kuro Obi (Black Belt), a 2007 Japanese Karate film starring real-life Karate black belts, is one of the relatively good ones.

Demonstrating some fluid Goju-Ryu and traditional Shotokan techniques without stunt rope tricks, the film is about two students competing to inherit their sensei's black belt. It starts off excellently with a practice session in a secluded dojo where the Jap military (this is in 1930s) comes in to take over the school. The protagonist searches for meaning in his Karate, while the other student goes on to challenge karatekas on behalf of the military, in search of a stronger opponent.The climactic fight in B&W is less of karate though, the 4th Dan hero and the 5th Dan challenger, kick, butt and grapple in the mud like we used to do in junior school.

Chocolate (2008), a Thai film by the Ong-Bak director Prachya Pinkaew, is a story of an autistic girl picking up martial arts skills similar to Taekwondo by watching the practitioners of a Muay Thai school (?!). The plot is thin, and a pretext for displaying martial arts skills.

This film has some spectacular stunts performed by the young girl Yanin "Jeeja" Vismistananda, and obviously, the stuntmen acting as villians' seconds; this also marks the director's only preoccupation to outdo Hollywood special effects by using real-life dangerous stunts that can scarsely be imitated. Towards the end, you actually see a stuntman falling down from the ledge of a three-storied building, and breaking his neck. Adrenalin booster, yes. Martial arts spirit, no. For you're bound to feel sorry for the unnamed stuntman and question the mindlessness of this violence.

I also saw Red Belt (2008), one that I would rate as one of the best martial arts films I've ever seen. It has less to show of martial arts techniques, apart from some good Jiujutsu moves, but it's definitely about martial arts philosophy, a serious film concerning the role of ethics in the life of a martial arts practitioner. You get real things to learn from here, than say, from stoopid MMA films like Never Back Down.

Here in Red Belt is a Brazilian Jiujitsu instructor Mike Terry who nevers goes into tournament fighting for he thinks it weakens the spirit (rightly so). He sees himself framed by big money and comes to know of his best student committing suicide to save his instructor's honour. Then Terry gets caught in the middle of a big MMA prize fight (staged) between a Brazilian jiujitsu champion and a Japanese fighter, as his honour as a practitioner and the question of the survival of his dojo, are both at stake. But he doesn't step into the ring, as you could have expected. The story takes a new turn when he ignores the glare of the cameras and the attention of the know-it-all commentators, and proceeds rather quietly to "end this charade". Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mike Terry is simply awesome; this needs watching even if you think Krav Maga and fashionable MMA butt-grabbing is all about martial arts.

And here comes the worst. But I did laugh a lot. The funky sound track could be one of the solid reasons for you to watch this film, provided you've got the right kind of humour.

Ah, I saw Black Belt Jones (1974), a Blaxploitation action film starring Jim Kelly who's best known for his role in Enter the Dragon and it's shaped by the same director, Robert Clouse.

This movie has incredibly flat characters speaking, walking, dressing, howling, grabbing and shrieking Karate all throughout, and their acting is invariably and incredibly bad. And yes, Kelly uses Karate even while courting. You also get to see Karatekas shooting fists in a mournful way as their teacher's ( who happens to be Scatman Crothers) corpse is lowered into the grave- something so hilarious that it gives you serious stomach cramps.

"Oooooooeah!" goes the hero Jim Kelly making strange grimaces whenever anybody comes near him or when he's just watching his reflection on a polished elevator door. And sometimes he's just fascinated with his white telephone. The final scene with the carwash bubbles is a visual treat; completing the delightful mix of karate, James Bond technicolor movies, girls on trampolines, and lots and lots of butt-kicking. There happens to be a certain display of hostility on the part of 'good guys and gals' karatekas to the male genitalia; the sheer number of kicks to the bonkers and the grabs are, er, for the lack of better words, embarrassing.

Apart from the overdoses of very-badly choreographed karate, this is also one of the funniest comedies ever made. I guess, without being intentional.

Solitude, Boredom, and Awareness

I'm still in a daze. Yesterday night, I finished reading Ursula K Le Guin's The Birthday of the World, and right now, just before I go off to sleep, I want to record a curious moment of recognition from this wonderful piece of work that tells strange stories about known humans in unknown worlds and times. This is from a story titled 'Solitude'.

In the fragmented highly-diffused non-society of the planet of Eleven-Soro on the fringes of the Ekumen, a girl choses to return to her solitude.

She refuses the advanced civilisational and technological knowledge of her mother's civilisation, and returns alone to the silent planet (its stolid stillness founded on the ruins of a highly urbanised technicised civilisation where there were
"(t)he greatest cities ever built on any world, covering two of the continents entirely, with small areas set aside for farming; there had been 120 billion people living in the cities, while the animals and the sea and the air and the dirt died, until the people began dying too."
The girl returns to contemplate solitude in the middle of her people. She lives in a sin qua non of what she discovers as a social formation, where all the adults deliberately chose to live apart, especially the men, all avoiding and living without spoken words. And this is what she records of her own realisations:
"By solitude the soul escapes from doing or suffering magic; it escapes from dullness, from boredom, by being aware. Nothing is boring if you are aware of it. It may be irritating, but it is not boring. If it is pleasant the pleasure will not fail so long as you are aware of it. Being aware is the hardest work the soul can do, I think."

Changing the Head

Changed the blog header. Took three and a half hours in the night. Still very dissatisfied with the results. But let it stay. I'll not be changing this for a long time. Virtual critics will surely find this a reflection of the strange changes that have taken place on the outer side of my cranium in the last week.

The shaven-headed fish blows out a bubble. It's not attracting attention. It is asking for a change. A change in preconceptions. A change in conversation. A change to the solitude that makes up its life, a change in its movements that go in closing concentric circles. But the things inside the bubble world remain more or less the same. It's the perspective that changes. And dear fish, it's only a bubble that floats up to the surface. Did you make the bubble?

At least I will learn this melody before I die

Key points from the essay 'Why Read the Classics' (1981) by Italo Calvino:

1) The classics are the books of which we usually hear people say, "I am rereading . . . " and never "I am reading . . ."

2) We use the words "classics" for books that are treasured by those who have read and loved them; but they are treasured no less by those who have the luck to read them for the first time in the best conditions to enjoy them.

3) The classics are books that exert a peculiar influence, both when they refuse to be eradicated from the mind and when they conceal themselves in the folds of memory, camouflaging themselves as the collective or individual unconscious.

4) Every rereading of a classic is as much a voyage of discovery as the first reading.

5) Every reading of a classic is in fact a rereading.

6) A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.

7) The classics are the books that come down to us bearing the traces of readings previous to ours, and bringing in their wake the traces they themselves have left on the culture or cultures they have passed through (or, more simply, on language and customs).

8) A classic does not necessarily teach us anything we did not know before. In a classic we sometimes discover something we have always known (or thought we knew), but without knowing that this author said it first, or at least is associated with it in a special way. And this, too, is a surprise that gives much pleasure, such as we always gain from the discovery of an origin, a relationship, an affinity.

9) The classics are books which, upon reading, we find even fresher, more unexpected, and more marvelous than we had thought from hearing about them.

10) We use the word "classic" of a book that takes the form of an equivalent to the universe, on a level with the ancient talismans. With this definition we are approaching the idea of the "total book," as Mallarmé conceived of it.

11) Your classic author is the one you cannot feel indifferent to, who helps you to define yourself in relation to him, even in dispute with him.

12) A classic is a book that comes before other classics; but anyone who has read the others first, and then reads this one, instantly recognizes its place in the family tree.

13) A classic is something that tends to relegate the concerns of the moment to the status of background noise, but at the same time this background noise is something we cannot do without.

14) A classic is something that persists as a background noise even when the most incompatible momentary concerns are in control of the situation.

...And if anyone objects that they are not worth all that effort, I will cite Cioran... 'While the hemlock was being prepared, Socrates was learning a melody on the flute. "What use will that be to you?", he was asked. "At least I will learn this melody before I die." '

Dot dot dot- understood

"I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."

Suddenly the realisation sinks in. No more will I have to explain these lines to anyone. Nor will I have to look for their meaning somewhere, in someone else's 'closer' reading. I seem to have understood. Somewhat.

Dot. Dot. Dot.

Look carefully.

Measure your steps.

And start walking backwards.

And now, without turning back, walk through all the countless spaces between those gaps, and I'm sure you'll understand as well.

Don't blog

If you aren't thinking of yourself and your words and expressions as ephemeral, don't blog.

Don't blog if you're seriously thinking there's someone out there who will feel and understand your thoughts as they are, and, soothe, caress, feel and understand the broken wings of your overburdened incomplete expressions, as you've yourself done countless times in your solitary wanderings.

If you aren't an advertiser for palliatives, a dragon-tooth seller, a high-flier, a lighter of a protesting candle, or a teller of lies who believes in his own conflated exploratory balloons mapping the world, don't blog.

Don't blog if you aren't a serious voyeur for soft and hard schlock images, someone who suffers from serious symptoms of security-complex, or a bibliophile who doesn't want to share what he has read of the world.

No one wants to hear of you as yourself. You cannot write of yourself. For yourself. Even against yourself.

Don't blog if you're scared, sick, angry, unhappy, radically mad, rabid, or immaturely happy about your family's vacation to the dull sea no one wants to hear about.

If you stir in sleep and think you can speak of those dreams and visions which drove Nebuchadnezzar mad, don't blog.

Don't blog if you try to run away from life and wish to start afresh from childhood.

The words will remain as they are, in suspension or in disbelief, in wonder or in imagined imaginings, and the crazy world will go whirring past as you stare at the blinking screen.

Don't blog if you can smile, weep, or scribble on a real piece of paper that no one can read but yourself.

If you think yourself staring at the void or if you don't see emptiness enveloping your memories, don't blog.

Don't blog if you have life outside this ether, these crumbling bits of real or imagined space, or if you believe that you have made peace with your mind after spewing out whatever troubles your mind right now.

Random thoughts after the 'festival'

Finally, those horrid five days are over, at least for an year.
The days collectively miscalled a festival. Of crowds pushing, jostling, shoving, digging, cursing, groping, stomping throughout the night.Strutting, shrieking, belching, spitting and shitting, mobbing their ways through the city.

All to catch a glimpse of a few decorated earthen straw-filled idols of the Hindoo mother-goddess propped with bamboo. Or to gape at all that brightness surrounding the lights and stars, the 'themes', the near-empty stalls selling Marxist literature, potency-oils and perverse industrial logic. Or to look at the unknown faces of others similarly hysterical. Or more probably looking for some change in their lives drudging along the too-familiar course of work, taxes, insurances, premiums paid in one form or the other, or lives without them.

Witness mass hysteria at close-up, with loudspeakers blaring; academically-minded Marxists might find strong elements of Bakhtinian carnivalesque in the phenomenon. Look really close, and you might find people who're really lonely, trying to drown out their drudgery in the tours they make throughout the mad, sullen city.

I only wonder how many are there in this city who lock themselves up inside rooms with lots of books and trying really hard to shut off the hysteric loudspeaker sound, concentrate on imagining alternative worlds of possibility.

The stoopid smoking ban in India

Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than the others. Rabid anti-smokers for instance. And here are we at it again.

The same stoopidity, the same stubbornness, the same utter unconcern for people who smoke. "Wohi zaag, wohi safedi," and increased stoopidity in the bargain as "India becomes smoke-free" from 2nd October, 2008.

Have you ever heard of big industries being heavily penalised in India for spewing up smoke and chemicals? You didn't. Though everyone knows that they account for maximum air pollution.

Have you ever heard of big automobile manufacturers being fined for creating machines that deplete the ozone layer? You didn't. Instead you watched governments, even self-proclaimed socialist ones, welcome them with red carpets. Though your lungs know how it feels, smoker or not, to breathe in the city air.

Have you ever heard of the Indian government coming out big against tuberculosis and malnutrition? You didn't, though these cause the maximum number of deaths in present-day India.

Some idiots have even started a smoke-free countdown blog. But if you thought this means no more hazardous fumes from carbon exhausts, no more toxins from the smogging cities, no spewing of industrial chemicals and smoke from automobile exhausts, you're in the wrong. For the Health Minister Mr. Ramadoss and his crowd of hysterical followers think that this (what?) has got exclusively to do with smoking, the inhalation of innocent tobacco smoke by individuals across the Indian subcontinent. If the police can't do it this time, there will be the "empowered" NGOs penalizing "smoking ban violators" in the King's Name.

And while no one thinks of smokers' rights, there's the good old Indian media highlighting people like Monica Arora (who?), convener of the Advocacy Forum for Tobacco Control, a never-heard-of-before NGO suddenly lobbying for tougher anti-tobacco laws. You learn that they've even carried out a snapshot survey of sorts and found that "Nine in 10 persons in India’s four metros support the proposed ban on smoking in public and workplaces from October 2". Aha? Even though your eyes find the contrary, and you spot nine in 10 persons smoking around in India. Mostly people who've never bothered anybody or thought that their right to smoke would be done away with sudden legislation and advocacy, and without their permission.

The ban on smoking is however part of a larger issue.

The Indian government has always been known to bypass serious problems and instead focus on certain fringe issues that would give them perfect media attention. It was during the late seventies that several thousand Indian males were forcibly castrated to fulfill the government's vision of population-control. The smoking-ban follows the same lines. Problems like perennial hunger, the large number of tuberculosis deaths, undernourishment of children, and complete absence of health infrastructure for larger sections of the population are ignored on basis of what the government decided as its priority. And now, with the ban on smoking, these problems remain intact, as smokers throughout the land will be penalised for no reasons.

I know that this legislation will turn out to be a damp squib. And cornered urban smokers will move around the corners to smoke with the policeman who will pocket the small bribe and light up on his own. (The official fine would be Rs 200 though, and the government is trying to amend the act and in future the fine may go up to Rs 1,000.)

As I write this lines, I assert my right to smoke, as long as I am not disturbing others. I cannot, however, account for the disturbance caused to the manic, the hysteric, and the rabid anti-smokers. (Other suggestions, Mr. Rajnikant?)

I know millions around will be doing the same in newly-defined 'public spaces', including private offices, hotels and universities. But for rural smokers, and those from poorer sections of the population, this legislation will provide further proof that the government doesn't really care about their real problems. Guess what, it never did...

[For those who want to know about the myths associated with smoking, here's the link to one of my last year's posts:
The Right To Smoke]

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Intellectuals and propaganda

"Those who are most susceptible to propaganda (and advertising) are the intellectuals...

"In fact, those who are fascinated by technique are the intellectuals, the technicians, the scientists, the upper classes, the journalists, the various shapers of public opinion, the artists, the priests and pastors (when they want the church to change and to adjust to modern tastes), the responsible economists (bankers, etc.), the professors (who have suffered enough from being told that their teaching is worthless!), and the high-level administrators. These are the ones who are fascinated and who show no critical spirit, or who, when they believe (like many artists) that they are engaging in violent criticism of our society, fail to see that they are simply reproducing in a kind of parody the technical world itself with all its perversity, thus strengthening the perverse effects and in so doing reinforcing the myth."

— Jacques Ellul ['Fascinated People,' The Technological Bluff, 1989]

Dr Binayak Sen, My Brother, Our Hero

For those who've come in late, on 14 May 2007, Dr. Binayak Sen was arrested from Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh state, India.

A year and almost a half later, Dr. Sen remains in prison. After people have protested throughout India. After really-important people such as Noam Chomsky, Amartya Sen, Arundhati Roy, Shyam Benegal and many eminent medical professors and scientists in India and abroad have protested against the illegal detention. And after twenty-two Nobel laureates had pleaded in vain for his release to the Prime Minister of India.

Dr. Sen is a paediatrician, public health specialist and national Vice-President of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), India. He is the first Indian and South-Asian recipient of the 2008 Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights. Dr. Sen remains a wonderful example of a person committing his life to the health needs of the poorest people and to the defense of the human rights of tribals and other poor people considered invisible in present-day India.

The immediate crime that led to his arrest was that Dr. Sen and the PUCL had helped draw attention to the unlawful killing - on 31 March 2007 - of several adivasis (indigenous people) in Santoshpur, Chhattisgarh. Upon orders from the State Human Rights Commission, bodies of the victims were exhumed from a mass grave in the week immediately preceding Dr. Sen's arrest. And as the police investigations "continued", Dr. Sen was arrested under provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2006 (CSPSA), and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967).

While the detention and subsequent torture of Dr. Sen under custody speaks volumes about the state of things we're really in here, here's a moving account from his brother Dipankar Sen, a resident of Antwerp, Belgium, whose return to India is a rediscovery of many important things and realisations...

The courtroom was hushed as the prisoner stood awaiting sentence. The judge donned his black skullcap as he deliberately passed the death sentence. That is the sweat drenched nightmare that I sometimes wake up to. The prisoner is no ordinary man: he is my brother, Dr Binayak Sen.

Recently, I went to visit him again in prison in Raipur in Chhattisgarh, just before his last court hearing. I saw him again in court. The courtroom itself was far from the courtrooms that we see in the movies. No pictures of a toothless smiling Gandhi or Subhas Chandra Bose hung from the wall behind the judge, a Sikh, Mr Balinder Singh Saluja. There were just two benches, one for the lawyers and the second for visitors. The dock, a 1.5m x 1.5m enclosure, was just enough space for the three standing prisoners while the lawyers argued their case. Binayak stood leaning against the railing of the dock.

The expression on his face and his body language did not betray any anxiety or distress of this unnecessary prison experience imposed on him through an intricate web of lies. There, standing within touching distance was my Dada, handsome, dignified, ever driven by the force of conviction, all of which showed up in the gentleness of his composure and the calmness in his eyes. I asked him how he was. "Without a purpose," was his reply. And that, I suspect, must have been one of his weaker moments, because he actually said something about himself. His reply would normally be, "I'm ok, don't worry about me. I am just fine. How is Ma? Tell her not to worry. And how are you?"

As the proceedings started, there was a witness in the dock on the other side of the room, closer to the judge. He was identifying the seizure list. The list was long, and the monotonous but hypnotic tapping sound of the typewriter caused my mind to float away. I looked at Dada and my mind drifted to the tune of "Where are the green fields," which he would whistle when we were kids in Pune in 1965. He had just passed his Senior Cambridge exams from Calcutta Boy's School with brilliant results and had every reason to be chirpy. He had a lot of friends and we would go out hiking, which meant a lot of walking through the wild grasslands then surrounding the camp area in Pune.

I was just a fat 11-year-old then and often had problems keeping up. Dada often had to carry me piggy back so that the tall grass would not cut me with the sharp blades. By the time he became a doctor, his care for the little brother had been replaced by constant concern for the health of poor Indians, the tribals, workers, the dispossessed or others that are in the process of joining their ranks.

Around May 9, 2007, I had called my mother in Kalyani, when I was told by my niece that they had learnt through journalists that their father was supposed to be arrested but was reported to be absconding. Binayak and his entire family were at Kalyani then, spending some of their holidays with my aged mother. My mind did not even register the urgency or the gravity of the situation. I just thought it was some stupid mistake that the police had made. After all, who could have anything against Dada...the poor man's doctor and helping hand? I had even nicknamed him Father Teresa, except that he liked Kingfisher beer.

I suddenly realised that I knew very little about The BINAYAK SEN. It had been a long time that we had gone our ways. But the prospect of arrest and prison for Dada were a long way off from anything that we as a family could have imagined.

The next day, and everyday after that, I called Kalyani, and realised that Dada's situation was much more serious than I had thought. That is when I started begging him to come to me, in Belgium. Run... do anything but don't go back to Chhattisgarh. He just said that he could not betray the trust of his patients, who would be waiting for him from the May 14, 2007. He insisted on leaving as scheduled, on May 13.

While sitting in an Italian restaurant in Paris on May 14, I heard of his arrest. His older daughter Pranhita first called to say that he was called to the police station in Bilaspur to give a statement, but that the police would not arrest him. About 15 minutes later she called again to say that he had indeed been arrested. It was around 12.45 in Paris that my life turned its page on political innocence. I suddenly grew up.

During the course of Dada's year in prison, I read about him in the press, both national and international. I found him on Wikipedia. I found his name on numerous internet sites. There were the admiring letters that he received in prison, and that must have helped to keep his sanity. Then came the recognition from the Indian Academy of Social Sciences, the Keithan Gold Medal, the Jonathan Mann award, the 21 Nobel Laureates writing to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the demonstrations in India and around the world.

But I began feeling guilty and embarrassed. Because of my long absence in Europe since the 1970s, I learnt about Dada's greatness, above all about his work, through the press and through the mail of his admirers from distant lands. I did not know about the hospital he helped build in Dalli Rajhara, his work in Ganyari near Bilaspur, the Mitanin project, the Right to Food campaign.

Nor had I heard of his work with the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), or of the dedicated band of people that worked with him. They included doctors, lawyers, journalists, filmmakers and the man on the street. His circle of supporters included doctors from all over the world, the most active among them being his own former teachers and class mates, as well as some who were not his contemporaries at Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, but had attended the same college. I learnt details about his career from his former teachers and colleagues at the Christian Medical College, which bestowed on him the Paul Harrison Award to recognise his work that exemplified their best ideals of a doctor.

There were two images of my brother - the more familiar one of a fun-loving man who liked good food, good music, and enjoyed horsing around with his family and his many good friends; and the other of a serious doctor with concerns - expressed even while he was a student -- about the health of poorer communities, and its roots in their social and economic deprivation. This is what his former teacher, Dr P Zachariah, wrote in a tribute to his student:

"Binayak is a very rare doctor - a man with a deep understanding of the social and political dimensions of health. The governments of the world, the World Bank and other organisations are now worrying about food security and alternative food policies; Binayak was decades ahead of them all."

None of this apparently moves the State, which refuses to budge from its position. If you ask someone in the government why Dada is in prison, the reply is standard: "He is a Maoist leader and sympathiser, and we have enough evidence against him."

So I asked the DGP of Chhattisgarh, so why is he not returning the computer seized from Dr Binayak Sen over a year ago, especially since forensic examination of the hard disc had failed to turn up any incriminating evidence. He said that the Forensic Institute in Hyderabad could not break into a code. When I reminded him that teenagers are hacking into banks and the Pentagon everyday, his reply was patently evasive.

I also reminded him that I had heard that not one of the police witnesses gave any credible witness/evidence against Binayak. He countered with the possibility of a supplementary chargesheet that was in preparation based on some 53 pages of telephone conversations with someone who is a known Maoist. Like an astrologer, he predicted that the lower court would probably convict him but the higher court would release him.

Now, how long the process would take is anybody's guess. Common sense tells me that it could be years.

Back in the courtroom, my mind suddenly woke up to the noise of some strong protests from defense lawyer Mahendra Dubey. He had just found that a letter had been planted by the police and had clearly stirred some excitement in court. The insistent tapping of the typewriter had stopped. The judge looked worried.

A letter to a senior Maoist party member which the police were claiming had been found among the documents seized from his apartment was printed on a plain sheet of computer paper, and did not even have his signature. Moreover, it did not appear in the list of seized documents that Dada and the police had co-signed at the time they were seized. It was indeed a plant. The old public prosecutor did not bother to look embarrassed, he simply denied any knowledge of it or how it got there.

I left the court dejected and heartbroken as he was driven away in the police van. An entire State was conspiring to subject upon my brother a life without a life... without a purpose, without any privacy, without any space of his own, denying him the very means of contributing to society in a way that even the State itself had acknowledged when it had implemented his ideas to start the Mitanin programme. They are imposing a punishment upon an innocent man in the full knowledge that they are doing wrong.

Now that we are convinced that his imprisonment is based on false and trumped up charges, we will want to know who would want to inflict such a fate on this man and above all why? Then we could have a possible basis and a clue to engage in a sensible dialogue with them to secure his release.

My Dada was one who, at a very early age, wondered why we could not invite the servants in our home to eat with us. At the age of five, he had the sensitivity to write:

I saw a bird in the morning sun

Flying high up in the sky,

A man shot it down with his gun

And I began to cry.

He does not deserve this fate. But for someone who has withstood more than a year-and-four months of prison, solitary confinement, harassment, humiliation but not shame, we have a simple message: Tum akele nahin ho Dada... My brother!

[Credit: Dipankar Sen's article is from a special edition of HardNews. Check http://www.binayaksen.net/ and http://www.freebinayaksen.org/ for more information and updates]

A Diachronic View

"Philosophy, in its very diachrony, is the consciousness of the breakup of consciousness."

How to fly a kite and claim empires of the sky

Under a gloomy sky, after a night and a day of sudden spells of rain, it's evening. From my window, I see a kid loitering around on a nearby terrace, a kite in his hand. He stands close to the edge and staring out at the huge expanse of the sky, uncertain of the rain that might arrive of the clouds and spoil his conquest of the sky. He sees birds flying out towards the west, he wonders why there are fewer birds and kites flying above the city.

He's engrossed in his thoughts, he doesn't spot the envious eyes of anyone observing him. He carefully measures out the string that will link him to the endless possibilities of the sky, the inverted blue ultra marine that flickers and changes shape; he heaves and tugs for the kite to raise its wings and soar away.

But the kite refuses to budge.

With each tug, it lifts its head, only to dive down, like the melancholy that dives deep down inside you every time you think of your childhood. The kid untangles the strings and starts afresh. Call it persistence!

I try to attract attention. I will be screaming out the directions to him, I think. "Hey, you've to feel the wind, even if it's a slight breeze. And then you've to learn how to tug, not too hard, not too soft for less than three seconds, and then you've got to lift the kite in a series of hard and quick pulls..."

But visibility is a mirage, you are visible only if the other person thinks that you exist. And you're audible only after that.

The distance separating my window and his terrace is considerable, measured not only in terms of years and realisations, but actual moments, imaginings, and a geographical distance of about 300 meters. From the terrace, even if he allows me to speak to him, he will be seeing a host of half-closed darkened windows of a dozen apartments and houses, all too self-engrossed.

The kid doesn't see me.

I keep watching him until the evening turns to dusk, and it's too dark for me to spot even his silhouette. It's a moment of pain, but it's also a moment of realisation the Marcus Aurelius way, confining yourself to the present. Every kid learns the little facts of life the hard way, experience always works in retrospect: "Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too."

Something really bad lurking in Google Chrome

Gentle reader, I would like you to think about a sinister attempt of proprietary inclusion by Google who've launched their latest web-browser application called Google Chrome. There are some serious security flaws (which will be fixed, I guess) but something really bad is also lurking.

Each time you use the Gmail through Chrome, you lose all rights to your mail and all its contents under the Terms of Service (TOS) you had agreed to with Google while setting up Chrome, (we never go through any of these, do we?). And all your personal communication, images, sensitive data, etc. becomes Google property. Yes, you somewhat retain copyright, but Google can do whatever they want with your stuff. The possibilities being endless.

This is quite shocking, and enough to deter anyone from using Chrome and switch back to good old Firefox, Opera, Safari or even the extremely irritating IE. Just go through the full section of the Chrome Terms of Service listed below:

11. Content license from you

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these actions.

11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above license.

[Reference: Read Marshall Kitpatrick's excellent write-up on ReadWriteWeb, Does Google Have Rights to Everything You Send Through Chrome? , for more on the curious TOS set up by Google Chrome. And do go through all the comments to his article.]

On another note, I spent the whole afternoon yesterday trying really hard to read and make sense of Scott Lash's Critique of Information (2002).

I agree with his "informationcritique" to the point where he finds that present-day informational power has a "non-discursive, illegitimate, preconscious" nature, but I disagree with the conclusions reached at:
The global information order itself has... erased and swallowed up into itself all transcendentals. There is no outside space any more for such critical reflection.
If a critique is impossible because of the collapse of the seperate social and mental spaces needed for sustained reflection and critical thinking, I wonder where the externalised and extraneous ideas of the critic shape themselves, and how they find themselves inside a well-priced book, the intellectual property sense asserted with "All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced..." blah blah blah.

If you find this amusing, think of the space within which your mind's operating. Is it possible for you to manouvre,browse and sort, and reach your own conclusions? Does your mind retain its independent functional capability under the information cloud?


The Google people have revised the TOS for Chrome. The EULA for Chrome now contains the following concerning Content License:
11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.
But since the EULA is governed by what they call Universal Terms of Service (its clause Eleven in its entirety quoted earlier), the criticism stands...

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What is it you can call your own?

The damp spreads all around. And it feels cold at nights.

It rains intermittently, and the sky clouds suddenly and rains a few, brief showers. As you pedal down the city streets, you feel the soft heat melting down your shoulders while the logic of industrial domestication rules supreme around you, in banners, streamers, and screamers.

The sun has changed and it's now soft and warm. Summer and the rainy season's almost over, and this transitory weather, and especially this soft warmth of the sun, brings back something.

Things called memories. The comforting dreams of childhood. Your endless and futile attempts to replicate that which now seems a too-real-to-be-true dreamy life in your dreams.

And the weather works on your memories.

Memories of the days you swam in rivers, slept in the middle of green rice fields, and fished for long afternoons that never seemed to end. Memories of friends who've changed beyond recognition by now, memories of the beautiful moments you had in isolation when you were capable of playing and being content with coins, stamps, butterflies and other strange collectibles; memories of birds who used to wake you up in the middle of the night.

These days and nights keep flowing in and out till the point you realise that you hadn't been keeping track of the flow of memories. The proverbial memory of yours, dear fish— who discovers afresh the wonder of the old world after every twenty seconds— is something that you've lost forever. Don't regret. The world is still spinning around you, and you've got all your time to make sense of it.

But left without a memory, what is it you can call your own?

truths are material

"Truths are material, like vegetables and weeds; as to whether vegetable or weed, the decision lies in me."

"The best broadband in town"

They advertise themselves as 'a company focused and committed in offering "Total Broadband" services', the supposedly "best" broadband provider in Kolkata and India. But if you don't know what total-with-a-capital-T broadband means, you're not to blame. You'll eventually get to know if you become an unfortunate user of Alliance Broadband. And this "global bridge for all your communication needs" is one that has many surprises for you up its sleeve: it would have been OK if the bridge had creaked everytime you tried to use it, I suggest putting up a "Rotten for Use" board.

I have been subscribing for more than one year to their "Strater Pack" (Starter, I guess), which is supposed to provide you with "unlimited monthly use" at 128kbps bandwidth for 30 days.

(Bandwidth available as on 23rd August, 2008, 6.44 pm, even slower than ISDN and 53kbps dial-up. Click on the image for a better view)

My reasons for choosing Alliance Broadband were as follows:
1) I live in a rented house with the constant suspicion of the landlady's capability to serve you unexpected "Vacate Right Now" notices in the middle of the night. Going for a BSNL connectivity would add much paperwork to my already-confused desk, I had thought.
2) The "Strater Pack" is the most economical of the broadband packages in the city; it comes at Rs.392 per month, including taxes.

The guys came in with the cables, hung around the electric poles, stuck a blue-blinking LAN card up my CPU's ass, charged some money, had tea, and that was that. A year later, I regret having choosing it. The disservices have been improved on every month, the services being almost absent.

Total Broadband Experiences:
1) You learn to patiently wait for your Gmail and every consecutive page to load at an average of 5-10 minutes a time, when there's connection.
2) You learn to patiently admire your desktop background for hours, when there's connection officially, and to relearn the first experience.
3) You learn how less important your work and correspondence are, when there's no connection.
4) You learn there's a sweet female voice at the "toll-(un)free" telephone helpline at 033-3982 9615, who doesn't pick up the phone most of the time, or talks to you, if you're really lucky, after 5 minutes on hold and bolsterous music, persistently advising you to try pinging even when it doesn't work.
5) You know what a 'package' means when you get your connection cut off in the middle of the week at the beginning of each month, even when you diligently pay for your usage (and non-usage). You read the fine-print, didn't you?

And there could be a thousand other learning experiences. After having an even wonderful connectivity in July 2008, I decided to make a log of it for the next month, August 2008.
Spare a glance at the log below, if anyone's interested in knowing how rewarding broadband connectivity can be like.

Broadband connection log: August 2008
5th August 9.15pm.
Cannot sign in to the net. No connection available.
Gateway Status: Gateway reachable
DNS Status: Host reachable & service is running
Authentication Server: Host reachable but service is not running

6th August 5.45pm.
No connection available.
Gateway Status: Gateway reachable
DNS Status: Host reachable & service is running
Authentication Server: Host reachable but service is not running

7th August 7.54pm.
No connection available.
Gateway Status: Gateway not reachable
DNS Status: Host not reachable
Authentication Server: Host not reachable

9th August.
Connection problems throughout the day. Couldn’t sign in. Message says: NAS Rejected the Request. Reason- User License Exceeded. Pinging worked from late in the night.

12th August 6pm.
No connection available.
Gateway Status: Gateway not reachable
DNS Status: Host not reachable
Authentication Server: Host not reachable

13th August 12.48pm
No connection available.
Gateway Status: Gateway reachable
DNS Status: Host not reachable
Authentication Server: Host not reachable

18th August 4.03pm
No connection available.
Gateway Status: Gateway reachable
DNS Status: Host reachable & service is running
Authentication Server: Host reachable but service is not running

19th August 10.14am
No connection available.
Gateway Status: Gateway reachable
DNS Status: Host reachable & service is running
Authentication Server: Host reachable but service is not running

19th August 2.05pm
Connection unavailable from evening to night.
Says rejecting request while signing in.
Gateway Status: Gateway reachable
DNS Status: Host reachable & service is running
Authentication Server: Host reachable but service is not running

20th August 11.20am
No connection available.
Message says: NAS Rejected the Request. Reason- User License Exceeded.
No connection for the rest of the day or night.
Gateway Status: Gateway reachable
DNS Status: Host reachable but DNS service is not running
Authentication Server: Host reachable & service is running

21st August 12.30pm
No connection available.
Says ‘wrong username/password’ (!) repeatedly while attempting signing in.
Sign in fails throughout the day even when the hosts are reachable and ‘service is running’. Very slow connection available after 8pm.

22nd August 12.03 am
No connection available.
Message says: NAS Rejected the Request. Reason- User License Exceeded.

22nd August 9.48pm
No connection available. Message says: Sorry could not contact server.
Gateway Status: Gateway reachable
DNS Status: Host reachable & service is running
Authentication Server: Host reachable but service is not running

24th August 5.21pm
No connection available.
Gateway Status: Gateway reachable
DNS Status: Host reachable & service is running
Authentication Server: Host not reachable

25th August 10.55pm
No connection available.
Gateway Status: Gateway reachable
DNS Status: Host reachable but DNS service is not running
Authentication Server: Host reachable & service is running

29th August 1.24pm
No connection available.
Message says: “ERROR: DNS Detection failed!, Error sending datagramm to DNS server!,
Gateway Status: Gateway not defined
DNS Status: Detection Failure
Authentication Server: Host not reachable

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Longing for Home: The Edge of Heaven

Obsessive dreams of love and hate. Awareness of evil, madness, uprooted memories, human frailty, pain, and the fatality of the equal exchange of coffins across international airports.

The pleasure of waiting, being part of history as radical marchers, the pleasure of being part of non-history as a teacher explaining Goethe’s aversion to the revolution, the contagious languor of pure spectatorship, and the awareness of the world as an undecipherable enigma either for the mind’s glory or for its mockery, a play-in-itself.

The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite, 2007), directed by Fatih Akin, is one of the few recent films that I’ve enjoyed watching. And there’s the beautiful Nurgül Yeşilçay (sigh!), who plays the over-confident radical who learns of the terrible suspicion you have about the present— that history of the present consists of everyone being put to use by someone.

The film veers away from the perpetual scrambled of the Hollywood makes, and recognizes the variety of the will to explore two irreconcilable domains— the ‘Western’ and the ‘non-Western’— which is also the proof of the confusion. (Read a typical ‘Western’ take on the film here).

The confusion of times and places appears and reappears, dissolves into the blue...

When the story of a young Turkish musician dying of the Chernobyl radiations recurs as a motif, when a Turkish street kid becomes the indirect assassin to the dreams of a German student trying to help (read condescend) a TKP-ML militant disowned by her comrades in Germany and inside the Turkish prison.

Or when a respectable and elderly German lady (who had in her time been an hippie planning an exotic trek to India) trying to come in terms with her daughter’s mysterious death in Istanbul, and when a Turkish professor of German literature in Germany returns to Istanbul looking for the militant Turkish girl and ends up buying a book store from a German who wants to return home. All those books at the bookstore, almost none to read but the owner!

You get to see the lives of six individuals trying to balance their positions on the edge, and thinking of what it means to have somewhere to go, to lay claim to a home of some sort. After all, home is where you hang yourself, while the vagabonds die not-so-peacefully on the streets.

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Small cars and all that technodiscourse

"All technodiscourse either is or seeks to be discourse about humanity, about human primacy and objectives. It does not merely seek to assure us of happiness, nor does it discuss power. (There is never any question of power in this pious talk.) Its theme is true human fulfillment, which it rates very highly. Nothing is more important than the human race."

Rat kills printer

Stop press: CALCUTTA. 24th August 2008.
Our Special Correspondent:

A REAL BLACK RAT had barged into the first-floor rented apartment of the old colonial city and killed an unsuspecting printer a week ago. The two-week-old "corpse" was officially "declared dead" on Sunday. The rat is still on the loose.

"This is an extremely unfortunate affair," said the visibly bereaved Mr. Buroangle, 208 year-old, the only living relation to the printer in the city.

According to Buroangel, it was a week before when the astringent rodent was spotted making serious rumpus in his room. "It was 3.30 into the night and I was staring into the blinking screen when my right eye caught the whiff of a black tail next to me," he said.

The assailant is on the run ever since. "The rat took flight as I opened the head of my printer in apprehension. There was the stingy smell of rat-piss and you could see all the bits of chewed foam and the small pellets of shit inside,"said Buroangelo. According to sources, the rat fled during the fracas generated by its presence. The printer's corpse had been lying there in the room ever since till his owner took him to the doc for repair last Saturday.

"The doc tells me that the acidic content of the rat's piss has caused a short-circuit somewhere and melted down the printer's logic card reducing it to a piece of hardware junk," said the bereaved.

The printer's other relations and parents are probably in Vietnam, and he is left without the means to contact them, said Buroangal. It's still so impossible to believe the fact, he said. "The printer's doc called me up at 10 'o'clock in the night to confirm the demise," he added.

The printer's doc was, however, unavailable for comment. Sources confirmed that the printer was a Canon PIXMA MP 160, who made strange frightening noises whenever he was made to print pages, even a single letterhead page with two words on it. "But he was a moderate printer who was serving me for more than a year, and even worked with duplicate ink," said Buroangle. "He was a laser-jet and occasionally posed as a scanner, too," he added.

With the rat on the loose, Buroangla is in constant apprehension about the condition of his books, manuscripts, photocopies, printouts, and all other domestic equipment. "Is it possible for the rat to damage my CPU and the circuits as well?" he wondered.

Memory of images

Human beings can understand nothing without images, said the eccentric called Thomas Aquinas, and I guess he was right to insist at the same time that these images are mostly phantoms. So if you're working with your memory on the vacuity of substances, expressions, purity of faith, prohibition of imagination and so forth, you're probably restructuring the smoky images you have of them in your mind. And these appear, or fail to appear, at the unlikeliest of moments, severing and transforming possibilities you see of the world, and for yourself. To think outside images, is to think within them. To be outside memory, is to think within forgettable frames.

Consider, I mean what you call the 'past', in terms of these simultaneous processes of inclusion and exclusion. And you invariably get to think of yourself as of 'now' as obese, inactive and static, a melancholy witness to unchanging differentiation of the world around you. Call this thinking historical if you like. But you know there lies a serious flaw in those pristine pasts imagined, as they were, those mosaic of images, separated only by the reverberating smoke mists above the swamps of your mind, those that try to call themselves hoarse the perfect picture, simultaneously running along with that strange neurophysiologic logic of the thing called memory that exterminates any images and anything that cannot be easily understood.

Ah, observe how Walter Benjamin defines this position wonderfully:
The true picture of the past whizzes by. Only as a picture, which flashes its final farewell in the moment of its recognizability, is the past to be held fast... For it is an irretrievable picture of the past, which threatens to disappear with every present, which does not recognize itself as meant in it.
(Benjamin, Thesis V, On the Concept of History, 1940)

Because, perhaps, and also because, you exist as a gaze that's incapable of convoking its own shades, images and shadows, the harsh voices, the wailing cries, the cults of appearances and disappearances...

Twelve rules for perfect tea-drinking

What are the twelve golden rules for tea-drinkers? What makes the perfect cup of tea? Let me invite you to a problem. If you haven't noticed, there are few railway stations in Bengal which still sport the almost-century-old colonial-era advertisements promoting tea-drinking. The mystery lies there. Needless to say, these have been missed out by the Archaeological Survey of India and frantic journalists looking for bytes and column spaces for the next day. These have gone into the shaping of the Bengali tea-drinker.

And consider this, whatever be their Olympian achievements, Bengalis of India can out beat Chileans, Japanese and Russians (legendary tea-drinkers), and Britishers (the initiators of this strange habit) in at least one act—the relentless consumption of tea. Whether you are in a remote village without electricity, roads or hospitals, or inside the mad crazy urbanias (again, without access to electricity, roads and hospitals), you'll find people making, drinking and talking tea— the solvent for all troubles, the panacea for lost souls brooding over life and other complexities, the magic potion brewed from stranger leaves all claiming to be 'Darjeeling Tea' that eases out the problems of your being (without your being Subhas Ghishing).

Does that mean you've to know all these? Well, no.

Ah, but those wonderful historical signposts. Close to the subway entrance on platform no.2 of Dum Dum railway station, and at platform no. 1 of Krishnanagar railway station, they survive, in spite of scrappy paint and buckling tin, and bemuse tea-drinkers who wonder how that brown (ugggh!) liquid served to them in small plastick cups can be officiously called 'tea' . But even when you're, let's say, hypothetically drinking 'tea',— it is a forced optical illusion, my mother always insisted that the cup of Horlicks I had back in schooldays was tea— you've to believe. And these adverts tell you 'bout the benefits of tea-drinking
("চা-পানের উপকারিতা", in bold letters).
The first of these benefits is very interesting:
"There is no harm from tea-drinking"
("ইহার কোনও অপকারিতা নেই").

The other benefits are, er, less interesting: tea increases your appetite, tea affects your intelligence, tea is not an addiction... but then you're not supposed to ask questions, are you?

If you'll remember, these adverts have their bearing to a forgotten past, when in the early part of the 20th century, tea was viewed with extreme suspicion here by people who are still suspicious about anything and everything, and deeply, er, stoically, philosophical about life. It was the boom time of anti-colonial Bengali nationalism at around 1908— the package complete with bombs, Hindutva and secularism, rallies and successful protest marches after the stalling of the Partition of the Bengal Province— when there were British tea-company people out on the prowl, surreptitiously armed with cups, saucers and even money in some cases, trying to entice would-be Bengali consumers, in what could have been the best example of successful marketing of consumables against odds.

I think tea appealed to the philosophical bit of the Bengali mind— you can philosophise best when you got a purpose to your inactivity ('Hey! I'm sitting in this roadside tea-stall and this is only my seventh cup! I've got lots of work to do, you see!), and which outmaneuvers the suspicious bit ('Why is the boy sitting next to me not in school or college at this time of the day? What's cooking up between him and the girl he's talking to on the phone?'). But excessive philosophising makes you forget your tea in tasseomancy.

Enough of lengthy digressions. So you consider yourself a serious tea-drinker, and want to know. OK, try considering the twelve golden rules of tea-drinking. Eleven of them were compiled in 1946 (by a wonderful Englishman who hated calling himself an Englishman) and this still stand relevant. The twelfth is an unfortunate addition by me.

First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays - it is economical, and one can drink it without milk - but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase 'a nice cup of tea' invariably means Indian tea.

Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities - that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.

Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.

Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes - a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.

Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.

Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.

Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.

Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup - that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one's tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.

Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.

Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.

Lastly, tea - unless one is drinking it in the Russian style - should be drunk 'without sugar'. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don't like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

(The complete article by George Orwell can be accessed here).

Stretching the eleventh point further, you reach the twelfth point (though it contradicts point no. ten in a way): Have your tea without milk, sugar or any other addendum. The best tea-leaves are not powdered, but small, delicate, and visibly green. Pure tea is organic, and without artificial flavours. Add that to boiled water (not boiling water) and leave it covered for 2-3 minutes, to make the perfect cup. The brew should be dark like mature wooded rum, but it should not be dark like the night or coal. Use the tip of your tongue to savour. You'll know heaven.

absence of speech

"Language is not eternal.
It will be replaced.
We are not going to talk for ever."

Fifteen minus four

Never! Never in my lifetime had I been to the first class that started at 10.20 in the morning. I simply hated it. Most of my classmates probably thought it had something to do with my complex communistic principles, a conscious act of defiance against the bourgeois university system, essentially typified in the 10.20 class, which denied students the right to sleep till noon.

But today, post 9.30, I sweated profusely and pedalled furiously as I moved in through drizzling rain and roaring city traffic to reach the university. There were kids supposedly waiting for my—whazzit called? ah, yes!— sermon. Yesterday had been my first class with a bunch of postgraduate kids, fifteen in number, and I had been assigned by R...di (the course coordinator) to take classes on Eric Arthur Blair for the rest of this week.

I reached the verandah and smoked one and a half cigarettes (I had to throw off one for ADG had stepped in from nowhere, speaking absent-mindedly on his phone). Five minutes past, I saved up the stubbed-out one in my pocket for emergency futuristic consumption, and picked up the attendance register from the HoD's office. By then only two kids had appeared and at 10.35, I was still patiently waiting. Damn, I had to explain so many things by 11.10. Another two turned up at 10.40. Two plus two made four, and I started off. It's so strange to be on the other side of the desk—this is a metaphor, for I deliberately chose a small room with a big table and lots of chairs around it— with people fidgeting and gaping at you, and you fumbling for words.

As I was, er, exploring the, er, complexities, er, of the genre formations of 'utopia' and 'dystopia', and the post-Enlightenment, er, reaction, er, to the notion, er, of technocratic, er, progress— a cellphone rang. A kid stood up with an apologetic smile and said: "Dada, please, can I attend to it?" Lost in the corridors of no-place (ui+topos, to be precise), I was blank for a moment. "Switch it off, you're crossing your limits," I said in a cold voice, well remembered from other spaces and times. Limits? Ha, ha, listen who's talking of limits. But voila, it still worked— I had perfect attention for the rest of the class which ended, let's say in considerate terms, rather miserably but slightly better than yesterday.

Kids, big brother (dada) is watching you, but believe me, his vigil is mostly symbolic. There are ghosts, shapes and mental structures that you've inherited from the past, and as long as you seriously believe in them, you cannot dream of alternate worlds, or even have serious negative visions.