Tag Archives: Mintu Ghoshal

Special English

Whenever I read anything written by Salman Rushdie who reached the zenith of popularity almost overnight for his book The Satanic Verses, I always notice that he uses too many semi-colons and too few full-stops. I have noticed that on an average in a paragraph he sometimes uses one or could be two full-stops. The ratio of semi-colons to full-stops in an average paragraph would be around five to one or could be even more.

While reading any of his books I remember my M. Sc. classmate Amitava Chakravarty (during those days he was more popular by the name Aashish). One day he drew our attention on a welcome note written by the Head of the Department of Biochemistry Prof. Gora Chad Chatterjee (G. C. Chatterjee). I think it was a welcome address for one of our department functions. None of us had noticed till Amitava drew our attention that in each paragraph there was only one full-stop and our professor was also highly charitable with semi-colons. We were fortunate to see one full-stop in each paragraph because the language does not allow any sentence to be broken into two or more paragraphs.

Salman Rushdie’s writing has another unique feature – events are generally not in chronological order.

One day I was browsing his book The Satanic Verses at a bookstore in Melbourne.

A gentleman, who was standing beside me and was apparently browsing a book suddenly asked, “Is this book not banned in your country?”

From his accent I could make out that probably he was a Canadian or an American and not an Australian. At the end of our conversation when he did not wish me a good death I became sure again that he was not an Australian. (When an Australian greets other by saying ‘good day’ it sounds like ‘good die’.)

“Yes it is. I think India is the first country to ban the book” I replied with an intention not to discuss any further on the subject.

“But why, India is not a Muslim majority country”, he asked again. He sounded very curious.

“No it is not”, I replied and pretended to read something from the book in order to avoid any further question on the subject.

“But yours is a democratic country where people vote”, he again asked. It appeared that he was so curious that he did not care to notice that I was trying to read something.

“Yes we vote every five years”, I replied.

“Then” and he kept looking at me in such a way that I had to give some reply to him.

“Because our democracy is still at its infancy, at least it is not mature enough like countries in Europe or North America”. Then I narrated to him my first voting experience.

I was a student of M. Sc. when I first voted. During those days voting was done using ballot papers instead of electronic voting machines.

When I was just few meters away from the election booth I heard an old lady, whom I had never seen before calling me from behind, “Baba-ektu-sono-to” (my son I want to talk to you). When I walked near her she asked me without the slightest hesitation, “Please tell me whom should I vote for.” I could realize that either she did not ask the question to any one in her home or in her home everybody was like her. While walking towards the election center she surely had met multiple election agents belonging to different political parties and each agent asked her to vote for the agent’s party and at the end she was totally confused and asked me for which party she should vote. I realized that voting right should not be conferred to her or anybody like her.
But in any democratic country voting is considered as a right and not a privilege.
In India every political party is allowed to use a unique symbol for election. Examples of few such symbols are cow, tractor, motor car etc. A voter needs to know the symbol of the political party he or she would like to vote for. In the election booth the voter needed to stamp on that symbol in the printed ballot paper and drop the stamped ballot paper in a box. If any voter stamped on more than one symbol or did not stamp on any symbol his or her vote was not counted.
I told the old lady to stamp on the first two symbols on the ballot paper and not to tell others for whom she had voted.

Even after so many years during the time of every election I still think about the old lady and wonder how many such people are still taking part in the largest democracy of the blue planet.

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Once upon a time

I heard this story from my mother when I was small. I think this was a popular story in East Bengal, currently Bangladesh.
Once upon a time there lived a devotee in some village in the foothill of the Himalayas. The devotee used to sing the name of God every morning and evening. Before taking bath, before every meal even before drinking a glass of water he uttered the name of God. He was respected by every villager and was considered to be the greatest devotee of God by everyone in the village.
The devotee became too keen to know if God Himself considered him to be His greatest devotee. He started thinking about it day and night, praying to God to let him know what God thinks about him.
One night while he was in deep sleep he saw God appeared before him. His bedroom was filled with some divine light. He could clearly see God smiling at him. He felt as if God asked him if he had any question for Him. Therefore without much hesitation he asked God who was His greatest devotee.
“My greatest devotee is the blacksmith who works in the shop near the village market”, God replied promptly.
“But Lord does the blacksmith utter your name day and night like I do?” The devotee asked.
“He utters my name once in the morning as soon as he gets up and once at night just before going to bed” God replied.
“Only two times a day. But Lord I utter your holy name all day long. Even while lying in my bed at night till I fall asleep I utter only your name. But the blacksmith only utter it only once in the night” the devotee said.
“But as soon as his cheek touches his bed he falls asleep. How could he repeat my name?” God replied promptly.
God could sense that the devotee looked unhappy.
“Can you do a work for me” God asked the devotee.
“Lord anything you say I will do it uttering your holy name” the devotee replied immediately.
“Tomorrow morning you fill a copper bowl with oil and take it to the blacksmith in his shop. But remember the bowl should be filled with oil up to the brim and not a drop of oil should spill while you carry it to the blacksmith.” God said and disappeared.
As soon as the devotee woke up from sleep he remembered the instruction he had received from the God. Without wasting any time he filled a copper bowl with oil and started carrying it to the blacksmith. He was very careful not to spill even a drop of oil on the street. He was holding the bowl with his both hands and his vision was glued on the oil filled copper bowl. He almost stopped breathing while he was walking. His entire body started sweating profusely. Everyone who saw him in that condition was surprised and asked him why he was sweating and what he was carrying in his both hands. He could not utter a single word. He could not even look at the faces of the persons who asked him questions.
But he successfully handed over the bowl of oil to the blacksmith without spilling a drop and returned home. He also realized that he felt some kind of jealously toward the blacksmith and was not able to make eye contact with him.
He remained restless throughout the day waiting for God to reappear at night during his sleep. He was sure that God will pronounce that it was he and not the blacksmith who was His greatest devotee.
In the middle of the night God appeared again during his sleep. God thanked him for giving a bowl of oil to the blacksmith who did not have enough money to buy oil on that day.
“Have I passed your test Lord? Have I spilled a drop of oil?” The devotee asked.
“No you did not spill even a drop of oil. You were very careful.” God replied.
“So do you still think it is not me but the blacksmith who should be your greatest devotee?”
“We will see that. But let me ask you a question.” God replied.
“What is your question my Lord?” The devotee asked.
“And how many times did you utter my name while you were carrying the bowl of oil?” He asked and disappeared.

Swapan Kumar

He was a detective story writer who used to write in Bengali, which is my mother tongue. When I was a student of class seven, I started reading detective stories written by him. I was told by someone that he used to write at least one story every month, which was printed on the poorest quality newsprint and the cost of any of his book was never more than half a rupee, an amount good enough to buy a quarter liter of milk during those days. Like a daily newspaper, the cover pages of his books had almost the same thickness as the rest of the pages. The books used to be thin and were all of the same size, stapled instead of stitched and they fitted inside any open text book in such a way that nobody, neither my father nor my mother could ever realize that instead of doing our homework we were reading detective stories.

The name of the detective of his books was Mr. Deepak Chatterjee and his assistant was Mr. Ratan Lal. There was also another character in his books, the police inspector Mr. Gupta. On the cover page there used to be a poster type colored photo of the detective who was a sharp looking, medium built gentleman, wearing a black hat, having a thoughtful look and smoking from a pipe; his assistant who was strong and muscular, shooting at the villain from his pistol; the pistol, a ring of smoke, the bullet and the villain all coexisted in the cover photo and the bottom right corner of the front page was reserved for Mr. Gupta, wearing a khaki police uniform. The titles of few of his books were “Bite of the King Cobra”, “Disappearance of the Beautiful Actress” &C.

He had written many books but I read only few, not more than fifteen. Every single book that I had read, its ending was similar, almost the same. The detective and his assistant were overpowered by the criminals, they were brought inside a small room, hands tied with ropes from behind, mouths fastened tightly with clothes, and they were again tied together with a single rope, back to back; the room was locked from outside and it was gradually getting filled with water because the villain had opened a water tap immediately before locking the room from outside. When the water level had almost touched their chins, that too after they had kept their chins raised with their utmost efforts, Mr. Gupta, the police inspector kicked opened the door. Every single time I felt so relieved when Mr. Gupta had arrived before it was too late, that I had never asked myself how Mr. Gupta was not washed away by the huge volume of water that would be suddenly released when he would kick open the door, or from where he got so much of strength that he could open a door by a kick in spite of the presence of a large column of water behind the door, which should exert huge amount of pressure on it. By the time the two were rescued by Mr. Gupta only half a page would be left for the story to end and the villain would be caught, hand cuffed; the detective, his assistant and the police inspector would appreciate and thank each other for their good work and intelligence and the detective would lit his pipe for the last time.

I loved those stories very much and I read every single book written by him almost holding my breath. One of my big brothers liked it even more; he even decided to become a detective story writer. He wrote one detective story, which definitely had some resemblance with the stories written by this writer. Since that was his first literary work he read it in front of us, his brothers expecting to hear at least few good comments. We all started making fun of him even few of our neighbor boys had also joined us and started making fun of him. It is very difficult for a writer to write for the second time when his or her first work faces so much of criticism and he or she is ridiculed so brutally. My brother never wrote anything again. His desire to become a writer was nipped in the bud by his siblings and friends who expected nothing but the best starting from the very first work.

 

Author: Mintu Ghoshal.

Follow him on facebook: mintu.ghoshal.9

May be next time

I was travelling from Penn Station, New York to South Orange, New Jersey by NJ Transit.

It was a weekday evening and the train was full of office passengers returning from work. As soon as I stepped into the platform I noticed many people were standing in the waiting room of the South Orange Rail Station. To go to the parking area from the platform a passenger has to walk across the waiting room. The waiting room is very useful for office goers during winter mornings, where they can wait for a New York or a Hoboken train to arrive. Hoboken is in New Jersey and Penn Station is in New York and there is river Hudson in between. During cold weather, waiting on the platform at subzero temperature is extremely uncomfortable. But I had never seen any passenger to wait in the waiting room in the afternoon.

As soon as I walked in I saw a boy, who could be fifteen or sixteen was playing guitar. The guitar case was left open beside him expecting to receive some dollar bills from people if they liked his music. I had never seen anyone so young playing any musical instrument so well. I, like everybody else in the room was mesmerized. I moved as close as possible and stood there. Not a single person could leave the room. I also noticed a young, married Indian couple was standing there and enjoying the music.

People started clapping as soon as his play came to end and everybody started putting dollar bills in the guitar case. I also noticed few twenty dollar bills there. Even after paying him they remained standing and looking with great admiration at that very young talent.

I heard the Indian gentleman asking his wife in Hindi, “Shall I give him a dollar.”
“No need, he already got lot of money”, the wife replied in Hindi.

 

Author:  Mintu Ghoshal

Follow him on facebook: mintu.ghoshal.9

Return to Faith

For the last few days there had been a hue and cry in every possible news channel because many Bengali speaking Muslims who were living in Agra where the Taj Mahal Mausoleum is were converted back to Hinduism. The modus of operandi of the re-conversion, as printed in the newspapers, was that they were asked to wash the feet of idols, worshiped by many Hindus and they were told that they have become Hindus again and the only thing that was remaining to be done was to give them brand new Hindu names, which I could imagine would be from “Rahim” to “Ram.”

 

The day after the re-conversion, Muslim clerics barged into the residences of those re-converted people and warned them the consequences of the sinful act which they had just committed. They were told by the clerics that neither they would get entry into the heaven reserved for Hindus nor would they get entry into the heaven reserved for Muslims therefor they will burn in hell fire forever. These are economically backward people who live in slum areas and work as laborers and for people belonging to such economic group, faith and God is a very serious matter.

 

Being born in Hindu faith I have no right to think any faith is better than any other faith including atheism. But I would like to share my experience which could be a good example especially during a time when we see the kind of religious madness all around us.

 

I was living at an apartment in Rolling Hills near Los Angeles. From the balcony of my sixth floor apartment I used to enjoy a spectacular contrasting view. On the right side, overlooking the Torrance Airport, there was the city of Los Angeles which looked amazing at night. On the left hand side was Palos Verdes Hills with its pristine and serene beauty. Driving on Palos Verdes drive had a great attraction; it appeared as if the hill had suddenly fell into the Pacific Ocean, the first thought that came to my mind was who took all the pain to cover the entire hill with so many flower plants, probably there was not even one square foot area where there was no flower.

 

In the apartment complex where I used to live, the property manager’s name was Linda. Linda was like a coconut, strict from outside and kind and caring from inside. Ruth, the assistant manager, was like a peach fruit kind and caring all the way.

 

In the same apartment complex, an old Indian couple used to live. The name of the gentleman was Bhasker Williams, a converted Christian from Karnataka, India. Their two sons had settled in Los Angeles; so they preferred to stay close to their children and grandchildren.

 

It was few days before the Christmas. Linda, the property manager, arranged a Christmas party in the hall which was adjacent to the apartment office. In the evening, after parking my car when I started walking towards the elevator I heard that Ruth, the assistant manager was calling me. She was standing at the door of the apartment office. “I was keeping an eye on the elevator so that I can catch you before you enter into your apartment. Please join us for the party” she told. As soon as I entered into the hall I saw everyone was in the party mood, I was happier to see so many varieties of good food. She had also arranged many events for that evening and people were winning many prizes, mostly chocolates. Everybody was talking to everybody and it was a very pleasant atmosphere. There was one event where everybody was about to start singing Christmas Carol. Linda gave everyone a single page with the song printed on it but she did not give a copy to me, probably thinking that being a non-Christian it might hurt my feeling if I were asked to sing a religious song with the rest, who were all Christians. After the singing got over there were still many more events and again people were winning prizes, chocolates of course. Then we had food. It was a wonderful evening and was also a great learning for me about how to respect everyone’s faith and enjoy life together.

Imagine how I would have felt if I were told “Please sing with us a Christmas Carol” even though I always liked Christmas Carol.

Author: Mintu Ghoshal

Email: mintughoshal@gmail.com

Follow him in facebook at mintu.ghoshal.9

Missed Call

From some ‘not so authentic’ source I have read that “Missed Call” is an Indian invention or discovery, not sure exactly where this should fit in. But realizing, how thrifty the idea is, it is very likely that this could be Indian. This should make us feel proud as a nation because we as a nation did not invent anything lately. By “invention” I mean conceptualizing, experimenting and bring the final product to a presentable state and tell the world “This is Indian.” No, we have not done anything like that in recent past.

When I was growing up in my village, there was no telephone anywhere around. Only public phone that was available was in the post office. One had to speak very loud, so loud that people at a distance of five hundred feet could hear. Sometimes I see that many old people speak very loud on phone, probably they still carry the legacy in their mind or they could be missing the “good-old-days”.

“Missed Call”, literally speaking was not there till mobile phones, which are capable of displaying the phone numbers of the callers came into existence. A missed call is made by dialing a mobile (cell) phone number and disconnect as soon as the first ring is heard.

This is now widely used by companies, institutions as well as by many political parties.

Many companies, when they launch a new product, they advertise something like: “Please give us a missed call and we will call you back to explain how our product works.”   This makes the caller feel good because he or she could talk to the company representative without spending any money, it is the company salesperson who would call him or her back and the expense for the call would be borne by the company. “Missed Call” is also used for opinion poll by many institutions to understand people’s mind. For example in a recent opinion poll conducted by an institution, people were requested to give a missed call if they agreed that “Capital punishment should be enforced for crime against women.”

Even political parties use this idea of “missed call” for many of their campaigns. E.g. a recent advertisement by the ruling political party was like this: “Please give us a missed call if you want to join us and want to bring back India’s past glory” or “please give us a missed call if you support vegetarianism” or “give us a missed call if you think Bhagavad Gita should be taught to every Indian irrespective of his/her faith.”

But this “missed call” as an idea was there in my village and I am confident it was there in every village in India and probably in many parts of the world as well.

Those days a boy used to study as long as his father stayed at home, no sooner had his father left for the office than he closed his books and went out to play. A mother, generally, never interfered into the study of her son; no sooner had her husband returned home from work in the evening than she would complain against the son about all the mischiefs committed by him during her husband’s absence and the father used to beat the son black and blue, quantum of punishment generally remained the same irrespective of whether his son had cracked some other boy’s head open with a stone or whether he had stolen fruit from a neighbor’s garden. Those days doing exercise was considered “wastage of time” but the endeavor of disciplining each and every son by physical means was definitely a good exercise. It was generally believed that harsher the punishment would be, higher would be the chance that the boy would become a better person.

Those days it was normal for a man to punish his neighbor’s son with the same enthusiasm as punishing his own son; it was only appreciated in good spirit and was never criticized. As soon as a father had left home for work, his son would come out of the house and would call his close friend and then would wait in the playground for him to join. But since there was a great likelihood that the friend’s father could still be at home, he was called from a safe distance by using some other name, which was mutually agreed upon. Otherwise the friend’s father would come out and would beat his son’s friend for disturbing his son during his study. When the friend, who was still studying under his father’s hawk-eye, would hear the voice of his close friend calling by that ‘agreed upon’ name, his physical body would be at home in front of the open book but his soul would be in the playground and the moment his father would leave for work the body would merge with the soul in the playground.

Hence the concept of “missed call with encrypted caller id” existed much before mobile phone came to market.

But the days of “missed call” are going to be over soon as we are moving away from “circuit switching” technology and embracing “packet switching” technology for all sorts of communications.

Author: Mintu Ghoshal

Follow him on facebook at mintu.ghoshal.9

Medicine Man

The nearest railway station from my ancestral house in Calcutta was Brace Bridge.

While I was studying M. Sc., I used to travel little more than two kilometers in my bicycle to the rail station from my house and take a train to Ballygunge, where the university campus was.

In late afternoon, almost every day, there used to be some show near the station on a vacant land owned by the rail company. The most common was the monkey show. The trainer used to give verbal instructions to the monkey and the monkey used to follow those instructions, like dancing with drum beats, acting &C. Sometimes the trainer used to lie on the ground, pretending to be dead and the monkey used to pretend as if crying by rubbing eyes with hands but there used to be no tears in its eyes. And sometimes the monkey used to pretend as if it had died and the trainer used to cry, again no tears.
The next common thing was magic show. One interesting item in the magic show was floating mattress in which a small boy used to sit on a small mattress, when the magician had started to spell magic words, the mattress started rising up from the ground, very slowly, it used to rise up to about two to three feet high and then stopped. However the ground below the mattress could never be seen because it remained covered with long black cloth.

Another common show was tightrope walk. A boy, or a girl, or sometimes both used to perform gymnastics on a rope with its one end tied to a lamp post and the other end to a wooden pole.

At the end of the show people used to clap and many people used to give some money.

One day, while I was walking out of the station I saw something which I had never seen before; there was something very long hanging from the upper most end of the lamp post, which was commonly used for tying rope during tightrope walk. When I approached closer I found that few long chains of plastic pouches were tied to the top of the lamp post, the height of the lamp post was not less than 25 feet. I wondered who took all the pain to climb so high and hang those chains from there. Each single pouch contained about 10 to 12 small tablets, which looked herbal.
When I reached at the spot it was already crowded, I had to stand behind many people. I realized that a salesman was selling a product, which he claimed to be the most effective and safe medicine for worm infestation, which was very common among small boys and girls in India during those days.

A large drawing of human digestive system was hanging beside him, with the help of a long stick, like the one commonly used by a teacher in anatomy class, he began the approximately 25 feet long journey starting from the esophagus. He started explaining how food gets digested in human body, how and where it is absorbed, and how the worms could affect the health of its victims by eating the digested food and thus depriving the host of essential nutritional ingredients. His choice of words, power of articulation, appropriate gesture of hands, and loud but clear voice was so perfect that whoever listened to him for a minute got attracted by his speech and could not leave. While explaining the several symptoms of worm infestation he mentioned that victims developed several symptoms like becoming weak, losing weight, not performing well in sports and other physical activities, feeling tired even after rest, and even failing in exams because victims would develop such conditions which would appear like malnutrition and which in turn would create a condition called attention deficiency syndrome and would make it difficult for a victim to memorize what they have studied which eventually would result into failure in exams.

Worm infestation and failing in exam could be distantly related but due to his power of speech it seemed that they were intimately associated as if two sides of the same coin.

At the end of his long discourse, people, mostly those who were returning home from work, started buying the product. I did not count but I was sure he sold not less than 100 pouches, which was a very good number.
During the entire episode, a middle aged man, about five feet tall, having pale look was standing next to me and was listening with undivided attention.
When the crowd thinned out, he walked closer to the salesman and asked “Will my son pass his exam if he takes these tablets”.
“Absolutely” the salesman replied.

 

Author: Mintu Ghoshal

email: mintughoshal@gmail.com

Follow him on facebook: mintu.ghoshal.9