Paradise lost

These are the remains of mud cups used to sell tea along the banks of the Ganga river, in Kolkata India. Next to them are garlands that were once used as an offering to deities.. My feelings for research work exactly!!

This post will not be long. I have been castigated for writing posts that are too long for a blog and dull, to boot.

I have been thinking of all the things I could have been doing, or perhaps am doing in the parallel worlds in existence, and if there were clear markers that I missed, that had tried to direct me to a position I would have been more productive at. I can’t think of any, except my mother being opposed to me doing a Bachelor’s in Biochemistry. There weren’t any better options then. Even if I had wanted to take be an engineer, I didn’t have the confidence that is needed to work hard for the entrance exams. I know now, that I do have a brain, a little late for it to be any of any use. Who knows, maybe thats its true purpose, to remain hidden until its presence is irrelevant. Maybe only for people like me, who are just plain lazy. It sees its uselessness and remains dormant in the hope of divine intervention.

Anyhow, the goals of most of my life are in tatters right now. Most of it was doing good science, though to be honest, even that was very early twenties. Before that was making my dad happy, which doing well in school, college or university, invariably did. In fact, until I did really badly in my senior year in high school and saw how it could affect him, I was not a hundred percent into doing even that well, as I realized later (again). What people may call a lack of the killer instinct.

I found that elusive streak for a short while when it had seemed almost impossible for me to have any hope for a ‘future’ and lost it almost immediately once hope in the name of a graduate student fellowship at JHUSOM, was delivered. It made a come back twice, once it led to results that made a thesis despite all the odds (not yet free to divulge all), and the second time when I successfully wrote and published a science story and while I have published more since, I didn’t need the KI. When an undergrad science writing instructor thought my ‘skills’ were not up to what he thinks can handle his class on science writing, while I was doing a PhD at the SOM! But at that point, my brain had made its presence felt, thanks to killer instinct reprisal#1, and I knew the guy didn’t know what he was talking about. NPR show host/ Harvard PhD. or whatever, there aren’t many Hopkins grads who I think are worth their salt, why should Harvard grads be any different.

Plus, he, like me is a failure in science. Are they not the only people who do allied services to science because they can’t do ‘science’ anymore? My problem is I did ‘do’ science or do justice to the parody of science I had to participate in because of the paradoxical situation extant in the academic world, where no one is actually accountable to people working under them. Only to some larger purpose aiming towards uplifting the world, otherwise alien to scientists. No wait, isn’t that true everywhere? The difference being that in most other professions this fact is out in the open, so it tends to be fair to the people who have the ability and resources to know what they are getting into. Unlike science, where all you have is the larger purpose of solving world problems.

I think this is an acceptable length, as an ode to a profession I can no longer profess to ever successfully make my own.

Only when its personal

The last time I started a blog was when a friend passed away, because of anaphylactic shock in reaction to eating a crab, mixed with being inebriated. This time, I had created my page a long time ago, spending hours on the photographs that would make it look like what I wanted it to stand for. And then gave up, I don’t really know if it stands for anything, just like I don’t seem to.

Today, I am reacting to my friend, philosopher and guide being jailed in Kolkata, initially in police custody ( where suspects of murder, terrorism are usually remanded, to elicit information) then later remanded to judicial custody ( where the police cannot interrogate them further). He was one of 7 detainees arrested from a peaceful assembly to protest eviction of slum dwellers from Nonadanga area, Kolkata, India. He was granted bail last night and will be released wednesday morning in India. The fate of the others, especially Ms Debolina Chakravorty and Abhigyan Sarkar, who remain in police custody, is less certain and more troubling.

Partho Sarothi Ray was granted bail as, being of eminence in the field of molecular biology, virology, evolutionary biology he is known to scientists worldwide and several written petitions from world renowned figures, were sent to the Indian Prime Minister to point out the outright fabrication of charges against him. The one patently spurious was assault on a police office  in the Nonadanga area on the day he was not even present there, but was instead attending a faculty meeting at IISER, Kolkata about 65 kms from Nonadanga. Despite the documentary evidence of his presence in the meeting, he was not granted bail for nine days. Apparently, the police think scientists are equally capable of fabricating documents and the court believes so too.

All this and more has already been written about clearly by several bloggers and at I am a late arrival, but at least this time I arrived.

For all those others, like Soni Suri,  who I watched several videos of and felt indignation and flaring temper with every report I read, and yet did not arrive, I beg forgiveness. Not that they want it or need it. They are the kind of people who are brave everyday, facing problems most blog readers cannot imagine and show courage knowing they may and probably will come to harm if they do. Such bravery doesn’t require a certificate.Only it warrants the support, from me from anyone else who considers themselves responsible, conscious, Indian, and who doesn’t have to worry about where the next meal for their children is going to come from or if there is going to be a roof over their heads when it does come, whether they can live with some self respect and stick to the last vestiges of hope.

Coming back to the incident in Kolkata, one of many over the recent years when I have been at a safe distance from the country. In reality, I have been at a safer distance all of my life in India, mentally and physically unaware of any problems that don’t touch me. After all, middle class families don’t delve in such rebellion. If they are honest, they work hard, live within their means, hope for a bright future for their children  preferably in India and perhaps even abroad, don’t get in trouble with the law or the government and of course read the newspaper to remain informed. I didn’t even read that regularly, it didn’t seem to be anything I could change. Thats another mentality which is perhaps the safest place to live in, if you think you can’t change it or make it better, why bother knowing about it?

Then where do people like Partho come from? I have often wondered that. They do seem to come more often from West Bengal, the land of public uprisings, demonstrations, meetings and political activism. I had read an article on the characteristics of people from U.P., Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. And I agree that only in WB education is considered to be an end to itself, not something that would help making more money. But people used to be happy about this distinction earlier, though not anymore. Why, everyone is making money, most of them are less educated, less ‘cultured'(a term I hold at an arms distance at all other times), and even less knowledgable about history. Isn’t this political activism the main reason that the state is behind all others in development? 35 yrs of CPM- who were believed to have socialist ideals, had put WB behind in every type of industrial growth. Even the Tata Nano factories were not allowed to get set up here.

Public outrage and uproar ( I realized that this line is a little misplaced here, as Mamata Bannerjee opposed the Nano factory, so i am moving it to the next paragraph) to that had been tremendous and probably partially guaranteed the CM post for Didi.

However, if Gujarat is going to be the Detroit of the east, Kolkata should at least be London. And anything less than that is not acceptable, we are not discussing possibilities here, only the rot in the system has lasted so long that any mishaps can be blamed on that, even if we only have mishaps.

Ask a person in the US, what they think of Detroit, especially after the meltdown but even before that. A part of the rustbelt that never came back up. A strong mix of  high crime rate, unemployment, and constant lack of funds in the city government makes it an undesirable place to live for anyone who has a choice. One wonders how a city with such high profile industrial manufacturing units comes to such a downfall, but that is for another day. And so what, thats years down the line. First set up the auto companies, known to fail in business and building good cars like General Motors, Ford, Peugeot, Tata, then what happens in 10 or probably 30 yrs is not the problem of the state today. Sustainable development what?? No dhenkyou. And who, my friends is going to buy the cars and where my friends are they going to drive them? Have you been on the Delhi metro? These are the people who can probably afford the cars that are being build, but don’t want to drive in the ever clogged streets, broader than in most indian cities.

So, in the quest to become London, cleaning up the streets and using decorative lights is a must. Sure, point taken. Now slums are an eyesore, but the industrial capital of India, Mumbai has also not been able to solve the problem overnight. Slums is where all the workers live, they build the city around them. Sometimes the government gives them money and flats to relocate, which they sell or rent out and go right back to slums.. They therefore deserve to be evicted. Hence the enlightened public of Kolkata look the other way towards high rises and shopping malls that don’t run too well within a few years of their inauguration, as the slum dwellers are being forced to leave without any kind of compensation.

This is where a cultural heritage comes to the rescue, the heritage that used to make people proud, perhaps for tardy reasons, but even so. There is a police approved demonstration, with activists from all walks of life and Partho, the eminent scientist and assistant professor is present among the other social workers and activists on April 8th.  But the police change their mind about the approval and decide to arrest over 60 people in the demonstration. Nothing that will jeopardize londonization and all the work that is being put into it, after the years of sitting around doing nothing, will be tolerated. At his bail hearing, apparently, the police had nothing to say against him, well next time someone needs a 10 day vacation, consider the options for a state paid one, maybe the police officers who assaulted the slum dwellers would warrant one, but wait, no, there is no FIR against them.

What happened to the state where you always saw as many women activists, freedom fighters or more, as men? Where gender equality at least tends to enter people’s minds. Where books are read and worshipped. But anyone who wants to translate the lines to real life – of democracy or human rights- is now a Maoist or a Maoist sympathizer. The state where everything was personal, everyone was didi (sister) or dada (brother).Where humor found authors like Sukumar Ray, quite unparalleled, now can’t even tolerate a joke. The state cultured to the extent of being stagnant, some thought. ‘Bengalis all live in the past with Rabindranath Thakur’, I have said many times. But rice needs stagnant water to grow, remember. Rice is the staple food for most of the world’s population, albeit in the east and far east- (where the sun rises) and of course West Bengal.
And maybe that why that’s where all the activists have come from, because it has always been personal to them as political activism is to their heritage. That is why intellectuals support activism in Bengal and now intellectuals worldwide know what transpired. If an FIR can be fabricated for a peaceful, government worker with international credentials, one may now begin to harbor doubts about the Maoist who is only an adivasi trying to get hope and a future for his family or a girl trying to live with respect.

While I hope I have arrived, there is the lingering doubt in my mind that maybe I have not, maybe I won’t ever.

The dragonfly on the cover of the website was flitting around in Machlandapur where I had gone with Partho to attend a science adda in a Bengal village. Both a first for me. A long, sometimes harrowing I was told, but affordable local train ride, to a small town, that used to be a village and still has the feel once you get past the railway station. I hope the people who invited Partho there will be as outraged as I am, because they treated us with great respect( I wasn’t sure I deserved it). Wanted to know how we were changing the world, as they seemingly live a quiet inconsequential life in a village. They wanted to know about science and environment protection and conservation. About sustainable development. A truly unique West Bengal feature, this science adda, where I spoke in bengali in front of about 30-40 people, who didn’t mind my diction.

Thats Bengal to me, and that is personal. Those people and others far worse off than them depend on people like Partho and Debolina to bring them closer to the big bosses busy changing their world. Some of them believe, even if we the city people are totally indifferent to it or don’t know what to do with it if we aren’t making money out of it, that knowledge is power. And here is power to the people.

 The following link has the bail petition with the documents showing Partho’s attendance of the faculty meeting, under ‘Hard Facts’,