Bangkok Bytes I

Planning For A Trip to Bangkok

Madhusree and I have never travelled abroad together on vacation. Both of us individually have travelled for work and for holidays within the country but never used our passports. Money is a constraint but time is even more of one and this is because we have to leave Georgie behind all by herself with her staff. But this time we were determined to break the jinx, travel to Bangkok we will, a destination which every Bengali seems to have made to. Besides, Shubhro, Madhusree’s brother is posted in the city as the county manager of an Indian public sector company. He is all by himself in the city, homesick and would look forward to our visit. We therefore buy our tickets, the cheap ones because we buy it so much in advance and pray to God that all coordinates are in place while we travel out. We have many spoilers for our plans, Georgie’s health, our parents’ health, office assignments and who knows some natural calamity? We are neck deep in work with major assignments to submit and many conferences to pull off and submit important advisories. We are working round the clock to morally earn a good vacation. We finish our work in the nick of time, my father is slowly recovering from a spine fracture and though on the eve of our departure Madhusree’s parents both fall down in the washroom of the theatre, they are restored without much hurt. So, with fingers crossed we start our packing by arranging clothes, papers and most importantly some downloads on Thailand.

I am never quite comfortable with foreign travel because of an unfounded fear that I might lose my passport or travel documents or that my bag will be picked. Yet the lure of encountering different people, different societies and especially different civilisations help me push my fears down my gut and rouse my spirits for adventure. I have little idea about Thailand really except that Bangkok seems to be the newest fad for the upstart and the aspiring Bengali middle classes. Why not Bangkok especially as Madhusree’s cousin Shubhro is posted in Thailand as the country manager of an Indian public sector company. He stays all by himself in the city and has learnt Thai and he could guide us around the city for what we call in economics as optimization or maximum tourism in the shortest possible time. The Internet is only indicative because it suggested some impossible combinations of Kanchanaburi and the floating market, places which were on two opposite directions beyond the city limits. Hence we have to rely to Shubhro’s guidance to pragmatically plot places downloaded from the Internet.

20th April, 2017 

We get into the plane to the polite welcome of the Thai hostesses. They are wearing resplendent silk, slim and petite with fine creamy white and yellowish skin. The men look soft and comely less assertive of their masculinity. The crew are wearing black badges and while we were wondering whether they were on a strike or not when we remembered that the Thai King was dead and the country was in mourning. A lady profusely apologized us and when we looked surprised she explained that she had stepped on to our shoes. What a contrast between her and the Indian tourists who rape and intimidate foreign tourists.

The airline crew were dressed in resplendent silk of hues that I have never seen in India and they had a black badge pinned on to their shoulders. I wondered whether they were on strike or not when Madhusree remembered that the Thai King, Bhumibol Adulyadej had died last October and the entire nation would be in mourning for a whole year, only after which the soul of the dead King would finally pass into Heaven. I wondered in my mind what kind of personalities are developed in nations without democracies? Our minds are so framed with democracies and even the nation that it becomes difficult for me to conceptualize the state of minds of the NRIs as well. How can a person who does not make her own decisions about her own government and one who does not have the full rights as citizens ever become a complete human being? I wondered. Anyway I decided to observe in the following brief time I was to be there.

The air hostess handed us two boxes of the Hindu meal insisting that we had booked the Hindu meal. This was completely false because we never like to have Indian food anywhere outside of our homes and the office canteen and to be reduced to the status of the Hindu meal was demeaning to us. The Hindu in our imagination is a conservative and ritualistic person steeped in superstition and discriminatory behaviour but for much of the world such as Central Asia and now Thailand or perhaps the entire south east Asia, the Hindu is plain and simple an Indian. She may be a Christian or a Muslim, a Sikh or even a Buddhist but to the parts of the world as these all Indians are the one and the same, the Hindu. The so-called Hindu meal arrived consisting of jeera rice, salt free green peas, pepper fish and cold pumpkin salad and pepper fish which was a half-way house between a Chinese dish and a continental baked fish in pepper sauce containing loads of cornflower paste. It was pretentious and yet inane tasting food.

I was quite surprised at seeing a number of Sikhs on board to Bangkok. Sikhs have become almost invisible in India, one rarely gets to see a turban around even in Amritsar or Chandigarh. Kolkata’s large population of Sikhs seem to have disappeared too. But now on the plane aboard to Bangkok there is a substantially visible Sikhs chattering away in Punjabi.

The plane flew amidst the dimensionless and directionless vistas of the Indian Ocean and the only thing that I could see from the clouds was that the Ocean waters were almost white, with a hint of translucent blue. The whiteness of the Indian Ocean must have inspired the ancient Indians to imagine the Kshir sagar, or the ocean of milk churning which have yielded almost every conceivable artefact of the Indian culture.

We landed in Bangkok to some kind of a VIP welcome which so kindly Shubhro made possible. It was good because as I was to realize later that almost no one spoke English in the country and even when they did, the accent remained particularly Thai. Women were everywhere as visa officers, as security personnel, behind the Forex counters, as shop keepers, as porters, lift operators, concierges and just as I half expected Shubhro’s driver also to be a woman, he turned out to be a burly Thai and who spoke English. He was a permanent employee of the Indian PSU and hence knew English, the mother tongue of India, a nation that exists as the highest common factor among a myriad of nations, cultures and even civilizations contained within its territory surrounded by the sea and cut off from much of the world by the tallest mountains on earth. His name was Lim, or Khun Lim, Khun means Mr, or Mrs, or even an Ms gender neutral universal term.


Suvarnabhumi Airport, BKK

The Bangkok airport was a huge affair, but it was very cold and functional. Bangkok is among the world’s busiest airports as Thailand is a major tourist destination apart from being the gateway to the south east especially for those who flew over the Atlantic. The airport had about six floors with a long corridor connecting it straight to the city rail. The city was not as glittery as Kolkata and in fact parts of it seemed to me to be rather dark. Many of the major crossing of roads and flyovers had a distinct feel of Chennai’s Annasalai area.

Shubhro’s Flat

Shubhro lived in one of the poshest localities of Bangkok, centrally located on a busy thoroughfare on the 19th floor. Living so high and amidst Thai high culture, I expected to get a taste of the Thai literally and figuratively from above. We dropped our bags and Lim parked the car in the garage and drove off to his home twenty kilometres away towards the limits of the city and we hailed a taxi to spend some time at the night market of Pratunam. We had pretty much here what we also have anywhere else in Kolkata, plastic table mats and curtains, bags and purses, an array of artificial flowers and decorative lights, T shirts and shorts, tights and shirts, mementoes in the form of key chains and paques and fridge magnets, belts and watches, lipstick and nail polish and various kinds of plastic and porcelain stuff like figurines. Ganesh was widely available across Bangkok but that I was to realize a day later when we visited yet another tourist spot, Kanchanaburi. But I did notice that the quality of the products were far superior to almost the similar stuff found on the pavements of Gariahat in Kolkata. Quality of work is a major indicator of development and clearly one can say that Thailand is a much more developed country given its good quality of manufacturing.

There were some young men supercilious and arrogant selling memento stuff the cheapest one could find and they introduced themselves as the MR people, MR meaning Myanmar, a community who the Thais seem to resent. I sensed a slight hint of a social boycott of the Burmese by the Thais. Among the Thai shopkeepers once again I saw the space being totally overrun by women. They were selling their wares, eating dinner, listening to music and making their faces up by dabbing foundation, reapplying their mascara and lipstick, or doing their nails. Children, like the men were absent from among some thousand shopkeepers along the street panning Sukhomvit and Pratunam.

We soon entered into an open air dining area with yet some thousand dining sets and shops all around these serving exquisite Thai delicacies. Once again all were women, only apparently so. Many among them were transgenders, and male cross dressers; Thailand was overwhelmingly feminine. The food was way beyond my idea of Thai cuisine formed through the culinary presentations of chefs in India. The Thai have a distinct flavour which is clearly discernible from cuisines of Vietnam, Laos, Burma and even of Indonesia and Malaysia even though seafood, sticky rice and fish sauce constitute the kitchen core of the entire region. I think that it is the galangal, the root ginger that makes all the difference and no wonder the term gaalagaal in Bengali means abusive, pungent as the Thai galagal.

Streets in Bangkok were agog with life; the particular night market which we visited and which extended into an open air food court was called the Talat Neon; Talat meaning the beholden beauty in Arabic while neon means plain English, neon lights. The table, chair, cutlery, crockery were all made of plastic, cold drinks were served in plastic glasses, snacks were served in plastic, so were the wares one bought, all thrown into plastic bags and yet I did not see a shred of plastic anywhere that I cast my glance. In order to avoid plastic waste, one need not ban plastic, one only needs to dispose it off responsibly. The Thais are more responsible people, the Indians are not.

Madhusree and I are clearly over our attraction for street food because we find sitting down in uncomfortable furniture and inadequate crockery and cutlery no longer to be our thing. Also we have an aversion to street food because we think that the hygiene standards are profligate. But on this muggy night with some rain clouds turning reddish against the dark sky threatening thunder and rain, we neither had fear of dirt nor the discomfort of the chairs. I think that the way the food was served with respect, interest and enthusiasm and the total absence of dust even in the light rise of the breeze, our reservations against street food vanished. We relished the Thai cuisine; it was exquisite, nothing like this we had ever tasted before.

Stuffed with food and all the gifts we bought for family back home, the three of us were in a bit of a hurry to get back home. We were eager to ride a Tuk Tuk just for the heck of it but the drivers were much worse than those in Delhi or Chennai charging us a bomb. We abandoned the idea of the Tuk Tuk and hailed a plush airconditioned taxi back home at a fraction of the cost of the Tuk Tuk.

Shubhro’s rented flat has no ceiling fans, the Thais use only pedestal fan and indeed I saw many selling a hand held battery fan. Fans for the Thai is a personal affair and not a matter of changing the environment as for we the Indians. But we had a lovely night because of the air condition and no power cuts in Thailand. I felt let down by the Haryana power supply for even in the lightest of rains power can be snapped for over six hours. Here in Bangkok, a city of rain and thunder, electricity continued uninterrupted with the same kind of overhead electric wires. I tried to look closely at the wires, they were thicker, glossier, and sturdier. I wondered why we could not have these wires for the Haryana Power Utilities especially when we were funded of half a billion of USD by the World Bank.

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Taxi Drivers

Taxi drivers in Kolkata…post to come

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Atul Prasad Sen…

Atul Prasad Sen, more commonly referred to as Atul Prasad is one of Bengal’s most popular song writer and composer. Atul Prasadi music is reckoned as a leading strand in Bengali culture, one that needs specialized training and practice. Atul Prasad was a contemporary of Tagore and lived between the 20th of October 1871 and the 26th of August 1934. Born as the oldest child of Ramprasad Sen of Dhaka, Atul Prasad had three sisters, he being the only male child of his parents. His father was an ambitious man who though employed as a school teacher in Dhaka wanted to study medicine. He met Maharshi Debendranath who arranged for him to study medicine in the Bengali medium. Ramprasad eventually studied psychiatry and became the superintendent of the Dhaka Mental Asylum. Unfortunately when Atul Prasad was only a mere child, Ramprasad died and his wife, Hemantashashi went with her children to live with her father, Kalinarayan Gupta, a renowned Brahmo Samaj reformer who also was a kirtan singer with a large troupe.

Atul Prasad Sen soon imbibed music from his maternal grandfather and theatre from his maternal uncles. Even as a young boy, Atul Prasad was influenced by Surendranath Banerjee, a prominent Congress politician of his times and with a family of influential men and women among who K.G.Gupta was a civil servant with the revenue board and his mother engaged in the uplift of women, another maternal uncle led a theatre troupe, Atul Prasad became a socially aware young man with a sense of larger social concern. This reflected in the way he eventually composed his music, infusing strands of the Indian classical like the thumri, dadra, kajri and ghazal as well as the popular forms of the kirtan and baul into his songs to create a composite music culture that would represent India’s unity in diversity as well as the fusion of the tradition and the modern. Due to the family’s social status and the influence of the Brahmo Samaj ideology, Atul Prasad became an egalitarian who literally mixed with every strata of persons, a “mixing” that became evident in his music as well. He used many instruments as well like the esraj, khol and even the harmonium, all of which he seemed to have mastered well by the age of nine.

Atul Prasad Sen went to study in Presidency College of Calcutta and then travelled to London to study law. In London he met Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, Sarojini Naidu and C.R Das among others and together they promoted Dadabhai Naoroji in the British Parliament. He passed his examinations in a single chance and returned to Kolkata where he apprenticed under Satyendra Prasanna Sinha, or Lord Sinha. In order to set up his own practice he migrated to Rangpur in East Bengal from where a colleague Momtaz Hussain brought him to Lucknow, a city that represented the politics of a rising British power and a feudal princely rule in its zenith but displaced through colonialism.

Professionally and politically Atul Prasad became an important citizen of Lucknow. He would receive important political dignitaries of the Congress, donated liberally to Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s political party, Servants of India, helped set up girls’ schools and homes for widows and much before Gandhi came into mass politics, and he insisted that he play Holi with the untouchables. Atul Prasad was known for his generosity; he earned very well but donated even more liberally for social causes especially for institutions. He was active in the setting up of the Lucknow University as well. He also set up the Bongiyo Parishad in Lucknow which held literary conferences. In 1926 he invited Saratchandra Chattejee to preside over the literary conference and when the novelist could not attend on account of ill health, and Atul Chandra presided over it, the presidential address turned out to be a musical affair because he had to keep singing all his songs through the night on the request of the audiences – such was the popularity of his songs.

He was especially close to Tagore, being part of the Khamkayali group, in which Tagore, D.L.Ray, the Maharaja of Natore were integral parts. Their friendship grew deeper over time and Atul Prasad, in his capacity as a person of influence and a song writer supported Tagore in each of his endeavours. They met in Lucknow as well as in Ramgarh where Tagore would stay on for months for the convalescence of his daughter. Atul Prasad stayed on long vacations in Puri and Darjeeling where he was particularly close to Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee and Chittaranjan Das, the latter being his step cousin and also a friend from England. He had substantial political visibility as well and often headed the reception Committees for the Indian National Congress sessions held in Northern India.

Atul Prasad wrote 206 songs which were unfortunately never dated. Though his music can be classified as Tagorean in the pitch, tonality and style, yet it had a unique quality to it and it was not always the fusion that marked his style. His style was in fact marked by a forlorn melancholia bearing with them the solitude of his soul. It is inferred that his personal life full of woes, his incestuous marriage with his cousin in Gretna Green, in Scotland, which eventually went sour, the poverty and neglect faced by his sisters because they had no father and no paternal home of their own made him compose the doleful numbers. He was particularly hurt by his mother’s remarriage to Durga Mohan Das an eminent Brahmo Samajist. Durgamohan was also a follower of Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar and got his widowed mother to remarry. Atul Prasad composed some peppy numbers as well and his signature song, Uthaga Bharata Lakhhi was composed on the music of the gondola rowers in Italy where he stopped on his way to England on a ship.

Atul Prasad Sen was almost a song archaeologist for he would collect music from wherever he could find it; he visited the baijis of Lucknow and it is to his credit that so many of the songs sung by them are with us today. He particularly admired Wajed Ali Shah whose tunes he used in some of his compositions. Being in Lucknow brought him to close contact with the classical musicians of khayal and thumri. Lucknow still has a road named as the A.P.Sen Road in the memory of a man who they called as the Nawab without a crown.


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Ease of Doing Business

I never say no to invitations except when they are on Sundays. The Sunday is a difficult day for us because the dog sitter is on leave and we have to stay back with Georgie, our pet. But this time, on a Monday, I am saying no to an august group which is meeting to discuss the ease of doing business in India. India is low in the ease of doing business, business is not too well respected in the country, naukri, or a salaried job is. Businessmen, despite their money are considered to be low down in the ladder of social importance while the clerks and the bureaucrats are held in higher esteem. Hence the higher status class oppresses the lower social class by being mean and difficult blocking permissions, creating needless hurdles and showing unnecessary rigidities in the interpretation of rules. The recent being one in which the customs clerks refused to consider the user manual as part of import of machinery and instead charged extra for the manual under the section of import of books. Leh halua !! or is it Hallelujah !

But businesses in India also have things rather easy, they can steal provident fund money of their workers, pay pittance to the skilled innovator, refuse to pay for technology, refuse to pay for drawings and depend far too much on government support by desiring explicit and hidden subsidies. Also, they are poor in technology, oblivious to globalization, have no long term strategy and often fly by night by winding up businesses to park money elsewhere. The ease with which businesses get away with utterly unethical behavior is not funny. Businesses in India are veritable vehicles of money laundering, showing no respect for their trade, not caring for technology and expertise. Business in India is sans self-respect and bereft of any sense of self-worth. What kind of ease of business should we guarantee to the community which has no concern for itself and far less for the larger community?

India is losing its manufacturing base to China; next it will lose to Vietnam, to Bangladesh, to Zambia and Angola, to Peru and Colombia. Besides, it could never rise up to any commendable technology base. While money invested in business has grown, employment has stagnated and even shrunk. It has used borrowed knowledge and borrowed money and from the State desired that its loans be written off, it be allowed to pinch salaries and wages of workers and then retrench them at will, access the police force to steal land from indigenous communities, villages and the people at large. Few countries provide businesses such ease of operations.

Of course bureaucratic hurdles, clerical hurdles must be removed from the path of setting up businesses, but what will the business provide to us in return? Can it guarantee leadership in technology, sustained opportunities for employment? Can it provide an assurance that banks will earn interests and not encounter bad loans? Can it ensure that communities around the industry will develop and not live in abject poverty around the walls of Tata Steel, or the various SAIL plants? Can business assure that with growth in employment, knowledge and profits, it can provide affordable healthcare and education without making these into money spinning scams? If business can do so, then I attend the meeting. If it cannot, then be hell with business. There are many ways of earning money.


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Bonophool … The Nihilist From The Wilderness

Ohetuk Adda on the 21st January 2017, Bonophool

Bonophool, which means wild flower, was the pen name of Dr. Balai Chand Mukhopadhyay, a pathologist by qualification and a practicing medical doctor. He shot into prominence as a novelist, poet, playwright and a short story writer representing the neo modernist Bengali literature that started with the famous Kallol movement. The soul of this movement was to break the strong hold of Tagore’s influence on the Bengali reader and introduce a more pragmatic and dynamic prose that would articulate social conflicts rather seek only the sublime. However, the Kallol movement had its own snobberies and promoted a Calcutta centric culture and language. Since Bonophool was raised, educated and lived in Bihar, a province that though part of the larger Bengal subah during the Mughals, became a separate province under the British, he was considered to be a nonresident Bengali and assumed as not being capable of producing meaningful works in Bengali. In the post-Independence days Bonophool was not included in school and college syllabus and hence continued to remain largely peripheral to the Bengali literature.

His name, Bonophool, thus truly expressed his angst at being shunned by the city, notwithstanding the fact that he was also fond of the forest and loved his walks in the woods for which he was nicknamed as junglibabu in Bihar. However, he did have an all India fandom especially since many of his novels and short stories were made into films both in Hindi and Bengali so much so that the Government of India issued a commemorative stamp in his memory on his 100th birth anniversary. He also received the Padma Bhushan and an honorary doctorate for literature (could not find the University).

Besides novels and plays, Bonophool wrote some poetry as well and belonged to the school that wrote simple verse telling simple stories without much layering of complex ideas, perhaps also a reason for his not being part of the mainstream Bengali literature. But it were his short stories which can really be said to have made a mark. He wrote his stories really short with snappy tangy punches, piquant and vitriolic, his idea was to demolish the pretentious snobbery of the Bengali city bred elite as being superior in values and morals to the bucolic and rustic people who live in villages or work at the bottom of the rung in cities as rickshawpullers and coolies. In his novels and stories, the so-called small people always seem to be one up on the elites, the former appear as being smarter and despite their simplicity as more honest, spontaneous and integrated people. He also speaks of women who remain incarcerated in their roles as wives in the homes of the fashionable and modern men claiming to have a monopoly of good values. With such inversions one wonders whether Bonophool is not a post-modernistist who sees through the modernist and nationalistic ideology as being yet another kind of colonialism. Despite his strong ideological layering, it is his use of style that will continue to make Bonophool unique. He raised the Bengali language to a new level of expression and in fact, one may well call his short stories as constituting a break in the use of language in the production of literature, something which Pyari Mohan Mitra’s Alaler Ghore Dulal had done almost a century earlier.

Although Bonophool started off as a young guard criticizing Tagore, Tagore and he became close to each other. Tagore sensed that Bonophool’s sensibilities were very much like his, in identifying that nationalism was becoming an affair of the elite where values and morals were being imposed upon the populace. The simple people much like the flowers in the wild survived in their cultural and moral integrity against the domination of the modernity and nationalism. Tagore described Bonophool’s pen as spicy, sharp and strident. Shonibaarer Chithi, a journal that tried to give space to writers and poets from the mofussil and the suburbs promoted Bonophool actively as someone who brings in a fresh perspective with a punch. Bonophool is not one who explores emotions, he is not one to present lofty ideals, nor one with many layered symbolisms who would produce new cultural idioms. His straight and strident style was nihilistic, annihilating any and every one in a position of moral authority especially those which flowed from sites of incumbency in social and public institutions. While there have been Tara Shankar Bandopadhyay and Manik Bandopadhyay who spoke about the subaltern and their perspective, few, if any could annihilate the institutions of social domination like Bonophool did.


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Hamlet’s Ghost

Hamlet’s Ghost is the name of a free on line course offered by the Harvard University through the EdeX. Prof Stephen Greenblatt is the author of the course and has carved this course out of his book, Hamlet in the Purgatory. The idea of the course is to throw into relief the ideas of death of the Catholics versus those of the Protestants and how a grave politics of revolutionary nature was played out in England over the contending ideas of death, especially the aftermath of death in the sense of what happens to souls after humans die. The Catholics believed in the idea of the Purgatory, a place in between the earth and the Heaven or Hell as the case may be, where souls are purged of their sins. The act of purging out is painful and horrific and souls, were they to walk the earth again as ghosts were forbidden to report any of the details of the space. The Catholic Church collected large sums of money, land and other forms of property from the kith and kin of the dead in the name of alleviating the pains of the souls of their loved ones from the fires and other tortures in the Purgatory; the Protestants refused to believe in the Purgatory and hence somewhat could escape from the extortions of the Church for money. In a series of Acts passed in the 1530’s by the Crown in England, known as the English Reformation, Protestantism and not Catholicism was established as the official religion. Catholic beliefs were outlawed and along with that belief in ghosts began to be considered a legal offence. Amidst such mayhem of theological contestations which were covert political and economic revolutions, Shakespeare lived and wrote his plays. Hamlet’s Ghost was therefore a Catholic survival into a Protestant politics. Death emerges central to the drama of Hamlet and the fact that the Ghost of the dead King plays a crucial role we know that the ghost of the now dead Catholicism will play an important role in the play.

The drama opens with Hamlet, the reigning King of Denmark dead, his beloved wife, Gertrude, who is now widowed marries the King’s brother, Claudius. Claudius is now the king of Denmark and the dead king’s son also called Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark, the heir apparent. The play is about the younger Hamlet, the surviving Prince of Denmark. Hamlet is in mourning both from the loss of his father and the remarriage of his mother to Claudius. He used to admire his father who was a man of noble quality and loved his wife dearly; Hamlet cherished the fact that his parents were much in love with each other and cannot accept the fact that barely the funeral feast was over that a wedding was celebrated with the leftovers. One is not sure whether it is the death of father or mother’s remarriage that Hamlet is more upset about; it is possible that the remarriage reinforces the grief over death. Catholic Church forbids remarriage and divorce and indeed the promulgations against the Catholic Church had to do centrally with Henry VIII’s desire to remarry, bigamy and divorce, both of which Catholicism disallowed. The motif of remarriage figures as prominently as the idea of the Purgatory as survivals of Catholicism in the newly proclaimed Protestant England.

Death is both the separation of the body and the soul, but is also a return of the past, of tradition to haunt the present times. As the Ghost rises from the Purgatory to walk the earth and beseech Hamlet to avenge his death, which was not natural as was made out to be but a calculated murder by Claudius. Hamlet is confused, whether to believe in the Ghost’s existence, then to believe in what he says and eventually to bring himself to the task of revenge. Revenge incidentally is more of a pagan concept and inheres in the many versions of the pagan folk story upon which Hamlet is based. Against the political backdrop Shakespeare places Hamlet, a reworking on a familiar Danish tale upon which plays had already been composed for the public theatre, to insert a set of new arguments into the familiar plot so that the audiences can engage with the drama in a more significant manner.

Shakespeare places the dead King into the Catholic Purgatory but for the son, the hero Hamlet the entire world becomes the Purgatory and life is a metaphor of death. He finds that the sunlight breeds maggots to feed on the corpses and everything about life surely walking towards death. For Hamlet, the prince, death is Protestant, a blank, a nothingness, in which the beggar and the King are the same. The difference between life and death is only the shadow of dreams, or a set of illusions for a world which has been so corrupted with the arrogance of the intellectual, rudeness of bad men, corrupt morals of women and betrayals by friends, life is shorn of life force and resembles only death.

Death is the main theme of Hamlet; it begins in the backdrop of death, braces Hamlet, its hero with the shroud of mourning for the dead, and then as the Ghost appears invoking Hamlet to revenge through murder, we are prepared to see the end of the play in death. In Shakespeare’s times, in the Books of Mortality, we find list of deaths due to the various causes like plague, other forms of illness, and even out of grief. When we place the list of deaths from the Books of Mortality and Shakespeare’s deaths as they take place in his plays we obtain a distinct difference. While deaths listed in the Book are of diseases and other natural causes, deaths in Shakespeare are always caused by human agency, like murder, stabbing, wounding, poisoning and so on. In the play in which death of the King should lead us to the death of his assassin, we encounter a series of deaths in the meanwhile. Polonius is murdered by Hamlet, Ophelia loses her mind in grief and is drowned in a gushing stream, Gertrude drinks the poisoned drink intended for Hamlet, Laertes and Hamlet fatally wound each other with poisoned swords and in the end, Hamlet wounds Claudius with the same poisoned sword. All characters die in the end of the play.

Let us observe how Shakespeare treats death in the course of the play. The men die through stab wounds while the women die of grief and guilt. Ophelia dies of grief while Gertrude dies of guilt and therefore, in terms of the Books of Mortality, not of human agency. But all the other deaths are of stab wounds and the last three deaths namely of Laertes, Hamlet and Claudius are of poison as well. Poison kills all except Polonius and Ophelia just as stabs kills all except Gertrude and Ophelia. The men are thus fatally stabbed by swords and hence are also victims of human agency. The death of Gertrude and Ophelia, though both suicides are retained as being of “natural” causes such as of fear (read guilt) and of grief. Women are thus not subject to human agency while all men are.


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Delhi’s Pollution

Dear Mr Kapil Misra,

Thank you for your email asking of me my opinion about the pollution in Delhi. I am not really a resident of Delhi because I live off the city limits in the periphery of a suburb in Faridabad, driven out of Delhi due to high land prices. However, I am in the city for three decades now and work here and may continue to work in Delhi while living in the NCR for another couple of decades. Hence Delhi is very much a part of my concern and hence its pollution needs my thinking hat.

We have to accept the fact that Delhi is not at an advantage in terms of its geography and climate zone; it is a dust bowl by the fact of its longitude and latitude, by the fact that the great Himalayas guards the north Indian plains like a giant hat which prevents air to flow out of the area. Central Asia which is drier and barer practically has no dust because there is nothing there to trap wind and hence dust with it. Therefore, Delhi is naturally inclined to be dusty. Crackers during Diwali, crop burning before the winter, crop cutting through machines, the rise in moisture in areas around Delhi like the heavy rains in eastern India this year which creates an envelope of vapour around the northern plains and thus preventing the air from making a safe exit towards the sea all escalate air pollution by making the air both dust laden as well as heavy. Besides, autumn and early summer, when temperatures change and the winds reverse their directions air pollution is bound to happen.

If we examine the nature of air pollution in Delhi, it consists not of hydrocarbon emissions nor of suspension of Sulphur which could have been caused by vehicles and crackers respectively. Nor do we have a high noxious factor for which we could blame our industries. What Delhi has is a very high dust quotient and given its natural proclivity to have a high suspension of particulate matter which is dust, one must look towards what raises dust in Delhi.

There are three sources of dust, one seasonal and which is crop cutting and the wind falling around Diwali and early summer. But there are other two which are structural to the urban sprawl of Delhi and hence may be addressed as part of town planning and city management. First are the construction. There are all kinds of constructions in Delhi, roads, buildings and of course, the metro rail. I do not see any extensive use of dust suppression methods used by the contractors. I am not sure whether dust suppression constitutes a part of their cost sheets or not and whether the tender documents at all check the environmental and ecological matters. Then there are private buildings and large scale apartment complexes which are taking place all over the city and in the large swathes of land lying outside the city. These real estate development activities are dust generating activities and are ecological disasters. I have no idea why there are no elaborate rules charted out for the management of dust for construction activities. I think that one has to be very careful with the builders and the land and real estate developers.

These developers not only clear forest lands, dig up farm and grazing land and adopt no dust management practices whatsoever but these projects uproot the grass growing on soil. I have briefly visited the USA as well as Central Asia, which was supposed to be parts of the erstwhile Soviet Union and I have observed that every bit of exposed earth is sown with grass. In India, we hardly find grass on grounds. Every bit of earth should be planted with grass. This is the best method to prevent soil loss and dust.

Delhi is presently very green thanks to the hectic plantation of trees, but trees gather dust as well and this dust along with pollen and dry leaves produce a higher concentration of particulate matter suspended in air. I have observed that the MCD staff rarely sweep roads with any regularity and even when they do the garbage is piled up alongside the road. In the poorer areas of Delhi and in the MCD there is no system of garbage collection. Local nallahs and rain water channels are choking with garbage. The principal reason for this garbage heap is the lack of understanding that garbage is generated in geometric proportion while the staff to collect the same, the capacity of the carts to carry away the trash and the capacity of garbage processors such as incinerators are not increasing. There is no garbage forecast model, no model to track the operation of garbage clearing. Almost all the permanent staff employed for city cleaning outsource their jobs to others and these “others” are mainly the kabadiwallahs who sift and sort the garbage, take out whatever is important and throw the rest anywhere they feel like. The rural zones of Delhi, the suburbs of the NCR have heaps of trash since years. The pile up of such massive garbage adds to the heaviness of the air which finally traps dust causing the unbearable levels of pollution.

My concrete suggestions are:

  1. use very stringent laws of dust suppression for builders, real estate developers and the Delhi Metro.
  2. Invest money in grassing.
  3. Track the city and suburb garbage removal schedules and performances minutely.
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