Your Place or Mine – Latterday Version

Cartography is something that fascinated me from my earliest memory as a toddler, meaning a particular state wherein you, dear reader, or myself, could/should, don something to cover in future years, what would be tantamount to exhibitionism of the first order, whether or not, with or without, the assistance of the female of the human species that took  responsibility, if not for your earthly existence in the first approx. nine months, at least for nurturing you from the cradle stage.

This same cartography, alas, would have no meaning unless concomitantly given due regard with the coordinates of latitude and longitude. All these were lost on those who inhabited the Europe of those times – not only was a Galileo, among the first to suggest that the world which you, dear reader, inhabit, and to considerable Biblical surprise, is round, and even more surprisingly, a Chris Columbus, encouraged by the Monarch under whom he had the privilege of serving, given the belief of the same rotundity of the planet that we all share to this day, to be flat enough to fall of at the edges, actually landed and kissed the earth along with his fellow sailors, the same vast expanse of the Americas, whose local/original populace, alas again, to this day, and well may it be to their continued chagrin, cat-called as “Indians”.

The true Indians, of course, had postulated several eons earlier, not only that the earth was in fact, round, but also, what Galileo latterly found, that the earth was not at all –  far from it –  the centre of the solar system, and the various planets, including the one we inhabit, circumvented the sun at different speeds.  As I recall it, Galileo had to keep mum on this, for fear of contradicting the Old Testament, which would have almost certainly curtailed his mortal existence.

But the dictates of Time, Space and Galileo Galilei do not take cognizance of today, as we live and breathe !  A bestseller by Thomas Friedman, this century, has the title claiming that ” The World is Flat“. Indeed, the world has come full circle ! I personally like to go with Friedman of course. His views of an egalitarian society appeal to my own Leftist orientation.

Which brings us to the much-battered word, globalisation. Regrettably, that term globalisation would have no meaning to someone who has to worry about where his next meal is going to come from, whichever part of the planet he or she inhabits. What in my sub-continent is known blithely as “Roti, Kapda aur Makaan”, and roughly translates into “Food, clothing and shelter” , is still the predominant concern, before of course, what the “haves” induce the “have-nots” to believe, that their soul too, needs to be redeemed, one way or the other.

Now coming to the barely out of toddler stage, when the first impressions in school were garnered from know-it-all teachers who no doubt grasped the latest trends in geo-political maps, we were asked to draw a cartographical representation of our home country of which we were proud denizens of. I had a class-mate named Ruparel ( recollect the name only because of the ignominy/infamy perpetrated by him at so young an age, and at so great a parental expense on a premium education ), where the map he wantonly drew, could not even closely resemble a mashed egg or potato, let alone represent the geographical entity about which we sang a national anthem scripted by a Bard, who not only won the Nobel Prize, but also had privilege of doing the national anthem for two countries that share a common border, even today, yes, India 1911, yet the only example of such anthem being given throat to, anywhere in the world, not excluding a Star Spangled Banner. While my own skills in cartography did not match my capacity in replicating from memory or otherwise, the proud border limits of my country, I could certainly have done, at any given time, more justice than that said Ruparel, even though today I am wont to give him the benefit of hindsight, albeit with a beady eye, because as one Chinaman Lin Yutang put it, patriotism is nothing but a love for one’s native food. That certainly looks like an early appreciation of the “Roti”  necessity, even though the Good Lord had, centuries earlier, postulated that those of us who as of today inhabit the planet, should pray ” give us this day our daily bread “.

So, while the Word of the Lord may be as relevant/pertinent,  today as that day when it emanated from between His Lips, when it comes to cartography, there is a certain degree of redundancy, with google maps having coming to street level through most of the world as we know it, even if the poor bugger on the road astride the windshield of your car, entreats for something to get his morsel of daily bread.

And now to the larger euphoria of globalisation.  These very same Indians – not the ones who lived in the Americas smoking their Peace Pipes, who had their kinship with Mother Nature, no doubt, – had a concept called Vasudeva Kudumbam, and this term has as many global ramifications as one’s mind has the capacity to comprehend, that I leave you to google it.  The German expression Weltanschauung, is close enough, I guess.

And coming to the more practical aspect, as I tap the keyboard, I would go to the extent of stating with a perfectly straight face, that the most globalised country would be that, in which, the majority of its countrymen, and women of course, lived outside its geo-political borders, than within it; that too, notwithstanding the fact, that at one time not too far down the backward lane, had a claim that “Britannia rules the Waves”, that the sun never set over the British Empire, and, as Shaw opined, excess of insularity makes the Britisher an imperialist.

Would you like to hazard a guess as to which one it is ? Oui, Voila, it’s Lebanon, by a far cry !

There’s more to this, as you may have surmised if you had come this far. In the early 80’s, barely as I had come ironed out with a degree both from an eminent college in, as well as from the brickbats off the back streets of, Calcutta, I wound my way to Muscat, selected by the doyen of the travel industry there, part of the biggest of private enterprises, Suhail & Saud Bahwan, and perhaps due to being recognised as still incipiently precocious, posted on behalf of that very same enterprise, in an organisation that was proudly Lebanaani ( to use the South Asian pronunciation ) to monitor and report for the principals, abbreviated as SSB.

This company catered to the wealthiest of Sheikhs, to pamper their wildest dreams, Cleopatra type bathtubs, carat gold fittings for bathrooms, equally distributed among their wives as per Koranic injunction, chandeliers that could adorn the most opulent of palace roofs, and then some to satisfy the hoi polloi, who were obliged to eke out an existence in servitude.

But perhaps I digress. Even as I just planned to pen-push, and make good an income thereby; even as I wished to make a bit more than just eke out a living, which is why in the first place one leaves home and hearth, it does look like that early on, my superiors sensed a bent of mind that was not just incumbent on being Calcutta-born, but even something more that again, perhaps, was kindled by the likes of Kamal Jumblatt and George Habash, the like of which personages got enormous space in the print media of that time in Calcutta, the fact that I was put into audit for this Lebanese company ( Delta Ltd ), to report on a regular basis to the principals SSB, that too in the early 80’s, when not only was I a young guy in the Gulf, but Beirut held the attention of the entire world, the Sales Manager of the company, Robert, was granted an enormous largesse, to build his own huge villa in Beirut, by Ibrahim, the General Manager, and when the climate in Beirut did not permit such extravagance, this ostensible munificence only lined individual pockets. After cogitating for a while at this covert misappropriation, I did my bounden duty, pointing it out to the said principals, SSB.  This led to some inevitable questioning, but what it did cost, is my job, and I returned to home and hearth, in India, cooling my heels and licking my wounds. But this was not before Ibrahim summoned me to his cabin, and gave full cry to his ideas, and made me ruminate for years later, his justification for his action ”  We have all religions here “, which words probably germinated in me some interest in comparative religions, though I am yet to figure that one out !

Vasudeiva Kudumbam is as good as Allah Hafiz, I guess, or as Someone said, Do Unto Others………


Mourning Manto – weeping over spilt milk across the lunatic fringes of tables

Like most, and perhaps due to the innate lethargy when it comes to articulating thoughts that in any case, given the output, may not meet with approval of those who set their eyes or ears on it…in printed or aural word, I am inclined to subscribe to the saw that, whatever may or may not be silver, that silence is most certainly golden, even if today as you read this, the price of gold, has not just split the roof over one’s head, but made a Chaplinesque travesty ( am referring to his ultimate legendary movie Gold Rush ) today of the metal that was earlier made renowned by Fort Knox in Uncle Sam’s region.

But there’s another travesty that I fulminate on here. Turn of mid-last-century writer, Saadat Hasan Manto whose story of Toba Tek Singh will forever capture the imagination of the countries that got split according to whim, and as the incipient schizophrenia continues and perhaps snowballs today, good old Manto resorted to Bacchus and his Pards, in a vain attempt to reconcile the schism, and the perpetual oxymoronic loop, which  ( inevitably?) cost him his life.

And then again, was it a whim, in which those who could envision the future of millions in an entire sub-continent, took decisions that had to have an inexorable bearing on the larger aspirations, of the millions who inhabit it?

Now to the foolhardy question – should we still mourn veritable lotus-eaters like Manto, when well-read, and often incarcerated, legal luminaries of founding fathers of the begotten nations, thought otherwise ?

We need to look long and hard, at this.  Politics is a numbers game, and then, so it is for its twin sister, economics. One has never co-existed without the other. The only question worth asking is, did we really achieve the greatest good for the greatest number, after all these years ? I confess that this question troubles me, when I see the kids on the street…….

On that note, let me wish the Memory of  Bishen Singh, a.k.a.  Toba Tek Singh, Sat Sri Akal !

And well may have the much-battered Manto said today of the goings on, whether he was high or otherwise:  “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t ; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

Rushdie:  I am happy to be mentioned in the same breath as Manto !