The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity — wrote WB Yeats nearly a century ago. Given his own illiberal politics, I am pretty sure to him neither were liberals particularly good nor nationalists and statists bad. But these days, it does seem that it is the liberal democrats who lack all conviction, while those full of passionate intensity usually idolise a strong state in the service of ‘the people’ — though often there is vocal, sometimes violent, disagreement about exactly who constitutes the said people.
Liberalism has never had much support in Bangladesh, where the writers and critics dealing with ideas have tended to cling to some variant of statism and nationalism. In fact, as Shafiqur Rahman notes, there is:
…. a curious complete inversion of progressive thinking in Bangladesh compared to the rest of the world.
Throughout the world universalism and rationality are regarded as the bedrock of progressive thinking; in Bangladesh parochial nationalism and emotion are the guiding principles of progressives. Throughout the world progressive historians regard debunking national exceptionalism and national glory as essential for historiography; in Bangladesh progressives regard glorifying national history and suffusing it with strong emotions as the sacred duty of historians.
Throughout the world the best literature are dispassionate and clinical analysis of the human and social condition, in Bangladesh the more emotions you can pour in art and literature the better is its reception to the critical elite. Throughout the world the best political commentators are those who can provide detached, reasoned analysis of political developments, in Bangladesh the best political commentary are saturated with messianic imagery and the most cloying emotional appeals.
I broadly agree with Shafiq’s analysis — under different life circumstances might have written something like this myself. Of course, a good piece should make one think, and this made me get out of my stupor to jot down my thoughts.
If Shakespeare was writing it today, Hamlet might well have said to his friend Horatio that there are stranger things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. Strangers in strange lands, that is how many of us feel about the world we live in. Being a quantitative, analytical person using well established frameworks and models to make sense of the world, I can not possibly think of a stranger thing than the reality of President Trump.
No. That’s not right.
I can think of far stranger things. Stranger things that are far more uplifting than politics. What is strange but that which is difficult to explain? What is then stranger than how people fall in, after failing in and falling out of, love?
Falling in love, that’s dime a dozen, though romantic tragedies are bigger hits than happily-ever-afters. Falling out of love, that’s rarer, definitely not quite your standard traditional Bollywood fair. Love outside loveless marriage — that only used to happen in arty stuff starring Shabana Azmi. Except for that Big B vehicle to extricate himself from a real life triangle, how many mainstream Bollywood pics about extramarital affair can you think of?
Of course, traditions change. Bollywood changed forever with Dil Chahta Hai. And what better way to show that than through how love and marriage are treated in two Karan Johar directed Shah Rukh Khan starrers named after yesteryear hits?
William Shakespeare wrote 37 plays. Romeo and Juliet was the 28th, so one can assume that he was a quite experienced storyteller when he penned the story that ends with a pair of star-cross’d lovers taking their lives. Just to refresh your memory: Friar Lawrence helps Juliet by providing a sleeping draught that will make everyone think she’s dead, Romeo is then supposed to come to her tomb and take her away, but messages get mixed and thinking that she is dead, he takes poison and dies just as she awakes from her drugged sleep, only to stab herself rather than to live without him.
Romeo and Juliet, the first romantic tragedy the Bard penned, was a big hit. Upon finding the successful formula of the taking of multiple lives in confusing circumstances, he ended four of his remaining nine plays in similar manner.
Consciously or otherwise, most of us tend to compartmentalise our existence into home and work. On the first front, above everything else, I consider myself a father first. And on the second, well, let’s just say that I have been a bureaucratic functionary for most my working life. On both, I cannot stress how much there is to learn from the outgoing American president.
Anyone who has ever worked in any bureaucracy would know to choose cock ups over conspiracies. Well, it’s remarkable how few cock ups — I am talking about executive failures such as Katrina, not policy failures like Vietnam or ethical breaches like Watergate — there has been under Barack Obama.
Hats off Mr Chief Executive.
It’s been slightly over 10 years that I first saw the beginning of the Obama campaign. I emailed my then wife that there was this really cool guy running for presidency, too bad he won’t get it. Upon joining me in DC a few weeks later, she saw him and said that I was wrong, that this guy would make it all the way. A few years later, while expecting our son, the mother-to-be read Obama’s memoir. Barack was in the running for middle name right till the morning of his birth (losing out to his maternal grandfather).
Much has been written about the mercurial nature of Obama’s rise, his intellect, or oratory, or his policy and political legacy. And I am sure much more will be. But to me, it is much more striking how this ‘skinny boy with a funny name’ overcame his personal demons and with equal partnership with Michelle Obama raised two kids.
I am never going to have as demanding a ‘work’ as Mr Obama. But I do have the privilege — and it is a privilege, not a right — to be a father. I will reflect on his experience.
So long, Barack.
Every holiday season, I come across the line that gifts are a terrible idea. Some years it’s a confident-sounding man trying to impress a social crowd with his neoclassical economics. At other times, the argument pops up in places like the Financial Times or Vox — that you know best what to do with the money that’s spent on the gift bought for you, and as such, everyone will be better off without gifts: give cash if you must.
Of course, looking for pareto improvement in O’Henry shows just how clueless such male economists (oh, such types, in my experience, are always men) can be. Gifts are as much but about you-the-giver as you-the-receiver. What you give to whom tells everyone about the who/what/how of your values. Buying the shiniest, largest toy, without regards to the recipient’s feelings — well, that says a lot, though perhaps not favourably of the giver.
The most precious thing you can give your loved ones is the gift of time. If you love someone, spend your time with them and on them. Whatever you did in the past, wishing you a fresh start from this holiday season.
We are dreaming of Spring here in the antipodes, and thus it’s an appropriate time to make prediction about the Game, by which I of course mean that of Thrones. Hopefully this is not going to be the last post on the subject. I am going to stick to the show, not the underlying books, though everyone knows that the printed and screen forms of the story are supposed to culminate at the same end. I am sure what I have to say has already been written with volumes of analysis, links and graphics — I’ll eschew anything like that. I trust the interested reader to look up. This is a self-indulgent post to see how wrong I am in two years.
Well over a decade ago, I entered a writing challenge with my brothers to scribble 10,000 words in a month. For this, I started translating Bibhuti Bhushan Bondopadhyaya’s Chander Pahar (Mountains of the Moon) — the action adventure story of a young man from the rural heart of early 20th century Bengal who leaves his East African railway job in search of a diamond mine, and encounters man-eating lions, black mamba, volcanic eruption, Kalahari, cannibals, a mysterious apelike creature that doesn’t fear fire.
I posted the first six chapters between October 2011 and March 2013 — Shankar escapes the rural life to work in the lion territory, and the black mamba station, where he saves the life of an old man with an exciting tale, and they set off for the mountains of the moon. Time to restart the series.
Demagogues. Charlatans. Con men. Time servers. Cronies. Populist politicians. Abusive husbands.
It’s not a world fighting for.
Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire! Would not we shatter it to bits - and then Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!
What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?
The primal questions of any marriage — says, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) as David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl begins. Wrestling with the unravelling of own marriage, watching the scene in a lonely hotel room after a long day of work, the questions came as a jolt.
A decade of marriage, and you realise you don’t know who your partner is. Worse. You don’t know who you are anymore.
What have we done to each other? Indeed!
Ramadan fasting is like no other Islamic ritual. In the month of Ramadan, those who never perform the pre-dawn Fajr prayer get up even earlier to eat, only to abstain until dusk. And after a month of that, even those who would otherwise never set foot in a mosque line up in unison to kneel towards Mecca. For an entire month, from cooking, attire, TV to intimacy — the very lifestyle of a billion plus people change. Except perhaps the aversion to pork, observance of, or at least respect to, the Ramadan fasting is arguably the most ubiquitous characteristic of Muslims.
Given its prevalence and ubiquity, Ramadan must have observable economic impacts. Exactly what might they be? In a fascinating paper, Filipe Campanile and David Yanagizawa-Drott of Harvard’s Kennedy School provide us with some answers.* Summary — fasting makes us happier, if poorer.