Tags: Nazism and the Rise of Hitler
Nazism and the rise of Hitler
The Second World War started in September, 1939 and continued till September 1945 for six years. The Allies and the Axis powers were locked in a deadly combat that ended with the surrender of Germany and the death of Hitler. The Allies side was lead by the United States. Other important members in the Allies side were Great Britain, France, Poland, the Commonwealth nations under Britain, China and later joined by the Soviet Union. The Axis powers were Germany, Italy, and Japan.
The Germans and the Japanese had meted out extremely barbaric treatment to their enemies. The Jews came in for particular harsh treatment at the hand of Hitler. In Asia, the Japanese revelled in torturing and slaying their enemies, particularly the Chinese. Horrendous tales of torture and mass extermination of Jews by Hitler’s Nazi followers were routinely surfacing, but few in Germany raised their voice against it. Either they were numbed by Hitler’s mesmeric leadership to find fault with his persecution of the Jews, or were too afraid to vent their feelings for fear of reprisal by the Nazi hoodlums.
When the curtains came down finally on the war, and the guns fell silent, it was time to look back and introspect. Some did it out of moral compulsion; others did it out of fear of a revenge attack by the victorious Allied forces. Particularly for those Germans who had perpetrated the worst human rights abuses, the fear of being brought to book by Allied administrators appeared very real.
One such German was a doctor who lived with his wife and son in the vicinity of a forest. He knew the Allied would soon haunt him down and mercilessly punish him, and possibly his whole family. One day, he was discussing this imminent threat with his wife. He felt, he would either kill himself alone, or the whole family would commit mass suicide en masse. The twelve-year-old lying on his bed within the earshot heard this and was shocked. Next day, the whole family went to the nearby forest, sang and made merry. On returning home, the doctor shot himself in his head. The wife lost no time in burning out the clothes of her husband, apparently to hide the suicide act. For the young son, the gruesome killing of his father by his own hand was too devastating a scene to bear. He was shaken to the core. He feared that his mother would kill him too soon. So afraid was he that he stopped eating in his home for nine long years after that. This was in the Spring of 1945, and the boy’s name was Helmuth.
Helmuth must have realized later that his father had been a fanatic Nazi who idolized Hitler. As a true ‘patriot’, he must have committed atrocities of the worst kind against the hapless Jews. The moral revulsion and the fear of the Allies must have driven him to take his own life.
Hitler had one single goal. He had dreamed of making his fatherland the greatest and mightiest nation on earth. As the first step, he wanted to conquer the whole of Europe. Along the way, he perceived the Jews of Germany to be one of the main reasons for the misery and ignominy of his father land. So, he decided to annihilate that race. What seeded such a grotesque idea in his brain? Why did the Nazis follow him so blindly and perpetrated the worst genocide in human history? What was the motivation and the political motivation that triggered such a monstrous campaign of mass slaughter? It is essential to dissect this vulgar, jingoistic eruption of xenophobia.
After Hitler and his propaganda chief Goebbels committed suicide in the underground bunker to escape being taken to custody by the Allied commander, the War came to a formal end. Now came the time to retrospect and take remedial action. To bring to book the perpetrators of the many heinous crimes during the War, an International Court of Justice was constituted. It was to be based in Nuremberg in Germany. The Court was mandated to look into cases relating to War against Peace, War crimes and War against humanity.
Apart from starting a war, Hitler’s Germany stood accused of committing unthinkably cruel acts of punishment of specific ethnic groups. As the graphic details of the torture and mass murder of Jewish men, women and children emerged, the world seemed to be gripped with revulsion and horror. The situation cried for swift justice. The main actors of the genocide –the political leaders, the military officers and the remnants of the Nazi set-up had to be tried, and punished. With remarkable alacrity, the preparations for the trial got going. Some six million Jews, 200,000 Gypsies, one million Poles (citizens of Poland), and 70,000 Germans had been killed in the mad rush by the Nazi machinery to ‘cleanse’ the world of ‘unwanted’ people, and establish the supremacy of the German state. Even German citizens perceived to be physically and mentally unfit and those having different political views were sent to gallows. Nazi scientists and military men devised new methods to kill people ‘efficiently’ with the minimum hassles. Ruthlessness was aplenty: humanism had vanished from the German land. Killing centers like Auschwitz sprang up across Europe to cope with the flow of prisoners condemned to death.
After the trial, just about 11 top Nazi leaders were sentenced to death. Scores of other offenders were sent to jail for the rest of their lives. In hindsight, only a miniscule of the perpetrators could be called to account. The punishment, though symbolic, was tiny compared to the monumental genocidal crime committed by the Nazis.
The question arises what made Hitler to launch such a strident and ultra-nationalistic military adventure? Did he have any compulsion to turn on his own Jewish and even German citizens with such savage anger?
Some historians ascribe Hitler’s urge for revenge to the ignominy heaped on Germany in the aftermath of the First World War. Perhaps, there is some truth in it.
Birth of the Weimar Republic –
The First World War (1914-18) had two feuding sides –Germany and the Austrian Empire in one side and England, France and Russia in the other. The latter group was known as the Allies. Germany entered the War as a mighty thriving nation.
Both sides had hoped for a quick victory over its enemy. However, such optimism was misplaced. Victory eluded the warring sides for a very long time. The war dragged on and on, causing untold misery through destruction of life and property in a massive scale.
In the early stages of the War, Germany virtually ran through the defences of France and Belgium giving them a false sense of invincibility. Germany’s victory march came to a grinding halt when America entered the War in 1917 to bolster the side of the Allies (England, France and Russia). The balance in the battlefield tilted decisively in favour of the Allies. By 1918, Germany and Austria were down on their knees, ready to give up with a plea for end of fighting.
Germany’s defeat caused great changes in the country’s political structure. The Emperor, who had ruled the country thus far and led it to the ruinous war, had to abdicate, and leave the scene for good. It fell on the shoulders of the parliamentary parties to pick up the pieces and create a structure to fill the political vacuum created by the Emperor’s exit. They convened the National Assembly. Its first meeting was held in Weimer. A democratic constitution was put in place. As per the terms of the Constitution, Germany became a federal structure. The Parliament, known as the Reichstag, had to have Deputies who had to be directly elected by the people. Every adult German including women had voting rights.
The Armistice Agreement & the Treaty of Versailles ..
Faced with the prospects of imminent defeat, Germany asked for an immediate cessation all combat operations. The Americans, then leading the Allied side, agreed. Accordingly, an Armistice agreement was signed on November 11, 1918. On the same day guns fell silent on both sides. This Armistice Agreement later caused a lot of heartburn in Germany. The negotiator who signed the agreement on behalf of the Germans was later assassinated. This Agreement was followed by the Treaty of Versailles was the main peace treaty to formalize the end of World War I. It was signed on June 28, 1919.
The backlash.. Sadly for the new-born democratic government, the beginning was not quite good. Post-war negotiations with the victorious Allies had to be conducted and terms of peace finalized. Both sides met in Versailles to conclude a formal treaty. As a defeated nation, Germany had little bargaining power vis-a-vis the victorious Allies side. The latter imposed strict and virtually punitive conditions in the peace treaty. There were unworkable conditions relating to payment of compensation and surrender of land by Germany. The Allied negotiators rammed the humiliating conditions down the throats of German negotiators. The Deputies were coerced to give the peace treaty the vital parliamentary approval.
For the battle-scarred, impoverished and defeated Germany, the ignominy was simply intolerable. The people frowned on the Deputies for having ceded so much to the Allies in the Versailles negotiations. Soon, the initial good will of the new parliament vanished. People seethed in anger against the parliament, calling the Armistice negotiators as ‘November criminals’, a derogatory term later exploited by Hitler’s propaganda machine.
It is worth noting what Germany lost trying to comply with the Versailles Treaty.
1. Germany lost most of its overseas colonies.
2. With this went 10% of its population.
3. Germany’s land mass got reduced by 15%.
4. It lost 75% of its crucial iron ore reserves, and 26% of its coal deposits.
5. These war-time reparations enriched France, Poland, Denmark, and Lithuania at a tremendous cost to Germany.
6. Germany was demilitarized to pre-empt any future military adventure.
7. The War-Guilt clause pinned the ‘sinner’ tag on Germany, making it the offender and destroyer of peace. The onus fell on Germany to make good all the war-time losses suffered by the Allies. In monetary terms, it worked out to a staggering 6 billion pound sterling.
8. The Allied armies exercised their control on Rhineland – the region that was so resource-rich and important for German economy. This occupation continued for much of the 1920s.
Most Germans perceived the Versailles Treaty’s terms too suffocating to bear. They vented their anger on the nascent Weimer Republic.
The Effects of the War …
The WW2 drained Europe of its life and soul. By the time the War ended, the continent was in ruins, devoid of its life, vitality and soul. The Weimer Republic (Germany in its new Avatar) bore the brunt of the War’s aftershocks. It had a huge bill to pay to the Allies. There was no escape from the crippling reparation payments. Germany was down on its knees having to meet the dues. For the folly of the erstwhile Emperor, the new Republic had to pay through the nose. The financial load was back-breaking.
Germany’s internal politics was divided. Catholics, Socialists and Democrats stood by the new Republic, where as conservative nationalists had no patience with their young government. The wise peacemakers who had signed the Armistice were publicly derided as ‘November Criminals’. The chauvinistic mindset fuelled by the exploitative terms of the Versailles Treaty shaped the political mindset in Germany. Indignation and an urge to avenge the humiliation at the hands of the Allies were rife among the common people.
The legacy of the First World War..
The First World War had inflicted severe pain, suffering and frustration to the soldiers of both sides. They spent hours and days in the muddy trenches of the battlefields, suffered casualties, saw rats feeding on friends’ corpses, with no visible end their agony. The battle had drawn on for months and years remorselessly. While the soldiers endured such severe suffering, the society became increasingly militarized. Common folks saw wars as necessary for national pride. In the media, fighting for the country was glorified and laying one’s lives in war was considered a very honourable sacrifice. Such collective fascination for army fuelled military adventurism. People seemed to prefer to be ruled by strong dictators. Democracy appeared to be a soft, slow and ineffective form of government. Clearly, love for iron-hand rule under a dictator grew with the fanatical glorification of the life in trenches. Europe was sliding, dangerously.
Political Radicalism and Economic Crises..
Just when Weimer Republic was coming into existence, two separate political movements of momentous importance were gripping Germany and Russia. These movements were
a. Sparticist League in Germany
b. Bolshevik Revolution in Russia
Spartacist League is an American name that drew inspiration from the Spartacus League of Weimar Republic in Germany. The Spartacus League was a communist movement that came into existence in Germany during World War I. The League was named after Spartacus, the legendary leader campaigner who masterminded the largest slave rebellion of the Roman Republic. The idea of slavery is anathema to Marxists, who abhor this repressive practice for its shameful disregard for human dignity and freedom. Spartacus League (Sparticist League) was the brainchild of social activists like Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, and a few others. In a nutshell, Sparticist League spearheaded Communist political philosophy in Germany.
Russia had reeled under the repressive Tsarist rule for centuries. Poverty, and general backwardness made the Russians lag behind their European counterparts. The entry of Russia in the First World War cost the country huge loss of money, men and material. People’s faith in the Tsar began to falter. They failed to appreciate why Russians had to make so much sacrifice simply because the Tsar wanted it. Shortage of food items made life miserable for the common people. Discontent and resentment against the ruler soared. Tsar no longer commanded reverence historically enjoyed by the dynasty. A violent political upheaval was in the offing.
Otherwise known as The October Revolution, or the Bolshevik Revolution, was a seizure of state power by a group of armed revolutionaries called Bolsheviks. It happened on October 25, 1917. It laid the foundation for communist rule in Russia under the leadership of Lenin.
We can see that the ideological moorings of the Spartacist League and the Bolshevik Revolution were almost identical.
The Bolshevik Revolution’s success in seizing power, and the coming into being of the Soviet Union had an electrifying on Europe, particularly in Germany. In matter of weeks, Russia, a symbol of weak governance and inequality became a role model for Germans looking for salvation from their wretched fate. Such shift towards authoritarianism disturbed many other Germans.
As a counter against this shift, Catholics, Democrats and Socialists met in Weimer to boost the authority of the sagging Weimer Republic. Their effort was successful at the beginning. Taking the help of war veterans, the Weimer Republic crushed the anti-government moves of the Spartacist League activists. These groups decided to dissolve the League, and formed the Communist Party of Germany.
The chasm between the Socialists and the Communists widened further. Although both groups to the ideas of Hitler, they could not join hands to form a common front against Hitler. Germany became a divided nation.
Economic crisis plunges Germany deeper in crisis … By 1923, Germany’s economy went into a downward spiral. Inflation sky-rocketed, and goods became scare. Life became unbearable for the ordinary people.
Germany had taken huge loans for fighting the war. Repayment of these loans fell due. To make matters worse, war reparations as per the Versailles Treaty had to be paid. All these payments had to be made in gold. Germany’s gold reserves began to be depleted sharply.
Germany defaulted in its payment. France, as the debtor, refused to grant any moratorium. Instead, it occupied Ruhr, the thriving coal mines hub of Germany. The beleaguered, cash-starved Germany protested, but it fell in deaf ears. In desperation, Germany began to print notes copiously with scant regard to the catastrophic consequences such step could cause. Inflation soared at astounding pace. The German currency fell almost every minute of the day, touching a few trillion marks for each U.S. dollar. With a worthless currency, Germany became a nation to be pitied, not treated with any respect. Germans walked with their head hung low.
Finally, America intervened through a rescue package called the Dawes Plan. The creditor nations were prevailed upon to stagger the repayments to give Germany a breathing space.
The Years of Depression follow……….
As America stepped in to inject some cash as short-term loans, the ailing German economy showed some signs of revival. This was between the years 1924-28. But, this little joy was short-lived. Wall Street Exchange crashed in 1929, triggering a panic sell-off of shares in America. This caused a severe turmoil, as the Stocks lost almost half of their worth. The U.S economy slipped into Depression.
German economy was battered by the unforeseen downturn in America. German industrial production plummeted by 40%. Unemployment soared. By 1932, six million jobs had been lost and the economy’s fall had begun to hit the average German very hard. Un employed men and women wandered in city streets soliciting work. Long queues were seen in front of Employment Exchanges.
Angst and fear gripped the middle and salaried class as their savings amounts’ net worth fell in tandem with the fall in the value of the national currency. To earn a living, desperate people started to resort to petty crimes.
The middle class, once the backbone of the German society, began to get progressively impoverished. They feared soon they would be forced to do manual works to earn a living, or will simply be un-employed. This process of gradual decline of economic and social status of large sections of the population is called ‘proletaranisation’. Most middle class people feared they would soon be sucked into this category.
The Weimer Constitution had inherent weaknesses that made it weak to fend off dictatorial tendencies. Because of this, the Weimer Republic became a weak barrier to stop dictators from taking over the government.
What were the flaws of the Weimer Constitution …..
a. The Constitution stipulated that Deputies would be chosen through a process of proportional representation. In other words, a party’s share of Deputy seats would be directly proportional to its vote share in the election. Since there were a number of political parties in Germany at that time, no party could win a decisively larger number of votes. As a result, its share of Deputy seats could never cross the half-way mark. This made coalition forming a prerequisite for forming a government.
b. The other infirmity was the Article 48 of the Constitution. It enabled the President to declare emergency, suspend civil rights and rule by decree.
Instability of government became the order of the day. Cabinets were formed and dissolved in quick succession. In just about two and half years, 20 cabinets were formed and dissolved. The provision of Article 48 was invoked quite frequently by the President. People lost confidence in the system and were greatly frustrated.
Hitler’s rise to power …
Tags: The One Who Survived
Expanding a story …
The One who Survived: Ada Blackjack
Ada Blackjack – the Woman who Looked Adversity in the Eye and Won
In the days when large parts of the earth had not been explored, and sea faring was still very fraught, four men and a woman set out on a voyage. The three men Frederick Maurer (28), E Lone Knight (28), Allan R Crawford (20), set out under the leadership of Stefansson to discover new lands and conquer them. The spirit of adventure and the lure of virgin islands drove them, where as the fourth member, a woman named Ada Blackjack (23) undertook the perilous journey to resuscitate
her ailing son battling T.B. What unfolded during the voyage is both saddening and heartening.
Ada was born in the year 1898. Curiously, she avoided going out to play with other children preferring to stay indoors to do household chores to help her grandma. The exuberance of a youngster was missing in her.
By 1921, Ada had married, and become a mother, but sadly had lost two of her babies. The five-year-old Bennett lay in bed, afflicted by TB. Woefully short of money, Ada could ill-afford good medical care for her sick son. She could do nothing but bemoan her fate.
At this point of time, entered Stifansson, the leader of the expedition. He made a proposal to Ada. Stifansson needed a help who would accompany the four young sailors aboard their ship. She had to do cooking, mending clothes and other such sundry work. Could she accompany the expedition, asked Stifansson. But, Ada had her leg tied to Bennett’s sick bed. She could never leave him to die. She was lost in thoughts.
Stifansson made an enticing offer. He would make arrangements for Bennett’s comprehensive medical care to turn him around till Ada returned.
Ada weighed the offer, and concluded that the medical care was vital for her sick son. She could bear the separation from her son for some time if it could ensure his recovery from TB. She would also get her remuneration. With mind engulfed in torment, she agreed to Stifansson’s offer to work as a cook and a seamstress for the Arctic expedition. Stiffanson was delighted.
On 21st September, the group set out for Wrangel Island. Initially, the other members of the group felt Ada was too frail to stand the cold hazardous journey, but Ada showed remarkable determination and resilience. They agreed.
Stifansson saw off the group assuring that the place they were heading to was awash with wild life. The young men could haunt them for the meat. Stifansson had six months ration loaded on the ship. Additionally, he assured that he would send another supply ship after six months to replenish the stock.
Their ship Silverwave left the port. Soon, on board the ship, Bennett’s memory began to haunt Ada. She consoled herself thinking that it was more important for Bennett to stay alive than her remaining close to him.
The expedition landed in the island. Unlike their earlier assumption, the island turned out to be a vast swathe of land, not a tiny patch. Ada made up her mind to stick to her assigned work – sewing and cooking. The young men decided to begin hunting from the next day.
It was 1922. Spring arrived. Life was rather easy for the members of the expedition. There were games aplenty for hunting. Seals, polar bears, ducks and geese provided plentiful of the much-needed meat for consumption in that desolate cold land. The crew decided to build a snow-house for shelter to keep warm.
Things started to take a turn for the worse. Lone Knight returned to the camp after swimming across the Skeleton River. The cold water and the exhaustion took their toll. Lone felt uneasy. Soon he was taken ill. No amount of care and nourishing could revive him. His condition went from bad to worse.
The members of the crew began to worry stock of essential items like sugar, coffee, bean and flour reached critically low levels. Lone showed no sign of recovery. His moral was low, as he felt he couldn’t pull it through. Ada was there with her words of comfort, but Lone had slipped past the threshold. Doom and despondency was in the air.
One of the crew members suggested that they could cross the icy Chukki Sea to reach the land where they could seek help for themselves and the beleaguered comrades left behind. In other words they mulled over the idea of expedient escape from the camp.
Lone’s condition deteriorated fast. Leaving him to the care of Ada, the three other crew members left the camp for their onward journey. The demure Ada could neither demur, nor vent her anxiety.
It was January 1923. Crawford, Malle and Gaurer headed for Siberia crossing the Chukki Sea. Ada did her best to instill some confidence in the ailing Lone, but his condition was too grim for her kind words to have any salutary effect. There was no food to eat. It was a desperate situation. Starvation loomed over the duo – one critically ill, the other, a frail woman with little skill to gather food in those hostile cold surroundings.
Ada pulled herself up and decided to go ahunting. Lone protested, but Ada said she would do it – anyhow. She managed to kill a few animals, and could fend off starvation. Tragedy befell again. Lone passed away, leaving Ada heart-broken, and alone. There was no trace of the three men. The ghoulish wilderness gnawed her relentlessly. But, she refused to capitulate. She thought of Bennett, and drew comfort from the fact that he must be recovering fast. She had a reason to stay alive. She kept the fire burning in her tent. Inside her, the fire of hope and energy remained aglow. Despair and despondency began to recede. She clung to her life and spirit.
On August 23, 1923, a merchant ship named Donaldson laid anchor in the shore. The sailors took good care of Ada, by then half-starved and battered by the cold. Her ordeal was finally over.
When she reached home, she was treated like a hero. She became the darling of the media who gave her front-page coverage. She was invited to gatherings to recount her struggle with the adversity and the elements. Felicitations flowed from all quarters.
Ada narrated her learning experience – how she studied maps, and how she hunted foxes with the help of traps. Her story became an inspiring saga of struggle and survival.
With her accumulated salary, she took her fit and fine son to Seattle to start life anew. She declared that the spirit of adventure was still alight in her. The indomitable Ada finally went to Arctic and made it her home.
Tags: When Wishes Come True -- Explanation
When Wishes Come True
Subal Chandra and Sushil Chandra were father and son. The duo had one unusual thing in common: They were opposite to what their names suggested. Sushil (meaning calm and docile) was a bouncy little lad. His childish exuberance was evident from the many ways he troubled the neighbours with his small acts of mischief. On the contrary, his father, Subal (meaning strong) was enfeebled by his age and rheumatism.
The Father didn’t quite like the son’s penchant for antics, which some in the neighborhood found quite annoying. Sushil was too agile for his father and could easily slip away to evade thrashing from his enraged father. But, once in awhile, he got caught, and had to face his father’s wrath.
It was a Saturday. School started in the morning and got over by 2pm. Sushil lay in his bed deep in his sleep. Sushil found the call of school very disgusting. He had two good reasons to feel so. First, he sulked at the idea of writing the Geography test scheduled for that day. Second, the preparations for the fireworks at the house of Bose during the day were too exciting for him to miss. The sight and sound of fireworks were to set the sky aglow in the evening the same day.
Sushil wanted to avoid going to school. He feigned sickness of stomach and lay in bed. He sought to be excused from school. But, Subal, was not the least convinced. He saw through the trick of his truant son. He planned his counter move.
Quite impassively, he turned to Sushil and advised him to lie in bed. He would not have the lozenges brought for him. Instead, he would drink a brew that would cure him of the stomach ache. With such advice, Subal went to make the brew, bolting the door from outside.
Sushil was perplexed. ‘Had he jumped from a frying pan to fire,’ he wondered. He detested the brew his father had made him drink in earlier occasions. It was too awful.
Subal entered the room with the pot of brew. Sushil sprang out of his bed and declared that the stomach ache was gone and there was no need for the weird drink. He was ready to go to school.
Subal sternly ordered that Sushil must stay in bed the whole day. With these words, he made his son to drink the dreadful drink. Sushil had no option but to drink it. Subal locked his son and went out.
———————————–To be continued————–
Tags: In thje Bazzrsof Hyderabad by Sarojini Naidu
In the Bazaars of Hyderabad
Born with Bengali roots to an intellectually-gifted parents, Sarojini Naidu had the opportunity to receive good education both in India and in England. She made the best of her extraordinary talent and privileged upbringing to do things that her soul really craved for.
The plight of Indian women made her very sad. Crushed under the weight of blind tradition and marginalized in a patriarchal society, women had no window to breathe free let alone engage in any meaningful intellectual activity.
Sarojini Naidu took up the cudgels on their behalf and crusaded for their emancipation. That started her foray to the public stage. Soon she plunged to the freedom movement as staunch supporter of Gandhi. She became the president of the Indian National Congress. But, her mind remained anchored to literary pursuits. She wrote many touching poems winning her accolades from readers in India and overseas. She came to be known as the Nightingale of India. Many of her popular poems centered around the rustic simplicity, beauty, and diversity of Indian rural life.
As a freedom fighter, she attracted hostile scrutiny of the colonial masters. The British had effectively stifled dissemination of news and views critical of the colonial rule with draconian laws. Sarojini Naidu, nevertheless, continued to sing the praise of India and her people through poems in a subtle manner.
About this poem … Sarojini Chattopadhay (later Naidu) was born and brought up in Hyderabad. That gave her a good insight to the sight and sound of this bustling city. The markets overflowed with merchandize, and buyers and sellers. Frenzied yelling, bargaining, and haggling rent the air round the day. For a quiet, non-commercial visitor, the market provided amusement, intrigue, imagination, and food for thought. Sarojini Naidu was, no doubt, a discerning watcher of the market place. Her simple narrative style cast in a question-answer format characterizes this poem.
What do you sell O ye merchants ?
Richly your wares are displayed.
Turbans of crimson and silver,
Tunics of purple brocade,
Mirrors with panels of amber,
Daggers with handles of jade.
First stanza note ..As a curious onlooker, the author marvels at the wide array of items offered for sale in the market. With eyes gaping with wonder, she asks the merchants about the many items they display, such as the crimson and sliver coloured turbans, tunics with purple brocades, amber-paneled mirrors and the dreadful daggers with handles beautifully studded with jade.
What do you weigh, O ye vendors?
Saffron and lentil and rice.
What do you grind, O ye maidens?
Sandalwood, henna, and spice.
What do you call , O ye pedlars?
Chessmen and ivory dice.
Second stanza .. Then her eyes fall on the many vendors who throng the market with their myriad wares. She asks the vendors who sell rice, lentils and saffron what they weigh. The author answers herself. Then she turns her eyes on the maidens who grind sandalwood, henna and spice. Then, there are the peddlers who sell items for the chess board.
What do you make,O ye goldsmiths?
Wristlet and anklet and ring,
Bells for the feet of blue pigeons
Frail as a dragon-fly’s wing,
Girdles of gold for dancers,
Scabbards of gold for the king.
Third stanza … Then the author casts her glance towards the famed goldsmiths, who, with their deft hands, make wristlets, anklets, ring, ultra-light bells for the pigeons’ legs, girdles for dancers’ legs, and ceremonial swords for the royalty. Undoubtedly, the skill of the artisans brings appreciation and cheer to the author.
What do you cry,O ye fruitmen?
Citron, pomegranate, and plum.
What do you play ,O musicians?
Cithar, sarangi and drum.
what do you chant, O magicians?
Spells for aeons to come.
Fourth stanza .. The fruit hawkers passing by catch the attention of the author. They offer citron, pomegranate, and plum. Then there are the musicians who play the sitar, sarangi and the drum. Adding a touch of bemusement to the bustling market place, there are the magicians who baffle the onlookers with their tricks, sleights of hand, and weird shouts, as if they are invoking heavenly powers.
What do you weave, O ye flower-girls
With tassels of azure and red?
Crowns for the brow of a bridegroom,
Chaplets to garland his bed.
Sheets of white blossoms new-garnered
To perfume the sleep of the dead.
Fifth and last stanza … Lastly, the flower-girls seem to have stolen the heart of the author. They make tassels of azure and red, decorations for a bridegroom’s head gear, chaplets to garland the marital bed, and strings of white and freshly-plucked flowers to add aroma to the bed being carried to the grave.
Concluding observation .. The poem appears to be from the diary of a simple young girl who visits the market for the first time. However, an intelligent reader will not fail to notice its celebration of nationalism, and its philosophical undertone. Those were the days in which goods from England were thrust upon the Indian consumers. Almost all nationalists vigorously opposed such economic hegemony. Sarojini Naidu too raised her voice albeit through her poems.
The poem depicts a thriving market place awash with goods of all descriptions. Hyderabad offered everything to the buyer from ceremonial thrones to burial accessories. So, it could do without goods coming out of British factories. What better way to underscore this than to celebrate the vigour and exuberance of the market place!
Questions and answers later.
Tags: Where the mind iswithout fear -- explanation
Where the Mind is without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake
Introduction …. Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the author of this poem, lived during a time when India was in chains, Europe was in the throes of another world war after recovering from the ruins of the First World War, and the totalitarian ideology of Communism was sweeping across Europe and Asia. India, too, was striving to break free of the colonial yoke. Momentous changes, upheavals, revolutions and mayhem of the most horrendous proportions were ripping the world apart. Nations were divided, neighbours fought with one another with savage brutality, and oppression of dissent was considered a fair practice of statecraft.
Tagore had a very restless mind. He was pained to see the excesses of nationalism, the cruel subjugation of people by masters from distant lands, and the un-ending miseries at home. He pined for freedom, liberation of the mind, and the banishment of fear. The philosopher in him rebelled to breathe free, walk free and think free. This short poem was penned by the poet extraordinaire to give vent to the torment of his soul seething with unease.
Meaning … The poet beseeches God to take his motherland to the ‘heaven of freedom’, where the mind is not fettered, culture is not constrained by moth-balled ideologies, pursuit of knowledge is not constrained, where people think themselves as members of the entire humankind, and there is no one to persecute a citizen for the flimsiest of reasons. With no fear of state-sponsored coercion, no narrow nationalism, and complete freedom of expression, the creative instincts of the human mind can blossom to its full capacity. In such environment, striving of perfection in every field of human endeavour becomes a universal passion.
The poet thinks of such utopian world, and wants God to lead India forward to this ‘perfect’ world.
Tags: The Bet by Anthon Chekhov
The Bet by Anton Chekhov
— with questions and answers
It was a dark autumn night. The old banker was walking up and down his study and remembering how, fifteen years before, he had given a party one autumn evening. There had been many clever men there, and there had been interesting conversations.
Explanation .. Lost in his reminiscence in a dark autumn night, the old banker sauntered around his study. He recounted how fifteen years ago, just around this time of the year, some very intelligent people had congregated in his hall. A lively conversation had followed.
Among other things they had talked of capital punishment. The majority of the guests, among whom were many journalists and intellectual men, disapproved of the death penalty. They considered that form of punishment out of date, immoral, and unsuitable for Christian States. In the opinion of some of them the death penalty ought to be replaced everywhere by imprisonment for life. “I don’t agree with you,” said their host the banker. “I have not tried either the death penalty or imprisonment for life, but if one may judge a priori, the death penalty is more moral and more humane than imprisonment for life. Capital punishment kills a man at once, but lifelong imprisonment kills him slowly. Which executioner is the more humane, he who kills you in a few minutes or he who drags the life out of you in the course of many years?”
Explanation … They were discussing the desirability and morality of sending a sinner to the gallows. Some of the bright minds in the party supported the idea behind this punishment, although it is possibly the harshest that an accused could get. Some other guests opposed capital punishment as primitive, cruel, and immoral. It was against the tenets of Christianity, they said. So, states swearing by Christian values must take a fellow human being’s life, notwithstanding the fact that the convict could have committed the gravest and vilest of crimes. Instead of executing an accused, he should be put behind bars for his life.
The host, a shrewd and rich banker, proffered his own views. He said putting a sinner to quick death was far more desirable than incarcerating him till his death. It was like inflicting a thousand cuts to his body when he has no way to resist. ‘Robbing a person of his freedom for lifelong was possibly the cruelest act, unbecoming of a conscientious judge who awards the sentence,’ said the banker after some reflection. To bolster his stand, he argued that death in the hands of the executioner comes rather quickly, and much less painfully.
“Both are equally immoral,” observed one of the guests, “for they both have the same object – to take away life. The State is not God. It has not the right to take away what it cannot restore when it wants to.”
Among the guests was a young lawyer, a young man of five-and-twenty. When he was asked his opinion, he said:
“The death sentence and the life sentence are equally immoral, but if I had to choose between the death penalty and imprisonment for life, I would certainly choose the second. To live anyhow is better than not at all.”
A lively discussion arose. The banker, who was younger and more nervous in those days, was suddenly carried away by excitement; he struck the table with his fist and shouted at the young man:
“It’s not true! I’ll bet you two million you wouldn’t stay in solitary confinement for five years.”
“If you mean that in earnest,” said the young man, “I’ll take the bet, but I would stay not five but fifteen years.”
Explanation …… Another guest had a radically different view. He disapproved of both capital punishment and life imprisonment. He observed that both types of punishments lead to death – one quickly, the other death excruciatingly slowly. He felt, the State did not have the power to create life, so can’t destroy anyone’s life.
A lawyer in his mid twenties came forward with his own counsel. He felt both life imprisonment and capital punishment to be equally abhorrent. However, if he ever committed a vicious crime of the most serious nature warranting the severest punishment, he would opt for life imprisonment rather than being dragged to the gallows. In his view, staying alive is a far better option than meeting death prematurely.
The pugnacious lawyer had triggered a flurry of arguments with everyone trying to jump into the fray. The banker, a little younger than most and less sagacious, couldn’t resist the temptation to throw in his hat.
In a feat of apparent indiscretion, the lawyer said he would pay anyone two million if he remained in solitary confinement for just five years.
A young man from among the guests threw a counter challenge. He said he would stay as a total recluse not for five, but for fifteen years for the two million reward.
“Fifteen? Done!” cried the banker. “Gentlemen, I stake two million!”
“Agreed! You stake your millions and I stake my freedom!” said the young man.
And this wild, senseless bet was carried out! The banker, spoilt and frivolous, with millions beyond his reckoning, was delighted at the bet. At supper he made fun of the young man, and said:
“Think better of it, young man, while there is still time. To me two million is a trifle, but you are losing three or four of the best years of your life. I say three or four, because you won’t stay longer. Don’t forget either, you unhappy man, that voluntary confinement is a great deal harder to bear than compulsory. The thought that you have the right to step out in liberty at any moment will poison your whole existence in prison. I am sorry for you.”
And now the banker, walking to and fro, remembered all this, and asked himself: “What was the object of that bet? What is the good of that man’s losing fifteen years of his life and my throwing away two million? Can it prove that the death penalty is better or worse than imprisonment for life? No, no. It was all nonsensical and meaningless. On my part it was the caprice of a pampered man, and on his part simple greed for money …”
Then he remembered what followed that evening. It was decided that the young man should spend the years of his captivity under the strictest supervision in one of the lodges in the banker’s garden. It was agreed that for fifteen years he should not be free to cross the threshold of the lodge, to see human beings, to hear the human voice, or to receive letters and newspapers. He was allowed to have a musical instrument and books, and was allowed to write letters, to drink wine, and to smoke. By the terms of the agreement, the only relations he could have with the outer world were by a little window made purposely for that object. He might have anything he wanted – books, music, wine, and so on – in any quantity he desired by writing an order, but could only receive them through the window. The agreement provided for every detail and every trifle that would make his imprisonment strictly solitary, and bound the young man to stay there exactly fifteen years, beginning from twelve o’clock of November 14, 1870, and ending at twelve o’clock of November 14, 1885. The slightest attempt on his part to break the conditions, if only two minutes before the end, released the banker from the obligation to pay him the two million.
Explanation … When the young man said he was ready to be cut off from the outside world for fifteen long years, the garrulous banker sieged the offer and declared that he was staking two million for the bet.
The young man was not a bit ruffled. He accepted the challenge sportingly.
The banker had a huge pile of cash. Two million was a trifle for him during those days. He pitied the young man for his apparent foolhardiness in agreeing to forsake his freedom for fifteen years for two million. He asked the young man to weigh the suffering and pain of self-imposed isolation. He would waste away during the confinement and his life would end in three to four years, warned the banker. Killing the urge to step out of the isolation cell would be too hard to resist. It could wreck him physically and mentally. With these warnings, the banker tried to dissuade the young man from taking such a great risk.
In a short while, the banker himself was lost in thoughts. He began to wonder if he had fallen prey to his own indiscretion and whim. Was losing two million to induce another young man to lose fifteen years of his precious life in an isolated prison not injudicious, he began to worry.
The discussion was to determine whether capital punishment or life sentence was a more preferred option. Now, the outcome of the argumentation was totally different. An innocent man was going to lose fifteen years of his life, and he stood to lose two million. The flurry of verbal exchanges had resulted in totally unintended consequences. The thought rattled the banker.
Memories of the evening party rushed through the banker’s mind. The young man had glibly agreed to the severest terms of his incarceration. Other than access to books, and pen and paper, the man could have zero contact with the outside world. He would get just one meal a day, to be delivered to him through a window. In short, it was going to be torturous to the extreme. He would be holed up in a lodge in the banker’s garden with round-the-clock vigil by the banker’s guards. He would be allowed to write letters, drink wine and smoke, though. The comprehensive agreement was drawn up. The solitary confinement was to begin from twelve o’clock of November 14, 1870, and end at twelve o’clock of November 14, 1885.
Even the slightest violation of the agreed terms would instantly absolve the banker of the obligation to pay the two million bet to the young man.
For the first year of his confinement, as far as one could judge from his brief notes, the prisoner suffered severely from loneliness and depression. The sounds of the piano could be heard continually day and night from his lodge. He refused wine and tobacco. Wine, he wrote, excites the desires, and desires are the worst foes of the prisoner; and besides, nothing could be more dreary than drinking good wine and seeing no one. And tobacco spoilt the air of his room. In the first year the books he sent for were principally of a light character; novels with a complicated love plot, sensational and fantastic stories, and so on.
Explanation … Solitary confinement took a heavy toll of the young man’s health and vigour in the first five years. It drove him to the edge of depression. He played the piano to keep him to stave off the misery of his reclusive existence. He denied himself the luxury of wine and tobacco. For him, wine triggered yearning for companionship, so he abstained from it. Tobacco smoke hung in the air of his sealed room. It choked his breathing. In the first year, he relished reading books with light and entertaining content.
In the second year the piano was silent in the lodge, and the prisoner asked only for the classics. In the fifth year music was audible again, and the prisoner asked for wine. Those who watched him through the window said that all that year he spent doing nothing but eating and drinking and lying on his bed, frequently yawning and angrily talking to himself. He did not read books. Sometimes at night he would sit down to write; he would spend hours writing, and in the morning tear up all that he had written. More than once he could be heard crying.
Explanation …. As he stepped into the second year of his voluntary captivity, he stopped playing the piano. He began reading classics – books of deep literary value. In the fifth year, he took to music again. He demanded and got his wine. The guards peeped through the window and found him doing nothing except eating, drinking wine and lying on bed. He would erupt into angry monologues at times. He stopped reading books. At times during the night, he would sit down on his bed to write something. But, in the morning, he would tear up all that he wrote at night. He would cry.
In the second half of the sixth year the prisoner began zealously studying languages, philosophy, and history. He threw himself eagerly into these studies – so much so that the banker had enough to do to get him the books he ordered. In the course of four years some six hundred volumes were procured at his request. It was during this period that the banker received the following letter from his prisoner:
“My dear Jailer, I write you these lines in six languages. Show them to people who know the languages. Let them read them. If they find not one mistake I implore you to fire a shot in the garden. That shot will show me that my efforts have not been thrown away. The geniuses of all ages and of all lands speak different languages, but the same flame burns in them all. Oh, if you only knew what unearthly happiness my soul feels now from being able to understand them!” The prisoner’s desire was fulfilled. The banker ordered two shots to be fired in the garden.
Explanation .. The lone prisoner plunged himself in the study of languages, philosophy and history. He ordered many books on these subjects as he voraciously read the books at his disposal. The banker, bound by his pledge, was never found wanting in his job of fetching the treatises. In four years, some six hundred volumes were procured for the scholar-prisoner.
A letter from the prisoner really took the banker by surprise. The missive was penned in six different languages. The writer had thrown a challenge at the banker. If a single mistake was spotted in any of the six letters, the banker was asked to fire a shot from his gun from inside the garden. The prisoner said he was experiencing immense sense of satisfaction from mastering so many languages – a feat that has been the hallmark of eminent intellectuals in all ages.
The banker had the letters scrutinized, and could spot just two mistakes. As required by the prisoner, he had two shots fired from his garden.
Then after the tenth year, the prisoner sat immovably at the table and read nothing but the Gospel. It seemed strange to the banker that a man who in four years had mastered six hundred learned volumes should waste nearly a year over one thin book easy of comprehension. Theology and histories of religion followed the Gospels.
In the last two years of his confinement the prisoner read an immense quantity of books quite indiscriminately. At one time he was busy with the natural sciences, then he would ask for Byron or Shakespeare. There were notes in which he demanded at the same time books on chemistry, and a manual of medicine, and a novel, and some treatise on philosophy or theology. His reading suggested a man swimming in the sea among the wreckage of his ship, and trying to save his life by greedily clutching first at one spar and then at another.
The old banker remembered all this, and thought:
“To-morrow at twelve o’clock he will regain his freedom. By our agreement I ought to pay him two million. If I do pay him, it is all over with me: I shall be utterly ruined.”
Explanation …. Years of the voluntary captivity went by. Ashe entered the eleventh year, the prisoner’s interest in all branches of human knowledge dwindled to near zero. He took to spiritualism, and began to read the Gospel. Much to the surprise of the banker the voracious reader delved in to the thin volume of the Gospel. All his enthusiasm to read and read had deserted him.
After finishing the Gospel, the prisoner began his intellectual quest to Theology and History of religions.
Ashe stepped into the last two years of self-imposed incarceration, he began to read randomly. From Natural Sciences to the study of Byron and Shakespeare he busied himself in picking up nuggets of reading pleasure from whatever books came his way.
The last day of the captivity was tantalizingly near. The banker, bent by age and greatly diminished in wealth by then, began to ponder the matter. The prisoner would walk out at 12 noon the next day. He would walk out free richer by two million and the banker’s kitty would take a hit of the like amount. He was already in hard times, and this pay-out would almost cripple him. The banker was lost in thoughts.
Fifteen years before, his millions had been beyond his reckoning; now he was afraid to ask himself which were greater, his debts or his assets. Desperate gambling on the Stock Exchange, wild speculation and the excitability which he could not get over even in advancing years, had by degrees led to the decline of his fortune and the proud, fearless, self-confident millionaire had become a banker of middling rank, trembling at every rise and fall in his investments. “Cursed bet!” muttered the old man, clutching his head in despair “Why didn’t the man die? He is only forty now. He will take my last penny from me, he will marry, will enjoy life, will gamble on the Exchange; while I shall look at him with envy like a beggar, and hear from him every day the same sentence: ‘I am indebted to you for the happiness of my life, let me help you!’ No, it is too much! The one means of being saved from bankruptcy and disgrace is the death of that man!”
Explanation … The banker had squandered a major part of his wealth in reckless gambling, betting wildly on the bourses, and similar misadventures. His swagger, clout, and arrogance had ceded place to despondency, remorse, worries, and lack of self-confidence.
He began to think mean, wondering why the man survived the ordeal to claim the two million. He was just about 40, an age in which he could marry and look forward to a happy life. The old banker, would lose two million, an amount that appeared so trifling some years back, but meant a lot to him, in the hard times he had fallen in. He concluded that redeeming his pledge to give two million would almost spell his ruin. An unknown fear gripped him. He mulled over ways to preempt this calamity.
It struck three o’clock, the banker listened; everyone was asleep in the house and nothing could be heard outside but the rustling of the chilled trees. Trying to make no noise, he took from a fireproof safe the key of the door which had not been opened for fifteen years, put on his overcoat, and went out of the house.
It was dark and cold in the garden. Rain was falling. A damp cutting wind was racing about the garden, howling and giving the trees no rest. The banker strained his eyes, but could see neither the earth nor the white statues, nor the lodge, nor the trees. Going to the spot where the lodge stood, he twice called the watchman. No answer followed. Evidently the watchman had sought shelter from the weather, and was now asleep somewhere either in the kitchen or in the greenhouse.
“If I had the pluck to carry out my intention,” thought the old man, “Suspicion would fall first upon the watchman.”
He felt in the darkness for the steps and the door, and went into the entry of the lodge. Then he groped his way into a little passage and lighted a match. There was not a soul there. There was a bedstead with no bedding on it, and in the corner there was a dark cast-iron stove. The seals on the door leading to the prisoner’s rooms were intact.
Explanation .. It was 3O’clock – just nine hours away from the door would be flung open to let the prisoner walk out free with two million in the wallet. The banker got up, wore his overcoat, retrieved the key from the chest and stealthily tiptoed his way out of his room. The cold night’s chill and the howling winds swayed the garden trees wildly. Trains fell incessantly adding to the infernal environment.
The banker looked around, but found nothing of the usual objects like the statue, the trees and the lodge. Somewhat bewildered, he called out loudly for the watchman. He received no reply from the watchman who, apparently slept off somewhere.
Awful thoughts crossed the banker’s mind. He could not muster the courage to smother the prisoner to evade the two million pay-out. It was too risky a thought, he concluded. The needle of suspicion would point to the watchman, he felt glibly.
He proceeded towards the lodge in the darkness. He crossed the passage and lighted a match. He was flummoxed to discover that the cell was empty with no one inside. There lay a bare bedstead and a cast iron stove. Curiously, the seal of the cell was intact..
When the match went out the old man, trembling with emotion, peeped through the little window. A candle was burning dimly in the prisoner’s room. He was sitting at the table. Nothing could be seen but his back, the hair on his head, and his hands. Open books were lying on the table, on the two easy-chairs, and on the carpet near the table.
Five minutes passed and the prisoner did not once stir. Fifteen years’ imprisonment had taught him to sit still. The banker tapped at the window with his finger, and the prisoner made no movement whatever in response. Then the banker cautiously broke the seals off the door and put the key in the keyhole. The rusty lock gave a grating sound and the door creaked. The banker expected to hear at once footsteps and a cry of astonishment, but three minutes passed and it was as quiet as ever in the room. He made up his mind to go in.
At the table a man unlike ordinary people was sitting motionless. He was a skeleton with the skin drawn tight over his bones, with long curls like a woman’s and a shaggy beard. His face was yellow with an earthy tint in it, his cheeks were hollow, his back long and narrow, and the hand on which his shaggy head was propped was so thin and delicate that it was dreadful to look at it. His hair was already streaked with silver, and seeing his emaciated, aged-looking face, no one would have believed that he was only forty. He was asleep … In front of his bowed head there lay on the table a sheet of paper on which there was something written in fine handwriting.
“Poor creature!” thought the banker, “he is asleep and most likely dreaming of the millions. And I have only to take this half-dead man, throw him on the bed, stifle him a little with the pillow, and the most conscientious expert would find no sign of a violent death. But let us first read what he has written here … “
The banker took the page from the table and read as follows:
“To-morrow at twelve o’clock I regain my freedom and the right to associate with other men, but before I leave this room and see the sunshine, I think it necessary to say a few words to you. With a clear conscience I tell you, as before God, who beholds me, that I despise freedom and life and health, and all that in your books is called the good things of the world.
“For fifteen years I have been intently studying earthly life. It is true I have not seen the earth nor men, but in your books I have drunk fragrant wine, I have sung songs, I have hunted stags and wild boars in the forests, have loved women … Beauties as ethereal as clouds, created by the magic of your poets and geniuses, have visited me at night, and have whispered in my ears wonderful tales that have set my brain in a whirl. In your books I have climbed to the peaks of Elburz and Mont Blanc, and from there I have seen the sun rise and have watched it at evening flood the sky, the ocean, and the mountain-tops with gold and crimson. I have watched from there the lightning flashing over my head and cleaving the storm-clouds. I have seen green forests, fields, rivers, lakes, towns. I have heard the singing of the sirens, and the strains of the shepherds’ pipes; I have touched the wings of comely devils who flew down to converse with me of God … In your books I have flung myself into the bottomless pit, performed miracles, slain, burned towns, preached new religions, conquered whole kingdoms …
Explanation … The match went out. Overwhelmed by a torrent of emotions, the banker peeped through the little window. He saw the back of lone man, He had a hairy body. Books lay scattered on his table. The books were strewn everywhere – on the easy chair and on the carpet.
The prisoner sat motionless. Perhaps the long confinement had taught him to sit still. He even seemed not to hear the sound which banker made by tapping the window. The banker broke the seal on the door and opened it with the key that had not been used in the last fifteen years. The banker paused for a few minutes, but saw no reaction from the prisoner. The banker decided to go in.
At the table was seated a man reduced to his bare bones. He looked gaunt and spent. His hair had turned white and his emaciated look evoked both horror and sympathy. The man seemed to be asleep. There were a few pieces of paper before him.
The banker assumed that the man was half dead. It wouldn’t take much effort to lift him to the bed and then strangle him with his pillow. Death would come instantaneously, and others would have little clue that the man met a violent death. Thinking these, he thought he should read whatever was scribbled on the papers.
What the prisoner had written shook the banker. He had told that he was on the verge of deliverance from the fifteen years of isolation, but was not the least thrilled by it. He had little yearning for the worldly pleasures like wealth, health and pleasures that ordinary mortals covet so much. Then the prisoner had explained how being engrossed in serious studies had nurtured his soul, enriched his understanding of the ways of the world. Through his studies he had experienced the excitement people feel on climbing mountain peaks, hunting in the jungles and loving women. He had sailed through the clouds, feasted his eyes with the beauty of the earth, the mountains, the woods, towns, villages and cities. He had derived profound pleasure from his journey through the books and he was a complete and contented man. It had been a bewildering experience to try and understand the mysteries of creation and the intrigues of existence. He had never let his mind waver from God, the Creator and Destroyer of everything.
“Your books have given me wisdom. All that the unresting thought of man has created in the ages is compressed into a small compass in my brain. I know that I am wiser than all of you.
“And I despise your books, I despise wisdom and the blessings of this world. It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory, and deceptive, like a mirage. You may be proud, wise, and fine, but death will wipe you off the face of the earth as though you were no more than mice burrowing under the floor, and your posterity, your history, your immortal geniuses will burn or freeze together with the earthly globe.
“You have lost your reason and taken the wrong path. You have taken lies for truth, and hideousness for beauty. You would marvel if, owing to strange events of some sorts, frogs and lizards suddenly grew on apple and orange trees instead of fruit, or if roses began to smell like a sweating horse; so I marvel at you who exchange heaven for earth. I don’t want to understand you.
“To prove to you in action how I despise all that you live by, I renounce the two million of which I once dreamed as of paradise and which now I despise. To deprive myself of the right to the money I shall go out from here five hours before the time fixed, and so break the compact …”
When the banker had read this he laid the page on the table, kissed the strange man on the head, and went out of the lodge, weeping. At no other time, even when he had lost heavily on the Stock Exchange, had he felt so great a contempt for himself. When he got home he lay on his bed, but his tears and emotion kept him for hours from sleeping.
Next morning the watchmen ran in with pale faces, and told him they had seen the man who lived in the lodge climb out of the window into the garden, go to the gate, and disappear. The banker went at once with the servants to the lodge and made sure of the flight of his prisoner. To avoid arousing unnecessary talk, he took from the table the writing in which the millions were renounced, and when he got home locked it up in the fireproof safe.
Explanation …. The prisoner declared how he has found the books deeply educative and entertaining. They had provided wisdom and knowledge, and had helped him to fend off frustration, despair and boredom through the fifteen years of isolation. As a result, he had emerged wiser than most mortals on earth.
In the next breath, the prisoner pours scorn over the same books he had lauded so much. He said he was not the least enthused by what the world calls wisdom, and the pleasures the world so generously distributes among the humans. All these were like a mirage, so unreal, so deceptive and so transitory.
A man might have risen to the zenith of fame, wealth and valour, but death comes so disdainfully, ruthlessly, and reduces the mightiest human to a mass of rotten flesh. Time devours everything from the face of earth. The biggest of the man-made wonders get reduced to dust with the passage of time. Nothing is eternal, nothing survives the jaws of destruction.
Then he proceeded to chide the banker as a gullible person who had lost his way in this illusory world. A false sense of vanity, happiness, and fulfillment had reduced him to the state of a lunatic, unable to discern what is real and what is not. His life was vain and a colossal failure.
With these words of admonishment, the prisoner proceeded to deal his fatal blow! To vindicate his stand, he offered to relinquish his claim for the two million. To show that the banker had not reneged on his promise, the prisoner volunteered to escape the confinement just five hours before the end, so as to make it appear that he flouted the clause of the contract – not the old banker.
The banker became speechless on reading the note and made a quiet exit. Emotions, sense of shame, guilt and remorse overtook him as he stepped out of the lodge. Sleep eluded him for the rest of the night.
Next morning, the news of the prisoner’s premature escape was conveyed to the banker by his host of housekeepers and gardeners. The watermen said that they had seen with their own eyes how the prisoner climbed out of the window into the garden before exiting the place. The banker hurried to see for himself that the prisoner had indeed escaped. To ensure that the prisoner had triumphantly walked away from the two million, the baker quickly grabbed the note and hid it. He wanted the mystery to remain a mystery forever. By doing this, he saved himself of a lot of ignominy and shame.
Questions and answers will be posted soon.
[To be continued]
Tags: Letter to Collector
The Collector Munibag village
Jhansi District Taluk .. Sahabd
April 15. 2016
Sub .. Request for a tar road connection to Muninag
We, the villagers of Munibag, have no road connectivity to our village. We have to walk at least two kilometers through mud tracks to reach the road that leads to Jhansi. This causes great inconvenience to the students, to our elderly and sick, and to our womenfolk. It takes a one-hour bullock cart ride to reach the nearest Primary Health Centre. For pregnant women and terminally ill patients, this often results in death en route to the PHC. Our farmers find it hard to carry their fresh fruits and vegetables to the local Mandi situated four kilometers away. In short, the absence of a motorable road has stifled our welfare and economic progress.
We see a lot of rural development work presently going on in our Taluk under the MNREGA scheme. It would be a great boon for us if construction of an all-weather road to Munibag is included in this programme.
We give below the mobile number, name and address of our Sarpanch Sri Radheshyam Pandey. He will be most eager to discuss this proposal with you in your office at your convenience if you desire so.
Thanking you with expectation,
[Names and signatures of villagers]
Name, address and cell no of Sarpanch ………
CC: 1. The MLA Sri …
2. The Chairman Panchayat Samiti Sri ……..
[All names are imaginary.]
Tags: CBSE English Prose ---Lost Spring
Lost Spring [With Questions and Answers]
Sometimes I find a Rupee in the garbage.
Saheb is an urchin. Fate has been very cruel to him. He scratches a living by foraging garbage heaps in and around his locality. Saheb hails from Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. Like scores of refugees, he too made his way to India, but conditions here has been no better than in Dhaka. He has all but forgotten Dhaka.
His mother tells him that storms and typhoons ravaged their shanty home and fields making them destitute in their own land. They fled for greener pastures in neighboring India, and settled down in the city where he lives now. But, happiness and dignity has eluded him in this teeming city. His poverty bites him relentlessly.
The author speaks to him. She suggests that he go to school, but the idea was so impractical. Saheb is fed up with the drudgery of rag-picking, and says he would love to go to a school if there is one nearby. He said this when she offered to start a school.
Some days later, she runs into Saheb again. He wants to know if she had started the school. Saheb’s question puts her in the defensive. Her offer to start a school was just a flippant suggestion. She feels guilty for having contributed to the litany of broken promises Saheb would have faced stoically.
She wriggles out of the embarrassment saying that building a school is time-consuming.
She meets the boy quite often in a group of other boys, all in tattered clothes and sunken eyes. They all scavenge the garbage dumps for anything worthwhile like some recyclable waste, bits of food etc. etc. For them the day starts in the morning and ends by noon when the Sun beats down mercilessly. Poverty had scarred each one’s face deep and hard.
Saheb’s real name is Saheb-e-Alam which translates to the ‘Lord of the Universe’. What an irony! TheLord of the Universe is down on the streets living off what others have left as waste!
On one occasion the author asked Saheb why he didn’t wear any chappals. Saheb replied that his mother had kept them in the shelf. One of his mates wearing an ill-fitting pair of shoes explained that Saheb would throw off his footwear even if his mother gives it to him. Another member of the scavenger gang says he wants shoes as he has never worn one all his life.
In villages and cities, one comes across umpteen number of boys and girls walking barefoot. It is a common sight. Perhaps, they go about barefoot more as a way of life than due to lack of money to buy a pair of shoes. It might be an entrenched practice that lingering poverty has forced upon the poorer sections of society.
The author recalls a story a man from Udipi had once narrated to her long back. He had a father who worked as a priest in the village temple. Each morning, he would lass by the temple on his way to school. During his brief Darshan, the boy would pray to the deity for a pair of shoes.
Thirty years later, the author visited the same village again. The village had changed beyond recognition. She visited the new priest. He had brightly-coloured plastic chairs in the yard. His school-going son wore uniform, shoes and had a smart school bag. Time, it seemed, had changed things for the better. Sadly, for the scavengers’ gang, time had stood still, unmoved and uninterested.
The author builds up a bond with Saheb. She follows him to Seemapuri, a shanty town in the outskirts of Delhi. Paradoxically, the locality, inhabited by Bangladeshi illegal migrants, is a world apart from the opulence of India’s capital city. Seemapuri has become a haven for Bangladeshis who came to India in the aftermath of the 1971 war. Like a swarm of bees, some 10,000 refugees have filled up this place which was once a totally uninhabited place. Ramshackle huts made out of corrugated tins, and tarpaulins dot the area. Living conditions are appalling, with no power, piped water or sewage. It is a hell. Only the hardiest of humans survive the deprivation and disease that plague the place.
In the government records, these displaced persons do not exist. They have no identity papers, no proof of citizenship and, therefore, no access to subsidized food. For three decades, the refugees have weathered the grim life in a slum. Politicians and government officers have looked askance at these people condemned to live as unwanted intruders under subhuman conditions.
For the men and women, staving off hunger is the primary task. So, they have learned to live with the daily grind of life in a city that does not recognize them as fellow human beings.
Picking through the city’s garbage offends none. So, they indulge in it with rare vigour and optimism. The garbage has become their source of sustenance. Over the years, they have learned how best to pick the right kind of waste—the items they can consume themselves or sell to make some little money. When one place ceases to cater to their needs, they move on to settle in some other place where they can scavenge and survive. Garbage is ‘gold’ to these nomads.
[To be continued]
Tags: National Integration
In the Indian context, National Integration is a matter of paramount importance. As an ancient country with mind-boggling diversity of race, religion, language and culture, India relentlessly grapples with fissiparous tendencies. Thanks to a judicious mix of military power, political acumen and sagacious leadership, India has managed to stay united. But challenges crop up periodically from within the country and without. This is the reason why national integration needs to be fostered with the utmost zeal and verve.
In our neighborhood, Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and even China struggle to rein in centrifugal forces that tend to tear apart the country. Even rich and advanced democratic countries like Belgium, Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada experience difficulties to hold together. The mighty Soviet Union imploded without a single bullet being fired. The regions that broke away to become independent countries such as the Ukraine, Georgia etc. have themselves been bedeviled by secessionist forces. Quite inexplicably, even the heavily down-sized and truncated Russia has to contend with never-ending insurgency in the tiny Chechnya which aspires to be an independent nation.
It is essential to examine what binds nations. Is it religion? If so, why did Pakistan brake apart in 1971? Today, Baluchistan wants to secede to form an independent country. Is it the language and colour of skin of citizens that binds nations? If so, why does Scotland want to secede from the United Kingdom? Is it culture? If so, why Ukraine is disintegrating? So, no single factor can be responsible to make or break a nation state.
Political scientists have pondered over the matter for long, and have come to conclude that a combination of un-fulfilled political desires, religious persecution, linguistic hegemony, economic disparity, and above all, an indifferent central leadership can fuel anger and disaffection among smaller ethnic groups to break away from the mother country.
India had its bouts of disruptive upheavals in the past. The Tamils, fearing dominance by the Hindi-speaking North wanted to secede in the years after independence. Nehru smothered the demand through persuasion, patience, and accommodation. When the Khalistan forces reared their head, the government used brute police power (led by K. P. S Gill) to wipe their leaders off the soil of Punjab. The festering Naga problem and the pro-Pakistan Kashmir rebels have been more or less contained. But, has the challenge to the unity of India retreated for good? It would be naive to think so.
It is worth examining the present dangers to national integration in India. What we see today is a growing isolation of Muslims and Christians who find the interpretation of nationalism by chauvinistic Hindu groups too noxious to live with. Efforts have been made to undermine the liberal principles enshrined in the Constitution by various covert and overt methods by self-seeking politicians. This has caused great unease among the minorities and a vast majority of moderate Hindus. Of late, the Dalits, long disenchanted with the polity of the country, have come under attack from a group of ruling party leaders. They have been portrayed as anti-national, unpatriotic, and disloyal to the country. Such uncharitable characterization of Dalits or for that matter, any other group imperils national integration.
A certain political party based in Mumbai claims that the bustling metropolis is meant to benefit only the sons of the soil. Those from other states are treated as interlopers and rent-seekers. Such claims are bizarre, and run counter to the Constitution. To further boost their pseudo-nationalism, the party openly takes avirulent anti-Muslim stand, and goes to the extent of blocking visit of sports teams and artists from Pakistan. The obvious intent is to derive electoral gains, no matter how grievous harm the party does to the unity of the country. Cohesion, inclusiveness, liberal values, and tolerance are alien to the philosophy of such parties.
Another creed of politicians needlessly take un-compromising and rigid positions in matter of sharing of national resources such as river water. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu bicker over Cauvery water in summer. This particular problem has defied solution for years, simply because adopting stubborn position helps the parties in power to project themselves as the protectors of the state’s interests. Such naked provincialism needlessly fuels rivalry between the Kannadigas and the Tamils.
Karnataka and Maharastra are unfortunately locked in a boundary dispute that becomes more and more intractable as the two states harden their stands. For national integration, such myopic approach in resolving contentious issues proves to be a big hurdle.
Another shameful exhibition of intolerance is seen when young students and workers from the North Eastern states are harassed, roughed up in Delhi and Bangalore for the slightest of provocation. The young migrants feel embittered and disaffected. On going back home, they narrate the horror stories before their friends and relations, who seethe in anger against the rest of India. Thus, isolationism grows at the cost of integration.
Almost in the whole of North and in parts of Western India, Biharis are looked down upon as stupid, uncouth, and boorish. This is despite the fact that Bihar produces the highest number of civil service officers and IIT graduates on per capita basis. In doing manual labour in farms and factories, Biharis outperform people from all other states. Such gritty and brainy people from Bihar suffer humiliation because of the entrenched prejudice against them. How can they be expected to be seamlessly integrated to the rest of India when they are treated with scorn and ridicule?
The venomous exchange of diatribes between the Telugus of Telengana and Andhra Pradesh is a unique case of politicians succeeding in separating people with the same blood, same language and the same culture. Such is the power of self-seeking politicians in turning one brother against the other for narrow interests.
It is heartening to note that an institutional mechanism in the form of National Integration Council is in place to address dangers to national integration. Started by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1961, this Council has the chief minister of all the states as its members. The Council deliberates on various issues endangering social harmony in the country and suggests measures to counter them. So far, the results have been mixed, but even its critics concede that it surely has helped in bridging differences and healing wounds in the body politic of the nation.
In conclusion, all of us need to realize that India today stands at a crossroads. If we stand united, bury our intolerance, and treat everyone as equal citizens of the country, we will propel our country to the zenith of power and prosperity. On the other hand, if we give short shrift to the spirit of the Constitution, fail to take everyone on board, and eschew inclusiveness, we will sink to the level of failed states like Somalia and Syria. In India’s rise lies the world’s rise: in India’s fall lies the world’s fall, because we make up one sixth of the mankind.
Tags: Precis writing