Where the mind is without fear — Explanation

April 16, 2016 at 4:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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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.
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The Bet by Anthon Chekhov — Explanation with Q&A

April 16, 2016 at 8:55 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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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.
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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.
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“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.

———————–END————————-

Questions and answers will be posted soon.

[To be continued]

Letter to Collector for a road connection to your village

April 13, 2016 at 4:14 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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To
The Collector                                          Munibag village
Jhansi District                                        Taluk .. Sahabd
Jhansi

                                                                      April 15. 2016

Sub .. Request for a tar road connection to Muninag

Sir,

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,

Yours faithfully,

[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.]

CBSE English Prose –LOST SPRING –analysis

April 12, 2016 at 10:51 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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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.

Saheb’s face lights up when he says how he finds currency notes at times — a one-rupee note, even a ten-rupee one.  When he chances upon a silver coin in the heap, he gets big spurt of energy. With added zeal and energy, he delves deeper into the heap. Thus, garbage is a source of livelihood for the elders, and a source of fun and excitement for the young ones.

One winter morning, the author finds Saheb peering through the barbed wire fence. He saw two tennis player in their whites busy with their game. There is a kind gatekeeper who lets Saheb in when no one is around. He even allows Saheb to use the swing. Ir is a rare instance of sympathy.

Saheb  wears a pair of discarded tennis shoes. With his soiled pant and tattered shirt, he presents a grotesque sight. Despite having a hole in its sole, the pair of shoes provides a queer satisfaction to Saheb. He watches the game gleefully.

Saheb has found a job in a tea stall at a salary of Rs. 800 a month with free food. He fetches milk for the shop from the milk booth. The canister he carries seems to have weighed him down, the same way the responsibility of his job shackled him. He can no longer go on his errands at will.

“I want to dive a car.”

Mukesh, the other urchin, has a different ambition. He wants to be a car mechanic. When quizzed by the author he confidently asserts that he would learn about cars in due course. In the dust-filled city of Firozabad, this dream of an urchin looks so far-fetched. In this city known as the bangles city, generations have lived working in the heat of the melting furnaces and the blowers. No one dared, and none could break the stranglehold of backwardness and lack of opportunities. Mukesh is a member of one such cursed family.

Mukesh along with 20000 other such child workers were oblivious of the rules that prohibit employment of youngsters in factories. The law is equally harsh for those employers who make people work in the hot suffocating sweat-shops. The malaise continues, because the law is never enforced.

Mukesh ushers the author to his home that stands in a dilapidated run-down urban ghetto. With filth all over the place, the alleys appear as if they are gateways to hell. Cows and buffaloes live side by side with their owners.

The author enters Mukesh’s crumbling home. A woman cooks spinach in an aluminium vessel. The stove uses firewood as fuel. Smoke has filled the air. The frail woman’s eyes look deem. She is the wife of Mukesh’s elder brother. As the daughter-in-law in the family, the duty of looking after three men — her husband, her father-in-law, and Mukesh has fallen on her. She appears to be quite young in age.

The father-in-law has slogged hard all his life. He was a tailor before he joined the bangle factory as a worker. So hard has been his wife that despite long years of work as a bangle maker, he has not been to renovate his house. The two sons could n’t go to school. In due course, they would take their father’s trade as bangle makers. Thus, impoverishment is perpetuated.

Mukesh’s grand mother is resigned to her fate. The arduous work in the bangles factory has irreversibly impaired her husband’s vision,  but she seldom complains. ‘It is our fate’, she laments.

Firozabad bristles with deprivation, with umpteen households condemned to work in bangle factories with paltry wages and sub-human working conditions. A lot of bangles work goes on inside their shacks, in deem lights. Long hours of work in such light robs them of their vision much before their dotage.

Savita, a young little girl sits beside another woman doing the same bangle welding. Savita’s nimble fingers move briskly as if they are part of a machine. Bangles are much treasured by Indian women as these glass rings symbolize the dignity of a married woman. Savita is unaware of the importance of the bangles she turns out in hundreds. For her these would bring her the much-needed food for the day. One day, she would be ready for marriage. As a bride she would be decked in red saree, red bangles etc. But, now she has to prod on regardless of the fact that she has not eaten anything for hours. The older woman is married. Years of malnutrition and working in deem light has robbed her of vision and youthful vitality. Her husband, with long beards, rues the fact that her whole life of hard work has neither provided him enough food nor a decent shelter. But, he is luckier than many others of his class. Others don’t have even a roof over their head, which the beareded man has somehow managed to have.

Firozabad might be a bristling hub of bangle manufacturing, but the scourge of backwardness, poverty, and pessimism has cast a long shadow over it. It is a city of despair and despondency.

The suggestion of the author to organize themselves through cooperatives evokes an indifferent response from some young men standing nearby. They know the law, the police and the authorities will come down hard to smother such initiatives. There is no hope, no urge to break free of their curse.

The fate is so cruel for these folks. Factory owners, middlemen, traders all proper at the cost of these hapless illiterate workers. The state apparatus sides with the affluent and the wealthy. The world is so much riddled with inequality.

It is heartening to see Mukesh’s flickering optimism shining from under the pile of poverty and deprivation.He wants to work in a garage situated quite a distance away. When the author asks Mukesh how he would reach the garage he says he would walk it.

The author confronts him with another question. If he would like to fly a plane, asks the author. The bemused Mukesh declines the overly ambitious suggestion. He will be content driving a car, declares Mukesh.

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