Dream Children by Charles Lamb

August 18, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dream Children by Charles Lamb

Charles Lamb(1774-1834) didn’t live long, but he made stellar contribution to English literature through his essays, short stories, and poems. His personal life was beset with many problems. A lunatic elder sister, a futile romance, and his struggle with mental illness didn’t, however, dim his creativity with the pen. He courted a girl named Ann Simmons for seven long years, but she broke his heart by marrying a silversmith. The broken affair cast a long shadow over Lamb’s life, and he decided to remain a bachelor for the rest of his life. His sister Mary, older than him by eleven years, was bit of a mentally deranged woman. In a feat of rage, she once impelled a kitchen knife into her mother’s chest, killing her on the spot. Charles Lamb, despite his meager earnings, never left his sister Mary t fend for herself. He took good care of her arranging for her treatment from time to time as she swung between normalcy and instability periodically. Even Charles Lamb had a six-week stint in a mental hospital to rid himself of his partial lunacy.
He worked for a living in East India House as a clerk. In his free hours he wrote his pieces.
Charles Lamb was fortunate to have literary icons like Samuel Taylor Coleridge as his close friend. Lamb poured out his grief to Coleridge through many pensive letters.

About ‘Dream Children’ ….Dream Children is a short that formed part of Lamb’s ‘The Essays of Elia’. Lamb wrote under the pen name of Elia. It is an autobiographical account of the author’s life that was riddled with so many tragedies. As the name of the story suggests, it is a ‘reverie’, meaning that it is nothing but a short day dream conjured by the author. The dream comes to an abrupt and sad end. Almost all characters are real except Alice, who is none other than Ann Simmons, who married another man leaving Charles in a sea of agony.

The characters .. Mrs. Field .. Charles Lab’s great grandmother
Uncle John … The elder brother of the author who was older than him by about 14 years
Alice .. An imagnary girl, through whose eyes Lamb saw her beloved Ann.
John .. A boy imagined by the author

Background to the story and Lamb’s character sketch .. Charles Lamb was undoubtedly a benign man. He bore his misfortune with remarkable fortitude. To see one’s mother fatally stabbed by one’s own sister for no great reason would devastate anyone. Lamb, too, was shaken by this grim tragedy, but, far from being vengeful towards his sister Mary, he strove to see that the minimum punishment was awarded to her. Later, he took Mary to the mental treatment clinic multiple times to nurse her back to normal life. Even Lamb had his bouts of mental illness followed by a short stay in a hospital. Although the girl he loved so much ditched him after seven long years, he showed no vengfulness. He dedicated his time, money and energy to serve his sister Mary. He chose to remain a bachelor —  a great sacrifice for such a talented young man.

Charles Lamb yearned to marry, raise a family and lead a full life, but fate ordained otherwise. Obviously, he loved children and must have spent countless nights pining for a wife, and his own children. This reverie bears testimony to the cravings of his heat and the trauma of his soul.

The story (A fictional one) .. In the opening lines, Charles Lamb finds himself surrounded by two lovely children, Alice and John. The duo pleaded with their father Lamb to narrate a story about his ancestors and his bygone days.

Lamb talks about his great grandmother Mrs. Field. She was a devout Christian and a woman of great piety. Due to her sterling character, a wealthy man had asked her to live like a caretaker in one of his sprawling villas in Norfolk. Field, lived in just a lonely corner of the huge use, but attended to the upkeep of the house with attention and sincerity.

The house had some connection to a horrible episode of a very cruel uncle who had smothered some children, sometime in the past. The details of this horrific massacre were carved as ‘ballad of the woods’ in the body of a wooden chimney inside the Norfolk mansion. Sadly, the owner of the house chose to have the wooden chimney replaced by a marble one. With the renovation, the wooden chimney was gone, so was the inscription of the tragic story.

Alice and John were listening to their father’s (Lamb’s) account with attention. Lamb spoke eloquently about his great grandmother Ms. Field. When she passed away, her admirers from far and wide converged on her house to pay their tributes.

After her death, the owner of the house had all the ornate fixtures and furniture removed to another house of his. These items ill fitted the new house, looking so incongruous, and out-of-place. John, listening to the story seemed to appreciate the fact that the decision to cart away the furniture to a new house had not been a wise one.

Ms. Field was a gifted dancer too. Unfortunately, she was afflicted with cancer, and her zest for dancing took a beating. This crippling disease, however, failed to diminish Grandma Field didn’t allow her spirits to droop. She was a brave lady who slept in a solitary room in the large house. Even John chose to sleep beside the maid to ward off fear. Ms. Field saw dreams, but there was nothing to fear. In the dreams she saw two babies with wings gliding down the stairs. The nocturnal visitors had no bellicose intent.

Ms. Field’s affection towards her grandchildren had still remained vivid in his memory. She allowed them a free run over the house garden that had fruit trees of many types. There were peach trees, nectarine and orange trees, and many others. The house had busts of Roman royalty, which Lamb loved to observe with interest. The visiting children didn’t pluck any fruit from the trees perhaps because they were advised not to. Hearing this account, Alice and John seated near their father desisted from partaking of the oranges kept before them. The story appeared to have a great sway over them.

Lamb told his listeners Alice and John that his brother John L (their uncle) was a handsome, well-built, and athletic young lad. He was the favoured grand child of Ms. Field. When other children roamed around in the mansion and the garden, John L would go horse riding to nearby woods. He lavished his affection on his younger brother (the narrator and the two children’s father). At times, John L would carry his younger brother (the narrator) in his back despite an injury in his foot. His death made the narrator very sad indeed.

Soon, Alice and John lost interest in the sad account of their father’s earlier years. They prodded him to talk about days of his childhood instead of going so far down the memory lane. Particularly, they wanted to hear about their mother.

Charles Lamb proceeded to name her. She was Alice W—n. The narrator held back the true name ‘Anna Simmons’. He rued that he had courted her for seven long years, but the romance and the effort were futile. He made no effort to conceal his dismay at her refusing to marry him. Just around this time, Charles Lamb, in the role of the father of his two imaginary children Alice and John, saw some uncanny resemblance n the faces of Ann Simmons and Alice. It seemed as though Ann as speaking to him through Alice.

At this point, the story takes an abrupt turn. Lamb wakes up from his sleep and finds himself lying on his arm chair. Curtains come down on the author’s lovelorn past. Hard reality prevails. Charles Lamb honestly states that James Elia, the author, no longer lives in this world.







ICSE Poem Enterprise by Nissim Ezkiel

July 27, 2017 at 4:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Enterprise by Nissim Ezekiel

It started as a pilgrimage
Exalting minds and making all
The burdens light, The second stage
Explored but did not test the call.
The sun beat down to match our rage. 5

Meaning. A group of intellectually-oriented sets out on foot on a journey to explore the unknown. The author is one among them. The intrepid explorers are agog in excitement. The hazards of the journey, the wrath of the elements, and the perils of the unknown land they are venturing into do not deter them a bit. They are determined to overcome the odds to reach their destination. However, some way into their journey, they get to see the harsh realities of their voyage. The Sun’s scorching heat challenges the grit and doggedness of the itinerant knowledge seekers. The going gets tough. In other words, the vagaries of journeying into un-trodden terrain take its toll on the travelers.

We stood it very well, I thought ,
Observed and put down copious notes
On things the peasants sold and bought
The way of surpants and of goats.
Three cities where a sage had taught 10

Meaning .. The travelers were undaunted by the brush with the elements. In their travelogue, they noted down all the new things they encountered. The life in the countryside was interesting. The travelers saw the way the peasants traded in their farm produces. They also saw the curious ways of the serpents and the goat herds walking in the rural tracks. They pass through three cities where sages of great renown had given their sermons. What exactly they preached is all lost in time.

But when the differences arose
On how to cross a desert patch,
We lost a friend whose stylish prose
Was quite the best of all our batch.
A shadow falls on us and grows . 15

Meaning …. In their way, they come to see a desert. Traversing through it appears fraught. The members of the group argue over the ways to cross it, but can’t reach a consensus. A distraught member of the group brakes rank, and charts a different course for himself. He was a prose writer of great flourish – possibly the best in the group. His loss is painful. Hard times seem to approach the rest of the group. Things get worse. All round gloom sets in.

Another phase was reached when we
Were twice attacked , and lost our way.
A section claimed its liberty
To leave the group. I tried to prey.
Our leader said he smelt the sea 20

Meaning .. A difficult phase has begun. On their way, they are twice waylaid by bandits. In their effort to evade the thugs, The members of the group run in different directions. Soon, they lose their way. Misery befalls the group, as a few members decide to drop out and go their own ways. The group is thus further depleted. The leader of the truncated group tries to instill some optimism among the distraught members. He says, the sea (implying their final destination) is not very far off. He can sense it.

We noticed nothing as we went ,
A straggling crowd of little hope,
Ignoring what the thunder ment ,
Deprived of common needs like soap.
Some were broken , some merely bent. 25

Meaning .. Crestfallen and sapped, the members of the group trudge on, unmindful of the comrades. They have no hope, and no energy. The trauma of the past days has robbed them of all life and cheer. The hardly take notice of other calamities along the way. The thunder means no danger to them. Inured to the past sufferings, they have become surprisingly stoic. They have run short of even the basic necessities of life – like a cake of soap. Some are weighed down by the grind and the despair. They are virtually down on their knees.

When, finally , we reached the place ,
We hardly know why we were there.
The trip had darkened every face,
Our deeds were neither great nor rare.
Home is where we have to gather grace.

Meaning .. At last, they reach their destination. By then, they have endured so much misery that their senses have been numbed. They feel no elation, no exuberance. The satisfaction of finally making it brings them little cheer. The trip has inflicted untold misery on the members. They look so dull and emaciated. To add to their frustration, they find that their exploration, undertaken with so much sacrifice, was not unique. So many others had successfully undertaken similar ventures earlier.
The realization dawns upon the group member that home sweet home is possibly the best abode for humans.
[Additional notes, question-answers and analysis will be added soon.]



The Merchant of Venice Act 3

July 27, 2017 at 4:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Merchant of Venice
Act 3, Scene 1

Salarino and Solanio get into a conversation. The prospect of Antonio facing an irreversible financial calamity cast a gloom on them. Salarino says he heard the news of one of Antonio’s cargo-laden ships running aground in Goldwin Sands in the English Channel. He was shaken by the turn of events.
Solanio dismissed this story as baseless speculation. He assumed that his honorable friend Antonio was too good and honest to deserve such a fate.
The duo hope that no more news of calamity would follow.
Around this time, Shylock, the Jew whom both the friends detest, enters the scene. He is still angry about his daughter eloping with a local Christian boy. Shylock seethes at the way his daughter whom he had brought up with such tender care deserted him so unceremoniously.
Salarino asks Shylock if he had ews of Antonio’s ships. Instantly, Shylock erupts into a venomous tirade against his debtor Antonio. He assumes Antonio’s default is imminent and he was almost certainly staring down a barrel.
Seeing the way Shylock bristled at the mention of Antonio’s name, Quite alarmed, Salarino asks if Shylock would insist on Antonio’s flesh if the latter indeed defaulted.
Shylock explodes with anger and revenge. He recalls how Antonio had caused business losses by giving interest-free loans and had humiliated in the Realto. He was a Jew, after all a human deserving the same dignity and respect which a Christian deserves. ‘Why did Antonio berated him so badly’, Shylock demanded to know. Jews were people of flesh and blood –the same material Christians were made up of. Jews experienced the same sense of pain and joy as Christians. So, why such discrimination?, the red-faced Shylock roared in disgust.
Just at that time, the servant enters to announce that Antonio was at his house and wanted to speak to the two friends, Solanio and Salarino.

Solarino seems to be on the look-out for Antonio too. Tubal comes in around this time. Solanio too mocks Tubal for his Jwish blood.

Solanio, Salarino, and Antonio’s servant exit.

Shylock asks Tubal if he has news about his daughter. The latter disappoints Shylock saying that he could get no information on hr whereabouts.

Shylock is heat-broken. His daughter has taken with her a costly diamond. The loss of this precious piece causes him immense grief. It robs salt on his mind’s wound. In desperation, he bemoans that he is enduring the curse all Jews have been collectively condemned to.

Tubal tries to assuage Shylock saying that misfortune befalls others too. He cites how Antonio is staring at very bad news at Genoa.

That instantly peps Shylock up. He is eager to know what has come on Antonio. Tubal says that one of Antonio’s vessels has suffered a shipwreck near Tripoli.

All feelings of despondency vanish from Shylock’s mind on hearing this. He is all charged up. His vengeful mind gets a shot.

Tubal tempers Shylock’s rejoicing by disclosing that his now disgraced daughter had spent eighty ducats in Genoa post her elopement. It was a princely sum for the miser Shylock. Again he relapses to his sullen mood.

Tubal has some news to cheer Shylock again. He says that a group of Antonio’s creditors have come to Venice to collect their dues from the now-distressed Antonio. The latter is staring at his ignominious bankruptcy.

Tubal discloses that Shylock’s daughter had pawned a costly stone-studded ring to a wealthy creditor of Antonio. The news shocked Shylock. It was a reckless act on the part of his daughter to give away his treasured possession like that, he reasoned.

Shylock was gripped by a feeling of indignation and disapproval.

In the midst of this calamity, Shylock found instant relief in Tubal’s account of Antonio’s ship capsizing. The news lifted Shylock’s drooping spirits. Tubal added the news of Antanio’s ship capsizing was true, as a few sailors who had escaped the disaster had vouched for it.

The news dispelled Shylock’s grief instantly. He rejoiced at Antanio’s misfortune. The fact that his bête noire was inexorably sliding towards penury and humiliation brought him instant cheer. He asked Tubal to go and get a police officer who could take Antonio to custody.

Basanio, Portia, Gratiano, and Nerissa enter with all their attendants, including a singer.

Portia advised Bassanio to do his utmost to win the contest set up to choose her husband. She was enamoured of him, and wanted him to win the contest. She advised him not to hurry and make a mistake. Instead, he should pause for a day or two, and make a judicious, winning choice. So strong was her urge to have him that she even toyed with the idea of giving away the secret to the riddle, although it meant breaking the oath of not divulging it to anyone under any circumstances. But, she managed to rein in her wild impulse for such an unethical choice. Instead, Portia decided to prod Bassanio to exercise enough diligence to hit the right choice and win her in a fair way.

Quite unabashedly, Portia let Bassanio know that she had already succumbed to him, and couldn’t think of a life without him. But, she rued that she had no freedom to make her own choice about her life.

Portia’s doleful outpourings pierced Bassanio’s heart. He could wait no longer to go for the choice-making decision that would settle the duo’s destiny.

On being questioned by Portia, Bassanio reiterates his love for, and the fire of passion that is burning inside him for winning her.

Portia makes light f her lover’s commitment.

Bassanio skirts any frivolous comment from his lady love. He says that he can wait no more as the delay seems to consume him bit by bit.

Portia finally gives her nod to Bassanio’s request to let him try his luck. She asks Nerissa and other attendants to clear the area. She wants some music to be played to mark the solemnity of the occasion. In the event of Bassanio making the wrong choice and losing her for good, thye music would be assumed to be the Swansong for Bassanio. She would then cry so much that her tears would turn to a stream in which the Swan could swim. Portia used these metaphors to portray the angst and suspense that had gripped her mind at that time.

On the other hand, if Bassanio made the right selection, and won Portia’s hand, the music must reflect the joy and jubilation of ‘victory’, and be akin to the martial music played during the coronation of a king.

Prodded by Portia, Bassanio steps forward for the ‘ultimate’ gamble that could either ruin or enthrone him as her heart’s monarch.

He looks dignified, and petty much surefooted. Portia’s mood is expectant. She says, “Go, Hercules! If you survive, I’ll live. I’m more anxious watching you fight than you are in the fight itself.”

A musical interlude follows.

Bassanio is circumspect. He is in a contemplative mood. He thinks of many examples where deception leads to disaster. He thinks of a really good book bound by a frayed cover. He thinks of dishonest men lying before a judge hiding their perjury with sweet voices. Even pious men resort to falsehood to make their points. So, reasoned Bassanio, the world can be treacherously deceptive. Bassanio reflects on the beautiful beaches that hide danger under their belts. He thinks of the heavily made-up women and the jeer they face. Like this he made up his mind not to fall a prey to the look of things. The gold casket, thus went out of contention. Quite judiciously, he scorns the silver casket thinking silver to be too commonplace. He thinks the lead casket would be a good choice

Portia is gripped with uncontrolled torrent of emotion. She feels disconcerted and very edgy. She makes efforts t remain calm, so as not to distract Bassanio.

Finally, Bassanio makes his choice. He opens the lead box. Inside it there is an immaculate portrait of Portia. The painting looks breathtakingly beautiful, almost true to life. Bassanio is dumbstruck with the exquisite picture of Portia he gets to see. He reads..

“You who don’t judge by looks alone,

Have better luck, and make the right choice.

Since this prize is yours,

Be happy with it, and don’t look for a new one.

If you’re happy with what you’ve won

And accept this prize as your blissful destiny,

Then turn to where your lady is,

And claim her with a loving kiss.”

Most graciously he begs the woman of her dreams to declare that she finally belongs to him.

Indigo by Louis Fischer Class XII CBSE

July 23, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Indigo by Louis Fischer

About the author … Louis Fischer (1896-1970) was a prolific writer who wrote highly acclaimed books on Gandhi and Lenin. He fought in the British army during the First World War, and as a journalist, lived through and reported about the Second World War, and the epoch-making rise of the Soviet Union. He was a Jewish American who was greatly influenced by Gandhiji’s use of non-violence and spiritualism as political tools. He observed Gandhiji’s work to fight the cause of the voiceless, downtrodden Indians who reeled under the rule of the indifferent oppressive colonial British rule. ‘Indigo’ is one of the many episodes of Gandhiji’s long political struggle. Fischer reported these tumultuous events very succintly for the American press.

The story …..

An encounter with a non-descript Indian brings Gandhiji to Champaran’s cauldron of woes and exploitation.

Louis Fischer happened to meet Gandi in the Sevagram Ashram in 1942. During a conversation, Gandhi told the author how the idea to ask the British to leave India dawned on him way back in 1917.
The annual convention of the Indian National Congress was going on in Lucknow. Scores of delegates from all over the country had come to the venue. Some visitors from abroad were thee in the audience too. A man looking pale and drawn came up to Gandhi and urged him to visit his home place Champaran, a place in northern Bihar. Apparently, he had a grievance and wanted Gandhi to see it first hand.
The man was Rajkumar Shukla, who had been a share cropper by tradition, not by choice. He was illiterate, and so voiceless. Although he languished under the exploitative Land lord-tenant farmer system, he was powerless to fight back. But, the voice to rebel burned alight in him and he was determined to stand up to his tormentors. When someone suggested him to approach Gandhi, the poor Rajkumar Shukla made up his mind to approach the perceived messiah, Gandhi. That is how, he was there standing before Gandhi.

Ganghiji’s altruism, character, and charm seemed to cast a spell on Rajkumar Shukla. He followed the leader to Cawnpore and many other places of India, and finally to the Sabarmati Ashram. He beseeched Gandhiji to fix a date to visit Champaran. Rajkumar Shukla persisted in seeking Gandhiji’s nod to make him visit Champaran. Finally, Gandhiji relented and told Rajkumar Shukla that he would be in Calcutta on a certain date, from where he would have to escort his leader to Champaran.

A few months elapsed. Rajkumar Shukla finally met Gandhiji in Calcutta. As usual, Gandhiji had a hectic schedule, but Rajkumar waited doggedly till his leader was free. The duo made a train trip to Patna to meet a lawyer named Rajendra Prasad. [This lawyer later rose to be the President of India.]

Rajendra Prasad was out of town. His household staff knew Rajkumar Shukla as a regular visitor to the lawyer. He was a litigant deeply involved in endless legal battles pertaining to share cropping disputes. They allowed Rajkumar to stay there in the house till Rajendra Prasad returned. Gandhiji, too, was allowed to stay, though condescending manner. Little did the housekeepers know that that had such a distinguished guest with them. Thinking Gandhi to be one from the untouchable  class, they forbade him to draw water from the well, lest a drop from the bucket contaminated the whole well.

From there Gandhiji decided to go to Muzzafarpur first to collect more first-hand information about the plight of the sharecroppers. He sent a telegram to Acharya Krpalini who taught in the Muzzafarpur Arts College. Gandhiji’s acquaintance with Prof. Kripalini had started when they were together in Tagore’s Shantiniketan School.

Their train arrived in Muzzafarpur on April 15, 1917. Gandhiji was duly received at the station by Prof. Kripalini and a large group of students. Later, he stayed at the house of Prof.Malkani, who taught in a government school. Gandhiji was overwhelmed by the hospitality and courage of his host. During those days, any one openly extending patronage to a anti-colonial rule invited the wrath of the authorities. Such threats didn’t deter Prof. Malkani from extending hospitality to Gandhiji.

News of Gandhiji’s arrival and his mission spread like wild fire in Muzzafarpur  and Champaran. The peasants were agog with excitement. They poured in from all directions to see Gandhiji.  Quite a few lawyers who had taken up the cases of the sharecroppers came to brief Gandhiji. All looked upon him as a one-man army who could bring them deliverance from the age-old suffering and oppression.

The abject poverty and impoverishment of the indigo sharecroppers overwhelms Gandhiji.

Gandhiji was struck by the gloom and helplessness of the peasants. He pulled up the lawyers for  charging fat fees from the distressed share croppers. He knew the landlords had both money and muscle in their side. The law courts could do little to bring justice to the peasants when the dice was so heavily loaded against them. A poor peasant simply couldn’t stand up to the clout and might of the landlord. Fear of the landlords and the administrative set-up was so pervasive. As the first step of the journey to undo the wrong, the peasants must collectively banish ‘fear’ from their minds, suggested Gandhiji.

The avarice of the British landlords, and a compromised justice system perpetuate peasant distress.

A handful of English landlords had managed to usurp the vast arable land of Muzzafarpur. The peasants toiled in the sprawling farms of their British landlords. Indigo was the cash crop of Muzzafarpur. As per a one-sided contract thrust on the peasants by their colonial landlords, the poor farmers had to grow indigo in 15% of the land leased to them. The entire harvest of Indigo had to be given up to the British landlords. The decades-old contract perpetuated exploitation and the resultant poverty. With Englishmen as judges, n great victory could come for the peasants in their legal battle against Englishmen landlords. It was a lost cause for the peasants.

Synthetic Indigo of Germany makes Bihar’s farm-grown indigo un-remunerative — a revolution in the offing

An innovation in far-away Germany brought the days of gloom right to the peasants’ door steps. The Germans succeeded to make synthetic blue. In one stroke, they managed to push the farm-grown blue out of market. The Englishmen owning the lands lost interest in Indigo farming. However, instead of freeing the farmers from the contracts gracefully, they demanded money from the sharecroppers to release their lands. It was clearly an atrocious demand. The peasants, already enfeebled by years and years of exploitation couldn’t garner the amount demanded by the colonial landlords.

Gandhiji arrived in Champaran when the whole district was simmering with discontent. The Englshmen had managed to smother any open show of defiance. Gandhiji, being a trained lawyer himself, thought it roper to ascertain facts from the other side first. He went and met the secretary of the British Landlords Association. The secretary skirted any query from Gandhiji maintaining that the latter was an outsider. ‘I am not an outsider’, quipped Gandhiji.

Gandhiji receives a cold welcome from the local British administrators.

Then he went to meet the British Commissioner of the Tirhut Division under which Champaran fell. The Commissioner was rude and evasive. Even he ordered Gandhiji to leave Tirhut with no more delay.

Gandhiji didn’t heed the Commissioner’s dictat. Instead, accompanied by a n entourage of lawyers, he proceeded to Motihari, the capital of Champaran. He began to ascertain facts n the fied. Staying in a house, and using it as a base, he began to collect facts and see the trail of misery the share-cropping system had left. He came to know that in a nearby village, a peasant had received some heavy-handed treatment from the authorities. He decided to see him.

Mounted n an elephant, he made his way to the village. A messenger of the British police cmmisioner pulled up from behind and accosted Gandhiji asking him to accompany him to his office. There the police official served an order on Gandhiji that asked him to leave Champaran forthwith. Gandhiji received the order formally, but wrote that he would disobey the same.

Gandhiji faces the law, but refuses to be cowed down.

Gandhiji received a summon from the court to appear before it the next day. This was the first time the British-trained barrister was facing the long arm of colonial law. Gandhiji was distraught, but determined. He remained awake the whole night. He summoned his lawyer-friend Rajendra Prasad to come to the court with some of his influential friends. Through a telegram, he kept the Viceroy posted of the goings-on in Champaran.

Unprecedented support from the peasantry and a resolute Gandhiji  confound the British administration.

Showing solidarity with their beleaguered benefactor, scores and scores of peasants converged around the court area. Little did they know that their leader had returned from South Africa after waging a successful peaceful battle against the oppressive white colonial powers. All that they knew was that their tiny-framed ordinary-looking was confront the might of the British. They wanted to extend their support to him. For Gandhiji, it was the first successful mobilization of the public for an anti-colonial cause. The turn of events in that small remote town Motihari on that day would mark a watershed in Indo-British history.

Gandhiji was polite, but firm. While he helped the British police to control the surging crowd, he didn’t extend any help to the British prosecution team. To them, it was the first demonstration of the will and ability of Indians to stand up to the colonial might.

The unexpected situation caught the prosecution off guard. Apparently, they needed to consult their superiors as to handle this gritty and defiant challenger. They asked the Judge for postponement of the cse. Gandhiji immediately protested.

In a written statement that he read out before the judge, Gandhiji admitted his guilt as a ‘law-breaker’. At the same time, he maintained, he was doing his duty to ameliorate the suffering of the vast mass of peasants so grievously wronged by the British landlords. He was doing ‘humanitarian and national’ service for which he had come to Champaran. He told the court that he was caught in the ‘conflict of duties’.

Gandhiji opts to go to jail.

Gandhiji, stood still in the court, asking the judge to inflict whatever punishment the law prescribed for an offender who breaks the law. He said, he had no desire to break the law, but he must never ignore what his conscience dictated.

It was a piquant situation for the judge. He told the defendant that he would pronounce the verdict in two hours. For this short period, Gandhiji must submit a bail bond, said the judge. Gandhiji flatly refused to sign any such bond. Determined to endure the worst ignominy, Gandhiji was determined to take the might of law, head-on. The judge reflected for a while, and restored the liberty of the accused, provisionally. He said, he would need a few more days to pronounce his final judgment.

A battery of local lawyers gather, but fear to take on the law.

A galaxy of eminent lawyers had come to the court from all corners of Bihar. The legal team included Rajendra Prasad, Brij Kishore Babu, Maulana Muzharul Huq, and a few others. They spoke to Gandhi. Gandhiji wanted to know what they would do if the authorities did jail him. The lawyers said, quite foolishly, that they would go home as there would be no one to defend.

Gandhiji wanted to know what would happen to the cause of the share-croppers. The lawyers withdrew to hold discussions. As Rajendra Prasad recorded later, he told his colleagues that Gandhiji was a total stranger to the area. He had come there to fight a cause which most of them fought in the courts with negligible success. In such a situation, it would be utterly selfish to abandon Gandhiji to his fate and retreat. It was morally indefensible.

Rajendra Prasad intercedes and makes the lawyers to listen to their conscience.

Chastened by Rajendra Prasad’s reprimand, the lawyers returned to Gandhiji to tell him that if need be, they would follow him to the jail. Such show of comradery encouraged Gandhiji. He exclaimed, “The battle of Champaraon is won.” He took a piece of paper, and jotted down the names of the lawyers in pairs. This was the sequence in which the lawyers would court arrest and go to jail.

The Lieutenant-Governor drops the charges.

Some days later, Gandhiji received an order that said that the Lieutenant-Governor had ordered the case against him to be dropped. It was the first successful experiment of civil disobedience as a political tool. A great idea was born in modern India.

Gandhiji asks hard evidence of injustice to be gathered through field work.

What followed was a massive exercise in evidence gathering. Lawyers fanned out to their respective areas to meet the aggrieved peasants to record their depositions. Some ten thousand peasants were covered under this exercise. The peasantry in the whole district was electrified, and quite expectedly, the British land lords were very infuriated.

In June, the Lieutenant Governor Sir Edward Gait summoned Gandhiji to his office. Before leaving for the meeting, Gandhiji confabulated with his trusted confidantes to decide how the campaign could go on in the event if the LG’s ordered his detention.

Gandhiji holds parleys with the LG, and a fact-finding commission is set up.

Gandhiji held detailed meetings with Sir Edward. It was decided by the later that a commission of enquiry would be constituted to go into the grievances of the share-croppers. The commission had British land-owners, government functionaries, and Gandhiji as the sole representative of the downtrodden and dispossessed indigo growers.

Gandhiji had to stay for as long as seven months in Champran for the Commission’s work. Later, he had to return to Champaran several times in course of this work. Thus, a reluctant meeting in Rajkumar Shukla culminated in a long-drawn commitment of Gandhiji – the crusader.

The British concede, but haggle over compensation amount.

So meticulously was the evidence gathered , and so morally reprehensible was the landowners’ stand that the colonial landlords thought it wise to give up their rights and monetarily compensate the aggrieved peasants. Protracted negotiations followed to arrive at the quantum of compensation to be paid to the peasants by their masters. The negotiation made little headway with the British landlords didn’t cede any concession. Gandhiji reduced the farmers’ demand by 50%.  Yet, the other party haggled and haggled. Finally, they offered to pay 25% of the original amount, expecting Gandhiji to bargain further. To their surprise, Gandhiji accepted the offer bringing the long negotiations to a quick end.

A small victory for Gandhiji, but a giant stride towards eventual freedom..

For the first time, the Indian subjects of the British Empire realized that their colonial masters can be called to justice for their wrongdoings. They couldn’t do illegal things with impunity any more. For Gandhiji, it was a symbolic victory that set the stage for grander struggles in future.

Within the next few years, the British landlords relinquished their rights over their vast estates. The peasants got back their lands. Curtains came down on Indigo farming and the exploitation that went with it. Gandhiji stood vindicated.

The tryst with the Indigo farmers had shocked and saddened Gandhiji. Their backwardness and prejudices appalled him. For Gandhiji, combating such backwardness was perhaps more urgent and important than fighting for victories in the political arena.

The darkness of Champaran’s backwardness and deprivation stares Gandhiji in his face. He decides to act.

Quite clearly, Gandhiji realized that the masses needed to be educated first, as illiteracy seemed to blight the entire population. For this, he needed volunteer teachers – a whole army of them. Mahadev Desai and Narahari Parikh came to join him, along with their wives. Heeding the call of Gandhiji, many more volunteer teachers came from far off places like Bombay, Puna  etc. Mrs. Gandhi, and their youngest son Devdas joined Gandhiji in this campaign to bring literacy and light to the dark Champaran area. Kasturba taught the students the discipline of the Ashram, and the ways to keep clean.

The next daunting task was the pervasive illness of the people. A doctor joined him torender free service for six months. There were just three very basic medicines —  castor oil, quinine, and sulphur ointment. For patients with coated tongue, castor  oil was given, Quinine was given for malaria patients and sulphur ointment was administered to those with skin eruptions.

The next unpleasant sight that evoked Gandhiji’s attention was the tattered dirty clothes of women. On being told by Gandhiji, Kasturba went to speak to the womenfolk. One woman escoerted her to her hut and told her that the sari she wore was her only possession, and she had no cupboard or almirah to store anything. The poverty was stark and shocking.

From his camp in Champaran, Gandhiji maintained his superintendence of his Ashram through letters that carried instructions. He kept an watch on the accounts too. On one occasion, he asked the existing latrine pits to be abandoned and new ones built to avoid the old ones getting filled up and smelling foul.

Small success in Champaran’s camp gives Gandhi a big boost.

The brush with poverty that shrouded Champraran and most parts of India spurred Gandhiji to action. The small experiments he conducted to fight illiteracy and disease filled him with confidence. He became convinced that Indians can take the reins of their destiny onto their own hands, and the British couldn’t lord over them.

What triggered the Champaran experiment was not the urge to defy the Colonial rulers. Instead Gandhiji wanted to bring succor and justice to the downtrodden exploited Indigo farmers. Gandhiji realized that politics can’t be excluded from the efforts to dispel illiteracy and social backwardness. Lofty political goals must be pursued hand in hand with efforts to address mundane issues.

Gandhiji was a great motivator, and a team-builder. With relative ease, he managed to build a large group of inspired volunteers.

Gandhiji decides to do without Andrews’s help.

Charles Freer Andrews was an Englishman. He was a pacifist who found great convergence in his and Gandhiji’s idealisms. Some inmates in Gandhiji’s Champaran camp wanted Andrews to stay with them to bolster their struggle against the British. Gandhiji surned the suggestion saying that their cause, being so justified, didn’t need an Englishman’s involvement as an enabling tool. He let Andrews proceed to Fiji on his work.

Self-reliance and yearning for freedom are the two sides of the same coin– Gandhiji realizes.

Later, while writing on Gandhiji, Rajendra Prasad so rightly commented that the Mahatma had correctly judged how self-reliance was key to the people’s efforts to seek deliverance from so many scourges that enfeebled them. 

Like this, the lamp of self-reliance burned with the sharecroppers’ cause as oil.


Letter writing —Complaint about poor bus service

July 23, 2017 at 2:44 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Name of writer …
H.No. 565
Rajinder Avenue
                                                                                                                                 June 21, 2017
The Chairman
Public Transport Association

Subject – Regarding the deplorable condition of the public road transport services in Ludhiana


At the outset, I must express my gratitude to you for keeping the buses of your Corporation running in Ludhiana. This cost-effective public transport is a boon to the general travelling public.
However, the services have deteriorated in recent years. reached an can be greatly improved through diligence and motivation of the staff. The complaints of the commuters are mainly with regard to poor punctuality of the buses, bad condition of the seats, rude behaviour of the staff, frequent accidents, rash driving and high emission of black obnoxious gases. So appalling is the condition that the passengers have come to dread going in Corporation buses as an ordeal.
Nothing can be achieved in only complaining or letting matters drift further.
By procuring some more new high-tech buses that run on gas instead of diesel, many of the above-mentioned problems can be addressed. Additionally, through a system of reward and punishment, the conductors and the drivers can be motivated to behave responsibly, and show courtesy to old people and children.
The buses that have already run for more than 10 years can be discarded in phases. The rest can be refurbished to get more comfortable seats and better interiors.
Ludhiana is a bustling industrial city which is a pride of India. It should have a befitting public transport system. I can assure you that the public will enthusiastically support you if you take suitable steps to make bus travel comfortable, safe, and popular.

Thanking you,

Yours sincerely,

The Rat Trap ICSE Class XII

July 19, 2017 at 2:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The Rat Trap

Introduction This story by the Swedish story teller Selma Lagerlof has an ending that can silence even a diehard cynic to look within and rediscover the sparks of goodness and compassion that lie under a heap of frustration and negative emotions. In a way, the act resembles the benignancy of the Bishop in Victor Hugho’s Les Miserables. A drifter with no shelter, no steady earning is the protagonist of the story. Through his misery and humiliation, he brings into light the innate goodness of humans, no matter how harsh or kind fortune has been to them.

The story … A tramp scratches a living by making and peddling rat traps. So measly is his earning that he can ill afford to buy the wires needed for the rat traps. He scrounges them from shops and farms. The rough and grind of this mundane profession often pushes him to small acts of stealing. In the eyes of the society, he is a misfit, a petty criminal.
The tramp trudges on along the street, lost in his thought of despondency and resignation. One day, while reflecting on his miserable fate, a delusory idea struck him. He felt, the whole world is a huge rat trap. Humans, drawn by its comforts and joy, enter it, only to be trapped inside for life. For these captives, misery and sorrow become a part of life. There is no deliverance for them. The rat trap is a world in miniature. The rats, enticed by the bread crumbs and sausage bits inside, enter it to find the door shut on them. What follows for them is incarceration leading to death.
The tramp drew comfort from this intuitive thought. ‘After all, everyone in the world is doomed, like him’, he concluded. The thought proved to be a boon for him, as it came to his rescue when the cruelty of the world proved to be unendurable.
One day, when darkness had descended on earth, he found himself walking alone in the cold lonely road. He had nowhere to go. His eyes fell on a roadside grey cottage. With heart alternating between trepidation and hope, he knocked at the door. He was mentally ready to be rudely turned away, but a very pleasant surprise awaited him. The owner of the cottage was a lone old man with no wife, nor children. He ushered the tramp in despite his shabby looks. The host was happy to see a companion for the night with whom he could chat his loneliness away. The tramp was relieved to see a welcoming host. The deadly prospect of waiting out the cold night outside had gone.
The host was charming and friendly. He offered his tired guest hot porridge, other items of food and tobacco to fight the cold and revamp his tired limbs. It emerged that the cottage owner had worked in the nearby Ramsjo Ironworks during his youth. After retirement, he made his living by rearing a cow and selling its milk. Quite proudly, the host showed the three ten-kroner notes he had collected on selling the milk. The cottage owner had pulled out the three notes from inside a leather bag that he hung from a nail fixed on the wall. The glass pane below made the bag visible from outside.
The duo sat down to play cards till bedtime. For the tramp, nothing could have been better, but he had clearly marked the position of the leather bag and how only the glass pane separated it from outside. It was a sinister gaze.
Next morning the two men got up early. The guest hurried to milk his cow, locking his house. The tramp said a warm goodbye and left on his errands. The garland of rat traps hung from his shoulders.
Now, the Devil gripped the rat trap peddler’s mind. In half an hour, he retraced his steps, returned to the house where he had rested so comfortably the night before, and decided to give full play to his thievery instincts. He broke the glass pane, put his hand inside, clutched the three ten-kroner notes from inside the hung bag, and decamped swiftly. No regret, no remorse came to his mind. He had made a princely sum of thirty kroners.

The tramp was unrepentant for having robbed his kind host. Instead, he felt a sense of accomplishment. He knew the crofter would soon find out the loss and would call in the police. He felt the highway was no longer safe as the police might be looking around for him. He turned off to a patch of woods to throw the police off his trails. But, the wood was a vast swathe of trees, with confusing pathways. Soon, he got lost, as his limbs lost power. He prodded on regardless, as he had no other way to come out of the forest. The rat trap he had conjured many times to pity others came to haunt him. He had been trapped. ‘The thirty kroners bait had trapped him in the wild woods’, he rued.

It was December. The interior of the woods was cold and the darkness was foreboding. He felt very miserable. At this time, he heard the distant rhythmic sound. He guessed it came from a nearby hammer mill. He felt hopeful again. Mustering all his strength, he plodded towards the place from where the sound emanated. ‘There must be human beings in the mill’, he surmised. He can ask them for help.

He headed towards the source of the sound. He was right. There was the Ramsjo Ironworks that had been a flourishing steel mill in its happier days. Now, it operated in a truncated scale.

It was Christmas Eve. The tramp saw the hammer mill operator and his helper heating iron slabs in a furnace to make them ready for forging. Occasionally, the operator and helper got up to turn the iron slabs inside the furnace. The heat made them drip with sweat. The heat of the furnace gave them a respite from the outside chill.

The tramp had sneaked in unnoticed as the clutter of the heating and turning of slabs drowned the sound of his entry.

A stranger coming in was never unusual for the mechanic and is helper. Vagabonds did come in at times to enjoy the warmth of the hot furnace. So, the tramp’s coming in didn’t unusually alarm the two workers. After all, the tramp really looked like one living in the rough. He had the garland of rat traps hung from his shoulders. His unshaven beard and his tattered clothes didn’t merit too much attention. So, when he asked for permission to stay for the night, the mechanic gave him a perfunctory assent.

The tramp was shivering in cold under his wet clothes dripping with water. He impulsively edged close to the furnace to draw its heat onto himself. The heat made steam to come out of his wet rags.

The owner of the iron works was a dedicated entrepreneur. He took keen interest in the working of his plant and visited it quite frequently. On that evening, he came in on his regular rounds. Soon his eyes fell on the uncouth shabby looking stranger seated near the furnace.

Due to some inexplicable reason, the owner mistook the tramp to be Nils Olof, a regimental comrade of his. He concluded that his colleague had fallen in bad times to land up like this in his mill. But, he was his regimental colleague, after all – his comrade in arms. Agog with excitement, he welcomed the tramp and asked him to accompany him to his home.

The tramp had a guilt to hide. He dreaded the idea of going to the mill owner’s mansion and expose himself to the prying eyes of everyone there. He treasured his booty, and didn’t want the law to catch up with him. So, he persisted to decline the mill owner’s invites. But, the latter couldn’t leave an ex regimental comrade to be left behind in the mill. He kept on pleading with the sulking tramp to accompany him. He disclosed that he had no wife. His grown-up daughter was the only other inmate of the large house. On the Christmas eve, he wanted company, and his regimental comrade could be the right choice.

Appearing to be a little disappointed, he left for his house leaving the tramp (now known as Captain von Stahle) with the master smith, Stjernstrom.

The owner of the mill had other plans. The master smith knew his boss well.

After about half an hour, a carriage arrived with the daughter of the mill owner. She was Edla Willamson. A valet accompanied her holding a jacket. The generous father had sent her to fetch Captain von Stahle (the tramp). He was lying on the factory floor with his hat covering half of his face. He had kept a pig iron piece as his pillow.

She coaxed him to go to their mansion. The tramp had no option but to relent. Thus, escorted by the lady, the tramp (Captain von Stahle to the host and hostess) reached the mansion. He was quite ill at ease in the new abode. ‘Will he be finally caught?’, he brooded.

Edla had been quite intrigued at the sight of the stranger, at first. She was both kind and incredulous towards him. Her father brushed aside her concerns, and ordered the valet to give the guest a thorough wash, and dress him up like a gentleman – like an ex army officer. The tramp got a thorough make-over at the hands of the valet, and wore a nice suit offered by his host. With a nice well-shaven face and a haircut, he looked true to his appearance. But, the new smart look proved to be his undoing.

His host was shocked to discover that he had mistaken a stranger to be his army comrade. He seethed in resentment. Rather rudely, he told his guest that he has been tricked. Quite apologetically, the tramp stated that he had no intention to come in, in the first place.

The ironmaster was not mollified a bit. He told that he would call in the sheriff (the police chief). A chill ran down the tramp’s spine. But, he composed himself. Quite unabashedly, he began to propound his rat trap theory, and how, everyone including his angry host, fall into this trap unknowingly. It was a silly stand to take when danger of arrest stared him in his eyes. He dared to say that one day, a similar tragedy would befall his host. This was his prophesy.

The Ironmaster was not the least amused. Nevertheless, he no longer wanted the sheriff to be summoned. Instead, he ordered the tramp to get out of his house instantly.

Edla had a kind heart. She interceded on behalf of the beleaguered tramp, and pleaded with her father to let the guest (now disgraced) to stay over for a day more.  

She didn’t want the pleasant atmosphere of the Christmas to be marred by the chicanery of the tramp.

The master of the house was as irate as before. He pulled up his daughter for being so benign to the undeserving deceitful vagabond. However, he agreed to Edla’s suggestions.

Edla offered the mischief maker the food kept ready on the table. He sat down and began to eat greedily ignoring  the taunts of the host. He wondered if some nasty things awaited him.

The Christmas was as quiet for the tramp as possible. He slept the whole day without bothering what else was going on. In the evening, the Christmas tree was lighted. The tramp was woken up from his sleep. He showed no excitement and fell off to sleep again. After about two hours, he was woken up again. He went to the dining rom and ate the fish and porridge.

Quite gracefully, the tramp went to all the guests present and thanked each of them. When he came to the kindly daughter, he was courteously told by her that he could retain her father’s suit for his use. With her heart aglow with Christmas spirit, she told him that he could drop in the next Christmas if he had nowhere else to go. The rat trap man was clearly overwhelmed, but he didn’t show his feelings.

The next morning the father daughter duo went to the Church rather early. The tramp was asleep.

On the way back from church, Edla sat in the carriage sad and sullen. She had come to know while in church that a robber peddling rat traps had robbed a man of the community the day before. The robber was still at large. She was utterly dejected for her misjudgment. Her father chided her, adding to her misery. He feared for his silver spoons kept in the cabinet.

When the carriage reached their home, the Ironmaster enquired from the valet if the tramp (now, a confirmed thief) was still around. The valet informed him that he had already left taking with him nothing. Instead, he had left a crumpled packet as gift for Ms. Williamson. Opened it with curiousity. Inside, there was a rat trap, three ten kroner notes, and a clumsily written note that read, “The rat trap is a gift from a rat caught in this world’s rat trap if he had not raised to captain, because in that way he got power to clear himself.

“Written with friendship and high regard,

Captain von Stahle.”


Questions invited from readers.



The Gift of India by Sarojini Naidu (Class XII)

July 14, 2017 at 12:39 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Gift of India
by Sarojini Naidu (India, 1915)

About Sarojini Naidu … Known lovingly as the Nightingale of India, Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949) was a patriot, a poet and a crusader for women’s rights. She lived during the time India was in chains, and the British masters came down heavily on any one writing anything critical of their rule. Incarceration of patriotic writers and confiscation of the press the printed the writings were routine. Sarojini Naidu lived under such a regime. Her heart ached to see the exploitation of India’s wealth, and smothering of Indians’ cries for freedom. She gave vent to her resentment through her writings. Her poems had strong patriotic overtones, but their sheer uniqueness, covert style, and high literary worth perhaps dissuaded the British authorities to let them be published for public reading.

Sarojini Naidu came from a privileged family. She studied in University of Madras and later went to Oxford and Cambridge to complete her student career. Undoubtedly, such education honed her literary skills.

In this poem ‘The Gift of India’, she captures the sacrifices of the one million strong Indian army that fought under the British flag in far-off lands like Egypt, Belgium, and Iran. Nearly 70,000 of them fell in the battlefields and an equal number were maimed. She pines for those who did not return home, and bemoans the fact that the colonial authorities gave only perfunctory tribute to the Indian soldiers who fought with commendable valour and grit.

The poem in context.. In the war against the Germans, the British garnered resources from wherever they could lay their hands on. India had plenty of men and materials to offer. There were the Jath and Maratha peasants who were known for their martial traditions. India was a prosperous country then with plenty of farm produce, minerals and metals and a rudimentary road network to move them to the ports.

As many as 10 lakh of India’s rural youth were drafted to the army to be deployed in European, African and Asian theaters. Humungous quantities of wheat, rice, sugar and textiles were procured from India to feed the war machine. So large was the mopping up that not enough farmers were left to do cultivation of lands and prices of goods sky-rocketed.

The Indian soldiers fought valiantly in the battle fields bearing the brunt of German onslaught. No wonder the casualties were high, very high. Thousands perished, and thousands returned home with crippled bodies. Mother India bled.

What made Sarojini sad and resentful was that Mother India got nothing in return. The British eulogized the sacrifices of their own soldiers, but paid only left-handed compliment to the vast number of men who were torn from their farms and families to fight in foreign soils shedding their life and blood. India’s economy was enfeebled by the war, and Indians were impoverished. Yet, the colonial masters gave nothing in return other than some empty platitudes.

The poem …

Portion 1…

Is there ought you need that my hands withhold,
Rich gifts of raiment or grain or gold?
Lo! I have flung to the East and the West
Priceless treasures torn from my breast,
And yielded the sons of my stricken womb
To the drum-beats of the duty, the sabers of doom.
Gathered like pearls in their alien graves
Silent they sleep by the Persian waves,
Scattered like shells on Egyptian sands,
They lie with pale brows and brave, broken hands,
they are strewn like blossoms mown down by chance
On the blood-brown meadows of Flanders and France

Mother India generously contributed to the war effort sending its able-bodied robust young men to join the army and fight in far away battlefronts. She gave her grain and gold unflinchingly.

The men went and fought taking on the might of the Germans and its alleys in very cold and hostile conditions. In the face of the enemy shells, they fought valiantly till the last drop of their blood. Many didn’t return. They were gone for good. Mother India wept, vainly.

The British won the war. They felt proud and happy. Mother India had nothing to rejoice from. She nursed her wounds, grieving silently.

For the soldiers who died in the battle fields, their graves were their resting place. Like a mollusc disemboweled of its contents leaves its shells behind, the soldiers’ bodies rotted in their graves leaving their skeletons behind. Like the shells in the beaches, the soldiers’ bodies lay scattered in the battlefields, un-honoured, and un-sung. Just as flowers fall from the tree after a strong gush of wind only to be trampled and mutilated, the fine young fighters from India sent to fight in Flanders (Belgium), distant France, and the Persian shores (Iran) fell in the battlefield with their limbs severed and their bodies gasping for the last breath. No one cared, no one bothered to give these valiant heroes the honour they deserved.

Portion 2 ..

Can ye measure the grief of the tears I weep
Or compass the woe of the watch I keep?
Or the pride that thrills thro’ my heart’s despair
And the hope that comforts the anguish of prayer?
And the far sad glorious vision I see
Of the torn red banners of victory?
when the terror and the tumult of hate shall cease
And life be refashioned on anvils of peace,
And your love shall offer memorial thanks
To the comrades who fought on the dauntless ranks,
And you honour the deeds of the dauntless ones,
Remember the blood of my martyred sons!

The poet narrates the anguish and pang that Mother India has to endure on the loss of her martyred sons who fell on those distant infernal battle fields. She waited vainly for all her sons to return. Some did, some didn’t. However, Mother India is proud of her gallant sons who responded to the call of duty so willingly, despite the fact that India was neither responsible for start of the war, nor was in any way party to it. She nonetheless sees that the victory is in the distant horizon. In the midst of so much grief, she feels fleetingly jubilant. When the fire and fury of the War would be over, beagles will fall silent. Life will start afresh with new hope, without the corrosive feelings of hate and prejudice. Peace would prevail, applying a balm to the scars of war. At that time, gratitude would pour in on the people who fought and gave their blood, so that peace could eventually return. Mother India beseeches the colonial masters to generously heap praise and recognition on her young warriors who made victory possible.


Comments and Questions invited from readers.

CBSE Class 11 –The last Lesson by Alphonse Daudet

June 27, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Last Lesson by Alphonse Daudet

Thanks to the never-ending wars, and pointless political ambitions of monarchs, Europe’s political map changed with astounding frequency since the World War 1. The flux continues even today, despite the realization that such wars are extremely ruinous. Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) was a French story writer of great renown. In this story, he captures the grief and emotions of a French village school in an area that has fallen to the advancing Prussian (German) army. The Prussian commanders order German to be the medium of instructions ion the school which had a dedicated French teacher and pupils whose mother tongue was French. The trauma of the teacher and the pupils was palpable.

The story …

Hamel was the French teacher of the school. He took his teaching quite seriously. He had a pupil by the name Franz, who didn’t have his heart in the lessons. Instead, he enjoyed wandering around in the nearby woods. No wonder, he loathed his home tasks and rarely came prepared to the class. That day, his teacher had asked the students to come prepared with ‘participles’, and the truant Franz was ill prepared to face his teacher, Hamel. On that day, the woods and the chirping birds beckoned Franz to their midst, but he had to attend the dreary class.

On his way to school, Franz saw a group of villagers crowded around the Bulletin Board, stretching their necks to reads a freshly-pinned news bulletin. The Bulletin Board had brought only depressing news in the last two years, of set-backs in the battle front, and defeats. The villagers had become inured to such ignominy.

The boy was curious to see what else bad news had come then. The village blacksmith and the watchman were there. They mockingly asked the boy not to hurry to school. There was a sense of resignation in their voice. Nevertheless, Franz dashed off to the school.

But, the school appeared to be eerily quiet. A pall of silence had descended on the boisterous students who normally create quite a buzz on normal days. Through the window, he could see his friends sitting inside lifelessly. Hamel was pacing up and down the class room with his usual iron ruler tucked in his arm. Although Franz had wanted to sneak in unnoticed, he had to enter the class in the full view of his teacher and the other fellow students. It was so embarrassing for him to walk in late.

Quite uncharacteristically, Hamel appeared subdued and circumspect. The fury and fire in his voice was gone. He asked Franz to take his seat. When his fearful mind regained its composure, he found that his teacher was attired in his formal dress – a green court, frilled shirt and the embroidered silk cap. It took Franz by surprise as his teacher didn’t wear this dress except on formal occasions or when an inspector came avisiting. The mood inside the class room was sombre.

What surprised Franz more was the fact that the empty back benches were on that day occupied by a few villager, the ex-mayor and the ex-headman. Old Hauser was there too with his glasses and his elementary text book.

Hamel rose to his chair, and in an emotion-filled voice solemnly declared that this was his last class. Orders had been received from Berlin that only German would be taught in the school from then on. A new teacher was due the next day, who would take over from him and teach German. Saying this, Hamel urged his pupils to be very attentive.

Hamel’s declaration left Franz perplexed. He could surmise that this was the news the villagers were reading in the Bulletin Board.

Instead of being relieved and happy that his trauma was over, Franz was filled with remorse. Lost in the woods and among the birds, he had hardly learnt anything of French. And the lessons would not be available anymore. The sadness underwhelmed Franz.

It dawned on Franz that his teacher had put on his formal dress for this occasion and the village folks were there to express their solidarity with the departing teacher. Hamel had put in four decades of service at the school.

Franz was asked by his teacher. His heart sank in trepidation. He soon fumbled. He stood there with head bowed in shame and fear. Hamel sounded surprisingly soft. Instead of scowling at Franz, Hamel reminded Franz how he had failed in his duty to learn his mother tongue well. He had procrastinated as had Alsace. Putting off doing lessons for the next day had robbed both of the opportunity of availing a mentor’s guidance. There would be no French lesson any more. As his final word in humility, Hamel told Franz that all humans had their share of failings.

Hamel blamed Franz’s parents for sending him out to work in a nearby mill for earning wage at the cost of his studies. Hamel himself had asked the boy to water the plants in the garden while he should have been in the class room, learning French. And, as a lax teacher he had permitted Franz to leave the school at will for his errands.

Hamel proceeded to sing the praise of the French language, describing its innate beauty. He extolled the students and the senior citizens present there to treasure French in their hearts and never neglect it.

Hamel opened the grammar book and began to teach a lesson from it. On that occasion, his explanations appeared so lucid, and so clear. Franz loved what his teacher taught. Hamel apparently was pouring his heart out before his class.

After the grammar class, the writing class started. Hamel had brought brand new copies for his students. He had written ‘France, Alsace, France, Alsace’ in bold beautiful letters on them. Hamel’s passion for French came bursting forth from those letters. The whole class started their writing work with unprecedented zeal. Their teacher’s dedication was infectious. There was pin drop silence in the class room. The intruding beetles failed to distract the pupils. The pigeons cooed as usual. Franz wondered if the invading Germans would try to hammer down German through the pigeons’ throats.

With the whole class engrossed in writing, Hamel slipped into a mood of reflection. He cast his glance keenly in all directions as if to emboss the environment’s memory in his mind. He had aged with the school. Having to leave it in such ignominy left him dejected and broken. His sister was hurriedly packing their belongings as they had been ordered to leave the country the next day.

After the writing class the history class followed. The older folks in the class started their practice with basic French. The determination and grief in their voice was palpable. Hauser broke down.

It was noon. The church bell sounded 12. The Prussians in the field nearby were doing their drill. Soon they would be in the school. Hamel rose, struggling with emotions to say his final words. In big bold letters, he wrote “Viva La France”. It was a defiant assertion of national pride by a humble school teacher.

Finally, he declared, “School is dismissed. You may go.”



Civil Service Essay — Preserving the Western Ghats

March 9, 2017 at 8:09 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Saving the shrinking Western Ghat

Today’s crying need is to demarcate the ecological sensitive areas of this priceless natural heritage
Regrettably, the central government appears to be dragging its feet over the matter of comprehensive legal protection to the famed Western Ghats. This swathe of land, so ecologically critical, is shrinking inexorably under pressure of human habitation and industrialization. Unquestionably, whatever remains of the Western Ghat must be reserved for the present generation and posterity.

There are communities living inside the parameters of the Western Ghat. Without uprooting them from their habitats, it would be good idea to train them in ways of sustainable living where they do not over-exploit the flora and fauna of their surrounding areas. Sadly, this is not being done.
Many in the government and in the society see this issue of continuing human habitation inside the sensitive Ghat areas as one of development versus conservation. Such thinking is anything but myopic.

The correct approach would be to reach a consensus between the groups advocating ‘development’, and those pleading for ‘conservation’. The central government has expediently skirted this task. Instead, it wants to re-start the process of demarcation of the ecologically sensitive areas (ESA). A draft notification to this effect has been issued.

Clearly, this initiative is a step back in time. It would achieve little. It would have been appropriate to bring in the collected scientific evidence and the public concerns to the same table and initiate a health democratic discourse. Decisions so reached should guide all future action with regard to demarcation and preservation of the ESA.

That the Western Ghats bring in and regulate monsoon showers is well known. So is the fact that the forests are the habitat to myriad species of animal life. In fact, newer forms of species, particularly frogs and other aquatic animals are being continually discovered in this area. The Ghats are an epic biodiversity reserve.

It is shocking to note that some two decades ago, the scientist Norman Myers, through extensive field surveys quantified that just about 6.8% of the original 182500 square kilometers of the primary vegetation in the combined Western Ghat and Sri Lank areas have survived human exploitation.

The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel headed by Madhav Gadgil had unequivocally drawn attention to the need for protecting the 1600 kilometer long Ghat along Indian peninsula’s western coastline.

Ther Kasturirangan Committee identified only a third of the total area as ecologically sensitive. It is sad to note that both these committees received a frosty response from the state governments and industry bodies, despite the fact the two expert bodies had different perspectives and reached different conclusions. Undoubtedly, they were not biased.

Stepping aside from the lapses in the past, the task that needs the uppermost attention is to demarcate the contours of the ecological sensitive region (ESA). Due to obvious reasons, the yardstick followed for national parks and sanctuaries do not quite fit for ESAs.
After the ESA is demarcated, one should be mistaken to believe that environmentally ruinous activities like mining, setting up of chemical plants can be set up just outside the ESA perimeter. That would defeat the purpose of marking the ESA limits.

Goa has gone into an ecological tailspin due to greed-driven unfettered mining. The reversal of this damage is an uphill, almost impossible task.
Communities that live in the lap of lakes, rivers, forests etc. do live off their environment’s resources. How to achieve an equilibrium between the humans and the surrounding ecosystem is a complex question.

There are relatively small pockets of land that abound in medicinal plants and fishes. For human living in these stretches draw their sustenance from these natural resources. Mr. Gadgil has aptly underlined the importance of these smaller pockets of land. He has pleaded that the process of demarcation of ESA is a larger exercise. While undertaking this task, one should not lose sight of the ecological vulnerability of these small areas holding invaluable natural bounties.

Given the enormity and complexity of the task of ESA marking, the authorities must try to bring on board scientists, NGOs, concerned public individuals, and the ordinary people living in the area for the consultative process. The more the stake holders participating in the discussion, the better will be the soundness of the recommendation. No more time should be wasted in initiating this process.

Hopefully, areas where the communities actively participate in environmental preservation through promotion of ecological tourism and agro-ecological farming will qualify for rigid safeguards against further human exploitation. On the whole, widest possible consultation on time-bound basis holds the key to this looming problem.


Tawang in Indo-China relations

March 8, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Tawang Tangle

A prickly issue that must not escalate to bedevil Delhi and Beijing dialogue

The Dalsai Lama is scheduled to visit the Tawang Monastery in early April. This has irked China to an extent that it has warned India of grave consequences for bilateral relations, if the visit is not called off.
Both countries are actively engaged in discussions to resolve bilateral issues. Only a few days ago India’s Foreign Secretary Mr. Jayshanker was in Beijing to conduct parleys. In such an atmosphere, China’s unduly strong reaction to the proposed visit of Dalai Lama is undoubtedly an uncalled for over-reaction.
It would be interesting to go into the genesis of the Arunanchal problem. In 1914, almost a century ago, in a tripartite conference in Shimla, Tibet ceded Arunanchal Pradesh to India. China was a party to this meeting, although its representative only put his initials on the accord, not the full signature. The accord, however, had the signatures of the Tibetan and Indian representatives.
The dispute simmered slowly till the crossing over of Dalali Lama crossed over to India from his abode in Tibet. The ferocious Chinese onslaught on Tibet’s freedom-aspiring Buddhist monks posed a real threat to his life. Braving heavy odds, he escaped with a band of followers and entered the host country India through Tawang. This dare devil escaped piqued the Chinese greatly. India, then under Nehru’s leadership, was perceived to have abated the fleeing. The Dalai Lama issue added a new dimension to the Indo-China misunderstanding.
In 2009, the Dalai Lama visited Tawang and retraced his flight to freedom. This was his last visit. China did cried foul over the visit, but the misgiving melted away with time. Given these facts and the background of the conflict, it is difficult to fathom the belligerence of the Chinese protest over the Dalasi Lama’s proposed visit.
The Chinese haven’t shunned contacts with the Dalai Lama altogether. The two sides had had as many as 10 rounds of discussion over Tibet’s status, though these were futile exercises.
The two giant neighbors have a host of more important issues to resolve. Both sides are painstakingly trying to bring the border issue to some resolution, and have made some incremental progress. There are issues related to trade imbalance, facilitation of bilateral investment etc. Compared to such daunting issues in hand, the Dalai Lama issue p-ales into insignificance. China should, therefore, not do anything to make agreements on other issues difficult. Rhetoric seldom helps reconciliation.
Restraint is also imperative for the Indian side too. As much as possible, pinpricks of this type must be avoided. China took umbrage at the recent visit of the American ambassador to Arunanchal Pradesh. Later, a representative of Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile attended a dinner in American embassy. China was obviously annoyed. The visit of a Taiwanese trade delegation to India was also frowned upon by China, as it perceives Taiwan to be its renegade province.
India, too has its grievances against China. The latter’s blocking of India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and refusal to let Masood Azhar’s name enter the United Nations Terrorist List has exasperated India.
It would however be unwise to lose sight of the woods for the sake of a tree. In a recent statement, the previous Chinese Special envoy, Dai Bingguo has hinted that if India is flexible in the eastern side, China would be flexible in the western side. India should seize the opportunity of such overtures and proceed assiduously to close the long-drawn border demarcation problem to a conclusion. That would be a sagacious move.


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