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Loony

Photo of Howrah Bridge

Photo of Howrah Bridge

'Sky resounding -- what's this roar for Fretting and fuming and a ruin of health? Living itself will make life livable Dying causes certain death.' -- His eyes lit up with a hint of a twinkle, As the tipsy signor exhorted thus -- A swig or two need at most be consumed For what's to be borne -- to be borne sans fuss. 'Perch atop the Howrah Bridge And search way down or straight upright -- Only two classes you'll get to see One is daft and the other bright.'

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Translation-cum-transcreation of a Bengali poem পাগল (pagol) by Sankha Ghosh. It was published in his collection নিহিত পাতালছায়া (nihito patalchhaya, meaning Hidden Shadow of the Netherworld) in 1967.

Note: Howrah Bridge is a well-known bridge across the River Hoogly which flows through the city of Kolkata.

The Black Legend

Published in The Telegraph, Calcutta on November 17, 2014

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Manik Bandyopadhyay, in his classic short story “Prehistoric” (pragoitihashik) created an unforgettable heroine, Panchi, a beggar by profession. Her means for attracting public sympathy was a purulent ulcer that stretched from one of her knees down to the foot. And she employed every possible precaution to ensure that her ailment remained untreated. It was the capital on which depended her very livelihood.

Panchi was born in the world of fiction, but most of us are familiar with her true life counterparts, endlessly many of whom inhabit this country. And paradoxically enough, not all of them are street beggars. Quite a few amongst them belong to the highest echelons of society, people who travel in fashionable cars, fly business class every now and then and last, but not least, pontificate inside the cool comfort of television studios on the failure of governments in power to rid our society of the ills that plague it so. Moreover, like Panchi’s attachment to her ulcer, they are all too conscious of the dire necessity of the failures in question to defy mortality, or else, like Panchi, they stand to lose the very instrument ensuring their survival. Along with them, the all pervasive media suffers as well, for its survival too depends in turn on the survival of the professional grumblers, known otherwise as the hallowed opposition in Indian democracy.

In this context, one social malady that has resolutely withstood the test of time in India is the issue of black money, the accumulated flow of alleged tax evading Indian incomes stashed away in bank accounts located in tax havens lying beyond the reach of Indian tax authorities. The opposition benches, irrespective of the political parties occupying them, have never ceased to criticise the so called “incumbent” for its inability to recover Indian black money from foreign shores or even its deliberate policy of protecting the favoured few by turning a blind eye to the problem. Further, the criticised often become the critic with fluctuations in electoral fortunes. Amidst this table turning game, however, the allegation against the government that it is overtly or covertly continuing to avoid solving the grisly problem continues to act as an unalterable constant of nature. Not so much because it is an accurately diagnosed disease, but more probably because, like Panchi’s ulcer, healing it will leave the opposition without a meaningful occupation.

Whether a reliable method exists for estimating the quantum of black money is itself a million dollar question. Nonetheless, endlessly many estimates have been heard of. Amongst these is the startling figure of US $ 1.35 trillion, amounting to around 75 per cent of India’s GDP in 2012-13. This figure, according to unsubstantiated media announcements, was revealed by a confidential report for which the government commissioned a reputed academic institution. The total sum includes black money held both in India and abroad and does not probably clarify their shares in the aggregate. As opposed to this, the Swiss Bankers’ Association as well as the Government of Switzerland claimed that the citizens of India held no more than US $ 2 billion in Swiss banks. While no authentic figure has emerged so far, it is nonetheless interesting to compare the Swiss assertion with our own. The figure of US $ 2 billion turns out to be around 0.15 per cent of the estimated total of US $ 1.35 trillion. The Swiss claim could well be unsound, just as the Indian estimate might be wrong. However, both parties have to be more than horribly incorrect if black money hidden abroad were to be treated as a problem worth a government’s serious attention.

To go down to the bottom of the problem, the Supreme Court appointed a Special Investigating Team (SIT) to come up with a dependable report on the matter and the government is said to have handed over to the SIT a list of some 627 persons holding accounts in foreign banks. As the grapevine would have it, a substantial fraction of these 627 persons are NRI’s who are legally permitted to hold foreign bank accounts. Moreover, their deposits need not have been generated out of black money siphoned off from India. No numbers in this context have sprung up yet of course, and one needs to wait for the findings of the SIT before jumping to conclusions.

In the meantime, one must not lose track of other tidbits of information that are catching public imagination. Amongst them, one claims that the information regarding the 617 persons was not received from the Swiss or other suspected banks. It appears that an unnamed person had been able to access the details using unknown means at his disposal and they were passed on to Germany, France and possibly other countries. These countries then decided to oblige the Indian government by sharing the yet to be confirmed information. Why these other countries would find it in their interest to rely on a private person’s investigations relating to Indian black money in Swiss accounts is anybody’s guess. One wonders in fact how France or Germany would have reacted to a report submitted to them by the Government of India on black money tainted French or German nationals. Especially so, if the report were based on revelations made by a private person of dubious distinction.

On the other hand, if indeed it turns out that around 600 plus persons own US $ 2 billion worth of black money of Indian origin in foreign banks, then this must surely be viewed as a grievous fault, though one would need to devise a super-sensitive instrument to measure the grievousness itself. First, going once again by unsubstantiated reports, US $ 2 billion constitutes around 0.15 per cent of the estimated total of US $ 1.35 trillion of black money held by Indians. The lion’s share of the black money, viz. 99.85 per cent, is then held inside the country itself rather than abroad. One cannot help wondering why 0.15 per cent is a more worrisome figure than 99.85 per cent. Common sense suggests that the glaring fault lies in the 99.85 per cent, if indeed that figure is correct, though one is aware at the same time that the veracity of the these much advertised figures is yet to be confirmed.

If the quantum of the fault constitutes an important question, the flip side of the coin should address the nature of the fault, as far as the damage to the Indian economy is concerned. During the year 2012-13, US $ 5 billion constituted a meagre 0.27 per cent of Indian GDP, while the balance out of US $ 1.35 trillion, viz. US $ 1.345 trillion, added up to 74.72 per cent. If black money is to be treated as lost government revenue and hence potential capital for economic development, then the 74.72 per cent ought to be viewed as incremental capital output ratio for the economy that could not be utilized due to tax evasion by Indians living in India. On the other hand, the foreign black money constitutes a trivial 0.27 per cent from the incremental capital-output ratio point of view. The productivity potential of the latter is negligibly small compared to the former.

Yet, the battle continues. A battle based not on crystal clear evidence, but on the unfounded estimates of the sort that this article relies on. It is quite possible of course that, thanks to the Supreme Court’s directives, the cynics will be proved mistaken and we shall soon decipher the holy grail of India’s black money legend. However, the public at large had better realize at the same time that a complete resolution of the problem will run counter to the interests of Panchi’s peers, engaged as they are in expressing prime evening time indignation over India’s Black Money horror.

Exchange

revised_joined_picture

    In its stead then, you receive       A silent pool wrought just for you       A looking glass clear and painted blue       Water, light filled, glows --       Image of a branch, flowers bowed       The fluttering sail of a violet cloud       A fulfilled heart assures --     An inward eye can all perceive.     In its stead then, you receive       Musings mundane, void and bare       Dusty feet marked paths that stare       Winds sucked dry of tears --       A distant familiar voice might call       During a midday, bereft of all       No one turns and hears!     These too did you have to leave.

 
 
 
Translation-cum-transcreation of a classic Bengali poem বিনিময় (binimoy, meaning exchange) by Amiya Chakravarty. The poem was published around 1953 in a collection of Chakravarty’s poems entitled পারাপার (parapar, meaning ferrying across). I take this opportunity to thank my wonderful friend Professor Surja Sankar Ray for his interpretation of the poem as well as his advice on the many drafts of the translation. Without his help the work would have remained incomplete.

 
 
 
 
 

Kamala Bastralaya

As you meander down Manohar Pukur Road towards Rashbehari Avenue in Calcutta, you are likely to notice a paint store bearing the Asian Paints logo at the right hand corner of the meeting point of the two streets. I never had any use for the store, but have often wondered in the course of the last few years when it was that it came into being. For it didn’t exist when I was a child or even when I was a university student. Instead, it was Kamala Bastralaya that occupied this prime location.

I am not sure if Kamala Bastralaya, a tailor shop, was born before me. I had seen it at least since the days I was a toddler, so it could well have been older than me. And following natural laws, I still exist (or so I believe) and Kamala Bastralaya does not. It was a shop into which my elder brother and I  were herded as the Durga Puja Festival drew near. Those were days when readymade garments had not invaded the market and brand names were rare to come by. Parents and close relatives presented us with shirts’ or shorts’ lengths, whose colours invariably matched our school uniforms. With these we marched to the tailor for measurements to be taken. The proprietor of the shop, invariably clad in a long knee length milk white shirt and dhoti, a tallish man for a Bengali, wore black framed glasses and a squint in his eyes. He would call out numbers designating the sizes of different parts of our bodies and his chief assistant wrote them down on a note pad. This used to be an embarrassing experience, for his voice was loud and measurements of certain parts of my body, that I would normally not discuss in public, would be audible to all customers present in the shop.

I can still recall the assistant’s face. Darkish, a sharp nose protruding slightly beyond what would be called normal. I don’t think I had ever seen any of them smiling, either at the customers or at each other. If they did smile once in a while, it was a closely guarded secret. However, the expressions on their faces wouldn’t make a customer feel unwanted. There was a trick in this trade whose secrets I never managed to unravel.

There were other assistants too who were constantly whirring away at their respective sewing machines sitting on an elevated wooden platform located towards the far end of the shop. These were manually run machines, electric sewing machines were an unheard of phenomena in that Jurassic age.

A long wooden table separating the customers from the workers, ran all the way from the entrance to the shop to its end under the elevated platform. The strangest part of our regular relationship with this shop was that it never occurred to us that we didn’t know the names of anyone of its employees, leave alone the owner himself. But they knew our names, since our exchanges were recorded in a receipt book bearing names and probably addresses too.

Once our measurements were noted down, a date would be fixed for the trial and we had to show up without fail on that day. A second round of number crunching accompanied the trial ceremony and the master tailor used a flat, blue triangular  marker to indicate necessary alterations in the garments. I learnt from my mother that the marker was made of special stuff, the marks being washable once the final delivery was made.

I can’t recall if Kamala Bastralaya attended to my needs once I transcended from shorts to trousers, for by that time my friends included fashion conscious boys and they could have led me to dandier joints that catered to the classy customer. That should have cost me more money and endless hankering with my poor, dear middle class mother.

My father, on the other hand, stuck to Kamala Bastralaya all through, that is till he was able to make it to the shop without external assistance. And I have no idea if he had use of his physical faculties by the time the shop wound up. Despite his loyalty to the shop though, he never ceased to be critical of its sartorial skills. His trousers for example were always ordered at this shop and by the time the final product arrived he was ever prepared to walk over and pull them up. And this love hate relationship with the tailor would often lead to situations that bordered on farce.

On one occasion, he criticised them for delivering a pair of trousers with one leg shorter than the other. It was no easy task to make them accept the charge of course. But as far as I know, my father continued the battle with a measuring tape to make his point. Upon which they produced their own tape to prove him wrong. I don’t know exactly what the sequence of events was, but I suspect that he disappeared inside the trial room to put on the trouser and demonstrate his point to them. Whether they saw what my father saw is unclear, for they had apparently told him that it was not a trouser leg that was shorter but that there was a mismatch between the lengths of my father’s own legs themselves! How this explanation could have resolved the issue is anybody’s guess.

Yet, my father never chose a tailor shop other than Kamala Bastralya. As I remember clearly now, when my parents were living with us in Delhi, one of my father’s regular complaints was that he couldn’t get his pyjamas stitched at Kamala Bastralaya.

Well, both my father and his tailor have moved forward now and Asian Paints has made sure that the past has vanished for good behind their “Advanced Anti Ageing” commercial. I never found the courage to walk into this paint store to find out if they have really found an antidote for ageing and if they have then where on earth have the tailor and his grumbling customer disappeared?

Well Devi Durga came amidst much grandeur recently and now she is gone. Unlike my younger days, I didn’t go pandal hopping. Nor to purchase things to wear. But the Devi made sure nonetheless that I couldn’t detach myself from my past. Crowds of memories kept flocking in, the tailor, the stationer and the ever smiling salesman at Bata Shoe Store bang opposite Kamala Vilas on Rashbehari Avenue, where South Indians found refuge during their stints with Calcutta. But of that, some other day.

 
 
 
 
 

Chivalrous Serenades

Come to think of it, a “chivalrous existence”, however appealing it might appear, has deluded me throughout my life. Especially so when it came to my earnest desire to act Sir Knight to damsels in distress. Not that I had ever draped myself in mail chain armour a la Ivanhoe, having decided that the mca’s must be somewhat heavy even to crawl around in, leave alone to engage in tournaments on horseback to win over a lady’s favours. Nonetheless, in my own small way, I did try to master the art.

With somewhat dubious consequences, as you have surely guessed by now.

Without beating about the bush therefore, I shall travel back in time to a crowded Calcutta tramcar, which I had not only boarded, but in which I had even been favoured by Lady Luck with an empty seat to rest my bottom. Instead of standing that is, squeezed between people holding on to overhead handrails with their sweating armpits dangerously close to my somewhat sensitive olfactory organ. Not that sitting in an overcrowded tramcar is a pleasant experience either, but the dividing line between standing and sitting is not exactly fine either.

Well, there I sat, in a state of dubious happiness, as I remember, trying to lift up my spirits on a grueling summer evening, whistling out of tune, hoping to entertain my fellow passengers, a weak substitute for the much awaited monsoon drizzle. The man sitting next to me was not impressed as far as I could make out from the expression on his face, but the Bertie Wooster in me was not in a mood to pay heed to Jeeves-like wisdom.

I looked away from him in supreme disdain in the opposite direction, that is towards the mass of suffering humanity which was unlawfully denied the right to a seat. Unlawfully I say, since the price of a tram journey has, to this day, no bearing whatsoever on whether one sits or stands on way to one’s destination. And almost immediately, my eyes detected her. There she stood, hapless as well as helpless, trying desperately to reach up to the handrails. Given her height, she had only two choices. Hang by the handrails or stand on the floor and hold on to thin air a few inches below the rails. And to top it all, she had a somewhat heavy purse on her, which anyone could pick, given that her hands were engaged elsewhere playing with nothingness. Quite oblivious alas of the unprotected belongings inside the purse.

My heart melted. My chivalry howled in silent protest. Is there no man around to offer her a seat? Degeneration, I lamented, thy name is MAN. There was only one choice left to me and I exercised it. I left my seat and attempted to draw the attention of the harassed lady. But harassed though she was, she displayed absolutely no propensity to admire my magnanimity. As with all other women, she looked in every direction except mine. I pushed through the crowd therefore to alert her to the existence of an empty seat.

As I have observed, chivalry has never paid me my due. Partly on account of my stupidity I am sure. As I left my seat, I had no one other than the lady in mind. In particular, I forgot completely about the disgruntled travellers that stood in my close proximity and such people have one track minds as far as I can make out. In this particular case, they were singularly focused on the seat I was occupying, with the result that as soon as I left the seat, the man standing closest to me lowered himself on it with vulture like precision. Not only had the lady not noticed my gesture; worse, even if she had, there was no longer an empty seat inviting her take it. On the other hand, despite all my chivalry, I didn’t exactly know how to rebuke the trespasser for occupying the seat that I had not given up for him! In fact, as I realized, no lawyer on earth would be able to argue out a case in my favour.

The lady unboarded the tram soon enough, while I stood for the rest of the journey in the sardine-packed tramcar. And I did not fail to notice that the man was still sitting there when it was time for me to get down from the car! I can’t be sure, but I suspect he was whistling his own tune too, quite oblivious of the tragedy he had precipitated, pulverizing my chivalry into subatomic particles.

But these particles, it appears, held a confidential conference and managed to reassemble into their former self and all this happened, quite unknown to me, as I was travelling in a suburban train compartment on my way to office one fine morning in spring. The train compartment was reasonably empty as I boarded it at Sealdah Station, but it began to get filled up by the time the train had reached the second or the third stop. It was filling up, yes, but unlike the tramcar, there was an empty seat still available to be occupied by a passenger and this seat lay bang opposite to the one I was sitting in. And out of nowhere a young woman with a baby in arms appeared. She spotted the seat quite naturally and made a beeline for it. By the look of her, she belonged to what’s fashionably called a below poverty line individual these days. This meant that she had very few well-defined rights that our mighty Parliament had been able to devise over the forty years or so of independence that we had enjoyed by then.

The gentleman occupying the seat right next to the empty one growled as she was about to sit down. “This seat is not for you,” he screamed. “I have been holding it for a gentleman who will be boarding at the next station!” The woman was no fighter and appeared to have few quarrels with the gentleman’s absurd demand. So, she simply stood meekly, holding on to the back of one of the benches as the train began to move. As I told you, my chivalry never went to the extent of fighting tournaments and I failed to haul up the gentleman. Instead though, I merely got up from my seat and, not having forgotten the tramcar incident, made sure that there were no contenders for my vacated seat. Then I called out to the woman and requested her to take my seat. A request she gladly accepted, given the precarious state of balance in which she was holding the baby.

I came out of the enclosure and stood near the door leading out of the train. It was not over-crowded and standing there was not particularly uncomfortable.

It was then that the tournament began. I suddenly became conscious of a semi-scuffle between a few people inside the enclosure that I had just left. Two groups had formed, it appeared, one siding with the man who refused the seat to the woman and another that found his action unacceptable. I had no idea that this second group existed, since no one had shown much interest in her when she was receiving a rough deal.

Voices were rising and I heard repeated references to the man who had left his seat, who, I had little doubt, was no other than me. An informal court of law was in session it appeared trying to pass a judgement on my action. The bully himself was shouting the most in support of his action and everything that was being said ultimately ended with the ultimate motive underlying my action. To my horror, I even heard someone claim that I had left the seat because I was about to get down and then someone else shouting that this was false, since I was still observable where I was burrowing my head. They were all but ready to drag me in to testify!

My chivalry being at stake, I knew that I would not be able to participate in the riot that was about to ensue. Fortunately, however, my destination arrived soon and I left the train as invisibly as I could.

But as I disembarked, I tried to peep in through the window and discover, if I could, a smile of gratitude in the woman’s face. And what I found was that in the middle of all the commotion, she was sleeping as peacefully as the child on her lap.

As I said, my chivalry never earned applauds.

Unfairness! Thy name is WOMAN!

With You — A Haiku

Image

Grueling summer

The coolness of village pond

In the shade with you

 

 

 

Still — A Haiku

Even if the cold lingers
Cruel north winds flog the trees—
Still spring never fails

Tagore, Savithri Krishnan and Carnatic Music

Photo source

Savithri Krishnan

Savithri Krishnan

Savithri Krishnan (nee Govinda) was a fourteen year old girl who lived and went to school at Adyar when she was introduced to Rabindranath Tagore. She was a student of the Fourth Form and had no idea at all who this man was, when her drawing teacher came to fetch her to be presented before the poet. She was playing outside her home with her friends in the gruelling heat of June.

She was quite annoyed by this demand. She refused straightaway. Then this drawing teacher went into her house and caught hold of her mother in the kitchen and requested her to prevail upon the daughter. After much coaxing and cajoling, the little girl finally agreed to accompany the teacher.

Tagore was sitting surrounded by some of the top intellectuals from the South (as well as Bengal, including Professor P.C. Mahalanobis, the founder of the Indian Statistical Institute) when the girl arrived along with her two sisters. He was busy writing something and for a while didn’t pay any attention to the girls. Savithri’s temper rose further. Quite apart from the fact that it was a boring business, her game had been interrupted. But, as custom demanded, the poor thing waited till Tagore was finished with whatever he was writing.

He looked at the sisters and requested them to sing for him. They sat on the floor and sang a few Meera Bhajans. After a while, Tagore looked at Savithri and said, “Why don’t you sing alone? Sing a pure South Indian song for me.” She tried as best as she could. The song she sang begins with “Meenakshi …”. You can hear it in the audio attachment below.

Tagore stayed over for a few days and he told her to come to him daily and sing for him. She did this, willingly or unwillingly, I can’t say. And then Tagore came out with a preposterous idea. “Savithri, come with me to Santiniketan for your studies!” She said, “How can I? I don’t have the finance and I need my guardian’s permission. The guardian was an uncle, who had recently met with an accident. Tagore said, “I think your guardian will not object – I have a premonition.”  (“divyadrishTi” was the expression Savithri Devi used to describe Tagore’s statement.)

divyadrishTi” it was indeed and Savitri went over to Santiniketan. She knew no Bengali at the time. She felt lonely and missed her family in the beginning. But gradually she got used to the place and gathered enough courage one day to come up to Tagore with an exercise book (costing her 4 annas) and ask for his autograph. Tagore wrote for her a couplet. Here is a (terrible) translation:

If my song can ever find a shelter in your voice,
It could be my gift, or to me a gift of your choice.

The Calcutta Doordarshan interviewed Ms. Savithri Krishnan many years later. She was seventy years at the time. I collected the information above from this interview. Straight from the horse’s mouth.

Unfortunately, she spoke almost entirely in Bengali. But there were little bits of English too that she used as she recalled her first meeting with Tagore. A large part of the interview deals with the Carnatic tunes Tagore picked up from Savithri Devi to compose some of his most well-known songs. Even at the age of seventy, I think she did a great job in rendering the Tamizh and the Bengali versions.

There were two songs that she sang and I have included them in the audio clip. The Bengali counterparts are “basanti hey bhuvanomohini” and “bedona ki bhashaey re“. I have cropped out the Bengali conversation from the interview and retained only the English words she used and the songs she sang (both in Tamizh and Bengali).

I have also added another famous Tagore song “baaje karuno shurey“. This was sung by Smt. Kanika Bandyopadhyay during Tagore’s Birth Centenary Celebrations in 1961. She is no more. The original Tamizh version “needu charanamule” in the recording below was sung by Swagatalakshmi Dasagupta (1999). According to the Sangeeta Sudha, the song was composed by Thyagaraja. Its tune is set to Raga Simhendra Madhyam.

This post would be incomplete if I didn’t add my latest translation of the song “baaje karuno shurey“. But first, so as to help you follow the song in Bengali, I am writing down the Bengali words.

“baaje koruno shurey (haay doore)
tabo charantala-chumbito ponthobina.
mamo paanthochito choncholo
jaani na ki uddeshe.

junthigondho oshanto shomire
dhaay utola uchhashey,
temoni chitto udashi rey
nidaruno bichchhedero nisithe.”

And here is the translation, or at least the first draft.

“Far away, a plaintive tune
Plays the veena of the path kissed by your feet.
This mind mine feels restlessly wayward
What it seeks I do not know alas.

Pursuing in this untamed breeze
Jasmine flavours lost in turbulence
Likewise the hear’s melancholy
So agonizing on this night of separation.”

Immediately below is the link to the songs, which I hope you will be able to download. (If you cannot but are interested in listening, please send me your email addresses and I shall mail the link to you from my dropbox account.) The first song is Swagatalakshmi’s version of “needu charanamule“. This is followed by Kanika’s unforgettable rendition of the song I translated above. Finally, you can hear Savithri Krishnan,  at the age of seventy, singing the original songs “basanti hey bhuvanomohini” and “bedona ki bhashaey re” were based on as well as their Bengali versions!

Link to the Songs

_______________________________

I need to add a postscript to this composition on account of a comment I received elsewhere. The comment provides more information about Savithri Krishnan.  I am reproducing the comment.

“Dipankar-da,

Is it a new piece? I liked it. I once had the privilege of witnessing Savithri Krishnan’s performance at Tagore Research Institute in Calcutta, with which my father was connected. She was then in her seventies, a vibrantpersonality, quite boisterous with something of a tomboy in her. She was recalling her Santiniketan experiences in a mix of English and very idiomatic Bengali. With the latter she was out of touch, as a result of her long sojourn in Canada, but she spoke it eagerly, thoroughly enjoying herself as she did. She was a wonderful raconteur, and broke into songs every now and then. Being an asthamtic, she panted her way through talk and music, loudly spraying inhaler as she went on, and assuring the audience with, “Never mind, I shall sing” (in English). As her voice soared, the effect was overwhelming. Her being asthamtic reminded me of another singer, who was then dead, and the power of the voice strengthened the impression.

I think you should write such pieces on some other maestros of the genre as well, in your excellent English. Not the elite singers of exclusive minorities, but singers who turned Rabindrasangeet into an expression of warm-blooded homo sapiens.

Devadatta”

In the Midst of Darkness, Light Survives …

While the problem of rural electrification continues to baffle us, a silent progress has been taking place in different parts of India and, in particular, in West Bengal. Before I reveal to you what the nature of this progress is, here are some district wise details concerning the state of electrification of rural households in West Bengal.

Source: Government of West Bengal
 

Some may not be concerned about this and I have no quarrel with them. However, I do think these figures indicate that something is totally wrong with the decibel level of our economic growth anthem. Crores of village children have no access to clean light sources during the night. They use kerosene lamps to acquire whatever dismal education our society offers them. These lamps are not environmentally friendly and are definitely a health hazard for the little kids.

But, as I said, a silent progress is afoot. A number of small and medium enterprises in West Bengal are investing seriously in solar energy creation. One among them is Sulekha (namesake for this blogsite!), a company that used to produce fountain pen ink in the days of yore. It was declared sick in the late eighties I think and thanks to the relentless efforts of its Director (Mr. Kaushik Maitra), the company is now out of the woods and producing a whole array of goods, including solar lanterns. I received the following message from this gentleman today:

“This lantern was supplied by FREED at Jamespur, Sunderbans and donated by Sulekha Solar.
A baby was born on 31st Dec 2011, at around midnight. There were some complications. We were told by the person who delivered the baby that thanks to the Solar Lantern, a mishap was avoided.”

Here is a photograph of that life saving lantern! And the baby too!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

It is a relatively easy task it would seem to electrify villages. We don’t need large plots of land to set up thermal power plants. Instead, a simple solar panel in every household will take us a long way. And happily enough, some entrepreneurs are producing these. The one in the picture costs around Rs. 2,000. Shouldn’t it make us think? A pollution free device with zero running cost is already available. Yet the powers that be are negotiating with BIG investors to build power plants. Power plants are a necessity for sure, but not for carrying electricity to rural households. And, incidentally, a small businessman is running a xerox machine in the Sunderban area with the help of solar energy!

A Chennai based organization v-shesh is carrying out a charitable exercise. It has discovered a locality in Orissa which has no electricity at all. It appealed to people across India to donate small sums of money to help them purchase solar lanterns (costing only Rs. 399.00) for the deprived children. I thought it worth my while to make a contribution, even though there was a risk that I was dealing with a fake organization. The way I argued to myself was simple enough. There was a chance that I was being hoodwinked, but that didn’t amount to a loss I couldn’t bear. On the other hand, if I was not being cheated, a few children would benefit immensely. And their gain would be far greater than my possible loss. I have now received the following mail from them:

“Season’s greetings and wishes for a healthy, happy and successful 2012 from Light a Lamp team!
While lamps were ordered a few weeks ago, transportation of these lamps was delayed due to paperwork related requirements. We have since been able to complete various formalities (with local sales tax department) and lamps have finally reached Sambalpur from where they will travel further to Bolangir for distribution. However schools are now closed for winter vacations and we hope to start the distribution post January 5th. Estimating 2 weeks for distribution, we hope to complete the project by end-Jan 2012.
Thank you for your patience and we look forward to updating you in January of distribution being completed.
Sincerely
Light a Lamp team”

Friends, I thought I should keep you informed that all’s not for the worst in this worst of all possible worlds!

 

Figures in the Limelight