Thursday, October 30, 2014
The Cruelty of the Japanese Army in the Eastern Front, As Told by Richard Flanagan in the Booker-winning Novel "The Narrow Road to the Deep North"
Friday, October 24, 2014
From Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which I am reading now, it is obvious that the Japanese Imperial Army (JIA) weren't kind employers. Prisoners of war (POWs) were required to work all days of the week in gruelling shifts of twelve hours a day to build what was known as the Death Railway to Burma.
It also appears that when my uncle Cherian Mathew joined the Indian National Army under Subash Bose he might have imagined being treated better than the POWs. But I have a suspicion that he wasn't and the JIA meted out the same treatment as the POWs to the members of INA. There have been eyewitness accounts of how my uncle died of hunger and malnutrition, working in dire conditions. I guess he must have been working on the Death Railway project which sought to connect Thailand to Burma through thick forests. The Bridge over the River Quai is a poignant movie that documents the trials of the prisoners.
In Flanagan's novel the author recounts the experience of Australian POWs working under Japanese supervision. Their boss Nakamura is strict and relentless. Workers are dying around him of malnutrition and cholera, but he shows no concern. He is bound only by the code of honour of serving the emperor, unflinchingly, unquestioningly. He is only worried about meeting his deadlines for the construction of the railway.
It also seems that the Death Railway was built in patches, not end to end. Meaning several gangs were working on different sites, which then would be joined to create the final railway line.
I trolled the maps to find the attached one of the Death Railway. However, on following it to the Burmese border I find that it terminates at a station named Nam Tok and doesn't proceed any further than that. It falters, then comes to a dead end there. So, the railway to Burmah through thick forests was a failure after all. So much effort, starvation, deaths, ill treatment, all happened for nothing.
Now if you search Death Railway on google maps, you will find that the line is dotted by many resorts. I guess, the Thai government must be exploiting the tourism potential of the Death Railway, which happens to be the only saving grace of this wasted effort.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
This is recent. Very. I was discussing materialism and its far-reaching implications into our psyche with a friend. The papers are full of ads this Diwali season exhorting people to buy and there are discounts to be had, cars to be won, gold coins to be availed of. As often happens during such ruminations, I – self righteously, I may add – defended my non-materialistic aspects.
"My fridge lasted 20 years, my washing machine 10 years, my gas stove was changed recently after 20 years, my teapoy is more than 30 years old, I still have the same drawing room cane furniture of 10 years."
Hm. My high-ass proclamations seemed empty when compared to the following, which I am writing here, and was not told to my friend, who, after all, doesn't read my blogs. So here it is safe. And here goes:
My mobile phone is 10 months old, I had to replace the old one because the battery ran out within hours; my laptop is only 6 months old, a replacement warranted by a bad keyboard and screen; my guitar is only 2 years old, as the old one warped and had to be replaced, my television is only 1 year old as the old gent gave up after 15 years of sputtering.
All those things I mentioned first were manufactured around 15 years ago and were high in quality. Meaning they went through a manufacturing and quality control process. However, the products I mention second don't seem serious about quality at all. They all bring out newer models and advertise aggressively to sell. Try and get your laptop and smartphone repaired. No, they don't have parts.
It is this materialism that is at the root of society's evils. When you invest money in a badly produced product you are wasting your precious resources.
The latest iphone costs around Rs 60 thousand. It's the version six. What if I buy one? Will it last me for five years? No, I will want to buy version seven when it comes out for a fancier price. For that 60 thousand rupees I could have:
1. Repainted my house
2. Bought books
3. Bought half a Tata Nano car (I don't know about this!)
4. Gone on holiday
5. Given to the poor
6. Put in fixed deposit and earned 9 per cent interest (Rs 5400)
7. Some of these and much more....
Man will never be satisfied with what he has. But his greed is giving rise to the adoption of the "use and discard" philosophy. Manufacturing is no longer important, only researching new products is.
Where will this materialism lead?
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Saturday, October 04, 2014
Just returned from a trip to Kerala yesterday. Writing a few words here about the experience: the beauty, the ugliness, the mental forbearance needed, and the agony of waiting.
First of all, Kerala is beautiful this time of the year. The monsoon has retreated so it's not warm or cold, and the bright sun shines on palm fronds and rubber leaves. Beautiful is also the entire Konkan coast. But Kerala promoted itself as a tourist paradise and the name stuck. However, this has ramifications for me, a frequent traveller to the state which is home, second to Bombay, that is. The trains are crowded, tickets aren't available, and I have to suffer the assault of many unknown languages. That's forgivable but what is not is the Indian – I mean general – tendency to litter. Spitting red pan spittle is a malaise in North India and not South India. However, this habit is catching on.
Every home, or, locality, has a resident pest. This is usually a mentally disturbed individual who speaks very loudly, under the influence of the liquor of the night before. My sister's neighbour is one such individual; my brother-in-law's (from my wife's side) has another such pest. They disturb the peace during day and night, talking loudly so that everyone can hear and generally behaving like a tyke. There is no logic in his talk and he claims to be a prophet of god and a god-fearing man. Then why this high-decibel hectoring? Why this boasting and disturbing the peace?
If you want to get anything done in Kerala you need a Bangla Deshi, a Bihari, or an Assamiya. Kerala men won't work even if they are able bodied and look like Salman Khan minus the cute looks. Here every working class man sports a six pack, but still he won't work for a living though the daily wage is Rs seven hundred. Yes, you heard right, seven hundred. Seven hundred plus two breaks for tea and one for lunch won't lure the lousy lout to pick up the hoe and spade. All my life, I slaved for much less. He would rather laze at home and live off his wife because he gets rice at Re one, a plot of land for free and a loan to build a house.
So imagine my surprise when I see the crowd of Bangla Deshis waiting for the Gauhati Express all along the route to Kochi. I am on my return trip and going for a brief stay at my brother's place in Kochi. They are paid only half the mandatory wages, but look prosperous and happy.
Gulf money has spoilt the countryside. There are unsightly bungalows dotting the verdant villages, painted in garish pink, yellow, shocking blue, and screaming violet. All of them have aluminium roofing to protect against the rain which adds to the ugliness. But architectural beauty is a subjective matter and I could be disputed on this. So, I will leave it.
Then the state doesn't have a viable garbage removal policy. Literally every little town reeks with the disgusting stench of refuse. A lot of junk food is consumed and the wrappers are thrown by the side of the street to rot with remains of food, meat, and fish. Even the city of Kochi – the premium city - doesn't have a proper garbage removal system in place. People pay to get their waste removed.
These are some of the issues, I faced. More, if time permits. Meanwhile, I should run. Wifey has been announcing that lunch is ready.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Just as I am about to leave for Kerala today news comes that my friend Luke, handyman, friend, died. Hr fell down and just died. I whine in disbelief as my wife tells me this. Yesterday I had discussed some urgent repair work on the house with him. And here he is: no more. Gone from this world.
Luke, friend, partner, r.i.p
Luke was Sri Lankan and I have been wanting to write a short fiction about him, his English, his gentle personality, his lack if guile, his readiness to help any time. This was a series of short fiction I am planning on the South Asian diaspora living illegally in India. I have already written on a Bangladeshi migrant.
Why he left a comfortable life in Negombo, Sri Lanka, to work in a remote valley in a satellite city is beyond me. I had visited his native town of Negombo when I had gone on a visit. We discussed its beaches, its people. His brothers are business owners he tells me, placed highly in the island nation. They had come to India to take him back. At the airport he ran back, out of the terminal, away from where his brother waited for him, to the country he had no wish to leave, because he loved that country. He said many times that he loved India.
Now he is no more. He was walking on the street. He fell down and died. He had long greying hair, a bulky body used to working, and the softest expression in his eyes. I remember his face clearly from our meeting yesterday. He had said, "you come back no, then I do your work, little, little, money give me anytime, no worry, only you be satisfied wid my work."
Those were his parting words.
(Sent from my mobile phone.)
Sunday, August 31, 2014
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Friday, August 22, 2014
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
I saw this video of Robin Williams' standup comedy (full performance, because it's an hour-long performance) and laughed and laughed. I checked Twitter in the morning after I woke up and found he was dead, a suicide. I went no, no, no, not him. I was devastated. Why does a comedian commit suicide? For what reason? He is so much loved, so much adored. He can say whatever he wants without being sued for libel. He has the world under his feet.
I watched the video and then wept. For him, the world, the way the world is ridding itself of talented people. Why does God take away such good people and leave the dregs behind? Why are comedians' lives so tragic? Is it because all our lives are tragic?
I loved his movies. I have seen quite a few of them and liked the way he made you laugh, the funny faces he made. I liked him a lot less than Jim Carey, but Jim Carey is Jim Carey. I don't like Chevvy Chase and Adam Sandler type of comedy acts. No. They are too stiff, while Robin can make things funny with his voice and his actions. Turns out he was shy as a boy and then picked up confidence doing plays. He did many stand up routines like the one above.
He ridicules everyone: Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, George Bush, Tony Blair, Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the whole lot. Doing comedy is not easy. It's tough. You have to work hard on your lines, act them out, be perfect, because there is no room for failure. And to act out in front of an audience (a packed auditorium as you see above) is even tougher.
It is said he liked to put people at ease and help people. He was also good to his fans and talked to them. In a world increasingly devoid of comedy he was one beacon of light that shined on us humourless people.
I hope - up there - you are making God chuckle with your cracks. Rest in peace Robin Williams.