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.