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A Diary from Nowhere

A Diary from Nowhere A M NOBODY is anybody's keeper. You go your way, I go mine, we embrace each other only when there is a certain area of convergence in our interests, such as when these interests can be advanced by a common set of politics and stratagems. We glare at each other and begin exchanging epithets as soon as our interests emerge as aspects of a fearful asymmetry. Once the special situations are excluded, nations behave more in the manner of tenants residing in high- rise apartment buildings: it is not an instance of none daring to care about what is happening to his neighbours, none in fact bothers to care.

A Gezira Diary

A M IN the Indian context, Cornwallis perceived it as early as in 1793. It was alien land, hostile country; it you wanted to survive and prosper, better create a group of loyal followers who would abide by you. The Permanent Settlement stood the British in jolly good stead for a century and a half; it put a brake on history. Gezira is nearly a Sudanese equivalent of what Cornwallis worked out in India. It was alien land, hostile country; the Mahdis had run, defeated in battle; but now you needed the help of the Mahdis against the Egyptians. Buy them over. In any case, you needed a lush and assured supply of cotton for your textile mills up in Lancashire. Set the Mahdis to the task; buy them over.

A Levantine Diary

ECONOMIC AMD POLITICAL WEEKLY A Levantine Diary LIVE and let live. Barter and be bartered. You take your mark-up, allow me mine. It is a game the Levanters have been playing since King Ahiram ruled over Byblos. They don't call the ancient capital Byblos any more; they can't afford to: it is, very properly, Ibeil, glory to Arab brotherhood. But such compromises do a power of good to the Levantine cause. The terraced majesty of Beirut could hardly be explained otherwise. Each fresh occasion your plane swoops low to make the landing, Beirut has added some new lustre: a dazzling, block of office buildings, a chic-looking shopping arcade, a string of brunches of American and European banks, a couple or so of night-clubs or casinos where the performers are, no kidding, imported straight from Las Vegas. Every year, the beaches become a little more indolent: they are nearly as good as St Tropez without its crowded vulgarity. In the restaurant, the cuisine is beyond reproach, heavily biased toward the French palate. In fact, many things around Beirut remind you of a France which had, once upon a not so remote time, a turbulent affair with Lebanon. They still talk in terms of arrondisements; you may he standing at the comer where rue de Rhin mingles with avenue Pasteur. Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Front have come; they are Lebanon's honoured guests; several hotels along the waterfront have been quietly taken over by the PLF. And there are other, innumerable dissident and quasi-dissident Palestinian groups who too are very much installed here, training commandos, dealing in guns and bombs, occasionally despatching hijacking parties from the base of Beirut's nervous airport. But live and let live, none of them bothers to question Lebanon's style of living; correction, the style of living of Lebanon's narrow elite. These are the rules of the game: we go about our own way snaking money and enjoying it, you go about making revolutions in other lands; we quite realise that, every now and then, you have to use our territory to send saboteurs across the border into Israel we quite appreciate that, in retaliation, Israel will have to send their ' planes to bomb out villages on our side of the border, killing a few old men and women and goats and sheep; all right, gentlemen, you play your respective games, we humble people are not going to remonstrate with either of you; we can't afford to; even so, please, don't go too far while you are operating from our territory

A Khartoum Diary

 A Khartoum Diary A M THE festival of form-filling starts right at the airport. It could hardly bo otherwise. The British had been here, for more than fifty years: once the British came,; would forms

Calcutta Diary

March 8, 1975 Calcutta Diary A M IT is all over. The banquet halls are deserted, the last of the participants has left Only the memory lingers. Calcutta hosted the world table tennis championships for 1975, A dazzling new indoor stadium was built in the city. Players from at least fifty nations came. Boys and girls from Calcutta's upper class homes acted as volunteers and help-mates during the championship games; they broadened their minds and

Calcutta Diary

CALCUTTA'S scenario .stales on you. About everything seems stylised, including the rate at which the city is falling apart. It is one of those asymptotic lines: it is supposed to collapse any hour of the day, somehow it does not; the area marked by its co-ordinates remains nearly unchanged.

Calcutta Diary

THE twenty-fifth anniversary of the Republic ought to induce noble, .happy, uplifting thoughts. Such a pity, it does not. Kill-joys are bad conductors. And they are a nuisance. They mar the world of parades and speeches, that genteel world where, come anniversary day, the President and the Prime Minister, beaming all over, welcome foreign dignitaries converging on Raj Path to watch the day's march; the tribals, our precious heritage

Calcutta Diary

January 25, 1975 Calcutta Diary A M HYPERBOLE, thou are afoot. As if violence is a new category in the Indian polity. Is if the Prime Minister's party, helpless damsel, has been the innocent victim of dastardly acts perpetrated by the unspeakable 'others' who infest this society. In any case who killed Cock Robin is still shrouded in heavy mystery: unlike in the nursery rhyme no open, gushing confessions have been forthcoming. There is, therefore, a certain vulgarity

Calcutta Diary

A M CALL it elongated adolescence, call it by viler names, pedants are still at it, composing involved essays, replete with precious footnotes, on the Bengali renaissance of the nineteeth century. Once you detach yourself from the locale, it does not take much time to decipher the essence of want it was all about. The hullabaloo over the phenomenon is vintage Bengali balderdash. The East India Company was headquartered on the banks of the Hooghly, certain consequences flowed therefrom; period. The Permanent Settlement helped, producing a large crop of docile KCSI, ClEs in last century's second half. In addition, there was the juxtaposition of the Asiatic Society of Bengal with the Indian Association. True, the Tagores too emerged out of this melee. But, then, yqu have to make allowance for a few sui generises in history. Otherwise history can become an insufferable bore. The Dutts of Hatkhola-Rambagan, in the vicinity of the northern ramparts of Calcutta, could, if you will, be termed the products of that renaissance. Appellations and epithets neither make nor mar objective reality. Suffice it to say, exposure to the West did things to the Dutts of Hatkhola-Rambagan, as it did to the Boses, the Choses and the Mitters in the neighbourhood

Calcutta Diary

January 11, 1975 Calcutta Diary A M CONVENTIONS must be adhered to. Pontificate in the New Year. Cultivate a little heartlessness. You have to if you want to survive. Ministers know that; which is why they keep saying there has been, this season, not a single death from starvation. You know otherwise, you can quote first-hand data, list names, recount the horrible sights you have yourself witnessed in Cooch Benar or Bankura. But it is no use getting worked up. Keep your cool, cultivate a little heartlessness. A few deaths, a few hundred deaths, even a few thousand deaths do not matter that much; those who died, you must admit, were sorrowful .specimens of humanity; read the history books, read stray chapters from classical political economy, pestilential deaths are not that unknown a category. Arrangements of civilisation do break down every now and then; when they do, unfortunate events take place. This is part of the historical process. It is not given to you and me to manoeuvre at will the course of history. Therefore do .simmer down, cultivate, if you like, a quasi-existentialist calm, and anyway, who does not know that we are way better off than, for instance, Bangladesh across the border, where this season's deaths from starvation and associated causes have to be counted not in genteel hundreds or thousands, but in hundreds of thousands?

A Bangkok Diary

stores may be Ratri Sulabhabhoga, the counter clerk at the bank is Prasiddh Kittisidho, the police-general, believe it or not, was baptised as Chirasanto Komalanavin. There is a certain lilt in Pali, sweet, soft; even after transmutation into Thai and the passage of two thousand and five hundred years, the lilt remains. But you will come a cropper if you allow yourself to be beguiled by the nostalgia which beautiful-sounding names can evoke. There is a crust of iron somewhere underneath. As they tell you, proudly but without flourish. Thai means free: they have survived as a free nation through the ravages of all these centuries. It called for much more than sang-froid to survive the successive probes of the Hindus, the Chinese, and, in the more recent period, the assorted Europeans. The Thais have come through.

Calcutta Diary

December 21, 1974 Calcutta Diary A M WHAT follows is a picture of this state as it is today. It is a partial picture, but, in this instance, the part is bigger than the whole.


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