Sunday, November 4, 2012

I am not alone in saying what I do!

The following is a translation of the top editorial in today’s issue of Anandabazar Patrika, Bengal’s premier newspaper. The translation is mine. I am sorry I lost the link to the original; if someone can locate it, please send it over.

The worship of  the small

A seventeen-year old in Britain has just invented an ‘application’ which can break up any item of news into three short paragraphs. All the ‘flab’ would be trimmed off. Nick D’Aloisio is already being hailed as a computer wizard, tycoons are coming forward to help fund the happy commercial birth of his revolutionary brainwave. This invention satisfies a very common and evident desire of contemporary  society – learn it quick, say it in short, let me know at once. The custom of drastically summarizing all kinds of reading material has already become widespread. In the west, classical literature is being sought to be presented to today’s youth in highly abridged form: the Bible is being peddled in drastically culled summary, and Shakespeare in sms-text. People these days habitually type ‘lol’ in emails when they want to laugh out loud; nobody says I just saw Dilwale Dulhaniya ley jayenge, because DDLJ does the job.

We want that a movie should last no longer than an hour and a half; cricket matches should be concluded in twenty overs, and textual essays limit themselves to a single line if possible. As an explanation, it is said that people ‘have too little time’ these days. The pace of life has accelerated greatly; nobody can afford to give too much time to any one thing. Most people take this assertion for granted. But what does it mean? Are humans working much harder than before, is the national product increasing exponentially, are people giving far less attention to recreation than to clearing files? Or is it that people these days spend most of their time checking worthless email and text messages, playing endless games on their mobiles, visiting all kinds of useless sites (entirely unconnected with the work at hand) on the internet, wandering about shopping malls, or idly surfing channels on TV? Has mankind’s workload increased, or has a vast vista of trivial engagements opened up? In fact, the means of ‘entertainment’ have multiplied so explosively and the insane urge to enjoy them all at once has become so rabid that men cannot concentrate for long on anything any more. Lack of attention has always been a problem for many; today people have found a very powerful excuse for never cultivating the kind of self-discipline and reflective ability that is absolutely essential in order to learn or do something really well. He was always eager to finish Tagore’s huge novel, but so much ‘work’ came his way in the shape of nonstop net surfing and channel surfing that he could never go beyond  the first page. Couldn’t some kind soul make a four-line synopsis of Gora for this unfortunate, and make a name for himself by providing millions with instant enlightenment?

Wily manipulators with an eye for the main chance have always been ready with enticing games to make money out of lazy dilettantes in  the mass. They do not criticize the age, they only want to make money out of the hordes of ignorant fools who define the age. It is a stupid and arrogant joke to claim to be able to reduce every item of news to three little paragraphs regardless of the importance of its substance, the sophistication of its argument and the quality of its writing style. This joke has thrilled a society which demands to understand an epic by reading the blurb on the book jacket. But this kind of shortcut insults both the serious journalist and the mindful reader. The collective which does not recognize it as an insult need only be contemptuously called h.l. – no point typing the whole word ‘hopeless’ to describe it (the original Bangla says hobha for hotobhagyo)


Unknown said...

Dear Suvroda,

I think it was Victor Hugo who wrote to his publisher '?', to which his publisher replied '!' One can hardly expect such wit in brevity these days. For to keep it short and simple is to stick to the facts, until one is buried in trivia.

Knowledge based on observation, analysis, argument, discussion is slowly being replaced by facts. Quantifiable knowledge translates to power that extends only over parents and loved ones. 'Cheleta onek jaane!' parents beam with pride. They do not want to delve deeper to know what the their child has made of the facts.

Take the case of this renowned newspaper which has a page opposite the op-ed devoted to such trivia--feeding you with studies like why chocolates are good for memory and excessive reading is bad for your health. The intention, of course, is to shock you into believing some random information without discussion or debate.

To get high on information is not to think. Alas! many fall into the trap. How many think twice about the rationale of a formula before cramming it and applying it on problems.

The article is an apt reminder.

With regards,


Shilpi said...

This was priceless (and hilarious) to read, and I'm very glad that you took the trouble to do the translation (in five minutes?). I'm glad too that that there are other human beings saying the same thing because in this world people are rapidly becoming simpletons by talking of 'efficiency' and about 'simplistic' apps for apes wielding their little smart phones.

I'm not going to go through the whole article but the 'app' made me feel like an ageing dinosaur. Why would anybody want to skim through a summary, and a bit of hunting shows the kind of news that can be 'summarized' - 'Donald Trump gives $5 dollars to Obama's campaign'. Says much of the kind of articles and news that the general masses can read and understand, I guess.

This one is really strange to read from one angle because it seems and sounds like something you'd write (...there are your 'time' and 'speed' posts to mention two). I did keep forgetting that it's a translation every now and then.

Shubho said...

In relation to this post, I will like to mention one small incident that happened last week. In fact, I narrated this to Sir and he told me it would be a good thing if I wrote it here in this blog. At least some of the dirt that keeps on visiting Sir's blog will read that there are really mature men out there in this world who have lots of opinions that are very similar to Sir's.

This one happened while I was travelling in a local train from Barddhaman to Howrah. Opposite to me were sitting two elderly men, one of them spitting too much, and both having an intense love for bananas. Both of them were probably senior citizens. I saw them devour almost 10 bananas at a stretch, something which a young man like me also thinks twice before doing. Anyway, these things apart, the two men were discussing all sorts of things about today's youngsters. One thing that interested me particularly in the discussion was how busy today's yougsters have become. Not only youngsters, their parents have also become too busy nowadays. One person related to the other an instance of someone he knows was a student many years ago, and had to do all the household work from morning to night, found time for playing in the afternoon, and even after that he found out time for studies and got a fairly decent job at a proper age. Then he raised a big question - if that person could find time for studies after doing every kind of constructive, useful household work, and after playing for more than 2 hours everyday in the afternoon, and after doing all this could do reasonably well to get a fairly decent job and is now supporting a family, what are today's youngsters studying that they do not get time for any other activity in life?

I thought a lot more on this thing, and since I am a youngster myself I know the reality of today's youngsters, and the answer was very clear to me. Parents are so busy making their children so busy with studies - the state of being busy is imposed upon today's youngsters. People like to say that they are busy. I have seen the same in office also. There are so many people who are doing nothing other than just gossiping, and howling at the top of their voices and not letting other people work. But you give them a ring on their cell phones, and the common reply is - 'I am in office now. Call me at night when I will be free'.

Funny, huh?

- Subhadip.

Nishant said...

Dear Sir,

I was reading about Harper Lee, author of one of my favourite books, on wikipedia, when I found this quote by her:
'Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books.'

P.S. This is probably not completely pertinent to this blog-post, but I wanted to share it nevertheless.

santanu Chatterjee said...

Well, i am not supposed to criticise this. I earn by teaching something the philosophy of which is "Laziness is a virtue"

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for commenting, Aakash, Shilpi, Subhadip, Nishant and Santanu.

Santanu, there are contexts in which laziness is indeed a virtue - as an antidote for the kind of mindless and aimless 'busy-ness' that the world fancies so much these days. But of course I understand the context in which your irony is located. Mark Twain's famous communication mentioned by Aakash was a sample of brilliant wit that can be produced only by a very active, not lazy, mind; on the other hand, the kind of mind that insists on writing lol and OMG is neither sharp nor active, but just plain loath to take any kind of work seriously if it can be avoided...

Shubho, I agree with those elderly gentlemen completely, though I can't eat so many bananas at one go. Time is what you make of it. I too can see lots of people who have nothing significant to do being 'busy' all the time doing nothing all around me.

Nishant, that quote from Harper Lee is so priceless that I am going to write my next post on it. Many thanks indeed.