American Sahib by Eddie James Girdner (2016) 416 pp.
Available from Amazon.com.
This novel is largely autobiographical but contains a good deal of fiction. It is mostly about life in a Punjabi village in the late 1960s.
I wrote this book in 2015 and then put it aside for several years after publishing it. It was based upon my two years in Punjab, India (1968-1970).
I had forgotten somewhat how the narrative unfolds. So I read it again this summer to see what I would think of it.
If someone is looking for a patriotic book that only praises America, the Peace Corps, the US Government, then this is not the book. It pokes a lot of fun and criticism at the USA. And it does not spare India either. So one should read it with an open mind. If one does not have something to say, then why bother to write the book?
The book has not been sanitized by a corporatist publishing company to make it safe for a neoliberal global agenda.
The book has some love affairs. Not unusual. This often happens in life itself, so it should not be surprising to discover it between the pages of a novel. One might be surprised at how many people object to such things. So many Americans seem to have a puritanical bent of mind. Often hypocritically, however. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
Reading the book after three years, I was rather surprised. I hoped that I could look at it somewhat more objectively. Quite frankly, I was surprised at how good it was. I just don’t know of very many books that describe life in Punjab as well as this one does. Prakash Tandon, of course, Punjabi Century and Beyond Punjab are great books. But a somewhat different genre.
I found the book to be such a revealing description of life in a remote village in Punjab and in the towns in those days. Now that was fifty years ago. Half a century of water under the bridge. The book is quite funny in many places. The book is not only literature, but a political and economic analysis of a developing country without all the academic jargon. British colonialism, Indian politics, and the USA in the global system. America as an imperialist hegemon. A good deal of political economy spills out of the pages. And what the locals think of America and Indian politics might be interesting.
The love scenes spice up the book somewhat, breaking the monotony of village life. The dichotomy between the city and the countryside is stark. Escape is necessary to keep one’s relative sanity.
The perspective of the left in India, the relevant communist analysis of society emerges. Comrades are in the street, some actual members of the Communist Party of India. The author finds their analysis honest and convincing. They are often hauled off to jail. Actually, I think the members of the US State Department could benefit by reading this book. They could certainly learn something. This would surely be their ruination, as a part of that outfit. Unfortunately.
The author cannot resist mentioning the stupid things one hears on VOA, the Voice of America. Actually, the voice of Dick Nixon in the late 1960s. One picked it up on shortwave radio, the twenty-five meter band in India. Dick, the US President, hates the Peace Corps and sets out to kill it. Or as much of it as he can. He almost did. The US Presidick, for the author.
It always amused me how US congressmen in Washington were afraid to send young Americans abroad, especially to developing countries. What were they so afraid of? Why, simply that they might learn something and bring their ideas back to America. The old mushroom syndrome once again. Keep the people in the dark and pile horse shit on them. That’s the way one grows mushrooms. Americans are mushrooms. No shit. But why insult mushrooms? They are useful.
I will not even mention Tiny Hands Trump. Things can always get worse.
There is a good deal of satire in the book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it again.
It came to my mind that it would be incredibly instructive for students in a South Asian studies program in an American university to read. It is very informative in a simply way. But I don’t think that most American professors would have the courage to use it in their classes. The book steps on too many toes and is too unorthodox. Political correctness has ruined so much freedom in academia, it seems. The very place that it should not be ruined.
I am not saying that this is a great novel, as a novel. I do not claim to have any expertise to evaluate the book as a novel. But it is an interesting story. I think that it is a fun book. It is full of ideas. I just had some things that I wanted to say, and so I said them in the form of a novel. I would like to think that I have learned something living outside the USA for a third of a century. And all in so-called developing countries.
I guess that young Indians, especially Punjabis, might enjoy reading it. That is, if they knew about it. So many know English. The book is written in very simple language. It is also good just for entertainment. That is, if one has a critical and intellectual bent of mind.
It is not a bad book to have on one’s book shelf.
July 21, 2019. Akarca, Seferihisar, Turkey
Images of Punjab in the 1960s
Originally posted at TomDispatch.
Headlined “U.S. Seeks Other Ways to Stop Iran Shy of War,” the article was tucked away on page A9 of a recent New York Times. Still, it caught my attention. Here’s the first paragraph:
“American intelligence and military officers are working on additional clandestine plans to counter Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf, pushed by the White House to develop new options that could help deter Tehran without escalating tensions into a full-out conventional war, according to current and former officials.”
Note that “Iranian aggression.” The rest of the piece, fairly typical of the tone of American media coverage of the ongoing Iran crisis, included sentences like this: “The C.I.A. has longstanding secret plans for responding to Iranian provocations.” I’m sure I’ve read such things hundreds of times without ever really stopping to think much about them, but this time I did. And what struck me was this: rare is the moment in such mainstream news reports when Americans are the “provocative” ones (though the Iranians immediately accused the U.S. military of just that, a provocation, when it came to the U.S. drone its Revolutionary Guard recently shot down either over Iranian air space or the Strait of Hormuz). When it comes to Washington’s never-ending war on terror, I think I can say with reasonable confidence that, in the past, the present, and the future, the one phrase you’re not likely to find in such media coverage will be “American aggression.”
I mean, forget the history of the second half of the last century and all of this one so far. Forget that back in the Neolithic age of the 1980s, before Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein turned out to be the new Adolf Hitler and needed to be taken down by us (no aggression there), the administration of President Ronald Reagan actively backed his unprovoked invasion of, and war against, Iran. (That included his use of chemical weapons against Iranian troop concentrations that American military intelligence helped him target.) Forget that, in 2003, the administration of George W. Bush launched an unprovoked war of aggression against Iraq, based on false intelligence about Saddam’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and his supposed links to al-Qaeda. Forget that the Trump administration tore up a nuclear agreement with Iran to which that country was adhering and which would indeed have effectively prevented it from producing nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future. Forget that its supreme leader (in fatwas he issued) prohibited the creation or stockpiling of such weaponry in any case.
Forget that the Trump administration, in a completely unprovoked manner, imposed crippling sanctions on that country and its oil trade, causing genuine suffering, in hopes of toppling that regime economically as Saddam Hussein’s had been toppled militarily in neighboring Iraq in 2003, all in the name of preventing the atomic weapons that the Obama-negotiated pact had taken care of. Forget the fact that an American president, who, at the last moment, halted air strikes against Iranian missile bases (after one of their missiles shot down that American drone) is now promising that an attack on “anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force… In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration.”
Provocations? Aggression? Perish the thought!
And yet, just ask yourself what Washington and the Pentagon might do if an Iranian drone were spotted off the East Coast of the United States (no less in actual U.S. air space). No more need be said, right?
So here’s the strange thing, on a planet on which, in 2017, U.S. Special Operations forces deployed to 149 countries, or approximately 75% of all nations; on which the U.S. has perhaps 800 military garrisons outside its own territory; on which the U.S. Navy patrols most of its oceans and seas; on which U.S. unmanned aerial drones conduct assassination strikes across a surprising range of countries; and on which the U.S. has been fighting wars, as well as more minor conflicts, for years on end from Afghanistan to Libya, Syria to Yemen, Iraq to Niger in a century in which it chose to launch full-scale invasions of two countries (Afghanistan and Iraq), is it truly reasonable never to identify the U.S. as an “aggressor” anywhere?
What you might say about the United States is that, as the self-proclaimed leading proponent of democracy and human rights (even if its president is now having a set of love affairs with autocrats and dictators), Americans consider ourselves at home just about anywhere we care to be on planet Earth. It matters little how we may be armed and what we might do. Consequently, wherever Americans are bothered, harassed, threatened, attacked, we are always the ones being provoked and aggressed upon, never provoking and aggressing. I mean, how can you be the aggressor in your own house, even if that house happens to be temporarily located in Afghanistan, Iraq, or perhaps soon enough in Iran?
A Planet of Aggressors and Provocateurs
To mine the same New York Times piece a little more, here’s another paragraph:
“Some officials believe the United States needs [to] be willing to master the kind of deniable, shadowy techniques Tehran has perfected in order to halt Iran’s aggressions. Others think that, while helpful, such clandestine attacks will not be enough to reassure American allies or deter Iran.”
Of course, such clandestine American attacks would, by definition, not be “aggression,” not given that they were directed against Iran. Forget the grim historical humor lurking in the above passage, since the present Iranian religious hard-liners probably wouldn’t be there if, back in 1953, the CIA hadn’t used just such techniques to overthrow a democratically elected Iranian government and install its own autocrat, the young Shah, in power.
As that Times piece also emphasizes, Iran now uses “proxy forces” throughout the region (indeed it does!) against U.S. (and Israeli) power, a tactic Americans evidently just hadn’t thought about employing themselves in this century – until now. Americans naturally have no proxy forces in the Greater Middle East. That’s a well-known fact. Just out of curiosity, however, what would you call the local forces our special ops guys are training and advising in so many of those 149 countries around the planet, since obviously they could never be proxy forces? And how about the Afghan and Iraqi militaries that the U.S. trained, supplied with weaponry, and advised in these years? (You know, the Iraqi army that collapsed in the face of ISIS in 2014 or the Afghan security forces that have been unable to staunch either the growthof the Taliban or of the Afghan branch of ISIS.)
Now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, the Iranians can (and sometimes do) provoke and aggress. It’s an ugly planet filled with aggression and provocation. (Take Vladimir Putin’s Russia in Crimea and Ukraine, for instance.) The Chinese are now aggressing in the South China Sea where the U.S. Navy regularly conducts “freedom of navigation” operations – though no provocation there, as the Pacific’s an American lake, isn’t it?
In short, when it comes to provocation and aggression, the world is our oyster. There are so many bad guys out there and then, of course, there’s us. We can make mistakes and missteps, we can kill staggering numbers of civilians, destroy cities, uproot populations, create hordes of refugees with our never-ending wars across the Greater Middle East and Africa, but aggression? What are you thinking?
One thing is obvious if you follow the mainstream media: in our world, no matter what we do, we’re still the good guys on a planet filled with provocateurs and aggressors of every sort.
War to the Horizon
Now let’s think for a moment about that remarkable American comfort level, that unprecedented sense of being at home practically anywhere on Earth we choose to send armed Americans – and while we’re at it, let’s consider a related subject: America’s wars.
If, in the early 1970s, you had told me or any other American that, in the nearly half-century to come, the U.S. would fight wars and other lesser conflicts of almost every imaginable sort in startling numbers of places thousands of miles from home, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, countries most Americans couldn’t then (or now) find on a map, I guarantee you one thing: we would have thought you were nuts. (Of course, if you had described Donald Trump’s White House to me then as our future reality, I would have considered you beyond delusional.)
And yet here we are. Think about Afghanistan for a moment. In those distant days of the last century, that country would undoubtedly have been known here only to small numbers of young adventurers eager to hike what was then called “the hippy trail.” There, in a still remarkably peaceful place, a young American might have been greeted with remarkable friendliness and then spaced out on drugs.
That, of course, was before Washington’s first (covert) Afghan War, the one the CIA oversaw, with the help of Saudi money (yes, even then!) and a major hand from the Pakistani intelligence services. Do you remember that conflict, which began in 1979 and ended a decade later with the Red Army limping out of Kabul in defeat, heading for a land, the Soviet Union, which would implode within two years? What a “victory” that proved to be for America, not to speak of the groups of extremist Islamic militants we helped to fund and support, including a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden.
And keep in mind as well that that was our “short” war in Afghanistan, a mere decade long. In October 2001, soon after the 9/11 attacks, instead of launching a police action against Osama bin Laden and crew, the administration of George W. Bush decided to invade that country. Almost 18 years later, the U.S. military is still fighting there (remarkably unsuccessfully) against a thoroughly rejuvenated Taliban and a new branch of ISIS. It now qualifies as the longest war in our history (without even adding in that first Afghan War of ours).
And then, of course, there’s Iraq. By my count, the U.S. has been involved in four conflicts involving that country, starting with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980 and the ensuing war, which the administration of President Ronald Reagan supported militarily (as the present one does the Saudi war in Yemen). Then there was President George H.W. Bush’s war against Saddam Hussein after his military invaded Kuwait in 1990, which resulted in a resounding (but by no means conclusive) victory and the kind of victory parade in Washington that Donald Trump can only dream of. Next, of course, was President George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq (mission accomplished!), a grim and unsatisfying eight-year conflict from which President Barack Obama withdrew U.S. troops in 2011. The fourth war followed in 2014 when the U.S.-trained Iraqi military collapsed in the face of relatively small numbers of ISIS militants, a group that was an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which didn’t exist until the U.S. invaded that country. That September, President Obama loosed the U.S. air force on Iraq and Syria (so you can add a fifth war in a neighboring country to the mix) and sent U.S. troops back into Iraq and into Syria where they still remain.
Oh, yes, and don’t forget Somalia. U.S. troubles there began with the famed Black Hawk Down incident amid the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 and never, in a sense, really ended. Today, U.S. Special Operations forces are still on the ground there and U.S. air strikes against a Somali militant Islamic group, al-Shabaab, have actually been on the rise in the Trump era.
As for Yemen, from the first U.S. drone strike there in 2002, the U.S. had been in an on-again, off-again low-level conflict there that included commando raids, cruise missile attacks, air strikes, and drone strikes against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, another offshoot of the original al-Qaeda. Since, in 2015, the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates launched their war against Houthi rebels (backed by Iran) who had come to control significant parts of the country, the U.S. has been supporting them with weaponry, intelligence, and targeting, as well as (until late last year) mid-air refueling and other aid. Meanwhile, that brutal war of destruction has led to staggering numbers of Yemeni civilian casualties (and widespread starvation), but as with so many of the other campaigns the U.S. has involved itself in across the Greater Middle East and Africa it shows no sign of ending.
And don’t forget Libya, where the U.S. and NATO intervened in 2011 to help rebels take down Muammar Gaddafi, the local autocrat, and in the process managed to foster a failed state in a land now experiencing its own civil war. In the years since 2011, the U.S. has sometimes had commandos on the ground there, has launched hundreds of drone strikes (and air strikes), often against a branch of ISIS that grew up in that land. Once again, little is settled there, so we can all continue to sing the Marine Hymn (“…to the shores of Tripoli”) with a sense of appropriateness.
And I haven’t even mentioned Pakistan, Niger, and god knows where else. You should also note that the American forever war on terror has proven a remarkably effective war for terror, clearly helping to foster and spread such groups, aggressors and provocateurs all, around significant parts of the planet, from the Philippines to the Congo.
Addicted to war? Not us. Still, all in all, it’s quite a record and let’s not forget that looming on the horizon is another possible war, this time with Iran, a country that the men overseeing the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (includingpresent National Security Advisor John Bolton) were eager to go after even then. “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad,” so the saying reputedly went in Washington at the time. “Real men want to go to Tehran.” And it’s just possible that, in 2019, Bolton and crew will be able to act on that much delayed urge. Considering the history of American wars in these years, what could possibly go wrong?
To sum up, no one should ever claim that we Americans aren’t “at home” in the world. We’re everywhere, remarkably well funded and well armed and ready to face off against the aggressors and provocateurs of this planet. Just one small suggestion: thank the troops for their service if you want, and then, as most Americans do, go about your business as if nothing were happening in those distant lands. As we head into election season 2020, however, just don’t imagine that we’re the good guys on Planet Earth. As far as I can tell, there aren’t many good guys left.
Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs TomDispatch.comand is a fellow of the Type Media Center. His sixth and latest book is A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books).
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlandsseries) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.
Copyright Tom Engelhardt 2019
The Donald made the right call. Now that’s a rare statement. Calling off – or at least delaying – a military strike on Iran was prudent. Nevertheless, there was something deeply unsettling about the whole thing. The system is broken, perhaps irreparably.
The president never even considered seeking congressional approval before playing emperor and unleashing death and destruction on a sovereign nation. Why would he? Essentially every president, since Truman, has done the same thing one time or another. Unilateral executive action has been the American norm pretty much since World War II wrapped up. Seen in this context, Trump isn’t so anomalous as many would like to believe. Korea kicked off the trend. But the Vietnam advisory mission, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, Libya, and Syria – to name the highlights – were all undertaken without the constitutionally mandated consent of the legislature.
In that sense, a dozen or so more palatable and polite emperors, I mean presidents, paved the way for the coarser and more buffoonish reality TV star currently calling the shots in the White House. Americans’ collective sin of ignoring foreign policy and ceding unilateral power to the executive branch has truly, and definitively, come home to roost. That’s partly why I find the protestations from Democratic lawmakers to be more about partisanship than principles. Genuine legislators – that spent more time following international policy instead of obsessively raising money – would all revolt and restrain the president regardless of their political party. We’re unlikely to see that.
None of this should be seen as a defense or normalization of Trump. The manis scary. His threats, vagueness, and propensity to turn on a policy dime are genuinely disturbing. So is his blatant affinity for autocrats the world over. The point is that I shouldn’t have to give “credit” to Trump when he acts prudently and demonstrates restraint. I, we, should not have to hang on the words and pronouncements of any one man. The populace, the media, the congress should not be relegated to spectators held hostage by the whims of any one man.
It doesn’t necessarily matter whether that person is Donald Trump or Barack Obama, per say. The system, as designed in the Constitution, judiciously places the supreme power of warfare squarely on Capitol Hill, on the collective judgment of the peoples’ elected representatives. Discussion, debate, deliberation – these ought to be the hallmarks of any rather profound decision to kill and maim other humans. Instead, in 21st century America, we “elect” – not necessarily by the popular vote count – an emperor and then watch and see what he does with our military and, heck, our nuclear arsenal for that matter.
Which places this author, and all Americans really, in the awkward, and pathetic, position of having to praise the lunatic-in-chief for not doing the unthinkable. All of us feast on the decisional scraps of one Donald Trump. It’s been normalized to such an extent that hardly anyone notices any longer. All Americans are essentially too trapped in the Matrix of imperial war to recognize the crumbing of national institutions. It easy (and somewhat accurate) to blame congress, or the media, or various presidents themselves, but the rot runs much deeper. Average Americans have forgotten how to be true citizens, forgotten how to mobilize in the streets and demand change. Too busy eking out a living after forty years of working wage stagnation, and no longer required to serve in America’s imperial wars, the people have opted out. We’re all guilty, all complicit, in the hijacking of the Constitution. So it was that I personally endured combat in two ill-advised, immoral wars in the Greater Middle East.
See, there are consequences for executive overreach and popular apathy. We can count the costs to the tune of $5.9 trillion spent, some 7,000 American soldiers killed, and about 480,000 dead foreigners. All of this occurred with either a congressional rubber stamp or, often, no stamp at all. While congressmen and senators were busy dialing-for-dollars, my soldiers were in the field killing and dying in rather real wars. I’m sure thankful that I’m out of the business of death-dealing, but also remain deeply unsettled by the knowledge that any war in Iran will affect, and forever damage, a new generation of officers and soldiers. Americans will then vacuously thank, and hollowly adulate, the troops involved. Almost no one will ask why those servicemen were sent to war in the first place, or question the process by which they were sent. All the while, the last remnants of the American republic will continue to crumble.
So here we are, hostages to one – rather disconcerting – man, Mr. Donald Trump. We’ll collectively wait for his decision on whether to call off, delay, or launch a new Mideast war, this time with Iran. It’s absurd and need not be this way. Citizens, real citizens I mean, could hit the streets, flood their congressmen’s’ offices, and shut down the whole damn country until the president adheres to the Constitution. It’s genuinely possible, but, of course, will not happen.
Instead, we’ll all remain glued to our TVs and phones, wondering what the emperor will do next. And when that supreme leader decides, occasionally, to show restraint, I’ll be in the awkward and insane position of giving Donald Trump “credit” when he doesn’t embark on another illegal war in our name. And more’s the pity.
Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer and regular contributor toAntiwar.com. His work has appeared in the LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Truthdig, Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.
Copyright 2019 Danny Sjursen
St. John’s Church and South Park Street Cemetery (India Blog 24)
At 9:00 in the morning, I got a taxi to St. John’s Church. I told the driver: “Near Calcutta High Court” I thought it might help.
I guess it did. The guy knew where the high court was. He took me there, then stopped in front of it.
I said, “No, not the court, I want to go to the church. I think that he did not understand “church.” There was a young guy there who looked like a student. The driver asked him and he told him the way. The church was just a short distance farther.
I got to the church and made some pictures. There are several tombs around the church. They have inscriptions. One can see that many of the British died quite young here. That is, the ones who did not get rich and go back to England. Disease and malaria got a lot of people in the terrible climate.
Job Charnock, for example, is buried near the church.
I went inside the church and made some pictures. A few other foreigners on tours were also there.
I think that I was the only one that was there on their own. I like to take my own time. My own sweet time.
I am not rushing. I’ve been dragging my pecker through the crud for nearly three-quarters of a century. Three-quarters of a fucking century. And what a fucking one it has been when one looks at the history.
And the next one is likely to be worse from all indications at the present time! As far as I can tell.
Back to the church. The sword and the Bible! The twin pillars of Western Imperialism. That was the second half of the formula for imperial rule. Imperial plunder, to be more exact.
And it ain’t over yet, baby! Hoisting entire nations on the mighty petard of the US dollar by the big banks in New York City. In case that fails, just bomb the fuck out of them. When they refuse to take orders. The missionary business is rather old school today. They will be softened up with bombs.
It is a beautiful life. A beautiful world. If one is lucky enough to dodge the bombs. Those bombs that bring, of course, national security, political stability, and of course, peace.
That’s what we learn in international relations courses. So-called.
I took about 30 film pictures. More by cell phone.
When I departed the dearly beloved St. John’s church, I got a taxi to Park Street. This was truly amazing. When I asked the driver how much, he pointed to the taxi meter. My God! You mean those ancient things actually work? I had no idea that they did. Or that they were ever used. It said 30 rupees when we started and went up to 70 rupees at Park Street. The driver even pointed out things along the way, like “The Bengal Commandos.” A military outfit, presumably.
The traffic was one way on park street at the time, the wrong way, so he could not go to the cemetery at number 52.
I just gave him 100 rupees. Amazingly, the guy reached to give me back some change. I thought: “What kind of Calcuttan is this strange creature?”
I just said: “Its okay” and let him keep the change.
From there I had to walk east on Park Street. It was good that I did, because it was a good place for pictures with my cell phone. And a pleasant walk in an area quite a lot more upscale that Sudder Street. There were more upscale shops and restaurants, more like Connaught Place in Delhi.
I noticed signs up around the city. They said that the city of Calcutta was offering a 65 percent discount on paying traffic fines. Just pay 35 percent of the fine and get cleared. But there was a deadline of a month or so.
Obviously, no one is bothering to pay the fines. So they are settling for pennies on the dollar. Or rather paise on the rupee.
I walked past several people wrapped up in blankets along the sidewalk along the way. And several shoe-shine wallas. It was a good long walk.
I had just recognized that I had come to the cemetery wall when an older woman asked me: “Can I help you?”
I said, “I am going to the cemetery. It is here, I think.”
There are some people who genuinely want to help one. And I appreciated that.
I just came in front of the gate and went inside. They charge one fifty rupees if one has a camera. It seems silly, because just about everyone has a cell phone that will take pictures today.
The St. John’s Church fee was ten rupees. This was fifty. A big discount on salvation and sin, it seems, as Woody Guthrie remarked. But there is a more hefty charge for dying. There is a premium on dying. The fee for getting put out of one’s misery, perhaps. Possibly worth it.
So I paid up and went inside. It was amazing! The huge tombstones that they had put up there! Fruits of the Empire, I guess. But in the first row of monuments, I realized that there were piles of trash behind some of the big grave stones. I walked on and tried taking pictures with my Leica 35 mm lens. I needed my 28 mm lens, but had not brought it.
There were many old tombstones. They were very old and enormous. I mean, really big. Some of them go back to the 1700s (eighteenth century).
I put my last roll of Ilford black and white film into my Leica and hoped the pictures would come out good.
There were some people living in the cemetery. Not many. But I thought that it was a bad policy if they let squatters take over the place, while they are charging to see it as a sort of tourist attraction. I thought that if they could restore all those tombstones, how beautiful the place would be. But maybe, some would prefer the thick moss that had started growing on them, showing how old they really were.
I walked on around and made pictures of several of the huge stones. Toward the back of the cemetery, they are not as close together and it is easier to shoot pictures of them there.
I was about to finish my film, so used my cell phone for many of them.
When I was leaving, the guy at the gate asked me to sign the book. There is a place to make some comments.
I did sign it and put down my place of residence as Izmir, Turkey. I said that the cemetery was very interesting from a historical point of view. The British must have thought of themselves as small maharajas to put up those huge grave stones, monuments over their graves. I think they could do it because labour was cheap and plentiful, essentially free for them. And the profits from the East India Company in India were so enormous. I wanted to make a comment about the lack of maintenance, but decided to just leave it at that. It is too bad that the place cannot be restored as it is so rich in history.
I started to walk back and notices that now Park Street was one way in the opposite east direction. I managed to cross to the north side of the street, but not easily.
I wanted to look for a restaurant. At one point, there was a crossing with lights, but people were just going out into the traffic. They were taking a chance and the drivers seemed rather ready to challenge a pedestrian.
My goodness! I waited and crossed in a crowd of people, but even that was not very safe. Absolute madness!
I came across some book stalls on the side walk. I looked at the books. But I did not want to load myself down with more books. The one I had would do me for the trip.
At one book store they had a sign in the window that they changed dollars. So I went in and changed another one-hundred dollars. They told be that the Kwality Restaurant was just down the street. So I walked. Man! By this time, I was pretty tired from all that walking. I needed a rest and some refreshment.
I found the Kwality Restaurant and went inside. A very nice place. It looked very big inside, but only because one side was a mirror, the full length of the place. I sat down on some comfortable seats in a corner.
I ordered a type of malai kofta and nan. I was afraid that they would not have beer. And I was keenly in the market for one after all that walking. Man! I was relieved when the waiter said that they did. He brought a big beautiful bottle of cold Kingfisher Beer. I started sucking it down as I rested my tired feet.
The food came, and then I had a second one of those big beers. Man! That was great! The class of Indians in there was totally different. Middle class.
A group of eight was sitting next to my table. A sort of family affair. They may have been rather socially conservative. But I very much liked one attractive middle aged woman, around fifty, who was sitting over across from me. I don’t know. She was very attractive. Most women have been familied and fatted out. I drank the second beer more slowly watching the scene in the restaurant. I also enjoyed the tasty mango pickles, achar, with the food.
Man! I went out of that place a renewed man. Restored my faith in India. Well, that would be going a little too far. But it made me realize that I do like these types of experiences in India. The ones that are quality experiences.
That is not meant as a pun. And seeing some decent looking women, not all the peasants on the street who have recently come from the villages.
I took a taxi back toward Sudder Street. It was actually closer than I realized.
The driver could not go all the way and let me off at a very busy corner.
The traffic was absolute chaos. Absolute madness!
So I just stood in front of a shop on a corner for quite a long time taking shots of the street and people with my cell phone. I made about 325 pictures with my cell phone, just today.
I walked the rest of the way to Sudder Street. This street is driving me mad! Beggars calling out to you on the street. I said: “Oh, I have so many friends in Sudder Street. They just call out to you as you walk down the street. Of course, they are poor, but they have made begging into a profession. One can see how they are training up their children in the same way. Showing them just how to do it.
Actually, I met a guy on the sidewalk there who said that he was going to train some street kids not to be beggars. I told him that I hope that it is successful.
He asked me how I liked the city. I said that it is a great city. But a difficult city. I knew that before I came, but I had always wanted to visit the city.
Corporatist Rule for India? (India Blog 17)
Monday 10 December. 5:00 Morning. Kolkata (Calcutta)
There was a big argument going on in the street last night. One guy was just shouting to the top of his lungs for the longest time. It is a matter of live or die and I don’t think they have much to lose if they die. One sees these guys sleeping on the sidewalks in the daytime, wrapped up in some old rag of a blanket and it seems like they are just laying there and suffering. They are just living it out till they die literally on the spot and someone comes and picks up their body.
I saw one person, a man, wrapped up in a dirty blanket on the sidewalk just nearby the hotel yesterday. There were flies swarming around him. (Another call to prayer is going down now. They need more prayer.) Flies were sitting on that dirty blanket. I wondered if the guy was already dead. People usually walk in the road, anyway, not the sidewalk. There are so many obstructions. On the sidewalks, people just go around the wrapped-up bodies.
Well, people walk on the roads in Turkey too. I am very used to that.
Society is badly broken with that going on. Mother Teresa was just a sort of band-aid for the misery and poverty. I cannot say that what she was doing was not good and kind, but I can say that it is just a meliorative, a palliative that can do nothing to reach or address the root if the problem. Broken down society, broken down world.
At the same time, there is a lot of closeness in families, big families. Sometimes communalism emerges. And people try to put one in a box: Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, American, British, French, Bangladeshi. And sometimes there is hatred for what one seemingly is.
I get the idea that USA or American propaganda has worked here and I am embarrassed when guys (I have not talked to a single woman yet in this country in casual conversation), when people come out with big compliments about “America.” I don’t know if they are serious or just trying to please me.
I get the idea that they are much more favourable toward America than the Turks, who are just about one-hundred percent cynical, not believing anything that the USA puts out. Recent figures showed that the US image was the lowest in Turkey of any country in the world. Largely a result of the US screwing around in Iraq, Syria and Iran. Causing trouble everywhere.
I have to get a shower this morning before those Australians get up and use up all the hot water!
I noticed that the reviews of Calcutta that I have seen on Youtube never mention the huge mosque that is here. They usually talk about the two big Hindu temple complexes.
The Islamic sections of the city seem invisible to them.
Now the birds. I don’t know if they are crows, have suddenly come to life and are calling loudly. It is 5:21 in the morning.
I think that I saw one nice-looking dog in this city yesterday. And yesterday, there were two Dalmatians, hunting dogs, apparently, mean and ready to attack, at this hotel. The dogs on the street are miserable. There are a few cats. They too, are mostly miserable.
M.N. Roy, the Indian communist wrote about why Hindus hate cats. And wrote a book from the cat’s perspective. Autobiography of a Cat, I think. It is great. Very witty. He wrote it in an Indian prison, where he was kept for years by the British.
Strange thing is that I feel almost at home in this city.
People sometimes call out to one on the street, but it is best just to ignore them. Some women around the hotel are doing the milk powder scam. I just ignore them. That scam is overworked. There should be signs with a warning.
AVOID THE MILK POWDER SCAM WOMEN!
The last thing they want is milk powder!
And about the street vendors. I will say that they are trying to help themselves. They have found a way to survive and protect themselves by organizing and unionizing. That is far better than seeking charity. They survive through a very difficult struggle.
But when I look at the whole thing, my view has to be that only some sort of rule from the top could save such a society. Population growth must be controlled. Either left-wing, right-wing, Hindu fascist, or other nationalist ideology, maybe religious nationalism combined with Bharat, Indian nationalism.
Corporatist rule from the top. I am almost reduced to advocating it.
In Bengal, it could be Netijiism, from Subas Chandra Bose. Bengali nationalism, something that people could believe in and accept and impose strict discipline on society. There seems to be a complete lack of discipline in this society.
It might break down at some point, as in the Soviet Union, or in Turkey and Argentina, but it will have improved society and made things better for most people.
The historical model comes from Saint Simon in France. Science and engineering of society. Ataturk picked it up for Turkey. Stalin in the Soviet Union. A form of Jacobinism.
In Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan is the using the same model as Ataturk, as far as top-down rule is concerned. Jacobinism. Just different underlying ideas. It is top-down rule and the state can impose some discipline on society. I guess that India is the closest thing to anarchy in existence.
In India, the Nehru, Gandhi, Patel, model failed. A historical period of corporatist rule might have done wonders. Now, it may be too late. They missed the historical window of opportunity.