Inconsistent Fragments

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Dead Man's Last Smoke

Bijan Sen, professor of mathematics and experienced man of the world, had a quietly superior attitude expressed well by the slight yet marked pout of his lower lip. At 55, he looked older than his age. He was a wizard at figures and accounts, and also a man with a generous heart. He'd have unopened packets of Wills Navy Cut cigarettes in his side bag, which he would produce with a flourish upon request, and distribute without reserve. He wasn't liked by all, but everyone who was a smoker seemed to be fond of Bijan Sen's free smokes.

It was a shock to hear on the phone in the early morning of 24th August that he had died a couple of hours before. Even in the throes of death, he didn't give up his calm, unhurried attitude -- he didn't think it was necessary to call a doctor until it was a few minutes before the end. Colleagues and friends didn't delay in rushing there, many (myself included) for the first time. Last rites were taken care of, and over the next few days his 'estate' was put in order, mostly by his colleagues. There seemed to be some kind of mutual lack of trust among his relations, so the colleagues were the safest choice because they had nothing to gain by fuzzing anything. It was while going through the contents of his familiar side bag that one of us found the last packet of Wills Navy Cut bought by the deceased, some hours before his death.

The packet was brought to the college the next day, and opened in the library. The tobacco junkies were all there, as also were the occasional smokers. For this was an occasion indeed -- Bijan Sen's last smokes.

When there was only one cigarette left, I brought it away to my home, along with the packet. After dinner, I sat in front of the computer and smoked it in a leisurely manner. I told my wife about it, and she stared at me -- probably horrified by the idea. She had never met him, and only tangentially heard of him. Bijan Sen's memory went up in smoke in my bedroom. That was absolutely the final cigarette anyone would ever coax out of him, and I felt a curious satisfaction in being that last beneficiary.

The empty packet I have preserved in the hand-drawer in my computer desk. I intend to keep it there, but perhaps someday I'll forget its significance and throw it out.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Seems I relaxed too soon. Another week of terrible pressure, mostly regarding income tax. Someone once told me that income tax comprises only a tiny bit of the government's revenue. In fact, many countries around the world have no income tax, or so I hear. So why doesn't some party or other take this up in their election agenda -- surely they'd win? And by abolishing income tax they'd be earning the immortal gratitude of millions of middle class people, and they can then remain in power for a thousand years... Can anyone tell me why no one ever speaks of doing this?

Which puts me in an economic frame of mind. Two problems that I sometimes think about.

First problem. A friend's father took a bank loan and bought an apartment in a posh location in Calcutta. He was at that time located outside Calcutta, at his workplace. For the remaining period of his service, he rented out the place to the very bank from which he took the loan. The apartment was situated on the top floor of the building whose first three floors were occupied by the bank, so it was a good place for them to rent because late shift employees and other staff who needed to stay over could be simply sent upstairs. The rent was roughly equal to the monthly instalments he had to pay on the loan, so they cancelled out each other, and he didn't have to pay them anything, and vice versa. A few months after retiring from his job, the loan period was also ended. He then refused the next contract renewal with the bank, and walked into the place, which was now fully owned by him.
My question is, where's the catch? It seems to me like this fellow never actually did anything or invested anything, and a piece of real estate just dropped into his lap after some years of careful planning. But you're not supposed to get something out of nothing, so what did this fellow do to get this?

Second problem. Not really a problem, but funny little incident. There's a restaurant near my home where I'm a regular visitor, and they have my name in their computerised database, so whenever they draw up a bill in my name, the machine automatically applies a 'frequent customer' rebate to the gross value. Now they have a policy that any order under Rs.300/- will enjoy a rebate of 5%, and any order equalling or exceeding that amount will enjoy 10%. I guess this arrangement is supposed to be economically beneficial to them. This story is about how it may not be so beneficial after all.
The other day I was having a light snack there, and the bill came up to Rs.298/-. After deducting 5%, it was Rs.284/-, rounded off. I looked at the bill, and made a calculation. If I addded a little something to the order, say a soft drink worth Rs.10/-, that would bring up the total to Rs.308/-. But then I'd be in 10% territory. So I'd actually have to pay Rs.277/-, rounded off. Which was Rs.7/- less than what I'd pay if I did not take the soft drink! However, I didn't feel like drinking a fizzy drink right then, so I ordered it and then gave it to a waiter with my compliments. And to this date they haven't scratched my name from that rebate database!

But too much money talk depresses me, perhaps because I never seem to have enough of the stuff. I'll go to bed now, with this dog-eared copy of the Wolverine: The Origin comic book that my cousin lent me the other day. A rare evening I had today, with nothing much to do except play some ludo with my wife.

Good night.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Feeling free now

Just finished a very exhausting spate of work, feeling ready to fall down and sleep for fifteen hours. First the exam papers, then the medical ethics presentation, and then this h-u-g-e-l-y demanding article on server os comparison. And to think I did it only for 25 dollars :-(
Well, I guess 25 dollars for a day's work isn't too bad for a developing-world college teacher. But it was really very demanding. Maybe they'll pay extra for those extra pages I had to do. I wonder why they always seem to assign fewer pages than a project actually needs. Minimising order value?
Which is why I couldn't post yerterday, of course.
Good night, all.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Please help arranging this page

I'm trying to put google adsense on my page, so I can perhaps earn a dollar or two, but as you can see, I'm very bad with page layouts, and know next to nothing about html coding. This is the best I could do with my limited skills, editing the template. Other blogs on blogspot have such fantastic layouts - I don't know how they do it. I spent most of today trying to figure it out, but you see the bad positioning of the google ad-s. If you're any good at this sort of thing, please help me out - leave a message or something.

I meant to write about the RTI act modification, in the light of which my comments of yesterday sound almost prophetic. But there's no time - I have to finish a presentation, start an article and mark at least 15 exam papers before the night has ended!

So here's a url instead. I hope it's a permanent link.

That's all for today, folks. Unless I have some spare time after the 15 papers :-)

Totally irrelevant plug: Firefox is a bloody good product, and so is the google toolbar for it. If you don't know how or where to get it, take a hard look at the sidebar :-)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

First Post

Normally I don't think much of blogs. The phenomenon has largely bypassed me. I mean how is it worthwhile to read what (mostly) unaccomplished writers put on their pages? It provides a space for what someone recently called "citizens' journalism", but the hype, I thought, and still think, is way overblown. Totally disproportionate with its modest actual value.

However, I am urged by circumstances to start this. A couple of days ago a number of ISP-s in my country, India, suddenly blocked many blogging sites, allegedly at the behest of the Union government. Many web forums erupted in protest; there was much talk of taking it up with politicians at formal and personal levels. Comparisons were made with similar restrictions in China. NDTV and maybe some other channels covered the news on national television.

What worked, I don't know. I have no truck with politicians, nor with those who do. But the blogs seem to have returned, as of last night. Which is good. And I decided that it was perhaps a good time to start one of my own.

Not because I have a lot to say here, or that I see much value in most blogs (which I don't), but simply because blogging has been threatened, and the threat might return. Our freedom is not guaranteed. Someone famous (one of the early American nationalists?) once said something to the effect that the price of perfect freedom is constant vigil. The retreat of the reactionaries may be only temporary, while they take measure of the protest. Perhaps we shall see more severe blocking in the days to come.

And it is indeed sad to see that India has now joined the global trend of suppressing citizens' liberties in the name of fighting terror. More on that in a later post, perhaps.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, if someone tries to suppress one of my essential liberties, it will be my sacred duty to try to exercise that liberty, on peril of distress, no matter whether I usually exercised it under normal circumstances. If I weren't a religious man, I should still make it a point to go to a temple, if suddenly the government banned all temple-going.

In that selfsame spirit, here's my blog, and here's my first post.