Sunday, April 22, 2007

A box of Sardines and all that

Looking back now, I realize my family was a lot different from the others around us. May be it is because of their stay in United States and Britain. May be because they were actually different. Or perhaps, it was a combination of both. I had no way of knowing that then. Life in Siliguri back in eighties was very unlike what we see around us now. No store in out local market had a refrigerator - we had to travel an hour to the city proper to get such "basic necessities" like butter and cheese. And while there, we used to pick up other not so necessary stuff too. Like a pack of sausages or a can of baked beans. Or a box or two of Sardines.

Few people in the neighborhood had much idea about those non conventional food items, leave alone actually having them for lunch. But those lunches were really kind of like special occasions for my family, at least for my sister and me. We prodded our mother for weeks to open up that box of Sardine, and when that day finally came we would wait impatiently till the lunch hour and then fight bitterly to grab the slightly bigger piece. And when all that left were those empty tin boxes, we would wonder why we would not get more. The reason was simple though - they cost a fortune compared to regular foodstuff. They were a luxury in those days, and probably that is why we enjoyed those occasional special lunches so much.

How things have changed. I can grab those boxes of Sardines from local supermarket shelf so easily now. And it hardly takes five minutes to finish up a box and carelessly toss it away to trash. And it costs under a dollar, much less than most of other stuff. And, funnily, it hardly feels like anything special.

A monumental difference in living standards? A gradual change of mentality? Both perhaps. Or neither.

Epilogue: I am sure it sounds oh so nostalgic, is not it? However, someone gave me an entirely different perspective. Mutton was so easily available there - which is almost like a luxury here. So it has got to do as much with general food habit as much with the standard of living. Sounds pretty logical, I must admit. However, to me, those boxes still rekindle old memories, memories from those days, when it was so much easier to be happy. All that needed was a box of Sardines. Or two.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

It could have been any university in any town...

As America reacted in stunned disbelief, and we tried to come in terms with this useless tragedy - I was already hearing jarring notes. Fox focused too much on the "Asian" part, conservative politicians sprang on to the defence of the second amendment (that's the section which gives Americans the right to carry guns) and I heard someone talking about why we are not equally upset over hundred times more American deaths in Iraq. Then, later in the day, people from India expressed surprise that why it is such a big deal, when America has such an easy access to guns and just stopped short of calling me a hypocrite for being so upset, when I apparently did not care for poor people dying over there.

Well folks, people losing lives anywhere is sad. However, one has to understand the perspective. We may or may not support the war in Iraq - but the brave soldiers sent there had little say in that matter. And when they are in a war ravaged (again, its immaterial for the present context whose creation this war is) area, they are faced with the inherent danger of getting hit by a gunshot. It is almost a part of their jobs. Unfortunately, in an academic institution , students and faculty are not expecting that. That's why people were more shocked by this, which doesn't translate into any disrespect for anyone else. It was just a coincidence the guy was indeed Asian - his racial identity has as little to do with the entire episode as its settings - it could easily have been any campus town any where in the country. That is the real scary part - we all in academia can identify with the settings, and that's why the grief is so personal. Faceless strangers die everyday around the world, and as long as we can not identify with them, they remain just a sad piece of statistics in news stories. This was so real - we go to similar classrooms everyday, in similar surroundings - and now we would always be scared that some frustrated soul may just empty a gun at us. After all, those are embarrassingly easy to get - and I do not see that changing in near future.

Such a wastage. So meaningless.