Sunday, August 9, 2009

Just Pontification 2: Where have all the Children gone!

After many days, I participated in a full Bengali Family Wedding celebration. As you know weddings are eventually meant for raising families with children and not as a reason for living together. I will come to that later.

Weddings are also a happy occasion for families to get together. Almost the entire of the surviving joint Ganguly family was there.

Before going anywhere on any discussion it is normal for any healthy family get-together to first discuss the culinary delights which necessarily compensates, if necessary, for all the stresses and distresses of the occasion. Take care of the skin as they say and the kin takes care of themselves. After all, all communications are through interfaces.

The food was beyond compare, especially for alien or prabashi Bengalis like myself. It was authentic ghoti Bangali cooking and included its normal quota of rasgolla and sandesh including some imported from Kolkata. There was among other excellent dishes the following:-
shukto (which can be authentic in several ways, but must have poshto and ginger),
aloo poshto :poshto or poppy seeds contain opium. Besides being a coolant and being rich in calcium; its extract is among the best for sleeplessness or insomnia and also explains why Bengali gentlemen, the real bhadralok types, cannot do without their sleep after a good meal; --- as a sardar son-in-law noted immediately. Authentic poshto cooking requires grinding on stone (there is no two ways about it) and is disappearing in modern “mixy”-equipped kitchens.
chanchra : a dish Bengalis love made from left overs --- vegetables, fish’s head and entrails--- which proper Bengalis love to love; my late Eton and Oxford bar-at-law Gounder Jamibabu, the best of best men, could not get himself to not loathe it --- he wouldn't even get himself to pronounce it properly!. Your bengaliness depends on how much you love a chanchra, which only good cooks and mothers can make.
Sorsebata Ilish maacher jhaal: Hilsa fish, like the salmon or the shad, are sea fish which swim upstream to spawn. They are best to taste in rivers of the Gangetic delta of Bengal, especially Bangladesh. The taste of the Ilish maach is proportional to the number of bones and so, for a proper Bengali, you intuitively/instinctively pick out the bones from the fish and your mouth and pile them neatly on your plate, without ever breaking your conversation. This dish is properly made using ground (on stone as always) mustard of the pungent Indian kind, tamarind or tetul (especially if you are from Bangladesh), poshto, large number of green chillies to give the hot jhaal or gravy. The father of the bride imported the fish directly from Kolkata during the wedding.

Having discussed the cooking, we are now free to discuss other matters.

This wedding was not, however, really the wedding celebration of our youth, in one important, and at first unnoticed, way.

It differed not so much by the infectiousness of the family enthusiasm, especially from those of our generation. The family celebrating their daughter’s wedding were wonderful people simply because they --- father, mother, son, daughter and daughter-in-law---refused to find any fault in anybody except themselves, if at all it was necessary to find fault, since things were so seamless and smooth.

Nor did this wedding differ by the number or nature of the “clever”, typically “ganguly baadi” comments, which we attributed to our paternal grandmother’s father, who, of course, was not a ganguly. The generation next to ours came up with equal quality “clever” lines.

The difference between this wedding and the ones from earlier generations, came in the number of kids (below 15-20 years in age) at the wedding. We were seven or eight from our generation at this wedding with an average age near 65. There was only one kid from the second generation after us (with another awaiting delivery).

Where have all the children gone indeed!
It is not a question; as you would have noticed ... it is a sigh.
This blog will address this sigh.
It won’t be as much as where but why have all the children gone --- in the “upper” strata.

The sigh will be dealt with more in American terms than Indian terms because it is a global problem, perhaps.
In the Indian context, it is so not only because upper class India would love to be mistaken as proper Americans---even if they may not have wanted to be mistaken as proper black Americans---but because American events influence upper class Indian mindsets disproportionately.

I will not try to actually answer the question by bringing in other issues such as internet voyeurism, environmental degradation, genetically modified food, seedless fruits, synthetic clothing and/or underwear, birth control pills, peer pressure, and so on. These views will emerge later or have already emerged I guess in other blogs.

I will try to go through the emotions expressed in the lyrics (written photos) of popular songs of that time.
As far as I am concerned the popular songs of a period reflect the popular mindsets of the period. It is in the historicity of the lyrics that we have to be interested in, even if it is specified/identified by name.

The blog could have been shorter, I guess, but catch me writing short blogs, especially for readers with little time! The analysis of this subject will be incomplete in any case.

What I think I will be writing about is the way we have lost our feelings of brotherhood and its consequences.
It does not, of course, apply to everyone?

The sigh of this blog reminds me of a song from the early 1960s by the funny, handsome and tall trio, PPnM (Peter (Stookey) Paul (Yarrow) and Mary (Travers)), entitled “Where have all the flowers gone” Those were the early hippie and beatnik days, which were said sometimes to be inspired by the teaching of our non-materialistic Indian gurus and which benefited most the more material-willing modern Indian gurus of philosophy, music or yoga.

The simple lyrics of “where have all the flowers gone?” were neat and logical progressing with a cyclical (Hofstadter’s book “Gödel, Escher, Bach” or Belafonte’s song “Hole in the Bucket”), Q & A series such as

Where have all the flowers gone, …? Young girls have picked them everyone.
Where have all the young girls gone, …? Gone for husbands everyone.
Where have all the husbands gone, …? Gone for soldiers everyone
Where have all the soldiers gone, …? Gone to graveyards, everyone.
Where have all the graveyards gone, … ? Gone to flowers, everyone.
Where have all the flowers gone, …? Young girls have picked them everyone.

The verses of this song end with the line “Oh, when will they ever learn?” Yes sir! WHEN?

Although the words of the song seem pessimistic, when we sung them in our youth we did think we will learn. That was the hope of this song to us --- at least among the anglicized if not the anglophiles in India, not so used to soldiers and graveyards.

PPnM would come up with other hummable songs such as “500 Miles”
If you miss the train I'm on you will know that I am gone
You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.

Upwardly oriented young people do not travel by train nowadays, nor are there planes blowing whistles, while the jingle of the mobiles don’t convey a feeling of distance. We lose something by that even if we can still yell out our emotions.

They also sung the very popular Lemon Tree which really discouraged the idea of madly and blindly falling in love---which is, fortunately, the only way of falling in love---because of its lyrics
"Don't put your faith in love, my boy", my father said to me,
"I fear you'll find that love is like the lovely lemon tree."
Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet
but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.

The fruit of human love, our children, should not be bitter to have at any time.

PPnM’s “Hammer Song” expressed the need of love between brothers and sisters ---a phrase that is now becoming extinct in single-child families---which I have condensed below as
If I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning,
If I had a bell, I'd ring it in the morning,
If I had a song, I'd sing it in the morning,
I'd hammer/ring/sing it in the evening, all over this land;
I'd hammer/ring/sing out danger, I'd hammer/ring/sing out warning,
I'd hammer/ring/sing out love between my brothers and my sisters,
All - over this land

These were times when young people were idealistic and communistic (remember Che Guevara, he was in his early thirties then; Pete Seeger, the lyricist of many of PPnM’s songs was a communist) and altruistic (not with other people’s money) with their brotherhood. This rare feeling of brotherhood in modern times was to survive for a very short period.

At that time, the early 1960s, America was really a great inspiration for others. There was John Kennedy (an Irish Kennedy aristocrat of that time is perhaps equivalent to a black Obama aristocrat of the present time) promising a landing on the moon and launching the Peace Corps --- which seems now to be easier than emptying Guatanamo bay prison for Obama.
It was time for the young.
The youth expressed themselves in floral themes and became the Flower children which culminated in their Summer of Love in 1967.

The word hippie, describing the new Bohemians, originated at this time. It was then thought to be a natural extension of older words such as “hip”, “hep”, “hepcat” or even (I thought) from the Beatles’ early 1960s version of the song “Hippy Hippy Shake” where they urge people to
Well, now you shake it to the left
Shake it to the right
Do the Hippy Shake Shake
With all of your might oh baby.

The hippies and their flower symbol caused some middle class (essentially white, probably WASP) to become uncomfortable (or were propagandized to become uncomfortable) just as our middle class rallied behind the rath-yatra to ward off imagined Islamic demons.
The hippies turned away from, what they thought to be, contrived middle class behavior, to natural behavior, trying to get away from some of the stifling aspects of middle class respectability/morality. In the process they did not shave, had scraggy beards and gave the impression that they did not have a bath.
They identified themselves with the culture of the Native Indians and their children, the Flower Children, got native Indian names such as Rainbow, and starting the environmental movement by cherishing the earth. Whatever they were, they could not be harmful.

In India the modern-day hippies were identified as upper strata youth who wore Kurta instead of Western clothes. They imitated the Beatles style of dressing after their guru, Ravi Shankar, when they were in India.

In 1966 Reagan expressed the fears of the middle class by saying that a “… hippie is someone who looks like Tarzan, walks like Jane, and smells like Cheetah”. In present day terms, metrosexuals like Beckham or Shah Rukh Khan would probably be happy to be described as a Reagan hippie.

The summer of love, when 100,000 people gathered in San Francisco, was the highpoint for the free expression of love, freedom, religion. The use of drugs was highlighted everywhere and the hippies became demons to the vast middle class. Hippies were replaced by Yippies (from YIP = Youth International Party) who intruded into the anti Vietnam War coalition of the National Mobilization effort to disrupt the Democratic Party’s Chicago Presidential convention. The numerically small group of Yippies claimed to represent the youth in a THEM verus WE confrontation where the WE offered “… sex, drugs, heroism, rebellion, brotherhood..” while THEM stood for “… responsibility, fear, Puritanism, repression…”. The Yippies were seen as spoilt children of the affluent so that it was easy for children of the working class to turn against them.

The Yippies took such an obnoxious and unreasonable stand that it obviously seemed that they were planted to discredit the hippies. They said that they will burn Chicgo to the ground, f… on the beaches, introduce Politics of ecstasy, put LSD into the drinking water, to kill parents because they killed their children’s soul after birth, and nominated a pig for president. This was just the excuse for the Chicago police to use excessive force with guns, clubs, tear gas, and their working class rage to suppress and destroy the Yippies. The world thought that the Hippies were the Yippies who had behaved so chaotically and unreasonably.

As an aside, the viciousness of the police attack saw the rise of several protest groups. One of these was the Weatherman (“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the ind blows”.Bob Dylan song) who took on terrorist acts such as assembling bombs without adequate expertise. One of their prominent activist was William Ayers, who had influence enough not to go to jail, and who was closely associated with Obama.

All the violence was adequately exploited by Nixon who introduced the term silent majority --- earlier used to express the majority of dead people over living people--- to represent the long suffering middle class who contributed to World War II efforts and built the strong American post war economy.

The brotherhood of the flower people died.

Middle class America found another uncomfortable diversion in the Long Summer of Heat ---the outbreak of racial violence that was stirred by the success by assassination of another peacenik, Martin Luther King, who took the first successful popular black movement against segregation. The free expression of “black” American feelings angered the middle class of deep southern American states. George Wallace, Governor of Alabama, with Ku Klux Klan connections, reversed the steps to brotherhood with his politically expedient demand for "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever". George Wallace stole the white Democratic vote,

White-black brotherhood had no chance at that time.

It was at this time, that a certain Michael Jackson, made his debut with his brothers and a sister in the Jackson 5 as a young (age 8) singer. He had no childhood he could remember, having to comply with his father’s bullying demands to perform. His first popular, No 1, song, Ben, had brotherhood lyrics written by him at the age of 13
Ben, you're always running here and there
You feel you're not wanted anywhere
If you ever look behind
And don't like what you find
There's one thing you should know
You've got a place to go…

Ben was a rat in the movie Ben. Till he reached the twenties Jackson’s song had the usual teenage love lyrics. But with Beat It he may be said to have become political with
You have to show them that you're really not scared
You're playin' with your life, this ain't no truth or dare
They'll kick you, then they beat you,
Then they'll tell you it's fair
So beat it, but you wanna be bad
So does the lyrics of the song, Scream, with his sister Janet
Tired of injustice
Tired of the schemes
The lies are disgusting
So what does it mean
Kicking me down
I got to get up
As jacked as it sounds
The whole system sucks

Michael Jackson had mellowed down by the time (1985) he wrote the famous “We are the World” with Lionel Richie
We are the world, we are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So let's start giving

This was after Jackson had received in 1984 a Humanitarian Award in the White House from President Ronald Reagan for his support of charities that helped overcome alcohol and drug abuse. Michael Jackson had evolved into a sober and optimistic thinking about Man when, along with Eddie Murphy, he sang (1992) in the song whatzupwitu
Sun is gonna shine, Flowers gonna grow
Clouds'll sprinkle showers, Rivers gonna flow

Man ain't got the power, To kill nothing but himself
Man is a creation, Man is nothing else

Whatzup, whatzup, whatzupwitu
Whatzup, whatzup, whatzupwitu

By the time Jackson’s Invincible Album came out in 2001 Jackson noticed, I think, the absence of children when he wrote The Lost Children. I suppose what he meant by the “Lost Children” were the children who could have been conceived but were not for various reasons of pleasure and material expediency.
We sing songs for the wishing, of those who are kissing
But not for the missing
So this one’s for all the lost children
This one’s for all the lost children
This one’s for all the lost children, wishing them well
And wishing them home
When you sit there addressing, counting your blessings
Biding your time…
…Home with their fathers,
Snug close and warm, loving their mothers
I see the door simply wide open
But no one can find thee…

There is this big Simpson Paradox. Babies bring most personal joy to mothers. Professional life brings cherished societal recognition to ladies. Mothers with profession don’t enjoy personal nor professional life. Solution: 1. Beat the husband? 2. Motherhood is the most important profession for both sexes. 3. Don’t become a mother/father.

Sigh for the lost children. Man and woman may sing with Jackson’s Cry (Invincible Album)
You can change the world (I can't do it by myself)
You can touch the sky (Gonna take somebody's help)
You're the chosen one (I'm gonna need some kind of sign)
If we all cry at the same time tonight

For the missing children.