By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
Sentimentality is often frowned upon by most of the people belonging to the modern generation. But old timers like myself are inclined to be foolishly sentimental about the past. Even in my own family they often accuse me of going to the past at the slightest pretext. It is true that I often dwell on the past; may be so do some of my contemporaries. Whatever the present generation might say, I feel more at home in the past than in the present. Perhaps I have not been able to adjust myself to the changing scerio of the present. I feel very sad when I see the changes occurring in various fields. I know that changes are inevitable—Yet so difficult to accept them placidly. And for me it seems that we are fast losing the good things of the past and are getting suffocated in the mire of modernism. One by one the things with which we were so familiar are getting past never to return. And time is running out and we of the older generation are also going to be past soon. In this modern age many of the things we cherished in the past have ruthlessly been destroyed.
It seems that it is the law of ture to get rid of the old thing and make way for the new. We have lost so many wonderful things in our life time that it does not bear thinking about them. I myself will become past perhaps after some time. Time and tide wait for no man, as they say. It appears that time sweeps away many things, which is inevitable, but very sad to accept.
Letters too seem to have lost their charm in this era. Once letters were cherished in such a way that they were preserved lovingly. People waited eagerly for letters from friends and relatives. I myself remember how eagerly I waited for letters from home while I was studying in Scotish Church College in Calcutta. While coming back from the college it was my habit to scan the board fixed on the wall, where letters for the inmates were stuck. All of us used to do that—since letters were so important for us. In that era though telephone service was introduced in our state, the calls were a rarity. You could not say everything you wanted to say over a telephone. Hence letters did not lose their importance and popularity. But now the world has gone technology savvy; so has our own country, and the motto is to move forward and not backward.
Since independence India has been progressing scientifically by leaps and bounds. Information technology has brought India to a status at par with the developed tions of the world. Now apparently our country is no less than the other countries. And the present generation of young people think that it is silly to write letters when you can say whatever you want to say via e-mail or over the mobile phone. You can send a message if you wish in a jiffy. turally the young generation will say that it is absurd to write rambling letters in this scientific age, since it is believed that time is money. Why waste precious time in writing letters, which nobody will appreciate.
In a way they are right, I suppose. But how I miss those letters! In this age letter-writing has become a dying art. But I must say that those letters of the bygone era were mines of information. They were not mere letters, they could be regarded as history. Those letters expressed the situation of the time beside giving other information. Letters were treasures of love, emotions and other feelings of joy and sorrow. I think that the letters in a way demonstrated the creative talent of the writer. At present letters have become obsolete and may soon become extinct, which will be a great pity. E-mail or mobile phone or messages are not half as interesting as long letters from near and dear ones. Today’s children do not even know how to write a letter. For me it is very sad.
I am perfectly aware that in this modern scientific age repining over the past is perhaps foolishness. I am also very sure that some of the old timers like myself will feel as I do. Past events still fascite me and perhaps people like myself are not fit to live in the present age. I feel nostalgic whenever my mind goes back to the earlier times.
There was an abundance of flora and fau at one time long back. Every home could boast of trees with luscious fruits like mangoes, guavas, papayas, jackfruits, plums, bas, coconuts, various berries. Some homes also had lichies, peaches and some other rare fruits. It was a delight to see those fruits. Then there were all sorts of vegetables like cauliflowers, cabbages, carrots, gourds, peas, brinjols and any quantity of leafy vegetables. They grew in such abundance that often some of them were given to the neighbours for free. Multicoloured flowers delighted the heart of any passer-by. In that idyllic ambience birds of diverse colours hopped around merrily in early dawn. In the evening glow worms flew around like so many little stars.
These beautiful things of ture gave everybody a rare feeling of joy. As the poet says, “A thing of beauty is joy forever”. That is what we precisely felt. But now we no longer have the pleasure of seeing those beauties. In earlier times there was plenty of open space in each home; but now in this city of skyscrapers there is not an inch of vacant space to grow flowers or vegetables, let alone trees. In the absence of flowers, housewives buy dreary plastic flowers to decorate their drawing rooms. Bihu dancers also wear plastic flowers in their hair in place of divine “Kopou Phool”, which have become scarce. Birds also seem to have left this concrete jungle for their tural habitat.
Today wild animals like tigers and elephants are said to have been wandering around towns and villages. We often hear about the destruction caused by the wild animals in human habitations. The residents try to chase them away with various missiles. But how can we blame these animals? Where would the poor animals live when their tural habitats, that is, the forests are so ruthlessly destroyed by human beings? That is why possibly they wander around in search of food and some kind of accommodation. I think animals are never vindictive or destructive. Whatever they do is for safety and self-preservation.
Safety has become a major casualty in this age. Every day we hear of nothing but shooting, stabbing, bomb blasts, rape, fraud, extortion and other heinous crimes, which were unheard of in earlier times. Nobody is safe in this enlightened modern era—neither men, nor women, nor children and not even innocent animals. The finer feelings of humanity like kindness, sympathy, love, generosity etc. have become nearly extinct. In the papers we get the terrible news of newborn infants being killed or thrown away. How can anyone behave so cruelly with an innocent baby? It baffles us. It is difficult to believe that the so-called modern civilized human beings could be so inhuman. They certainly do not have a heart. Perhaps they have a stone in place of the heart. Then we also hear that the parents are thrown out of the homes which they themselves had built, by their own children. These incidents could not even be imagined in earlier times. It does seem that man has lost his humanity. We boast that man is the greatest creation on earth. Philosophers state that God created man in his own image. But it is obvious that the modern civilized man has not a spark of divinity in him.
It is money that is ruling supreme in this era. For acquiring money man can go to any length, fair or foul. Traditiolly India was a land of saints and philosophers with high values of life, which were spiritual. But in this modern age western materialism has successfully elbowed out the glorious spiritualism of the past. Because of that man has lost the higher values of life. The modern readers would turally regard these antiquated ideas of mine with contempt. Yet I think that the people belonging to my generation will be aware of my feelings and perhaps they would consider my views with sympathy. But the modern people would not be interested in the past events.
In their view, in this age of science and technology it is ridiculous to moan about the loss of primitive things. They would turally say that it is foolish to go back to the dark ages from this modern scientific age. They would perhaps ask—Should we prefer bullock carts to aeroplane? Should we opt for wood fire in place of LPG? Well—in a way perhaps they are right. Today’s gadgets were unheard of in my time. Life was difficult but much happier than what we see today. In this progressive age ‘fast’ is the pass ward, and there is no time to dawdle and speculate idly over non-existent things or over things which are long past. Everything should be done instantly. Now the fashion is to throng the fast food joints for “instant” dishes. Then all these advertisements on the TV screen claim “instant” results. A plain dark girl changes into a ravishing fair beauty instantly, if she uses the cosmetics of a particular brand. And young girls fall for them hook, line and sinker. Even love arises instantly after using some brand of soap, cream, powder, shampoo, lipstick or something else. Young and old often fall prey to their persuasive and insistent tall claims.
In earlier times things did not happen so fast, as today everything happens mechanically and human beings have turned into machines. We have lost many things which once brightened our lives. They were all precious to us and we had a kind of bond with them. Yet we all know that good things do not live eterlly. As Don Boucicault stated, “Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them”.
That is true I suppose. Perhaps in earlier times we did not give as much importance to time as the present generation do, since for them time is money. So they do not favour wasting time on idle conjectures. For some of us “past is not dead. It is not even past”, as William Faulkner stated, Sometimes past events are so very clear that they seem to be eterlly present. Yet we know that those events now have become history and past can never be brought back nor can be changed. We must swim with the current and not against it, which may lead to disaster. Let that be a lesson to old timers like myself. Since we cannot go back, we must move forward. There is no other way. It may also be worthwhile to quote Albert Einstein’s statement, “The distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, however persistent”. So let us enjoy the present and forget the past.
Past Never Returns
By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee