Football, Foreign footballers

African footballers in Calcutta Football: A tale of exploitation and hope

Growing up in Calcutta in the ’80s reminds me of sepia themed memories permanently etched in my mind. One such memory was getting introduced to football commentary on the radio we had, one out of the only two channels to the outer world. Amongst many stalwarts of the then Calcutta football like Krishanu-Bikash, Shishir-Subroto, there surfaced a new name Cheema Okorie.

His imposing stature and ability to score in almost every match gave him a legendary status in Calcutta football. Many years later, I started to wonder how he was first spotted, and how a large number of footballers of African descent came to Calcutta during the years to come. My intrigue rekindled when I recently read an article of Christopher – of the much-daunted troika Chhema-Chibu-Christo (how maidan knows them) has passed away last year and nobody had any more details.

I came across this article whilst searching for Christopher, and I must suggest this to anyone interested in the history of Calcutta football of recent times. I know now how that supply chain works, but this article is an eye-opener for many other reasons. On one side, this article is a tale of exploitation of foreign footballers in a then unregulated market, and the still-existent mean rivalry amongst different local team owners dating back from the colonial era. However, on the other side, it’s also a story of hope, of people in far-flung countries like Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya packed their bags, with very less or no money and set for this alien city, to become professional footballers, in the leagues almost surely unheard of in the world press. Not many made it to the top, but their struggle and success teaches you never to lose faith in our human existence, and be humble at what we have got or done with our life.

krishanu-dey-cheema-okerie-C-Kingfisher-East-Bengal-FC-flickr
Two extremes of then Calcutta football – diminutive Krishanu Dey, known as a magical ball-charmer, next to Cheema Okorie, one of the famous African trio, with large build and strength unknown to Calcutta maidan

http://www.academia.edu/567335/Feeble_Bengalis_and_big_Africans_African_players_in_Bengali_club_football

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Bengali spirituality, religion

বাঙালী জীবনে ধর্ম ও আধ্যাত্মচেতনা

এবার মনে হয় লেখা শুরু করার আগে একটা disclaimer দিয়ে রাখা প্রয়োজন। আমার কৈশোর, ছাত্র আর কর্মজীবনে অনেক লোকের সাথেই পরিচিতি হয়েছে কিন্তু সংখ্যাটা তেমন বিশাল নয় যা থেকে পশ্চিমবঙ্গবাসী বাঙালী জাতির ওপর সামগ্রিক উপসংহার করা যেতে পারে। আমার লেখাগুলোকে তাই বাস্তবের চেয়ে বেশী কাল্পনিক, নিদেনপক্ষে সীমিত কলকাতাভিত্তিক বাস্তব অভিজ্ঞতার দূরদর্শন (extrapolation) বললে যথার্থ হবে। কারও যদি তাই কোন অসঙ্গতি ধরা পড়ে সেটা সম্পূর্ণ সীমিত অভিজ্ঞতার কারনে, সত্যিকে অতিরঞ্জিত করার কোন উদ্দেশ্য আমার নেই। 

ধ্যাত্মিকতার ধারনাটা খুবই গভীর সাধারন মানুষের সেই অতলে তলিয়ে ভাবনাচিন্তা করার না আছে সময় না আছে সেই নির্মোহ দৃষ্টিভঙ্গি।  আধ্যাত্মিকতার মুল ধারনা কোথাও পড়েছিলাম আত্মানং বিদ্ধি যার মানে খুব সম্ভব নিজেকে জানা। সে বিদ্ধি আমার নাম কি, বাবার নাম কি বা বাড়ি কোথায় জাতীয় বিদ্ধি নয়, বরং মনের গভীরে ডুব দিয়ে নিজের জীবনের উদ্দেশ্য, এই বিশাল মহাবিশ্বে নিজের অস্তিত্বের উপলব্ধি এই প্রশ্নগুলোর উত্তর খোঁজার প্রয়াস। প্রশ্নের উত্তর যে পাওয়া যাবে একদিন তা নিশ্চিত নয়, বরং যত গভীরে যাওয়া যাবে ধোঁয়াশা ততই বাড়বে, যত না নিজেকে জানা যাবে তার চেয়ে বেশী বোঝা যাবে কতটা জানা নেই বা জানতে বাকী আছে। অনেকটা আইনস্টাইনের (নাকী অ্যারিস্টোটল?) জ্ঞানের সমুদ্রতীরে নুড়ি কুড়নোর গল্পের মত। যত বেশী নুড়ি জমা হবে কত মনে হবে জ্ঞানের সমুদ্রের পরিধি ঠিক বঙ্গোপসাগরের মত নয় সেটা বাড়তে বাড়তে প্রশান্ত মহাসাগরে দাঁড়িয়েছে, ফলে আরো অনেক নুড়ি কুড়তে হবে সমুদ্রে ঝাঁপ মারার আগে। এরূপ জটিল তত্ত্ব ভাবার বিলাসিতা খেটে খাওয়া সাধারন মানুষের কাছে আকাশকুসুম কল্পনা। আধ্যাত্মিকতা তাই তার ভূমা থেকে ছোট হতে হতে পৌত্তলিকতা আর আচারবিচারে এসে ঠেকেছে। আর এই সঙ্কীর্ণতা থেকেই আধ্যাত্মিকতা এখন ধর্মের সমার্থক, আধ্যাত্মিক হতে গেলে ধার্মিক হতেই হবে, কিন্তু উল্টোটা তেমন খাটেনা, বেশীরভাগ ধার্মিকই গড্ডালিকাপ্রবাহে গা ভাসায়, তারা বিন্দুমাত্রও আধ্যাত্মিক নয়।  ঠিক যে কারনে নির্মোহ দৃষ্টিভঙ্গি অতি অপরিহার্য আধ্যাত্মিক হবার জন্য।

ছোটবেলার একটা ঘটনা খুব মনে আছে যদিও বয়স তখন ছিল পাঁচের কাছাকাছি। বাড়িওয়ালি দিদার মেয়ের বন্ধু হ্যাংচুপিসির কাছে মুখচোখ পাকিয়ে বলছি কৃষ্ণনগরে কালীবাড়ির পাশে সিঙ্গারা ভাজে ছোট ছোট, টাকায় আটটা, বললে দশটাও দেয়। তারা তো শুনে হেসে গড়িয়ে পড়ছিল কেমন গাল ফুলিয়ে বড়দের মত কথা বলছি বলে, কিন্তু ভেবে দেখলে এভাবেই ছোট বয়স থেকে ধর্মচেতনা আসে বিভিন্ন প্রতীকের মাধ্যমে যার সাথে আধ্যাত্মিকতার তেমন যোগাযোগ নেই। তাই সেই বয়স থেকে শুরু করে নাস্তিক হবার সিদ্ধান্ত অবধি আমার কাছে খাবার আর ধর্মের এক গভীর যোগ ছিল, সে কালিঘাটের প্যাঁড়া আর ঢাকাই পরোটাই হোক বা পাড়ায় শনিপুজোর পর তামিল ধোসাওয়ালার তাওয়ায় ঠংঠং খুন্তি বাজানোই হোক। সেভাবেই ধর্মীয় আচারের সাথে জড়িয়ে রাখা হয়েছে গুরুগম্ভীর সংস্কৃত মন্ত্র যাতে মানে কী বুঝলাম না বুঝলাম এসে যায় না, তবে শুনতে বেশ ঘ্যামা লাগে। বিভিন্ন ধর্মীয় আচারে তা সে পুজো পৈতে শ্রাদ্ধ যাই হোক না কেন, পুরোহিত যখন মন্ত্র আওড়াতে বলে মনে হয় অনেকটা ক্রেডিট কার্ডের Terms & conditions পড়ার মত, বুঝলাম কিনা জানিনা তবে পাতার নিচে সইটা করতেই হবে।

আমরা বাঙালীরা চিরকালই হুজুগে। তা না হলে আমাদের সেরা উৎসব দুর্গাপুজা হয়? দুর্গাপুজা দেখতে গেলে প্রায় শুরু থেকেই একটা বানিজ্যিক ব্যাপার, রাজা কৃষ্ণচন্দ্র রায়ের বৃটিশদের অনুগ্রহ লাভের মাধ্যম বই অন্য কিছু নয়। তার পর উনিশ শতকে সেটা দাঁড়ায় তাঁবেদার জমিদারদের পয়সা ওড়ানোর আর সেই সাথে বৃটিশ সরকারের দৃষ্টি আকর্ষন, এককথায় একটা marketing campaign. তাই আজ যখন পুজা সমিতি গুলো কোটি টাকার বাজেট করে পুজা করে ভিড় টানার জন্য, তখন “দিনকাল উচ্ছন্নে গেছে, এখন সব টাকার খেলা, বাড়ির পুজোগুলো কী ভাল ছিল” জাতীয় নস্টালজিক ভাবনাগুলো যে আসলে একটা মিথ্যের ওপর ভিত্তি করে তা বলাই বাহুল্য।

আর এক উদাহরণ হল সন্তোষীমা, যিনি আদপে কোন বৈদিক দেবীই নন তবে কাতারে কাতারে মহিলারা যে সন্তোষীমার পুজা শুরু করলেন সেটাও দেখতে গেলে কোন  খাঁটি ব্যবসায়ীর কল্পনাপ্রসূত আর পুরোহিতরাও টাকাকড়ি কামানোর উদ্দেশ্যে সেই হিড়িকে তাল মেলাল। অনেকটা অটোতে বাড়তি যাত্রী তোলার মত বিভিন্ন মন্দিরে সন্তোষীমার জায়গা তৈরী হয়ে গেল আনাচে কানাচে। অর্থনীতির চাহিদা আর যোগানের যে সমীকরণ বাঙলায় ধর্মেরও সেই হাল, মতলববাজ পুরোহিত আর মন্দির কমিটিগুলো তেত্রিশ কোটি দেবদেবীর পসরা সাজিয়ে বসে আছে, আর অন্যদিকে হুজুগে পাবলিকও সেই হুল্লোড়ে গা ভাসিয়ে তাদের খেটে রোজগার করা টাকা পয়সা জলাঞ্জলি দিচ্ছে। তাই যখন দেখি কোন মাথামোটা কালিঘাটের কালীর জন্য সোনার জিভ গড়িয়ে দেবার ঘোষনা করছে, মনে হয় ফিরে আসুক নক্সালরা, লুঠে নিক এইসব বকধার্মিকদের সম্পদ আর বিলিয়ে দিক প্রান্তিক অভুক্ত মানুষদের কাছে।

এর সাথে যোগ হবে রাজনৈতিক পাড়ার লিডারদের মাস্তানি যার নিদর্শন হল শিব আর শনিমন্দিরের বাড়াবাড়ি। আজকাল বিজেপির কল্যানে অনেকে ঘ্যানঘ্যান করে যে মোড়ে মোড়ে মসজিদ বানানো হচ্ছে তাদের এই শিব আর শনিপুজোর ঘটা নিয়ে কেমন প্রতিবাদ নেই। কলকাতায় মনে হয় অন্ততপক্ষে যতগুলো বাসস্টপ আছে ততগুলোই শিব আর শনিমন্দির রয়েছে, প্রতি স্টপে বাস থেকে নামলেই মন্দির, ভেতরকার অলিগলির কথা বাদই দেয়া যাক। এই বাড়বাড়ন্তের কারন যে তোলা আদায় চাঁদার নামে আর সাপ্তাহিক প্রনামীর হিস্যা নেয়া, এককথায় অন্যের মাথায় কাঁঠাল ভেঙে খাওয়া সেটা না বললেও সবাই জানে। তবু ঘটা করে বাতাসা নকুলদানা শসা সহযোগে পুজো দিতে যাবার উৎসাহে ঘাটতি নেই মানুষের।  তার ওপর মন্দির একটা খাড়া করে দিলেই হল, তারপর তার চারপাশে আস্তে আস্তে জমি দখল চলতেই থাকে বছরের পর বছর ধরে, সেইসাথে পুকুরপাড়ে মন্দির হলে পুকুর বোজানো এসবই চলে প্রকাশ্য দিবালোকে, প্রশাসনের নাকের ডগায় তবু তারা থাকে সম্পূর্ণ উদাসীন।

পাড়ার একটা ঘটনা মনে পড়ে গেল। আমাদের ওপরতলায় থাকতেন পরিমল দাশ, খুব সম্ভব গণশক্তির সম্পাদক ছিলেন এক সময়। বিচক্ষণ মানুষ ছিলেন তার ওপর কট্টর কম্যুনিস্ট, এদিকে চারদিকে তখন সিপিএম ছেয়ে রয়েছে আশির শেষের দিকের কথা। এই পরিস্থিতিতে সরস্বতী পুজোর চাঁদার জন্য আমাকে পাঠানো হল ওনাদের ফ্ল্যাটে। কী চাই বলতে উনি পত্রপাঠ জবাব দিলেন “আমি চাঁদা দিইনা”। পরে জানলাম উনি কোন পুজোতেই দেননা চাঁদা। পাড়াতেও সব সিপিএম, যারা চাঁদা তুলতে যেত তারাও, তবু মার্ক্সীয় দর্শন মেনে পুজোর চাঁদা না দেয়ার জন্য আড়ালে গালিগালাজ করতে দ্বিধাবোধ করতনা। মার্ক্স মশাই যদিও বলে গেছেন শ্রেণীহীন মানুষ রাতারাতি ধর্মকে ত্যাগ করবেনা বরং সেটা আসবে সময়ের বিবর্তনের সাথে, সেদিক থেকে দেখলে এই দু নৌকায় পা রেখে চলাটা অস্বাভাবিক কিছু না কিন্তু এই একটা ঘটনা থেকেই বোঝা যায় যে ধর্মের শিকড় আমাদের মানসিকতায় এতটাই গভীরে যে বামপন্থী আন্দোলনের ঢেউও এই জগদ্দল প্রতিষ্ঠানে চিড় ধরাতে পারেনি।

এই দেবদেবীর লিস্টির ওপর থাকবে দলে দলে বাবা আর গুরুদেবের দল রাম ঠাকুর অনুকুল ঠাকুর লোকনাথ। এঁদের বেশীরভাগই আবার গৃহী মানুষ তাই অনেকের কাছে এদের কদর প্রচুর এই কারনে যে আর পাঁচটা লোকের মত সংসার করেও আধিদৈবিক ক্ষমতা থাকতে পারে এই বিশ্বাসে। অন্যদিকে এই বাবাদেরও পোয়াবারো ঘরকন্না করে গাছেরও খাচ্ছে আবার আম জনতাকে টুপি পরিয়ে কলাটা মুলোটা নিয়ে তলারও কুড়োচ্ছে। খোদ আমার কেমিস্ট্রি স্যার, সমস্ত বিশ্বব্রহ্মান্ড যার কাছে ১০৫ টা মৌল আর প্রোটন-ইলেকট্রনের খেলা তাঁরও একখানি গুরুদেব ছিল যিনি কিনা আবার কোন দুঃস্থ মানুষের বিয়েতে আকাশ থেকে রাশি রাশি ছানাবড়া হাজির করেছিলেন। এই বিশ্বাসকে বিজ্ঞান টলাবে কেমন করে? এখন কেবল টিভির দৌলতে লোকজন খালি বাঙালী ঠগবাজদের কবলেই নয়, দেশজোড়া জোচ্চোরদের খপ্পরে পড়েছে সে রবিশঙ্কর ই হোক বা বাবা রামদেব ই হোক, রেহাই কোনভাবেই নেই। তাছাড়া রয়েছে হাজারো ওঝা-পীর-বদর-জলপড়া-তেলপড়া-তান্ত্রিক-কাপালিক-ঝাড়ফুঁক-তাবিজ-মাদুলি রক্তবীজের দঙ্গল।

এ তো গেল নিচ্ছে কারার দলের গল্প। দেখা যাক দিচ্ছে কারা এবারে (যদি দিচ্ছে কারা আর নিচ্ছে কারার সাথে আলাপ না থাকে ধরে নিন শোষক আর শোষিতের তফাত)। আশি নব্বইতে কমিউনিজমের চক্করে পড়ে বাঙালীর ধার্মিক সত্ত্বা টলোমলো। একদিকে হাজার হাজার বছরের বস্তাপচা হিন্দুধর্মের রীতিরেওয়াজ, না মানলে সমাজচ্যুত হবার আশঙ্কা, অন্যদিকে মার্কসের দর্শনে ধর্ম মানুষের আফিম, দৈনন্দিন সমস্যা থেকে নজর ঘোরানোর সস্তায় পুষ্টিকর খাদ্য ধর্ম। ধর্ম মানলে আবার লোকাল কমিটির চোখরাঙানি পার্টি থেকে বার করে দেবার। যাঁরা কমিউনিজমের সমর্থক নন তাঁদের এই টানাপোড়েনটা ছিলনা তবু বাকী অন্যান্য সমস্যাগুলো সবারই কমবেশী সাক্ষাৎ হয়েছে।

বাঙালি সাহিত্য সঙ্গীত লোকাচারে ধর্মের উপস্থিতি অনস্বীকার্য।  রবীন্দ্রনাথের পুজা পর্যায়ের লেখাগুলোতে ঈশ্বরচিন্তার প্রাচুর্য থাকলেও সেই ঈশ্বরচিন্তা যে “ভগবান আমার অম্বলটা সারিয়ে দাও সামনের পুজোবারে হরির লুট দেব” জাতীয় চিন্তা নয়, বরং ঈশ্বরকে নিজের মনের মধ্যে খোঁজার চেষ্টা ছিল প্রকট। কিন্তু সে জাতীয় আধ্যাত্মিক বিশ্লেষন না করে আপাতদৃষ্টিতে রবীন্দ্রসঙ্গীতের সাথে ভগবানের একটা যোগসাজস খুঁজে বেড়ানোই আমাদের মূল লক্ষ্য হয়ে দাঁড়ায়। তাছাড়া রয়েছে শ্যামাসঙ্গীত রামপ্রসাদী কীর্তন জাতীয় বিভিন্ন উপাদান যেগুলো সময়ের সাথে হাতবদল হয়ে আসছে প্রজন্ম থেকে প্রজন্মে। সাহিত্য আর ঐতিহাসিক কারনে এগুলি অমূল্য হলেও লোকে সেই দৃষ্টিকোণ থেকে না দেখে, দেখে ধর্মের প্রতীক রূপে। ক্রিটিকাল চিন্তাভাবনা যা মানবজীবনের বিবর্তনের এক অবিচ্ছেদ্য অঙ্গ, সেই দৃষ্টিভঙ্গি দিয়ে এই সৃষ্টি কৃষ্টিগুলোকে বিশ্লেষণ করার চেয়ে আমরা গতানুগতিক রয়ে গিয়েছি এগুলোকে দৈববাণীর মত অমোঘ ভেবে নিয়ে কারন সেখানে নেই সব চিরাচরিত ধ্যানধারনাকে ছুঁড়ে ফেলে দিয়ে নতুন ভাবে গড়তে বসার অনিশ্চয়তা।

এরপর যে দুই ব্যক্তির কথা উল্লেখ করবো তা নিয়ে অনেক তর্কবিতর্কই হতে পারে। বাঙালি জীবনে তাঁদের প্রভাব যে প্রশ্নাতীত সে নিয়ে কোন দ্বিমত নেই কিন্তু সেই প্রভাব ইতিবাচক কিনা সে নিয়ে তেমন কোন আলোচনা কখনো দেখেছি বলে মনে পড়ছেনা। এই দুই ব্যক্তি হলেন রামকৃষ্ণ আর বিবেকানন্দ। আমরা কিছু কিছু মানুষকে প্রায় ঈশ্বরের আসনে বসিয়ে রেখেছি সর্বশে্রষ্ঠ বাঙালী হিসেবে, তাঁরা সকল সমালোচনা বা যুক্তি-তর্কের ঊর্দ্ধে। এঁদের কাজকর্ম বা অবদান নিয়ে প্রশ্ন তুললেই সব স্থান-কাল-পাত্র ভুলে জোট বেঁধে রে রে অর্বাচীন বলে তেড়ে আসে। এটা শুধু বাঙালীদেরই ব্যাপার না, বীরপুজোর চল সব জায়গায়ই বজায় আছে তা সে মুসলমানদের মহম্মদ নিয়ে হোক বা ফরাসীদের নাপোলেয়ন, বৃটিশদের চার্চিল-থ্যাচার। আমাদেরও সেরকম রয়েছে রামকৃষ্ণ বিবেকানন্দ রবীন্দ্রনাথ নেতাজি সত্যজিৎ। বাঙালী বলে এঁদের নিয়ে গর্ব করেই ক্ষান্তি নেই, এঁদের সমালোচনা হল রাজদ্রোহের সামিল। সাধারন বাঙালী ঘরে দেয়ালে আর কিছু না থাকুক একটা রামকৃষ্ণ বা বিবেকানন্দের ছবি টাঙানো থাকে, তাঁরা অর্ধেক দেবতা রূপে পুজাও পান। বিবেকানন্দ রচনাবলী আমার পড়া হয়নি তাই বেশীরভাগ তথ্যই বিভিন্ন মাধ্যমে কোন এক সময়ে দেখা বা পড়া। বিবেকানন্দ রচনাবলী উনিশশতকে লেখা বাঙালির self-help বা chicken soup জাতীয় বই। সেদিক থেকে এর গুরুত্ব বা সুফল অনেক বিশেষ করে আত্মনির্ভর হবার জন্য। চরিত্র গঠনের ক্ষেত্রেও বিবেকানন্দের লেখা অনুপ্রেরনা যোগায়। কিন্তু অন্যদিকে তাঁর আদর্শ সমাজে হিন্দু জাতীয়তাবাদের ছাপ প্রকট, অন্যান্য জাতি ধর্মের মানুষ এই সমাজে থাকবে বটে কিন্তু সমাজগঠনে তাদের কোন ভুমিকা নেই, হিন্দুরা থাকবে ত্রাতার স্থলে। বিবেকানন্দের আদর্শ সমাজে মেয়েদের স্থান নিয়েও প্রশ্ন জাগে। মেয়েদের সমাজ তৈরিতে কিছু নির্দিষ্ট কাজ ঠিক করে দিয়েছেন কিন্তু পুরুষদের মহিলা সান্নিধ্য থেকে যতটা সম্ভব দুরে রাখা যায় সেই উপায়ও বাতলে গেছেন। সময় এবং স্থানের পরিপ্রেক্ষিতে এই প্রস্তাবগুলো দৈনন্দিন জীবনে প্রযোজ্য ছিল কিন্তু আধুনিক জীবনেও সেই মতাদর্শগুলোকে অক্ষরে অক্ষরে পালন করার চেষ্টা যে গোঁড়ামো তা বলার অপেক্ষা রাখেনা কিন্তু এই মতবাদগুলোর সমালোচনা করারও যে জায়গা নেই সমাজে  সেটাই আক্ষেপের। সেই প্রেক্ষাপটে দাঁড়িয়ে কেউ যদি প্রশ্ন তোলে বিবেকানন্দের মতবাদ বা প্রতিপাদ্যগুলো বর্তমান বাঙালী জীবনে কতটা প্রাসঙ্গিক তাহলে তাকে বেয়াদব বলে কাঠগড়ায় না দাঁড় করিয়ে যদি প্রতিবাদ করতে হয় তবে যুক্তি তর্কের সাহায্যে নস্যাৎ করাটাই পরিনত মানসিকতার পরিচয়। আত্মীয়পরিচিত অনেকেই মিশনের সদস্য তাদের থেকেই জানা যায় কীভাবে মিশন তাদেরকে কীরকম মগজধোলাই করেছে।

লেখার শুরু করেছিলাম বাঙালী জীবনে ধর্মকর্ম এবং আধ্যাত্মিকতার চল নিয়ে, যেখান থেকে অনেকটাই সরে এসেছি। একবার দেখে নেওয়া যাক সাধারন জীবনে এই দুইয়ের প্রভাব কতটা। আধ্যাত্মিকতা তো বহুদিন আগে লোপ পেয়েছে, তার গন্ডি সীমিত একটা শ্রেনীর মধ্যে। তার বাইরে যেটা বর্তমান তা হল বিভিন্ন রূপকের মাধ্যমে ধর্মীয় আচারের অন্ধ অনুকরন। সেই অনুকরনে আজও চলতে থাকে কুমারী পুজা, বলি, বারবণিতার দোরের থেকে মাটি নেওয়া, কন্যাদান ইত্যাদি মধ্যযুগীয় প্রথা। মানুষও পরম্পরার নামে এই আচারগুলো মেনে নিয়ে চালিয়ে যাবার পক্ষে, সময়ের সাথে ধর্মেরও খোলনলচে না বদলালে তা মানুষের অগ্রগতির সহায়ক না হয়ে বাধা হয়ে দাঁড়ায় সেটা জেনেও কেউ তা পাল্টানোয় উদ্যোগী নয়। এখনও সেই “What Bengal thinks today, India will think tomorrow” জাতীয় কথা ভেবে নিজেদের শ্রেষ্ঠতার বড়াই জারী আছে কিন্তু তার কোন ছাপ ধর্মীয় পরিমণ্ডলে নেই, সেখানে রয়েই গেছে গতানুগতিকতা বাকী ভারতের মত।  তাই ধর্ম মানে এখনও সকালবেলায় লক্ষ্মী কালী সহ সব দেবদেবীকে প্রনাম ঠুকে বাড়ি থেকে বেরনো, নতুন গাড়িতে পুরোহিতের স্বস্তিক আঁকা, আলতা সিঁদুর শাঁখা পলা, বেণীমাধব শীলের পঞ্জিকা, দশকর্মা ভান্ডার, শনি মঙ্গল কালী বৃহস্পতিতে লক্ষ্মীপুজা, কালীপুজার চৌদ্দপ্রদীপ আর বাজি পোড়ান – বেশীরভাগটাই রূপকের মধ্যে দিয়ে যা জন্ম থেকে বেড়ে ওঠার সাথে সাথে জীবনের অঙ্গ হিসাবে জুড়ে যায় তাই সেই নস্টালজিয়ার ধোঁয়াশার বাইরে নতুনভাবে ভাবার, সব ঘেঁটে দিয়ে আবার শুন্য থেকে শুরু করার ইচ্ছা আর চেষ্টা কোনটাই সহজ নয়। একইভাবে ঈশ্বরও আমাদের কাছে এক প্রতীকমাত্র, প্রনাম ঠুকেই যার প্রতি আনুগত্য শেষ। সব বুজরুকি বলে মূর্ত্তিগুলোকে টান মেরে ফেলেও দিতে পারিনা আবার ঈশ্বরকে এই মহাবিশ্বের কেন্দ্রে রেখে যে আধ্যাত্মিক চিন্তাভাবনা করা যেতে পারে তাতেও আগ্রহ নেই, কেবল আছে বিভিন্ন আচারবিচার কুসংস্কার ইত্যাদির বাহুল্যে গা ভাসানো।

যে কোন জাতির অগ্রগতি নির্ভর করে সময়ের সাথে সার্বিক জ্ঞানের উন্মেষে যা মুক্ত চিন্তার চাবিকাঠি আর সেটা আসে শিক্ষা এবং সমাজ সচেতনতা থেকে। সাধারন বাঙালী জীবনে এর কোনওটারই অভাব নেই, যা নেই সেটা হল সেই জ্ঞান সংশ্লেষ করার আগ্রহ। যারা কলেজজীবনে গরু খেয়ে প্রমান করতে চেষ্টা করে তারা ধার্মিক নয় তারাই আবার এক দশক বাদে অষ্টমীতে নতুন পাঞ্জাবি বা শাড়ি পরে অঞ্জলির জন্য লাইন লাগায় কিন্তু এই দুটি বিপরীত মেরুর কোনটাই দৃঢ়সঙ্কল্প হয়ে নয় আর সেটাই আধ্যাত্মিকতার চেয়ে ধর্মকে বেশী প্রাধান্য দেবার ফল। আত্মানং বিদ্ধি কথাটা যা দিয়ে লেখা শুরু করেছিলাম তা যদি দৈনিক জীবনের অঙ্গ হতো তবে মানুষ খানিকটা হলেও নিজেকে জানার চেষ্টা করতো আর জীবনের এই বিভিন্ন প্রশ্নগুলোর উত্তর না জানলেও কোন পথে সেই খোঁজ শুরু করবে সে সম্বন্ধে ওয়াকীবহাল থাকতো।

বাঙালীর সাংস্কৃতিক রাজনৈতিক উৎকর্ষের সেই ঊনবিংশ বিংশ শতাব্দী এখন বিগত। এই নতুন শতকের প্রজন্ম পুরনো ঐতিহ্যের তেমন অন্ধ অনুকরন করেনা। ইন্টারনেটের যুগে তথ্যের উপর ভিত্তি করে যুক্তি দিয়ে বিচার করার প্রবনতা অনেক বেড়েছে। এরা আবেগে গা ভাসিয়ে “আমার পুরনো স্কুল পুরনো বাড়ি পুরনো পাড়ার পুরো শহর” এই জাতীয় নস্টালজিয়ায় না ভুগে জীবনে এগিয়ে চলাকেই মুলমন্ত্র হিসাবে বেছে নিয়েছে। মুক্ত স্বাধীন চিন্তার বিকাশ যা পশ্চিমী সভ্যতার মুল ভিত্তি সেটা আজকের বাঙালি সংস্কৃতিতেও বিভিন্ন মাধ্যমে প্রকাশ পাচ্ছে। তবে পূর্বের ঐতিহাসিক সাংস্কৃতিক পটভূমিতে পশ্চিমের অন্ধ অনুকরন যেমন সর্বনাশা হতে পারে, তেমনই পশ্চিমী চিন্তাধারার সুফলগুলো থেকে অনুপ্রেরনা নিয়ে নিজের জীবনে তা প্রয়োগ করলে ধর্ম, জাতপাত, বৈষম্য এজাতীয় অনেকক্ষেত্রেই জীবনবোধ সঙ্কীর্ণতার গন্ডি পেরিয়ে অনেক উদার হবার সম্ভাবনাও রয়েছে। তফাত শুধু কোন চিন্তাগুলো গ্রহন করা হবে আর কী পরিমানে তার ওপর। তবে এটা আশা করা যেতেই পারে যে, যেমন পশ্চিমী সভ্যতা পূর্বের ধ্যানধারনার সাথে নিজেদের আঞ্চলিক সামাজিক সাংস্কৃতিক পরিচয়ের সম্মেলন ঘটিয়েছে, একইভাবে সেই পশ্চিমী চিন্তাধারা ও জীবনদর্শন আমাদের ধর্মীয় গোঁড়ামি আর কুসংস্কারের জাল কাটিয়ে নিজেদের গভীরভাবে জানতে সাহায্য করবে। আর জোর করে কুইনিন গেলানোর মত ধর্ম বা নাস্তিক্যবাদকে স্থাপনা করে নয়, সেই নিজেকে জানার মাধ্যমেই আসবে উত্তরন। কতদিন লাগবে তা হতে? ভগবান জানে…থুড়ি, কেউ জানেনা।

Standard
Nature

Short essay on Red Piranhas

Red Piranhas: Story of a killer becoming prey

(based on a documentary on National Geographic Channel in 2002)

South America. The continent yet untarnished by the human civilisation, of their tendency of spreading colonies and subsequently resulting in deforestation, loss of wildlife; all that needed to disrupt the ecosystem. Here still are few roads, few cities and fewer people: just a vast expanse of water and sky. The land is yet pristine, far from the cacophonous bedlam of the so-called modern world: the land where even now lies the serene mother earth, as she has been several millennia ago. From the Amazon basin to way down in Argentina, the whole area is covered by some of the largest rivers in the world. The water plays a very important role in the lives of animals of South America – it provides them with food as well as shields them from the ferocities of wild animals there. Therefore, if circumlocution is precluded, in simple sentence water is life for the wildlife in South America. However, this water bears the most terrible danger for the animals’ there – PIRANHAS, THE RED DEATH.

From Paraguay and Guyana down to Argentina, in the Amazon basin prowls the fiercest carnivore in the whole world, the most intimidating after the great white shark, with their teeth like a jagged saw that can scratch even on iron, they attack everything that falls on their way. Among the several species known to exist in the hundreds of rivers in South America, only 24 of them are known to be harmless; but others, they are the most ferocious and feared in the jungles out there, and one species called RED PIRANHAS, due to the red streak on their belly, are the fiercest of them all. For instance, a giant Cayman, the most famous fish-eater, that breeds its offspring near the bank of the rivers, tries to keep them near the bank, where they rest in the dense weeds to avert them to fall into deep water until they are grown up enough to cope with that violent assault. One moment of loss of caution and the weakling becomes the meal of the ravenous creatures, which, always hungry for food, scarcely leave behind a small morsel of their prey. What is more difficult for other animals to defend against them, is the fact that they attack animals not separately but in schools. Once the fish lets its teeth pierce inside its prey it’s very hard to get out of their way and within a minute everything is gone, and the turbulence that the prey makes only excites them and once they make assault on some animal however large they don’t give up and the aides keep on coming from the surround.

In Brazil, Guyana, Paraguay, Bolivia – wherever the landscape is covered by fresh stagnant water, the legend of piranhas is supposed to be grown. It all started from the basin of the ORINOCO RIVER, VENEZUELA, where the topography on both sides of the land is filled with grassy low-lying areas called THE LLANOS. During the rainy seasons in May every year, when the endless sky in the LLANOS is blanketed by the dense rain-cloud, comes the D-day for the piranhas. As the heavy downpour swells the rivers and later floods the banks of the ORINOCO River, the water spreads through the LLANOS, turning the area into a waterlogged marshland. As far the water spreads from the embankments of the ORINOCO River, so does the territory of the RED PIRANHAS. This rainy season is also the time for the breeding of the innumerable species of birds; they build the nest in trees and to raise their chicks. The giant trees that are found in the LLANOS become home for a different type of birds, and hence a wide spectrum of colours can be seen in these periods up in those trees. Amongst other species of birds, most common are CORMORANTS, HERONS AND EGRETS. By the end of July, with all the area in the LLANOS submerged in water of about 10-15 feet deep, the trees are completely islanded by the water and hence the PIRANHAS gather near the trees to catch their prey. As it has been seen from previous experiences, luckily though, that PIRANHAS are not very interested in human flesh, an attack on a person was seldom heard; they normally pry for the smaller and dying animals in the water. Reasonably so, the watery areas of LLANOS are called PIRANHA LAGOON. The trees full of birds and their chicks – with a high chance of those birds falling into the water, the water under the trees becomes the picnic spot for the PIRANHAS. At that very young stage, the chicks have a voracious hunger and so their parents had to search for meals several times a day. Where the water level did not grow high, as near the trees, the watery grasslands are full of what they just search for. In these places, the tadpoles grow up to be transformed into large toads, which are proved to be a succulent food for the birds as well as their young. For these few hours, the parents had to leave their chicks on their own and as from the time immemorial, they tend to go out of their nests long before they learn to fly. PIRANHAS wait for this very moment all along; they just keep their cool and without showing any sort of hurriedness linger near the trees and get ready for the final attack. The age-old instinct prevails over the caution for the young chicks, and their attempt to get out of their nests brings a curtain over their lives. Once the chick falls from the branches of the tree, there is barely any chance of their survival; few of them, however, scamper through the water to the weeds near the base of the tree – then it had endured the ultimate spell of adversity in the LLANOS. Rest of them share the same bit of luck, just to be annihilated within few flash seconds; this course of action goes on for the next 2-3 months, as for this period the young chicks will commit the same kind of mistakes several times. Although when the fish hunts its prey, the commotion it makes surely churn the guts of the birds, they soon forget about the terror awaiting them underneath. For most of the time of their short lifetime of one year, having some specific reasons, PIRANHAS just has to do this little chore to grab their food, the need, which does not seem to end. Consequently, in their final attempt to quench their insatiable hunger, they become a victim of their vices.

As September begins, the length of daytime increase in most of South America as it falls on the southern hemisphere. The sun casts its scorching rays on the lands now filled with water. Heated up, the water starts to evaporate; the plush green of the LLANOS, now submerged in water, again starts to soar over the water. Time goes by, clouds disappear, sunlight scorching everything it falls upon and the lands keep emerging beneath the water. This is the critical moment of every PIRANHA’S life. As the water continually heats up and evaporated, the low-lying areas surrounded by somewhat higher planes cut off the link between the PIRANHA LAGOONS and the rivers. During this time, the fish has to cover a long distance to find out a channel or any waterway that will take it to the river. Sometimes it has to travel as long as 2-3 miles before reaching their destination and while doing so, they have to adopt several measures to cope with the adverse conditions such as, the unique ability to swim sidewise for even several hundred meters, so that if the water level gets too shallow, even then they can escape. Every year some of the pack manages to find their way back to the rivers passing through the LLANOS, but for others, whose link is cut off the flowing streams, it is an endless wait for the next season to come or die in the mud. November arrives, and in comes the sunshine with its utmost atrocities, deep blue sky blazing mercilessly over the LLANOS, sapping every droplet of water wherever left, the lush green grassland turning golden in searing heat; in this ambience survival is not easy at all. Those trapped in the low-lying areas like pond etc. don’t have anywhere to go but wait for the next rainy season to come, most of them die due to shortage of oxygen in the muddy waters and some falls prey to the now grown-up birds of the LLANOS, which they made meal of in the past rainy season. Perhaps this is what a poetic justice is; the cycle of life so amazing – in one season, the most feared killer in the water, becoming a meal on the other. In Venezuela, wherever there is some water left in the LLANOS, scores of birds flock to have their meals trapped in these waters, some dead and some gaping to have a breath, and surprisingly found among those species of fishes are PIRANHAS, the fish that feasted on with these birds. However cruel these killer fishes are, they also make a delicious meal, and birds eat them gleefully. All sorts of birds, especially from the CUCKOO FAMILY, HERONS, CORMORANTS, EGRETS and the BLACK VULTURES, are known to eat the piranhas and they gather to join the feast there.

By the end of February, the grand banquet for these birds comes to an end; the legacy of PIRANHAS seems to be finished for the season, birds fed by that nutritious food can breed. In comes the May, and brings forth with her the heavy cumulus cloud. Rain starts to pour; spilling the banks of the rivers and so comes another season for the terror, PIRANHAS, THE RED DEATH.

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Expedition, Nature, Siberia

A treatise on a journey Verkhoyansk, the coldest town on earth

Verkhoyansk: an anthology of snow laden dreams

(as seen on a documentary on National Geographic in 2002)

ISiberia, the coldest plain in the world – a world of dreams, fantasies and coldness that gives a tourist an essence of the glorious days of yesteryears and the very Darwinian concept of existential struggle. Starting from the base of ALTAI MOUNTAINS, KAZAKHSTAN, it spans over the ARCTIC CIRCLE, and its width almost same as Asian Russia; from the URAL MOUNTAINS, it spreads over to the KAMCHATKA ISLANDS on the northern Pacific. This land is so enormous that it can alone accommodate entire Europe, the USA with some spaces still left. An area over a colossal five million square miles, it has always been an integral part of Russia – in its history, culture, socio-economic behaviour and other facets as well. Siberia is still bearing the heritages, from middle age tribal cultures to the Czar monarchy in the twentieth century. For time and again, SIBERIA has been a land of prosperity, the western region giving birth to the most advanced stream of humankind, the Aryans. Though having extremely adverse weather, not at all conducive for the survival of human beings, this plain may seem like a solid patch of an endless ennui, but underneath it flows the warm, stimulating spirit of its people and places, reminiscent of the past glories. Geographically most of its area is formed by the central plateau region outlined by Yenizei River in the west to Lena in the east. In this region across the banks of Lena, far over the Arctic Circle, on the northern side of the central mountains, is situated the town VERKHOYANSK, the coldest known city in this world, an overall temperature recording well below –50oC and a lowest recorded temperature ever in a city of –71.8oC. An American traveller, who had grown an attraction towards Russian language and their culture set to visit Verkhoyansk alone.

The journey begins at Moscow, the beacon of Russian architecture and its conservative Czarist reigns, from where he will set for the Trans-Baikal region, the town of IRKUTSK. Standing at the shore of LAKE BAIKAL this town bears the memories of the communist reigns of the twentieth century. It is an architectured city, and quite a large one, with most of its residents, descended from Mongol predecessors. LAKE BAIKAL, world’s largest sweet water lake, is about an hour away from the centre of the Irkutsk. In the winter times, when the venture is made, it is covered with about one foot of ice. This Baikal Lake makes a huge contribution to the people living near the lake; they flourish with the aid of this lake, as it is the source of their income, food and every means of life. This lake has so much impact on every aspect of Russia that in the Russian universities a subject called BAIKALOLOGHY is introduced concerning Baikal history, science, its lives etc. The temperature around Baikal is –20 to -30oC in winter. The chilly weather permeates even the warm winter gears, but the residents are accustomed to the wintry bites of cold. The people residing near Baikal often go to the lake for fishing by spears. They just break the ice layer and when a fish passes by, it is pierced by the javelin-like spear. However, the size is not much to boast about. The journey of IRKUTSK is over and now the destination is several hundred miles farther, on the verge of ARCTIC CIRCLE, to the town of YAKUTSK, the path will be traversed over railroads, the historical TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY.

The TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY is a self-evident part of RUSSIA, an epoch-making phenomenon that happened to the country years ago, world’s longest railway and one of the few things that would strike everyone’s mind whenever thinking of RUSSIA. This Railway, starting from the cities of Manchurian Provinces extends of the order of thousands of kilometres before terminating in the shores of Pacific Ocean. Every day this train transports thousands of people to one part of the plain to the other parts. The journey passes through types of landscapes of the mountainous southern area, then the central plateau region passing through which the train enters the icy terrains, where no sign of plantation or else will be seen, from cacophonous cityscapes to the most desolated ice-filled terrain, the contrast is exceptionally striking, panoramic views are inexplicable. One day later the train reaches the much-awaited end, YAKUTSK. At the average temperature around the –20oC mark, life is not very comfortable here. Its residents, predominantly descendants from their Mongol, Yakutia and Tartar ancestors although learnt over the years to cope with this cold bites of winter. The population amounting little over than 10,000, they mostly earn bread by factories situated there and some at the outskirts of the city. The areas around Yakutsk bear a long past, of Russian religion and culture. During 1991 when the communist government fell on Moscow, the Lenin statue was beheaded; the head of the Lenin was borrowed by the Yakutsk city officials from the government and kept in front of the town hall there. Up to there, the voyage was a cosy one, the chill was still infiltrated inside the skin, although minuscule. Moreover, the travellers will not encounter any kind of obstacles up to this point, except for the cold. Now the time of those luxurious rides are gone and they have to start anew to confront many impedances.

From Yakutsk they will travel by heavy-duty trucks, first to the town of ULAN UDE; this ride that should take about a nights journey, takes 2-3 days sometimes due to the bad roads there. Eventually, there are no such roads there and the traveller was well aware of that, so he took resort to a local professor at the University of Yakutsk. This professor came from herdsmen of ULAN UDE when the Russian collective farming policy had been employed throughout Russia; the low profile people were shown the light of education, appointed to the fast-growing schools, given proper education and then were made to hold some office according to their qualifications. Likewise, this professor was a teacher of sociology; he agreed to the proposal of this American because this will provide an opportunity to meet his people in ULAN UDE. The journey to ULAN UDE was a very worrying one. It took double the actual time required to reach there; their truck’s tyre got stuck into the mud of a river, it was the truck where they kept all their gears, foods etc.; so they had to wait for a second truck to arrive from Yakutsk, to pull the first truck from the mud. ULAN UDE is a very small town and as it lies very close to the Arctic Circle; the weather gets much cooler than the earlier places. This town, as all other Russian counterparts thrived during the reign of communists, factories opened, several school and colleges were made, people’s lives were lifted from the misery of the Czarist periods to a new altitude, new freedom. During the advent of that epoch, a lot of new townships were built and people came there from the countryside for education, job and were enlightened by a dream of the classless world, moved the heaven and earth to materialise the dream. But with the fall of USSR came the disaster so sudden that nobody was able to catch-up; funds dried up, with a shattered dream people return to their native places, made these townships some barren places where very few people stayed, who cut all their roots while moving to these areas at earlier times and therefore have nowhere to go now.

At the outskirts of the town, about few miles further lies a REINDEER FARM. The number of factories in ULAN UDE is almost nil, and thus most of the few educated people are teachers in the city schools or do some petty jobs. Most of the residents of this town moved to the areas surrounding it, to their native places, where most of them raise families by the occupation of their ancestors, REINDEER FARMING. On the eve of the day the traveller reached ULAN UDE, they went to a reindeer farm that falls on the way of the VERKHOYANSK. From a few hundred yards away from their house lies the wide snow-covered area, where they keep their beasts. A few trained dogs are placed near the boundary to deter any of the reindeer to escape from the farm. Trees become very rare in these regions, but the farm is located in the vicinity of a place full of trees. A family keeps normally over 50-60 reindeer, which provides them food, garments from their skin, and money by selling their skins as well. In this polar region filled with a snowy surrounding, people have to come way down the road, to Ulan Ude to procure food for the reindeer and themselves as well. From this point onwards the team have to cross the Verkhoyansk Mountains, an eerie piece of land where the whole area is clouded with mist and sunlight cannot be seen even at midday throughout the year, a place filled with big trees. At the base of the mountains, from where the band of trees start, the Arctic Circle is supposed to be crossed and after scaling these mountainous slopes, starts the final part of the journey, the ultimate test for endurance. The town Verkhoyansk is not very far off, but the path is full of obstacles; now they have to make their rest part of the voyage by dog-pulled sledges. The temperature dropping exponentially, and even with full gears on, it is very hard to stop the shiver within. About a hundred miles from the mountain, the travel has come to its final halt, the town of VERKHOYANSK, the world’s coldest city.

Reasonably, the population of this town is not very much, just a few thousands. When the winter unfurls its vicious tooth and claw, mercury swooping down to about –50oC, the supply of food and clothes are cut short; it is barely a conducive condition for human beings. Their main sources of income are farming and in the main town some small office jobs, teaching etc. People around here are always clad in heavy furry clothes made of animal skins. In this city was recorded the lowest temperature of –67.5oC in the year of 1975. That awesome figure brought the town a repute of being the coldest ever city having a handsome, however small, amount of human dwelling. However, people living less than a miles away from the centre of the VERKHOYANSK, claims that a place in their proximity recorded the lowest temperature of –71.8oC. That made a few controversies concerning whether to declare the latter place the coldest one, but presumably, the assertion was a fake one, as there was no physical evidence to substantiate the fact. However, the local people were firm in their statement and made a statue at the place where they claim to have recorded that lowest temperature; the statue is known by ‘pole of cold’ to the local people.

Over the Arctic Circle near Polar Regions, where the sunlight, even in summer, seems like a distant gloomy lamp lurking just over the horizon, the spine-chilling cold is evident; but the spirit of people around there, their warmth, livelihood that keeps them going on and survive this extreme hostility of nature; that is the true essence of Siberia.

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antarctica, Expedition

A narrative on Mount Erebus based on a NatGeo documentary (2002)

The southernmost active volcano on planet earth

In the icy seclusion of Antarctica, the hibernating continent, lies a portentous volcano, MOUNT EREBUS, most unpredictable by nature, bursting into ceaseless eruptions now and then, one of the most active volcanoes on earth. From the very first day, it was discovered by a group of New Zealand explorers, this volcano is the cynosure of many archaeological expeditions, but with all its vile, it made them a failure partial or total. Nevertheless, time will come when the science will prevail over this fierce monster, to unfurl an unknown world of Antarctica’s treasures and its history from the day of its formation. Probably this could lead us to know how this world was formed.

The location of Mount Erebus is to the southeast of Antarctica, almost near the International Date Line and about the latitude of 84oS. It is situated on the shore of the ROSS SEA, on ROSS ISLAND of the ROSS DEPENDENCY. Whereat the other side of the Ross Sea starts the Victoria Land, there stands the summit of Mount Erebus, known to be the southernmost active volcano in the world. It has drawn explorers from all over the world due to its uniqueness that of being active in the most sedate atmosphere. Along with this bizarre fact, it also assumed to hold the key to the history of this earth from the moment of genesis, or at least from the first ice age, when this vast continent was presumed to be formed. To uncover the theories of earth’s formation which, amongst a few, is a question that science couldn’t find an answer yet, a group of British scientists, archaeologists and volcanologists flocked to the Ross Island in the winter of 1992. Their primary objective was to watch Mount Erebus and collect the important data about the atmosphere inside the crater and other readings. At the beginning of winter every season, seawater starts to cool down; pure water crystallises as the temperature goes several degrees below zero and the water crystals gather together to solidify the surface of the sea. The temperature drops further below, crystals start to grow downwards from the outward layer over the seawater, same way as stalactites are formed in caves, and in the end of June, when temperature reaches –90oC, there lies a seven feet thick snow over the sea, increasing the area of the continent about 2/3 of its actual size. However, as the summer progresses, the sea-ice heats up and melts. During this cycle of crystallisation and melting, the only non-microscopic organism that survives the absolute inimical atmosphere is the WEDDEL SEAL – an animal that leads most of its life both above the ground and underwater as well. During winter times, when the surface is covered with a very heavy layer of ice, it bores a hole or rather does not allow to solidify the water around a small diameter by scraping the gathering ice by its long sabre-like canine teeth.

However, the journey of the explorers begins from the bottom of the seawaters, where the base of the Mount Erebus lies. At about 250m from the base (at the snow level), a hole of 1.5m diameter is dug to be able to reach the base of the volcano. As it was obvious that no living human being can go down as far as 400ft below sea level even if he puts his full gears on, an underwater automatic vessel made of light plastic is drowned in water. The vessel contained a high power underwater searchlight, a camera and sound recorders. Its motion is controlled from above, which is done through a 1” thick optical fibre cable. As the machine approaches 200ft mark the number of living organisms became lesser, but a Weddel seal accompanies the vessel through its path. In such a gloomy surrounding, where sunlight is prohibited to enter by dark forces of nature, storage of energy becomes a necessity, and this theory is exemplified by almost all the living organisms found below 300/400ft level. A sea spider of bright orange colour was caught by the camera, such a flamboyant thing, but what we are accustomed to seeing that a spider run very scurried, it barely moved its arms, when they are touched by the limbs of the vessel. Further down, the base is found, which is full of complicated silicate crystals. Plants are normally rare and most of them are of fern type plants. In a corner of stone was found an ice fish, an ash-coloured and striped fish, which made the scientists astonished before for its wondering features. This is the only vertebrate, whose colour of blood is not red. It has not been found yet, how it synthesises oxygen without the presence of some oxygen carrier like iron in its blood. The living organisms below this depth do not feed on the organisms that have high mobility; most of them live by consuming planktons, the microbial organism that feeds most of the sea animals elsewhere too. Most of the plants are of fern type, in contrary to the plants found in the normal seafloor, those colourful sorts. However, there is one plant of CRETINYDE type, which moves in water like hyacinths, but very fast and in a swirling motion. In this region, water and seabed are very rich in silica. As a result, the plants living there have a very high content of glass in their leaves and as a result, the moment light is focussed on the leaves they start to shine uncannily. Those leaves shimmering in the guttural darkness gives a creepy feeling. As the vessel approaches nearer to the base of the volcano, a world of amazing things unveils under the searchlight of the vehicle. At the bottom of the seafloor, it found much shining and very intricate designs of silicates made of nature’s caprices. If these designs were not fragile, they could fetch a very high price, almost as high as any other precious metal craftwork. These are formed primarily due to excess of silica in the soil at the seabed. Now since the base is found the vessel starts its ascent toward the layer of sea-ice. As the depth becomes smaller, living organisms start to appear just as they dwindled during the descent. Many ice fish were found because of the little warmth of this place than in the seawater. The landscapes there seemed as in any other sea level when it encounters a sharp ascent. Caves were formed and under the pressure of the waves, the approach towards the upper ridge looked like an undulating area. These landscapes are known as pressure waves. Within the hollow of the caves down the sea-ice stalactites were formed, principally made of ice crystals. These caves are more or less horizontally orientated, moving deep inside the base of the volcano. Within the niches of the pressure waves and the sea-ice, another astonishing wonder was discovered, the ANCHOR ICE. They are small flakes of normal ice, but to one’s amazement, instead of floating above the water it lays submerged in seawater. Experiments are being done to achieve this phenomenon artificially. When disturbed by a simple stir, they are not precipitated at the bottom but rather go up and join the crystals of sea-ice to form a larger icicle. After the exploration across the base of the Mount Erebus is completed, the vessel is drawn up and what it found will arguably enhance the oceanologists’ desire to come to Antarctica and unearth the hidden treasures.

Now it’s volcanologists’ turn has come to move up to the summit and carry on the main expedition. Mount Erebus stands a staggering 2000m high over the sea-ice and is continually erupting to a violent outburst of fumes. But the point of their interest lies about 200m down from the crater, the LAVA LAKE. Therefore, after climbing to the peak of the volcano, the team has to get down a further 200m down along a very steep slope, almost 70 degrees inclined. The first hurdle that the climber will face is the shortage of oxygen up there, and they need to be acclimatised before the actual move. Moreover, they have to climb the peak with full of their winter gears on. Therefore, that makes it tougher for them. The feasibility of good days compared to bad ones are about one after five or six bad days. So they did not bother to wait for the weather to better and made their journey start. On the day of the expedition, the team searched the rocky inclines towards the peak for a sign of life. It was obvious that no plants will be found there, except algae and fern, but even they are not found either. Instead, LICHENS are found, some of them as old as 10000 years. It’s being perceived that these LICHENS are the soul herald to the biographical changes that took place here in those times. The ascent of the first few hundred metres was easy as the path was covered by a motored sledge. Then it became harder and harder, as they had to climb their way to the top. On reaching the summit, some crews of the team put on the fire protection gears and prepared to climb down to the lava lake. The time of the expedition was chosen to be the winter because it was assumed that the eruptions would be a bit less sporadic. But as soon as they begin to descent, it burst to a cloud of volcanic ash and smoke as if to give them a hint what kind of a menace they are messing with. The inside of the crater is different on two sides. On one side the path is lesser steep to a 150m down and then take a steeper slope to the lava lake; another is a very steep wall of 200m down to the lake. The scientists decided to go through the first path but all on a sudden after getting down to about 100m from the crater, the volcano again burst into fumes. The SO2 gas suffocating, the rope turning mellow because of heat and foremost the intolerable heat made the mission fail for that day. When they climbed their way to the top some had their clothes burnt and torn, and were thought to have a narrow escape. A similar expedition was made in 1989 by a group of New Zealand government-endorsed scientists that have encountered the same bit of luck and came back empty-handed. However, humankind is endowed with a providence that makes them learn from their earlier failures and rectify it. Therefore, this time the team came with much more sophisticated machinery; they came with a machine that can traverse steeply terrains as well. The next day as the sun casts its gloomy light on the blank icy desert, the team made a new beginning with that machine, it went down as near as 50m from the lake but them the same fate reiterated and Mount Erebus erupted. As a result, due to the heat of the volcanic fumes, the electronic devices inside the machine failed, and the camera stopped to send the pictures. However, before its failure, it sent some photos taken from nearer distances than reached by the team members. They were later processed to give a view of the molten lava, almost immobile. But the geologists have something to cheer about and the whole world to gape in amazement when they had taken the atmospheric sample inside the crater. They have found in the fumes ejecting from the volcano some trace of gold, the element most sought after in the civilised world, and the composition was not very little. That might make fortune hunters jump on their feet, but the extraction would be so expensive that there is zero possibility of success. The surrounding air is full of SO2 and consequently, the rocky inclines are full of sulphates, sulphides, sulphites and other complex sulphur salts. The scientists, especially volcanologists, were disheartened, for their failure to have an insight of the volcano but it became clear that no other expedition teams could not succeed the hostile and vitriolic whims of Mount Erebus. A high speed i.e. fast-forwarding motion camera connected at the top of the crater for next few days was just going the substantiate that. After staying calm for only 7-8 hours it bursts into ashes and fumes. This event took place incessantly for the next few days.

Therefore, keeping the nights apart, the contingency of carrying out an expedition near the lava lake is very less. Only when science invents some fast-moving machines that can traverse the downslope in 2-3 hours and heat resistant up to the range of 1500oC and most important, when a whole gamut of intricate electronic gadgets or instruments will be made that operate without much aberration, then only will Mount Erebus untie its mysteries. Those hidden treasures that a clan of knowledge-thirsty people had been eyeing from time immemorial to capture. The group may not achieve the prospective target they had set, but they have opened the new vistas of knowledge that lay closed for years and inevitably show a new horizon to the world.

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Education, MBA, self development

My year in Cranfield: An introspective account

Yet another piece dug out from the memories past. Although this is an academic report, this was one of the time I did take a deep dive into my being and raison d’être, and this is the outcome…

1. Introduction[1]

The spectacular year finally came to an end – the Cranfield FTMBA 2008-09 is over. The rest of the time when I’ll be in campus, it will be time to retrospect the year I spent in the Bedfordshire marshes – and what is a better way than to capture my reflections in this report.

Initially, I planned to write the report without any predefined structure; however, as the ideas came pouring into my mind, I decided to put the report in three parts – Time before MBA and Part-1, Part-2 and finally, about the path beyond the MBA. Most of the pre-MBA objectives and Part-1 objectives were discussed in the SOAR-1 report, and it also featured some of my development targets during the Part-2 of the MBA curriculum. The first part of the report, therefore, will discuss the objectives of the SOAR-1 report and their fulfilment during the Part-2 of the programme. The second part then will discuss my reflections on the MBA curriculum and some of its highlights and their effect on my personal development. Finally, the last part of the report will focus on looking beyond the MBA curriculum and put the MBA into the perspective of a more enriched view on life.

To put this report into perspective in terms of applicability during and beyond the MBA curriculum, this is rather a candid personal narrative around the incidents during the programme and the way they changed my points of view toward any situation – personal or professional. In the text, some of the situations or jargon was used in a rather inappropriate manner, to make the report informal but to undermine the core objective of the MBA curriculum.

2. The yesteryears…

Part-2 of the MBA curriculum began with an entirely new format – enabling each individual to decide the extent of learning he wants to extract from the programme. At the end of term-2, I almost felt a sigh of relief that the learning team events will be over and I’ll have an entire half to me to decide how I want to utilise that extra time. The GROW model discussed at the beginning of the Part-2 seemed a perfect way to showcase our targets for the coming two terms; and to achieve them, co-coaching method appeared to be the perfect answer. First few sessions went as planned, as we were full of enthusiasm about the new model of the curriculum; but as time went by, and we were sucked into the vortex of numerous assignments and reports and presentations and projects, the focus of the objectives was, to the least, partially lost. When the SOAR-1 report was written, halfway through the MBA, the vision was obscured by immediate, short-term targets – primarily around the area of employment, skills development for the MBA curriculum itself, and networking[2]. As we proceeded towards the end of the curriculum, the priorities changed and our views became more crystallised with increasing insight.

In this section, I will discuss the goals I set at the time of writing SOAR-1 report, their progress as documented by the co-coaching sessions and then, compare their intended outcomes at the end of the MBA and my present standing in those situations:

2.1 Time management

My realisation during the time of writing SOAR-1 was that I did not utilise my time well, which in turn, prevented me from pursuing other objectives beyond the MBA. From the beginning of term-3, I, therefore, went into overdrive and tried to control everything to the order of milliseconds, perhaps. As discussed with my co-coach, I drew up a grandiose timetable for weekdays and weekends, soon to be found completely inadequate. I then relaxed them a bit, but even then, I had too much on the list – more than I could manage at a time; yet I completely missed the time allocation for the assignments. When the realisation came, all the assignments had already come barging in, and I discarded the timetable plan and adopted a ‘Just-in-time’ approach, like right now, I am writing the SOAR-2 report on 24th August, as I know I have enough time to write the report and the assessors, to check it. Where I started charting every conceivable activity in coming two weeks, in the final stage of part-2, I only keep a list of activities, updated as and when any entry changes and struck them out when they are complete. So, to assess the outcome of the objective, I am either a clumsy time-manager or an efficient one – “it all depends”, as everything is “context-specific”!

2.2 Leading and influencing skills

As already discussed that I went into a control-frenzy at the beginning of term-3, I thought that there will be leadership and influencing opportunities galore. What I did not realise was, that there were 129 other students, who also wanted to become leaders and put similar objectives in their SOAR-1. So my all exuberant leadership approach took a nosedive right after the beginning of the second half when we were to select a country to do our IST report on. I preached selection of a Scandinavian country, as they are doing quite well in international trade, and they are the happiest countries in the world – so I wanted to see the humane factors behind their ‘right balance’. However, it was turned down, as I was not vociferous enough and realised that “I’ll never take up a sales job” (but that is again stereotyping!). So, we chose Ireland, but what a great project it was! I realised that I was acting rather like an amateur matador, who chased the bull and panted and got tired; and that I should rather be an ‘empowering’ leader. To find out the leadership qualities I had, I also asked a few of my previous teammates to give their unbiased feedback. Luckily or unluckily, I only managed to get two feedbacks, giving contrasting information – one said I led well, yet sometimes I tend to do everything by myself, the other said I lacked it and was rather a ‘Plant’ type of personality, capable of playing second-fiddle better than being the leader[3]. I took the back-seat and actually steered the dynamics of the entire team, in other assignments, without much gusto. In our Part-1 OBPPD reports and SOAR-1, we wrote about role-playing for each assignment, with a manager, timekeeper etc. At the end of the programme, I see no use to them, roles emerge naturally. Enforcing something on someone he’s not can only hinder the progress.

2.3 Public speaking

When I look at the SOAR-1 report, sometimes I tell myself – “You must be mental”[4]! I believe that the frenetic pace of Part-1 blurred my vision and I lost the focus on my priorities. It is true that coming from a non-native English speaking background, we lacked some of the finer expressions of English language (The one I really like is, what my co-coach Simon often used – “wing it”…although he never used it regarding the co-coaching processes!). However, all of us, who were selected here through quite a rigorous process, must be adept in putting the ideas across the table. Of course, presentation skill is an art – and we were lucky to have a past master like Steve Carver; yet it was to develop with practice. However, the opportunities were scarce; there was a Presentation club, but I never went to a session in Part-2. While in Part-1, I was careful about the team performance, and therefore quite hesitant about presenting. Come Part-2, and it all changed! I did some very good presentations especially GLB and IST and the lecture on China IBE in front of the whole cohort and the faculty in the auditorium – it really boosted my confidence. However, I learnt more from this, that we can always captivate the audience with our innovation and shear information, rather than sweet-talking. So, at the end of the MBA, I am leaving quite confidently that whatever be the topic, if I have interesting data to share with the audience, I will be easy with them, and they will interact without much effort. Well, some preparation beforehand in front of the laptop and observing the recordings always came in handy…

2.4 Preparation for interviews: assertiveness

After the first few weeks into the Part-2, I could strike this target off from my list of priorities – not because I found a job – but because I realised that jobs are not that easy to come by these days and first I’ll need a small stamp on my Passport called Tier-1 visa. Well, I’m still being defensive in this, as I know that the situation is not like that – otherwise, around 25% of the cohort would not have found some placement – and I needed something more. I appeared in many interviews but was not able to convert them into further considerations. So, at the end of Part-2, I am fazed, clueless about what to do, as I totally shifted my priorities from searching for a job, while I was making the near-perfect referencing list and editing and reediting the assignment reports so we got above 60% marks in the modules! Eventually, we did, but I’m nowhere near my SOAR-1 target. However, the breathing period between end-August and Christmas, when my Tier-1 is expected, will come as a blessing-in-disguise, as I could reflect upon my skills when I’ll be tired playing crazy-taxi on Facebook (Just a couple of five-minute games a day to ensure proper blood circulation in your fingers!).

3. Today, tomorrow…

I believe the report has been a spoiler so far, talking superficially about finding excuses not to follow the SOAR-1 objectives or success of them. It will be even more blasphemous if I solemnly confess, that although I found the GROW sheets quite useful, I never used them too religiously. In fact, we met only five times for the co-coaching sessions, although initially, we planned to have ten meetings – and I only filled in two sheets (I said it’s a candid report!…it could be found anyway from the annexure). Actually, between the SOAR-1 and now, something happened…

3.1 IBE

No experience during the MBA has been so enriching as was the IBE. It actually changed the whole meaning and perspective of doing my MBA and opened new windows. Part-1 mostly dealt with hard MBA material, except for some excellent Richard K mystic lectures – “There is a river flowing through this room (LR9)”. When I saw so much emphasis around people management and people issues, I thought – and this view was shared by many other students from the sub-continent – that this is another “western” management concept, only applicable within the confines of books and thesis. I was so wrong! It is the people, who we will be dealing with all the moment, and our mutual perception about each other will shape the business or the transaction between us. In the IBE, all I learnt was about people. Business is almost the same, same GAAP regulations, same frameworks, tools and techniques, same Microsoft office…but its people why doing business in different corners of the world is so diverse in nature, and that is why I don’t whinge much about the IST team not choosing Norway, as Ireland had also been an equally enthralling learning. Actually, in China, I learnt from all people, from the chief of business houses to expatriates, from tour guides to shop assistants – the tour was only seven days long but the impact was immense. I wanted to share my experience in this report in detail, but that would have been too irrelevant, so I have attached it as an annexure just to glance through[5]. The key learning from the tour was that how easy it is to fall into the traps of ‘Ladder of inference’[6] and ‘Preconceived notions’ and once fallen into such an impasse, how difficult it is to come out of it. On the other hand, I realised how easy it is to build relationships, yet we try to put everything into a framework; only to complicate the situation. From a business management context, it is the understanding of the national cultures, the concepts of Trompenaars’ model of universalism and particularism[7] etc. The foremost criteria of running businesses are to understand the people involved with it, and to understand the business context – without which, it is impossible to be successful.

IBE helped me transform in many ways – not only did I become more flexible regarding people issues, but also, in communicating, which will relive the question on networking.

3.2 Networking

During the “Facing the future” meets, one group made a number of spreadsheets on the Cranfield experience and one of the phrases was rather comical – “Our networking is NOT WORKING”!I really found this to be true. At the beginning of the MBA, we had gone through a Networking workshop, which made, perfectly no sense to me. Although I came to Cranfield to change myself and to broaden my perspective, I found it quite incomprehensible, especially the concept of contacting unknown alumni to build rapport. Why would an alumnus want to network with me, unless I had some specific questions regarding his experience/job? I had been a strong supporter of tête-à-tête communication – verbal or non-verbal, but in some specified context – not randomly, just because I had to.

During Term-2, we understood the importance of having strong-ties and weak-ties, and the importance of each in our professional lives[8]. I used to have more strong ties in my personal life and a few ones in the professional network. I did have weak-ties mostly in the professional sphere, and they all came useful in some way. On the first eve of the IBE, we had a networking event with Rutgers business school students in Shanghai. I truly believe that it was a waste of time and effort for me – one of the few disappointments of the IBE. However, I did network with people when I attended an MSI simulation with the Exec MBA students from an Austrian business school. In future, I’ll be looking forward to such networking events with some common purpose – the lack of purpose just kills the interest.

3.3 Learning from electives

After the struggle during part-1 regarding subject modules and learning team meeting, part-2 has been a fresh breeze to me. The electives were to be chosen by me, the study time, assignment preparations and everything relevant to it. There are some of the modules worth mentioning-

3.3.1 Globalisation

GLB started from where we left completing the concepts of micro- and macroeconomics in Part-1. The lectures were extremely engaging, the assignments were even more interesting. It broadened the perspective on larger economic issues concerning international trade and the covered a wide range of criteria that sets the dynamics of globalisation. It also helped in another way – removing the green blinkers from my eyes.

3.3.2 Sustainable business

I wanted to mention this module as an eye-opener for me. Before coming here I was quite naïve to believe that there are great companies who value the environment, society, diversity etc. I was also a member of Greenpeace, believed to be the protector of earth’s environment. I was convinced about it until Sean ‘The Sheriff’ Ricard[9] proved to the class that companies do CSR to be more profitable in the long-run. I was not convinced then but thought it as an alternative motive. As we researched companies for our assignments, I looked at the CSR initiatives and reports and all of Sean’s words started to make sense. The sustainability reports often say “We are passionate about society and sustainability”, yet none mentioned what loss they underwent to sustain the CSR. There was not an answer, as the companies did not incur any loss. I took a closer look at the policies during the SB sessions and assignment, and it emerged that most of the initiatives involved cutting cost or improve quality for a premium price – as simple as that.

3.3.3 Managing Strategic innovation

This elective was truly a great module, as this was only the second module to involve a large number of guest speakers from the specialists in their respective fields, in-class participation and a simulation. The objective of the course was to enrich the student in identifying the opportunities for innovation and convert raw ideas into well-documented business plans. At the end of the programme, I can say that I have developed the capabilities – although they were rooted within me from my innovation-based engineering background – to use them in a future professional context.

3.3.4 Leadership and Implementing change

It might appear that I am about to mention all my electives here, but the account of learning will be incomplete if I do not mention these two modules. Implementation change actually fitted between the leadership and the OBPPD and PM modules we had in Part-1. The module was all about managing people issues during change and crisis, the innate behavioural patterns of humans.

The LS elective was one of the cornerstones of the MBA curriculum, with the extent of focus in weaving the concepts of OB and PM to the context of management. However, the most significant development point was the evening guest speaker sessions showcasing the most accomplished leaders and setting new standards in managing the business. I found three sessions extremely enriching, in terms of insight as well as by the charisma of the speakers – Andy Bond of ASDA, Jackie Moore of Deutsche Bank global HR operations, and Andrew Kakabadse. While Jackie presented an extremely focussed view on leadership and being facilitating and passionate, Andy showed how one can be successful in separating personal and professional lives – just by keeping things simple. I also agree with that idea, that it is us, rather than the system that makes things complicated leading to delay and error. From that day I adapted the good old KISS philosophy – ‘Keeping It Short and Simple’.

3.4 Inspiration from cohort

Starting from the pre-MBA phase, the interaction with the cohort in a number of academic and recreational activities made me learn much more than the case pack actually did. At the beginning of the curriculum, we observed a lot the phrase “It’s your MBA”. Although it was clear that we were required to be selective about the programme, at the end of the curriculum, it appears that different people among the cohort actually did different MBA – some spent the year at social clubs, some buried within books, some only networking, but there were some people in our cohort who were the perfect example of managing work and fun together. They ranked among the top-tier of the students, yet could be seen in every social event, sporting meets, and competitions – always in charge of their action. To name the top five people I was inspired watching and working with during the MBA, I’d put the list as – Nick White, Scott Riddle, Juan Leon, Wlad Silva, Jo Kelly and to some extent Patricia Friedel. I did not interact with all of them with the same intensity; yet, a close community as we were, words always spread almost instantaneously.

A small example of the different level of MBA was evident from the students’ reaction to the careers service. Most of us only interacted with them when they were to apply for a job or they were shortlisted for the interview. Initially, at least in Term-1, I also shared this popular view, which changed during the rest of the programme. Not only did I find them extremely helpful, but they also made every effort to meet the needs of every single student who approached them for guidance. This takes us back to the concept of preconceived notions and paradigm – without evaluating the truth, we accept the prevalent opinions.

4. …and forever

As promised in the introduction, this part will be used to thread all the disjoint pieces of information I used in the previous sections from my MBA experience, to put all points into perspective towards applying the learning to enrich my life. Before arriving at Cranfield, my motive towards doing an MBA was two-fold: to change my career in terms of role and geography; and to understand the concepts of management well so the entire business, in whichever sector I will be working, is well understood.

The MBA has been a life-changing opportunity for me – to identify my strengths and develop skills that I need to develop in order to make the transition from an MBA to a professional career. However, I see the learning from the programme to be perfect to apply in a much wider context – to one’s entire life. It is not only the business situations where we face dilemma, crisis, politics, change etc. – we face it every moment in our life in different circumstances. The best example could be drawn from the book ‘The Goal’ by Goldratt, where he used the same analytical skills to solve the problem in his factory as well as resolve family tensions[10].

4.1 Skills and ideas to take forward

Cranfield enriched me in many ways, and I was able to develop a lot of skills here that I could not in my previous professional life. To begin with, it will be a huge amount of academic exposure covering a wide range of management knowledge – 30 case packs weighing 70kgs is just a mere quantitative measure of it.

[1] I acknowledge, with gratitude, the contributions of many, from work and life, who made the past year productive, enjoyable, although also suitably challenging. My MBA cohort deserves special mention and I thank my Term-1 team members Matt Kelly, Juan Leon, Daniel Martin, Pradeep Raman and Kundan Singh; my Term-2 team members Gesu Baroova, Benito Giordano, Chioma Noel-Nwafor, Tom Pitkethly and Andy Proud. I thank especially my co-coach Simon Morhall for his empathetic listening and timely feedback. I also thank David Grayson and Stephanie Hussels for organising such a great IBE trip, which has been one of the cornerstones of my MBA journey. I thank my fellow residents in Lanchester Hall for making my evenings and weekends filled with fun with their youthful interjections. And for other friends, in London and halfway across the globe, words of thanks are perhaps not required…
[2] Appendix 1.1: Copy of the SOAR-1 executive summary
[3] Appendix 1.2: Responses of the SOAR-1 development questionnaire (anon.)
[4] Favourite quote of Ronald Weasley, Harry Potter’s best mate.
[5] Appendix 1.3: Personal learning statement from the IBE report
[6] Ladder reference
[7] Trompenaars (1997)
[8] PM article
[9] The title was bestowed upon him during the press-conference, 2009
[10] Goldratt, E (1984)

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china, international business, Travel

Visit to China: A review from 2009

This is an exact copy of the report I had written as a synopsis of the personal reflections during the International Business Experience tour to China during my MBA in 2009. Just sharing this report here as it raised some poignant questions on our view to society…

Scenario-1 Day-1 in China, at the Urban Planning Exhibition Centre, Shanghai

The Chinese guide explaining in her inept and deeply-accented English the history of Shanghai and the upcoming Expo 2010 to her entourage from Cranfield. Not many understood everything, but a number of us stated smiling derisively, some aloud. People marvelled at the miniature architecture, but not the guide for the showing us around – the mechanical way of speaking without much personal touch was considered, to the least, cold.

Scenario-2 Same Day, at McDonald’s restaurant

We had difficulty in placing an order for the vegetarian menu, as would happen anywhere in the world. The conversation between my colleague and the lady managing the till was like this:
Colleague: “Do you speak English?”…Lady: “No English”… Co: “Does anyone understand English here?”…No reply… Co: “ENGLISH! ENGLISH!”… After much toil when we are seated, my colleague commented: “Oh hell, no one speaks English here, we are far better off in India”. I’m still struggling to find the link between being an Anglophone and being better off in life.

Scenario-3 Day-3, Yuyuan garden commercial centre, the silk factory

Our tour guide for the day, Marie, showed me around the area, and I purchased some raw-silk items. On our way back, she excused herself to register some information about visitors at the counter. Afterwards, I asked her blatantly about the amount of commission she gets. She informed that it’s something they have to do for the municipality. In that unfamiliar situation, I tried to make assumptions drawing from my Indian context.

Scenario-4 Day-7, Beijing Chaoyang theatre acrobatic centre

The entry pass to the acrobatic show mentioned that the guests must enter before the time of the show; else they’ll have to wait until the intermission. Yet, some entered the hall even after 30 minutes from the start. Most of the people in the hall were foreigners. The ticket said, “no photo or video during the show”. The trapeze artists were performing a frightening game of balancing on a 30 feet high wheel, without any safety rope. Yet, the majority of the visitors clicked their cameras indiscriminately – most of them with a flash. The temptation of capturing some memento on a foreign land contained the risk of life-threatening injury. But why bother! “The security didn’t prevent us!”

I tried to provide a few snapshots of some of the situations I encountered on the China trip, but as a whole, it reminded me of the lectures we had during OBPPD and People Management, especially about doing business with completely different national cultures. Although IBE meant to enhance the business experience, and with visits to the numerous companies from different industry sector and size, the learning was exceptional, to me, the best learning was the cultural exposure, to watch and be a part of the transactions among people with geographical, cultural and linguistic diversities.

The key learning was when realised that it is easy to fall into the trap of comparing and judging other cultures from one’s cultural mindset. It is easy and dangerous because once a false image about a person is created; it almost always gets more distorted following different form of ‘ladder of influence’. It might seem difficult to interact with people from a completely unknown cultural values and contexts, but I realised from this trip that it only takes the willingness to learn and accept the contrasts, to bridge the gap. Kudos to the MBA curriculum to have stressed on the people aspect so much – it is ABSOLUTELY important to do business internationally.

To this point, I’d try to turn to the theme of this report. The IBE experience: visits to the companies, made us captivated within the glossy façade of cityscapes, which is expectable in most of the South-East Asian places. I wanted to see, as Jeanne-Marie Gescher mentioned – ‘the Invisibles’ of China. In Shanghai, the contrast in living standards was visible, unlike in Beijing. I wanted to interact with people to have a better insight into people’s lives; our two tour guides – Marie and Matthew provided helped me a lot on this. However, in the concluding section, I’ll talk about two other experiences, that will lead to another crucial learning from this tour.

Scenario-5 Day-6, Wangfujing shopping district

I arrived at the wrong time, as most of the shops were getting closed. A young woman approached me and asked if I speak English. Then she asked that she wanted to talk, and we talked about the place I’m from, what did I see etc. After about 5 minutes she asked whether I’d accompany her for a massage. On my denial she asked me to go for a coffee; I agreed on the condition that I chose the café. We talked for about 15 minutes, and she told me how the local police, despite prostitution being illegal in China, keep silent and extort illegal sex workers by threatening prosecution. I also, learned that tens of thousands of women, from neighbouring provinces (she was from Hebei), come to Beijing willingly or by force.

Scenario-6 Same day, same area, China foreign language book shop

I wanted to buy a book on ‘learning Chinese’. The bookseller showed me an unabridged language learning pack, with speech modulation tools etc. I kept on mentioning that I’m looking for a basic book, but she wanted me to try and learn some words in Chinese, how the accented words are pronounced etc. Only after 15 minutes of the demonstration did she mention that it’s a great language pack and it will only cost Rmb 499.

The key point that emerges from these two scenarios, confirmed by Rob Hughes of Linde, that business in China is all about relationships. Establishing a workable relationship or communication is a prerequisite, before even making a business proposition.

To conclude, the China IBE added new dimensions to my lines of thought – to understand, interact and do business with people from the diverse cultural setting, which will enrich me and my values in the long-run.

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