he sanctimonious cant and hi-falutin platitudes, both customary on Teachers’ Day, were overshadowed by two controversies. One was the West Bengal Governor&’s somewhat testy statement on campus violence that if students can beat up teachers, the students ought also to be beaten up. As the constitutional head and Chancellor of the state universities, Mr M K Narayanan reserves the right to comment on the spiralling violence in colleges and universities and the attacks, occasionally mortal, on Principals and the police. There is little doubt that the phenomenon was never so sinister as it is now, however much the Chief Minister might appeal for peace on the campus and respect for teachers. If the Governor has advanced a piqued prescription, the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights would be better advised to understand his sentiment than to pick on his words.
The government hasn’t even attempted the logical option ~ to unshackle student union elections from politics, as recommended by the Lyngdoh commission. On the contrary, the prime accused, whether in Raiganj or Garden Reach, are now out on bail and in the service of Miss Mamata Banerjee&’s party. The Governor&’s warning, therefore, has been advanced at a critical juncture, specifically when the embargo on student elections has been lifted. As politicisation of the campus gets increasingly pronounced, substantial must be risk of the purported tryst with democracy after the Pujas. The APDR ought to realise that democratic rights are not protected by attacking teachers, vandalising universities, and killing a police officer. The entity that supposedly fights for lost causes must realise that its complaint to the state Human Rights Commission is as ineffectual as the Governor&’s lament. Small wonder that the HRC has rejected the APDR&’s petition.
The other issue was the transfer of a Group D staff guard from Presidency University to Jhargram Raj College. It is not wholly unrelated to the Trinamul vandalism at Presidency University in April. As the guard, Pappu Singh, it bears recall, had exposed the identity of the vandals. Which is quite the reason why his transfer has ignited a flutter in the academic roost, with both Presidency&’s teachers and the taught up in arms against what they call “sheer vindictiveness”. The Amal Mukhopadhyay committee report on the outrage was a severe indictment of the ruling party and the education department. This was the first major setback for minister Bratya Basu. The other was the Governor&’s decision to extend the tenure of the Vice-Chancellor, whom the minister had wanted to replace ahead of the first convocation… once again for exposing Trinamul involvement. The transfer of a guard is unprecedented in the history of the college; poor Pappu has had to pay for not closing his eyes.
Puffers march on..
rom a least expected quarter comes a reality check for those who claim a major victory by successfully battling for grim warnings such as “Smoking Kills” or “Cigarette Smoking is Injurious to Health” to be mandatory on cigarette packets. An item in the ‘100 Years Ago’ column of this newspaper reveals that officers of infantry and cavalry regiments had been striving “to check the growing evil of excessive cigarette smoking by soldiers, the habit having most serious effects on the physical fitness of their men”. Some commanding officers had denied “proficiency pay” to smokers, in certain units a total ban on smoking had been imposed, in others there was a ban on smoking while on duty. And General Sir Douglas Haig had imposed restrictions all the way down the line in his Aldershot Command. Hence the recent anti-smoking mission is not all that “new”.
Alas, for the anti-tobacco lobby the charms of Lady Nicotine made light of military discipline and the puffers marched on ~ so much so that a couple of cigarettes were part of the packed rations issued during subsequent military campaigns. To digress somewhat, soldiers and cigarettes lent themselves to some curious “asides”. The superstition against lighting three cigarettes with a single matchstick took root during the stand-off in the trenches in the Great War of 1914-18. It was said that lighting the first alerted the enemy, the second gave away the position, the third facilitated being shot at. To stray even farther: during the Pacific campaign in World War II, a senior supply-officer noted an unusually high indent for condoms by a particular unit. A check revealed that the unit was deployed on an island listed as uninhabited by a local populace. What was going on he wondered ~ those were the times when nobody openly spoke of “gays” ~ and opted for an unannounced inspection. When he found nothing “suspect” he requisitioned a jeep, drove to a high spot to savour the scenery, as well as collect his thoughts. Suddenly the GI driving him around sought permission to have a smoke: he nodded approval, then “suffered” a revealing shock. The GI reached into his pocket, pulled out his fags contained in a condom, with a “only way to keep them dry in this humid weather Sir…”
Yet Gen Douglas Haig did have some foresight when making a distinction between cigarette and pipe smoking. For who can conceive of his illustrious namesake of a later generation, General Douglas MacArthur without his corncob?