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Friday, March 8, 2013

The Story of David

Long, long ago, somewhere in the magical land of Baghdad, there lived a Jewish family. The family lived peacefully in the city that had one basked in the glory of Haroun-al-Rashid, and was later torn apart by a group of people who somehow valued petroleum a tad more than people are supposed to.

Anyway, this is not a story about Baghdad. This is a story about the family, rich and ripe in heritage. One day, the Man of the family, Israel Mordecai, decided to leave the sun-baked roads and the blazing deserts for good. Like all successful men, he had both the vision and the focus to succeed.

When he reached this destination - the new country, Israel Mordecai thought of starting a new business of his own. He thought and thought, and finally decided to start a baker's and confectioner's in the heart of the city.

Like all businesses, the shop did not do too well to begin with. However, since the British still ruled the country, and since the city was still the capital of the country, there were a lot of British residents in the city. This meant that there was a boom in the sales during Christmas, Easter, and other occasions.

When Israel Mordecai passed away, he passed the baton to his son, who, in turn, passed it on to his eldest son, Solomon. Solomon and his brother David took over the shop, and by sheer quality, warded off the stiff competition of the British and the local bakeries and confectioneries to achieve the number one slot.

Solomon and David soon became synonymous to the words 'bakery' and 'confectionery' in the city. Soon, the shop no. F-20, from where the brothers operated, became the talk of the town; their sales stretched beyond the limited bounds of Christmas and Easter, and their products were easily the most popular ones in town.

Years passed. The brothers mingled well with the Jewish community of the city, and with their prospering business, emerged among the elites of the community. After the country finally attained its independence, the British left the city in scores. The sales did not go down, though. Solomon and David had achieved iconic status in the city by then, and people- Indians - swore by their plum cakes, macaroons, and lemon tarts, and even the occasional baklava.

The jewel in the crown, though, was the walnut brownie. Wrapped in a thin paper-packet, the brownie was one-of-its-kind in the city. Businessmen, filmstars, sportspeople, politicians, office executives, clerks, students - virtually everyone in the city flocked to F-20 for the walnut brownies of Solomon and David.

Then, one day, Solomon passed away. With their younger brother Isaac now based in Israel, the helm passed on to David. He carried on the good work by their family single-handedly, and trained the younger members of the family in the business. He did not let the crown slip: if anything, he kept on adding more laurels to it.

David felt satisfied with his achievement. He was the happiest when the children came to his shop with their parents. The awed, wide-eyed lot gaped at the displays for an eternity. They had only read about shops made of cakes, candies, and cookies in their European fairy-tale books. They had dreamed of them since they had read about them. And now, they could see it in real, the only difference being that there was no witch anywhere. The sheer joy on their faces was the best award possible, thought David.

Times changed, though. Brownies began to be served in restaurants, often as sizzlers, smeared with hot chocolate sauce. Inexpensive cafes that had sprung up all over the city allowed the customers to sit and talk over coffee and savouries for hours, and it changed a lot of concepts.

Even the city changed its name. And character, to boot.

The price tag of products did not depend on quality alone: packaging and marketing became as important as the quality, and David's business began to suffer. He was still a favourite, though. But now, he had been up against a concept that had been alien to him for decades: competition.

He did not want to change his shop, though. He retained the grandeur of the Raj. He still retained his ancient wooden furniture - as well as the wooden cash-box that has possibly outlived a century. He did not open up franchises all over the city the way his competitors did. He did not even want to air-condition his shop. He sold quality and dreams, and refused to make his products or shop look pretty to increase sales.

With time, David's body could not support his willingness to persist with his shop. The monarch handed over his crown to a member of the fifth generation, Elias. He did not relinquish his other responsibilities, though, heading two synagogues, two schools, multiple charitable institutions, and virtually every Jewish organisation in the city.

David Elias Nahoum passed away a bachelor yesterday, virtually unnoticed. He took a substantial part of my youth with him as he left. I guess that house of candies and cakes has left us forever as well.

98 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. :( indeed.Now i know why you clung onto your childhood memories so dearly.The aftertaste of buns and tarts defined your boyhood after all.

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    2. They indeed do. Do not forget the showcases with the timber frames, though. They held the gateways to our childhood dreams.

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  2. Dell latitude sir

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    1. You overestimate me. This is not Greatbong's blog.

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    2. It's better than Greatbong's blog.

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    3. No, it isn't. I may be the latest. He is the greatest.

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    4. Ovibabu,have you read Rohinton Mistry's 'A Fine Balance'?
      Your post reminded me of Mistry's work.Read it if you havn't.
      If only to understand what you're being compared to.

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    5. It's Ov. Not Ovi.

      And no, I have not read Rohinton Mistry's book. I will have to read it now to find out whether you have really praised me. :|

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    6. We bongs pronounce A as O and bh as V.
      Abhi=Ovi.
      So Ovi it is.

      And tell me if you sob or cry after finishing that book.It'll establish if you are human.I never thought books could be heartbreaking.That one is.
      You read much but write so little about what you read.Please give us more book related posts.

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    7. Oh, I look upon it as O. V. Shake. That had given me the idea for my earliest email IDs. And the IDs have stuck with me for a decade and a half.

      Of course I have cried after reading books - several books, in fact. Some of them cleansed my innards, some others made me lie down and think.

      But you're right. I need to write more about the books I have read. I guess the same holds for the movies I have watched as well.

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  3. Much - maybe even most - of how good a story is, has to do with how skilled the storyteller. What a charming tale indeed, sir!

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    1. Thank you. The real wizard, alas, is no more.

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  4. Sadly, I still haven't tasted Nahoum's. This post is brilliant because it had emotions and the slice of that period which we all miss, childhood!

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    1. You cannot think of Kolkata without Nahoum's. I guess you should pay a visit as soon as possible.

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  5. Beautifully written. Calcutta, or Kolkata of today - with Baristas and CCDs - won't ever know what they missed. A part of history rests in peace. And the city it so loved, passed away some time back.

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    1. Thank you. And I concur with every word you said. This is not the city we knew. The CCDs do not whisper to me the way Nahoum's always did.

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  6. so many memories attached to this amazing shop and the people there. this is a wonderful piece in tribute to mr. david & the history of nahoum's. :)

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    1. Thanks for the nice words, HBT. It is always heartening to find that there exist people in the world who can relate to my emotions.

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  7. Thank you..I didn't know the history behind Nahoum's..it was, simply, a part of my past. Beautifully written, as always. Dhonnobaad!

    Deepa.

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    Replies
    1. It was a part of my past as well. It was a part of the past of virtually everyone of my generation. Sigh.

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  8. Sombre post. Your memories give you more pain than the reality of losing.

    Dhari

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    1. Have you ever been to Kolkata, Dhari? Have you ever been to Nahoum's?

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    2. Yes, been there.Probashi really.My father had a transferrable job and we lived a nomadic life.Changing so many homes and schools meant that memories did not really bind us as we were always on the move,carrying our nest with us.My life told me that nothing lasts and it's best to reconcile with losses.Today,I don't know where my true home is,but your post did bring alive a patch of my patchwork Kolkata memory.
      dhari

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    3. I guess you pass as a Kolkatan, then. I am honoured that I could bring alive your memories.

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  9. A beautiful tale. A wonderful tribute.

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    1. I miss my Nahoum's days. I mean, I rate Kookie Jar very highly, but it doesn't have memories.

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  10. It is cruel to bring together thoughts on food,loss and death in a single post.Nahum's was very much a meat and potatoes kind of a cake shop.Aroma full of big box.Service affable.I think someone has left a video on youtube as well.

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    1. I know what you mean. I know exactly what you mean.

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    2. Your post reminded me of Wallace Stevens' The Emperor of Ice Cream.

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    3. Er, isn't that a really big thing to say?

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  11. huh!
    typical kolkatian senti...

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  12. btw...forgot to add socio-eco strata in senti angle ...middle/upper-middle class + english medium...anyway...carry on

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    1. You seem keen to make a point here, I suppose. Not sure where English medium comes into all this, though.

      Anyway, to each his own, I suppose.

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    2. Exactly How many anons post in here,shy of revealing their names?
      Abhishek,it seems you are very popular.
      Why you have this anonymous option still? I say this because some comments are so ingenious that I would like to read their blogs if possible.
      dhari

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    3. I have been considering that for quite some time now, Dhari. I am seriously thinking of deactivating the Anonymous option.

      I wonder why everyone is hell-bent on keeping their identities secret.

      However, I do appreciate feedback of all kinds.

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    4. Well Abhishek,I'm guilty of using anon option when I have to say something seditious or radical,though not on your blog.Neither I have my own blog nor I'm active on networking sites,though I enjoy reading an odd blog or two.Deactivate the anon option if you want to hear everything good about yourself,if not,you'll be visited by troll fairy soon.

      That aside,your blog's name option is not working.Can you look into this?
      dhari

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    5. :)

      kaalchaar is in kolkatian middle/upper middle class bengali's blood...
      Heil middle/upper middle calcutta/kolkata kaalchaar (presi\Xevier/JU) oops culture!

      I love your mythological series...sunil ganguly flavour....

      Will love to read your take on Sita's agnipariksha...

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    6. Heil sic/sik kaalchaar!

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    7. Dhari, you can always use your Google ID to log in and post comments.

      Also, I did not get what you meant by "our blog's name option is not working." If you point out properly, and it is something that I can alter, I will definitely look into it - though I guess it's Blogger up to a new unwanted trick or two.

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    8. Kaalchaar eej saamtheeng dyat ui hyabh awloej cheyrishd, aynd ui ophen soer baai eet. So theyaar iyu gow.

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    9. I plan to write something mythological pretty soon. There is still so much to write about, and so much to learn myself.

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    10. Dhari,

      Centuries ago,Shakespeare asked,"what's in the name".Clearly,you have learned nothing from the bard.You post as anon yourself but want to impinge on others' right to post as anon.Start your own blog boy if you care so much to attach a name and face to the nameless rabble who post here.
      What does Dhari mean anyway? Is it a male version of a certain vanaspati oil? Bah.
      Abhishek,please allow us to post as anon.
      Ignore the equipment enhancing spam mails if any and increase the frequency of the much awaited posts.


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    11. Let us not get personal here. Please. I am not removing the Anonymous option anytime soon, so please relax.

      The spam emails mostly want to sell me furniture and dental solutions. Go figure.

      PS: I am also curious to know what Dhari means.

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    12. Anon,I believe I've a right to express my opinion and that's what i did.You ask "what's in the name"and then wish to know the meaning of my name.How cool is that?
      What should i say anon?Let me get nasty ask you to grow a pair and accept the fact that others are opinionated too.
      dhari

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    13. I humbly request one of you to stop this argument. Please. The last thing I want on this blog is an argument between readers.

      Please.

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    14. Dhari,
      you heard it from the horse's mouth.
      Let's not vandalise his blog.

      PS: I already have a pair.

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    15. Will one of you please stop? I hate to moderate this like a Facebook community.

      Also, I will really appreciate if everyone abstains from posting comments related to anatomical enhancements. Please.

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  13. Knew nothing about the shop.Googled it.
    Now know.Read your post like a well made story.Simple story of a simple man who baked cakes.
    My son is fast asleep,so will tell him this story tomorrow night.Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. You are most welcome. Yes, it a simple story of a simple man. The cakes weren't as commonplace, though.

      If you ever come to Kolkata, do visit Nahoum's. It's worth the experience. I hope David's absence doesn't affect the quality. :(

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  14. Hi,did you find out their jewish antecedents or the story moves from being a fictive narrative to its factual authenticity?you said they were from Baghdad.

    The shop,wherever that is,should have introduced changes with time.Gradual changes are absorbed easily by the psyche.It looks like you are not very fond of change,but look at the bright side,one can always make more memories.

    ~Anusha

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    1. Anusha, multiple sources suggest that they were from Baghdad. I have tried to stick to the facts as much as I could, though I guess I did not know the late David enough to peek inside his emotions.

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    2. As for the other bit, I suppose you're not a Kolkatan. Let me assume that you are from, say, Delhi.

      Would you really like it if the Qutab Minar had been coated in snazzy plastic paint to, as you say, to introduce changes?

      Everything, everyone needs to evolve. I agree with that. The only bit I have an objection to is to change heritage.

      If the people do not understand the value of quality over marketing and packaging, it is their fault. Often it's not about commercial success: it may be about the joy of creation, and taking pride in whatever you create.

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  15. I was a little confused at first, till F-20 cleared everything up. Sad to hear this.

    What is CCD?

    And I hope you do keep allowing us to post without logging in.

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    1. RGB, I have been considering taking away the Anonymous option for quite some time now. Harsh comments do not bother me, but of late I have been receiving a lot of spam.

      However, I assure you that I will have the option open unless it's absolutely necessary.

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    2. Oh, and Cafe Coffee Day. CCD is a substantially large chain of cafes that seem to have popped up like mushrooms (to borrow a Bengali phrase) all over the country, especially in the bigger cities. It is virtually impossible to not pass a CCD if you walk for, say, two miles, in Kolkata.

      They serve very ordinary coffee, and of late, pretty good sandwiches. The coffee and sandwich can be combined to form a rather legitimately priced combo (approximately INR 100 for a really filling, tasty sandwich and a somewhat ordinary cappuccino), and they allow you to sit for hours even if there is a queue.

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    3. Spam. That can be a scourge.

      Oh yes, I have come across Cafe Coffee days, both in Calcutta and in the airports and have heard about them too. I guess I was just not familiar enough for CCD to click in my head. I will give the sandwich a try next time.

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    4. Yes, the new sandwiches are delicious. They have changed their entire menu about a year and a half back. Since then they're absolutely worth a visit.

      The coffee remains ordinary, though.

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  16. I started reading this post and went like,"oh,this guy knows about jewish mythology too!" Then i felt like it was a story before Nahoum bonked me on the head.
    Now you HAVE to push the envelope and write about other cultures also.I won't hear No :D

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    1. This has to be one of the greatest case of overestimation I have encountered on my blog.

      But, other cultures? The only ones I am acquainted with are Bengali and Fardeenism. :(

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    2. Please donot deflate our expectations.Imagine all commenters asking in unison.I know some commenter called you a frog in the well or something to that effect in the past post and here's a chance to fight back.What better way but with a tale or two?

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    3. You know something, you've almost succeeded. I guess I will have to research a lot, and even if I cannot write, the knowledge would not hurt me.

      It will take time, though.

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    4. :D will wait .Fardeenism is soo passe,it does not even have a cult following..Grow out of it.

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    5. I really cannot. I'm too big a fan to let him go. As for the cult following, it will happen. Remember, it had taken Gunda a decade to be evaluated properly.

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  17. The best forms of writing are when the reader feels the emotions the writer wants to portray, even if those emotions are alien to the reader. You, my friend, just did that. I am unaquainted with the cultures you speak of - and yet, your piece took me through generations, cultures and much more. Do NOT underestimate your blog :-)..... Kudos!

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    1. That, my friend, is a huge compliment. I feel honoured. Thank you.

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  18. I saw a discussion on the comment thread regarding "Kolkata Senti"...Well! to them...abhishek, we want more of that senti and kaalchar!

    Having said that, that story was wonderfully written.

    A Calcuttan who is proud of the senti (English medium too..but am not anonymous)

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    1. Thank you. I have no idea where the 'English-medium' bit came from. I cannot remember Nahoum's (or any bakery I have seen) open to only English-medium students.

      And as long as I live, the Kolkata senti will live on. :D

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  19. Firstly,why you are writing after whole one month???
    i agree,i am a silent reader mostly and hardly ever comment,but that's no excuse.
    i liked this one too.the word that best describes your writing?
    organic.
    i heart the universal emotions you portray so organically.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for the nice words. Also, you can obviously choose to remain silent, but I prefer all my readers to be vocal.

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  20. Da,what a life this man might have lived?Being a seller of mouthwatering stuff, forever staying amidst such aroma,watching people walk in with tots to being generous with both a smile and an occasional free bun(?)No bad job days at all.
    seller of dreams-serving and observing.

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    1. Absolutely, Rohit. Envy is one of the reasons that I respect David Nahoum and his family. They have created magic, have taught us magic, and have their etched their name in history - all that while enjoying their job.

      Sigh.

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  21. As usual after 82 comments,you do not need any additional one. It was excellently written. Touched a chord in my heart as I remember standing in the cue during Christmas to buy one of the cakes.lovely.

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    1. I'd rather you stood in the queue instead of the cue, but thanks anyway.

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    2. that was the right queue! sms alerts!

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    3. I love acting the grammar, spelling, and/or punctuation police.

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    4. Talking of Nahoum's,Why eggless cakes do not have 'less' or 'little' eggs but are taken as without eggs?

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    5. This is a question that is not a part of my domain. My apologies.

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  22. That's the thing about memories ,you find other people often have similar ones. Thank You.Managed to get a plum cake even this December when I happened to be there . And one extra high five , history is now my favourite subject after I left school.

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    1. Ah, you know what it means then, correct? The education system was able to make me dislike history my school days as well. I was only after leaving school that I got to know of its proper charm.

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    2. This is so true. I enjoyed reading about history before a chunk was forced down my throat in school. And then it took me a while to re- like history. I think this is mostly because it was information, with little or no part played by the student.

      And yet the history taught in school never focussed on India after independence, which I think is important ... If there was a 'minimum' that the education system should take responsibility for acquainting everyone with, it should be this part ... How is the government supposed to work, how and why these things were decided, origin of current laws etc. aimed at making people responsible voters.

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    3. The worst bit, in my opinion, was the fact that in Class IX and X (the last years of our dealings with history) dealt with Indian history, and the second of those years concentrated only on a garbled version of the Indian freedom struggle.

      Same holds for geography.

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  23. Thank You.. History has always been the most alluring subject after school. Got a plum cake this December when I was back in Cal. This family will be etched in our memories

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    1. Good. I just hope that the quality does not go down after the sad incident.

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  24. After the error i have been checking every day for your next post.
    lovely post...I LOVE Nahoum's...I love the small tea shops where they sell butter toas and omlet :)like(near jadavpur 8b in the xerox courtyard)
    I hate CCD...
    but i love your writing style...the correct mix of nostalgia and facts in this one...great..waiting for your book to be published :)

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    1. Of course I love Nahoum's; and of course I love small tea-shops and coffee-shops.

      However, I do not hate CCD. They don't ask me to leave even if I sit and read for hours in peace, which suits me.

      Also, thank you for those kind words. As for the book, I need to get a publisher first!

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  25. Very Nice post. Khoborta dekhe amar o kharap legechhilo.

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    Replies
    1. Shabhabik. Onekdin jawa hoyni o'paray. Ebar gelei khabo, abar.

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