G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

W H Auden: "But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie. / Mortal, guilty, but to me/ The entirely beautiful."

Will Self: “To attempt to write seriously is always, I feel, to fail – the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short. It is this failure – a ceaseless threnody keening through the writing mind – that dominates my working life, just as an overweening sense of not having loved with enough depth or recklessness or tenderness dominates my personal one.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Art Spiegelman: "You know words in a way are hitting you on the left side of your brain, music and visual arts hit on the right side of the brain, so the idea is to pummel you, to send you from left brain to right brain and back until you're as unbalanced as I am."

विलास सारंग: "संदर्भ कुठलेही असोत, संस्कृत, इंग्रजी, बुद्धिवादी, तांत्रिक, इतिहासाचे, खगोलशास्त्राचे, आधुनिक पदार्थविज्ञानाचे, शिवकालीन व पेशवाईतील बखरीचे, अगणित ज्ञानक्षेत्रांचे, अशा वैविध्यपूर्ण ज्ञानावर लेखन- विशेषत: कवितालेखन- उभं राहत."

Saturday, December 20, 2014

का आतां ही एसी विलेक्ट्रिकीची...the Battle of the Currents and the Terror of Technology

बा सी मर्ढेकर:

"…फलाटदादा, इंजनवाली 
पसंद पहिली भपकेदार?
का आतां ही विलेक्ट्रिकीची 
नक् टी नागिण तल्लख-तार?…"

"मध्य रेल्वेच्या १६० वर्षांच्या इतिहासातील एक महत्त्वाचा टप्पा येत्या शनिवारी रात्री मध्य रेल्वे ओलांडणार आहे. आतापर्यंत डीसी विद्युतप्रवाहावर (डायरेक्ट करंट) चालणारी मध्य रेल्वे या रविवारी पहिल्यांदाच सीएसटी ते कल्याण यादरम्यान एसी विद्युतप्रवाहावर (अल्टरनेट करंट) धावणार आहे..."

I read in Marathi daily Loksatta on Friday December 19 2014 that Mumbai suburban trains will now run on AC instead of DC.

Human history is replete with not just battles of humans against humans. And even those other battles have been bloody.

This brought to my mind a wonderful book: "Edison and the Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death" by Mark Essig,  2005:

Its description is self explanatory and knocks great T A Edison off his pedestal:

"Thomas Edison stunned America in 1879 by unveiling a world-changing invention—the light bulb—and then launching the electrification of America's cities. A decade later, despite having been an avowed opponent of the death penalty, Edison threw his laboratory resources and reputation behind the creation of a very different sort of device—the electric chair. Deftly exploring this startling chapter in American history, Edison & the Electric Chair delivers both a vivid portrait of a nation on the cusp of modernity and a provocative new examination of Edison himself. Edison championed the electric chair for reasons that remain controversial to this day. Was Edison genuinely concerned about the suffering of the condemned? Was he waging a campaign to smear his rival George Westinghouse's alternating current and boost his own system?.."

Mark Essig:

"Alternating current triumphed in the battle of the currents for the same reasons that attracted George Westinghouse to it in the first place. It could be produced at relatively low voltages, stepped up to higher voltages with transformers for economical transmission over long distances, and then stepped down to any voltage required. As electricity expanded into every aspect of life, alternating current offered a flexibility that direct current could not hope to match. By 1917 more than 95 percent of the electricity generated in the United States would be alternating current."

illustration which appeared in Judge magazine shortly after telegraph lineman John Feeks's death on October 11 1889

courtesy: Mark Essig's book

The picture caught my attention because Mumbai suburban trains have become so unsafe for commuters  in recent years, for various reasons,  that some of them sure feel like running away from the 'demon' the way the gentleman in the picture above is running away from the demon of  electricity.

Monday, December 15, 2014

इरावती कर्वे...Did Irawati Karve 'Really' Know Margaret Mead and Watch Fritz Lang's M?

Today December 15 is 109th Birth Anniversary of Irawati Karve (इरावती कर्वे) and tomorrow
December 16 2014 is 113th Birth Anniversary of Margaret Mead, both famous anthropologists.


Both Karve and Mead were my anthropology post-graduate and teacher father's favorites.

In 1970's, both the names were often mentioned at our home with respect and affection. Anthropology then, at least in Maharashtra's arts colleges, was new and 'sexy'.

Lily King's 'Euphoria' is one of the The New York Times' 'The 10 Best Books of 2014'.

Oliver Arnoldi writes about the book in The Telegraph, UK:

"Time has not been kind to Margaret Mead. Eighty-five years ago she was an ingenious hell-raiser and the recent author of Coming of Age in Samoa. It was an anthropological study that linked sexual liberation in Samoan adolescents to their emotional wellbeing. The debates it triggered shook the academic world and made Mead the most influential anthropologist of her day. Now the visionary beacon she lit does not burn as brightly, and in the internet age, reviving the scandal she caused is difficult..."

What was the 'scandal'?

"...Married three times to men, she (MM) dearly loved her third husband, the renowned British anthropologist Gregory Bateson, with whom she had a daughter. But the most intense and enduring relationship of her life was with a woman — the anthropologist and folklorist Ruth Benedict, Mead’s mentor at Columbia university, fourteen years her senior. The two shared a bond of uncommon magnitude and passion, which stretched across a quarter century until the end of Benedict’s life..."...

Read this essay by Maria Popova in 'Brain Pickings'. In one of the letters (dated 1925),  Mead says to Ms. Benedict: "Your lips bring blessings — my beloved."

In September 2014, I watched award-winning  Kissing Jessica Stein (2001) and some of Mead's love letters, like above, kept reminding of the dialogs in the film when Helen and Jessica describe their sexual experience with each other.

courtesy:  the distributor of the film, Fox Searchlight Pictures, the publisher of the film.

I wonder if my father (now 78) knows this aspect of Mead's life and, I am even more curious,  if Irawati Karve knew this before she died in 1970. (Given the power of academic grapevine, I suspect she surely knew something that had started as far back in 1925.)

And if Ms. Karve  knew this, did she write about it? Did she approve of homosexuality? [I also wonder if R D Karve (र धों कर्वे),  Ms. Karve's brother-in-law and first Indian sexologist knew about it.]


Facebook post by Guardian Film on September 5 2014 exhorts the reader to watch great Fritz Lang's newly restored 1931 psychological thriller M.

"Andrew Pulver recommends German director Fritz Lang's newly restored 1931 psychological thriller M. Made two years before Adolf Hitler came to power, this film about a child murderer still retains its power to disturb. It is also a trenchant treatise on crime and justice and a vivid portrait of the rapidly disintegrating Weimar republic."

                      'M' was most likely made when  Ms. Karve was in Germany. Did she watch it?

Every time I read  words like 'disintegrating Weimar republic', I think about the late Ms. Karve who was in Germany from 1928-1930 or so.

I am NOT familiar with all the writings in  Marathi of Ms. Karve but I have not read or heard anything she has written on the subject of  'Weimar culture' in general or specifically on 'disintegrating Weimar republic'.

Ms. Karve is still famous for her Sahitya Akademi award winning book 'Yugant' (युगांत),  1967/68: a commentary on Mahabharata.  I like the book and have read it several times.

However, a few others too have written in Marathi on Mahabharata, most notably Durga Bhagwat (दुर्गा भागवत), and I am sure more will do so.

But no Marathi writer of any substance has written on the last days of Weimar republic and the rise of Nazism because no one had the kind of  opportunity to experience it first hand like Ms. Karve.

She wrote on mythical 'Sarpa Satra' described in Mahabharata but what about one of the biggest Sarpa-Satra's in human history?

convocation ceremony of SNDT university, 1935

the best dressed lady in the picture above is 29-year old Irawati Karve

courtesy: Marathi daily Loksatta (लोकसत्ता)

 Disclaimer: I have made some statements above based on my limited knowledge of  Irawati Karve's writings in Marathi. It also does not help that I have not read a word written by her daughter the late Gauri Deshpande (गौरी देशपांडे). Therefore,  if my claims are wrong or based on incomplete information, I stand corrected and apologize.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

बहिणीचे प्रेम, गाय व टोड यांचे उल्लेख...G A's Cows, Orwell's Toads and Sentimentality in Literature

Today December 11 2014 is 27th Death Anniversary of G A Kulkarni (जी. ए. कुलकर्णी, "जीए")

Gregory Crewdson:

"When you continually do the same thing in a certain sort of way—the one thing artists do whether they’re filmmakers or writers—they create an iconography of themselves, even if they’re not aware of it. It’s not until later that you realize, Oh, I use a lot of medicine bottles or a lot of nondescript cars with doors open or a lot of pregnant women, or whatever it is. You can’t give a precise sort of reason why, but after a period of time that thing just becomes part of the world you create."


Back cover of  'Jee Enchi Nivadak Patre Khand 1, 1995 and Khand 2, 1998' ('जी.एं. ची निवडक पत्रे'; खंड 1 आणि खंड 2)
 courtesy: artist Bal Thakoor (बाळ ठाकूर) and owner of copyrights to the books

There are many references to cows- its anatomy, its food (smell of fresh grass), its milk, its tears, its death  etc- in G A Kulkarni's (जी ए कुलकर्णी) stories.

G A has explained its reasons in a Marathi letter:

"… माझ्या कथात बहिणीचे प्रेम व गाय यांचे उल्लेख जरुरीपेक्षा जास्त येतात, असे मला एक टीकाकाराने  इशारा दिला आहे…लहानपणी आमच्या घरी गाय नव्हती असा एक दिवस मला आठवत नाही. गायीच्या पाठीवर हात ठेवताच होणारी तिच्या कातडीची ओळख दाखवणारी थरथर, तिचा वास, रात्री गवत टाकायला जाताना हातातील कंदिलाचा प्रकाश तिच्या  डोळ्यावर पडताच चमकणारे गडद लालसर भिंग, या आठवणी आजदेखील इतक्या स्पष्ट आहेत की त्यांतील एक हाताने उचलून मी तुम्हास देवू शकेन… या सार्या बरोबर, गाय आडवी झालेली पहिली; तिचे डोळे सतत का पाझरू लागले या विचाराने रात्रीची जेवणे तशीच रहिली.  पाण्याचे पातेले व गवताची पेंडी घेऊन समोर तासंतास काढले व शेवटी चारसहा जणांनी तिला उचलून गाडीत ठेवलेले देखील मी पाहिले.  त्यानंतर घरात गाय आली नाही…घरातून  गाय गेली, व आमचे बालपण घेऊन गेली… "

[from the book pictured above]

("...A critic has warned me that there are too many references to sisterly love and cows in my stories...There was not a day, I remember, there was no cow at our home during childhood. Quivering of her skin that showed familiarity after being touched on the back, here smell, dark reddish lens when her eyes reflected the light of lantern in hand as one went to feed grass in the night, these memories are so clear that I can hand one of them over to you...with all this, one saw flattened cow; the dinners were never eaten by the thought of why her eyes were constantly sprinkling. Hours were spent holding a bowl of water and grass chunk and finally I also saw four or six people lifting and keeping her in a vehicle. Cow then never came to the house...The cow left the house, and took away our childhood...")

 Artist: Mort Gerberg, The New Yorker
 George Orwell's "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad" is one of the best essays I have read. I keep reading it.

"...I mention the spawning of the toads because it is one of the phenomena of spring which most deeply appeal to me, and because the toad, unlike the skylark and the primrose, has never had much of a boost from poets. But I am aware that many people do not like reptiles or amphibians, and I am not suggesting that in order to enjoy the spring you have to take an interest in toads. There are also the crocus, the Mistle-Thrush, the cuckoo, the blackthorn, etc. The point is that the pleasures of spring are available to everybody, and cost nothing...

...Is it wicked to take a pleasure in spring and other seasonal changes? To put it more precisely, is it politically reprehensible, while we are all groaning, or at any rate ought to be groaning, under the shackles of the capitalist system, to point out that life is frequently more worth living because of a blackbird's song, a yellow elm tree in October, or some other natural phenomenon which does not cost money and does not have what the editors of left-wing newspapers call a class angle? There is not doubt that many people think so. I know by experience that a favourable reference to ‘Nature’ in one of my articles is liable to bring me abusive letters, and though the key-word in these letters is usually ‘sentimental’...

...two ideas seem to be mixed up in them. One is that any pleasure in the actual process of life encourages a sort of political quietism. People, so the thought runs, ought to be discontented, and it is our job to multiply our wants and not simply to increase our enjoyment of the things we have already. The other idea is that this is the age of machines and that to dislike the machine, or even to want to limit its domination, is backward-looking, reactionary and slightly ridiculous. This is often backed up by the statement that a love of Nature is a foible of urbanized people who have no notion what Nature is really like. Those who really have to deal with the soil, so it is argued, do not love the soil, and do not take the faintest interest in birds or flowers, except from a strictly utilitarian point of view. To love the country one must live in the town, merely taking an occasional week-end ramble at the warmer times of year.

This last idea is demonstrably false. Medieval literature, for instance, including the popular ballads, is full of an almost Georgian enthusiasm for Nature, and the art of agricultural peoples such as the Chinese and Japanese centre always round trees, birds, flowers, rivers, mountains. The other idea seems to me to be wrong in a subtler way. Certainly we ought to be discontented, we ought not simply to find out ways of making the best of a bad job, and yet if we kill all pleasure in the actual process of life, what sort of future are we preparing for ourselves? If a man cannot enjoy the return of spring, why should he be happy in a labour-saving Utopia? What will he do with the leisure that the machine will give him? I have always suspected that if our economic and political problems are ever really solved, life will become simpler instead of more complex, and that the sort of pleasure one gets from finding the first primrose will loom larger than the sort of pleasure one gets from eating an ice to the tune of a Wurlitzer. I think that by retaining one's childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and — to return to my first instance — toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.

At any rate, spring is here, even in London N. 1, and they can't stop you enjoying it. This is a satisfying reflection. How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could. But luckily they can't. So long as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, spring is still spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it."

 Artist: Charles Addams, The New Yorker, December 19 1959

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Guide@50: Serpent Girls of Vijay Anand and Fritz Lang

Vijay Anand's 'Guide' was released in India on December 6 1965. So today, December 7 2014, is the start of its golden anniversary year.

The movies has appeared on this blog a couple of times earlier. I still remember its large colourful posters displayed  in front of the town hall, Miraj where it ran at Deval talkies some time in 1966. Aged 6, I wanted to watch the movie! My father flatly and quite rightly refused the permission. I would watch the film a decade or so later.

I consider the movie very significant because, I feel,  it marked the end of Hindi cinema's golden age that had started with Mehboob Khan's 'Andaz', 1949.

By the end of 1965. the best work of Hindi cinema's greats such as Mehboob Khan, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Balraj Sahni, Motilal, Nargis, Madhubala, Geeta Bali, Nutan, Meena Kumari, Shankar-Jaikishan, Naushad, Roshan, Madan Mohan, C Ramchandra, S D Burman etc. was largely behind them.

Those who like 'Guide' are often impressed with Waheeda Rehman's snake-dance, ahead of her even other wonderful dance numbers. I always feel that dance is a manifestation of suppressed sexual desires of Rosie played ably by Ms. Rehman. 

Google Doodle on October 10 2014 

courtesy: Google Inc.

R K Narayan's 'The Guide', 1958 on which the film is supposedly based, describes Rosie's snake-dance, on stage, in these words:

“…Two hours passed. She was doing her fifth item—a snake dance, unusually enough. I liked to watch it. This item always interested me. As the musicians tuned their instruments and played the famous snake song, Nalini came gliding onto the stage. She fanned out her fingers slowly, and the yellow spotlight, playing on her white upturned palms, gave them the appearance of a cobra hood; she wore a diadem for this act, and it sparkled. Lights changed, she gradually sank to the floor, the music became slower and slower, the refrain urged the snake to dance—the snake that resided on the locks of Shiva himself, on the wrist of his spouse, Parvathi, and in the ever-radiant home of the gods in Kailas. This was a song that elevated the serpent and brought out its mystic quality; the rhythm was hypnotic. It was her masterpiece. Every inch of her body from toe to head rippled and vibrated to the rhythm of this song which lifted the cobra out of its class of an underground reptile into a creature of grace and divinity and an ornament of the gods.
The dance took forty-five minutes in all; the audience watched in rapt silence. I was captivated by it. . . . She rarely chose to do it indeed. She always said that a special mood was needed, and always joked that so much wriggling twisted her up too much and she could not stand upright again for days. I sat gazing as if I were seeing it for the first time. There came to my mind my mother’s remark on the first day, “A serpent girl! Be careful.”…”

'Serpent girl' Waheeda Rehman

courtesy: Shemaroo and current copyright holder to the feature film 'Guide'

Apart from Mr. Narayan's vivid description,  was there any on-screen inspiration for Mr. Vijay Anand?

Probably yes.

I read a few books this year.

The best of them is 'A Strange Kind of Paradise: India Through Foreign Eyes', 2014 by Sam Miller. Mr. Miller is easily one of the interesting persons who ever visited India. He belongs with the likes of Hiuen Tsang, Ibn Battuta...

The book gave me so much and will continue to give. Every page of the book is a treasure trove.

One of the most interesting things I learned there was great Fritz Lang's 'India films': 'The Tiger of Eschnapur', 1959 and 'The Indian Tomb', 1959.

'Serpent girl' Debra Paget performing snake dance in Fritz Lang's 'The Indian Tomb', 1959

courtesy: current copyright owner to the feature 

Fritz Lang was a greater director than Vijay Anand but when it comes to the battle of serpent girls, the clear winner is Mr. Anand's fully clothed Ms. Rehman!