मेघदूत: "नीचैर्गच्छत्युपरि च दशा चक्रनेमिक्रमेण"

समर्थ शिष्या अक्का : "स्वामीच्या कृपाप्रसादे हे सर्व नश्वर आहे असे समजले. पण या नश्वरात तमाशा बहुत आहे."

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.”

Friedrich Nietzsche: “Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.”

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

सदानंद रेगे:
"... पण तुकारामाची गाथा ज्या धुंदीनं आजपर्यंत वाचली जात होती ती धुंदी माझ्याकडे नाहीय. ती मला येऊच शकत नाही याचं कारण स्वभावतःच मी नास्तिक आहे."
".. त्यामुळं आपण त्या दारिद्र्याच्या अनुभवापलीकडे जाऊच शकत नाही. तुम्ही जर अलीकडची सगळी पुस्तके पाहिलीत...तर त्यांच्यामध्ये त्याच्याखेरीज दुसरं काही नाहीच आहे. म्हणजे माणसांच्या नात्यानात्यांतील जी सूक्ष्मता आहे ती क्वचित चितारलेली तुम्हाला दिसेल. कारण हा जो अनुभव आहे... आपले जे अनुभव आहेत ते ढोबळ प्रकारचे आहेत....."

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."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Monday, December 31, 2007

Now, Here's My Plan...For 2008

The Dalai Lama (August 1999): "For me, it is nothing. New millennium, or new century, or new year. For me is another day and night. The sun, the moon, the stars remain the same."

I need no alcohol to get drunk but I have never understood all the hoopla about a new year. I get very excited on the morning of Indian new year day. This year like almost every previous year, I won't be awake when new years arrives. Neighbourhood noise of course will wake me up.

31st December is a busy day for Indian TV channels. Their anchors are very excited, people watching them- like a couple below- probably aren’t.

“With sensing of New Year you must be thrilled- heart must be beating faster, let us dance, let us sing!”

(double click on the picture to get a much larger view)

Artist: Abhimanyu Kulkarni, Lokprabha अभिमन्यु कुलकर्णी , लोकप्रभा

I have no resolutions but plan for 2008...

Artist: Shel Silverstein for Playboy (easily one of the best pictures I ever saw)

...a plan to escape.

But isn't this blog an effort to escape? Escape from one's own personality?

Well then I have a plan to escape from "escape".

I will be off for few days and will meet you some time in January 2008.

Happy New Year 2008. Thanks for all your encouragement and comments.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Faking Friends for Fame

Times of India November 25, 2007:

“…Competition for friends can be so fierce that some have even resorted to faking friend lists. Sixteen-year-old Mohit Kapoor, for example, has put up 20 benami profiles and keeps scrapping himself daily. "This not only pads the number of scraps I receive, but I can also brag about things indirectly," grins Mohit.

This kind of obsessing before the computer about unreal friends who don't really give a fig about you has unhealthy consequences, especially for introverts who don't have a life in the real world. "There are a lot of people who go online looking for friends because they don't have them elsewhere," says Dr Harish Shetty, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist. "So, the online friends become their universe, and even a slight rejection or snub becomes a big issue."

This brought back memories of Devyani Chaubal (1942-1995), a film gossip journalist. She reportedly faked friends, stars of Hindi film industry, from Raj Kapoor to Rajesh Khanna.

Subhash Bhende सुभाष भेंडे drew a delightful Marathi word-caricature of her- "Sharmishtha Godambe शर्मिष्ठा गोडांबे"

We may or mayn't know clandestine Mohit Kapoors but we get to know many Sharmishtha Godambes in our life.

I have lost their count.

Artist: Barney Tobey The New Yorker 23 October 1978

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Tilak-Agarkar Dogfight...Still Goes On

This blog already commented on the abusive language used by Andhra Pradesh chief minister against his predecessor:

“Why are you feeling so restless. I will thoroughly expose you today…(so much so that)…you will feel ashamed that you were born to your mother, you will feel that you should not have born at all. This is just a preamble.” (Times of India July 24, 2007).

Sonia Gandhi recently called Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi- “Maut Ka Saudagar” (merchant of death). (Wonder what Congress leaders should be called for carnage of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. "Maut Ke Dalal" Brokers of Death?)

Using extreme profanity in public is not new to India and prominent Indian leaders.

It probably started with Bal Gangadhar Tilak बाळ गंगाधर टिळक (1856-1920) and Gopal Ganesh Agarkar गोपाळ गणेश आगरकर (1856-1895), truly giants of 19th century India. In 1893, they fought mother of all wordy duels.

They used terms like leper, dog afflicted with rabies, murderous, rotten brain, arrogant, mean to describe each other.

Agarkar started it.

(Source- “व्यक्ती आणि विचार” य दि फडके; “Person and Thoughts” Y D Phadke, 1979)

In January 1882, Wikipedia says, telephony was introduced in India but Tilak and Agarkar never spoke to each other on phone.

If they were to...

Artist: Whitney Darrow,Jr. The New Yorker 8 February 1947

Friday, December 28, 2007

Where is Suttee in the Barchart?

This post is in memory of graceful Ms. Benazir Bhutto.

I hope her death will marginalise extremists in Pakistan the way Mahatma Gandhi's death marginalised Hindu extremists in India for 40 years.

Cherie Blair has brought up the subject of widows and “suttee — a widow burning herself alive on her husband’s funeral pyre” in The Mourning After : NYT December 18, 2007.

“…The centuries-old practice of suttee — a widow burning herself alive on her husband’s funeral pyre — has all but vanished. But the few cases of self-immolation that do occur are a reminder of how bleak the future is for many widows…

…In rural areas of Nepal and India, widows may still be expected to shave their heads, sleep on the floor and hide from men for the rest of their lives.

In Afghanistan, where two million women have lost their husbands in decades of fighting, widows are prevented from working and have no way to provide for their children. In Tanzania, among other countries, the legal system makes it difficult for widows to inherit their husband’s property...

…In India alone, there are estimated to be some 30 million widows struggling to bring up children. Across the developing world, there may be as many as 100 million in a perilous state. Conflict, ethnic cleansing and AIDS are increasing these numbers by the day and creating younger widows. In countries where disease or conflict are most rife, half of all women can be impoverished widows…”

Suttee in New York Times in 2007?

Not surprising.

This year Times of India published two reports on the subject of suttee in July 2007:

“The entire community will be held accountable for any incidence of sati under new amendments being brought into the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, which were cleared by a Group of Ministers on Friday.

The proposed changes seek to make the law act as a strong deterrent to the crime while protecting unwilling women who are forced into the funeral pyre. Under the amendments, proposed by the ministry for women and child development (WCD), the act of coercing a woman to commit sati has been made a non-bailable offence. Imprisonment under the law has been increased to a minimum of three years, going up to 10 years, and the fine has been enhanced from Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000…”


“Devils among us- The latest amendment to the commission of Sati Prevention Act proves, yet again, that social evils are very difficult to eradicate.”

Frontline January 4, 2008 said: "There has been an escalation of all forms of violence against women in India in the past two decades...The violence against women takes many forms. They are killed in the womb; they are traded for sex and labour...Domestic and marital abuse is made more possible when women have fewer options for escape out of such oppressive relationships because of lack of assets or economic security in the form of gainful occupations... " (See barchart at the end of this post)

Suttee is just another form of violence against women. Indeed, it was.

“…particularly in Bengal, suttee was sordid and cruel…in nine cases out of ten, the woman in Bengal went to the flames in fear and horror…she was usually tied to the corpse, often already putrid; men stood by with poles to push her back in case the bonds should burn through and victim, scorched and maimed, should struggle free…”

(Source- The Men Who Ruled India by Philip Mason, 1953)

Have you read anything more barbaric than the above in entire human history?

But it was glorified in our culture quite a lot.

Vinayak Janardan Kirtane विनायक जनार्दन कीर्तने wrote a book “Elder Madhavrao’s Death थोरले माधवराव यांचा मृत्यु “ in 1861. It was staged in 1862. It was the first independent, literary and published Marathi play.

It had a scene of Madhavrao’s wife Ramabai रमाबाई going suttee on his funeral pyre.

A woman going suttee was considered almost a goddess. To create publicity stunt, theatre company who was staging the play started bringing few ladies from the audience on to the stage to worship Ramabai.

Soon the scene became so popular that it alone would last for a couple of hours! People forgot that the actor who was playing Ramabai was a male – Vishnu Vatave विष्णु वाटवे! They took home suttee’s prashad (like flowers, wheat/rice grains, vermillion/ turmeric etc.) from the stage!

(btw- This may sound familiar to those who know Hindi film "Jai Santoshi Maa" (1975) which used to convert cinema halls into temples.)

(Source- D G Godse द ग गोडसे, “नांगी असलेले फुलपाखरू Stinger Possessing Butterfly” 1989)

I wonder what Lord William Bentinck (1774-1839), who was responsible for banning the practice of suttee सती in 1829, would have made of this? After all he was the first Governor-General who was prepared to take the risk of provoking a general cry of religion in danger.

Even sensible and rational writer Vasudev Krishna Bhave वासुदेव कृष्ण भावे seemingly justified suttee in his classic "Maharashtra During Peshwa-times पेशवेकालीन महाराष्ट्र"(1936).

Not all widows landed up on funeral pyre.

They fought all odds to play significant roles in India's recent history upto 1829:

Jijabai (Shivaji's mother), Radhabai Bhat (wife/mother of Peshwa), Gopikabai Bhat (wife/mother of Peshwa), Ahilyabai Holkar, Kittur Rani Chennamma ...

Artist: James Thurber The New Yorker 12 February 1949

Causes of Death among rural women aged 15-44 in Maharashtra, 1996

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Inflation Hurts Literature too! तानी मावशीचे दोन आणे.

Christian Lorentzen,

‘Fictitious Values/ Boom and bust in twenty-first-century lit’, Bookforum, June/July/August 2012:

"The banality of money may be a reason writers shy away from quoting dollar amounts. If we can’t escape prices in our daily lives, can’t we at least escape them in novels? Besides the risks of committing an embarrassing inaccuracy and alienating the reader, who may have completely different notions about what constitutes a living wage or a reasonable price for a sandwich, quoting actual numbers dates the work in a way that it didn’t in the relatively inflation-free bullion-backed nineteenth century."

Although it continues to be legal tender, 25-paisa coin (Hindi चवन्नी , Marathi पावली) is no longer accepted at Pune.

I have used 1-paisa, 2-paisa, 3-paisa, 5-paisa, 10-paisa and 20-paisa coins in the past. They all gave me tremendous pleasure because all of them once could buy me some favourite food- candy, peppermint, peanuts, puffed rice, biscuits etc.

Thanks to inflation, they are now dead as dodoes.

The Economist, December 8th 2007 confirmed: "The Economist's food-price index is higher today than at any time since it was created in 1845." (see chart at the bottom of this post).

Inflation kills poor and those who don't own assets.

SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR said in his essay ”Independence & the Bengal famine” of August 20, 2003:

“…(during the world war II) Massive inflation was the inevitable outcome, something that did not happen in Britain itself. The food price index (1937=100) shot up to 311 by 1949 in India...The data reflect the rationed price of food in India: the black market price was even higher.

Now, inflation is very good for producers and asset owners. All property owners saw property values skyrocket. Rising agricultural prices benefited all landowners, and even small ones got out of debt and bought fresh land. Many new salaried jobs were created by the war, and the problem of the educated unemployed disappeared. Above all, the business class flourished…

… The real wages of factory workers declined 30% between 1939 and 1943…

…The rural landless in India were the worst hit. They had neither access to the new urban jobs or rationed urban supplies. Ranging from a quarter of the rural population in Bengal to over half in Madras, they bore the brunt of spiralling prices..."

Inflation affects even literature.

Marathi literature, cinema contain many references to monetary aspects of everyday life- salary, loan, food, education, marriage, illness, land price- expressed in rupees and paise. Understanding them is very vital to appreciate the art.

Inflation makes us numb to them.

Here is an example.

तानी मावशी: “…अणि हे घे दोन आणे तुला, वाटेत फारच भूक लागली तर काहीतरी विकत घे …”

(Tanee Maternal-aunt: “..and take this two annas for you, if you feel very hungry during the journey, buy something…”)

[जी ए कुलकर्णी “कैरी” पिंगळावेळ G A Kulkarni “Raw Mango” Owl Time 1977]

Two annas meant 12 paise.

G A Kulkarni-sir, two annas won’t buy me anything today and worse, my son doesn’t even understand this currency.

I wonder if we need to print consumer price index of the year against each such reference!

‘A shilling? How long have you been drunk?’

The Spectator 2007

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Why Ketkar-pedia (महाराष्ट्रीय ज्ञानकोश) Flopped but Wikipedia Booms?

Brad DeLong said on December 24, 2007:

"blogging evangelist Dave Winer made a long bet with New York Times executive Martin Nisenholtz: "In a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times' Web site."...

...In the five years since the bet was made, a clear winner did emerge, but it was neither blogs nor the Times.

Wikipedia, which was only one year old in 2002, ranks higher today on four of the five [top] news stories [of 2007]: 12th for Chinese exports, fifth for oil prices, first for the Iraq war, fourth for the mortgage crisis and first for the Virginia Tech killings..."

The Economist on April 20, 2006 said:

”… Wikipedia's promise is nothing less than the liberation of human knowledge—both by incorporating all of it through the collaborative process, and by freely sharing it with everybody who has access to the internet. This is a radically popular idea.

Wikipedia's English-language version doubled in size last year and now has over 1m articles. By this measure, it is almost 12 times larger than the print version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Taking in the other 200-odd languages in which it is published, Wikipedia has more than 3m articles. Over 100,000 people all over the world have contributed, with a total of almost 4m “edits” between them.

Wikipedia already has more “visitors” than the online New York Times, CNN and other mainstream sites. It has become a vital research tool for huge numbers of people. And Wikipedia is only five years old.

This success has made Wikipedia the most famous example of a wider wiki phenomenon. Wikis are web pages that allow anybody who is allowed to log into them to change them. In Wikipedia's case, that happens to be anybody at all. The word “wiki” comes from the Hawaiian word for “quick”, but also stands for “what I know is...”. Wikis are thus the purest form of participatory creativity and intellectual sharing, and represent “a socialisation of expertise”, as David Weinberger, who is currently writing a book on collaborative intelligence, puts it…”

Dr. Shridhar Venkatesh Ketkar श्रीधर व्यंकटेश केतकर (1884-1937) is a formidable name in the pre-independence history of India.

His reputation is based on his unique creation - a 23-volume encyclopedia in Marathi, called Maharashtreeya Dnyankosh महाराष्ट्रीय ज्ञानकोश. His work received no government funding and took 12 years of his life eventually killing his diabetic body.

He reminds me of great Don Quixote. We may all laugh at Don but we envy him deep down, for his capacity to dream and incessant efforts he puts in to pursue those dreams, against impossible odds.

T S Shejwakar त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर, Durga Bhagwat दुर्गा भागवत, Y D Phadke य दि फडके and many others have written very sensitively and perceptively on the life and work of Dr. Ketkar.

Phadke’s article informed me most. Shejwalkar's brought tears to my eyes.

Phadke argued that Ketkar shouldn’t have undertaken this project. He thought Ketkar was a very promising sociologist and should have stuck to his core skill. By doing so, he would have contributed more to India’s intellectual progress.

As Phadke demonstrated in his article, Ketkar was a highly opinionated person. He wasn’t ready to listen to any expert, let alone revising his work based on their views.

(“व्यक्ती आणि विचार” य दि फडके; “Persons and Thoughts” Y D Phadke, 1979

"निवडक लेखसंग्रह" त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर; "Selected Articles-collection" by Tryambak Shankar Shejwalkar 1977)

You can’t compile encyclopedia with this attitude.

The Economist on April 20, 2006 said:

“…Among the new media, wikis are the perfect complement to blogs. Whereas blogs contain the unedited, opinionated voice of one person, wikis explicitly and literally allow groups of people to get on the proverbial “same page”…”

Ketkar wasn’t ready to get on the same page with anyone who didn’t agree with him, he didn’t believe in collaborative intelligence!

For that reason, sadly, Maharashtreeya Dnyankosh महाराष्ट्रीय ज्ञानकोश is just a relic today.

Ketkar says to all of us:

‘I thought I had an encyclopedia inside me but it was just a blog.’

variation on The Spectator cartoon

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Gods Are Us; A Scene from Our Heaven

Reading numerous Puranas in my childhood, I used to wonder how Lord Indra gets away so lightly with all kinds of crimes- including adultery- he commits.

Julian Gough: “…To have the gods laughing at us through our fictions is acceptable if the gods are multiple, and flawed like us.” (Prospect Magazine UK May 2007)

Now, I know better. Indra is flawed like me.

But I will die; Indra won’t.

Homer Simpson:
“If he's so smart, how come he's dead?” ("Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?" Production code: AABF21 Original Air-date on FOX: 24-Oct-1999)

Lord Indra is smart.

Author G A Kulkarni जी ए कुलकर्णी - influenced by Greek mythology and literature- had this take on the subject of our gods.

"...आपल्या अनेक देवता पाहा. त्यांना संतती तरी नसते किंवा झालीच तर ती त्यांच्या प्रणयक्रीडेचे अनिवार्य फळ म्हणूनच असते. एखादी देवता आपले मूल कडेवर घेवून त्याच्याकडे मातृप्रेमाने पाहात आहे, असे तुला कधी दिसले आहे?"

“…Look at many of our gods. They either have no children or if they do, it’s the inevitable fruit of their copulation. Any goddess holding her child atop her waist, looking at it with mother’s love, have you ever seen this?”

("ऑर्फियस" पिंगळावेळ) ("Orpheus" Owl-Time) 1977

So is following scene from our heaven?

The Spectator 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

No Public Urinals? Then No Public Health, Colourful Graffiti & Free Medical Advice.

Times of India December 11, 2007 decries inadequate number of public urinals in Pune. Just 352 for 3 Million people, one public urinal per 9,000 people.

“…This is grossly inadequate as compared to the PMC's own public health norms which categorically state that one urinal should be available per 100 people. The main victims of the civic body's apathy are women and the disabled, who are completely deprived of the essential facility.

Same is the case with pay-and-use public toilets. The civic body has constructed about 772 such toilets with 11,319 seats — 5,731 for men and 5,588 for women. However, a majority of these toilet blocks have been encroached upon and many have turned into gambling dens. These urinals and toilets are stinking without regular cleaning.…”

Public urinal has already appeared on this blog before. See it here.

Given a choice Indians would build a small temple instead of a urinal. Why?
Aren’t both equally important to one’s health? For my health at any rate, urinal is more important.

Vinoba Bhave विनोबा भावे reportedly used to say “प्रभाते मलदर्शनम्” (In the morning sight feces) rephrasing following famous Sanskrit shloka's last line:

कराग्रे वसते लक्ष्मी:
करमूले सरस्वती ।
करमध्ये तु गोविंद:
प्रभाते करदर्शनम्।।

(At the tip of the hand resides Laxmi (Goddess of Wealth),
At the root Sarasvati (Goddess of knowledge),
At the centre Govinda (Lord Krishna),
In the morning sight hand.)

I use public urinals quite a bit.

Every road I go to in Pune, I first mark location of urinals on them. Many of them are poorly maintained.

But most of them carry interesting graffiti and posters of medical advice on venereal diseases, lack of sexual appetite and impotence. All done in very colourful language.

Artist: Peter C Vey The New Yorker January 5, 2004

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Dyeing Our Nasal Hair To Look Vivid and Bright

For last few years, I have developed a strange habit. When I meet or see someone, I first look at his/ her hair to check if dye has been used.

On December 17, 2007, DD telecast live the ceremony- attended by the high and mighty of India- to release a postage stamp honouring the late S B Chavan.

The event was a sea of jet-black hair with very few grey islands!

India is young. And is younger if you discount hair colour!

My father often used to observe that poor people in India- portrayed in TV serials and cinema- almost always possess two things- huge house and black hair.

Full disclosures- My wife dyes her hair and so does my mother-in-law. Both of them won’t be reading this post though!

“The total organised hair colour market in India is about Rs 200 crore, 60 per cent (Rs 120 crore) of which is the mass-market colour segment. While the total market is growing at around 35 per cent, the mass market is growing at 40 per cent on a year-on-year basis. “ Business Line May 4, 2007.

Thanks to my DNA, I started turning grey very early. But so far I haven’t tried dyeing.

I agree with Edwina Ings-Chambers when she said:

” …I wonder about the effect that rising life expectancy has on our perceptions of age. I stopped caring about wrinkles when my father died, but friends who are 20 years older, but who still have their parents, happily obsess about those physical markers that signpost the route to death. I look at the ravages of time with interest - they are the visible terrain of our lives; they are, effectively, our memories.” (FT March 30, 2007)

But most people I meet at social functions want to look nice, smooth, glowing, untouched by woe and by time. They use what is called red-carpet dermatology.

Michael Crichton said: “..The media image is the reality, and by comparison day-to-day life seems to lack excitement. So now day-to-day life is false, and the media image is true. Sometimes I look around my living room, and the most real thing in the room is the television. It's bright and vivid, and the rest of my life looks drab..”

Don’t you think it’s a bit sad, dyeing your nasal hair?

The Spectator 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tom and Jerry in Stone. At Mamallapuram, 1300 Years ago.

Frontline January 4, 2008 has a story on Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) as 10th part of a 25-part series on Indian art.

Three things I enjoyed most about my stay in Madras were- affordable and efficient Pallavan Transport Corporation, IIT campus and above all Mamallapuram.

I went to Mamallapuram a few times. Its beauty is ethereal because "In Indic vision, there is no marked division between the divine and the earthly. All that there is, is sacred. There is a grace that underlies all that there is. Our response to that grace when we see it is considered to be a moment when we get a glimpse of the Truth. Bringing this realisation to us is the purpose of Indian art. All forms and all deities are a means towards the realisation of the inherent unity of the whole of creation."

But this is true of many other places in India.

What stands out most for me there is the carving I call the original Tom & Jerry.

Frontline describes it as : "...On the opposite bank is a charming depiction of a cat performing penance. He has deluded some mice into believing that he is an ascetic. This could be a story from the Mahabharata in which a sad fate overtakes the trusting mice. It could also be a witty comment being made by the artists on hypocrisy in contemporary practices..."

I don't subscribe to this view.

I say : cat is performing penance, therefore it can't move and hence mice are pulling its leg. Just like Tom & Jerry.

I have often wondered what it must have been when architects and builders conceived this humour in hard grey granite. I wish I were at the table!

For me, it depicts the uncomplicated sense of humour of Tamil people- arguably the funniest people in India- who have a rare capacity to laugh at themselves and to discover humour in everyday mundane situations. It's no coincidence that much imitated Nagesh is probably the greatest comic actor India produced.

Who doesn't love Tom and Jerry? Tom and Jerry is an animated cartoon series of MGM produced from 1940 until 1957. It is widely considered one of the best animated cartoon series ever.

Here it is in stone, not in celluloid:

Mamallapuram, c A.D. 630 to A.D. 728

In right hand bottom quadrant, spot Tom performing penance and Jerry as usual bothering him

And after Tom's penance was over, this happened...

Friday, December 21, 2007

What is the Name of Your Stuffed Toy Tiger, Shoaib Akhtar?

"What is the Name of Your Stuffed Toy Tiger, Shoaib Akhtar? Shoaib Akhtar?"

Read above on lines of the famous dialogue from blockbuster Hindi film Sholay (1975):

तुम्हारा नाम क्या है बसंती? What is your name, Basanti?”.

November 16, 2007, Hindustan Times reported: “Pakistani fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar has expressed a desire to meet Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt, who is in a jail in Pune.”

He may be interested in meeting Deepika Padukone too.

Cricket will increasingly meet Hindi film industry. Cricket will just be an entertainment, in not too distant future.

It’s hardly competitive anymore. Compared to the past, Pakistan, Wes Indies, England (81 all out against SL on Dec 20!), New Zealand cricket are in decline. It leaves only Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa in South Africa and India in fray.

Rajan Bala lamented in Asian Age November 26, 2007: “So sad that Pak cricket has lost its competitive edge.”

“If one were to say that Pakistan cricket is going the West Indies way - into a sharp decline - it would certainly rankle across the border. But ask former captain, the magnificent Imran Khan, and he would tell you that it was always coming and that too because the country's domestic cricket has always been in the doldrums…”

In the past, playing Pakistan was next only to playing fiery West Indies.

I remember watching on television Pakistan –India test match played on December 23-28, 1982 at Karachi. In Indian second innings, Imran Khan bowled an unplayable spell. India were at 102 for 1 to be bowled out in 197. G R Viswanath and Sandip Patil- both out on ducks- looked as of they didn’t see Imran’s deliveries. Or think of "death in the afternoon" for Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar on Shoaib's deliveries at Kolkata in 1999...

But as an entertainment, cricket has a big role to play.

Michael Crichton (Timeline):
"In other centuries, human beings wanted to be saved, or improved, or freed, or educated. But in our century, they want to be entertained. The great fear is not of disease or death, but of boredom. A sense of time on our hands, a sense of nothing to do. A sense that we are not amused.”

As I write part of this post on December 12, 2007, Pakistan and India are playing a dreary test match at Bangalore on a “pata” (stone) wicket where so-called Rawalpindi Express Shoaib Akhtar has made no impression.

He is busy showing his soft side, a la Jack Nicholson in "As Good As It Gets".

courtesy: AFP; Shoaib Akhtar reveals his softer side, India v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Bangalore, 4th day, December 11, 2007

Yes, he is on cricket ground. Looks well-built like Keith Miller. But he doesn't bowl. He's stuffed.

Artist: Lee Lorenz The New Yorker 15 September 1980

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Do We Use Hygiene to Make Caste Distinctions? Remembering Gadge Maharaj.

Times of India December 18, 2007: "70,000 Chitpavans (a Brahmin sect) to congregate in city (Pune)."

I was borne to Brahmin parents (mother Chitpavan) and am married to one. I didn't undergo a thread ceremony until a token one just before marriage. I always dreamt of marrying outside caste or religion but couldn't.
I often feel deep guilt about the way Brahmins in the past treated the Dalits. If ever I attend a Brahmin congregation, I will press for a resolution of expressing collective apology to the Dalits. Similar to what Indians want the British monarch to do for Jallianwala Bagh.

The one thing I have noticed since my childhood in Brahmin households is their preoccupation, bordering on fixation, with bathing. The most important job to be done on any day of the year is bathing. The exercise is not often elaborate; it may or may not involve sufficient water or toiletries but has to be done with.

No wonder Saint Samarth Ramdas समर्थ रामदास(1608-1681) ,a Brahmin, who has been credited by great historian and thinker T S Shejwakar त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर (1895-1963) to have instilled values of freedom among Marathi speaking people exclaimed with excitement:

During Shivaji’s reign

उदंड जाहालें पांणी। स्नान संध्या करावया।

Lots of Water Available / For bathing and praying.

(btw- Shejwalkar gives credit for values of brotherhood to Saint Tukaram तुकाराम (c.1608-c.1650) and for values of equality to Saint Eknath एकनाथ (1533-1599)).

Is bathing for Brahmins less about hygiene and more about virtue?

SARA IVRY wrote a review of “THE DIRT ON CLEAN / An Unsanitized History. By Katherine Ashenburg” in NYT December 16, 2007. The book focuses on Western Europe and the United States.

“…In her view, cleanliness has always been fundamentally about virtue, whether you’re an ancient Greek athlete scraping your skin with metal instruments after a workout or a modern consumer shelling out $50 for a toothbrush cover that emits germ-killing UV light. “The archetypal link between dirt and guilt, and cleanliness and innocence,” she writes, is “built into our language — perhaps into our psyches…

…while at least one 18th-century British doctor dismissed warm baths as a “luxury borrowed from the effeminate Asiatics.”

From the Renaissance until the Industrial Revolution, Ashenburg notes, the middle and upper classes generally feared water and washed as little as the poor, with monarchs perhaps being dirtiest of all. Only once the comfortable classes saw how quickly disease spread in urban tenements did they take to bathing more regularly…

… In the Middle Ages, the struggle between Christians and Muslims sometimes resembled a battle of the bathhouses…

We use hygiene to make class distinctions, something already taken care of in less-fastidious Europe…

… In the end, Ashenburg argues, all our newfangled products haven’t taken us very far at all from our origin. We are still “as repulsed by our real bodies as were the medieval saints, although without their religious motivation.”

We observe Saint Gadge Baba’s संत गाडगे बाबा महाराज (1876-1956) 51st death anniversary today December 20, 2007. Baba's motto was: "Live clean and simple/ Shun intoxicants/ Care for the environment."

The man with the broom, Gadge Baba, a 20th century saint, was obsessed with cleanliness of our environment, our souls and not so much about his own appearance.

If at all heaven exists, Gadge Baba surely went there. And when god met Gadge Baba first time there, he admitted: "Well, you were right. (Personal)Neatness didn't count."

Artist: Mischa Richter The New Yorker February 25, 1980

Gadge Maharaj with his trademark broom.

Picture Courtesy: Pudhari December 16, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

White King Vs Red Queen: 1972 Regressed the Cause of Chess

1972 was an exciting year for Chess.

It was the first occasion in the 20th century when chess fired the public imagination. It surely did.

12 year old I caught the chess fever. It almost drove me crazy.

Great Shripad Krishna Kolhatkar श्रीपाद कृष्ण कोल्हटकर (1871-1934) has described what it's like to become insane, playing chess, in his essay: "Our Sitting Games आमचे बैठे खेळ" from his book "Sudamyache Pohe/ Literature's Thirty-two Teeth" (सुदाम्याचे पोहे/ साहित्य-बत्तिशी).

It's so easy to relate to antics of Bobby Fischer (described below) after reading Kolhatkar!

In 1972 at Reykjavík, Iceland, from July through September 1972, Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky fought to become world chess champion.

The championship was covered in Marathi newspaper, Maharashtra Times महाराष्ट्र टाइम्स, extensively. That is to say as much as cricket. All the moves of every game were printed and commented on.

I haven’t seen such coverage of any chess tournament, save perhaps Kasparov-Anand PCA World Championship 1995, in any Marathi publication since then.

Daniel Johnson has written a new book on this: “White King and Red Queen: How the Cold War Was Fought on the Chessboard”.

Raymond Keene , The Spectator, December 8, 2007 says: “Daniel Johnson’s excellent new book agrees with me that Fischer’s victory in the World Championship in 1972 might actually have regressed the cause of chess, in spite of the great publicity achieved. Those in the know always suspected that the eccentric Fischer would virtually withdraw from chess were he to win the championship, and this is indeed what transpired.”

Kenan Malik says:

“…For Fischer the showdown at Reykjavik committed 'the free world against the lying, cheating, hypocritical Russians'. Richard Nixon agreed, sending Fisher his 'personal congratulations' and assuring him that 'I will be rooting for you'. Henry Kissinger also put in a call. 'America wants you to go over there to beat the Russians', he told Fischer.

Fischer did beat the Russians - though as much by gamesmanship as by genius. He failed to show up for more than week and then deliberately turned up late for the rescheduled opening match. He insisted that the chairs, the chessboard, and the lighting were all changed, that the TV cameras be banished, and that a game be played in a back room away from the spectators. At one point he started shouting in the middle of a match and had to be restrained. Fischer's antics, observed Garry Kasparov, who would, a decade later, be the greatest of all chess champions, 'broke Spassky'…

…'The Cold War was the first war caused and dominated by intellectuals and it was best symbolised by the game of the intellectuals'. Fischer-Spassky 'was the Cold War's supreme work of art', embodying 'abstract purism, incipient paranoia, sublimated homicide'…

…At the same time, in his headlong rush to convict Moscow, Johnson ignores the extent to which the West itself played the ideological game, manipulating everything from the space race to sports tournaments for political ends…

… Chess, as Johnson himself points out, 'makes a good allegory, but a bad teacher'.”

Indeed Fischer was a bad teacher as kids below prove!

Artist: Robert Weber The New Yorker 29 July 1972

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ugh! Marathi Films

India Today December 17, 2007 talked about: "How India watches movies".

"...3.7 bn number of movie tickets sold in India in 2006. 1.4 bn number of movie tickets sold in the US in 2006. 29% is the share of movies in the $11 billion Indian media and entertainment industry. The share of television is 64 per cent...".

Sadly, Marathi cinema, unlike say Tamil or Telugu cinema, is not sharing this bounty adequately. Is it dying?

Smita Talwalkar स्मिता तळवलकर, actor and producer, while presiding over the third all-India Marathi film convention 2007 on November 24 and 25 at Ganesh Kala Krida Rangamanch, Pune said:

“Marathi people have lost pride in their mother tongue . They do not watch Marathi films or plays...Lack of an audience is a major hindrance for Marathi filmmakers and distributors… ”

Actor, producer Ramesh Deo रमेश देव readily agreed threatening that if this trend continued Marathi films would not be produced any more.

Ramesh Deo should know better. He acted when Marathi films fared much better. They had warmth, interesting storyline and soulful music.

He and his son are now going to release a film on the life of Vasudev Balwant Phadke वासुदेव बळवंत फडके, one of the most liberal and inspiring characters of 19th century India. I hope it will be a good film based on the criteria of a good cinema and not just because it’s based on the life venerable Vasudev Balwant. (There already is a huge benchmark as Phadke's life may have inspired Bankim Chandra Chatterjee to write the novel Anand Math in 1882. The novel has already been turned into a movie in 1952 starring inimitable Geeta Bali)

And Ms. Talwalkar, how about you producing half a good Marathi TV serial after heralding the age of decadent serials with “Avantika अवंतिका”?

It’s not lack of pride but their bad quality that puts me off Marathi films. I don't know why urban middle-class Marathi speaking people start waving flags as soon as anything goes against their wishes.

In Kolhapur, south Indian films do huge business because they are better than Marathi films.

I hope Marathi speaking Rajnikanth's megahit Sivaji gets dubbed in Marathi. It will set Marathi box office on fire, the way it did during the times of V Shantaram व्ही शांताराम or Dada Kondke दादा कोंडके.

The last Marathi films I enjoyed were “The Turn of Ghost एक डाव भुताचा” and “The Threshold उंबरठा”(both 1982).
[btw- It's not nostalgia. I enjoyed Hindi film Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006) and English film, The Pink Panther (2006)]

I have tried to watch many Marathi films after 1982 but they are lousy and unwatchable. During this time, Marathi had some very good talent-like the late Laxmikant Berde लक्ष्मीकांत बेर्डे- but they wasted it.

I don’t recall a single song of any Marathi film since "The Threshold उंबरठा".

Much talked about “Breath श्वास” (2003), I found tear-jerker and boring. Nothing wrong with sentimentality though. Shyam's Mother श्यामची आई (1953) , a 'sentimental' film, on the other hand is one of the greatest film made in India.

Noble subject doesn’t mean good film.

Jabbar Patel जब्बार पटेल made bad film on Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s life (1998). I thought here we go again. Richard Attenborough turned Gandhi into a classic, in both Hindi and English, while Ambedkar gets unfair treatment even here.

Artist: Robert Weber The New Yorker 20 July 1963

Monday, December 17, 2007

Butterfly with Stinger - James McNeill Whistler and D G Godse द ग गोडसे

Key to unravel great minds and their work often is to know what drove them - personalities, events etc.

Great D G Godse द ग गोडसे, who studied arts in pre-WW II England, I feel, was driven by two personalities all his life-Mastani मस्तानी (wife of First Bajirao Peshwa पहिला बाजीराव पेशवा 1699-1740) and artist James McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903).

He was obsessed with Mastani and deeply influenced by Whistler.

Wikipedia describes Whistler as:

“an American-born, British-based painter and etcher. Averse to sentimentality in painting, he was a leading proponent of the credo "art for art's sake". He took to signing his paintings with a stylized butterfly, possessing a long stinger for a tail. The symbol was apt, for Whistler's art was characterized by a subtle delicacy, in contrast to his combative public persona. Finding a parallel between painting and music, Whistler titled many of his works 'harmonies' and 'arrangements'.”

I think most of it fits Godse too.

“Averse to sentimentality in art…art for art's sake… possessing a long stinger for a tail.. art was characterized by a subtle delicacy, in contrast to his combative public persona…”

“The Gentle Art Of Making Enemies” is a book by Whistler published in 1890. The book contains Whistler's letters to newspapers chronicling his many petty grievances against various acquaintances and friends.

Godse too could have written a book with the same title!

No wonder Godse wrote two wonderful essays on Whistler: “नांगी असलेले फुलपाखरू: 1 & 2” (Stinger Possessing Butterfly: 1 & 2) in 1989.

Thanks to poverty of Marathi publishing world, the book containing these essays is not well printed and has NO pictures, except the one on the cover (reproduced below left).

Artist: D G Godse द ग गोडसे c 1989 and James McNeill Whistler c 1890-1899

First time perhaps they appear together!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Deer Hunters Complain About Packaging; Deer about Slaughter

When I was at IIT, Madras, deer on its campus outnumbered cats and dogs there. 1982-83 was a drought year in Madras. Deer seemed to be suffering a lot. They used to eat anything organic they came across, like Surf cartons!

But I never heard them appearing on dinner plates. I understand it changed in later years.

I am not a vegetarian. In fact, I have tasted even (legal) venison in Arunachal Pradesh at a lunch thrown by a tribal chief, but I still balked when I read this:

“EVERY year, 15 million licensed hunters head into America’s forests and fields in search of wild game.

In New York State alone, roughly half a million hunters harvest around 190,000 deer in the fall deer hunting season — that’s close to eight million pounds of venison…”:

STEVEN RINELLA, NYT December 14, 2007

Rest of the article is justification of this slaughter across USA.

I once told my WASP American colleague: You have to kill something at every mealtime.

He laughed.

‘Ugh! There’s so much packaging!’

The Spectator October 27, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Woodrow Wilson, Hillary Clinton: Live and Let Live. जरा जगा अन् जरा जगूं द्या

For Newsweek December 10, 2007, Adam B. Kushner reviewed David A. Andelman's new book, "A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today".

His conclusion: American President Woodrow Wilson was an inadvertent villain. (Like so many other American Presidents since and before him, I might add!)

“… Every high school student learns how the punitive Treaty of Versailles the American president helped negotiate in Paris pushed Germany toward militarism, National Socialism, and eventually World War II. Andelman looks beyond Hitler, surveying the worldwide havoc the document wrought. There is no dearth of material.

Of course, Wilson wasn't the sole architect of that global catastrophe. But unlike the incompetents, cynics, and partisans who populate Andelman's account, Wilson entered (and won) the war on behalf of his Fourteen Points, which promised freedom and self-government for every people. Instead, the treaty, enabled by his naiveté, betrayed those ideals and laid the groundwork for another world war, followed by 50 years of imperial chess. And the victims whose self-determination Wilson signed away at Versailles represent, to Andelman, the nails in Wilson's coffin.

Why'd he do it? For a fantastical notion called the League of Nations—a precursor to the United Nations that he hoped would prevent future wars. Wilson understood it was a hard sell—why should the winners surrender any sovereignty? So he knowingly allowed the Allies to make greedy (and colonial) territory assignments, guessing that his deference would buy enough goodwill to make the League real. Once it existed, he assumed, it would simply fix the mistakes of Versailles…

…Predictably, the League of Nations was never going to right these wrongs. In fact, the U.S. Senate wouldn't even approve its creation, and without American muscle it had no real power. Around the globe, the mistakes of Versailles then began to multiply. Maps that had been drawn strategically to divide coal mines and ports rendered states with indefensible borders and irredentist minorities: ethnic Germans in Poland, for example, clamored noisily to rejoin the motherland until Hitler's panzer divisions granted their wish just two decades later.

Meanwhile, native peoples—from Algeria to China—subjugated by Allied colonies after Versailles furnished inviting targets for communist insurrections throughout the century. And in outposts like Saudi Arabia, where revolutionaries failed to eject Western-friendly despots, anti-colonial feelings often turned anti-Western. Wilson hoped the 117,000 American dead in World War I would fertilize the seed of democracy; instead, Andelman says, they produced Al Qaeda. ..”

When I was taught League of Nations at Miraj High School (9th standard?),where great historian Vasudevshastri Khare वासुदेवशास्त्री खरे was a teacher once, I wasn’t taught a word of this!

Woodrow Wilson for a long time was a hero to me.

B S Mardhekar बा. सी. मर्ढेकर was a poet with global sensibilities. Korean war was a major event in world history but rarely figures in Marathi literature. Mardhekar’s few poems must be an exception.

"अजून येतो वास फुलांना"(Still fragrance emanates from flowers) is one such. Another one is "जमीन म्हणते मीच धांवतें" (Ground says I only run).

The latter poem has this stanza.

नळीतलें जग नळीत जगतें
उगाच रुसवा रसायनाचा;
उगाच दावा मानवतेचा
आणिक डंका सामर्थ्याचा !

“Testtube world lives in testtube
gratuitous grudge of chemicals;
gratuitous claim of humanism
And drumbeating of brute force !”

The late M V Dhond म वा धोंड reviewed it for दैवज्ञश्री(दिवाळी Diwali 2000). He showed how this was a severe indictment of hypocrisy in American claim of humanism and Chinese claim of communism.

Testtube world is the world of hoi polloi.

See related picture post here.

President Woodrow Wilson campaigning on behalf of the League of Nations in St. Paul, Minn., in 1919 (Picture Courtesy- Newsweek website).

He looks so photogenic. Everyone around him looks so happy. He might win in 2008!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Bobbing Run-up, the Goggle-Eyes, the Whirring Wrist, the Fizzing Ball...

Here, for whatever worth, is my list of top 5 cricketers South Asia produced so far:

1. Muttiah Muralitharan (First, Not Doosra!)
2. Wasim Akram
3. Kapil Dev
4. Imran Khan
5. Sunil Gavaskar

On December 6, 2007, Murali had taken no wickets in England second innings. And then he clean bowled first Matt Prior and later, with 'snake' ball, Ian Bell. It's hard to play his snake ball even in a dream. Ian Bell (and I) thought ball left him safely, only to see it crashing into his stumps.

Michael Atherton gentleman cricketer wrote memorable essays on Murali in year 2001 and 2006.

Atherton wrote in January 2001:

“At his strike rate of just over five wickets a Test, Muttiah Muralitharan will become, barring misfortune, the greatest wicket- taker in the history of the game in about four years' time. Not bad for a short, slightly built, bow-legged finger spinner with a congenital defect of his right arm…”

In less than six years, Murali on December 3, 2007 claimed his 709th wicket to become world’s number one wicket- taker in test match cricket.

“…More than that, he was a complete breath of fresh air. Sometimes a county dressing-room can become a tired and cynical place and what was once a game can become a humdrum job. Indeed, when Murali arrived, I was injured, sidelined and contemplating retirement as I had lost some enjoyment of the game in the previous six months through constantly battling injury. Murali's arrival reaffirmed to me that cricket is played best when it is enjoyed rather than endured. It was such a pleasure to see a player, a world-class player, clearly relishing the opportunity to bowl and taking pleasure in everything he was asked to do. He simply loves the game.

It is rare to see a great player with so little ego.
When the ever- insatiable Lancashire marketing department asked him to dress in lederhosen in front of the members and cameras one day to promote the Warsteiner floodlit series, it was a request that would have been flatly refused by most. But there he was, looking ever so slightly ridiculous, waving his feathered hat, swigging the amber nectar, having the time of his life…”

Atherton wrote in year 2006:

“…Muralitharan is now 34 years old, with a creaking shoulder, and the strain of carrying his country's attack almost single-handedly for more than a decade will surely bring down the curtain on his career before he returns to these shores again. It is entirely likely that this will be the last time that we will see the bobbing run-up, the goggle-eyes, the whirring wrist, the fizzing ball and the best of batsmen hypnotised, mesmerised and ultimately bamboozled.

Appreciate him while you can: his like will not come again

Muttiah Muralitharan in action
(Picture Courtesy- AFP / cricinfo.com)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Taslima Nasreen and Sanskrit Playwright Bhasa, What is Common to them?

Outlook December 10, 2007 said: Taslima Nasreen is on the run again. Earlier she was attacked in Hyderabad in August 2007 at a book launch. In November 2007, riots in her name erupted in Kolkata.

Her detractors want her work burnt down. Here she is in good company of great Sanskrit playwright Bhasa (circa 4th/5th century BC).

Take heart Ms. Nasrin.

A G Noorani said in Economic & Political Weekly December 1, 2007 : "Book banning is a civilised form of the vice of book-burning which is a sure symptom of fascism. India has a formidable record of book banning. As with much else, independent India simply took over the habits of the British raj."

Does India have a formidable record of book burning too?

According to the late Durga Bhagwat दुर्गा भागवत, Indians burnt down Bhasa’a भास play “Pratima प्रतिमा” because they didn’t like it.

Durga Bhagwat liked Bhasa’s plays more than any one else’s.

She said: “Kalidasa is sweet to ears but there is no ‘stuff’ in him. No ‘stuff’ no drama…”

Bhasa wrote ‘Pratima’ based on the life of Rama.

She further said: “…But people didn’t like it (Pratima) and they burnt it down. After passage of hundreds of years some one discovered ‘Pratima’ and hence we have it…

…Such was the unprecedented talent of Bhasa. I like Bhasa very much. There is not an iota of artificiality in him.”

(Source- Easy Conversations: With Durgabai by Pratibha Ranade ऐसपैस गप्पा : दुर्गाबाईंशी, लेखक प्रतिभा रानडे 1998)

D G Godse द ग गोडसे too wrote a beautiful essay on controversial ‘Pratima’.

According to Godse, Rama in Bhasa’s play has the main objective of expanding Arya’s empire beyond river Godavari by conquering Anaryas (non-Aryans). (No wonder M Karunanidhi isn’t happy.)

Like the Old Testament, both Ramayana and Mahabharata (episode of burning of Khandav Forests) tell us chillingly how Aryans went about acquisition of new land, dispossessing it of its earlier inhabitants.

The Economist December 15, 2007 said:"...Over the centuries, pioneer peoples, from the Ulster Protestants to the Boers, have drawn inspiration from passages in the Old Testament which describe the acquisition of new land, and the dispossession of its earlier inhabitants.

What makes America's Christian Zionists unusual is that their fascination with conquest is vicarious: it is projected onto a land thousands of miles away. The movement's followers are unlikely to feel at first hand the consequences of the policies they advocate. This makes their aspirations both more aggressive and more fantastical."

One interesting observation of Godse is as follows: Jatayu is a traitor Anarya. While killing a fellow Anarya- Jatayu, Ravana says: I will send you to dwelling of Yama (यमसदन). But dwelling of Yama is an Aryan concept. Therefore, Ravana’s usage of this alien phraseology is very meaningful.

(source: "Destiny in Bhasa's Play Pratima"------ "भासाच्या 'प्रतिमा' नाटकातील 'नियती' "-------'नांगी असलेले फुलपाखरू' 1989)

On December 9, 2007, the Hindu reported:

“…Mr. Bhattacharjee was referring to the controversy generated by reports in a section of the media that said that the Chief Minister, while delivering a public speech on the 15th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid on Thursday, had said that Lord Ram existed only in the poet’s imagination.

“While addressing a public meeting organised by the government of West Bengal, Sports and Youth Service department, in connection with the 15th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, I quoted the following lines from Rabindranath Tagore: ‘Kobi tobo monobhumi Ram er jonmosthan Ayodhya r theke satya jeno’ [the poet’s mind is the birth place of Ram, which is more real than Ayodhya],” the statement said.”

Tagore is dead for a while now. Else, he would be on the run! How can anything be more real than Ayodhya?

Like in the picture below, Ram indeed has become a dreaded word for many people.

Artist: R K Laxman Times of India 18 September 2007

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Selling of Heritage, Fragment by Fragment!

KATHERINE BOUTON has reviewed Nina Burleigh’s book “MIRAGE /Napoleon’s Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt.” (NYT December 9, 2007).

“…The most famous artifact the scholars discovered was the Rosetta stone, which soon wound up in British possession. The French military leadership, ever impatient with the scientists left in their care, bargained it away, along with all the scientists’ notes, drawings and specimens, in the truce that finally allowed them to return home. To this day it sits in the British Museum despite Egypt’s request for its return, with a label that says only “Captured in Egypt by the British Army in 1801, presented by King George III.” Perhaps it was historic justice that a Frenchman eventually cracked the code (working from copies), in 1822.

…The book’s legacy — and the legacy of Napoleon’s Egyptian adventure — was enormous, prompting the half-century of Egyptomania that swept Europe. The resulting decades of plunder brought Cleopatra’s Needle to New York, the Luxor obelisk to the Place de la Concorde, and room after room of mummies to the Metropolitan Museum, the British Museum and the Louvre. Two hundred years later, a new struggle over national cultural heritage may in the end restore at least some of this magnificence to its country of origin.

We all know India was looted of its treasures during the British Raj and is being done so during the Indian Raj. But now I begin know the price tag of the loot!

Times of India reported on November 26, 2007 an example of how “precious” our heritage is in dollar terms!

See the picture below of Avlokitesvara and Green Schist Gable Relief circa 2nd-3rd century.

Those two alone are reportedly worth US$ 1,070,000!

It may be interesting to put up a price tag outside each archeological site to let people know the worth of what they are viewing and how careful they should be.

Avlokitesvara and Greenschist Gable Relief Gandhara 2nd-3rd century

Artist: Alan Dunn The New Yorker 7 March 1959

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Does Teenage Pune Forget to Wear a Condom?

Newsweek December 10, 2007 has an interesting story:
“A Special Delivery/With all the films about unplanned pregnancy this year, 'Juno' is the only one to discuss abortion.”

Its author Jennie Yabroff says:

This may go down as the year Hollywood forgot to wear a condom. Several prominent films—"Knocked Up," "Waitress," "Bella," "Margot at the Wedding"—feature women who unexpectedly find themselves in the family way. While they react to the news with varying levels of delight and/or despair, sooner or later they all accept their condition, as though motherhood has been a fait accompli from the moment of fertilization. Then there's the 16-year-old at the heart of "Juno." After downing gallons of Sunny Delight to facilitate multiple pregnancy tests, Juno MacGuff does what most women do in her circumstances: she calls her best friend. Then she has an awkward conversation with the baby's father. But finally, she does something hardly any other pregnant character in a film has done since Roe v. Wade: she goes to an abortion clinic.

Hollywood is generally assumed to be a bastion of political liberalism, but when movie characters find themselves unintentionally pregnant, one of two things happens: they keep the baby, or they conveniently miscarry. "Juno" is the only film in recent history in which the protagonist seriously considers termination. ..”

After I read this, I asked my wife if she remembered any Hindi or Marathi film where a leading lady went for the abortion of an unwanted pregnancy.

Both of us couldn’t recall a single instance.

In Hindi films too, "they keep the baby, or they conveniently miscarry." See related entry on this subject here.

Times of India November 23, 2007 reported:

“Teen abortions rising at alarming rate:

The number of teenagers and young unmarried women going for abortions has risen sharply in Pune, sparking concern among gynaecologists over unsafe and unprotected sex…

Most of these girls and women are educated and are either students or working women…

While the members of the society said it was difficult to count the actual number of teen abortions in the city, they agreed that the number has risen sharply…”

I had read in the past how abortions among teens went up few weeks post-Navratri.

However, Times of India reported in October 2005:

“Solved: Post-Navratri abortion

It's a revolution of sorts. Social researchers waiting to dish out those cliched surveys on abortion rates after Navratris in Gujarat, are in for some disappointment. Because revellers, especially girls, are shedding inhibitions and walking up to the neighbourhood chemist asking for condoms.

And invading the market are the Cobras, Draculas, Skinless Skin — all brands of condoms from China. With the nine nights of revelry having peaked over the week-end gone by, chemists are confessing that condom sales are up by up to 50 per cent…”

Considering that Hindi films tend to have a lot of influence on Indian teens and that, like Hollywood films, they can’t show abortion, I hope they promote use of condoms to Indian teens.

Artist: Alan Dunn The New Yorker 11 January 1930

Monday, December 10, 2007

Omar Khayyam or Tycho Brahe? Mardhekar Chose Tycho Brahe.

While reviewing book on Marco Polo (“MARCO POLO/ From Venice to Xanadu.” By Laurence Bergreen) , BRUCE BARCOTT said:

“…In the end, Marco Polo’s greatest contribution to history was to deliver this simple news to Europe: The Asians, they’re not so bad. They’re kind of like us. In some ways, they’re better.” (NYT December 2, 2007)

I wonder what Europeans learnt from Polo’s message but what about us, Indians?

We still don’t know enough about greatness of our neighbouring civilizations in China and Iran. I was never taught in my school anything good about China. We then thought Chinese ate roaches and geckos for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Iran particularly has fallen off the map of most educated Indians. Funny considering Marathas, for a tiny while in 18th century, nursed the dream of invading Iran and Farsi once was as important in India as English is today.

Here is one possible reason.

I am told you don’t ever get US visa if your passport is stamped with Iranian visa. And for middle class Indians, US visa is better than even that of mythical Chitragupta’s चित्रगुप्त visa to heaven!

Quite a few Indians know about Omar Khayyam (1048 – 1131), an Iranian, though thanks to “… the Rubaiyat, a collection of his free-spirited quatrains made famous around the world by the translations of the 19th-century poet Edward Fitzgerald.

It has been said that these immensely popular books, first published in 1859 and running into numerous editions, contributed more phrases to the English language than the Bible and Shakespeare combined.”

Marathi has seen few translations of the Rubaiyat. My father (Gopal Dutt Kulkarni) for instance made one- “Geet Rubayat” (गीत रुबायत)- during 1960’s.

Justin Marozzi reviewed “Omar Khayyam: Poet, Rebel, Astronomer /His own man by Hazhir Teimourian” for The Spectator, 21st November 2007.

He said:“…Khayyam developed a calendar which had an error of one day in 3,770 years (superior to the Gregorian calendar with an error of one day in 3,330 years).

It was based on his amazingly accurate determination of the length of the year as 365.242199 days. The length of the year is currently 365.242190 days...”

Even today, almost 1000 years later, I have hard time comprehending this accuracy. Number numbness!

Poet B S Mardhekar बा. सी. मर्ढेकर (1909-1956) was an ardent fan of another good poet and Farsi pandit Madhav Julian माधव जूलियन् जुलियन(1894-1939). (btw- Mardhekar has written a moving poem on ordeals faced by Madhav Julian.) Madhav Julian माधव जुलियन translated the Rubaiyat from Farsi into Marathi (1929-1933). He also created a Farsi- Marathi dictionary (1925).

Mardhekar chose to use Tycho Brahe (1546–1601) who was famous for his accurate and comprehensive astronomical observations in following lines of his well-known poem: [मी एक मुंगी, हा एक मुंगी, (I am an ant, he is an ant,)] (poem 16 "आणखी कांहीं कविता" some more poems)

ह्या नच मुंग्या : हींच माणसे :
असेच होते गांधीजीही,
येशु क्रिस्त अन् कृष्ण कदाचित्
कालिदास अन टैकोब्राही.

(These not ants : these only humans :
Like this was Gandhi too
Jesus Christ and Krishna perhaps
Kalidas and Tycho Brahe too)

If he were to use Omar Khayyam instead of Tycho Brahe, it would read like this:

ह्या नच मुंग्या : हींच माणसे :
असेच होते गांधीजीही,
येशु क्रिस्त अन् कृष्ण कदाचित्
कालिदास अन ओमर खय्याम.

Still sounds great to me!

I wonder why Mardhekar didn’t choose Omar Khayyam. Did he know Omar Khayyam too was a great astronomer?
Also, in politically correct second half of 20th century, it would have meant showcasing a great Muslim in the company of great Hindus and Christians.

Pity, I still know so little about Khayyam as a poet, rebel, astronomer and possibly a tent maker!

Artist: Ed Fisher The New Yorker 26 March 1990

p.s. Now I think I know why Mardhekar chose Brahe. Read this article from NYT dated Nov 29 2010.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Dolphin is the Cow of the Brahmaputra/ And Brahmaputra is My Mother

Asian Age November 29, 2007 reported: “Brahmaputra’s dolphins dying out”.

My first thought was a deep regret: Although I lived in Assam from 1989-1992 intermittently, I never saw a dolphin even once! My ‘affair’ with Brahmaputra is documented here.

I fell in love with river dolphins after reading Amitav Ghosh’s “The Hungry Tide”(2004).

I liked the book mainly because it has so much 'water' and water-borne objects in it.

I was raised in western Maharashtra, land of hills and stream-like rivers. Those rivers sometimes have no water, let alone hungry tides, crocodiles and dolphins!

Ghosh has portrayed romance between protagonist Piyali Roy and Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) with great sensitivity.

Sadly, the book has no pictures. As reported in the press, I hope they don't make a shoddy Hindi film based on the book and instead include pictures of Sundarbans in the next edition.

R K Sinha, a Patna-based ecologist who studies the river’s eco-system intimately says:

"The Ganga has more life in it than a forest; its biodiversity is rich. We know so little because its aquatic life is largely undocumented. The river dolphin is an indicator of the river’s health as it is at the top of the riverine food chain, like the tiger is in a forest. That’s why locals say: “Sons bachao nadi mein,/ naam kamao sadi mein”. (Save the river dolphin,/ earn name and fame.) “Sons Ganga ki gaia hain/ Ganga meri maia hain”. (The dolphin is the cow of the Ganga/ And Ganga is my mother.) … Only some 2,000 dolphins remain today…”

If intelligent dolphins come to know about what we have done to them, they might say...

Artist: Warren Miller The New Yorker 30 December 1991

Saturday, December 08, 2007

माता कापी गळा Mother Slices the Throat. With King’s Excalibur.

Tarun J. Tejpal has written a scathing article: “Partying While Gujarat Burned” (Newsweek December 3, 2007).

The article may make some of us not swallow our food.

“…There are times when the tragedy is particularly gory—as during the Gujarat riots of 2002, which, after someone set fire to a train carrying Hindu travelers in a town named Godhra, killing 59, saw the massacre and rape of more than 2,000 Muslims by Hindu zealots.

…2002 killings had been planned, had enjoyed the sanction of the state and its chief minister, Narendra Modi, as well as the collusion of the police. Later on, the process of justice had been effectively manipulated to keep those responsible out of jail.

The evidence was graphic. Mass murderers appeared on camera, describing how they killed, why they killed and who helped them kill…”

Tejpal concludes:

“…Any nondoctrinaire Indian can see that a serious schism between its 900 million Hindus and about 150 million Muslims would tear the country apart.

… The fact is India cannot be fixed through economic initiatives alone. It needs great political vision. And there are no signs of that. Yes, India is highly resilient, which allows the management of great contradictions and crises. But in the coming years, this resilience will be tested as never before.”

I agree with Tejpal's conclusion but I think he still underestimates India's resilience. Often in the past, India looked similar to what it looks today but it persists, largely because of sway of Bhakti/ Sufi movement over Indian masses.

Gujarat 2002 reminded the late M V Dhond म वा धोंड Tukaram's तुकाराम following poem:

माता कापी गळा, तेथे कोण राखी बाळा,
हें का नेणां नारायणा, मज चाळवितां दीना,
नागवी धावणें, तेथें साह्य व्हावें कोणें,
राजा सर्व हरी, तेथे दुजा कोण वारी

(Akshar Diwali अक्षर दिवाळी 2002)

Can likes of Tejpal with their pens fight Excalibur of Modi? We shall see.

The Spectator 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

Sanjay Dutt Found Books an Excellent Form of Escape!

Thanks to Sanjay Dutt, more than cop Kiran Bedi, we know a lot about Indian jails.

I wish he next went to Dharavi in his neighbourhood. Then, we would know a lot about urban squalor.

Times of India on November 22, 2007 reported:

“Actor Sanjay Dutt, who may have found little time to read books in the normal course of his life, has taken to reading spiritual books as an inmate of the Yerwada central prison here…

…In the last few days, he has been reading spiritual books and newspapers voraciously, deputy inspector general of police (prison) Ravindra Kedari told TOI. Reading newspapers is one of the rights of the inmates and Dutt has been reading newspapers in the library every morning, he added…

The Yerwada prison has a collection of over 7,000-9000 books in its library. Inmates can go to the library and also take books to their cells for reading, Kedari said. However, the books are scanned by the authorities and given to prisoners only if they are considered appropriate…”

The Spectator 2007

Thursday, December 06, 2007

कुठली सीता, कुठला राघव? Which Seeta, Which Raghav?

I wrote the original post a couple of days ago. I need to revise it because sadly M V Dhond म वा धोंड, who I have quoted extensively on this blog, died on December 5, 2007 at the age of 93. Along with D G Godse द ग गोडसे and Durga Bhagwat दुर्गा भागवत, he was one of the greatest art critic anywhere in the world. This now becomes his obituary.

See few more entries from this blog on Dhond's scholarship here.

I have had number of interesting exchanges with him. Some of them have already been described, more will follow. One such letter is included at the end of this post. He gifted me an autographed copy of his classic ज्ञानेश्वरी:स्वरुप, तत्त्वज्ञान आणि काव्य (Dnyaaneshwari : Nature, Philosophy and Poetry 1980) in year 2001. I was in tears when I received it.

Headline in Marathi newspaper Pudhari पुढारी on December 6, 2007 says: "M V Dhond merged with infinity."

Atheist Dhond would surely object to that description! Lucky he, now he knows if there is a heaven or a hell or just nothingness.


Asian Age December 3, 2007 has a moving photo (see the picture of a woman holding baby at the end of this post):

"Mothers hold their children affected during the Bhopal gas tragedy...Hundreds of thousands of babies were borne in the years since a deadly gas billowed over Bhopal in 1984, but the survivors of that night say their children are forever stunted by that tragedy."

Frontline December 7, 2007 said:

"In June, activists working among the survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas leak disaster obtained certain documents from the Prime Minister’s Office under the Right to Information Act. These documents suggest how keen the government is to relieve the Dow Chemical Company of any liability for the disaster and its toxic legacy.

...Dow has consistently denied inheriting any liability for the Bhopal legacy from UCC. However, back in the U.S., it set aside $2.2 billion to address future asbestos-related liabilities arising out of the Carbide acquisition. Activists of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal argue that if Dow can assume responsibility for asbestos-induced illnesses among victims in America, why then it should deny responsibility towards the victims of Bhopal and its continuing toxic legacy..."

93-year old M V Dhond म वा धोंड has written another brilliant article in Lalit Diwali 2007 (ललित दिवाळी ) lambasting our apathy towards poor and downtrodden, while appreciating poetry of Tukaram and B S Mardhekar (तुकाराम,बा. सी. मर्ढेकर) on the same subject.

In following Marathi poem, Mardhekar describes how Sharvari शर्वरी-young, hardworking, practical woman- while making cow-dung cakes, is telling Shabari शबरी-devotee of Ram- that Ram and Seeta are never going to return from Ayodhya to Dandakaranya to accept her offering.

खप्पड बसली फिक्कट गाल
तळभिंतीवर घेउन जख्खड
मातीची ही जुनी झोपडी
आंबट मिनिटें चाखित रद्दड.

मधेंच दचकुनि बघते वरती,
अष्टदिशांचा सासुरवास;
चंद्रमौळि परि बेढब शबरी
क्षण-बोरांची रचिते रास.

मातीवरती करीत मात;
मिनिटांमधुनी काढित व्याधि;
तापकिरि-पिवळ्या मउ सालीचें
बोर गवसतां जरा सुगंधी,

कुरवाळित तें बोटांनी मउ
मिनिट सुवासिक हसते शबरी;
माणुसकीच्या दंडकांत अन्
गौर्या थापित वदे शर्वरी:

येइल का कधि सीतापति ग
चुकून तरि पण ह्या वाटेला?
घेइल का अन् रुजू करूनी
ह्या बोरांच्या नैवेद्याला?

कुठली सीता, कुठला राघव?
पुसे खडीचा रस्ता फक्कड़;
आंणि ठेविते गाल झोपडी
तळभिंतीवर फिरून खप्पड.

(poem 11 "आणखी कांहीं कविता" "some more poems")

(double click on the image to get a larger view)
Ma Va Dhond's Letter in December 2001

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Only Witches Wear Bikini in Hindi Films?

An Evening in Paris (1967) is my favourite movie. First time, I watched its matinee show (3 PM) at Kolhapur (Venus cinema?) by standing in an overwhelming queue to buy a ticket.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. What did I like?

Shammi Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor…music of Shankar - Jaikishan, Rajendranath and bikini clad Sharmila Tagore. In Hindi films, rarely a woman has looked as sensuous as her, without a touch of vulgarity.

And now her daughter says: Sharmila Tagore says that wearing a bikini in An Evening in Paris was “the biggest mistake of her life”.

Why Ms. Tagore? Why deny me my infatuation, my fantasies? If Zeenat Aman also joins you in regretting number of things she did, it would be like my adolescence spent in Stalin’s gulag. (See a related picture post on this subject here.)

Times of India November 26, 2007 thinks it knows the reason: “Why the bikini is badnaam”

“…The bikini in some form or the other has become an acceptable part of Bollywood’s grammar, but the bikini-wearer herself is still a pariah.

Women in the glamour industry won’t bat an eyelid while shooting in bikinis for international assignments, but will valiantly resist in India—or at least state their reservations loudly in public - acutely aware that such an act will amount to transgressing some unspoken cultural boundaries. In the eyes of the public, the bikini-wearer is often seen as having crossed the final frontier of Indian values and traditions, and becoming one of “those women” - sexually aggressive, “characterless”, out of control and endowed with all the qualities of Western female sexuality that the bikini symbolises.

… The message is that “only bad women wear bikinis”. The implication is that women who wear such clothes get sexually harassed, and have no one to blame but themselves. They ‘asked for it’.

A bikini has nothing to do with being good or bad and statistics on crimes against women show that what women wear has no bearing on sexual harassment faced by them. Yet the fear of being associated with bikinis only compounds these dangerous misconceptions, adding a greater burden to women to take responsibility for their own safety.

…Wearing a bikini is part of the performance alright. But at the end of the day, after pack up, they go back to real lives with real relationships built on the damning sexual moralities of Indian society in which women are always up for trial. “

Artist: Frank Modell The New Yorker 27 October 1962