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.”

Shel Silverstein : “Talked my head off Worked my tail off Cried my eyes out Walked my feet off Sang my heart out So you see, There’s really not much left of me.” ~

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);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

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."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Doc, talk to us, please

In India, tradition of friendly family doctor is dying if not dead. Doctors feel no need to talk to their patients about either ailments or medicines. They seem to be very keen to admit you to the nearest hospital.

Few years ago I was suffering from some allergy that was affecting my vision. Two of the top eye specialists at Pune did not even bother to ask me what I do with my eyes whole day. It was an allergy and I am almost fully cured by making few changes to my life style.

MICHAEL CRICHTON “although the medical profession has long recognized that doctors communicate poorly with patients, physicians receive little training to improve that interaction. Historically, medical education has regarded communication skills with an indifference that approaches contempt. It’s unscientific, it’s hand-holding, it’s bedside manner. Yet it’s clearly important.”


Artist : Richard Decker The New Yorker 8 Dec 1945

Of mice or men?

Ingmar Bergman
"I've a strong impression our world is about to go under. Our political systems are deeply compromised and have no further uses. Our social behavior patterns, interior and exterior, have proved a fiasco. The tragic thing is, we neither can nor want, nor have the strength, to alter our course. It's too late for revolutions, and deep down inside ourselves we no longer even believe in their positive effects. Just around the corner an insect world is waiting - and one day it's going to roll over our ultra-individualized existence. Otherwise, I'm a respectable Social Democrat."


Artist: George Price The New Yorker 20 May 1944

Friday, May 25, 2007

Is that enough to build a marriage on?

On May 24, 2007, Prime Minister Singh issued Ten Commandments to industry. During the speech, he decried cartelisation, spiralling salaries and corruption. This comes on top of his strong condemnation of crony capitalism few days earlier.

Singh said: “The electronic media carries the lifestyles of the rich and famous into every village and slum. Media often highlights the vulgar display of their wealth. An area of great concern is the level of ostentatious expenditure on weddings and other family events. Such vulgarity insults the poverty of the less privileged, it is socially wasteful and it plants seeds of resentment in the minds of the have-nots.”

Dear PM,

We appreciate your concern and thank you. We know you are the most incorruptible politician in the world today. We know you have a Spartan life style. We know you do not suffer from the most contagious disease of Indian public life- nepotism-at all.

But as you would be the first to acknowledge, you are not the first prominent economist/ public figure to air similar feelings about capitalism.

Your thoughts sound a lot like Paul Krugman’s NYT columns. Adam Smith’s later work was dedicated to attacking not just big government, but big corporations in general and the East India Company in particular. Through its monopoly on Indian trade East India Company had, Smith said, contrived to raise prices to customers while reducing them for suppliers. It was rife with fraud, cruelty and corruption and was “a nuisance in every respect”.

But is this expression of anguish by Indian PM good enough foundation "to build a marriage of Congress and its voters on".



Artist: Lee Lorenz The New Yorker 10 Mar 1962

Friday, May 18, 2007

Live with that the rest of your life!

Indians now live longer and healthier. My in-laws celebrated 50th anniversary of their togetherness yesterday.

In India, we are supposed to discover our ‘partner’ as we are not likely to know him/her much before the marriage. But I guess when discovery stops or ceases to be interesting, competition starts. Competition brings little games and games bring a lot of fun for onlookers like me.

I have been enjoying these little games of aging couples for a while now. Soon my wife and I will start playing them if we are not already doing so!

Following picture is a classic example of it. Wife, instead of applauding her husband’s birdie, is more worried about his boasting about it for rest of his or her life!

Artist: Chon Day The New Yorker 16 July 1960

Better to be the victim of comedy?

Mel Brooks : Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.

Monsoon is almost upon us in India. Media are full of stories on how city administrations of Mumbai and Pune are better prepared this year to handle the downpour. I hope so.

But knowing their track record thoughts of death by falling in an open sewer are not all that wild! I have walked past such booby traps.

Small consolation-one will be the victim of comedy and not tragedy.
Artist : William Hamilton The New Yorker 10 March 1980

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Divine Comedy

For my taste, Julian Gough has written one of the best essays of 2007 - “Divine comedy “ (Prospect Magazine Issue 134 May 2007).

Its summary : “The Greeks understood that comedy (the gods' view of life) is superior to tragedy (the merely human). But since the middle ages, western culture has overvalued the tragic and undervalued the comic. This is why fiction today is so full of anxiety and suffering. It's time writers got back to the serious business of making us laugh”

Some excerpts: “…..Many of the finest novels—and certainly the novels I love most—are in the Greek comic tradition, rather than the tragic: Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, Voltaire, and on through to Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and the late Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5. Yet western culture since the middle ages has overvalued the tragic and undervalued the comic. We think of tragedy as major, and comedy as minor. Brilliant comedies never win the best film Oscar…….
The problem is not specific to Christianity. Islam has always had a problem with comedy at its expense,…….
The resistance of the monotheisms to comedy has another, more subtle, cause. The comic point of view—the gods'-eye view—is much more uncomfortable for a believer in one all-powerful God than it was for the polytheistic Greeks. To have the gods laughing at us through our fictions is acceptable if the gods are multiple, and flawed like us, laughing in recognition and sympathy: if they are Greek gods. But to have the single omnipotent, omniscient God who made us laughing at us is a very different thing: sadistic, and almost unbearable. We do not wish to hear the sound of one God laughing…….
The various eastern philosophies give us other high vantage points. Indeed, both physics and Zen can handle laughter, and are superb tools for writing the western comic novel because they do not require absolute faith and they do not claim absolute certainty. With freedom from a death-obsessed monotheism and new tools, new places from which to view humanity, we should have entered a golden age of comedy……..
A comparison between The Simpsons and a soap opera is instructive. A soap opera is trapped inside the rules of the format; all soaps resemble each other (like psychologically plausible realist novels). What the makers of The Simpsons did was take a soap opera and put a frame around it: "this is a cartoon about a soap opera." This freed them from the need to map its event-rate on to real life: they could map its event-rate on to cartoon life. A fast event-rate is inherently comic, so the tone is, of necessity, comic. But that is not to say it isn't serious. The Simpsons is profoundly serious. And profoundly comic. Like Aristophanes, debating the war between Athens and Sparta by writing about a sex strike by the women of Athens and beyond.
With its cartoon event-rate, a classic series of The Simpsons has more ideas over a broader cultural range than any novel written the same year. The speed, the density of information, the range of reference; the quantity, quality and rich humanity of the jokes—they make almost all contemporary novels seem slow, dour, monotonous and almost empty of ideas.”

How does comedy fare with us- largely polytheistic Indians? Not well at all. In fact, our art and we seem to be getting stuffier by the day.

We never had the great “The Simpsons”. Closest we had was “Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi"” or later to some extent “Filmi Chakkar”. The last great comic film we made was “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983)” ( we did make few good-not great-comedy films since then e.g. Chachi 420(1998), Bollywood Calling (2001),Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006)).Era of great film comedians (Johny Walker, Mehmood, Om Prakash) is clearly behind us.

In Marathi, forget writings of S K Kolhatkar, C V Joshi, P K Atre, P L Deshpande, we are struggling to get even another Jaywant Dalvi.In films, Master Vinayak's masterful comedy "Brahmchari" remains a distant dream.

The merely human view of life seems to have prevailed. We have forgotten- serious does not mean solemn.

It was not always so.

Tukaram, Shripad Krishna Kolhatkar, Natyachhatakar Divakar, Chi Vi Joshi, Arun Kolatkar were deadly serious but seldom solemn, humourless. Marathi playwright, more famous for his tragedies (e.g."Ekach Pyala") , Ram Ganesh Gadkari (1885-1919) almost became founder of Theatre of the Absurd (read M V Dhond’s “Chandra Chawthicha” -Mauj Prakashan-1987).

Artist : Robert Menkoff The New Yorker 15 June 1987

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Chopin could not compose unless he was coughing blood.

In picture below a mother is consoling her tearful daughter after viewing "The Song of Bernadette" (based on a novel by Franz Werfel and winner of four Oscars in the 1943) that Bernadette would not have suffered as much as she did (tuberculosis of the bone) if penicillin was available in 1858.

So is tuberculosis-causing bacteria all evil?

Chris Lowry, of Bristol University, and his colleagues think a particular sort of bacterium might alleviate clinical depression. The Economist (April 7,2007) reports: “Dr Mary O'Brien was trying out an experimental treatment for lung cancer that involved inoculating patients with Mycobacterium vaccae. This is a harmless relative of the bugs that cause tuberculosis and leprosy that had, in this case, been rendered even more harmless by killing it. When Dr O'Brien gave the inoculation, she observed not only fewer symptoms of the cancer, but also an improvement in her patients' emotional health, vitality and general cognitive function.”

In response to this, Dr Dermot Kennedy has written a letter to the magazine (May 12, 2007): “Your article on the unexpected improvement to patients' emotional health after they were injected with a bacterium recalls a similar effect that has been long identified in people suffering from tuberculosis. Known as Spes phthisica, or the euphoria of the tuberculous consumptive, this partly explains the disease's impact on a long list of aesthetes, including George Orwell, D.H. Lawrence, Franz Kafka, and Amedeo Modigliani. Frédéric Chopin complained that he could not compose unless he was coughing blood. John Keats, “With anguish moist and fever dew”, poured out his ineffable poetry as the disease accelerated. An interesting aside to this is the aphrodisiac effect of tuberculosis, so familiar to staff working in sanatoriums. As a nursing sister in my hospital once said, “You need a blowtorch to separate them.”

In India too history of creative arts is full of interesting characters suffering from tuberculosis. Do they all owe part of their greatness to the bugs? And who would have thought you could do with small amount of free bacteria instead of expensive Viagra?
Artist : Alan Dunn The New Yorker 4 March 1944

Monday, May 14, 2007

I dumped The Economist

I have been The Economist’s subscriber since year 1999. I was hypnotized by it. Attraction once was almost Freudian. I had stored its every single issue since then. I thought throwing them away was like throwing away love letters.

And then trouble started. I am not sure with what. Final fall-out came with American invasion of Iraq. If you want to know the true character of the magazine, just read these two issues- the first and fifth anniversary of 9/11.

Andrew Sullivan has put it well: "It’s written in the kind of Oxbridge prose that rips felicitously into one ear and out the other, and it subtly flatters some Americans into feeling that they are sitting in on a combination of an English senior common room and a seminar at Davos."

There are many things right with today's Britain as there are many things wrong. PM Blair and The Economist belong to the latter. I have a theory about the magazine. It surely supported division of Bengal in 1905. They probably put photogenic Lord Curzon on its glossy cover.

So one day this May, I decided to sell its back issues to a raddi-wala.

I have some good news to report. Economist old issues after gathering some moss weigh a lot more than you think. Pay-off for me was handsome. Thank you, The Economist.

Artist : Richard Decker The New Yorker 1 March 1958

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Something as certain as death

Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have exclaimed: "Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes. "

But was he aware, how this dreaded term "tax" was unleashed upon humanity? Following picture tells us how.

On the subject of taxes, I read very funny story in M V Dhond's "Marhati Lavani"- Peshwa Bajirao-II (infamous for his life dedicated to debauchery) imposed a tax called "Santosh Patti" ("Pleasure Tax") on population of Pune after his accession under the presumption that people were happy to have him as their king!

Henry Martin The New Yorker 11 Jan 1969

Vodka brands. Decadence of the Western world?

I like vodka and rum (of all colours).

Thanks to my weak liver, I cannot afford to drink either much but I like to nurse them. They are great catalyst for conversations about life and art and test-cricket.

Barbara Holland claims in her new book "THE JOY OF DRINKING": (Drink is) "......the social glue of the human race. Probably in the beginning we could explain ourselves to our close family members with grunts, muttered syllables, gestures, slaps and punches. Then when the neighbors started dropping in to help harvest, stomp, stir and drink the bounty of the land, after we’d softened our natural suspicious hostility with a few stiff ones, we had to think up some more nuanced communication, like words. From there it was a short step to grammar, civil law, religion, history and ‘The Whiffenpoof Song.’ ".

A stiff claim indeed!

SERGE SCHMEMANN wrote in NYT April 15 2007 "Dispatches From the Front Line of the Great Vodka War" that vodka brands are pretty meaningless because Vodka is just a diluted ethyl alcohol. He says: "The proliferation of premium vodkas, in ever fancier bottles and at ever higher prices, is understandable, given the decadence of the Western world.”


Jack Ziegler The New Yorker 24 July 1989

Philosopher or just a lazy bum?

When I stopped working for big corporates, I thought I became a philosopher.

But my wife would never agree.......
The New Yorker Joseph Mirachi 22 March 1958