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."

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Who in hell uses oil, anyhow?

Some say America and Britain have meddled in Middle East only for oil.

If you read William Bowles’s review of William Engdahl’s “A Century of War – Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order”, you tend to entirely agree with it.

“….The core of the book reveals the pivotal role played by the Wall Street/London financial axis that determined how the world of the 20th century developed, whether it was the competition between rival capitalist powers or the control of the vital resources needed to power the entire process. So for example, whenever it looked like there might some kind of challenge posed to the Anglo-American alliance such as that of Germany in the 1920s or Italy in the 1970s, ‘convenient’ assassinations of key players would occur, or ‘exposés’ that scuppered deals that would have endangered US/UK hegemony.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the masters of the ‘Great Game’ as the rule of British Empire was so named, was dictated by oil and even though the by the post-WWII period, it was the de facto American Empire calling the shots, the alliance formed between the two remained solid, dictated by the seven great oil cartels and a handful of international banking corporations that between them were to control events including the inevitable slide into yet another war, again determined by oil, without which modern industrial capitalism was nothing.
Fast forward a century and we find a world almost entirely shaped by that imperialist vision…”

But this interference seems to predate the Otto Cycle

Read Robert Kagan’s review of Michael B. Oren’s book “Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present
“..Today, the conventional view is that George W. Bush took the United States on a radical departure when he declared a policy to transform the Middle East and that, as soon as he leaves office, U.S. policy will return to an alleged tradition of realism, rooted in the hard-headed pursuit of tangible national interests. This is both bad history and bad prophecy, as Oren shows in Power, Faith, and Fantasy, a series of fascinating and beautifully written stories about individual Americans over the past four centuries and their contact with Middle Eastern cultures………. U.S. backing for the establishment of Israel was rooted in religious convictions going back more than four centuries… …..Despite all the crises of the past years, including the present war in Iraq, Oren predicts that the United States will continue "to pursue the traditional patterns of its Middle East involvement." Policymakers "will press on with their civic mission as mediators and liberators in the area and strive for a pax Americana." American "churches and evangelist groups will still seek to save the region spiritually." And Americans will regard the region as both "mysterious" and "menacing," as they have for centuries, and will seek to transform it in their own image. Many today may want to disagree, but they will have to wrestle first with the long history of American behavior that Oren has so luminously portrayed. “

Therefore, America was always in their neighbourhood even when Arab Sheikhs asked “Who in hell uses oil, anyhow?”


Artist: Everett Opie The New Yorker 20 April 1957

Filth, Noise & Stench in our cities

Our cities are dirty. They were dirtier. Some times nostalgia does not let us remember the dirt of the past accurately.

I remember how dirty Miraj and Kolhapur used to get.

Lack of adequate public toilets, insensitivity to personal hygiene and plain laziness has forced Indian people, particularly children, to defecate at the roadside. Monsoon used to wash all that was deposited at the side to bring it to the middle of the road. One could barely walk there. And many areas used to stink.

Until 1970’s, we also had toilets from where night soil was removed and carried manually in handcarts. We used to call those carts “battle tanks” because people used to change their course after sighting them or on hearing their rattle.

Miraj and Kolhapur, the towns I knew well, had plenty of filth and stench but not much noise. Pune the city I live today has perhaps less filth and stench but it more than makes up by creating cacophonic noise. All the days of Ganpati and Diwali festival have ear bursting noise.

How did London fare on FNS?

Michael Crichton describes 19th century London in “The Great Train Robbery”. High on FNS.

For earlier centuries, Emily Cockayne has recently written a book “Hubbub: Filth, Noise & Stench in England”:
“…for the citizens of London, Oxford, Bath and Manchester in the 17th and 18th centuries, life was not merely nasty, brutish and short. It was ugly, itchy, mouldy, noisy, grotty and dirty…….. Viewed in one light, 17th and 18th-century cities were libertarian paradises: economically vibrant, but with a quality of life tending towards the lowest common denominator.”


Artist : Alan Dunn The New Yorker 27 June 1970

Are Pigeons Rats with Wings or Man’s Second Best Friend?

During my childhood at Miraj, I saw pigeon only in a stock picture of Jawaharlal Nehru freeing it. Nehru all smiles, bird little scared, happy to be in the air instead of human hands.

I really got to see them only when I spent some time with my aunt, Kumud-mavashi, at Girgaum, Mumbai when I was already 23. At Girgaum they were everywhere like cockroaches. There was only one difference between the two. I did not see cockroaches making love.

For me, Mumbai was truly a sensuous city full of beautiful girls and women. So was perhaps the case for pigeons. But I was not as lucky as them. I felt little jealous of them.

I left Mumbai and forgot all about pigeons, as they never visited me at Nashik, Assam, Calcutta and Bangalore. When I came to stay at Pune in 1999, they were present in all their glory: eating, making love, nesting and generally dirtying the place.

Once we allowed them to breed just outside one of our windows. The place stank for a long time. Next time when they laid their eggs there, I pushed them over. The place I stay today has no pigeons in its vicinity. And guess what, no one from my family is complaining.

Sorry I have not been to develop any respect for these creatures.

Looks like I should.

NYT June 26, 2006 has an essay “Pigeon English” by ANDREW D. BLECHMAN.
“…Humans have had a particularly long and proud association with the rock dove. Pigeons brought news of the first Olympics in 776 B.C. and some 2,500 years later, of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. Charles Darwin (himself a fancier) relied on them to prove his theory of evolution; Julius Reuter built his mighty news empire literally on their backs; and perhaps most important, pigeons saved thousands of Allied soldiers during the two world wars. Keep in mind that a modern racing pigeon can fly 60 miles per hour without stopping for 600 miles and find its loft from a place it has never been before, and that the House of Windsor has proudly raced pigeons for more than a century.
And yet, in a matter of decades, one of the world's most venerated creatures and one of nature's most phenomenal athletes has been reduced to the status of vermin by governments on both sides of the Atlantic. The peaceful co-existence of man and pigeon has deteriorated into a war of attrition.
The bird's crime? Its gregarious nature. Pigeons are simply attracted to people as well as the company of other pigeons. Unfortunately, their unsightly and unhygienic droppings rapidly accumulate. But we really have only ourselves to blame: pigeons subsist on the food we drop. ….
One thing alone leads to an overpopulation of pigeons: overfeeding. Pigeons breed only when food is available. When food is overly bountiful, as was the case at Trafalgar Square for many years, pigeons will mate as often as possible — up to six times a year. When food is scarce, mating drops drastically as the flock anxiously forages for food……
Although some view pigeons as "rats with wings," we should keep in mind that they also bring joy to millions who appreciate how they animate our cities. After all, it's not Lord Nelson's column that attracts flocks of tourists from around the world to Trafalgar Square; it's the birds.”


Artist: Bruce Erik Kaplan The New Yorker 28 Feb 1994

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

In 21st century Trophy Human Skulls on the soil of the Earth’s Most Powerful Nation

War surely brings the worst out of humans.

In Mahabharata, I read how it brought the worst out of Jayadratha, Ashwathhama Yudhishthira, Bheema, Satyaki …………… The list is long and perhaps includes all players.

And yet as children we seem to enjoy the real wars. I remember how I rejoiced India’s victories in its wars against Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. As I grew up, I learned to hate China and its people because India lost a war against China in 1962.

I was shaken out my romance of war when still in school I read this dedication in Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet On The Western Front”:

“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”

Mahabharata is not about the victory of Pandavas against Kauravas but warning to humanity about annihilative nature of war. “Panipat 1761” by T S Shejwalkar is about how bloodily expansionism of Marathas ended and how badly “victorious” Afghan Abdali got hurt in the process. Reading “1812” by Adam Zamoyski made me hate Napoleon as much I hated Hitler.

NYT June 22,2007 has an article “The Bones We Carried” By LORI ANDREWS. ”……. When American G.I.’s returned from the Vietnam War, some tried to smuggle home the skulls of Vietcong and North Vietnamese soldiers. The graffiti-covered skulls served as ashtrays, candle holders and trophies. Six skulls were seized by the Customs Service. They remain in limbo, relegated to a drawer on the campus of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington........"

Can we teach our children to mourn wars? Can we teach them gory details of violence in war? Can we stop calling sports encounters, examinations and other competitive situations as battles or wars?



Artist: Edward Koren The New Yorker 23 Dec 1967

Monday, June 25, 2007

32 years of The Emergency, Durga Bhagwat and Henry David Thoreau

Thirty-two years ago midnight today, the Emergency was declared in India. I remember the next day vaguely. For shouting slogans against the government at Kisan Chowk, Miraj, cops arrested one of our neighbours young Makrand Deshpande. I witnessed it. There was nervousness in the air, which was going to last for a while.

Kuldip Nayar remembers it vividly in Asian Age June 25 2007.

“….The press was gagged, dissent smothered and individual freedom suspended. Nearly 100,000 people were detained without trial. So immense was the fear, that judges tailored their judgment to suit government convenience and magistrates issued blank warrants for arrest. Public servants as well as the police willingly carried out arbitrary and high-handed actions. It was a reign of terror. This authoritarian rule lasted 22 months….. Institutions got such a thrashing that it has not been possible to restore them to their original form even after three decades. Politicians of all parties and their cohorts, the bureaucrats, have found the battered institutions convenient and cooperative. Their whims and wishes get authenticity, and gone are the days when they themselves were looking for norms……. The system has not recovered since. The civil service is now a set of sycophants and supplicants who allow themselves to be used by the politicians……. Media’s role is important. But some of the media is irresponsible and some just timid. I wonder if we will pick up the gauntlet thrown to us by the government in the shape of the Broadcast Bill. The media can retrieve its reputation because it failed during the Emergency. L.K. Advani, when information minister, aptly remarked, "You were asked to bend but you crawled."”

If Ms. Indira Gandhi was the architect of the Emergency, one of its fiercest and the most fearless opponent was another lady- Ms. Durga Bhagwat दुर्गा भागवत. In the presence of powerful union cabinet minister Y B Chavan,she launched a frontal attack on the government from the dais of 51st Marathi Sahitya Sammelan at Karad in December 1975. Later Ms. Bhagwat inspired opposition to Emergency across Maharashtra.

Durga-bai had a lot of affection for Henry David Thoreau because of his nature’s love and that he was an inspiration to Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi. The affection was so deep that she absolved India Gandhi of all her crimes when she discovered that Ms. Gandhi had written a poem on Thoreau!

Durga-bai quoted following paragraph from Thoreau’s writing in her speech to Mumbai Marathi Granth-Sangrahalay in December 1975:

“However mean your life is, meet it and live; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. the fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perchance have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man's house. The snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts as anywhere, and, indeed, the town's poor seem to live the most independent lives of any. They are simply great enough to receive without misgiving. Cultivate poverty like sage, like a garden herb. Do not trouble yourself to get new things, whether clothes or friends. That is dissipation. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. If I were confined to a corner in a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts.”

During her life Durga Bhagwat knew the path Thoreau took. She didn’t need to ask like Helen E. Hokinson’s characters below.


Artist: Helen E. Hokinson The New Yorker 3 Aug 1935

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Americans, you peel Indian mangoes ONLY yourself for sheer pleasure and not because some stupid manual tells you so

Indian mangoes seem to be now available in US. First, exports to middle-eastern countries made them expensive for people like me. Now, it is US’s turn.

However, I don’t mind. I have had a shot at the best of mangoes for a long time because I was born and raised in western Maharashtra-truly a mango country.

For us, lunches in summer were subservient to mango. Every thing else on the plate was distant second. We ate almost six chapattis daily for a lunch, a number that would dwindle to two or three once mangoes departed for the year. Mango aroma (particularly of Payari and Hapus, characterized for their juice and meat respectively) filled the air of April, May and part of June. By the way- mangoes never left us fully because our parents would cook a mango jam (known in Marathi as Muramba or Sakharamba) with the last crop of Hapus (Alphonso) that hit the market every year.

Americans are obsessed with sex. Now, they have some thing equally sensuous to fuss about. This summer I see pictures of white Americans, wearing jackets, sitting at the table with knife and fork to eat Indian mangoes. I feel they need some training eating mangoes. Kamasutra of eating mangoes.

Here is the Chapter I:

“Eat them with your bare hands. First feel them up. Then smell them for a while. Now peel them slowly, eat portion sticking to its skin. Remove the entire skin continuing this process.
Now feel the naked fruit in your hand. You are ready to eat it. Tuck into it until you reach the seed. Lick the seed until no meat is left there. If your mango is indeed the original Hapus, the licked seed should leave no fiber on its shell or in your mouth.
Clean your bloodied hands but not with strong soap. A true mango should leave behind its aroma long after hands are washed.”



Artist: Alan Dunn The New Yorker 31 July 1943

Friday, June 22, 2007

“A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time”, Taj Mahal will remain. Stop being rabid.

The biggest threat to humanity never was global warming but always rabid nationalism of some kind and it will always remain so. History has many exhibits- Napoleon, Hitler,American Empire since 19th century etc.

Educated Indians are exhibiting more and more rabid nationalism by espousing causes like religion (“if Islam has become little loud at few places in the world, others too should”), national borders (“China cannot even mention Arunachal Pradesh”), Cricket (beating Pakistan is the greatest glory), language (“Is Pratibha Patil- aspiring President of India- ‘Marathi’”?), river-waters (“not a drop to neighboring state let alone nation”), historical-figures (“how can a white man even mention Shivaji?”), tracking every move of astronaut Sunita Williams because she has Indian roots and many, many others.

The latest to join the long list is The Taj Mahal. Indian Media want Taj to make it to the list of Seven Wonders of the world. As usual they have become hysterical and cacophonic.

I wonder why it should matter. People will continue to either love it or dislike it (there are many such). Either way, they will flock to see it. For me the greatest thing about Taj was finding it where I did. Very unexpectedly. Suddenly. Out of nowhere.

I don’t know how many of us realize it but Shivaji might have seen Taj when he famously visited Agra in year 1666. I mentioned this to the Late D G Godse द ग गोडसे, one of the greatest art critic, artist and historian who wrote only in Marathi. Remember, Godse has written extensively about aesthetic beauty of Fort Raigad’s (seat of Shivaji’s small kingdom) architecture in his book “Shakti Saushthav” (Popular Prakashan 1972). Godse wrote back to me that Shivaji must have appreciated beauties of both Raigad and Taj.

Diana and Michael Preston has recently published a book on Taj- “A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time: The Story of the Taj Mahal”. It has been reviewed quite favourably in FT and Guardian.

Some interesting tidbits from the reviews.

“……. Even in her late thirties, when most women were considered ”too old for sex”, Mumtaz had an enduring appeal: Shah Jahan impregnated her 14 times in the 19 years before her death (in childbirth) and she had available to her a number of techniques to ensure that her madan-mandir (temple of love), ”slackened by constant pregnancy”, we are told, contracted to enhance Shah Jahan’s pleasure……Fulfilling Mumtaz Mahal’s deathbed request (”build for me a mausoleum which would be unique, the like of which is not on earth”) took almost 20 years, stretched the finances of the 17th-century’s richest monarch and diverted his attention from the business of governing……… In later life, Shah Jahan’s voracious sexual appetite returned as memories of Mumtaz faded. The authors, optimistically perhaps, suggest his later pursuit of loveless sex and ”debauching of his courtiers’ wives and daughters represented a fervid quest to prove that Mumtaz Mahal had been unique and worthy of a unique love”.

……Over time the Taj was neglected, vandalized. Finally Lord Curzon, the British viceroy, undertook a major restoration. It was, he said, ‘an offering of reverence to the past and a gift of recovered beauty to the future’. But the future brings its own dangers: the biggest threat now comes from pollution, and the moisture-laden breath of tourists. When we visit the Taj and sigh in admiration, we are helping to destroy it.”

Although as D D Kosambi (year 2007 is his birth centenary) has argued in his numerous writings, life of common people in India has not changed much through so-called golden ages or dynasties,Shah Jahan was 17th century’s richest monarch in the world.

Yes, ma'am he did not need any aid to build The Taj!


Artist: Ed Fisher The New Yorker 25 Aug 1962

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mount Everest the Overfull

I liked my stay and travel to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh for their somnolence. There were empty parts of the day, of the week, of the year; times when there were no people around, no traffic in the streets, no audible human voices, now and then no sound at all.

I used to have similar experience as a child just behind our home at Miraj. Other than a stray dog or a passing bicyclist, nothing happened when I planted my self on a branch of Tamarind tree. Some people talked about ghosts on the trees. Ghosts seem to prefer somnolence and that was all right by me. I even liked reading books with pictures that gave the impression of somnolence like Chandamama(Chandoba in Marathi)or Phantom(Vetal in Marathi).

PAUL THEROUX (according to me one of the only three Americans who understands India-Mark Twain, J K Galbraith are the other two) has written about this in the essay “America the Overfull” (NYT December 31, 2006):

“A longing for a simpler world, for a glimpse of the past, is one of the motives in travel……… Travel, except in almost inaccessible places, is no longer the answer to finding solitude. And this contraction of space on a shrinking planet suggests a time, not far off, when there will be no remoteness: nowhere to become lost, nothing to be discovered, no escape, no palpable concept of distance, no peculiarity of dress — frightening thoughts for a traveler……. We are passing through a confused period of aggression and fear, characterized by our confrontational government, the decline of diplomacy, a pugnacious foreign policy and a settled belief that the surest way to get people to tell the truth is to torture them. It is no wonder we have begun to squint at strangers. This is a corrosive situation in a country where more and more people, most of them strangers, are a feature of daily life. Americans as a people I believe to be easygoing, compassionate, not looking for a fight. But surely I am not the only one who has noticed that we are ruder, more offhand, readier to take offense, a nation of shouters and blamers.”

NOAM COHEN has written about crawling crowds on the Mount Everest in “Conquering the Peak Test of Technology” (NYT June 18,2007).
Mobile phones, PDA’s but not Laptops now seem to work at the top of the Mount Everest. Base camp looks like “ a Hollywood production set, with all its flat-screen TVs and generators.”

What next? Menswear…….



Artist: Robert Mankoff The New Yorker 5 Sept 1988

What is common to Bhopal’s MIC (Methyl Isocyanate) and Vietnam’s Agent Orange?

Answer: MIC (Military-industrial complex) in general and Dow Chemical in particular.

Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984 killed between sixteen thousand and thirty thousand and injured around five hundred thousand. No court of law passed judgment on Union Carbide for the crime it committed in Bhopal.

Union Carbide’s legal team argued that an American court was not competent to assess the value of a human life-life that lives in shacks-in the Third World. Wall Street Journal wrote: “An American life is worth approximately five hundred thousand dollars. Taking into account the fact that India’s gross national product is 1.7% of the US, the Court should compensate for the decease of each Indian victim proportionately, that is to say, with eight thousand five hundred dollars”.

The Economist (25 November 2004) says: ” TWENTY years after lethal gases from a Union Carbide pesticide factory billowed across a densely populated shanty town in the Indian city of Bhopal, both the dilapidated plant and its highly contaminated surrounding areas stand as monuments to governmental and corporate inaction. Compensation has still not been fully paid to over 500,000 victims, the plant has not been dismantled and toxic waste estimated to amount to several thousand tonnes remains on the site, polluting local water supplies. Legal cases are continuing in both Bhopal and New York against the American company, which was taken over by Dow Chemical in 2001, and against Warren Anderson, Union Carbide's chairman in the early 1980s, whom India has tried and failed to extradite …..……. Dow Chemical, together with its Union Carbide subsidiary, denies responsibility for victims' health or the state of the site, following an overall settlement reached in 1989 with the Indian government. The claims totalled $3 billion, but the government settled for $470m (then worth 7.5 billion rupees) plus a further $43m in rupees. A criminal case is in progress in Bhopal, and a New York court has yet to decide whether the company should be ordered to clean the site, in addition to paying out more for health problems. Payment of the $470m compensation to victims and those suffering ill health has been slow, mired in bureaucratic delays, judicial appeals and corruption. Eventually, by late last year, most of the 570,000 confirmed victims had received payments averaging 25,000 rupees. That left 15.6 billion rupees (at current dollar values), which is being distributed on orders issued last month by India's Supreme Court.”

DANIELLE TRUSSONI’s writes (NYT June 18, 2007 “End Vietnam’s Air War”): “……United States sprayed about 19.5 million gallons of Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides over the jungles of South Vietnam…… Today the federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, is scheduled to hear oral arguments against Dow, Monsanto and 35 other companies that manufactured Agent Orange and related herbicides used during the Vietnam War. In addition, 16 appeals by American veterans will be heard, as well as an appeal by a group that represents Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange……. Perhaps now, after 40 years, the victims of Agent Orange will finally get such recognition.”

Better luck to American veterans and Vietnamese peasants! As per CIA’s website GDP of Vietnam (2006 est.purchasing power parity) is 2% of USA. Therefore, Vietnamese should expect only 2 dollars for every 100 Americans get as compensation,if any!

Wikipedia says: “The term military-industrial complex refers to a close and symbiotic relationship among a nation's armed forces, its private industry, and associated political and commercial interests. In such a system, the military is dependent on industry to supply material and other support, while the defense industry depends on government for revenue. The term is most often used in reference to the United States, where it gained popularity after its use in the farewell address of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.”


Artist: Frank Modell The New Yorker 28 Sept 1968

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sentimental Education

Gurcharan Das wrote originative essay “Sentimental Education” in 2001 wherein he addressed the issue of leadership deficit.

He says; “…. Not only does our traditional insecurity for jobs push our youth early into careers, our silo-like curriculum does not permit cross fertilisation of disciplines…..In India, the triumph of the IIT-IIM culture and our current mania for computers, is producing too many graduates with a tunnel vision. We are not producing leaders for tomorrow's challenges. Reading great books is one way to make it happen.”

I have been deeply motivated by this essay. I could not procure recommended David Denby's “Great Books: My Adventure with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World” but I did get “Books that changed the world” by Robert B. Downs.

I keep telling my son and whomever that listens to me about the essay. My 13- year old son has already read unabridged Mahabharata & Ramayana, Sherlock Homes, abridged Shakespeare plays, Mark Twain among many other pre-20th century English books.

Great books, understood Mr. Das.

What about some great toys? Like this...



Artist: Joseph Mirachi, The New Yorker, 24 Oct 1964

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Stature surfeit

Paul Krugman observes Americans are turning shorter (NYT June 15 2007).
He quotes: "height is indicative of how well the human organism thrives in its socio-economic environment."
He says: “Whatever the full explanation for America’s stature deficit, our relative shortness, like our low life expectancy, suggests that something is amiss with our way of life. A critical European might say that America is a land of harried parents and neglected children, of expensive healthcare that misses those who need it most, a society that for all its wealth somehow manages to be nasty, brutish — and short. “

Hoping to get such data on India would be a tall order. But we can talk based on anecdotal evidence.

I think Indians in cities are getting taller and fatter.

These days I come across many school and college going girls who are taller than me (I am 5 ‘ 8”). Not so long ago, height of 5’ 4” in a girl was considered her passport to Miss Something (school, college, town, locality, India, world).

This prosperity has created some strange problems.

Public transport seating was designed for Indians who were much leaner and shorter. Seats meant for two can hardly take one and half. Seats meant for three, now used to seat four (such as Pune’s auto-rickshaws) can cause some serious damage to parts of your anatomy like knees, head, private parts etc.

p.s. Is this the reason American hippo is finding it hard to hear European Giraffe on Iraq, global warming etc?


Artist : Bernie Wiseman The New yorker 17 Jan 1953

Muumuu looks pretty only by candlelight!

A trend seems to have emerged in Pune (and perhaps many other places in India) over last couple of decades: Middle-class women wearing nightgown throughout the day and perhaps night. During my childhood sari was ubiquitous in most parts of India. Until almost 1990’s, I almost never saw a woman outside her home in a nightgown. Women used gowns only during hospitalization.

These days I see nightgowns everywhere any time of the day. In shops, at vegetable markets, during morning walks, at school gates, at school-bus pickup points, at funeral procession etc.

And the clothing is less of a gown and more of a muumuu. (Btw- Glamorous film star of yesteryears Mumtaz was known as Mumu)

I think this shows women are either overworked or have turned plain lazy or no one has told them that they should not be wearing a nightgown outside their homes at least during the day.

A muumuu reminds me of Homer Simpson from episode [3F05] King- Size Homer (Original airdate in N.A.: 5-Nov-95) where he promises his wife Marge that he would not wear the gown outside, promptly breaks the promise and gets humiliated.

I think nightgowns look pretty only by candlelight.


Artist: Barbara Shermund The New Yorker 18 Apr 1936

Friday, June 15, 2007

We're Not Speaking the Same Language

Services in India suck. More and more so.

Rookies who understand almost nothing about the big picture of the business they work for largely staff call centres. They almost never use their intelligence and also routinely break laid down processes. They know no fear because if they are fired from one place, they will soon get an offer from another. Some times processes are so bad, I wonder how they became certified in the first place.

India takes pride in having one of the largest pool of English speaking youth. May be. English also is a link language for North and South via West and East. But whose English is it?

Not The British Queen’s. Not Rajaji’s. Not R K Narayan’s. Not Arun Kolatkar’s.

Some times I think even in written communication every word means different things to different people. Things become worse when it comes to verbal communication because every word seems to be pronounced in a unique way.

I am trying to adapt to this new services regime.

I presume that I am talking / corresponding with a robot. I anticipate robot’s response and play the game accordingly. I use smaller sentences. On e-mail, I repeat the gist of entire correspondence in the latest reply even when the past exchange is enclosed. In every exchange, I identify myself with a/c name, date of birth etc etc. On phone, I ask for escalation process after few elapsed (and invariably wasted) minutes. I threaten to take my small business away from them. I praise their competition though most times it is equally bad.

If this sounds funny, it’s not. This is not good for India’s rapidly growing services economy. It proves to me huge deficit of soft-skills at service providers.


“Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson printed Asian Age June 15, 2007

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What is in the address?...A lot

Pune and a few other parts of Maharashtra, where Marathi is still spoken to conduct daily business, have some weird practices. One of them is address a person you are speaking to as a relation who would normally be very senior to you in age.

For example, a woman younger than me by say five years would address me as “Kaka” (father’s brother/male cousin) or worse “Ajoba” (grand-father)! My current neighbour- who is almost my father’s age- calls me “Kaka”! At Nashik, where my mother moved to in late 1980’s, a vegetable vendor (of age 30-35) would routinely address her as “Aajji” (grand mother) when she was only 50 years old and none of her children was even married! My wife gets very irritated when a woman not much younger calls her “Kaku” (wife of Kaka). It is not just because of implied age difference but also because “Kakubai” in Marathi means slovenly woman.

I think this practice is typical Puneite’s way of snubbing people or just a sloppy habit that needs correction. If indeed you want to make the other person happy, which is likely the case in services dominated world, you should address her such that she feels younger and not older!

In South India (Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh) this is not so. At most places, they address you as “Sir” or “Madam” (or Uncle/Aunty). That causes no irritation and all parties involved can concentrate on business on hand.


The Artist: Peter Arno The New Yorker Jan 30 1960

How to solve any problem…American way?

Elite (or is it just nouveau rich?) Indians looked towards UK for approval until about 1970’s and since then US has replaced UK.

Many (if not most) children of our top civil servants, judges, industry captains, media moguls, established artists, military top brass, doctors, lawyers, thought-leaders and builders are now settled in US or plan to do so.

No wonder US rules over minds of India’s effective policy makers or indirect rulers.

Indian society’s acceptance of personal wealth as the only criterion of success is a further proof of how American way has prevailed.

And what else is the American way?

While I was working at a major IT transnational company, on seeing a presentation foil titled “Operating System Wars”, my South Korean colleague exclaimed that war was the only way Americans knew how to conceptualise or solve a problem!

No surprises therefore to read a survey in Newsweek June 4, 2007 that says world trusts China (46%) to act more responsibly than US (43%).

Global warming? Bomb the damn thing with water! (Haven't seen funnier and sadder picture than this for a long time)

Artist: R K Laxman Times of India June 8 2007

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

For Just Kicking Dust or the Sheer Joy of it?

For all the wrong reasons, Indian cricket seems to be in the news (this week- "Graham Ford on Monday announced that he has declined an offer to coach the Indian cricket team"). I wonder if we have long forgot the joy of cricket. Times of India covers the game on front page and sports page. I wonder if they realize cricket should also make it to “The Speaking Tree” –its column on spiritual matters.

Sample this:

“……It said a great deal for Smith that he did not allow the misfortune to throw him off balance. Bowling more carefully, he delivered the rest of the over to the order. Five balls went down, each of them swinging into the batsman. Three of them Troughton was able to leave alone, as they swung across his body and down the leg side, making Deacon leap and stretch to stop them from going for byes. True, Troughton played carefully, once going right up on his toes to bring the ball down on to the pitch in front of him with the straightest of the bats, dropping his wrists and slackening the fingers round the bat handle. The seventh, aimed straight at the middle stump had Troughton driving across the line trying to work it away to mid-wicket. It moved off the pitch again, but this time in the other direction, touching the outside edge of the bat as it went and winging its way chest high to Gauvinier at first slip- a straightforward, finger-tingling slip catch. He flung the ball high in delight- for himself, for Norman, for the ball, for the catch, for the score and for the sheer joy of cricket”
(John ParkerThe Village Cricket Match”(1977) from cricket anthology “The Joy of Cricket” Selected and Edited by John Bright-Holmes)

During world cup 2007, Ian Chappell was asked why cricketers throw up the ball when they catch it (because few mess it up by dropping it in the process!). Person as erudite as Chappell could not quite answer it. He should have just said – “for the sheer joy of cricket!”.

Or read this Browning-ian envoi

“…Time stood still in a distillation of delight. People and place and circumstances gave visual representation of a meaning, a conception, an ideal. Cricket was itself again and all was well with my world” (From “Thanks to Cricket” (1972) by J M Kilburn)

Are we still capable of enjoying these subtle almost spiritual features of cricket or we just enjoy “kicking dust”?

Cricket resembles more and more to Hindi cinema: a lot of "kicking dust" about its personalities and very little about its quality of music, acting, story, direction, dialogues, songs etc.


“Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson printed Asian Age June 13, 2007

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Patenting Some Obvious Thing will Raise Inequity in the World

Bill Gates at Harvard on June 7 2007 told graduating students:
”……I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world—the appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair.
I learned a lot here at Harvard about new ideas in economics and politics. I got great exposure to the advances being made in the sciences.
But humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries—but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity—reducing inequity is the highest human achievement....
I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you have addressed the world’s deepest inequities… on how well you treated people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity. “

Very moving words, reminiscent of Mahatma Gandhi.

TIMOTHY B. LEE in his column “A Patent Lie” in NYT on June 7, 2007 says:
” WHAT a difference 16 years makes. Last month, the technology world was abuzz over an interview in Fortune magazine in which Bradford Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, accused users and developers of various free software products of patent infringement and demanded royalties. Indeed, in recent years, Mr. Smith has argued that patents are essential to technological breakthroughs in software.

Microsoft sang a very different tune in 1991. In a memo to his senior executives, Bill Gates wrote, “If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.” Mr. Gates worried that “some large company will patent some obvious thing” and use the patent to “take as much of our profits as they want.”
Mr. Gates wrote his 1991 memo shortly after the courts began allowing patents on software in the 1980s. At the time Microsoft was a growing company challenging entrenched incumbents like I.B.M. and Novell. It had only eight patents to its name. Recognizing the threat to his company, Mr. Gates initiated an aggressive patenting program. Today Microsoft holds more than 6,000 patents.

It’s not surprising that Microsoft — now an entrenched incumbent — has had a change of heart. But Mr. Gates was right in 1991: patents are bad for the software industry…..

The Gates memo predicted that a large company would “patent some obvious thing,” and that’s exactly what Verizon has done. Two of its patents cover the concept of translating phone numbers into Internet addresses. It is virtually impossible to create a consumer-friendly Internet telephone product without doing that. So if Verizon prevails on appeal, it will probably be able to drive Vonage out of business. Consumers will suffer from fewer choices and higher prices, and future competitors will be reluctant to enter markets dominated by patents.

But don’t software companies need patent protection? In fact, companies, especially those that are focused on innovation, don’t: software is already protected by copyright law, and there’s no reason any industry needs both types of protection. The rules of copyright are simpler and protection is available to everyone at very low cost. In contrast, the patent system is cumbersome and expensive. Applying for patents and conducting patent searches can cost tens of thousands of dollars. That is not a huge burden for large companies like Microsoft, but it can be a serious burden for the small start-up firms that produce some of the most important software innovations.

Independent invention is not a defense to patent infringement, and large software companies now hold so many patents that it is almost impossible to create useful software without infringing some of them……

Only patent lawyers benefit from this kind of arms race. And Microsoft’s own history contradicts Mr. Smith’s claim that patents are essential for technological breakthroughs: Microsoft produced lots of innovative software before it received its first software patent in 1988. As more and more lawsuits rock the industry, we should ask if software patents are stifling innovation. Bill Gates certainly thought so in 1991, even if he won’t admit it today.

Therefore, as we remain grateful to Mr. Gates for philanthropy, world would be more equitable place if he became equally generous towards small start-up firms.

Imagine Wright Brothers could not invent the Aerial Age because of a patent……….


Artist: Chon Day The New Yorker 28 Sept 1940

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Are women at the mercy of biology?

Since Victorian era began in England, in India- let alone sex-mentioning women’s monthly periods became taboo. It was not so in medieval times. Indian historians (e.g. T S Shejwalkar, D G Godse द ग गोडसे) have quoted instances when women’s monthly period was mentioned without any hesitation.

During my childhood in sixties and seventies, monthly period was a subject that could not be avoided (how do you turn down an invitation to participate in religious activities?) yet could not be discussed directly. Many euphemisms were invented. I remember one – ‘Dog touched’. My mother used it and we interrogated her mercilessly- how the hell it did! She always came up with a story. Not very convincing most times.

Although my mother never practiced it, we saw most women of Brahmin households “sitting Out/Aside/Away” during those "dog-touched” days. They were not allowed to ‘touch’ most things and people. They almost became 'untouchables'. They used separate set of utensils for eating, wore separate set of clothes and so on. The whole day, they sat in a shadowy corner of the house.

I felt great mystery every time I came across a “sitting OAA” woman. Now, how the hell did a dog touch her?!

These days in cities I don’t come across women “sitting OAA” but the subject is still treated with some hesitation. We have dozens of sanitary napkin brands on the market today, but their advertisements continue to be shrouded in mystery.

I guess the practice of "sitting OAA" had a lot of merit. It made sure a woman was freed of physical labour (sample these killers- fetching water, cooking, washing clothes) and sex during menstruation. It gave her much needed rest.

I never heard menopause being discussed at all. So following headline would sound from planet Venus.

ELIZABETH HAYT (NYT June 7,2007)“Listen Up, Everybody: I’m in Menopause”


Artist: Barbara Smaller The New Yorker 1 Nov 1999

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Putting the Skinned Knees Back Into Playtime

During my school days (1965-1975) at Miraj, I wore shoes or chappals only reluctantly because they were a hindrance to free movement. There also was an added danger of forgetting them (costly items then and now) if taken off. Our pastimes did not particularly need them either.

The biggest pastime of them all was playing marbles. Two games called Benda (which since then I have realized had strong sexual undertones) and Yanhee-Ganda (literally means female and male in Kannada). Followed by Kabaddi, Aatya-Patya, Gilli-Danda, road-side barefoot Cricket and few other games which are hard to describe but thoroughly enjoyable. All under blue sky. Most times on the roadside. Occasionally on playgrounds or courtyard of a big house such as Arvind Bedekar's (where his sister Alka too would join)/ Srinivas Thanedar's Vada. Only extreme hot summer day would force us to play indoors.

We did not mind dirt (I did not think twice fetching a ball from big, open sewer), injuries (I carried skinned knees with little pus most times), heat (30+ Celsius), hunger pangs (forever hungry) and occasional mouthful by someone who felt pestered by our games (e.g a gentleman called Khare who ran a small handloom mill and hated our cricket ball hitting his tin shade). Note I have not mentioned vehicular traffic because there was not much.

Although my wife and I encourage our son to play outdoors, surely he is having less fun than what I had. When I won at marbles really good, I felt like Livermore in picture below. We did not talk to girls out in the open back then so she would be missing from my picture!

ALEX WILLIAMS has written an excellent essay on this “Putting the Skinned Knees Back Into Playtime” (NYT May 20, 2007).

“………Back then, children didn’t need to take seminars to learn to play a no-tech, simple game. In the era of micromanaged play dates, overstuffed after-school schedules, cuts to recess and parents terrified of injuries, lawsuits and predators, many traditional childhood games have become lost arts, as antique as the concept of idle time itself.

But lately, a number of educators like Mr. Cohill, as well as parents and child-development specialists are trying to spur a revival of traditional outdoor pastimes, including marbles, hopscotch, red rover and kickball. They are attending play conferences, teaching courses on how to play, and starting leagues for the kinds of activities that didn’t used to need leagues — just, say, a stick and a ball. They are spurred by concerns that a decline in traditional play robs the imagination and inhibits social interaction, by personal nostalgia, and by a desire to create a new bridge to connect generations — a bridge across both sides of the Nintendo gap.

Although their efforts have mostly yielded modest results, a hint that they may be on to something comes with the success of an unlikely best seller, “The Dangerous Book for Boys” (Collins), a sepia-toned celebration of the lost arts of childhood, complete with information on how to make a tree house, fold paper airplanes and skip stones. Within days of its publication earlier this month, the book had soared to No. 2 on Amazon’s sales ranking, right behind the latest Harry Potter installment. The book, by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden, sells for $24.95 in hardcover and may be appealing as much to fathers who are nostalgic for a youth they never quite had as to children.

Conn Iggulden said in an e-mail message that he routinely received correspondence from parents who yearn for a “return to simple pleasures,” which seems to stem from “potent forces, like the realisation that keeping your kids locked up in the house on PlayStations isn’t actually that good for them; or the appalled reaction of many parents to a health-and-safety culture that prevents half the activities they took for granted as kids — and that they know were important to their growth and confidence.”


Artist: Alan Dunn The New Yorker 24 June 1933

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

How six-day war “victory” metamorphosed into forty-year (and counting) war…. India are you listening?

This month six-day war is seeing its 40th anniversary. It was a huge event in 1967. I was only seven years old but I still remember some of its coverage in Marathi newspapers. Israel’s victory looked comprehensive. Don’t forget, in Indian Hindu middle-class homes there has been a tendency to celebrate Israel’s victories over Muslims.

But looking at the Middle East today, should we call it a victory at all let alone celebrate it?

The Economist leader dated May 26, 2007 says: “………the six-day war has come to look like one of history's pyrrhic victories…..in the long run, the war turned into a calamity for the Jewish state no less than for its neighbours…..Part of the trouble was the completeness of the triumph. Its speed and scope led many Israelis to see a divine hand in their victory. This changed Israel itself, giving birth to an irredentist religious-nationalist movement intent on permanent colonisation of the occupied lands…..Is there a way out? Yes: but making peace will take courage, and too much of the energy that should have gone into peacemaking has been squandered on the blame game….What self-defeating madness. For peace to come, Israel must give up the West Bank and share Jerusalem; the Palestinians must give up the dream of return and make Israel feel secure as a Jewish state. All the rest is detail.”

TOM SEGEV, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, is more scathing in his analysis : “What if Israel Had Turned Back?” (NYT June5, 2007):
“…..But peace with the Palestinians has not come one inch closer. As a result more and more Israelis realize today that Israel gained absolutely nothing from the conquest of the Palestinian territories. Speculating again in hindsight — Israel may have been better off giving up the West Bank and East Jerusalem without peace than signing the 1994 peace agreement with Jordan while keeping these territories. Forty years of oppression and Palestinian terrorism, both extremely cruel, have undermined Israel’s Jewish and democratic foundations. With about 400,000 Israelis living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and with extreme Islamism as a driving force among the Palestinians, the conflict has become infinitely more difficult to solve.

Hence young Israelis have good reason to look at my generation and say, “You blew it.” I suppose we did. In contrast to my generation, these young people no longer presume to know what should be done to solve the conflict; indeed they often no longer believe in peace. Many resort to cynical skepticism and fatalistic pessimism. …”

We in India need to learn a lesson or two from this because many in India describe its victory in 1971 war as “comprehensive”. Recently, in an election rally speech, Rahul Gandhi, a lawmaker, was boasting about his grandmother’s “dismemberment” of Pakistan. Kashmir may not be as big a problem as Palestine but it sure is a bad problem. That is the reason; 36 years after our “comprehensive” victory, we still don’t have peace.

Let us have leaders- young or old, military or political- who talk and mean peace.


Artist: Whitney Darrow,Jr. The New Yorker 14 Oct 1967

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

DDT- Not a Dirty Dozen but a Godsend

Today is International Environment Day. For many people, on such a day it may be inappropriate to praise DDT, which stood for Dirty Dreaded Term after Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”.

I was raised in Miraj, a small town in Maharashtra, and distinctly remember how our locality became almost mosquito-free when DDT was sprayed there regularly. Sight of white powder DDT spray itself was a promise of a good night's sleep and no nightly fever. When DDT’s usage was reduced, swarms of mosquitoes returned to torment us. Swat in Alan Dunn’s picture below was our only resort and that was not very effective while sleeping. Mosquitoes feasted on our bodies like a breakfast buffet.

Michael Crichton’s "State of Fear" states:
"......... I know you haven't read any of what I am about to tell you in the newspaper, because newspapers literally don't report them. I can tell you that DDT is not a carcinogen and did not cause birds to die and should never have been banned. I can tell you that the people who banned it knew that it wasn't carcinogenic and banned it anyway. I can tell you that the DDT ban has caused the deaths of tens of millions of poor people, mostly children, whose deaths are directly attributable to a callous, technologically advanced western society that promoted the new cause of environmentalism by pushing a fantasy about a pesticide, and thus irrevocably harmed the third world. Banning DDT is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century history of America. We knew better, and we did it anyway, and we let people around the world die and didn't give a damn.".

But for some Crichton is as toxic as DDT!

For all of those, JOHN TIERNEY has written an excellent essay- “Fateful Voice of a Generation Still Drowns Out Real Science “- in NYT June5, 2007. The essay proves it’s possible to fool all the people for considerable amount of time. That’s what Carson’s book did.
Some excerpts from the article: “For Rachel Carson admirers, it has not been a silent spring. They’ve been celebrating the centennial of her birthday with paeans to her saintliness. A new generation is reading her book in school — and mostly learning the wrong lesson from it……
If students are going to read “Silent Spring” in science classes, I wish it were paired with another work from that same year, 1962, titled “Chemicals and Pests.” It was a review of “Silent Spring” in the journal Science written by I. L. Baldwin, a professor of agricultural bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin.He didn’t have Ms. Carson’s literary flair, but his science has held up much better………….
Ms. Carson used dubious statistics and anecdotes (like the improbable story of a woman who instantly developed cancer after spraying her basement with DDT) to warn of a cancer epidemic that never came to pass……..
Ms. Carson presented DDT as a dangerous human carcinogen, but Dr. Baldwin said the question was open and noted that most scientists “feel that the danger of damage is slight.” He acknowledged that pesticides were sometimes badly misused, but he also quoted an adage: “There are no harmless chemicals, only harmless use of chemicals.”……
She cited scary figures showing a recent rise in deaths from cancer, but she didn’t consider one of the chief causes: fewer people were dying at young ages from other diseases (including the malaria that persisted in the American South until DDT). When that longevity factor as well as the impact of smoking are removed, the cancer death rate was falling in the decade before “Silent Spring,” and it kept falling in the rest of the century. Why weren’t all of the new poisons killing people? An important clue emerged in the 1980s when the biochemist Bruce Ames tested thousands of chemicals and found that natural compounds were as likely to be carcinogenic as synthetic ones. Dr. Ames found that 99.99 percent of the carcinogens in our diet were natural, which doesn’t mean that we are being poisoned by the natural pesticides in spinach and lettuce. We ingest most carcinogens, natural or synthetic, in such small quantities that they don’t hurt us. Dosage matters, not whether a chemical is natural, just as Dr. Baldwin realized.
But scientists like him were no match for Ms. Carson’s rhetoric. DDT became taboo even though there wasn’t evidence that it was carcinogenic (and subsequent studies repeatedly failed to prove harm to humans). It’s often asserted that the severe restrictions on DDT and other pesticides were justified in rich countries like America simply to protect wildlife. But even that is debatable (see http://www.tierneylab.com/), and in any case, the chemophobia inspired by Ms. Carson’s book has been harmful in various ways. The obsession with eliminating minute risks from synthetic chemicals has wasted vast sums of money: environmental experts complain that the billions spent cleaning up Superfund sites would be better spent on more serious dangers.
The human costs have been horrific in the poor countries where malaria returned after DDT spraying was abandoned. Malariologists have made a little headway recently in restoring this weapon against the disease, but they’ve had to fight against Ms. Carson’s disciples who still divide the world into good and bad chemicals, with DDT in their fearsome “dirty dozen.” “


Artist: Alan Dunn The New Yorker 29 Apr 1950

p.s. DDT is not going away. Read A New Home for DDT by DONALD ROBERTS (NYT August 20, 2007) here

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Let them eat cake.....Have no power of 220V? Take some lightning of 300 million volts

Maharashtra, India’s richest state, has many problems but this is kind of ironic.

It does not have electricity to support its burgeoning economy. Most of its towns and villages are suffering from planned and unplanned “load-shedding”. When a commodity become so precious you would think the state must be guarding it well.

Far from that. Indian Express dated June 3 2007 reports that even the city of Pune has large-scale theft of power. In some areas it goes as high as 36%.
India’s powerful central minister SharadPawar’s constituency- Baramati (adjacent to Pune)- has as much as 45% theft. (No wonder his voters are so happy with him!)

Now surely such electricity-less (remember both electricity and lightning have a single word in Marathi ‘Veej’) state should not suffer from deaths by lightning.

No such luck. In past one year alone, more than 650 people have lost their lives to lightning. This is as per survey done by Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune. For past few years, IITM has been studying killer lightning during monsoon.. Are its researchers as dumfounded as below?


Artist: Robert J. Day The New Yorker 28 March 1964

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Brahmaputra

When I decided to join a tea plantation company in upper-Assam, leaving a cushy job in Nashik, Maharashtra, most people’s fear about my mental state came true! But I did not care. I had tryst with Assam. At IIT, Madras, I had stayed at the hostel named after India’s mightiest river- Brahmaputra. Since then and even before Brahamaputra had called me and I was determined to meet her in Assam.

The day I landed in Assam was a Sunday in July 1989. I was asked if I wanted to visit any place or any one. I immediately asked to be taken to Brahamaputra. I cannot describe my feelings when I reached her bank in the town of Dibrugarh. There she was. So MIGHTY, I could not see her other bank.

In Maharashtra, one may not even notice a river if there was no water in it-which is the case most times- and here was a river that looked like a sea.

My decision to come to Assam was vindicated.

But the same day, I heard some sad stories about the havoc caused by the river. They said she has swallowed whole of Dibrugarh once and she might do it again.

Asian Age of June 2 2007 reports:
“Assam is losing an average of 8,000 hectares of fertile land every year in erosion caused by stream of Brahamaputra. Assam water resources minister also admitted that a series of measures taken over the last 10 years had also failed to arrest this trend.
Minister said: "The mighty river Brahmaputra, that runs from east to west through Assam, had alone eroded away over 3.88 lakh hectare of land between 1954 and 2002. Loss of vast tracts of fertile land has made thousands of families homeless and landless in the state in the past five decades. The damages caused by flood could be repaired but river-bank erosion is engulfing the land.
If experts are to be believed the problem of erosion caused became a major problem after the great earthquake of 1950, during which the river also changed its course. The Brahmaputra took away the entire town of Sadiya and also a large part of Dibrugarh town while the entire township of Palashbari, hardly 30 km west of Guwahati, also disappeared due to river-bank erosion in the subsequent years.”

When Brahmaputra changes her course........


Artist: Rober J. Day The New Yorker 13 Oct 1934