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, July 31, 2007

Toys aRe us

Purushottam Laxman Deshpande “Pu La” -humorist, playwright, actor, music-director, activist and philanthropist- died childless. His wife Sunita and he decided very early not to have children (read Sunita Deshpande’s book “Ahe Manohar Tari” for reasons thereof). Did he miss them?

One of his best essays is “Dinesh”- a word portrait of his wife’s brother’s son. Pu La describes the mess Dinesh first creates with his toys (real and imaginary) every afternoon and then he is fast asleep among them without a care in the world. It’s very moving.

When our 13 year old son occasionally does something similar, my wife and I ask ourselves-“For how long?” We don’t like to answer it but we know it. Sadly not much longer.

By the way I liked my own growing up only to the age of 15!

Isabel Berwick has reviewed Eric Clark’s The Real Toy Story: The Shocking Inside Story on Toys and the Industry That Makes Them” for FT- June 8 2007.

“The toy business has always been a grown-up game, but in recent years it has developed in an odd way. Children are growing out of toys at an ever earlier age - known in the toy trade as KGOY (kids getting older younger) syndrome. Meanwhile adults are being infantilised, buying into a culture of permanent instant gratification through computer games, electronic gadgets and retro reminders of childhood, such as model trains. Toys really aRe us… By preferring easy over hard, fast over slow, and simple over complex, we are turning our backs on the fluency and thoughtfulness of the fully formed adult citizen, who can take informed decisions rather than be dictated to by marketing.…”By the year 2001, American children were seeing about 40,000 commercials a year, double the number in the 1970s.”

Clark shows that ”pester-power” is long-established. When Barbie launched in 1959, initial sales were disappointing. Mothers hated her as ”she had too much of a figure”. Little did they know, Clark writes, that the inspiration for Barbie came partly from an adult doll based on a German cartoon prostitute. It was the girls themselves who pestered to have the doll, and sales soared. This process repeated itself in recent years, when the Bratz dolls appeared. Inventor Isaac Larian put his heavily made-up, skimpily dressed (frankly, tarty) dolls next to Barbies and then asked young girls what Barbie reminded them of. ”Our mothers,” they replied. Larian had a hit, and by 2004, despite widespread parental disapproval, Bratz had captured 4 per cent of the UK toy market.”

Arvind Gupta-modern day Sage Agastya- a rare confluence of original mind and practicing hands- wrote an op-ed “Toying Around” for Times of India Dec 23 2006.

He said: “…Today, children are inundated with expensive toys. Parents seem to be in a hurry to buy the latest toys with flashing lights and sounds. Pedagogic learning is now associated with gloss and gleam. Children play with such toys for a while and then they throw them away. Instant gratification, instant forgetfulness seems to be the norm. Children need large chunks of time to play and mess around with things they like. This is how they construct their own knowledge patterns. According to Rabindranath Tagore, the best toys are those which are innately incomplete and which a child completes with her participation..

Children are eternal explorers. In their free moments they are experimenting and improvising. They are always making and inventing things out of odd bits and trinkets. They learn a great deal from ordinary, organic things found around the house, and without being taught. The main thing about scrap is that children can use it freely without adult admonishment. Traditionally children in India made their own toys — sometimes with the help of adults, often by themselves. Old pieces of leftover cloth were recycled into dolls and puppets…

These toys are a salute to the genius of Indian children. Much before the onslaught of the Barbies and Skullman — sexist and violent toys, children made their own toys and had loads of fun. They used local materials, often throwaway discards which didn't cost any money. Even poor children could enjoy them. Traditional toys evolved over centuries. Someone tried a simple design. Others added to it, and still other generations refined it to perfection. So the aesthetics, simplicity, utility, cost-effectiveness of a vernacular toy is a product of years, maybe centuries of R&D effort. And it is left behind in the public domain for subsequent generations to enjoy — magnanimity in an era of constipated patent regimes.

The best thing a child can do with a toy is to break it', might sound like an anarchistic slogan. But there is great deal of truth in it. Every curious child would want to rip open a toy to peep into its 'tummy'.

Our feel for things and phenomena are very crude. Our estimates of length, area, volume, weight and time are often off the mark. These concepts are merely 'covered' in the course curriculum and remain empty words. Before children can understand a thing they need experience: Seeing, hearing, touching, arranging, taking things apart, and putting them together. They need to experiment with real things. Children require a lot of experience, with different materials and situations before they start making sense of the world. The biggest crisis of Indian design is that educated people do not wish to dirty their hands. And there are no good schools for children of artisans. Burettes, pipettes, test tubes and fancy glassware often threaten children. Fortunately, in most schools they are kept locked in the cupboards with a grime of dust covering them. The need of the day is to do more with less. The great pioneers of science did their work with simple equipment. It is possible to follow in their footsteps. After all, the child's mind is the most precious piece of equipment involved.”



Artist: Whitney Darrow,Jr. The New Yorker 9 Dec 1944

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Many Economic Hit Men Are Still Escaping to Heaven!

I knew who they were but did not know what they were called.

Economic Hit Men (E.H.M.’s)- Proud members of corporatocracy. See Donald Reilly's picture below to find out how they look like once they reach heaven!

John Perkins, an economic-hit-man himself, has published a new book “THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE- Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth About Global Corruption.” Joe Qeenan has reviewed it for NYT July 15, 2007.

“…Perkins is the author of the fabulously successful, and in some quarters revered, “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” which explains how a cabal of wicked men like him have enabled perfidious corporations to seize control of the planet. Now, in a follow-up written not for crass financial gain but because he owes it to his fellow man, the promiscuously altruistic Perkins comes completely clean about the epochal role he has played in ruining life on earth.

After all, it was Perkins’s work for a Boston consulting firm that allowed nefarious multinational corporations to plunder Indonesia, Perkins’s acquisition of for-your-eyes-only population data from the mysterious “Dr. Asim” that enabled the Secret American Empire to take over Egypt, Perkins’s covert missions in Saudi Arabia that sealed Saddam Hussein’s fate, and Perkins’s invention of an ingenious payment system that led directly to the destruction of Bolivia’s economy. Thus, while the average person may think George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin are the ones who pull the strings on this planet, Perkins disabuses his readers of such naïveté. It is the economic hit men and their rough-and-tumble cousins, the corporate “jackals,” all of them in the employ of the “corporatocracy,” who decide who prospers, who starves, who lives, who dies. And, as is so often the case with deceptively omnipotent organizations, it is the Secret American Empire’s ability to dominate the world without having an official address or even a fax number that makes it so sinister, so powerful, so deadly.

This empire “is as ruthless as any in history,” Perkins writes. “It has enslaved more people and its policies and actions have resulted in more deaths than those under the imperial regimes of Rome, Spain, Portugal, France, England and Holland or at the hands of Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, and yet its crimes go almost unnoticed, disguised in the robes of eloquent rhetoric…

…“The Egyptians knew something that only a few of my countrymen comprehended: We used data like the projections Dr. Asim had provided to me for empire building. E.H.M. economic reports were far better weapons than crusader swords had ever been. Israeli bombs served their purpose, delivering havoc, raining down fear and compelling government officials to capitulate. But people like me were the real danger.”

Luckily for mankind, Perkins has retired from his job as an infidel dog and now works on the side of the angels. ”


Artist: Donald Reilly The New Yorker 30 Oct 1971

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Many Indians surely watched their first lynching in 1947

We Indians are obsessed with sex but don’t wish to talk about it. Sex is not the only such subject. There are few more touchy subjects from our history we avoid discussing in detail.

India’s partition in 1947 is one such along with “The Great Bengal Famine”.

I was a sincere student of history in my school and there was hardly any information in our text books on them- two of the greatest tragedies of 20th century.

India soon will be celebrating 60th anniversary of its independence.

The Economist (July 21, 2007) has reviewed British historian Yasmin Khan’s “The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan”.

“…..The break-up of Britain's Indian empire involved the movement of some 12m people, uprooted, ordered out, or fleeing their homes and seeking safety. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, thousands of children disappeared, thousands of women were raped or abducted, forced conversions were commonplace. The violence polarised communities on the subcontinent as never before. The pogroms and killings were organised by gangs, vigilantes and militias across northern, western and eastern India. They were often backed by local leaders, politicians from Congress and the Muslim League, maharajahs and princes, and helped by willing or frightened civil servants….

Today the upheaval on both sides of the partition line would be described as ethnic cleansing on a gigantic scale. It left two traumatised, injured nations—suspicious and fearful of one another even to this day—where once there had been one country of loosely interwoven peoples….

The decision to divide India on religious lines was taken with regret but little foreboding and carried out with outrageous haste and unconcern by the British government and its viceroy in India, Lord Mountbatten. Asked by a journalist if he foresaw any mass transfer of population, Mountbatten said, “Personally I don't see it...Some measure of transfer will come about in a natural way...perhaps governments will transfer populations.”

No preparation or consideration was given to the central issues of citizenship, security and property rights in the division of the country. On the other hand, India's civil servants, the babus of empire, were busy itemising every fixture in their offices down to ink pots and paperweights that were to be divided between Pakistan and the new India. Lack of planning, hubris, confused thinking and a complete void as to the consequences were the fatal flaws in the partition plan, writes Ms Khan.

The announcement that India was to be partitioned and independence would follow not less than a year later was made in the House of Commons on June 3rd 1947. By August 15th the British were gone. They accepted no responsibility for the carnage that was taking place and they refused to allow the British troops still in India to keep order or protect people.

The movement of people and the privations they suffered were extraordinary. Muslims made their way west to Pakistan; Sikhs and Hindus moved east to India in “foot convoys” that involved 30,000-40,000 people, wagons, carts and animals spread out over 45 miles (70km). In one month 849,000 refugees entered India by foot. Trains that were impossibly overloaded, and dangerously targeted by the killers, ran across Punjab from Rawalpindi and Lahore to Amritsar and Delhi and back again as soon as they had refuelled and watered. Many families left for reasons of safety, taking only a few belongings because they expected to return. Not everyone imagined the journey across the partition line would be final.

When Jawaharlal Nehru made his famous speech on August 15th declaring that at the midnight hour, when the world slept, India would awake to life and freedom, massacres were taking place almost daily on both sides of the line. Nehru later wondered if his fellow countrymen knew how close India had come to imploding. The violence was simply uncontrollable.

Despite the pledges of equality for all communities in the new India and Pakistan, the driving force behind the violence was to eliminate or devour the other community, writes Ms Khan.”

Reading this, I thought, Iraqis are luckier than Indians. They have George W. Bush and no Lord Mountbatten.

And then we have historians like Ramachandra Guha who claim that Mountbatten helped avoid Balkanisation of India. I am not sure.

Historian Setu Madhavrao Pagdi, who was employed as a senior civil servant in Hyderabad in 1948, claims in his Marathi autobiography ("Jeevansetu" 1969 Continental Prakashan) that Mountbatten was part of the problem and not the solution in bringing Nizam around to sign instrument of accession.

According to historian Indivar Kamtekar: “…For the people who lived through the events of the 1940s, the meaning of the events depended on their experiences. Experiences are notoriously varied and contradictory. They varied in the 1940s with - among other things - region, social class, gender, ideology and political affiliation. For the villages of Bengal, the great famine dwarfed most other events of the 1940s. In north India, 1947 is still referred to as the year of `partition' rather than independence; in South India, the reverse is the case. For businessmen in India, the 1940s were a time of unprecedented war profits; for agricultural labourers, they were years of frightening starvation. For women abducted during the partition riots, and then claimed by the governments of India and Pakistan even when their families rejected them, the period was exceptionally traumatic, with little or nothing to celebrate. If the elation of many Congress politicians in 1947 was visible at one extreme, the grief of the victims of famine, rape and murder was discernible at the other. The past bequeaths to us a rich diversity of memory.”

Also, see Ajit Bhattacharjea's "Tryst with Destiny" Economic And Political Weekly Issue : VOL 42 No. 32 August 11 - August 17, 2007.

Conclusion: Many Indians surely watched their first lynching in 1947.



Artist: Reginald Marsh The New Yorker 8 Sept 1934

Friday, July 20, 2007

Patient with India, forever?

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar wrote in his column for Times of India May 27, 2007:

“…most of the government sector is third-class and tarnished…… Actually, government spending is gargantuan: a million crores per year. But it has so much waste and corruption that voters refuse to show gratitude for the little that gets through….. The police no longer catch criminals and the courts no longer convict them. Conviction rates have fallen to 16%… Bureaucrats are typically callous and corrupt, though some officers do a great job. But 90% of civil servants are clerks and chaprasis, and less than 10% are Class I and II officers…. Around 35% of all electricity is stolen, causing power crises… it takes Rs 3.65 of government spending to get one rupee of Public Distribution System benefit to the poor. What a waste! The bulk of PDS supplies are diverted to the open market. Many poor families have no Below Poverty Line cards, but some rich folks do (such as the West Bengal governor)… Subsidies remain at 14% of GDP although half of these are non-merit subsidies, and go mostly to the non-poor… The problem is a decaying government sector that neither Congress nor other parties are willing to reform. So, expect the aam admi to keep voting out incumbent governments.”

Poor and downtrodden have always suffered in India at the hands of bureaucracy and the establishment. Read D D Kosambi or Indivar Kamtekar for more on this.

Let me narrate an interesting account of an old lady from Emperor Aurangzeb’s time (born 1618- death 1707, reign 1658 - 1707). This is taken from historian and Persian/Urdu scholar Setu Madhavrao Pagdi’s Marathi book “Bhartiya Musalman: Shodh and Bodh” (Indian Muslims: Search and Lessons) Parchure Prakashan Mandir (1992-2006).

“An old lady took a complaint of extortion against a district collector to the emperor. Emperor ordered the money to be returned to the old lady. Few days later, the old lady returned and complained that not only money had not been returned but also she was being harassed and hence suggested that the collector be transferred. Emperor signed the transfer order. Little later the old lady again came back with another compliant that not only new collector continued to harass her but was demanding money from her because he felt her payment to his predecessor was part of ‘Hapta’ (periodic bribe) and hence he too was entitled to it! On hearing this, Aurangzeb asked the old lady to pray to god that he sent her another emperor...

Khaphikhan, Aurangzeb’s well-known biographer, says that the emperor did not punish either of the corrupt officers.
Khaphikan also says that corruption among revenue officials was rampant and the officials who were sent from the emperor to check these practices were also equally corrupt! “

Just substitute “Aurangzeb” with “Manmohan Singh” and the story still looks entirely plausible.

Without getting mad, poor and downtrodden continue to be patient with India’s emperors and prime ministers.


Artist: Helen E. Hokinson The New Yorker 2 May 1942

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Taj Mahal could be "a bloody hurdle in the middle of the road"

"Scientific American" July 2007 has an article by Steve Mirsky An Earth Without People -A new way to examine humanity's impact on the environment is to consider how the world would fare if all the people disappeared”.

It is based on “World without Us”, a new book by science writer Alan Weisman.

“According to Weisman, large parts of our physical infrastructure would begin to crumble almost immediately. Without street cleaners and road crews, our grand boulevards and superhighways would start to crack and buckle in a matter of months. Over the following decades many houses and office buildings would collapse, but some ordinary items would resist decay for an extraordinarily long time. Stainless-steel pots, for example, could last for millennia, especially if they were buried in the weed-covered mounds that used to be our kitchens. And certain common plastics might remain intact for hundreds of thousands of years; they would not break down until microbes evolved the ability to consume them.”

“If all human beings vanished, Manhattan would eventually revert to a forested island. Many skyscrapers would topple within decades, undermined by waterlogged foundations; stone buildings such as St. Patrick's Cathedral would survive longer. Weeds and colonizing trees would take root in the cracked pavement, while raptors nested in the ruins and foxes roamed the streets.”

It reminded me of a program “The Future Is Wild” (year 2003 joint Animal Planet/ORF (Austria) & ZDF (Germany) co-production) which was shown in India on Discovery channel as- “Past is Wild Future is Wild

In Vasant Sarwate’s वसंत सरवटे picture below, today’s sheep, coming across a milestone, are saying: “who knows why men erect a bloody hurdle of such a stone right in the middle of the road

In a world without us, a lot more animal species of tomorrow will be expressing similar feelings-"bloody hurdle in the middle of the road"-about all our grand monuments, including recently announced Seven Wonders of the World!



Artist: Vasant Sarwate वसंत सरवटे Source : "Savdhan! Pudhe Valan Ahe!" Mauj Parakashan 1990-19997

Twisted Construction, Intricate Compounds and Linguistic Hell

My 13 year old son Jaydutt Kulkarni goes to an English medium school at Pune and struggles, like most of his classmates, with Marathi language syntax- called Shuddhalekhan-“chaste writing”- in Marathi. My wife and I express horror seeing some of his bloomers. He does not make such mistakes writing English. Surprisingly, he does not make them in Hindi too. Mind you, we all speak Marathi at home and live in Marathi speaking neighbourhood.

Therefore, I wonder what the real problem is. Has it anything do with the structure and/or teaching of the language?

D D Kosambi has an interesting take ("An Introduction to the study of Indian History", Popular Prakashan, 1956-2004) on grammar of mother language of Marathi - Sanskrit.

“…The founder of Sanskrit grammar was Panini, who combined the efforts of many predecessors with his own profound observations to give us the oldest scientific grammar known anywhere in the world….Nevertheless Panini killed all preceding grammatical systems, nearly killed further development of the language…
Floridity became increasingly a characteristic of Sanskrit so that the use of twisted construction, intricate compounds, innumerable synonyms, over-exaggeration make it more and more difficult to obtain the precise meaning from a Sanskrit document…

The distinction between Sanskrit and Arabic in this respect should also be considered. Arab works on medicine, geography, mathematics, astronomy, practical sciences were precise enough to be used in their day from Oxford to Malaya. Yet Arabic too had been imposed with a new religion upon people of many different nationalities. The difference was that ‘Arab’ literati were not primarily a disdainful priest-caste. Those who wrote were not ashamed to participate in trade, warfare, and experimental science, not to write annals…”

“Intricate compounds” remind me of a scene from Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” (1940). The scene is tyrant Hynkel making a long speech and his secretary typing up just a couple of words; then saying just a couple of words only for her to type furiously many paragraphs.

Vasant Sarwate’s वसंत सरवटे picture below is equally funny. The boss has started dictating a Marathi letter to his secretary and instead of airing some meaningful matter, has ended up explaining how every single letter of every single word should be written.

Is this linguistic hell? I am sure at least my son currently feels it that way!



Artist: Vasant Sarwate वसंत सरवटे (Source- “Khada Maraycha Jhala Tar….!”, Mauj Prakashan, 1963 – collection of his cartoons from 1950 - 1962)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Twelve years ago, everything was twelve years ago…..sigh…..Nostalgia

Nicholas Carr:

Nostalgia is nothing new. It has been a refrain of art and literature at least since Homer set Odysseus on Calypso's island and had him yearn to turn back time.

(The New Republic, September 2 2011)



Vilas Sarang has written another brilliant book in Marathi-“सर्जनशोध आणि लिहिता लेखक” (Pursuit of Creation and Author Engaged in Writing) (Mauj Prakashan 2007). The book is a collection of author’s literary essays.

I disagree with Sarang on few issues he discusses in the book. But I agree with him on a lot more. He is arguably one of the best literary critic since 1950s anywhere in the world.

Sarang does not rate most Marathi literature of 20th century very highly. Particularly writings of popular authors like P L Deshpande.

In his earlier book (“Aksharancha Shram Kela”, Mauj Prakashan 2000), Sarang explains why P L Deshpande’s translation of “The Old Man And The Sea” is so ineffective. (Deshpande doesn’t understand Hemingway’s ‘and’).

In this book, Deshpande is at the receiving end for another reason-NOSTALGIA.

Sarang says: “Pu La’s most writing invokes nostalgia”. Sarang explains why nostalgic writing is so popular.
“One doesn’t need to do anything to remember! Memories collect easily and effortlessly. Another reason is, to recall one doesn’t need to think. One is freed of thinking and headache arising from thinking! There is a comfort in nostalgia……Nostalgia is popular with readers too because even their brains feel at ease. One can be lost in resplendent dreams of past. If Karl Marx were to be alive today, he would have said ‘Nostalgia is society’s opium‘ ”.

Sarang feels such nostalgia-loving society is regressive, focussed on the past.

Sarang fails to mention another aspect of nostalgia’s popularity: Rich and increasingly culturally dominant community of Non-Resident Marathi Speaking Indians who seem to thrive on nostalgia.

Gurcharan Das has summed it up on May 6, 2007:

"“…there is something a little sad, I find, in my encounters with non-resident Indians. I don’t quite know why. They are successful. They have lovely homes and bright children who go to the best schools. Most have fitted in confidently and some have assumed positions of leadership in their adopted countries. But there is something missing at the core.

I often lecture abroad and run into Indians in the strangest places. The more exotic the city, the more we are drawn to each other. They invite me generously to their homes where they only want to talk about India. They ply me with samosas and hungry questions about our recent economic rise.

Usually, I discover that their memories are frozen, and they hide a shame of a fearful past that forced them to leave home. India has, meanwhile, moved on. Their poignant heart-weariness for their lost homeland leaves me in gloom…

… Indian NRIs are bourgeois to the core …their nostalgia is not for an abstract India but for a definite place and time…

...The prize, even of a lovelorn NRI life, seems liberating. There was a time I used to believe that I am a citizen of the world. I used to say that a blade of grass is the same anywhere. Now I think that each blade of grass has its own spot from where it draws its strength. So is a man rooted to a land from where he draws his faith and his life. But there is also a struggle to extricate ourselves from our pasts — from family, obligations and the “curse of history”.”


Artist: Charles Saxon The New Yorker 9 Sept 1961

Saturday, July 14, 2007

What’s a girl’s marriageable age, asks SC

This is Times of India’s headline on July 13, 2007.

India’s Supreme court asked this question to the government after listening to a petition!

“The seeds of confusion lie in provisions of Child Marriage (Restraint) Act, 1929, Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the exception to rape in Indian Penal Code and Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act.

The Child Marriage (Restraint) Act, 1929, says a child is a person, who if a male, has not completed 21 years of age, and if a female, has not completed 18 years
The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, says a female has to be 18 years before she can legally marry

However, the Indian Penal Code, while defining rape in Section 375, exempts a person from this charge if he has forcible sexual intercourse with his wife who is above 15 years of age

Under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1986, a child means a person who has not completed the age of 16 years and a minor means who has completed the age of 16 years and not completed 18 years

The Indian Majority Act says a person is a major if he/she has completed 18 years
"

Anecdotal evidence from Pune suggests to me that girls, even from middle and upper-middle class, get married early. I wonder why. Is it because they are reaching puberty early? Don't they wish to become economically independent before they say-'I Do'?

Earlier, I used to see few qualified and/or good looking girls who never married because they had financial responsibility at home and/or they did not meet some one suitable and/or they were pursuing a career goal.

Not any more. Now I see such women only in politics. Mayawati, Jaylalita, Mamta Banerjee etc.

I thought we had come a long way away from the times of Vasant Sarwate’s वसंत सरवटे picture below where a girl is asking her friend: “you say you have enrolled in a college, couldn’t arrange it this year too,is it…”



Artist: Vasant Sarwate वसंत सरवटे (Source- “Khada Maraycha Jhala Tar….!”, Mauj Prakashan, 1963)

The End of Vaccines?

The last chief of the Maratha Confederacy, Pune-based debaucherous Baji Rao II (1775-1851) has gone down in the history as one of the first high profile person in India to get vaccinated (with golden needle?) against smallpox. The British doctor was paid Rs. 2,000 in 1807 for administering it! (Source- “Peshvekalin Maharashtra” by Vasudev Krishna Bhave)

During my childhood (almost more than 150 years after the royal insertion above), the only vaccination we knew was still only against smallpox. First such exercise has left two big marks at the top of my left arm.My son has been administered tens of vaccinations against plethora of ailments such as measles, diphtheria, and polio etc. The Indian government runs high profile polio vaccination campaigns using Hindi film celebrities

But of late vaccines seem be generating one controversy or the other.

Recently,while in India Dr. Atul Gawande told Outlook magazine (Jul 09, 2007) :”…. In order to eliminate polio, or 25 years ago to eliminate smallpox, you start out with a problem that is endemic everywhere. Investing the public dollar in such programmes makes a lot of sense because you have millions of people at risk. But in order to get from a few hundred cases of polio, which is where we are today, to having zero cases, you have to spend tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. And then people start to say—why should we spend all this money here, when you can take care of a malaria problem that affects millions?”

Laura H. Kahn writes in “The End of Vaccines?” for “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 13 July 2007”:
“….The latest vaccine controversy is the concern that vaccines containing thimerosal, particularly the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine cause autism…
Around 5,000 parents are suing the vaccine manufacturers because they believe that the vaccines caused their child's autism. If the plaintiffs win, it could have a profound impact on the availability of vaccines in the future.

Even without the lawsuit, the supply of vaccines has been dwindling. According to the 2003 Institute of Medicine report, "Financing Vaccines in the 21st Century," the number of vaccine manufacturers has decreased from 25 to 5 companies over the last 30 years. This trend developed because vaccines frequently generate lower revenues than drugs and not all insurance plans include them. In other words, the vaccine production and distribution infrastructure is crumbling, and shortages are occurring. If this lawsuit succeeds, there is a good chance that no one will remain in the vaccine business. It has been easy to forget what life was like before vaccines. Untold numbers of people suffered and died from infectious diseases that can now be prevented. It would be a tragedy if we return to that era.“

Do you know what life was before vaccines? Check the picture below...




Artist : Whitney Darrow,Jr. The New Yorker 22 Apr 1933

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Europe- from Jurassic Park to Disneyland?

European Union completed 50 years in 2007.

What next for Europe?

Walter Laqueur has recently written a book titled “The Last Days of Europe, Epitaph for an Old Continent”. It says:
“Given the shrinking of its population, it is possible that Europe, or at least considerable parts of it, will turn into a cultural theme park, a kind of Disneyland on a level of a certain sophistication for well-to-do visitors from China and India…..What appears impossible is that the 21st century will be the European century, as some observers, mainly in the United States, claimed even a few years ago.”

I really hope it becomes benign Disneyland.

Europe inflicted unprecedented pain on world through its empires and wars until mid-20th century. White European man has arguably been the cruelest beast to walk upon this planet.

For better part of recent human history, Europe sure looked like another well known theme park- Jurassic Park gone awry.


Artist: Patrick Chappatte March 22, 2007 http://www.globecartoon.com/

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The wealthy always take what they want

FT has publihsed a review of Joe Studwell’s book “Asian Godfathers”. by Victor Mallet .

Nothing about businessmen these days surprise me but it still made me shriek. Sample this:

“The first and most fundamental myth he explodes in this tour d’horizon of the billionaire businessmen of Hong Kong and south-east Asia is the self-serving notion that the godfathers were in some way responsible for high economic growth in the run-up to the 1997 financial crisis and for the recovery thereafter…

But his myth-busting is as merciless as it is enlightening. Does Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man, work as hard as the myth of the toiling Chinese tycoon suggests? Yes, if you count playing golf, arriving at the office at 10am, checking the press to see if anyone has said anything nasty about you, holding a business lunch and having a massage or two as hard work…

he puts the tycoons firmly in the context of contemporary Asian politics, arguing the wealthy have merely taken advantage of the lamentable failure of the region’s politicians to regulate economies for the benefit of society as a whole.The disadvantaged are not only the labourers on low wages but also the middle classes, punished by high costs for cartel-provided goods and often cheated of their share of profits if they are foolish enough to invest as minority shareholders in godfather- controlled listed companies.”

Read that again….. the wealthy have merely taken advantage of the lamentable failure of the region’s politicians to regulate economies for the benefit of society as a whole…..

Isn’t this true of India as much as any other country in the region? Was even Mahatma Gandhi manipulated by Birlas and Bajajs and other Khadi wearing tycoons?

Based on Indivar Kamtekar’s State and Class in India, 1939-45, a harsher indictment of the Indian business class was presented by SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR in his August 2003 Times of India article “Independence & the Bengal famine”.

“…In Britain, the upper classes sacrificed much for the war effort and there was social levelling. But in India, the propertied classes benefited enormously from the war, while casual labourers suffered terribly. The Raj needed to harness the Indian upper classes for the war effort, and so pampered them while placing crushing burdens on the poor. The Bengal Famine was an outcome of this arrangement…

…. Above all, the business class flourished. The war required unprecedented quantities of every sort of manufacture. Lack of shipping constrained competition from imports. The price of cloth rose five-fold before the colonial state imposed price controls: its top priority was to encourage production, not worry about janata cloth. Business fortunes were made, and new giants like Telco and Hindustan Motors emerged in this period. Tax evasion was widespread and not seriously checked by the authorities. Indeed, some businessmen defended tax evasion as “patriotic” non-cooperation with the Raj! But the very scarcity that helped the propertied classes hit casual labourers. It also hit pensioners and others on a fixed income. The real wages of factory workers declined 30% between 1939 and 1943. By contrast, British real wages rose 49%, a levelling up. 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…

The Great Bengal Famine was a colossal human tragedy, but, cynically, no cause for political panic. Those who died could not even be counted properly, because they counted for so little. This is a harsh indictment of the class that led our independence movement. It suggests that it was no accident that Mahatma Gandhi was also a personal friend of G D Birla.”


Artist: William Steig The New Yorker 2 July 1960

Was CIA behind all of India’s problems?

That is what Mrs. India Gandhi had us believe in 1970s. Elite institutions were supposed to be infiltrated by CIA agents.

For example, a few Marathi authors and newspaper editors were rumored to be on CIA’s payroll. “Thanthanpal”- the late Jaywant Dalvi once worked for USIS. I guess he was ‘confirmed’ CIA agent! Ed Fisher’s picture below was no exaggeration at all. Elephant troubles like recent ones in Kerala would have been easily blamed on CIA.

If allegiance to America is a criterion for being a CIA agent, most upper middle-class people in India have always been so because children and close relations of many of them have emigrated to US. They don’t need any extra payment for that!

India Today July 16, 2007 screams “How China Duped Nehru-
Recently declassified CIA documents present an account of China’s gameplan of intrigue and deception that led to the 1962 Sino-India war”
Looks like CIA has lost none of its influence!

Are we going to believe all that CIA tells us? Or the story is important only because it embarrasses Sonia Gandhi- granddaughter-in-law of Nehru? How will we take to another likely headline: “How India duped Pakistan- Recently declassified CIA documents present an account of India’s gameplan of intrigue and deception that led to division of Pakistan in 1971”.


Artist: Ed Fisher The New Yorker 3 Oct 1964

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Fire and Pollution Got Invented Together!

Coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, is responsible for nearly 40 percent of American emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Although Americans stopped burning coal in their homes in the 1930s, in locomotives in the 1940s, we Indians continued to use them.

We used coal for cooking at home until mid-1970s. I remember how coal in a big gunny bag was delivered (by Shivaji on handcart) and stored. I knew very well how to clean,load and fire a coal sigri. I still miss brinjal, sweet potato and bhakri (jowar/ Sorghum roti) baked on coal fire. Even rice tasted better.

While coal fired food made it to our tongues and hearts, coal fired locomotive made it to our dreams. Although I saw Satyajit Ray’s “Pather Panchali” (1955) much later, we lived the famous scene of the film- children come face to face with the train-many times before. Our favourite place to while away time was Miraj station’s shunting yard. I still smell cocktail of steam and coal fire.

JEFF GOODELL’s "Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future."
“…Coal has a number of virtues as a fuel: it can be shipped via boats and railroads, it's easy to store, and it's easy to burn. But coal's main advantage over other fuels is that it's cheap and plentiful. There are an estimated 1 trillion tons of recoverable coal in the world, by far the largest reserve of fossil fuel left on the planet. And despite a run-up in coal prices in 2004 and 2005, coal is still inexpensive compared to other fuels. In a world starved for energy, the importance of this simple fact cannot be underestimated: the world needs cheap power, and coal can provide it.

In a world that is moving toward energy efficiency, coal is a big loser. Alternative energy guru Amory Lovins estimates that by the time you mine the coal, haul it to the power plant, burn it, and then send the electricity out over the wires to the incandescent bulb in your home, only about 3 percent of the energy contained in a ton of coal is transformed into light. In fact, just the energy wasted by coal plants in America would be enough to power the entire Japanese economy. In effect, America's vast reserve of coal is like a giant carbon anchor slowing down the nation's transition to new sources of energy.

Al Gore was one of the first American politicians to take global warming seriously, and anyone who takes global warming seriously is not a friend of Big Coal. Coal industry executives knew that if Gore was elected, regulations to limit or tax carbon dioxide emissions wouldn't be far behind. So Big Coal threw its money and muscle behind George W. Bush, helping him gain a decisive edge in key industrial states, including West Virginia, a Democratic stronghold that had not voted for a Republican presidential candidate in seventy-five years. After the disputed Florida recount, West Virginia's five electoral votes provided the margin that Bush needed to take his seat in the Oval Office. President Bush made good on his debt. Within weeks of taking the oath of office, Bush began staffing regulatory agencies with former coal industry executives and lobbyists.”


Artist: Joseph Farris The New Yorker 14 March 1970

Thursday, July 05, 2007

“Sarpa Dosha” of Sachin Tendulkar & H D Deve Gowda and “Manushya Dosha” of Poor Snakes

India’s ex-Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda did a daylong ‘homa’ at his residence on July 4 to ward off ‘sarpa dosha’ reports Times of India July 5,2007.

“The six foot rat snake’s visit to his house on June 15 seems to be haunting him. The fall-out Gowda feels the negative publicity his family has been getting in the last few days must be due to this snake. For the homa, 101 priests along with their family members from Ahobila mutt in Chennai were specially invited.”

Remember another high profile “sarpa dosha” afflicted personality?

On May 8, 2006 , India’s larger-than-life cricketer Sachin Tendulkar performed the 'sarpa samskara seva' at Kukke Sri Subrahmanya Temple , a ritual that took about half-an-hour. He also performed another seva 'ashlesha bali', which is for the general well-being and good health of the player and his family. Spiritual mentor V S Nayak told Times Of India that Tendulkar's ancestors had accidentally killed a cobra but not performed the necessary rituals. This had led to the 'sarpa dosha'. Nayak said the rituals were needed for a person's well-being. He said there was no place other than Subramanya where it could be performed. "Sachin should have performed two more poojas. But due to lack of time, he will perform only these two important sevas," Nayak said.

Others reported: the master blaster's loss of form and injury problems were traced to adverse planetary positions for which corrective rituals took place.

Gowda’s puja was not televised while Tendulkar’s was on almost all news channels.

When I lived in Bangalore, I had witnessed a longer than six foot snake slowly making its way from just outside our gate to somewhere inside the garden, chasing perhaps frogs and rodents. I was spellbound by that glorious site. I did not know I had to do “sarpa dosha” after that.

I wonder if snakes should do “manushya dosha” so that humans turned more sensible.


Artist: E L Shoemaker The New Yorker 28 Oct 1933

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Dr. Ramadoss, Kashmir Valley’s trouble is not psychiatric

Times of India July 4, 2007 reports Indian Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss saying:

“We have just 3,300 psychiatrists in the country 80 per cent of whom work in metros.”

He was replying to queries about the lack of psychiatric doctors in the Kashmir valley, where the number of those suffering from mental illnesses has shot up and suicides increased.

May be, Mr. Minister.

But how about more comprehensive policy response to solve Kashmir problem?

Similarly, psychiatrists can speak to suicide prone farmers too but if we can solve their basic problem why would they want to kill themselves?

Sure, we want more psychiatrists but we need even better policies.


Artist: Frank Modell The New Yorker 1 Jan 1955

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Reading “Robinson Crusoe” on a Mumbai Local

There is a cliché about Mumbai locals. “They’re Mumbai’s life-line”. May be. But more than that I think they define Mumbai more than any thing else. Yes, more than Hindi film industry.

When I first visited Mumbai in 1980 at the age of 20, Mumbai looked and sounded different than any other place. It was because of local trains. Later from 1981 to 1983, I lived in Chennai, which too had locals. But unlike Mumbai, locals did not define Chennai’s personality.

Later I had the opportunity to live in Mumbai from 1983 to 1987. I even commuted for a while on its trains. I was lucky though because I used to commute ‘against the flow’. When people traveled towards the downtown, I traveled away from it and vice versa.

The experience was like getting to know another world. The world that has its own etiquettes and rules.

You cannot wear a raincoat there (no-brainer as you will wet your neighbour). If you want to get down at a particular station, you need to start moving towards exit just in time (not too early, not too late). A seat is meant for three people but if you try you can accommodate the fourth person rather easily. You can trust a total stranger to save you if you are about fall off the carriage. You can be sure a total stranger will help you to get on to the fast moving train if you are trying to catch it. No stranger will talk to you about anything unless you talk to him first.

It’s a world within a world. You are in a trance while in it.

VERLYN KLINKENBORG has written a beautiful essay “The Subway Beat” (NYT June 25, 2007).
“It’s nearly always a mistake to think of the subway as a public conveyance. This is a mistake that out-of-towners often make. They overlook the essential privacy of the subway, and by that I don’t mean the young woman at my end of the car who has made up her face in a compact mirror between 86th Street and Times Square. I mean the very fact that this is my end of the car at my end of the train. It’s 7:30 in the morning, and this isn’t just a subway ride. This is going to work. Nearly all the people on this train are in their usual spots, within a few minutes of their usual time, and the ride is not separable from the larger and more complicated rhythms of our private lives. It is possible to be on this train and not yet be in public.
“Please watch the closing doors,” comes the announcement. The doors close. Everyone here knows just how long the delay should last before the train begins to slide forward. We could count it off: the doors close, then comes a single beat, and then we feel that horizontal gravity as the train picks up speed. But on this one train the one beat passes, then another and another before we finally start to slide out of the station. It happens at every stop. Three beats, four beats too many. Perhaps the driver adds these extra beats to allow riders to find a seat. I like to think it’s a tiny, intentional perversity.
This has happened many times before. After the one beat, the whole train leans forward mentally. We are urging ourselves on our way. If the train ran by some kind of synchronous psychological impulsion, we would be moving by now.
We know how to be stoic when stuck between stations. But there is something heartbreaking in this added pause. It interrupts the privacy of our thoughts and shows us what the other passengers are thinking. It holds us back from flinging ourselves headlong into the morning. It shows us, if just for an instant, how deeply we have internalized the pulses of this city. “

Mumbai locals have made impression on Indian art world.

One example- Raj Kapoor’s classic “Boot Polish”. The Movie could not have been made without locals

Vasant Sarwate वसंत सरवटे and Abhimanyu Kulkarni have drawn some touching cartoons on the subject of “local life”.

Here is one by Vasant Sarwate that shows a man reading “Robinson Crusoe” on a crowded train and the caption reads: “does literature contain reflection of the whole society is a real question” (please note the man is not holding on to anything to maintain his balance! I can vouch he need not)

Artist: Vasant Sarwate (source- “Savadhan! Pudhe Valan Ahe!” Mauj Prakashan 1990)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Is there a Mrs. R D Karve?

Raghunath Dhondo Karve (1882-1953) remains one of the most fascinating characters of 20th century India.

On July 1, 2007, Doordarshan showed a film “Dhyas Parva” made on his life. It’s an OK film. But I rather prefer books. I recommend two of them- M V Dhond’s म वा धोंड
Jalyatil Chandra” (Rajhans Prakashan 1994) and Y D Phadke’s Ra Dho Karve” (Ha Vi Mote Prakashan 1981).

Dhond’s book consists of collection of his literary essays. Three of them are focused on RDK. Third of them is the best-“Ra Dho Karve Ani Santati Niyaman” (R D Karve and family planning).

In the said essay, Dhond analyses why RDK was not as successful in his mission as Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes, his counterparts in US and UK respectively.

Dhond says RDK’s mission, unlike that of the ladies, was not just happy family life, emancipation of women, control of population etc but more. RDK wanted women to have as much sexual freedom as men did. He wanted them to have as much sensual pleasure as men did.

Sample few of RDK’s thoughts: - 1) so long childbirth and venereal diseases are prevented debauchery of women does not really harm men and the benefit is those women who need variety get it. 2) Why cannot women have right to prostitution?

Dhond claims contemporary society’s objectives were restricted to those of Sanger and Stopes and hence not only RDK’s mission has a whole suffered, he himself was persecuted by society at large. There were other reasons too - RDK’s unattractive personality, poor finances and lack of networking skills.

It’s unfortunate RDK was not alive when three major events that make us understand woman sexuality better happened- 1. The Kinsey report of 1953 2. Masters and Johnson’s book of 1966 and 3.The Hite report of 1976. The late Stephen Jay Gould has discussed them in some detail in his essay “Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples” (“Adam’s Navel” Penguin 1995).

These reports conclusively proved to men that primary site of for stimulation to orgasm centres upon the clitoris and not vagina. Not to have orgasm from intercourse is the experience of the majority of women A woman’s sexual pleasure might not arise most reliably as a direct result of man’s own coital efforts. 79% of women who masturbate do so by directly stimulating the clitoris and surrounding vulva, while only 1.5% use vaginal entry. The techniques of masturbation and of petting are more specifically calculated to effect orgasm than the techniques of coitus itself.

RDK would have been particularly pleased because these reports busted Freud’s edict that women must make the transition from clitoral to vaginal orgasm to escape the tag of frigidity. (by the way RDK also hated Freud’s child -psychoanalysis.). Therefore, if women were as much entitled to sensual pleasure as men they need not choose vaginal orgasm and hence men.

RDK would also have been happy with the oral contraception’s (birth control pill’s) contribution to women's reproductive rights and health,

I am not sure if our society is ready even today to discuss RDK’s mission in its entirety.

Was there a Mrs. RDK? Sure there was. Malati was whole-heartedly with Raghunath on this treacherous journey. She actively participated in whatever he undertook. She willingly supported his decision not to have any children. She also helped him in making contraceptives and applying them on to their women clients. By all known accounts they were a happy couple.


Artist: Peter Arno The New Yorker 1 May 1948

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Chandamama, Amar Chitra Katha and My Juvenile Dreams

I was a voracious reader in my childhood. For recreation, I read only Marathi until I was almost 12 or 13. Magazine “Chandoba” (“Chandamama” in Hindi) was one of my favourite. We did not buy it every month because my father did not like it much. Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) was borne in 1967 but I could lay my hands on it much later.

I thought I liked only stories from “Chandoba” but realized later that I also liked accompanying pictures. Pictures of curvaceous women. I also read a lot of Indian mythology that of course has plenty of explicit sex.

Recently ACK completed 40 years of its very successful existence-400 titles, 86 million copies sold. Anant Pai, ACK’s creator, admitted to Times of India (June 29 2007) that imagery of early ACK issues was quite sexy. He said:”…….. our major influences were the sculptures of Ajanta, Ellora…..We may have been a bit over influenced by it….But forget the first 25 titles or so, we have toned it down.”

Pratap Mulick (प्रताप मुळीक) pioneering illustrator of ACK, I hope,  never regretted his following picture of Matsyagandha or Vasavadatta or Satyavati or Shakuntala or who ever she is. Even today it makes my knees go wobbly!

Why regret Mr. Pai? I wish to thank you and Mr. Pratap Mulick,particularly for first 25 titles, and to anonymous illustrators of “Chandoba” for giving pleasure to my eyes.

You saved me from dirty porn.


Artist: Pratap Mulick


Artist: Robert Weber The New Yorker 9 Feb 1998

What has your Beer Drinking to do with Groundnut Oil Prices?

I am like a squirrel. Peanuts are my most favourite food. Next only to Payari and Hapus mangoes. I can eat them in any form- raw, roasted, fried, coated, boiled, crushed etc etc. During my school days, I used to relish eating them with a lump of jaggery. Both items would first go in pockets of my half-pants before they went down my throat. Peanuts also are integral to many snacks I relish. Of course, I don’t touch any of them if they have no peanuts or some one like me has picked them before.

My weak liver is the only thing that holds me back from going for a peanut binge from time to time.

I remember one morning in 9th or 10th standard when I had gone to fetch my friend for the school. He was busy with morning chores and I was asked to wait in the drawing room. There I could see what his father and his friend had done previous night. Drinking. There were bottles, glasses- empty, full. But what I found most attractive was a plate full of peanuts. I helped myself with some of them without asking anyone.

When I started drinking or watching people drink, I realized that drinking is just an excuse. Objective of the damn thing is to eat peanuts without feeling any guilt.

All along I knew drunkards ate lots of peanuts but I was not ready for following.

Business Line reports on June 25, 2007: “What's increasing consumption of liquor in the country got to do with rise in prices of groundnut oil? Simple, consumption of peanuts during consumption of liquor is leading to more direct consumption and, thereby, affecting its availability for oil crushing.

Groundnut oil prices topped Rs 70 a kg last week and during the weekend it was quoted at Rs 72 in Mumbai. The oil prices have gained 23 per cent since the beginning of this year, while groundnut kernel, which was quoted at Rs 3,600 a quintal during the weekend, has also increased around the same level.

"The problem with groundnut oil is that mills are not getting kernel for crushing. One of the reasons is rise in direct consumption, including as snacks, especially for liquor consumption," says Mr B.V. Mehta, Executive Director of the Solvent Extractors Association of India.

The current oil year ending October has been witnessing a lower oilseed crop. Groundnut, in particular, is projected lower at 53.5 lakh tonnes against 62.5 lt last oil year.

On the other hand, the country has seen its citizens guzzle 105 million cases of beer during 2006 and 115 million cases of Indian made foreign liquor.
Liquor consumption has increased over 50 per cent since 2001 and annual rise in the offtake is seen between three and four per cent.


The scenario with regard to groundnut is that of the 53.5 lt projected output, 18.5 lt are crushed for yielding 7.4 lt of oil, while 19 lt are retained by the growers for sowing. The remaining 16 lt are assumed to be consumed directly. This season, availability of groundnut for direct consumption is seen lower by 2.5 lakh tonnes.
"Peanuts are preferred to be eaten during consumption of liquor as they are cheaper than cashewnuts. Also, rising income levels are seeing corresponding increase in consumption of almost all products, including liquor," say analysts. “

Hey Indian Homer, Marge has more than one reason to crib for your frequent visits to Moe’s Tavern.


Artist : Charles Barsotti The New Yorker 20 Apr 1998