मेघदूत: "नीचैर्गच्छत्युपरि च दशा चक्रनेमिक्रमेण"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 31, 2007

Just One less Made-in-China thing?

Reuters reported on August 29, 2007:
“Sand storms in northwest China are reducing sections of Great Wall to mounds of dirt and may cause them to disappear in about 20 years, state media said on Wednesday.

The Great Wall, which was chosen last month as top of the new seven wonders of the world, snakes its way across more than 6,400 km (3,980 miles) and receives an estimated 10 million visitors a year.

More than 60 km of the wall in Minqin county in Gansu province, built in the Han Dynasty which lasted from 206 BC to 220 AD, had been rapidly disappearing……….

The Great Wall, which the United Nations listed as a World Heritage Site in 1987, has been rebuilt many times through the centuries, and many sections of it have suffered serious damage from weather erosion and human destruction.”

Death of dinos or a “man-made” destruction, following lines of Shelley’s “Ozymandias” always come to my mind.

“ My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Artist: Michael Shaw The New Yorker February 16, 2004

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Were we Bean Counters even before Wheat Domesticated us?

Wheat prices have been on the boil for a while now. Since March 31 this year, they are up by almost 52% in international markets.

Business Standard (August 28, 2007) has a headline: “Wheat prices jump to all-time high”. A day later it changed to: “Wheat may rise 15% by Diwali” with a subtext “India has to pay a heavy price as govt bungles on imports”.

Wheat is reigning supreme. Thanks to both shortages and rampant speculation. Much like crude oil.

Richard Manning wrote “Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization” in year 2004.

Manning claims (Atlantic Unbound | April 1, 2004) : “… tribes—particularly hunter-gatherer tribes—live in a way that is fundamentally sustainable, whereas the social system that developed with the advent of agriculture has spawned inequality and famine, and has had an immense environmental impact in a period of time (about 10,000 years) that pales in comparison to the history of human life on the planet (about 4 million years)…

One view is to say that all the damage we see on the planet is the result of our numbers, and of human nature—and that agriculture is the worst symptom of the human condition, because it has the greatest impact on the planet. In this analysis, we don't blame agriculture—we blame humans.

But I don't think that's the full explanation. This gets a lot richer when you look at co-evolution: it's not just human genes at work here. It's wheat genes and corn genes—and how they have an influence on us. They took advantage of our ability to travel, our inventiveness, our ability to use tools, to live in a broad number of environments, and our huge need for carbohydrates. Because of our brains' ability, we were able to spread not only our genes, but wheat's genes as well. That's why I make the argument that you have to look at this in terms of wheat domesticating us, too. That co-evolutionary process between humans and our primary food crops is what created the agriculture we see today….

The biggest problem with agriculture—and civilization—seems to be the surplus it creates....

Since civilization began, surplus has been with us. A kind of "blind need for excess" has been driving our culture in exactly the wrong direction. It creates stratified societies. The CEO of a corporation makes a thousand times more than one of his workers. That kind of disparity doesn't exist in any other type of species. And that would suggest that we haven't gotten any better at handling surplus—in fact we've gotten worse at it.

Dealing with surplus is a difficult task…”

Yes indeed and that’s why we need bean counters, accountants.

But the question before us is: Did all this start even before agriculture?

Artist: Sam Gross The New Yorker January 11, 1993

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Clock of the Long Now promises to teach us to Wait for the Cuckoo to emerge

Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking. All are on the increase. Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed-some mechanism or myth which encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where 'long-term' is measured at least in centuries. Long Now proposes both a mechanism and a myth.

It began with an observation and idea by computer scientist Daniel Hillis.
"When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 2000. For the next thirty years they kept talking about what would happen by the year 2000, and now no one mentions a future date at all. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life. I think it is time for us to start a long-term project that gets people thinking past the mental barrier of an ever-shortening future. I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium."

Greatness like the cuckoo does not come often.

Socrates, Confucius, the Buddha, and Zoroaster were all present in 5th century BC. No single person probably met all of them-except in Gore Vidal’s “Creation”- but they sure inhaled the same air together.

Shakespeare, Cervantes and Tukaram created the greatest literature of their respective languages-English, Spanish, and Marathi- in 17th century.

We need patience to wait for the cuckoo to arrive. We use word “great” so easily because we have lost the sense of long. Let us face it. In our short life we may never come across new greatness in most fields of our civilization. And even if we think we have it amongst us, time may prove us silly.

The Clock of the Long Now promises to teach us to wait for the cuckoo..

Artist: Mike Luckovich

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bring on Bambooque of Avadh Punch because we still are "England Returned, newly-made gentleman & Noisy Jee-Huzoors"

The Economist ((Oct 28th 2004) said:
"In the 1830s, Lord Thomas Macaulay was a member of the British Supreme Council in India. His comments on Indian culture and scholarship still rankle. “The whole native literature of India and Arabia,” he asserted with the confidence of one unable to read any of it, was worth but a single European library shelf. Few Indians would want to stick up for this supercilious English xenophobe."

One can understand imperial arrogance at the height of the empire.

But what about we ‘literate’ natives? Do we think any differently than the Lord? And if so, is that knowledge part of our learning?

Sadly, I don’t think so.

When I read Vinoba Bhave विनोबा भावे, Sane-guruji साने गुरुजी, V K Rajwade वि का राजवाडे, D G Godse द ग गोडसे, Durga Bhagwat दुर्गा भागवत, M V Dhond म वा धोंड- all almost exclusive writers in Marathi-I realize that a large part of our native knowledge is not part of any of our curricula.

Therefore, I was not surprised but ashamed to learn TODAY- 71 years after its death and 47 years after my birth-the existence of “Avadh Punch”, a weekly started in Lucknow in 1877, that raised wit and humour to new heights. (Source: Wit and Humour in Colonial North India by Mushirul Hasan)

“The Avadh Punch, a weekly from Lucknow, under the stewardship of its formidable editor, Munshi Sajjad Husain, was published from 16 January 1877 till its closure in 1936. Virtually the first Indian newspaper to publish cartoons as we know them today, it provided a platform for some of the greatest comic writers in Urdu literature.

Inspired by, and like the London Punch (1841-2002), it became a household name notable for dignity, geniality of satire and good taste....

Such was the popularity of the Avadh Punch that, by the end of the 19th century, 70 Punch papers/magazines had appeared from more than a dozen cities across the nation. Each of them reflected mainly on British rule from the experiences of over 300 million Indians with a long and proud past, but who were subjugated by force of arms and by commercial and diplomatic duplicity. Equally lampooned were those who abandoned their own inherited cultural and intellectual legacies in preference of Western models.

Wit and humour as pacifist tools of devastation constituted an apt response to the situation.“

“……Born in Masauli, a tiny village in the Bara Banki district of Uttar Pradesh and educated at Aligarh's M.A.O. College, Wilayat Ali (1885-1918) was a product of that era, though perhaps the least known today. One of the countless young men immersed in the impassioned debates that raged in his youth, he wrote mostly in English under the nom de plume "Bambooque". Reflecting the political mood of the age — an active, self-confident spirit — his articles eminently represent the period and ensure to them an enduring quality. His clear-cut convictions on a large number of issues mark him out as a writer with robust common sense. That he has strong personal convictions adds to the charm and force of his writing.

Why was he different from others? In plain and simple terms, he mocked at British rule and ridiculed it in skits and sketches, while many of his contemporary activists held forth from public platforms. His political pursuits were serious, and yet their expression was humorous and satirical. True, he was neither the greatest master of English prose to spring from his community, nor was he expected to generate a large following as a journalist. What he did remarkably well was to stimulate the imagination of his readers in Comrade, the most popular newspaper during his lifetime. And this he did not only in special cases where minds similarly attuned used his articles creatively but also amongst the widest circle of his readership. He did not write much in Urdu, but the few essays that he published demonstrated the skill to express the nuances of a modern mind and sensibility.

…he ridiculed the loyalists who exercised a restraining hand on the Muslim League activists, and made roaring fun of the mongrel culture that had evolved in India under British rule. In much the same vein, the articles published in Awadh Punch had derided the "newly-made gentleman" and their new-fangled ways in a unique and original style.

….Bambooque followed this golden rule. As a result, his approach is patient and fair, his outlook sombre. He was a good observer and writer who learned much from what he saw.

In his gallery of caricatures are the British who brought with them imperialistic arrogance and a powerful sense of cultural superiority. He described the "Title-Hunting" association of "Noisy Jee-Huzoors", the "gaudy survivals of a half-forgotten past, those living anachronisms who have made Oudh." He observed the "England Returned Barrister" desperately aping the sahibs in manners and speech, and pretending to have forgotten his native tongue during his brief stay in England. He describes the "England-Returned" as "the personification of false hopes, the embodiment of extravagant expectations and the incarnation of utterly vain delusions."

Specimens of the Baboo culture in India — from the patwari to the deputy collector and the honorary magistrate — are comic both in their servility to their white superiors and their arrogance towards the common people. Their pliancy, as indeed their sense of superiority, received a great number of attractive illustrations at Bambooque's hand. "The Hon'rary Magistrate", he jibes in one of his columns, "is the apotheosis of intellectual inanity, and an official recognition of native imbecility." What the author is saying is that if a man occupies an important position he incurs a responsibility, and is accountable to the people for his public conduct.

Read, furthermore, the sarcasm poured on the "Natural Leader", the indictment of politicians, and their depreciation. They are portrayed as self-seeking, lacking in courage, accurate judgement, clear expression, and the gift of social compunction and of equanimity. Their public pronouncements abound in platitudes and well-worn expressions, and their public conduct fails to meet the expectations of those they are expected to serve. In short, the politicians seeking official patronage fail to create an impression upon the public mind owing to their defiance of the elementary counsels of good sense. Bambooque's criticism is sharp and pungent, but without being limited to the leader. He extends his criticism to the patronage system developed by the colonial bureaucracy. “

Monday, August 20, 2007

Barbie Defaults on Her Mortgage for Docking Station

LOUISE STORY’s Barbie Gets Another Accessory: An MP3 Player and More Stuff on Her Web Site” (NYT July 23, 2007) announces: “…Barbie has a docking station.”

Can she hang on to it in these times of “sub-prime crisis”?

D Murali says in Business Line (August 19, 2007):”…. Now, what are the lessons from the crisis? This sub-prime mess raises two very important issues. One, the way banks lend money willy-nilly to people without properly checking their credentials; and two, the absolutely pathetic rating process used by the rating agencies. While both are hazardous to the system, the latter raises issues of moral hazard because the rating agencies profited massively from rating these residential mortgage backed securities.”

Allan Sloan:: “…..It’s really amazing: Most of the loans to substandard creditors borrowing 100 percent of the purchase price of homes they couldn’t afford were rated the same as GE and the federal government. That makes no sense. But the money rolled in, and Wall Street — by which I mean the world’s biggest and most important financial institutions — didn’t care about the real world or ask any questions. It was too busy making money, and cashing bonus checks generated by subprime-mortgage profits…..”

Don’t we all know how banks in India have pestered us for last few years to take any loan from them?

Poor Barbie. She was tempted to take the loan for her brand new docking station. Now she finds barbarians at the gate to repossess her new asset!


Published : Asian Age August 20, 2007

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Why women button their clothes from the left, and men from the right?

Until I read review of Robert H. Frank's book "The Economic Naturalist" in July 2007, I had not even noticed that women button their clothes from the left, and men from the right! Let alone knowing the reason.

Surprise, surprise neither my wife.

By the way, I did not know this either- "bars give away peanuts and sell water because peanuts are very salty and make people thirsty." Water or booze?

"Take the positioning of buttons on clothes. Why are they on the right for men, and the left for women, especially since, for the 90 percent of the population who are right-handed, it's much easier to do up buttons from the right? It's because when buttons were introduced in the 17th century, they were affordable only by the wealthy. As rich men then dressed themselves, they did so from the right; whereas wealthy women were dressed by servants, who preferred to button them up from the left. The custom continues today, even though fewer women are dressed by servants, because there has been no incentive for the fashion industry to change it."

In Indian art-books and movies-some of the most sensual situations are when a woman asks a man to help her with wearing of a blouse, which typically has buttons on the back, or when she requests him to fasten necklace's hook on the back of her neck.

Artist : Garrett Price The New Yorker 22 Nov 1947

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Dousing Fires of Nationalism Lighted by Staging of Kichak-Vadh

Do we learn anything from history at all? Or history is just one damn thing after another and hence to be ignored?

I read ROGER COHEN (IHT August 12, 2007) saying:
“….America has incurred a debt to Iraq, and the liability is weightier than the paper on the sub-prime mortgage market. Those in a hurry for neat resolutions in Mesopotamia might cast their minds back 60 years to the summer of 1947 when, on Aug. 15, after almost a century of direct rule, the British quit India, having drawn some hasty lines on a map.

The lines produced Pakistan. The rapid exit - independence and partition had only been approved a couple of months earlier by Parliament - produced a savage outbreak of killing and rape among millions of Hindus and Muslims attempting to disentangle entwined existences. India and Pakistan went to war over still-contested Kashmir.”

I thought we were learning from history. Or is it?

NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF in NYT August 12, 2007 says:”…. There’s lots of talk about partitioning Iraq to reduce the violence, and it’s happening already — and that de facto partition is a crucial step to reduce the risk of genocide once we leave. But for the U.S. to embrace partition would be disastrous: We would be portrayed in madrassas around the world as the infidels who dismembered an Arab country to seize its oil and emasculate it on behalf of Israel.”

Portioning Iraq? How can they even think when they should know that what happened in India in 1947 could be traced back to the partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905. Yes, the same Curzon who once said: “As long as we rule India, we are the greatest power in the world. If we lose it we shall drop straightway to a third rate power”. (Is George Bush saying the same for Iraq?)

Lord Curzon is arguably the most unpopular personality of British rule in India. Blockbuster Marathi play of year 1907, “Kichak-Vadh” was a metaphor for Curzon’s rule in India. It’s based on an episode in Mahabharata. Curzon became tyrant Kichak and India became his hapless victim Draupadi. The play charged many a youth in Maharashtra against the British rule.

One of them, it is said, was Anant Kanhere who assassinated collector of Nashik, A M T Jackson, of the Indian Civil Service in December 1909, at a theatre where he had gone to watch another famous Marathi play Sharda.

Calling the play seditious, its performance was banned by British government on January 27, 1910. Ban was in force until 1926. (There is also a Marathi film "Kichak Vadh" made in 1959 that has this haunting song-Dhund madhumati rat re nath re- written by G D Madgulkar and composed by Master Krishnarao. But I find villain Kichak played by Baburao Pendharkar much dearer than hero Bhim!)

Currently Iraq is staging its own "Kichak Vadh". American Curzons will find it hard to extinguish the fire, especially if they are going to use oil for the job!

Artist : Mike Luckovich

No use splitting up

Asian Age Aug 15 2007 reports: “Londoners like Delhiites think their bus drivers are rude and blundering.”

In India, since we started administrative reforms we have got many things right (e.g. railway ticket booking) but some big holes remain. Lack of reliable public transport at most urban centres is one of the biggest of them.

I use Pune Municipal Transport’s (PMT) bus service about once in a week and it appalls me to find it as bad as ever. Most of the hardware, other than recently launched expensive BRT, is rickety. Most conductors are rude. Buses often don’t carry destination nameplates. Frequency of service on most routes is inadequate. There is hardly any timetable that is strictly adhered to. During peak hours, senior citizens can hardly reach a bus, let alone climb on it. During morning hours, I see school & college going children of all ages hanging on to bus door and windows perilously.

I feel sad because the neighbourhood Mumbai has had one of the best bus service- called BEST- on the offer for a long time now. Recently, BEST launched its website, one of the most useful and pretty I have seen. Visit it here.

When I was at Chennai from 1981-83, I probably used the best bus service- then called PTC- I have seen any where in the world. Particularly so if we considered the load on it and resources at its disposal. I remember an incident when the conductor of a very crowded bus got down to help an old woman climb on the bus. I couldn’t believe my eyes!

I had gone to Chennai after spending first twenty one years of my life at Miraj. At Miraj, I used bus service to get to my colleges from 1976 to 1981. Conductors on that service were almost cruel. We thought they derived sadistic pleasure by not stopping their bus at our college’s stop. We could never tell when we would get home after the college. It was a torture we could do without in those glory years of India’s socialism.

We used all the tricks like in picture below to get a bus to stop. Alas they almost never worked!

Artist: George Price The New Yorker Jan 11, 1947

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sixty Years of Pack Mentality........Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Beane recommend a certain stock

LANDON THOMAS Jr. has written an essay “Pack Mentality Among Hedge Funds Fuels Market Volatility” (NYT August 13, 2007).

“…These guys all know each other, and they all have the same strategies. They came from the same schools, and they get together for drinks after work, The strategies employed tend to be not only duplicable but broadly followed — the result being a packlike tendency that has helped increase market volatility and, for some hedge funds, has led to losses in the last month.”

After reading “Fooled by Randomness” by N N Taleb and "A Short History of Financial Euphoria" by John Kenneth Galbraith, nothing comes as a surprise in financial world.

Over last few weeks, so-called sub-prime crisis in USA is growing on the world like a creeping wine. In such times, we need to remember Galbraith’s words: “…And tragedy can be quietly enjoyed when, as is not true of war, nothing is being lost but money.”

I have always doubted wisdom, expertise and integrity of almost all ‘visible and audible’ experts in Indian financial world. Watching CNBC and NDTV Profit is loads of fun. They get you sit-down comedians through the working day.

Their anchors even have invented funny language to entertain us :” stocks have gone up/down for themselves……markets do what they want to do……”. Anthropomorphism at its worst!

They remind you of Michael Crichton s words:
“ A lot of people complain that television lacks focus. But that's the nature of the medium. Television's not about information at all. Information is active, engaging. Television is passive. Information is disinterested, objective. Television is emotional. It's entertainment. Whatever he says, however he acts, in truth Martin has absolutely no interest in you, or your company, or your airplanes. He's paid to exercise his one reliable talent: provoking people, getting them to make an emotional outburst, to lose their temper, to say something outrageous. He doesn't really want to know about airplanes. He wants a media moment. If you understand that, you can deal with him.”

Artist : Whitney Darrow,Jr. The New Yorker Sept 13, 1947

Monday, August 13, 2007

Vilasrao Deshmukh receives a letter

Dr. Shreeram Lagoo डाँ. श्रीराम लागू- a good stage artist, a ham cinema (both Hindi and Marathi) actor and an activist- has written an open letter (Lokmat Aug 5, 2007) to Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.

It’s worth reading in its entirety. It sums up degeneration of Maharashtra leadership- both social and political.

It talks about democracy becoming just a formality because of caste, money, power and gundaism. It narrates number of instances where blatant violence was used by major political parties to silence the dissenting voice and how the administration did nothing.

It reminds the minister that the Indian Constitution declares scientific temperament as a fundamental duty of all citizens. The letters asks why the Maharashtra Eradication of Black Magic and Evil and Aghori Practices Bill, 2005 took such a long time to progress to its current stage. (btw- The State Government has sought suggestions from public on the bill by 30th August 2007) Read more on the bill here.

I wonder where the minister and his cabinet colleagues stand on the issue of superstition personally. Most of them are seen wearing amulets,stones, rings, threads, chains and what-have-you.

Artist: James Thurber The New Yorker June 1, 1935

Unless the bridges get blown up by helpful terrorists……..

Just one bridge fell in Minneapolis and people in US are talking about health of the most of the bridges in that country.

“Federal officials have admitted that as many as 70,000 bridges across the US - representing 12 per cent of all bridges in the country - had recently been rated structurally deficient. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the US would need to spend $9.4bn annually for the next 20 years to address all the problems with its aging bridges."

Garrison Keillor writes: “…Bridges are not supposed to fall down unless there is an earthquake. People die in violent storms, plane crashes, epidemics, but a person is supposed to be able to drive home on a summer evening and cross a river on a steel truss bridge and not find himself plunging headlong into the abyss…..
Unless the bridges get blown up by helpful terrorists, making us eligible for Halliburton to come in and rebuild them, I don't imagine that much will happen. There will be an investigation and someday, when we are much older, we will learn that the bridge collapsed due to a unique set of circumstances that could not have been predicted by anybody. Nobody had sex with that woman. Everybody was doing a heckuva job….”

NYT editorial (Aug 11,2007) says: “In its last state inspection, the Brooklyn Bridge rated 2.9 on a scale of 7, an unabashed poor rating, barely passing. It was not bad enough to close it or further limit traffic and city officials pronounce the bridge safe, but New Yorkers should be excused if they begin looking at the 124-year-old landmark in a different way.

Those who live in its magnificent shadow are in the same uneasy place as the millions of other Americans who traverse bridges daily. Many, in inspections prompted by the Minneapolis disaster, have been found to have structural, design or maintenance problems. ……”

Welcome to India!

I wonder what ratings bridges in India would get. We of course have digested bridge falls as easily as neighbourhood water logging during monsoons. Jaane-Bhi-Do-Yaro (1983), one of our all time great feature films, carries a backdrop of a bridge fall in Mumbai.

A fallen bridge always reminds me of “The Bridge on the River Kwai”. One of the most moving scenes is when on the eve of the blast Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) reminisces his days in India. He says he helped build railway bridges all over India.

Regardless of their ratings most of them stand today.

Artist: Mike Luckovich

Friday, August 10, 2007

Quiet! Apte-sir is armed…….is truly history now

Times of India (Pune) Aug 10, 2007 has a front-page headline: “Spare the rod, teacher, or else”.

It says: “If the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has its way, school officials could now land in jail even for scolding students or calling them "stupid" or "mindless" in class.

Expanding the definition of corporal punishment to cover any form of adverse treatment—from scolding to death—the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has urged parents to be fearless in filing FIRs against schools if children complain of such abuse. On Thursday, the commission directed the chief secretaries of states to ensure that complaints by parents against schools were treated on an immediate basis.

As per the directive issued by NCPCR chief Shanta Sinha, the term corporal punishment would cover "rapping on the knuckles, running on the school ground, kneeling down for hours, standing up for long hours". Beating the child with a scale (ruler), pinching and slapping, sexual abuse, torture, locking up children alone in classrooms, electric shocks and acts leading to insult, humiliation, physical and mental injury, and even death also count as corporal punishment, she said.

Under the new directives, even written impositions are a no-no. "Even calling a child an idiot or stupid or mindless, or asking him or her to write sentences condemning their mistakes in class or slapping a child are a severe insult and humiliation for the child," Sinha told TOI. "These acts are also corporal punishment and constitute a breach of human rights. So, we want to empower parents to lodge FIRs against school officials if their children have been subjected to such violence. And all state education departments have to ensure that no adverse action is taken against these kids in school for complaining against them."

I think this is a retrograde step. As it is students these days are treated more like ‘customers’ than students. With this step, discipline has little chance of survival on school campuses.

I remember at my school from 1969-76- Miraj High School-some teachers were known more for their ability to discipline students than teaching.

The late Apte-sir, known amongst us ‘Tiger Apte’- was one such. Stories abounded how so and so was beaten black and blue by him I almost never saw him beating any one but I guess no one wanted to verify the stories! But I remember how the late Bhagwat-sir, school superintendent, beat gregarious P D Joshi, our class mate, in 9th standard Sanskrit class. Mr. Bhagwat was trembling with anger. We were more worried about him than P D Joshi, who was a tough cookie. (By the way, PD's father was a teacher in our school. So maybe there was more to this incident than just class discipline!)

There is a January 1783 letter of Gopika-Bai, grand-mother of Peshwa (head of the Maratha Confederacy and the most powerful chieftain, French and British included, in 18th century India) asking the teacher of her 9-year old grand-son not to hesitate punishing the future Peshwa in private.
(Source- ‘Peshvekalin Maharashtra’ by V K Bhave- December 1935)

Artist: Mick Stevens The New Yorker 14 Mar 1994

p.s Our Apte-sir also taught English!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Nora, whatever you do, don't slam the door as you leave!

We all know Kipling’s famous words: "OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet". Indeed ways of the twain are so very different even in some minor matters.

Case in point is a mundane act of door closing. Slamming the door is ingrained in western culture.

One of the greatest plays produced in West is Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House” (1879). It made a lasting impression on me when I read it in school. I have often wondered what if my mother (in the past) and wife (in the present)were to behave like Nora Helmer. The thought has scared me.

In play’s climax, Nora walks out on her husband and kids slamming the door behind her creating a sound, once described by critics as the sound that ''reverberated across the roof of the world''.

“A Doll’s House” cannot be perhaps as effective in the East partly because we don’t have that “slamming the door” culture. We Indians are often told to close the door softly. It is probably because until recently we did not have many doors with a latch!

When I interacted with Americans and Europeans I immediately noticed how they almost always slammed the door. Therefore, I was not surprised to see following picture.

Background maybe grim Iraq but sentiments are familiar.

Artist: Geoff Thompson