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: "… इ. स. 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."
Friday, September 28, 2007
I owe a lot to Dev Anand, for the amount of pleasure his films have given, especially through their music. Therefore, I was looking forward to his book that I knew was in the pipeline for some time now.
I have still not read the book but have read excerpts in “India Today” issue dated October 1, 2007.
Iconic poet T S Eliot wrote these unforgettable lines: “In the room the women come and go, Talking of Michelangelo.” (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock).
LOUIS MENAND writing for The New Yorker (issue 30 September 2002) said: ” T. S. Eliot's sex life. Do we really want to go there? It is a sad and desolate place… “.
Dev Anand’s sex life has not been “a sad and desolate” place as he seems to have bedded many white and brown women-although we must hear from the girls to confirm this- but what about his love life?
It’s not a pretty picture.
"Zeenat and I started being linked with each other in the magazines and newspapers that people hungry for gossip love to read. Whenever and wherever she was talked about glowingly, I loved it; and whenever and wherever I was discussed in the same vein, she was jubilant. In the subconscious, we had become emotionally attached to each other. After the premiere of Ishq Ishq Ishq at Metro cinema, Raj Kapoor kissed Zeenat in full view of the invited audience, congratulating her for her sparkling performance in the film. That must have made her evening all the more sparkling. Yet, I was jealous of him for making advances on what I considered my sole possession, my discovery, my leading lady, and desiring her with a kiss.
I felt I was desperately in love with Zeenat—and wanted to say so to her! To make an honest confession, at a very special, exclusive place meant for romance. I called her up to say, ‘Zeenie, I want to go out on a date with you tonight.’ ‘But aren’t we already going together to a party tonight?’ she asked me. ‘Let’s just go there only for a brief while, say Hi to the gathering, and then quickly disappear!’ Together we went to the party. It was on in full force. The first person who greeted Zeenat from a distance was a drunken Raj Kapoor, with a gallant drawl, ‘There she is!’ He threw his arms around her exuberantly. This suddenly struck me as a little too familiar. And the way she reciprocated his embrace seemed much more than just polite and courteous. My heart broke into pieces, I wanted to leave the party at once and go off somewhere alone, to be just by myself, so that I could swallow the humiliation thrust on my ego.”
This is petty. This is not romantic...”And the way she reciprocated his embrace seemed much more than just polite and courteous. “
Oh, thanks for not describing how hard her sumptuous breasts were pressing against Raj Kapoor’s chest! (Poor Raj Kapoor, this has been a bad month for him. First it was Vaijayantimala denying any thing more than 'Sangam' publicity between him and her and now this......Dost Dost Na Raha!)
I didn’t expect this from Dev Anand, some one from whom a generation or two of India learnt to love and romance.
To be honest, I always felt Dev Anand's acting in colour era of Hindi films- starting with Guide- was only an act of seduction, conquest of a girl, done with a style and good music.
Reading Dev Anand reminded me of PAUL THEROUX’s review (NYT October 17, 2004) of Graham Greene’s biography:
“...GREENE was a restless traveler, a committed writer, a terrible husband, an appalling father and an admitted manic-depressive; he was relentlessly sexual, ardently priapic. ''I think his sexual appetites are voracious, frightening,'' one of his close friends remarked, though the man was English and so the word ''frightening'' must be taken with a grain of salt. But certainly Greene was a tireless sensualist. Like many other sexually obsessed men he tended to be noncommittal, evasive, given to unexplained vanishings and sentimental utterances, but forever feverishly on the prowl. He often complained of writer's block, but where women were concerned he was hypergraphic. He had the lecher's bouts of romanticism and fits of fantasy; these he set down on paper…
… Greene was not a Casanova, not vain in his conquests, not a scorekeeper (though he kept a detailed list of his 47 favorite prostitutes -- given here in an appendix). Greene was insecure, needy, insatiable, interested in variation and always willing to have a go. He preferred his women to be waiflike, boyish, petite -- he himself was well over six feet tall. The women in his novels tend to match that description, but of course they are based on women he had loved…”
I remember watching Dev Anand’s interview on “Rendezvous with Simi Garewal”. I was moved by his hurt on the death of his mother before he came to Bombay. I now think he never got over his loss. He still misses his mother. He never found the real love.
In his later life, did he mistake sex for love?
Freud has said: “"He who knows his mother's love and is secure in that knowledge will never know failure.”
Artist: Peter Arno The New Yorker March 24, 1928
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Read this passage from his book-my most favourite- “The Demon-Haunted World” (1997, HEADLINE)
“My parents died years ago. I was very close to them. I still miss them terribly. I know I always will. I long to believe that their essence, their personalities, what I loved so much about them, are -- really and truly -- still in existence somewhere. I wouldn't ask very much, just five or ten minutes a year, say, to tell them about their grandchildren, to catch them up on the latest news, to remind them that I love them. There's a part of me -- no matter how childish it sounds -- that wonders how they are. "Is everything all right?" I want to ask. The last words I found myself saying to my father, at the moment of his death, were "Take care."
Sometimes I dream that I'm talking to my parents, and suddenly -- still immersed in the dreamwork -- I'm seized by the overpowering realization that they didn't really die, that it's all been some kind of horrible mistake. Why, here they are, alive and well, my father making wry jokes, my mother earnestly advising me to wear a muffler because the weather is chilly. When I wake up I go through an abbreviated process of mourning all over again. Plainly, there's something within me that's ready to believe in life after death. And it's not the least bit interested in whether there's any sober evidence for it.”
I was in tears when I read this because I too wanted to meet my mother-who I lost in January 2006- for “just five or ten minutes a year”.
If I were to meet her today, I would tell her “Ganpati festival is no fun without you.”
STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOM has written an essay “Living Your Dreams, in a Manner of Speaking” for NYT September 16, 2007.
She says: “THE kiss you share with the exquisite stranger is electric, deep and seemingly endless — that is until you open an eye and see drool on your pillow.
If only you could have slept long enough to consummate the seduction. Then again, you had no idea you were dreaming. Besides, you cannot control the nightly ride on the wings of your subconscious. Or can you?
Maybe, if you learn to practice “lucid dreaming,” a state in which a sleeping person becomes aware he or she is dreaming and may even be able to direct the action. Those who regularly experience the phenomenon say that like the physics-defying characters in “The Matrix,” they are able to generate or manipulate the fantastical events that unfold. They can fly without wings, play instruments they never learned, go bowling with T. S. Eliot — and, yes, indulge sexual fantasies…..”
As I have said before Americans think or fantasize rarely anything beyond sex but I must learn to lucid-dream to meet my mother.
The New Yorker
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
“…But he has been different from all the other aspiring masters in that he has taught nothing so insistently as the need to dissolve our illusions about masters, and to be responsive to more moderate, subtle and humane sources of authority.
Such a figure — authoritarian and anti-authoritarian at the same time — cannot help but be confusing. But once we understand our confusion, Freud can also be quite illuminating. Among other things, his ideas about authority help us understand (and in some measure sympathize with) the hunger for absolute leaders and absolute truth that probably besets us all, but that has overwhelmed many of our fellow humans who find themselves living under tyrannical governments and fundamentalist faiths.
But the best of Freud will not be available to us until we can work through the transference he provoked. We need to see him as a great patriarch, yes, but as one who struggled for nothing so much as for the abolition of patriarchy.”
Rahul Dravid in his quiet yet firm ways got rid of patriarchic duo of Tendulkar and Ganguly from Indian T20 cricket. Result? India trumped big.
Personally, I had stopped cheering Indian team for last few years because of this duo. I was feeling like the child in Peter Arno’s picture below. “Knock about…. Just on the estate” Why?
When I heard T20 team was going to be without them, I told my son that I was back in the camp...Count me in.
Our team played some great, lively, fearless cricket.
I have always felt that Dravid is not only India’s best batsman since Sunil Gavaskar but also a very conscientious man. He always plays tactfully but with a straight bat. He did that when he withdrew himself out of T20 world cup. That forced Tendulkar and Ganguly to do the same. He also quit captaincy on the eve of India’s first match in T20 to force cricket administration to announce Dhoni as the captain even for F50.
I have said on this blog few times earlier that most of our heroes overstay their welcome because we tolerate their tyranny. Other than Sunil Gavaskar almost none of our megastar sportsmen/women- absolute leaders- retired at the top or near the top.
Tendulkar’s is a story that proves George Orwell’s point- “Our civilization is decadent”. Tendulkar WAS a great cricketer, almost a genius, who in last century played without fear but in this century, seems to have allowed himself to be increasingly used by greedy corporates. Sponsors control everything he says or does. We the people never get the correct picture because his sponsors control even the media and the cricket administration.
We needed an insider like Dravid to do what many of us wanted to happen some time ago. Thank you, Dr. Dreud!
Artist: Peter Arno The New Yorker 21 June 1941
“Fears for the future of the literary novel have been heightened by the revelation that a book by Katie Price, the surgically enhanced model, has outsold the entire Booker Prize shortlist.
Sales for the Man Booker Prize contenders show that the combined efforts of the cream of Britain's literary talent cannot match the appeal of Crystal, by Katie Price, the topless model better known as Jordan.
Figures that make grim reading for lovers of highbrow literature show that Crystal is beating the combined sales of all six works on the Man Booker shortlist…
The revelation has thrown the literary world into depression…
Told of Ms Price's victory, one agent who has represented Booker shortlisted authors in this and previous years, admitted: "Depressed? That could be a bit of an understatement. Literary fiction just doesn't sell in the quantities it used to….
Ms Price, 29, who came to public attention as a topless model whose natural attractions had been considerably enlarged by the surgeon's knife, has written two novels. Angel, about a young woman who becomes a model, was published in 2006, selling 300,000 copies in six weeks..."
I am not surprised.
P L Deshpande, Marathi humourist and entertainer, once punned: “Theirs is a Draksh (Marathi word for GRAPE) culture while ours is a Rudraksh culture”. He implied the Christian use of grape wine as part of religious ceremony while Indians use Rudraksh. (For Indians, no other bead is so auspicious and powerful as Rudraksh….The seed of Rudraksh has been given a very special place and it is credited with mystical and divine properties. The botanical name of the Rudraksh plant is 'ELAEOCARPUS GRANITRUS'.)
He could as well have said- theirs is a “sexulture”.
In US it seems, ‘old’ wealthy men- tycoons, Hollywood honchos, politicos-are busy marrying women of their daughter’s age and producing babies as fast as possible.
In olden days India, you could find mother and daughter pregnant during the same period. In US, you have similar scenes now. Mother, daughter and perhaps a granddaughter expecting a child!
In India serious vernacular language books hardly sell and titillation-thanks to Indian cinema- sells big time but I still feel Indians are not obsessed with sex as much as the West and for sure best selling books in India are not written by topless models.
Artist: Peter Arno The New Yorker September 10,1960
Monday, September 24, 2007
Ms. Roy says: “…When there's a scandal about a former chief justice and his tenure in office, it's a little difficult to surgically excise the man and spare the institution. But then commenting adversely on the institution can lead you straight to a prison cell as some of us have learned to our cost…
The higher judiciary, the Supreme Court in particular, doesn't just uphold the law, it micromanages our lives. Its judgements range through matters great and small. It decides what's good for the environment and what isn't, whether dams should be built, rivers linked, mountains moved, forests felled. It decides what our cities should look like and who has the right to live in them. It decides whether slums should be cleared, streets widened, shops sealed, whether strikes should be allowed, industries should be shut down, relocated or privatised. It decides what goes into school textbooks, what sort of fuel should be used in public transport and schedules of fines for traffic offences. It decides what colour the lights on judges' cars should be (red) and whether they should blink or not (they should). It has become the premier arbiter of public policy in this country that likes to market itself as the World's Largest Democracy…
Ironically, judicial activism first rode in on a tide of popular discontent with politicians and their venal ways. Around 1980, the courts opened their doors to ordinary citizens and people's movements seeking justice for underprivileged and marginalised people. This was the beginning of the era of Public Interest Litigation, a brief window of hope and real expectation. While Public Interest Litigation gave people access to courts, it also did the opposite. It gave courts access to people and to issues that had been outside the judiciary's sphere of influence so far. So it could be argued that it was Public Interest Litigation that made the courts as powerful as they are. Over the last 15 years or so, through a series of significant judgements, the judiciary has dramatically enhanced the scope of its own authority….
The expansion of judicial powers has not been accompanied by an increase in its accountability. Far from it. The judiciary has managed to foil every attempt to put in place any system of checks and balances that other institutions in democracies are usually bound by. It has opposed the suggestion by the Committee for Judicial Accountability that an independent disciplinary body be created to look into matters of judicial misconduct. It has decreed that an fir cannot be registered against a sitting judge without the consent of the chief justice (which has never ever been given). It has so far successfully insulated itself against the Right to Information Act. The most effective weapon in its arsenal is, of course, the Contempt of Court Act which makes it a criminal offence to do or say anything that "scandalises" or "lowers the authority" of the court. Though the act is framed in arcane language more suited to medieval ideas of feminine modesty, it actually arms the judiciary with formidable, arbitrary powers to silence its critics and to imprison anyone who asks uncomfortable questions….
Until recently, under the Law of Contempt, even truth was not considered a valid defence. So suppose, for instance, we had prima facie evidence that a judge has assaulted or raped someone, or accepted a bribe in return for a favourable judgement, it would be a criminal offence to make the evidence public because that would "scandalise or tend to scandalise" or "lower or tend to lower" the authority of the court.
Yes, things have changed, but only a little. Last year, Parliament amended the Contempt of Court Act so that truth becomes a valid defence in a contempt of court charge. But in most cases (such as in the case of the Sabharwal...er... shall we say "affair") in order to prove something it would have to be investigated. But obviously when you ask for an investigation you have to state your case, and when you state your case you will be imputing dishonourable motives to a judge for which you can be convicted for contempt. So: Nothing can be proved unless it is investigated and nothing can be investigated unless it has been proved…
It all becomes a bit puzzling when ex-chief justices like Justice S.P. Bharucha go about making public statements about widespread corruption in the judiciary. Perhaps we should wear ear plugs on these occasions or chant a mantra.
It may hurt our pride and curb our free spirits to admit it, but the fact is that we live in a sort of judicial dictatorship. And now there's a scandal in the Palace…
In most other countries, the definition of Criminal Contempt of Court is limited to anything that threatens to be a clear and present danger to the administration of justice. This business of "scandalising" and "lowering the authority" of the court is an absurd, dangerous form of censorship and an insult to our collective intelligence. ..”
Reading this makes me numb. All I think of, during this Ganpati festival, is a prayer for the Supreme Court. "God, give them wisdom".
Artist: Alan Dunn The New Yorker July 21, 1962
Sunday, September 23, 2007
WD writes: “In 1805, a young scholar-official of the East India Company was invalided home to Suffolk at the age of only 35. Edward Moor had first come out to India at the age of 11, spoke several Indian languages, and was passionately interested in the cosmology and beliefs of the Hindus.
Now, with time on his hands in an unfamiliar country he hardly remembered, Moor filled his time by gathering together and organising the artistic, anthropological and textual materials he had been collecting for many years on the deities and images of Hinduism. Five years later, in 1810, he finally published his masterwork, The Hindu Pantheon. Moor's book immediately established itself as the most detailed and accurate attempt yet made by any European scholar to collate and compare the textual and artistic material on Hinduism.
Before Moor, British scholars in India had managed to write some quite amazing nonsense about the Hindus and their religious practices…
Moor's work on Hindu deities was not superseded for 80 years and remained in print for over a century; yet today he is remembered less for his scholarship than for the remarkable Indian paintings, miniatures and artworks he commissioned and collected as part of his research. These consisted of over 640 items of Hindu painting and sculpture, with a special emphasis on the varying iconographies of the different deities.”
Indeed 18th-19th century India-centric art has largely remained unsung and inaccessible. The art is not just about aesthetics but it's history talking to us directly, without any lousy interpreters.
One of the major events in Indian history was the treaty that brought Nizam, Marathas and British together against Tipu Sultan. There is a much-hailed painting by Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) depicting the event. At the end of this post, you may see a copy of the painting. The picture also finds a mention in Edward Moor’s “The Hindu Pantheon”. Moor lived in Pune for many years.
The painting is described as: ‘A representation of the delivery of the Ratified Treaty of’ ‘1790 by Sir Charles Warre Malet Bt. to his Highness Souae Madarow Peshwa in full’ ‘Durbar or Court as held upon that occasion at Poonah in the East Indies on’ ‘the 6th Aug 1790’
Based on Dr. V D Divekar’s article in Bharat Itihas Sanshodhan Mandal' (भारत इतिहास संशोधन मंडळ) journal, historian, painter, art-critic the late D G Godse द ग गोडसे wrote a memorable essay ['Ek Darbar Chitra ani Charitra' (एक दरबारचित्र आणि चरित्र) included in his book ‘Samande Talash’ Shreevidya Prakashan 1981) on this painting. It’s a fascinating read and proves why they say a picture is worth a thousand words.
Godse proves that this picture is a fraud!
This painting was initially wrongly attributed to James Wales (1747-1795). Wales came to Pune and even taught at an art school there. The school created some notable painters like Gangaram Chintaman Navgire-Tambat (गंगाराम चिंतामण नवगिरे-तांबट) and sculptors like Bakhatram. Malet has praised Gangaram’s work and some of Gangaram’s work is still preserved in Malet’s estate. But Wales came to Pune only in 1791, a year after the event depicted in the painting and died at Thane in 1795.
The painting was finally correctly attributed to Thomas Daniell who probably never ever came to Pune! Daniell painted it circa 1805, not in India but back in England. In 1790, Daniell was traveling some where in Andhra Pradesh.
Godse has picked many holes in the painting.
He points out that first it was Edward Moor who noticed the difference between Ganesh Mahal in the picture and the one Moor actually saw. Cows in the painting look European. Mythical daemons depicted look foreign, like Satan. Headgears worn by Peshwa and others look Saxon. Putting flowerpot was not a practice of the time etc. etc.
Maratha officers used to sit to the right of the Peshwa unlike in the painting where they are shown sitting on the left. Crowd present in the court is poorly depicted. Most of them don’t look like Maharashtrians.
And the biggest faux pass of Daniell is that the painting shows visiting British have not just NOT removed their shoes as was customary but are exposing their bottom of their shoes to the Peshwa, an extreme act of profanation.
How bad the insult would have been?
Almost 116 years later, on CNN Larry King Live, I heard Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico and aspiring Democratic Party (United States) presidential nominee, telling with glee his famous story of meeting with Saddam Hussein and insulting him by showing him the bottom of his shoe.
Malet despised Marathas but was surely not as foolish (and boorish?) as Richardson to do this! Or was it his way of venting out his frustrations- of not getting governorship of Bombay- on Marathas 15 years after the event when he was safely away in England?!
Artist: Thomas Daniell, commissioned by Sir Charles Malet circa 1805
courtesy: Tate Gallery and Wikimedia Commons
In September 2007, I invited Mr. Dalrymple to visit this post.
His reply on September 24 2007 in an e-mail: "Its a fascinating piece- well done! W")
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Young says:” Sixteen years ago I got together with a group of like-minded friends and started a magazine called The Modern Review. Its premise was that popular culture is as worthy of serious critical attention as high culture… As George Orwell said, the only true test of artistic merit is survival and posterity has not been kind to the films of Bergman or Antonioni — or, indeed, the vast majority of art-house directors…
The argument, then, isn’t about the artistic merit of films like The Shop Around the Corner, The Searchers, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Lady Eve, His Girl Friday, North by Northwest, The Maltese Falcon and Some Like It Hot — which we can all agree are masterpieces — but about whether art-house directors belong in such exalted company. And to my mind, they don’t…
...I’m profoundly suspicious of the whole modernist project, particularly the notion that art and culture should only be accessible to an educated elite. As John Carey pointed out in The Intellectuals and the Masses, modernism emerged as a way for the literary intelligentsia to differentiate themselves from those they contemptuously referred to as ‘the masses’. By championing artistic endeavour that was deliberately obtuse, the intelligentsia succeeded in excluding ordinary people from sharing in their pursuits…
Unlike the champions of Bergman and Antonioni, it is popular movies I regard as true cinematic art, not obscure, art-house films — and I’m convinced that posterity will prove me right.”
Since Acharya Atre 1898-1969, P L Deshpande , champion of nostalgia, was Maharashtra’s greatest entertainer until his death in 2000. Only bigger entertainer than Pu La was Hindi film industry.
Pu La wrote about other entertainers- Bal Gandharva (legendary large-hearted Marathi stage artist), masters of Hindustani classical such as Kumar Gandharva; Bhimsen Joshi; Mallikarjun Mansur; Vasantrao Deshpande among many others. But he never wrote about Hindi films and their music.
I think Hindi film music composed from circa 1950-1970 by likes of Roshan, Madan Mohan, C Ramchandra, two Burmans, Shankar-Jaikishan etc is as good as any man has created. It is not just popular till the date but also of high artisitic standards. Some of C Ramchandra’s music, inspired by both Jazz and Hindustani classical, would make both Lionel Hampton and Govindrao Tembe (has there been any musical album better than his SANGEET MANAPMAN) proud.
Songwriters like Shailendra, Kaifi Azmi, Sahir, Majrooh etc. too were of high quality.
In Raj Kapoor’s film Shree 420, there is a scene where a milkman takes the song “Ramayya Vastavayya” from the protagonist Raj Kapoor to his estranged lover Nargis at the time of daybreak.
Along with Bhakti literarture, Hindi film music will outlast any art in India.
Artist: Ed Fisher The New Yorker February 12, 1955
Friday, September 21, 2007
They are correct because Dalits now have decided to navigate to their own destiny themselves. They feel upper caste gods, leaders, writers, thinkers, artists, philosophers have let them down.
Shripad Krishna Kolhatkar श्रीपाद कृष्ण कोल्हटकर (1871-1934), arguably 20th century's best writer in Marathi , was an exception. He reminds me in many ways- particularly humour and social sensibilities- of Mark Twain.
Keshav Meshram केशव मेश्राम, a prominent Dalit and ex-president Marathi Sahitya Sammelan, has written about qualities of Kolhatkar’s literary work as well as his vision. (“Shabdavrat शब्दव्रत” by Keshav Meshram). Meshram quotes what Kolhatkar said after reading H N Apte ह ना आपटे’s (first Marathi novelist of any sigificance) “Pan Lakshat Kon Gheto पण लक्षात कोण घेतो”.
”If Mr. Apte could tell the story of misery of backward caste people (Dalits) the way he has told of (Brahmin) women, such a novel would be second in revolutionary qualities only to ’Uncle Tom’s Cabin’”.
Meshram says Kolhatkar’s conscience based bold opposition to the practice of caste brought him in direct confrontation with Lokmanya Tilak लोकमान्य टिळक and N C Kelkar न चि केळकरwho chose to ‘ignore’ challenges of caste instead of addressing them.
Another quality of Kolhatkar was his ability to identify and encourage young talent.
R D Karve र धो कर्वे(1882-1953) – visionary social reformer and practicing sexologist- wrote only one obit in his periodical-Samajswasthya समाजस्वास्थ्य (July 1927- November 1953)- ever. It was of S K Kolhatkar!
Young historian and thinker T S Shejwalkar त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर too received valuable encouragement from Kolhatkar.
Shejwalkar’s writing is brilliant, vision broad, thinking global, language precise but there is only one problem.
He probably never gauged accurately the importance of Dalit-movement led by Dr. Ambedkar to the future of India. Contrast that with V S Naipaul’s description of Dr. Ambedkar’s birthday celebration at Mumbai in his book “India A Million Mutinies Now” (1990).
Shejwalkar is not alone. This blog is indebted to The New Yorker. It has scored many hits and few misses. Here is their biggest miss of them all.
John Updike says:”(During the fourth decade of The New Yorker 1955-1964) the foremost domestic issue of the time was the struggle of the black minority for civil rights, yet people of color are almost totally absent from these cartoons.”
The only exception is this picture...
Artist: William O'Brian The New Yorker May 10, 1963
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Ram and his story are so central (see my previous post on this) to India that it doesn’t matter.
TULSI RAMAYAN- Ramcharitmanas is arguably the best book in Hindi. Vinoba Bhave विनोबा भावे has written beautifully on the book. ("Vinoba Saraswat" Edited by Ram Shewalkar, Sahitya Akademi 1987)
Utopia is translated as “Ram Rajya” (Ram’s Regime) in Indian languages.
Tukaram describes Ram Rajya thus: राम राजा राम प्रजा लोकपाळ, एकचि सकळ दुजे नाही। (In which kingdom Ram is king, in which kingdom Ram is populace and in which kingdom Ram is the administrator)
Mahatma Gandhi’s famous last words were “He Ram”.
Now in the name of Maryada-Purushottam Ram, at Bangalore, Ramsevaks have attacked the house of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi’s daughter because he reportedly said: “Ram was a mythical figure and there was no historical evidence of his existence.”
I would say: Ramsevaks, Reflect. Let tham call you conservative.
Artist: George Price The New Yorker July 21 1934
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
“…cars—potent symbols of individualism (and, some would say, individual selfishness)—“.
I don't like any car. People slobber over different models of cars. I find each of them ugly. I have never driven one in my life and may never. I have made career choices to fulfill this objective!
The only automobile I ever liked was Royal Enfield made Bullet motorcycle-which again I have never driven- not its looks but its sound..loud ticking of heartbeats..Jazz drumming...
"Every September 22, people across the globe get together to swear off their cars - if only for one day - in a collective reminder that we don't have to accept car-dominated societies, cities, or personal lives. Since its earliest incarnations in the 1970s and '80s, WORLD CAR-FREE DAY has grown into a massive global celebration of human-centric communities and people-powered transportation.
Car-Free Day 2007 could turn out to be the biggest yet. For the first time, China's government is hopping on board, with official events talking place in more than 100 cities, including Beijing and Shanghai. Officials will reportedly be trading in their famed black sedans for public transportation, and some roads will be closed to private cars.
As the world tunes in to the fact that the climate is heating up, this is the perfect opportunity to take the heat off the planet, and put it on city planners and politicians to give priority to cycling, walking and public transport, instead of oil-hungry automobiles."
John le Carre “The Russia House”
''...Americans have poisoned the world with materialistic logic. If my neighbour has a car, I must have two cars. If my neighbour has a gun, I must have two guns. If my neighbour has a bomb, I must have a bigger bomb and more of them, never mind they can't reach their targets. So all I have to do is imagine my neighbour's gun and double it and I have the justification for whatever I want to manufacture...''
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
When I read V S Naipaul’s “India: A Wounded Civilization” (first published 1977), it was one of my most profound experiences. The book still has not left me.
Commenting on Mahatma Gandhi’s description of his passage to England from “The Story of My Experiments with Truth”, Naipaul said (“A Defect of Vision”):
“…That is the voyage: an internal adventure of anxieties felt and food eaten, with not a word of anything seen or heard that did not directly affect the physical or mental well-being of the writer. The inward concentration is fierce, the self-absorption complete…. Though Gandhi spent three years in England, there is nothing in his autobiography about the climate or the seasons, so unlike heat and monsoon of Gujarat and Bombay…No London building is described, no street, no room, no crowd, no public conveyance…”
Reading this was like touching a hot pan, waking up from a deep slumber.
See picture below of “The Buddha preaching” at Sarnath.
Later I read Durga Bhagwat दुर्गा भागवत saying how, from Kalidasa to Dnyaneshwar to almost 20th century, our literature never mentions a butterfly/moth! (“पिवळीच मी पाकोळी की” from “Nisrgotsav” Dileep Prakashan, 1996).
Forget lowly butterfly-moth पाकोळी, what about heavenly Supernova?
SN 1054 (Crab Supernova) was a supernova that was widely seen on Earth in the year 1054. It was recorded by Chinese and Arab astronomers as being bright enough to see in daylight for 23 days and was visible in the night sky for 653 days, outshining the most brilliant stars in the heavens.
Dr. Jayant Narlikar in his book “The Scientific Edge” (Penguin Books India 2003) has a chapter titled “The Search for records of the Sighting of the Crab Supernova”. It describes Herculean efforts put in by his team to locate any record of this grand celestial event in Indian historical records, including popular literature.
Sadly, they failed. Narlikar has not blamed Muslim invaders for this.
Is it because of our ancestors’ Gandhi-Buddha-like self-absorption described by Naipaul so eloquently?
In the Nobel lecture on Dec 7, 2001, Naipaul said:"...I am near the end of my work now. I am glad to have done what I have done, glad creatively to have pushed myself as far as I could go. Because of the intuitive way in which I have written, and also because of the baffling nature of my material, every book has come as a blessing. Every book has amazed me; up to the moment of writing I never knew it was there. But the greatest miracle for me was getting started. I feel - and the anxiety is still vivid to me - that I might easily have failed before I began."
Well, he has failed with his ‘new’, 29th book “A Writer’s People: Ways of Looking and Feeling".
First of all there is nothing new in this book. Second he makes sweeping statements without backing them up.
Naipaul’s biggest problem, like most Western analysts of India, is he does not read any Indian language. That is a big handicap because best of India has always been expressed in its native languages. And tragically, it is not always translated in English.
I wish Naipaul read Marathi. If he did, he would read Vinoba Bhave's Marathi books and realize why, along with poet-saints, Vinoba is Marathi's rare 'best-seller'.
Naipaul says "(In India) literary criticism is still hardly known as an art". This is far from the truth. He should care to read Dilip Chitre's book on Tukaram ("Punha Tukaram" which also is available in English) or Durga Bhagwat's commentary on Mahabharata ("Vyas Parva") or M V Dhond's criticism of B S Mardhekar's poetry ("Tarihi Yeto Vas Phulana") etc.
Naipaul says 'Indian writers to speak generally seem to know only about their own families and their places of work". This may be true of R K Narayan or Vikram Seth but not of Bhau Padhye- the original chronicler of Bombay (ahead of Vikram Chandra) in all its colours.
Naipaul like most Indians does not know when to shut up, when to retire. Man has become caricature of himself.
The Buddha preaching, Sarnath, fifth century A.D. (ASI Museum, Sarnath). This is the classic image of the Buddha that was developed in the Gupta period. The mudra suggests that he is teaching and setting in motion the wheel of Dharma, also seen in the panel. The inward look, with the gaze centred on the tip of the nose, conveys a great sense of peace and tranquility.
Frontline Aug. 11-24, 2007
The Spectator September 15, 2007 has published this picture of Naipaul as a cartoon. Vasant Sarwate वसंत सरवटे has drawn caricatures (अर्क चित्रे)of many Marathi authors and publishers.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
“We live in a culture committed to unifying greeds…..everyone on the planet feeding at the same trough of standardized entertainment and fantasies of eros and violence…. (on the iconoclastic spirit of the 1960s) How one wishes that some of its boldness, its optimism, its disdain for commerce had survived……There is no culture ... without a standard of altruism, of regard for others.”
Outlook is an iconoclastic magazine. Not surprising because they have Vinod Mehta as the editor-in-chief, a throw-back to sixties right from his Sunday Observer days.
In their India’s independence day special issue they took on Bal Thackeray. This week it’s the turn of legendary artist Asha Bhosale whose birthday was recently celebrated on every TV channel. (btw Uddhav Bal Thackeray spoke movingly on the occasion. I really liked his speech.)
In a scathing article (“A Bungalow, A Ma-In-Law” of issue dated September 24, 2007) - which doesn't give Ms. Bhosale's views on the subject- Team Outlook says:
“…..Asha would have liked to keep her mother-in-law's (92-year-old ailing Meera Dev Burman, mother of star film composer, the late R.D. Burman, and widow of the equally iconic Sachin Dev Burman) recent months a secret, but that was not to be. Old and ailing Meera was more or less confined to bed soon after her son's death in January 1994..
If Meera had for the past 13 years been living largely confined to her room, in bed, with an attendant round-the-clock, what prompted Asha to take the drastic step of moving her to an old age home, even if it sparkles like a four-star hotel? Surely, she could have continued in the apartment. Those in the know suggest property row as a reason, others say that the 92-year-old ailing woman was not desired in the house by Asha's family who wanted to occupy it….
...her son can be extremely money-minded and ruthless. Maybe he pushed her into it…..
Days after R.D.'s death, there were stories of how Asha had cleverly managed to get control over most of his assets, how some bank lockers in his name had been emptied out and so on. Filmmakers and lyricists who had interacted with R.D. in his last days did not have a good word to offer about her and suggested that R.D. had naively trusted her—in fact, trusted her too much…
Against this, Meera being moved to an old age home fits the pattern. She may have languished there but for the Tripura state government that tracked her down because it wanted to present her a state award. When her address—a 10 x 12 ft room in an old age home—was conveyed and some sections of the media played it up, it appears that the Bhonsles had second thoughts about her continued stay there. "When news of her being R.D. Burman's mother and Asha Bhonsle's mother-in-law spread, she (Meera) became a spectacle here, though she was totally unaware of it all," says the old age home official. "It wasn't good for the family either. Maybe that's why they took her back."..."
Mangeshkar family is not new to such ‘commercial’ controversies.
The Times of India reported on November 7, 2006:
“Melody queen Lata Mangeshkar on Monday reacted sharply to Kolhapur NCP leader V B Patil's remark that she should return her Bharat Ratna for selling part of Jayaprabha Studio. The studio played a key role in the development of Marathi and Hindi cinema and is considered to be the "karmbhumi" of one of the pioneers of Indian film industry director Bhalji Pendharkar...
The studio on 11 acres of land was founded by Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj in 1934 in the name of "Kolhapur Cinetone". Pendharkar purchased it from the former princely state of Kolhapur in 1944 and renamed it Jayaprabha Studio. But he eventually handed over the studio to Mangeshkar. Last month, Mangeshkar sold about seven acres of land for commercial development...”
Sandeep Acharya (संदीप आचार्य) wrote vituperative article on Lata Mangeshkar’s favourite project-Dinanath Mangeshkar Hospital, Pune in Loksatta dated May 4, 2003- “Dinanath’s kalpavruksh is for the rich” (दीनानाथांचा कल्पवृक्ष श्रीमंतांसाठी!).
Loksatta’s editorial on April 19, 2003 “Lachar Celebrities” (लाचार सेलेब्रिटीज) also attacked Lata Mangeshkar among others like Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachhan for some of their actions.
The late Dinanath Mangeshkar, father of Asha and Lata, was blessed with a golden voice and large heart but poor finances. Vishram Bedekar (विश्राम बेडेकर) has given a moving account of this in his autobiography "एक झाड आणि दोन पक्षी", 1987 ("One Tree and Two Birds", Popular Prakashan).
In short, Susan Sontag would have liked him.
The Spectator, UK, September 15, 2007
He reportedly said: “If you just sit and chew tobacco in the farms, how can you expect good crops? The government can only help you to an extent. You should emulate the practices of farmers in Gujarat”
There has been big hue and cry after this. Vaghela of course has declared that he is misquoted and this is a “fabrication” by BJP to malign him.
These debates have been going on for long.
When I was in Assam, I often heard all other communities talking about Assamese as “Lahe Lahe” people.
One of the best non-fictional Marathi book in recent years is the late R B Patankar’s “अपूर्ण क्रांती ” ‘Incomplete Revolution’ (Mauj Prakashan 1999). He has written extensively about two important periodicals of 19th century Maharashtra. ‘मराठी ज्ञान प्रसारक Marathi Dnyan Prasarak’ and ‘विविध ज्ञान विस्तार Vividh Dnyan Vistar’.
In June 1851, an article was published titled “Comparison of Gujarati and Marathi people’s current condition”. Author Keshav Janardan Punalekar said that “Marathi people have indifference towards commerce, fondness for undisciplined expenditure, arrogant nature and laziness” and Gujarati people have “interest in commerce, simplicity, industriousness, habit of limited expendituere”.
Punalekar is not just critical but suggests how Marathi people can change their ways.
Patankar does not mention any controversy after publication of Punalekar’s article.
Mr. Minsiter, is this farmer in Thurber's picture from Maharashtra or Assam?
Artist: James Thurber The New yorker August 15, 1936
Thursday, September 13, 2007
One of the kittens has died since then.
I had been warning my family about chances of their survival in this cruel world. I said probability of them reaching child bearing age is much less than 50%.
I did not know this was true of Rajasthani girls too!
Rema Nagarajan (Times of India September 10, 2007) says:
“Nearly half of all female deaths in rural Rajasthan are of girls below the age of 20. The precise figure is 49.4%. Out of these, 42% of the deaths are of girls who haven't yet celebrated their fifth birthday. In short, a girl born in a Rajasthan village will have to be very lucky to grow up, marry, bear children — things that are taken fairly for granted in the modern world.
The shocking news doesn't end here. What's worse is that the situation is virtually the same for girls in most Hindi heartland states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In UP, for instance, nearly half the female deaths in a year — 47%, to be precise — are of girls below 20 years. Bulk of these deaths are in rural areas.
What this really means is that the girl child is barely looked after. The first case of influenza or whooping cough, and there is a good chance that the girl child from these states will not be able to survive it. This tells a lot about the attitude towards females in these states. It also means that all the effort by the government to increase awareness about the girl child is hardly making a dent into deep-seated prejudices……”
However there is some good news too.
DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. (NYT September 13, 2007) says: “For the first time since record keeping began in 1960, the number of deaths of young children around the world has fallen below 10 million a year, according to figures from the United Nations Children’s Fund being released today.
This public health triumph has arisen, Unicef officials said, partly from campaigns against measles, malaria and bottle-feeding, and partly from improvements in the economies of most of the world outside Africa…..”
If we pay attention, we will hear Indian girl child telling us……….
Artist: Mike Twohy The New Yorker May 16, 1994
Monday, September 10, 2007
He writes: “…History, in the British public culture, takes precedence over philosophy, psychology, sociology and economics. And with a few obvious exceptions, British historians have not seen history as the unfolding of abstract processes. They have not seen the human story as the march toward some culminating idea.
Instead they’ve seen history as a hodgepodge of activity — as one damn thing after another. As a result, George Orwell generalised, the English "have a horror of abstract thought, they feel no need for any philosophy or systematic ‘worldview’." This isn’t because they are practical — that’s a national myth, Orwell wrote — it’s just that given the stuttering realities of history, they find systems absurd.
Even philosophers in Britain tend to be sceptics, and emphasise how little we know or can know. Edmund Burke distrusted each individual’s stock of reason and put his faith in the accumulated wisdom of tradition. Adam Smith put his faith in the collective judgment of the market. Michael Oakeshott ridiculed rationalism. Berlin celebrated pluralism, arguing there is no single body of truth.
This scepticism permeates national life, for while the British can be socially deferential, they are rarely intellectually deferential…
The Brits’ historical consciousness means that in moments of crisis they can all swing together and act as one. But in normal times, as Orwell also noted, "the gentleness of the English civilisation is perhaps its most marked characteristic." Americans talk of "happiness," but Brits talk, less transcendentally, of "enjoyment."
American journalists, for example, are spiritually descended from Walter Lippmann. We are always earnestly striving toward some future elevated state. British journalists are spiritually descended from Samuel Johnson. They are conversationalists enjoying the inevitable conflicts that, as W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman put it, pit the wrong but romantic against the right but repugnant.”
I wish we Indians became a little more like Brits in this regard.
Next only to fanatic religionists, we must be craziest hero-worshippers. We put our heroes on pedestals, beyond any reproach.
In the process we forget: Every hero-alive or dead-is human, Has a funny side, Is full of innate contradictions.
Maybe this is one reason our humour is not as robust as it used to be.
Artist: George Price The New Yorker August 9, 1947
Friday, September 07, 2007
Crowds define India. Even Babar noticed them.
But as C P SURENDRAN says in Times of India September 5 2007 "Mobs on the rampage", crowds have started degenerating into mobs with the slightest of provocation.
“…If justice and punishment are a matter for a throng of people to dispense with, why have courts of law?
Other instances abound of mob assuming for itself a kind of vigilantism that is hard to distinguish from full-fledged riot. Just about anything could spark it. A desecrated statue, a professor who passed a lewd remark on a student, a movie with lesbian innuendoes, a scholar who said the king was naked, a novelist who laughed at a god - just about anything, including two displaced leopards, trapped and beaten to death in Nashik by the mob recently. Anything is reason for the crowd to morph itself into the killer mode of the mob. Any object, painting, truck, or wildcat could be the wand that waved a mob out of men merely staring into the middle distance and sipping tea.
The sad fact is that the mob is so much a part of the so-called Emerging India. It is people who have lost trust in the due process of law, whose sense of retribution brooks no delay in gratification. Mob is a people in a hurry to avenge. And there are so many of them. Add to it poor policing. Every thousand Indians need to make do with just one policeman. Compare that with the UN recommendation of one policeman to 400 people.
An equally contributory cause is the high level of frustration that a vengefully consumerist society - India, for instance, is one of the fastest growing car markets in the world - will transmit to the voyeuristic have-nots. The increasing incidence of mob fury is more a warning than an indication that there are a lot of unhappy people looking for an excuse to get angry as hell.
As pockets of plutocrats increase, we are likely to see more and more of the mob, representing the Indians left out from the movement forward, taking to the road and travelling backward to the stone age of intolerance and violence, a twilight land where a botched attempt at snatching a chain could be seen as an act of arch villainy and mindless violence as its inexplicable but just comeuppance…….”
Dr. Shreeram Lagoo डाँ. श्रीराम लागू (who makes first appearance on this blog earlier) once said how disturbed he felt when mobs attacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) at Pune in January 2004. It reminded him of arson in many parts of Maharashtra, targeting Brahmins, after assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.
Writer Pratibha Ranade (famous for her first-hand account of Afghanistan and books on life and work of Rani Laxmibai & Durga Bhagwat) has given a chilling account of that period, describing what happened to her middle-class Brahmin family in Kolhapur when their cosy neighbourhood morphed into a mob.
Artist: Vasant Sarwate वसंत सरवटे 1973 (source- “Savadhan! Pudhe Valan Ahe!” Mauj Prakashan 1990)
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
He could as well have added one more- Ganga (Ganges) because he himself touchingly says:
“My grandfather, deeply religious and orthodox, would never have said something like “I am an Indian” in his whole life. Yet India was still an idea, a concept derived mostly from her rivers. When he drew water from our well and poured it over his head he recited a mantra which prayed that the waters of the Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswati, Narmada and Kaveri be present in the well-water of our home and sanctify him… Both globalised, rootless modernity and ferocious, fundamentalist communalism will weaken the Puranic sense of unity that is present among the people of India.”
My son, my wife and I might have stopped chanting names of rivers while bathing but I remember my mother doing it. I think it’s a beautiful tradition.
Business Standard September 04, 2007 says: “The Ganges figures on the list of the world's ten most endangered rivers, according to a report of the World Wide Fund for Nature. But the Ministry of Environment and Forests has claimed in Parliament that the quality of water has improved since 1985, when the first Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was launched… The World Health Organisation says that an estimated 114 towns release waste into the Ganges. The Centre for Science and Environment, which brought out a report on polluted rivers last year, has said the claim does not hold ground because the hardware created under the GAP is inadequate.”
Let us hope the government is right.
Julian Crandall Hollick has recently written a book “Ganga”. Business Standard has reviewed it.
“……how come Indians venerate the Ganga so much and yet seem bent on destroying it with such vigour with their pollution, dams and other acts of the most frightening vandalism?
Hollick has also taken the trouble to speak to many scientists whose views would not otherwise become known to the lay public. They appear to confirm what the godmen have been saying about the Ganga — that, thanks to the amount of dissolved oxygen in it, not to mention other things like its high rate of aeration and its amazing ability to retain dissolved oxygen, it is something of a scientific marvel.”
Do you want to read Hollick’s book?
Artist: Helen E. Hokinson The New Yorker 22 Feb 1947
Monday, September 03, 2007
“ "What we have found here proves that the Gauls were much more civilised than we thought," archaeology professor Matthieu Poux, who is heading the dig, told the Sunday Telegraph. "Until now Gauls for the French were people who lived in huts among the trees, frightening people. Parents will threaten to send their children to the Gauls if they did not go to sleep. But we have discovered large buildings and public spaces which prove there were Gauls of considerable social standing," he added.
Making a case for revision of the image of the Gauls in the comic book series, Poux is quoted as saying,"The Asterix albums will need to be completely rewritten, as they are based on the typical image of the Gauls which has been passed down through the centuries, one of a prehistoric man who lives in the forest. " However, there is resistance to the idea of revising the Asterix stories to reflect the new historical findings.”
Who has not been seduced by R K Narayan’s Malgudi,a South Indian village? Well, we all know most Indian villages are hellholes for the poor and the Dalits, far from romantic Malgudi.
Graham Greene created perhaps imaginary Greeneland full of tormented characters.
And finally, Springfield. A O Scott recently (NYT July 27,2007) wrote: ‘I have long been of the opinion that the entire history of American popular culture — maybe even of Western civilization — amounts to little more than a long prelude to “The Simpsons.” ‘. Where is Springfield on the map?
It doesn’t matter.
Asterix literature- perhaps based on fiction- needs no revision. Let us remember that Goscinny and Uderzo never gave "the village we know so well" a name.
Artist: Goscinny and Uderzo
Sunday, September 02, 2007
What did people who visited them wear? Histories seem to be silent.
Year 2007 seems to be a throw back to the old times. Jails are back in news- on front pages, prime time news and live television.
Times of India August 25, 2007 reports: "The Supreme Court on Friday saved former actor Monica Bedi, recently acquitted in a passport forgery case, from embarrassment by directing the information and broadcasting ministry to stop TV channels from telecasting her photographs taken secretly in a bathroom in Bhopal jail."
Celebrities are inside jails and visiting jails.
Asian Age August 31, 2007 reports: “Celebs dress down for jail visits, Stars and their family adopt a de-glam look for court and jail visits”.
A dress designer says: “I believe Katrina (Kaif) was appropriately dressed in a tunic and jeans because it projected a fusion look without appearing dowdy. Even Priya’s (Dutt) choice of fabric-Khadi was apt since she is a politician. But instead of wearing flowing kurtis, these ladies could have opted for simple but well-cut ones where they look chic- after all they are celebs and everyone’s eyes are going to be on them…
When item queen Rakhi Sawant made her recent unsuccessful trip to the Mumbai prison, the otherwise scantily clad actress was dressed soberly fully covered, and even had her spectacles on”
I hope when celebs dress down, they don’t meet a gunman…
Artist: Peter Arno The New Yorker September 20, 1947
Saturday, September 01, 2007
A Barber who Shaves you in Silence, without Drawing a Word from your Mouth or sharing any Gossip, and Cursing no one, is not a Barber at all
I was delighted to read Pamuk dwelling at length on barbers of Istanbul because my own relationship with barbers has been exciting. In early years of growing up, I hated their sight but since then I have always been aroused at the thought of visiting them. Indian films, particularly Marathi ones, have always portrayed barbers in all their colours.
Pamuk says: “…In those days Istanbul boasted many humour magazines, of which Vulture was the most distinguished; because their embroideries of news and enlargements of urban myths offered the fullest expression of this spirit of resistance, they were available in all barber shops of my childhood. Today, there is always a television blaring, drowning out older channels of communication and so greatly reducing the power of gossip and resistance in the city's coffee houses and barber shops; it should not come as a surprise that, with the advent of television, the golden age of Istanbul's humour magazines, which once enjoyed a combined circulation close to a million, also came to an end. (Years later, when I went to a barber shop in New York and saw that the men waiting to be served were given not a humour magazine but a copy of Playboy, I was not terribly surprised.) …….
When I was a boy waiting my turn at the barber shop, flicking through the pages of Vulture, stopping now and again to study locally drawn caricatures of citizens aghast at the prices of things, enjoying jokes about bosses and their secretaries, stories by the popular humorist Aziz Nesin, and cartoons lifted from western magazines, my ears were always alert to the conversations around me. Of course the topic discussed at the greatest length was football and the football pools. Some, like Toto, the head barber, would, as he moved among the three customers in the three chairs, offer up his thoughts on boxing or the horses, which he played from time to time. His barber shop, which bore the fanciful name Venus, was at the end of the passageway across the street from our house in Nisantasi. Toto was a tired and sulky man with white hair, and the other of the two older owners was irritable and bald, while the third owner was in his 40s and sported a thin Douglas Fairbanks moustache. I remember he was less interested in chatting with his customers about high prices, new shops in the neighbourhood, singers and stars of the day or domestic politics than he was in discussing international affairs and the state of the world…
… Once, after a customer had had his shave, taken off his apron, allowed the boy to comb his hair, given out his tips, and left the shop, the Fairbanks moustache-sporting owner, who had shown him such courtesy and deference only moments earlier, began to curse this man's mother and his wife: this was how I discovered that the adult world was populated by duplicitous types whose anger was deeper than anything I had known in my child's world. At the barber shops of my childhood, they used scissors, huge clippers they would angrily toss away when they didn't cut well, combs, cotton balls to keep hair out of the ears, cologne, powder and, for the grown-ups, cutthroat razors, shaving cream, shaving combs and white aprons. Today, apart from a handful of electric appliances - like the hair dryer - the tools have not changed much, and this must remind us that though Istanbul writers have never recorded their traditions, these barbers (who have been using these tools for centuries, gossiping as they work) must have been speaking in the same way for just as long…
Barbers also performed circumcisions and other small surgical procedures, some in their coffee houses and others in separate establishments: this gave them a central importance in Istanbul society..
That was when I understood that a barber who shaves you in silence, without drawing a word from your mouth or sharing any neighbourhood or political gossip, and cursing no one, is not a barber at all.“
At Miraj, until I turned nine or ten, Gangaram Gaikwad would visit our home to give us a crew cut. Later it was our turn to visit him once a month. Gangaram was a dapper looking young man who looked less of a barber and more of a photographer or a tailor. Gangaram’s shop, run jointly with his grim looking elder brother (he looked like a guy on the left in picture below), used to be always crowded and, even if it wasn’t, elders always jumped the queue to push us back. I remember some times it used to take hours to get the job done.
But all along Gangaram never stopped smiling, Radio Ceylon hummed and local gossip sizzled. I remember the late Vasant Pawar’s (one of the most talented music director of Marathi film industry who died young) Muslim female “consort” used to frequent the place to chat up with Gaikwad brothers and their clients.
For our monthly visit, we were incentivised with a rupee or two to buy peanuts for our return journey but I guess the real incentive was spending time at Gangaram’s shop, listening to adult gossip!
Atist: Frank Modell The New Yorker August 27, 1960