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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Is Earth Still Flat? Ask Aliens In Sicily

On May 11, 2007, FT reviewed a book - Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea by Christine Garwood.

“…it wasn’t Columbus’s Atlantic expedition which made people realise the world was spherical. Pythagoras and his school are credited as the first to make this observation in the 6th century BC. Aristotle may have thought that the earth was at the centre of the universe but he at least came up with proof that it was curved: the hull of a ship on the horizon sinks out of sight before the mast. So when ”Parallax”, one of the aliases used by snake-oil salesman Samuel Rowbotham, began to propound his flat-earth ideas in the 19th century, he was pushing back the clock by a good two millennia….

Garwood has produced an intriguing chronicle of 150 years of self-delusion, from Parallax in the mid-19th century to the late 20th century’s Charles Johnson, who pushed membership of the International Flat Earth Society of America well into triple figures

Instead of dishing out the ridicule which these fundamentalists invite, Garwood remains dispassionate and understanding.”

I liked the last part: author remains dispassionate and understanding and doesn’t ridicule.

Times of India on October 29, 2007 reported: Aliens caused bizarre blazes in Sicily three years ago
“Aliens from outer space testing their weapons may have caused a bizarre series of fires in a remote village in Sicily three years ago, an Italian government report says.

The attack, residents reported, led electrical appliances such as fridges, TVs and kettles to suddenly burst into flames. They also claimed to have seen UFOs flying overhead at the time of the fires.

Dozens of experts, including a scientist from the US space agency NASA were sent to investigate the bizarre blaze, in a two-year probe which cost the exchequer a whopping one million pounds.Now, a leaked Italian report has said that aliens were a likely cause of the fires in the remote village of Canneto di Caronia in Sicily. “

When I read this, I started laughing and soon turned angry but then Carl Sagan’s following words doused my fires.

“We are all flawed, and creatures of our time. Is it fair to judge as by the unknown standards of the future? Some of the habits of our age will doubtless be considered barbaric by later generations- perhaps for insisting that small children and even infants sleep alone instead of with their parents; or exciting nationalist passions as a means of gaining popular approval and achieving high political office; or allowing bribery and corruption as a way of life; or keeping pets; or eating animals and jailing chimpanzees; or criminalizing the use of euphoriants by adults; or allowing our children to grow up ignorant.”

Great minds like Newton too were flawed.

While reviewing The Fellowship: The Story of a Revolution By John Gribbin, The Economist said in August 2005:

“. Although scientists devised beautifully neat formulae to explain complicated phenomena, the scientific revolution itself was a messy business.
For a start, some natural philosophers refused to behave like scientists. Newton spent many of his best years working away on theology and alchemy, rather than dutifully laying down the foundations of modern physics. The experiments at the heart of the new philosophical method were often hard to replicate. Boyle's famous air pumps, for example, were always leaking. And by the 18th century, when the revolution really ought to have been over, armillary spheres were still being produced with the Ptolemaic and Copernican heavens side by side, as if the makers had hedged their bets.”

Therefore, we all need to work harder and stay focused to take science to the society.

Until we see them, Martians should firmly remain in delightful cartoons like the one below.

If earth was finally proven to be round, rewards of patience are rich!


Artist: James Stevenson The New Yorker 13 September 1958

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Grandma Stories Will Always Go Strong

Business Line reports on September 24, 2007: Grandma stories still going strong:

“In the age of hi-tech movies with brilliant sound effects, constant television, multimedia games and blockbuster book series of the likes of Harry Potter, the 'Ek tha raja, ek thi rani' type of stories of the yore narrated by grandmothers still remain uniformly popular among children across the world.
Fairytales, and tales of adventure of swashbuckling pirates and sailors, legends, myths and folklores predominantly form the substance of tales traditionally used to regale children over centuries remain an eternal favourite among children according to a large number of bards and authors who had gathered in the capital recently.

Hailing from across 18 countries they had come to participate in a storytelling conference organised by the Indian chapter of the International Board of Books for Young People, the Association of Writers and Illustrators for children.”

My son had a rare distinction. Until my mother passed away, he was one of the few in his class whose all four grand parents were alive! Since we stay very close to where my in-laws live, my son gets to spend lots of quality time with his maternal grandparents. How lucky!

We weren’t that lucky. We were estranged from my father’s family until I was 26. I never met my father’s mother, met very briefly my father’s father. My mother’s father passed away when I was only 5. I spent some quality time with my mother’s mother though.

I don’t think I heard too many stories from my grandparents. However, my mother filled the role of all our grandparents when it came to stories. Each dinnertime, for number of years, was a storytime. Panchtantra, Ramayan, Mahabharat, Shivaji (Hirkani was a favourite) dominated prime time.

Her father, for whom fact and fiction were often interchangeable, was a great raconteur! So too was my mother’s elder sister. Listening to Tai-mavashi’s narration of stories of Hindi films like Mehmood’s Sadhu Aur Shaitan (1968) and Bombay to Goa (1972) was a funnier experience than watching those films on big screen.

Listening to mother’s stories was like returning to her womb and falling asleep there.

The experience has been summed up very well by author Shrinivas Vinayak Kulkarni in his story: आम्ही वानरांच्या फौजा (We Monkey Armies, डोह,Mauj Prakashan, 1965).

Author’s grandma is telling him a story as he falls asleep:

तुम्ही अवतरले गोकुळी आम्ही गोपाळांच्या मेळी
तुम्ही होते रामराजा आम्ही वानरांच्या फौजा...

(You incarnated at Gokul, we in cowherd gathering
You were King Ram, we monkey armies)

Not everyone is of course impressed with being a grandma!


Artist: Peter Arno The New Yorker January 30 1960

Monday, October 29, 2007

Miss Drucker, Now Go For The Kill

Times of India on October 26, 2007 reports: Revealing clothes a no-no in office.

“An IT company received complaints from employees who found the dressing style of some employees objectionable and distracting, and hence the need to formulate a policy. Women security personnel are being deployed to check women employees.

Mini-skirts, spaghetti-strap dresses, halter-tops are a strict no-no. Sleevless tops unless draped by a jacket are not acceptable. Irrespective of the choice of attire, clothes with very low necks and backs should not be worn. Skirts that end above the knees, transparent clothing, capris, pyjamas, trousers with cut-offs, low waist jeans are also not acceptable.”

It’s very obvious from above laundry list (!) that the code is largely meant to curb sex appeal of women employees to their young colleagues and not-so-young managers.

This is very simplistic.

In our society, men in power-at home, society and office- kept women, of all castes and colours, down for far too long, the way the Dalits were oppressed. Women like the Dalits now are fighting back. They won't follow men's rule-book for the fight!

Social reformer and sexologist R D Karve’s mission was not just happy family life, emancipation of women, control of population etc but more. R D Karve wanted Indian women to have as much sexual freedom as men did. He wanted them to have as much sensual pleasure as men did.

When one spends most of her waking life at a workplace, she cannot be faulted if she sought few pleasures there.

Daily Mail of UK reported in February 2007: Forget hard work - women would rather flirt their way to the top.

“Forget the sisterhood - the majority of working women would rather have a male boss and flirt their way to the top, according to a survey.

Despite the fact that women often complain of inequality in the workplace, new research reveals that women will don high heels and rely on their feminine charms to get what they want.

Rather than combining strength with fellow female workers, they in fact see other women as the main competition.

As a result three out of five women would rather work directly for a man than a woman while a further 86 per cent would happily flirt with a male colleague if it meant they got their own way.

The survey, commissioned by magazine Harper's Bazaar, questioned 500 professional women with top jobs in finance, newspapers and healthcare about their attitudes to their office environments.

It found that while women continue to reach high-powered positions in the workplace, they are still prone to indulging in what could be described as typically female behaviour.

Crying in the loos was a common confession with 85 per cent of women admitting that they had locked themselves in the office toilet for a quick weep.

Despite striving for equality at work a third of women admitted to pretending to be less intelligent than they actually are to flatter a male ego and get ahead.

Seven out of ten women said that simply by wearing a pair of high heels to work they automatically felt more powerful and confident in their ability to deal with the working day.

Although only 58 per cent of women thought there was gender equality in the office, one in 25 admitted to selling out a female colleague for their own career gains.
Nearly 70 per cent confessed that they would secretly revel in seeing another colleague fail while one in five have taken the credit for someone else's work.

According to the research there is conflict between mothers and childless women in the workplace.

More than half of women thought that women with children held more power in the office to the disadvantage of those without. “


Artist: Robert Weber The New Yorker April 6, 1963

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Anju, Relax. Oceans May Be Rising But Don’t Start Packing Yet!

While talking to Newsweek (October 29, 2007), Rajendra Pachauri head of Nobel Prize winning the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says:

”… The 20th century sea level rise was about 17 centimeters. Our predictions for the end of this century are 18 to 59 centimeters. So even if we end up somewhere in the middle, we have a pretty serious crisis on our hands….

If you want to stabilize the concentration of greenhouse gases at the level that will limit temperature increases to 2 degrees to 2.4 degrees centigrade, the cost to the global economy in 2030 will be less than 3 percent….”

The Skeptical Environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg says (Prospect Magazine UK November 2007) :

”… the IPCC’s estimates show that oceans will rise between 18-59cm, and that the most likely scenario is around 30cm. That’s similar to what the planet experienced in the last 150 years and it (rather obviously) coped….

Rising temperatures will mean more heat waves, but the cold is a much bigger killer than the heat. By 2050, global warming will cause almost 400,000 more heat-related deaths each year. Yet at the same time, 1.8m fewer people will die from cold. In this respect, global warming will save lives...

If we eradicated malaria, we would not only do immediate good, but leave these nations more productive—estimates suggest they would be twice as rich by 2100—with more resilience and capacity to respond to climate change. Instead of saving one person from malaria through climate change policies, the same amount of money spent on malaria could save 36,000 people. This isn’t just an academic discussion—it's about helping real people now and in the future.”

Personally speaking cold bothers me a lot more than heat.

Last word in this debate is not spoken yet. Therefore, Anju relax,let us not start packing yet!


Artist: Robert J. Day The New Yorker 4 April 1959

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bhagat Singh Lives In Many Hearts, Lenin Just A Collectible

South Asia is celebrating Bhagat Singh’s 100th birth anniversary.

Supreme sacrifice of young Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev for a larger cause has motivated millions in the past and will continue to do so.

T S Shejwalkar has described in his essay of October 1930 what Motilal Nehru (more charismatic personality than his son) felt on meeting Bhagat Singh:”For the first time in my life, I met someone greater than me.”

Bhagat Singh was just 23 when hanged.

I have always been impressed with not just Bhagat Singh’s rugged good looks- wearing Western hat or prisoner’s chains- but his intellect. Man was an atheist and remained so till the end. He didn’t believe in rebirth. He must be one of the first famous people in India to talk about Charles Darwin’s work. Just for the appreciation of readers, he established a library of 175 books at Agra, where the Assembly bomb plan was finalised. As a revolutionary thinker, he encouraged the reading habit among his comrades and also debates on topical social and political issues.

His family was very eclectic and was open to diverse influences. It truly believed in a composite India and also practised it in the family.

He once said: “Up to that period (1925) I was a romantic revolutionary… That was a turning point in my revolutionary career;

“Study” was the cry that reverberated in the corridors of my mind. Study to enable yourself to face the arguments advanced by opposition. Study to arm yourself with arguments in favour of your cult. I began to study.

My previous faith and convictions underwent a remarkable modification. The romance of violent methods alone, which was so prominent amongst our predecessors, was replaced by serious ideas. No more mysticism, no more blind faith. Realism became our cult. Use of force justifiable when restored to as a matter of terrible necessity: non-violence as policy indispensable for all mass movements. So much about methods.

The most important thing was the clear conception of ideal for which we were to fight. As there were no important activities in the field of action, I got ample opportunity to study various ideals of world revolution. I studied Bakunin, the anarchist leader, something of Marx, the father of communism and much of Lenin, Trotsky and others – the men who had successfully carried out a revolution in their country.”

Bhagat Singh trusted Lenin and his revolution in Russia without realizing horrors of Russian revolution. George Orwell was to write “Animal Farm” only in 1945.

Brad DeLong:”Lenin was a really evil man. His followers and supporters slaughtered more than ten million of their fellow humans… for Communists, Lenin and Guevara are truly heroic. Standing as they did on the shoulders of the great Karl Marx, they saw deeply into the present and far into the future. They ran great personal risks and stood bravely against their adversaries as they struggled to bring about the revolutionary liberation of humanity.... we cannot view Lenin and Guevara as truly heroic, any more than we can view Hitler and Mussolini as truly heroic…”

In retrospect, I feel Bhagat Singh didn’t need Lenin. His native idealism, his ideas, his leadership qualities and his youthful good looks were more than enough to power his dreams.

Like in the picture below Lenin is being assigned to the dustbin of history while Bhagat Singh continues to rule many young hearts in India.


Artist: Eldon Dedini The New Yorker 27 Nov 1989

Friday, October 26, 2007

Dalits & Slaves as Stock Options in Our Celebrated and Mythologized History

Two of the sorriest chapters in human history are the practices of slavery and caste.

20th century Maharashtra produced some good books on the suffering of Dalits. But more needs to be researched and told. People need to know what it was to be a Dalit even in 19th century India.

Markus Rediker has written a book “The Slave Ship” reviewed by Adam Hochschild, author of “Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves”.

.” Most spasms of cruelty in history we know about largely through the testimony of victims. It is thanks to acts of witness by survivors like Primo Levi and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for instance, that we can begin to picture what life was like in Auschwitz and the gulag. There is no great trove of memoirs by retired concentration camp guards.

By contrast, a much more prolonged bout of suffering, the notorious Middle Passage across the Atlantic, on which more than 12 million Africans were embarked for the Americas over more than three centuries, we know about almost entirely from the perpetrators. There are few accounts of this voyage by slaves…

Like executives today, British slave merchants pressed their government for deregulation, and finally it obliged, canceling the Royal African Company’s guaranteed monopoly.

Just as corporate officers now get stock options, slave-ship officers received the extra compensation of a few “privilege” slaves they were permitted to buy, transport and sell for their own profit. Sometimes there were executive bonuses tied directly to performance, based on the number of slaves delivered.

And finally, those who succeeded in the business could seamlessly make the transition to politics, the way tycoons still do: former slave-ship captains sat in both the British House of Commons and the United States Senate (James D’Wolf of Rhode Island).

This complex tissue of normality makes one wonder what aspects of our own everyday business-as-usual people will, a century or two from now, be considered as horrendous as we think the slave trade was…

Humanly, the slave ship was the locus of unbelievable cruelty. To punish rebels, captains resorted to thumbscrews, red-hot pokers, strangling, the severing of limbs and more. Like the post of concentration-camp commandant, the job bred violence…

Violence cascaded downward from captain and officers to sailors to the enslaved. The slaves got the worst of it…”

In his own books, Adam Hochschild says:

"So rapidly were slaves worked to death, above all on the brutal sugar plantations of the Caribbean, that between 1660 and 1807, ships brought well over three times as many Africans across the ocean to British colonies as they did Europeans. And, of course, it was not just to British territories that slaves were sent. From Senegal to Virginia, Sierra Leone to Charleston, the Niger delta to Cuba, Angola to Brazil, and on dozens upon dozens of crisscrossing paths taken by thousands of vessels, the Atlantic was a vast conveyor belt to early death in the fields of an immense swath of plantations that stretched from Baltimore to Rio de Janeiro and beyond…

The world we live in -- its divisions and conflicts, its widening gap between rich and poor, its seemingly inexplicable outbursts of violence -- is shaped far less by what we celebrate and mythologize than by the painful events we try to forget.”

John Hawkyns has said:”…slavery did change the world. Millions of people were deracinated. Whole economies and empires were birthed and borne on the backs of kidnapped Africans. The development of the African continent itself was irreparably arrested as a result of the stolen legacies of its strongest people. So we are still dealing with the dreadful aftermath even today.”

If you look at our celebrated and mythologized history from the eyes of slaves and Dalits, the Pharaoh was nice only if he built small Pyramid because it meant little less flogging and torture!


Artist: James Stevenson The New Yorker 29 June 1963

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Can’t Write, Act, Draw, Play, Sing? You Haven’t Suffered Enough!

Times of India reported on October 23, 2007:
“Veteran film director Francis Ford Coppola has launched a blistering attack on three of the great actors he has directed.

The five-time Oscar winner took a surprise hit at Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson, saying he has become disappointed with them as they have grown older and richer.”

Coppola doesn’t feel that this has to do with their age: “You know, even in those days, after The Godfather, I didn't feel that those actors were ready to say, 'Let's do something else really ambitious.”

I am on the side of Coppola. Great art is often created out of hunger, suffering and insecurity.

Actor Dr. Shreeram Lagoo डाँ. श्रीराम लागू often defends his own crappy work in Hindi cinema saying he did it for money. I am not sure how much money he needed and for how long but in the process Marathi stage lost a promising artist who could have done some great and not just good work. Also, because of hamming he did in cinema, he surely lost a lot of his sensitivity as an actor.

Artist: Sam Cobean The New Yorker 17 Jan 1948

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mona Lisa Once Had Eyebrows But No Smile!

On October 23, 2007, newspapers world over printed Mona Lisa story very prominently.

Times of India: “Ultra-deatiled scans show Mona Lisa has eyebrows”.

Asian Age: “Scan shows Mona Lisa has lashes, eyebrows”.

Sure, but did she have a smile to begin with?


Artist: Charles Addams The New Yorker 12 April 1952

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pean to Potato

Business Line October 22, 2007 has published an AFP story on potato “Diplomatic tool, humbler of leaders, unifier of nations

To begin with,personal disclaimer:
Potato not just sustains lives of my son and I but gives us ultimate gastronomic pleasure. My wife though could get by without it.

I often think a writer like Dnyaneshwar (along with Tukaram, the best Marathi produced) was handicapped not because of absence of 21st century toys and gadgets in his 13th century but he didn’t know potato (introduced in India in late 16th / early 17th century), chilli (introduced in India in late 15th century) and dinosaurs (discovered in 19th century).

Imagine how more powerful metaphors and imagery Dnyaneshwar would have created if he knew potato, chilli and T-rex!

AFP story says: “Few vegetables can claim to have shaped nations, sent the economy of a country tumbling, or played a starring role in diplomatic spats. But the humble potato can….

The impact of the humble tuber stretches back centuries. The population of Ireland was cut in half in the mid 1800s after the potato crop failed and a four-year famine ensued. The then agriculture-based Irish economy crumbled and the population plummeted from eight million to four million, through deaths from hunger and emigration.
It only surpassed the four million mark in the 1990s, when Ireland entered an economic boom.The massive wave of emigration from Ireland, sparked by the potato famine, shaped politics and history not only locally but also in the United States, the destination for the vast majority of those who left…”

In 1997, Tony Blair, British Prime Minister, apologized to Ireland for the famine which caused 1 million deaths. Many Irish people believe that Britain, which controlled the land, was more than negligent -- that it in fact worsened the problem by allowing the profitable export of grain and cattle from Ireland even as the poor starved.

(Btw- I wonder if Britain ever apologized to India for the Bengal famine of 1943 that occurred in British administered Bengal. It is estimated that 1.5-3 million people died from starvation and malnutrition during the period.)

And finally, what does potato on the plate have to do with the one on couch?

“British potato farmers have marched on the houses of parliament in London to demand that the term "couch potato" be removed from the dictionary. They argued the expression - which is derived from the slang word for a television, "tube", which gave rise to "tubers" for those who spent hours hunkered down on the sofa gazing at it - gave the impression that potatoes are bad for the health and, therefore, bad for their business.”


‘You want us to go up the hill to fetch a pail of water? Not now we’re watching TV.’

The Spectator September 8, 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

Harold Robbins, Henry Miller-All They Talk is Sex, Sex, Sex

Andrew Wilson has written a book on Harold Robbins “The Man Who Invented Sex” reviewed by TOM CARSON for NYT October 21, 2007.

“…If you’ve ever wondered just when quality literature and commercial fiction parted ways for good with a shudder, call him Harold Rubicon… The real pity is that, stamina aside, Robbins was talentless, and he made his preferred subject matter radioactive for more gifted novelists for a number of years…”

I have read just one book of Robbins-“ A Stone for Danny Fisher” but I have read a lot more of Henry Miller, whose writing became a cult.

Khushwant Singh pretends that he is obsessed with sex and may like the title-"Man Who Invented Sex"-for his future obit, in his favourite Outlook magazine. But it’s just a put-on. His writing is always sensuous but never pornographic.

In the end, for me Miller and Robbins will be remembered only for titillation.

Graham Greene: “…All the same pornography has no place in a serious book…It’s not the posture of people in bed which reveals their characters. You don’t advance the story by giving details of their favourite positions. You merely attract the reader’s attention towards very trivial points.

People who read Henry Miller, for example, expect to come upon this or that pornographic scene. It is not the characters that interest them but their own arousal. So they read on even more quickly, hoping to come across the next pornographic passage…I’ve nothing against pornographic books as such, but don’t let us call them literature.” (“The Other Man- Conversations with Graham Greene” by Marie-Francoise Allain, 1981)


Artist: Alan Dunn The New Yorker 12 June 1948

Sunday, October 21, 2007

After Getting Shot Through Eye, Buddha Still Smiles

MICHAEL KIMMELMAN (NYT October 13, 2007) commenting on attempts to destroy famous art says:

“…Thanks to its historic authority, the aura of Picasso’s “Guernica” has become like a bubble or halo that psychologically separates it from the gazing mobs, never mind that there’s no longer a glass wall. Standing before it, you can almost imagine that it has, historically speaking, passed beyond harm — that to attack it now would only make the picture a martyr, that it’s indestructible…”

Destruction of art always brings to my mind felling of the Bamyan Buddhas.

I have never been to Afghanistan but have often imagined what the sight must have been in Bamyan valley on a glorious winter morning few centuries ago. Perhaps a lot like Gomateshwara of Shravanabelgola, Karnataka who seems to be staring at us all the time, as you drive towards or away from him or even much later. He is here, there and every where.

Times of India wrote a great editorial on March 5, 2001 on the Taliban act.

“The Buddha would have been amused at the headlines describing the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statue by the Taliban. The Buddha cannot be blasted nor can he be bombarded. To mistake the likeness of the Buddha made by human hands and not to take part in a communion with the essence of the Buddha is to miss the message of impermanence, non-spirit and suffering of the Mighty Intellect.

The artist who visualised the Bamiyan Buddha would have first invoked, as per tradition, the moods of friendliness, compassion, sympathy and impartiality. He would not be driven by considerations of self-expression nor ideas of connoisseurship and aestheticism. The state of mind and the importance of the idea itself was all important.

All these virtues are sadly amiss in the hearts and minds of those who are breaking ancient monuments in Afghanistan as well as those who seem to be protesting about such vandalism.

In the Divyavadana, Upagupta asks Mara, who has the power of assuming shapes at will, to take the likeness of the Buddha. Upagupta bows in reverence to this figure, which shocks Mara. Upagupta says that he is not worshipping Mara but the person represented by Mara:"Just as people venerating earthen images of the undying angels do not revere the clay as such, but the immortals represented therein."

The least that can be said about the events in Afghanistan is that these are the triumph of the slave mentality, the main characteristic of which is the spirit of revenge. The ideal typical slave is incapable of forgetting, unable to love, admire or respect. Such individuals constantly impute wrong to others and perpetually blame the whole world for real and imagined wrongs. They cannot give or create.

In other words, there are Taliban-like organisations, individuals and symptoms within India which are as intolerant and brutal as their counterparts in Afghanistan. The sangh parivar for long has represented and actively promoted this negative strand in Indian society. Acharya Giriraj Kishore's reaction to the happenings in Afghanistan is indicative of the cult of hatred and mindless recriminations that the sangh parivar has promoted. Where were these self-righteous guardians of Indian heritage when the Babri Masjid was destroyed? If the statues in Bamiyan are `our' heritage, then so is the Babri Masjid. Instead, the Taliban and the sangh parivar have sought to divide the world into `us' and `them', between `friend' and `foe'. What is common to both is a very literal interpretation of Islam and Hinduism, without remotely understanding the essence of either faith.

Also, the sad state of our museums and monuments suggests that our concern for heritage is extremely superficial. What the Taliban has done in a couple of days is being systematically done slowly and steadily for the past fifty years…”


A fresco of Buddha defaced by a bullet at a temple in central Tibet

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Some Times It’s Good to Hush Up During Fall

Fall season started in US on September 23.

Falls there are very beautiful. I particularly found the one of Washington DC, on the banks of Potomac, very haunting.

Celebrated spy Kim Philby says in his autobiography “My Silent War” (1968): “…The sumac was still in flower and gave me a foretaste of the famous fall, one of the few glories of America which Americans have never exaggerated because exaggeration is impossible

In India Shishir Ritu will start on December 22 this year.

In introduction to B S Mardhekar’s first poetry book “शिशिरागम” ("Shishir's Arrival", first published by the poet at his own cost! Now part of collection -Mardhekar's Poems), S B Ranade says:

“झाङाने टाकले, हिमतुषारांनी गोंजारले, गारांनी झोङपले अणि उत्तरवार्यानें गिरक्या खात उन्हातान्हांत सोडले. आता पुन्हा तोच उत्तरवारा त्या पानांचे शुष्क सांगाडे एकत्र करीत करीत तेथे आला अणि म्हणाला- “

Mardhekar(बा. सी. मर्ढेकर) himself says in opening poem:

सूरकशाचे वातावरणी?
सळसळ पानांची? वा झरणी
खळखळ, ओहोटीचे पाणी?
किलबिल शिशिरी केविलवाणी?

कुणास ठाउक! डोळ्या पाणी
व्यर्थ आणतां; नच गार्हाणी
अर्थ; हासुनी वाचा सजणी.
भास! -- जरी हो खुपल्यावाणी.

and little later

शिशिरर्तुच्या पुनरागमे,
एकेक पान गळावया
कां लागतां मज येतसे
न कळे उगाच रडावया.



(click on the picture above to get its larger view)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pune Roads, What a Silly Place to Walk?

Times of India on October 15, 2007 reports “Oldies walking on danger path”.

This blog first visited vulture culture of Pune motorists here.

I have been to many cities of India and the world but I have never met people as rude as motorists in Pune.

When I first went to Mumbai and attempted crossing the road at Opera House, I was overwhelmed but not scared. Cars were helping me cross and not trying to crush me to asphaltic death.

At Pune even on small roads, I feel scared as drivers seem to be rushing towards me. They follow me if I run. They seem to enjoy my panic. They make me sick.

Few years ago an old woman grabbed my hand at Deccan Gymkhana to ask my help to cross the road.

I see no hope for Pune’s old and poor unless some drastic measure are undertaken. Today the only way to beat Pune motorist is to become one!

TOI’s Gitesh Shelke reports :
“…These three accidents are not isolated cases as the city continues to register an increasing number of accidents involving senior citizens, ranging from minor injuries to fatal.

Statistics available with the city traffic police revealed that in the year 2005 as many as 24 senior citizens were killed, 19 were seriously injured and 61 sustained minor injuries in various accidents. The number of fatal accidents increased to 32 in 2006. This year so far 18 serious accidents has been registered while 61 minor accidents were reported.

This year, as many as 14 senior citizens were killed on the road, 12 sustained serious injuries while 46 sustained minor injuries in various road accidents by the end of June.

Suresh Bhoomkar, assistant commissioner of police (ACP, traffic), said that fatalities involving senior citizens usually take place while either crossing the roads or driving two/four-wheelers or while travelling in public or private vehicles.

However, records showed that majority of the citizens have been killed while crossing or walking on the roads. Sangramsinh Nishandar, ACP, traffic, pointed out that motorists, especially two-wheeler riders were insensitive towards the elderly…”

When Pune motorists watch a pedestrian crossing, they say “What a Silly Place to Walk”.


Artist: Anatol Kovarsky The New Yorker 10 May 1947

Females are always cheaper. Even on Durgashtami.

Times of India’s Kounteya Sinha reported on October 12, 2007:
“…Over 40% of women in a nationwide survey reported being beaten by their husbands at some point of time. More shockingly, around 54% of the women surveyed thought that such violence was justified on one ground or the other.

According to India’s most comprehensive National Family Health Survey-III, which interviewed 1.25 lakh women in 28 states and the national capital during 2005-06, 41% of women justified wife beating if it was because they showed disrespect towards their in-laws while 35% women were OK with being brutally assaulted by their husbands if they neglected household chores or their children.

Not surprisingly then, 51% of the 75,000 men interviewed didn’t find anything wrong with assaulting their wives. “

Older the civilization, more the hypocrisy? I feel so as we celebrate Durgashtami today.


Artist: Perry Barlow The New Yorker 5 June 1948

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lost in Translation: Shivaji, Tolstoy and Hemingway.

Newsweek October 15, 2007 reports that two new English translations of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace “ are being published.

Malcolm Jones says: “Over its lifetime, the book has become a yardstick for quality—and sometimes just a yardstick. "As long as 'War and Peace' ..." is a comparison understood even by people who have never cracked its covers”.

“War and Peace” is arguably the greatest novel ever written.

Sane-guruji has spoken at length about enriching Marathi by getting world’s best in it through translation. He himself translated a few great books into Marathi (See at the bottom of this post selection of his translation work). But Marathi has remained quite poor when you count the number of great books it still doesn’t have.

I bought “War and Peace” (translator not named, Jainco Publishers, New Delhi) in July 2007, cracked its covers alright but never went beyond page two! I remember writer Sunita Deshpande सुनीता देशपांडे writing to another writer G A Kulkarni जी ए कुलकर्णी in a letter that she finished reading it. It sounded more like a relief than a celebration! I think G A himself never read it! His tastes in literature were often arcane.

Translators of two versions are now fighting over quality of their translation. One says: "… all the previous translations left things out and got things wrong.”
Translation is quite a tricky art.

Vilas Sarang has written at length how poorly P L Deshpande translated Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” into Marathi. Pu La should have known better as he himself, quite delightfully, has spoken about difficulties of translating many words and concepts from Marathi into English.

The best example of importance of quality of translation has come from D G Godse द ग गोडसे. He wrote an essay “...For me, (my) land’s defence (is) self-essential” (....इं कसरा मुहफिजते वतन ख़ुद लाज़िम) now part of his book “Shakti Saushthav” (Popular Prakashan 1972).

The essay is about a famous letter in Farsi sent by Shivaji (scribe-Nil Prabhu Munshi) to Aurangzeb circa 1664-65.

Godse proves how badly it has been translated by number of historians like Jadunath Sarkar, Riyasatkar Sardesai, Babasaheb Purandare. They have failed us. They deprived us of a great thing of beauty. The letter has such literary qualities that it needed great sensitivity and deep knowledge of Farsi to be translated. Some Farsi experts even claim that Shivaji has quoted few lines from old Farsi poetry, most likely from Shahnama.

With the help of Farsi experts, Godse then attempts a translation of the letter from Farsi into Marathi.

When I read it, my respect for Shivaji went up several notches. He indeed is a worthy successor of Ashok and Akbar.

Loss was entirely mine that the letter was not taught to me in my school. It’s my poverty that I still don’t read Farsi. How can I even attempt to fully appreciate the work of Shivaji unless every historian shows sensitivity of Godse?


Artist: Barney Tobey The New Yorker 20 Apr 1963

(Newspaper strike in US began on Dec 8, 1962 and lasted for 114 days. Obviously people like me cannot finish "War and Peace" in those many days!)

Selection of Sane-guruji's translation work: Meek Heritage,The Mayor of Casterbridge, Leo Tolstoy: Resurrection, The Black Tulip, Les Miserables, The Cloister and the Hearth,Tolstoy-What Is Art?, The Story of Philosophy

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Charming Saxophone of Pandit Coltrane and Manohari Singh

From October 14, 2007 onwards, Manohari Singh, number one Saxophonist in the world of Hindi film music, has been speaking to Vividh Bharati on his art.

I remember vividly posters of Dev Anand’s Guide displayed all over Miraj circa 1965. It was exhibited at Deval talkies. I wanted to watch the film. My father flatly refused. Quite rightly so because Guide has nothing to offer to a five/six year old boy!

But why did I want to watch it? Its songs, particularly “Gata Rahe Mera Dil”. Manohari Singh has famously played sax in it.I guess I started liking Jazz instruments because of artists like Singh

You can hear Manohari’s sax when you listen to many famous songs like – “Bedardi Balma Tujh Ko” (Arju), unforgettable “Zindagi Bhar Nahin Bhoolegi Woh Barsat Ki Rat” (Barsat Ki Rat), “Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai” (Kati Patang), “Tere Mere Sapne Ab Ek Rang” (Guide), “Hai duniya usiki, zamaana usika” (Kashmir Ki Kali) etc.

Led by C Ramchandra and R D Burman, some great Jazz-inspired music has been created in Hindi film industry.

This was not unprecedented. Great Tyagaraja composed a raga after listening to western band at the Thanjavur Maratha court of 18th Century. (Source- RGK of Times of India)

Then one day in 1984, I heard John Coltrane’s album “Blue Train” at Rhythm House, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai.

In December 2002, I wrote on Amazon.com about the experience:
“I bought this album in Mumbai, India way back in 1984. I had then not heard much about Coltrane. I was and still not into any form of western music. But I like Indian classical Music. And Coltrane moved me beyond my wildest imagination. Even today when I hear "I'm old fashioned", tears come to my eyes. For me,he is Pandit Coltrane!”

The Economist (Sep 8 2006) said:” Ask any fan or critic to nominate the most influential jazz figures of the past 50 years and two names will invariably come up: John Coltrane, saxophonist extraordinary, and Miles Davis, trumpeter…

Coltrane was a man on a mission. During his time with Davis, he confronted and defeated his addictive demons, a victory he attributed to “a spiritual awakening” that prompted a lifelong commitment “to play music that would make people happy”. Not just make them happy, in fact, but elevate them to another plane. For Coltrane, music became more than mere entertainment. It was also the means by which he pursued an ecstatic personal quest, every time he played.

His spiritual hunger was matched by exhaustive practice. He sometimes literally fell asleep with his horn in his hands, and his knowledge of harmony, scales and modes was encyclopedic.”

Snake charmer below is supposed to be using PUNGI for the job. Pungi is nothing but a double clarinet with the difference being the mouthpieces of the Indian instrument is concealed in a large gourd.

Surely Coltrane’s sax would work the charm!

Artist: Otto Soglow The New Yorker 28 Oct 1939

Monday, October 15, 2007

We’re in Luck. Here’s one Who Loves India and Speaks Hindustani.

Acquiring and dishing out perspective on an alien country is extremely difficult and time consuming. Many Chinese, Arabs and Europeans did it before the dawn of 20th century but since then it hasn’t been easy.

This blog has already expressed gratitude towards masters like Paul Theroux, J K Galbraith, William Dalrymple and to large extent V S Naipaul for their perspective on India and Indians.

Today I wish to add Phillips Talbot to the list. A G Noorani, golden hand at Frontline, has introduced him to me and my world is much richer for this.

“…There was nothing inevitable about Partition. On January 10, 1940, Talbot wrote: “The Muslim League and the Congress are pulling in opposite directions, leaving the British to keep the peace. And the League’s solution for the impasse? To carve India up into a Hindu country and a Muslim country, or at least into two federations within the gossamer net of a confederation. The trouble is that the Muslims themselves – to say nothing of other interests – haven’t yet agreed on any scheme which makes partition practical.” Jinnah’s letter to the London weekly Time and Tide (January 19, 1940) spoke of “two nations who both must share the governance of their common motherland” so that “India may take its place amongst the great nations of the world” (emphasis added throughout.) That implies not partition but power-sharing in a united India which, despite his two-nation theory, he wished to rank among the “great nations of the world”…

Communal elements in the Congress needed no help from the League. Nehru noted in his Autobiography in 1936 that “many a Congressman was a communalist under his nationalist garb” (page 136). That included men who came to wield power at the Centre and in the States. Patel, Pant, Sampurnanand and Tandon, Ravi Shankar Shukla, B.C. Roy and Morarji Desai besides others. Rajaji provided a sterling exception until his death.

India is undergoing a Hinduistic resurgence. A political generation dominated by the Pakistan issue has stimulated what I suppose may be the most vigorous wave of sheer Hinduism since Buddhism was ejected from India. To take one small example: despite high-level statements of impartiality, the United Provinces has adopted Hindi, the Sanskrit derivative closely associated with Hinduism, as its official language instead of the mixed Hindustani of Sanskritic-Persian origins which Muslims prefer and which Gandhi recommended. Muslims in various Indian provinces are drastically on the defensive; many Hindus act as if they had entered the promised land. (An equal but opposite condition exists in Pakistan.) Politically the Congress remains the dominant organisation in India, and one-party rule seems indicated so long as the present veteran leadership keeps its grip. The Congress retains some of its old conglomerate character, but Hinduistic and bloated financial interests are extremely influential despite Nehru’s resistance.

One of the most dangerous features of continued controversy between India and Pakistan is the prospect that communal organisations of fascist character may thrive on the disputes .

Corruption in public life is gross. Large-scale bribery and refusal to pay income tax are phenomena of the final war years of the British period when contracts and the operation of various controls involved millions of rupees. This is an economic factor that the new government has inherited. Important members of the Congress as well as businessmen are involved.

Generally speaking, Indians’ nerves are raw. Every issue tends to produce a crisis. An oversensitive nationalistic spirit is visible. Public irresponsibility surges ahead of government action. Again, a similar condition exists in Pakistan. Neither Dominion government, therefore, is able to guarantee implementation of its promises to the other.

To think of India as a starving, bankrupt, primitive and uncivilised country seems to me to be as narrow as to speak of America as a country only of ironclad Darktowns, Lower East Side New Yorks, and Near West Side Chicagos. The other side of the medal is that India is living up to her brilliant intellectual heritage. She has been called the mother of philosophy, and the debt of her children in other lands has been put by Max Muller in words marked more by fervour than moderation. But the important point today is that the attainment of a world point of view is a serious subject of thought and discussion in India among circles whose counterparts in America ordinarily quibble over the relative merits of Cubs and Giants. Economists working with or separately from British economists have developed an approach to national problems which is sound, progressive and forward-looking. Literature in Bengali, Urdu and other languages includes modern works that authorities who judge by world standards call significant; certainly Tagore and Iqbal could hardly be called provincial figures. In science too the country is holding up her head, pointing among her sons to three Nobel Prize winners and to a challenge to Einsteinism, which I do not pretend to understand, that has been accepted by academies of at least three countries. India has contributed professors to Oxford and American universities, editors to London publishers, religious leaders to the world. But those are her bright individuals. Among the less select circle of ordinary educated people there is breadth of culture that is sometimes missed by outsiders because it is not all in English. Few in our country know Greek and Aramaic as some of these people know Arabic and others Sanskrit. Few can recite Latin poetry with the delight that these people find in Persian couplets and the Ramayana. But even more general than that, the conversational level among educated Indians is high. Their interests are broad and their tongues usually adept at expression. They are cultured.”

This last point is after my heart: “breadth of culture that is sometimes missed by outsiders because it is not all in English”. It’s missed even by the insiders these days because they are not paying enough attention to the knowledge available in native languages of India.

My placard in the picture below would read- Yankee, Come Back soon!

Artist: Mischa Richter The New Yorker 13 Aug 1960

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why Aren’t There UFO’s Over Urban India?

I was shocked and saddened to read in Times of India September 9, 2007: “Today's hot fad: Rewind to your previous lives

“Scared of flying? Maybe you died in an aircrash 300 years ago. Can’t perform in bed? You might have suffered abuse in a previous birth. In a country where the concept of reincarnation is as old as life itself, it isn’t surprising that past life regression therapy (PLRT) has become the hottest treatment for upwardly mobile Indians demanding answers to all their life’s problems…”

On reading Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World”, brilliant egotist Richard Dawkins exclaimed:”I wish I had written the book”.

Yes, I wish Dawkins wrote his books more like Sagan.

I acquired the book in 2003, six years after its publication. I have since then read it almost every week. No one writes better prose in English than Sagan. He is George Orwell of science writing.

Sagan says: “The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudo-science and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance. “

But he is not just skeptical.

“Both skepticism and wonder are skills that need honing and practice. Their harmonious marriage within the mind of every schoolchild ought to be a principal goal of public education."

This book should be a text in our schools from grade five onwards. Newspapers should serialize the book and once finished, they should start all over again!

I wonder why those millions of upwardly mobile Indians who are taken in by pseudo-science (rebirth, astrology, godmen etc. etc.) and superstition don’t sight UFO’s. If world’s ‘greatest democracy’ has hundreds of UFO sightings every year, why shouldn’t world’s ‘largest democracy’ have matching numbers?

Is it because of dense air pollution in urban India?

Artist: James Thurber The New Yorker 11 Sept 1948

Girls, Now Who Is Going To Read Me Sherlock Holmes Tonight?

Durga Bhagwat दुर्गा भागवत ‘pardoned’ Indira Gandhi- against whose tyranny she fought tooth and nail- because lndira composed a passable poem on Henry David Thoreau! (source- Pratibha Ranade's excellent biography of Durga Bhagwat)

Similarly, I tend to pardon the British Empire somewhat because it gave us Sherlock Holmes. So many stories of Holmes have India in them. Portrayed rather lovingly.

I read Sherlock Holmes in Marathi first and fell in love with this eccentric genius. Later in early 1980’s when I saw Jeremy Brett playing Holmes on TV, I started imitating him! My wife says I still do, eccentric part of it!

Two new books on Arthur Conan Doyle are recently released (September 2007).

The Economist says: “…The Sherlock Holmes stories continue to exercise extraordinary power. The writing is never more than efficient but the setting remains perennial: the comfortable, carpeted, fire-lit Baker Street sitting room shared by Holmes and Watson, the paradoxically womblike world of a Victorian bachelor set above an anarchic underworld full of violence and immorality. Doyle's literary masterstroke was dividing the story between Holmes and Watson. It was a device the writer used frequently but never as effectively as here…”

Quite shockingly FT says:”… But please note: Holmes never said “Elementary, my dear Watson”, P.G. Wodehouse did. “

And The Spectator says: “…Why were the Holmes books so popular that the last autocratic Sultan of Turkey, a man with a thousand concubines, used to have them read aloud to him in translation in what spare time was left? …What did they have that a thousand women above the Bosphorus could not supply? I read this book through without getting an answer.”

Now when you see the picture below, don’t read speech balloon given by Carl Rose first but instead read title of this blog-post.

Artist: Carl Rose The New Yorker 4 Dec 1948

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Generation N of India

Thomas L. Friedman writes “Generation Q” ( NYT October 10, 2007): “I just spent the past week visiting several colleges — Auburn, the University of Mississippi, Lake Forest and Williams — and I can report that the more I am around this generation of college students, the more I am both baffled and impressed.

I am impressed because they are so much more optimistic and idealistic than they should be. I am baffled because they are so much less radical and politically engaged than they need to be…

It’s for all these reasons that I’ve been calling them “Generation Q” — the Quiet Americans, in the best sense of that term, quietly pursuing their idealism, at home and abroad.

But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good. When I think of the huge budget deficit, Social Security deficit and ecological deficit that our generation is leaving this generation, if they are not spitting mad, well, then they’re just not paying attention…

…“Courage.” That is what real activism looks like. There is no substitute. ”

I feel the same about Indian university students. They have turned so conformist. Didn’t J Krishnamurti say: “To be young means to be bold”?

I am too young to forget and too old not to have seen Jayaprakash Narayan’s second independence movement, peopled by university students across the country, during 1975-76.

Today’s youth, at least those in public domain, are largely sons, daughters, nephews and nieces of established, wealthy politicians. How can they rebel? They need to be rebelled against!

In another scathing essay “The Fakebook Generation” ( NYT October 6, 2007), ALICE MATHIAS writes: “…Facebook purports to be a place for human connectivity, but it’s made us more wary of real human confrontation…

...For young people, Facebook is yet another form of escapism; we can turn our lives into stage dramas and relationships into comedy routines….”

Generation pretending to be active but essentially numb!


Artist: Perry Barlow The New Yorker 9 October 1948

To Play Prisoner's Dilemma Effectively Deploy Gandhian TIT FOR TAT

The Economist September 29, 2007 says: “A version of the “prisoner's dilemma” may suggest ways to break through the Kyoto impasse.”

What is Prisoner's Dilemma?

“In it, two prisoners accused of the same crime find themselves in separate cells, unable to communicate. Their jailers try to persuade them to implicate one another. If neither goes along with the guards, they will both receive a sentence of just one year. If one accepts the deal and the other keeps quiet, then the turncoat goes free while the patsy gets ten years. And if they both denounce one another, they both get five years.

If the first prisoner is planning to keep quiet, then the second has an incentive to denounce him, and so get off scot-free rather than spend a year in prison. If the first prisoner were planning to betray the second, then the second would still be better off pointing the finger, and so receive a five-year sentence instead of a ten-year one. In other words, a rational, self-interested person would always betray his fellow prisoner. Yet that leaves them both mouldering in jail for five years, when they could have cut their sentences to a year if they had both kept quiet.

Pessimistic souls assume that the international response to climate change will go the way of the prisoner's dilemma. Rational leaders will always neglect the problem, on the grounds that others will either solve it, allowing their country to become a free-rider, or let it fester, making it a doomed cause anyway. So the world is condemned to a slow roasting, even though global warming could be averted if everyone co-operated…”.

I first read about Prisoner's Dilemma in the essay by Douglas R. Hofstadter (now part of his book “Metamagical Themas, Penguin 1985) for Scientific American (May 1983).

It was an eye opener. I learnt you don’t have to be clever and cunning to be effective

A menacing sounding but actually very simple strategy, translated in a computer program called “TIT FOR TAT”, wins against very complex and cunning strategies.

TIT FOR TAT uses a very simple tactic:
Cooperate on move 1;
thereafter , do whatever the other player did the previous move


Today we are talking of Prisoner's Dilemma for climate change, yesterday it was about cold war and nuclear weapons, tomorrow it will about something else.

For the complex global issues and our every day mundane ones let us never forget elegant and effective TIT FOR TAT.

Let us not waste our time like the “clever prisoners” are doing in Alan Dunn's picture below.


Artist: Alan Dunn The New Yorker 6 Nov 1948

Friday, October 12, 2007

Horse is No Longer High but How Terrible is the Deterioration in Myself!

First day of Navratri (this year October 12) kicks off a festival season in Maharashtra that ends only with the wedding of Tulsi (this year Nov 24),long after Diwali.

During my schooldays at Miraj, courtyard of Ambabai temple used to hold annual fair. The most attractive objects for me there were kites and clay figurines of Maratha warriors. Another attraction was the godess herself who would change her carrier every day during the nine day festival.

George Orwell on his schooldays "Such, Such Were The Joys":

"…In a way it is only within the last decade that I have really thought over my schooldays, vividly though their memory has haunted me. Nowadays, I believe, it would make very little impression on me to see the place again, if it still exists. And if I went inside and smelled again the inky, dusty smell of the big schoolroom, the rosiny smell of the chapel, the stagnant smell of the swimming bath and the cold reek of the lavatories, I think I should only feel what one invariably feels in revisiting any scene of childhood:
How small everything has grown, and how terrible is the deterioration in myself!"

And finally Marathi poet B S Mardhekar (बा. सी. मर्ढेकर) on his days bygone:

किती तरी दिवसांत
नाहीं चांदण्यात गेलों;
कितीतरी दिवसांत
नाहीं नदीत डुंबलो.

खुल्या चांदण्याची ओढ़
आहे माझी ही जुनीच;
आणि वाहत्या पाण्याची
शीळ ओळखीची तीच.

केव्हा तरी चांदण्यात
पुन्हा जाईन निर्भय;
गांवाकाठच्या नदीत
होईन मी जलमय.

आज अंतरांत भीती
खुल्या चांदण्याची थोड़ी;
आणि नदीचा प्रवाह
अंगावर कांटा काढी.

बरा म्हणून हा इथें
दिवा पारवा पारयाचा;
बरी तोतरया नळाची
शिरी धार, मुखी ऋचा.

Artist: Whitney Darrow,Jr. The New Yorker 17 July 1948

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hoisting Saffron Flag On Attock To Pave Way for Union Jack on Shaniwar-Wada

It was interesting to read Mr. Irfan Husain’s article “Fault lines in the mind” in Dawn on September 29, 2007.

“…In the September issue of National Geographic, Don Belt writes in a long piece on Pakistan:
“If there is an address, an exact location for the rift tearing apart Pakistan, and possibly the world, it is a spot 17 miles west of Islamabad called the Margalla Pass. Here … two ancient and very different civilisations collide. To the southeast … lie the fertile lowlands of the Indian subcontinent… To the west and north stretch the harsh, windswept mountains of Central Asia … where man fears one God and takes no prisoners…”

… I would personally place the fault line at Attock, where the Indus meets the Kabul River. For centuries, this was the point on the Grand Trunk Road that divided Afghanistan and India. Indeed, the British decision to push this boundary forward to the Khyber Pass that marks the present Durand Line has been the subject of much bitterness in Kabul. To this day, the Afghan government has refused to accept this border.

Much of Pakistan’s woes in the region can be traced back to this re-drawing of frontiers by the British for their own imperial interests. So to some extent, the insurrection in the tribal area on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border can be viewed as a national struggle over lost territory.

But Belt is right in pointing out the geographical and cultural influences that differentiate the two vast regions. The lowlands are home to Sufi saints and gurus, and their shrines that have traditionally provided spiritual solace to the many different peoples inhabiting the subcontinent. Temples, churches and mosques have co-existed peacefully for centuries. But from across Attock have come waves of Muslim warriors who spread death and destruction in the early half of the last millennium. Temples were destroyed by the hundreds, and an incalculable number of Hindus killed and enslaved.

Over time, many of these fierce horsemen settled in India, forming their own fiefdoms and kingdoms. They were tamed and civilised, and gradually adapted to the local way of life. However, their brethren in Afghanistan remained rooted in their primitive tribal ways, with Islam providing a unifying overlay.”

Attock is part of consciousness of almost every educated Marathi speaking person. They are taught that Maratha Empire at its zenith reached beyond Attock. Horses of Maratha warriors drank water of River Sindhu.

T S Shejwalkar- arguably the best historian and thinker on Maratha history- wrote “Panipat 1761” (first published in 1961 to coincide with 200th anniversary of the battle). I keep reading the book from time to time. After reading Mr. Husian, I re-read parts of it.

I always find something there I didn't find earlier!

Maratha chieftains sound and behave like Americans do today and British did yesterday.

At one point, the Peshwa instructed his commanders not to bother about any principles or values and assign fiefdoms to those who paid maximum CASH to Marathas! (Remember war essentially for oil?)

Unlike Shivaji’s time, there was no effort to consolidate what was won militarily. (Any one Afghanistan, Iraq?)

Maratha chieftains (Bhau, Raghoba, Shinde, Holkar among others) did not work as a team and often worked at cross-purpose. (Echoes of Powell, Cheney?)

Instead of plotting to stop British in Bengal, “wise-man” and key advisor Sakharam-Bapu had started planning based on Maratha Empire’s imaginary sway over entire India including dreams of reaching Iran and beyond. (George Bush’s dream of democracy for the entire Middle East)

On the evening of January 14,1761, a festival day in Maharashtra, Maratha Empire fell in a big heap thanks to crushing defeat in the third battle of Panipat. Many north Indian Hindus like Gosavis fought against them and, arguably, the grandest valour on their side was shown by the division of their Muslim commander- Ibrahim Gardi and his Telangi (low caste and probably non-Marathi) soldiers. (BTW- Ibrahim Gardi deserves a statue in front of Shaniwar Wada, Pune next to that of Bajirao-I)

By year 1818, British Union Jack was hoisted atop Shaniwar Wada, Pune.

Will empires ever learn anything from the past?


Artist: Patrick Chappatte http://www.globecartoon.com/

Shooting a Monk in Mandalay

Paul Theroux wrote in his “The Great Railway Bazaar” (1973)-one of the best books ever-“Nothing happens in Burma, but then nothing is expected to happen.”

Well, a lot is happening there finally.

Mandalay and Burma entered my consciousness very early because the last Mughal, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Subhas Chandra Bose were imprisoned there.

George Orwell wrote one of the greatest essays in English language: “Shooting an Elephant”. It showed what was wrong with the British Empire, its sheer futility.

The shooting incident happened in Moulmein, in lower Burma.

Orwell writes: “…That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes… But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing – no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at…”

And then he goes on to shoot the elephant.

Amitav Ghosh wrote “The Glass Palace” (2000) with a backdrop of Burma. Ghosh tries to answer why Indians became hated there, why the British treated Burma very differently from India (answer- abundant, raw natural resources) etc.

The book also tells the tragic story of the last Burmese king (King Thebaw) who was exiled to Ratnagiri, Maharashtra.

Picture Below: Watching shooting of a monk? Unemployed youth in Yangon

Source: Frontline October 19, 2007


Artist: Patrick Chappatte http://www.globecartoon.com/

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Uninterrupted Capitalism Always Turns Che Guevara into Bikini Brand

MARC LACEY for NYT (October 9, 2007) says: “In fact, 40 years after his death, Che — born Ernesto Guevara de la Serna — is as much a marketing tool as an international revolutionary icon. Which raises the question of what exactly does the sheer proliferation of his image — the distant gaze, the scraggly beard and the beret adorned with a star — mean in a decidedly capitalist world?”

I read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, translated in Marathi by my father, when I was still in school. I cried when Boxer was taken away to the slaughterhouse. I did not understand that it was a parable for failed Russian revolution.

I still became passionate communist for good part of my college life. Lenin, Che Guevara, Castro, Mao, Ho Chi Minh became heroes. I particularly liked Anil Barve’s Marathi play “Thank you, Mr. Glad” based on the life of a surgeon-turned-Naxalite.

Then I experienced first hand violent labour union movement of Datta Samant at Mukand Iron and Steel, Kalwa from 1983-84 and Animal-Farm-style-pigs-like-union at Nocil (1984-87). (Nocil, a blue chip, was a much bigger company than Reliance Industries then). Later I also read about membership of Lenin and Mao of “Thirty Million Club”.

(Brad DeLong- “Call those political leaders whose followers and supporters have slaughtered more than ten million of their fellow humans "members of the Ten-Million Club.”… The twentieth century has seen perhaps five people join the Ten Million Club: Adolf Hitler, Chiang Kaishek, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao have credentials that may well make them the charter members of the Thirty Million Club as well–perhaps the Fifty Million Club.)

I was disillusioned with communism for life at the age of 27.

Graham Greene’s books gave a new pair of glasses for looking at communism. He says Catholics and communists are never indifferent to you and that is their chief quality.

It was not long before disillusionment came with capitalism too.

Greene has said: “The terrifying weight of this (USA’s) consumer society oppresses me”

Guardian (Chris Petit) reviewed Benjamin R Barber’s book “Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilise Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole” on June 23, 2007.

“…There are 24 million compulsive shoppers in the US. According to a study commissioned by Yahoo!, members of the My Media generation can, by multi-tasking, fit up to 44 hours of activity into one day. With desire propelled in excess of the speed of light anything is possible, hence the growing number of internet addiction disorder clinics in the US. Shopping also functions like pornography, another form of accelerated desire with an emphasis on repetition. For the first time in history, a society has felt its economic survival demands a kind of "controlled regression, a culture that promotes puerility rather than maturation"….

…Benjamin Barber fears that this process of infantilisation, combined with the associated practices of branding and privatisation, threatens democracy. Privatisation has merely privatised corruption and inequality without providing more adequate supplies or even turning much of a profit.”

Petit agrees but warns: “If capitalism continues uninterrupted, then the cure of self-restraint will become another commercial facet of consumerism, like weight-watching or dieting or healthy eating - just another giant business in its own right. “

Capitalism will simply swallow its proposed cure. We have to interrupt capitalism. How?


The New Yorker

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Now Fallen Sperm Count May Trigger Next Mahabharat

Times of India reported on October 8, 2007:”A new study by researchers at the University of Sheffield suggests that people having an elder brother are more likely to have reduced fertility, as compared to individuals having an elder sister."

My reaction. Oh no, another reason for brothers to fight.

Hindus keep making noises about Bhagavad-Gita and Ramayana but the book they follow most is Mahabharat. (Or is that the book follows them?)

If one wants to understand India, she must understand Mahabharat.

Excellent commentaries on Mahabharat are available in Marathi – Vyasaparva by Durga Bhagwat दुर्गा भागवत and Yuganta (also available in English) by Iravati Karve.

Columnist and writer Gurcharan Das of late has often resorted to the epic to press home his point. He recommends editions of University Of Chicago Press and Clay Sanskrit Library from Oxford University .

Mahabharat at its heart is a story of feuding brothers and cousins. In Marathi, there is a word for this conflict-‘Bhaubandki’. I feel Indian Y chromosome is not programmed to coexist with its kind!

For example, just see what is happening in business empires of Ambani’s; Bajaj’s, soap operas, movies, dominant political families etc. Indian history (of both Hindus and Muslims) is replete with many examples.(I was shocked to read in John Keay’s “India” that the great Harsha-Vardhana had had a hand in his brother Rajya-Vardhana’s ‘imminent removal’.)

I don’t see this ‘feuding brothers’ a dominant theme in Western Civilization.

On October 4, 2007, world celebrated launch of Sputnik 50 years ago. A hurting Indian brother may not mind sending his sibling along!


Artist: Charles Addams The New Yorker Jan 6, 1951

Francis Ford Coppola Discovers Yayati

The greatest English film I ever watched and keep watching is “Coppola's The Godfather” (1972). It’s like reading Mahabharat.

A O Scott, dependable film critic of NYT reports on September 9, 2007: “YOUTH Without Youth,” Francis Ford Coppola’s first film in 10 years, is about Dominic Matei, an elderly Romanian professor of linguistics who, after being struck by lightning, becomes young again. Though Matei, played by Tim Roth, retains a septuagenarian’s memories and experiences, his body, restored to 30-year-old fighting trim, is mysteriously immune to the effects of time…

Mr. Coppola’s movie is a complex, symbol-laden meditation on the nature of chronology, language and human identity — but it also speaks to a familiar and widespread longing. What if, without losing the hard-won wisdom of age, you could go back and start again? What if you could reverse and arrest the process of growing old, securing the double blessing of a full past and a limitless future?”

This reminded me of Indian mythological story of Yayati.

“Yayati was a man of amorous disposition, and his infidelity to Devayani, his wife, brought upon him the curse of old age and infirmity from her father, Sukra. This curse Sukra consented to transfer to any one of his sons who would consent to bear it. All refused except Puru, who undertook to resign his youth in his father's favour. Yayati, after a thousand years spent in sensual pleasures, renounced sensuality, restored his vigour to Puru, and made him his successor.”

Yayati is a fascinating story and needs to be told by as good a director as Coppola.

Marathi writer V S Khandekar wrote an award (Jnanpith Award 1974) winning novel on the subject but for my taste, it’s a bad work. (By the way along with Vijay Tendulkar, Khandekar is the most popular Marathi writer outside Maharashtra. At IIT Madras, in early 1980’s, my Tamil speaking friend told me that they had a good writer in Tamil called Khandekar!)

Medicines like Viagra and the scalpel of a plastic surgeon have changed the definition of youth now.

BENEDICT CAREY reported for NYT on August 22, 2007 Most Americans remain sexually active into their 60s, and nearly half continue to have sex regularly into their early 70s……”

Today’s male Yayati is likely to be all pharmacy and female Yayati all surgery!


Artist: William Hamilton The New Yorker May 15, 2000

Monday, October 08, 2007

Watch Your Expression While Talking to Pet Donkey!

On October 4, 2007, Asian Age quoted from Maneka Gandhi’s speech delivered at the opening ceremony of the Donkey Sanctuary in India on January 12, 2000.

She said: “…But, I happen to have a special place in my heart for the donkey. Just look how beautiful his eyes are. You can learn many social skills from him. Have you noticed that a donkey is never a loner? Even a child-donkey is able to make many friends. He shares his secrets with his friends. He cries if you separate him from them. When we mistreat him and overload him for hauling dirt and hundreds of other materials, he is only able to complain to his friends. The friends console him and assure him that there are better days ahead.”

It’s very moving like many of her other writings on the subject of animals.

I too find donkeys very interesting. But I don’t comprehend what to make of their habit of taking out their considerable penis and running at full tilt!

Business Line, staid ‘Madrasi’ Indian business newspaper, reported on August 20, 2007: “Killed by an amorous camel”.

An Australian woman was killed by a pet camel given to her as a 60th birthday present after the animal apparently tried to have sex, police said Sunday.

The woman, whose name was not released, was killed Saturday at her family's sheep and cattle ranch near Mitchell, 350 miles west of the Queensland state capital Brisbane, state police Detective Senior Constable Craig Gregory said.
The 10-month-old male camel — weighing about 330 pounds — knocked the woman to the ground, lay on top of her, then exhibited what police suspect was mating behavior, Gregory said.

"I'd say it's probably been playing, or it may be even a sexual sort of thing," Gregory said, adding the camel almost suffocated the family's pet goat by straddling it on several occasions.

Camel expert Chris Hill said he had no doubt the camel's behavior was sexual.
Hill, who has offered camel rides to tourists for 20 years, said young camels are not aggressive, but can be dangerous if treated as pets without discipline.

The fate of the camel was not known.

The woman was given the camel in March as a birthday present from her husband and daughter. "She had a love of exotic pets," Gregory said.”

Thanks to my neighbourhood at Miraj, I knew all lewd expressions in Marathi and Urdu before I reached IIT, Madras. But one of the first things I learnt there was hump also meant something other than “Arch one's back”!

Now will this camel in the picture understand that 'Hump day' is a synonym for Wednesday?


Artist: Bruce Eric Kaplan The New Yorker October 2007

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Highly Competitive Marion Jones is Not an East German or Russian

Some people who read this blog may not even have read about Marion Jones before today. She is the wnner of five medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

She was big, very big in US. As big as Sachin Tendulkar in India. She was a sprinting rock star. Delight of her sponsors. Inviting pictures, accentuating her selective anatomy, used to appear in media very frequently all over the world, including India. Like Sania Mirza's do in Indian newspapers today.

Jones, who won three gold and two bronzes medals in Sydney, pleaded guilty in a New York district court on Friday October 5, 2007 to lying to federal investigators when she originally told them she had never used performance-enhancing drugs.

I have seen Americans, including even fair guys like The Simpsons, making fun of East Germansand Russians athletes, alluding to their possible use of performance enhancing drugs.

What goes around comes around.

International sports are under cloud everywhere.

Earlier this year, "cleanliness" of Tour De France was debated hotly. (see cartoon below)

Today’s NYT (October 7, 2007) carries Harold Pinter’s, winner of Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005, interview. He says: “The whole brunt of the media and the government is to encourage people to be highly competitive and totally selfish and uncaring of others.”


Artist: Patrick Chappatte http://www.globecartoon.com/