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.”

W H Auden: "But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie. / Mortal, guilty, but to me/ The entirely beautiful."

Will Self: “To attempt to write seriously is always, I feel, to fail – the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short. It is this failure – a ceaseless threnody keening through the writing mind – that dominates my working life, just as an overweening sense of not having loved with enough depth or recklessness or tenderness dominates my personal one.”

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."

Art Spiegelman: "You know words in a way are hitting you on the left side of your brain, music and visual arts hit on the right side of the brain, so the idea is to pummel you, to send you from left brain to right brain and back until you're as unbalanced as I am."

विलास सारंग: "संदर्भ कुठलेही असोत, संस्कृत, इंग्रजी, बुद्धिवादी, तांत्रिक, इतिहासाचे, खगोलशास्त्राचे, आधुनिक पदार्थविज्ञानाचे, शिवकालीन व पेशवाईतील बखरीचे, अगणित ज्ञानक्षेत्रांचे, अशा वैविध्यपूर्ण ज्ञानावर लेखन- विशेषत: कवितालेखन- उभं राहत."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Do We Use Hygiene to Make Caste Distinctions? Remembering Gadge Maharaj.

Times of India December 18, 2007: "70,000 Chitpavans (a Brahmin sect) to congregate in city (Pune)."

I was borne to Brahmin parents (mother Chitpavan) and am married to one. I didn't undergo a thread ceremony until a token one just before marriage. I always dreamt of marrying outside caste or religion but couldn't.
I often feel deep guilt about the way Brahmins in the past treated the Dalits. If ever I attend a Brahmin congregation, I will press for a resolution of expressing collective apology to the Dalits. Similar to what Indians want the British monarch to do for Jallianwala Bagh.

The one thing I have noticed since my childhood in Brahmin households is their preoccupation, bordering on fixation, with bathing. The most important job to be done on any day of the year is bathing. The exercise is not often elaborate; it may or may not involve sufficient water or toiletries but has to be done with.

No wonder Saint Samarth Ramdas समर्थ रामदास(1608-1681) ,a Brahmin, who has been credited by great historian and thinker T S Shejwakar त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर (1895-1963) to have instilled values of freedom among Marathi speaking people exclaimed with excitement:

During Shivaji’s reign

उदंड जाहालें पांणी। स्नान संध्या करावया।

Lots of Water Available / For bathing and praying.

(btw- Shejwalkar gives credit for values of brotherhood to Saint Tukaram तुकाराम (c.1608-c.1650) and for values of equality to Saint Eknath एकनाथ (1533-1599)).

Is bathing for Brahmins less about hygiene and more about virtue?

SARA IVRY wrote a review of “THE DIRT ON CLEAN / An Unsanitized History. By Katherine Ashenburg” in NYT December 16, 2007. The book focuses on Western Europe and the United States.

“…In her view, cleanliness has always been fundamentally about virtue, whether you’re an ancient Greek athlete scraping your skin with metal instruments after a workout or a modern consumer shelling out $50 for a toothbrush cover that emits germ-killing UV light. “The archetypal link between dirt and guilt, and cleanliness and innocence,” she writes, is “built into our language — perhaps into our psyches…

…while at least one 18th-century British doctor dismissed warm baths as a “luxury borrowed from the effeminate Asiatics.”

From the Renaissance until the Industrial Revolution, Ashenburg notes, the middle and upper classes generally feared water and washed as little as the poor, with monarchs perhaps being dirtiest of all. Only once the comfortable classes saw how quickly disease spread in urban tenements did they take to bathing more regularly…

… In the Middle Ages, the struggle between Christians and Muslims sometimes resembled a battle of the bathhouses…

We use hygiene to make class distinctions, something already taken care of in less-fastidious Europe…

… In the end, Ashenburg argues, all our newfangled products haven’t taken us very far at all from our origin. We are still “as repulsed by our real bodies as were the medieval saints, although without their religious motivation.”


We observe Saint Gadge Baba’s संत गाडगे बाबा महाराज (1876-1956) 51st death anniversary today December 20, 2007. Baba's motto was: "Live clean and simple/ Shun intoxicants/ Care for the environment."

The man with the broom, Gadge Baba, a 20th century saint, was obsessed with cleanliness of our environment, our souls and not so much about his own appearance.

If at all heaven exists, Gadge Baba surely went there. And when god met Gadge Baba first time there, he admitted: "Well, you were right. (Personal)Neatness didn't count."


Artist: Mischa Richter The New Yorker February 25, 1980



Gadge Maharaj with his trademark broom.

Picture Courtesy: Pudhari December 16, 2007