मेघदूत: "नीचैर्गच्छत्युपरि च दशा चक्रनेमिक्रमेण"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 29, 2008

To India Goes the Award for the Most Celebrity Obsessed Culture

I couldn’t watch academy awards function this year after an hour. It got so boring.

I never watch any Indian film award function. At last count there at least are a dozen of them. This year even my wife doesn’t wish to watch any of them. They all look the same...muck like gowns at academy awards function...parade of celebrities. Rate at which Indian media are busy fabricating celebrities is scary.

A. O. SCOTT has written an excellent essay “Are Oscars Worth All This Fuss?”. (NYT February 24, 2008).

“…I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that I found myself hoping that the strike (the Writers Guild strike) would shut the Academy Awards down; that for once, in a year of such cinematic bounty and variety, appreciation for the best movies could be liberated from the pomp and tedium of Hollywood spectacle. ..

… So I am not against the Oscars, any more than I’m dismissive of the Salesman of the Year or the Employee of the Month, or opposed to lavish annual trade association conventions for actuaries or ophthalmologists. But I am nonetheless bothered by the disproportionate importance that the Academy Awards have taken on, and by the distorting influence they exercise over the way we make, market and see movies in this country. The Oscars themselves may be harmless fun, but the idea that they matter is as dangerous as it is ridiculous. ..

… In the past it was frequently safe to assume that any relationship between the Oscars and artistic quality was coincidental. The academy was never supposed to be hip, daring or responsive to what was newest and most risky in the world of cinema. It was just what its name implied: the mainstream, the establishment, the old guard. Sometimes, yes, the best picture prize would actually go to the best picture, but more often the academy’s neglect of a film was a reliable index of its merit. The good judgment not only of critics but, more important, of independent-minded, adventurous moviegoers has traditionally been measured by its distance from the consensus of the movie industry.

And that, it should not be forgotten, is what the Academy Awards represent: the self-assessment of a self-interested, self-involved professional clique…

… In the old days it was more often the opposite: the academy would belatedly gild the lily of commercial success with a shiny finish of ersatz class. This vulgarity was the saving grace of the Oscars. It was not necessary for film lovers to take them seriously or for media outlets to cover them like presidential campaigns, with horse-race reporting, sober analysis and war room spin doctoring. A bit of perspective is needed. The wonderful thing about the Academy Awards is that they are fundamentally trivial. To pretend otherwise is to trivialize movies.”

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Private Benefits at Public Cost? Sugar Cooperatives in Maharashtra.

A K D Jadhav, Mumbai has written scathingly about sugar cooperatives in Maharashtra (Economic & Political Weekly, February 16-22 2008).

Sugarcane is auspicious for a “cultural Hindu” like me. I was raised in Western Maharashtra where I often saw a standing crop of sugarcane (see picture below). It gave me a great solace.

Sight of sugarcane getting transported from fields to factories in bullock-carts and trucks brought great excitement to us. Many boys- and few men- chased those vehicles to pull out a long sugarcane stick. It almost always was a very dangerous game. I remember many accidents those acts caused.

During the sugarcane season, in the evenings, our mother often took three of us to a particular sugarcane juice bar ऊसाचे गु-हाळ at Miraj. There a male buffalo pulled a huge, creaky, wooden juicer. If it didn’t scare, the sound always precluded any conversation, making us concentrate on the act of drinking.

Even today a glass of sugarcane juice at Muralidhar sugarcane juice bar मुरलीधर रसवंती गृह on Bajirao Road, Pune gives me greater pleasure than a glass of beer or any other beverage.

Despite movies like "The Contest" सामना 1975, I believed sugar cooperatives generally did more good than bad for farmers of Maharashtra and the society at large.

That impression started to change few years ago.

In Maharashtra, sugar cane covers just three percent of the land yet corners around 60 percent of the state irrigation supply and is a cause of substantial groundwater withdrawals; the water table in places has dropped from 15 metres to around 65 metres in the past 20 years.

Frontline March 2005:

“…There was a time when the sugar cooperatives did benefit rural areas. The very first sugar cooperative, which was established by Vithalrao Vikhe Patil, was a reaction to the plight of cane-growing peasants who were trapped by landlessness, moneylenders and the exploitative policies of private sugar mills. In the mid-1940s peasants struggled to market their sugarcane. Extracting sugar from cane was expensive and uneconomical. So the cane was made into jaggery. But as there was a surfeit of raw sugarcane and jaggery prices invariably reached rock bottom. In 1948, Vikhe Patil organised the sugarcane growers of 44 villages in Ahmednagar district in western Maharashtra. The outcome was Asia's first cooperative sugar factory, which was commissioned in 1950…

… The strength of the movement was the involvement of the farmers who were shareholders in the sugar mill regardless of the size of their holdings. Over the years, this truly democratic idea got corrupted and farmers with larger holdings grew more powerful. In practice, this altered the power structure of the cooperatives. In the elections to the governing bodies of the sugar factories, money became such a powerful tool that the top posts of chairman and vice-chairman usually went to the richest farmers even though the majority of members were farmers with small- or medium-sized holdings…

…`Private benefits at public cost' is how a report of the World Bank summed up the role of Maharashtra's sugar cooperatives. Though the cooperative movement has helped rural Maharashtra, it has also been at a high cost to the exchequer. Sugar cooperatives have a complicated structure, which makes it possible for them to incur losses but not profits. This is because profits are fully distributed among the members of the cooperative, whereas losses are not; losses accrue to the cooperative. It is bad enough when a cooperative makes losses but when it is shown to be making a loss when it has actually made profits, then the members of the cooperative are being cheated of their share of the profits. In addition, the burden on the government rises because the government bears the losses of the sugar cooperatives and also provides subsidies.

Though initially the subsidies provided to the cooperative sector did benefit farmers both rich and poor, they gradually came to benefit only the rich farmers…

… With low cash inputs, high subsidies, high returns and generous financial support from the State, it is clear why sugar cooperatives are attractive to promoters. But these have also been the reasons for the cooperative movement's downfall…”

A K D Jadhav:

“…As far back as 1977 Michael Lipton in his book Why Poor People Stay Poor highlighted the driving force behind unequal associations as their susceptibility to capture. The cooperative movement of Maharashtra is a classic study of this phenomenon, whereby the Maratha Deshmukhs sought to use caste as a means to induct Maratha Kunbis (peasants) in their bid to capture and perpetuate power and pelf.

Y B Chavan, schooled in M N Roy’s dialectics, saw the potential for building the edifice early in his life. The contrived Maratha “majority” through Kunbi (OBC) induction in large swathes of western Maharashtra in the 1950s and 1960s, around the time of the formation of the state, created an opportune moment for Chavan and his 96 clans (96 kulis) to capture the state Congress and through it the levers of political power in the state.
Almost immediately thereafter the cooperative movement received large sums of tax-payers’ money as virtual handouts from the state budget. The extraordinary scheme was and is still based on a special debtequity of 90: 10, the debt being provided by the cooperative banks based on state guarantees and 90 per cent of the equity being provided by the state from its budget as a direct handout.

Maratha clansmen backed by Kunbi numbers were encouraged to get into “coops”, pick up readymade projects of Rs 10 to 20 crore (1960s and 1970s), access 99 per cent of the funds from the state and its institutions and use the structure to perpetuate their hegemony.

What Baviskar calls the “success” of the cooperative movement in Maharashtra is in fact a humongous failure of the rule of law. The genesis of the sugar cooperative lies not in the “business” of making sugar and earning wealth for the cooperative but in the use of the structure as a medium for siphoning off funds from the treasury into the coffers of the kulaks. All the sugar coops have thrived on running subsidies not only by way of the original infusion of fixed and working capital by publicly funded institutions, but with continuous infusions at regular intervals thereafter in the form of revival and restructuring grants, soft loans and government guarantees.

For this reason it is not possible to understand Baviskar’s pride in the 5 million tonnes of sugar produced in Maharashtra, because that sugar is produced at a huge cost to the state exchequer, depriving other sections of society of public funds to which they have a far greater claim.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Celebrating Next Big Sterile Statistics

Which statistics will Indian media celebrate next? I can never guess.

Currently they are celebrating figures at which cricketers were auctioned. My son is a cricket-stat nut. Sometimes he is a big nuisance around.

Outlook February 25, 2008 celebrated:

”…1.60 million Indians can’t resist the Facebook Phenomenon” and then went on to discuss exciting facebook lives of many so-called celebrities.

I don’t quite get it. Perhaps because I am still not on Facebook.

”… 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…” (ALICE MATHIAS, NYT October 06, 2007).

'We met on Facebook and split up on Bebo.'

The Spectator February 2008

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What is a Real Oriental, Edward Said?

Do only insiders can know the truth about their societies? Edward Said’s much-discussed Orientalism (1978) thought so.

About it, David S. Landes said his classic “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations” (1998):

“Insofar as one uses this claim to discredit the work of intellectual adversaries, it is polemical and antiscientific. But insofar as it points to the instrumental value and power of information, for good and for bad, it makes an important point.”

While reviewing 'The Great Transformation' by Karen Armstrong, JOHN WILSON said:

“…In our own time of "great fear and pain,"Armstrong proposes that we look to the Axial sages for "two important pieces of advice," both of which turn out to be quite uncontroversial: We should practice self-criticism (amen), and we should "take practical, effective action" against excessively aggressive tendencies in our own traditions (amen again).

But after 400 pages of historical argument, the banality of such declarations is staggering.

Yes, we need to learn to see things from other points of view. But once we have done that, once indifference and ignorance and prejudice and other obstacles are cleared away, real differences — political, religious, and cultural — remain. “ (NYT, April 30, 2006)

Wilson sounds as if it is easy to clear indifference and ignorance.

On the other hand, it’s impossible to clear it considering following state of affairs in USA.

Susan Jacoby, author of “The Age of American Unreason”:

“Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.” She pointed to a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.” (NYT February 14, 2008)

“… Most people at the CIA don't speak foreign languages, so communications between and within other nations go untranslated…” (Doug Brown’s review of “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA” by Tim Weiner). (Powells.com February 16,2008)

Why just middle-east? In the West, I feel, quality of scholarship about India was better in 19th century than today. Many India based 'popular' Indian historians don't read Indian language books to source their material.
I have already written about ignorance of likes of V S Naipaul when it comes to India. For the same reason, even many educated and well-off Indians- living in India and abroad- are ignorant about India.

Artist: Ned Hilton The New Yorker 5 September 1936

Monday, February 25, 2008

Write it Down Anju. Multi-Storied Parking Lot at Pune.

The multi-storied parking lot with a capacity to accommodate 300 cars or 2,000 two-wheelers was inaugurated on November 5, 2007 at Pune. Of course, there are few roads- like FC road- that now seem to be used only for parking!

The 4.55-crore parking lot project includes a ground plus five stories and is constructed on a 10,000 sq m plot.A six metre-wide ramp has been constructed for vehicles to pass through to upper levels and provision has been made for installing lifts in the future.

I hope my wife Anju will note the advice in following picture.

'For heaven's sakes, Dennis, write it down.'

The Spectator, February 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Manage Repressed Hostility Without Getting Asthma. How? Ask Eknath एकनाथ.

Times of India February 22, 2008 reported:

“Anger slows down healing process: The adage that laughter is the best medicine has been backed by an unusual investigation which says that people who seethe with anger take longer to recover from injury.

Previous studies have linked ill tempered behaviour, whether brow-beating or road rage, with higher incidence of coronary heart disease, hypertension and stroke, especially among men…“

In the past I suffered from extreme anger. Anger described aptly in following line:
"भोवतालच्या माणसांना एकच मुंडी असती तर ती आपण अत्यंत आनंदाने पीरगाळली असती."
(if surrounding people had one neck, I would have gladly twisted it)

(स्वामी जी ए कुलकर्णी Swamee G A Kulkarni पिंगळावेळ "Owl Time" 1977)

Our previous generations had a bigger problem with anger. See a related post here.

Laxmibai Tilak’s लक्ष्मीबाई टिळक classic स्मृतिचित्रे (Memory-pictures) 1934 is full of description of extreme anger filled scenes from many Marathi speaking homes.

Anger was very fashionable in Maharashtra.

Vinoba Bhave wrote an excellent essay on Saint Eknath संत एकनाथ. (विनोबा सारस्वत "Vinoba Saraswat" edited by राम शेवाळकर Ram Shewalkar 1987). Vinoba says all saints are known for their serenity but Eknath was probably the best among them on this count.

Nath said:”आपुलीच दारा, जरी टेके व्यभिचारा, क्रोधाचा थारा अंतरी न ये.”

“To our door, even if infidelity touched, let anger not enter our inside”

Artist: Robert Weber The New Yorker 24 November 1962

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Long, Cruel Road to the Slaughterhouse. My Own Rude Awakening.

Independent UK had this story on February 13, 2008:

“…Across the world, more than a billion live animals are transported every week, many over long distances. In shocking footage (available here), animals including horses, pigs, sheep and chickens are seen being transported thousands of miles across the world, when they could as easily be carried as meat.

Thousands of animals die en route from disease, heat exhaustion, hunger and stress. The others escape the intolerable conditions only to confront, immediately, the butcher's knife…

… In Spain, thousands of horses are illegally crammed into lorries for a sweltering 46-hour journey to Italy. Canadian pigs, in conditions just as obscene, are condemned to a 4,500-mile journey by land and sea to Hawaii, so that, when slaughtered, their carcasses can be sold as "Island Produced Pork". For nine days, hundreds of pigs are crammed together in the dark, standing in their own excrement. Exhausted and hungry, they become ill, vomiting from motion sickness and waiting for long periods without food…

Australia sends four million live sheep every year on the barbaric journey to the Middle East. They are transported in such cramped conditions that many die of suffocation on the way. On arrival, they are killed according to Halal butchery laws. “

Indian stories are equally cruel.

Artist: Alan Dunn The New Yorker 27 June 1942

p.s This picture also brought to my mind the final journey of Boxer in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Migratory Birds Have Started Returning from Pune

Pudhari पुढारी February 21, 2008 reported that birds that came over to Pune this winter, from far off places like Africa, Mangolia, Siberia, Tibet etc had started returning.

I have a question for them…

Lazy species like me would surely stay put.

Artist: Victoria Roberts The New Yorker 15 November 1993

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Civil Wars- India’s and American

Some say India has been fighting a civil war for last 40 years.

India Today February 11, 208 reported:

“…Left wing extremism (LWE) or Naxalism has killed thousands of people to emerge as an immediate threat to internal security. Worse still, more than a year after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged the severity of this threat by calling it the “single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country”, there is no holistic initiative to tackle the bloodlust.

The militants, who launched an armed movement in 1967 claiming to fight for the rights of poor peasants and landless labourers, are active in at least 16 of the country’s 33 states. Of the total 12,476 police stations in the country, Maoist violence was reported from 395 in 11 states in 2006.

What was confined initially to pockets in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh in the early 1970s has not only spread in a virulent manner but emerged as a major political force in the tribal woods of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand.

They strike at will with accurate planning, ambush police teams, break into jails and hit select targets to create a fear psychosis as is the wont of terror groups everywhere.

Despite the improvement of the information gathering networks in the affected areas, the range and intensity of the Maoist violence spirals upwards…”

But this pales compared to American civil war that remains one of the bloodiest in the history of mankind.

“…Americans had never endured anything like the losses they suffered between 1861 and 1865 and have experienced nothing like them since. Two percent of the United States population died in uniform — 620,000 men, North and South, roughly the same number as those lost in all of America’s other wars from the Revolution through Korea combined. The equivalent toll today would be six million…”

(GEOFFREY C. WARD’s review of “THIS REPUBLIC OF SUFFERING/ Death and the American Civil War” By Drew Gilpin Faust. NYT January 27, 2008).

India has never seen a war like this on its soil. Bloodiest battle of modern times in India perhaps was Panipat 1761 where estimated 50,000-100,000 people died.
What about the battle of Plassey, which supposedly changed the subcontinent’s history?
“…The nawab began the battle with fifty thousand troops, against three thousand for the British. Of the fifty thousand, only twelve thousand actually fought for him, and these withdrew so quickly that they suffered only five hundred casualties. British losses numbered four Europeans and fourteen sepoys….”

What was India’s population in 1761?

“…We have no censuses, but one estimate gives the figure of 100 million for the late sixteenth century, and this may well be low…” (“The Wealth and Poverty of Nations” by David S. Landes, 1998)

Even if we take the figure of 100 million for 1761, we are still talking about 0.1% deaths at upper end of the band.

GEOFFREY C. WARD: “…Little wonder. Some 7,000 corpses lay scattered across the Pennsylvania countryside, alongside more than 3,000 dead horses and mules — an estimated six million pounds of human and animal flesh, swollen and blackening in the July heat. For weeks afterward, townspeople carried bottles of peppermint oil to neutralize the smell…”

Panipat 1761’s aftermath would have been comparable to this though thankfully it was a cold winter of January. If it were to be during a monsoon month, it surely would have triggered an epidemic.

Drew Gilpin Faust: “Death created the modern American union, not just by ensuring national survival, but by shaping enduring national structures and commitments”

Civil war brings Abraham Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg to mind.

Artist: Jack Ziegler The New Yorker 18 December 1989

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Did a Power More than Human Give Letters their Shape? Answer it R K Joshi र कृ जोशी

Now he won't because R K Joshi who made pioneering efforts to establish aesthetics of Indian letterforms and revived academic, professional and research interest in Indian Calligraphy died on February 5, 2008.

Read wonderful tribute put together by C-DAC in Marathi on him here.

When I was in school (1965-1975), elders often talked about the quality of “hand-writing”, both Marathi and English. I thought I was doing OK with both.

My father disagreed. He said my letters were short unlike my brother and hence my handwriting was not pretty. He was right.

Later when I corresponded with D G Godse द ग गोडसे, he once wrote that my handwriting was good. He for sure was encouraging me. I have never liked my handwriting.

But I have admired it of many. Particularly Marathi ones.

Hindustan Times claimed that R K Joshi “brought about the realisation that alphabet can have aesthetic value”. That obviously is very sloppy. The realisation had been there for much longer.

I liked Joshi's Marathi initials more. कृ (Kru) there stood out like a peacock, between mundane र(R) and जोशी(Joshi), full of possibilities. When you pronounced his name, there was an echo to it.

He was a scholar in the tradition of V K Rajwade वि का राजवाडे. Ready to put in any amount of effort to get slightly closer to the truth. In fact he showed us a whole new way to approach the truth: Calligraphy.

Plato's dialogues mention, "a power more than human gave things their first names." Did a power more than human give letters their shape?

In Japan, ancient samurai swords and calligraphy both are national treasures. In India, we have even stopped talking about the quality of handwriting.

Vasant Sarwate वसंत सरवटे had some fun with our alphabets. Here is an example.

The picture shows two Marathi letters. One of the left is pronounced “TO” which means he and one on the right is pronounced “TEE” which means she. The caption reads:
She: “Now who all are you going to suspect?”

Artist: Vasant Sarwate source: Cartooning-Drawing (व्यंगकला- चित्रकला) Majestic Prakashan 2005.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Marathas Won at Kharda but Nizam has the Last Laugh

Historian WILLIAM DALRYMPLE has written at length about the Nizam’s legacy. (The Guardian and Outlook February 18, 2008).

I couldn’t help chuckle.

Here was the regime about which I have rarely read anything good.

For instance, historian Setu Madhavrao Pagdi’s (सेतु माधवराव पगडी) first hand account of the last days of the Nizam regime from his autobiography-Jeevansetu (जीवनसेतु) 1969- describes how rotten it was.

On March 11, 1795, Marathas vanquished Nizam in the battle of Kharda. For a change all Maratha chieftains fought together.

Nizam’s army had played havoc before the battle. Among other things, they had slaughtered cows in the temple complex at Ambejogai आंबेजोगाई.
(Please note during 1770-1791, many mainly Chitpavan Brahmin chieftains of Maratha army indulged in looting of Hindu shrines including mutts of Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya. Source- Marhati Lavani by M V Dhond 1956 मर्हाटी लावणी म वा धोंड)

Historian T S Shejwalkar त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर gave a radio-speech on this battle 'Khardyachi Ladhai' (खर्ड्याची लढाई).

Shejwalkar rued how Marathas wasted the opportunity to eliminate Nizam. He argued how this blunder of Marathas costed Indian union dearly in 1947.

Even today, Nizam and his legacy continue to grab attention and resources.

His Chowmahalla palace complex is being restored to its former glory while Maratha’s Shaniwar Wada शनिवार वाडा continues to languish, remains ghostly.

Princess Esra at the Chowmahalla palace complex (pic courtesy: Outlook)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Naked Woman on Mars and Yeti-Alien in Himalayas. Will they Mate?

Marathi newspaper Pudhari पुढारी has printed a picture of colourful alien, arguably male, on the first page of its edition dated February 16, 2008. (See picture below).

It has reported how in year 2004 a team of Indian scientists from ISRO filmed an alien in Himalayas. It claims this is first such shooting of its kind.

No word of doubt or skepticism as always. See a related previous post "Dark Side of the Moon" here.

In January 2008, there was a report:
“The photo of what looks like a naked woman with her arm outstretched was among several taken on the red planet and sent back to Earth by NASA's Mars explorer Spirit.”

James Lovegrove wrote excellent review of science fiction books in FT on February 9, 2007.

“…Contrary to received opinion, science fiction’s preoccupation has always been the here and now. Its far-flung planets and future timelines are merely a way to analyse the contemporary. In this respect, it is the most politically engaged of all literary genres. Motifs that may appear trashy to the uninitiated - space exploration, extraterrestrials, futuristic technology - can in fact be surprisingly sophisticated tools for dissecting and examining the world as it is…

… The search for aliens, then, has turned inward. The Other is no longer up there in the stars. He’s our neighbour with the faith-based dress code. She’s the person with the tinted skin and unfamiliar accent. Modern science fiction is putting out the unexceptionable message that we should gladly embrace him or her, if we are to have any kind of future.

Someone else’s Other, after all, is us.”

Carl Sagan:

“…Which, then, is more likely that we're undergoing a massive but generally overlooked invasion by alien sexual abusers, or that people are experiencing some unfamiliar internal mental state they do not understand? Admittedly, we’re very ignorant both about extraterrestrial beings, if any, and about human psychology. But if these really were the only two alternatives, which one would you pick?

And if the alien abduction accounts are mainly about brain psychology, hallucinations, distorted memories of childhood, and hoaxing, don’t we have before us a matter of supreme importance, touching on our limitations, the ease with which we can be misled and manipulated, the fashioning of our beliefs, and perhaps even the origins of our religions?…”

(“The Dragon in My Garage” from “The Demon-Haunted World” 1996)

For me, ISRO scientists are as fallible as anyone when it comes to “brain psychology, hallucinations, distorted memories of childhood, and hoaxing.” I am fallible even to an attack of acidity after eating too many peanuts.

See below how a group of scientists and technologists are resorting to astrology for rocket launching.

Artist: Rowland Wilson The New Yorker 14 August 1965

Naked Woman on Mars and Yeti-Alien in Himalayas.
My fantasy: Will they mate?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Indian Poor, Run! They May Pinch Your Kidney

Some things never go away. Subject of Illegal kidney transplants is one such.

The latest scam would scare anyone entering an operation theatre anywhere in India.

India Today February 1, 2008 reported:

“…In a country where one out of every three live in poverty, Kumar (the accused) and his ilk carved out a huge transplant industry…

…The organ shortage in the West has spawned a new demand-and-supply equation across the world. Given the potent mixture of the desperation of rich patients in the West, the failure of the law in India, the willing collusion of medical professionals, the availability of helpless individuals from deprived sections of society and the incompetence of monitoring agencies, there are doubts about whether Ramadoss’ (federal minister) new initiatives will work. But it’s better than doing nothing and allowing the likes of Kumar to flourish.”

Artist: R K Laxman Times of India 9 February 2008

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Didn’t You Love Whatever Rajendra Nath Did?

Hindi film comic actor Rajendra Nath died on February 13, 2008.

I am grateful to him for the entertainment he provided. He probably was not in the same league as Johny Walker, Om Prakash, Mehmood and Kishore Kumar but was close second.

Many times I have tried to walk like him, wearing the same “stupid” smile he wore doing it. No one laughed except my mother.

I have lost the count of number of films he acted in.

Only the other day, I saw him performing in Chhoti Si Baat (1975) where he played a cameo so well that my thirteen-year-old son burst into laughing

Talk of longevity of an actor.

Whenever I saw him, I knew my money was not entirely lost. He stood his ground in the company of likes of Dev Anand (Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai, 1961) and Shammi Kapoor (An Evening in Paris, 1967) quite effortlessly.

Thank you, Mr. Nath.

Artist: C W Anderson The New Yorker 21 June 1930

Friday, February 15, 2008

Anglo-Saxon Attitude towards Poverty: Poor Criminally Responsible for their Position!

Recently when my wife’s cousin from US came visiting India after the gap of 22 years, we asked her: What was the biggest change she saw in India?

Her answer: Beggars less visible.

Better airport, roads and telecommunication came later. After some prompting!

I remember at Miraj when beggars came begging for food at our doorstep, our attitude towards them was not hostile. I particularly remember a daily ‘alms’ call of a beggar woman who always came just after we had finished our dinner. My mother often small-talked with her.

During Maharashtra famine of 1972-73, I remember vividly how the farm-workers, forced into beggary by the cruel circumstances, came streaming to our home. Their faces were blank, eyes empty.

Begging had been an accepted way of life in India. The great Buddha advised his followers to beg for food during earl part of the day to get fresh stuff!

“…That changed with the colonial rule.

To the Victorians, beggary embodied laziness and moral degeneration. Colonial laws held a beggar punishable for his condition. The newly-independent nation imbibed this Anglo-Saxon attitude towards poverty. “In the new millennium, the Government doesn’t want them lying around. Middle class India regards them as a nuisance.”

“India ’s beggary laws are a throwback to the centuries-old European vagrancy laws, which instead of addressing the socio-economic issues make the poor criminally responsible for their position,” says ace lawyer, Ram Jethmalani.

Consider the definition of the term ‘beggar’. The law describes a beggar as anyone who appears ‘poor’. Depending on the whim of a police officer, a ragpicker or a construction labourer, who has never begged in his life, can be picked up at random and incarcerated in a beggars’ home for up to three years.

“The antibeggar legislation is aimed at wiping the desperately poor off city radars so that they don’t prick our collective conscience,” he says...”

This and more startling facts come from India Today February 4, 2008 story on beggars: “Beggar’s banquet”.

· Rs 80 average daily income of beggars in metros.
· 75 per cent spend Rs 50 a day, 27% up to Rs 100.
· Most earn more than daily wage earners.
· Graduate and postgraduate beggars are increasing.
· More able-bodied beggars than disabled.
· Rs 25,000 average bank balance of beggars in Kolkata.
· 85 per cent beggars have no information about beggar homes.
· Rs 180 CR is the worth of Mumbai beggars.
· 14 per cent beggars have no expectation from the government.

Artist: Stan Hunt The New Yorker 12 May 1962

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Maharishi Yogi, Did You Make a Fool of Everyone?

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who is credited with introducing the Beatles and other stars to ancient Hindu meditation methods, died on February 5, 2008. He introduced the Transcendental Meditation movement to the West in 1959, with the intention of creating individual peace and enlightenment.

By the time of his death, it had grown into a multi-million dollar empire.

Indian newspapers- including Marathi Sakal- have been laudatory of him. As always not a word of skepticism.

This is what Carl Sagan said about Maharishi:

“…Perhaps the most successful recent global pseudoscience - by many criteria, already a religion - is the Hindu doctrine of transcendental meditation (TM).

The soporific homilies of its founder and spiritual leader, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, can be seen on television. Seated in the yogi position, his white hair here and there flecked with black, surrounded by garlands and floral offerings, he has a look.

One day while channel surfing we came upon this visage. "You know who that is?" asked our four-year-old son. "God." The worldwide TM organization has an estimated valuation of $3 billion. For a fee they promise through meditation to be able to walk you through walls, to make you invisible, to enable you to fly. By thinking in unison they have, they say, diminished the crime rate in Washington, D.C., and caused the collapse of the Soviet Union, among other secular miracles.

Not one smattering of real evidence has been offered for any such claims.

TM sells folk medicine, runs trading companies, medical clinics and "research" universities,and has unsuccessfully entered politics. In its oddly charismatic leader, its promise of community, and the offer of magical powers in exchange for money and fervent belief, it is typical of many pseudosciences marketed for sacerdotal export…”

(“The most precious thing” from ‘The Demon-Haunted World’ 1996)

His former disciple John Lennon admitted to "an error of judgement", writing the scathing "Sexy Sadie" about him.

Sexy Sadie
------The Beatles

hoSexy Sadie what have you done
You made a fool of everyone
You made a fool of everyone
Sexy Sadie ooh what have you done.

Sexy Sadie you broke the rules
You layed it down for all to see
You layed it down for all to see
Sexy Sadie oooh you broke the rules.

One sunny day the world was waiting for a lover
She came along to turn on everyone
Sexy Sadie the greatest of them all.

Sexy Sadie how did you know
The world was waiting just for you
The world was waiting just for you
Sexy Sadie oooh how did you know.

Sexy Sadie you'll get yours yet
However big you think you are
However big you think you are
Sexy Sadie oooh you'll get yours yet.

We gave her everything we owned just to sit at her table
Just a smile would lighten everything
Sexy Sadie she's the latest and the greatest of them all.

She made a fool of everyone
Sexy Sadie.

However big you think you are
Sexy Sadie.

Artist: Dana Fradon The New Yorker 20 January 1968

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Office [Indian]

Over last several months, I have been following TV serial “The Office [American]” on Star World. The dominant theme there is – Sex.

India is no different. See a related earlier post here.

At a multinational IT company where I worked in India, there always was gossip in the air about who was sleeping with whom. Almost always male concerned was higher ranked than female.

I hope things have changed and they now have Michael Scott- Jan Levinson kind of pairs.

Times of India reported on January 30, 2008:

“…If a new survey by staffing company TeamLease Services is to be believed, India Inc has made a brazen admission about being more open to office romances.

The ‘Romance at Workplace' survey, which covered 402 respondents across seven cities, reveals that what was a taboo earlier is now acceptable. Nearly 34% of working executives feel that it is alright to have an affair with a married colleague. Shocking as it may sound, 44% believe that an office romance is a legitimate means of climbing up corporate ladder. Another 20% believe that an office romance is fair way of getting “sex for fun”. Yet others feel that it is a good way to escape from miserable marital lives.

If you feel this is a new economy-young-employee profile phenomenon, think again. The survey looked at employees of all age groups in companies in BPO, retail, pharma, and manufacturing. Says Surabhi Mathur, GM, TeamLease, “The forces at play here are enhanced intimacy in work environment, longer hours, extensive team play and a shift from individual to group tasks.”

Nearly 56% of the respondents in the survey felt that “romantic liaisons at workplaces impact the quality and speed of work”. But in the same breath, 56% also said that the organization shouldn't interfere in such affairs.

So, what should companies do because, after all, they ought not to be probing into the private lives of employees? But at the same time, there is an ethical issue at play here: when the romance affects efficiency and breeds discrimination. Most companies that TOI contacted, refused to talk about it deeming it as a sensitive issue…”

Artist: Peter Arno The New Yorker 29 March 1947

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Boogers are Frozen in Mumbai!

Poor in Mumbai had one thing to bother less than their cousins in North India all these years: Cold.

No more. Mumbai was at 8.5 Celsius on February 8, 2008, coldest since 1962.

Bjorn Lomborg said in November 2007:

“…Another complaint is that I encourage readers to "look on the bright side" of global warming. I submit that looking at both the negative and positive impacts of climate change is reasonable. 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…”

Even Mumbai lives?

I personally prefer Indian summer to winter.

Winter creates many problems. One of them is aptly brought up by Calvin below. I know exactly what Calvin means.

Staying on the subject of boogers. Khushwant Singh wrote a delightful essay on the subject of boogers. I particularly remember his “bastard booger”.

It’s a booger you can offload on to your finger but can’t get rid of it from thereon. I am very familiar with that too!

Artist: Bill Watterson “Calvin and Hobbes” Asian Age 8 February 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

Marathi Verbivores, 400 Years Old Tukaram तुकाराम Still Feeds Us.

In a classic "The Simpsons" episode, following exchange takes place:

"Lisa: While I was gone I got some really good advice from Paul and Linda McCartney.

Homer: Rock stars. Is there anything they don't know?"

([3F03] Lisa the Vegetarian Written by David S. Cohen, Directed by Mark Kirkland, Original airdate in N.A.: 15-Oct-95)

We are celebrating 400th birth anniversary of Saint Tukaram तुकाराम on February 11, 2008 वसंत पंचमी.

I ask: Is there anything Turkaram doesn’t know. (See my previous posts on Tukaram here.)

Some experts have argued that half of world's languages may become extinct by 2100. A few wonder if Marathi will ever join the list or become ‘only-spoken’ language. The onslaught of English and Hindi is relentless. My son uses a complex Hindi word instead of equivalent Marathi word quite effortlessly.

I feel as long as Bhakti literature of Marathi is doing well and we reinvent Marathi the way young people do, there is no such danger.

See “slang dunk” below to read the kind of words used in Mumbai colleges. They should be part of a standard Marathi dictionary. Are they?

Tukaram reinvented Marathi in 17th century. We all still speak his Marathi.

Among modern writers, B S Mardhekar बा सी मर्ढेकर, Bhau Padhye भाऊ पाध्ये, Namdeo Dhasal नामदेव ढसाळ, Jayant Narlikar जयंत नारळीकर (science), N S Phadke ना सी फडके (Cricket writing), Kumar Gandharva कुमार गंधर्व (music) made laudable efforts in "reinventing" Marathi.

See a related post here.

Steven Pinker recently wrote a book “THE STUFF OF THOUGHT / Language as a Window Into Human Nature”. Jonah Lehrer wrote in its review:
“…Human language is an emanation of the human mind. A thing doesn't care what we call it. Words and their rules don't tell us about the world; they tell us about ourselves…”

Even today Tukaram’s language tells us about ourselves, more effectively than anyone else.

p.s. My dear fantasy: Tukaram’s poems set to jazz tunes of John Coltrane!

Artist: Leo Cullum The New Yorker 25 December 1995

Sunday, February 10, 2008

How About Comic Books on India’s Partition and The Great Bengal Famine?

I subscribe to Economic & Political weekly and Samaj Prabodhan Patrika समाज प्रबोधन पत्रिका. (p.s. As of October 2012, I don't). I respect them a lot but most writing there, alas, remains arcane to a commoner like me. These publications also remain committed to “isms” and hence don’t want to consider any other view inconsistent with their own.

What can be done?

Ivory tower intellectuals don’t even wish to engage in such a dialogue. They write for fellow intellectuals.

I recently wrote about the power of comic books after reading NYT editorial of January 3, 2008- “Comic Books in the Classroom”.

Looks like comic books can come handy to teach even touchy and sensitive historical topics.

Business Line February 3, 2008 reported:

German schools will launch a comic book next week that aims to teach above all underprivileged children about the Nazi era and the Holocaust.

Although German schools already make a big effort to give pupils a thorough education about the Nazi era, racist violence remains a problem, and the revival of Germany's Jewish community has brought a rise in anti-Semitism with it.

The Tintin-style comic book is called "The Search," and tells the story of Esther, a fictional Jewish survivor of the Holocaust.

… The book, based on fact, describes how Jews in Germany and the Nazi-occupied Netherlands experienced the genocidal Nazi persecution that took the lives of 6 million European Jews.

It includes the Night of Broken Glass in November 1938, when Jews were beaten and their homes, businesses and synagogues were ransacked and, later on, the deportations to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Through pictures and realistic dialogue, the book depicts the suffering and humiliation that Jews endured as they were stripped of their livelihoods, ostracized and, finally, sent to camps to be worked to death or gassed…”.

India saw on its soil two holocausts in 20th century- the great Bengal famine of 1943 (estimated 1.5-3 million people-largely poor-dead) and the partition of 1947 (estimated 1 million people dead).

As a child I was not taught severity of either of the events. My 13-year-old son still doesn’t know enough about either of them.

So why not comic books?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Crucifixion may not be that Bad but Christ is Still Suffering

Times of India February 4, 2008 reported:

“A noted literary theorist has sparked fury among Christians by uttering that the Crucifixion of Christ was not as bad as it has been painted…

…It is learnt that he said that Jesus's scourging was a "blessing in disguise" because it hastened his death.

…"If the New Testament account is to be believed it took him only three hours to die whereas a lot of those killed by this hideous mode of execution thrashed around on their crosses for days," he added.

The paper reports that Prof. T. Eagleton concluded his talk with an attack on contemporary Christianity, claiming that it had abandoned the poor and dispossessed in favour of the "rich and aggressive".

"It's horrified by the sight of a female breast but nothing like as horrified by the obscene inequalities between rich and poor," the paper quoted him as saying…”

This brought to my mind following lines:

“... म्हणजे पुन्हा यश हाच एक सत्याचा क्षुद्र निकष! त्याने प्रेमाचा व शांतीचा संदेश सांगितला, पण प्रसार झाला तो तलवारीच्या जोरावर; त्याने निरिच्छतेवर भर दिला, तर आता त्याच्या धर्माचा आधार आहे संपत्ती. हां तुला त्याचा विजय वाटतो, तसे पहिले तर त्याचे सच्चे अनुयायी एखाद्या खेड्यातील वसतीपेक्षा जास्त नसतील. पण म्हणून का त्याच्या शिकवणीचे महत्व कमी होते?”

“…So again success is the only petty criterion of the truth! He gave message of love and peace, but it spread with the force of sword; he asserted lack of desrire, but now his religion’s support is wealth. Do you think this is his victory, if seen his true followers will not exceed population of a village. But then does it reduce importance of his teachings?”

(जी ए कुलकर्णी “यात्रिक” पिंगळावेळ G A Kulkarni “The Pilgrim” from “Owl Time” 1977)

How to rationalize obscene inequalities between rich and poor? Using god - someone up there!

As long this inequality exists, Christ will continue to suffer. Remember what Steven Weinberg has said: “I have never understood why untalented people deserve less of world’s good things than other people.”

Artist: Barney Tobey The New Yorker 19 September 1959

Friday, February 08, 2008

Wild Stag Weekends of Nepal - Sex Treks and, if Shower Works, Wet Maidens

For last few years, Nepal- world’s only Hindu kingdom- has been in the news for wrong reasons- regicide, lawlessness, illegal trades in drugs and arms, hijacking etc.

Since January 24, 2008, it made news for different reasons.

The Economist January 26, 2008 had this story:

“I CAN only dance when I'm drunk,” confides Srijana, a 20-year-old employee of the Pussy Cat Bar and Shower, a tavern in Thamel, Kathmandu's main tourist hangout. A few slurps from a customer's glass later and she mounts a small stage. There, to whoops from a few tipsy locals, she sheds most of her clothes and gyrates to a Hindi pop tune. Dangling above her is the Damoclean sword included in the bar's name: a silver shower nozzle, positioned to spray flesh-revealing water on a dancer below.

Such gimmicks are common in Thamel's bars, where competition for lascivious males is fierce. Until a few years ago Nepal had no obvious sex industry. There are now an estimated 200 massage parlours and 35 “dance bars”, such as the Pussy Cat, in Thamel alone—with over 1,000 girls and women working in them. Many sell sex. In the Pussy Cat, another dancer admits to turning tricks, for 1,800 rupees ($28).

That is a tidy sum in Nepal, South Asia's poorest country. It is much more than Nepali women are paid in India's flesh-pots—to which over 5,000 are trafficked each year, according to the UN. But the dancers in Thamel are chasing a richer sort of Indian: tourists. And their government seems to be encouraging them. In an advertisement for “Wild Stag Weekends”, the Nepal Tourism Board offers this advice: “Don't forget to have a drink at one of the local dance bars, where beautiful Nepali belles will dance circles around your pals.”

In a country with a rich tradition of dance, where paying for sex is illegal, this might be harmless innuendo. But not everybody thinks so. During the recently-ended civil war, Nepal's Himalayan tourism industry collapsed. Some activists think that sex tourism is replacing it. According to John Frederick, an expert on South Asia's sex trade, “Ten years ago the sex industry was underground in Nepal. Now it's like Bangkok, it's like Phnom Penh.”

The war, which put much of rural Nepal under the control of Maoist insurgents, has increased the supply of sex workers…”

A silver shower nozzle, positioned to spray flesh-revealing water on a dancer below?!

Hindi films indeed have shaped carnal desires of millions. Me included.

Times of India reported on February 3, 2008:

“ (Nepali film) Kagbeni also has the distinction of having Nepal's first onscreen amorous kiss. And a large section of the Himalayan kingdom has been tickled by the minute-long liplock between the lead pair Saugat Malla and Deeya Maskey…”

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Not Just Larger Pair of Underpants

Anorexia is sweeping young female India. I watch a Hindi film, from even 1990’s, and I feel female lead is fat.

Is fat so bad or ugly?

RONI CARYN RABIN writes (NYT January 22, 2008):

“For years, health experts have been warning that Americans are too fat, that we exercise too little and eat too much, that our health is in jeopardy.

Some fat people beg to differ.

Blogs written by fat people — and it’s fine to use the word, they say — have multiplied in recent months, filling a virtual soapbox known as the fatosphere, where bloggers calling for fat acceptance challenge just about everything conventional medical wisdom has to say about obesity.

Smart, sassy and irreverent, bloggers with names like Big Fat Deal, FatChicksRule and Fatgrrl (“Now with 50 percent more fat!”) buck anti-obesity sentiment. They celebrate their full figures and call on readers to accept their bodies, quit dieting and get on with life.

The message from the fatosphere is not just that big is beautiful. Many of the bloggers dismiss the “obesity epidemic” as hysteria. They argue that Americans are not that much larger than they used to be and that being fat in and of itself is not necessarily bad for you.

And they reject a core belief that many Americans, including overweight ones, hold dear: that all a fat person needs to do to be thin is exercise more and eat less. ..

… The bloggers argue that changes in definitions over time, along with flaws in the body mass index formula, have pushed more Americans into the “fat” and “obese” categories, and they point to provocative studies suggesting that there may be benefits to being overweight, including a large study that found that underweight Americans are more likely to die than those who are moderately overweight.

Several other recent studies on heart patients and dialysis patients have also reported higher survival rates among heavier patients, suggesting that the link between body size and health may be more complex than generally acknowledged. Another study of people over 60 found that being fit has more bearing on longevity than simply being thin.

The bloggers’ main contention is that being fat is not a result of moral failure or a character flaw, or of gluttony, sloth or a lack of willpower. Diets often boomerang, they say; indeed, numerous long-term studies have found that even though dieters are often able to lose weight in the short term, they almost always regain the lost pounds over the next few years.

Ultimately, these bloggers argue, being skinny may have far more to do with the luck of the genetic draw than with lifestyle choices…”

Fat may or may not be bad or ugly during one’s lifetime but it could be a problem after one’s death.

Reuters reported on August 5, 2007:

“More than two-thirds of Australians living outside major cities are overweight or obese, and extremely obese corpses are creating a safety hazard at mortuaries…

…In the past year, there have also been requests for larger crematorium furnaces, bigger grave plots as well as super-sized ambulances, wheelchairs and hospital beds.”

Artist: Michael Crawford The New Yorker 18 May 1998

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Am I a Narcissistic Jerk having a Meltdown?

I am 47, graying fast. I have never been in a better position to understand so called “midlife crisis”.

I read two conflicting reports on the subject this year.

Typical of me, I agree with both!

Asian Age January 30, 2008 reported:

“Believe it or not, middle age makes you miserable. So, don't blame your job, your kids, your spouse, your income or lack of it.

A team of researchers from Britain and the United States has carried out a study and found that people are more likely to feel depressed in their mid-life, with the peak age for depression being about 44.

In fact, according to the researchers, happiness and depression follows a U-shape over a person's lifetime with the happiest times being at the start and end of life…”

Good news in above. I am not 44 anymore. I will never be!

Richard A. Friedman said (NYT January 15, 2008):

“With the possible exception of “the dog ate my homework,” there is no handier excuse for human misbehavior than the midlife crisis.

Popularly viewed as a unique developmental birthright of the human species, it supposedly strikes when most of us have finally figured ourselves out — only to discover that we have lost our youth and mortality is on the horizon.

No doubt about it, life in the middle ages can be challenging. (Full disclosure: I’m 51.) What with the first signs of physical decline and the questions and doubts about one’s personal and professional accomplishments, it is a wonder that most of us survive.

Not everyone is so lucky; some find themselves seized by a seemingly irresistible impulse to do something dramatic, even foolish. Everything, it appears, is fair game for a midlife crisis: one’s job, spouse, lover — you name it…

… But you have to admit that “I’m having a midlife crisis” sounds a lot better than “I’m a narcissistic jerk having a meltdown.”…

… So what keeps the myth of the midlife crisis alive?

The main culprit, I think, is our youth-obsessed culture, which makes a virtue of the relentless pursuit of self-renewal. The news media abound with stories of people who seek to recapture their youth simply by shedding their spouses, quitting their jobs or leaving their families. Who can resist?…”

On related subject, Allan Massie wonders what would have happened to those who died young in their old age.

“…What of Shelley? Would he have remained a Man of the Left, being scooped-up, white hair streaming, by police as he took part in a sit-down demonstration in Trafalgar Square? Or would he as Sir Percy Shelley, Bart, have put all that behind him, becoming a pillar of the Establishment? Would the author of the tract ‘The Necessity of Atheism’ have ended up as a churchwarden? Bertrand Russell or T. S. Eliot? He might have gone either way, for he was the perfect type of the intellectual always attracted to extreme positions. So would Shelley in his seventies have found himself lining up with Carlyle, Ruskin, Tennyson and Charles Kingsley in defence of Governor Eyre who had displayed what John Stuart Mill called ‘brutal recklessness’ in suppressing a Black rebellion in Jamaica? I suspect he might...

… They were all spared the pains and disgruntlement of advancing years, and so they remain, like the figures on the Grecian Urn, ‘For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,/ For ever panting and for ever young.”

Artist: Tom Cheney The New Yorker 26 Feb 1996

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Waiting for an Indian Cellphone Novel

NORIMITSU ONISHI wrote in NYT January 20, 2008:

“Until recently, cellphone novels — composed on phone keypads by young women wielding dexterous thumbs and read by fans on their tiny screens — had been dismissed in Japan as a subgenre unworthy of the country that gave the world its first novel, “The Tale of Genji,” a millennium ago. Then last month, the year-end best-seller tally showed that cellphone novels, republished in book form, have not only infiltrated the mainstream but have come to dominate it.

Of last year’s 10 best-selling novels, five were originally cellphone novels, mostly love stories written in the short sentences characteristic of text messaging but containing little of the plotting or character development found in traditional novels. What is more, the top three spots were occupied by first-time cellphone novelists, touching off debates in the news media and blogosphere.

“Will cellphone novels kill ‘the author’?” a famous literary journal, Bungaku-kai, asked on the cover of its January issue. Fans praised the novels as a new literary genre created and consumed by a generation whose reading habits had consisted mostly of manga, or comic books. Critics said the dominance of cellphone novels, with their poor literary quality, would hasten the decline of Japanese literature.
Whatever their literary talents, cellphone novelists are racking up the kind of sales that most more experienced, traditional novelists can only dream of…

… The cellphone novel was born in 2000 after a home-page-making Web site, Maho no i-rando, realized that many users were writing novels on their blogs; it tinkered with its software to allow users to upload works in progress and readers to comment, creating the serialized cellphone novel. But the number of users uploading novels began booming only two to three years ago, and the number of novels listed on the site reached one million last month, according to Maho no i-rando. ..”

Job of a cellphone novelist is hazardous because writing on the device makes nail to cut into the flesh, sometimes bloodying it. See a related post here.

I hope India too will soon see a cellphone novel.

Indian cities have the entire infrastructure in place. Youngsters have evolved a lingo to suit the medium. They use their thumbs ambidextrously on the gadgets. They probably first express what they feel using SMS rather than ordinary speech.

Hopefully they have something interesting to say other than just:

Artist: Sidney Harris The New Yorker 13 November 2000

Monday, February 04, 2008

Pune Kids: Are You Still With the Same Parents?

Times of India on January 9, 2008 reported:

"Divorce fever grips city:

If the rising rate of divorce is anything to go by, Pune could soon be competing on this front with other industrialised cities around the globe. Every day, young, well-educated and well-earning men and women, refusing to see a permanent future with each other, are resorting to the law...

...A host of social, psychological, economic and cultural reasons are cited by couples while applying for a divorce. Lack of compatibility, interfering in-laws, cruelty, domestic violence and irregular communication were the causes of the split. The most typical reason for couples in the age bracket of 25 to 35 was lack of proper communication between them..."

In close proximity to my family, I have seen few divorces and few are in the pipeline.

Artist: Bruce Eric Kaplan The New Yorker 9 June 1997

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Defying Gravitas; Jumping for the Sheer Joy of Cricket

I have an old Life magazine issue that has few pictures of celebrities jumping at the command of American portrait photographer Philippe Halsman.

Halsman used to say, "When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears." The photographer developed a philosophy of jump photography, which he called jumpology.He published Philippe Halsman's Jump Book in 1959 (see picture below), which contained a tongue-in-cheek discussion of jumpology and 178 photographs of celebrity jumpers.”

Halsman, who had 101 Life covers to his credit when he died in 1979, felt a portrait that did not show psychological insight was "an empty likeness" of its subject. Richard Nixon, Aldous Huxley, Marilyn Monroe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor are among the celebrities he launches into orbit.

Smithsonian magazine, October 2006:

“The freezing of motion has a long and fascinating history in photography, whether of sports, fashion or war. But rarely has stop-action been used in the unlikely, whimsical and often mischievous ways that Philippe Halsman employed it…

… Portraiture is one of the greatest challenges in photography, because the human face is elusive and often mask-like, with practiced expressions for the standard range of emotions. Some photographers accept these preset expressions—think of annual-report portraits of corporate officers—and others try to eliminate expression altogether, to get a picture as neutral as a wanted poster. Halsman was determined to show his sitters with their masks off but their true selves in place…”

I wonder what Halsman would have made of R P Singh who seems to jump with such unalloyed joy and no touch of malice.

Philippe Halsman "Jump Book" (notice Brigitte Bardot in second row extreme right)

RP Singh after getting through Adam Gilchrist, Australia vs India, 3rd Test, Perth, 2nd day, January 17, 2008

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Legs of God Hoofing the Ball into the Night Sky

Indian newspapers on February 1, 2008 reported:”Maradona sorry for ‘Hand of God’”.

I watched that match of 1986 world cup- England Vs. Argentina- live on TV, courtesy my sports crazy friend V Parameswaran.

No exaggeration, I haven’t seen a better football match than that. Thank you, Param.

In one of the best essays- “My hope for a tortured genius”- I have read, Gary Lineker, Maradona’s rival, wrote:

“…He was a footballing genius and the best player of my lifetime. I know everyone talks about Pele and George Best but they came a bit early for me and of the players I watched, Maradona was head and shoulders above anything else I saw.

During my days at Barcelona, I was picked to play alongside him for a Rest of the World XI against an English League team and as we warmed up he hoofed the ball into the night sky as high as he could. When it came down, he trapped it perfectly on his left foot. An interesting little party piece, you might think. But he did it again and again and again, perhaps 13 times in all, each time kicking it as high as he could. Believe me, that is near-impossible but I stood there watching with Michel Platini, who was a pretty special player himself. Yet even he was open-mouthed, in awe of the magnificence of what he was seeing.

He will always be remembered for the Hand-of-God goal (see picture below on the left) against England in the 1986 World Cup. But I played in that game and I feel no bitterness.

We’ve seen players get away with a bit of skulduggery and I would say the referee and linesman should take the blame. You would hardly expect Maradona to own up to punching the ball in. From my customary position, just inside the halfway line, I did not see it because there were too many bodies in the way.

In my mind, Maradona should be remembered more for that sublime second goal. What sticks in my mind about that match was the pitch being just big lumps of turf. It was all but unplayable and when you tried to turn, the whole pitch seemed to turn with you. But for a genius nothing was impossible and as I again stood in my customary position, I had a perfect view as he received the ball, controlled it with one touch, turned perfectly and accelerated past the first English player.

The rest, as they say, is history but whatever people think about his handled goal, they ought to give him credit for the second one (see picture below on the right) that day. It was a magnificent run and a magnificent finish. Sometimes, no matter how disappointed you feel as a player, you have to accept that a goal is simply brilliant and unstoppable, and give credit to the opposition. It was so unbelievable that I actually felt like applauding, though naturally I didn’t. Argentina were a better side than us in 1986 — we reached our peak in 1990 — and though it was not a one-man World Cup, it was as close as you can get…” (April 26, 2004)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Earworm - I Did Not Know What You Were Called!

I remember an incident from 1970's at my home in Miraj.

When my mother was away and father was cooking, he hummed a song. My sister picked it up and started singing it herself. That angered my father so much that she really got an earful from him that day.

I learnt a lesson.

Now I know what happened. My sister had got earworm-ohrwurms. She just couldn’t help it.

I remember Isaq Mujawar इसाक मुजावर in 1970’s writing a long article in Marathi magazine Rasarang रसरंग on phenomenon of “Hammer Music” in Hindi film music industry. The article talked about the tactics new music directors and their corporates were deploying to succeed.

Mujawar perhaps meant using earworms.

I also remember one particular Ganesh festival from 1970’s in the neighbourhood when they only played songs of Dada Kondke’s दादा कोंडके Songadya सोंगाड्या (1971) for all ten days.

I had my quota of earworms for the whole year.

What are earworms?

Michael Johnson has written about it: “I can't get that tune out of my head” (December 20, 2007).

“…the exasperating phenomenon of tunes that get stuck on the brain – ohrwurms…

… At least one professor, James Kellaris of the University of Cincinnati, is looking to discover what makes them so irritating and so persistent.

Whatever it is, it's hard to escape the earworm at this time of year, with shopping malls and public streets bombarding you with holiday tunes. It matters not whether you like the music. In fact the less you like it, the longer it seems to hang around in the memory cells, circling the mind relentlessly.

When this happens, the neurologist Oliver Sacks writes, "the music has entered and subverted part of the brain, forcing it to fire repetitively . . . as may happen with a tic or a seizure."

… Musical memory takes many curious forms. Researchers say the constant repetition of popular music - inescapable today in iPods, portable CD players, on the radio, in the air everywhere - trains us from childhood to expect certain patterns of notes. This enables worn-out melodies to take up residence comfortably in the brain, where the patterns have been deeply etched.

Musicians, unlike the rest of us, exploit this cranial quirk and put way hours of material that they then can summon at will.

The continuous exercising of the brain's musical ability leaves physical tracks…”

Earworm machine:

Artist: Tom Cheney 13 May 1991 The New Yorker