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."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Avoiding Plastic Bags at the Mall will not Offset Your Car’s Emissions

In middle-class India, environmentalism has become as fashionable as it is in the West. It is in schoolbooks, on TV, in after-dinner discussions.

I hope those Indians who could not stand what Michael Crichton said in his book “State of Fear” 2004, will read JOHN TIERNEY in NYT March 25, 2008:

“…Installing a solar-powered hot-water heater or a windmill at your place in the country is not going to erase the carbon footprint of maintaining and traveling to a second home. Recycling glass bottles and avoiding plastic bags at the grocery store will not offset your car’s emissions.

Switching to a Prius will not undo the effects of frequent air travel. A couple of international trips can be worse for your carbon footprint than driving a Hummer for a year. If the delegates to future conferences on climate change are expected to wear illuminated symbols of their energy consumption, they won’t be visiting any more spots like Bali…”

This comes on top of what Jared Diamond said in NYT on January 2, 2008:

“…The average rates at which people consume resources like oil and metals, and produce wastes like plastics and greenhouse gases, are about 32 times higher in North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australia than they are in the developing world…

A real problem for the world is that each of us 300 million Americans consumes as much as 32 Kenyans

The only approach that China and other developing countries will accept is to aim to make consumption rates and living standards more equal around the world…

Other aspects of our consumption are wasteful, too…The world has serious consumption problems, but we can solve them if we choose to do so.”

“Consumption Factor” related problems are not just between nations but also within an individual country.

Economic & Political Weeky March 15-21 2008 said:

“Despite rapid economic growth, more than 75% of Indians are poor and vulnerable with a level of consumption not more than twice the official poverty line…

There is evidence to suggest that inequality is widening between the common people and the better-off sections of society.”

With great effort and luck, if you swim to an island, unlike in the past, a windmill and not a tree is likely to greet you!


The Spectator

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Alfred Nobel…What Were You Smoking?

In his new book “Human Smoke”, Nicholson Baker writes (NYT Books Update March 21, 2008):

“…It was August 1892.
"Perhaps my factories will put an end to war even sooner than your congresses," Alfred Nobel said. "On the day when two army corps may mutually annihilate each other in a second, probably all civilized nations will recoil with horror and disband their troops." “

Mr. Nobel, From the days of Mahabharat, two army corps have mutually annihilated each other in a second but arms manufacturers from "civilized" nation such as yours have invented newer reasons to create deadlier weapons.


Artist: Alan Dunn The New Yorker 30 October 1948

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Without this Fag there was Almost No Marathi cinema

On March 23, 2008, I watched Mel Brook’s “To Be or Not To Be” (1983).

While watching James Haake as Sasha, I remembered brilliance of Ganpat Patil गणपत पाटील.

Next day Mr. Patil came visiting, on the front page of morning newspaper. He passed way on March 23, 2008 at Kolhapur कोल्हापूर.

Master Vinayak मास्टर विनायक onwards, Marathi cinema has given India some of the finest comic actors. Mr. Patil was one of the very best. He was a unique gift to Marathi cinema because Hindi cinema never had such a talented fag.

Ganpat Patil turned some of the most mundane scenes into the most hilarious ones by a gesture here and a dialogue there.

Leading men of Marathi cinema must be petrified by Mr. Patil's on-screen ability to make fun of any of them with so little effort.

I always envied his easy access to leading ladies of Marathi cinema. On screen, he slept next to them or slipped under the pallu of their sari without making anyone feel awkward! I thought it was all very sexy without being vulgar.

Mel Brooks says in “To Be or Not To Be”: “Without Jews, fags, and gypsies, there is no theater.

Although in real life he was no fag, without Ganpat Patil it was as if there was no Marathi cinema.


(Picture courtesy- Pudhari पुढारी March 24, 2008)

Monday, March 24, 2008

I wish Painting is All Winston Churchill Did

The Asian Age March 21, 2008 reported:

UK kids say Churchill was 1st man on moon!:
…Nearly three quarters of children between 4 to 10 years cannot even identify the moon in the night sky, let alone any stars or planets…(and say) Sir Winston Churchill, the UK Prime Minister during the second world war, was the first man to walk on the moon…”

I don’t see Churchill on moon but surely see him in hell.

Amartya Sen wrote in Economic & Political Weekly February 16-22, 2008:

“…Winston Churchill’s famous remark that the Bengal famine of 1943 was caused by the tendency of people there to breed like rabbits belongs to this general tradition of blaming the colonial victim. This had a profound effect in crucially delaying famine relief in that disastrous and easily preventable famine. The demands of cultural nationalism merge well with the asymmetry of power and can have quite devastating effects…”

(India was hardly alone. Sample cruelty of Britain towards Ireland:

"Charles Edward Trevelyan
, the head of the treasury in London during the famines, who had a huge role in the making of public policy in Ireland, even took the liberty of speculating: “There is scarcely a woman of the peasant class in the West of Ireland whose culinary art exceeds the boiling of a potato”. There, it seems, we see the birth of a putatively great explanation of a famine – people starved because the Irish peasant woman could not cook beyond boiling a potato!"

It is estimated that between 500,000 and 1.5 million people died as a result of the famine.

"The famines of the 1840s also changed the nature of Ireland in a decisive way. It led to a level of emigration – even under the most terrible conditions of voyage – that has hardly been seen anywhere else in the world. The Irish population even today is very substantially smaller than it was more than 160 years ago, in 1845, when the famine began.")

Although Churchill once said: “One of our great aims is the delivery on German towns of the largest possible quantity of bombs per night”, he still had some concern left for Germans as exemplified in para below.

“…Even Churchill came to regret the extent of the bombing, in March 1945 writing to the RAF’s head saying that ”the terror bombing must stop” and remonstrating over the destruction of Dresden…”

But for Indians, he only had scorn. “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

Considering that he also said: ”I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.”, Bengalis should be considered lucky that they were killed by famine and not by Agent Yellow!

I really wish Churchill indeed did only paintings….


Artist: Charles E. Martin 6 February 1954

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Not Just Graffiti but Reality?

Unless this is a prank, this picture would make most people numb.

Outlook March 24, 2008Saving Vidarbha



Banner written in Marathi reads “With houses, cattle and entire fields, this village is for sale” at Dorli village in Wardha, Maharashtra

Thursday, March 20, 2008

How Democracies Can Elect Hitler and Defeat Mahatma Phule महात्मा फुले

Indians are proud of their democracy. They feel it facilitates social mobility in a caste ridden society and is the least flawed of all forms of governance.

I agree with this assessment.

Ian Kershaw wrote on February 3, 2008:

How democracy produced a monster: Could something like it happen again? That is invariably the first question that comes to mind when recalling that Hitler was given power in Germany 75 years ago last week.

With the world now facing such great instability, the question seems more obvious than ever.

Hitler came to power in a democracy with a highly liberal constitution, and in part by using democratic freedoms to undermine and then destroy democracy itself…

…These distant events still have echoes today. In Europe, in the wake of increased immigration, most countries have experienced some revival of neo-fascist movements. Not so long ago, Serbian nationalism, inflamed by President Slobodan Milosevic, set off war and ethnic cleansing within the Continent…”

Marathi daily Pudhari पुढारी reported on March 19, 2008:

“125 years ago on March 19, 1883, two of the greatest Indians ever, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule महात्मा ज्योतिबा फुले (1827-1890) and Gopal Hari Deshmukh aka Lokhitwadi गोपाळ हरी देशमुख लोकहितवादी (1823-1892)- were trounced by conservatives in local elections.

In Vetal Peth वेताळ पेठ, Phule got zero votes and in Bhavai Peth भवानी पेठ he got just two votes, including his own vote. Keeping him company, in Shukravar Peth शुक्रवार पेठ, Lokhitwadi got zero votes.”

Pudhari claimed that today Phule would surely get elected because his agenda of social reforms is now universally accepted etc. (Btw- No such claim was made on behalf of Lokhitwadi.)

In deeply divided on caste lines of today's Maharashtra, I am not sure about Phule's electoral prospects but Lokhitwadi would surely be defeated in year 2008!


Artist: Frank Modell The New Yorker 12 January 1957

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tragedy and Comedy are NOT two Different Planets but Windows

Inspired by Anton Chekhov, Israeli author Amos Oz told Newsweek March 3, 2008:

"...I no longer believe that tragedy and comedy are two different planets. They are just two different windows from which we can view the same landscape of our lives..."

Never to know one's mother must be the only tragedy greater than never to know one's father.

G A Kulkarni जी ए कुलकर्णी wrote in 1977:
"
तीर्थरूप आबांस,
डोळे उघडून उठून बसत मी तुम्हाला नीट
पाहण्यापूर्वीच तुमची पावले उंबऱ्याबाहेर
पडली होती."

(Respected Father,
Before I opened eyes while sitting up to have a good look at you, your feet had crossed the threshold)

This moved me but I what liked more was…

Mel Brooks:

“I can’t tell you what sadness, what pain it is to me never to have known my father…If only I could look at him, touch his face, see if he had eyebrows!”


Artist: Dana Fradon The New Yorker 1 May 1965

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Earth’s Love Song of Kusumagraj कुसुमाग्रज Is Prophetic

On March 11, 2008, DENNIS OVERBYE wrote for NYT “Kissing the Earth Goodbye in About 7.59 Billion Years.”

“If nature is left to its own devices, about 7.59 billion years from now Earth will be dragged from its orbit by an engorged red Sun and spiral to a rapid vaporous death…

… Earth’s basic problem is that the Sun will gradually get larger and more luminous as it goes through life, according to widely held theories of stellar evolution. In its first 4.5 billion years, according to the models, the Sun has already grown about 40 percent brighter.

Over the coming eons, life on Earth will become muggier and more uncomfortable and finally impossible...

… About a billion years from now, the Sun will be 10 percent brighter. Oceans on Earth will boil away. The Sun will run out of hydrogen fuel in its core about 5.5 billion years from now and start burning hydrogen in the surrounding layers. As a result, the core will shrink and the outer layers will rapidly expand as the Sun transforms itself into a red giant…

… As a result, the red giant version of the Sun — at its maximum — will be 256 times as big across as the star is today and 2,730 times as luminous…”

This article brought to my mind a Marathi poem.

V V Shirwadkar वि वा शिरवाडकर aka Kusumagraj कुसुमाग्रज wrote पृथ्वीचे प्रेमगीत “Earth’s Love Song” in the first half of 20th century ( विशाखा Vishakha 1942).

I had this poem to study in school (9th standard?). I liked it on the first reading.

I remember a little embarrassment of our Marathi teacher (Mr. Ligade?) reading out to the whole class carnal desires of mother earth!

One of its stanza reads as follows:

गमे की तुझ्या रुद्र रूपात जावे
मिळोनी गळा घालुनीया गळा
तुझ्या लाल ओठांतली आग प्यावी.
मिठीने तुझ्या तीव्र व्हाव्या कळा.

(“Feel like in your fierce beauty
I should merge by necking
Drink fire of your red lips.
Should feel acute pain by your embrace. “)

This is no more poet's fantasy. We think this all will happen!

The robots or cockroaches or whoever that is running the Earth in a billion years will know.


Artist: Charles Addams The New Yorker 25 July 1983

Friday, March 14, 2008

Indian Religious Life Regulated by Encyclopaedia of Errors and Superstitions called Hindu Almanac पंचांग?

I had a good fortune of reading two excellent articles on the subject of calendars.

On February 29, 2008 NYT, “A Great Leap Forward" By CHRIS TURNEY and on March 28, 2008 Frontline, “Medieval Mistake” by Biman Nath.

Turney wrote:

“…But now we’re in the 21st century, and time is measured according to oscillations of vaporized atoms of cesium-133. Why do we still need something as oddly quaint as leap year?

The answer lies in the fact that days and years are not neatly synchronized. This problem has confounded calendar makers for centuries, and prompted corrections far more clumsy than an occasional extra day in February…

… In what is now Belgium, the calendar went from Dec. 21, 1582, straight to Jan. 1, 1583, depriving everyone there of Christmas.

By the time Britain adopted the calendar, in 1752, 11 days had to be eliminated, and many people were enraged at the loss. “Time rioters” took to the streets of London and other cities chanting, “Give us back our 11 days!”…”

Among all kinds of them in Indian streets, “Time rioters” are still not there because India has chosen to do nothing about the error of whopping 24 days in its calendars!

Nath wrote:

“…The traditional Indian calendars have become just such an absurdity today. They are slowly going out of sync with the seasons – by ‘ticking’ faster than they should – and they have already accumulated an alarming gap…

… That is why Makara Sankranti, which is actually the day the sun shines overhead on the Tropic of Capricorn (Makara), that is December 22 (the winter solstice), is celebrated in the middle of January. Most of us often wonder about the significance of January and Makara, unaware of the fact that the fault lies with our calendar system, that it cannot keep step with the seasons. It is like looking out at noon and trying to understand why we call it morning because our watch says so.

And it is all because of a mistake made in the medieval times. Moving faster than the seasons, Indian calendars jump ahead by a whole day in roughly 60 years; so they must have accumulated the present gap of 24 days in approximately 1,450 years. The calendars of today came into use circa 5th-6th century C.E. This was the time when the siddhanta (conclusive) system of astronomy was being formulated. There was a lot of debate and discussion at that point of time about a crucial issue, but somehow the prominent astronomers chose to disregard the truth and our calendar system is paying the price for it. The issue was about a discovery made in 2nd century B.C. in Greece, and something that medieval astronomers in India could have easily checked instead of indulging in wordy debates…

… The Government of India set up a committee to reform our calendars in 1955 with the renowned physicist Meghnad Saha as its chairman. It surveyed the existing calendars and the methods of corrections adopted in each, and concluded that “the Hindu calendar... is a most bewildering production of the human mind and incorporates all the superstitions and half-truths of medieval times....In spite of these errors, very few have the courage to talk of reform... the beginning of the year is now wrong by nearly twenty-three days, the result of accumulated error of nearly 1,400 years.”

The committee went on to lament “We are content to allow religious life to be regulated by the encyclopaedia of ‘errors and superstitions’ which is called the Hindu almanac, and to regard it as a scripture.” …

The Indian National Calendar was adopted in 1957 based on its report, and if one followed its recommendations – similar to the conventions in the Gregorian calendar – then it would stand corrected for several millennia to come.

But this National Calendar is hardly used anywhere outside the confines of the pages of gazettes or broadcasts of All India Radio, while lay people remain blissfully at the mercy of traditional calendar makers…”

Author Vishwas Patil विश्वास पाटील described sentimentally in his Marathi novel Panipat पानिपत that while the rest of Maharashtra was eating sweet-chapatis (गुळपोळी) on January 14, 1761; thousands of Marathi speaking men were being slaughtered on the battlefield at Panipat. Assumption being January 14, 1761 was the festival day of Makara Sankranti.

But was January 14 a Sankranti day in 1761?

Even today there is a huge controversy in Maharashtra about when to celebrate Shivaji’s birth anniversary. As per Indian calendar or Gregorian one? Before reading Frontline article, I belonged to the camp that argued it should be according to the Indian calendar.

I was wrong.

Shivaji was born in year 1630. If Indian calendar has erred 24 days in approximately 1,450 years, it has erred 6.3 days in 378 years. Therefore, I should have celebrated Shivjayanti शिवजयंती as per Gregorian calendar on February 19, 2008 instead waiting for March 24, 2008.


Artist: Otto Soglow The New Yorker 20 July 1929

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

All You Hear is Hema Malini. It’s as though Manorama Never Lived.

Hindi film actor Manorama died: reported The Times of India February 17, 2008.

In sad circumstances. Alone. Apparently she had no house to stay before it was arranged. No one knows her only daughter’s whereabouts.

This is almost a pattern when it comes to Hindi film personalities, particularly character actors, of yesteryears.

She gave us so much of pleasure.

Other day I watched tearjerker Dus Lakh (1966) for a while. It has a scene when Manorama walks over to the table where Pran and Om Prakash are sitting. Moving her arched thumb towards Om Prakash, she asks Pran: “Who is this joker?”

I couldn’t stop laughing for a while.

1972 was a golden year for her.

Block buster, “Seeta Aur Geeta” is the most popular movie in our household largely because of Manorama. And “Bombay To Goa” where Manorama stood her ground admirably is arguably the greatest gathering of comic actors in Hindi film history.

Sorry Manorama, we were not grateful enough and life –not you- is a bitch anyway. Make lots of faces at us.



Artist: Alain The New Yorker 20 January 1934

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pune Bikers, Get Life Expectancy Dial Installed!

The Times of India front page headline on March 7, 2008:

“Death lurks on city roads. 418 killed in 2007. Fatalities high on highway stretches.”

Pune for sure is still not as bad as Kolkata of yesteryears or Bangaluru (Bangalore) of today. But it may get there.

These days I get most scared by 'wrong-side' traffic. Those who are driving on wrong side, drive at their usual speed and honk vigorously! When I give them semi-amused look, they look quizzed.

Meanwhile, here is a suggestion captured well in following picture...(I wonder how we calibrate those dials for Pune.)


Artist: Robert Thompson, The Spectator

Monday, March 10, 2008

Dreams of India Must Remain Open-Defecation-Free and Hunger-Free

Marathi daily Sakal सकाळ reported on March 8, 2008:
“…60% Indians earn less than Rs. 20 or less per day and more than 660 million Indians live below poverty line…In Maharashtra 26% urban population and 70.4% rural population live below poverty line…”

Times of India reported on March 9, 2008:

“…Satara is on its way to becoming one of the first “open defecation free” (ODF) districts in the country…”

(see a related post here: Shitting In Public, Not a Cell Phone- Image of India .)

Times of India reported on March 9, 2008:

“…Indians are stingy…people who spend several thousand rupees on eating out but do not help impoverished…most of the time people donate money only if it is connected to aid religious purposes…”

(currently the most visible effort to collect donations at Pune is for a temple.)

Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar admitted in Times of India March 9, 2008
“…India has enjoyed 8-9% GDP growth for four years but the boom has bypassed many rural areas…”

NYT Editorial on March 3, 2008:
“The world’s food situation is bleak, and shortsighted policies in the United States and other wealthy countries — which are diverting crops to environmentally dubious biofuels — bear much of the blame… Prices have gone so high that the World Food Program, which aims to feed 73 million people this year, said it might have to reduce rations or the number of people it will help… “

And finally Moisés Naím- editor in chief of Foreign Policy- wondered:

"Can the World Afford a Middle Class? Yes, but it will be awfully expensive" Foreign Policy, 28 February 2008.

Perhaps the thinking is if Indians and Chinese don't breed any further, no need to feed extra mouths and arranging closed places to defecate!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Problem of the Night Before i-pill

Watching TV in India with kids is getting trickier by the day.

You may avoid programming having steamy sex scenes of human beings (can’t avoid those of animals though thanks to NG and Animal Planet) but what about ad spots during even live coverage of cricket matches?

For a while now, we have been watching an advertisement of i-pill, a single-pill emergency contraceptive.

I think availability of such a pill as an over the counter drug would have made R D Karve र धों कर्वे very happy.

Now even Karve would have no solution for a problem below!


Artist: Marisa Acocella Marchetto The New Yorker 26 July 1999

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Not with a Whimper but a Bang

T S Eliot wrote “The Hollow Men” in 1925.

The poem ends with following much quoted and copied words:

“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”


This blog has already visited starless sky on October 2, 2007. Read it here
I Should Learn to Look at an Empty Sky unless……..


(Please note I took some liberties with that post because “What will the scientists of the future see as they peer into the skies 100 billion years from now? Without telescopes, they will see pretty much what we see today: the stars of our galaxy. The largest and brightest stars will have burned up their nuclear fuel, but plenty of smaller stars will still light up the night sky. The big difference will occur when these future scientists build telescopes capable of detecting galaxies outside our own. They won’t see any!”)

Scientific American India March 2008 has cover story: “The End of Cosmology”.

Authors Lawrence M. Krauss and Robert J. Scherrer claim:
“…Thus, observers of the future are likely to predict that the universe ultimately ends with a localized big crunch, rather than the eternal expansion that the cosmological constant produces. Instead of a whimper, their limited universe will end with a bang…”

Ironically, according to Wikipedia, when asked if he would write these lines again, Eliot said ‘no’:

“One reason is that while the association of the H-bomb is irrelevant to it, it would today come to everyone's mind. Another is that he is not sure the world will end with either…”



100 billion years in the future |
Successor to the Milky Way is a ball-like supergalaxy. Earth floats forlornly through its distant outskirts. Other galaxies, moving away from us faster than light, have disappeared from view.


Picture courtesy: Scientific American

Friday, March 07, 2008

IPL is Not Rape of Cricket but a Promise of Million Mutinies

Vinod Mehta has called IPL and/or its auction of cricketers “the rape of cricket”. (Outlook March 10, 2008).

“…The BCCI is a destructive body determined to kill cricket. If anyone is planning a coup d’etat against it, count me in. The present lot must be removed before they inflict further damage. Meanwhile, all cricket lovers must hope the IPL is a complete and total flop. And the people who conjured up this dreadful scheme are badly burned.”

National leaders of all hue from Gurudas Dasgupta to Bal Thackeray via Sharad Yadav have already lambasted IPL, some of them calling for its ban.

I disagree with all of them as far as IPL is concerned.

While growing up, I played and watched gulli sports from kabaddi to cricket and I strongly feel that people should get an opportunity to play/participate in a sport locally. And those who do should make reasonable living out of the same.

Fan like me should get an opportunity to see a sporting action on a local ground and not just on TV. I have always enjoyed watching a gulli game far more than the one on TV.

IPL and ICL are those opportunities.

Many people have called auction of the players vulgar.

If it’s so, most other things should also be called vulgar: Highly educated people changing three jobs in two days for more money, film stars charging obscene money to inaugurate shops, TV serials propagating pseudosciences, citizens changing nationality like soiled clothes, goons lynching poor labourers because they don’t speak a particular language, society at large that holds the poor criminally responsible for their position, news media that will catastrophize anything they can, people that worry about their own children but don’t feel hurt or pained when they see others’ children exploited or treated badly…

I feel IPL is likely to give huge opportunity to young people from weaker sections of Indian society to make it big. It is a promising tool to promote social mobility in India. Today BCCI may be controlling this localization of Indian cricket but tomorrow may throw a lot of surprises at it.

If a boy enjoys his cricket, is prepared to work hard for it, cannot afford expensive higher education, with a bit of luck, he needn’t study his textbooks.

Therefore, following picture is no exaggeration.


Artist : R K Laxman Times of India February 25, 2008

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Who's Going to Plunge Us into Fascism Today?

There are number of things that bother me about today’s Maharashtra.

Following is the most disturbing.

PRAFUL BIDWAI wrote in Frontline March 14, 2008:

“…not a single major leader of Maharashtra – from Deshmukh to the Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar, from State Congress chief Prabha Rau to Home Minister R.R. Patil – has condemned Raj Thackeray’s campaign of crass chauvinism or his goon tactics. They have not uttered a word against the intimidation and beating up of scores of working people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They have been silent on the MNS’ glorification of all that is Marathi and its nauseating condemnation of the culture of the north. Although the progressive and secular intelligentsia has spoken out, the politicians’ silence is revealing.

The top leadership of the United Progressive Alliance too has chosen to refrain from deploring the MNS’ hate campaign. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken to frequent exhortations to crush and eradicate “the virus” of “left extremism” (naxalites). But not once has he spoken in a similar vein against right extremism, which has caused far greater destruction to this society and posed a much more virulent challenge to its constitutional-democratic order. Leave alone “crush” the forces of vicious nativism and xenophobia such as the MNS and Shiv Sena, Manmohan Singh does not even talk of restraining, discouraging or combating them. About his expression of solidarity with the terrorised victims of the recent hate campaign, the less said the better.

This is creating a peculiar polarisation along narrow ethnic-linguistic lines…”

Jonah Goldberg defines fascism as:

“It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the "problem" and therefore defined as the enemy.

Please note words- uniformity of thought and action and ominous warning- “Any rival identity is part of the "problem" and therefore defined as the enemy.”

Artist: Perry Barlow The New Yorker 14 September 1940

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

India’s Present-day Society Lacks the Desire to See Every Child at School

Prof. Krishna Kumar, Director of the NCERT was interviewed by Frontline dated March 14, 2008.

“….There is plenty of evidence to say that India’s present-day society lacks the desire to see every child at school…

… Education is a long-term investment. To make such an investment generously, one needs faith in the future and the hope that we will get there. For appropriate investments in education we also need socio-political imagination and a social consensus on certain basic ideas, such as the idea that every child matters. In our country such a consensus has yet to emerge. Far too many people still believe that only the so-called bright or smart children matter and deserve education of the best quality.

Also, a lot of people perceive education as a private concern, in the sense that they worry about their own children but don’t feel hurt or pained when they see others’ children exploited or treated badly. In such a social ethos, any government will have difficulty in pushing radical educational reforms…

… In every area, from science and maths to social science and language children must be given a space to reflect, ask questions, wonder, and probe sources of knowledge outside the textbook…

If progress in examination reform has been slow, the case of teacher education is worse. The sector is facing a grim situation, with rampant commercialisation on the one hand and a lifeless, uninspiring B.Ed. curriculum on the other…

Teaching profession is in a deep crisis today and in certain parts of the country it is in a shambles, with unqualified, part-time para-teachers serving in place of professionally committed teachers…

We live in a very divided society. People just defend themselves and their own interests in everything. [Points to bottled water on the table.] We even drink different kinds of water, and education is like that. It all depends on class, caste, gender. For at least two decades there has been a high value placed on education even by the poorest. But the system has not evolved to the point where their children get the attention they deserve.”

I, me, myself culture of India's non-poor.....


'Look, we've discussed all this. If it gets the kids into a decent school, it's worth it...'
The Spectator 2008

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Nana Patekar नाना पाटेकर, Are You Qualified To Speak on These Matters?

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] “The Simpsons” “Lisa the Vegetarian” by David S. Cohen Directed by Mark Kirkland Production code: 3F03 Original airdate in N.A.: 15-Oct-95

Pudhari पुढारी on March 3, 2008 reported:
” Nana Patekar supports Raj Thackeray राज ठाकरे.”

There is no problem with that.

Problem is with the reasoning Mr. Patekar has given for his action: “If son of the soil is not acceptable, why the formation of linguistic states and why we need domicile certificate.”

To equate the language struggles of the 1950s with the current agitation- targeting lowly paid, largely poor North Indians- is a cruel joke.

The current agitation reminded me of “The Hungry Tide: A Novel by Amitav Ghosh” based on a true story of a group of poor immigrants to Sunderbans who in the name of environment protection are chased away by Bengali bhadralok. Another example is the slaughter of poor North Indian immigrant workers by militants in Assam.

No doubt language is the first and fundamental element of human identity. But the goals of the language struggles of the 1950s were not narrow, short sighted and hence they didn’t target only one group of minorities. Those struggles therefore remain, in terms of social composition, popular participation, and moral fervour, perhaps the most significant social movements of independent India.

While attacking bhadralok Amartya Sen’s book “The Argumentative Indian” for its omission of language as a theme, Ramachandra Guha observed:

‘…The most striking omission, in terms of theme, is that of language, a matter of vital importance to India and Indians. (The word does not rate an entry in what is a fairly extensive index.) Whether or not premodern India was “multicultural”, as Sen claims, it was certainly multilingual. From the Mughals in the north to the Nayakas in the deep south, royal courts featured multiple languages of discourse. Some of the greatest medieval poets and composers wrote their songs and verses in three or four tongues. At least in the towns, the common folk were also conversant with several languages.

Of course, across vast stretches, and particularly in the countryside, a particular language predominated. But no one language held sway across the subcontinent. It was as a bow to the massively multi-lingual character of the nation-in-the-making that the Congress, under Gandhi’s lead, decided to form provincial committees by linguistic zone. From the 1920s, the Congress PCCs were based on language – Oriya, Marathi, Kannada, etc – with their respective jurisdictions being at odds with (or cutting across) the provincial boundaries of British India. When independence came, the Congress leadership reneged on the promise to form new states based on language. The Congress rank-and-file revolted, taking the masses and activists of other parties with them. Across the country, popular movements broke out calling for the formation of linguistic states. Bowing to public opinion, Nehru conceded the demand.

The language struggles of the 1950s remain, in terms of social composition, popular participation, and moral fervour, perhaps the most significant social movements of independent India…

…When, in 1962, the scientist J B S Haldane told an American journalist that he happened to be “proud of being a citizen of India, which is a lot more diverse than Europe, let alone the US, USSR, or China, and thus a better model for a possible world organisation”, he had its linguistic diversity principally in mind, along with its diversity of religions, cultures, diets, apparel, etc.

…To say that language is constitutive of human identity would be an underestimation; it is the first and fundamental element of human identity. Pakistan broke up, and Sri Lanka is in the throes of an unending civil war, because its rulers and thinkers disregarded this fact. That India stays together as a multilingual state is a tribute to its traditions of heterodoxy and pluralism, as well as to its political democracy, where at least this particular set of disputes was finally settled by reasoned argument and negotiated compromise…”

Can we please have "reasoned argument and negotiated compromise" instead of loud, hysteric dialogues of a bad jingoistic Hindi film?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Pity No N S Phadke ना सी फडके to Describe New Cricket Record

On March 1, 2008, South African opening batsmen Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie broke the Test world record for the best opening partnership set by Indian openers Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy on January 7, 1956. It was the first ever Test series between India and New Zealand.

Brief scores:

India (1st innings): 537-3 decl (M H Mankad 231, P Roy 173, P R Umrigar 79*)
New Zealand (1st innings): 209 all out (B Sutcliffe 47, S P Gupte 5-72)
New Zealand (2nd innings): 219 all out (J R Reid 63, J G Leggat 61, S P Gupte 4-73, M H Mankad 4-65)
Result: India won by an innings and 109 runs

I had a lesson in my school text based on Phadke's masterly essay describing Mankad-Roy's record breaking achievement of 1956. Reading it was such a thrill.

N S Phadke ना सी फडके (1894-1978)- one of the highest paid Marathi authors- was a lousy novelist for my taste.

But Phadke was a pioneer when it came to writing in Marathi on cricket. See a related post here.

I also enjoy reading many of his short essays on various subjects. His essay on Bal Gandharva (बालगंधर्व) is also masterly.

Phadke once imagined that the 'time-man' कालपुरुष was ferrying all books in a boat with a limited carrying capacity. As time goes by and new books keep loading, the time-man is forced to discard books of lesser quality. Phadke obviously hoped that the time-man would keep a few of his books on board.

I am afraid all of Phadke's novels have now probably been thrown out by Kalpurush! Read Vilas Sarang's essay in Marathi on this here.

Almost none of his books has survived the scrutiny of either popularity over long time, like Sane Guruji's Shyamchi Aai (श्यामची आई ), or critical taste.

[Phadke would hate this comparison with Sane Guruji because he has written scornfully about Guruji's literature. See साने गुरूजी पुनर्मूल्यांकन, संपादक: भालचंद्र नेमाडे, १९९९ पृष्ठे: ३७-५७ (Sane Guruji Revaluation, Editor: Bhalchandra Nemade, 1999 Page: 37-57)]


Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy,India v New Zealand, 5th Test, Madras, January , 1956

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Scratch it!

Asian Age informed on February 2, 2008: “Scratching does ease the itch you get.”

Big deal. As if I didn’t know this.

Well, what they mean is that scientists now have found reasons why scratching is pleasurable.

In 1978, I was infected with scabies खरूज, king of all skin ailments in India. I got it from my dear friend “Ravya“ R E Bedekar. I very well knew that scabies was contagious but took no precaution. In no time, scabies had spread even to my genitals.

For few days it was still not diagnosed. Home remedies were being tried.
Then I saw our family Ayurvedic doctor – (Dr. Adivrekar). He asked me if I had visited any hooker or, if not, if I wore clothes of someone who did. It was a bad time to receive the diagnosis. My mother had just undergone a major operation and was still in the hospital.

I felt scared.

To get second opinion, I saw our family allopathic doctor (Dr. Sathe) who immediately diagnosed it- to my lasting relief- as scabies and prescribed me a white lotion (I forget its name but will recognize its smell even today) and some tablets. My sister helped me apply the lotion.

Venerable education expert Dr. Chitra Naik- who along with her husband J P Naik have done so much to promote education in India- once told her television interviewer that she always carried skin ointment while traveling to villages because it acted as a passport to a home in rural India where at least one member of a largish household suffered from scabies!

At a global IT giant where I worked, I always admired gall (pun intended!) of a very senior manager who scratched his genitals, in full view of everyone he was talking to, without a care in the world. I was always amused, never angry by his action. I understood his compulsion!


Artist: Peter Arno The New Yorker 13 June 1931

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Are Historical Films Inspirational or Just Plain Nuisance?

While talking to Newsweek March 3, 2008, Israeli author Amos Oz said:"...The past doesn't just play a role; it almost dominates this region. People remember too well and too much. Both Jews and Arabs carry deep, dramatic injuries."

Historical Hindi film Jodhaa-Akbar has created a stir in India. On February 27 2008, there was chaos in the town of Sangli. (Of course, I take every report in Indian news media with a big pinch of salt because as Steve Salerno said the mainstream news business is so unaccustomed to dealing with issues at any level of complexity and nuance that they’re wont to oversimplify their story to the point of caricature.)

Supporters of the film ask us to forget the history on which purportedly it is based and just to focus on film’s cinematic values. (I then wonder why use names like Akbar & Jodhaa or Bajirao & Mastani. Why not use Zeenat-Imran or Gangubai-Balwantrao?)

They also say history is never objective and hence should be “used” to further “good causes” like Hindu-Muslim unity.

Prime Minister J L Nehru too probably would subscribe to this view.

"...All of which shows how little Nehru understood India and the communal question which tore it apart. His arrogance and ignorance contributed not a little to the tragedy. During the First World War, socialists were dismayed to find the working class as nationalistic as any other in place of the solidarity which theoreticians accepted. Sixty years after Independence we face not only the communal question but also caste divisions…"

(A.G. NOORANI “Path to Partition: A witness’ account” Frontline, October 19, 2007)

Historian T S Shejwalkar त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर (1895 - 1963) argued that even Mahatma Gandhi didn’t have much use of history. Shejwalkar also wished that Nehru and Gandhi studied Panipat 1761 in any detail instead of him!

(Preface to “Panipat 1761”, 1968)

Inspirational history excites me too. Occasionally it moves me to tears. Amartya Sen is a leading exponent of it.

But does it work and for how long?

While reviewing “GOD’S CRUCIBLE /Islam and the Making of Europe, 570 to 1215 “ By David Levering Lewis, ERIC ORMSBY observed:

“…Thus, as Lewis notes, “sumptuary laws required that non-Muslims display badges and that clothing worn by dhimmis be distinguished from that worn by Arabs.” Non-Muslims were not allowed to ride on horseback without a permit, or to bear arms. Moreover, for sound fiscal reasons, conversion to Islam was not warmly encouraged since non-Muslims who converted were no longer required to pay the head tax on which state revenues depended. Though well aware of the overly rosy picture often painted of Muslim Spain, Lewis sometimes accepts it himself. Nowadays, we know all too well that the enforced wearing of badges to signify religious affiliation is hardly a sign of tolerance. That was true in Muslim Spain too…”

So was medieval tolerance, where conversion to Islam was not encouraged, anchored to the state revenues and not to some exalted value system? Even in India?

Reviewing “IDENTITY AND VIOLENCE/ The Illusion of Destiny” By Amartya Sen, Fouad Ajami said:

”… Sen works with the anecdote: His potted history is tailored for interfaith dialogues. He writes of the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who, when forced to emigrate from "an intolerant Europe" in the 12th century, was able to find "a tolerant refuge in the Arab world" in the court of the great Muslim ruler Saladin.

But this will not do as history.

Maimonides, born in 1135, did not flee "Europe" for the "Arab world": He fled his native Córdoba in Spain, which was then in the grip of religious-political terror, choking under the yoke of a Berber Muslim dynasty, the Almohads, that was to snuff out all that remained of the culture of convivencia and made the life of Spain's Jews (and of the free spirits among its Muslims) utter hell. Maimonides and his family fled the fire of the Muslim city-states in the Iberian Peninsula to Morocco and then to Jerusalem. There was darkness and terror in Morocco as well, and Jerusalem was equally inhospitable in the time of the Crusader Kingdom. Deliverance came only in Cairo -- the exception, not the rule, its social peace maintained by the enlightened Saladin…

… Inspirational history can go only so far; it will not bend to Sen's good cheer.”

In an earlier post, I noted how the Nizam’s army slaughtered cows in a temple complex in Maharashtra. I also mentioned how Chitpavan Brahmin chieftains of Maratha army looted Hindu shrines around the same time.

But there is a crucial difference between the two.

To say, Marathas didn’t slaughter pigs in mosques would be very simplistic. But by and large they didn’t disrespect shrines, holy books and women of other religions. Until 1857 at least.

In the eyes of most Hindu readers of Indian history this difference perhaps makes some Muslim rulers evil and their Hindu counterparts – much like today’s politicians- corrupt and incompetent but not evil.

India owes a lot to Sufism. People consider ways of Sufis parallel to the ways of Bhakti saints. Like saints, Sufis are considered other-worldly and hence neutral to the politics of their time. (I would argue that most Bhakti saints were not other worldly at all.)

William Dalrymple claimed: “…Sufis succeeded in bringing together Hindu and Muslim in a movement which spanned the apparently unbridgable gulf separating the two religions. To this day, while Muslims usually predominate at Sufi shrines, you also see huge numbers of Hindus, as well as the odd Sikh and Christian. Here for once you can see religion acting to bring people together, not to divide them. In modern India, Sufism is not something other-worldly so much as a religious force that demonstrably acts as a balm on India's festering religious wounds…”.

Historian Setu Madhavrao Pagdi सेतु माधवराव पगडी, expert in Urdu and Farsi, studied sufism and wrote a book on the subject: सूफी संप्रदाय , तत्वज्ञान आणि कार्य (Sufism – Philosophy and Work) 1953. While acknowledging the debt of great sufi saints, he argued that sufis fully co-operated with the policies of aggressive Muslim rulers. He further said that many sufi shrines- he personally visited them- were built by demolishing Hindu temples.
(Jeevansetu जीवनसेतु, 1969)

With luck inspirational history may help create good cinema like Mughal-E-Azam(1960) but I wonder if it can ever work as a social balm.

Artist: J B Handlesman The New Yorker 26 February 1972