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.”
Albert Einstein: “I am content in my later years. I have kept my good humor and take neither myself nor the next person seriously.” (To P. Moos, March 30, 1950. Einstein Archives 60-587)
Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”
Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”
John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."
Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”
विलास सारंग: "… इ. स. 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Pakistan cricket captain Shoaib Malik has reportedly said: the Indian Premier League is threatening Bollywood’s popularity across the border.
Michael Crichton (Timeline, 1999):
"Today, everybody expects to be entertained, and they expect to be entertained all the time. Business meetings must be snappy, with bullet lists and animated graphics, so executives aren't bored. Malls and stores must be engaging, so they amuse as well as sell us. Politicians must have pleasing video personalities and tell us only what we want to hear. Schools must be careful not to bore young minds that expect the speed and complexity of television. Students must be amused - everyone must be amused, or they will switch: switch brands, switch channels, switch parties, switch loyalties. This is the intellectual reality of Western society at the end of the century.”
"In other centuries, human beings wanted to be saved, or improved, or freed, or educated. But in our century, they want to be entertained. The great fear is not of disease or death, but of boredom. A sense of time on our hands, a sense of nothing to do. A sense that we are not amused.”
The Times of India (April 24, 2008) reported:
“Watch lions feast in Gir, for a price:
SASAN: The setting sun has painted the sky a bright red. But, for a group of wide-eyed tourists, it's a different red that's attracting their attention. A bloodied buffalo is being torn apart by two lions while two cubs join in.
This is right in the middle of the lion country, just 25 km from Sasan, the core of Gir lion sanctuary that is the last refuge of the endangered Asiatic lions. At Babra Virdi, around 8 pm, the feast was on. So was the show as tourists, including some foreigners, watched in wonder.
The show is managed by locals by luring the lions with a live bait and costs anywhere between Rs 2,500 and Rs 10,000 for a group of five close to the core area. This is not an isolated incident. Lion shows are a rage in Gir, with several touts organising these shows in and around the forest. They are usually drivers of tourist vehicles who are hand-in-glove with forest department staff. These touts even have business cards and offer you a package which includes a meal while the lion is having a banquet…”
For Roman emperors "Panem et Circensus", literally "bread and circuses", was the formula for the well-being of the population, and thus a political strategy. This formula offered a variety of pleasures such as: the distribution of food, public baths, gladiators, exotic animals, chariot races, sports competition, and theater representation. It was an efficient instrument in the hands of the Emperors to keep the population peaceful, and at the same time giving them the opportunity to voice themselves in these places of performance.
The-great-Indian-IPL-circus today has the mix of exotic animals, sex (American girls), sports competition (cricket), food and gladiators (Harbhajan Singh slapping Srisanth).
They may add lion feasting to the menu.
Picture Courtesy: “Pudhari” April 26, 2008 and rediff.com
Saturday, April 26, 2008
It’s obvious “Congress” here is euphemism for upper caste Hindus.
“…In fact, the Congress played a very dirty game with Dr Ambedkar when its leaders tried to foil the election of Dr Ambedkar to the Constituent Assembly by giving away a part of Bengal (that had elected Dr Ambedkar) to Pakistan. By doing so, Dr Ambedkar would have ended up as member of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. However, when Dr Ambedkar apprised the British of this gameplan, they (British) asked the Congress to include Dr Ambedkar in the Indian Constituent Assembly and finally the Congress had to agree…”
This indeed is a very grave charge, as grave as 19th century Mahatma Phule’s stated preference for the British Raj over the tyranny of Brahmin Peshwa’s rule. (One should read Phule's book to begin to comprehend the extent of decay in Maharashtra.)
My mother-in-law’s maternal uncle (Sarang Chapalgaonkar) once explained to me that Dalits in Pune were not allowed to construct houses in certain directions of the city because the upper-caste people didn’t want to breath air coming from that side!
ROGER COHEN wrote: “Why has the U.S. produced a magnificent Holocaust Memorial Museum before opening an institution of equivalent stature dedicated to slavery and segregation?” (NYT April 17, 2008)
“…Why, I wondered as I viewed the exhibit, does the Holocaust, a German crime, hold pride of place over U.S. lynchings in American memorialization? …
…But I do think some psychological displacement is at work when a magnificent Holocaust Memorial Museum, in which the criminals are not Americans, precedes a Washington institution of equivalent stature dedicated to the saga of national violence that is slavery and segregation…
… The truth can be brutal, but flight from it even more devastating…
…“The Holocaust is a horribly difficult subject, but the bad guys are not Americans,” Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s director, told me. “Race, however, is the quintessential American story and one that calls into question how America defines itself and how we, as Americans, accept our own culpability.”..
India needs National Museum of History and Culture of Dalits where the challenge will be to express not only the lynching and other atrocities against the Dalits, but also the resiliency and spirituality of their tribe that are part of the core Indian identity.
Artist: Robert Minter The New Yorker 25 April 1970
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
See the picture below.
This might have hurt sentiments of many but I thought the real debate should be how Sharad Pawar and his party have badly let down the ideals of Shivaji, arguably the greatest ruler of Indian origin.
I remember Carl BERNSTEIN’s words:
“…But I think the really important trends in journalism in the last 25 years are basically the dumbing down of media what I called in a cover piece for The New Republic in 1990 the triumph of idiot culture, manufactured controversy, sensationalism, shouting from the left and the right as if this were real news and real information.
In this cacophony truth, the best obtainable version of the truth, which is really what reporting is that snapshot at a given moment of where an event and the facts stand when reporting is good that's getting lost in this noise and, as Bob says, in this rush to get stuff out. Who the hell knows what's right and what's right and what's fact and what's context and what's not? …”
Inder Malhotra said in an op-ed piece “The debasement of Parliament” (Asian Age March 7 2007):
“…Thanks perhaps to my lucky stars, it has been my privilege to cover India’s apex legislature — for long years on a daily basis — since the first meeting of the "provisional Parliament" in February 1950. Until then the Constituent Assembly used to double up as the Central Legislative Assembly, too. The first Lok Sabha, elected in 1952, quickly attained such high standards of debate and decorum as to win the nation’s deep respect and wide international acclaim…
… Meanwhile, with lungpower having taken precedence over brainpower and raucous shouting replacing reasoned debate, wilful and repeated disruption of parliamentary proceedings inevitably followed. Sadly, the ruling Congress Party, with its massive majority achieved in 1971, became a partner in this disgraceful downhill slide…”
Picture Courtesy: Pudhari April 3 2008
Sunday, April 20, 2008
BBC claimed it was the grandest reception ever seen at the White House.
I wondered if any head of the state in India would receive any religious leader in similar fashion.
I bet even L K Advani would not do it. India’s first prime minister J L Nehru frowned upon the overt religiosity of India’s first president- Rajendra Parsad.
The White House ceremony also partly explained why some of my Hindu NRI cousins and friends have turned rabidly religious since they went to USA.
America is a Christian nation and has been one since its birth. No wonder it’s always working on promising new treatments for what it calls ‘heresies’ around the world.
Artist: Ed Fisher The New Yorker 4 December 1989
Friday, April 18, 2008
I mentioned this to Vasant Sarwate वसंत सरवटे at my place in Pune. He said I didn’t miss much because if I had met Dhond in 2007, I would have found him almost complete deaf.
No article on Dhond after his death mentioned this. I wonder why.
Aging is cruel. It takes away things one by one.
David Brooks has written a wonderful essay “The Great Forgetting “ ( NYT April 11, 2008):
“They say the 21st century is going to be the Asian Century, but, of course, it’s going to be the Bad Memory Century. Already, you go to dinner parties and the middle-aged high achievers talk more about how bad their memories are than about real estate…”
Mr. Brooks, although loss of hearing and memory now have reached epidemic proportion in graying India, we middle-class Maharashtrians talk about these 10 things in our parties. We don't even mention bad memory. For some of us, good memory is a curse. We don't wish to remember or meet someone who will help us remember "hard times".
“…In the era of an aging population, memory is the new sex. ..
…The dawning of the Bad Memory Century will have vast consequences for the social fabric and the international balance of power. International relations experts will notice that great powers can be defined by their national forgetting styles. Americans forget their sins. Russians forget their weaknesses. The French forget that they’ve forgotten God. And, in the Middle East, they forget everything but their resentments...
…Meanwhile, mnemonic gurus will emerge offering to sell neural Viagra, but the only old memories the pills really bring back will involve trigonometry.
As in most great historical transformations, the members of the highly educated upper-middle class will express their suffering most loudly. It is especially painful when narcissists suffer memory loss because they are losing parts of the person they love most. First they lose the subjects they’ve only been pretending to understand — chaos theory, monetary policy, Don Delillo — and pretty soon their conversation is reduced to the core stories of self-heroism.
Their affection for themselves will endure through this Bad Memory Century, but their failure to retrieve will produce one of the epoch’s most notable features: shorter memoirs”
Artist: Eric Teitelbaum The New Yorker 28 March 1994
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Over weekend of April 11-12, 2008 I watched "the Daily Show with Jon Stewart". He ridiculed mercilessly American army general's testimony. Witness umpteen number of hilarious "The Simpsons" episodes. Or delightful famous-last-words-"I'm cumming!" Private Benjamin (1980).
Indians are not that lucky. One is a traitor if he does so.
Therefore, if you are not the one who starts waving Indian national flag on hearing the word military, you should read Praful Bidwai’s “Military overdrive” (Frontline, April 11 2008).
I was growing up when India fought three wars- 1962, 1965 and 1971. My father wrote a Marathi novel – तुम्ही पराक्रमाचे पुत्र (You Valour's Sons)- inspired by the wars of 1962 & 1965 and Erich Maria Remarque's novels.
At our Miraj home, we had a large poster of army recruitment pasted on a wall. I still remember the caps and the shoes from that poster. One of my most favourite figurines was that of an Indian G I.
Bofors scandal changed all that.
And more came by. Most men from military I met- both serving and retired- had many accounts of corruption to tell.
I realized that Indian defence establishment was no different than Indian police. It was just much bigger and richer.
“…military spending will probably turn out to be Rs.140,000 crore or even higher, of the same size as India’s entire combined public spending on health and education.
This is surely unconscionable. A society that spends such a huge proportion of its scarce resources on the military when it cannot even feed all its people or overcome the chronic malnutrition prevalent among half its children is very, very sick. Its pathology is all the more troubling on account of three factors…
… the military typically uses hopelessly inefficient or outdated systems – whether in transportation and personnel management or in weapons procurement and inventory control…
… there is rampant corruption in the armed services. The numerous recently reported scams are probably the tip of the iceberg. Bribes are apparently exchanged for all manner of things – purchase of everything from eggs to airplanes, under-supply of vitally necessary material (for instance, nutritious high-energy meals or snow jackets in Siachen), in the ordering of inappropriate or low-value equipment, and diversion of funds from sanctioned and legitimate activities (for instance, counter-insurgency operations) to unnecessary or questionable procurement (for instance, buying freezers and chapatti-making plants).
Corruption is not unique to the armed forces but thrives in them because of a lack of public oversight and accountability. These factors alone explain why the DRDO gets away, and indeed is rewarded, with a budget of Rs.3,400 crore despite its failure to complete any of its major projects in time; why the Indian Air Force has lost over 200 aircraft in accidents within a decade; why the Army in the 1980s procured supposedly new combat engineering tractors, only to discover that they were second-hand British rejects; and why the Navy went in for the USS Trenton – which the Comptroller and Auditor General says, is a lemon, a 37-year-old ship, which has already outlived its service life – without “proper physical assessment” and technical evaluation of its seaworthiness.
The armed forces and the Defence Ministry are in dire need of reform and accountability. Even minor improvements in their functioning will save the nation tens of thousands of crores. Many years ago, the Arun Singh Committee, appointed to examine the scope for cost-cutting in the Army, reportedly concluded that a 15 per cent reduction was achievable without loss of effectiveness. The government must release its report and have it widely debated so that an independent and objective assessment can be made of what is achievable today.
We simply cannot afford to have unaccountable agencies burning up Rs.140,000 crore of public money year after year. Lack of oversight and proper auditing is not merely undesirable in itself. It is an affront to the spirit of democracy.”
Artist: Richard Decker The New Yorker 7 November 1931
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Marathi could be the only major language where two- Ramdas and Tukaram तुकाराम- of its five greatest writers were borne in the same year: 1608.
We have already observed 400th birth anniversary of Tukaram here.
Ramdas has been widely credited to have instilled values of freedom in Marathi speaking people.
In recent years however Hindu fundamentalists have tried to claim his legacy saying that he justified war and violence, particularly against Muslims.
According to T S Shejwalkar त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर (1895 - 1963) this is very unfair to Ramdas.
Shejwalkar quotes from Ramdas’s book Dasbodh दासबोध where he clearly condemns violence and war:
("निवडक लेखसंग्रह" त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर; "Selected Articles-collection" by Tryambak Shankar Shejwalkar 1977)
Ramdas’s fight (and also Shivaji’s) was for freedom. It so happened that most tyrant rulers of his day were Muslims. If they were Christians (British or Portuguese or Americans), he would have fought them with the same vigour.
If V K Rajwade वि का राजवाडे is to be believed Ramdas is a greater philosopher than Hegel (1770 – 1831) but for me he is a writer first.
They say Ramdas is the greatest Indian influence on poet B S Mardhekar बा सी मर्ढेकर (1909-1956).
Every time I read Ramdas, I am stunned by beauty, simplicity and brevity of his language. (Read D G Godse’s Shakti Saushthava द ग गोडसे शक्ती सौष्ठव Popular Prakashan 1972 which tries to explain some of the ‘magic’ of 17th century Maharashtra).
Sadly there has been no one who has wielded a Marathi pen the same way since Ramdas’s death.
By the way- this calendar there is not a word on either Tukaram or Ramdas in any American or British newspaper I follow.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Pune has not bothered to preserve almost anything else. Shaniwar-wada- once the most powerful habitation in whole of South Asia- is a ghostly relic.
In Calcutta, I really liked visiting Belur Math and Indian Museum. I must have visited them half a dozen times each.
And I must confess I always smelt a rat at the museum. It is too rich to escape the attention of India’s highly corrupt government servants. Before I came to live in Calcutta, I had seen rampant corruption in Assam and knew that West Bengal if anything was even worse. (I have never seen more corrupt person than Calcutta-based resident manager of the multi-national company where I worked.)
Outlook April 7, 2008 said:
“…it's not just artifacts that are coming out of the cavernous vaults of the 194-year-old Indian Museum in Calcutta. Now that the Union ministry of culture has ordered a full audit of all the art treasures in this oldest museum in the Asia-Pacific region, a number of skeletons are also tumbling out. Among the objects missing from the vaults are some priceless relics dating to the Indus valley civilisation, sculptures, and gold and silver coins. And some recent acquisitions, shown in the books as ancient, for which the museum paid crores of rupees, have now been discovered to be not even five decades old!
The CBI, which started probing complaints of financial irregularities in end-2006, has now also unearthed a Rs 22 crore scam in purchase of security and other equipment, printing and travel expenses,
… The CBI probe revealed that some senior officers of the museum had amassed huge properties. The agency's sleuths found Rs 1 crore in cash at the residence of the former keeper of the museum's anthropology gallery. The design and drawing officer—suspended earlier this month—had recently purchased 3.25 hectares of land in the city's suburbs.
…Shockingly, senior officers used to remove priceless relics from the galleries and display them in their chambers and, if some employees are to be believed, in their homes as well…”
Artist: Rea Gardner The New Yorker 18 March 1933
missing: seventh century sandstone bust of the Buddha
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
“…And the fact that America is still a place where the rest of the world comes to reinvent itself — accepting with excitement and anxiety the necessity of leaving behind the constrictions and comforts of distant customs — is the underlying theme of Jhumpa Lahiri’s sensitive new collection of stories, “Unaccustomed Earth.””.
Another viewpoint is of Evelyn Waugh:
“Of course the Americans are cowards. They are almost all the descendants of wretches who deserted their legitimate monarchs for fear of military service.”
One may substitute "military service" with "tough life".
Artist: R K Laxman The Times of India
Monday, April 07, 2008
“…Everything passes. In the 17th century, China and India accounted for more than half the world’s economic output. After a modest interlude, the pendulum is swinging back to them at a speed the West has not grasped.
It’s the end of the era of the white man; and, before it even began in earnest, of the white woman, too.”
A lot of India’s economic output was generated by its textile industry, once as “sexy” as its today’s IT industry.
Hendrik Weiler observed: “India had the most advanced steel and textile industries at the beginning of the 19th century. Britain pirated India's technology, shut much of its advanced industries and forbade its exports, forcing it to buy second-rate British products in a closed market. Fertile land was stolen from Indian food farmers and converted to growing opium, which was then forced on the Chinese.”
I found the word “piracy” most interesting in above analysis.
But there is another viewpoint.
Susan Wolcott, Gregory Clark claim:
“Between 1890 and 1938 Japan experienced rapid economic growth. India stagnated. This national divergence was reflected in the performance of both countries' leading modern industry, cotton textiles. The parallels between national and industry performance suggest the problems of the Indian textile industry may have been those of India as a whole. Weak management is widely blamed for poor performance in textiles. An analysis of managerial decisions in Bombay shows, however, that on all measurable dimensions Indian managers performed as well as they could. The problem instead was one factor they could not change-the effort levels of Indian workers.”
“Why Nations Fail: Managerial Decisions and Performance in Indian Cotton Textiles, 1890-1938” (The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 59, No. 2 (Jun., 1999), pp. 397-423)
Jared Diamond asked in his classic “Guns, Germs, and Steel/ The Fates of Human Societies” (1997):
“Was there anything about India’s environment predisposing toward rigid socioeconomic castes, with grave consequences for the development of technology in India?”
I don’t know about castes but is it possible that India’s oppressive hot weather and polluted drinking water may have had something to do with its workers’ low productivity?
When I read social history of late 19th / early 20th century Maharashtra, as presented in contemporary literature*, I see death - in the form of typhoid, plague, TB, influenza, pneumonia, cholera etc.- stalking young working Indians, our great and great-great grand-dads.
[* One such excellent source for the period of 1860-1920 is Laxmibai Tilak’s लक्ष्मीबाई टिळक classic Smritichitre स्मृतिचित्रे (Memory-pictures) 1934]
Artist: Leonard Dove The New Yorker 28 March 1931
Saturday, April 05, 2008
Many in India blame the futures trading in commodities for stoking inflation.
Do they have a point?
Following article shows they do.
DIANA B. HENRIQUES wrote in NYT March 28, 2008:
“…Whatever the reason, the price for a bushel of grain set in the derivatives markets has been substantially higher than the simultaneous price in the cash market.
When that happens, no one can be exactly sure which is the accurate price in these crucial commodity markets, an uncertainty that can influence food prices and production decisions around the world…
… Veteran traders and many farmers blame the new arrivals in the commodities markets: hedge funds, pension funds and index funds. These investors and speculators, they complain, are distorting futures prices by pouring in so much money without regard to market fundamentals…
… What is not happening in these markets is equally mysterious. Normally, price disparities like these are quickly exploited by arbitrage traders who buy goods in the cheap market and sell them in the expensive one. Their buying and selling quickly brings the prices back into balance — but that is not happening here…”
Jaspal Bhatti’s wife Savita Bhatti, guarded by members of the Nonsense Club dressed as commandos, goes to deposit vegetables in a bank locker in Chandigarh on Tuesday April 1, 2008. (PTI)
Thursday, April 03, 2008
“For years, the ideology of free markets bestrode the world, bending politics as well as economics to its core assumption: market forces produce the best solution to any problem.
But these days, even Bill Gates says capitalism's work is "unsatisfactory" for one-third of humanity, and not even Hillary Clinton supports Bill Clinton's 1990s trade pacts.
Another sign that times are changing is "Predictably Irrational," a book that both exemplifies and explains this shift in the cultural winds. Here, Dan Ariely, an economist at M.I.T., tells us that "life with fewer market norms and more social norms would be more satisfying, creative, fulfilling and fun…"
Martin Wolf said (FT March 25, 2008):
“Remember Friday March 14 2008: it was the day the dream of global free- market capitalism died. For three decades we have moved towards market-driven financial systems. By its decision to rescue Bear Stearns, the Federal Reserve, the institution responsible for monetary policy in the US, chief protagonist of free-market capitalism, declared this era over…
… If the US itself has passed the high water mark of financial deregulation, this will have wide global implications. Until recently, it was possible to tell the Chinese, the Indians or those who suffered significant financial crises in the past two decades that there existed a financial system both free and robust. That is the case no longer. It will be hard, indeed, to persuade such countries that the market failures revealed in the US and other high-income countries are not a dire warning. If the US, with its vast experience and resources, was unable to avoid these traps, why, they will ask, should we expect to do better?…”
Artist: James Stevenson The New Yorker 30 January 1971
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
India Today March 24, 2008 has published excerpts. I found them boring.
I have yet to read a single good review of the book.
I have always found Advani is like Sancho Panza to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Don Quixote.
Very practical, worldly and most times boring. But Sancho’s of the world have a utility. They are a way to get to the heart of enigmatic eternal hero Don Quixote.
And that’s what I conclude the book’s worth is.
R K Laxman has put it so well in arguably one of the best cartoons of the year 2008.
Artist: R K Laxman Times of India March 27, 2008