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."
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Artist: Drew Dernavich The New Yorker June 2, 2008
Proposed Caption: “Hindu fundamentalists have threatened to burn this down because of Shiva’s depiction next to an unknown woman instead of his consort Parvati.”
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
“IT’S the rainy season in Myanmar. It’s also cholera season. When Cyclone Nargis arrived two weeks ago, the waters it unleashed destroyed houses and killed people and livestock. The storm also devastated other things that haven’t made the headlines, but that can mean the difference between life and death: toilets. Even before the cyclone, 75 percent of Burmese had no latrines. Like some 2.6 billion other people worldwide, they do their business by roadsides, on train tracks or wherever they can. But the few latrines that did exist in the Irrawaddy Delta are now flooded or flattened, and their contents have seeped into already filthy waters.
So what? There are other priorities, aren’t there? Food, shelter and clean water are what aid agencies emphasize. But human excrement is a weapon of mass destruction. A gram of human feces can contain up to 10 million viruses. At least 50 communicable diseases — including cholera, meningitis and typhoid — travel from host to host-in human excrement. It doesn’t take much: a small child, maybe, who plays in soil where people have been defecating, then dips his fingers in the family rice pot. The aftermath of a disaster like Cyclone Nargis — with masses of weakened people on the move — is a communicable disease paradise…”
This blog already has a post on the status of sanitation in urban India of 21st century. See it here. What chance did then a brutal battle location almost 248 years ago have?
For a period of 2.5 months in late 1760 to January 14, 1761, Maratha army camp- approximate 200,000 people strong- was forced to stay put in an area of about 15 miles long near Panipat. It could never change its location even once unlike their enemy army of Ahmad Shah Abdali that changed its own location 3 times.
Unfortunately today there are few letters available that were sent from the Maratha army camp during this period because most of the sent ones were captured and destroyed by the enemy.
T S Shejwalkar त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर has described the kind of difficulties Maratha army probably faced- foul smell, polluted and inadequate water (Rs. 1 per pot!), famine like food supply, lack of clothing to protect from severe and unusually wet North Indian winter, undisposed rotting corpses of soldiers who died in skirmishes etc. A lot of people and cattle died due to starvation and disease.
Foul smell, polluted and inadequate water? Surely human feces, a WMD, got deployed.
“…In our sanitary, plumbed lives, the toilet — an engineering marvel — removes waste out of sight and out of mind. As Steven Pinker recently wrote in “The Stuff of Thought,” the vocabulary of excretion has sneaked in and taken the taboo place previously held by religious words, and this switch parallels the rise of sewers and the sanitizing of excrement. A substance common to us all, and as vital to life as breathing, has become unspeakable, and particularly in the polite and powerful circles that could do something about its deadly effects…
…This year, the International Year of Sanitation, is a fine time to address a pointless and damaging conversational taboo. Solving sanitation is about more than semantics. But our refusal to talk about it says something about us, and none of it good.”
Not every one refuses to talk about human excrement though.
Vinoba Bhave used to say “प्रभाते मलदर्शनम” (In the moring sight feces) rephrasing the last line famous Sanskrit shloka
कराग्रे वसते लक्ष्मी:
करमूले सरस्वती ।
करमध्ये तु गोविंद:
(At the tip of the hand resides Laxmi, At the root Sarasvati,
At the centre Govinda, in the morning sight hand.)
Not too long ago in India, during early years of my childhood, human soil was carried manually in carts. If Americans (and during Nixon administration it was entirely plausible) came looking for WMDs in India then news ticker in the picture below could read…
"White House says latest attacks prove Indira Gandhi has human carts of mass..."
Artist: Michael Crawford The New Yorker 8 December 2003
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Hindi film industry writer-director Vikram Bhatt has started writing a weekly column for The Asian Age. He has something interesting to say and tries to say it honestly.
The last time I really enjoyed an insider’s view was when the late Vijay Anand wrote or spoke. (btw- It’s a great loss of all Hindi film lovers that Vijay Anand never wrote a book on his art.)
In his latest column “Enjoy it while the phone rings” on May 18, 2008, Bhatt writes:
“…That is the life of people in the entertainment industry. Sometimes they are dying for the phone to ring and at other times they are busy ignoring calls…
… The cellphone is also a very good idea to find out where you stand in the scheme of things. Like a success and status check. The struggling actors, directors and other technicians will not get a response from almost anyone. They might as well not message or call…
…The successful can call anyone and text anyone…
… I remember being in an actor’s house once and the phone kept ringing and he said "Oh god! This damn phone keeps ringing." A senior producer who was also sitting there smiled and said, "These are beautiful problems son. Enjoy them." What he was trying to say was enjoy it while the phone rings. Answer the calls. Enjoy being wanted because in every stars or important creative person's life, sooner or later the phone will stop ringing and then every half an hour you will check your phone for missed calls.
Then you don’t even have to withhold your caller identity. All that will be left will be to deal with your new unwanted entity.”
artist: Lee Lorenz The New Yorker 27 February 1960
Friday, May 23, 2008
“…The end of the world, it seems, is a sprint to decide who can consume the very last drop of oil. Which is why, despite the bizarre cast of characters and outlandish setting, it's hard to shake the feeling that The Road Warrior could happen, or at least start to happen, any day now…” (Popular Mechanics, March 2008)
If we wish to preserve for future generations what a world awash in oil looked like, we will do no better than documenting a day at Pune’s busy junction- Swargate. For me, every visit to Swargate is surreal where every square inch is occupied by machines devouring hydrocarbons while trying to kill me!
I have watched Swargate almost every month since the beginning of year 1999 and I can easily say it never looked and felt so bad and hopeless. It’s Mad Max 2 in reverse. Swargate has become an example of what we should not allow our cities to become.
Martin Wolf tells us “The market sets high oil prices to tell us what to do” (FT, May 13 2008):
“…Here are three facts about oil: it is a finite resource; it drives the global transport system; and if emerging economies consumed oil as Europeans do, world consumption would jump by 150 per cent. What is happening today is an early warning of this stark reality. It is tempting to blame the prices on speculators and big bad oil companies. The reality is different.
Demand for oil grows steadily, as the vehicle fleets of the world expand. Today, the US has 250m vehicles and China just 37m. It takes no imagination to see where the Chinese fleet is headed. Other emerging countries will follow China’s example. ..
… The market is saying that we must use more wisely resources that have now become more valuable. The market is right.”
What can people at Swargate do if they have not yet heard anything from the market or chosen not to hear anything?
The only long term solution for this mess is a reasonably good public transport that encourages people of all social strata to use it. Pune’s public transport stinks. It’s easily one of the worst of major cities in India. I know it because I use it regularly.
You also need people who are ready to make small sacrifices for the larger cause. Young working middle-class people should try using public transport at least one day in a week. Today very few do and hence they don’t complain about it with as much intensity as they do about bad roads, lack of parking space or even stray dogs.
Result: almost each middle-class Pune household has as many vehicles as number of family members.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Artist: Jack Ziegler The New Yorker May 26, 2008
caption proposed: “Now isn’t in Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence it is not acceptable to shape the crime to fit the suspect?”
Monday, May 19, 2008
Vasant Sarwate वसंत सरवटे acknowledges the contribution of Tendulkar brothers- Vijay and his elder brother Raghunath- shaping his vision and art.
Apart from Sarwate, Tendulkar was very fond of the art of young cartoonist Abhimanyu Kulkarni अभिमन्यु कुलकर्णी. In a Marathi letter to Abhimanyu, he wrote :”…the way a good bowler bowls six good balls in an over, sometimes your cartoons are in an issue of Lokprabha लोकप्रभा…”
Like Durga Bhagwat दुर्गा भागवत, Tendulkar liked the work of Natyachhatakar Diwakar नाट्यछटाकार दिवाकर, the most under rated writer in Marathi.
I like a lot of what Tendulkar wrote but his play “Kanyadan” कन्यादान and his essays on Raj Kapoor, Baba Amte बाबा आमटे, his own father, the theatre of the absurd and the death row inmates remain my favourite.
In “Kanyadan” (Giving away of daughter in marriage), he exposes hypocrisy of upper-caste Maharashtrian middle-class.
Tendulkar was fearless the way he took on Bal Thackeray बाळ ठाकरे and other politicians without batting an eyelid. See a related post here.
I will miss you Tendulkar-sir because…
"...पोटावरच्या बेंबीचा बिनबाहुलीचा डोळा म्हणून उपयोग करत पोट पोसत-वाढवत मुरादाड आयुष्य न काढता खरे डोळे चेहर्यावर असतात याचे तुम्ही भान ठेवलेत..."
"...Instead of using bellybutton on stomach as pupil-less eye to grow-inflate tummy and lead insensitive life, you were always conscious that the real eyes were attached to the face..."
(जी ए कुलकर्णी G A Kulkarni यात्रिक (A Pilgrim) पिंगळावेळ (Owl-time) Popular Prakashan 1977).
There must be a commotion wherever Vijay Tendulkar now has gone …
Artist: Ronald Searle The New Yorker 12 November 1966
This picture has no caption. If I were to give one...
"She like Vijay Tendulkar is so beautiful but watch out for her claws!"
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Thank you, Mr. Perkins for reminding me.
Just the day before I read this:
Ingmar Bergman: “…it is my opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. It severed an umbilical cord and now lives its own sterile life, generating and degenerating itself. In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God. He lived and died without being more or less important than other artisans; 'eternal values,' 'immortality' and 'masterpiece' were terms not applicable in his case. The ability to create was a gift. In such a world flourished invulnerable assurance and natural humility. Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation.”
Artist: Dana Fradon The New Yorker 19 January 1976
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Walter Isaacson: No. Franklin had the gout and kidney stones, and he died at 84 of a ruptured lung artery, but he never had a venereal disease.
Pam’s question could be asked about a few historical personalities from the Indian subcontinent too.
NYT April 29, 2008 has an article on syphilis by MARLENE ZUK:
“…The new research suggested that syphilis originated as a skin ailment in South America, and then spread to Europe, where it became sexually transmitted and was later reintroduced to the New World.
The origin of syphilis has always held an implied accusation: if Europeans brought it to the New World, the disease is one more symbol of Western imperialism run amok, one more grudge to hold against colonialism…
… Detailed records of syphilis infection start appearing in Europe from 1495, and a fearsome disease it was. Smallpox was called smallpox to distinguish it from the great pox, syphilis, which evoked this description from Ulrich von Hutten in 1519:
“Boils that stood out like Acorns, from whence issued such filthy stinking Matter, that whosoever came within the Scent, believed himself infected. The Colour of these was of a dark Green and the very Aspect as shocking as the pain itself, which yet was as if the Sick had laid upon a fire.”…”
Jared Diamond: “…when syphilis was first definitely recorded in Europe in 1495, its pustules often covered the body from the head to the knees, caused flesh to fall off people’s faces, and led to death within a few months. By 1546, syphilis had evolved into the disease with the symptoms so well known to us today.” (Guns, Germs, and Steel, 1997)
Michael Crichton: “…You can carry tuberculosis for many decades; you can carry syphilis for a lifetime. These last are not minor diseases, but they are much less severe than they once were, because both man and organism have adapted…” (The Andromeda Strain, 1969)
This adapted syphilis might have accosted a few prominent personalities of 18th century India.
T S Shejwalkar त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर says in his classic Panipat 1761:
“Ahmad Shah Abdali probably had a disease like syphilis and so too was the case of Najib khan”.
Shejwalkar also speculates that some Maratha chieftains (most names he quotes are Brahmins) too might have suffered from the disease. These bigwigs married multiple times and also kept mistresses. One reason, he argues, they married very young girls late in their life because it was believed an intercourse with such a girl would rid them of the disease. The other possible reason was hypothesized increase in virility that came after mating with such a girl.
It is worth noting that all these Maratha bridegrooms left behind very young widows.
Even today that belief exists in parts of India: “… having sex with a ''fresh'' girl can cure syphilis, gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases, including the virus that causes AIDS.” (The New York Times May 11, 1998)
My caption for picture below would read: "Hey Syphilis, Congrats now you look leaner but stronger.”
Artist: Dana Fradon The New Yorker 29 August 1959
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Here is my entry anyway.
Artist: Leo Cullum The New Yorker May 19, 2008
“By the way, on your TV did you see live the naked woman whose pictures were sent to us by Spirit, Nasa's Mars explorer?”
See a related previous post here.
Monday, May 12, 2008
I am fond of food. More accurately talking about food as my metabolism- after years of abuse- gradually falls apart!
In English, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto has done some of the best writing on the history of food.
“…We think thin and we get fat…Mealtimes are our oldest rituals. The companionable effects of eating together help to make us human. The little links which bind households together are forged at the table. The stability of our homes probably depends more on regular mealtimes than on sexual fidelity or filial piety. Now it is in danger. Food is being desocialised. The demise of mealtimes means unstructured days and undisciplined appetites.
The loneliness of the fast-food eater is uncivilising…
…The raw food movement is not a healthy alternative..The raw movement is not a solution, but part of the threat, dividing families by taste and diet…
…So the family mealtime looks irretrievably dead. The future, however, usually turns out to be surprisingly like the past. We are in a blip, not a trend. Cooking will revive, because it is inseparable from humanity: a future without it is impossible. Communal feeding is essential to social life: we shall come to value it more highly in awareness of the present threat. There is bound to be a reaction in favour of traditional eating habits, as nostalgia turns into fashion and evidence builds up of the deleterious effects of snacking…
…We seem incapable of socialising without food. Among people who like to enjoy other's company, every meal is a love feast. We eat to commune with our gods. The discreetly lit table is our favourite romantic rendezvous. At state banquets, diplomatic alliances are forged. Deals are done at business lunches. Family reunions still take place at mealtimes. Home is a place which smells of cooking. If we want relationships that work, we shall get back to eating together. Along the way, we shall conquer obesity: if we stop grazing, we shall stop gorging. “ (September 14, 2002 The Guardian)
I have enjoyed Jaywant Dalwi’s जयवंत दळवी writing on food in Marathi more than pornography.
First Marathi book on the subject of cooking was published in 1875: soopshastra सूपशास्त्र by Ramchandra Sakharam Gupte रामचंद्र सखाराम गुप्ते publisher Raoji Shridhar Gondhalekar रावजी श्रीधर गोंधळेकर price Rs. 1/25. Over next fifty years six more editions of the book came out. Price remained unchanged.
(सूप “soop” is a Sanskrit word meaning a kind of curry or an accompaniment in an Indian meal.)
The book has 107 recipes. For our kitchen quite a few of them-like कोरफङीचा मुरंबा (jam of aloe vera)- are now extinct.
During the period 1888-1890, a ‘recipedia’ titled “soopshastra” सूपशास्त्र by Ramkrushna Salunkerao रामकृष्ण साळुंकेराव, 4 volumes, 06 books, 2500 pages was published. It had recipes from many parts of India and the world. (2500 pages must be a kind of world record that still stands!)
As this long history suggests, do middle class Maharashtrians enjoy cooking?
I cannot resist temptation to paraphrase The Economist:...As porn is to sex, so the recipe books are to cooking. The more people read, the less they do it.
"soopshastra" सूपशास्त्र by Ramchandra Sakharam Gupte रामचंद्र सखाराम गुप्ते
They could be talking about कोरफङीचा मुरंबा (jam of aloe vera) as well:
Artist: Peter C Vey The New Yorker 30 November 1998
Saturday, May 10, 2008
“Worldwide there is increasing demand. There turns out to be prosperity in the developing world, which is good. It also, however, increases demand. So, for example, just as an interesting thought for you, there are 350 million people in India who are classified as middle-class. That’s bigger than America. Their middle-class is larger than our entire population. And when you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food, and so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up.” (May 2008)
“…The population especially of the developing world is growing, and some people remain fixated on this. They note that populations of countries like Kenya are growing rapidly, and they say that’s a big problem. Yes, it is a problem for Kenya’s more than 30 million people, but it’s not a burden on the whole world, because Kenyans consume so little. (Their relative per capita rate is 1.) A real problem for the world is that each of us 300 million Americans consumes as much as 32 Kenyans. With 10 times the population, the United States consumes 320 times more resources than Kenya does…” (January 2008)
R K Laxman did some research among Indian poor and discovered:
Artist: R K Laxman The Times of India May 7, 2008
Thursday, May 08, 2008
“…The demise of the old technology is confidently predicted, and indeed it may lose ground to the insurgent, as mainframes did to the personal computer. But the old technology or business often finds a sustainable, profitable life. Television, for example, was supposed to kill radio, and movies, for that matter. Cars, trucks and planes spelled the death of railways. A current death-knell forecast is that the Web will kill print media.
What are the common traits of survivor technologies? First, it seems, there is a core technology requirement: there must be some enduring advantage in the old technology that is not entirely supplanted by the new. But beyond that, it is the business decisions that matter most: investing to retool the traditional technology, adopting a new business model and nurturing a support network of loyal customers, industry partners and skilled workers…
… To survive, technologies must evolve, much as animal species do in nature. Indeed, John Steele Gordon, a business historian and author, observes that there are striking similarities in the evolutionary process of markets and biological ecosystems. Dinosaurs, he notes, may be long gone, victims of a change in climate that better suited mammals. But smaller reptiles evolved and survived, and today there are more than 8,000 species of reptiles, mainly lizards and snakes, compared with about 5,400 species of mammals. ..”
Mr. Raj Thackeray, a marketing wizard, knows what is true of technologies is also true of ideologies.
Few years ago his uncle Mr. Bal Thackeray increased his party’s focus on Hindutva. The nephew has been quick to seize the opportunity. His speech on May 3, 2008 is an example of clever positioning of his party for upcoming polls.
However Raj Thackeray has not accounted for one major hurdle in his calculations: increasing role of caste in the politics of Maharashtra. During no other period of 20th century, caste became as vicious in Maharashtra as it is today. In the past state or national level leaders from Maharashtra never so openly espoused caste.
Even saint Samarth Ramdas continues to be a target. See cartoon below from year 1969 and news item dated May 2008 from Marathi newspaper Pudhari .
Debate still rages if indeed Samarth, a Brahmin, was Shivaji’s guru or not. We are ready to live with many other myths that masquerade as Indian history but not this one. The news item below says experts from reputed institutions (fearing backlash) are refusing to give their views on the subject.
It’s never enough to know that these two greats were contemporaries and by far the best writing on Shivaji has been done by Samarth.
Old Lady: “Why doesn’t someone prove by doing more research that Samarth was not a Brahmin? At least that will save him from more opprobrium.”
Artist: वसंत सरवटे (1969) "सरवोत्तम सरवटे" संपादक: अवधूत परळकर, लोकवाङ्मय गृह 2008
Vasant Sarwate (1969) sourced from his latest book "The Best of Sarwate" editor: Avadhoot Paralkar, Lokvangmay Gruh 2008
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Therefore, when they speak like outsiders, we should take notice and wonder if a change is in the offing.
“…Where are our real heroes? Have we become so enamoured of sheer fame, wealth and privilege that we hold this up as transformative for a culture as rich in heritage as ours?
Where is the maturity in our free society that we must glorify such an empty vessel as myself for admiration? I acknowledge the role of inspirational individuals to cultivate our dreams and hopes as a community, but why is there so little public concern about the delicate point at which inspiration becomes reified into mindless and infantile idolatry? Icons remain legitimate as long as they do not become idols. And what sort of power do we really worship in our endless compulsive listings and rankings of our fellow citizens? Power lists seem to me a kind of destructive new confabulation of our cultural obsession with hierarchy so catastrophically manifested in the caste system.
We need to get over this and move on. Have we become so frivolous and superficial in the last 60 years that we have become blinded to undifferentiated power, that it is enough of an end in itself? Power is potential, not an end in itself. What do we plan to do with ours, newly found?
Yes, people would at least feel gratified that there has been some progress towards alleviating the terrible suffering of all forms of poverty that have plagued our population, both material and cultural. But we still have a long way to go. Is this really a time to rest on our laurels?
(The Times of India April 28, 2008)
T V Mohandas Pai, Director, HR, Infosys:
“…Are we creating a civilization of morons where aspirations are a beauty parade? Where the inspiration is to wear revealing dresses to class and keep sending SMS. There is something happening…intellectual activities are coming down, the vigour of an intellectual debate is coming down. Are there no great thoughts, no great ideologies, are we becoming a consumerist society?…”
(Business Line, April 13, 2008)
Artist: Edward Frascino The New Yorker 24 December 1979
Sunday, May 04, 2008
This was a godsend to cartoonist Sudhir Tailang and politician Raj Thackeray.
Tailang was first off the block.
Artist: Sudhir Tailang Asian Age May 1, 2008
Raj Thackeray followed on May 3, 2008:
“…Health Minister Ramadoss says polio epidemic spreads from Uttar Pradesh and this (Amitabh) Bachchan campaigns for polio dose in Maharashtra. Go and give two drops there (in Uttar Pradesh)!"
(Pudhari, May 4, 2008)
Friday, May 02, 2008
"The recent visit by Iranian president Mohammed Ahmedinejad has not gone down well with the US, for obvious reasons.
But, Iran is an important actor in the region, one that India must have an independent dialogue with in the interest of regional stability and its own strategic and economic interests..."
As for US not happy, IDGRA. (I Don't Give a Rat's Ass)
But what about dialogue with Iran? In which language?
Wikipedia informs: “For five centuries prior to the British colonization, Persian/ Farsi was widely used as a second language in the Indian subcontinent; it took prominence as the language of culture and education in several Muslim courts in South Asia and became the "official language" under the Mughal emperors...”
This blog has visited Farsi a few times. See them here.
Most relevant being Shivaji’s command of the language
Look at the picture below.
The head of Indian state- very north Indian to boot- talking to the head of Iranian state with the help of interpreters!
It would have been impossible to imagine this in 1857.
Will this happen to British or American English? One day for sure. Indian English is on its way.
Picture Courtesy: Asian Age April 30, 2008