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."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Animal Farms of Maharashtra: Hunting in the Name of Gyanba’s Marathi

I consider myself lucky that after spending almost 11 years outside Maharashtra- else where in India- I came back with 5 medals- to put in the words of a US veteran of Iwo Jima: Two Hands, Two Legs and a Head.

Although I didn't speak any of their languages, Tamilians, Bengalis, Assamese (including ULFA), Kannadigas and numerous other language speakers I met did not kill me.

Not just that, most of them were very kind to me. Suckers!

Of course being a Brahmin in today's Maharashtra, I still run a considerable risk of getting hurt in the name of caste.


Artist: Frank Cotham The New Yorker 3 November 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 167

Proposed Caption:

“Don’t be afraid. I am Chief Minister of Maharashtra. I know you are totally helpless, defenseless in front of armed goons roaming the streets of our major cities, trying to kill you in the name of Marathi. I also know it’s my constitutional duty to protect you…But er…since you stay in Maharashtra, shouldn’t you all be speaking Marathi?”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Still You and I together Shall Pole-vault that Pimp-like Fate

This year I have received a Diwali greeting card from Madhukar Dharmapurikar मधुकर धर्मापुरीकर that speaks volumes about his sensitive eye and his panache. (Earlier on this blog, I have written about his son's wedding card. Read it here.)

See the picture below.

Dharmapurikar calls the boy in the picture ‘Balkrishna बाळकृष्ण'. It reminded me of Shree Ma Mate श्री. म. माटे calling his child protagonist- who is an orphan- ‘Banseedhar बन्सीधर’. (A title of one of his stories reads "बन्सीधरा, आता तू कोठे रे जाशील?" “Banseedhara, Where will you go now?”)

But there is no trace of sentimentality of Mate-mastar’s question in the posture of Balkrishna. He is not wasting anytime in crying or playing. He is busy navigating his own destiny.

He perhaps is telling his mother:

"तू आणि मी मिळून अजूनही त्या भडव्या नशिबाला टांग मारू" (जी ए कुलकर्णी ’पिंगळावेळ’ कैरी १९७७ G A Kulkarni Pingalavel Kairee 1977)

Or is it even one better the way Balkrishna has anchored himself?

"तू आणि मी मिळून अजूनही त्या भडव्या नशिबाला पोलवाँल्ट करू."



Floods in my beloved Assam

Sunday, October 26, 2008

“Fed Shrugged” by Ayn Rand- Nearly Perfect in its Immorality

Financial Times October 24,2008:

"Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, said on Thursday the credit crisis had exceeded anything he had imagined and admitted he was wrong to think that banks would protect themselves from financial market chaos."

In 1984, my first job with corporate India was at the then most fashionable now almost-extinct multi-national.

Along came the company of some pretty girls. There was just one problem. Most of them were very fond of Ayn Rand and I didn’t know who Ms. Rand was.

Paul Krugman said on October 17, 2008 in NYT:

“…Despite repeated interest rate cuts, which eventually brought the federal funds rate down to just 1 percent, the unemployment rate just kept on rising; it was more than two years before the job picture started to improve. And when a convincing recovery finally did come, it was only because Alan Greenspan had managed to replace the technology bubble with a housing bubble…”

Housing-bubble fame Alan Greenspan is a disciple of Ms. Rand.

Paul Krugman said on December 21 2007 in NYT:

“…So where were the regulators as one of the greatest financial disasters since the Great Depression unfolded? They were blinded by ideology.

“Fed shrugged as subprime crisis spread,” was the headline on a New York Times report on the failure of regulators to regulate. This may have been a discreet dig at Mr. Greenspan’s history as a disciple of Ayn Rand, the high priestess of unfettered capitalism known for her novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

In a 1963 essay for Ms. Rand’s newsletter, Mr. Greenspan dismissed as a “collectivist” myth the idea that businessmen, left to their own devices, “would attempt to sell unsafe food and drugs, fraudulent securities, and shoddy buildings.” On the contrary, he declared, “it is in the self-interest of every businessman to have a reputation for honest dealings and a quality product.”

It’s no wonder, then, that he brushed off warnings about deceptive lending practices, including those of Edward M. Gramlich, a member of the Federal Reserve board. In Mr. Greenspan’s world, predatory lending — like attempts to sell consumers poison toys and tainted seafood — just doesn’t happen…”

HARRIET RUBIN said on September 15, 2007 in NYT:

“…Shortly after “Atlas Shrugged” was published in 1957, Mr. Greenspan wrote a letter to The New York Times to counter a critic’s comment that “the book was written out of hate.” Mr. Greenspan wrote: “ ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should...”

Gore Vidal has described Atlas Shrugged’s philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality.”


Artist: William Steig The New Yorker June 1, 1968

Friday, October 24, 2008

They said India’s Economy was Decoupled from that of USA

"...More than 1.3 lakh people died on Indian roads in 2007, giving India the dubious honour of topping the list of road deaths across the world..." (Times of India October 23, 2008)


Artist: Farley Katz The New Yorker October 27 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 167

Proposed Caption:

"hey, American economy, I am your Indian cousin. I was supposed to have been decoupled from you...Instead, it looks like I was riding pillion with you on a Pune road."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Driving us Crazy after Thousands of Years

Was Alam Ara, India's first sound film, ever made? Or is it pure fiction?

Future historians are likely to conclude that it was never made because prints of it are not available with the National Archives of India, as per Information and Broadcasting official.

Our historians now want hard proof.

That's the reason all non-Brahmin, Marathi-speaking historians are asking the government of Maharashtra to remove every reference to Dadoji Konddeo Konddev, a Brahmin ब्राह्मण as a teacher of Shivaji.

I am always deeply moved by what following passage claims:

“…Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of ancient Indian history is the humility of rulers. Even a king whose territories were as vast as Asoka's (304 BCE – 232 BCE), covering practically all of the subcontinent, hardly, even in his numerous edicts and inscriptions, mentions his own name. He is just described as “devanampiya piyadassi”, “beloved of the divine” and “one whose vision is filled with adoration”. This is not a title he had given himself; it is a term used for his father, his grandfather, other Indian kings and even for kings beyond Indian shores.

This is the same period of time when a thousand years of art does not have one portrait of a king, in sculpture or painting. The only exception was the period of the Kushanas, who hailed from southern China. They had portraits made of themselves in the 1st century A.D. After them, Indian art reverted to its traditions and the first portrait to come was 700 years later, in the time of the Pallavas, at Mamallapuram…”

(Frontline dated September 12, 2008)

But can we trust even a so-called 'proof'?!


Artist: Ed Fisher The New Yorker 26 January 1963

My caption to the cartoon above:

"I just carved- Chanakya, a Brahmin, was never a teacher of Chandragupta Maurya. This will drive them crazy in distant future."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Alas India has no Jon Stewart because there is no more Pu La Deshpande

Homer Simpson [episode 2F12 The Simpsons] “Homer the Clown”:

“Aw, being a clown sucks. You get kicked by kids, bit by dogs, and admired by the elderly. Who am I clowning? I have no business being a clown! I've leaving the clowning business to all the other clowns in the clowning business.”

MICHIKO KAKUTANI asked on August 17 2008:
“Is Jon Stewart the Most Trusted Man in America?”

“…In fact, Mr. Stewart regards comedy as a kind of catharsis machine, a therapeutic filter for grappling with upsetting issues. “What’s nice to us about the relentlessness of the show,” he said, “is you know you’re going to get that release no matter what, every night, Monday through Thursday. Like pizza, it may not be the best pizza you’ve ever had, but it’s still pizza, man, and you get to have it every night. It’s a wonderful feeling to have this toxin in your body in the morning, that little cup of sadness, and feel by 7 or 7:30 that night, you’ve released it in sweat equity and can move on to the next day.””

My answer: Jon Stewart is the most trusted American. He is also funny.

India today has a few good commentators, India has some good comedy shows (e.g. Sony’s Comedy Circus where artists like VIP, Kashif Khan, Ali Asgar have shown an early promise of reaching the heights scaled by Johny Walker, Mehmood, Ganpat Patil गणपत पाटील and Om Prakash) but it does not have anyone where both those skills confluence as they do in Jon Stewart.

No one is even close.

It was not always so.

Versatile, multi-talented artist and philanthropist P L Deshpande पु. ल. देशपांडे participated vigorously in the election campaign of 1977 to defeat tyrant Indira Gandhi’s Congress party. Congress leader Y B Chavan derided Deshpande as a clown at election rallies.

After Mrs. Gandhi’s crushing defeat, Pu La said: “Now I go back to being a clown.”

Indeed clowns don’t grow on trees.


Artist: Warren Miller The New Yorker 20 October 1962

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tax Avoidance: Tirumala Tirupati, Corporate America and Poor Jaya Prada

Times of India reported on August 11, 2008:

“The annual budget of the temple administration of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) has almost touched the Rs 1,000-crore mark. But, interestingly, the country's richest religious body also happens to be the biggest tax-evader in Andhra Pradesh.

The temple management owes Rs 5 crore each to the Tirupati Urban Development Authority (TUDA) and the Tirupati Municipal Corporation (TMC), besides Rs 19-crore tax to the state government for human hair sale…

However, the temple administration is 'casual' about tax evasion and argues that as it is a renowned dharmic institute, it should be granted an exemption…”

NYT editorial said on August 18, 2008:

“Here is a crazy idea to address the United States’ gaping fiscal deficit: persuade corporate America to start paying taxes.

An investigation by the Government Accountability Office found that almost two-thirds of companies in the United States usually pay no corporate income taxes. Big companies, those with more than $50 million in sales or $250 million in assets, are less likely to avoid Uncle Sam altogether. Still, about a quarter of them report no tax liability either…

We find it hard to believe that some two-thirds of American companies fail to turn a profit. What we find easier to believe is that corporations have become increasingly skilled at tax-avoidance strategies, including transfer pricing — overcharging their American units for products and services provided by subsidiaries abroad to artificially reduce their profits here.

Even as corporate profits have soared — reaching a record of 14.1 percent of the nation’s total income in 2006 — the percentage of these profits paid out in taxes is near its lowest level since the 1930s…”

Asian Age reported on March 24, 2008:

"Jaya coughs up Rs 2.5cr: Filmstar-turned-Samajwadi MP Jaya Prada coughed up Rs 2.5 crores to the Chennai City Corporation to get herself declared "solvent" because the corporation had declared her and some of her family members insolvent after she refused to pay fines levied by it.

Had she remained insolvent, Ms Jaya Prada would have lost her Lok Sabha seat. These fines were levied as she and her two brothers failed to pay local taxes for two cinema halls, Raj theatre and Jayaprada theatre on Mount Road.

Last week, Ms Jaya Prada declared herself insolvent to avoid coughing up the tax and going to jail. But she took a U-turn soon after realising that an insolvent person cannot be an MP under Article 102 (1) C of the Constitution.”

Poor Jaya Prada. She should learn from Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, American corporates and many other rich Indians how to avoid taxes successfully.


‘Only two certainties in life, Miles: death and tax avoidance.’


Artist: Spectator

Thursday, October 16, 2008

US Fed Learns from India’s Rulers

James Surowiecki:

”…The Fed has historically been the lender of last resort to banks. Now it’s becoming the lender of last resort to everyone…”

(The New Yorker October 20 2008)



Artist: Mick Stevens The New Yorker October 20 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 166

Proposed Caption:

“It has been ordered by US Fed: Shower of currency notes on raging public…that’s what they do in India at the time of every elections.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

India US Nuclear Agreement Heralds New Age of Toys for Indian Kids

Now that ‘123’ agreement is signed into the law and because Indian culture is more and more imported from US, it’s time to look at some new ideas for toys on this historic occasion.

Notice "Fun with fission"!



Artist: Alan Dunn The New Yorker 6 December 1947

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It’s The Sacred Cow’s Pee Again. W H Auden and B S Mardhekar.

President George W. Bush:

“…In the final days of the San Francisco Conference, the delegates negotiating the U.N. Charter received a visit from President Harry Truman. He acknowledged the enormous challenges they faced, and said success was only possible because of what he called an “unshakable unity of determination.” Today the world is engaged in another period of great challenge. And by continuing to work together, that unshakable unity of determination will be ours. Together, we confront and defeat the evil of terrorism. Together, we can secure the Almighty’s gift of liberty and justice to millions who have not known it. And together, we can build a world that is freer, safer, and better for the generations who follow…”

(United Nations General Assembly, New York, September 22, 2008)

San Francisco Conference is formally known as United Nations Conference on International Organization (April 25–June 26, 1945). President Harry Truman visited the conference riding “The Sacred Cow”.

This blog had a take on that historic ride with the help of B S Mardhekar बा. सी. मर्ढेकर. Read it here: Our Globe- Not Guaranteed Against American Sacred Cows and their Pee.

After I wrote that post, I came across W H Auden’s 1938 sonnet about League of Nations that ends:

“Far off, no matter what good they intended,
The armies waited for a verbal error
With all the instruments for causing pain,
And on the issue of their charm depended
A land laid waste with all its young men slain,
The women weeping and the towns in terror.”

W H Auden was, as he described Freud, not a person but a climate of opinion. No doubt he was the greatest influence on B S Mardhekar बा. सी. मर्ढेकर.


Artist: Sam Cobean The New Yorker 22 September 1945

Friday, October 10, 2008

Have Signposts of the World Changed? Paul Theroux and Maurice Isserman Think So.

My favourite book “The Great Railway Bazaar” has been rewritten.

“…Thirty-three years and 40-odd books later, Theroux — ‘twice as old as the person who had ridden those trains’ — set off again, travelling in his own footsteps to see how much he and the world had changed…

Theroux’s idea, as before, is to cross eastern Europe, India and Asia, but he faces deviations from the original route. When he last passed through Iran, portraits of the Shah 15 times life-size dominated station walls; now he is refused a visa. Afghanistan is a no-go area. Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers create difficulties. Plane-hops and buses are unavoidable…

The world has boiled and resettled since that first journey. The Soviet Union has collapsed, China risen. India is IT- affluent and optimistic, but the population explosion defeats Theroux: just too many people. He flees. ”

(Spectator, Lee Langley, 10th September 2008)

Paul Theroux’s verdict: ‘Only the old can really see how badly the world is aging and all that we’ve lost.’

Maurice Isserman (NYT, August 10, 2008) informs how much we have lost. Reading it was devastating.

WILCO VAN ROOIJEN, a Dutch mountain climber, managed to survive the debacle this week that took the lives of 11 others in Pakistan on K2, the world’s second-highest peak. Describing the chaotic events that ensued when a pinnacle of ice collapsed and swept away fixed ropes that climbers from several expeditions high on the mountain had counted on to aid their descent from the summit, Mr. van Rooijen lamented: “Everybody was fighting for himself, and I still do not understand why everybody were leaving each other.”

Himalayan mountaineering is an inherently dangerous pastime, and climbers are always at risk from the unexpected. But mountaineering has become more dangerous in recent decades as the traditional expeditionary culture of the early- and mid-20th century, which had emphasized mutual responsibility and common endeavor, gave way to an ethos stressing individualism and self-preservation.
The contrast between the two eras is vividly illustrated by the experience of an earlier expedition that ran into peril on K2…

“We entered the mountains as strangers, but we left as brothers.” Today in contrast, as was evident last week on K2, climbers enter the mountains as strangers and tend to leave the same way.”


Artist: Alan Dunn The New Yorker 15 June 1957

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Prince Charles Talking About Dying Indian Farmers Once Again Turns His Back on Science.

PTI reported on October 7, 2008:

“Appalled by the increasing rate of suicides by debt trapped Indian farmers, Prince Charles of Britain has said that the tragedy is due to the use of "Genetically Modified (GM) farming techniques." Referring to the "failure of GM crop varieties in India" which have contributed to the plight of the farmers, the British Prince pushed for readopting the traditional farming methods…”

This is very simplistic and plain unscientific. Reasons for farmer suicides are very complex.

I think the prince has forgot about the open letter he received from Richard Dawkins.

“…But your hostility to science will not serve those aims; and your embracing of an ill-assorted jumble of mutually contradictory alternatives will lose you the respect that I think you deserve. I forget who it was who remarked: "Of course we must be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out."…

Next, Sir, I think you may have an exaggerated idea of the natural ness of "traditional" or "organic" agriculture. Agriculture has always been unnatural. Our species began to depart from our natural hunter-gatherer lifestyle as recently as 10,000 years ago - too short to measure on the evolutionary timescale.

Wheat, be it ever so wholemeal and stoneground, is not a natural food for Homo sapiens. Nor is milk, except for children. Almost every morsel of our food is genetically modified - admittedly by artificial selection not artificial mutation, but the end result is the same. A wheat grain is a genetically modified grass seed, just as a pekinese is a genetically modified wolf. Playing God? We've been playing God for centuries!…

Incidentally, one worrying aspect of the hysterical opposition to the possible risks from GM crops is that it diverts attention from definite dangers which are already well understood but largely ignored. The evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria is something that a Darwinian might have foreseen from the day antibiotics were discovered. Unfortunately the warning voices have been rather quiet, and now they are drowned by the baying cacophony: "GM GM GM GM GM GM!"

Moreover if, as I expect, the dire prophecies of GM doom fail to materialise, the feeling of let-down may spill over into complacency about real risks. Has it occurred to you that our present GM brouhaha may be a terrible case of crying wolf? …”



Artist: David Borchart The New Yorker October 13 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 165

Proposed Caption:

‘Prince, Are you leaving because you think they are bleating "GM GM GM GM GM GM!"? Actually they should be leaving because you are crying wolf!’

Monday, October 06, 2008

Ratan Tata’s Dinner Date with Mamta Banerjee

Ratan Tata:

“Two years ago, I said if somebody puts a gun to my head, you would either have to remove the gun or pull the trigger. I would not move my head. I think Ms Banerjee pulled the trigger.” (October 3, 2008)



Artist: P C Vey, The New Yorker October 06, 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest #164

Proposed Caption:

“Ms. Banerjee, We have frisked you. You are 'clean'. We have checked the toilets. There are no firearms taped to any flush tank. I wonder how you are going to get the gun to shoot Mr. Tata."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

In US, Main Street Vs. Wall Street. In India, Street Vs. No Street

It’s interesting to watch US lawmakers fighting a street game called: “Main Street Vs. Wall Street”.

In India, we too play a street game. It’s called: “Street Vs. No Street.”

I am lucky and in minority. I have a street. Sort of. Most months of a year.

Majority of Indians are not that lucky. Ladies, like in the picture below, may think they are all bums.


Artist: I.Klein The New Yorker 14 December 1929

Friday, October 03, 2008

What is Deadliest? Traffic,Temple Queues and Terrorism. In that Order.

We are not driven around in a chauffeur driven car. We don't live in a gated community. Our family has to worry about bombs.

But I am more worried about Pune traffic.

Recently my wife and I met with an accident. Luckily for us we were not knocked down by a truck.

It had to happen. Stochastic Processes.

I go for a morning walk. My wife's cousin has warned me that the benefits that accrue to me by that walk are offset by the risk I take by walking on a busy Pune road for almost an hour.

Another "deadly place" in today's India is a queue of devotees.
Times of India said on October 1, 2008:

"NEW DELHI: Stampedes are bigger killers in India than bomb blasts that so dramatically capture our mindspace. In 2008 alone so far, over 360 people lost their life in major stampedes compared to 156 killed by bomb blasts.

This year is not an aberration. Data collated for the last nearly nine years shows that while 875 people have lost their lives in stampedes that were big enough to make the national press, 766 have been killed by terror bombs.

The actual number killed in stampedes may be even higher. What we have collated is based on press reports, since no centralized data base exists for such incidents, unlike with terror attacks. It is also clear that single bomb blasts rarely kill people in the kind of large numbers that are associated with stampedes..."

Luckily my family does not visit popular temples.

I wonder why people get so upset about terrorist bombs but not about deadlier traffic and temple queues. Is it because they think something can be done about terrorism but nothing about traffic and temple queues?


Artist: Sudhir Tailang Asian Age October 1, 2008

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I’m all for Putting Newsweek in its Place

On July 16, 2001, Fareed Zakaria wrote in Newsweek:

“Last week I celebrated my first Fourth of July as an American

A South African judge recently addressed a group of students at a major American university. She began by noting that the newspapers in the United States seemed full of trivia. Then she explained her deep and fervent hope that one day the newspapers in her country would also have nothing serious to report. For me, and I would guess most of the people in that Brooklyn auditorium, the big news about America is that there is no big news.”

I wrote to him saying there was plenty of “big news” in US even then.

I never received a reply but starting September 11 of that year then there has been no shortage of “big news” in US.

Later Mr. Zakaria went to justify Iraq war with the enthusiasm of a new convert. I stopped reading him after that but continued my subscription to Newsweek.

After reading Newsweek issue dated September 29, 2008, I think time has come to say goodbye to the magazine.

Instead of focusing on all aspects of one of the biggest financial scams in human history that is causing much pain around the world, they have ended up glorifying one of its culprits- Henry Paulson.

BEN STEIN:

“IMAGINE, if you will, that a man who had much to do with creating the present credit crisis now says he is the man to fix this giant problem, and that his work is so important that he will need a trillion dollars or so of your money. Then add that this man thinks he is so indispensable that he wants Congress to forbid any judicial or administrative questioning of anything he does with your dollars.

You might think of a latter-day Lenin or Fidel Castro, but you would be far afield. Instead, you should be thinking of Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and the rapidly disintegrating United States of America, right here and now…

Why didn’t Mr. Paulson, the Treasury secretary, see it? He was once the head of Goldman Sachs, an immense player in the swaps world. Didn’t people at Treasury have a clue? If they didn’t, what was going on in their heads? If they did, why didn’t they do something about it a year ago, when saving the world would have been a lot cheaper?

If Mr. Paulson and Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, didn’t see this train coming, what else have they missed? What other freight train is barreling down the track at us?

(September 28, 2008 . “In Financial Food Chains, Little Guys Can’t Win” )


Artist: Leonard Dove The New Yorker 2 November 1929