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."

Friday, November 28, 2008

I may have Escaped the Shells but was Destroyed by it

When Suredra Paul was brutally murdered by militants in Assam near Chabua on May 9 1990, my wife and I almost heard the gunshots of AK-47 because we lived only a few kilometers away from the scene.

Later we came to know that there was a weapon called AK-47 and that it was easily and cheaply available in Assam.

I still remember the eerie afternoon.

Many such afternoons have now come and gone.

In the wee hours of November 8, 1990, we left our homes on a gun-mounted military truck before being airlifted from Sookerting airfield of the RAW to dodge the bullets of Ulfa.

To paraphrase Erich Maria Remarque, I may have escaped the shells but was destroyed by the experience.

I loved Assam and was forced to flee from it. Only the deaths of my mother and aunt have pained me more.

It’s another November, 18 years later, all over again.


Artist: Gahan Wilson The New Yorker December 1 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 171

My caption

"Wouldn’t it be your worst nightmare if these girls came to life, took the hacksaw behind you, pressed your head against the counter and sawed it off ? Now, you may begin to imagine what happened to the people of Mumbai on the night of November 26”

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Maruti Suzuki Twice as Valuable as General Motors!

India , as Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden recently reminded, remains firmly a third-world country.

Looking at Pune’s creaking infrastructure, arguably at its lowest point in last many years, it’s a matter of time before it became even fourth-world. (It's so bad that even the current police commissioner has become frustrated very quickly after his arrival here: "No trace of 'transport culture' in 'culture city'.")

But hope lives. Things change. They do very rapidly. For instance, could any one have believed the following development even in year 2000?

Business Standard reported on November 13, 2008:

“The stock market value of Indian automobile makers Mahindra & Mahindra and Hero Honda has surpassed that of General Motors…Two other Indian companies, Maruti Suzuki and Bosch also had market cap more than GM.”

As on Tuesday Nov 11 2008, Maruti Suzuki’s market capitalization at INR 16,528 cr was almost twice that of General Motors at 8,565 cr.

I don’t like personal cars. I never liked them. Particularly the big ones. Ayn Rand should have written a novel- based on the idea of all private cars going on a strike- titled: "Detroit Shrugged".

Therefore, I was happy to read many arguments that were put forth in favour of not saving Detroit from bankruptcy.

Sample them:

"...On Sunday, President-elect Barack Obama asked, "What does a sustainable U.S. auto industry look like?"

Well, it looks a lot like the automotive industry run by "foreign" car companies that insource jobs into the U.S..." (MATTHEW J. SLAUGHTER, WSJ)

“…How could these companies be so bad for so long? Clearly the combination of a very un-innovative business culture, visionless management and overly generous labor contracts explains a lot of it. It led to a situation whereby General Motors could make money only by selling big, gas-guzzling S.U.V.’s and trucks. Therefore, instead of focusing on making money by innovating around fuel efficiency, productivity and design, G.M. threw way too much energy into lobbying and maneuvering to protect its gas guzzlers…” (THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, NYT)


“…But, before the cash starts flowing to Detroit, here are three reasons this bail-out is a bad idea.

First, it will reward failure. To read Mr Iacocca’s memoir is to realise that, while Detroit often pledges to change and periodically shows progress, one thing is unchanged in two decades. It is still overpromising and underdelivering against Japanese and South Korean rivals.

GM, Ford and Chrysler are better at talking their own book than making cars, which is a tough business. It is particularly hard when you are stuck with high structural costs, an inflated dealer network and regulations that provide you with incentives to make trucks and sports utility vehicles.

GM can point to some new cars, such as the Chevrolet Malibu, that are of high quality and that 14 of its 15 new vehicles between now and 2010 will be passenger cars or crossovers (lighter SUVs). But when Detroit says things will be different this time, why should we believe it?

Second, it will preserve chronic overcapacity. For years, the Detroit car companies have pumped up US sales to 16m or 17m units a year with financial incentives in order to keep their factories going. They made it so cheap to buy a new car that the average age of cars on the road has steadily fallen.

As a result, when recession looms, customers can stop buying cars because the ones they already have work fine. GM now expects annual US sales to fall to about 12m per year in 2009 and 2010, which amounts to financial catastrophe for Detroit.

The big three want tax breaks and subsidies to inflate US sales again, although the sustainable level is far lower than they have been pretending. “This industry needs to lose capacity. It is obsessed with vehicle renewal and accelerating the replacement cycle, which pushes up fixed costs,” says John Wormald of Autopolis, an industry consultancy.

Third, a Detroit bail-out will harm the US auto industry as a whole because it will benefit the least efficient companies, while the most efficient ones – Asian companies that build vehicles at non-unionised plants in southern states – will face subsidised competition…” (John Gapper, FT)

“….In the U.S., the auto industry is a particularly awful candidate for a bailout. For generations it has represented the epitome of arrogance toward customers and inattentiveness to major societal changes. For decades, Detroit ignored the challenge from Japan, even as Toyota and Honda made cars that were of much higher quality, more stylish and more economical. Since the 1980s, Detroit automakers have lived off the profits of their captive finance companies rather than the sales of autos themselves, acting more like banks than highly competitive manufacturers. At every adverse turn, U.S. auto chiefs ran to Washington for help—for the bailout of Chrysler in the 1970s, for trade protection against Japanese imports in the 1980s, for help in breaking into the Japanese market when Japanese consumers couldn't figure out why they should buy gas-guzzling cars with steering wheels that were, for them, on the wrong side of the road. Time and again, the U.S. auto companies lobbied against even modest environmental laws, as if they bore no responsibility for the air they pollute.

The demise of the Big Three would not be the end of the U.S. auto industry. Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and others could fill the market. Most already make cars in the U.S., and if Detroit craters, they will move more production there, perhaps taking over some of the Big Three's facilities. Which raises another point. Of course, America would prefer to be a manufacturing superpower with its own brands. But it just may be that the future of auto production is in Asia. After all, it won't be that long before China and India join Japan and South Korea in having a world-class auto industry. Tata & Sons now owns Jaguar, and it has also produced the first viable auto costing under $3,000. In subsidizing Detroit, Washington may only be delaying its inevitable demise…” (Jeffrey E. Garten, Newsweek)

“…I understand that the argument "you saved X from bankruptcy, why won't you save GM from bankruptcy?" is very hard to deal with in a soundbite. And I believe the federal government has an obligation to autoworkers and retirees. But this obligation is not well-exercised by keeping GM out of bankruptcy…” (Brad DeLong)


Artist: Patrick Chappatte, International Herald Tribune

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Running like Headless Chicken. For Five Years.

Where do I see chicken that has lost its head?

In one of the severest indictments of India’s UPA government, Business Standard said on November 19, 2008:

“…A review by the Planning Commission is reported to have found that barring rural telephony and housing, all other sectors chosen for focused attention under the Rs 1.76 lakh crore five-year (2005-09) rural infrastructure programme are lagging behind the set targets. Notably, the situation is particularly dismal in key areas of irrigation, rural roads and rural electrification, though it is below par also in the provision of safe drinking water. Sadly, in the first four years, only one-third of the target for rural connectivity and electrification, vital for inclusive growth, could be attained. Worse still, the progress was an abysmal 10 per cent in the case of electric supply to the below-poverty-line households. The achievement in critical areas of irrigation and potable water supply, too, was far from satisfactory, being 50 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively…

…The track record of many a critical programme under the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is equally dismaying. Provision of sanitation facilities to curb open defecation, deemed a national scourge, is a case in point. It is estimated that as many as 1,12,300 toilets need to be built every day if the MDG aim is to be attained by the set deadline of 2012. What really needs to be appreciated here is that the country is paying a heavy economic price for poor sanitation that causes diseases and consequent manday losses. Such losses are estimated at around Rs 1,200 crore, including 180 million mandays, a year. Little wonder that the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), in its recent report on South Asia, has ranked India far below its neighbours like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in terms of sanitation. Notably, between 1990 and 2006, only around 20 per cent of additional people gained access to sanitation facilities in India, against 40 per cent in Pakistan, the UNICEF reported to the discredit of India.

Such a woeful profile of the fundamental facilities for the people is disgraceful. What makes the situation all the more disconcerting is that all these programmes, even if executed by the ministries concerned, are supposed to be monitored regularly by the Planning Commission and, more importantly, the Prime Minister's Office…”



Artist: P C Vey The New Yorker November 24, 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 170

My caption:

“…For today’s presentation, I found no better symbol than headless chicken to sum up running around of India’s coalition government for last five years.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Yes, I Heard Crocodile Bark in Our Bedroom

In July 2008, we have moved to a place that is only a few meters away from one wall of the historical Katraj Lake of Pune.

So far from the balcony of our house, we have managed to spot monkeys running on the wall and storks (?) trying to hunt fish.

But I was not prepared for this excitement:

On November 17, 2008, all newspapers in Pune reported spotting of a crocodile on the banks of Katraj Lake on November 16.

However the coverage left me disappointed. It talks only about fear and commotion among weekend revellers.

There is no sense of awe and curiosity let alone any thing on what poor crocodile must have felt surrounded by ruthless, noisy Homo sapiens. Do we want to experience crocks only on our TV screens?

There also was no mention that perhaps crocks will outlive us on the planet. They surely did “mighty” dinosaurs who once “ruled” the earth the way we do today.

Pune Authorities were sure that the animal would reappear on Nov 17 to sunbathe so that they could “deal” with it. But nature had the last laugh.

Whole of Monday it remained cloudy!

Following iconic cartoon is by legendary artist James Thurber.

Paul Johnson writes of him: “…When aged six, in 1901, his left eye was destroyed by a toy arrow shot by his brother. His mother, a Christian scientist, refused to let his condition be properly treated, and as a result ‘sympathetic ophthalmia’ developed in his right eye, and eventually led to virtual sightlessness. By the time I met him, in 1958 I think, he was effectively blind…”


Artist: James Thurber The New Yorker 30 January 1932

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Can a Texan Cowboy Win Big in India?



Artist: Leo Cullum The New Yorker 17 November 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 169


My caption:

“...What brings me to India? If an African can win big in USA, sure a Texan Cowboy can win in India. Isn’t India first country in the world to welcome and assimilate migrants from every corner of the planet? And don't forget popularity of a fellow Texan- George W. Bush-here.”

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On a Clear Evening You can see Glory of MMU on the Moon

Look at the picture below.

Joy in the room is infectious. I too started smiling.

Every one looks so happy…Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and IT pros, commodity traders, investment bankers, Ivy League graduate students and teachers, scientists, doctors, retired actors of Hindi cinema…

They are not ordinary people. They are Marathi speaking Masters of the Universe (MMU). Naturally, they are based in center of the universe: US of A.

It wasn’t easy. But MMU did it. They won and now have projected their prize- All India Marathi Literary Meet अ भा म साहित्य संमेलन -on to the moon. India’s moon mission must have witnessed it from the close quarters.

Or are MMU catching reflection of their crowning glory that had already reached the moon via America's space missions?

Only Vasant Sarwate वसंत सरवटे knows.

Like every thing MMU have done to possess what they do in their personal lives, they pursued this matter until they laid their hands on the 'grand prize'.

Notice the lady, serene like Kausalya. She is reading out Rama’s story to her healthy and cute looking son named Ram.

Notice how Ram is trying to sit in Vajrasana. Notice his expensive pair of Nike. Do you know he speaks Marathi better than many back home? He knows his epics better than his Desi cousin! Do you know he recites Sanskrit Shlokas every second Saturday and fourth Sunday of a month? Do you know Kausalya writes a weekly column for a popular Marathi daily whose editor, by the way, will be attending the meet and staying with Ram's family?

Therefore, when he grows up, Ram is likely to protect the ‘Marathi' culture far more effectively than his poor, disease-prone cousins back home. That is the reason his father follows his religion more vigorously than he ever did in India, donates to “religious" organizations back home and supports self-styled stone-toting “culture protectors” of Maharashtra...



Artist: Vasant Sarwate Lalit Diwali वसंत सरवटे ललित दिवाळी 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Turn the Damn TV Off to Get Your Life Back: Remembering Michael Crichton

Deepak Parekh is one of the few sensible commentators on Indian economy and financial markets.

Business Standard November 7, 2008:

“Deepak Parekh has never been known to mince his words. He’s upset that so much panic has been created unnecessarily in the money market and feels the media, through irresponsible articles and because of too much publicity on television, is partly to blame….”

He happened to say this on the same morning when newspapers carried the sad news of Michael Crichton ‘s death. (I found it strange Marathi news bulletin on Vividh Bharati never mentioned it. Inbreeding nature of Marathi middle-class culture?)

Mr. Crichton has appeared on this blog many times before. He is also my 14-years old son’s favourite author.

I like Mr. Crichton's work best for his views on our culture.

Following are a few quotes from his novels.

“…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…But where will this mania for entertainment end? What will people do when they get tired of television?…”

“…Jennifer had no interest in the past; she was one of the new generation that understood that gripping television was now, events happening now, a flow of images in a perpetual unending electronic present. Context by its very nature required something more than now, and her interest did not go beyond now. Nor, she thought, did anyone else's. The past was dead and gone. Who cared what you ate yesterday? What you did yesterday? What was immediate and compelling was now.

And television at its best was now…”

“…A lot of people complain that television lacks focus. But that's the nature of the medium. Television's not about information at all. Information is active, engaging. Television is passive. Information is disinterested, objective. Television is emotional. It's entertainment…”

“…The media image is the reality, and by comparison day-to-day life seems to lack excitement. So now day-to-day life is false, and the media image is true. Sometimes I look around my living room, and the most real thing in the room is the television. It's bright and vivid, and the rest of my life looks drab. So I turn the damn thing off. That does it every time. Get my life back.


salesman: "What would you an off button for?"

The Spectator

Friday, November 07, 2008

Are State Borders of India the Greatest Divide in terms of Rights and Equities?

Bill Gates: "If you ask what's the greatest divide in terms of rights and equities, it's national borders. That doesn't seem to bother people as much as I think it will."

"मास्तर मास्तर बघा कसा
हिसडे मारतोय भिंतीवरती
भारताचा नकाशा
गेला उडत खिडकीबाहेर
ड़ोंगरांसकट नद्यांसकट खुंटीसकट
गेला सरळ आकाशात”

(“काय डेंजर वारा सुटलाय” अरुण कोलटकर "अरुण कोलटकरच्या कविता" १९७७)
("What Danger Wind is Blowing" by Arun Kolatkar "Arun Kolatkar's Poems" 1977)



Artist: Tom Cheney The New Yorker November 10, 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 168

My caption:

"On a Diwali day a dapper-looking self-styled czar of Marathi culture brings his family to a five-star restaurant where a North Indian waiter is too scared to serve him."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

After George W. Bush, what will I be Hawkish about?

If Mr. Obama becomes the president of the US, the feat will be even greater than Ms. Mayawati-a Dalit woman- becoming the chief minister of the biggest state in India.

However, I don’t think much will change for the rest of the world as far as America is concerned because what Paul Krugman says in following quote is not going away in a hurry.

“… I was born in 1953. Like the rest of my generation, I took the America I grew up in for granted – in fact, like many in my generation I railed against the very real injustices of our society, marched against the bombing of Cambodia, went door to door for liberal candidates. It’s only in retrospect that the political and economic environment of my youth stands revealed as a paradise lost, an exceptional episode in our nation’s history…”

Not just that the excitement and expectations are so high with Obama, the disappointment is likely to be even higher.

The Janata Party became the first political party to defeat institutions-destroyer Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s Indian National Congress in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, forming the central government from 1977 to 1980.

It was the worst administration that ruled India. I felt crest fallen by 1980.

FOUAD AJAMI said in The Wall Street Journal on October 30, 2008:
“…the tragedy of Arab political culture has been the unending expectation of the crowd -- the street, we call it -- in the redeemer who will put an end to the decline, who will restore faded splendor and greatness. When I came into my own, in the late 1950s and '60s, those hopes were invested in the Egyptian Gamal Abdul Nasser. He faltered, and broke the hearts of generations of Arabs. But the faith in the Awaited One lives on, and it would forever circle the Arab world looking for the next redeemer.

America is a different land, for me exceptional in all the ways that matter. In recent days, those vast Obama crowds, though, have recalled for me the politics of charisma that wrecked Arab and Muslim societies. A leader does not have to say much, or be much. The crowd is left to its most powerful possession -- its imagination…

…The morning after the election, the disappointment will begin to settle upon the Obama crowd. Defeat -- by now unthinkable to the devotees -- will bring heartbreak. Victory will steadily deliver the sobering verdict that our troubles won't be solved by a leader's magic.”

(By the way I am surprised to read the verbal attacks on Fouad Ajami by the likes of Brad DeLong and James Fallows for saying this.)

Personally speaking I will miss George W. Bush's tremendous sense of humour. Every time I see him on a TV screen, I start smiling in anticipation. Indian government will miss him too.

He may have been a kind of mafioso. But he was like one of those 'bad men' who are portrayed very kindly in Hindi films. For me, one of the most moving images of 2008 is his embrace of Indian Prime Minister when they met last at the White House. I thought both had a hint of tears in their eyes.

But above all, once Bush is gone, I won’t know for a while what to be hawkish about!


Artist: Barney Tobey The New Yorker 23 August 1969

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Rat-meat, Beef, and Pork: Affordable Sources of Protein for Indian Poor

Where I live in Pune, there is an explosion of the population of pigs . I think there are more pigs on the roads here than either stray dogs or cows.

If you drive a two-wheeler, pigs are a bigger threat to you than a fellow scooterist.

Is there a reason behind this?

Times of India reported on October 15, 2008:

“India fares badly on global hunger index…India ranks 66 out of 88 countries on the 2008 Global Hunger Index (GHI), far behind comparable developing countries as well as smaller, less diverse and resource deprived nations…”

As bad as hunger is the problem of malnutrition.

“…Collating data, researchers found that India performed badly in the index primarily because of high malnutrition in children and consequent underweight children below the age of 5.

Almost 60% of the children in Madhya Pradesh below the age of 5 were underweight, the authors calculated. In Bihar, they computed 56.1% to be malnourished. Punjab might be the grain bank of north India but almost one-fourth of its children below the age of 5 were found to be underweight…”

A report in Asian Age on September 10, 2008:

“" Beef (buffalo meat) is increasingly becoming popular as a protein source compared to pulses, some of which have become more expensive than buffalo meat…Beef consumption continues to rise as it remains the cheapest of all the meats available in the domestic market…"

I remembered cartoonist Abu Abraham’s spirited article in The Sunday Observer where he argued how beef and pork were the most affordable sources of proteins for many poor in India and hence banning them was wrong headed. That article was an eye-opener for me.

Times of India reported on August 19, 2008:

“The Bihar government is encouraging people to eat rats in an effort to battle soaring food prices and save grain stocks…They even plan to offer rats on restaurant menus…”

In US however, MICHAEL SHAE says:

” These are not the happiest times for beef lovers. They have to tune out doctors’ warnings about saturated fat and stories of E. coli outbreaks, not to mention worries about mad cow disease. Raising and processing cattle on an industrial scale is an environmental catastrophe (among other things, the United Nations has accused the world’s livestock industry of being responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire global transportation fleet), and if it has made cheap beef democratically available to the many, it has also made a truly tasty steak harder to come by…”

(NYT, October 19 2008)



Artist: Mischa Richter The New Yorker 19 March 1955