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, December 31, 2008

Samuel Huntington’s Crystal Ball

What does year 2009 hold for us?

The father of “The Clash of Civilizations” Samuel Huntington has just died more than fifteen years after he wrote it.

I have just finished reading William Dalrymple’s book “White Mughals” (2002).

I loved the tragic tale but don’t agree with the author's inference: “…As the story of James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair un-Nissa shows, East and West are not irreconcilable, and never have been. Only bigotry, prejudice, racism and fear drive them apart. But they have mingled in the past; and they will do so again.”

Mingling is fine but anything more I have my doubts. Dalrymple has not produced strong enough evidence in five hundred plus pages to convince me otherwise.

Fouad Ajami attacked Huntington’s “The clash” in 1993.

“… I wrote my response with appreciation, but I wagered on modernization, on the system the West had put in place. “The things and ways that the West took to ‘the rest,’” I wrote, “have become the ways of the world. The secular idea, the state system and the balance of power, pop culture jumping tariff walls and barriers, the state as an instrument of welfare, all these have been internalized in the remotest places. We have stirred up the very storms into which we now ride.” I had questioned Huntington’s suggestion that civilizations could be found “whole and intact, watertight under an eternal sky.” Furrows, I observed, run across civilizations, and the modernist consensus would hold in places like India, Egypt and Turkey…”

Fifteen years later, Ajami would say: “…Huntington’s thesis about a civilizational clash seems more compelling to me than the critique I provided at that time.

…And Huntington had the integrity and the foresight to see the falseness of a borderless world, a world without differences. (He is one of two great intellectual figures who peered into the heart of things and were not taken in by globalism’s conceit, Bernard Lewis being the other.)

I still harbor doubts about whether the radical Islamists knocking at the gates of Europe, or assaulting it from within, are the bearers of a whole civilization. They flee the burning grounds of Islam, but carry the fire with them. They are “nowhere men,” children of the frontier between Islam and the West, belonging to neither. If anything, they are a testament to the failure of modern Islam to provide for its own and to hold the fidelities of the young.

More ominously perhaps, there ran through Huntington’s pages an anxiety about the will and the coherence of the West — openly stated at times, made by allusions throughout. The ramparts of the West are not carefully monitored and defended, Huntington feared. Islam will remain Islam, he worried, but it is “dubious” whether the West will remain true to itself and its mission. Clearly, commerce has not delivered us out of history’s passions, the World Wide Web has not cast aside blood and kin and faith. It is no fault of Samuel Huntington’s that we have not heeded his darker, and possibly truer, vision.”

In 2008 we certainly saw riches depreciating and Indo-Pak 'love' growing stale and in Samuel Huntington’s crystal ball our future contains more pain than that just coming from ulcerated tooth.


Artist: Alain, The New Yorker, 7 March 1936

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Let Ajmal Amir Kasab Stay in the Hell of an Indian Jail

Debate is raging in India on the subject of terrorist Kasab’s entitlement to legal assistance.

If Nathuram Godse नथुराम गोडसे- the killer of Mahatma Gandhi- was entitled to a lawyer and a 'grand' speech (the speech that still motivates Hindu extremists), why not Kasab?

Ram Jethmalani has the most interesting take.

He says: “…If I had been a judge I would not sentence Kasab to death for a different reason. It is only by remaining in the hell of an Indian jail that he would realise that what the Mullahs told him is false.

Long stay in an Indian prison will detoxify him of all the superstitions and illusions instilled into him. Those who did it surely deserve a sentence of death if caught.”

This sounds like the Hindi film villain Ajit’s rationale on why someone should be thrown in the tank of liquid oxygen: Liquid will not let him live, oxygen will not let him die!

Hell indeed comes in many forms.


‘I never expected hell to be as bad as this.’


The Spectator

Monday, December 22, 2008

Nandan Nilekani: Samyukta Maharashtra Movement = “Rioting and Protests”

First it was Nana Patekar नाना पाटेकर equating Samyukta Maharashtra movement संयुक्त महाराष्ट्र चळवळ with Raj Thackeray’s recent activities.

Now, it is Nandan Nilekani who says:

“…Jawaharlal Nehru proposed that Bombay become a separate, bilingual area, but the rioting and protests that ensued forced him to back down, and the city became part of Maharashtra. Since then, Indian cities have been passive and subordinate to the state governments. The bulk of city taxes are collected by the state and central governments and administration is dominated by state-run agencies…”

(Times of India, December 13, 2008)

Instead of holding political leaders, top civil servants, and many private sector parties responsible for the decay of Mumbai, Mr. Nilekani finds faults with Samyukta Maharashtra movement, the movement that most think was responsible for the city becoming part of Maharashtra.

This is very unfortunate dumbing down of history. We are being trained for more and more simplification as the world becomes more and more complicated.

If historian Y D Phadke य दि फडके were to be alive-he has been dead for almost a year now- I would have recommended Mr. Nilekani a visit to him.


'Could you dumb it down?’



The Spectator

Friday, December 19, 2008

Prescribing Drugs to Win the Worm

Rema Nagarajan, Times of India, December 15, 2008:

“Are your drugs boosting your doc’s lifestyle?:

A platinum coupon if you prescribe drug `X' to 10 patients. A gold coupon if you prescribe brand `Y' to 25 patients. The more coupons you get, the greater your chances of winning. The prizes: cars, frost-free refrigerators, television sets, digital cameras and silver coins.

If you knew your doctor was a contestant for these prizes, how confident would you feel that what has been prescribed to you is what you need, not what improves his chances in the contest?…”




Artist: Harry Bliss, The New Yorker, December 22, 2008, Cartoon Caption Contest # 174

My caption:

“Oh it’s you – friendly medical rep…you followed me even here... OK, which unnecessary and expensive drugs do I have to prescribe to win that giant worm?”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What did Ministers carry from the Office after they were Fired?

In the wake of terrorist attacks on Mumbai, three ministers and zero civil servants have been fired.


Artist: Tom Cheney, The New Yorker, December 15 2008, Cartoon Caption Contest 173

My caption:

“I never thought I would need a trolley to carry the chits I received from my part chief advising me on diverse matters such as transfers of civil servants, manipulation of evidence, selective burning of files, snooping on his political opponents, collection of party funds, promotion of his children’s careers, protection of land mafia..."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Nanasaheb Peshwa (1720 – 1761) and Mumbai Attacks (2008)

(There are a number of entries on this blog on Shivaji, Panipat 1761, T S Shejwalkar. Nanasaheb Peshwe. You can search it to reach them.)

William Faulkner: “The past is not dead; it is not even past.”

If I were India’s navy chief, November 26, 2008 would be one of the saddest days in my life. Only on November 20, 2008, “Indian warship sinks Somali pirate vessel in the Gulf of Aden” was FT’s most ready story. Indian navy was darling of the international and local media.

Sea is a great leveler.

My first thought after hearing about the Mumbai attacks on the morning of 27th November: India’s vulnerability from the sea-borne invaders has changed little since medieval times

Robert D. Kaplan has put it well: “…the tragedy has caused the world to focus on India’s weaknesses — its lax security, its vulnerability to age-old maritime infiltration and, most of all, the constant threat of caste and tribal violence — that have been obscured by its economic success…” (NYT December 8, 2008)

Notice: “India's vulnerability to age-old maritime infiltration.” Exploiting that, Europeans entered, looted, and ruled India.

Since the dawn of 17th century, Shivaji शिवाजी was perhaps the only Indian ruler who understood the importance of an effective navy. But Peshwas- his successors- were not that wise

T S Shejwalkar त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर and his classic “Panipat 1761 पानिपत 1761” will continue to remain relevant –even prophetic- as long as volatile situation prevails in South Asia. After analysing contemporary actors of 18th century India and Afghanistan, he has blamed Mahatma Gandhi- for whom he had enormous respect- and J L Nehru for not learning from Panipat.

Shejwalkar has pilloried Nanasaheb Peshwe- who also was a principal actor in 1761- for destroying the Maratha navy created by Shivaji. Read scanned image- given below- of a passage from Shejwalkar’s essay: “Nanasaheb Peshwe नानासाहेब पेशवे” (1925).

("निवडक लेखसंग्रह" त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर; परिचय गं दे खानोलकर "Selected Articles” by Tryambak Shankar Shejwalkar 1977 introduction: G D Khanolkar)

Has modern Indian state learnt enough from Shivaji (1630-1680) when it comes to self-defense? Or is Shivaji there only to be abused for waging wars against fellow Indians?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Priyanka Chopra Wins 23rd Vodafone Pune International Marathon!

I was used to seeing a picture of the winner of a race- waving or showing victory sign- especially when it was splashed on the front page of a newspaper that was borne in one of the foremost regions of India when it comes to sports (Vijay Hazare to Veerdhaval Khade).

Therefore, looking at following picture in Marathi news daily Pudhari पुढारी, I concluded that Priyanka Chopra was the winner of 23rd Vodafone Pune International Marathon that was run on December 7, 2008.

After all in India, there is no limit to what cine-tv-stars, politicians in power and cricketers can achieve.

Reviewing Dietmar Rothermund's account of India for Spectator, WILLIAM LEITH says:

“…India’s media is heading for ad-backed celebrity hell faster, and more comprehensively, than ours (UK’s)…”



Pudhari December 8 2008

p.s. If you read Marathi, notice the sloppiness of the copy above Ms. Chopra. It does not even mention full names of the winners.

Why and when did we reach here?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Painless to the Criminal and Terrible to the Beholder?

Laxmibai Tilak’s लक्ष्मीबाई टिळक Smritichitre स्मृतिचित्रे (Memory-pictures) 1934 is one of the best books written in Marathi.

It opens with a devastating event for the family. In an act of John Company's terrorism, her mother’s father is hanged by the British after the revolt/war/mutiny of 1857. This drives her father crazy resulting into disastrous consequences for her family.

I wish I could get to read the story of Laxmibai’s grandfather. She says he enjoyed the trust of poor and was loved by the town’s (Jalalpur जलालपूर)
residents.

There is very little documentation of that period available, in easily accessible Marathi sources. The only exception is “Maza pravas” by Godse Bhataji माझा प्रवास, गोडसे भटजी.

GEOFFREY WHEATCROFT writes in his review of “THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE 1781-1997” By Piers Brendon (NYT Books Update on November 23, 2008):

“…The growing realm in India was a corporate enterprise, literally so, run by “John Company,” as the East India Company was known, until what Indians no longer call the Indian Mutiny. This was put down with the most horrifying brutality by the British, raising not for the first time the question of who were the “savages” and who the civilized…”

I have always found darkest humour in following description of the event that took place much before 1857.

Elphinstone did not hesitate to order the (Brahmin) ringleaders (of a plot to murder all the Europeans in Pune) to be blown from guns, observing that this method of execution ‘contains two valuable elements of capital punishment; it is painless to the criminal and terrible to the beholder’.” (Philip Mason. “Men Who Ruled India”)



'Due to staff cutbacks...'

The Spectator

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I Smile because I have an Exclusive from this Land of the Dead

Nicholas Taleb:

"....journalism may be the greatest plague we face today- as the world becomes more and more complicated and our minds are trained for more and more simplification".

“To be competent, a journalist should view matters like a historian, and play down the value of information he is providing…Not only is it difficult for the journalist to think more like a historian, but it is, alas, the historian who is becoming more like the journalist.”

Gnani Sankaran: “…Flash "exclusive" — even if the reporter is sending in reports from outside the Taj Mahal Hotel, where at least 400 reporters are stationed. And for viewers gone blind while watching blood-curdling reportage, scream "exclusive" after every nine words…Why should Arnab and Rajdeep and Barkha keep harping every five minutes that this piece of information was exclusive to their channel, at the time of such a national crisis? Is this the time to promote the channel?…”

Michael Crichton:

“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.

So a good frame had nothing to do with the past. Fred Barker's damning list of prior incidents was actually a problem, because it drew attention to the fading, boring past. She'd have to find a way around it—give it a mention and go on.

What she was looking for was a way to shape the story so that it unfolded now, in a pattern that the viewer could follow. The best frames engaged the viewer by presenting the story as a conflict between good and bad, a morality story. Because the audience got that. If you framed a story that way, you got instant acceptance. You were speaking their language.

But because the story also had to unfold quickly, this morality tale had to hang from a series of hooks that did not need to be explained. Things the audience already knew to be true. They already knew big corporations were corrupt, their leaders greedy sexist pigs. You didn't have to prove that; you just had to mention it. They already knew that government bureaucracies were inept and lazy. You didn't have to prove that, either. And they already knew that products were cynically manufactured with no concern for consumer safety.

From such agreed-upon elements, she must construct her morality story.

A fast-moving morality story, happening now…”



Artist: Lee Lorenz The New Yorker December 8, 2008 Cartoon Caption Contest 172

My caption:

“I smile because I have an 'EXCLUSIVE' to report from this land of the dead”

Monday, December 01, 2008

Wall Street Journal recommends Tukaram, Sane-guruji, and Vinoba Bhave

Hemant Karkare: "A terrorist has no religion."

Mr. Nandan M. Nilekani says: "...Do you want to pursue a path which will bring us to a great future, or do we go down the path of more and more divisiveness. I mean all this Hindu Vs Christian, Hindu Vs Muslim, Bihari Vs Bombay. I call these the vertical divides (gestures), you know, this religion and caste. We should go beyond this and look at horizontal aspirations..." (Asian Age November 26, 2008)

Sounds good.

I wonder if his book has any 'ideas' on how to 'go beyond' because it is perhaps many times more difficult than creating a Fortune 500 company?

Mr. Nilekani also says:"...You know, leaving apart his (Narendra Modi's) Hindutva and all that triumphalism and Gujarat riots and all that..."

Leaving apart Gujarat riots and all that?!!! Read a related post here.

DANIEL HENNINGER says in WSJ: “…What really went missing through the subprime mortgage years were the three Rs: responsibility, restraint and remorse. They are the ballast that stabilizes two better-known Rs from the world of free markets: risk and reward.

Responsibility and restraint are moral sentiments. Remorse is a product of conscience. None of these grow on trees. Each must be learned, taught, passed down…”

Note WSJ is talking about responsibility, restraint and remorse.

"According to John Bird, founder of the Big Issue magazine: “In the 21st century, it’s no longer right or sexy to be a greedy bastard.”

His pithily expressed thesis is that the crisis in conventional business has given impetus to social enterprises, which combine the pursuit of profit with the quest to do good." (FT, Jonathan Guthrie, November 26 2008)

As I have said on this blog often: Shouldn’t we be teaching ‘responsibility and restraint’ and 'the pursuit of profit with the quest to do good' in our schools and colleges? Maybe they will help us tackle violence unleashed by the vertical divides created by religion, caste and language.

Maharashtra’s school education needs to incorporate Tukaram तुकाराम, Sane-guruji साने-गुरूजी and Vinoba Bhave विनोबा भावे a lot more. Our times need these guys more than ever.

Instead, I see more and more focus on examination oriented science and mathematics.

Some of India's thought-leaders don’t mind this because they need armies of these “technical” graduates to staff their organizations. They routinely complain about the “employability” factor but rarely about “wholesomeness” of education.

Teaching science as a fun thing also will never compensate abject lack of place for soft skills and moral values in our curricula.

“…But the ideal of science as lingering childhood has given way to one of timeless adolescence. Richard Feynman and James Watson are the poster boys for this kind of scientist, who bathes in the fountain of perpetual fun. The triumph of that cultural ideal coincided with the heightened recognition of a deeply serious role for science in affairs of state. The legend of Feynman originated during his time at Los Alamos, which he described as a delightful time of cracking safes and seducing girls in bars. Surely he was joking, and the blackness of the humor is made evident by juxtaposing his antics with disturbing images from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Eniwetok, of tens of thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles poised to destroy life on Earth, and hundreds of thousands of scientists and engineers laboring every workday to increase the power and precision of those weapons. The popular contemporary understanding that doing science is about fun has an aura of whimsical self-indulgence and offers comic relief and distraction from realities of this kind… “

(students of IIT's in 2007 were up against Dow Chemical. Good start. Now they should refuse to join any US or European or Indian defense contractors)

“…. We no longer expect scientists to display qualities of personal integrity beyond what we would demand of lawyers, businesspeople or store clerks. Their involvement with war and their willing subordination to the expectations of profit-driven industry seem to support this doctrine of equivalence, and the modern intermingling of academic research with entrepreneurship exemplifies the decline of an ideal of disinterested truth…”

(In India scientists enjoy far more credibility than lawyers, businesspeople or store clerks. I wonder why. Remnants of Brahmanism? For me, the most celebrated Indian scientist Dr A P J Abdul Kalam's personal integrity is no more or no less than any other President of India before him.)

“…Anyone who has witnessed capitalism from outside the economics textbooks knows that business life depends deeply on personal relationships of trust. The same is true of science, and Shapin has taught us as much as anyone about what this means in practice. Trust is rarely absolute, and in business and science as in most human affairs it is important also to develop a nuanced sense of when and how to withhold trust. For an outsider, it is difficult to know how seriously to take the scientists' avowals of intention to do good in the world. Even the most idealistic of biotech researchers are destined to become dependent on medical corporations to test their products and bring them to market. "Big Pharma" and its ilk have acquired, I think justly, a bad reputation, and any residual altruism on the part of the scientists will be the first victim of their involvement. They profess to be humanitarians, but if we measure that claim against the actual consequences of high-tech science-based medicine, our admiration must surely fade…”

“…In the same way, if we look beyond parables of geese and gold, we must doubt that basic science is the indispensable engine of technological change, the prime mover for economic prosperity. This is a legend, one that is repeated like a mantra by advocates of science in search of resources, but which is not well supported by historical and economic research. Universities and corporate labs alike must now justify their budgets by claiming economic payoff. In pursuit of research money, scientists have propagated dubious scientific claims, such as single-gene causation of all kinds of human traits and maladies. Those who found companies, not surprisingly, like to emphasize the symbiosis of good science and profit-making enterprise…”

(Theodore M. Porter’s review of The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation by Steven Shapin)

Artist: Rea Gardner The New Yorker 10 November 1945