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.”

W H Auden: "But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie. / Mortal, guilty, but to me/ The entirely beautiful."

Will Self: “To attempt to write seriously is always, I feel, to fail – the disjunction between my beautifully sonorous, accurate and painfully affecting mental content, and the leaden, halting sentences on the page always seems a dreadful falling short. It is this failure – a ceaseless threnody keening through the writing mind – that dominates my working life, just as an overweening sense of not having loved with enough depth or recklessness or tenderness dominates my personal one.”

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."

Art Spiegelman: "You know words in a way are hitting you on the left side of your brain, music and visual arts hit on the right side of the brain, so the idea is to pummel you, to send you from left brain to right brain and back until you're as unbalanced as I am."

विलास सारंग: "संदर्भ कुठलेही असोत, संस्कृत, इंग्रजी, बुद्धिवादी, तांत्रिक, इतिहासाचे, खगोलशास्त्राचे, आधुनिक पदार्थविज्ञानाचे, शिवकालीन व पेशवाईतील बखरीचे, अगणित ज्ञानक्षेत्रांचे, अशा वैविध्यपूर्ण ज्ञानावर लेखन- विशेषत: कवितालेखन- उभं राहत."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Shit- a WMD at Work in Myanmar 2008…Panipat 1761…

For NYT May 19, 2008, ROSE GEORGE writes:

“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:
प्रभाते करदर्शनम्।।

(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