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."

Monday, August 31, 2009

History Lies in the Eyes of the Beholder

Movie "Inglourious Basterds" featuring Brad Pitt is based on events of World War II.

Kate Williams writes about it in Spectator:

"We are fast forgetting how to be guilty about the past...

...And now we have Inglourious Basterds, vehemently promoted and polarising the critics. To the accompaniment of pumping rock music, (Brad) Pitt shouts the importance of ‘murder, torture, intimidation and terror’ as he encourages his Jewish-American troops to scour occupied France for ‘the German’ and leave him ‘disembowelled, dismembered, disfigured’. ‘The German has no humanity,’ he declares, in a film that has much in common with a violent computer game. War is a joke, thrilling but ultimately empty entertainment..."

Partition of India killed, by some estimates, one million people and yet it is not adequately present in the school text books of Maharashtra.

I thought I was a keen student of history in school and I didn't know much about it.

My son, who is currently studying in class X, doesn't know much about it either.

But currently, thanks to Jaswant Singh's book and his expulsion from the BJP, it rages in mainstream media.

Yesterday, I came across following passage in my son's history book:

"...Collective farming was a novel feature of Joseph Stalin's first 'Five Year Plan'. In order to ensure success of his idea, he used coercive methods and millions of peasants were forced into joining the collective farms. Great progress was achieved. Russia emerged as a powerful country. But all this was done at the cost of liberty of the people."

[from 'Modern World (History)', Standard X, 2007, Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, Pune-411 005]

They could have got away with this rubbish in 1974-75 when I was in Class X.

Now we know better than "done at the cost of liberty of the people."

J. Bradford DeLong:

"...Call those political leaders whose followers and supporters have slaughtered more than ten million of their fellow humans "members of the Ten-Million Club."

All pre-twentieth century history may (but may not) have seen two members of the Ten-Million Club: Genghis Khan, ruler of the twelfth century Mongols, launcher of bloody invasions of Central Asia and China, and founder of China's Yuan Dynasty; and Hong Xiuquan, the mid-nineteenth-century Chinese intellectual whose visions convinced him that he was Jesus Christ's younger brother and who launched the Taiping Rebellion that turned south-central China into a slaughterhouse for decades in the middle of the nineteenth century...

...By contrast the twentieth century has seen perhaps five people join the Ten Million Club: Adolf Hitler, Chiang Kaishek, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong.

Hitler, Stalin, and Mao have credentials that may well make them the charter members of the Thirty Million Club as well--perhaps the Fifty Million Club
..."

On page 55 of the said text book, they have a picture of Lenin.



Look at the following picture.

The couple should send the photoframe to the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education. In the next edition of the text book, the board may use the new picture of Lenin.


Artist: Eldon Dedini, The New Yorker, 27 November 1989

Friday, August 28, 2009

Will the Monument of Shivaji Ask for Tired, Poor, Huddled Masses from Anywhere in India?

Pudhari dated August 26 2009 'proudly' declares:

proposed Shivaji monument in the Arabian sea will be taller than the Statue of Liberty.

Such comparisons are odious. But now that one has been made, I wish to take it further.

Inscription on the Statue of Liberty contains these lines:

'..."Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses
yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"'

Will the Monument of Shivaji ask for tired, poor, huddled masses from anywhere in India?

Or will we do the same thing that Americans are doing in the picture below?



'They turned her on her side and made her a fence.'

Artist: Mike Luckovich

Staying on the topic of monuments...

James Lamont wrote:

"...The Rajya Sabha, or upper parliamentary house, recently heard that 35 of the country’s centrally protected monuments had disappeared. The list stretches from Assam in the north-east, where the guns of Emperor Sher Shah have vanished, to Karnataka in the south, where a prehistoric site near Mysore has been swallowed up..." (FT, August 10 2009)

Remember 'सह्याद्रीची चोरी' लेखक: रमेश मंत्री ('The Theft of Sahyadri' Author: Ramesh Mantri)?

When mountains are stolen, why not monuments?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Vithoba, The Third Man

You can tell, I am drunk on just concluded Ashes.

They say when a team fields a position of third man- and not forward short leg or gully- in cricket field, they are defending.

MICHAEL J. YBARRA has reviewed "The Third Man Factor" By John Geiger in Wall Street Journal dated August 23 2009. Read it here.

He says: "...Accounts of experiencing a supportive presence in extreme situations—sometimes called the "third-man phenomenon"—are common in mountaineering ­literature...

...The Third Man represents a real and potent force for survival," Mr. Geiger writes, "and the ability to ­access this power is a factor, perhaps the most ­important factor, in determining who will succeed against seemingly insurmountable odds, and who will not." Mr. Geiger, however, is at a loss to explain why some can access this power and others can't...

..."Imagine the impact on our lives if we could learn to access this feeling at will," he says. "There could be no loneliness with so constant a companion. There could be no stress in life that we would ever again have to ­confront alone." In the meantime, we have Facebook."

Has any one given better expression to the phenomenon of "The Third Man" than saint-poet Tukaram तुकाराम?

"जेथे जातो तेथे तू माझा सांगाती । चालविसी हाती धरूनिया ॥१॥
चालो वाटे आम्ही तुझा चि आधार । चालविसी भार सवे माझा ॥धॄ॥"

"Wherever I go, Thou art my companion । Having taken me by the hand Thou movest me ।।
I go alone depending solely on Thee । Thou bearest too my burdens।।"

Read the complete poem / abhanga here.

Millions and millions of poor and downtrodden in India have succeeded against seemingly insurmountable odds over centuries. For them, life is a bitch but they are not bitter...

Why?

They are being helped by The Third Man.

Let my Facebook prosper or perish but hope my Vithoba never leaves my side...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Moral High Ground, Infosys and Gold-In-Sacks

John Gapper:“a lot of people used to think that Goldman Sachs ran the US economy. Now we know it does”.

And what is good for US economy is good for Infosys, darling of Indian media and middle-class. They wanted its chairman, Narayana Murthy, to become the president of the republic.

Infosys chairman always takes moral high ground in public with utterances like:

"Infosys will never touch a tainted company like Satyam...", "Infosys will never do anything unethical..." etc.

It's always definitive, and never: "But real life is messy and real people are complicated" or,
as Lucy Kellaway put it, "There is only one way of capturing the truth of this world, and that is satire. The truest business programme yet made is not The Apprentice. It is The Office."

Infosys’s corporate office has conference rooms named after famous scientists like Albert Einstein and Ramanujam but not after Seneca and Kabir.

Seneca would have gently informed to the occupants of conference room: "What is man? A vessel that the slightest shaking, the slightest toss will break. A body weak and fragile." And Kabir would have reminded that the idea of modern secular India is anchored in the solid foundation laid by the Bhakti Saints.

Reportedly one of Infosys's client is Goldman Sachs.

I wonder what Mr. Murthy thinks of having Goldman Sachs as a client after reading what Paul Krugman said on August 3 2009:

"...some institutions, including Goldman Sachs, have been using superfast computers to get the jump on other investors, buying or selling stocks a tiny fraction of a second before anyone else can react. Profits from high-frequency trading are one reason Goldman is earning record profits and likely to pay record bonuses...

...But suppose we grant that both Goldman and Mr. Hall are very good at what they do, and might have earned huge profits even without all that aid. Even so, what they do is bad for America...

...It’s hard to imagine a better illustration than high-frequency trading. The stock market is supposed to allocate capital to its most productive uses, for example by helping companies with good ideas raise money. But it’s hard to see how traders who place their orders one-thirtieth of a second faster than anyone else do anything to improve that social function...

...For example, high-frequency trading probably degrades the stock market’s function, because it’s a kind of tax on investors who lack access to those superfast computers — which means that the money Goldman spends on those computers has a negative effect on national wealth...

...Neither the administration, nor our political system in general, is ready to face up to the fact that we’ve become a society in which the big bucks go to bad actors, a society that lavishly rewards those who make us poorer."

If Goldman Sachs indeed is guilty as charged, I wonder how Infosys can escape a part of the blame.


Artist: Stuart Carlson, July 16 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Book Banning, Author Expelling

Today started badly for me.

I began it reading Jagmohan: "...Look at the Indian Parliament. What an uninspiring spectacle it is. The 14th Lok Sabha, for example, had about 100 members who were involved in criminal cases — 30 of whom had been charged with murder, dacoity, rape and extortion. Could an institution, dominated by such men and women, provide a national environment conducive to the realisation of Sri Aurobindo’s great vision?"
(The Asian Age, August 19 2009)

Then it became worse.

A little while ago, one of the most upright members of the 15th Lok Sabha- Jaswant Singh, has been expelled from his party- the BJP.

For writing a book.

This is what I wrote on August 17, 2009 about "JINNAH: INDIA-PARTITION-INDEPENDENCE"
by Jaswant Singh at India Today website:

"I haven't still read the book. But going by excerpt, it has potential to become one of the best book written by an Indian politician.

T S Shejwalkar argues in "Panipat 1761" (available in English and Marathi both) that the third battle of Panipat was fought to save the Mughal empire ( and the then 'secular India') and that the Marathas were sacrificed for the cause.

He further argues that if J L Nehru had shown willingness for similar sacrifice, India may not have been divided in 1947.

Future historians will find it hard to condone J L Nehru.

And why aren't more people in BJP (and in its allies like Shiv Sena) as sensible as Mr. Singh?"

I liked the book excerpt because of following passages:

"...The cruel truth is that this partitioning of India has actually resulted in achieving the very reverse of the originally intended purpose; partition, instead of settling contention between communities has left us a legacy of markedly enhanced Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or other such denominational identities, hence differences. Affirmative action, reservations for Muslims, other castes and communities unfortunately does not dissolve those identities; it heavily underscores them, waters their roots, perpetuating differences through the nutrient of self interest being poured constantly in separateness. Reservation results finally in compartmentalising society, hence ultimately in fragmenting national identity. That is what 'special reservation' for Muslims in India did...

...There are now no more points left to score; all have already been scored, no great issues of partition left to resolve, except one: an inability to understand what, after all, did this partition achieve? Other than constant pain and the suffering of crores of humans, all around, which has now finally moulded itself into a kind of a sealed and an abrasive continuity...

...The partitioning of India is the defining event of the twentieth century for this entire subcontinent. The searing agony of it torments still, the whys and what-fors of it, too. We relive the partition because we persist without attempts to find answers to the great errors of those years so that we may never, ever repeat them. Also, perhaps by recounting them we attempt to assuage some of our pain..."

Jaswant Singh's book has been banned in the state of Gujarat.

Indians have always had difficult relationship with books.

A G Noorani said in Economic & Political Weekly December 1, 2007 :

"Book banning is a civilised form of the vice of book-burning which is a sure symptom of fascism. India has a formidable record of book banning. As with much else, independent India simply took over the habits of the British raj."

A formidable record of book burning too?

According to the late Durga Bhagwat दुर्गा भागवत, Indians burnt down Bhasa’a भास play “Pratima प्रतिमा” because they didn’t like it.

Bhasa wrote ‘Pratima’ based on the life of Rama.

(Source- Easy Conversations: With Durgabai by Pratibha Ranade ऐसपैस गप्पा : दुर्गाबाईंशी, लेखक प्रतिभा रानडे, 1998)

Hope Jaswant Singh has written his own book...

Following cartoon appeared after the publication of L K Advani's tome- “My Country, My Life” in 2008.

The guy throwing away the book in disgust is A B Vajpayee.


Artist: R K Laxman, The Times of India, March 27, 2008

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Poor India! No Walter Cronkite, no Jon Stewart

I live in Pune and I am more scared by media than the flu. I sure look like a guy in the picture below saying: "but...but...I didn't know the flu caused permanent impotence..."

Reason?

Manish Kakkar wrote on Yahoo India News on Aug 12 2009:

"Two welcome developments over the last couple of days have come as some relief to a beleaguered nation beset with anxiety about swine flu. First, the government of India announced a scale-up of the response to swine flu and spelt out a series of strategic steps it intends to take in concert with the state governments. Second, at least some sections of the media have scaled down the level of alarmist reporting and have sought to douse the prevailing panic among the public...." (CNN-IBN is trying to belong to this section.)

The Hindu reported on August 5 2009:

"The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the Bombay High Court order directing the Chief Secretary, Maharashtra government to submit in sealed cover the report of Pradhan Committee which probed `26/11 terror attacks’ in Mumbai...

...the CJI wondered “what is the use of giving details when the High Court itself says give the report in a sealed cover. What is the advantage? Can the court prevent it {terrorist act}? Why should all such information be provided to the court, is it to have discussions in television channels.”

Mr. Salve said, “we all know about the impending danger and the threat perception. But these secret issues can’t be disclosed to the court.” He recalled the live telecast in the news channels of the 26/11 security operations which was reportedly used to guide the terrorists.

It would result in insecurity and create panic among the public."

I don’t know much about And-That's-The-Way-It-Is Walter Cronkite but Americans seem to miss him badly.

I don’t know if we ever had his counterpart in India: a deeply trusted figure on radio or television.

Indian radio was always state owned and hence thoroughly discredited.

Print media in India, in the past, had a few Walter Cronkites. But now...

When Ramachandra Guha recently argued in his address “Ten reasons why India will not and should not become a superpower” at the Aspen Institute in New Delhi, one of the reasons he gave was "supine media". (FT, July 15 2009)

Ayaz Amir wrote in Dawn, December 2 2005:

"IT takes a good two hours in the morning going through a stack of Pakistani newspapers. It takes about half an hour to go through the leading English dailies that you get in Delhi...

...You read them and you get to know more than you probably would want to about happenings in the film or fashion industry. But if you want to know a bit about events in the rest of the world you would have to seek some other fountain of knowledge.

You can’t blame television for being chatty and entertainment-driven because that’s how television sells. But you would expect newspapers to be slightly different. No such luck with Indian papers which, driven by the great forces of the market, have been dumbed down to the point where they are indistinguishable from any other consumer product...

...There’s no point in singling any newspaper out. By and large, they all look like tabloids out of Bollywood, devoted primarily not to anything as gross or insulting as national or international issues but to some form of entertainment...

...Sounds morbid, doesn’t it? Yet comparing it to the Bollywoodization of the Indian media, the conscious pursuit of blandness and mindless entertainment even by such standard-bearers of the Indian press as the Times of India and the Hindustan Times, you wonder which is the more insidious, such over-the-top passion as to be found in Pakistan or the complete loss of passion, at least as mirrored in the press, you see in India?..."

Lucky America. She still has Jon Stewart.


Artist:Nate Beeler, July 20 2009, The Washington Examiner, Washington, D.C.

For more pictures of Nate Beeler, go here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Battle of Black Hair: China 9, India 3!

Jonathan Fenby says in his article “China’s empire must end reliance on one man” (FT July 12, 2009):

“…Habits stretching back to imperial times influence the behaviour of the nine men in dark suits with uniformly full heads of black hair who make up the ruling standing committee of the politburo…”

Men...Dark Suits...Full Heads of Black hair



So boring.

India doesn’t have “the ruling standing committee of the politburo”.

Therefore, I decided to analyse the status of the top nine Indian political figures on gender, attire and head-hair.

Here is the result:

Name, Gender, Attire, Hair

Sonia Gandhi – female, saree or salwar-kameez, strands of grey hair

Rahul Gandhi- male, kurta-pyjama, full head of black hair

Manmohan Singh- male, kurta-pyjama, balding grey hair

Lal Krishna Advani-male, dhoti-kurta, balding grey hair

Mulayam Singh-male, dhoti-kurta, grey hair

Mamata Banerjee –female, saree, full head of black hair

Narendra Modi- male, kurta-pyjama-saffron shawl, grey hair

Mayawati – female, salwar-kameez, full head of black hair

Nitish Kumar –male, kurta-pyjama, grey hair



I take India's diversity any day.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

If a Swine could Talk, we could not Understand Him!

Ludwig Wittgenstein: "If a lion could talk, we could not understand him."

John Aspinall: "It's clear that Wittgenstein hadn't spent much time with lions."


Sudhir Tailang seems to have understood this swine in Pune...


Artist: Sudhir Tailang, The Asian Age, August 2009

Sunday, August 09, 2009

In India, can an Ad-Campaign turn Soda Pop into the new Tobacco?

India Today July 20, 2009 reports:

"...The health profile of urban India shows an underlying trend toward improving life and health...

Urban Indians are getting slimmer. Excess body fat ratio compared to muscle mass has come down by 11 per cent in the last 10 years.

...the number of urban Indians eating out more than twice a week has dropped by 11 per cent...the larger picture is upbeat..."

Elizabeth Kolbert says in The New Yorker July 20 2009:

"...Eric Finkelstein is a health economist at a research institute in North Carolina. In “The Fattening of America” (Wiley; $26.95), written with Laurie Zuckerman, he argues that Americans started to put on pounds in the eighties because it made financial sense for them to do so. Relative to other goods and services, food has got cheaper in the past few decades, and fattening foods, in particular, have become a bargain. Between 1983 and 2005, the real cost of fats and oils declined by sixteen per cent. During the same period, the real cost of soft drinks dropped by more than twenty per cent...

...Today, soft drinks account for about seven per cent of all the calories ingested in the United States, making them “the number one food consumed in the American diet.” If, instead of sweetened beverages, the average American drank water, Finkelstein calculates, he or she would weigh fifteen pounds less..."

Press Trust Of India reported on July 9, 2009:

“Economist Amartya Sen, business tycoon L N Mittal and Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi are among the members of a high-level panel headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh constituted to advise the Government to draw upon experience of the best Indian minds abroad for a two-way engagement…”

Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi on PM panel...



Artist: Steve Breen January 2003

"Our fries now have 50% less fat"

"Great"...


Will India ever put tobacco-type pictorial warnings on the bottles of soda-pop?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

I Found Out in November 2008; Not in July 2009

For me, Indian coastal defense was humbled by a bunch of terrorists in November 2008.

If it were Shivaji (1630-1680)'s defense forces, there would have been severe consequences for some people responsible for it.

On July 26 2009, India launched the first nuclear-powered submarine, "Arihant" or "Destroyer of Enemies", built on its soil, asserting itself as a world power by joining just five other countries that can design and construct such vessels.

Pudhari reported on July 29 2009 that some people from the Jain community have objected to the naming of nuclear-powered submarine as "Arihant".

They say a warrior who wins the enemy easily gets defeated against evils of soul / subjects of senses. He is unable to win the worldly emotions or passions.

When Muni Vardhaman (599 – 527 BCE), one of the first pacifists world saw, attained omniscience, he was named Mahavira and called ‘Arihant’, one who destroys the enemies of thy self.

Mahavir Arihant was a true "Prince of Peace". Not like Andrew Carnegie.
"Andrew Carnegie gave millions for peace
and libraries and scientific institutes and endowments and thrift
whenever he made a billion dollars he endowed an institution to promote universal peace
always
except in time of war." (John Dos Passos)

FT reported on July 30, 2009:

"India has plans to add about 100 warships to its navy over the next decade as it seeks to modernise its armed forces, and develop its low-cost shipbuilding capabilities..."

We will need many names. But Arihant, I feel, is not one of them.



(click on the picture to get a larger view)

Artist:'B.C.' Johnny Hart (1931–2007)

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Idea of Justice: Warren Anderson, the American and Ajmal Kasab, the Pakistani

Amartya Sen:
"Justice is a complex idea, but it is very important to understand that justice has much to do with everyone being treated fairly."

(talking to The Times of India about his book "The Idea of Justice" that was published in July 2009)

Most Indians want Ajmal Kasab to be hanged.

Quite shockingly for me, many of them, including Ms. Kavita Karkare-the widow of Mr. Hemant Karkare, want that to happen publicly.

Kasab committed his crime on November 26, 2008. Just over 8 months ago.

Mumbai attacks were responsible for "killing at least 173 people and wounding at least 308".(source: Wikipedia)

Bhopal gas tragedy happened on December 2, 1984. Almost 25 years ago.

Wikipedia informs: "The first official immediate death toll was 2,259. A more generally accepted figure is that 8,000- 10,000 died within 72 hours, and it is estimated that 25,000 have since died from gas-related diseases."

Warren Anderson was the chairman of Union Carbide.

Business Standard reported on August 1, 2009:

"A local court today ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to arrest former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson and produce him without delay, prompting survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy to celebrate on the streets.

On the intervening night of December 2 and 3, 1984, Union Carbide Ltd had spewed methyl isocyanate, a lethal toxic gas, killing thousands of people and maiming thousands of others. Anderson, besides Union Carbide, is a prime accused in the case and was proclaimed an absconder in 1992 after he refused to appear in the court despite several summons..."

Let me narrate an interesting account of an old lady from Emperor Aurangzeb’s time (reign 1658 - 1707).

This is taken from historian and Persian/Urdu scholar Setu Madhavrao Pagdi’s सेतु माधवराव पगडी Marathi book “Bhartiya Musalman: Shodh and Bodh” (Indian Muslims: Search and Lessons) Parchure Prakashan Mandir ,1992.

“An old lady took a complaint of extortion against a district collector to the emperor. Emperor ordered the money to be returned to the old lady.

Few days later, the old lady returned and complained that not only money had not been returned but also she was being harassed and hence suggested that the collector be transferred. Emperor signed the transfer order.

Little later the old lady again came back with another compliant that not only new collector continued to harass her but was demanding money from her because he felt her payment to his predecessor was part of ‘Hapta’ (periodic bribe) and hence he too was entitled to it!

On hearing this, Aurangzeb asked the old lady to pray to god that he sent her another emperor...

Khaphikhan, Aurangzeb’s well-known biographer, says that the emperor did not punish either of the corrupt officers.

Khaphikan also says that corruption among revenue officials was rampant and the officials who were sent from the emperor to check these practices were also equally corrupt! “

Artist: Helen E. Hokinson, The New Yorker, May 2 1942