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, November 30, 2009

Godse Bhataji's Day-Night Game of Cricket at Jhansi in 1858!

Wikipedia informs: "The British brought cricket to India in the early 1700s, with the first cricket match being played in 1721. In 1848, the Parsi community in Bombay formed the Oriental Cricket Club, the first cricket club to be established by Indians. After slow beginnings, the Europeans eventually invited the Parsis to play a match in 1877..."

In 1827c, Godse Bhataji aka Vishnubhat Godse (गोडसे भटजी / विष्णुभट गोडसे) was borne in a poor Brahmin family in Varsai (वरसई), which is now in district of Raigad, Maharashtra. His book 'Maza pravas' (माझा प्रवास), published in 1883, is a first travelogue in Marathi.

It remains one of the best Marathi books that have been published in last one twenty-five years.

In March 1858, Godse was in Jhansi. There he saw first hand the battle between the forces of British and Rani Lakshmibai, ruler of Jhansi.

I wonder if anyone knows if and when Godse saw a game of cricket. Or indeed participated in one. Or did he just hear about it? Was the colour of the ball red in those days?

He refers to cricket as 'chenduphalii' (चेंडुफळी) in following passage that describes exchange of shells on the third day of the battle.

"...दिवसा सूर्याचे तेजामुळे गोळे दिसत नसत. या मुळे लोक फार ख़राब होत असत. रात्रौ स्पष्ट चेंडुफळीचे खेलाप्रो। ते लाल दिसत..."

("...during the day because of Sun's brightness shells couldn't be seen. Many people used to suffer because of that. In the night, they looked distinctly, like in a game of cricket, red...")

Looks like it was a day-night cricket match!

Appealing against the bad light or against the unfairness of the British Raj was as hopeless as in the picture below.

Eventually Jhansi fell. British forces plundered it. Godse's description of the Empire's cruelty is heartwrenching.


Artist: Mike Williams, June 1 1977, Punch Magazine

Caption reads: 'We'd like to appeal against the light.'

Please visit http://www.punchcartoons.com for more fun.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Batman in Marathi: Wagle. Nikhil Wagle.

I miss Marathi version of Phantom: Vetal वेताळ. Read more about it here.

I don't think Batman has ever has been translated in Marathi. Not that lovingly anyway.

If I were to attempt it, I would translate 'Batman' in Marathi as 'Wagle'; in Devanagari: 'वागळे'.

Mr.Bal Thackeray's newspaper 'Saamna' derisively called Nikhil Wagle, the editor of a Marathi news-channel IBN-Lokmat आयबीएन-लोकमत , 'vatwaghaLe' (वटवाघळे).

It's a pun on Wagle's name. In Marathi, 'vatwaghaLe' means bats. It becomes a taunt because in popular Marathi culture bats don't get much respect.

Now they should.

I don't like majority of Indian electronic media and print media. I particularly dislike journalism of Wagle's boss: Rajdeep Sardesai and Times Now's Arnab Goswami. (I often imagine how Jon Stewart would have handled these two if he were in India.)

But I admire the courage of Nikhil Wagle. It reminds me of Mahatma Gandhi's Satyagrahis.

By saying this, perhaps I am thrusting too much of greatness on him. However, like the protagonist of R K Narayan's "The Guide", he deserves it in the end.

(By the way, taking financial risks, Wagle has published some excellent Marathi books.)

Wagle is brave. Like Raju-the-guide. Like Batman.

But I don't understand why IBN-Lokmat's tagline reads "चला, जग जिंकूया!!!" ("Come, let us conquer the world!!!".) What has journalism even to remotely do with 'conquering of the world'?

(Even a publication like 'The Economist' would go for a tagline like: "Come, let US conquer the world!!!")!

But now that I find Batman-like quality in Wagle, maybe the tagline makes sense. He really wants to conquer the world.



Artist: Danny Shanahan, The New Yorker, June 12 1995

My caption:

"I do love you, but I love you as a Shiv Sena fighter."

Monday, November 23, 2009

And my son has watched a lot of Sanjay Raut, Shirish Parkar, Abu Azmi, Vinayak Mete...

विनोबा भावे Vinoba Bhave:

"सबंध ज्ञानेश्वरीमध्ये तुम्हाला एकही कठोर शब्द सापडणार नाही...आमच्या साहित्याच्या उगमस्थानी इतके मार्दव आहे ही फार मोठी आनंदाची गोष्ट आहे..."

"You will not find a single hard word in the entire Dnyaneshwari...such tenderness lies at the beginning of our literature is a matter of great happiness..."

(विनोबा सारस्वत "Vinoba Saraswat" edited by राम शेवाळकर Ram Shewalkar 1987)

My 15 year old son and I watched, on Nov 20 2009, the violence that took place in IBN-Lokmat's, Mumbai studio and its aftermath.

On Nov 21, he put up his worst ever behaviour with his mother.

Was it just a coincidence?

Roger Scruton says:

"...It has been known for 20 or more years that television induces mental disorders, such as enhanced aggression, shortened attention span and reduced ability to communicate, and that these disorders involve an even greater social cost than the obesity and lethargy that are TV’s normal physical side-effects. Research by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Robert Kubey has shown that television is also addictive, setting up pathways to pleasure that demand constant reinforcement. As a threat to the nation’s health, it stands far higher than alcohol, drugs or tobacco, and the worry is that it may be too late to do anything about it, since the addiction is all but universal...

...When children are distracted by a flickering screen from the earliest age and never encouraged to explore the real world, they will not develop the capacity to communicate with other humans, or to cope with the stresses of real encounters. They will take the short way out, which is not the way of communication but of aggression...

...But that is not how television is used. It is a constant flickering presence that competes for attention with all the necessary goings-on of everyday life. Over the years, as its impact has stalled, it has had recourse to ever more vulgar colours, ever grosser language and ever more mesmerising facial close-ups..."

Authors of Superfreakonomics, Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner argue:

"...Our claim is that children who grew up watching a lot of TV, even the most innocuous family- friendly shows, were more likely to engage in crime when they got older..."

My son is not very familiar with Dnyaneshwari but has watched not just "the most innocuous family-friendly shows" but a lot of Sanjay Raut, Shirish Parkar, Abu Azmi, Vinayak Mete...


'Sorry about the language when I came home last night, Mum — it was just the drink talking.'

courtesy: Spectator

Was it the drink talking or TV?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sachin Tendulkar is the Greatest Sportsman ever NOW!

Friedrich Nietzsche: "We mine the past for myths to buttress our present."

Michael Crichton: "Because the past is the only alternative to the corporate present."

Margaret Visser: “Gratitude is always a matter of paying attention, of deliberately beholding and appreciating the other.”


ROD LIDDLE:

"This is the generation (born between 1955 and 1985), which has bequeathed to the world reality television, the cult of the celebrity, first-person confessional journalism and the mass hysterical emoting at the funerals of people they have never met, let alone known. I suppose, if we were to grope for a reason, we might say that it was the first generation for a very long time which lived without the depredations of war and thus the prospect of imminent death; which threw off the notion of a higher authority than itself and was schooled in the art of self-expression rather than the acquisition of knowledge."

In Indian context, we could say: it was the first generation for a very long time which lived without the fear of hunger and thus the prospect of death by starvation.

The past week belonged to media frenzy on completion of twenty years by Sachin Tendulkar in international cricket. (I still vividly remember his first day.)

They say Sachin Tendulkar is very humble despite being the richest cricketer in the history of the game.

Maybe he is.

But humility is not just about how you treat your servants, the words you choose or your body language.

It is also about how you show respect for the absent, for the past.

Last week news television (led by The Times of India's and Times NOW's Boria Majumdar) showed no respect to the absent or the past.

Michael Crichton sums up neatly:

"...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..."

(Airframe, 1996)

When anchor after anchor kept telling Tendulkar how he was the greatest of them all, I never heard Tendulkar saying that perhaps Don Bradman, Garry Sobers, Sunil Gavaskar, Wasim Akram or Kapil Dev and a few more were greater cricketers than him.

...that Dhyan Chand and Viswanathan Anand were the greatest sportsmen India produced.

...that since his debut in November 1989, India has not won either an ODI world-cup or a tournament like Benson & Hedges World Championship of Cricket.

...that India has still not beaten Australia and South Africa, in a test series, on their own turfs, and although India beat West Indies in a Test series on his watch, he was not part of that squad. (He was a member of the Test teams that beat Pakistan-first time in history of Indian cricket- and England on their own soils.)

...that back then there were no helmets and fancy protective gears and/or batsmen played on uncovered wickets and/or bowlers followed back-foot no-ball rule.

...that since there were no ODI's earlier, the interviewer should compare another cricket player's first-class record against his own first-class record. Also please note that Jack Hobbs was cricket's most prolific batsman because, in 29 years, he scored 61,237 first-class runs and 197 centuries.

...that his predecessors found motivation to compete fiercely and risk their lives (remember Nari Contractor or Jimmy Amarnath or neighbour Eknath Solkar at forward-short-leg without helmet?) even though there was hardly any money to be made by playing.

He should have said any/all of this even if he didn't mean it.

Instead his expressions reminded me of the late Om Prakash from a scene in 'Chupke Chupke'(1975) where Dharmendra praises him, comparing him to 'naya dulha' Amitabh Bachchan.

I understand that Tendulkar doesn't have a gift of gab like Sunil Gavaskar but he surely could have tried.

Read here how Gary Lineker appreciates Diego Maradona.

Read here how Michael Atherton bids farewell to Muttiah Muralitharan.

Read Sunil Gavaskar's book "Idols".

Read Garry Kasparov's series of books "My Great Predecessors".

Listen to Kumar Gandharva's tribute to Bal Gandharva: "Mala umajalele Bal Gandharva".

Graham Greene on how he compares with the past masters:

"Well, there is no such thing as success. The priest can't hope to become a saint- or else it's an illusory dream which vanishes with time; the writer can't hope to write a book equal those of Tolstoy, Dickens or Balzac. He might have dared to believe in the possibility at the outset, but his books always carry a flaw somewhere."

('The Other Man: Conversations with Graham Greene', Marie-Francoise Allain,1981)


‘Own up, Narcissus, you’re responsible for this graffiti, aren’t you?’

Courtesy: Spectator

Friday, November 13, 2009

Why did Marathi speaking two Girishes take Oaths in Sanskrit?

"...ज्ञानेश्वरापास्नं तुकरामापर्यन्तचा काळ म्हणजे मराठीनं ऐसपैस पसरलेले पाय. आता ही भाषा जवळ जवळ काहीही पेलायला तयार झाली होती..."

अशोक शहाणे Ashok Shahane (नपेक्षा, Napeksha 2005)

("...In the period from Dnyaneshwar (1275-1296) to Tukaram (? -c1650) Marathi comfortably spread its legs. Now this language was ready to bear almost anything...")

Sheldon Pollock, EPW, 26th July 2008:

"...Sanskrit, for D D Kosambi, was a language that had lost all contact with the sensuous world of “real life” in ancient India (some lives being apparently more real than others); it was purely an instrument of elite power and “legitimisation” of power...

...As for the Sanskrit poets themselves, their work “necessarily” carried the stamp of parasitism and decay. This prohibited them from ever addressing “major problems of the individual spirit” or of humanity at large, and it condemned their works and biographies to near oblivion..."

Despite this, on November 10 2009, Girish Bapat & Girish Mahajan, two newly elected Maharashtra lawmakers, whose mother tongue is presumably Marathi, unlike that of Abu Azmi, chose to take their oaths of office in Sanskrit even when it was objected to-initially at least-by pro-tem speaker Ganpatrao Deshmukh. (Times of India)

Why?

Reviewing "THE HINDUS/ An Alternative History" by Wendy Doniger, PANKAJ MISHRA says:

"...In fact, most Indians in the 18th century knew no Sanskrit, the language exclusive to Brahmins. For centuries, they remained unaware of the hymns of the four Vedas or the idealist monism of the Upanishads that the German Romantics, American Transcendentalists and other early Indophiles solemnly supposed to be the very essence of Indian civilization...

...In “privileging” Sanskrit over local languages, she writes, they created what has proved to be an enduring impression of a “unified Hinduism.” And they found keen collaborators among upper-caste Indian scholars and translators. This British-Brahmin version of Hinduism — one of the many invented traditions born around the world in the 18th and 19th centuries — has continued to find many takers among semi-Westernized Hindus suffering from an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the apparently more successful and organized religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam..."

Meanwhile, how is Marathi doing?

विनोबा भावे:

"...आपल्याकडे मराठीत जी भाषा रूढ झाली आहे ती अगदी प्रखर, हाणून पाडणारी, मारक, बोचक, दाहक, अशी आहे. आणि हे सर्व सुमारे ७0-८० वर्षातले अलीकडचे जे मराठी साहित्य आहे त्यामध्ये दिसून येते...जसा एखादा काचेचा पेला जमिनीवर आपटला म्हणजे त्याचे तुकडे तुकडे होतात. त्याप्रमाणे महाराष्ट्रामध्ये कोणत्याही प्रश्नाचे तुकडेच होतात. इथे शाबूद प्रश्न राहतच नाही...शब्दामध्येच सर्व असलेनसलेले भाव ओतून पराक्रमाच्या क्षेत्रामध्ये आम्ही फिके पडत चाललो आहोत..." (c 1950)

(विनोबा सारस्वत "Vinoba Saraswat" edited by राम शेवाळकर Ram Shewalkar 1987)


(Vinoba Bhave: "...the Marathi language that is established amongst us is strong, biting, knocking over, killing, hot and this is all reflected in the Marathi literature of last 70-80 years...the way a glass tumbler falls and breaks into splinters, any issue in Maharashtra splits into pieces. No issue remains intact here...By pouring all our feelings in only words, we are fading in the field of bravery...")

I wonder what Vinoba would have felt had he heard fanatics and rabble-rouser of Maharashtra in year 2009.


‘Of course, I use foul language. What other language is there?’

Courtesy: Spectator

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Fall of the Wall:Camus, with help from Kafka and Molière

I don't remember what I was doing when I first heard the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. I was familiar with the wall largely because of reading of John le Carré's classic "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold"(1963).

Some people say 'the fall' restored the light in Eastern Europe.

Did it?

I always felt Václav Havel was a poster boy for anti-communist brigade.

Therefore, I was surprised to read him saying:

"...It lies in human nature that where you experience your first laughs, you also remember the age kindly. Older people experienced their first joys in that time, and it shapes their remembrance today. There are objective grounds for this nostalgia because the communists cared for the individual from birth to death, something that has gone missing today..." (Newsweek, October 9, 2009)

Gerard DeGroot says:

"...In Eastern Europe, the people wanted communism's fairness but also capitalism's riches. The incongruity of those desires eventually eroded communist regimes but has since produced ironies worthy of Tolstoy. Freedom did not bring justice...

...When light was restored, East Europeans emerged not as heroes but as flawed human beings. They are indeed just like everyone else.

As Poland's Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski once warned, one gang of robbers replaced another.

"Free elections," Constantine Pleshakov concludes, "do not necessarily lead to more freedom. . . . The free market can impoverish a nation as effectively as central planning." How true.

Today, the Czech Republic is a leading producer of pornography, while Sofia and Gdansk market themselves as destinations for stag weekends. Half a million Poles live in Britain, causing the British jokingly (and not so jokingly) to complain that they should take their work ethic and go home. That's not quite the simple beauty that starry-eyed romantics in the West envisioned in 1989..." (November 1, 2009)

Did Rambo Ronald Reagan's speech on June 12, 1987:"Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" bring down the wall?

Gerard DeGroot again:

"...The real story, minus the comic book hero, is more complicated -- and interesting. Reagan still plays a role, but as diplomat, not Rambo. His contribution came in accommodation; his willingness to talk to Gorbachev gave the Soviet leader the confidence to break molds. Gorbachev, furthermore, did not tear down the wall; he merely suggested that change would be tolerated.

The events themselves were played out by a cast of thousands in Budapest, Berlin, Prague, Warsaw and Bucharest. There was no script; this was an improvisational drama conceived by Camus, with help from Kafka and Molière. The Soviet Union came to the realization that its empire was no longer affordable. Like other imperial powers, it cut and ran, leaving colonial subjects to sort things out for themselves. Chaos naturally resulted.

...Events were shaped by "the logic of human messiness." The regimes in Eastern Europe were destroyed not by monolithic force, but by myriad human beings reacting impulsively to the freedom of possibility. Watching from afar, we saw what seemed like neat little dominoes falling. In fact, what happened was as capricious, and messy, as a tornado.

Chance played a huge part..."


Artist: Robert Weber, The New Yorker, Nov 27 1989

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Do Most Soldiers Just Want to Get Home in One Piece?

Erich Maria Remarque in “All Quiet On The Western Front":

“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”

George Orwell in "Homage to Catalonia":

"One of the most horrible features of war is that the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting."

Arundhati Roy:

"...Sometimes the most rabid people calling for war, calling for Pakistan to be nuked, etc, are those who live far away, who will not have to suffer the consequences of what they're saying. You see it all the time in the Letters columns of magazines and newspapers..."

Recently in India, 10th anniversary of the Kargil war was observed. Many 'celebrated' India's 'victory' there.

On September 1, 2009, the world observed 70th anniversary of the start of the World War II.

The Greatest Generation is a term often used by Americans to describe the generation who grew up during the deprivation of the Great Depression, and then went on to fight in World War II.

While reviewing "D-Day: The Battle for Normandy" by Antony Beevor, Dominic Sandbrook says:

"...Despite all the patriotic American nonsense about the "greatest generation", Beevor shows that there were remarkably few heroes. There were rarely "more than a handful of men prepared to take risks and attack," he says; most men just wanted to get home in one piece and "somebody else to play the role of hero". Surveys showed that if a few broke ranks and fled, the rest would follow; in most engagements, as many as half never fired a shot..."

(The Observer, Sunday 31 May 2009 )

JONATHAN SUMPTION on "Finest Years" by Max Hastings:

"...Max Hastings’ views about the British army in the second world war are well known, and are pungently repeated here. Its ranks were filled with ‘many men willing to do their duty, but few who sought to become heroes.’ Its leaders, with a handful of exceptions, were risk-averse blockheads, devoid of imagination or initiative..."

(Spectator, September 16, 2009)

Back home, consider the third battle of Panipat that was fought on January 14, 1761.

Many high-profile commanders of Maratha army just wanted to get home in one piece and somebody else to play the role of hero.

What about India's battles since 1947? Are they tales of only courage and bravery?

For me, Haqeeqat(1964) remains the only authentic war tale told by the Hindi cinema since 1947.


Artist: Pat Oliphant

For more pictures of Pat Oliphant click here

Monday, November 02, 2009

So oft in cultural wars, the disputants rail on in utter ignorance

John Godfrey Saxe's (1816-1887) poem on the famous Indian parable "The Blindmen and the Elephant" concludes like his:

"...And so these men of Hindustan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right
And all were in the wrong.

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!"

In 21st century Maharashtra, I see all around, men of Hindustan, first disputing loud and long, and then fighting 'theologic' and cultural wars, railing on in utter ignorance.

Vasant Sarwate's वसंत सरवटे cover of Lalit Diwali 2009 ललित दिवाळी is based on world famous M. C. Escher's woodcut print "Sky and Water I", first printed in June 1938.

The original print is reproduced at the end of my commentary and Sarwate's picture is embedded at the bottom of the post.

Wielding a sketch pen in one hand and a sword in the other, the artists in Sarwate's picture are ready to slit each other's throat to make their own perception prevail.

In fact, the sketch pens in their hands, which look more like spears than drawing instruments, seem so ferocious that they remind me of a chilling scene from Batman (1989) when the joker proves the adage "the pen is truly mightier than the sword"!

Killer weapons in their hands make a poignant comment on the current intolerant environment towards art (and artistic freedom) and history in Maharashtra.

No wonder Shiv Visvanathan observes: "Three great modernised societies in India — Maharashtra, Karnataka and Gujarat — are deep in the throes of rightist groups who use bans as a way of sustaining politics."

(Some people say Bal Thackeray and Raj Thackeray are artists first and then politicos. I wonder if the two artists in the picture are them because both claim to understand "Marathi culture" better than the other.)

Have the artists from Sarwate's picture seen the "elephant"?

Commenting on his own picture Escher said: "In the horizontal center strip there are birds and fish equivalent to each other. We associate flying with sky, and so for each of the black birds the sky in which it is flying is formed by the four white fish which encircle it. Similarly swimming makes us think of water, and therefore the four black birds that surround a fish become the water in which it swims."

This print has been used in physics, geology, chemistry, and in psychology for the study of visual perception.

GILBERT ADAIR: "...M. C. Escher, the Dutch-born graphic artist whose images of endlessly diminishing birds, fish and lizards, the tiniest of them bunched up at the edges of the picture frame, constitute a remarkable approximation of the counter- intuitive results obtained by adding up an infinite series of fractions (e.g. 1+1/2+1/4+ 1/8+1/16 … equals not infinity but 2)..."

I guess it's the first time it has been used in a cartoon.

To appreciate full esthetic value of 'Sky and Water I', see a short film by National Film Board of Canada on youtube here.


Artist: M. C. Escher, "Sky and Water I", 1938


Artist: Vasant Sarwate, Lalit Diwali 2009 ललित दिवाळी

(notice Sarwate's use of colours instead of Escher's B & W, warrior on the left is made of curves and one of the right of straight lines, only top three rows have fish-water/bird-air...)

Click on the respective years to see Sarwate's covers of Lalit Diwali 2008 and 2007.