मेघदूत: "नीचैर्गच्छत्युपरि च दशा चक्रनेमिक्रमेण"

समर्थ शिष्या अक्का : "स्वामीच्या कृपाप्रसादे हे सर्व नश्वर आहे असे समजले. पण या नश्वरात तमाशा बहुत आहे."

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.”

Friedrich Nietzsche: “Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.”

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);...”

सदानंद रेगे:
"... पण तुकारामाची गाथा ज्या धुंदीनं आजपर्यंत वाचली जात होती ती धुंदी माझ्याकडे नाहीय. ती मला येऊच शकत नाही याचं कारण स्वभावतःच मी नास्तिक आहे."
".. त्यामुळं आपण त्या दारिद्र्याच्या अनुभवापलीकडे जाऊच शकत नाही. तुम्ही जर अलीकडची सगळी पुस्तके पाहिलीत...तर त्यांच्यामध्ये त्याच्याखेरीज दुसरं काही नाहीच आहे. म्हणजे माणसांच्या नात्यानात्यांतील जी सूक्ष्मता आहे ती क्वचित चितारलेली तुम्हाला दिसेल. कारण हा जो अनुभव आहे... आपले जे अनुभव आहेत ते ढोबळ प्रकारचे आहेत....."

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, December 31, 2010

Escape: Shel Silverstein's Papillon and GA's Swami

From B S Mardhekar's (बा. सी. मर्ढेकर) following poem:

भरून येइल ह्रुदय जेधवां
शरीर पिळुनी निघेल घाम;
अन् शब्दांच्या तोंडांमध्यें
बसेल तूझा गच्च लगाम;

काळयावरतीं जरा पांढ़रें
ह्या पाप्याच्या हातुन व्हावें
फक्त तेधवां : आणि एरव्हीं
हेंच पांढऱ्या वरतीं काळे!,

I am always fascinated by these words:

"अन् शब्दांच्या तोंडांमध्यें / बसेल तूझा गच्च लगाम;" (I never had any ambition of Mardhekar that is reflected in 'काळयावरतीं जरा पांढ़रें / ह्या पाप्याच्या हातुन व्हावें'. Also not sure what BSM achieved in that regard!)

For many years in my childhood at Miraj, I observed tongas (light horse-drawn carriage) and, more intently, horses that pulled them. The leash sat so tight...not to mention the whip that lashed...गच्च लगाम. (One of the most interesting activities then was watching nailing of horseshoes to the horses and bullocks.)

But then there is always a hope of freedom...Hope springs eternal.

Following is one of the greatest cartoons I have seen. I can see it everyday and still be amused by it.

Descend your eyes from the top to the bottom of the picture.

The cell resembles the space described in G A Kulakrni's (जी ए कुलकर्णी ) "Swami" (स्वामी) where the head of the sect is held forcibly and a kingdom rules in his name outside.

As G A describes the prison cell- read that at the end of this para- one thinks the Swami has no hope in hell of escaping or even committing suicide. Despite that the Swami fights back. Some opium has been hidden by the previous unfortunate inmate of the cell. Swami unearths it and dies eating it. He chooses to die as he lets another life, a weed, choke the only air-inlet pipe on its journey to the sunlight.

(open this picture in another window and then enlarge to read the text)

Shel Silverstein's Papillon is more ingenious. He has thought of a plan to escape. Alive.

Artist: Shel Silverstein, 1950s

Wiki informs: Silverstein was both fascinated and distressed by the amount of analysis and commentary that almost immediately began to swirl around the cartoon. "A lot of people said it was a very pessimistic cartoon, which I don't think it is at all," he said. "There's a lot of hope even in a hopeless situation..."

Indeed, Sir. Here's looking at 2011!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I wish we had a lot of Dadoji Konddeo's and S R Sankaran's

E A S Sarma:

S R Sankaran, the retired IAS officer, died on October 7 2010. During the 30-odd years that he served the state and the centre as a civil servant in various capacities, Sankaran’s home offered an open shelter to anyone in need of help and solace. He transcended the rigid barriers of the civil services to reach out to the needy, the oppressed and the deprived. His uprightness, sincerity and compassion for the poor disarmed politicians, inspired young civil servants and provided hope and succour to millions of voiceless people. He was a civil servant with a difference. More than that, he was a self-effacing human being par excellence. (EPW, Vol XLV No.43 October 23, 2010)

Mel Brooks:

“Nietzsche whispers to you: ‘Without audacity there is no greatness.’ Freud whispers to you: ‘Why must there be greatness?’ That fight’s still going on. And you don’t understand either one, because they’re both whispering in German."

Peter Maass, The New Yorker, January 10, 2011:

"In a way, statue topplings are the banana peels of history that we often slip on."

Dadoji Konddeo (दादोजी कोंडदेव) was NOT Shivaji's (शिवाजी) guru. I agree.

They removed Konddev's statue from Lal Mahal (लाल महाल) . I have no quarrel with that.

One of the all-time top five Marathi writers, Samarth Ramdas (समर्थ रामदास) was NOT Shivaji's guru. I have no quarrel with that either. (In fact, M V Dhond म वा धोंड argues that Shivaji was Ramdas's guru. I agree with Dhond. When you are a contemporary of a giant like Shivaji, how can you be NOT his disciple?)

But when I heard caste-fundamentalists of Maharashtra disparaging Konddev as "ordinary", "lowly" servant of Shivaji, I felt sad.

By all accounts I have read, Konddev was an honest and trusted civil servant of Shivaji and his father.

Isn't that enough to make him a hero in this country? How many honest civil servants has India got 363 years after Konddev's death?

Why can't you be ordinary? Why do you have to be great to be remembered? What have most elites done for the majority of this country?

Konddev-sir, Don't feel bad. Your statue has only been removed from one place. Mr. S R Sankaran most likely will have no statue.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Do We Realise the Enormity of the Loss of Buddha?

For a long time, I didn't know what Swami Vivekananda said beyond "Sisters and Brothers of America" at the World's Parliament of Religions, Chicago 11th September, 1893!

During the speech he said:

"...At the present day there is not one who calls oneself a Buddhist in India, the land of its birth.

But at the same time, Brahminism lost something — that reforming zeal, that wonderful sympathy and charity for everybody, that wonderful heaven which Buddhism had brought to the masses and which had rendered Indian society so great that a Greek historian who wrote about India of that time was led to say that no Hindu was known to tell an untruth and no Hindu woman was known to be unchaste..."

(According to Wiki, India now has 7,955,207 Buddhists.)

Arvind Subramanian: "The only real export from India that is said to have wider impact, according to (Ian) Morris (author of 'Why the West Rules — for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future'), is Buddhism." (Business Standard, December 22 2010)

Anand Teltumbde writes in EPW November 13 2010:

"...Far from being Ramjanmabhoomi, or even an important Hindu place before the 18th century, Ayodhya figures in history as a holy place for Buddhists and Jains.

For Buddhists it was a capital of Kosal or Saket, where Buddha had actually resided. In the seventh century, Hsien Tsang records it as mainly a Buddhist place, having 100 Buddhist monasteries and 3,000 Buddhist monks, with a very small population belonging to other faiths.

From the eighth to the ninth century, the revivalist wave of Brahmanism overwhelmed Buddhism, and began forcibly converting Buddhist vihars and temples into Hindu temples. This has happened all over the country and Buddhism, the dominant religion for nearly a millennium, was literally wiped out from the land of its birth.

Historically speaking, it may be truer to say that Hindu temples were built either by destroying or converting Buddhist temples than Muslim mosques built by destroying Hindu temples. As against the Hindutva claim of 30,000 temples being destroyed to build mosques, American researcher Richard Eaton found no more than 80 temples that were so destroyed. In fact, Muslim hordes had destroyed many Buddhist temples, taking them to be anti-Islamic places of idol worship, to the extent that but, the word for idol in Arabic, is said to have come from Buddha..."

द. ग. गोडसे 'अष्टविनायक' "समन्दे तलाश" (१९८१):

"...गिरिजात्मकाची मूर्ती स्वयंभू नाही हे उघड आहे. नवव्या-दहाव्या शतकानंतर महाराष्ट्रातील बौद्ध धर्मीयांची संघटना सर्वस्वी नाहीशी होवून त्यांची शेकडो लेणी व विहार ओस पडले. त्या नंतरच्या काळात महाराष्ट्रातील आक्रमक शैव पंथाने अनेक ओसाड बुद्ध स्थळांवर व प्राचीन जागृत स्थळीय दैवतांवर आक्रमण करुन त्यांचे शैव श्रद्धास्थानांत रूपांतर केल्याची उदाहरणे अनेक दाखवता येतील. लेण्याद्रीचा गिरिजात्मक त्यातलाच!..."

(btw- Will Buddhists in future claim their right to Lenyadri temple? Evidence favours them so overwhelmingly that no court probably can deny them.)

A fresco of Buddha defaced by a bullet at a temple in central Tibet

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In Upanishads, Signatures too are Abstract!

ईशावास्य-वृत्ति वाचताना झालेली माझी दमछाक

I read Ashok Shahane's (अशोक शहाणे) claim in his book 'Napeksha' 2005 (नपेक्षा) that 'Ishavasya- Vritti', 1947 (ईशावास्य-वृत्ति) by Vinoba Bhave (विनोबा भावे) is the only readable translation of Upanishads in Marathi.

The claim, if true, is shocking because Marathi- considering Upanishad's importance in Hindu scriptures and huge population of Marathi speaking garv-se-kahon-hum-Hindu-hai types- should have at least a dozen good translations. (I think I have also seen Anand Sadhale's आनंद साधले attempt. It made no impression on me.)

Recently, I attempted reading Vinoba's book.

It was very tough for me. At the end, I understood only tiny fraction (->0) of it.

Even a giant like Vinoba is challenged by Upanishad's heights (or depths?).

(As I witnessed Vinoba's struggle, I once again realised how lucky Marathi was that she found Dnyaneshwar (ज्ञानेश्वर) so early in her life. Thanks to that teenager, ideas, worldly observations and very complex thoughts, entered Marathi, riding some great aesthetics, in an easy to understand language.)

I thought I probably understood only this from Ishavasya-Vritti:

ॐ। पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय
ॐ शांतिः शांतिः शांतिः॥

(Om. That is complete, This is complete
From complete, The complete has emerged
Giving completeness of complete
The complete remains. Om. Peace Peace Peace.)

And that too because I kept thinking पूर्ण as zero and not 'complete'!

Is Ishavasya- Vritti indeed that difficult or are my faculties deeming? Am I concentrating hard enough or from now on will it be just 'From zero, The zero will emerge'?

Artist: Steve Duenes, The New Yorker, October 31 1959

In Upanishads signatures too are abstract!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What will be the legacy of Dr. M Singh?

T N Ninan: So the country is in a mess, our institutions stand tarnished in the public eye, and the government faces a credibility crisis. People are right to be both disillusioned and worried about where matters are headed. The transition from unreal optimism to cynical gloom in just a few weeks is breathtaking. (Business Standard, December 18 2010)

I am afraid Dr. Singh is going to go down in history as just another ruler of India and she has had many so far.

He is no Ashoka, no Akbar, no Krishnadevaraya, no Shivaji, no Ranjit Singh, no Shahu Maharaj IV, no J L Nehru. Not even close.

His final months in the top office are being marked by rampant corruption and crony capitalism all around us.

This easily is one of the darkest periods in India's history since her partition. On par with Mahatma Gandhi's assasination, Chinese invasion, the Emergency and the Babri Masjid demolition.

It will be hard to teach our young about ethics again.

I have no sympathy for Dr. Singh. He himself is squeaky clean sounds more and more like Nero on the fiddle.

In many ways, this is much like the journey of his mentor the late P. V. Narasimha Rao. Mr. Rao- who now has become persona non grata to the Congress* and Dr. Singh has stopped being grateful to him in public- could have done a lot more to prevent the destruction of the mosque or atleast should have quit the office taking the full responsibility.

* p.s. December 31 2010

The Times of India on Dec 30 2010:

"In a rare move in politics, the Congress party has published its own history...Through it, the party for the first time officially acknowledges P V Narasimha Rao's political courage in enabling the economic reforms that gave India a new lease of life and transformed our lives..."

Artist: Hemant Morparia

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Paresh Mokashi is Wrong. Very Wrong.

परेश मोकाशी (दिग्दर्शक, 'हरिश्चंद्राची फॅक्टरी'):"...भारत हा एक कथांचा देश आहे. इथे शब्दमाध्यम प्रभावी आहे. दृश्य संस्कृती पुरेशी विकसित झालेली नाही..."(ललित, 2010 दिवाळी)

Paresh Mokashi (Director, 'Harishchandrachi Factory'): "...India is a nation of stories. Here medium of word is very effective. Visual culture is not sufficiently developed here..." (Lalit, Diwali, 2010)

Who told this to Mr. Mokashi, a young promising talent from Maharashtra and grandson of a true great D B Mokashi (दि बा मोकाशी)?

This could be true of culture of most people he meets or hears or reads. But this is grossly misleading when he implies a subcontinent's culture over a period of almost 3000 years.

India's visual culture has been as rich as its "word culture". In fact, in a few centuries at least, it was probably richer.

To fully appreciate how developed visual culture in India was, read Frontline's majestic 25-part series on Indian art, starting with the issue Aug. 11-24 2007.

I have with me, all twenty five issues of Frontline and reading them has left no doubt in my mind that no other nation on this planet has had more developed visual culture than India for most part of the known history.

What about Maharashtra or the Western India?

“Does Maharashtra have its Own Distinct Culture?” was the title of an essay by Prof S M Mate (श्री म माटे) in 1954. A debate raged on the subject, joined by the likes of sculptor V P Karmarkar (विनायक पांडुरंग करमरकर), K Narayan Kale (के नारायण काळे), Irawati Karve (इरावती कर्वे), H.D Sankaliya (हंसमुख धीरजलाल सांकलिया).

D G Godse (द ग गोडसे) joined the battle err debate- any debate in Marathi sounds like a battle!- with his essay-‘Shilpi Maharashtra’ (शिल्पी महाराष्ट्र)- first published in ‘Chhand’ छंद (May-June 1955), now included in his book “Samande Talash”, 1981 (समंदे तलाश).

Godse’s verdict- Yes, natives largely created the art you see in Maharashtra. He asks “why 90% of all Indian carvings are in Maharashtra?” and explains this abundance ”…. this is not just because of the ruling dynasties of Maharashtra –Shalivahan, Vakatak, Chalukya, Rashtrakut-but also because of patronage of art by ordinary people”. (What Godse means by 'ordinary' is non royal: traders and businessmen.)

Frontline says: “In western India, the 2nd century B.C. ushered in one of the greatest periods of the art of India and the entire art of Buddhism. Over a period of about 1,000 years, more than 1,200 caves were hewn out of the mountains of the Western Ghats, not very far from the coast of present-day Maharashtra. They were profusely sculpted and painted in the Buddhist traditions. Leaving behind the cares and confusions of the material world, the devotee came to these splendid havens of contemplation…”

Sure, Mr. Mokashi, we may have turned picture-blind in recent centuries. But it doesn't mean that the disease is congenital!

And talking of visual culture, I haven’t seen more attractive woman than the almost 2000-year old beauty in the picture below:

MITHUNAS, CAVE 3, Kanheri, 2nd century A.D.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

वदनी कवळ घेता नाम घ्या अलेक्झांडरचे

When we lived in Assam, what we missed most was green coriander (कोथिंबीर).

When I see any Indian food item sans coriander, I always think it could taste great but is incomplete without coriander.

When I smell fresh green coriander, I smell life.

The other day I heard on TV channel TLC that it was Alexander the great who brought coriander to India.

Poor poet-saint Dnyaneshwar (ज्ञानेश्वर)!

He never knew potato because it was introduced in India in late 16th / early 17th century. He never knew chilli because it came to India in late 15th century. But lucky he, he surely ate green coriander.

We all have a lot to thank for: Coriander, Dnyaneshwar, Chilli, Potatao...

Persian bust of Alexander the Great.

Photograph courtesy: Ray Tang / Rex Features

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sportstar? No, India-Cricketstar.

I subscribe to Sportstar because it is the only 'sports' periodical in this country.

And I regret my decision every time a new issue arrives.

It should be called India-Cricketstar or better Tendulkarstar because there is very little quality coverage of sports other than cricket except international tennis and football.

And for my taste, SS's coverage of cricket too is poor. It's worse than 7:30 PM cricket shows Indian TV news channels beam every single day.

Other than occasional columns by Brian Glanville and Peter Roebuck, there is hardly an article worth reading.

Take the issue of SS dated December 9 2010. It is the first issue released after the conclusion of Guangzhou Asian games 2010 and contains very little and patchy coverage of the games. On the cover, clichéd slogan plastered over Rahul Dravid's picture: "The Great Wall of India".

Aren't people bored with this 'wall' and 'master blaster' stuff? How long will this go on?

This newspaper gets published from Chennai- hometown of the greatest sportsperson, along with Dhyan Chand, India produced-Viswanathan Anand. I thought SS would carry regular one page coverage of chess. Maybe a quiz and a small article. When a mega-event like Asian games is upon us, they would, in a special issue, print all the games' records...

This dumbing down of a sister publication of Frontline pains me.

In the past, I thought it was because of Mr. R Mohan's association with the paper because I have yet to like a single sentence written by him.

So when he stopped writing for SS, I was hoping for a better deal. No such luck.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Thank you Anonymous Sthapathi of Nataraja of Tiruvalangadu

ज्ञानेश्वर: सगुण निर्गुण दोन्ही विलक्षण

V.S. Ramachandran:

"It's the illusion that all of us scientific types suffer from, that there is nothing more to the Universe than the mindless gyration of atoms and molecules, that there is no deeper reality behind appearances. … It is the logical delusion that after death there is nothing but a timeless void. Shiva is telling us that if you destroy this illusion and seek solace under his raised left foot (which he points to with one of his right hands), you will realize that behind external appearances (Maya), there is a deeper truth."

In one the great ironies of this year, when some Hindu organisations were protesting about the cover of Newsweek dated November 22 2010 , Frontline containing masterly essay "Masterpieces in metal" dated November 19 2010 was already on the newsstand.

Frontline: "The art historian the late C Sivaramamurti in his seminal work Nataraja in Art, Thought and Literature (first published by the National Museum, New Delhi in 1974) describes this bronze thus:

“To about 1000 A.D. should be assigned the famous Nataraja of Tiruvalangadu now in the Madras Museum [renamed Government Museum, Chennai]. It is a classical example and the best known image of its kind in any public museum in the world. The pose of this figure, its rhythmic movement, the flexion of the body and the limbs, the perfect smile, the physical proportions and the flowing contours are blended into a pose so amazing that it is no wonder that [Auguste] Rodin, the world famous sculptor, considered this to be the most perfect representation of rhythmic movement in the world.”

While Rodin described this metal icon as “perpetual beauty in bronze”, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy noted that “the grandeur” of the conception of Ananda tandava was “a synthesis of science and religion and art”. He called the sthapathis, who made such astonishing bronzes, “rishi-artists”."

How can one pretentious Newsweek cover hurt my religious sentiments? Why can't I just ignore it? Is my faith so fragile? Personally I don't find the cover offensive at all.

Further read description of the bronze from the same issue of Frontline:

"This bronze belongs to the period of Raja Raja Chola (regnal years 985-1014 CE). The hand at the top on his right side plays the damaru and the one below depicts the 'abhaya' (protection) mudra. On the left side, the hand at the top holds a flame of nine tongues, representing the continuum of energy, and the one below is in the 'gaja-hasta' pose (like an elephant's trunk). The pendant on the necklace has moved from its original position, a touch of realism. The 'tiruvasi' (arch) and the flying hair, so characteristic of Nataraja bronzes, are missing. They either broke off or were stolen."

Sure, it's sad but doesn't it enhance its mystique because of incompleteness? [Read D G Godse's (द ग गोडसे) must-read essay to appreciate the beauty of incomplete sculpture of bull sitting in front of one of the Ashtavinayak's.]

And in the larger scheme of things, does it matter?

No. I feel no action by man can damage the concept of Nataraja- nirguna Nataraja- imprinted on my consciousness.

Thank you unknown sthapathi and your team for giving me this confidence.

(p.s Skills that existed in Tamil Nadu more than a millennium ago in the field of metallurgy are intellectually overwhelming.)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Lots of little men and women have got somewhere

Siddharth Varadarajan: "Welcome to the Matrix of the Indian state: ...The Radia tapes reveal the networks and routers, the source codes and malware that bind the corporate and political establishments in India.

As squeamish schoolchildren know only too well, dissection is a messy business. Some instinctively turn away, others become nauseous or scared. Not everyone can stomach first hand the inner workings of an organic system. Ten days ago, a scalpel — in the form of a set of 104 intercepted telephone conversations — cut through the tiniest cross-section of a rotting cadaver known as the Indian Establishment. What got exposed is so unpleasant that several major newspapers and television channels that normally scramble to bring “breaking” and “exclusive” stories have chosen to look the other way. Their silence, though understandable, is unfortunate. Even unforgivable..."

The Supreme Court of India: "We have often talked about pollution of rivers, even the Ganga pollution. But this pollution (corruption) is mind-boggling."

A picture like the one below tells us why JT was one of the greatest.

Artist: James Thurber, The New Yorker, March 26 1938

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

You don't have to show navels to get medals!

Indian women athletes have done amazingly well at Guangzhou 2010 Asian Games. They made me cry with happiness.

What distinguished Indium women athletes from their co-athletes from other countries?

A: They didn't show their navels...And they still looked smart and attractive.

Way to go, ladies!

My wife often asks: Why can't women tennis player, on international circuit, dress more like their men counterparts? My answer: Sex sells, even at Wimbledon.

The Indian women’s 4x400m relay team, from left, Ashwini, Sini Jose, Mandeep Kaur and Manjeet Kaur after defending their gold medal.

Photo courtesy: AP

Monday, November 29, 2010

Have you lately followed Indian Radia..err Media?

John N Gray:
While the dominant trend in recent British art has toyed with nihilism, the mass media have done the opposite. Technology has been used to manufacture meaning. The camera gives us a snapshot of events and allows us to imagine we are seeing things clearly and plainly. By turning the chaos of sensation into a series of definite images, it enables us to find meaning when it may in fact be fugitive, or even absent. The truth is that we do not know why some people commit hideous crimes, but living in this knowledge is intolerable because it leaves the world a random place. The media cater to our need for order. When the camera is used to construct an icon of evil, it is not simply giving vent to punitive fantasies, but being used to maintain meaning in our lives.

William Leith:
And their (India’s) media is heading for ad-backed celebrity hell faster, and more comprehensively, than ours.

When I see India's superstar TV and newsprint personalities, I never think they bring any order or meaning to my life but I always feel they are smart, wealthy, sophisticated- like Avery Jessup of 30 Rock and totally unlike me- but I don't like what they do and I can always switch off the TV.

I never thought they were so corrupt.

The best comment on this has probably come from unsung Sudhir Tailang who according to me is the best political cartoonist drawing for a national newspaper in India today. If Mr. Tailang were to focus his attention on life beyond politics he might scale even greater artistic heights.

Artist: Sudhir Tailang, The Asian Age, November 28 2010

p.s After I posted the above, I came across this "Welcome to the Matrix of the Indian state" by Siddharth Varadarajan. Please read it to assess India's Who's Who.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Even in neglect, Tolstoy looks majestic

AN Wilson: Is there a vanity, almost a frivolity in the anarchist-pacifist position? In view of the later excesses of Stalin and Hitler, the passing of Tolstoy in 1910 can seem like the sad death of a utopian dream. But the story of South Africa – to choose but one example – demonstrates the vigour and strength of the Tolstoyan idea. It was in South Africa that Gandhi first became enflamed by Tolstoy’s writings and began to put in practice the policy of passive resistance that would eventually defeat the British empire.

David Brooks: As a novelist, Tolstoy was an unsurpassed observer. But he found that life unfulfilling. As he set out to improve the world, his ability to perceive it deteriorated. Instead of conforming his ideas to the particularities of existence, he conformed his perception of reality to his vision for the world. He preached universal love but seemed oblivious to the violence he was doing to his family.

There is hardly anything original being done in India to mark the death centenary year of Leo Tolstoy.

That does not surprise me but I was shocked to read this:

"A century ago, all of Russia mourned Leo Tolstoy's death at a backwater train station. But today the novelist and pacifist, who abhorred any form of government, is more respected in the West than his home country.

The centennial of Tolstoy's death, 100 years ago Saturday, seems to be passing virtually unnoticed in Russia..." (AFP)

But I was very impressed see this monument.

Location: Yasnaya Polyana
courtesy: AFP

I bought 'War and Peace' long ago and I have yet to start reading it. I have read a lot about Tolstoy but not much by him.

Michael Dirda says: Tolstoy's main characters are all spiritual pilgrims.

A man from the land of Warkaris like me should be able to relate to them. Sure but only when he decides to take out the book from the bottom of the pile of unread books! Maybe a newspaper or TV strike will help.

Artist: Barney Tobey, The New Yorker, 20 Apr 1963

(Newspaper strike in US began on Dec 8, 1962 and lasted for 114 days. )

I was moved by A N Wilson's tribute to him: "From the first reading of War and Peace, it becomes clear that Tolstoy writes with the breadth and scope of Homer. Nowhere outside the Iliad do we find such a prodigious combination of artistic detachment from joy and suffering and yet at the same time such passionate engagement and sympathy. It is a paradoxical truth in these two European masterpieces, and Bartlett’s book gives us the sense of how both these godlike qualities, of indifference and empathy, were constantly present in Tolstoy’s soul." (FT, Nov 19 2010)

Vivian Gornick writes about Tolstoy's marriage:

"...It pained Sonya throughout her life that her only real hold on Tolstoy was sexual—neither her thoughts nor her desires kept his attention—and it pained her even more when that hold loosened. She herself never enjoyed making love, but when finally, in significant old age, he stopped coming to her, she was beside herself with shame, loss, longing. So often, throughout their years together, he had bolted, leaving her entirely alone—sometimes even when he was in the house—for days or weeks on end (her diary often reports an unspeakable loneliness). Yet she had gone on dreaming that ultimately she would have Tolstoy’s friendship and tender regard. When the sex went, and the friendship did not blossom, she grew desolate.

In the end the mixed nature of humanity itself proves the source of the great existential drama. To be mean and generous, depraved and decent, loving and murderous, not by turns but all at once—that, it seems, is the true burden of our existence. It is this humiliation that makes us rage at the heavens, this humiliation that has ever demanded of us some over-arching myth of redemption that will atone for the despair of our own self-divisions..."

In Marathi culture I have often heard people expressing satisfaction, even joy, after a person's passing, that his/her last days were spent well, perhaps in happiness.

I have never understood this focus on "last days".

Tolstoy's last days:

"...Fleeing from his home and wife of 48 years with just 50 rubles in his pocket, 82-year Tolstoy rushed from one monastery to another before catching a cold on a train and dying at a small train station in Astapovo, Lipetsk region..." (AFP)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

असेच होते गांधीजीही, येशु क्रिस्त अन् कृष्ण कदाचित् कालिदास अन टैकोब्राही

Jill Lepore: The life of Potter is the story of a man fated, at death, to be buried in a potter’s field. To the American Plutarch, it was rubbish. There is no humility in monumental biography. But there is humility in nature, in time, and in history. The same sun that shines on the Bunker Hill monument, Melville pointed out, shines on Potter’s unmarked grave. Come winter, the same snow falls, dusting us all. (The New Yorker, September 27 2010)

One of B S Mardhekar's (बा. सी. मर्ढेकर) poems: 'Mee Ek Mungi, Ha Ek Mungi' [मी एक मुंगी, हा एक मुंगी), poem 16 from 'Anakhi Kahi Kavita' (आणखी कांहीं कविता), has these lines:

'ह्या नच मुंग्या : हींच माणसे :
असेच होते गांधीजीही,
येशु क्रिस्त अन् कृष्ण कदाचित्
कालिदास अन टैकोब्राही.'

(They are not ants : they are humans :
Gandhiji was like this too
Jesus Christ and Krishna perhaps
Kalidas and Tycho Brahe too)

I have already written about this poem here.

After reading DAN BILEFSKY's article in The New York Times on November 19 2010, looking at Brahe's remains, I realised how human Brahe was!

In India, majority of Hindus are cremated and hence have no graves, and even if they had, we wouldn't allow opening of them. There would be riots even at the mention of it.

But if there were to be graves for Krishna or Gandhi, their remains wouldn't look very different from that of Brahe.

Niels Linnerup of the University of Copenhagen examines the remains of Tycho Brahe in Prague,

Pool photo by Jacob Christensen Ravn/Aarhus University, via European Pressphoto Agency courtsey: The New York Times, Published: November 19, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lin Dan, किस चक्की का आटा खाते हो?

I haven't seen a grander sporting spectacle than the Badminton gold medal match at Guangzhou between Lee Chong Wei vs Lin Dan. Watch it on YouTube here.

It was almost surreal. It was like watching artistic gymnastics being performed on badminton court.

I must thank DD that they did not bungle this one. Never mind their commentators.

In Indian mythology, one often reads that the Gandharvas shower flowers on earth at some special moments.

Were they present in Guangzhou skies on the evening of November 21st 2010?

p.s. The answer to my rhetorical question in the title is: None. Because he probably doesn't eat wheat flour (Aata)!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rishi Steven Weinberg

For Scientific American November 2010, Amir D. Aczel says: "For years the cosmos and the atom have been at odds with one another. If any physicist can reconcile them, it's Steven Weinberg."


But for me, Weinberg reached an exalted status not because what he may still do in science or his Nobel prize but when I read his this line in one of the greatest pieces of prose I have read:

"...Whatever purposes may be served by rewarding the talented, I have never understood why untalented people deserve less of the world's good things than other people..."

(Five and a Half Utopias, The Atlantic, January 2000)

No ism, no right/left, no ideology, no religion, no holy text...I trust only a poet-saint or a sage to write a line of this profundity.

I hope some day a Marathi Vinda (विंदा) will write what happened when Weinberg and Dnyaneshwar (ज्ञानेश्वर) met! [may I suggest a title for the poem:'Gyanya-Weinya Chi Bhet' (ग्यान्या-व्यान्याची भेट)].

And doesn't he look the Rishi/sage part in following lovely picture?

Picture courtesy: Jeff Wilson and Scientific American, November 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Whether you laugh or hurt or both, don't forget the sponsors

A character in Sydney Pollack’s “The Interpreter”: Despite all the flags fluttering on First Avenue, there are no nations any more. Only companies. International companies. It’s where we are. It’s what we are.

Howard Jacobson: It isn't as though we have lost the capacity to laugh. Stand-up comedy is riding higher than ever. If anything there is an argument to be made that we are laughing too much. But we have created a false division between laughter and thought, between comedy and seriousness, between the exhilaration that the great novels offer when they are at their funniest, and whatever else it is we now think we want from literature.

For this Diwali, Vasant Sarwate (वसंत सरवटे) has taken us, one more time, to meet a Marathi speaking the Simpsons family. (Please find earlier Lalit (ललित ) covers by Sarwate here: 2009, 2008, 2007).

Look at the picture below. (Sorry for the poor resolution. My scanner is down.)

Meet- clockwise- Homer, Marge, Lisa, Abraham, Mona and Bart. They are 'watching' a Marathi 'comedy' program on their brand new flat panel TV.

It's called a comedy program because laughter is in its name. It's "Ha Ha Bai Express" (हाः हाः बै एक्सप्रेस) . The newspapers that are lying on the side-table claim that this show is bound to cause you stomach ache because of your wild laughing at its humour.

But don't worry, remedy is on hand. The sponsors of the program are Udaroushadhi pharmacy (उदरौषधी फार्मसी ) makers of a medicine that cures such a stomach ache. Notice Udaroushadhi's calendar, showing its full product range, hanging next to the TV.

Let us look at what the Simpsons are doing.

Homer is dumbfounded. Lisa is busy reading something. Abraham- I like him best here- is disgustingly looking at the medicine manufactured by Udaroushadhi pharmacy that is put on his palm by Mona. Mona, squatting on the floor, is gaping at the TV. Bart is in his own world. Only Marge has a faint smile on her face.

Udaroushadhi pharmacy's ad campaign is successful because the Simpsons have fallen for their product. They are administering it to poor Abraham. See one more time his face.

Notice the contrast between the energy levels and the mood in the Simpsons hall and the TV studio.

Judges of the comedy show in the studio are falling over each other laughing. What the Simpsons family doesn't know is: People in the studio want to give full 10 marks to each other and the sponsors because their respective cheques have encashed!

(double click and magnify to get a better view)

Artist: Vasant Sarwate (वसंत सरवटे ), Lalit (ललित), November-December 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dancing, dancing everywhere, except at Guangzhou

On a weekend evening in India if you switch on TV, you are bound to see more than one dance based reality show.

Indians are very fond of dancing. Mr and Mrs. Obama witnessed, and in good measure participated in, it recently. I know a couple of young women who attend classes that teach Latin dance.

DanceSport became an official Asian Games sport at Guangzhou.

I watched Cha-cha-cha event on Nov 14. It was spectacular. I liked performances by all the pairs. The gold went to the pair of Shi Lei and Zhang Baiyu.

I wonder why Indians were totally absent at Dancesport at the 2010 Asian Games .

Have all educated young urban men and women of India have decided to devote themselves to only three things: Hindi cinema, Cricket and IT industry?

Hope not.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Let not Marathi Wiki meet the fate of Ketkar-pedia

On November 12 2010, while talking to IBN-Lokmat, Maharashtra's new chief minister Prithviraj Chavan appealed to all Marathi lovers, including those who send their kids to convent schools and wear their love of Marathi on their sleeves, to contribute towards enriching Marathi Wikipedia.

A number of people who visit this blog ask me to write the blog in Marathi.

Well, I am sorry, I don't plan to do it in near future because my objectives are different.

This blog is not just for Marathi readers. It's for all those who appreciate a picture / a view / a scene/ a visual. It's also an attempt to take a few aspects of Marathi culture to non-Marathi speakers.

However, I have created and edited a number of pages on Marathi personalities in English Wikipedia and to my eternal delight those pages have attracted a lot of readers. As long as Wiki lives, my own immortality is guranteed...(who the xxxx was Anikulkarni?)...!

In the past, I too have appealed to those who write in Marathi to contribute to Marathi Wiki.

Let not Marathi Wiki meet the same fate of Ketkar-pedia. Read a related post here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

क्या सीन है! Obamas in India

Look at the picture below:

Sitting- A Sikh, a Muslim, a Dalit Woman,

Standing- a Black Christian (who some say is a Muslim!) and,

On the wall- a Hindu Brahmin who was a Bhagavad Gita scholar.

Only in India, only in my India...

Such scenes, however symbolic, warm the cockles of my heart. I am an absolute sucker for them. I can't remain cynical when I witness them.

November 8 2010

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Picture-Blindness: An Old Epidemic Among Marathi Literati

Simon Garfield :

 "The cliché that you can’t judge a book by its cover is wrong. You clearly can and all you need is a book of cover jackets to prove the nonsense of that phrase."
Ludwig Wittgenstein:

“Don’t think, look!”

Satyajit Ray:

"I don't know if it is the Bengali temperament, but many of our writers seem more inclined to use their minds, rather than eyes and ears."


वसंत पाटणकर:

"मराठीत कलाविषयक लेखन, सिद्धान्तन करू पाहणारे बहुधा सहित्यसमीक्षक असतात. त्यांना साहित्याचे जसे आतून ज्ञान असते तसे ते इतर कलांचे सामान्यतः नसते. अन्य कलांचे आतून ज्ञान असणार्या समीक्षकांनी केलेले कलाविषयक लेखन कलेच्या स्वरुपावर काही वेगळा प्रकाश टाकण्याची शक्यता असते. गोडश्यांचे लेखन हे या दुसर्या प्रकारातील असल्यामुळेच
अभिनव ठरते. दुसरे असे की साहित्य, चित्र, शिल्प अशा अनेकविध कलांची काही विचारसूत्रांत बांधणी करू पाहणारी मोठ्या आवाक्याची समीक्षा मराठीत जवळजवळ नाहीच असे म्हटले तरी चालेल. त्यामुळे गोडश्यांचा कलामीमांसेचा हा प्रयत्न महत्वपूर्ण आहे."

["D.G. Godse Yanchi Kalamimansa" Editor; Sarojini Vaidya, Vasant Patankar (Marathi), 1997 (". . गोडसे यांची कलामीमांसा" संपादक: सरोजिनी वैद्य, वसंत पाटणकर)]

Nicholas Fraser:

Seeing is all that we can do reliably, and that, for J G Ballard at least, was more than enough to fill a lifetime.


"Today's signature move is the head swivel. It is the age of look-then-look-away... We miss almost everything; we text while we walk. What makes a person stand out now is the ability to look and keep looking...

...A "museum intervention" is now mandatory at Yale's School of Medicine for all first-year medical students. Called Enhancing Observational Skills, the program asks students to look at and then describe paintings—not Pollocks and Picassos but Victorian pieces, with whole people in them. The aim? To improve diagnostic knack."

Orhan Pamuk:

"Yes, painting and literature are “sister arts” and I taught a class about it at Columbia. I liked to ask my students to close their eyes, entertain a thought and to open their eyes and try to clarify whether it was a word or an image. Correct answer: Both! Novels address both our verbal (Dostoyevsky) and visual (Proust, Nabokov) imaginations. There are so many unforgettable scenes in the novels of Dostoyevsky, but we rarely remember the background, the landscape or the objects in the scenes.  There are also other types of novelists who compose memorable scenes by forming pictures and images in our minds. Before Flaubert’s “perfect word,” there should be a perfect picture in the writer’s imagination. A good reader should occasionally close the novel in her hand and look at the ceiling and clarify in her imagination the writer’s initial picture that triggered the sentence or the paragraph...

...Like van Gogh or the neo-Expressionist painters, show your brushstrokes! The reader will enjoy observing the making of the novel if it is made a minor part of the story... 

Try to identify the accidental beauty where neither the mind conceived of nor the hand intended any. The writer in me and the painter in me are getting to be friendlier every day. That’s why I am now planning novels with pictures and picture books with texts and stories.."

I have a lot of respect for Milind Bokil (मिलिंद बोकिल). Whatever little I have read written by him, I have liked it.

His essay on Vinoba Bhave (विनोबा भावे) is one of the best essays I have read in any language. It will take some talent to write a better essay than that.

Recently Anil Awchat's (अनिल अवचट) book 'Punyachi Apurvai' (पुण्याची अपूर्वाई) was published. Bokil released it in Pune (पुणे) on August 8 2010.

Lalit September 2010 has published the text of his speech made on the occasion. It runs four and half pages.

It's a personal tribute to Awchat and his contribution to Marathi literature. But if it is supposed to be about the book, I am deeply disappointed by it.

Presuming that Lalit has reproduced his speech in its entirety, Bokil doesn't mention illustrator Vasant Sarwate's (वसंत सरवटे) contribution to the book even once, although he does mention a few fellow writers.

It's hard to believe. I thought it was like going to Ajanta-Ellora and not mentioning paintings while describing your experience there!

Look at the cover of the book below. Even a cursory look by those who are familiar with Sarwate's work would know that it is his although you can't spot his name-stamp (नाममुद्रा) easily.

Following is a small passage from Bokil's speech. It's in Marathi.

Bokil talks about a new world-view given by Awchat to Marathi language for looking at life, society, environment.

(double click on the picture to get a larger view)

I am not sure about this claim. Although I have tremendously liked a lot of what Awchat has written, I don't think it's a new 'world-view' in Marathi. Awchat always had someone like S M Mate (श्री म माटे), if not one or two more, to follow.

What is shocking is Bokil doesn't mention Sarwate's contribution- although part of it is right under his nose next to Awchat's prose- in this regard.

Sarwate has given us a world-view no one in Marathi had given us before. And those who have followed him- most notably Abhimanyu Kulkarni (अभिमन्यु कुलकर्णी)- have never reached the heights, he took Marathi readers to.

He belongs where only the likes of James Thurber, Saul Steinberg or that anonymous artist who created Tom & Jerry in stone at Mamallapuram do.

I am sure Awachat- like P L Deshpande (पु ल देशपांडे), Jaywant Dalvi (जयवंत दळवी ), Vinda Karandikar (विंदा करंदीकर) and many others- considers himself lucky that Sarwate agreed to draw for his book.

But this problem of hyperopia afflicting Marathi culture is pretty old.

For instance, although the late Dinanath Dalal (दीनानाथ दलाल) designed and illustrated majority of notable Marathi books for a number of years, how many times was he mentioned in their reviews?

I recently wrote about a related disorder: "In Marathi Popular Culture, a false division between Laughter and Thought". Also, see my another related post "Can We Trust an Artist to Show us the Reality?".

I am surprised and frustrated by the spread of this malady.

In Indian culture "Darshan" (view) is an important aspect of the culture. Wikipedia informs: "Darshan is...an event in consciousness—an interaction in presence between devotee and guru; or between devotee and image or sculpture, which focuses and calls out the consciousness of the devotee. In either event, a heightening of consciousness or spirituality is the intended effect." Marathi poet-saints who were allowed inside the Vitthal (विठ्ठल) temple describe the image of deity.

Vilas Sarang (विलास सारंग) has written movingly about his meeting with great W H Auden where Sarang says the whole objective was "Darshan" of Auden. (btw- This essay always brings tears to my eyes.)

Poet-saints and Sarang didn't draw what they saw because of various reasons. More importantly they didn't have someone like Sarwate to help.

But when you have Sarwate illustrating a book of your favourite author, the last thing you should do is to ignore him.

If you don't like what he has drawn, then say so. For instance, Sarwate himself has always felt that S G Joshi's (सीताराम गंगाधर जोशी) illustrations suit C V Joshi's (चिं. वि. जोशी) books better than that of his very close talented friend S D Phadnis (शि द फडणीस ).

But please try not to be indifferent to a fellow artist.

Unless of course you too are suffering from picture-blindness.

The above was written on November 9 2010. 'Lalit'(ललित) September 2011 has a 4-page review of Awchat's book by Shankar Sarda (शंकर सारडा). It does NOT even mention Sarwate's pictures! (Sept 9, 2011)

Friday, November 05, 2010

How the Indian Chimney-sweepers cry

Charles Dickens on Christmas:
"………….a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys"

Mark Edmundson, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, has written a wonderful essay on William Blake's "London".

He says: "Looking for a compressed vision of the state of America now, I'm inclined to turn not to any of our esteemed journalist-pundits or renowned public intellectuals but in the direction of the poet William Blake, who did his work 200 years ago."

I wonder if Edmundson has stayed in any Indian metro for a few days. If he did, he would have thought about them ahead of his country.

Poem reads as follows:

London (published in Songs of Experience in 1794)

I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man.
In every Infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every black'ning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot's curse
Blasts the new born Infant's tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

Professor says: "...They (people) are the victims of "mind-forg'd manacles." That is, they are imprisoned by their own mental limits and by the limits imposed upon them by others.

What does it mean, from Blake's perspective, to be mentally imprisoned? It means, among other things, that you see the world from your own private perspective. You look out for your own advantage. You pursue your own success. You hog and hoard. You've entered the state that Blake calls the state of Selfhood, which is individualist, reductive, and isolating.

You think that affirming Selfhood will get you what you want in the world—the Self is a radical pragmatist. But all the state of Selfhood does is to cut you off from the possibility of a better life. The ascendancy of Selfhood isolates you from other humans. Selfhood destroys the drive for community and solidarity. It makes you lonely, frustrated, and angry—on your face come "marks of weakness, marks of woe."..."

On the morning before Diwali 2010, when we gave a paltry sum of Rs. 50 to the cleaning lady, who cleans stair case and reception at our building, on the occassion of Diwali, she said she did not receive even Rs. 0.5 from many of our building flat holders. When she mentioned Diwali suggestively to one of the flatholders, she got a real earful in return!

"..."How the Chimney-sweepers cry / Every black'ning Church appalls." The chimney sweepers of Blake's London were children who had, for all purposes, been sold into slavery. Frequently they came from countryside families too poor to feed them. For a price, their parents presented them to owners of chimney-sweeping companies. To those mothers and fathers, it was better than seeing their children starve. It was necessary that children do this job: You had to be small and lithe to scramble up and down the chimneys and to get them cleaned out. There were accidents—children fell from roofs and down flues and ended up crippled for life. Still, the need for the sweeps was strong..."

Thankfully, India didn't have many chimneys but there are many other equally deadly objects in today's India which continue to be cruel towards children.

"...Blake suggests that if you want to understand the moral state of a country, you had better check first and see how it deals with its children. Does it treat them with loving kindness, or does it exploit them? Does it look down upon them from the perspective of the greedy and frightened Selfhood, or regard them with the generosity of the enlightened Soul? Blake's verdict on his own nation is not hard to discern. Can our own nation claim to be doing better?
Amid blazing wealth, great numbers of American children do not get enough to eat. Perhaps they are not starving, but they are hungry..."

The Times of India, October 12 2010:

"India dropped two ranks to 67th among 84 developing countries in the International Food Policy Research Institute's annual " Global Hunger Index" for 2010...

The policymakers in India, who are are still fighting over the need to have an expansive National Food Security Act, should look at the following data more closely: in 2005-06, about 44% of Indian children — below five years — were underweight, and nearly half — 48% — were stunted..."

Artist: Barney Tobey, The New Yorker, August 16 1947

Monday, November 01, 2010

Miraj, Where almost everyone seemed to be on my Facebook

Laurie Penny: The tragedy of The Social Network is also the intimate tragedy of an age whose self-alienation has nothing to do with social networking. The paranoid atomisation of modern social relations has, in fact, very little to do with the internet at all. It has everything to do with a global economic machine that trains human beings to understand one another as manipulable objects or faceless consumers. That, unfortunately, is a trend that did not start on Facebook.

Recently, I removed many "friends" from my FB. Not that I had many, either there or in real life, to begin with.

I have removed people meeting following criteria:

1. I already have a meaningful relationship with the person in real life. Facebook doesn't add any value.

2. I had a wholesome relationship with the person in the past but the time and distance have created a barrier, Facebook can't help cross.

3. I have no substantive interaction with the person even in cyber world.

4. I had sent them a friendship request based on some interaction on e-mail. I was hoping to transform those interactions into something more substantial. It didn't happen for many weeks.

5. People who sent me a friendship request because I was in their address book and they thought I was their fan. They have no interest in me whatsoever. All they want is their own promotion.

6. Relatives who are not much interested in me as a person. Or if they are, they got axed because points 1 or 3 above.

Facebook for me now is just a depository of links to what I like on WWW and collating of my interests. People say FB is the future. Maybe. But not for me.

RACHEL MARSDEN: The term friend has been linguistically inflated through social media to the point of having almost no value...Too many people seem to be grasping for ways to connect with others while rarely actually connecting in a way that has true value or significance.

Contrast this with my social life in Miraj where I spent my first 21 years of life. I seemed to know the whole town and the whole town in return seemed to know me.

Miraj was a friend where Facebook would be such a waste. Like a large open sewer that lay about 100m from our house.

Cartoonist/Illustrator: Roger Latham, The Spectator, October 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Leo Cullum, I think I'd never laugh again. Then I'll see your drawings...

Adam Philips: 'The world without the people who matter to us is not the same world and so not the world at all. Life becomes progressively stranger as we get older - and we become increasingly frantic to keep it familiar, to keep it in order - because people keep changing the world for us by dying out.'

Leo Cullum whose pictures gave me great joy died on Oct 23 2010 at the age of 68. To see many of his cartoons, please visit The Cartoon Bank of New Yorker here.

68 is a dreaded number for me because my mother too died at that age. These days my vanished world is divided between those who die at or before 68 and those who die later.

In 2008-09, I attempted writing a caption for six of his cartoons as a part of The New Yorker's “Cartoon Caption Contest”. You can find those efforts on this blog.

I thought his pictures were like deceptively simple puzzles. Visually very funny, they tickled me...I would start smiling just looking at the 'frog' eyes of his characters...I thought the caption would now just pour out of me.

It didn't.

I didn't know how Mr. Cullum looked. I thought he looked like one of his own characters. For instance, like either of them below.

(courtesy: The New Yorker)

I wish he did. But he didn't. I discovered that on Oct 26 2010.

(courtesy: David Strick and The New York Times)


"...In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Cullum managed the delicate feat of finding humor when the prevailing national mood was black. The issue of The New Yorker that came out immediately after the attacks carried no cartoons, but Mr. Cullum’s was the first cartoon that the magazine’s readers saw the following week..." (The New York Times, Oct 25 2010)

(courtesy: The New Yorker)

Marathi humorist P L Deshpande (पु ल देशपांडे) has written how a radio interviewer laughed when Pu La talked about his aunt's death. When Deshpande asked how he could laugh about her death, the interviewer laughed some more!

Such is the life of a clown.

And perhpas a cartoonist.

"...In 1966 he was sent to Vietnam, where he flew 200 missions, most in support of ground-troop operations, but at one point he flew secret bombing runs over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. “Who these were secret from I’m still not sure,” Mr. Cullum told Holy Cross magazine in 2006. “The North Vietnamese certainly knew it wasn’t the Swiss bombing them.”..."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Nutan, Tujhe Kya Sunao Main Dilruba

Nutan is one of the greatest actors I have seen. (Frankly, it goes beyond acting. When I was 14 or 15, after watching her in Anari, made before I was even borne, at Madhav माधव talkies in Miraj मिरज, I wanted to marry her! She of my father's age!)

I had never seen Aakhri Dao (1958), an imminently forgettable film, until recently. I mention the film only because of two things- Madan Mohan's music and Nutan's acting. (A lot of Hindi films of 1950's were as lousy as most films of today. The only difference is the quality of music and a Nutan here and a Balraj Sahni there.)

Watch video of 'tujhe kya sunao main dilruba', a song from the film, on You Tube here.

I was stunned by the journey of Nutan's face in those 3 min 34 secs.

She goads her co-actor Shekhar into singing a song. He obliges. Now, although she is well aware of his feelings for her, she is balled over by the display of affection by him in front of all her friends.

Look at very awkward Nutan's fidgeting for first 1 min 45 secs or so. It's an absolute delight.

And then it all changes.

As the third stanza is about to begin, Shammi, quite wisely, troops out with all the girls. But it doesn't matter because Nutan doesn't even notice it. She now has gone into an acting trance where few can go.

Look at her eyes. Tears have welled up there. They don't look glycerine induced to me. I just drown in them.

All the superlative talent of Mohammed Rafi, Madan Mohan and Majrooh Sultanpuri combined is only second to the genius I see on the screen.

If I had a say, I would put a dot bindi, or no bindi at all, on her forehead instead of this elongated one.