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."

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Gene Hackman, Hollywood's Balraj Sahni, turns 80 today

In last several weeks, I finished reading three memorable books:

1. "Stalingrad" by Antony Beevor
2. "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy
3. "Palkhi" (पालखी) by D B Mokashi (दि. बा. मोकाशी)

If I have to choose the most interesting character from each of them, they would be Friedrich Paulus, the Father and Mokashi respectively.

And if I were to make feature films based on these books, to play all those- seemingly disparate- roles, I would choose Gene Hackman or Balraj Sahni.

These two gentleman make me watch their film- on second viewing because I am simply awestruck first time- the way I would read good poetry: I want to dissect every word, I want to pause, I want to go back, I want to focus on what they do with their whole body....

In their hands, cinema as an art scales the heights reached by written word and music.

Cinema is primarily a director's medium but there are always exceptions.

Hackman has dabbled in writing. According to Wikipedia "Sahni was a gifted writer, his early writings were in English, though later in life he switched to Punjabi, and became a writer of repute in Punjabi literature."

I did not need Wiki info because Sahni's worth was proven when he wrote dialogues, screenplay and story of my favourite Hindi film Baazi(1951).

Hackman is a child of a broken home while Sahni had to suffer early death of his beloved daughter after her marriage.

Mr. Sahni never turned even 60.

p.s.

Soumitra Chatterjee, when asked "You have been a model to more than two generations of aspiring actors. Who has been your model?":

"One person who really inspired me was Balraj Sahani. I think he is the best cinema actor that India has ever seen. He could carry on a big role, a hero's role with the nuances of a character actor."

(Frontline, May 4 2012)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Good I didn't take Frederick Taylor seriously

I still have "Motion and Time Study: Improving Productivity" by Marvin E. Mundel, fifth edition, first published in May 1973. It was part of my Industrial Management curriculum from 1981-83.

As I thumb through it, I don't find many signs of it being read by me!

Did I miss much?

Frederick Winslow Taylor is considered the father of time and motion studies.

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON writes:

“…Mr. Stewart traces the problems with management theory back to Frederick Taylor, the early 20th-century evangelist of efficiency. Taylor’s study of the way pig-iron was handled by laborers at Bethlehem Steel was adored by industrial leaders of the time. It led to the notion of scientific management, even though it was soon discovered that Taylor had fudged both his research and his results. One of his lead associates called parts of Taylor’s work “nothing but fiction.” It was the original sin behind a century of increasingly influential management science..."

(WALL STREET JOURNAL BOOKS, AUGUST 4, 2009 review of "The Management Myth" By Matthew Stewart)

"...The business world, according to Mr. Stewart, has become so obsessed with its own perverse value system and view of human nature that it is undermining the “commons” of society. Workers, for instance, are regarded as dehumanized labor, tools for businesses to use and dispose of at will. Management “science” also fails to take into account the broader context in which businesses function, choosing to focus on the interests of individual businesses at the expense of the rest of society. Mr. Stewart blames the enablers and peddlers of management science..."

"...The greater cause of “The Management Myth” is to introduce more humanity and apply less bad science in the way we think about business...

...Timothy Ferriss, the young author of “The 4-Hour Work Week” believes that most of what we need to know about work and life was written down centuries ago by Seneca, the Roman philosopher. In the hip, technology crowd, Seneca’s essay “On the Shortness of Life”—about living well and behaving honorably—is now required reading..."

At IIT Madras, among my teachers, Prof. R Rajagopalan (RR) knew this and was constantly conveying it to those who cared to listen.

Thank you RR.

An example of Chaplinesque humour on Taylor's productivity techniques being applied in America's military industrial complex:


Artist: Richard Decker, The New Yorker, April 3 1943

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Heaven can't Wait!

I read a few Puranas, in Marathi, in my childhood. There is fair amount of sex in them. I feel it contributed to their attraction. Particularly whenever Lord Indra makes an appearance.(Read my earlier post on Chandoba, a Marathi magazine for children.)

Wikipedia says: "In Puranic mythology, Indra is amorous character at times...". I think lecherous would be a fitter word.

I often thought that Indra probably looked like Hindi film actor Premnath of Johny Mera Naam fame! Poor Ahalya. She was turned to stone while the seducer got away lightly by becoming 'Thousand Eyed'.

I still remember the night I watched Warren Beatty's "Heaven Can Wait" , at the open air theatre of IIT, Madras and James Mason's words describing what it meant to be dead.

I really enjoyed it. (Frankly even an ordinary movie became watchable at OAT because if not film-stars you could always watch real stars!)

Since then I have watched a few more movies of Mr. Beatty. Most of them are likeable. However during the same period I have read more about his ability to bed women rather than his work in cinema. Contrast that with Clint Eastwood who has scaled great cinematic heights with the passage of years.

In a review of "STAR/ How Warren Beatty Seduced America" By Peter Biskind Guardian Jan 10 2010 Euan Ferguson writes:

"...Warren Beatty has, according to this long-awaited semi-authorised biography, bedded almost 13,000 women in his life...

...Seduction was his greatest asset. Once he was interested in a woman, he would never let go. He enveloped her with his every thought. He wanted total control of her; her hair, her make up, her work. He took notice of everything...Charm he certainly had, and many who shared his bed stress this to Biskind. But there was also a driving need for complete control, which may have got them weak-kneed in the first place.."

Read again.

"...He enveloped her with his every thought. He wanted total control of her; her hair, her make up, her work. He took notice of everything...But there was also a driving need for complete control, which may have got them weak-kneed in the first place.."

Some of the sexiest scenes in Indian films were shot on Nargis and Raj Kapoor. There was almost no nudity, no kissing but, for my taste, the pair made virtual love on the screen.

Was Mr. Raj Kapoor like Mr. Beatty in some respects? Dev Anand?

No other name from Hindi film world comes to my mind.

Only the women in their lives- and there were quite a few!- could answer.

As for Indra, he would like to have a closer look at Mr. Beatty's anatomy if and when he reaches heaven.

Heaven can't wait!


Artist: Warren Miller, The New Yorker, March 22 1976

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

China a Ferocious Dragon, US a Bank-clerk like Uncle Sam?

Gideon Rachman has written an article- "Why America and China will clash" for FT January 19 2010

I have no comment to make on it.

But I was irritated by the cartoon used for it.

Why is China represented by a ferocious looking dragon while US is by an old-bank-clerk like Uncle Sam?

Why is China, in the Anglo-Saxon media, always represented by a ferocious looking dragon?

Doesn't such a picture prejudice a reader of our ever-shrinking-attention-span era profoundly even before he reads the first word of the essay?

And is Uncle Sam so docile?

Beverly Gage writes in NYT June 12, 2009: "...Beginning in the 1870s, Jackson Lears argues, Americans attempted to stitch their country back together around a “militarist fantasy” of Anglo-Saxon supremacy. Yet rather than bringing the hoped-for personal and national redemption, their efforts produced tragedy. According to Lears, the same cultural logic that justified lynching in the American South and the conquest of American Indians in the West eventually led to war in Cuba, the Philippines and Europe — and, a century later, to our own mess in Iraq..."

Imagine if the cartoonist used an image of laughing Buddha or a tickling Confucius to represent China.

I understand China very little. (Read more on that here.) But I wonder if we can ever trust the Western media to tell us about her.

Or for that matter about India.

I recently acquired best selling book "In Spite of the Gods", 2006 written by Edward Luce, an FT staffer posted in India from 2001-05.

I wish to read it. But I was put off by the first few lines of 'Introduction' itself. He quotes Rabindranath Tagore and introduces him as "perhaps India's greatest poet".

Is Mr. Luce familiar with the works of Vyasa, Valmiki, Kalidasa, Kabir, Tukaram, Tulsidas, Kambar, Purandara Dasa, Mirza Ghalib...?

Rabindranath himself would have admitted that, as a poet, he was not even close to the most of these giants.

Mr. Luce's line should be redrafted as 'perhaps India's most known poet in the West and one of the best in 20th century'.

I got tired of 'The Economist'. I got tired of 'Newsweek'. Maybe soon I will be tired of FT.


Artist: Ingram Pinn, courtesy: FT

Friday, January 15, 2010

One Madrasi Dalit's Death at Panipat in the Afternoon of Makar Sankranti 1761

The most salient fact about the 18th century is that people were in pain 50 per cent of the time.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (भीमराव रामजी आंबेडकर):

"When the whole of India was enveloped by the advancing foreign horde and its people being subjugated piece by piece, here in this little corner of Maharashtra lived a sturdy race who knew what liberty was, who had fought for it inch by inch and established it over miles and miles."


George Orwell:

"One of the essential experiences of war is never being able to escape from disgusting smells of human origin. Latrines are an overworked subject in war literature, and I would not mention them if it were not that the latrine in our barracks did its necessary bit towards puncturing my own illusions about the Spanish civil war."




Lord Curzon, speaking at the annual dinner of the Royal Asiatic Society, London, 1908:
"If the Central Asian Society exists and is meeting in fifty or a hundred years hence, Afghanistan will be as vital and important a question as it is now."


Today is the beginning of 250th anniversary year of the third battle of Panipat that was fought on January 14, 1761.

The battle was the most significant event of the year in the world. Even ahead of a transit of Venus across the Sun which according to ANDREA WULF helped "launch global scientific teamwork, science's first international collaboration—despite war, storms, typhus and frozen brandy" in 1761 (WSJ, April 20 2012)

The battle marks the end of the Mughal empire, once the most powerful empire in the world, and the rise of British power in India.

I have attempted to draw attention to a few aspects of the battle in the posts that have appeared before.

On a personal note, forefathers (and a few mothers too) of many of today's middle-class Marathi speakers like me were slaughtered (and violated) on that Makar Sankranti day, either on the battlefield during the day or in the bright moonlight of the evening that followed.

Marathas tried to rally all Indians against the foreign intruders.

When I told my son that the greatest valour in the battle, from the side of Marathas, was shown by Ibrahim Khan Gardi's eight to ten thousand strong division and that his statue should be standing next to that of Baji Rao I in front of Shaniwar Wada, he said: "Mussalman?".

For José Ortega y Gasset, 'Don Quixote' was the last hero of the Middle Ages. For me, it's I K Gardi, not any fictional character.

T S Shejwalkar: "...Ibrahim Khan Gardi's division had dark and stubby South Indian Muslims and many Hindu Deccan soldiers. They probably belonged to very low castes...Because of his guns and soldiers maximum Muslims had died...but Ibrahim Khan succumbed to the wounds which were aggravated by rubbing salt into it. His son and brother-in-law had died earlier in the battle... "

(त्र्यं शं शेजवलकर: "...इब्राहिमखानाच्या गाडद्यात काळे व ठेंगणे दक्षिणी मुसलमान व बरेच हिंदु तेलंगे शिपाईही होते. ते बहुधा अगदी खालच्या जातीचे असत......त्याच्या तोफखान्यामुळे व गाडद्यांमुळे सर्वात जास्त मुसलमान ठार झाले होते... पण इब्राहिमखानाच्या जखमास मीठ चोळृन त्या चिघळवून त्यास मारण्यात आले. त्याचा मुलगा व मेहुणा पूर्वीच युद्धात मेले होते... ")

Is there a greater example of personal sacrifice in the entire history of Marathas (1630-1818)?

Next year when some people of Maharashtra erect large posters of slaying of Afzal Khan by Shivaji, I hope they will also create images of Ibrahim Khan Gardi blasting Maratha's enemies.

Sadashiv Rao Bhau with Ibrahim Gardi (extreme left) courtesy: Raja Kelkar Museum, Pune

Let us remember that on the morning of January 14 1761, prayers had gone out to Gajanan, Khandoba, Tulja Bhavani, Vithoba, Mahalakshmi, Balaji, Muruga, Kashi Vishweshwara, Dwarkadhish, Basava...and the Allah- in Sanskrit, Marathi, Kannada, Telugu, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Rajasthani, Gujarati...- pleading for Maratha victory.

Yes, Marathas were NOT fighting in the name of any religion or language while their enemies like Najib-ul-Daula were doing so by invoking Jihad.

Make no mistake. Marathas were deeply faithful. After all they had spent (wasted?) so much of their precious time at the Hindu pilgrimage centres before reaching Panipat. But they were ready to sacrifice themselves to protect secular ethos of India.

They were fighting an army, commandeered by a brilliant general: Ahmad Shah Abdali, that contained a large number of Afghans whose successors, 250 years later, aren't being defeated by US and NATO forces.

An idea of India, for which Marathas were fighting, was given to them, most recently, by Chattrapati Shahu (1682–1749).

In today's Maharashtra, most people praise Shivaji (1630-1680) and Shahu IV (1874-1922) for their vision, leadership and administration. I feel Chattrapati Shahu too, in many respects, belongs up there with them.

The Maratha army- manned by people of all castes, both Hindus and Muslims, and speaking multiple languages- sure lost the battle quite spectacularly but they, and NOT the British, laid the foundation of modern Indian army that today prides on its strict secular credentials.

The roots of the unity of Hindus and Muslims against the British in 1857 can also be traced to this battle.

In the end, Marathas, fighting for their principles, sacrificed a lot more than what Nehru, Patel and Jinnah were ever ready to. They also achieved a lot, for India, even in defeat, because the foreign invader's back was broken in the process.

And finally heroes are heroes because they are heroic in behavior, not because they won or lost.

I hope people of India, and not just Maharashtra, will also remember T S Shejwalkar, the best historian of the battle and one of the foremost essayist of 20th century India. (He wrote such beautiful Marathi prose!)

Acharya Atre writes about Shejwalkar: "Alienated from the masses, such a giant has not been produced in our Maharashtra...The tragedy of Maharashtra is that it doesn't even remember the knowledgeable ones..." ('Hundake')

(आचार्य अत्रे: "जनतेपासून अलिप्त झालेला एवढा मोठा माणूस या आमच्या महाराष्ट्रात झालेला नाही...आमच्या महाराष्ट्राची शोककथा ही आहे, की त्याला विद्वान माणसांची आठवणही होत नाही...", 'हुंदके')

Vilasrao Deshmukh (विलासराव देशमुख) has been around in my public life for a long time now. I never took any interest in what he said.

But I was impressed when he referred to Panipat 1761 in a speech on December 27, 2009:

"...Mr Deshmukh said he grows emotional whenever he remembers the historic 1761 battle. "Panipat ke yaad aati hai to ankhon mein aansu aate hain (I get tears in my eyes when I think about that battle)," the Union minister for heavy industries and public enterprises said after paying tribute to the martyrs of 1761 at the memorial on the battle ground.

Speaking at the Panipat Mahotsav function organised by the Panipat Foundation, Mr Deshmukh felt history should be studied holistically, in the right perspective, and that its positive side should also be brought before the people.

"Maratha yahan aaey desh ke liye... kuirbani ki (The Marathas came here to save the country and sacrificed themselves)," he said. He added that the fact that the Marathas lost the third battle of Panipat should not take away from the sacrifice made by those who fought Ahmad Shah Abdali’s army..."

The battle lurks in my mind all the time.

I have started watching on National Geographic Channel "Generals At War". The very first episode was on the battle of El Alamein.

It demonstrated the importance of the design of field toilets and how better designed toilets helped the British beat the Germans.

I had never read until recently what an unbathed army, even if your own, meant.

Will Irwin, a war correspondent for Collier's magazine, reporting on the progress of the German army in World War I: "Over it all lay a smell of which I have never heard mentioned in any book on war—the smell of a half-million unbathed men, the stench of a menagerie raised to the nth power. That smell lay for days over every town through which the Germans passed."

Now read this.

For a period of approximately two and half months leading upto January 14 1761, Maratha army- approximate 200,000 people strong- was forced to stay put in an area of about 15 miles long near Panipat.

It could never change its location even once unlike their enemy army of Ahmad Shah Abdali which changed its own location three times.

Unfortunately today there are few letters available that were sent from the Maratha army camp during this period because most of the sent ones were captured and destroyed by the enemy.

Shejwalkar has described the kind of difficulties Maratha army might have faced- foul smell (emanating from excreta of its own and, thanks to the wind direction, that of the enemy), polluted and inadequate water (princely Rs. 1 per pot!), famine like food supply, lack of clothing to protect from severe and unusually wet North Indian winter, undisposed rotting corpses of soldiers who died in skirmishes etc.

One of the important reasons Marathas lost was because they were fighting looking into the Sun. It tired them out quickly. Wish transit of Venus happened on January 14!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Just Get yourself a Smart Belly-Dancer

John Tierney:

“After analyzing the brain chemistry of mammalian pair bonding — and, not incidentally, explaining humans’ peculiar erotic fascination with breasts — Dr. Young predicts that it won’t be long before an unscrupulous suitor could sneak a pharmaceutical love potion into your drink.”

JOANNE LIPMAN:

"The truth is, women haven’t come nearly as far as we would have predicted 25 years ago. Somewhere along the line, especially in recent years, progress for women has stalled. And attitudes have taken a giant leap backward…
… The conversation online about women, as about so many other topics, degenerated from silly and snarky to just plain ugly — and it seeped into the mainstream.
Recently, before a TV appearance, I did an Internet search on one of the interviewers so I could learn more about her — and got a full page of results about her breasts. .."


Anthony Effinger, Katherine Burton and Ian King wrote on Nov 23 2009:
"Woman Who Sank Galleon Was Beauty-Queen-Turned-Analyst Insider...Danielle Chiesi spent a lot of time in hotel ballrooms and bars during the past decade.

As an analyst at New Castle Funds LLC, a New York hedge fund firm that manages about $1 billion, she was a regular at conferences on technology stocks, where she could get face time with executives and press them on how many microprocessors and how much software they were shipping that quarter.

Chiesi wore short skirts and low-cut tops, according to people who saw her over the years. One ploy was to go barhopping with a group, and then peel someone off to talk to on the dance floor, says a person who attended conferences with her.

A blond, blue-eyed former teenage beauty queen, Chiesi used her sexuality to build sources at male-dominated tech companies, says Deborah Stapleton, president of Stapleton Communications Inc., an investor relations company in Palo Alto, California.

“It amazes me that grown, wealthy, successful, hardworking men fell for that,” Stapleton says..."

This does not amaze me because this is just history repeating!

J. B. Handelsman has said:

“Sometimes something historical gives you a better perspective. You can see the latest dumbness as just the end of a long line of dumbnesses that have been taking place for thousands of years.”

By the way, I did not know that Handelsman, my favourite cartoonist, was dead. He died on June 20, 2007.

I just loved his "Freaky Fables" that were first published by Punch magazine.

Punch became accessible to me only because of him.

I often tried to find humour in Punch in 1980's. I couldn't.

Now I realise that it was not just my dumbness because CHARLES McGRATH writes in review of 'THE BEST OF PUNCH CARTOONS: 2,000 Humor Classics' Edited by Helen Walasek:

"...But Punch had for years been running on fumes, except for the cartoons, which got better, oddly, as the rest of the magazine slipped into a kind of genteel, un-funny mediocrity...")

JBH was one of those who fought against this 'mediocrity'.

Here is a JBH fable: "Ali Baba" that has the moral : 'Don't bother with accountants, Get yourself a smart Belly-dancer.'



courtesy: Punch

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Alec Baldwin reminds me of Shammi Kapoor

Today Alec Baldwin is probably the best comedian around in Anglo-Saxon world including India.

In non-animated space that is. He loses to Homer and Bart Simpson when competition widens.

His slightly-drunk looks, right-wing views and everreadiness to say something dismissive of the world in 30 ROCK make me laugh.

I first liked him when he announced that he was God. (Malice,1993)

Is there any other reason why I like him so much? Yes, he reminds of Shammi Kapoor.

Because for me, although he himself doesn't say it, Shammi Kapoor was god of entertainment. He stood for: Good food, pretty girls, mellifluous music, the lark's on the wing, god's in his heaven!

Read an earlier post on Mr. Kapoor here.

I still remember how, while watching Brahmchari(1968), sitting with my mother in 'Ladies' of Deval cinema in Miraj, I got to my feet and started cheering wildly during his fight with Pran towards the end of the movie. Mr. Kapoor, I am happy to report, won the bout! He continues to do so till today.

I have been watching Season 3 of 30 Rock on Star World and can't help feel how Alec Baldwin looks similar to Shammi Kapoor.

Particularly when he takes a stylish turn in this theme song/title sequence .

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Te acompaño en tu pesar

Mahatma Gandhi translated a few of Tukaram's poems when he was jailed in Yerwada in 1930.

One of them reads in Marathi:

"जेथे जातो तेथे तू माझा सांगाती । चालविसी हाती धरूनिया ॥१॥

चालो वाटे आम्ही तुझा चि आधार । चालविसी भार सवे माझा ॥धॄ॥"

Gandhi's translation reads:

"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."

Tukaram.com also has its translation in Rajasthani:

"हूं जठै-जठै जाऊं हूं बैठे-बैठे तूं म्हारे सागै चाले है और म्हारो हात झालनै मनै चलावै है ।

मारग में चालूं जणै मनै थोरा ई सायरो रैवै है, म्हारो सगळो भार तूं ई संभाळो है"

("म्हारो सगळो भार तूं ई संभाळो है". Sweeter than even Tukaram's original words! "चालविसी भार सवे माझा".)

The key phrase in the poem is 'to accompany'. "Taking by hand" is less important.

One of the greatest books, "Don Quixote", was written in Spanish c 1605-1615. Tukaram was already borne and perhaps writing.

Terry Castle informs that there is a phrase "...used in Spain to console someone: "Te acompaño en tu pesar"—"I accompany you in your sorrow.""

Castle continues:"...At the deepest level Don Quixote is about accompanying someone and being accompanied in turn..."

For me the most moving sequence of Richard Attenborough's Gandhi is the Dandi March. The way the March gathered strength. People kept joining in. In total silence.

They were accompanying and being accompanied in turn!

Last year, for the first time, I read D B Mokashi's (दि. बा. मोकाशी)- 20th century Marathi's foremost existentialist- Palkhi 1964 (पालखी). What a read! It describes how such an exercise transforms even a skeptic. Outsider in the end belongs.

Yesterday I finished reading Cormac Mccarthy's masterly and numbing 'The Road'. In apocalyptic times, father and son come closer. Thanks to a journey together.


Artist: Vijay Wadekar

To view more such pictures click here.