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."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

So it was really about Hindi speaking cowherds!

Lord Krishna whose birth anniversary, Krishna Janmashtami (कृष्ण जन्माष्टमी), is celebrated in Maharashtra with some gusto was a Hindi speaking cowherd.

This post is a sequel. Read part I here.

It was based on a newsitem in Marathi newspaper Pudhari dated July 14 2010. There the headline read: "Nuisance of Rajasthani red cows in Ambegaon".

It sounded like an ecological disaster such as the extermination of sparrows in China in 1950's. Were Rajasthani red cows Invasive species?

Reading Pudhari on Sept 27, I realised, as suspected, that it was not about cows at all. It was all about cowherds!

Now headline reads: "Vandalism of non-native cowherds".


Pudhari (पुढारी) September 27 2010

Where will this insider-outsider fight take us? Like caste census, will there be a "sider" census in India?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Persistence of Memory. Vasant Sarwate style!

The late J G Ballard called the late Salvador Dali the greatest painter of the 20th century.

About following painting, Ballard says:

"...Dalí's masterpiece and, I believe, the greatest painting of the 20th century is The Persistence of Memory, a tiny painting not much larger than the postcard version, containing the age of Freud, Kafka and Einstein in its image of soft watches, an embryo and a beach of fused sand. The ghost of Freud presides over the uterine fantasies that set the stage for the adult traumas to come, while insects incarnate the self-loathing of Kafka's Metamorphosis and its hero turned into a beetle. The soft watches belong to a realm where clock time is no longer valid and relativity rules in Einstein's self-warping continuum.

What monster would grow from this sleeping embryo? It may be the long eyelashes, but there is something feminine and almost coquettish about this little figure, and I see the painting as the 20th century's Mona Lisa, a psychoanalytic take on the mysterious Gioconda smile. If the Mona Lisa, as someone said, looks as if she has just dined on her husband, then Dalí's embryo looks as if she dreams of feasting on her mother..."


Artist: Salvador Dali, 'The Persistence of Memory', 1931

When I was growing up, smuggling was a very popular profession in India. Watch any number of Hindi films of the period.

I remember my shock and disbelief on hearing about a young and handsome son of a very famous Brahmin family in Miraj being a gold smuggler.

Gold was not the only commodity that was popular among them. Watches came close second. Seiko, Riko(?), Casio were some of the popular brands. (Even in September 2003- Smuggled watches account for between 50 and 75 per cent of annual sales in the country.)

Surely when watches were smuggled via sea route some consignments didn't reach the shore safely. In those cases, watches swam, the way oil from the recent oil-spill did, to arrive.

One of the first things I noticed in Mumbai, where Sarwate lives, was how even in very plush residential areas clothes- even undergarments- were dried hanging outside an apartment. I wonder if there also was an odd embryo lurking!

Now see below what Vasant Sarwate creates.

He imagines what could be a reaction of viewing public in 1970's and 1980's to Dali's painting.


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

Caption reads: "just some smuggled stuff thrown in water! Being dried..."

Artist: Vasant Sarwate, Year-?, sourced from his book "The Best of Sarwate" editor: Avadhoot Paralkar, Lokvangmay Gruh 2008

वसंत सरवटे "सरवोत्तम सरवटे" संपादक: अवधूत परळकर, लोकवाङ्मय गृह 2008

p.s I had forgot about this cartoon of Sarwate. When I was showing him a book containing Dali's paintings once at our place, he spoke about it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Damn, Why didn't I smoke? Because I like that in a Man. And a Woman

Anthony Daniels: "Back in the old days, intellectuals used to smoke. Indeed, anyone who didn’t smoke couldn’t be a real intellectual, and a cigarette, held at an angle on the lower lip by dried saliva, added immense depth to anyone’s thought. It’s not surprising, then, that old philosophy books tend to smell like ashtrays..."

The Times of India headline on Sept 16 2010: "Antibiotics in most honey brands: study"

I regret not to have ever smoked. Every time I see an old English or Hindi film, I notice people smoking with so much style that I envy them.

Even an idiot gets a personality smoking.

The other day I was watching C.I.D. (Hindi film, 1956).

When Dev Anand playing police inspector informs his boss K N Singh that he has found a cigarette butt discarded possibly by the murder suspect, Singh- all style- retorts: "In Bombay there live forty lac people and perhaps ten lac of them smoke."


‘You have a lighter — I like that in a man.’

courtesy: Spectator, July 2010

And if I had taken up smoking, I surely wouldn't have cared about surgeon general's warning- "skull and bones" besides a dead body- because, not just honey, but most of the stuff I now consume- air, water, milk, fruits especially mangoes, green vegetables is so polluted anyway. (I know because they taste so different from what they did during my childhood.)

Talk of fresh air: Although my base was Doom Dooma, Assam, I used to travel often between Kolkata and Dibrugarh from 1989-1991. When I went to Kolkata, I often got unwell. On my return to Assam, as my pickup car took a left turn from the airport towards our way to Doom Dooma, just one long deep breath in that air used to cure me of all nagging coughs and colds.


Artists: Brant Parker (1920–2007) and Johnny Hart (1931–2007), Jeff Parker

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

R G Gadkari's Sindhu, A Hitchcock's Blondes

I read Ram Ganesh Gadkari's (1885-1919) (राम गणेश गडकरी) "Ekach Pyala" (एकच प्याला) when in school.

I had mixed feelings. I was deeply stirred by its melodrama and use of Marathi but I also felt it was a tearjerker. (Read a related post on Ekach Pyala here.)

Play's protagonist Sindhu सिन्धु made a deep impression on me. But I wasn't attracted to her. I thought she was like many middle-class, largely Brahmin, women I came across in Miraj.

There was one very fair skinned, twenty plus, sharp-featured, five-yard saree-wearing Chitpavan Brahmin woman who passed by our house almost every day.

Wherever, any time of the day, she saw cow dung lying on a street, she stopped in her tracks, lifted it in her right palm, positioned that palm over her right shoulder, dung facing sky, and carried it to her house.

I thought Gadkari's Sindhu was like her except the length of saree as Sindhu surely wore nine-yard one.

How wrong I was!

I realised it when I read M. V. Dhond's (म. वा. धोंड) 'Chandra Chavathicha', 1987 (चंद्र चवथिचा; In English- "Fourth Day Moon").

Dhond uncovers, what Gadkari doesn't do overtly, attractiveness of Gadkari's Sindhu.

For instance after a long separation from her husband Sudhakar, Sindhu, whose marriage is not that old, is looking forward to mating with him. She is humming a suggestive song to herself.

In short: Sex is on her mind.

Dhond reasons that the 'fourth day' also implies the last day of a woman's monthly menstruation cycle, when having suffered variously, including even lack of bath, on account of prevailing social customs, women looked forward to a reunion with their husbands.

I was fascinated by this. Now, Sindhu started to look like many attractive middle-aged married women one comes across.

It reminded me of Hitchcock's presentation of his blondes Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Tippi Hedren.

Why?

Hitchcock: You know why I favor sophisticated blondes in my films? We're after the drawing-room type, the real ladies, who become whores once they're in the bedroom.

Truffaut: What intrigues you is the paradox between the inner fire and the cool surface.

Hitchcock: Definitely...Do you know why? Because sex should not be advertised...because without the element of surprise the scenes become meaningless. There's no possibility to discover sex.


[Interview: Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Tuffaut (Aug/1962)]


Kim Novak, "Vertigo"


Artist: Raja Ravi Varma, "Lady in the Moon Light"

Is she Gadkari's Sindhu? And is that the fourth day moon?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Does Marathi have any Third Culture?

TREVOR BUTTERWORTH: "...It is also refreshing, and possibly redemptive, to be reminded of a time when scientists composed poetry—as Charles Darwin's polymathic grandfather, Erasmus, did praise of steel—and when the idea that agronomy and geology and metallurgy were as vital and as exciting as any of the arts." (WSJ, July 30 2010)

W H Auden (imagining what the Athenian might say about the West): "Yes, I can see all the works of a great civilization; but why cannot I meet any civilized persons? I only encounter specialists, artists who know nothing of science, scientists who know nothing of art, philosophers who have no interest in God, priests who are unconcerned with politics, politicians who only know other politicians."

Marcus Chown: I started by asking (Carl)Sagan what he preferred: science or science fiction? Without hesitation, he replied: "Science." I asked him why. "Because science is stranger than science fiction."

The late G D Madgulkar's (ग. दि. माडगूळकर) [1919-1977] Marathi essay titled "Hello, Mr. Death" (हेलो मिस्टर डेथ)-or something similar- became a big hit. It described his near death experience.

Now Madgulkar was a very good lyricist but I always thought the essay was all baloney.

The Times of India May 31 2010:

"Afterlife episode or just a brain tick?: Patients who have had a near-death experience often report walking towards a bright light, or a feeling that they are floating above their body - a sensation that has long been interpreted as a religious vision and confirmation of afterlife. Experts now claim it's a surge of electrical activity triggered by the brain in the moments before death, apparent from a study of the brainwaves of dying patients..."

I have read about poet Vinda Karandikar (विंदा करंदीकर) talking about his wife dying peacefully. Is there anything like 'peaceful death'?

ROBIN MARANTZ HENIG: "Will We Ever Arrive at the Good Death?

...What we're addicted to, it seems, is the belief that we can micromanage death. We tend to think of a ''good death'' as one that we can control, making decisions about how much intervention we want, how much pain relief, whether it's in the home or the hospital, who will be by our sides. We even sometimes try to make decisions about what we will die from. This can be valuable, as when a cancer patient with little hope of survival, like Goldie Gold back in mid-July, rejects debilitating chemotherapy. But often, our best-laid plans can go awry. Dying is awfully hard to choreograph..." (NYT, Aug 7 2005)

Such writing gets away without any critical scrutiny in Marathi because it has largely lacked what C P Snow defines as The Third Culture.

Snow's thesis was that the breakdown of communication between the "two cultures" of modern society — the sciences and the humanities — was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems.

Are Marathi artists afraid if they stride two cultures they would spread themselves too thin? Like Leonardo da Vinci from the picture below who strode them all!


Artist: Warren Miller, The New Yorker, May 7 1966

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Now, We Don't want Hindi Speaking Cows!

Sadly now defunct but delightful Marathi periodical 'Amrut' (अमृत) used to have two interesting columns.

One was called 'Mudrarakshasacha Vinod' (मुद्राराक्षसाचा विनोद) (humour arising out of an error in printing) and the other was 'upasanpaadakaachyaa dulakyaa' (उपसंपादकाच्या डुलक्या) (winking of a sub-editor of a newspaper).

They were kind of Jay Leno's "Headlines" on "The Tonight Show".

The following is neither.

But I was still really amused by the tone of following news item from Pudhari (पुढारी) July 14 2010.

Its headline reads in English: "Nuisance of Rajasthani red cows in Ambegaon".



What next Maharashtra? Going after Russian speaking Siberian Cranes?

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Man who saw the Sun put to sleep Anjali, Aristophanes, Agathon...

Adam Kirsch:

There's no reason to think that Xenophon's dull moralist or Aristophanes's comic foil is closer to the real Socrates than Plato's philosopher -- rather the contrary, since Plato was the closest to Socrates of any of them. But the three portraits are a reminder that we have no direct access to the real Socrates, whoever he was. We have only interpretations and texts, which both reveal and conceal -- just as ancient Athens has exercised such enormous sway on the imagination of the world based solely on the texts and images it left behind.
(September 7 2011)

Tim O'Brien:

"The problem with unsuccessful stories is usually simple: they are boring, a consequence of the failure of imagination."


Philosophy need not be boring.

Try Woody Allen. Try Vinda Karandikar's (विंदा करंदीकर) ‘ASHTADARSHANE’ (अष्टदर्शने). Try some of G A Kulkarni's (जी ए कुलकर्णी) stories...
(Read my argument here.)

In a masterly essay 'Divine comedy', one of the best of the past decade for me, in Prospect May 2007, Julian Gough said:

"...In Plato's Symposium, Aristodemus, a bit pissed, has just woken up to find

'… there remained awake only Aristophanes, Agathon and Socrates, who were drinking out of a large goblet that was passed around, while Socrates was discoursing to them.

Aristodemus did not hear all the discourse, for he was only half awake; but he remembered Socrates insisting to the other two that the genius of comedy was the same as that of tragedy, and that the writer of the one should also be a writer of the other. To this they were compelled to assent, being sleepy, and not quite understanding what he meant. And first Aristophanes fell asleep, and then, when the day was dawning, Agathon.
'

..."

So was Socrates boring?

The Economist dated Dec 17 2009 in an article "Socrates in America/ Arguing to death" says:

"...The trouble was that, although his students, including Plato and Xenophon, who passed on Socrates’s conversations for posterity, saw him as noble, much of Athens did not. Instead, many Athenians detected an underlying arrogance in Socratic irony. Socrates thus resembled, say, the wiser-than-thou and often manipulative comedian-commentators Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert in today’s America. Those who agreed with him found him funny and enlightening. The rest found him merely condescending."

Now, I will certainly prefer my Socrates like Jon Stewart!

Instead, almost a decade ago, I saw much hyped Marathi play 'Surya pahilela manus' (सूर्य पाहिलेला माणूस) c 1999.

I did NOT LIKE it one bit. It bored me to death. The only thing worse, featuring Dr. Shreeram Lagoo (श्रीराम लागू) for full length, I have seen is a Marathi film 'Jhakol' (झाकोळ) produced by Dr. Lagu himself!

My wife, Anjali, slept almost during the entire duration of it. She woke up only when very good looking Socrates, played by Dr. Lagoo, came down with a thud while calmly relaying bits of wisdom. (Later Anju would vow not to go to any play of my choice in future!)

Apart from boredom, I thought it had another problem.

Alexander Provan writes:

"...Socrates, whose trial and death Critchley describes as marking the beginning of philosophy, could hardly have died as Plato says he did, calmly relaying bits of wisdom to his followers even as the poison gripped his veins, seeing as how hemlock tends to induce vomiting and violent convulsions as it courses through the body and stills the organs..."

(review of 'The Book of Dead Philosophers' by Simon Critchley, October 20, 2009)

In following cartoon, have Aristophanes and Agathon stabbed Socrates because he bored them? Or were they all participating in a reality TV show?


‘Well, that’s the first part of the selection process out of the way.’

Courtesy: The Spectator


Artist: Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates, 1787