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, 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)

WILLIAM GRIMES writes:

"...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.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In Marathi Popular Culture, a false division between Laughter and Thought

Howard Jacobson has won the Man Booker Prize.

I plan to read the book. Not because of the prize but because of the essay HJ wrote for The Guardian October 9 2010:

"...But there is a fear of comedy in the novel today – when did you last see the word "funny" on the jacket of a serious novel? – that no one who loves the form should contemplate with pleasure. 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 some reason we are running scared. Aspiring writers of pornography are warned by publishers who specialise in such work not to let comedy anywhere near. This precaution makes perfect sense. Comedy breaks the erotic trance. Comedy breaks every trance – that's its function. Comedy is nothing if not critical. From the very beginning the comic novel set out to argue with everything and to set us arguing with one another. The need for such a form has not gone away: consensus is still a curse; we are no less pious than we ever were, for all that our pieties have changed their object; we remain sanctimonious; and we have relegated reading to a sort of sleeping, praising books whose pages we cannot stop turning – as though the automatic act of moving forward is a virtue in itself...

...The novelist, at his swelling comic best – a Dickens or a Dostoevsky, a Cervantes or a Kafka, a Joseph Roth or a Henry Miller – goes where Hamlet dares the skull of Yorick to go, straight to my painted lady's chamber, rattling his bones and making her laugh at the terrible fate that awaits her. His comedy spares nothing and spares no one. And in the process asserts the stubbornness of life. Why would we want to read anything less?..."

Marathi needs a large dosage of this. We have created too many holy cows. I want to see that Marathi "comedy spares nothing and spares no one".

In Marathi too, '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 huge "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".

The only exceptions, from 20th century, I can cite to the above are novelist C V Joshi (चिं वि जोशी), poets Sadanand Rege (सदानंद रेगे), Arun Kolatkar (अरुण कोलटकर) and grand dame of Marathi literature Laxmibai Tilak (लक्ष्मीबाई टिळक).

(I say 20th century because in Marathi's poet-saint literature there is no false division between laughter and thought. Leading practitioners of that are Tukaram तुकाराम and Eknath एकनाथ among others)


Artist: J C Duffy, The New Yorker, May 12 2003

Saturday, October 16, 2010

When Adam Smith sounds more like Arundhati Roy than Milton Friedman

Stefan Stern observes in FT 19 Jul 2010:

"...What does the future have in store for us? Short of some fantastic scientific innovation that uncovers vast new sources of clean and sustainable energy, it seems likely that the world faces many severe and related problems.

As Rich Lyons, the dean of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, points out, the straight line extrapolations on a number of important graphs lead you to a pretty scary place.

Over the next few decades the earth’s population looks set to climb to about 9bn. Temperatures and sea levels are rising. But we may not have enough habitable land, water, energy or food to cope with these changed circumstances. Future healthcare costs in a world of greatly increased longevity are daunting. See it human. The outlook is bad..."

They say today's capitalism stands on the foundation laid by Adam Smith.

Reading some of what I have quoted below, it's hard to believe.

James Buchan while reviewing Nicholas Phillipson's book 'Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life' says:

"...Phillipson argues that, having established sociability in The Theory, Smith had no need to take commercial society back to its root in The Wealth of Nations, but could content himself with a sort of shorthand (the non-benevolent butcher, brewer and baker; truck, barter and exchange one thing for another; invisible hand). Alas, the economists took these rather vulgar aphorisms as the foundation of their science and ignored those parts of Smith's system that concerned humanity's sociable, moral, intellectual and aesthetic nature..." (The Guardian, Saturday 14 August 2010 )

It's Mr. Smith who is supposed to have said:"...disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition...is...the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments..."

George Trfgarne writes:

“…….Adam Smith was so incensed that much of his subsequent work was dedicated to attacking not just big government, but big corporations in general and the East India Company in particular. Through its monopoly on Indian trade it had, he said, contrived to raise prices to customers while reducing them for suppliers. It was rife with fraud, cruelty and corruption and was “a nuisance in every respect”.…..

Nick Robins demonstrates that the East India Company was the first recognisable multinational and claims that Plassey is a classic example of a large corporation becoming too un-wieldy and being hijacked by greedy, egomaniacal executives. Clive was a brilliant general, but he enriched himself at the expense of shareholders by pocketing a large chunk of Bengal’s tax revenues and siphoning off deals for himself. East India company also succumbed to hubris, by assuming state-like responsibilities in Bengal and embarking on expensive military campaigns. When the region suffered a horrific famine, the company made things worse by continuing to levy hefty taxes while its employees drove up the price of grain and rice by trading on the side...” (The Spectator, Oct 28, 2006)

Now this sounds more like what The Economist, Reader's Digest of many of India's thought-leaders (neocons?), might call Arundhati Roy's polemic rather than Milton Friedman's sermon!


On which foundation does today's capitalism stand?

An answer:


Artist: Charles Barsotti, The New Yorker

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kavita Raut, You inspire me

Kenenisa Bekele:
Ethiopians are born on high altitude and brought up under conditions which are low in oxygen. They prefer running for most of their daily activities, a habit they have nurtured for centuries. This has done them a world of good. In fact, many athletes had been running many miles to school everyday, before their talent was recognized.

Kavita Raut's hamlet near Nashik is low on many things including water but oxygen is not one of them. As a child, apparently, she ran a couple of kilometres every day just to fetch water.

I did not know anything about Ms. Raut before the start of the 10,000 m race at Delhi 2010 CWG on October 8 2010.

My wife and I watched the race live. We were happy to see two diminutive Indian girls leading it.

I thought it was too good to be true. Even English commentators kept mentioning them as "Indian girls".

Kavita Raut fell behind at some point. We forgot about her and kept cheering Preeja Sreedharan who led the race for a while.

When Ms. Raut started catching up, I still thought she would finish fourth or fifth. My wife however felt she would finish third. She was proved damn right.

As Ms. Raut ran last paces of the race she looked pale and white. I was worried for her. (I am not sure but I thought she puked after the race.) It all looked surreal.

After the race, as Kavita joined two Kenyans in running the lap of honour, I don't think they paid much attention to her.

Maybe in near future, they will do so, when Kavita overtakes them in a live race.

Since Friday evening reams have been written about her and her background. A xenophobic member of Marathi TV media tried to gloat about her being "Marathi". Contrast this with the big heart shown by Delhi spectators when they cheered second loudest for Pakistani contingent at the CWG opening ceremony.

Sunil Gavaskar reportedly told a TV channel after V V S Laxman's recent match winning effort at Mohali that it was perhaps the greatest performance of an Indian in any sport. I hope Mr. Gavaskar watched Ms. Raut.

Earlier on this blog I hoped "some one like Moses Kipsiro was my direct ancestor". Male ancestor.

Here I know that my mother in many aspects was like Kavita and so are millions of other Indian women. Most sadly don't finish on any podium. For me, however, they are all winners.




Prajusha Malaikkal, Jumping for Joy and Silver

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Was Lord Krishna's Panchjanya a Matchless Cone (Conus cedonulli)?

(Today is my mother's 73rd birth anniversary. Thank you, Aai for those wonderful story telling sessions at dinner times. Mahabharata never became boring because of you more than Vyasa!)

I was always fascinated by reading of conch shells that were blown in the battles described in Mahabharata. They seemed to be an important weapon like a mount or a bow.

Thankfully, in real life, I heard them only in temples and a couple of homes.

When did they travel from slaughter-grounds to sanctum-sanctorums?

Are they mentioned in the ancient literature describing battles from outside India?

Each conch had a distinct sound. Like Louis Armstrong's horn sounds different from that of Miles Davis.

"...Krishna blew His conch, Paanchajanya;
Arjuna blew his conch, Devadatta;
And Bheema, the doer of formidable deeds,
Blew (his) big conch, Paundra.

The son of Kunti, King Yudhishthira,
Blew (his conch) Anantavijaya,
While Nakula and Sahadeva
Blew Sughosha and Manipushpaka conches, respectively..."

If you read Marathi, read a page from Vinoba Bhave's विनोबा भावे lyrical Geetai गीताई:


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

[btw- As on January 2009, Geetai has sold 38,57,000 copies!]

Interestingly, I have never come across conches in battlefields of Ramayana. I wonder why.

Alas, there are no pictures of conch shells from those days.

CORNELIA DEAN has written a wonderful essay on seashells for The New York Times July 12 2010.



courtesy: “The Book of Shells” by M. G. Harasewych and Fabio Moretzsohn

Matchless Cone (Conus cedonulli) was one of the rarest shells in the 18th century. In 1796 a specimen brought more than six times as much as a painting by Vermeer that was sold at the same auction. It is still considered rare to uncommon, and it is prized by collectors for its beautiful pattern. With the advent of scuba diving, it is now found more often. All cone shells are venomous and should be handled with care when alive. The venom of C. cedonulli is not fatal to humans, but its sting may still be painful.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Hope my ancestor was like Uganda's Moses Kipsiro

Should India spend tax payers' money on organising 'expensive' international sports events?

I don't know but I will never forgive Indian media because they tried to kill general public's interest in CWG 2010.

Who in the position of considerable power, in either government or private sector including media, in India is not corrupt? Very few.

History of India is replete with the corruption of its rulers and the civil servants. (Read a post on the subject here.)

Along with this, we have "senseless opportunism and termite greed of the ‘cultured’ strata" (D D Kosambi) and their own filthy logic to justify it.

Therefore, media should have pursued whatever they wanted to without affecting the spirit of games.

But I will not allow this malaise- corruption and media- to kill my interest in life. And hence I am following CWG2010 with as much interest as recently held events like WC football in SA and WC field hockey in Delhi.

My big pay day arrived soon, on the evening on October 6 2010, in the form of men's 5,000m final.

It was run in muggy Delhi evening. It broke no record. And yet I will find it almost impossible to forget it.

These 1.5K, 5K and 10K meter runs are like great games of chess. Read relevant sections from David Wallechinsky's "The Complete Book Of The Olympics".

Kipsiro and Kenya's Kipchoge produced a spectacular final lap where I thought one of them might die.

It was Moses Kipsiro who came out on top.

I kept watching Kipsiro after the race. He made no sound. No triumphalism. He didn't even smile. He just kept jogging along. His face showed almost no feelings. Perhaps like a yogi.


Artist: Peter Arno, The New Yorker, December 10 1927

I: "Hope some one like Moses Kipsiro was my direct ancestor."

p.s. 'Naughty' Peter Arno is easily one of the greatest cartoonists of 20th century. You will find a few of his cartoons on this blog.

I often wonder what pictures he would have drawn in this, for more "naked", century.

Peter, we miss you.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

B S Mardhekar, Now there are Old Embers on New Corpses in Korean War

TOM NAGORSKI: "...When it came to war, Gen. MacArthur was merciless. As the battle for the North soured, MacArthur ordered an aerial bombardment to strike every possible "installation, factory, city and village" in the North. Cities across North Korea were reduced to ashes; hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed. Mr. Cumings asks why, when the conduct of World War II (the firebombing of Dresden, say) or Vietnam (My Lai) has been so thoroughly examined, U.S. tactics in Korea have merited so little attention. No one knows or remembers "that we carpet-bombed the North for three years with next to no concern for civilian casualties."..." (WSJ, July 27 2010)

Thanks to Bruce Cumings's new book "The Korean War: A History", the “forgotten war”- the one that has still not ended because it ended in an armistice, rather than a full peace treaty- is under a bit of spotlight.

The Korean war (1950–1953) rarely figures in Marathi literature.

B S Mardhekar’s (बा. सी. मर्ढेकर) few poems must be an exception because he was a poet with global sensibilities.

"अजून येतो वास फुलांना" (Still fragrance emanates from flowers) first published in February 1951, written probably in Trichy / Tiruchchirappalli, is one of them.

Third stanza:

"भूकंपाचा इकडे धक्का
पलीकडे अन् युध्द- नगारे;
चहूंकडे अन् एकच गिल्ला,
जुन्या शवांवर नवे निखारे."

(Here a shake of a tremour
That side war-drums;
all around one hell of racket,
new embers on old corpses.")

Tremour here is the Assam one of August 15 1950. War drums belong to Korea.

7th stanza too refers to the war:

"जगून थोडें अखेर मरणें
उघडझांप ही डोळ्यांचीच;
अंधारांतुन राडाराचा
किरण चालला सलत पुढेंच."

(To die after living a while
Like blinking of eyes;
through darkness radar's
ray moves ahead cutting.)

[some of this is based on M V Dhond's 'Tarīhi Yeto Wasa Phulānnā' (म. वा. धोंड, 'तरीहि येतो वास फुलांना')]

Korean war is still not over. In March 2010, North Korea allegedly torpedoed a South Korean naval corvette, costing 46 lives.

Old embers on new corpses?

नव्या शवांवर जुने निखारे?


Artist: Alan Dunn, The New Yorker, August 26
1950


Sixty years later, the picture above remains relevant. Just replace Europe with Iraq and Korea with Afghanistan. Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Jayant Narlikar writes a sceptical essay. Sort of. In English.

This post is a sequel. Read part I dated August 30 2010 here.

There I asked "Will Jayant Narlikar One Day Write Marathi Sceptical Essays?".

Not because of me but he did...On Sept 22 2010...Sort of...In English.

Read it here.

We know Fred Hoyle, Narlikar's Guru, who coined the phrase "Big Bang", was himself its most high profile critic.

Now, Narlikar too has attacked it in such a spirited manner that I was startled by its vigour.

Sample some of it:

"...Today, objectivity is under threat because of huge funds that frontier level science requires to test its theories. A classic example is the Big Bang theory which states that the universe originated in a big explosion.

This theory is currently believed and a lot of money is being spent in research furthering this doctrine. The original version of the theory proposed that after its explosive creation, the expansion of the universe slows down because of its own gravitational attraction. It also predicted how its present rate of expansion is related to its present density of matter. However, observations showed that the expansion is accelerating instead of slowing down, that the density of matter it needs to have is several times the density of matter actually observed, and this extra unseen (dark) matter cannot be the “normal” form of matter that we see around us. With these major discrepancies, the model should have been abandoned.

Instead, it is argued that there is a dark energy that repels rather than attracts and that the universe is predominantly made of some abnormal form of matter the likes of which has not been found in the terrestrial laboratory or in the cosmos. There is no independent evidence for these beliefs and their sole objective is to keep the Big Bang model alive..."

This is a very serious charge: Sole objective of dark energy/ matter is to keep the Big Bang model alive.

DENNIS OVERBYE wrote on June 3 2008 in NYT: "...A decade ago, astronomers discovered that what is true for your car keys is not true for the galaxies. Having been impelled apart by the force of the Big Bang, the galaxies, in defiance of cosmic gravity, are picking up speed on a dash toward eternity. If they were keys, they would be shooting for the ceiling.

“That is how shocking this was,” Dr. Livio said.

It is still shocking. Although cosmologists have adopted a cute name, dark energy, for whatever is driving this apparently antigravitational behavior on the part of the universe, nobody claims to understand why it is happening, or its implications for the future of the universe and of the life within it, despite thousands of learned papers, scores of conferences and millions of dollars’ worth of telescope time. It has led some cosmologists to the verge of abandoning their fondest dream: a theory that can account for the universe and everything about it in a single breath.

“The discovery of dark energy has greatly changed how we think about the laws of nature,” said Edward Witten, a theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J..."

Dark Energey and Dark Matter also are two of the most Popular Topics on the website of Scientific American.

Narlikar's claim might put off a prospective young Physics researcher. She may think that the entire discipline is a kind of 'pseudo-science'.

She would be further put off reading Alexander Waugh's recent attack on Stephen Hawking's latest book in The Spectator:

"If Hawking were really serious about answering the ‘ultimate questions of life’ he should have realised long ago that mathematics and geometry are not the right tools for the task....Stephen Hawking has written a short, occasionally facetious, but generally reliable and informative history of classical and quantum mechanics. That is all. That he has adverted to it as an answer to the ultimate question of life is both annoying and inaccurate, but no doubt commercially sensible. Richard Feynman, the American physicist on whose work Hawking bases much of his own theory, wrote: ‘I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.’ Nothing has changed since Feynman’s death in 1988, and although Hawking may have a far deeper knowledge of quantum mechanics than anyone else on this planet, he still doesn’t understand it. With a little less chutzpah he might also have realised that things of which we cannot see the bottom are not necessarily profound."

However, I welcome the scepticism in Narlikar's essay because I feel it will likely lead us to more truthful science.


Artist: Alan Dunn, The New Yorker, August 14 1965

Madam, It is NOT all right with our Dr. Jayant Narlikar.