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."

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
पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते।
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय
पूर्णमेवावशिष्य्ते॥
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