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.”
Albert Einstein: “I am content in my later years. I have kept my good humor and take neither myself nor the next person seriously.” (To P. Moos, March 30, 1950. Einstein Archives 60-587)
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: "… इ. स. 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."
Monday, May 30, 2011
It's a spirited attack on "tabula rasa" models of the social sciences.
Tabula rasa is the epistemological theory that individuals are born without built-in mental content and that their knowledge comes from experience and perception.
Are individuals borne without built-in mental content?
Read Dnyaneshwar (ज्ञानेश्वर) on the subject.
"जे विवेकग्रामींचां मुळीं । बैसले आहाति नित्य फळीं । तया योगियांचिया कुळीं । जन्म पावे ॥ ४५१ ॥
मोटकी देहाकृती उमटे । आणि निजज्ञानाची पाहांट फुटे । सूर्यापुढें प्रगटे । प्रकाशु जैसा ॥ ४५२ ॥
तैसी दशेची वाट न पहातां । वयसेचिया गांवा न येतां । बाळपणींच सर्वज्ञता । वरी तयातें ॥ ४५३ ॥
तिये सिद्धप्रज्ञेचेनि लाभें । मनचि सारस्वतें दुभे । मग सकळ शास्त्रे स्वयंभें । निघती मुखें ॥ ४५४ ॥
ऐसें जे जन्म । जयालागीं देव सकाम । स्वर्गीं ठेले जप होम । करिती सदा ॥ ४५५ ॥
अमरीं भाट होईजे । मग मृत्युलोकातें वानिजे । ऐसें जन्म पार्था गा जे । तें तो पावे ॥ ४५६ ॥
आणि मागील जे सद्बुद्धि । जेथ जीवित्वा जाहाली होती अवधि । मग तेचि पुढती निरवधि । नवी लाहे ॥ ४५७ ॥
तेथ सदैवा आणि पायाळा । वरि दिव्यांजन होय डोळां । मग देखे जैसीं अवलीळा । पाताळधनें ॥ ४५८ ॥
तैसें दुर्भेद जे अभिप्राय । कां गुरुगम्य हन ठाय । तेथ सौरसेंवीण जाय । बुद्धी तयाची ॥ ४५९ ॥"
("Just as light spreads out all around before the rise of the sun, so ominiscience weds him in his childhood without waiting for him to become a youth. Then the intelligence and all the lores acquired in the previous birth attend upon him and all the scriptures issue from his mouth. This yogi takes birth in such a noble family. destring which the denizens of heaven murrer prayers, perform sacrifices (451-455) and sing praises of this mortal world like bards,
Then he acquires the wisdom which he had attained at the end of his previous birth. Just as a fortunate person born with the lags foremost is able to discover, by applying antimony to his eyes, and underground treasure, in the same way his intellect is able to grasp abstruse philosophical doctrines without receiving insttruction of a teacher.")
Now, one mayn't believe in rebirth. But there is no denying "the intelligence, all the lores, the wisdom" one is borne with.
Clearly Dnyaneshwar rejects Tabula Rasa.
"Pinker argues that modern science has challenged three "linked dogmas" that constitute the dominant view of human nature in intellectual life:
* the blank slate (the mind has no innate traits) — empiricism
* the noble savage (people are born good and corrupted by society) — romanticism
* the ghost in the machine (each of us has a soul that makes choices free from biology) — mind/body dualism"
Hindi cinema has often- almost every second movie- tackled themes related to 'tabula rasa'...Birth, bringing up, twins/siblings separated at birth...
Look at the picture below.
Straight out of Hindi film's plot? Mallifert twins, after separating at birth, accidentally meet at Patent Attorney's office.
Look at what they have brought along. The same product!
(I can imagine what they will do next. Embrace each other crying and singing a song- "Yaadon Ki Baaraat Nikali Hai Aaj Dil Ke Dwaare. Dil ke dwaare...")
Artist: Chales Addams, The New Yorker, May 4 1981
Thursday, May 26, 2011
The past issues of Chandoba (चांदोबा) are available online here.
I looked up the issue of the month I was borne May 1960.
Following products/companies have either half or full page ad:
1. Parle Monaco Biscuits
Caption on the top right reads: "सुशीलेच्या पार्ट्या म्हणजे नाविन्यानें नटलेल्या!" (Sushila's parties are bedecked with newness!)
[remember Monaco too once was 'new' (on the lines of 'every word was a poem once').
Today, I feel, Monaco biscuits are one of the most value for money products in the market. The other day I was surprised to see the number of biscuits that still come in a five-rupees pack.
But I wonder if stylish Sushila- although a bit too anorexic for a 1960's look and certainly far cry from fellow Chandoba women- serves them in her party anymore!
And when did you last hear a girl in a party-giving Marathi home named Sushila? Isn't it so pre-historic? Now the criterion for a new-born child's name is: its meaning should not be understood by any one but parents.]
2. Calendars by Sharda Enterprises
3. Books published by Cottage industry
4. Remy Beauty Products
(its fragrance now has vanished.)
5. Nutrine Confectionery Company (now part of the Godrej group)
6. Iris Inks
7. Energy food
8. Lama Hair Dye
11. Parry's sweets
I may not be thriving but a number of products/ companies- bold and in green- from the list above are!
Apple was just a fruit in 1960, will it return to be just a fruit in 2062? I won't know!
Monday, May 23, 2011
Artist: Robert J. Day, The New Yorker, December 22 1962
Caption sounds so intuitive...so integral to the picture...
Mr. Day was easily one of the best in his business. And the picture above is a testimony to that.
Read more on this cartoon here.
Now, how should a 21st century peahen react to this HIM?
Paul Wood has the asnwer.
‘What? This old thing?’
Artist: Paul Wood, The Spectator, January 2011
Mr. Peacock hopefully will be more careful now.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
We are celebrating completion of 150 years of Rabindranath Tagore's birth on May 3 2011.
Another 150-year old thing we are celebrating, and Tagore too would have joined in, is Rani Baug (राणीची बाग)- Mumbai's botanical garden and zoo that was inaugurated in 1861. Read an excellent article on the subject from Frontline May 2011 here. (Did Tagore ever get to visit it? He travelled a lot.)
I have taken out of our cupboard, one more time, one of the best books on Tagore's life in any language: 'Ravindranath: Teen Vyakhyane' by P L Deshpande 1980 (रवींद्रनाथ: तीन व्याख्याने, पु. ल. देशपांडे).
TIRTHANKAR ROY wrote in review of Uma Das Gupta's 'Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography' EPW Jan 22 2005:
"Rabindranath Tagore is a difficult subject for a biography.
His artistic creations and thoughts were expressed in forms so diverse that no single book can give a sufficient account of the output.
He was not just a literary figure. He believed in, and tirelessly campaigned for, a vision of moral and material development of India. He translated that vision into practice, in the process expending vast quantities of energy and nearly all his private resource.
Despite the existence of these different planes, artistic-cum-personal and practical-cumcollective, the two planes were firmly integrated in his mind and in the conduct of his life. Capturing the source of this integration is made difficult by the almost complete absence of personal accounts by Rabindranath of his inner mental world, and of the most creative part of his life. He was a lonely person, friendless despite being surrounded by a band of admirers. His creative output was so individual, and the action programme so politically incorrect in his time, that he was more often subject to attacks and misplaced admiration than to genuine understanding.
The measure of an authentic biography of Rabindranath is how well it can capture the common foundation of these different planes, artistic and practical, and at the same time connect these visible worlds with the less visible and frequently misunderstood person.
Major biographies in English and Bengali, some of them running into several volumes, focus on the historical details at some expense of the bigger picture, or pay more attention to the artistic side..."
I wrote to Mr. Roy this:
"...Indeed Rabindranath Tagore is a difficult subject for a biography. The best work I have seen on the subject is in Marathi - "Ravindranath: Teen Vyakhyane" by the late Pu La Deshpande (August 1981).
Until I read the book, I did not realize how we miss someone like Tagore in Marathi. Pu La's book focuses on "bigger picture". It does "not lose sight of the essential unity between the different planes" in Rabindranath's life. It tries hard to capture the common foundation of these different planes, artistic and practical, and at the same time connect these visible worlds with the less visible and frequently misunderstood person" and all this in a slim volume of 112 pages.
Now I only wish a book like this got written in Marathi on the subject of Satyajit Ray."
Mr. Roy wrote back to me on March 9 2005:
"...Anyway, I did enjoy your comment, and am very glad (the author of the book will be happy too I am sure) to see the reference to Pu La, which goes on to show that you need one well-rounded personality to write effectively about another. I have seen Pu La in Santiniketan in the mid-1970s, it is a place he enjoyed visiting. And if I remember right, he came to our house with the actor Sombhu Mitra, who was a friend of my father's. Your email revived that small but very bright piece of memory..." etc.
Pu La's book touches upon but does not focus all that much on Mr. Roy writes here:
"...Rabindranath, more than any of his significant contemporaries, took the fight for freedom to its logical conclusion in urging that aggressive nationalism was a form of unfreedom, and no better than any other kind of sectarianism...
...Perhaps the most influential link between freedom and moral progress at the time was supplied by Hindu revivalism. Hinduism seemed to represent a cultural distinctness that might uphold the sense of a nation. Rabindranath, after briefly and uneasily toying with Hindu pride, firmly rejected it. The religious route to nation and culture, for him, deepened injustices within Indian society, and at the same time, rejected the good with the bad from western culture. Eventually, he rejected the very idea of a nation based on the us-and-them principle, that is, on perceived differentness between peoples. More than half of his life was spent
speaking out passionately against nationalism, and speaking for the idea of unity and cooperation among human beings. He was doing this at a time when nationalism was at its most aggressive run throughout the world, including India..."
Marathi speaking B G Tilak (बाळ गंगाधर टिळक), probably the most popular leader in India from the beginning of the century until his death in 1920, stood for Hindu revivalism and aggressive brand of nationalism. Surely, Tagore's relationship with educated Maharashtra must have been uneasy. (For instance, he never became as popular as Sharat Chandra Chatterji among Marathi readers.)
Even in today's Maharashtra- where 'nationalism' now comes dressed in forms like cricket, caste, religion and language- there are far more takers for Tilak than Tagore.
As I thumbed through Pu La's book I came across this line of Tagore:
'बकुलगन्धे बन्या एलो दखिन हावाय स्त्रोते' (As southerly started blowing, fragrance of Bakul flooded)
And I remembered how integral Bakul once was to my life. Bakul tree was just few meters away from our house in Miraj. We often gathered its flowers from the ground that was quite dirty at times for our mother's and sister's garlands (गजरा). If I try I can still smell its mild fragrance...
And when did I last hold and smell a Bakul flower?
(Bakul- Common name: Spanish cherry Botanical name: Mimusops elengi)
I can write about many things I learnt reading Pu La's book but the most important was how Rabindranath made learning Bengali so interesting for kids. I envy those who start formally learning their mother tongue with the help of Rabindranath. (I remember those dreadful Marathi lessons like: कमल हरण बघ, कमल नमन कर...etc from Std I).
I had also written to Pu La about his book. I said how I should have read it before I went to live in Assam and Bengal c1989-92. If I had, I would have appreciated a lot of things there better.
This is Pu La's reply dated Sept 21 1992:
पु ल देशपांडे पुणे ४
प्रिय अनिरुद्ध, 21.9.92
तुमचे पत्र मिळाले. इतक्या रसिकतेने माझ्या लेखनाला 'दाद' दिल्याबद्दल मनःपूर्वक धन्यवाद. वास्तविक तुमच्या पत्राला सविस्तर उत्तर पाठवायला हवे होते. परंतु कंपवातामुळे लेखन ही एक अत्यंत कष्टदायक गोष्ट झाली आहे. अक्षर कसे होते ते पाहत आहाच. तेव्हा तुम्हाला ते वाचण्याचा अधिक त्रास न देता पुन्हा एकदा मनापासून आभार मानतो.
सही पु ल देशपांडे
SCHLEICHERA OLEOSA / kusum located at Rani Baug, Mumbai (courtesy: SHUBHADA NIKHARGE and Frontline May 20 2011)
Frontline article says: An uncertain future awaits Mumbai's 150-year-old botanical garden with rare and endangered tree species.
Let us save it for our own future and in the name of Rabindranath Tagore, a passionate lover of gardens.
Monday, May 16, 2011
"Police say Strauss-Kahn was naked when he tried to force himself on a N.Y. hotel employee."
PTI / The Times of India on May 11 2011:
"One of America's most high profile couples, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver, have announced their separation after 25 years of marriage...
...During the 2003 elections to elect the next governor of California, reports surfaced about Schwarzenegger's lengthy history of groping women. At the time, Shriver defended her husband, helping him to victory..."
Artist: Mike Luckovich in year 2003
This cartoon has 'Avaj' (आवाज), a Diwali issue, like quality. I haven't read Avaj for a number of years now but I used to like some of their 'naughty' cartoons.
Don't forget Playboy has published some of the best cartoons ever. It still does. Therefore, along with Playboy interviews, cartoons still offer a good excuse to read Playboy!
Saturday, May 14, 2011
The Asian Age, May 14 2011:
"A virtual tsunami unleashed by Trinamul Congress chieftain Mamata Banerjee made history here on Friday — dethroning the longest-serving democratically-elected Communist government in the world. The star of Vladimir Lenin — to whom the state’s CPI(M)’s rulers routinely paid public tribute and whose photograph had pride of place in their offices — had well and truly dimmed after 34 long years..."
Following picture may guide Ms. Banerjee what to do with Lenin's photographs.
(You may want to see a previous post on Mr. Lenin here.)
Artist: Eldon Dedini, The New Yorker, 27 Nov 1989
Last night I was touched when Ms. Banerjee remembered the late Mr. Rajeev Gandhi fondly. I think expressing gratitude when you are sitting on the mountain of what you think is a success, especially to someone who is long gone and can't give you anything now, is a hallmark of a sensitive human. She also quoted a beautiful Tagore's Bengali couplet. And above all she looks so Indian.
"Are we looking at India's future Prime Minister?"
(Photo courtesy: PTI and The Asian Age)
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
"When The New Yorker started its caption contest, in 2005, it quickly became the world’s most popular weekly cartoon caption contest. I don’t have any data to back this up, but back then, just having a weekly cartoon caption contest made us the world’s most popular one. Five years and more than a million and a half entries later, a Google search for “cartoon caption contest” yields about 292,000 results...
I’ve been pretty frustrated by all of them, not due to the copycat factor but because I haven’t been able to win..."
I can understand Mr. Mankoff's frustration.
I wonder when did the first picture (photo, cartoon...) caption contest debut anywhere in the world?
For me it started in children's magazine 'Chandamama'. Marathi version of it 'Chandoba' (चांदोबा) was launched in April 1952. (Past issues of Chandoba are available here.)
I don't know in which month's issue the caption contest was launched but when I started reading the magazine, c 1967, it was well established.
In Marathi, it was called 'photo jodanaave chadaaod' (फोटो जोडनावे चढाओढ). I think as a family we tried to win the contest by attempting it a couple of times but failed.
Here is a typical contest:
Contest: from January 1969 issue
Winning Entry: from March 1969 issue by Ms. Lata Kharade, Mumbai (लता खराडे, मुंबई)
"आपण दोघे मित्र जणू / शुभ्र वेषांत !" "मैत्रीचा गोड घास घे / तुझ्या मुखांत !!"
(p.s. Today they may get an entry saying that we shouldn't encourage feeding animals in captivity at zoo!)
Sunday, May 08, 2011
"TODAY is the 300th birthday of David Hume, the most important philosopher ever to write in English, according to The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The conferences being held on Hume this year in Austria, the Czech Republic, Russia, Finland and Brazil suggest that the encyclopedia’s claim is perhaps too modest..."( The NYT, May 6 2011)
(any thing in India?)
Here are five posts, containing David Hume, on this blog:
1. Why, why no David Hume, Vinda?
2. Will Jayant Narlikar One Day Write Marathi Sceptical Essays?
3. Why Vinda Karandikar Didn't Choose David Hume
4. Evening of September 3 2003- Dilip Chitre followed by Vinda Karandikar
5. Why Minus Times a Minus Equals a Plus?
George Scialabba on Adam Smith who was a bosom friend of David Hume:
"...He never fell afoul of civil or religious authority, had no mistresses, and engaged in no public quarrels.
(A semi-public one, though. Shortly after Hume’s death, Smith met Samuel Johnson at a party. Johnson spoke slightingly of Hume, Smith defended him, and their exchanges grew increasingly heated until Johnson exclaimed, “Sir, you lie!” To which Smith retorted, “Sir, you are the son of a whore!” and stalked out.).."
Friday, May 06, 2011
(गोविंदराव टेंबे: "नारायणरावांना मी फार सुसंस्कृत मनुष्य समजतो - कारण ते स्वतःबद्दल कधी बोलत नाहीत -")
Simone de Beauvoir on Simone Weil:
“Her intelligence, asceticism, and total commitment as well as her sheer courage, filled me with admiration…I especially envied her for her heart.”
"The centuries will roll by, and schoolboys will yawn over the history of our upheavals; everything will pass, but my happiness, dear, my happiness will remain, in the moist reflection of a streetlamp, in the cautious bend of stone steps that descend into the canal's black waters, in the smiles of a dancing couple, in everything with which God so generously surrounds human loneliness."
One such act of God was the creation of Bal Gandharva (बालगंधर्व) aka Narayan Shripad Rajhans (नारायण श्रीपाद राजहंस).
It's preposterous but true that, as a kid, I once performed, in my school annual, on the same stage on which Bal Gandharva had made his debut- at Hansprabha talkies (हंसप्रभा टॉकीज), now called Balgandharva Natyagraha (बालगंधर्व नाटय़गृह), in Miraj (मिरज), in year 1906 when the great Shahu Maharaj (शाहू महाराज) was in the audience.
(btw- They should have preserved Hansprabha as a heritage structure. Also, I don't know by what name the theatre- built by the king of Miraj state- was called when it opened in c1906 but for a very long time it was Hansprabha.)
We lived just 100m away from the stage of Hansprabha. I couldn't quite appreciate then that one of the greatest Marathi sepaking personalities of 20th century had left his footprints in the sand surrounding Hansprabha, where our mother took us many evenings to play. [Another such giant, historian and playwright, Vasudevshastri Khare (वासुदेवशास्त्री खरे) 1858-1924, had lived opposite of Hansprabha.]
Over the last few months, I have finished reading probably the two most important books on the life of Bal Gandharva:
1. 'Bal Gandharva Vyaktee Aani kala' (बालगंधर्व / व्यक्ती आणि कला) by Vasant Shantaram Desai (वसन्त शान्ताराम देसाई) first published in 1959, my edition year 1987, pages: 334
2. 'Gandharvayug' (गंधर्वयुग) by Gangadhar Gadgil (गंगाधर गाडगीळ) first published 2005, pages: 187.
'Dada, te aale na-' (दादा, ते आले ना) from 'Swayamvar' (स्वयंवर) , 1929
I enjoyed reading both the books but in the end was disappointed by them.
I also read articles by N S Phadke (ना सी फडके) and Pralhad Keshav Atre (प्रल्हाद केशव अत्रे), two very popular and perceptive critics of the then art scene in Maharashtra, on Bal Gandharva.
None of them does adequate, let alone full, justice to the life of Bal Gandharva, the narrative that was, like King Lear, a greater tragedy than the two most popular Marathi stage tragedies of 20th century: 'Ekach Pyala'(एकच प्याला) by R G Gadkari (राम गणेश गडकरी) and 'Natasamrat' (नटसम्राट) by V V Shirwadkar (वि वा शिरवाडकर).
Having lived disabled and destitute for many years before the death, even Bal Gandharva's funeral at Pune was a rushed affair- according to Desai's book- because some people felt that there could be a claim that he had converted into Islam and hence should be given final rites accordingly.
The person who understood BG much better than these wordsmiths was another Gandharva, Kumar Gandharva , no relation, who expressed that knowledge in his inimitable album 'Mala Umajalele Balgandharva' ('मला उमजलेले बालगंधर्व').
Ten songs there show you BG in ten dimensions. Personal favourite- 'Tat Karee duhita' (तात करी दुहिता).
“I lost Susy thirteen years ago; I lost her mother—her incomparable mother!—five and a half years ago; Clara has gone away to live in Europe; and now I have lost Jean. How poor I am, who was once so rich! … Jean lies yonder, I sit here; we are strangers under our own roof; we kissed hands good-by at this door last night—and it was forever, we never suspecting it. She lies there, and I sit here—writing, busying myself, to keep my heart from breaking. How dazzlingly the sunshine is flooding the hills around! It is like a mockery."
Prem, Seva, Sharan (प्रेम, सेवा, शरण), 1960
I plan to return to the subject of Bal Gandharva a few more times over the next several months.
A new Marathi film is being released on the subject of Bal Gandharva today. Subodh Bhave (सुबोध भावे) is playing the title role. In promos, he looks the part great.
But being Bal Gandharva is not sum of looks, sarees/jewellery/attars, great singing voice, distinctive and stylish elegance, fine art direction, rich sets, playwrights like Krushnaji Prabhakar Khadilkar, music directors like Govindrao Tembe, fellow artists of the stature of Keshavrao Bhosale, accompanists like Ahmed Jan Thirakwa, well wishers like Solicitor P S Lad, musical instruments like organ, wealthy patrons, doting public, integrity of character, humility, pre-WWII society...It's primarily about heart.
The question that haunts me today is: Does Mr. Bhave have the heart as large as that of Bal Gandharva? We shall soon find out...
One of the best Marathi films and one of the greatest biopics in the history of world cinema, Sant Tukaram, 1936 (संत तुकाराम), became both popular and critical success largely because of the quality of acting of Vishnupant Pagnis (विष्णुपंत पागनीस).
[p.s on May 20 2011, Vasant Sarwate (वसंत सरवटे) suggested me N S Phadke (ना सी फडके)'s novel 'akherache band' (अखेरचे बंड), a part of which, he said, is based on Bal Gandharva'a life.
Sarwate who has watched Bal Gandharva perform a few times, including Sangeet Manapman (संगीत मानापमान), spoke to me on many other aspects of BG's art and the new Marathi film based on his life. More on it later...]
I watched the film in October 2011. As expected, Mr. Bhave took me as close to the late Bal Gandharva in flesh and blood as possible. The way he stood, the way he gestured, the way he sang, he moved me. (He probably could have spoken with more tenderness.) But the movie sadly is a disappointment.
Monday, May 02, 2011
Mike Luckovich has drawn most laughs out of me at the cost of Osama bin Laden. He takes the Mickey out of Mr. Laden just by the way he draws him.
[p.s. To "take the Mickey (out of someone)" means to take the fight, the vigor, the gravity, the self-importance out of them, by mocking them, usually in a very subtle way.]
I don't know if Mr. Laden followed Luckovich or had any sense of humour.
Here is a small selection.
Needless to say it's as much comment on Mr. Laden as it is on America.
caption: Laden : I brought chaos and destruction to New York's financial district...His lackey: I hear you get bonus for that...
caption: Laden: Here's my plan for destroying America: we sneak in and marry each other...
caption: Laden: I couldn't carry on my sports drink but this is one of those Dell notebooks with an exploding battery.