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."

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Shravan! Three Swings

Today July 31 2011 is the first day of Shravan of Shaka year 1933 (श्रावण , शके १९३३). Shravan, the month of swings (झोका ) and mother's home (माहेर)!

"Suno Sajana Papihe Ne" from director Raghunath Jalani's "Aaye Din Bahaar Ke" (1966), composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal and sung by Lata Mangeshkar, is one of the best songs I have heard.

I never tire of listening to it. Although I am already fifty Shravans old, it creates excitement for the fifty-first!

Towards the end of the song there is a sequence on a swing.

"baaghon men pad gaye hain, saawan ke mast jhule"

Now watch another sequence on a swing from Satyajit Ray's "Charulata", 1964


Notice how, towards the end, camera rides with Madhabi Mukherjee (Charulata) looking at Soumitra Chatterjee (Amal).

I was stunned when I first noticed it.

Normally, for me, a good cinema almost always loses to a good book except The Godfather. But this sequence brings out the power of the cinema.

If a writer were to describe Charulata's confusion, her dilemma about her feelings towards cousin-in-law Amal, it would take more effort and time- even for Tagore or Tolstoy- than what Mr. Ray accomlishes so elegantly by that rocking camera.

And don't we all know how different the world looks from a swing?

Once I saw 'Charulata', I always thought what a disappointment 'Aaye Din Bahaar Ke' scene was. The song is divine but the director's treatment is so pedestrian.

Mr. Jalani could have learnt a lot just watching 'Charulata' which was released almost 2 years earlier than his own film.

And finally a swing on which I wish I sat one day...


"The Swing" Artist: Francisco Goya, Completion year: 1779

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Shallow People Demand Variety. Even in Cartoon Captions!

August Strindberg :
"Shallow people demand variety – but I have been writing the same story throughout my life, every time trying to cut nearer the aching nerve"

When I read this quote as epigraph of G A Kulkarni's (जी ए कुलकर्णी) "Pingla Vel", 1977 (पिंगळा वेळ) sometime in the late 70's, I was startled.

First I thought it was a clever ploy of an artist: Just keep repeating the same story by changing names of the characters. (Actually I have read a Marathi book of short stories by a female writer where every story is same except the names of the characters!)

But since then I have realised that it infact is "the same story".

At some level, Vyasa's 'The Mahabharata' and Francis Ford Coppola's 'The Godfather' (1972) are "the same stories". Both profoundly beautiful and cathartic.

G A himself has indeed written "the same story" a few times. My current favourite philosopher John Gray seems to be writing the same stuff. Cartoonist Bruce Eric Kaplan seems to be drawing the same picture again and again. Homer Simpson, Doug Heffernan, Ray Barone react to the life in the same manner in every episode of their respective TV shows.



And I seem to enjoy their "same" stuff.

Is that a bad thing?

Even to survive in this complex world one may keep using the same strategy as illustrated below.

I first read about Prisoner's Dilemma in the essay by Douglas R. Hofstadter for Scientific American (May 1983), now part of his book “Metamagical Themas", Penguin 1985.

What is Prisoner's Dilemma?

“In it, two prisoners accused of the same crime find themselves in separate cells, unable to communicate. Their jailers try to persuade them to implicate one another. If neither goes along with the guards, they will both receive a sentence of just one year. If one accepts the deal and the other keeps quiet, then the turncoat goes free while the patsy gets ten years. And if they both denounce one another, they both get five years.

If the first prisoner is planning to keep quiet, then the second has an incentive to denounce him, and so get off scot-free rather than spend a year in prison. If the first prisoner were planning to betray the second, then the second would still be better off pointing the finger, and so receive a five-year sentence instead of a ten-year one. In other words, a rational, self-interested person would always betray his fellow prisoner. Yet that leaves them both mouldering in jail for five years, when they could have cut their sentences to a year if they had both kept quiet."

Wikipedia:

"Strategy for the classic prisoner's dilemma...interest in the iterated prisoners dilemma (IPD) was kindled by Robert Axelrod in his book The Evolution of Cooperation (1984). In it he reports on a tournament he organized of the N step prisoner dilemma (with N fixed) in which participants have to choose their mutual strategy again and again, and have memory of their previous encounters. Axelrod invited academic colleagues all over the world to devise computer strategies to compete in an IPD tournament. The programs that were entered varied widely in algorithmic complexity, initial hostility, capacity for forgiveness, and so forth...

...The best deterministic strategy was found to be tit-for-tat, which Anatol Rapoport developed and entered into the tournament. It was the simplest of any program entered, containing only four lines of BASIC, and won the contest..."

A menacing sounding, almost like taking revenge, actually it's a very simple strategy:
"Cooperate on move 1;
thereafter , do whatever the other player did the previous move."

When translated in a computer program , it won against very complex and cunning strategies.

It was an eye opener. I learnt you don’t have to be clever and cunning to be effective.

I have struggled with The New Yorker cartoon caption contest. This blog is littered with those attempts.

But maybe I just missed a simple trick, a kind of 'Tit_for_tat' for the contest- one caption fits all.

Cory Arcangel thought about it: read it by visiting What a Misunderstanding!.

He says: "I think the same joke over and over becomes something eternal".

Look at the following picture from The New Yorker Caption Contest.

The winning entry is brilliant:

Well, you’re the one who insisted on the smoking section.
by John Pignata, Brooklyn, N.Y.

But look at the caption below the picture.


Artist: Christopher Weyant
Caption: Cory Arcangel

I decided to try this in Marathi.

'What a Misunderstanding!' translates in Marathi as "केवढा गैरसमज!"

Artist: Vasant Sarwate (1969) sourced from his book "The Best of Sarwate" editor: Avadhoot Paralkar, Lokvangmay Gruh 2008

वसंत सरवटे (1969) "सरवोत्तम सरवटे" संपादक: अवधूत परळकर, लोकवाङ्मय गृह 2008

Caption when translated in English reads:

Aurangzeb:-"This is brilliant, Samarth! I understand, for all your life, you spied for me and were on our payroll; but until the end even I never got to know about both! Secrecy has to be maintained like this!! Bravo..."

Replace it with: "केवढा गैरसमज!"

Not Bad, eh?

What a misunderstanding! About the importance of variety!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

लहान माझी बाहुली was such a far cry from Barbie

Barbie's co-creator, Elliot Handler, died on July 21 2011.

They say Barbie, born 1959, with her long legs, love of pink-tinged glamour, and hair made for combing, was a world away from the baby-like creatures cradled by girls of previous generations.

Indeed.

A world away in Miraj India, I probably never had a doll of my own. But I recall some of the dolls my younger sister had.

The following description fitted them all except one.

"लहान माझी बाहुली
मोठी तिची सावली
घारे डोळे फिरवीते
नकटे नाक उडवीते
गुबरे गाल फुगवीते..."

(Small is my doll
Large is her shadow
Rotates her light-coloured eyes
turns her short nose up
inflates het puffy cheeks...)

Now nothing of this description fits Barbie except perhaps the shadow part.

I said all of my sister's dolls except one because around 1970 a doll entered our home who was nattily dressed and had sharp features. She was a wind-up doll busy pouring wine in a glass and drinking it. We called her pour-gulp doll (ओतते-पिते बाहुली).

She was a special lady, in many ways like Barbie.

At our home, she never shared physical space with other Kakubai (काकुबाई) dolls. She 'lived' for many years before she was broken by my sister.

That remained my only brush with Barbie until 1990's.

I don't know when Barbies were first imported in India. Were they ever smuggled in heydays of Indian smuggling?


Ponytail Barbie courtesy: Wikipedia

Friday, July 22, 2011

Greek tragedy does not allow any comic relief. Or does it? Trojan Horse

Wikipedia: Greek tragedy does not allow any comic relief.

Bernard Lewis:
“In the history of human thought science has often come out of superstition. Astronomy came out of astrology. Chemistry came out of alchemy. What will come out of economics?”

Matthew Lynn for History Today, August 2011:
1929 the Harvard economist Charles Bullock published a magnificent essay on a monetary experiment conducted by Dionysius the Elder, ruler of the Greek city state of Syracuse from 407 BC until his death in 367. After running up vast debts to pay for his military campaigns, his lavish court and spectacles for the common people he found himself painfully short of ready cash. No one wanted to lend him any more money and taxes were drying up. So Dionysius came up with a great wheeze. On pain of death he forced his citizens to hand in all their cash. Once all the drachmas were collected he simply re-stamped each one drachma coin as two drachmas. Simple. Problem solved. Syracuse was rich again.


This sounds a lot like India's own Muhammad bin Tughluq who too experimented with coinage. But in Tughluq's case it's said that the schemes introduced by him, unlike Dionysius the Elder, were very good but were poorly executed.

On May 7 2010, I wrote on this blog:

"In 2009, my son and I were watching Travel and Living channel.

It was a Samantha Brown hosted program where she had taken us to a Greek coastal town.

It all looked great until she mentioned hotel tariffs in Euros €.

It was an ugly figure when converted into INR.

My son and I immediately looked at each other and started laughing. The reason being who would go to that 'stupid' place when one could go to Goa or any number of Indian beaches, in winter, for fraction of that cost..."

More than a year later, Greece seems to have sunk even further in trouble.

Now for someone as shallow as me, Greece always invokes image of Troy which is best known for being the focus of the Trojan War.

And the Trojan War brings up the tale of Trojan Horse and then it becomes funny...

Watch "Tales from the Public Domain", the fourteenth episode of The Simpsons' thirteenth season.

In its first segment, Homer is Odysseus, and delivers the King of Troy (Ned Flanders) a Trojan horse. He and his crew, including Apu, Lenny, Moe, Professor Frink and Carl, kill all of Troy's citizens and win.

Moe, as he descends from the Trojan horse, looking at the sleeping soldiers of Troy, says: Ohhh...look at them...sleeping like angels (and then he orders)...spare none!


Moe as Claudius in Hamlet from the same episode

I must have seen tens of cartoons on the subject of Trojan Horse. Even the recent The New Yorker has one by Christopher Weyant- Looking at Trojan Horse just outside the gate, one Troy soldier says to the other: "How do we know it's not full of consultants?"

But none of them comes close to the one, see below, by master Richard Decker- Troy soldiers look so relaxed because it's an elephant and not a horse. They have been warned about horse. Elephant sure is harmless!

Artist: Richard Decker, The New Yorker, Feb 9 1963

Look at RGJ's picture of June 2011. The anxiety on the faces of Troy soldiers clearly shows because what if it contains Greek debt.

Artist: Richard Graham Jolley (RGJ), The Spectator, June 2011

Trojan horse always reminds me of wooden play horse we rode as kids. We had our customary pictures taken on it.

I think it was fun but not all that great one.

Had we known the Greek story then, it would have made our horse more exciting. Soldiers emerging from its saddle- because it was often torn (showing stuffed hay inside)- while we slept, causing mayhem? Ultimate fantasy of a then middle-class boy!

p.s.

John Gray:

There are several versions of the myth of the Trojan Horse, but the heart of the story is clear enough - the folly of the leaders of Troy in allowing an enormous wooden horse into the city, when everything pointed to the fact it was a stratagem devised by their enemies.

Seemingly a trophy signifying the end of the war in which Troy had been besieged for 10 years, the horse was left outside the city by the Greeks. Troy's leaders had heard and rejected many warnings against bringing the horse within their walls.

More than anything else, they wanted to believe the 10-year siege of the city was over. So they disregarded the warnings and brought the horse within the walls. The soldiers hidden inside stole out at night and opened the city gates to the Greek forces. As we all know, Troy was reduced to ruins.

The Trojans wanted to believe the siege of their city was over. Having held out for so long, they could not bear the thought that their decade-long struggle had been for nothing.
Today we are no different. We humans will do anything to secure a meaning in our lives. We hold on to the projects that have given our lives shape, even at the cost of losing all we care for.
Confronted with intractable difficulties, the most sensible thing to do may be to toss the past aside and improvise. But this involves casting off our beliefs, and we would rather be ruined than face facts. That is the perverse persistence we call folly, and nothing is more human.
(19 August 2011)

Monday, July 18, 2011

मुंबई नगरी बडी बांका, जशी रावणाची दुसरी लंका

CNN July 14 2011:

"Mumbai returned quickly to a strange sense of normality on Thursday, less than 12 hours after triple blasts hit the city late Wednesday, leaving dozens dead and many more injured.

Heavy monsoonal rain overnight and all day Thursday posed the only practical impediment to residents.


At a live press conference in Mumbai early Thursday, Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram said Mumbai and Mumbaikars “responded splendidly” in evacuating the injured and assisting police.

“Children are going to school, people are going back to work … this is the resolute response that one expects from Mumbai.” 


“Mumbai has always lived up to that high expectation,” the minister added.

"


Indian Rebellion of 1857 which happened from May 10 1857 to June 20 1858 was one of the most important events of world history that year.

Almost as much as India's independence in year 1947.

A scene from that:

The British retaliated with horrific violence against the native population. (Charles Ball, `History of the Indian Mutiny', Vol. 1.)


Irfan Habib :

"Therefore, when our statesmen (as our Prime Minister did, the other day, at Oxford) speak of the good things that happened under British rule, like the establishment of the Indian Civil Service, they should think sometimes of 1857, not only of the rebels but also of the ordinary citizens - men, women and children - who were shot or hacked to death or killed by various means, under the aegis of our great praiseworthy benefactors."

"While the death toll is often debated by historians with figures ranging between one hundred thousand and one million, it is usually agreed that several hundred thousands were killed (in Indian Rebellion of 1857)." (Wikipedia)

0.05% to 0.50% of estimated Indian population of 200 million died. It easily is the second most violent chapter in the history of modern India, next only to her partition. Far ahead of any of her wars or terrorist attacks on her.

How was Mumbai impacted by this in 19th century?

"१८५७ सालच्या बंडाची धामधूम जेव्हा चालली होती तेव्हा मुंबईतला व्यापार आणि तिथले व्यवहार पुष्कळसे नेहमीसारखेच चालू होते. "

(गंगाधर गाडगीळ, 'प्रारंभ', 2002)
.

["When rebellion of year 1857 had caused tumult then trading and other activities in Mumbai were going on almost normally."
(Gangadhar Gadgil, 'Prarambh')]

Gadgil's book- part history, part fiction- on 19th century Mumbai is very good but not great. (To start with it lacks index.) The book is also a slap in the face of those people who say that Marathi speaking population of Mumbai has not contributed significantly towards making the city financial capital of India.

When I read it, I realise the kind of problems the ordinary people of Mumbai have faced since the city's founding.

And who were (and are) those people?

People of multiple races, religions, languages, castes, skin colours, nationalities, class.

Of course, they were fortunate to get leaders like Jaganath Shunkerseth (जगन्नाथ शंकरशेट) and Balshastri Jambhekar (बाळशास्त्री जांभेकर)- both visionary giants who happen to be very liberal and Marathi speaking- in 19th century.

(There was a Hindu-Muslim flare-up in Bhiwandi, Thane in c 1830's.

Mr. Shunkerseth, a devout Hindu, gave exemplary leardership to help quell it. As long as Mr. Shunkerseth was on the Governor'c Council, Muslims never asked for their own representative to be included in it.

Gandhiji and others would play such roles in 20th century.)

They have helped make the city what it is today, described aptly by inimitable poet Paththe Bapurao (पठ्ठे बापूराव):

"Mumbai Nagari badi banka, jashee Ravanachee dusari Lanka" (मुंबई नगरी बडी बांका, जशी रावणाची दुसरी लंका)

The Times of India, July 15 2011:

"A rough estimate shows that diamonds worth Rs. 25 crore flew into the air at the time of the blast."


Bombay Stock Exchange c 1864

Thursday, July 14, 2011

G G Agarkar knew whether there was Hell or not

Today is 155th birth anniversary of Gopal Ganesh Agarkar (गोपाळ गणेश आगरकर ).

The Funeral of Shelley by Louis Édouard Fournier, 1889 courtesy: History Today

A prominent English obituary trumpeted:

"Shelley the Atheist is dead. Now he knows whether there is Hell or not."

(from 'The best poems of the English language/ from Chaucer through Frost' Selected with commentary by Harold Bloom, 2004)


Arthur Schopenhauer:

For whence did Dante take the materials of his hell but from our actual world And yet he made a very proper hell out of it. But when, on the other hand, he came to describe heaven and its delights, he had an insurmountable difficulty before him, for our world affords no materials at all for this. . . ,

Ram Jethmalani:

“If I had been a judge I would not sentence Kasab to death for a different reason. It is only by remaining in the hell of an Indian jail that he would realise that what the Mullahs told him is false.
Long stay in an Indian prison will detoxify him of all the superstitions and illusions instilled into him.”

George Orwell:

"Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing. There is always a new tyrant waiting to take over from the old — generally not quite so bad, but still a tyrant. Consequently two viewpoints are always tenable. The one, how can you improve human nature until you have changed the system? The other, what is the use of changing the system before you have improved human nature? They appeal to different individuals, and they probably show a tendency to alternate in point of time. The moralist and the revolutionary are constantly undermining one another."

त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर:

"आपल्या तत्वांचा जयजयकार पहाण्यास आगरकर जगले नाहीत याबद्दल जरी अंतःकरणाला चटका लागून राहतो , तरीं आतां त्याबद्दल दुःख करण्याचे कारण नाही. आपला जयजयकार व्हावा यासाठीं आगरकरांनी केंव्हाही फिकीर केली नाही." (जून १५, १९२९)


Gopalrao's life- as sensitively documented by Y D Phadke (य दि फडके) in his 'Agarkar', 1996 (आगरकर)- of just 39 years, reads many times, like the lives of his favourite Shakespeare's tragic heroes.

(Although I love Phadke's book, like all his books, it leaves me hungry for more because the benchmark for a good biography is now quite high.

For instance, I want to know more about the books that shaped Agarkar's world view. He was such an Eklavya-like disciple of John Stuart Mill, son of a Scotsman, that even in his next birth he wanted to be Mill's student and sit at his feet to learn! But did he read two other great Scotsmen- Adam Smith, David Hume and others like Charles Darwin, Michel de Montaigne, Arthur Schopenhauer, Karl Marx, Charles Dickens, Friedrich Nietzsche?

[p.s.- John Gray informs on Sept 21 20011: "The Origin of Species (of Darwin) appeared in the same year as John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859), but the most influential liberal humanist (who died in 1873) never mentioned Darwin in his seminal works." If he had, Agarkar would have surely read Darwin!]

Agarkar rated The Bard ahead of Bhavabhuti (भवभूति) and Kālidāsa. He translated Hamlet into Marathi- 'Vikarvilasit' (विकारविलसित). Although the translation has never been rated highly, it is significant that it was one of the first translations of the Bard into Marathi and that Agarkar, a secular humanist, was attracted to 'Hamlet'.

(Appreciate how a nationalist opposing the British had no hesitation openly embracing a British artist ahead of the two of India's best. )

Like P B Shelley, Agarkar was an atheist.

However, I feel he was more like a Cultural Hindu, the way Richard Dawkins describes himself as Cultural Christian. (Cultural Christian is a broad term used to describe people with either ethnic or religious Christian heritage who may not believe in the religious claims of Christianity, but who retain an affinity for the culture, art, music, and so on related to it.)

Agarkar did not 'waste' time reading the Puranas and other religious books but enjoyed attending a performance of Kirtan (कीर्तन).

Phadke tells a funny story.

A Kirtan artist Narayanbua Ghamande (नारायणबुवा घमंडे) was well aware of atheism of Agarkar and used to be surprised not just to find him in his audience but concentrating hard on the discourse. Ghamande used to tell his friends: "That Mahar alone was paying attention to the Kirtan" (तो महार तेवढा एकटा लक्ष देऊन कीर्तन ऐकत होता.)

[The term 'Mahar' was used derogatorily by Mr. Ghamande. I wonder if real Mahars (Dalits) were allowed to attend his kirtans because they were then NOT allowed to use municipal water tanks meant for Brahmins.

I also wonder what other attendees of the kirtan used to do. Ogle at women in the audience? My mother's mother used to complain how some men- all Brahmin- used to behave naughtily, even shamelessly, at Kirtans! Watch 'Ghashiram Kotwal' (घाशीराम कोतवाल) for a demo.]

On May 12 1881, there was a get-together of the past and the present students of Deccan college. It was attended by Mahadev Govind Ranade (महादेव गोविंद रानडे), Lokhitwadi (लोकहितवादी) Gopal Hari Deshmukh, Agarkar among others.

In the gathering, there was a public debate on the issues related to religion.

Agarkar argued in a spirited speech: religious belief is a source of misery and is suspicious and hence should be abandoned and atheism should be embraced. (धर्मवाद दुखःमूलक आणि संशयपूर्ण आहे. यासाठी तो मुळीच सोडून देऊन नास्तिक पंथ धरावा.)

We can guess what Agarkar based this upon: "religion of humanity"-the secular humanist creed imbibed by Mill from the French positivist thinker Auguste Comte, which aimed to replace the traditional faiths of the West with a belief in human progress. (It's interesting to speculate: Had Agarkar lived till 1930's, what would he have thought of the crimes of Nazism and Communism, knowing that a type of atheism was at the core of both of them.)

Lokhitwadi replied: "Since religion is yoked to man's heart, it's not going to be affected even a little by empty threats of an atheist. In fact, because it is challenged, it will shine even more." (ज्य़ा अर्थी धर्मतत्व मनुष्याच्या अंतःकरणाशी खिळून आहे त्या अर्थी नस्तिकाच्या पोकळ धमकीनं त्यास लेशभरदेखील धक्का बसणार नाही. उलट हे धर्मतत्व कसास लागून अधिकच चमकू लागेल.)

(I am an absolute sucker for the 19th century Marathi that has been quoted above...its vigour, its strength, its confidence, its brevity, its vocabulary... Read another example of it here. But sometimes it degenerated beyond any civility as described here.)

How prescient Lokhitwadi has turned out to be!

In year 2011, in India, religion is going as strong as ever. Maybe noisier, and perhaps less tolerant.

Even in the West, as John Gray says: "Everyone believed the world was becoming steadily more secular. Yet on 11 September war and religion were as deeply intertwined as ever they had been in human history. The terrorists were foot soldiers in a new war of religion."

Gopal Ganesh Agarkar (14/7/1856- 17/6/1895)

Artist: Gopal Damodar Deuskar (1911-1994)

courtesy: Deccan Education Society and Fergusson College, Pune

Now this is a beautiful portrait of Agarkar.

But did Agarkar look like this? Does the picture reflect Agarkar's Shakespearean-Tragic-Hero qualities?

I am not sure. Some of the descriptions of Agarkar's looks are not very kind. The late Mr. Deuskar never saw him.

G G Agarkar knew that there was Hell because he experienced it right here on the earth.

No, I am not talking about his ugly feuds with B G Tilak.

It was located in Dongri (डोंगरी) prison in South Mumbai where he was jailed for 101 days in 1882. He wasn't a political prisoner, a la Jawaharlal Nehru's imprisonment in 1942-1946 at Ahmednagar, and also wasn't treated anything like 2G and Commonwealth-Games-2010 scamsters in 2011.

He, B G Tilak (बाळ गंगाधर टिळक) and two others shared a cell of 13 sq ft! (Is '13' a typo in Phadke's book? According to Wikipedia modern subway standards specify 3 square feet for rush-hour standees. So four of them took 12 sq ft standing!) They were each given an iron pot for excretion. They had to stay in the cell from 5:30 PM to 6:30 AM each day along with their pots. A single flat stone was a common bed.

Agarkar used to often get runny nose and didn't have even a good hanky to wipe mucus. Food was unpalatable, more so because Tilak-Agarkar didn't eat onion and garlic. For first 25 days, they were denied any access to books and writing material.

Most of us, if not prison, are familiar with other forms of hell.


‘I never expected hell to be as bad as this.’

Artist: (I am guessing) Paul Wood Courtesy: The Spectator

Monday, July 11, 2011

Two Women. Two Faiths. Two Prayers.

Today, July 11 2011, is 'Ashadhi Ekadashi' (आषाढी एकादशी).

M V Dhond (म वा धोंड) quotes this beautiful couplet (ओवी) of an anonymous woman worshipper (भक्त ) of Lord Vitthal (विठ्ठल) in his book "Aisa Vitevar Dev Kothe!" (ऐसा विटेवर देव कोठें!), 2001.

पंढरीसी जाता । दुपार टळली ।
विठ्ठलपूजेची जाई । ओट्यात फुलली ॥

(While going to Pandharee, afternoon passed,
The Jai I had collected to worship Vitthal, blossomed in my ocha.)

[There is some confusion about the word 'ota' (ओटा) here. I have presumed that it is actually 'ocha' ओचा. ota means veranda. ocha means a small pocket-like space created in a nine-yard-saree. Women would keep small things in their ocha. I have seen my mother's mother do it. Therefore, I have taken that line as 'Ochyat phulali' (ओच्यात फुलली. )]

This lady wants to offer the flowers of Jai to her lord. To fulfil her wish, she has collected the buds in the morning and kept them aside in her saree's ocha.

But she is so busy with the household work that she just can't make it to the temple in time and the buds blossom in her saree-pocket and their fragrance reminds her that she has missed it.

Probably one more time.

If you try, like me, you too will smell fragrance of that Jai!

Like Dhond, I too feel that this small, just eight-words, poem is as good as the best of
Tukaram (तुकाराम) or Dnyaneshwar (
ज्ञानेश्वर). It sums up Bhakti (भक्ति) of India's- especially poor and downtrodden- women, their Karma yoga.

Read about another devotee working at grindstone:

सरले दलन। पुन्हा घेते पायली।
लाख तुळस वाहिली। विठ्ठलाला॥

(finished this lot of grinding, I take another lot,
offer one hundred thousand Tulsi, to Vitthala.)

The back breaking grinding is Bhakti, is Karmayoga, is prayer, is worship...

In fact, Dhond wonders if Dnyaneshwar cut his teeth among such devotees. It's very likely.

Now look at another prayer in another place involving another faith.



Artist: André François (आंद्रे फ्रांस्वा) [I received this picture from Madhukar Dharmapurikar (मधुकर धर्मापुरीकर)]

The lady finishes praying and comes out of church. But it's raining.
She probably has no covered carriage or umbrella. Now what does she do?

She doesn't waste any time. She returns to her prayer!

Apart from being very beautifully drawn, it's funny and yet very moving.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Should Berenger of Ionesco's 'Rhinoceros' open a Facebook account?

Joe Penhall:

"Rhinoceros is filled with animal grunts and snorts and panicky human frailty, showing us how it feels to have one's identity subsumed and traduced...more interestingly today, it describes a human response to creeping transmogrification...The hero, Berenger, is alternately frightened, defiant, desperate, frustrated, impotent, self-loathing, envious and ultimately completely unhinged by the "epidemic" in a way that is immediately recognisable to us..." (Guardian, October 3 2007)

Erich Fromm:

(man has) "constructed a complicated social machine to administer the technical machine he built…. The more powerful and gigantic the forces are which he unleashes, the more powerless he feels himself as a human being. He is owned by his creations, and has lost ownership of himself."

Pankaj Mishra:

"...Gandhi’s example has inspired many globally revered figures, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Aung San Suu Kyi. Gandhi, rather than Mark Zuckerberg, may have been the presiding deity of the Arab Spring..." (The New Yorker, May 2, 2011)

Bob Mankoff:

“...(James Thurber's) cartoons were not about politics, but they were protests: against formulas, conventions, and systems of all kinds. They celebrated the authentic, the eccentric, the original..."



Zadie Smith, attacking social media, wrote on November 25 2010 'Generation Why?':

"...Different media designs stimulate different potentials in human nature. We shouldn’t seek to make the pack mentality as efficient as possible. We should instead seek to inspire the phenomenon of individual intelligence.

But the pack mentality is precisely what Open Graph, a Facebook innovation of 2008, is designed to encourage. Open Graph allows you to see everything your friends are reading, watching, eating, so that you might read and watch and eat as they do. In his New Yorker profile, Zuckerberg made his personal “philosophy” clear:
Most of the information that we care about is things that are in our heads, right? And that’s not out there to be indexed, right?… It’s like hardwired into us in a deeper way: you really want to know what’s going on with the people around you.

Is that really the best we can do online? In the film (The Social Network), Sean Parker, during one of his coke-fueled “Sean-athon monologues,” delivers what is intended as a generation-defining line: “We lived on farms, then we lived in cities and now we’re gonna live on the internet.” To this idea Lanier, one of the Internet’s original visionaries, can have no profound objection. But his skeptical interrogation of the “Nerd reductionism” of Web 2.0 prompts us to ask a question: What kind of life? Surely not this one, where 500 million connected people all decide to watch the reality-TV show Bride Wars because their friends are?...

...When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears...

...With Facebook, Zuckerberg seems to be trying to create something like a Noosphere, an Internet with one mind, a uniform environment in which it genuinely doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you make “choices” (which means, finally, purchases). If the aim is to be liked by more and more people, whatever is unusual about a person gets flattened out. One nation under a format...

...These designs came together very recently, and there’s a haphazard, accidental quality to them. Resist the easy grooves they guide you into. If you love a medium made of software, there’s a danger that you will become entrapped in someone else’s recent careless thoughts. Struggle against that!..."


Struggle against that!


I bought Eugene Ionesco's 'Rhinoceros The Chairs/ The Lesson' in Mumbai (Jaico) in October 1984 for Rs. 31/50 (Price in UKP 1.95).

I started reading it with a lot of trepidation: I was NOT going to understand any of this leading play from the school of drama known as the Theatre of the Absurd...

And I fell in love with 'Rhinoceros' where "over the course of three acts, the inhabitants of a small, provincial French town turn into rhinoceroses; ultimately the only human who does not succumb to this mass metamorphosis is the central character, Bérenger, a flustered everyman figure who is often criticized throughout the play for his drinking and tardiness." (Wikipedia)

To put into Facebook language: inhabitants change their status to "Just turned into rhinoceros and feeling good about it..."

I have still not understood why some say 'Absurd Play' is difficult to understand.

I wrote about my confusion to M V Dhond (म वा धोंड) when I read his argument how R G Gadkari (राम गणेश गडकरी) anticipated the Theatre of the Absurd and almost became its inventor.

Later I learnt how Vijay Tendulkar (विजय तेंडुलकर), bemused at the start of the play, was mesmerised watching 'Khurchya' (खुर्च्या), Marathi translation of Ionesco's 'The Chairs'.

Soliloquy of the central character Bérenger from Rhinoceros at the end of the play with all brackets, punctuation marks, grunts, snorts etcetera has to be read in full.

I couldn't find it anywhere on the www. Here are a few lines copied from the book:

"...The only solution is to convince them - but convince them of what? Are the changes reversible, that's the point? It would be a labour of Hercules, far beyond me. In any case, to convince them you'd have to talk to them. And to talk to them I'd have to learn their language. Or they'd have to learn mine. But what language do I speak? What is my language? Am I talking French? Yes, it must be French. But what is French? I can call it French if I want, and nobody can say it isn't - I'm the only one who speaks it...

...Oh, how I wish I was like them! I haven't got any horns, more's the pity! A smooth brow looks so ugly. I need one or two horns to give my sagging face a lift. Perhaps one will grow and I needn't be ashamed any more - then I could go and join them. But it will never grow!...

...My hands are so limp - oh, why won't they get rough! My skin is so slack. I can't stand this white, hairy body...

...I should have gone with them while there was still time. Now it's too late! Now I'm a monster, just a monster. Now I'll never become a rhinoceros, never, never!...

...People who try to hang on to their individuality always come to a bad end! Oh well, too bad! I'll take on the whole of them, the whole lot of them! I'll put up a fight against the lot of them, the whole lot of them! I'm the last man left, and I'm staying that way until the end. I'm not capitulating!"

(Rhinoceros, First Published 1959, Act Three)

(Sir Lawrence Olivier and Duncan Macrae in the 1960 Royal Court production, produced in London by Orson Welles, of Rhinoceros)

courtesy: Penguin Books

Not everyone would like 'Chairs'. It's likely a large number of people at a performance don't like it.

What would they do? Vandalise the theatre using chairs?

Following picture by Vasant Sarwate (वसंत सरवटे ), a dear friend of Vijay Tendulkar, is titled 'Khurchya! Khurchya!!' (खुर्च्या! खुर्च्या!!).


Caption to the picture at the bottom:

"Understand that only because of our union even during a lousy play we can stay protected."

(केवळ आपल्या युनियनमुळेच आपण अत्यंत भिकार नाटकाच्या प्रसंगीही सुरक्षित राहू शकतो बरं का !)

[from book 'Savadhan! Pudhe Valan Aahe!' (सावधान! पुढे वळण आहे!), 1990]

The late Jaywant Dalvi (जयवंत दळवी), another dear friend of Sarwate, once said that if he asked Sarwate his views on a particular book and if Sarwate replied 'interesting', it meant lousy (भिकार)!

I must find out from Sarwate if he saw 'Chairs' and found it 'interesting' or otherwise!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Delhi Belly, Shit Happens. Darwin Belly, Evolution Happens.

The Theravada tradition generally believes that the Buddha was offered some kind of stale pork in his final meal.

Woody Allen: "My brain: it's my second favorite organ."

Anton Chekhov: "My holy of holies is the human body..."


The last Indian film I watched in theatre was 'Dil Chahta Hai' (2001). I loved it.

Even on cable TV or DVD player, since then, I haven't watched any new Indian film for its entire duration. I often like parts of them.

But I keep following them.

The recent one 'Delhi Belly' caught my attention because its title features my most favourite organ. (I don't say tongue anymore because these days she has to worry about what happens later).

I also liked its by-line- Shit Happens...Belly, Shit...

Recently I read an amazing essay 'Gutted' by Steven Shapin that reviews 'A Modern History of the Stomach: Gastric Illness, Medicine and British Society, 1800-1950' by Ian Miller.

I was stunned by the scholarship and writing skills of Mr Shapin. I laughed out loud a few times reading it.

"...The stomach troubles of some of the century’s great thinkers verged on common knowledge. Thomas Carlyle was advertised as a ‘martyr’ to dyspepsia – there was, he confided, only a small part of his life in which he ‘was not conscious of the ownership of that diabolical arrangement called a stomach’ – and Charles Darwin’s friends understood that his uncontrollable retching and farting seriously limited his public life..."

I don't know if Mr. Darwin knew Akbar-Birbal story where Birbal 'forces' the Emperor Akbar to admit finally that he too farts!

Also, I entirely agree with Mr. Carlyle- There is only a small part of my life in which I ‘am not conscious of the ownership of that diabolical arrangement called a stomach’.

"...And in the 1880s, Nietzsche diagnosed the whole Western philosophical tradition as a case of indigestion. Thus spake Zarathustra: ‘Because [the philosophers] learned badly and not the best, and everything too early and everything too fast; because they ate badly: from thence hath resulted their ruined stomach.’ Whereupon Nietzsche took himself off to Turin to purge his philosophical-digestive system: ‘No more greasy, stodgy, beer-washed idealistic Christian German food for me! I shall curl up with gut pain, vomit if you don’t give me Italian vegetables.’..."

I wonder what the great Nietzsche would have produced if he was put on diet of simple Indian fare of dal, chawal, roti. Would he be fiery himself?

"...Just a few years later, a London physician called John Clarke closed the circle by suggesting that indigestion and evolution were causally connected: if Darwin’s stomach had been healthier, ‘his view of humanity might possibly have been a more generous and exalted one.’ Clarke had no doubt that the writings of ‘some pessimistic philosophers, which modern would-be thinkers waste their energies in trying to understand, are the pure products of disordered digestion’..."

Can you imagine...there would be no theory of evolution if Mr. Darwin's stomach was healthier?

[p.s
Recently, when I watched Along Came Polly (2004), I realised how mainstream toilet-humour had now become in Hollywood- can you get more mainstream than Ben Stiller & Jennifer Aniston?

It was only a matter of time t-h entered Hindi films in a big way.

It has with DB. Apparently, by some accounts, it's the 'filthiest' Hindi film ever.

And people knocked the late Dada Kondke (दादा कोंडके) for an occasional toilet-gag. The best one for me remains: Dada lifts a stone in an open ground to throw at something and then takes it to his nose (wonder why because I never made that mistake in my childhood) only to drop it in disgust saying- "has been used"!]