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."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Banning Books- These Indians are crazy!

Wikipedia on Obelix:

"His catchphrase is: "Ils sont fous ces romains", which translates into "These Romans are crazy!", although he considers many other nationalities to be just as strange."


The Times of India (Ambarish Mishra, TNN Sep 26, 2011):

"...Akthar's autobiography was to be released at a function in Mumbai on Saturday. However, the event was cancelled even as the 'Rawalpindi Express' gave interviews to the electronic media about the book.

Akhtar has lashed out against his own team members in the book and is understood to have made remarks about the Indian batting master, who he claimed was afraid of his bowling as the delivery speed was over 150 kph..."


How low have we got on tolerance?

One cricket player is making some comments on another player's cricketing abilities- neither casting aspersions on his character/ integrity nor intruding into his private life- and we don't want that book to be even released, let alone respond to it sensibly or just ignore it.

But why am I surprised? Our history is littered with this.

A G Noorani said in Economic & Political Weekly December 1, 2007 :

"Book banning is a civilised form of the vice of book-burning which is a sure symptom of fascism. India has a formidable record of book banning. As with much else, independent India simply took over the habits of the British raj."

According to the late Durga Bhagwat (दुर्गा भागवत) Indians burnt down Bhasa’a (भास) play 'Pratima' (प्रतिमा)- one of the greatest Indian plays- because they didn’t like it!

'Pratima’ is based on the life of Lord Rama.

“But people didn’t like it and they burnt it. After passage of hundreds of years someone discovered it and hence we have it…"

[Source- 'Easy Conversations: With Durgabai' by Pratibha Ranade, 1998 (ऐसपैस गप्पा : दुर्गाबाईंशी, लेखक: प्रतिभा रानडे)]

Website DailyLit is conducting a survey, asking its readers 'VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE BANNED BOOK'.

Some of the options there:

"-Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (a classic)
-Henry David Thoreau's On the Duty of Civil Obedience (get inspired)
-Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (learn first hand why it's controversial)
-Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (I can't believe that was banned)
-And then there's The Bible (need I say more)
."

My vote went to "The Arabian Nights".


Artists: René Goscinny, Albert Uderzo


‘An excellent weekend, thank you. We went to a literary festival. I burned many books.’

Spectator, September 2009

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Paris and London pauperised George Orwell! The way Mumbai did to Arun Kolatkar! And who to Buddha?

पॅरिस आणि लंडननी भिकेस लावलं. जॉर्ज ओरवेलना! जस मुंबईन लावल अरुण कोलटकरना! आणि कोणी बुद्धाला?

विष्णुस्मृति:
श्रद्धा नो मा व्यगमद्बहु देयं नोऽस्त्विति ७३.२८
तथास्त्विति ब्रूयुः ७३.२९
अन्नं नो बहु भवेदतिथींश्च लभेमहि
याचितारश्च नः सन्तु मा याचिष्म कंचन ७३.३०

[May faith not depart from us, and may we have plenty to bestow on the poor.
29. They shall answer, 'Thus let it be.'
30. (The second half of the benediction shall be, as follows), "May we have plenty of food, and may we receive guests. May others come to beg of us, and may not we be obliged to beg of any one.']



Today September 25 2011 is 7th death anniversary of Arun Kolatkar (अरुण कोलटकर), arguably the greatest Marathi poet of 20th century.

(Read about Kolatkar's first death anniversary here.)

George Orwell:

I should like to understand what really goes on in the souls of plongeurs and tramps and Embankment sleepers. At present I do not feel that I have seen more than the fringe of poverty.


JOHANN HARI while reviewing 'THREE FAMINES / Starvation and Politics' by Thomas Keneally for The New York Times Sept 16 2011 says:

"...though Keneally almost always gives us a God’s-eye view of the famines, rather than zooming in to provide us with the individual stories of the victims. It’s odd that he actually witnessed the Ethiopian famine of the late ’80s, but chooses not to provide any sense of what it looked or sounded or smelled like. It’s an unpleasant irony to say of a book about famine that it leaves you hungry for more, but this one does."

Wish George Orwell were there! The guy above all with an acute sense of smell. Sample this: "It is a kind of duty to see and smell such places now and again, especially smell them, lest you should forget that they exist;..." ('The Road to Wigan Pier', 1937)

I recently finished reading his "Down and Out in Paris and London", 1933 for the first time.

Cathartic.

I realised how timid and cowardly I am to experience this world, to go out on a limb.

And sadly so are most writers and artists. (Or is that since they lack the expression, they avoid the experience?)

The book reminded me of Kolatkar's Marathi poem:

"मुंबईनं भिकेस लावलं
कल्याणला गुळ खाल्ला
ज्या गावाला नाव नव्हतं
पण एक धबधबा होता
तिथं एक ब्लँकेट विकलं
अन पोटभर पाणी प्यालो

पिंपळाची पानं चघळत
नाशकापर्यंत आलो
तिथं तुकाराम विकला
अन वर खिमापाव खाल्ला
जेव्हा आग्रारोड सोडला
तेव्हा एक चप्पल तुटलं...

...न मागता मिळालेली
कांदाभाकर खाऊन ऊठलो
ढुंगणाखालची हॅवरसॅक
उचलून पाठीवर घेतली
मग दोन मैल विचार केला
अन परतायचं ठरवलं"

['Arun Kolatkarchya Kavita' (अरुण कोलटकरच्या कविता), 1977/2003, Page:92]

[Translated into English by Kolatkar himself

‘The Turnaround’

Bombay made me a beggar.
Kalyan gave me a lump of jaggery to suck.
In a small village that had a waterfall
but no name
my blanket found a buyer
and I feasted on plain ordinary water.

I arrived in Nasik with
peepul leaves between my teeth.
There I sold my Tukaram
to buy some bread and mince...

(Now follows my effort)
and ate some bread and minced meat
when I left Agra-road
footwear broke
...

...
then got up after eating
unasked-for bread & onion
bore the haversack on the back
after pulling it from the bottom
then thought for two miles
and decided to return]

(I like almost all poems of Kolatkar but this probably is the best for me.)

Kolatkar's imagery is as vivid as that of Orwell. His experience as authentic. His expression as incisive.

'Orwell' keeps pawning his clothes in Paris to survive. 'Kolatkar' sells first his blanket, later his Tukaram and then he starts begging.

Orwell says towards the end of the book:

"The English are a conscience-ridden race, with a strong sense of the sinfulness of poverty."

On the other hand, begging had been an accepted way of life in India. There is no sinfulness in poverty and no shame in begging. The great Buddha advised his followers to beg for food during early part of the day to get fresh stuff!

Ram Jethmalani:

“India ’s beggary laws are a throwback to the centuries-old European vagrancy laws, which instead of addressing the socio-economic issues make the poor criminally responsible for their position.”

Orwell keeps referring to these draconian laws in his book.

Although the poem is great, I wish Kolatkar also wrote prose. Telling us about what he experienced and who he met in Mumbai.

For instance read Orwell's description of Bozo, an invalid tramp, a screever—that is, a pavement artist:

"Bozo limped slowly, with a queer crablike gait, half sideways, dragging his smashed foot behind him. He carried a stick in each hand and slung his box of colours over his shoulder. As we were crossing the bridge he stopped in one of the alcoves to rest. He fell silent for a minute or two, and to my surprise I saw that he was looking at the stars. He touched my arm and pointed to the sky with his stick.
‘Say, will you look at Aldebaran! Look at the colour. Like a—great blood orange!’
From the way he spoke he might have been an art critic in a picture gallery. I was astonished. I confessed that I did not know which Aldebaran was—indeed, I had never even noticed that the stars were of different colours. Bozo began to give me some elementary hints on astronomy, pointing out-the chief constellations. He seemed concerned at my ignorance. I said to him, surprised:
‘You seem to know a lot about stars.’
‘Not a great lot. I know a bit, though. I got two letters from the Astronomer Royal thanking me for writing about meteors. Now and again I go out at night and watch for meteors. The stars are a free show; it don’t cost anything to use your eyes.’
‘What a good idea! I should never have thought of it.’
‘Well, you got to take an interest in something. It don’t follow that because a man’s on the road he can’t think of anything but tea-and-two-slices.’
‘But isn’t it very hard to take an interest in things—things like stars—living this life?’
‘Screeving, you mean? Not necessarily. It don’t need turn you into a bloody rabbit—that is, not if you set your mind to it.’
‘It seems to have that effect on most people.’
‘Of course. Look at Paddy—a tea-swilling old moocher, only fit to scrounge for fag-ends. That’s the way most of them go. I despise them. But you don’t NEED to get like that. If you’ve got any education, it don’t matter to you if you’re on the road for the rest of your life.’
‘Well, I’ve found just the contrary,’ I said. ‘It seems to me that when you take a man’s money away he’s fit for nothing from that moment.’
‘No, not necessarily. If you set yourself to it, you can live the same life, rich or poor. You can still keep on with your books and your ideas. You just got to say to yourself, ‘I’m a free man in HERE‘‘—he tapped his forehead—‘and you’re all right.’
Bozo talked further in the same strain, and I listened with attention. He seemed a very unusual screever, and he was, moreover, the first person I had heard maintain that poverty did not matter...

...He had managed to keep his brain intact and alert, and so nothing could make him succumb to poverty. He might be ragged and cold, or even starving, but so long as he could read, think, and watch for meteors, he was, as he said, free in his own mind.
He was an embittered atheist (the sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him), and took a sort of pleasure in thinking that human affairs would never improve. Sometimes, he said, when sleeping on the Embankment, it had consoled him to look up at Mars or Jupiter and think that there were probably Embankment sleepers there. He had a curious theory about this. Life on earth, he said, is harsh because the planet is poor in the necessities of existence. Mars, with its cold climate and scanty water, must be far poorer, and life correspondingly harsher. Whereas on earth you are merely imprisoned for stealing sixpence, on Mars you are probably boiled alive. This thought cheered Bozo, I do not know why. He was a very exceptional man."

Artist: Stan Hunt, The New Yorker, 12 May 1962


Artist: Unknown, Location: Ajanta, Period: 200 BCE- 600 CE

At Miraj, this beautifully moving picture hung in our house framed on the front/door-facing wall of ground floor. I saw it a few times every day and was never tired of it. Thank you, Tata.

The Buddha had carefully avoided begging for food at his home, since this might have been seen as a continuing attachment to the world. Yashodhara sent a message complaining that in doing so he was depriving the members of his own household the opportunity to gain religious merit by feeding him--an opportunity that he was giving to everyone else. If he were really being impartial, she argued, he would visit their house as well, and thus give them too the opportunity to build their merit. The Buddha was persuaded by this argument, and came to receive alms from them. (Courtesy: carthage.edu)

Friday, September 23, 2011

M A K Pataudi- Prince of Cricket before it was Consumed by Commerce

Imran Khan:

"Tiger treated cricket as something which was to be enjoyed. That's why he was so flambouyant and had the charisma...My idol (Burki) would tell me if Mansoor Ali Khan had not lost vision in one eye, he would have broken all the records. The quality of strokes he could play with one eye, mere mortals cannot play...
"

Rajan Bala:


"Tiger, without doubt, was the most striking figure in his time in Indian cricket. Also, he was one who thought far ahead of his times. And I learnt a lot that is valuable about men and matters from him, for which I shall always be grateful."

('All the Beautiful Boys', 1990)

John Parker:

“……It said a great deal for Smith that he did not allow the misfortune to throw him off balance. Bowling more carefully, he delivered the rest of the over to the order. Five balls went down, each of them swinging into the batsman. Three of them Troughton was able to leave alone, as they swung across his body and down the leg side, making Deacon leap and stretch to stop them from going for byes. True, Troughton played carefully, once going right up on his toes to bring the ball down on to the pitch in front of him with the straightest of the bats, dropping his wrists and slackening the fingers round the bat handle. The seventh, aimed straight at the middle stump had Troughton driving across the line trying to work it away to mid-wicket. It moved off the pitch again, but this time in the other direction, touching the outside edge of the bat as it went and winging its way chest high to Gauvinier at first slip- a straightforward, finger-tingling slip catch. He flung the ball high in delight- for himself, for Norman, for the ball, for the catch, for the score and for the sheer joy of cricket

(“The Village Cricket Match”, 1977 from cricket anthology “The Joy of Cricket” Selected and Edited by John Bright-Holmes)

For a kid like me in 1960's, M A K Pataudi was as big as M S Dhoni today.

Film 'Aradhana' starring Sharmila Tagore and Rajesh Khanna was released on November 7, 1969 and became a huge hit. Its songs were chart toppers. One of them: 'rup tera mastana pyar mera deewana'.(रूप तेरा मस्ताना, प्यार मेरा दीवाना)

Before that India, led by Pataudi, had lost the Nagpur test match to New Zealand in October 1969. Chasing 277, India were bundled out in 109 in fourth innings.

It was a national calamity. There were rumours that our cricketers were too drunk to walk on cricket field on the last day of the match October 8. Another rumour was that Nawab of Pataudi jnr, India's captain, was too busy wooing Sharmila Tagore to concentrate on cricket. (He made 7 and 28 in the match.)

We angry kids sang a spoof of the 'Aradhana' song mentioned above making fun of his damaged eye. It was cruel.

It must have been lowest point in his cricketing career.

I did not read anything positive on Pataudi in Marathi press for a long time after that.

But he would bounce back soon. India beat strong Australian team in Delhi in Nov- December 1969. I still remember the day. I also remember the bulletin board at Miraj High School next day which displayed cuttings from many newspapers celebrating Indian victory. Pictures of G R Viswanath and Ajit Wadekar, two not-out batsmen at the crease, were prominent among them.

My joy knew no bounds.

Pataudi married Sharmila Tagore on December 27, 1969.

Thanks to the decisive vote of the chairman of selection committee the late Vijay Merchant, Ajit Wadekar was chosen as the captain of legendary Indian cricket team that toured West Indies, England in 1971 and beat them both.

Pataudi had pulled out of the tours saying:

"...If I had made more runs against Australia I could not have been touched. But I like Ajit, the new captain, he is a good lad and I wish him all the luck. He is a fine player too. I cannot go to the West Indies, even if I am asked to, because I am not in the good form. I do not want to be a liability to the team and to the new captain. My presence will put a strain on him."

There was no bitterness in Pataudi, not just about Wadekar, but also Merchant:

"No, I cannot think he had any motive when he voted against me. He must have been convinced that as a batsman I was not pulling my weight in the side and that is good enough to drop any player. It does not matter whether the player is the captain."

Indian government abolished privy purses, a payment made to the royal families of erstwhile princely states of British India, in 1971. Pataudi was thrashed in the Lok Sabha elections of 1971 when he contested it to protest the abolition.

Pataudi always played aggressive brand of cricket. His bowlers always bowled to get wickets. B S Bedi, E A S Prasanna often flighted deliveries- such a rare sight these days- inviting the best of the breed to try their luck driving them.

For him, cricket, until he stopped playing, was never commerce. (He of course made good money on cricket, including IPL, after he retired.)

Last time I saw him was on TV while giving away 'Pataudi Trophy 2011' to the English team on Aug 22 2011. He and his trophy were initially ignored by the English team. Sunil Gavaskar was almost in tears describing it. I wonder how Pataudi felt about it.

In all probability he was not as worked up as Mr. Gavaskar! Remember, he was original Mr. Cool.

Hemant Kenkre tells a story in The Asian Age Sept 24 2011:

"...His tactics to turn a lost cause around were on display at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 1974-75 when he connived with the spinners to beat Clive Lloyd’s mighty West Indies after being two down in the series.

Apart from Vishy’s brilliant 139 the match is known for the spells of Bishen Bedi and B.S. Chandrashekhar who put batsmen of the calibre of Roy Fredricks, Gordon Greenidge, Alvin Kallicharan, Vivian Richards and Lloyd on the back foot. While Bedi and Chandra were among the wickets, Tiger’s main weapon was Erapalli Prasanna who went wicketless bowling 25 overs for a measly 42 runs and put tremendous pressure on the world’s most attacking batsmen.

I was privileged to be present in Vishy’s hotel room immediately after the team had returned victorious with half a day to spare. Tiger walked in with his customary nonchalance, congratulated Vishy and declared Prasanna as the Man of the Match.

Having said that, he asked the players present in the room if they “wanted to go to the races”..."

I bet had we lost the match, Pataudi would have still asked "if they wanted to go to the races".

Life for him was much, much larger than cricket.


courtesy: Photo: S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Our Sharakka Joshi, Kittur Chennamma and their Kannada

As a blue-blooded Western-Maharashtrian I know so little about Marathwada (मराठवाडा)- region that produced Dnyaneshwar (ज्ञानेश्वर), Eknath (एकनाथ) and where Ajanta Caves are located- and Vidarbha (विदर्भ), land of Bhavabhuti (भवभूति)!

It's like a Marathi saying "सिटीपोस्टा पलीकडे पुणे नाही आणि पुण्यापलीकडे महाराष्ट्र नाही!" (There is no Pune beyond City-post and no Maharashtra beyond Pune!).

However, I know a bit about many other parts of India and my most favourite region is North Karnataka, erstwhile 'Bombay Karnataka'.

And it is not just about some of the finest artistic talent of India it produced-Annasaheb Kirloskar, Bhimsen Joshi- I like his spoken Marathi as much as his singing, Kumar Gandharva, Gangubai Hangal, Mallikarjun Mansur, Basavaraj Rajaguru, Sawai Gandharva, G A Kulkarni, Setu Madhavrao Pagdi, Girish Karnad...or places like Badami and Gol Gumbaz...

For sure, it has a lot to do with Sharakka Joshi (शारक्का जोशी), our neighbour in Miraj (मिरज), who pampered us with excellent idlis, dosas, a kind of dadpe-pohe (दडपे-पोहे) and appe (अप्पे), mande (मांडे ) and kadabu (कडबू )...(I didn't much like her Chitranna though)... Not to mention their family's delightful Kannada-Marathi. (When I started reading Gurunath Abaji Kulkarni 'GA', I was already familiar with the format of his language because Sharakka's husband- Gurunath- used to speak the same!)

But probably deeper reason for my affection is well summed up by the late Shankarrao Kirloskar (शंकरराव किर्लोस्कर) writing a letter on his last days in Ghataprabha in Karnataka, away from Pune and Marathi:

"...लोकांचा स्वभाव आपल्याकडच्या पेक्षा सौम्य त्यामुळे मला अगदी घरच्या सारखे वाटते." (...people's nature is milder than our people's and hence I feel totally at home.)

['एक संपादक... / एक लेखिका...' संपादक:डॉ अंजली सोमण, 2009]

As a 13-year old, I was exposed to this 'mildness'.

I have already written about our family's trip in 1974 to North Karnataka here. As trains shut down, we were forced to take state transport buses. As expected the buses became overloaded. There sure was some pushing and shoving but the most common Kannada phrase we heard from our co-passengers was 'Swalp-sari' (स्वल्प-सरी) "move just a little". Almost poetic, like in Japan!

We learnt a few words of Kannada interacting with Sharakka's extended family. In 1981, I thought I was familiar with the language.

Later in the year at IIT Madras hostel 'Alaknanda', when I first heard a bunch of Karnataka guys conversing in Kannada, I was confident that I would get a sense of their topic of discussion.

I did not understand a word! Likely reason: They were from Mysore-Karnataka and were speaking in Mysore-Kannada.

Frontline (September 09, 2011) has published an interview with M.K. Raghavendra, film critic, researcher and author.

It made tragi-comic reading for me.

"...Old Mysore includes Bangalore, Mysore, Kolar, Tumkur, Chitradurga, Shimoga and Hassan but not parts like Bellary and Coorg. The subject matter of Kannada films and the heroes of Kannada popular cinema are always people who come from Old Mysore. It is not possible for a Kannada film hero to have a romance with someone from Raichur or Gulbarga...

...Look at a more recent super-hit film, Mungaru Male [2006]. I think the Kannada hero does not marry the Kodava heroine simply because Coorg is not part of Old Mysore. There were other reasons given in the film, but they were simply unconvincing. It's very similar to Aamir Khan not marrying the white heroine in Rang De Basanti [2006]. You cannot have a romance between somebody from the nation and someone from outside because the nation draws a line around itself.

Similarly, Kannada has to draw a line around the region which is of Old Mysore. Since it draws this line, someone from Coorg will be outside the nation...

...Linguistic reorganisation did not create language unity in the way it was anticipated. I think it is fairly evident in Andhra Pradesh as well when you discuss Telangana. This means that language identity is not as stable as it is made out to be. After all, why is a commercial industry obliged to enlarge the territory of the Kannada nation? But linguistic reorganisation did intend to do this. The demand for linguistic reorganisation did not come from Mysore but from other territories that lay outside Mysore.

Look at the political leaders in Karnataka. Most of them come from Old Mysore. And look at the state of development, north Karnataka is backward when compared with Old Mysore. Even a film like Schoolmaster (1958) – an early classic which challenged caste identity – could not enlarge the Kannada nation..."


Courtesy: THE HINDU ARCHIVES and The Frontline

This beautiful picture is of B. SAROJA DEVI as Kittur Chennamma.

Wiki informs: "Chennamma was born in Kakati, a small village in the wealthy kingdom of Kittur, which stood around 5 km north of Belgaum in Karnataka."

Chennamma, a great Indian whose statue stands at the Indian Parliament Complex in New Delhi, surely spoke North Karnataka dialect of Kannada, the one spoken by our Sharakka, her family and many of the fellow great Indians named in this post.

Most likely she knew some Marathi because she was married to Raja Mallasarja of the Desai marathas family that ruled Kittur which had large number of Marathi-speaking subjects and Kittur was part of Maratha empire for a while.

Rani Chennamma, Artist: unknown, Courtesy: Blog Journeys across Karnataka

So what language do we hear in the movie 'Kittur Chennamma', 1962?

According to M.K. Raghavendra: "...Old Mysore has usurped Kannada cinema, and there is no such pan-Kannada feeling if you look at Kannada cinema. I'll give you a couple of examples to argue my position. Look at Kittur Chennamma [1962], a film about Chennamma, a freedom fighter who led a rebellion against the British in 1824. She came from somewhere near Belgaum, but if you look at the film, you have Chennamma who speaks [the] Mysore [dialect of] Kannada but the treacherous ministers who betray her to the British speak Belgaum Kannada."

(Frontline, August 27-September 09, 2011)

(An anonymous reader of this blog has disputed this claim of Mr. Raghavendra in October 2011. Please read a comment below.)

I am sure Sharakka, 'ordinary' homemaker, watched the film. I wonder if she noticed this glaring contradiction, if there existed one.

And even if she did, I guess, she was too cultured, too tolerant to mention it. A blue-blooded North Kannadiga!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

If Anant Pai features, can Vasant Sarwate be far behind?

On Feb 3 2010, I asked on this blog: When will Google Feature Vasant Sarwate Doodle?

I think I was being realistic.

Today Sept 17 2011, Google doodle features Anant Pai on his 82nd birth anniversary.

Read my tribute to Pai-uncle dated Feb 25 2011 here.




Courtesy: Google Inc.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Gautam Rajadhyaksha, A Plastic Surgeon without a Scalpel!

Henri Cartier-Bresson:

“The most difficult for me is a portrait. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt”


For last few years, I kept seeing Gautam Rajadhyaksha (गौतम राजाध्यक्ष) quite regularly on TV.

I always thought many (not all) of his subjects went to him (or invited him) to appear more beautiful than they actually felt they were- he was a kind of 'plastic surgeon without a scalpel' for them - or to make a statement to the world that they had now 'arrived'.

They succeeded big time.

He praised most of his high profile subjects. But when Mr. Rajadhyaksha spoke about the late Nutan (नूतन), it was quite different.

I remember reading his statement that you don't require a 'camera angle' for a face like Nutan's. No 'surgery' required there. What praise! No one, I guess, described Nutan's beauty more poignantly than this.

I also remember him describing the shoot of Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan together- when they were supposed to be warring- when all three of them had good fun together.

But looking at Mr. Rajadhyaksha's body of work at the time of his death, I am not sure if he did full justice to his talent.

I have not yet thrown away a few past issues of 'Filmfare' magazine because they feature Mr. Rajadhyaksha's work on his celebrity subjects. Most photo-portraits done by him are hagiographic. And there is not a single image that will haunt me for the rest of my life unlike a couple of images below. They are all glossies in the end. In and out.

"Camus's good looks and sex appeal, wearing a trench coat with upturned collar and the ever-present dangling cigarette"
Artist: Henri Cartier-Bresson

I always thought Mr. Rajadhyaksha's work was commerce first and then art.

I have already quoted Vasant Sarwate writing on Dinanath Dalal:

"...it can be deduced from his writings that despite huge popular and commercial success Dalal wasn't very happy internally...he wanted to pursue only classical art by giving up commercial art entirely...he couldn't quite do it but because of this burning desire his commercial art undoubtedly was touched by class...And it is a great fortune of Marathi literature and art."

Although we too feel fortunate to have enjoyed Mr. Rajadhyaksha's work, did he feel like Mr. Dalal?

Truman Capote once described Mr. Cartier-Bresson who was a big influence on Satyajit Ray as:

"dancing along the pavement like an agitated dragonfly, three Leicas swinging from straps around his neck, a fourth one hugged to his eye: click-click-click (the camera seems a part of his own body) clicking away with joyous intensity . . . "

Mr. Cartier-Bresson photographed artists, writers, politicians, actors, from Matisse and Picasso to Marilyn Monroe; John F Kennedy to Che Guevara; Sartre, Bellow and Pound. Yet many of his photographs have nothing to do with famous people or world events. His gift was to find in everyday situationsa child throwing a ball, a man jumping a puddle – serendipitous visual connections that came together to express something of the experience of being alive. (Liz Jobey, The Guardian)

Did Mr. Rajadhyaksha point his camera at "everyday situations"? Imagine him shooting teeming masses of Mumbai. Would he have left behind a treasure trove like the one by Mr. Cartier-Bresson?

Artist: Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Museum of Modern Art

Shanghai, 1948, shows people storming a bank for gold in the days before the Communist forces arrived.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

And Slowly We Got Back to Hating Everyone after Second 9/11...

John Gray:

"...the only genuine historical law is a law of irony."

Noam Chomsky:

“the first 9/11”: September 11, 1973, when the United States succeeded in its intensive efforts to overthrow the democratic government of Salvador Allende in Chile with a military coup that placed General Pinochet’s ghastly regime in office. The dictatorship then installed the Chicago Boys—economists trained at the University of Chicago—to reshape Chile’s economy. Consider the economic destruction, the torture and kidnappings, and multiply the numbers killed by 25 to yield per capita equivalents, and you will see just how much more devastating the first 9/11 was.

Pankaj Mishra:

More than 30,000 people, nearly 10 times the number of those killed on 9/11, have died, and many centres of folk Islam destroyed, in terrorism-related attacks in Pakistan during the last decade of the war on terror. Yet Pakistan, a country with 170 million people, is little more than a shadowy battleground in the western imagination, a security and strategic imperative rather than an actual place with flesh-and-blood human beings and long histories.

AHMED RASHID:

"PERHAPS the greatest promise made after Sept. 11 by President George W. Bush and the British prime minister, Tony Blair, was that the West would no longer tolerate failed and failing states or extremism. Today there are more failed states than ever; Al Qaeda’s message has spread to Europe, Africa and the American mainland; and every religion and culture is producing its own extremists, whether in sympathy with Islamism or in reaction to it (witness the recent massacre in Norway)." (NYT, Sept 10 2011)

Like many other tragic events in my life, I vividly remember what I was doing when we saw first pictures of second 9/11 (of 2001) attacks on CNN.

First I thought it was an advertisement knowing Hollywood's penchant for disasters. It was surreal.

It kind of prepared us- TV viewers- for Mumbai attacks of 11/26.

TV was a big player in making 9/11 what it became.

And yet, on 9/11, there was no YouTube video, Facebook page, Twitter feed. Cellphone cameras did not exist.

Was it a good thing or bad?

DAVID FRIEND in WSJ on August 29 2011:

"In retrospect, one can only imagine how the assaults of 9/11 might have been absorbed and magnified in the age of the smartphone, WiFi and streaming video. How might the attacks have further traumatized us had the technology existed to allow real-time visualizations of the deaths of thousands of innocents? How differently might the international community have reacted—or might historians have judged the actions of al Qaeda—had workers, trapped inside the World Trade Center, used the cameras on their hand-held devices and computers to record scenes of atrocity and carnage, then beamed those photos and videos to their families?
Instead of a panoramic view of mass murder, witnessed from a distance, would we have seen individual lives extinguished one by one, and irrefutably, in the here and now? And to what end? How, one wonders, would we have handled such images, given the breadth of the horror and the unspeakable depth of the loss?"

This is very valid because even today it is eerie to watch reconstruction of events in a film like United 93. I get sick to my stomach thinking what if I were on that plane. Would I be an activist or just thinking alone about all those who gave me so much without expecting anything in return?

But life went on. Athough some of us didn't come across any weird jackets, we re-started laughing soon after 9/11.

Artist: Leo Cullum, The New Yorker, October 1 2001

(For more pictures of the late Mr. Cullum, visit http://www.cartoonbank.com/)

Bob Mankoff says about this picture:

"With the publication of Leo’s cartoon, our cartoonists could all exhale, catch their breaths, and try to do what they do best, make people laugh, not as a distraction from the times, but as a comic reframing to make them more tolerable."

Not much after Sept 11 2001, however, I knew this would not change anything very significantly. As always many people and businesses profited from this tragedy.

Woody Allen said it best:

"As a filmmaker, I'm not interested in 9/11 - it's too small, history overwhelms it. The history of the world is like: He kills me, I kill him, only with different cosmetics and different castings. So in 2001, some fanatics killed some Americans, and now some Americans are killing some Iraqis. And in my childhood, some Nazis killed Jews. And now, some Jewish people and some Palestinians are killing each other. Political questions, if you go back thousands of years, are ephemeral - not important. History is the same thing over and over again”

Frank Rich of The New York Times went even further:

"...We’ve rarely questioned our assumption that 9/11, “the day that changed everything,” was the decade’s defining event. But in retrospect it may not have been. A con like Tiger’s may be more typical of our time than a one-off domestic terrorist attack, however devastating.

Indeed, if we go back to late 2001, the most revealing news story may have been unfolding not in New York but Houston — the site of the Enron scandal. That energy company convinced financial titans, the press and countless investors that it was a business deity. It did so even though very few of its worshipers knew what its business was. Enron is the template for the decade of successful ruses that followed, Tiger’s included...."

And soon we were back to normal- hating everyone.

Artist: Bruce Eric Kaplan, The New Yorker, November 12 2001

(For more pictures of Mr. Kaplan, visit http://www.cartoonbank.com/)

Now twin towers are gone but we have towers of books on 9/11.


Courtesy: The Spectator, UK, Artist: ?????

Robert Mankoff of The New Yorker brought tears to my eyes in Sept 2011 while answering "Is there one image or scene that evokes that day (9/11) for you?":

"When I couldn’t get into the city, I went to see my mother in Queens. She was very old and very sick and dying, drifting between sleep and a drugged wakefulness. She had no idea what had happened. I turned the TV on and the buildings just kept falling over and over again. I explained how the towers had been destroyed, and this is what she said: “Thank God no one got hurt.” Ah, as if."

We may continue to avoid those buildings that "just keep falling over and over again" but when James Thurber observed that we couldn't escape "the inevitable doom that waits in the skies", he did not mean enormous, fuel-laden, crashing jumbo jets of 9/11!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Celebrating Birthdays to make the City Uglier

The Times of India, September 5 2011, Pune edition, Front page:

"Garbage has been piling up around the city for some time now and the situation has only aggravated during the ongoing Ganesh festival..."


There are many ugly aspects of urban Pune.

The ugliest of course is overflowing and stinking large garbage heaps located on the main streets of Pune suburbs.

The second most ugliest is: banners erected to observe birthdays of local leaders.

Birthday celebration still remains an alien concept to me. In my childhood, birthday was such a personal and quiet affair. Only Lord Rama's, Lord Krishna's and King Shivaji's birth anniversaries were celebrated with festivity.

I wonder who the first Indian leader- other than former princely rulers- or celebrity was to celebrate his/her birthday under public glare. Didn't they feel shy?

Courtesy: Pudhari (पुढारी), April 14 2011

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Why do Maharashtra's Cartoonists Spare their Targets? Naji al-Ali, Ali Farzat...

Monica Osborne:

Germans may not have been aware of every aspect of Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews and eliminate political dissenters, but they had an acute understanding of the diabolical nature of his vision, and instead of acting against it they sometimes laughed about it.

(review of 'Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler’s Germany' by Rudolph Herzog)

I often feel that activists (and international celebrities) like Arundhati Roy are lucky when it comes to freedom of expression in India because the Indian state makes sure that they are not touched by anyone. They also are financially secure if not wealthy by Indian standards.

But when it comes to common man, he has to constantly look over his shoulder to write or say something that may ruffle feathers of fundamentalists of all hue in Maharashtra.

I am sure a few of Maharashtra's cartoonists feel the same way. They would have taken on these forces if they felt secured. The mock would have run amok. They would have drawn their targets panzers...err pants down.

On July 26 2009, I wrote about legendary Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali here who was shot dead on August 29, 1987.

Now The New York Times reports "Political Cartoonist Whose Work Skewered Assad Is Brutally Beaten in Syria":

"BEIRUT, Lebanon — Masked gunmen severely beat Syria’s best-known political cartoonist on Thursday, breaking his hand and leaving him to bleed on the side of a road in Damascus, activists said.

The attack came days after the artist, Ali Farzat, published a cartoon showing President Bashar al-Assad hitching a ride out of town with Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, who was toppled from power this week..." (August 26, 2011)

The Guardian had rightly asked in July 2002:

"Favoured by Syria's new president (President Bashar al-Assad), Ali Farzat, leading cartoonist and popular newspaper publisher, seemed to have a licence to mock. Can it last?"

In India, many political and social activists have been attacked or even killed but luckily for cartoonists they seem to have been spared so far. Also, as said earlier, cartoonists too play safe.

I had not seen the work of Mr. Farzat. I saw it on Guardian's website.

The pictures are absolutely wonderful. Even those which I don't fully understand.

See one of them below.

On tele, 'Mushy Love in the time of Torture'? Look at the right foot and the right hand of the captive. They lie severed on the ground!

Absolutely gut-wrenching. Brings home the power of the cartoon as a medium.


Artist: Ali Farzat

From 'Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler’s Germany' by Rudolph Herzog:

Jokes told by German Jews-

How many types of Jews are there? Two: optimists and pessimists. All the pessimists are in exile, and the optimists are in concentration camps.

The Gestapo is about to shoot some Jews when the commanding officer walks up to one of them and growls, “You almost look Aryan, so I’ll give you a chance. I wear a glass eye, but it’s not easy to tell. If you can guess which eye it is, I’ll let you go.” Immediately, the Jew answered, “The left one!” “How did you know?” asks the Gestapo commander. “It looks so human.”

Monica Osborne:

The Holocaust is a tale, among other things, of the most staggering breakdowns of ethical responsibility. Neighbors turned on neighbors, and people closed their eyes to atrocities committed on a daily basis—evil was everyday and commonplace, an idea that is critical to Herzog’s premise, which is that the jokes told in Nazi Germany by ordinary citizens reveal the extent to which they were also responsible for the terrors committed by Nazis on behalf of the state. Herzog is accurate in his assessment that when we laugh at Hitler, we “dismiss the metaphysical, demonic capabilities accorded to him by postwar apologists” and others who would have us believe that Hitler’s capacity for evil was not human. Laughing at Hitler might have been a way back to ethical responsibility, because inherent in the laugh is an acknowledgment of just how frightening the human capacity for evil can be.