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: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bhau Padhye, A Mavali: Loveable Rogue or Lumpenproletariat?

Today October 30 2011 is the 15th death anniversary of Bhau Padhye (भाऊ पाध्ये).

Kathryn Schulz:

"...the lazy man’s “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” is “Fuck this shit.”...In The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson argues that okay is “the quintessential Americanism” and “the most grammatically versatile of words.” Okay. But surely it has a rival—or a compatriot—in fuck. Wherever it originated (the jury is out), the F-word has flourished in our adolescent American soil. And pace Bryson, its grammatical versatility cannot be topped: You can use it as noun, verb, adverb, adjective, or interjection, not to mention in any mood whatsoever, from exultation to rage..."

('Ode to a Four-Letter Word/ And I don’t mean "okay."')

Jason Flores-Williams:

“Hipster culture today is harmless culture. And that’s an epic tragedy because being hip used to mean that you were heroic and dangerous. That you waged war on soullessness and greed through art and resistance. Being hip meant that you wanted upheaval in society. Being hip meant you were intense lower class, not detached upper class. Being hip meant being revolutionary.”

दुर्गा भागवत: "'लेखकराव' म्हणून इतरांना नावं ठेवणारे स्वतःच लेखकराव होवून बसले"

[Durga Bhagwat: Those who teased others as "establishment-writers" themselves became establishment-writers (insiders)]

The one guy who never became one- Bhau Padhye.

(Contrast this with, from another field, some one like Mr. Sunil Gavaskar, once an enfant terrible of Indian cricket, is now the establishment.)

The title of this post contains a Marathi word मवाली ('Mavali'). Mavali translates as rogue/ hooligan/ hoodlum/ ruffian. One meaning of 'rogue' is 'something or someone different from what is normal or expected'. Indeed, if anyone, Bhau was different.

Recently I came across following.

Economic and Political Weekly dated July 31 2011 has an essay by Juned Shaikh: "Translating Marx: Mavali, Dalit and the Making of Mumbai’s Working Class, 1928-1935"

'The Communist Manifesto' was translated into Marathi as 'Kamyunista Jahirnama' (कम्युनिस्ट जाहीरनामा) in Meerut jail in 1930-31 by Gangadhar Adhikari (गंगाधर अधिकारी) a scientist who had completed his PhD in chemistry from Berlin University in 1926.

The Jahirnama’s classified people in the city of Mumbai into the categories of such as kamgaar, Mavali and dalit.

"Adhikari used the term “mavali” to signify the lumpenproletariat. Mavali, a moniker for people from the hilly regions of western Maharashtra in the Bombay Presidency, signified categories of people prone to create law and order problems for the colonial police. In his explication of key words to the Marathi edition of the Manifesto that was published along with the Jahirnama, Adhikari characterised the Mavali as a class below the working class, who were “paupers” and lived in the city’s slums...Destitute and unemployed workers, paupers, and the lumpenproletariat are a step below the kamgaar varga on the social ladder...

He translated a passage from Das Capital to explain this point further:

"उद्योगधंद्यातून काढून टाकलेले लोक मोठ्यावस्तीच्या शहरातून गर्दी करुन राहतात; व गुंड, दादालोक, मवाली म्ह्णून प्रसिद्धीस येतात. उत्पादन क्रियेची व यांची कायमची फारकत झाली असते; असे लोक अर्थातच पैशा करीता वाटेल त्या प्रतिगामी पक्षाला स्वताला विकण्यास मागे पुढे पहात नाहीत. (The paupers who have been fired from work live in crowded slums in cities and become famous as criminals- (mavali). They have been permanently separated from the means of production and therefore these people do not think twice before selling themselves to counter-revolutionary forces for money).

Mavali indeed is a very complex term.

My affection for Bhau Padhye has been expressed a few times on this blog. One such instance is here.

Recently I read Mr. Narayan Bandekar's (नारायण बांदेकर) interview of Mr. Padhye here.

Agreeing with his high-profile and vocal critic Acharya Atre (आचार्य अत्रे), Bhau admits he is a rogue (मवाली).

"'वासूनाक्या'वरील आचार्य अत्र्यांच्या लेखात मला 'मवाली' म्हटलं व भटकळांनी बदनामीचा खटला करण्यास मला मदत करण्याचं आश्वासन दिलं. पण मला वाटलं, आचार्य अत्र्यांनी मला ही बेस्ट पदवी दिली. माझी वास्तव जीवनातील प्रतिमा का आली कुणास ठाऊक- मी घर उघड्यावर टाकलं नाही एवढ्यावरून-? बाकी सगळं केलं, (म्हणजे बाई, बाटली वगैरे!) मला वाटतं- माझा चष्मा, शोशन्नाचं सामाजिक कार्य आणि समाजवादी बॅकग्राउंड यामुळं ही गफलत झाली असावी. तुम्ही विश्वास ठेवा किंवा ठेवू नका, पण कॉलेज जीवनात काही मुलींनी मला खरोखरच 'मवाली' ठरवलं होतं!"

(Acharya Atre called me a rogue in his article on 'Vasunaka' and Bhatkal promised help to file a lawsuit for libel. But I thought, Acharya Atre has really given me a very good title. I don't know why my image in real life was formed- just because I never abandoned the house- did everything else, (means alcohol, women etc!) I think - my glasses, Shoshanna's social work and socialist background- they created mixup. You believe it or not, but in college life some girls indeed concluded that I was a rogue!")

Now this 'rogue' quality of Bhau is captured so beautifully in following 'cool' picture- spiky hair- more like Havells : Shock Laga ad- on head, wrinkles on forehead, beedi dangling from mouth, glasses, his horizontal stripe little short shirt exposing his crotch, hands in pockets, slightly bent right knee, a bunch of chest hair, and don't-give-a-damn attitude...

(Bhau would have surely liked my reference to Havells ad! For him life was sum total of all that happened around him. There was nothing higher or lower.)

Artist: Vasant Sarwate (वसंत सरवटे) from 'Nivadak Thanthanpal' (निवडक ठणठणपाळ ),1969

ERIN MCKEAN has said: "We like to think that human languages should be more like computer-programming languages: logical, orderly, efficient and goal-oriented. But they are more like our own DNA: complicated and full of junk information but at the same time gloriously mutable, able (for good or ill) to give rise to new living forms." (WSJ, August 10 2011)

Bhau played his part in the process of Marathi's mutation and while doing it, I think, he never sold himself to counter-revolutionary forces for money. He always remained orthogonal. And many Marathi lovers are luckier for it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

प्रलयकाळी टीरेक्स जाती। तेथे पर्गाटोरियस वाचती ॥Tyrannosaurus Rex goes, Purgatorius lives.

I have been watching Animal Armageddon on Animal Planet this month, October 2011.

First of all it is very humbling. You watch, 65 million years ago, a small mammal Purgatorius, our ancestor, hanging on to her dear life and you realise what all you need to worship in animal kingdom beyond elephants, snakes and cows.

Second I imagine if the likes of Dnyaneshwar (ज्ञानेश्वर), Tukaram (तुकाराम) and Shakespeare knew these extinct animal kingdoms and their annihilation, their imagery would have been even more colourful.

For instance, this is how Tukaram describes the importance of being small (and humble):

तुका म्हणे बरवे जाण| व्हावे ल्हानाहून ल्हान|| महापुरे झाडे जाती| तेथे लव्हाळे वाचती||

(Tuka says become smaller than small. In a deluge trees are washed out but grass survives.)

Tyrannosaurus Rex goes, Purgatorius lives.

As I watched the documentary television miniseries, I realised that, with luck, I would dodge an animal armageddon in my lifetime.

But yesterday, on Laxmi Pujan day, as I heard and saw crackers being burst so savagely around me, I felt many birds and animals must feel that this indeed was the armageddon of their life.

Deep down, even I can't escape that feeling.

My ancestor Purgatorius

Picture courtesy: Wikipedia

p.s. 'प्रलयकाळी' (cataclysm / universal devastation) is one of my favourite Marathi words. Why? Read this.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

In Praise of Street sweepers

Today is Lakshmi Pujan, Ashwin Amavasya Shake 1933 (लक्ष्मी पूजन, आश्विन अमावस्या, शके १९३३)

Wikipedia: Lakshmi Pooja, or the worship of the goddess of wealth, is the main event on Diwali in North and West India. It is extremely important to keep the house spotlessly clean and pure on Diwali. Goddess Lakshmi likes cleanliness, and she will visit the cleanest house first. This is also the reason why
the broom is worshiped on this day with offerings of haldi and kumkum (turmeric and vermilion).

R S Sharma:

"Buddhism did not deprecate manual labour. In a second-century sculpture from Bodh-Gaya, the Buddha is depicted ploughing with oxen."

('India's Ancient Past', 2005)

Martin Luther King Jr., 1954:

"If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper that did his job well."

P L Deshpande (पु ल देशपांडे):

"उषा: तुम्हांला सगळ्याचाच मझा वाटतो.

काकाजी: पहिलं नीट म्हणजे बराबर मझा दिसतो. इंदूर स्टेशनात एकदा एक भंगी दोन लंब्या झाडू घेऊन कचरा काढीत होता. उषा, अरे ऐश्या झाडू फिरवीत होता, की तुझ्या सतीशला बॅट देखील फिरवता येणार नाही तशी."

("Usha: You think everything is fun.

Kakaji: If you look carefully, you notice fun alright. At Indore station once a street-sweeper was sweeping using two long brooms. Usha, the way he was brandishing broom, your Satish won't be able to wave a (cricket) bat.")

['Tujhe Ahe Tujapashi', 1957 (तुझें आहे तुजपाशीं)]

(If you like Pu La's Kakaji, you may want to read this.)

Artist: Eldon Dedini (1921-2006), The New Yorker, October 7 1961

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

चाफा मात्र फुलतच राहतो, Champak Goes On and On: Lyrical, Tragic, and Comic

चाफा मात्र फुलतच राहतो, Champak Goes On and On: Lyrical, Tragic, and Comic

Today Oct 18 2011 is 8th death anniversary of my Tai Mavashi (ताई -मावशी ). And I lost my second mavashi- Kumud (कुमुद)- on October 1 2011...Now, including my mother and their mother, all four of them, I like to think, are together. Wherever.

Once I wanted to escort these three Bhate (भाटे ) sisters on a jaunt to Mahad (महाड), their beloved native town, instead I accompanied each of them to crematorium...This is growing up!

कवी गोविंद (1874-1926) (Kavi Govind)

सुंदर मी होणार, आतां सुंदर मी होणार!
सुंदर मी होणार । हो। मरणानें जगणार।...

...जुनी इंद्रिये, जुना पिसारा.. सर्व सर्व झडणार हो..
नव्या तनुचे, नव्या शक्तीचे.. पंख मला फुटणार हो..
सुंदर मी होणार.

There is so much hope in the poet's words above...Death will remake him, get rid of his disability and make him beautiful all over again...easily one of the most memorable poems in 20th century Marathi.

After seeing my Tai-mavashi for the last time at Kolhapur (कोल्हापुर) crematorium on the banks of Panchganga (पंचगंगा), I looked at the evening sky...

It had never looked that beautiful.

What was I doing at that goddamn crematorium instead of looking at pretty girls of Kolhapur at Rankala (रंकाळा) and Mahadwar (महाद्वार ) road, or making plans of which movies to see, or where to eat outside: what we always did while visiting her in the past, when R D Burman song "Yeh shyam mastani" (ये शाम मस्तानी) from 'Kati Patang',1970 never stopped playing?

Sure, death might have made my mavashi more beautiful- it wasn't obvious though- but what about the sky in real life that was even more beautiful than usual after her death? Evening was still graceful (ये शाम मस्तानी) but now in a creepy way.

Can we reconcile this?

Not Mark Twain. He thinks it's a mockery:

“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."

Not C T Khanolkar (चिं.त्र्यं.खानोलकर) either:

आणि आकाशाकडे बघून त्याने गर्जना केली :
बाप्पा तुला क्षमा नाही
वाड्यावरची माणसे दोंदे वाढवतात
माझ्या काश्याचे पाय जातात
चाफा मात्र फुलतच राहतो

[I have quoted these lines of CTK as I recall them from, I think, a दीपावली (Deepawali) magazine's diwali number from 1970's. Errors if any are regretted.]

Maybe George Santayana:

“Everything in nature is lyrical in its ideal essence, tragic in its fate, and comic in its existence."

Artist: Helen E Hokinson (1893-1949), The New Yorker, March 15 1941

Champak like begonia goes on and on...

A E Housman

“For Nature, heartless, witless Nature
Will neither know nor care”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sexual Repression, Awaaz Diwali ank, Donald McGill and George Orwell

Michel Foucault:

"If sex is repressed, that is, condemned to prohibition, nonexistence, and silence, then the mere fact that one is speaking about it has the appearance of a deliberate transgression. A person who holds forth in such language places himself to a certain extent outside the reach of power; he upsets established law; he somehow anticipates the coming freedom." ('The History of Sexuality', Volume I, 1976)

Germaine Greer:

… in the 21st century pornography is as ubiquitous as religion once was. Its sadomasochistic stock in trade is still the same. No sexual revolution will happen until the role of penetration as a mechanism of domination is obliterated, until it makes no sense to snarl at anyone: "Get fucked", until "fucked" does not mean "ruined".
Sexual culture is so protean that we can hardly generalise about it; parents' attitudes are different from their children's and their children's attitudes may be different from one another's; kids in one school bus will be shocked and horrified at what is going on in another. Sex is simultaneously suppressed and commoditised. Its expression is both covert and blatant. Nowadays, masturbation is supposed to be good for us and yet "wanker" is a word of withering abuse. When sex is a duty, it palls; when it is absolutely forbidden, it becomes unbearably exciting.

'Woman Carrying Load' Artist: Unknown Indian, Period: 6000 BC or later Location: Bhimbetka rock shelters, Near Bhopal, MP (courtesy: 'Prehistory' by Irfan Habib, 2001)

दुर्गा भागवत:

"गोंड लोकांच्या मध्ये मी काम करीत होते, तेंव्हा त्या गोंड बायका मला म्हणायच्या की, गोंड बायका चोळी घालत नाहीत म्हणून त्यांची वक्षःस्थळं भरदार असतात. शहरी बायकां सारखी विसविशीत नसतात. तुमची सीता आमच्या गोंडवनात आली. तिनं आमच्यासारखी
चोळी टाकली. तिची वक्षःस्थळं भरदार झाली. आवडली आमच्या रावणाला. पळवली तिला...त्यात काय?...अशी त्या गोंड बायकांची कथा. मला हसूच आलं."

[Durga Bhagwat: When I was working among Gonds, those Gond women used to say to me that Gond women didn't wear Choli (blouse) and hence their breasts were firm. Not soft like urban women. Your Seeta arrived in Gondwana. Like us she stopped using Choli. Her breasts became firm. Our Ravana liked her. He abducted her...what big deal?...this is the story of those Gond women. It made me laugh."]

[“Aispais Gappa: Durgabainshi” by Pratibha Ranade ("ऐसपैस गप्पा : दुर्गाबाईंशी" लेखक: प्रतिभा रानडे), 1998, page-50]

Artist: Donald McGill (1875–1962)

George Orwell was not sure if Donald McGill was a real person or simply a trade name but he wrote a memorable essay on him in 1941.

Mr. McGill was a British graphic artist who drew funny pictures featuring attractive young women, fat old ladies, drunken middle aged men.

In short, he was a cartoonist.

Poor Mr. McGill was prosecuted in 1954 on the charge of breaking the 'Obscene Publications Act 1857' where he was found guilty and made to pay fine and costs. 21 of his cards were either banned or withdrawn from sale. There was a kind witch-hunt against him, and it was all so sad.

[By the way, such a law in India too has played havoc with artistic freedom, harassing artists like B S Mardhekar (बा. सी. मर्ढेकर).

My father's first social novel 'Dhoka! Hamrasta Pudhe Aahe' (धोका! हमरस्ता पुढे आहे)- written at the age of just 25- was dubbed 'obscene' but, unlike Mardhekar, he wasn't prosecuted. D K Bedekar (दि. के. बेडेकर) was one among few who stood by him, Jaywant Dalvi (जयवंत दळवी)was one among many who attacked him. But the incident scared off my father- he was almost broke and had a young family to support- from exploring creative, daring themes in his future work.]

Orwell writes on McGill's portrayal of attractive young women:

"...Here one comes back to the outstanding, all-important feature of comic post cards — their obscenity. It is by this that everyone remembers them, and it is also central to their purpose, though not in a way that is immediately obvious.

A recurrent, almost dominant motif in comic post cards is the woman with the stuck-out behind. In perhaps half of them, or more than half, even when the point of the joke has nothing to do with sex, the same female figure appears, a plump ‘voluptuous’ figure with the dress clinging to it as tightly as another skin and with breasts or buttocks grossly over-emphasized according to which way it is turned. There can be no doubt that these pictures lift the lid off a very widespread repression, natural enough in a country whose women when young tend to be slim to the point of skimpiness. But at the same time the McGill post card — and this applies to all other post cards in this genre — is not intended as pornography but, a subtler thing, as a skit on pornography. The Hottentot figures of the women are caricatures of the Englishman's secret ideal, not portraits of it. When one examines McGill's post cards more closely, one notices that his brand of humour only has a meaning in relation to a fairly strict moral code...."

Orwell doesn't want these pictures to vanish because he says once their kind of humour used to be integral to the literature but because serious literature now has no place for it, we need it stand-alone.

"...Their existence, the fact that people want them, is symptomatically important. Like the music halls, they are a sort of saturnalia, a harmless rebellion against virtue. They express only one tendency in the human mind, but a tendency which is always there and will find its own outlet, like water...

...In the past the mood of the comic post card could enter into the central stream of literature, and jokes barely different from McGill's could casually be uttered between the murders in Shakespeare's tragedies. That is no longer possible, and a whole category of humour, integral to our literature till 1800 or thereabouts, has dwindled down to these ill-drawn post cards, leading a barely legal existence in cheap stationers' windows..."

Orwell considers them "ill-drawn".

I don't.

Now go back to the picture of Donald McGill above.

Indeed, they are wonderful!... I mean lady's pearls...I mean McGill's pictures!

The picture reminds me of a very popular Marathi magazine 'Awaaz'(आवाज) that has been published every Diwali since its inception in 1951.

It was founded and edited first by Mr. Madhukar Patkar (मधुकर पाटकर) and, after his death in 1996, by his son Mr. Suhas Patkar (सुहास पाटकर). (Mr. Suhas too is no more. He died in October 2010.)

I must have seen the magazine first time in 1970's.

I liked it only for its naughty 'Fold-In'/ 'window-pictures' (In Marathi: खिडकीचित्र) featuring women with "breasts or buttocks grossly over-emphasized". I don't think I ever read a single article or short-story from the magazine.

After reading Orwell, I wonder if Awaaz's pictures at one time "lifted the lid off a very widespread repression" in a middle-class Maharashtrian society where sex had always been repressed since Victorian era, and that the Awaaz's pictures were "not intended as pornography but, a subtler thing, as a skit on pornography", and that this "brand of humour only has a meaning in relation to a fairly strict moral code."

And hence today when- thanks to internet- pornography is widely and almost freely available, when sexual mores are changing fast and nudity is widespread, has Awaaz art lost its calling?

Also, the operative word 'at one time' in previous para is important because Awaaz does not mean or will mean anything to my 17-year-old native Marathi speaking son and most of his 'Marathi' friends.

The artist who created Awaaz art for a long time was Mr. Chandrashekhar Patki (c 1933-2008) (चंदशेखर पत्की).

I read that Mr. Patki used to like the art of Henry Boltinoff (1914–2001), Bill Wenzel (1918–1987)- a master of drawing a voluptuous, sexy, innocent girl-, Mario Miranda but was never influenced by them. I wonder if Patki saw McGill's pictures.

Sadly, for this post, I couldn't get hold of Patki's big colour window-picture from his heydays. But see the one below and you will get an idea of his art.

Caption- Man's wife to her female domestic: "Doctor has asked him to take rest. Therefore, you need not come for eight days!"

Now a picture of one of Patki's favourite Mr. Wenzel

caption: "Hmmm...with a neighbour like that, I'm sure I can get you an extra $2000!"

Artist: Bill Wenzel

I can easily see this Wenzel's picture getting printed in Awaaz Diwali 2011 as a 'window-picture'- that is you don't see the lady below her shoulders until you turn the page- with a caption in Marathi that may run something like this:

"हं...अशी शेजारीण, मग काय आणखी वीस लाख मिळवून देतो तुमच्या बंगल्याला!"

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Steve Jobs- from Bazzar to Cathedral, from Kabir to Michelangelo


कबिरा खड़ा बाजार में सबकी मांगे खैर
ना काहू से दोस्ती ना काहू से बैर
ना काहू से बैर ज्ञान की अलख जगावे
भूला भटका जो होय राह ताही बतलावे
बीच सड़क के मांहि झूठ को फोड़े भंडा
बिन पैसे बिन दाम ज्ञान का मारै डंडा

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra:

"Kabir's a disruptive voice which stands in opposition to everything you cherish and hold dear, from your worldly possessions to religious beliefs. Kabir might not have been a nice man to know..."

Robert Skidelsky:

"Jeffrey Sachs's diagnosis of America's ills understates the deleterious effect of globalisation. He doesn't question the economics or morality of offshoring American production abroad, regardless of its consequences for American jobs or real wages, simply saying that the winners should compensate the losers. Not only has this not happened, but it is increasingly unlikely to happen, because globalisation has greatly increased the political clout of the winners. Since the 1980s owners of capital have enjoyed not just a big rise in pre-tax earnings, but a substantial cut in tax rates, taking inequality back to levels last seen before the first world war."

Mike Daisey:

"Apple’s rise to power in our time directly paralleled the transformation of global manufacturing. As recently as 10 years ago Apple’s computers were assembled in the United States, but today they are built in southern China under appalling labor conditions. Apple, like the vast majority of the electronics industry, skirts labor laws by subcontracting all its manufacturing to companies like Foxconn, a firm made infamous for suicides at its plants, a worker dying after working a 34-hour shift, widespread beatings, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to meet high quotas set by tech companies like Apple...

...Mr. Jobs’s magic has its costs. We can admire the design perfection and business acumen while acknowledging the truth: with Apple’s immense resources at his command he could have revolutionized the industry to make devices more humanely and more openly, and chose not to. If we view him unsparingly, without nostalgia, we would see a great man whose genius in design, showmanship and stewardship of the tech world will not be seen again in our lifetime. We would also see a man who in the end failed to “think different,” in the deepest way, about the human needs of both his users and his workers. "

(The New York Times, October 6 2011)

Vaclav Smil

"Some 130 years after Edison’s remarkable creation of the electricity system, there still remains no doubt about the fundamental and truly epochal nature of his contributions: the world without electricity has become unimaginable. I bet that 130 years from now our successors will not be able to say the same about Apple’s sleek electronic devices assembled from somebody else’s components and providing services that are not fundamentally different from those offered by competitors. I have no doubt that the world without iPhone or iPad would be perfectly fine."

Mourning over Mr. Job's death turned little hysterical in Indian media. Reminded me of Princess Diana's death.

Rod Liddle:

"This is the generation (born between 1955 and 1985), which has bequeathed to the world reality television, the cult of the celebrity, first-person confessional journalism and the mass hysterical emoting at the funerals of people they have never met, let alone known. I suppose, if we were to grope for a reason, we might say that it was the first generation for a very long time which lived without the depredations of war and thus the prospect of imminent death; which threw off the notion of a higher authority than itself and was schooled in the art of self-expression rather than the acquisition of knowledge."

I have already thanked Mr. Jobs for PC with GUI and 'Toy Story'. That apart, what kind of change, if any, Mr. Jobs brought to our lives?

To begin with, reading Mr. Liddle's words above and Mr. Job's own thoughts- quoted in previous post- on death, he made us think about 'the prospect of imminent death' at least for a day.

Let us now turn to materialistic aspects of change.

Peter Thiel:

"The economic decoupling of computers from everything else leads to more questions than answers, and barely hints at the strange future where today’s trends simply continue. Would supercomputers become powerful engines for the miraculous creation of wholly new forms of economic value, or would they simply become powerful weapons for reshuffling existing structures — for Nature, red in tooth and claw? More simply, how does one measure the difference between progress and mere change? How much is there of each?"

Mr. Thiel's article should really be an eye-opener for many.

David Brooks
says: "A person born in 1900 began with horse-drawn buggies and died with men walking on the Moon..."

All my grandparents (and my wife's) were borne around 1900 and had that ride but for my generation it has been far less exciting.

I feel most of what Mr. Jobs did since his return to Apple was 'mere change'. And that's why I find it ridiculous when people compare him to Thomas Alva Edison.

Thiel: "The era of globalization improved living standards by making labor and goods cheaper, but also hurt living standards through increased competition for limited resources. Free-trade advocates tend to think that the first effect dominates the second."

I don't.

I have expressed on this blog my increasing inability to connect to young strangers, or even not so strangers, in urban India because their ears are always stuffed.

And I hold Mr. Jobs partly responsible for this.

Dr Aric Sigman argues that the growth of electronic media – computers, iPods, mobile phones, video games – as "the most significant contributing factor to society's growing physical estrangement"

or Roger Scruton:

"...Michael Bull draws on the “cultural theory” of Horkheimer and Adorno to argue that, thanks to the iPod, urban space has in many ways ceased to be public space and has become fragmented and privatized, each person retreating into his own inviolable sphere and losing his dependency upon and interest in his fellows. This process not only alienates people from each other, it enables people to retain control over their sensations, and so shut out the world of chance, risk, and change..."

What made Mr. Jobs?

David Brooks says in The New York Times, Oct 6 2011 :

"...Look at the Steve Jobs obituaries. Over the course of his life, he combined three asynchronous idea spaces — the counterculture of the 1960s, the culture of early computer geeks and the culture of corporate America. There was LSD, “The Whole Earth Catalogue” and spiritual exploration in India. There were also nerdy hours devoted to trying to build a box to make free phone calls...The roots of great innovation are never just in the technology itself. They are always in the wider historical context. They require new ways of seeing..."

The counterculture. Do we have it today?

Susan Sontag said: We live in a culture committed to unifying greeds…..everyone on the planet feeding at the same trough of standardized entertainment and fantasies of eros and violence….How one wishes that some of its (the iconoclastic spirit of the 1960s) boldness, its optimism, its disdain for commerce had survived……

Here is one of us trying rather pathetically to 'escape' our culture...

Artist: Stuart Carlson

I read Mr. N R Narayana Murthy has called Mr. Jobs “Michelangelo of the computer era”. It made me chuckle.

I associate Michelangelo with a cathedral and I once saw in Mr. Jobs iconoclastic Kabir who is associated with bazaar, far away from a cathedral.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs- Indeed Death is the Single Best Invention of Life

Steve Jobs:

“(death) is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”

Ken Auletta :

"...he was a great, transformative, and historical figure."

(The New Yorker, October 5 2011)

Clancy Martin:

If contemporary god-builders — seeking to stave off death with blue-green algae, Bikram yoga and cryogenics — are more crass and materialistic than those in Gray’s story, ultimately they fail to appreciate the same point: that life seems to get much of its meaning from the fact that it ends.

MIKE DAISEY, one of the great solo storytellers of contemporary theater, when asked "What do you think of Mr. Jobs as an artist?" by CATHERINE RAMPELL:

"Well I think that Steve Jobs’s tremendously effective as an artist in that sense. However, it’s deeply unfortunate that he sold out his ideals.

This is someone who had an opportunity to transform the world with these devices and then did. He started as someone whose devices were forged out of piracy, and today it’s the most locked-down computer company in the world. As a capitalist I’m sure that it’s very attractive. But if we’re talking about him as an artist, I’d say that he completely lost track of his ideals."

(The New York Times, Sept. 30 2011)

I am grateful to Mr. Jobs for a PC having graphical user interface and Toy Story (1995)

But clearly US President Barack Obama went overboard when he said: "...he changed the way each of us sees the world."....What does he mean by "each of us"?

The New York Times, Sept. 30 2011 claimed: Neuroscience suggests that Apple's smartphone activates the part of the brain associated with feelings of love and compassion.

If this is true, I wonder if it is good or bad for humanity.

There has been some great humour created at the cost of the late Mr. Jobs.

The funniest of them is the episode of The Simpsons "Mypods and Boomsticks", 7th episode of 20th season first aired on November 30, 2008.

When Lisa Simpson complains to Mr. Jobs about the stiff bill and pleads for a concession, Mr. Jobs replies: “People think our slogan is 'Think Differently' but our real slogan is 'No Refunds'.”

It will be an interesting execrise to discover "people think" slogans vis-a-vis real slogans for many other products and institutions.

Here is an obituary cartoon created by Ted Rall before Mr. Jobs passed away. Warning: It is not hagiographic.

Artist: Ted Rall

Courtesy: Apple.com

p.s. I converted this image from original PNG (200kb) to JPEG (37kb)!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Romancing Railways. Buster Keaton style.

Today October 4 2011 is 116th birth anniversary of Buster Keaton.

Paul Theroux:

"Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of the Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it."

(The Great Railway Bazaar, 1975)

The New York Times, Sept. 30 2011:

Neuroscience suggests that Apple's smartphone activates the part of the brain associated with feelings of love and compassion.

Joseph Heller:

"if you are sane enough to ask to be declared unfit to fly on dangerous missions, then you are fit to fly".

DAVID BROOKS, The NYT, Oct 6 2011:

we travel at the same speeds as we did a half-century ago, whether on the ground or in the air. We rely on the same basic energy sources. Warren Buffett made a $44 billion investment in 2009. It was in a railroad that carries coal.

One of the greatest film scenes is surely from Satyajit Ray’s “Pather Panchali” (1955): children coming face to face with a train.

But is there a film as good, even better, as Pather Panchali where trains and railways have a major role to play, where they are there almost all the time on the screen?

There is. And I was lucky to see it on Sept 29 2011 on UTV World Movies.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

It's a silent film: The General, 1926. It's available on YouTube here.

Great Orson Welles has said:

"'The General' is the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made."

I agree with Mr. Welles completely. In a way, 'The General' anticipates everything funny that has been created for screen since then.

My 17-year old son watched it for a while and was stunned by the stunts performed by the hero: Buster Keaton playing the character of Johnnie Gray.

I was intrigued by the way Johnnie works so smoothly around his beloved train steam-engine "General", the way a mahout works with his beloved but huge tusker.

The film is not just about steam-engines and wagons but also about tracks, communication cables, water refills, fuel etc.

Johnnie is upset not just because his fiancee Annabelle Lee (played by Marion Mack) has been kidnapped, albeit inadvertently, by the North but that they have also taken his "General".

[I too once loved steam-engines that frequented Miraj station. They certainly activated the part of my brain associated with feelings of love and compassion. One of them quite aptly called 'Genda' (गेंडा) (Rhinoceros).]

I also liked the way film makes subtle fun of the American civil war or any war in general. Its inherent contradictions.

For instance, as Johnnie enters "Southern" territory riding General and escorting Annabelle and waves at a soldier, he is fired at because he is still wearing Union uniform. So only the colour of clothing decides foe or friend!

Or Johnnie wants to enlist only to win over his girl.

Walter Kirn argues:

"...Joseph Heller's Catch-22 appeared, abruptly downgrading war's special status as an existential crucible and also, unwittingly, beginning the process of rendering four-star male novelists irrelevant. The book treats war on a par with business or politics (to Heller they were very much the same), portraying it as a system for alienating people from their own interests and estranging them from their instincts. Protocol replaces principle, figures plucked from thin air supplant hard facts, and reason becomes rigamarole." (Slate, August 2 2011)

Watching 'The General', I feel the downgrading process started in 1926.

Was this film released in India in 1920's? Did any of my grand-parents see it?

Did Shripad Krushna Kolhatkar (श्रीपाद कृष्ण कोल्हटकर), C V Joshi (चिं वि जोशी) and R K Narayan see it? If yes, did it influence their art in any manner?

The civil war is forcing Johnnie to separate from his beloved General. At the end of the film, as Johnnie and Annabelle say final goodbye to us, we see they both are seating on one of General's many body-parts, kissing passionately, but Lieutenant Johnnie is being forced to return the salutes of passing soldiers with his right arm!

(In the picture above, Johnnie is sitting to the left of Annabelle. But then it becomes difficult to kiss and return the saulte. He then comes to her right...)

Comedians at Lunch: W C Fields, Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Groucho Marx

Artist: Albert "Al" Hirschfeld (1903-2003), Published: May 1 2000

This must be one hell of a lunch!

Courtesy: Al Hirschfeld Foundation. Please visit http://www.alhirschfeldfoundation.org/splash/

CATE LINEBERRY, The New York Times October 4 2011:

"Men weren't the only ones being killed on Civil War battlefields - thousands of boys fought and died alongside them."

Boys, like Griffith Thomas who joined the 1st Wisconsin Heavy Artillery as a musician at 16, enlisted with dreams of adventure, but soon realized the severity of camp life — and the terrors of the battlefield. Young drummers were especially targeted by the enemy because their drumbeats communicated orders on the chaotic battlefield.

Credit: Wisconsin Veterans Museum

p.s. After I wrote the above I read this in Feb 2012:

Satyajit Ray:

"Buster Keaton in his film The General performs the most incredible antics in the driver's seat of a runaway train, while a full scale battle rages in the background. To say that the scene is funny in not nearly enough; it is one of the most elating aesthetic experiences in cinema."

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Navratris in the New York city!

The Times of India, October 2005:

“Solved: Post-Navratri abortion: It's a revolution of sorts. Social researchers waiting to dish out those cliched surveys on abortion rates after Navratris in Gujarat, are in for some disappointment. Because revellers, especially girls, are shedding inhibitions and walking up to the neighbourhood chemist asking for condoms.

And invading the market are the Cobras, Draculas, Skinless Skin — all brands of condoms from China. With the nine nights of revelry having peaked over the week-end gone by, chemists are confessing that condom sales are up by up to 50 per cent…”


"'Safe, legal and rare" has long been the pro-choice mantra, but these days it applies less and less to the reality of abortion. In New York City, officials reported this year that 41% of pregnancies end in abortion—double the national rate. In the black community, the figure is 60%..."

(WSJ, July 29 2011)

'Double the national rate' means 20.5% of all US pregnancies are aborted.

WSJ article further says:

"Numbers like these motivate the Sisters of Life, a small order of nuns celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer. The sisters take traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but they also take a fourth vow "to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.""

I wonder what percentage of total pregnancies get terminated in India but I am sure it's not comparable to US rate at all. Especially if you take out terminations on account of female foeticides in India.

As a nation, middle-class India has come a long way in the field of fertility.

As a kid I knew a few instances- like in Father of the Bride Part II- where mother and daughter or mother-in-law and daughter-in-law were pregnant at the same time in a middle-class Brahmin household.

Did it demonstrate to the world virility of the senior male member in that household? Or was it a declaration of the lack of alternate entertainment avenues?

Mark Twain has said about Indian people: "It is a curious people. With them, all life seems to be sacred except human life." (Following the Equator; a Journey Around the World, 1897)

I feel Mr. Twain was wrong partially.

Human life too was sacred if it was male!

Artist: Garrett Price (1896-1979), The New Yorker, August 19 1933