मेघदूत: "नीचैर्गच्छत्युपरि च दशा चक्रनेमिक्रमेण"

समर्थ शिष्या अक्का : "स्वामीच्या कृपाप्रसादे हे सर्व नश्वर आहे असे समजले. पण या नश्वरात तमाशा बहुत आहे."

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.”

Friedrich Nietzsche: “Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.”

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);...”

सदानंद रेगे:
"... पण तुकारामाची गाथा ज्या धुंदीनं आजपर्यंत वाचली जात होती ती धुंदी माझ्याकडे नाहीय. ती मला येऊच शकत नाही याचं कारण स्वभावतःच मी नास्तिक आहे."
".. त्यामुळं आपण त्या दारिद्र्याच्या अनुभवापलीकडे जाऊच शकत नाही. तुम्ही जर अलीकडची सगळी पुस्तके पाहिलीत...तर त्यांच्यामध्ये त्याच्याखेरीज दुसरं काही नाहीच आहे. म्हणजे माणसांच्या नात्यानात्यांतील जी सूक्ष्मता आहे ती क्वचित चितारलेली तुम्हाला दिसेल. कारण हा जो अनुभव आहे... आपले जे अनुभव आहेत ते ढोबळ प्रकारचे आहेत....."

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."

Monday, January 30, 2012

Joe Sacco's Suvanti is just 1 in 230 million Indians!

Today Jan 30 2012 is 64th death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

Another thing that is 64 year old is the baby in following picture:

Artist: Sudhir Tailang, The Asian Age, January 12 2012

A headline in The Times of India, January 16 2012: "Superpower? 230m Indians go hungry daily."

Nourishment and food are always closely associated with Public Distribution System (aka ration) in India.

The dialogue of character of Pran in Hindi film Upkar (उपकार), 1967 became a huge hit. It sounded something like this: "राशन पे भाशन बहुत है लेकिन भाशन पे राशन नहीं." (There are lots of speeches on ration but there is no rationing of speeches.)

We still have grand speeches (bhashan) on the subject.

The Times of India Jan 11 2012:

"The findings of a report on country malnourished children compelled Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to call malnutrition a "national shame" on Tuesday. A report on Hunger and malnutrition (HUNGaMA) released by the PM in New Delhi on Tuesday states: "Over 25% children in the state (UP) are severely and 58.55% are moderately malnourished." The report has covered 40 districts of UP out of total 112 districts across India."

There are more poor people in just eight Indian states than in all the 26 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, with the large state of Madhya Pradesh comparable in intensity of deprivation to war-ravaged Congo. The incidence of underweight children in Gujarat, one of our most economically-advanced states, is substantially worse than the average for sub-Saharan Africa. (from writings of Pankaj Mishra, Pranab Bardhan)

But none of them reached my heart as starkly as Joe Sacco's comic reportage- 'Kushinagar'- for 'The Caravan' January 2012.

Kushinagar is a town in Uttar Pradesh where Gautama Buddha is believed to have attained Parinirvana after his death.

Mr. Sacco tells us about the ground reality there. He tells us about how Dalit Musaharas (rat-eaters) families survive, if at all.

Sample some of the speech bubbles:

Food! The topic to end all topics!

Suvanti: The women go to the fields where the rats are and we collect the grains that [they store] in their holes, and we bring them here. We go there everyday. Who goes? Just the women. All of us. And children. Even men!

Suvanti says that raiding ratholes is steadier work than agricultural labour.

Suvanti's husband: I might not have a job for many days but she goes to collect [the rat's food] for at least eight months a year.

What about their son Rajinder?

Rajinder: I try to find food in the holes of rats.

speech bubbles in the picture just above read as follows:

"For the Musahars of the Gurumiha Mafitola hamlet , the Below the Poverty Line definition , which government committees endlessly recalibrate, is a moot point because the issue is not merely poverty which might be bearable, but hunger."

"That is their only concern: food."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I Wish Shrikant Moghe Played Sakharam Binder

I got to see a fair bit of Shrikant Moghe (श्रीकांत मोघे) on TV in Jan 2012 because he was the president of the 92nd Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Natya Sammelan (अखिल भारतीय मराठी नाट्यसंमेलन) that was held at Sangli (सांगली).

(btw- There is no entry in his name in English Wikipedia and just header entry in Marathi Wikipedia as on Jan 24 2012 9:16 AM. Even his profile on The Internet Movie Database is moth eaten.)

I wish he wrote an autobiography. (I don't know if he has already written one and, if not, at his age, one's memory is even more unreliable companion!)

On TV, he was not allowed to even complete some of the sentences, let alone topics!

For instance, he was narrating how he once asked Vijay Tendulkar (विजय तेंडुलकर) if there were only "Sakharam Binder" (सखाराम बाईंडर), "Gidhade" (गिधाडे)-both Teldulkar's plays- to one's life.

Now, instead of letting Mr. Moghe complete what could have been a very interesting response, the "expert" interjected with "Purush" (पुरुष).

Now "Purush" is NOT Tendulkar'a play. It is of Jaywant Dalvi (जयवंत दळवी). But the 'expert' forced Moghe to say "Purush" and in the process killed the original point.

I have never seen Moghe on stage. I have only watched video clips of some of his stage performances.

I have always felt that he has been an under achiever considering his talent.

My father- who has seen them both on live stage- used to rate Nilu Phule's (नीळू फुले) performance in 'Binder' and Moghe's performance in Vasant Kanetkar's (वसंत कानेटकर) 'Lekure Udanda Jahali' (लेकुरे उदंड जाहली) equally highly.

I have seen Nilu Phule's enthralling (and deeply disturbing) 'Binder' at Sahitya Sangh Mandir, Girgaon (साहित्य संघ मंदिर, गिरगाव) and therfore can imagine Moghe's acting prowess.

I would have liked seeing Moghe play Sakharam Binder or Bérenger in Eugène Ionesco's 'Rhinoceros'. My guess: He would have been quite competent if not good.

I have always enjoyed watching him in Marathi black & white cinema. Even his small role of lecherous politician-minister 'Anandrao' (आनंदराव) in 'Simhasan' (सिंहासन), 1980 has left a lasting impression on me.

Here is another example.

Eyes that are groomed on today's pervasive anorexia might be offended but look closer and you will be taken in by Moghe's infectious smile.

[Uma (उमा)-on whom I had a bit of a crush- and Shrikant Moghe 'singing' one of the best songs I have heard: 'Swapnat Rangle Mee' (स्वप्नात रंगले मी) from director Kamlakar Torne's (कमलाकर तोरणे) Marathi film 'Aamhi Jato Amuchya Gava' (आम्ही जातो अमुच्या गावा), 1968.

Music director- Sudhir Phadke (सुधीर फडके), Voice: Asha Bhosle (आशा भोसले), Sudhir Phadke

courtesy: Eros International]

Returning to Mr. Moghe's question to Mr. Tendulkar, I wish to say that there is to life both 'Sakharam Binder' and 'Tujhe Ahe Tujapashi' (तुझे आहे तुजपाशी).

And are they very different to begin with?

To revisit P L Deshpande's (पु ल देशपांडे) play 'Tujhe Ahe Tujapashi', Moghe's role in which became a huge success, from my earlier post:

"काकाजी: जाऊ द्या यार. जंगलात तर दोनच वेळा. दिवस आणि रात्र. भूक लागली की जेवायची वेळ आणि थकलो की झोपायची.

आचार्य : म्हणजे मी समजत होतो , की हा वाडा चोवीसच वर्षे मागे आहे. पण नाही , अगदी आदिमानवाच्याच काळात आहे. जंगलात राहणार्या आदिमानवानं त्यानंतर काही प्रगति केल्याचं ह्या वाड्याच्या कानावर आलेलं दिसत नाही.

काकाजी: कुणाला ठाऊक काय केलंय ते? प्रगति की अधोगति !"

(Kakaji: Let it be friend. In jungle there are just two times. When hungry it's eating time and when tired sleeping one.

Acharya: I was thinking this house was behind the times by twenty-four years. But no, it's in prehistorical period. Looks like it has not heard any progress the primitive man has made since.

Kakakji: Wonder what is it? Progress or degeneration!)

Doubts over progress or degeneration? Sakharam Binder (and Vijay Tendulkar) would nod in approval!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Lucky us, some of them find Édouard Manet's fingers!

Today January 23 2012 is 180th birth anniversary of Édouard Manet


Manet’s message? That the whole modern world is dangerous, shifty and strange. The camera is just a byproduct and symptom of this altered condition. We must struggle for comprehension; art can help, up to a point. But the old bearings don’t moor us. We’re on our own.

(The New York Times, May 16, 2011)

Édouard Manet:

I am influenced by everbody. But every time I put my hands in my pockets I find someone else's fingers there.

When I put my hands in my pocket I find no fingers, not even my own because I understand so little of the subject of drawing and painting!

It was my weakest subject from kindergarten to the end of second year of engineering. I was so horrified by engineering drawing that I seriously thought of ditching engineering until the late Bam-sir (बाम-सर) came along to rescue me. Also, my younger brother helped me with biology journal of 12th and many journals of engineering.

It's a marvel of Indian higher education system that a person so weak in the subject of drawing gets away with calling himself a mechanical engineer!

When I reached IIT-Madras, it was a big relief to see all academic building blocks marked as "sciences" e.g. "mechanical sciences" except civil which was marked "civil engineering".

Had I arrived at the right place?

And yet I keep chasing pictures, drawings, paintings...all visual arts. Why won't I when the world has artists like Édouard Manet?

Look at the following picture.

I haven't seen more beautiful and funnier picture than this all my life.

Look at the man, his both hands, middle-finger of his left, his right-hand grip on the glass. Follow his eyes. Look at his bow-tie, his sideburn, his moustache...

Is he listening to the lady at all? Is he seducing her? The lady seems to be charmed. I keep wondering what he would do next...will he kiss her lightly on the lips?...

Look at the waiter. What is he looking at or waiting for?

When I see this picture, a lot of quality pictures of 20th century, including some great cartoons, don't surprise me. Manet anticipates them.

Manet has said: Conciseness in art is essential and a refinement. The concise man makes one think; the verbose bores. Always work towards conciseness.

And what else are cartoons if not conciseness?

Artist: Édouard Manet, 'Chez le père Lathuille' ('The Garden of Pere Lathuille'), 1879

Location: The Musée des Beaux-Arts in Tournai, Belgium

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Do a lot of today's artists find his fingers every time they put their hands in their pockets?

The Simpsons has assembled quite a portfolio of allusions to fine art. One of them- below right- is to 'The Luncheon on the Grass' by Manet (1862-63) on below left.

More more such allusions, visit The Simpsons Park.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Stan is Dead and Gone. Sachin is NOW!

Michael Crichton:

"...Jennifer had no interest in the past; she was one of the new generation that understood that gripping television was now, events happening now, a flow of images in a perpetual unending electronic present. Context by its very nature required something more than now, and her interest did not go beyond now. Nor, she thought, did anyone else's. The past was dead and gone. Who cared what you ate yesterday? What you did yesterday? What was immediate and compelling was now.

And television at its best was now..."

('Airframe', 1996)

Not just television is NOW but so is India's larget selling English language newspaper: The Times of India is the most widely read English language newspaper (7.3 million).

This image appeared in The Times of India and The Asian Age on Jan 2 2012:

courtesy: AFP

As I looked at the picture, I noticed both Sachin Tendulkar and the well-sculpted shapely figure, that is pulling a ball rather ferociously, in the background.

The Asian Age caption does tell us a little about the cricketer- Stan McCabe- whose statue it is.

But The Times of India?

"IDOLS AT PLAY: Sachin Tendulkar arrives for net practice at Sydney Cricket Ground on Sunday. The India-Australia match that begins on Tuesday will be the 100th Test at SCG, and the first between the two teams at the ground since Monkeygate."

What a pity!

For them Monkeygate is more important than McCabe.

I learnt about the late Mr. McCabe long time ago as a kid. "A short, stocky right-hander, he was described by Wisden as "one of Australia's greatest and most enterprising batsmen" and by his captain Don Bradman as one of the great batsmen of the game."

During the 1938 Ashes Tour of England, at first test at Trent Bridge, he scrored 232 in 235 minutes with 34 boundaries and one six, "an innings during which Bradman summoned his players not to miss a ball, as "they would never see anything like it again." Bradman later said that McCabe "held us all spellbound", and it was reported that the Australian captain trembled while watching the innings. While McCabe was at the crease, his partners contributed a total of only 58 runs, meaning that he had outscored them by a ratio of 4:1. Upon his return to the pavilion Bradman greeted him with the words: "If I could play an innings like that, I'd be a proud man, Stan". This has also been reported as Bradman saying " I wish I could bat like that". Bradman later wrote that "Towards the end [of McCabe's innings] I could scarcely watch the play. My eyes filled as I drank in the glory of his shots"..."

I worry a lot more about our media than our cricket.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

i for Imaginary Numbers and Ishavasya-Vritti

Today Jan 12 2012 is 347th death anniversary of Pierre de Fermat.

G H Hardy:

"Archimedes will be remembered when Aeschylus is forgotten, because languages die and mathematical ideas do not. "Immortality" may be a silly word, but probably a mathematician has the best chance of whatever it may mean."

Alexander Waugh:

"...Mathematics, in which physicists vest unwarranted confidence, is far too blunt a tool. It worked for Newton, Maxwell and Einstein because they found equations that accurately described the classical world. But with the discovery, in the early 20th century, of quantum mechanics, everything changed. Subatomic particles do not behave like large visible objects. One cannot measure a particle’s position and its velocity at the same time; the arrow of time cannot be observed in particle interactions; and (so Hawking believes) for a particle to travel between two points it has to take every ‘possible path’ between them simultaneously. The number of possible paths from A to B is, he claims, infinite. If this is correct, then it becomes a feature of the quantum world that all history, and all possible histories, also take place simultaneously.

How can mathematics, however sophisticated, be up to the task of dealing with this? Numbers, after all, were created by humans to describe things in the observed world. They are adjectival. How can one ascribe a number to a particle, or to its position, or its velocity if, while travelling from A to B, it is said to be in an infinite number of places simultaneously?..."

Robin McKie:

"Grigori Perelman, arguably the world's greatest mathematician, worked out a solution to one of the seven great unsolved mathematical problems, the Poincaré conjecture, in 2002. It was a magnificent achievement. Honours, cash, offers of world lecture tours and lucrative teaching posts were hurled at the Russian theorist. But Perelman turned down the lot, including the Fields medal, the mathematical world's equivalent of a Nobel prize, and a million dollars in prize money that the Clay Institute wanted to give him for his work. Since then, he has announced he has given up the study of mathematics altogether and has cut off communications with all journalists and nearly all his friends."

Shiv Visvanathan:

"One misses the celebration of science today. Science acquired its creativity through play and it is the playfulness of science that created a Jagadish Chandra Bose, a Raman, a Ramanujan or Chandrasekhar. Science as playfulness has to come back as cultural form to childhood and the universities. Science has to be enjoyable...

...Try an experiment. Make a list of our top scientists and read their speeches. Pick the best and you will see that our scientists have little understanding of the nature of science. Just try it with a sample of speeches from the Indian Science Congress. The illiteracy of our scientists and our politicians about science seems to be co-produced." (The Asian Age, Jan 12 2012)

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared 2012 as the 'National Mathematical year' as a tribute to Srinivasa Ramanujan. He also voiced concern over the "badly inadequate" number of competent mathematicians in the country.

त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर:

"ज्या वर्गांत भास्कराचार्यांसारखा बृहस्पति असतो, त्या वर्गांत दुसर्या कोणा तरी मुलाचा दुसरा नंबर लागतच असतो. पण त्यावरून त्यांस पहिल्या व दुसर्या नंबरचे विद्यार्थी ठरविणें योग्य नाहीं..."

("The class that has got a Bṛhaspati (guru of the gods) like Bhāskarāchārya, also has a boy who ranks second. But it incorrect that they be rated numer one and two students...")

(from: 'Tryambak Shankar Shejwalkar Nivadak Lekh Sangraha', Aggregator-H V Mote, Introduction- G D Khanolkar, 1977)

('त्र्यंबक शंकर शेजवलकर निवडक लेख संग्रह', संग्राहक-ह. वि. मोटे, परिचय-गं. दे. खानोलकर, १९७७)

I quote this because I find it very interesting how a historian like Shejwalkar invokes a mathematician like Bhāskarāchārya while comparing Nanasaheb Peshwa (1721-1761) (नानासाहेब पेशवा)- student claiming to be second in an imaginary class- to Shivaji (1630-1680) (शिवाजी) who is first.

Mathematics always brings to my mind one of the best books I have ever read: Simon Singh's 'Fermat's Last Theorem' (1997).

The author says in the preface:

"The story of Fermat’s Last Theorem is inextricably linked with the history of mathematics, touching on all the major themes of number theory. It provides a unique insight into what drives mathematics and, perhaps more important, what inspires mathematicians. The Last Theorem is at the heart of an intriguing saga of courage, skullduggery, cunning, and tragedy, involving all the greatest heroes of mathematics.

Ferrmat’s Last Theorem has its origins in the mathematics of ancient Greece, two thousand years before Pierre de Fermat constructed the problem in the form we know it today. Hence, it links the foundations of mathematics created by Pythagoras to the most sophisticated ideas in modern mathematics.”

For me the book becomes classy because it is as much about mathematicians as mathematics.

It quotes German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz on the imaginary number:

"The imaginary number is a fine and wonderful recourse of the divine spirit, almost an amphibian between being and non-being."

I first learnt about imaginary numbers in 1975. I was stunned: so math is not just about real. Although, I soon figured out how to deal with them and it was fun, how does one comprehend this 'imaginary' stuff?

I wish I was told about this quote of Leibniz then...Divine spirit, being and non-being...'saguna'(सगुण), 'nirguna' (निर्गुण), amphibian invoking my favourite frogs...

No wonder Vinoba Bhave (विनोबा भावे) is as much fascinated by imaginary numbers (i.e. mathematics) as 'Ishavasya-Vritti'. (Read a related post here.)

Google Doodle Honouring Pierre de Fermat

Carl Zimmer has just published a book "Science Ink" which explores the stories of people who have put equations, formulas, or other science-related images permanently on their body.

WSJ has reviewed it here.

In this India's national mathematical year, here is a suggestion:

'In the early 1900s, a group of mathematicians turned set theory, first proposed by Georg Cantor in the 1870s, into a series of logical statements from which all of mathematics could be derived. The results include the "Zermelo-Fraenkel with Choice axioms," and inspired this enthusiast to take permanent note of the achievement on both arms. '

courtesy: Sterling Publishing

Saturday, January 07, 2012

What if 'Ghashiram Kotwal', a Political Satire, became Funnier Instead of Darker...

Today Jan 7 2012 is 84th Birth Anniversary of Vijay Tendulkar (विजय तेंडुलकर).

Anton Chekhov:
“You must write shorter, to make it as short as possible.”

Sadanand Rege on the quality of dialogues written by Vijay Tendulkar:

"...म्हणजे एक पात्र जे बोलते आणि दुसरे जे बोलते...त्याच्या मध्ये शेकडो वाक्ये जी येतात ती वाक्ये ते लिहीत नाहीत. इतर नाटककार एक वाक्याकडून दुसर्या वाक्याकडे शंभर वाक्यांची शिडी घेऊन जातात..."

("...means what one character says and another character says...the hundreds of sentences that come in between, he doesn't write them. Other playwrights go from one sentence to another with a ladder of hundred sentences...")

['अशर गंधर्व 'सदानंद रेगे ', प्र. श्री. नेरुरकर ('Akshar Gandharva' by P S Nerurkar), 1987]

Samuel Beckett:
“I went to Godot last night for the first time in a long time. Well played, but how I dislike that play now. Full house every night, it’s a disease”.

Vaclav Havel:
"Recall the gigantic Nazi congresses, torchlight processions, the inflammatory speeches by Hitler and Goebbels, and the cult of German mythology. We could hardly find a more monstrous abuse of politics’ theatrical aspect. And today – even in Europe – rulers use theatrical tools to arouse the kind of blind nationalism that leads to war, ethnic cleansing, concentration camps, and genocide.
So where is the boundary between legitimate respect for national identity and symbols, and the devilish music of pied pipers, dark magicians, and mesmerizers? Where do passionate speeches end and demagogy begin? How can we recognize the point beyond which expression of the need for collective experience and integrating rituals becomes evil manipulation and an assault on human freedom?
Here is where we see the huge difference between theatre as art and the theatrical dimension of politics. A mad theatrical performance by a group of fanatics is part of cultural pluralism, and, as such, helps to expand the realm of freedom without posing a threat to anyone. A mad performance by a fanatical politician can plunge millions into endless calamity."

Carl Hiaasen:
Everybody my age worries about that. But the hardest thing for me, for anybody who writes satire or any kind of contemporary fiction, is to invent a scenario that doesn't eventually come true. Almost everything you write now, no matter how outrageous, comes true, and if you're writing satire you don't want to be behind the curve but ahead of it.

Daniel Henninger:
“With fakery everywhere—some of it amusing, some of it not funny—people's ability to know where things fall on the spectrum between fact and falsity becomes so compromised that they retreat into a shell of cynicism about everything…The antidote of choice for many of us in a suspect world is irony and satire. The Onion, Jon Stewart or "Saturday Night Live" end up closer to the truth than the original material…”

Vijay Tendulkar's 'Ghashiram Kotwal' (घाशीराम कोतवाल) was first staged almost 40 years ago.

As I have said earlier, in 1980's, I watched it thrice. Once at NCPA, Mumbai (एन सी पी ए, मुंबई ) and twice at Kalidas Kalamandir, Nashik (कालिदास कलामंदिर , नाशिक) .

Although I love the play and its performance- largely because of music director Bhaskar Chandavarkar (भास्कर चंदावरकर) and choreographer Krishnadev Mulgund (कृष्णदेव मुळगुंद )- I wish Tendulkar went further teasing his targets.

The play is funny only in parts. When I look at the booklet containing the play's 'scenewise synopsis', running into thirty-nine subheads, I see that less than half are funny.

picture courtesy: Theatre Academy, Pune

I read Vasudevshastri Khare's (वासुदेवशास्त्री खरे) rather sympathetic biography of Nana Fadnavis, "nana phadanvees yanche charitra" (नाना फडनवीस यांचे चरित्र), first published July 1892, after I had seen the play and I realised Nana in real life was not that omniscient and hardly in control - often scared- many times in the last decade of 18th century, the period portrayed in the play.

I find Khare's book in many places funnier than Tendulkar's. I wonder if Tendulkar knew the lacuna of his work and hence always gushed about the master of the art of satire: Vasant Sarwate (वसंत सरवटे). (Go back to the quote of Sadanand Rege at the top of this post...Ladder...Did Sarwate's ladder make a thousand sentences to vanish compared to his hundred?.)

If parts of Khare's book are dramatised, I am sure, it would even trump something as classy as 'Raag Darbari'.

I wish 'Ghashiram' became riotously funny.

Here is an example of how funny a satire can get:

Caption: 'les biens viennent tous ensemble' ('all good things come along together')

Artist: Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin (1721-86)

courtesy: Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust)

Colin Jones and Emily Richardson have written an essay
'Madame de Pompadour: The Other Cheek' for 'History Today' Volume: 61 Issue: 11 2011:

"...A woman dressed in a cardinal’s robes is squatting on the back of a chair, positioning her exposed behind so that she can defecate into the gaping mouth of a sleeping cleric. A dove hovers close by, bearing a winged cardinal’s hat.

This obscene 18th-century image (shown above) displays a kind of French humour – crude, anti-clerical – that forms part of a long, Rabelaisian tradition. Yet what makes it both astonishingly bold and also highly unusual in its substance and context is that it represents Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour (1721-64), Louis XV’s mistress, and her political client, the Abbé (soon to be Cardinal) Bernis.

The caption reads ‘les biens viennent tous ensemble’ – ‘all good things come along together’. Text and image evoke the moment in December 1758 when Bernis received his promotion to the rank of cardinal, which was intended to give him eminent authority within the royal council. Yet at the same moment that the good news came through from Rome, the king dismissed Bernis and sent him into exile – allegedly under Machiavellian instruction from Bernis’ hitherto patron, Pompadour herself. There is no disputing where power lies in this picture: the arse of Madame de Pompadour..."

"...The Pompadour drawings surprise on several levels. Such fierce visual political satire was, first of all, extremely unusual in France before 1789, when the Revolution opened the floodgates. The Ancien Régime lacked the vibrant, rumbustious tradition of political satire that England – with its Hogarth, Gillray, Rowlandson and the rest – enjoyed at much the same time. It is true that many writings sought to ‘desacralize’ the monarchy by highlighting the sexual high jinks and failings of the royal body. During the final years of the Ancien Régime a pornographic visual and textual genre would develop that mocked Louis XVI for his alleged impotence and Marie-Antoinette for her supposed sexual voraciousness. But this was exceptional and much less widely diffused before 1789 than historians sometimes maintain..."

"...Pompadour had turned her toilette ritual into a mechanism of power and Charles-Germain displayed in a number of other drawings his deep disapproval of her claims to play a political role..."

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Reading an Epic after the 'Good Guys' have Won

Today Jan 3 2012 is 6th death anniversary of my mother. For me, her life is an epic.

Samuel Beckett:

“I keep watching my mother’s eyes, never so blue, so stupefied, so heartrending, eyes of an endless childhood, that of old age. Let us get there rather earlier, while there are still refusals we can make. I think these are the first eyes that I have seen. I have no wish to see any others, I have all I need for loving and weeping, I know now what is going to close, and open inside me...”

The spirit of Oscar Wilde:

Homer, there are only two tragedies in life. One is not getting what one wants and the other is getting it.
("Father Knows Worst",18th episode of the 20th season of 'The Simpsons')

Norman Mailer:

"The only thing wrong with this Army is it never lost a war."
('The Naked and the Dead')

Anthony West's aunt on Lawrence of Arabia:

“It’s the problem all heroes have to cope with—when you’ve made your gesture you’ve got the rest of your life to live.”

(Newsweek, November 4 2010)

I often read Ramayana and Mahabharata in my childhood (even today if I come across them I can't ignore them). Numerous versions of them. In Marathi.

Despite this, these days, I often feel, I know so little about them. The other day I was reading Chintaman Vinayak Vaidya's (चिंतामण विनायक वैद्य) 'Sanskrut Vangmayacha Itihas' (संस्कृत वाड;मयाचा इतिहास ), 1922.

It says: "ऋतूंची वर्णने रामयणाइतकी सुंदर दुसर्या कोठेही नाहीत...वर्षाऋतूचे वर्णन वाचीत असता आपण पावसात उभे असून पावसाच्या धारा आपल्या अंगावर पडत आहेत की काय असा भास होतो ..."

(Nowhere will you find descriptions of seasons as beautiful as in Ramayana...While reading description of rainy season one feels like we are standing in the rain and rain is falling on us.)

Pity, I have so far totally missed out on this 'shower' because I have never paid any attention to this aspect of the epic!

Another example is a scene from Mahabharata when Kunti abandons her firstborn Karna, setting him afloat in a box on a river. Very few of us read her original heart-wrenching song in Sanskrit or our native:

शिवास्ते सन्तु पन्थानो मा ते परिपन्थिनः।
आगताश्च तथा पुत्र भवन्त्यद्रोहचेतसः ।।
पातु त्वां वरुणो राजा सलिले सलिलेश्वरः।
अन्तरिक्षेऽन्तरिक्षस्थः पवनः सर्वगस्तथा ।।
पिता त्वां पातु सर्वत्र तपनस्तपतांवरः।
येन दत्तोसि मे पुत्र दिव्येन विधिना किल ।।
आदित्या वसवो रुद्राः साध्या विश्वे देवताः।
मरुतश्च सहेन्द्रेण दिशश्च सदिदीश्वराः ।।
रक्षन्तु त्वां सुराः सर्वे समेषु विषमेषु च।
वेत्स्यामि त्वांविदेशेपि कवचेनाभिसूचितम् ।।
धन्यस्ते पुत्र जनरको देवो भानुर्विभावसुः।
स्त्वां द्रक्ष्यति दिव्येन चक्षुषा वाहिनीगतम् ।।
धन्या सा प्रमदा या त्वां पुत्रत्वे कल्पयिष्यति।
यस्यास्त्वं तृषितः पुत्र स्तनं पास्यसि देवज ।।
कोनु स्वप्नस्तया दृष्टो या त्वामादित्यवर्चसम्।
दिव्यवर्मसमायुक्तं दिव्यकृण्डलभूषितम् ।।
पद्मायतविशालाक्षं पद्मताम्रदलोज्ज्वलम्।
सुललाटं सुकेशान्तं पुत्रत्वे कल्पयिष्यति ।।
धन्या द्रक्ष्यन्ति पुत्र त्वां भूमौ संसर्पमाणकम्।
अव्यक्तकलवाक्यानि वदन्तं रेणुगुण्ठितम् ।।
धन्या द्रक्ष्यन्ति पुत्र त्वां पुनर्यौवनगोचरम्।
हिमवद्वनसंभूतं सिंहं केसरिणं यथा ।।

(May all thy paths be auspicious! May no one obstruct thy way! And, O son, may all that come across thee have their hearts divested of hostility towards thee: And may that lord of waters, Varuna. protect thee in water! And may the deity that rangeth the skies completely protect thee in the sky. And may, O son, that best of those that impart heat, viz., Surya, thy father, and from whom I have obtained thee as ordained by Destiny, protect thee everywhere! And may the Adityas and the Vasus, the Rudras and the Sadhyas, the Viswadevas and the Maruts, and the cardinal points with the great Indra and the regents presiding over them, and, indeed, all the celestials, protect thee in every place! Even in foreign lands I shall be able to recognise thee by this mail of thine! Surely, thy sire, O son, the divine Surya possessed of the wealth of splendour, is blessed, for he will with his celestial sight behold thee going down the current! Blessed also is that lady who will, O thou that are begotten by a god, take thee for her son, and who will give thee suck when thou art thirsty! And what a lucky dream hath been dreamt by her that will adopt thee for her son, thee that is endued with solar splendour, and furnished with celestial mail, and adorned with celestial ear-rings, thee that hast expansive eyes resembling lotuses, a complexion bright as burnished copper or lotus leaves, a fair forehead, and hair ending in beautiful curls! O son, she that will behold thee crawl on the ground, begrimed with dust, and sweetly uttering inarticulate words, is surely blessed! And she also, O son, that will behold thee arrive at thy youthful prime like maned lion born in Himalayan forests, is surely blessed!)

For us, The Ramayana even came without any language because we were lucky to have a copy of pictorial Ramayana that was acquired by my father's father in the princely state of Aundh (औंध).

It had pictures painted by Bhavanrao Shrinivas alias Balasaheb Pandit Pant Pratinidhi (भवानराव श्रीनिवास उर्फ बाळासाहेब पंडित पंत प्रतिनिधी), ruler of Aundh, who till today is referred quite affectionately by my father as 'Maharaj'(महाराज).

I still remember every picture from it. Each of them was like a song to me. (When I occasionally see a bunch of ladies from our families, enjoying together a siesta, it recalls Hanuman-Meets-Sita-in-Ashokvan picture from the book!)

Hanuman Watches Lanka Burn, c 1911 (This picture was intriguing even then because Hanuman is not exulting after setting Ravan's Lanka on fire.)

Artist: Balasaheb Pandit Pant Pratinidhi
(for more such pictures visit 'Kamat's Potpourri' here.)

Reading/ viewing the epics or listening to them from my mother, at dinner time, the umpteenth time, was always a thrill.

Until of course we reached the end of the battles.

Now what? Battle has been won. What do 'good guys' do NOW?

There were no satisfactory answers forthcoming from my mother, my brain or the pages of the epics.

A weird feeling prevailed over me.


When I recently read Arthur Schopenhauer, I felt I understood it.

"...Every epic and dramatic poem can only represent a struggle, an effort, a fight for happiness; never enduring and complete happiness itself. It conducts its heroes through a thousand dangers and difficulties to the goal; as soon as this is reached it hastens to let the curtain fall; for now there would remain nothing for it to do but to show that the glittering goal in which the hero expected to find happiness had only disappointed him, and that after its attainment he was no better off than before..."

Artist: Barney Tobey, The New Yorker, Sept 6 1958

p.s. They win and hence they become good guys or because they are good guys, they win?