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."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Two More Most Memorable Hunting Scenes in Literature

April 1 2012 is Rama Navami (राम नवमी), birth anniversary of an idea, of a hero, of manhood

On December 2 2011, in Guardian, John Mullan has written about 10 of the most memorable hunting scenes in literature.

He asks: Can you suggest more?

I wish to suggest two.

1. A great epic 'Ramayana' is borne out of a hunting scene:

"Sage Valmiki goes to River Tamasa for a bath and sees a couple of birds, of which a hunter kills one. Valmiki unintentionally utters a poem, which is rich in grammar and new in metre, of which he is very much confused as to why such a poem has come from his tongue. Brahma, the presiding deity of letters appears and ordains Valmiki to author Ramayana, excellent epic of Rama, for which purpose alone he gave such divine meter and grammar to him."

मा निषाद प्रतिष्ठाम्त्व ।
मगमः शाश्वतीः समाः ।
यत् क्रौङ्च मिथुनात् एक ।
मवधीः काम मोहितम् ॥१-२-१५॥


("Oh! Ill-fated Hunter, by which reason you have killed one male bird of the couple, when it is in its lustful passion, thereby you will get an ever-lasting reputation for ages to come...")


This is the verse where this epic, Ramayana is said to have triggered off.

Artist: Bhavanrao Shrinivasrao, alias Balasaheb Pandit Pant Pratinidhi, B.A., Chief of Aundh (भवानराव श्रीनिवासराव पंतप्रतिनिधी)

courtesy: 'The Picture Ramayana', 1916

(for more such pictures visit 'Kamat's Potpourri' here.)

2. Passing away of Krishna in Mausala Parva of Mahabharata:

"After his brother had thus departed from the (human) world, Vasudeva of celestial vision, who was fully acquainted with the end of all things, wandered for some time in that lonely forest thoughtfully. Endued with great energy he then sat down on the bare earth. He had thought before this of everything that had been fore-shadowed by the words uttered by Gandhari in former days. He also recollected the words that Durvasas had spoken at the time his body was smeared by that Rishi with the remnant of the Payasa he had eaten (while a guest at Krishna’s house). The high-souled one, thinking of the destruction of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas, as also of the previous slaughter of the Kurus, concluded that the hour (for his own departure from the world) had come. He then restrained his senses (in Yoga). Conversant with the truth of every topic, Vasudeva, though he was the Supreme Deity, wished to die, for dispelling all doubts and establishing a certainty of results (in the matter of human existence), simply for upholding the three worlds and for making the words of Atri’s son true. Having restrained all his senses, speech, and mind, Krishna laid himself down in high Yoga.

"A fierce hunter of the name of Jara then came there, desirous of deer. The hunter, mistaking Keshava, who was stretched on the earth in high Yoga, for a deer, pierced him at the heel with a shaft and quickly came to that spot for capturing his prey. Coming up, Jara beheld a man dressed in yellow robes, rapt in Yoga and endued with many arms. Regarding himself an offender, and filled with fear, he touched the feet of Keshava. The high-souled one comforted him and then ascended upwards, filling the entire welkin with splendour..."

I still remember the picture that accompanied this story in Chandoba ('चांदोबा') dated early 1970's.

As a kid, as I read this story, I couldn't imagine how Krishna's foot was mistaken for a deer. I still can't!


Artist: ???, Original Publication: ??? (Amar Chitra Katha?)
courtesy: http://www.sanjayhumania.com

p.s.

In Marathi (मराठी) language if you wish to say that "there is no point in something" / "something is meaningless", you might say : "There is no Ram in it." ("त्यात राम नाही.").

Whatever else they may say, no one can claim that there is no Ram in this blog!

Friday, March 23, 2012

In Purdah: Poverty and Pachyderm

George Orwell, "Shooting an Elephant":

"We began questioning the people as to where the elephant had gone and, as usual, failed to get any definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes."

Film: Shikar, 1968, Voice: Asha Bhosle, Music Director :Shankar-Jaikishan:

"Parde Mein Rehene Do, Pardaa Na Uthaao
Pardaa Jo Uth Gayaa To Bhed Khul Jaayegaa
Allaah Merii Taubaa, Allaah Merii Taubaa"


India's election commission's decision to cover elephant statues in UP ahead of polls drew worldwide attention. Including cartoonists.

Time magazine has a photo essay.

Courtesy: Daniel Berehulak / AP, Time magazine

It was fascinating. You can cover a woman. Indeed her statue. But elephants?

Cover no cover, voters voted out the ruling party BSP.

Artist: Sudhir Tailang, The Asian Age, March 2012

India's planning commission was watching this. It felt: If they did it to elephants and Ms. Mayawati (whose statue is standing on left in the cartoon above), we could do it to poverty.

Indian government is claiming seven-percentage-points reduction in the national incidence of poverty between 2004-05 and 2009-10. Poverty lines on which these estimates are based: a per capita daily consumption expenditure of Rs. 28.35 and Rs. 22.42 in urban and rural areas respectively.

For a family of four the figure is `2,700 a month in rural India, and `3,420 a month in urban India for subsistence survival. Within this amount, India's planners think, they should be able to take care of food, clothing, shelter, health and education!

Artist: Sudhir Tailang, The Asian Age, March 2012

Mr. Tailang could also show how Montek Singh Ahluwalia, current Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission of India is making the statue of poverty vanish in one single stroke of statistics.

Two pictures, above, of Mr. Tailang prove, once again, how he probably is the best political cartoonist in contemporary India. On the brink of entering the class of past masters like K. Shankar Pillai, Abu Abraham and R K Laxman.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sisyphus Stone is a Cube and Not a Sphere? Extreme Sisyphus!

George Orwell
'Politics vs. Literature — An examination of Gulliver's travels':


"But the most essential thing in Swift is his inability to believe that life — ordinary life on the solid earth, and not some rationalized, deodorized version of it — could be made worth living. Of course, no honest person claims that happiness is now a normal condition among adult human beings; but perhaps it could be made normal, and it is upon this question that all serious political controversy really turns."


Business Standard, March 3 2012:

"Indian men are among the most dissatisfied people at work across the globe, according to a report by Accenture, ‘The Path Forward’. The research report stated that as much as 72 per cent of men in India are not satisfied with their jobs. Brazil tops the list with a figure of 74 per cent men dissatisfied with their jobs."

John Gray:

"...Progress condemns idleness. The work needed to deliver humanity is vast. Indeed it is limitless, since as one plateau of achievement is reached another looms up. Of course this is only a mirage; but the worst of progress is not that it is an illusion. It is that it is endless.

In Greek myth, Sisyphus struggles to roll a stone to the top of a hill so it will then roll down the other side. Robert Graves tells his story thus:

He has never yet succeeded in doing so. As soon as he has almost reached the summit, he is forced back by the weight of the shameless stone, which bounces to the very bottom once more; where he wearily retrieves it and must begin all over again, though sweat bathes his limbs, and a cloud of dust rises above his head.

For the ancients, unending labour was the mark of a slave. The labours of Sisyphus are a punishment. In working for progress we submit to a labour no less servile..."

a self-dooming Sisyphus with a power tool?

the cover of 'The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes It Hard to Be Happy' by Michael Foley

The latest trigger to publish the post came from GREG SMITH's op-ed in The New York Times "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs" on March 14 2012.

Mr. Smith says:

"Goldman Sachs today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement...Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence...I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all..."


Artist: Stuart Carlson, July 16 2009

Mr. Smith is mistaken. It's not about shortcuts at all. It's about the journey itself...fundamental nature of our labour.

(By the way, this is what Joe Nelson who left his job as a vice president of Goldman Sachs in December 2011 to start a company that sells condoms in 95 different sizes had to say this about Mr. Smith's op-ed:

"I think it's a little low quality to be honest. My immediate take was that the guy failed to make MD (again) and the bonus/non-bonus cheque cashed 2 weeks ago -- so sour grapes if you like. What a way to go! If the op-ed was signed off 'XYZ, Partner at Gs' I would have taken a lot more notice.”)

This is what Charles Duhigg writes in 'The Power of Habit':

"...If you can identify the right cue and reward—and if you can create a sense of craving—you can establish almost any habit.
“Consumers need some kind of signal that a product is working,” Tracy Sinclair, who was a brand manager for Oral- B and Crest Kids Toothpaste, told me. “We can make toothpaste taste like anything—blueberries, green tea—and as long as it has a cool tingle, people feel like their mouth is clean. The tingling doesn’t make the toothpaste work any better. It just convinces people it’s doing the job.”..."

(Slate.com, Feb. 28, 2012)

And after this India's the best and the brightest will continue to join FMCG transnational giants becoming their world oral-care chiefs, located in London and Singapore and New York.

George Orwell:

"Yet if one looks closely one sees that there is no essential difference between a beggar's livelihood and that of numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it is said; but, then, what is work? A navvy works by swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out of doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course--but, then, many reputable trades are quite useless. And as a social type a beggar compares well with scores of others. He is honest compared with the sellers of most patent medicines, high-minded compared with a Sunday newspaper proprietor, amiable compared with a hire-purchase tout--in short, a parasite, but a fairly harmless parasite. He seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideas, he pays for it over and over in suffering. I do not think there is anything about a beggar that sets him in a different class from other people, or gives most modern men the right to despise him."

But to labour as Sisyphus does is perhaps our fate.

Sisyphus supposedly rolled a round boulder like this:


Artist: Marcell Jankovics, 1974

What if it is cubical and not spherical?

Extreme Sisyphus!


Artist: Mick Stevens, The New Yorker, December 2011

Friday, March 09, 2012

Coming SciFi: Much-Less-Waterworld

Chandran Nair, FT, March 6 2012:

Across Asia capitalism does not need replacing but must be reshaped if it is to meet the needs of all its people. There must be constraints on consumption, with externalities priced in and, where necessary, with curbs on certain resources. Only then can economies run in ways that ensure everyone has fair access to the resources they need. This can ensure everyone has a future beyond the 21st century.


MATT RIDLEY

All forecasts miss their mark. After all, a book written 200 years ago imagining today's energy needs would discuss coal, but oil, gas and even electricity would not feature in the index. Most of the discussion would probably be devoted to the looming problem of hay scarcity.


James Harkin

Good advice for the budding forecaster is not to try to fix things that are necessarily in flux. Avoid talk of time bombs, and steer clear of predicting the end of anything – wars, resources and certainly not history. And try not to peer too far into the future, or you’re very likely to fall flat on your face.


I don't know what next hour will bring in. Let alone tomorrow or next century.

But I am going to make one forecast: A lot of Indians will continue to struggle for water (पाणी) in year 2112. More so than they today.

Cory Doctorow says: "science fiction writers don't predict the future (except accidentally), but if they're very good, they may manage to predict the present."

James Lovegrove says: "Contrary to received opinion, science fiction’s preoccupation has always been the here and now. Its far-flung planets and future timelines are merely a way to analyse the contemporary. In this respect, it is the most politically engaged of all literary genres. Motifs that may appear trashy to the uninitiated - space exploration, extraterrestrials, futuristic technology - can in fact be surprisingly sophisticated tools for dissecting and examining the world as it is."

My favourite the late Mr. Handelsman puts it even better:

"The first requirement of science fiction is credibility. And yet, Mr. Zoxplep, here you've invented a race of creatures who systematically destroy their own environment."

Artist: J B Handelsman, The New Yorker, 4 Sept 1971

A good Marathi science fiction is waiting to be written that has earthly water at its heart. There is "Less Per Capita Waterworld" ahead of us before "Waterworld", 1995!

(Another waiting scifi, inspired by J G Ballard's 'Crash', is "Death on the Wrong Side / Pune Road Odyssey 2012". More on this later.)

In 2011 it rained copiously in Pune. We soaked in the beauty of overflowing of Katraj (कात्रज) lake from our flat on many days. And yet Pune is struggling for water in March 2012 itself.

Such struggle always brings to my mind summer of 1983 at IIT, Madras. There was such a scarcity of water on the campus that students used to go from hostel to hostel looking for it.

I said: This gives one more excuse to these "The Best and the Brightest", would-be masters-of-the-universe to migrate out of India! (Year 1983 was one of the toughest to get US student visa. Still they escaped in hordes. I remember one BB / MOU joining IIM-Calcutta only to lie in wait to get the ultimate visa little later.)

Then you could spot many deer on the campus including just below my room at the hostel named after mighty river Brahmaputra. They were so desperate for water and food that they almost ate anything. Their favourite was Surf washing powder carton box!

True to its name, my hostel always used to have some water!

In 1989-92, I saw a lot of poverty on the footpaths of Kolkata but I always thought that in one aspect they- atleast those on Hazra road- were luckier than their counterparts in most parts of urban India: abundance of water. Going to Hooghly river front and seeing that mighty flowing river in summer- compared to dry river beds of most Maharashtra rivers- always brought a lot of solace.

I once wrote to Amitav Ghosh after reading his 'The Hungry Tide', 2005 that I liked it more because there's so much river water in it than inscrutable Irrawaddy dolphins in them!

Look at the smiling kid in following lovely picture.

He is wearing a tie, now, after/before the school, tucked away on his back so that it does not hinder him in his work. He probably goes to an English medium school. With a bit of luck, when he grows up, he will get a job in India's sunrise industries.

There is a spring in his step. What is he doing? He is running with empty water vessels to fetch some water. I am going to call him Panini (पाणिनि)! It's a pun on word पाणी (water)...Someone who has no water or Someone in quest of water.

100 years from now, whatever else happens, you will find many Panini's in Pune.

'A school boy with a Tie, Panini of 21st Century, Rajaram Patil Wadi, Kharadi, Pune'

courtesy: Artist- Mandar Deshpande, The Times of India, March 3 2012

p.s.

Michael Dirda's review of J.-H. Rosny aine's ‘Three Science Fiction Novellas: From Prehistory to the End of Mankind’ April 5, 2012:

"...When “The Death of the Earth” begins, the seismic shocks are increasing in intensity and water is growing scarcer and scarcer. But one man, Targ, refuses to surrender to the general lassitude and dreams of a renewal of civilization..."

The Asia Age, March 23 2012:

"India has the world’s largest water infrastructure, but the poorest water delivery system in the world. On World Water Day 2012, water experts are demanding a dramatic revamp of the present water management strategy..."

SCOTT BRADFIELD, The New York Times
, March 23 2012:

"For Ballard, who died in 2009 at the age of 78, the true horrors of our collective future don’t concern what might happen hundreds of years from now in a spaceship; rather, they reverberate in the very ordinary now-ness of freeway overpasses, sports stadiums, high-rise apartment complexes and gated communities."

...and water filling stations, city roads...

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai? Heart or Onions, Silicone, Wonderbra...?

Naomi Wolf:

"So, a new generation of women will not have access to critical government studies that would otherwise confirm the overwhelming evidence of the health problems associated with silicone implants. Why is it always women who are treated as guinea pigs and their bodies like lab rats'? I guess because there is a cultural assumption, which, in effect, the UK government deployed last week in public, that women deserve no accountability, especially if you can blame the issue on their "vanity"."

The Daily Mail, UK Feb 17 2012:

"after almost fifty years since her death, Marilyn Monroe has been named the Top Beach Body Of All Time.

The Hollywood actress beat ultra-slim stars including Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham and Miranda Kerr to the title, suggesting that the nation's obsession with size zero might be on the decline...

...Debenhams, which commissioned the survey, now predicts a trend towards the fuller figure and last season it reported a 58 per cent increase in sales of bust-boosting bikinis.

Sasha Nagalingham, a spokesperson for the store said: 'With the average cup size of the list going from a C to a D in just one year, they are proof that a voluptuous figure is even more desirable that ever before."

Thomas Biggs:


"The breasts are...an external symbol of a woman's gender, and we need and want that affirmation,"

Edwina Ings-Chambers:

"...At one conference, Alex Kuczynski recalls a sales rep explaining that women prefer the breast implants that look the most rounded, the most unrealistic: ”’I don’t know why, but they like the fake shape,’ the salesman says, bouncing a breast implant in his hand. It makes gentle thwack-thwack noises as it lands, bonds briefly with his sweaty palm, and lifts up with a slight sucking noise.”..."

EMILY BAZELON:

"Naomi Wolf argued that because appearance matters so much for their success — in work, love and almost everything else — women were sacrificing the gains of feminist liberation on the altar of breast implants and doomed diets."

Laurie Essig:

"This year one of the most popular gifts for many young women is a bra that makes your breasts look two cup sizes bigger by pushing them up and out and together at the same time. The bra, which costs about $60, is, my teenaged daughter assures me, something that will change her life.

Why, I ask my daughter, are she and her friends so obsessed with the size and the shape of their breasts? Does it really make them feel like better people to push and pull and pad their breasts into a shape that resembles Pamela Anderson’s first set of implants?
Why, my daughter asks, would I think that she and her friends are somehow free of being judged on their appearance? Why do people always assume that things are better for women just because they have the vote or go to college? It’s clear that there is so much more pressure on young women—especially girls like her—than ever."


The late Dev Anand was asked in year 2008: "You always used to cast beautiful actresses. Who among the present lot do you find beautiful?"

He answered: "Nobody really. All the girls today are too bold. Take a look at two of their pictures and there is nothing more left to see. A girl is beautiful only if she is innocent and vulnerable. Hasn't all that innocence and vulnerability evaporated? They wear coloured contact lenses. God, if I was acting in today's films and had to kiss an actress on her eyes, I would be turned off."

My favourite Hindi film journalist the late Devyani Chaubal (1942-1995) (देवयानी चौबळ)- and we have not had any one even close to her since- once wrote, rather naughtily and in jest, that Raj Kapoor cried in an emotional scene in Dastan (1950) because his leading lady Suraiya had stuffed her blouse with onions!

I guess silicone is not pungent at all and hence today's male actors need lots of glycerine.

It is half a century since silicone breast enlargement became available. It's still the most popular cosmetic-surgery procedure in the US and the UK.


Breasts marked for plastic surgery

courtesy: Stockbyte/Getty Images, Guardian, January 11 2012

India is very prominent on that world map.

The Times of India on January 15 2012:

"...a survey by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) points out that there were 51,000 breast augmentation surgeries in India in 2010, the seventh highest in the world. The cost of implanting a pair of silicone gel cups in India could go up to Rs 1.3 lakh, depending on the hospital and surgeon involved and the quality of the product. The ISAPS survey adds that while the average surgeon’s fee for breast implants is $3,629 in the US, in India it’s a competitive $2,405.

Kira Cochrane, Guardian, Jan 11 2012:

"...The 50-year history of breast implants had begun, a history of controversy and success. What no one knew back then was just how phenomenally popular breast augmentation surgery would become – the last available figures from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery show it was the most popular form of cosmetic surgery in the US in 2010, with 318,123 augmentations performed...It's estimated between 5 and 10 million women worldwide have had the surgery, many for cosmetic reasons..."

It's almost like worldwide epidemic.

And things have not always gone smooth...There have been complications...such as faulty implants.

Artist: Geoff Thompson, The Spectator, January 2012