G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

Shel Silverstein : “Talked my head off Worked my tail off Cried my eyes out Walked my feet off Sang my heart out So you see, There’s really not much left of me.” ~

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

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

Sunday, July 29, 2012

How the Art of S D Phadnis works like 'Mad Men' for me

Today July 29 2012 is 87th Birthday of S D Phadnis (शि. द. फडणीस)...Start of his 62nd Creative Season!

Anton Chekhov:

“Well, maybe we’ll fly in balloons, the cut of jackets will be different, we’ll have discovered a sixth sense, maybe even developed it - I don’t know. But life will be the same - difficult, full of unknowns, and happy. In a thousand years, just like today, people will sigh and say, oh, how hard it is to be alive. They’ll still be scared of death, and won’t want to die.”


Adam Gopnik, on 'Mad Men' in The New Yorker:

"Though pop culture is most often performed by the young, the directors and programmers and gatekeepers—the suits who control and create its conditions, who make the calls and choose the players—are, and always have been, largely forty-somethings, and the four-decade interval brings us to a period just before the forty-something was born.
Forty years past is the potently fascinating time just as we arrived, when our parents were youthful and in love, the Edenic period preceding the fallen state recorded in our actual memories."

For me 2012 on TV so far has belonged to 'Mad Men', Euro 2012 and London Olympics.

I saw 'Mad Men' for the first time in May 2012. Season 4 & 5. And as I watched it, I knew instinctively that it was based in 1960's. It was like browsing Life magazine numbers my father had.

Today as I continue to watch the saga, I feel I have seen that lost world in real life too, I seem to remember it...Or so I feel!

That feeling is accentuated because my father used to hold coaching classes for the students of B.A. for a couple of years in the late 1960's. He taught them English. There were more girls than boys in his class and many of those 16-20 year-old girls were pretty. All of them wore sarees. I was no more than 9 year old. To draw their attention, I sometimes hid their sandals!

'the cut of jackets are different!'

'Mad Men' is entertaining and disturbing.

I don't think it's about nostalgia.

'Mad Men' is what we are. That is what we have always been. In 2050's, we too will come across the same way as "Mad Men" do today. Not sure about the sixth sense of Chekhov but the cut of jackets will be different.

It has echoes of Joseph Hellers's “Something Happened”...And 'Something Happened' is one of the funniest and one of the darkest books I have read...if that is what life is, what am I doing?

Janet Maslin writes in The New York Times, July 27 2011:

"...“Something Happened,” by far his most unflinching novel and perhaps his most influential too. (Most present-day depictions of the dread-filled workplace and dead-end family life, from “The Office” to “Mad Men,” have echoes of it somewhere.)..."

However, I think it's almost impossible to recreate 'Something Happened' either on TV or movie screen. We have to make do with 'The Office' and 'Mad Men'

Artist: Paul Rogers, Mad Men Opening Credits Unofficially Re-Designed

Alas there is no equivalent of 'Mad Men' on Indian TV. There won't likely be any.

When Rajesh Khanna died on July 18 2012 and the late 1960's and early 1970's came pouring out on TV, I thought only 'Mad Men' kind of series could bring back the life when Mr. Khanna was the monarch of Hindi film industry...girls wearing pointy bras kissed his car, married his photographs, wrote love letters in their blood (we then had fountain pens!)...Mad Women?

But we have our ways to revisit the time "when our parents were youthful and in love"...And I am not talking about watching a Shammi Kapoor film from 1960's...

On this blog, on July 29 2010, I wrote why I like S D Phadnis's pictures, the ones he draws today:

"...where even today a lady looks like my mother of 1970's, where there is no evil, where life is uncomplicated, where people pay attention to their surroundings instead of burying their face in a mobile phone..."

Smart Lady and Her Dog

from year 1951 or is it Diwali 2012, Phadnis's Season 62 in print?

courtesy: Official website of S D Phadnis

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Climbing the Podium to Start Joyous Riots

My favourite actor Gene Hackman's character in "Mississippi Burning" is asked: "Do you like baseball, do you, Anderson?"

And he answers: "Yeah, I do. You know, it's the only time when a black man can wave a stick at a white man and not start a riot."

Thankfully a lot has changed since 1964. Not just in US but world over.

In London 2012, a lot of black men and women will climb the podium to start joyous riots.

Look at the following cover of the New Yorker from year 1936:


Artist: Constantin Alajalov, The New Yorker, August 1936

Although the picture is very good- a Jewish man beating hulking, blond-haired runners, presumably Aryans- I thought the artist missed a wonderful opportunity.

He could have shown a black winning the race because after all it indeed was a black- Jesse Owens- who won four gold medals there: one each in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump, and as part of the 4x100 meter relay team!

The New Yorker apparently didn't learn from this.

John Updike has said:

”(During the fourth decade of The New Yorker 1955-1964) the foremost domestic issue of the time was the struggle of the black minority for civil rights, yet people of color are almost totally absent from these cartoons.”

courtesy: Getty Images and BBC

Following picture is probably one of the few exceptions to Mr. Updike's observation. (For another exception see a previous post here.)

I don't know what Mr. Addams meant but I see it as how the black Africans are looking down on a white, attempting to clear a tiny height in pole vault, with certain amusement. It's cruel because blacks are NOT there to participate in the event. Reminds me of Sherpas of climbing.

When I see men's 100m final line-up on August 5 2012, I too will feel like a Lilliputian.

Artist: Charles Addams, The New Yorker, 23 February 1963

p.s.

Morning of Aug 6 2012 became memorable to me for this:


Picture courtesy: http://www.london2012.com

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why Dnyaneshwar Would Shudder at Diogenes's Gesture!

Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins, 'Freedom at Midnight', 1975, page- 378:

"On both sides of the border a man's sexual organ became, in the truest sense, his staff of life."

Wikipedia says:

"In Western culture, the finger (as in giving someone the finger or the bird), also known as the middle finger or flipping someone off, is an obscene hand gesture, often meaning the phrases "fuck off" ("screw off"), "fuck you" ("screw you") or "up yours". It is performed by showing the back of a closed fist that has only the middle finger extended upwards..."

New Trump building West side shore, in shape of obscene gesture

Artist: Tom Hachtman, The New Yorker, 20 Sept 1999

Now, it is not just Western culture alone anymore! In following pictures of the finger giving or flipping the bird, two out of three are Indians.

Anthropologist "watching" Desmond Morris- who once was a best seller writer even in India- says of the gesture: "It's one of the most ancient insult gestures known. The middle finger is the penis and the curled fingers on either side are the testicles. By doing it, you are offering someone a phallic gesture. It is saying, 'This is a phallus' that you're offering to people, which is a very primeval display.".

Why is it also called "flipping the bird?"

Stuart Jeffries writes in The Guardian, Feb 22 2012: "The charmingly unreliable Urban Dictionary argues that "flipping the bird" is "the process of taking a bird, normally a pigeon, and turning it upside down in an effort to see its genitalia"".

One of the UK's best known body language experts Robert Phipps says:

"The cultural difference in this is that flipping the bird over in US is like the V sign over here, It's telling you to eff off. They don't have any other gesture like that. Over here it's become quite accepted and doesn't carry the same meaning. Most people under the age of 50 don't find it offensive. It didn't even exist in this country until about 30 years ago."

Does "finger" gesture exist even today in non-metro India? I am not sure.

In Miraj (मिरज), where I grew up, I heard probably some of the foulest Marathi (मराठी) spoken ever.

[I have travelled all over India and lived in the East and the South and I wonder if any spoken Indian language gets as vulgar as Marathi does at times in Western Maharashtra!

But remember what Vinoba Bhave (विनोबा भावे) has said: "सबंध ज्ञानेश्वरीमध्ये तुम्हाला एकही कठोर शब्द सापडणार नाही...आमच्या साहित्याच्या उगमस्थानी इतके मार्दव आहे ही फार मोठी आनंदाची गोष्ट आहे..."

("You will not find a single hard word in the entire Dnyaneshwari...such tenderness lies at the beginning of our literature is a matter of great happiness...")]

My young friend and fellow Mirajite Nikhil Bellarykar (निखिल बेल्लारीकर) has recommended me following book. Its title is "Vulgar Sayings and expressions in the Marathi language" ("मराठी भाषेतील असभ्य म्हणी आणि वाक्प्रचार") by A D Marathe (अ द मराठे).

I may buy it but I wonder if it has anything I already don't know!

In Miraj I also saw a few lewd gestures often. The popular ones were:

1) Close all the fingers of right hand together, hold one's right wrist with left hand, hold the right arm parallel over the ground, swing the right hand up and down.

It sure said: "This is a phallus".

2) Extend the middle finger of the right hand, don't close the other fingers, hold the right arm perpendicular to the ground and then move the right arm in horizontal movement.

Once again it said for sure "This is a phallus".

Note that the 2) above is different from "showing the back of a closed fist that has only the middle finger extended upwards".

Stuart Jeffries: "In Gestures: Their Origins and Distribution, anthropologist Desmond Morris and colleagues argue that the digitus infamis or digitus impudicus (infamous or indecent finger) is mentioned several times in ancient Roman literature...Before that, in Athens in the fourth century BC, Diogenes the Cynic told visitors what he thought about the orator Demosthenes by extending his finger and saying: "This is the great demagogue." ...As early as 1886, a baseball pitcher for the Boston Beaneaters was photographed giving it to a member of the rival New York Giants..."

So even Diogenes gave the finger.

Virat Kohli, India's newly crowned ODI Cricket Vice-Captain in January 2012

Mr. Narendra Mohan, son of the then Mumbai Congress chief Mr. Kripashankar Singh in February 2012
courtesy: The Times of India

Adele shows her displeasure at the Brit awards by giving the finger to 'the suits' in Feb 2012
Photograph courtesy: Yui Mok/PA and Guardian, UK

Indian Field Hockey player S V Sunil, who scored unforgettable peach of a goal against Pakistan in Azlan Shah Cup May/June 2012, was reprimanded but escaped a ban for showing his middle finger to spectators after scoring the match-winner.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Jumadeen to Patel" Rings in my Ears like an Old Melody!

Suresh Saraiya who died on July 18 2012 commentated on one of India's two greatest wins in test cricket at Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain, Trinidad in April 1976.

His words "Jumadeen to Patel" in the match's dying moments ring in my ears like an old melody!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Makers of Today's India- Rajesh Khanna- 1 of My 19

Kiran Nagarkar:

"My family never saw Hindi films. When i started seeing Hindi films in college, our group booed the ludicrous goings-on...good Hindi films were hard to come by and 'art' films weren't my cup of tea.
It's only while writing on Hindi films of the 1950s and 60s and Shammi Kapoor for an earlier novel that my views completely changed - i became mellow and a lot more sympathetic to Hindi cinema. I realised that you cannot understand the contemporary Indian psyche without understanding Bollywood."


Recycling earlier post dated August 2011...

Makers of Today's India- Rajesh Khanna- 1 of My 19...And even if he was NOT a maker of today's India, he certainly was a maker of today's me!

From 1969- 1974, he was an integral part of my life. We saw so many of his movies at Kolhapur that he became one from that city where my dear aunt, mother's sister, resided. When she died a few years ago in Kolhapur, what I remembered at her funeral was his song "Yeh shyam mastani" (ये शाम मस्तानी) from 'Kati Patang',1970.


George Orwell:

History is thought of largely in nationalist terms, and such things as the Inquisition, the tortures of the Star Chamber, the exploits of the English buccaneers (Sir Francis Drake, for instance, who was given to sinking Spanish prisoners alive), the Reign of Terror, the heroes of the Mutiny blowing hundreds of Indians from the guns, or Cromwell's soldiers slashing Irishwomen's faces with razors, become morally neutral or even meritorious when it is felt that they were done in the 'right' cause.

KENNETH MINOGUE:

Instead of recognizing the importance of apocalyptic thinking, Mr. Landes argues, we prefer to posit a common-sense world in which grand flights of imagination are construed as outbursts of misguided enthusiasm. Most historians, he says, make the same mistake. They view apocalyptic prophecy as a kind of falsified madness that leaves little of importance behind.

In fact, Mr. Landes says, the whole texture of our lives is deeply affected by our response to both past apocalyptic beliefs and current millennial aspirations. Nor is apocalyptic frenzy limited to the religious sphere. It also underlies the secular world of seemingly common-sense understanding. (WSJ, July 28 2011)


Ramachandra Guha's book "Makers of Modern India" was recently published.

It profiles nineteen Indians whose ideas, according to the author, had a defining impact on the formation and evolution of our Republic.

Here are my nineteen who were borne 1800 CE or later and whose ideas and actions, ahead of others, have a defining impact on the state of Indian union today:

(Names are not in any order. And I defy anyone who says history is progress.)

1. Lord Macaulay

2. B G Tilak

3. M K Gandhi

4. Rabindranath Tagore

5. M A Jinnah

6. B R Ambedkar

7. J L Nehru

8. M S Golvilkar

9. Indira Gandhi

10. L K Advani

11. V P Singh

12. Dhirubhai Ambani

13. Raj Kapoor

14. M. G. Ramachandran

15. Shankar-Jaikishan

16. C. Subramaniam

17. Rajesh Khanna

18. Manmohan Singh

19. Sachin Tendulkar

And remember, like Mr. Gridley in the picture below that is now 78-year old but remains brilliant, whether best-selling historians or ordinary bloggers, they put too much of themselves into 'it'!

Artist: Leonard Dove, The New Yorker, July 29 1933

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Caricaturing Two Exiles: Napoleon & Baji Rao II and James Gillray

सौ वाईकर भटजी:

"कायहो भावोजी, बाजीरावाचे आता नाहीना पुण्यास राज्य? बरे चांगले मेल्याचे तळपट झाले ते!...तो मोठा चांडाळ होता. वाईत आला तर पाचशे बायकांनी विहिरीत जीव दिला म्हणून मी ऐकिले आहे...आमच्या सासूबाई सांगत होत्या, त्या पुण्याच्या बायकांच्या आणि बाजीरावाच्या गोष्टी, म्हणून काय ते मला ठाऊक..."


('वाईकर भटजी'*, रामचंद्र विनायक टिकेकर / धनुर्धारी , c 1897)

[ Mrs. Vaikar-bhataji:

"Brother-in-law, there is no rule of Bajirao II in Pune now isn't it? Good he was destroyed!...He was an evil man. When he came to Wai, I heard five hundred women committed suicide in wells...My mother-in-law used to tell me stories of Pune's women and Bajirao. That's how I know..."

('Vaikar Bhataji' by Ramchandra Vinayak Tikekar aka Dhanurdhari)]

* This 19th century best-selling Marathi novel is based on 'The Vicar of Wakefield' by Oliver Goldsmith, 1766

Thomas Hodgkinson:

"For Nero’s life, as absolute ruler of the known world, was hell, haunted by twitching doubts and gibbering fears.
He was bisexual, to begin with. That was OK in ancient Rome, but when it came to sleeping with men he received rather than gave, and that was definitely uncool. (During the act itself, the sources say, Nero would ‘imitate the cries and laments of a maiden being deflowered’.) Paranoid, he killed his mother at the request of his wife. Then, a few years later, he killed that same wife, pregnant at the time, by kicking her repeatedly in the stomach. Why? She nagged him for returning late from the races. With absolute power comes absolute permissiveness. Ordinary vices pall, and the tired hand reaches, with diminishing returns, for ever stranger fruit. Moving through the catalogue of their crimes, sexual and otherwise, one is continually astonished by the sheer inventiveness of the Caesars, their desperate originality." (review of 'The Twelve Caesars' by Matthew Dennison, Spectator, June 2 2012)


..गोडसे:
"शेवटचा
पेशवा दुसरा बाजीराव हे उत्तर पेशवाईतील एक अजब व्यक्तिमत्व आहे. गुप्त सम्राट रामगुप्त, रोमन सम्राट कॅलिगुला, नीरो...अथवा महंमद तुघलक यांच्या सारखेच एका नाटकाचा विषय होण्याइतके ते लक्षवेधी आहे."

Tim Blanning

How did Napoleon do it? How did he succeed in projecting such a heroic image both to contemporaries and posterity? His wars killed well over a million Frenchmen and double that number of other Europeans and ended in total defeat, not once but twice. He condemned his adopted country to at least a century of social and economic backwardness, while his former enemies across the Channel and across the Rhine powered ahead on all fronts. In particular, his destruction of the Holy Roman Empire – arguably the most damaging own goal in European history – paved the way for German unification and the invasions of 1870, 1914 and 1940. He himself was an unprincipled opportunist, plundering both France and the rest of Europe to enrich his family and himself. Betraying the revolution that had brought him to power, he established a military dictatorship, indulging himself in a luxurious lifestyle that was a grotesque parody of the old regime.

"His debaucheries haven't lessened his effectiveness as emperor."

Artist: Edward Frascino, The New Yorker, 8 December 1997

Alas, we could say this about Baji Rao II aka Rav Baji (1775-1851), the last chief of the Maratha Confederacy- "His debaucheries haven't lessened his effectiveness as emperor."!

According to Wikipedia (and Manohar Malgonkar):

"As a Peshwa he made a deplorable overlord, a man delighted in humiliating his feudatories, seizing their estates on flimsiest of pretexts and what worse, someone imagined that their womenfolk too belonged to him".

Interestingly he has gone down in the history as one of the first high profile persons in India to get vaccinated against smallpox.

The British doctor was paid Rs. 2,000 in year 1807 for administering it!

[source: 'Peshwekalin Maharashtra' (पेशवेकालीन महाराष्ट्र) by Vasudev Krushna Bhave (वासुदेव कृष्ण भावे), 1936]

[Price of gold in 1807, according to MeasuringWorth.com, was 19.39 U.S. dollars per fine ounce; it was around $1638 on Akshay Tritiya day on April 24 2012; rise of 8348%. So in today's INR the sum is 1,68,953!]

I recently read magnificent essay 'The Rise and Fall of the Age of Miracles' by Roy Porter.

It carried the following caricature by James Gillray (1756-1815), ‘a caterpillar on the leaf of reputation’, dated 1802.

Rav Baji would have been a wonderful target of Indian James Gillray if we had one.

Wikipedia informs Gillray's 'L'Assemblée Nationale' (1804) was called "the most talented caricature that has ever appeared", partly due to its "admirable likenesses". The Prince of Wales paid a large sum of money to have it suppressed and its plate destroyed.

Baji Rao too would have either paid large sum of money- larger than The Prince of Wales- to suppress his caricature or he might have dealt with the artist the way he did with Vithoji Holkar (विठोजी होळकर).

In April 1801, Baji Rao crushed Holkar with an elephant and let his corpse remain in the street near Shaniwar Wada (शनिवारवाडा) palace in Pune for 24 hours to 'enjoy' watching it from his window.

(Source- 'Marhati Lavani', 1956 by M V Dhond; 'मर्हाटी लावणी' म.वा.धोंड)

Meanwhile, safely separated by more than two centuries, I imagine Baji Rao-2, instead of the fat lady on the throne, and his cronies in the picture below.

Artist: James Gillray, 'The Cow-Pock—or—the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation!' ,1802

I would have liked to see another caricature of Baji Rao II.

As history informs, he was exiled to Bithoor -now part of Kanpur District near Kanpur city, in Uttar Pradesh- in year 1818.

Read brilliant essay "Brahmavartacha Pensioner" (ब्रह्मावर्ताचा पेन्शनर), by D G Godse (द.ग.गोडसे), now part of his book "Nangee Aslele Phulpakharu" ('नांगी असलेले फुलपाखरू') 1989, on Baji Rao's life there.

According to the essay, he was already married six times before he was exiled at the age of forty-three. Since then he married five more times. He enjoyed the pension of Rs. 66,666+ per month for thirty-three years and two months until he died at the age of seventy-six.

The most famous political exile of 19th century was Napoleon Bonaparte. He was first exiled to Elba in 1814.

This is how a 'caricaturist' saw it:

The journey of a modern hero, to the island of Elba. Print shows Napoleon I seated backwards on a donkey on the road "to Elba"; he holds a broken sword in one hand and the donkey's tail in the other while two drummers follow him playing a farewell(?) march.
courtesy: Wikipedia

P.S. Godse points out in his essay that like Napoleon, Baji Rao's "gaoler" too was a Lowe but unlike Napoleon, Baji Rao II made no effort to escape from the prison to return to his motherland. However, after reading Tim Blanning's assessment of Napoleon, at the beginning of this post, maybe Baji Rao's staying put was good for the people of Maharashtra!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

'Failed to Provide Me with a Male Heir' Still Works

T S Eliot:

...you do not know
The unspoken voice of sorrow in the ancient bedroom
At three o'clock in the morning. I am not speaking
Of my own experience, but trying to give you
Comparisons in a more familiar medium...

As sex-ratio (F/M) tumbles in so called prosperous parts of India, a woman in even a modern Indian bedroom is well versed with this: You have failed to provide me with a male heir.

Like her previous 'Wolf Hall', Hilary Mantel's 'Bring Up the Bodies' has received rave reviews. (I have bought both the novels but not read them.)

Amazon.com describes it thus:

"The sequel to Hilary Mantel's 2009 Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times bestseller, Wolf Hall delves into the heart of Tudor history with the downfall of Anne Boleyn

Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son..."...a male heir.

Now only a very brilliant mind can come up with a cartoon projecting 16th century's monarchy of Henry VIII onto the institution of marriage, now inclusive of same-sex variety, of 21st century.

Artist: Zachary Kanin, The New Yorker, July 2012

James Wood has called The Thomas Cromwell novels of Hilary Mantel as "Invitation to a Beheading"

"...“What if . . . there is some flaw in my marriage to Anne, some impediment, something displeasing to Almighty God?” Henry wonders. Cromwell reflects that he has heard those words before, about a different woman. History repeats as farce, and the reader comes face to face with the Henry VIII of Eleanor and Herbert Farjeon’s funny poem, once quite familiar in British classrooms:

Bluff King Hal was full of beans;
He married half a dozen queens. . . .
The first he asked to share his reign
Was Kate of Aragon, straight from Spain—
But when his love for her was spent,
He got a divorce, and out she went.
Anne Boleyn was his second wife;
He swore to cherish her all his life—
But seeing a third he wished instead,
He chopped off poor Anne Boleyn’s head.

...“Bring Up the Bodies” fills its final pages with their trial and execution. After them comes Anne Boleyn, kneeling and blindfolded, as the executioner approaches from behind with his sword: “There is a groan, one single sound from the whole crowd. Then a silence, and into that silence, a sharp sigh or a sound like a whistle through a keyhole: the body exsanguinates, and its flat little presence becomes a puddle of gore.”..."


Anne Boleyn, Courtesy: Guardian and Photograph: Roger-Viollet/Rex Features

Go back to the cartoon above. Kanin's disenchanted Henry looks and sounds so sincere. (I would name Henry's partner Thomas instead of Richard.)

Today mercifully most marriages don't end with a beheading but the reason for parting ways can be more 'lame' than that of any past monarch. To paraphrase Woody Allen: The heart DOES NOT want what it DOES NOT want.

Zachary Kanin is probably the finest cartoonist of the present times.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Behind a Thousand Veils: Snub-nosed Woman Wearing Anklets of Footnotes

John Keats

"...with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration."


Carl Jung:

“What is so staggering about ‘Ulysses,’ is the fact that behind a thousand veils nothing lies hidden; that it turns neither toward the mind nor toward the world, but, as cold as the moon looking on from cosmic space, allows the drama of growth, being, and decay to pursue its course.”


Ron Rosenbaum:

"You won’t have to worry about opening a greeting card and seeing “We must love one another and die.” Not a Hallmark moment.

But this change still didn’t satisfy Auden, who seems to have genuinely feared for his reputation as a complex and serious poet if “We must love one another or die”—in any version—continued to be his most quoted legacy. And so he kept attacking it whenever he spoke or wrote of it, banning the stanza from publication. (The stanza in which the line occurs is admittedly not his best, concerning itself as it does with the poet speaking truth to power in a self-congratulatory way.)

But there I go, adopting Auden’s retroactive self-loathing of the line, and I’m not sure it was such a crime against poetry. Must we ban from our minds a burst of emotional earnestness from a poet whose frequent acerbic ironies makes it all the more salient? Has self-consciously highbrow culture made such a fetish of complexity, ambiguity, and obscurity as a measure of worth that we condemn or condescend to more simple, heartfelt exclamations? Don’t we feel a “sharp tender shock” at the original line? Is it always more mature and serious for a poet to be riddled by doubt and conflict, rather than to give way to transcendence?..."


I had always felt that B S Mardhekar (बा सी मर्ढेकर) was far more influenced by W H Auden than Marathi saint-poets Tukaram (तुकाराम) and Samarth Ramdas (समर्थ रामदास). I was happy to read later that Vilas Sarang (विलास सारंग), my favourite literary critic, too felt something similar.

I don't know how Mardhekar felt about Auden's easily 'comprehensible' line: 'We must love one another or die' from his poem '1 September 1939'.

Was he startled by this 'heartfelt exclamation', its simplicity, its sentimentality?

Like James Joyce, Mardhekar was accused of both obscenity (अश्लीलता) and obscurity (दुर्बोधता).

For the former- again much like Joyce- he was tried, on the latter, he was advised by some to annotate his own work!

He didn't oblige and instead wrote:

"शब्दांवर थोडी हुकमत असली आणि लय तोंडवळणी पडली म्हणजे कविता लिहिणं फारसं कठीण नसतं. त्यापलीकडे काही पुढील लिखाणांत आहे किंवा नाही हे वाचकच ठरविणार. त्यांच मत अनुकूल पडल नाही तर लेखकाने योग्य तो बोध घ्यावा. पण 'भूमिके'चा टोप चढवून आणि तळटीपांचे पैंजण घालून नकटीला शारदेच सोंग घ्यायला लावण ह़ा त्यावर तोडगा खास नाही."

"If one has some command of the words and has rhythmic expression, writing poetry is not very difficult. If there is anything more to it or not will be decided by the reader alone. If his opinion is not favourable, the writer should learn the right lesson. But making a snub-nosed woman play the role of Sharada by wearing the hat of a 'role' and the anklets of footnotes is certainly not a solution."

[A leading lady character called Sharada from G B Deval's 1855-1916 (गो ब देवल) play 'Sharada', 1899 once was a benchmark of woman's beauty in Maharashtra.]

Was this rebuttal so straight forward for Mardhekar? Had he made 'a fetish of complexity, ambiguity, and obscurity' and 'indulged' in them?

I suspect a little.

For me, Mardhekar is more complex, ambiguous, and obscure than Auden. It need not have been so. Like Auden, he should have written more and easier to understand poems. Like Arun Kolatkar (अरुण कोलटकर) later did.

The late M V Dhond's (म. वा. धोंड) Marathi book 'Tarīhi Yeto Wasa Phulānnā', 1999 (तरीही येतो वास फुलांना) and articles on his poetry have tried to lift the veil from some of them but many still remain a challenge for me.

For instance, I don't get most of this:

"सांदीला पण सोवळ्यांत जो
आजवरी ह़ा देव ठेवला,
धरावयाच्या मुळ्या फांदिनें
ओवळ्यांत तर प्रभूस ढकला."

[poem 20, 'aanakhee kahee kavita' (आणखी कांहीं कविता)]

Like Auden, his choice of everyday words suck me in, hold me captive and, therefore I tend to remember them, but what do they mean collectively?

In fact, in one of my telephonic conversations with Mr.Dhond, I had sought his help by requesting him to interpret all Mardhekar's poems from 'kahee kavita' (कांहीं कविता) and 'aanakhee kahee kavita' except a few! He just laughed.

Now, who would think of poetry-like complexity, ambiguity, and obscurity in cartoons?

Some do.

I quite liked them in the following one brought upon by Pythagorean theorem!

Mr. Steinberg was no less talented than James Joyce.


Artist: Saul Steinberg, The New Yorker, 7 October 1961