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."

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

If George Orwell Were To Be Down and Out Today...


Ralph Steadman:

"I was re-reading Down and Out in Paris and London recently. I think if he were to be down and out today he could survive on the bins behind the superstores … there's so much free stuff that they throw away – perfectly good food."

 "Down and Out in Paris and London" has already appeared on this blog here. There, I compared the book to my favorite Arun Kolatkar poem, I call it "Down and Out in Mumbai":

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

पिंपळाची पानं चघळत
नाशकापर्यंत आलो
तिथं तुकाराम विकला
अन वर खिमापाव खाल्ला
..."
['Arun Kolatkarchya Kavita' (अरुण कोलटकरच्या कविता), 1977/2003, Page:92]

Translated into English by Kolatkar himself

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

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


Recently it was widely reported that "Almost half of the world's food thrown away, report finds".

Orwell day was observed on January 21 2013.

Now, who could have connected these two news items?

Only a good cartoonist and illustrator like Ralph Steadman as quoted at the top! 

"...if Orwell were to be down and out today he could survive..."

I wish!

Artist:  Ralph Steadman, 'George Orwell and a pig',  1996 illustrated edition of  'Animal Farm'

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Using Racist Distance as a Tactic of Rule in Battlefields and Tea Esates


Jo Johnson:

"The ascendancy of evangelical Christianity, the demise of the practice of inter-marriage or cohabitation with Indian wives, and the onset of undisguised imperial arrogance (once the British had defeated all their military rivals on the subcontinent) all contributed to the painful termination of the easy relationship between Indian and Briton that had, by and large, prevailed during the 18th century."

Maya Jasanoff:

"John Darwin has provided an ambitious, monumental and convincing reminder that empires are the rule, not the exception, in world history. What their passage has meant - and will continue to mean - for the people who live within them remains for others to explore."

Indivar Kamtekar:

"...Check this for yourself.  Almost no student, despite high marks in Indian history at school and university, will be able to tell you, even very approximately, how many Britishers were actually to be found in India in the colonial period.  He or she would have devoted a considerable amount of time to the study of British rule, would possess a store of other factual information, and may well be able to debate, quite intelligently, the character of colonial conquest.  But ask this particular question, and you are likely to draw a blank...
Officials numbered about 12,000 only.  These included all the British members of the Indian Civil Service, the Indian Police, the railways, and the irrigation and engineering services.  The most important group was thus numerically the smallest.  On the basis of these figures, there were more than two thousand Indians to each Britisher in India.

These figures are seldom, if ever, mentioned in nationalist historiography.  They are probably kept out of sight with good reason, for the numbers are embarrassingly small.  The remarkable thing about the British in India was that there were so few of them.  Even the Indian Civil Service, of which so much was heard, had only a thousand officers in all, half of whom were Indian.  An analysis based on such figures can make imperialism look more like a midget than a monster.  But in the nationalist view, the forces of justice and of good triumphed in India, despite the superior might of the foreign forces of evil.  An Indian David killed a British Goliath.  A fearsome adversary was overcome.  Conveying this impression requires exaggerating the might of the foreign forces of evil.  The story of 1947 has, in the last half century in India, moved towards precisely this exaggeration..."


As I have mentioned here earlier, I lived on  a tea estate in Assam from July 1989 continuously for about a year and then intermittently until 1992.

One of the weirdest things that was practised universally in the tea gardens of Assam was social segregation of three classes of employees- managers/ executives (few in numbers), babus/ clerks (quite a few) and labourers (large).

We were told not to socialise with the clerks, let alone labourers. That meant, we were neither supposed to invite them home nor go to their homes. Only 'executives' were given the membership to the plantation club.

Four-five labourers were assigned to our modest bungalow as helpers - mali, bearer, aaya, chowkidar. We did not know how to use bearer and aaya. So they liked to be posted to our place! As ordained, neither we  went to their homes nor got to know them properly.  It was as if they were Neanderthal while we were Homo sapiens! When we were away on vacation in Maharashtra, our chowkidar was murdered while returning home from the night duty.    

I got along well with a couple of clerks- so well that we occasionally exchanged dirty jokes. One of them used to tell me a lot about sex lives of rather large looking ducks of Assam as well infidelities of some of tea estate men including current and past executives. In the streets of the town around our estates, one came across a few very fair skinned men with light (even blue) eyes. Apparently, they were offsprings of the past British sahibs!

I would have liked to invite those friendly clerks home for a meal. But I never did.

We were brown sahibs, continuing the practices started by the British sahibs. Why did the Brits follow such practices? 

'From the Cape to Cairo', Puck, 1902

Britannia leads civilising soldiers and colonists against Africans as Civilisation conquers Barbarism. 

courtesy : Library of Congress and HisoryToday.com


John Darwin's two books 'After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empire', 2007 and 'The Empire Project/ The Rise and Fall of the British World-System, 1830–1970', 2009 are masterly studies of the empires and also provide antidote to the writings of the likes of Niall Ferguson.

David Cannadine says : 

"Darwin makes a good point in 'The Empire Project' that some people do suggest that the Empire is a story of scandal and exploitation that we should feel guilty about. Other historians of a more right-wing persuasion think the British Empire is a great story that we should be proud of. Darwin says it is not really very helpful to keep fighting about whether it was good or bad because there will never be agreement. Instead the way to move forward is to try to understand how it worked and why it fell apart. "

Mr. Darwin  has a new book out "Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain".

Linda Colley writes in its review:

" Even when Britain's own troops were sparse – in India before 1770, or in the Caribbean because of disease levels – it often coped by hiring indigenous troops and slave soldiers to do the dirty work. The extreme smallness of British numbers in many overseas locations also tended to reinforce the use of racist distance as a tactic of rule. Keeping the "natives" (and women) out of certain clubs in imperial settlements was not just prejudice, but also an attempt to shore up the charisma of the local dominant white males."  


When I read it,  I realised how this 'tactic' was deployed in the tea estates of Assam as late as in 1980's! Clerks= indigenous troops, slave soldiers= labourers...?

I have known what it was to be a Gora Sahib in India. And I did not enjoy it at all.



British troops man a remote outpost during the Indian uprising of 1857. 

Photograph courtesy: Hulton Archive/Getty Images and Guardian,  December 28 2012

Friday, January 25, 2013

Padma Bhushan Mangesh Padgaonkar By Vasant Sarwate

Marathi news channels  reported on the afternoon of January 25 2013 that Mangesh Padgaonkar (मंगेश पाडगांवकर) was likely to be honoured with 'Padma Bhushan'.


This is the cover of Padgaonkar's book 'Udasbodh' (उदासबोध) by Vasant Sarwate (वसंत सरवटे). It features caricature of the author.


Sarwate talks about it in his latest book 'Samvad Reshalekhakashi' (संवाद रेषालेखकाशी), 2012:

"....Padgaonkar was little stunned seeing himself wearing a loincloth and  expressed it to the late S P Bhagwat , Bhagwat said 'lucky at least a loincloth is shown!'..."

("...आपल लंगोटीधारी व्यक्तिमत्व पाहून  पाडगांवकरांना जरा  धक्काच बसला व श्री पु भागवतांशी तसे ते बोलल्यावर भागवत म्हणाले होते 'नशीब लंगोटी तरी दाखवलीय!'...")

I was impressed with Bhagwat's sense of humour.


I wish Jaywant Dalvi (जयवंत दळवी) 'Thanthanpal' (ठणठणपाळ) were to be alive today. I wonder what he would have come up with on Mr. Padgoankar. Thanthanpal was very fond of Padgaonkar.

Finally, I too am glad that Sarwate showed the loincloth. You can't show a Padma awardee without one, can you?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Namdev Says Your Home Has Little Less Gold and Cash नामा म्हणे तुमचे घरी थोडे कमी सोनें दाम...

On January 22 /23 2013 Marathi newspapers and TV channels have reported about the government of Maharashtra's  audit report on missing jewellery of Lord Vitthal at Pandharpur (पंढरपूर) temple. The value of  'missing' jewellery reportedly runs into millions of rupees.

As has been often said on this blog, Marathi is such a rich language because of the literature created in it by the saint-poets centuries ago.

A part of B S Mardhekar's (बा. सी. मर्ढेकर) poem reads:

"काय गा म्यां पामराने
 खरडावी बाराखडी; 
आणि बोलावी उत्तरें
 टिनपट वा चोमडी."

(What poor me
scratching alphabets
and giving answers
tinpot or impudent)

Most of what I write on this blog is 'scratching alphabets' and saying something 'tinpot or impudent'

It sounds even more so after one reads someone like Namdev (नामदेव):


"केशव पुसे नामयासी । तुझी नांदणूक कैसी ।।
...
नामा म्हणे तुमचे घरी सोनें दाम। आमुचे घरीं तुमचे नाम।। " (1739)


When asked by the god how his life was, Namdev ends his answer to Lord Vitthal with these words:

("At your home there is gold and cash, at our home is your name.")

I have never read or heard simpler and more moving words than these.

I interpret it like this:

"Keshav, that is Lord Vitthal, asks Namdev how his life is. Namdev goes on explaining that it is not easy,  comparing in the process  many aspects of his life with that of the god.  In short,  as I read it, Namdev's physical  life is quite miserable. Therefore, does Namdev ask his god anything?

Nothing.

On the contrary, he tells his god "You are wealthy alright but I am wealthy too because I have your name on my lips. You own gold & cash and I 'own' you in my heart! I am as wealthy as you without any attendant hassles of lockers, security, alarms, audits etc.""

This is Bhakti at its best.  It trumps 'Mukti'  hands down. These masters ask : Who wants Moksha when we have devotion?

I have never read what Vithoba's (विठोबा) response was to Namdev's answer but I am sure Vithoba couldn't have been prouder! He would have just moved away...What devotees he has got...No other god is that lucky!


[You may read an excellent essay on Namdev by M V Dhond (म वा धोंड) here]

However, after the alleged scam, Namdev's words have to be slightly modified to :

"नामा म्हणे तुमचे घरी थोडे कमी सोनें दाम। आमुचे घरीं तुमचे नाम।"


 Namdev as imagined by renowned artist: Bhaskar Hande (भास्कर हांडे)

Courtesy: the artist and Marathi periodical 'Ringan', 2012 (रिंगण)

Visit here to read the full issue of Ringan

If you read Marathi,  I strongly recommend reading Mr. Hande's article there.   His explanation of the thought process that went into the making of the painting is an absolute delight.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

We Cried for Boxer and Shyamchi Aai

Yesterday, January 21 was Orwell day. The great man died in 1950 on that day at the age of 46.

He has appeared on this blog many times but he has been with me ever since my father translated "Animal Farm" into Marathi  "...Aani Kranticha Mudada Padala" (...आणि क्रांतीचा मुडदा पडला) - "...And the revolution's corpse fell"- around 1970.

We read it as  a kids' book. We did not know where USSR was. We did not know what revolution was. We did not know who Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky were.

But we read the book many times. We imagined all those animals using our little imaginations. And we cried for Boxer.  The way we cried for "Shyamchi Aai" (श्यामची आई).

Since then I have read most of Orwell in English but not 'Animal Farm'. My father's translation is still good enough for me.

There is tons of pro and anti-Orwell material on internet but I liked best what  Barry Gewen said recently about him

"...Orwell was against abstractions of every kind: fascism, Communism, especially nationalism; “Americanism,” he once said, was a term that could easily be used for totalitarian ends. His socialism was pragmatic, anti-utopian, perhaps little more than an expression of his hope that the conditions of the poor and the powerless could be improved...He was a friend of the common man who also had an appreciation of James Joyce. He was a socialist with little hope for real change unless decency could somehow prevail..."


Will decency somehow prevail?


New cover of the book

courtesy: Penguin Books, penguin.co.uk. typeasimage.com.

"The deep foreboding red of the Animal Farm cover evokes the political charge of Orwell's allegorical novel of 1945 – the type treatment managing to look jauntily cinematic and cartoon-like, and wholly unnerving at the same time."


Old cover of the book

courtesy: History Today

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Morbid Fascination With Caravaggio's Head That Goes On Living



David Arnold, The Times Literary Supplement, July 2009:

"People lose their heads quite often in Hindu mythology. On a father’s whim, a son cuts off his mother’s head; demons are decapitated to expel the chaos-threatening poison lurking in their throats; the fidelity of wives and the faith of devotees are tested by beheading; and, in the rituals myth sustains, animals lose their heads to satisfy sacrificial imperatives. But, as Wendy Doniger reassures us in her courageous and scholarly book, in Hindu myth “beheading is seldom fatal”. Nor is it without meaning and purpose, for decapitation proves a means of achieving a creative fusion between apparently incongruous parts. Heads are restored, but they are also misplaced... "

Severing heads of the dead enemy soldiers? I thought it was so medieval. People who did that to the late Lance Naik Hemraj Singh's body must be severely punished.

The Indian Express, January 16 2013:

"Earlier in the day, (Sushma) Swaraj, who visited Lance Naik Hemraj Singh’s family in Mathura, was quoted by PTI as saying that “if his (Hemraj’s) head could not be brought back, we should get at least 10 heads from their side”. Swaraj was accompanied by BJP president Nitin Gadkari and Rajnath Singh."

But look at the reaction of the lady who could be India's future Prime Minister: "at least 10 heads from their side." Any less medieval?

Business Standard's leader on January 15 2013:

"News TV's martial music drowns out its responsibilities...It should go without saying that the media has a role in informing and educating a citizenry about the issues of the day, providing background, context and holding the powerful to account. A case study in how not to go about this is currently being provided by the electronic media in its coverage of recent raids and counter-raids on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, in which two Indian soldiers have been killed, and one allegedly subjected to post-mortem mutilation. Instead of questioning the narrative, news television and some print outlets have instead blatantly beaten the drums of confrontation, hyping even relatively calm statements by the army chief into belligerent displays of national machismo."

On December 7 1760, just before the third battle of Panipat that was fought on January 14 1761, Maratha chieftain Balwantrao Mehendale (बळवंतराव मेहेंदळे) was killed by the enemy. The enemy wanted to sever his head and present it to their leadership. A few brave Maratha soldiers prevented that from happening and his whole body was brought back to the camp.

(Read a related post on the subject here.)

Cutting enemy heads was almost the norm then. Maratha armies too occasionally indulged in the practice. 

Last year a book titled "The Severed Head: Capital Vision" by Julie Kristeva, translated by Jody Gladding was published. It's about the way in which the severed head pops up in art, literature and real life.



Part of its fascination lies in the way it seems to offer a physical location for where our true self resides. Our face is what makes us knowable in the social world, our brain is what tells us who we are, and our speaking mouth is the conduit between the two. Lose our heads and we have lost everything, which is why the fact that we can come apart so easily is terrifying. It also explains a certain morbid fascination with how long a head can go on living after it has been severed."

Of all the books I read in my childhood, I remember those most which had memorable pictures. I have already  mentioned a few of them before.

One such book was "Sheesamarthcharitramrut" (श्रीसमर्थचरित्रामृत).

It claims to be a biography of Samarth Ramdas (समर्थ रामदास) told through stories. It's 159 pages long and was published in 1958, 350th birth anniversary year of Samarth. Luckily, I still have it with me.

I must have read it dozens of times. I once knew almost all of its text by heart but I now only remember its pictures.

They were drawn by Chitrakalabhushan Mr. J B Dikshit (चित्रकलाभूषण श्री. जि. भि. दीक्षित). Mr. Dixit's contribution has been generously acknowledged by the editor of the book in the foreword.

It has a couple of pictures of severed head of Bholaram (भोळाराम), disciple of Samarth. They scared me a bit tn the beginning but I guess they also increased the book's appeal to the child in the long run.


'Bholaram cuts off his own head' 

 The story of Bholaram of course is a folktale/myth as are most of them in the collection.

In 17th century Maharashtra severed head was not all that bizarre. As seen earlier, one reads in battles involving Maratha armies,  how the victors cut off the heads of the vanquished and carried them as trophies.

Battle was such an accepted motif then that even Tukaram (तुकाराम) says:

"वेढा वेढा रे पंढरी । मोर्चे लावा भीमातिरीं ॥1॥
चलाचला संत जन । करा देवासी भांडण ॥ध्रु.॥
लुटालुटा पंढरपूर। धरा रखुमाइऩचा वर ॥2॥
तुका ह्मणे चला । घाव निशानी घातला॥3॥"
 
(#3970, Gatha गाथा)
 
(Hey besiege besiege Pandharpur, erect barricades (open fronts) on the banks of Bhima
come come devotees,  spar with the god
Plunder, plunder Pandharpur, detain the husband of Rakhumai
Tukaram says let's go, we have hit the target)
 


I wonder if Mr. Dixit saw or studied the following picture
 
 


David with the Head of Goliath, 1609–1610

Artist:  Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

"Perhaps the most powerful and personal work that Caravaggio completed during his final months in Naples is his David with the Head of Goliath. Everything that Caravaggio knew about youth and age, cruelty and compassion, life and death, sex and suffering, has been poured, without hesitation or holding back, into this image of the delicate boy—probably the same one who modeled for the brooding Saint John the Baptist now in Rome’s Galleria Borghese-  holding, at arm’s length, the head of the the bearded, shaggy, middle-aged man whom he has slain. The head of Goliath is Caravaggio’s last self-portrait. His features are thick and misshapen. One of his eyelids droops. On his forehead is a bloody wound, presumably the mark of the fatal stone from David’s slingshot, but which also suggests the disfiguring injuries the painter received when he was attacked at the Osteria del Cerriglio in Naples.,,

...Death has already frozen Goliath’s features into a rigid, Medusa-like mask, and what’s most disturbing is that death has given him no peace, no relief, no release from the agony and horror of his dying moments, from the shock of having been murdered by a boy so much like the youths whom, in more peaceful and less desperate times, Caravaggio would have loved."

(from 'Caravaggio /  Painter of Miracles' by Francine Prose)

I have quoted above: "how long a head can go on living after it has been severed.".... Caravaggio's head still lives!

p.s

After I published this post, I got this feedback in Marathi from a discerning reader of this blog Mr. Mangesh Nabar:

"
In case, you are not able to read Gurucharitra, I am giving below the lines from 6th Adhyay :
सुटला तेथुनि लंकेश्वर I स्तोत्र करीतसे अपार I शीर छेदोनि धरिले करी I  तंतु लाविले नीज अंत्रे II ४० II
सुटका झाल्यावर रावणाने शंकराची विविध प्रकारे स्तुति केली. आपल्या दहा डोक्यातील एक डोके कापले, त्याला तंबो-यासारखा आकार देऊन व आपल्या आतड्यांचाच तारेसारखा उपयोग करून सुस्वर गायनाने तो शंकराचे स्तवन करू लागला... 
शिर कापून आपुले देखा I यंत्र केले करकमळीका I नर काढून तंतुका I रावणेश्वर गातसे II ७२ II
अर्थाचा संदर्भ :- भावार्थ श्रीगुरुचरित्र - डॉ. सी.ग. देसाई"

I thought this was very beautiful and hence am appending it here.