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, November 29, 2013

Everything Was Seventeen Years Ago...राजकारण आणि वर्तमानपत्रे या दोन्ही संस्थांचे तसे बरे चालले


This is continuation of my earlier post dated November 27 2013.  

Walter Bagehot:

“The whole history of civilization is strewn with creeds and institutions which were invaluable at first, and deadly afterwards.”

A G Noorani, Frontline, July 2008:

“…Nepotism was rife. None other than Vallabhbhai Patel wrote to the Prime Minister of Central Provinces N.B. Khare on August 21, 1939, recommending the case of Ratanchand Hirachand of Indian Hume Pipe Co. for a contract. Sarojini Naidu wrote to Khare recommending Walter Dutt for a High Court judgeship. It was at this time that many bad precedents were set which affect us to the present day…”


Joseph Lelyveld, 'Great Soul / Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India', 2011: 

"India has now been free and independent for about four months...No single catastrophe served as catalyst for his (Mahatma Gandhi's) decision to start his seventeenth and final fast on January 13. In the days running up to the fast, he’d been forcefully struck by several indications that matters were on a downward slide. First he received a detailed account of rampant corruption at all levels of the newly empowered Congress movement in the Andhra region of southeastern India..."

Kuldip Nayar on what happened during the Emergency (1975-77):

"...Institutions got such a thrashing that it has not been possible to restore them to their original form even after three decades. Politicians of all parties and their cohorts, the bureaucrats, have found the battered institutions convenient and cooperative...The system has not recovered since...

(The Asian Age, June 25 2007)

Peter Parker, The Spectator, March 15 2014, a review of 'Capital: A Portrait of 21st-century Delhi' by Rana Dasgupta:

"...Capital is constructed around a series of mesmerising interviews, largely with members of Delhi’s ‘entrepreneurial’ class. Their identities mostly disguised, they speak with astounding and in some cases incriminating frankness about how they have achieved wealth, power and status through bribery, political corruption, land-grabs, money laundering and beating up anyone who gets in their way. What Dasgupta calls ‘the flourishing bourgeoisie’ tends to flourish at the expense of the poor, hundreds of thousands of whose homes have been torn down to make way for glossy new apartment complexes and shopping malls. Like most Indian cities, Delhi has been subject to large influxes of refugees during its history, but according to Dasgupta the ‘enormous transfer of wealth and resources from the city’s poorest to its richest citizens’ that has taken place since 2000 has ‘turned many of the former into refugees in their own city’.

How did this transfer happen? The final entry under ‘Nehru, Jawaharal’ in the index of Ramachandra Guha’s magisterial India After Gandhi (2007) reads bleakly: ‘Work undone by daughter Indira.’ Dasgupta concurs, noting that it was during Mrs Gandhi’s long premiership that widespread collusion between thrusting businessmen and corrupt politicians became more or less accepted. He further suggests that the communal violence which followed Mrs Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, during which politicians and police not merely stood by but actually encouraged and facilitated the massacre of thousands of Sikhs, ‘sent a definitive message that law was a degenerate part of Indian social life and one’s only moral duty was to oneself’..."

Mrs. Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India from 1966- 1977 and 1980-1984.  Mr.  Govind Talwalkar joined journalism in 1950 and was the chief editor of Maharashtra Times from 1968 to 1996. 

Loksatta (लोकसत्ता ) has printed an abridged version of Mr. Talwalkar's speech here and written a leader on it here.

After reading the speech, I have nothing much to add to what I have already said.

There is a lot of nostalgia there and I have no problem with that. Nostalgia works like a tonic for most Marathi people of certain age.  

Artist: Charles Saxon, The New Yorker, 9 September 1961

Also there is a lament about the erosion of institutions in India- and who can deny that?-  but then we must remember what Friedrich Nietzsche says: "Liberal institutions cease to be liberal as soon as they are attained: later on, there are no worse and no more thorough injurers of freedom than liberal institutions."

As the quotes at the top of this post illustrate, there is more to it than Nietzschean 'nihilism'.

As time went by, I am not sure how many of modern India's founders, M/s. J. L. Nehru and Yashvantrao Chavan (यशवंतराव चव्हाण) included,  remained as committed to the institutions as we thought they were in 1947. 

Let me now turn to Loksatta leader on the speech.

It praises the late Y B Chavan in the following words:

"...महाराष्ट्रात संस्थात्मक जीवनाची मुहूर्तमेढ रोवली ती यशवंतरावांनी. राज्याची निर्मिती झाल्यानंतर अवघ्या काही महिन्यांत त्यांनी स्थापन केलेले औद्योगिक विकास महामंडळ असो वा साहित्य संस्कृती मंडळ वा मराठीतून विश्वकोशनिर्मिती असो..."

It says Mr. Chavan laid the foundation of Maharashtra's institutional life and illustrates the point with the names of three institutions he started: MIDC, Sahitya Sanskruti Mandal and Marathi Vishvakosh.

I have never been sure about the quality of work these institutions have done either in the past or the work they do today.  

"...  ही विवेकी अलिप्तता ही तळवलकरकालीन पत्रकारितेचा कणा होती. परंतु आज परिस्थिती अत्यंत उलट झाली असून देशातील विवेकशून्यांत माध्यमांचा क्रमांक बराच वरती लागावा. ज्यांनी तटस्थ राहावयाचे तेच आता राजकीय पक्ष वा नेत्यांच्या समोर हात बांधून उभे राहण्यात वा त्या पक्षांची वकिली करण्यात धन्यता मानू लागले आहेत. सत्तासान्निध्यामुळे मिळणारी सत्तेची ऊब ही आपलीच निर्मिती असल्याचे या माध्यमवीरांना वाटू लागले असून राज्यसभेची उमेदवारी आदी मिळवणे हेच त्यांचे उद्दिष्ट बनले आहे. तळवलकरांच्या काळात अशा व्यक्तिगत आशाअपेक्षा ठेवणारे पत्रकार नव्हते तसेच त्यांना उत्तेजन देणारे राजकारणीदेखील नव्हते. त्यामुळे राजकारण आणि वर्तमानपत्रे या दोन्ही संस्थांचे तसे बरे चालले." 

The passage above,  in short,  praises the profession of journalism, when Mr. Talwalkar was active in it, using words like 'discreet detachment' (विवेकी अलिप्तता). 

I am not sure if most journalists, then,  really had the kind of quality the passage implies.  (Thanks to my college-teacher father's familiarity with the media industry, I know how compromised many of them were but I can't name them.)

One needs to only recall the behaviour of 'respected newspapers' and their editors during  'The Emergency (India)'. In Mr. L K Advani's words: They were asked to bend but they crawled.

Loksatta passage also claims that the objective of journalists has now become getting a seat in  the Rajya Sabha by getting close to the powers that be. (I wonder why it doesn't include another objective: getting a Padma Shri award.)

I once again am not sure if the journalists during Mr. Talwalkar's time did not seek such goodies.

Loksatta claims the institutions of politics and journalism both worked alright 'then'.  (राजकारण आणि वर्तमानपत्रे या दोन्ही संस्थांचे तसे बरे चालले)

P S Appu, Economic and Political weekly, December 10 2011:
"... Though Indira Gandhi started as a weak prime minister, in a short period of three years she trumped the Syndicate and emerged as the supreme leader. Then she proceeded to snuff out inner-party democracy in the Congress, do away with periodic elections to party forums, identify and destroy regional leaders with popular support, undermine the great institutions of our federal-democratic polity and concentrate all power in her hands...
...All that changed under Indira Gandhi’s rule. Chief ministers like V P Naik and H N Bahuguna, who had solid political bases in their states, were eased out at some time or the other and lightweights loyal to the prime minister were inducted as chief ministers. They were obliged to keep in good humour all the supporting cliques and sycophants who had access to the supreme leader. All those developments adversely affected the quality of the administration and opened the floodgates of corruption..."

The wreck of India's institutions started very much on Mr. Talwalkar's watch. I wonder what he and Loksatta are nostalgic about ! Mrs. Indira Gandhi's charisma ?  Reminds me of Mark Twain.

"I used to remember my brother Henry walking into a fire outdoors when he was a week old. It was remarkable in me to remember a thing like that and it was still more remarkable that I should cling to the delusion for thirty years that I did remember it -- for of course it never happened; he would not have been able to walk at that age. . . . For many years I remembered helping my grandfather drinking his whiskey when I was six weeks old but I do not tell about that any more now; I am grown old and my memory is not as active as it used to be. When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened." 
 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

At 88 Life Does Look Nebulous and Fuzzy...सध्याचे जीवन हे कमालीचे धूसर आणि अस्पष्ट झाले असून

Will Self, The Guardian, June 21 2013:

"...An unavoidable sequel of the posterity delusion is the death of the writerly self, which depends too much on incoherence and inconsistency to remain pompous for long. And of course, the vast majority of today's mummified immortals are tomorrow's Ozymandiases..."



Maureen Mullakey, 'The Weekly Standard',  December 17 2012:

"Five months before he died, Paul Cézanne attended the unveiling of a bust of Émile Zola, his old soulmate, at the Bibliothèque Méjanes in Aix. Numa Coste, friend to both, addressed the gathering. He reminded the attendees of Zola’s autumnal insistence that “one thinks one has revolutionized the world, and then one finds out, at the end of the road, that one has not revolutionized anything at all.” The elderly painter cried at the words."


Jacob Mikanowski, The Point, 2013:

"...They’re not alone. There’s a whole fraternity of artists like that—writers convinced of their greatness and obsessed with their status. They seem genuinely important in their own time, but the farther away from them you get, the more special pleading they seem to require. The proof is never on the page. It takes work to see why they mattered, why they provoked so much controversy, why they were read or performed at all. Call them the footnote club, or the asterisk brigade. Or think of them as the white dwarves of literature; those cold, distant stars that seem bright at first but then dim by degrees until they seem always on the edge of being swallowed by the night..."

Mr. Govind Talwalkar (गोविंद तळवलकर), the then editor of Marathi newspaper Maharashtra Times (महाराष्ट्र टाइम्स) was,  as mentioned earlier on this blog,  like a Sumo wrestler on middle-class Maharashtra's (not certainly more in the size than 10%  of population of the state)  cultural mat in 1970's.  I too was his fan for a while. I still admire his ability to read a large number of books.  

Later in life,  however,  I always felt he had a limited intellectual capacity but his influence was disproportionately larger than that.

Many people, I felt,  then,  just got out of his way instead of challenging him or, better, made friends with him. Apparently, his job was the second most important job in Maharashtra, next only to the Chief Minister of the state.

Loksatta (लोकसत्ता ) dated November 26 2013 has a report on the speech he made in Mumbai (मुंबई) the previous day by video conference from US.

He is now 88 years old. Therefore when he says  "सध्याचे जीवन हे कमालीचे धूसर आणि अस्पष्ट झाले असून..." (today's life has become extremely nebulous and fuzzy), I agree with him completely. 

Despite all the advances in medical technology, particularly ophthalmology, one probably doesn't have a great eyesight at that age. I don't know about the rest of the world, but the life outside your window does become nebulous and fuzzy.

Then the report says: "सध्याच्या काळात आपले विचार इतरांनी वाचल्याशिवाय जगाला तरणोपायच नाही, असेच प्रत्येकाला वाटत असते, असे सांगत तळवलकर यांनी 'फेसबुक', 'इंटरनेट'ची आपल्या खास शैलीत खिल्ली उडविली." 

(Talwalkar went on to make fun of Facebook and Internet in his unique style,  observing that, in today's times,  every one feels that the world has no hope of survival until they read one's thoughts.)

I don't know about today's Internet users and newspaper editors but I always thought that is what he himself felt- "the world has no hope of survival until they read my thoughts" (आपले विचार इतरांनी वाचल्याशिवाय जगाला तरणोपायच नाही)-  when he wrote those 'fiery' leaders for Maharashtra Times.

Later in the report, the following is attributed to Mr. Talwalkar:

 "एका युगाचा अंत होतो, परंतु दुसऱ्या युगाचा जन्म अद्याप झाल्याचे जाणवत नाही. म्हणून अशा मधल्या अधांतरी काळातच आमच्या पिढीची येरझार सुरू झाली..."

("An age ends but one doesn't feel that the next age has begun and our generation started pacing such a hanging period between (the ages)...")


This is complete baloney. Life just goes on. The past and the future are fundamentally no different than the present. They just are strange.  Civilisations, regimes come and go and some are better than others. History is cyclical not progressive. As John Crowley says: "Meanwhile the real world then, no matter what, will be as racked with pain and insufficiency as any human world at any time. It just won’t be racked by the same old pains and insufficiencies; it will be strange. It is forever unknowably strange, its strangeness not the strangeness of fiction or of any art or any guess but absolute. That’s its nature."

As images fade, shadows lengthen, and the threat of being swallowed by the night looms, for an Ozymandias,  shedding tears is more honorable option than talking about the present he can't comprehend.



 Artist: Saul Steinberg, The New Yorker, 26 April 1958