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, March 29, 2015

आंब्याची डाळ, पन्ह आणि भेदभाव: चैत्रगौरीच हळदीकुंकू ...Spring Socials and Indian Soil

Dr. B R Ambedkar,  November 4 1948: 

“Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realise that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only top dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic” 

The month of Chaitra (चैत्र) of the Saka-era (शक संवत) 1937, marking the end of the winter and the start of the spring, began on March 21 2015. Chaitra in Maharashtra is known for women's gatherings (हळदीकुंकू).

My wife has never called such a gathering but my mother always called one at Miraj (मिरज) and it used to be a festive occasion. Until my sister grew up, I used to go around door to door and extend the invitations for the same with some enthusiasm.

We used to create an arrangement with the goddess at the center surrounded by all kinds of decorations (आरास) - fruits, figurines, sweetmeats, oil-lamps (समया)....The goddess always looked stunning.

The women and kids- men not invited- who came were served a roughly crushed mix of Bengal gram and raw mango (आंब्याची डाळ) and a cardamom-saffron scented sweet-sour drink of boiled raw mango (पन्ह).

Most of the invited women used to be Brahmins but there also were a few non-Brahmin from our immediate neighborhood.

I think the tradition of holding such events 'Haldi-Kunku' (हळदी-कुंकू) goes back a long way.

Of course. there was hardly an aspect of Indian life not affected by segregation and discrimination. I did not know even Haldi-Kunku was not spared.

Even when the invitees were only Brahmins, there used to be deep discrimination.

"... एकदा मी चैत्रगौरीच फार सुंदर हळदीकुंकू केला होत…व्हायच काय पूर्वी, की श्रीमंतांच्या घरी चैत्रगौरीच्या हळदीकुंकवाचे खूप मोठे समारंभ व्हायचे; पण सगळा भेदभाव असयचा, हळदीकुंकवाला आलेल्या बायकांपैकी खूप श्रीमंतांच्या  ज्या बायका असत त्यांच्या हाताला केशर लावीत; मधल्या-आधल्या असत, त्यांच्या हाताला अष्टगंध लावीत आणि अगदी गरिबांच्या असत, त्यांना नुसतच हळदीकुंकू देत!…"

[from preface to 'Shreemati Kashibai Kanitkar: aatmacharitra aani charitra (1861-1948)' by Sarojini Vaidya first published in 1979 {'श्रीमती काशीबाई कानिटकर: आत्मचरित्र आणि चरित्र (१८६१-१९४८)' सरोजिनी वैद्य}]


Ladies, all Brahmins,  from the rich households were applied saffron on their hands, those from the (upper) middle-class were applied 'ashtagandha' (a mixture of eight fragrant herbs) on their hands and the rest were not applied anything at all! (All married women, regardless of their class, were applied vermillion and turmeric on their foreheads.)

This used to happen even in early decades of 20th century. 

Inspired by Ms. Kashibai Kanitkar, some time during 1919-1924, Mrs. Sakhutai Abhyankar (सखुताई अभ्यंकर) supposedly rebelled against such a practice and held a 'classless' Haldikunku,  which some three hundred women attended and the wife of Mr. N C Kelkar (न चि केळकर) presided. Unfortunately, Mrs. Kanitkar could not be present because she was away at Banaras (Varanasi)

All this was narrated to the author (Ms. Vaidya) by Mrs. Abhyankar.

Was there an aspect of Indian life that had  no segregation or discrimination? Is it there now? Have old prejudices now been replaced by new?


Artist: Mike Twohy, The New Yorker, 19 July 1993

My caption: "The courts ruled that we had to apply saffron or ashtagandha to all or nothing at all."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Greece as Sisyphus...What is Merope Up to?

Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942:
"The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."


Yannis Dragasakis, Greek Deputy Prime Minister & Yanis Varoufakis, Greek Finance Minister & Euclid Tsakalotos, deputy minister for international economic relations  in FT, UK,  March 18 2015:
"The country is in a position like that of Sisyphus — a man condemned to roll a boulder to the top of a hill, only to see it roll down again...We risk condemning an entire generation to a future without hope. To avoid that, what we ask from our euro-zone partners is to treat Greece as an equal and help us escape from this Sisyphean trap."

As a punishment for for chronic deceitfulness, King Sisyphus is made to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill. Before he can reach the top, however, the massive stone always rolls back down, forcing him to begin again.

Sisyphus is married to Atlas’s daughter Merope. It is said that Merope is the faintest of the stars because she is the only of the Pleiades to have married a mortal.


 
L'Etoile Perdue (The Lost Star), 1884

Artist: William-Adolphe Bouguereau  (1825-1905)

courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

After reading Greek ministers' comments above, the following cartoon looked even funnier... Merope, the wife,  is blocking the progress of Sisyphus! 

Is the rest of EU behaving like Merope for Greece?



Artist: Shannon Wheeler, The New Yorker, November 2013

Saturday, March 21, 2015

व्हिएतनामी वनस्पतींचा टाहो: Agents' Rainbow- Orange, White, Blue, Pink, Green, Purple...

Today March 21 2015 is International Day of Forests. It also is Gudi Padwa (गुडी पाडवा), first day of an Indian calendar and Nowruz, first day of an Iranian calendar.

Michael Herr, 'Breathing In' from 'Dispatches', 1968:

"...At the end of my first week in-country I met an information officer in the headquarters of the 25th Division at Cu Chi who showed me on his map and then from his chopper what they’d done to the Ho Bo Woods, the vanished Ho Bo Woods, taken off by giant Rome plows and chemicals and long, slow fire, wasting hundreds of acres of cultivated plantation and wild forest alike, “denying the enemy valuable resources and cover.”..."

Almost fifty years ago, on March 8 1965, first American ground troops arrived in Vietnam. By the time they left at the end of 1973, an estimated 3 million Vietnamese were killed, including 2 million civilians. Hundreds of thousands were seriously injured and disabled.

However, they were even more devastating for Vietnamese plant life.

George Black explains in The Nation what American invasion meant for Vietnamese natural environment:

"...Although the Romans used to destroy their enemies’ fields, and armies have always bombed and burned adversaries out of their hiding places, there is no real precedent for the systematic use of science and technology to destroy large portions of a country’s natural environment, as the United States did with its herbicide-spraying program in Vietnam. The overall operation was called Trail Dust, but it’s generally referred to as Ranch Hand. Another name that was sometimes used was Hades, and that may be the most apposite of the three...

...Agent Orange accounted for more than 60 percent of the spraying, but actually it was just one in a rainbow spectrum of herbicides, each employing a different cocktail of chemicals and color-coded by a painted band around its fifty-five-gallon storage barrel. Agent White was the second most widely used defoliant, while substantial amounts of Agent Blue were also sprayed, mainly to kill crops by desiccation. Agents Pink, Green and Purple were used in smaller quantities during the early years of the war..."


'The Scream', 1893, 

Artist: Edvard Munch (1863-1944)

courtesy: Wikipedia

Are all Agents captured in Munch's picture?


Artist: Harry Bliss, The New Yorker, April 2014

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Did Bhau Padhye Draw Dramatic Pictures 劇画 or Whimsical Pictures 漫画?

No Indian media informed me that Yoshihiro Tatsumi died on March 7 2015. He created a dark, noirish style of Japanese manga he called gekiga, meaning “dramatic pictures". 

Apparently the term gekiga (劇画)- dramatic pictures- was coined by Mr. Tatsumi because he did not like the term manga (漫画), whimsical pictures.

Even in Marathi (मराठी)  there is no agreement on what cartoons should be called: हास्यचित्रे का व्यंगचित्रे? And there are Americans who started calling erstwhile comic books as graphic novels. 

I feel very shy  including Marathi in this discussion because Marathi does not hold a candle to the vast graphic literature that exists in Japanese and English.

I remember, on my first visit to Japan in the 1990's, I was overwhelmed by the huge stacks of manga books in even the smallest of the kiosks in and around Tokyo. I bought one adult manga book. I was not sure if Indian customs would allow it. They never bothered with my baggage.  


The title page of “Unpaid.” 

Artist: Yoshihiro Tatsumi (辰巳 ヨシヒロ)

courtesy: The Paris Review

Imagine if we had the tradition of gekiga/manga in India, what possibilities would have opened up to describe the life in Mumbai? 

One the greatest chroniclers of Mumbai, Bhau Padhye (भाऊ पाध्ये) would be a gekiga artist! Or was he already a  manga artist?



Artist: Vasant Sarwate (वसंत सरवटे)

In this caricature, Sarwate seems to have drawn Bhau as 'whimsical picture' 漫画!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Can Germany REGIFT and Not REBUFF Greek Trojan Horse?

A headline in FT in the month of February 2015: 'Germans rebuff Greek 'Trojan horse': 

"Athens' chances of finding itself without an EU financial backstop in one week will come down to a bitter face-off in Brussels today between the Greek and German finance ministers, after Berlin rejected Greece's request to extend its €172bn rescue by six months. 
The German rebuff came just hours after Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, reversed his government's long-held promise to kill the current bailout in a letter to his fellow ministers. But the letter, obtained by the Financial Times , had clauses that Berlin told counterparts amounted to "a Trojan horse" designed by Athens to change the conditions it must meet to receive €7.2bn in aid available for finishing the bailout."

Is rebuffing the only option? How about regifting?



“We could always regift it.” 

Artist:  Christopher Weyant, The New Yorker, February 2015

Here is another one:

Artist: Richard Graham Jolley (RGJ), The Spectator, June 2011

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Can You Juggle a Household, Three Kids, and a Career?

Today March 8 2015 is International Women's Day


 “Can you juggle a household, three kids, and a career?”

Artist: Kaamran Hafeez, The New Yorker, January 2015

Friday, March 06, 2015

Punishment for Not Flossing

Today March 6 2015 is Dentist's Day






“I’m not actually doing anything—this is just punishment for not flossing.”


Artist: Zachary Kanin, The New Yorker, October 2014

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

वृषण नव्हे शेपटी: अतिसभ्यतेची कास...Panchatantra's Wedge-Pulling Monkey

Today, March 3 2015, my son Jaydutt turns 21...a big day for him, perhaps but certainly for his mother Anju and me...We encouraged him to read / watch/ listen to lots of classics, we never taught him many so-called morals and tried to show him two sides of most problems...as for profanity, he could not help listening to it because of his father...I was brought up in Miraj where a tail was never just a fucking tail! 

"...शिव्या हा समाजाचा एक अपरिहार्य भाग आहे. शिव्यांना अनैतिक ठरवायचे झाले तर अगदी शेक्सपीअरपासूनचे निम्मेअधिक साहित्य हद्दपार करावे लागेल. सेन्सॉर बोर्डाने चित्रपटांतील शिव्यांवर बंदी घालणे हे मूर्ख मध्यमवर्गीय धर्मनिष्ठतेचे लक्षण असल्याची टीका ज्येष्ठ नाटककार-दिग्दर्शक आणि अभिनेते गिरीश कर्नाड यांनी रविवारी केली..." (लोकसत्ता, February 23 2015)

"मराठी माणसांनी केलेल्या लेखनामुळे कन्नड साहित्य समृद्ध झाले. त्याची परिणती ज्ञानपीठ पुरस्कारविजेत्यांच्या यादीमध्ये दिसते. तर, १९४८ मध्ये झालेल्या गांधी हत्येनंतर अतिसभ्यतेची कास धरल्यानेच मराठी साहित्याने आपला बाज हरवला, असे मत ज्येष्ठ साहित्यिक आणि रंगकर्मी गिरीश कर्नाड यांनी सोमवारी व्यक्त केले." (लोकसत्ता, November 12 2013)

I must have read Panchatantra in Marathi dozes of times during my childhood. Even today I remember every story.

Recently I bought "संपूर्ण पंचतंत्र: प्रामाणिक मराठी भाषांतर" (sampoorna panchatantra: pramanik marathi bhashantar), 1977 by ह. अ. भावे (H. A. Bhave).

I started thumbing through it and came across one of my favorite stories:  'The Wedge-Pulling Monkey', in Marathi 'पाचर उपटणारे माकड'.

The story has this:"...There the monkeys began their playful frolics upon tree-top, lofty roof, and woodpile. Then one of them, whose doom was near, thoughtlessly bestrode the log, thinking: "Who stuck a wedge in this queer place?" So he seized it with both hands and started  to work it loose. Now what happened when the wedge gave at the spot where his private parts entered the cleft, that, sir, you know without being told..."

(from the translation dated 1925 by Arthur W. Ryder)

Now I remembered clearly that the Marathi translation we had stated that the monkey's tail- not penis- was caught in the cleft.

Therefore, I looked up the same story in Bhave's book. It stated:

"....खांबातून पाचर निसटली व त्याचे वृषण फटीत अडकले!…" 

Thank goodness, Bhave's translation indeed is honest (प्रामाणिक) and NOT sanitized!


Artist: Anant Salkar (अनंत सालकर)