Monday, January 22, 2018

LOU: A SHORT STORY



My mentor in philosophy was the third Earl of Kingston, Bertie Russell, born  circa 1872, died 1970 oblivious of the ardent affiliation of mine. What he once wrote is relevant to our story here-“..between Theology and Science there lies a No Man’s Land…that’s Philosophy. Almost all questions of most interest to the speculative mind are such as Science cannot answer, and the confident answers of theologians no longer sound convincing...” The only improvement I have made upon his words consists in the capitalisation of initials of some important words that are carriers of significant concepts…

It was in bleak December, and Kong Beloris, my dear friend, and I  were lounging at Swish, Shillong’s most ancient café, waiting for the dense Meghalaya fog to run its course. Inside, it was 4 in the evening, and outside, a dark freezing midnight. Bah Tito Syiem, the Café Manager, carefully purring on a hot coffee while trotting back and forth, waited patiently for the fog and the two remaining occupants of the café to disperse. Kong Dr Beloris Lapang, D.Phil and I were sitting at our usual corner table, debating the longevity of Philosophy, the subject Kong taught at Shillong’s excellent University, NEHU, and Bah and Kong are not Khasi names, but merely honorifics sans which gentlemen and ladies respectively may not be addressed by you.

Kong Beloris was lamenting the exponential decline in admissions to her Faculty, seeking comfort in her approaching retirement from service. It was here that I dusted and delivered the quote that forms the substance of our first para. Kong, said I, theology and it’s surrogate, religion, are in retreat, their territory contracting by the day. Simultaneously the canvas of science expands as she conquers territory after territory. The scope for Philosophy is therefore that much less. That is why philosophy as a discipline has lost fecundity and vigour. A day has to come when the sum of annual admissions in your departments all over the country equates itself with the sum of retirements…only replacement demand would remain! That was certainly a prospect Kong failed to relish. I don’t expect such negative vibes about my subject from you, Carl, she said… pinching me in fun..

The to-and-fro metronome movement of Bah Tito had continued in the background.  All of a sudden Bah halted in his tracks, turned around, placed his coffee mug on the mantelpiece of the fireplace which hosted a crackling fire, rubbed his palms vigorously at the fringes of the fire, and thus replenished with warmth, approached our corner with his Lajong mug.  Do you mind if I joined you, asked Bah, and upon our nodding cordial assent, pulled a heavy teakwood chair.

Khublei shibun, said he, I was listening to your conversation with some attention, an act of mine which deserves your indulgence, for the mention of the word Philosophy floods my mind with the memories of the delicate Lenore, Lou for short, and Philosophy is the world where I seek solace when I try to come to terms with her existence. Is it some kind of third-party-existentialism I felt like asking, but the sun-and-shade of emotions that flitted across Bah Tito’s thick brow compelled me and Kong to let Bah continue uninterrupted. Umm.. he said, in that sense Philosophy which is perhaps a matter of theory for you, is for me an article or a contrivance of daily use, like a bed-spread or a fishing-rod you may say…Nevertheless, Bah Carl’s definition deals me a strange relief today, how and why, I shall presently explain…

Umm I can’t help but begin with Lou’s eyes, said Bah Tito, for they had- note the had- had a special sparkle that lent a peculiar glow to her beautiful face, which again, being a Khasi face, had a measure of strangeness in proportion that Blaise Pascal would have commended- or was it Poe, or umm Poe quoting someone in...Eleonora?  Lou’s face had a high recall quotient on account of her special eyes, and like beams of light emanating from a car’s headlight they shone.  She was my youngest sister, 15 years in between, and when I went to fetch her, as a little girl, from the Laitumkrah bus-drop, I would locate her easily in the cramped Loreto school-van from a mischievous gleam of eyes sitting in a corner, brimming with joie de verve and an irrepressible curiosity about the world in general..

Well, umm, Lou was the beloved of the household, and as you must have guessed, she was the family’s khadduh- the youngest daughter, the inheritor of the family’s wealth. Ka khadduh, amongst Khasis, is the family darling, not for any motive, but it is a fact, simply stated, that ka khadduh is the recipient of much inquisitiveness and adoration, and Lou was such a source of delight!

She grew like the phases of the moon, blossoming into an exquisite beauty, tall, delicate, and boys would sway when she walked down the undulating streets of Shillong, on her high stilettos as only a Khasi girl can. Bright at school, she was, and the Shillong Choir would sound incomplete without her. In short, a daughter or sister to treasure, cynosure of all eyes wherever she went! A beautiful and fulfilling future awaited her expectantly...

She had just turned 18 when that year’s Nongkrem arrived, the Khasi thanksgiving festival celebrated at Smit in early winter, after the harvest, where the sacrificial goats are offered to the Gods, and where Khasi virgins and boys congregate, to dance in the steppe-like fields, scattering the golden hue of pure Khasi gold ornaments and crowns to the skies, to the entrancing accompaniment of drums and pipes...

Then it happened. We lost Lou. She disappeared...simply vanished from the face of this earth as it were, leaving no physical token of existence! Her friends saw her last at the altar of Ka Pah Syntiew, on the fifth day of the festival. Frantic messages went out to the head-men, the Lyngdohs, the Syiems...We combed the whole of Khasi hills for her, from the heights of the Nohkalikai Falls, to the depths of Dawki, to the wilderness of the Mawplang forest, where for 2 whole days in a feverish trance we negotiated the arms of the castanopsises and the pinus kasia, swaying and whistling wildly to the angry winds, side-stepping the poisonous cobra-lilies, ferns and pipers that inhabit Lou’s beloved sacred forest. We then remembered her obsession with Nohkalikai…

Here I blurted out something which I quickly realised was wholly misplaced, even as I intoned my last word.. “ but what did the police..welll.. say”? Bah Tito gaped at me, his mouth struck open and the only word there spoken by Kong was the whispered word “Carl”, Kong Beloris looking at me half in disbelief, half in amusement…a Khasi will rarely, if ever, approach the  police force over family matters unless he’s sure that an outsider was involved...

..and..continued Bah without allowing the sombreness of the narrative to flag...do you know how the tallest waterfall in the world got it’s name? Poor Ka Likai had jumped in anger and grief from the Sohra hill- that’s where the Noh comes from- when she saw the severed fingers of her child! So..I even checked the green plunge-pool half a mile below for our girl, to rule out the possibility of Likai having permeated Lou’s mind..umm..

Now you know Sir what it is to try to come to terms with someone’s existence! One day my dear child occupied the whole length and breadth of my world, and the next day she was gone! Mamma and Papa were of course disconsolate. They waited in vain all the time watching from our terrace the winding road that leads from Laitumkrah to our abode in Lummawrie. Umm..Mamma visited various churches and must have sacrificed at the very least a hundred roosters. Mamma  hosted many a Khasi ritual, the chief being the Egg Oracle, where the priest invokes the supreme God U Blei Nongthaw, breaks an egg, and from the way the shell crumbles tries to divine His command. By all indications she was very much alive and happy, so they said! How could she be happy away from her family..duh...!Much as I wanted to share my parents’ plebeian hopes, in the heart of hearts I feared the worst, though I must confess I would see the likeness of Lou in every girl approaching from a distance. Philosophy was my only succour and solace. Why did Lou go away? Ka tyrut? Khasi philosophy never attributes a mortal departure to the will of God- the machinations of the vicious spirit ka tyrut are believed to be behind every mortal event...and...

Umm.. Bah Tito paused, apparently in order to compose his philosophical interpretation of the events, and also to allow the lump in his throat to retreat....

”Strange are the ways of fate” I mused absently.

Well well, strictly speaking, we Khasis don’t believe in the way the Christian religion treats the concept of Fate, Carl, said Kong Beloris, looking kind of askance at me. Bah Tito nodded vigorously, for none other than NEHU’s Philosophy department seemed to be certifying his world-view..ka kambhah kambynta we call it, said Kong..and before she could elaborate, Bah, being better prepared thanks to Lou, jumped the gun..Ka kambhah kambynta said Bah Tito defines the way Fate is supposed to operate. The unborn child in her mother’s womb is confronted by ka Lei Synshar, our equivalent of the Hindi Brahma, with various kinds of fate and the embryo has to choose one, failing which she or he will remain still-born. How and why had Lou chosen to disappear? That was the question which we asked ourselves...

…Outside Swish the weather was worsening, as further reinforcements of fog arrived from the heights of Laitkor...Bah Tito’s mystery took on further lease of life..

Umm..said Bah years passed, the world went on and did what Father Marbaniang pompously says- is it not ‘ tempus edax rerum’  Kong? Tempus edax rerum...to be sure..Time heals, but when..?

Umm…about three years after the unfortunate events, I happened to be in Calcutta. All said and done, in spite of the emergence of Gauhati, Calcutta still remains the umbilical cord that connects the north-east to the mainland...Umm…I had gone to have a look at a second-hand frigidaire..there it lies in the corner... the skies were overcast just like today, I had taken a morning-walk  in the Maidan and was crossing the main-road near Grand, when I saw a well-dressed girl emerge from the Hotel, and she..was it Lou...? I missed a thousand heart-beats- the same stiletto-balancing walk, the same profile and...”Lou” I yelled in spite of myself, keeping my best manners under animated suspension. The girl froze, turned around, yes she was Lou indeed, the same shining eyes, the same tall forehead, same garden-fresh complexion...a bit taller…she had in the meantime covered her cheeks with her two palms like the figure in that scream painting and exclaimed, to my surprise, “Dada”, which is how they address an elder brother in Bengal. She regarded me most cordially and with affection, as the whole of Chowringhee spun around me, and conscious of the explosive potential of the situation, she hurriedly came across, held my hand, and promised to explain to me everything once we reached her home in Behala.

We clambered onto a rumbling tram, found seating easily, moving as we were against the morning traffic, and looking out of the window I sat, the montage of the past three years playing fitfully before me like an old movie print. Calcutta was the only place in the world where such dénouement could have unfolded…I consoled myself..

Umm..Lou was shaking nervously. We alighted at the Behala Chowrasta and reached her home, on the second floor of a decorous building behind the Museum. There was no one inside, seemed she stayed alone. The ambience bore the stamp of style and affluence, to my great relief. It was unusually cold for Calcutta and Lou was shivering. Bah Tito she asked, of course you have not given up smoking, let me get a pack of cigarettes for you, there is a pan-shop across the street, she picked up her purse and slid into the winding staircase.

I looked around the small house , it was neatly kept, as could be expected of Lou. The memorabilia in the showcase evidenced a trip to South East Asia, with those merlions and red-dragon images. A guitar hung beside the dresser in her bed-room. Good, there was a picture of the Christ, which bore uncanny likeness to the one back in our Shillong home, how this thing called habit works, I mused. I ventured into the little balcony. It overlooked the pan-shop Lou spoke about. I looked around but failed to spot our Lou wearing the red T-shirt with the number 10 on the back I had noticed when I last saw her hurry down the stairs…

And that was also the last I had seen of her. The elements had again played truant, and Lou had vanished. She never came back with the promised pack of Four Square.

We sat in stunned silence, I and possibly Kong, trying in our minds to apportion blame for the lost resurrection. I sighed, and just to relieve Bah Tito of the sheer burden of misery that overtook his weather-beaten face, reminded him of his resolve to explain the relevance of our Quote here, how it could provide poetic relief to him.

Umm.. said Bah Tito, you talked about the no-man’s- land between religion and science, did you not? As I realise, the hand of dark-forces stands ruled out by the fact of Lou’s reappearance. The territory of the known expands thereby, and thence I derive peace and quiet…but Philosophy will always be there for me…my bed and fishing-rod!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A NOBEL FOR FREAKONOMICS?

Most of us have experienced the phenomenon of ‘time-dilation’, that is when an hour seems endless, longer than what you’re used to, say while enduring a boring movie -or the opposite, ‘time-contraction’- time flees and an hour seems to be over in a jiffy, say in the company of the beloved. It’s definitely not on account of the omission of divinity to replace the ageing battery-cells of the Godly cosmic clock…

We just discovered that another temporal phenomenon that bugs us often, usually ascribed to the advance of years, is but a manifestation of the same time-ductility. 

Suppose you are reading the morning newspapers, say two or three of them, one after the other. After the session, lasting maybe an hour, you have the urge to revisit one of the bytes that you came across. I for one have to wrestle with the broad-sheets in the replay, and usually the item surfaces further back in the sequence of reading than the impression I carried. That is, it is buried under a greater debris of time than one imagined, so to say. It may even involve misremembering the particular newspaper you assumed carried the article..you think it was the ET while it turns out to be the Express, which in our case precedes other papers in the pecking order. Lots of our friends also have confessed to that nagging feeling, though some have reported the reverse- lesser actual time-debris than the perceived one.

Cut to Alfred Nobel. As we all noje, the 2017 Nobel for Physiology and Hygiene (he, he, he) went to Michael W. Young, Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey C. Hall for their discovery of molecular mechanisms controlling our circadian rhythms, or put simply, the biological clock. They isolated a gene (christened as the Period gene) that controls the biological rhythm in the fruit fly, which was simply the causa est in manibus,  i.e. case in hand, nothing special about fruit fly. The ‘Period’ gene in the fly’s cells creates and accumulates during night, a protein named the PER, which decays linearly, or may be exponentially, to almost ‘nil’ during the following day, thus marking the passage of time. This is essentially the same principle on which carbon-dating works. The accumulation of PER varies exponentially- the rate of production of the PER dwindles as the protein accumulates in the gene, ceasing altogether at the pre-determined full-tank level. Thus the process is self-regulating. That in a nut-shell is what the discovery is about. Such a hullabaloo I sayyyy...! 

Allied with the discovery, we find, should be an explanation to the phenomenon of ‘subjective time’ vis-a-vis ‘objective time’. The latter is also called ‘external time’, such as the time kept by a clock, while the former is progression of time as perceived by you, me or the humble fruit fly. The process of decay of the PER can be affected by various extraneous factors, impacting subjective time-lapse perception, and a possibility arises of a divergence of the two ‘times’, for the march of external time is relentless and unalterable. That is, for instance, why a boring college period seems to last say an hour, when actually it was half an hour long. As college students we’d think an Einsteinian time wave struck Don Bansal’s Determinants period, making the passage of time so excruciatingly slow.  This shenanigan lies at the heart of the freakonomic discovery recounted in this edition of our blog. Experts being experts call the phenomenon the ‘temporal illusion’.  Literature on the subject of TI lists illusions such as:

Ø  Telescoping effect, wherein people tend to recall events further back in time that they actually were (backward telescoping), no prizes for guessing what’s forward telescoping,

Ø  Vierordt’s Law- shorter intervals tend to be overestimated while longer intervals tend to be underestimated,

Ø   Time intervals encompassing numerically more changes may be  perceived as being longer than those covering lesser numbers,

Ø  The perceived time often shortens with motivation- boring tasks may appear longer than they actually are,

Ø  A task may appear longer if the progress thereof is interrupted,

Ø   Between auditory and visual signals, the former seem to drag on more,

Ø  Chronostasis, where the first impression following the introduction of a new task appears to be extended in time. An allied effect is the Oddball Effect- humans perceive duration of the initial event as greater, in a stream of identical events,

Ø  Emotions like awe, empathy, depression fear, or even age, drugs or diseases such as Parkinson’s, tend to affect subjective impression of time elapsed.

The above elegantly explains why the to journey always seems longer than the fro  journey- check Chronostasis and Oddball effect.

We come back to where we began. Our freakonomic streak suggests that in case of the newspaper reading business, when the subjective time-continuum is projected or mapped onto the objective time, what really happened, say, an hour back appears to have occurred maybe a quarter hour back. Forward-telescoping at work. The timespend on reading shortens in the imagination. Going by the fourth of the foregoing bullet-points, we are relieved at the vindication of our ancient belief that we enjoy reading papers and time has not yet taken toll of the motivation and excitement of reading the morning paper, even though R.K.Laxman is no more! So when trying to locate the article to be revisited, we should rather begin at the beginning. People who look upon the task as WORK, will be the ones succumbing to backward-telescoping, and will find the article closer at hand! Here is a pictorial depiction of what happened:

 
Amen!

Friday, August 4, 2017

LIFE AND DEATH OF KHANSAHEB VASANTRAO DESHPANDE

Monday, 31st July 2017
"The figures in drama appear predominantly as people who portray themselves rather than exist in their own right- that is they generally appear in terms of the way they interact with others rather than as solitary individuals"….wrote drama critic Manfred Pfister, on the question of identity between the actor and his or her Role. Vasantrao Deshpande in the role of Khansaheb of Katyar Kaljat Ghusli however remains a classic exception to this belief. His identification with that role is so complete that he is remembered by posterity more as Khansaheb, than as Vasantrao himself! For admirers of the Marathi stage such as YT, reviling that figure would be murder-most-foul of an icon residing in the minds of the people who care about the Marathi theatre and classical natyasangeet. Alas such a murder was committed in broad daylight, by our saffron friends in the name of religion in a vicious and despicable manner, in the remake of the epic play in movie form. Katyar pathit khupasli- dagger sunk into the back. Khansaheb who emerged a hero in the Purushottam Darvhekar’s scrupulously secular play is tarred and feathered in his movie avatar played by an over-rated and over-grown child-star of Bollywood cinema. O tempora, o mores  is all that one can say, and the film’s immense popularity at the box-office is simply a reflection of the times we are passing through.

Provocative as these antics are, we are here not to join issues with idiots, but to pay tribute to Vasantrao on his death anniversary that went past un-noticed yesterday. VaRa was the most unpretentious genius known to Indian Classical. He was sort of a tiger in sheep’s clothing. This he did, not consciously or contrived-ly, but naturally and nonchalantly, as a matter of being true to his own nature. He worked diligently for decades as a clerk in the Central Government, last in Assam, till the great Begum Akhtar, his soul-mate, prised him away from that avatar. If one has to relate VaRa’s life to a movie, Forrest Gump it will be, the landmark events of his life often narrated in the same droll manner as Forrest, by VaRa himself. Who but VaRa can casually narrate this piece which concerns one of the two greatest Marathi musical geniuses in its golden era :

My uncle used to work in the Revenue Department (at Kolhapur). He was on friendly terms with (artistes of) Dinanathrao Mangeshkar’s Balwant Sangeet Mandali and would attend all of their stage dramas. I too would accompany him. As I watched the dramas, I was gradually drawn to the songs. Moreover, I began attempting to sing them. Inspired by Dinanathrao’s musical style, I sang his songs in the same manner. Everyone, especially Dinanathrao, was very appreciative of my renditions. The road that led to his theatre passed by our house and I would wait at the window for him (Vasanta was in his early teens then). When he sighted me at the window, he would signal me with a wave of his hand to join him. I would eagerly run to him and together we would go to the theatre. On the occasions that he did not see me by the window, he would peep in and ask, “Hey, aren’t you coming to the theatre?”

[Translations: Veena from 'Vasantrao Deshpande: Ek Smaran']

By the way, Asha adapted to her father’s genre natyasangeet admirably and she was coached by none other than VaRa.

How about this, where the name of one of the greatest composers of Hindi Cinema crops up:

“As a student of music, I had to occasionally participate in a different type of activity. Reagent Talkies of Nagpur used to be called “Birdie Picture House” in those days and it used to screen silent films. Background music for the films would be provided by musicians sitting near the screen and playing the harmonium and the tabla.  Sapre-Master would occasionally send me and C. Ramchandra for this job.  I played the tabla and Ram, the harmonium and together we had a blast with the back-ground score.  Nobody expected that the music be suitable to the film situation...we sat  there and just played all the songs we knew.”

Vasantrao, Pu La Deshpande and Bhimsen Joshi used to be pals and would jam regularly in Pune. When VaRa passed away, Pt. Bhimsen reputedly said “alas, Marwa is no more!” Marwa and Vasanta were like twins and behind this lies another of those unbelievable stories that strung together form Vasanta’s life.

When in his late teens, Vasanta was taken by his Mama (maternal uncle) to Lahore where he served in the Railway, the object being to locate a guru for him. An observant class-mate at school, one Khanna told young Vasanta about a fakir who had made his home across the Ravi in Jehangir’s tomb at Shahdara. The fakir sings the sort of things you do, so he was told. The boys trudged their way to the dargah, where Vasanta heard the soul-stirring voice of the fakir, who turned out to be none other than the recluse Ustad Asad Ali Khan of Agra. I’ll teach you one cheez a day, but you have to give a paisa to each of those five fakirs sitting there everyday, the Ustad jokingly told our boy. Having secured the necessary financial sanctions from Mama, Vasanta would pay the sum agreed upon faithfully, and would take down the wordings of one bandish daily, the practice of notation not having arrived then. These untiring efforts failed to impress Mama, what Vasanta was taking down were simply words, words, and it was decided to change tack, for what was being done was no way to please a fakir, Mama rightly felt. Vasanta therefore took a basket of roses, a seer of sweetmeats and five rupees worth of charas to the fakir, which coming from a delicate child really moved the Ustad to tears. The customary ganda was tied, and Vasanta formally enrolled as a disciple. The lessons commenced the same day. The six fakirs and Vasanta converged under a dense clump of trees, sitting on the verge of the large prodigious well there, legs dangling inside and Vasanta was asked by Asad Ali Khan to demonstrate what he had learnt so far. Dusk had arrived by then and it was time for a Marwa. Vasanta sang whatever he had learnt of Marwa, the sombre notes resonating from the depths of the well. One by one, the five companions of Asad were asked to sing Marwa after their respective gharana tradition, and Asad Ali Khan rounded off the mehfil, landing the complex final taan on the sam with such dexterity that the others could only bow down and weep. Each of the five other fakirs was a consummate singer, having surrendered to Sufism, abandoning the worldly way. For three months, everyday, they sang Marwa and only Marwa, and when time came, the Ustad bade farewell to the boy, with the words: “Ek saadhe to sab kuch saadhe, sab kuch saadhe to kuch nahin!” You master one and you have mastered all…Only the swaras differ, but essentially all ragas are comrades-in-arms, to be sung in like manner. Go forth and apply the same methods to each raga, you are a most intelligent boy, and by the grace of Allah you’ll go very far.  

Uncanny isn’t it! Can you imagine a teen-aged seeker of music from Nagpur land on the banks of the Ravi at Lahore, at the mazaar of Jehangir the Great, running into six of the best Hindustani Classical vocalists who had renounced the world and were now Lotus Eaters!

We’ll talk again someday about VaRa, there is still so much to be said, but we’ll end with another observation which relates to Katyar. There was hardly any money in Classical those days, and some of the greatest of our singers such as Bade Ghulam Ali Khan died in abject penury. Today we cannot imagine a Shreya Ghosal working as a clerk in a bank and singing part-time, but the financial insecurity that was VaRa’s constant companion stayed with him even after he retired, and he took up the job of an accountant in a private business at Nagpur. On the eve of the day he was to join, Purushottam Darvhekar, the great playwright who created the fabulous Katyar approached VaRa at his residence, entreating him to play the role of Khansaheb in this new play of his, in which Abhishekiji was rendering the music, and was keen on VaRa’s singing the lead in the play.

This Universe would not have been the same had Darvhekar not placed Khansaheb’s taaj on Vasantarao’s humble brow!

KHANSAHEB OVER THE AGES:

VASANTRAO AS KHANSAHEB

CHANDRAKANT LIMAYE: NOTICE THE SOFT LOOKS

CHARUDATTA APHALE

















RAHUL DESHPANDE: GRANDSON OF THE GREAT MAN

MASTER SACHIN IN MOVIE: AUDIENCE
SUPPOSED TO THROW EGGS AT HIM






















The awesome Ghei Chhand on Youtube



POST SCRIPT
The only video recording of Vasantrao’s original version of the play ever made was erased by Doordarshan in 1982 as they were running short of the medium on the eve of Asiad. It survives only in the minds of contemporaries and all that will be left physically for records will be the communal and divisive film, for that is the general course on which our society is moving, and that’s a one-way street...Chandakant Limaye's version is on YT and is authentic...

Monday, July 31, 2017

THE INVISIBLE HAND: SHORT STORY


That was a weird day- the  13th of May 2016 to be precise. It was as if a Singularity in Time had struck Bhamori, the famous colony of Indore, the Madhya Pradesh town where roads are plastered with the lemon-yellow mouth-watering  Poha, and pavements cast in saffron, juicy Jalebis. Or was it that some wayward eddies in Time had selectively lifted these cozy bastis and dropped them plonk in the middle of the Bermuda triangle! Or that some invisible hand had trained a prismatic refracting medium on the junction of two days, that is the place where one day handshakes with the next…

Our Bhamori reporter understands that 8 out of 10 employees of the 2 Public Sector banks in and around Bhamori did not report for duty. Not that as a consequence the Managers coaxed the absenting employees out of their beds or sent out the rest to drag the erring 8 to answer the call of duty, for these PSB are known to be determined to preserve employee morale. Needless to state, the famous 8 certainly had their living quarters in the vicinity, for the managements are alive and sympathetic on the point of commuting woes.

But the domino effect had extended beyond Bhamori. On the liberally oiled jagged cuddupa stairs of the ancient Malviya Nagar Shani Mandir, there was a moderate crowd, women bedecked in finery, jostling for a foot-hold, gingerly holding on to bowls and cans and little pails of oil with which they should propitiate the mighty Saturn God. A CCTV camera, hanging above in the malwa skies  like a bat or its Carrollean equivalent, the tea-tray, recorded faithfully the perplexed expressions on the faces of onlookers and passers-by wondering why so many people thronged the Shani Mandir on a Friday. On their part, the bhaktas too were elated to find so much elbow-room on what they believed was a Saturday or Sanicchar! Witness how one man’s dynamic Sanicchar can be the colourless Shukkar of another!
  
The epidemic of delinquency had travelled beyond Malviya Nagar.  School children of Vijay Nagar 452010 who were supposed to be enduring their classes were found loitering on the jalebi lined pavements, or sitting before their TV sets or negotiating their playstation consoles- yessir, Indori kids are ever abreast of the latest in technology! Mothers were the first to notice something amiss. Although a Saturday by common consent, they could feel shades of deceit- hadn’t Saturday arrived suddenly like an unwanted guest? Pest if you prefer?
    
The tremors had wandered beyond Vijaynagaram ha, ha. The Mechanic Nagar kalali , that is, the place where the humble like you and me assemble to do what you and me would avoid except possibly on Holi- imbibing in the morning- went viral as the sun rose- a tribute to that special day called Saturday. Being a progressive place, in Indore we observe a five day week, that is observe holidays on 5 days of the week, he, he…joking! Nevertheless, the kalali was teeming with customers, and waiters, who normally sleep on the premises were upbeat, for they are on Saturdays mainly, at the receiving end of tips from the gentle folk who invariably become large-hearted after a couple of pegs.

Another place of interest for us that quaint and curious day happened to be the nearby Bajrang Nagar mosque where in the absence of any other mosque for miles quite a crowd assembles for the Friday Dhuhur Namaz. The faithful are constrained owing to lack of space, to spill out of the precincts, congregating on the pavements. One could see volunteers spreading out neat Namaz chatais in preparation for the arrival of the faithful. Passers by coming south-wards from Bhamori and Malviya Nagar and Vijay Nagar were perplexed to observe this frenetic activity on a Saturday. You will recall that Bhamori and adjuncts formed the heart of the fragment of earth where the singularity in Time had apparently struck this morning, refracting like a prism, a Friday to a Saturday or vice-versa. Some cultural event perhaps, the passers-by mused, since it was not the jumma

At around 11, when the May Sun was huffing and puffing her way to the zenith, Badlu Ram and his caboodle of 12, four sons, five daughters and three brothers-in-law, two losers, one gainer,  limped back to their homestead in Bhamori. Assembling over tea, they evaluated the spoils: three litres approx of oil against the customary average of 5 litres; 308 rupee coins excluding the 22 counterfeit ones, 15 five rupee coins including the counterfeit ones, three kg of wheat flour, sundry eatables. As you rightly guessed, paterfamilias Badlu Ram was a Shani Maharaj, the peripatetic intermediary between the bhaktas and the malevolent God Shani or  Sanichhar (not necessarily a Brahmin for this is a market-led profession). For those who came late, Badlu’s tribe provides a sort of door-step service to the Saturn God, who by all accounts, prefers oil and base-metal by way of offering.  The coins are reverentially cast into a small pitcher of oil carried like a carrot on a stick by our friends, and coins being coins, tend to follow gravity. To return to counting the currency, the haul was not even half of what should have been found resting at the bottom of the 3 litres of oil even if you make allowance for 5 fivers which had found way into Badlu’s gainer brother-in-law’s trouser pockets, in anticipation of a glass of nectar served at sun-down by the kalali described above. A hot debate between members of Badlu’s team ensued. Four apostles out of the customary 12 confessed to a bit of delinquency. There was no notebandi or Demonetisation to blame. The will of Shani Maharaj  …Badlu thought as the pin-up of Sunny Leone on the calendar held his gaze seductively. Eeeek! April 2016 said the folio- damn this girl, they had  forgotten to turn the charmed page over- it was May now maaan! Reaching for the newspaper he struggled to locate the date for a while, then focussed on the date-line. Friday she said.

And that was the singularity that had struck Bhamori that day. As the cock heralds the morn, Saturday is the preserve of Shani Maharaj in our cow-belt. Their’s is not to question why.

Later on of course the affected realised what a blunder-mishtake they had committed. However none else than those had actually propitiated the Saturn God through the offices of Badlu Ram and Co. could discover as to who the culprit in the whole episode was, so ethereal and elusive was he!


Remember someone who wrote “Nobody ever sees a postman”. I’d add Shani Maharaj to Chesterton’s List.

SHANI MAHARAAJ!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

REVOLTING PRUNES

Prunes are dried plums. In Marathi they call them जर्दाळू, சரிக்கரை பாதாமி in Tamil, खुरमानी in Hindi and so on. This rendering has to be qualified a wee- bit. Strictly speaking the trio refers to Dried Apricots, whereas Prune is a dried sister fruit aloo-bukhara or Red-plum and what goes under the name Prune in India is an import from California, whereas the former set is produced locally. They share the same alleged health benefits, being laden with Anti-oxidants, bursting with Calcium and all that.

To cut a short story long, the name ‘Prune’ decidedly sounds uncouth and hence in spite of a barrage of press-reports about the newly discovered benefits the fruit confers, sales remained flat in the US. A marketing study identified the appellation Prune as the chief culprit, so the California Prune (not Prude) Board ‘pressured the FDA to change the name of Prunes to the more inviting “Dried Plums”- and it worked’. This is, verbatim as reported on NDTV.com, and not on aajtak.com, and hence one may be pardoned for believing the same.

Names can be quite off-putting. As residents on the North East we always had issues with such a beautiful place being named ‘Guwahati’. Kamrup or even Dispur would have done more justice to the ambience, Guwahati sounds gooey!

The disaffection with the term Prune, in the estimation of YT, basically stems from the ‘disdain’ showed towards the well-intentioned fruit by British Boarding School kids. Other candidates of the ‘disdain’ could be the Broccoli and the Radio Malt which famously, was administered to young Boarding School girls “in an attempt to change skinny young girls into prettier roundness”. For the records, ‘as a fule kno that’, George Molesworth, brother of the protagonist of today’s blog, Nigel Molesworth, loved Radio Malt (which was a sort of treacle sold under the proprietary name Syp Minadex, if seniors will recall).
Nigel Molesworth

Of course ‘as a fule kno that’ is a Deep Purple hit. But as any fule kno, it’s  the refrain of the adventures of the mythical boarding school kid Nigel Molesworth, enshrined in the St. Custard diaries created by the wayward writer-cartoonist duo of Geoffery Williams and Ronald Searle. Searle in fact illustrated the books based on a series Jeff had been writing in the late, lamented Punch magazine, in the late lamented 1940s, he, he, he... ‘Down with Skool- A Guide to School Life for Tiny Pupils and Their Parents’ is the flag-bearer of the series.

A rich genre exists in serious literature about life in British Boarding Schools. This includes depiction of posh boarding schools as in Enid Blyton and Angela Brazil, basically meant for educative purposes, and the satirical or titillating variations considered by the authors of St. Trinians, St. Custards (both Geoffery Williams and Ronald Searle), Harry Potter, Narnia etc. Any number of movies have being made on the subject, some quite serious and haunting like Picnic on the Hanging Rock.

The Nigel series belongs to the mid-1950s, when YT was born. Down with Skool fell into his hands in the School’s History and Culture readings period when the slim volume somehow got mixed up with the 30 identical copies of “Myths and Legends of the Greeks” (not Geeks) which we sleepy kids were supposed to read in order to familiarise ourselves with time-less European contexts like Hercules, Paris, Troy, Athena etc. etc. The passage where Nigel contemplates the ‘Revolt of the Prunes’, a word-play on the revolting taste of prunes left us rolling in the aisle with laughter, leaving class-teacher Miss Parks wondering as to what Act of Greek mythology could be the object of such mirth. We were caught with the book but given the circumstances in which it befell us, she could only say “my, my, what spellings and I don’t think words like ‘chizz’ are there in any dictionary”….

You can buy this book on Amazon today or borrow it from an online library like archive.org, but as is said, the exploits of Nigel grow on you and you have to read it at the right juncture of your life to find it hilarious, best when you are sailing through troubled middle-school academic waters.

Let’s return to the book’s last chapter Revolt of the Prunes. Nicholas Lezard, fellow Molesworth enthusiast writes in the 1st October 2005 number of Independent: ‘The school prunes, weary of the disdain they encounter among all schoolboys stage a revolt’. Nigel in his nightmare conjures up the following:
Prunes plan attack

“The chief prune was a regular soldier and the moment the Revolt broke out, he did what all generals do. He burrowed underground and established his head-quarters. He had lot of relations and made them all staff prunes”.

Lezard continues: ‘It is not, it may strike you, the most sophisticated of satires. But if you read it at the right age, the Revolt of the Prunes- and just about any flight of fancy on Down with Skool!...will stay with you until your deathbed…whoever was behind the works, they knew what was going on in the mind of a 10 to 12-year-old schoolboy..”

Contempt for his younger brother George makes whimsy appearance even here:   George is referred to as molesworth 2 in the diary, and about his eating habits, prune number 4 says “ imagine being inside molesworth 2 with all those common lozenges spangles carots radio malt and all other things he hav pinched”. Note the parsimony showed towards the comon comma…

So Nigel uses phonetic spellings while writing the St. Custard diaries, doesn’t capitalise initials of names, is very economical with punctuation marks, but still often sounds sage beyond his years, though his interpretation of words and events is sometimes misplaced. Needless to state, these are all reflections of the rebellious mental make-up of Jeff, the original writer. But the misspellings are so endearingly natural: foopball, peotry, anebode, lunatick, fast blower (i.e. fast bowler)…look more authentic than the actual spellings!

Nigel’s take on the subjects:

 History: "History started badly and hav been getting steadily worse”
 Literature: "Peotry is sissy stuff that rhymes. Weedy people say la and fie and swoon when they see a bunch of daffodils."
 Botany:"Boo to birds beasts crows trees grass flowers also cristopfer robin and wind in the wilows. Charge at the tinies and mow them down."
 Geometry: "To do geom you hav to make a lot of things equal to each other when you can see perfectly well that they don't."

Pythagoras who uniformly comes in for criticism gets mixed up with  Archimedes of the famous “eureka” episode. Nigel writes : “ Whenever he found a new thing about a triangle Pythagoras who had no shame jumped out of his bath and shouted ‘Q.E.D.’ through the streets of athens it’s a wonder they never locked him up.” Then, critical of the Bible, he remarks “Cain did his bro Abel which is enuff to give me an idea occasionally about molesworth 2.”

Incidentally this juvenile, cocky wisdom reminds one of the misinterpretation protagonist Holden Caulfield places upon the phrase ‘catcher in the rye’ in the eponymous book. As you’ll recall, Holden believes the phrase to mean ‘saviour of innocent children’, in which role he fancies himself, the imagery being hundreds children playing in rye fields, and Holden saving kids from falling off a cliff as they play in abandon… In reality the 1782 poem by Robert Burns “Comin’ Through the Rye” is a middle-English poem with sexual overtones. Similar cocky wisdom is also displayed by Huckleberry Finn when he describes his encounter with ‘the widow’: “After supper she got out her book and learned me about Moses…I didn’t care no more about him anymore because I take no stock in dead people”! Incidentally, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye are considered the three most perfect books in American Literature by top American critics…

About the illustrations by Ronald Searle in the series, Lezard writes..”I can think of no work except perhaps Alice in Wonderland. Where illustration and content are on such good terms with each other…take a look, that’s the way to go:
   
Maths with Pythagoras on my side
Bet the images match your conception 

A Word about Aldous Huxley


(wiki on St Trinians, another landmark):

St Trinians was a British gag cartoon comic strip series, created and drawn by Ronald Searle from 1946 until 1952.[1] The cartoons all centre on a boarding school for girls, where the teachers are sadists and the girls are juvenile delinquents. The series was Searle's most famous work and inspired a popular series of comedy films that has outlived the short-running cartoon series.
Irresistible charm of St Trinians'girls'hostel


Peace loving St Trinian girls!

So persuasive!

Leading St Trinians' initiatives