Friday, July 30, 2010

Indian Media and my pessimism

Tehelka is an exception, an honourable exception to the general rule that popular (or is it populist) Indian journalism is largely immature, lacks sensitivity, scandal-hungry (at finding or creating), filthy, rapacious, lacks morals and wisdom, is vision-less, and ultimately going down a very slippery slope. Its a race to the bottom.

Tehelka.........may your ilk grow

Saturday, July 24, 2010

P. G. Wodehouse - 8

From ‘Do Butlers Burgle Banks?’

Ferdie was small and wizened and wore always a rather anxious look, as a man well might who so often found himself forty feet up in the air with only his natural endowments to keep him there. Life can never be unmixedly carefree for cat burglars.

Basher, it seemed to him, had an ounce less brain than a retarded rabbit.

……just sat there and looked at him as if he were something the cat had brought in

Night had fallen on Wellingford with the thoroughness with which night always falls on that type of town.

‘………He was as sick as mud,’ said Basher, lowering the tone of his prose style for a moment.

But though he was feeling as if his interior had been churned up with an egg-whisk, his voice was calm………..

‘What did this girl look like?’

Once more Ferdie had to think. Word-portrait painting was not really his forte.

‘……….He’s a reformed character. He’s retiring from business and marrying Ada Cootes, and they’re going to live a spotless life on the Riviera. There’s a house he hopes to buy outside Cannes. It has a sentimental appeal to him because he once burgled it, in his youth when he was a member of the Duplessis mob.’

‘How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood’

‘……Of all the slanderous imputations I ever heard, this one takes the biscuit. Who are your solicitors, Appleby?’

‘Bodger, Bodger, Bodger -’


‘- and Bodger.’

‘Still better,’ said Mike, as if feeling that when you get four Bodgers, you’ve got something.

From ‘Barmy in Wonderland’

…………this desk clerk of his….handicapped, in his opinion, by an I.Q. somewhat lower than that of a backward clam – a clam, let us say, which had been dropped on its head when a baby…….

Emerald married my Uncle Theodore, a thing I wouldn’t have done myself on a bet, he being a sort of human snapping turtle

Jack McClure came tottering in, looking like something left over from the Last Days of Pompeii.

J. Bromley Lippincott was a tall, dark cadaverous man who looked about sixty, as he had probably looked at the age of ten, and gave the impression, not unusual with attorneys-at-law, of having seen so much of life’s murky side that he now automatically suspected everyone he met of nameless crimes.

From ‘Plum Pie’

‘A problem has arisen in the life of a friend of mine who shall be nameless, and I want your advice. I must begin by saying that it’s one of those delicate problems where not only my friend must be nameless but all other members of the personnel. In other words I can’t mention names. You see what I mean?’

‘I understand you perfectly, sir. You would prefer to term the protagonists A and B.’

‘Or North and South?’

‘A and B is more customary, sir.’

‘Just as you say. Well, A is male, B female. You follow me so far?’

‘You have been lucidity itself, sir.’

‘And owing to….what’s that something of circumstances you hear people talking about? Cats enter into it, if I remember rightly.’

‘Would concatenation be the word for which you are groping?’

‘Ah yes, I have heard of Niagara Falls. People go over them in barrels, do they not? Now there is a thing I would not care to do myself. Most uncomfortable, I should imagine, though no doubt one would get used to it in time……..’

The evening was one of those fine evenings which come to London perhaps twice in the course of an English summer……….

The impression left on the mind when one reads in the papers of the local rules and regulations in force all over the country is that life in America can be very difficult. Almost every avenue to wholesome fun seems to be barred. In Rumford, Maine, for instance, it is illegal for a tenant to bite his landlord, while in Youngstown, Ohio, stiff sentences are passed on those who tie giraffes to light standards. In Nogales, Arizona, there is an ordinance prohibiting the wearing of braces; in San Francisco one which won’t let you shoot jack rabbits from cable cars; and in Dunn, South Carolina, unless you have the permission of the headmistress, a permission very sparingly granted, it is unlawful to ‘act in an obnoxious manner on the campus of the girls’ school’.

You hardly know where to live in America these days, especially if you are a woman. Go to Owensboro, Kentucky, and you get arrested for buying a new hat without having your husband try it on first, while if you decide on Carmel, California, you find you are not allowed to take a bath in a business office, the one thing all women want to do on settling down in a new community. For men probably the spot to be avoided with the greatest care is Norton, Virginia, where ‘it is illegal to tickle a girl’.

One of the reasons why our faces light up when the time comes to hand over four-fifths of our last year’s income to the government is that we know that the lolly will be employed to some good end.

Only the other day the government started a project for studying the diving reflex and volume receptors of seals, which is a thing I can hardly wait to find out about, and now they are touching me for a bit more because they want to take a census of fish. Four hundred skin-divers are diving daily into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in order to ‘determine the distribution of fish that inhabit American waters’, and that sort of thing comes high. You know what skin-divers are like. They want theirs. By the time I have paid this bunch their salaries, it is very doubtful if I shall be able to afford the one meal a week to which I had been looking forward.

But I can quite see how it would jeopardize America’s safety not to count these fish, so I shall make do quite happily on biscuits and cheese, and of course there is always the chance that a kindly skin-diver, grateful for my patronage, will slip me a halibut or something on the side.

He was sitting with his head between his hands, probably feeling that if he let go of it it would come in half……….

I am told by those who know that there are six varieties of hangover – the Broken Compass, the Sewing Machine, the Comet, the Atomic, the Cement Mixer and the Gremlin Boogie, and his aspect suggested that he had got them all.

One of the great traditions in America has always been the adding of penciled moustaches to the faces on posters in the subway, and some superb work has been done in that line over the years. They fine you two hundred and fifty dollars if they catch you doing it, but to the artist the satisfaction of attaching a walrus moustache to the upper lip of – say – Miss Elizabeth Taylor is well worth the risk. (Moustache drawers are a proud guild and look down on the fellows who simply write ‘George loves Mabel’ or ‘Castro ought to have his head examined’ on the walls. Hack work, they consider it.)

Lancelot frowned. He was not fond of big game-hunters. His own impulse, if he had met a wapiti or a gnu or whatever it might be, would have been to offer it a ham sandwich from his luncheon basket, and the idea of plugging it with a repeating rifle, as this Pashley-Drake presumably did, revolted him.

It is pretty generally agreed that we are living as of even date in the times that try men’s souls, and it is interesting, as one surveys the American scene, to note the steps the various states are taking to cope with them. Thus, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the populace was conscious recently of a great wave of relief, for they knew that even if a hostile power were to start unloading unpleasant things from the skies above America, they at least would be sitting pretty. Grand Rapids has just passed a law making it illegal for any aviator to ‘drop a bomb while flying over the city without leave from the city commision’, and it is very improbable that such permission would be given a foreign foe.

A frown appeared on Mr Bunting’s face. Normally it resembled that of an amiable vulture. He now looked like a vulture dissatisfied with its breakfast corpse.

‘….Are you fond of dogs?’

‘Yes, very.’

‘So am I. There’s something about dogs.’


‘Of course, there’s something about cats, too.’


‘But, still, cats aren’t dogs’


From ‘A Few Quick Ones’

……..he sidled up, coughed once or twice like a sheep with bronchitis

Agnes Flack was one of the recognized sights of the place. One pointed her out to visitors together with the Lovers Leap, the waterfall and the curious rock formation near the twelfth tee. Built rather on the lines of the village blacksmith, she had for many seasons been the undisputed female champion of the club. She had the shoulders of an all-in wrestler, the breezy self-confidence of a sergeant-major and a voice like a toast-master’s. I had often seen the Wrecking Crew, that quartette of spavined septuagenarians whose pride it was that they never let anyone through, scatter like leaves in an autumn gale at the sound of her stentorian ‘Fore!’ A dynamic and interesting personality.

There seemed nothing to say. The idea of suggesting that he should break off the engagement presented itself to me, but I dismissed it. Women are divided broadly into two classes – those who, when jilted, merely drop a silent tear and those who take a niblick from their bag and chase the faithless swain across country with it. It was to this latter section that Agnes Flack belonged. Attila the Hun might have broken off his engagement to her, but nobody except Attila the Hun, and he only on one of his best mornings.

If Agnes Flack had been about a foot shorter and had weighed about thirty pounds less, the sound which proceeded from her might have been described as a giggle.

She was presiding over a stall in the shade of a large cedar at the edge of the lawn, and as soon as he could get his limbs to function he hastened up and began buying everything in sight. And when a tea-cosy, two Teddy bears, a penwiper, a bowl of wax flowers and a fretwork pipe-rack had changed hands he felt that he was entitled to regard himself as a member of the club and get friendly.

‘Lovely day,’ he said.

‘Beautiful,’ said the girl.

‘The sun,’ said Augustus, pointing it out with his umbrella.

The girl said Yes, she had noticed the sun.

‘I always think it seems to make everything so much brighter, if you know what I mean, when the sun’s shining,’ said Augustus. ‘Well, it’s been awfully jolly, meeting you. My name, in case you’re interested, is Mulliner’

……..It’s about a negro on the Mississippi who trembles a bit when he sees a job of work.’

‘Quite. I believe many negros do……..’

It was this that had blotted out the sunshine for Bingo and made him feel, warm though the day was, that centipedes with icy feet were walking up and down his spine.

George Potter, who had just appeared, gave the impression, as he advanced towards us on leaden feet, of having had his insides removed by a taxidermist who had absentmindedly forgotten to complete the operation by stuffing him. I believe this often happens when a young lover has been handed his hat by the adored subject.

……found only one customer ahead of me at the stamp counter, a charmingly pretty girl of, I should say, the stenographer class. She was putting in a bid for a couple of twopence-halfpennies and, like all girls, was making quite a production out of it. You or I, when we feel the urge for stamps, stride you, ask for them, disgorge the needful and stride away again, but girls like to linger and turn the thing into a social occasion.

‘Cor! Chase my Aunt Fanny up a gum tree!’ cried Jas, infected with his enthusiasm.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

From 'Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official'

From  'Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official' by William Sleeman
First published 1844

Sir Thomas Munro has justly observed, 'I do not exactly know what is meant by civilizing the people of India. In the theory and practice of good government they may be deficient; but, if a good system of agriculture, if unrivalled manufactures, if the establishment of schools for reading and writing, if the general practice of kindness and hospitality, and, above all, if a scrupulous respect and delicacy towards the female sex are amongst the points that denote a civilized people; then the Hindoos are not inferior in civilization to the people of Europe'.[8]

The Hindoo system is this. A great divine spirit or essence, 'Brahma', pervades the whole universe; and the soul of every human being is a drop from this great ocean, to which, when it becomes perfectly purified, it is reunited. The reunion is the eternal beatitude to which all look forward with hope; and the soul of the Brahman is nearest to it. If he has been a good man, his soul becomes absorbed in the 'Brahma'; and, if a bad man, it goes to 'Narak', hell; and after the expiration of its period there of limited imprisonment, it returns to earth, and occupies the body of some other animal. It again advances by degrees to the body of the Brahman; and thence, when fitted for it, into the great 'Brahma'.[1]

[On witnessing a completely voluntary Sati – the burning of a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre]

I tried to work upon her pride and her fears. I told her that it was probable that the rent-free lands by which her family had been so long supported might be resumed by the Government, as a mark of its displeasure against the children for not dissuading her from the sacrifice; that the temples over her ancestors upon the bank might be levelled with the ground, in order to prevent their operating to induce others to make similar sacrifices; and lastly, that not one single brick or stone should ever mark the place where she died if she persisted in her resolution. But, if she consented to live, a splendid habitation should be built for her among these temples, a handsome provision assigned for her support out of these rent-free lands, her children should come daily to visit her, and I should frequently do the same. She smiled, but held out her arm and said, 'My pulse has long ceased to beat, my spirit has departed, and I have nothing left but a little earth, that I wish to mix with the ashes of my husband. I shall suffer nothing in burning; and, if you wish proof, order some fire, and you shall see this arm consumed without giving me any pain'. I did not attempt to feel her pulse, but some of my people did, and declared that it had ceased to be perceptible. At this time every native present believed that she was incapable of suffering pain; and her end confirmed them in their opinion.

Satisfied myself that it would be unavailing to attempt to save her life, I sent for all the principal members of the family, and consented that she should be suffered to burn herself if they would enter into engagements that no other member of their family should ever do the same. This they all agreed to, and the papers having been drawn out in due form about midday, I sent down notice to the old lady, who seemed extremely pleased and thankful. The ceremonies of bathing were gone through before three [o'clock], while the wood and other combustible materials for a strong fire were collected and put into the pit. After bathing, she called for a 'pan' (betel leaf) and ate it, then rose up, and with one arm on the shoulder of her eldest son, and the other on that of her nephew, approached the fire. I had sentries placed all round, and no other person was allowed to approach within five paces. As she rose up fire was set to the pile, and it was instantly in a blaze. The distance was about 150 yards. She came on with a calm and cheerful countenance, stopped once, and, casting her eyes upward, said, 'Why have they kept me five days from thee, my husband?' On coming to the sentries her supporters stopped; she walked once round the pit, paused a moment, and, while muttering a prayer, threw some flowers into the fire. She then walked up deliberately and steadily to the brink, stepped into the centre of the flame, sat down, and leaning back in the midst as if reposing upon a couch, was consumed without uttering a shriek or betraying one sign of agony.

A few instruments of music had been provided, and they played, as usual, as she approached the fire, not, as is commonly supposed, in order to drown screams, but to prevent the last words of the victim from being heard, as these are supposed to be prophetic, and might become sources of pain or strife to the living.[6] It was not expected that I should yield, and but few people had assembled to witness the sacrifice, so that there was little or nothing in the circumstances immediately around to stimulate her to any extraordinary exertions; and I am persuaded that it was the desire of again being united to her husband in the next world, and the entire confidence that she would be so if she now burned herself, that alone sustained her. From the morning he died (Tuesday) till Wednesday evening she ate 'pans' or betel leaves, but nothing else; and from Wednesday evening she ceased eating them. She drank no water from Tuesday. She went into the fire with the same cloth about her that she had worn in the bed of the river; but it was made wet from a persuasion that even the shadow of any impure thing falling upon her from going to the pile contaminates the woman unless counteracted by the sheet moistened in the holy stream.

I must do the family the justice to say that they all exerted themselves to dissuade the widow from her purpose, and had she lived she would assuredly have been cherished and honoured as the first female member of the whole house. There is no people in the world among whom parents are more loved, honoured, and obeyed than among the Hindoos; and the grandmother is always more honoured than the mother. No queen upon her throne could ever have been approached with more reverence by her subjects than was this old lady by all the members of her family as she sat upon a naked rock in the bed of the river, with only a red rag upon her head and a single-white sheet over her shoulders.