Saturday, August 16, 2014

From ‘Inner Recesses Outer Spaces. Memoirs’ by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay

The Indian cow to me is the most beautiful creature, and I have seen cows all over the world…. When I talked to the cows, their eyes showed a quiet understanding…..through those extraordinarily expressive eyes they showed sympathy and invariably nodded their heads….

….Irawati Karve …………anthropologist ….she did intensive studies in remote rural areas….her partisanship for polygamy for agricultural families was strengthening with time …..She explained that it was traditionally accepted and no social ethics entered here to complicate the family harmony. So far as married life went, they were content. How many couples under monogamy really lived a full satisfied life, she queried? Here the woman had security, a comfortable home and a happily shared responsibility for care of the children…..

Before the advent of the British the rural scene was one of self sufficient communities. The peasants grew their basic needs. The skilled craftsmen provided the communities’ other needs.
In Bengal (the Bengal Presidency of the time included Bihar also) in particular with India’s defeat at Plassey, the entire scene started getting drastically transformed. The new rulers rushed across the fertile land stripping it of its crop wealth and stamping on the exquisite handicrafts, especially the superb home-woven textiles.
A new era of cash crop was forced on the region through the new plantation system, whereby the unwary peasant was pushed into the trader’s money-spinning orbit through plantation cultivation of opium, jute, tea, above all indigo. Indigo ensnared the cultivator into practical slavery, making him victim of a most hateful economic bondage…. The planters were themselves imposters, who had got themselves transplanted from the West Indies where they had worked with slave labour……After the 1857 war, the racial animosities of the planters increased, their assaults on labour sharpened with the free use of leather thongs known as Shamchands, for slogging. The planters retained their own armies to terrorise labour.

…Rabindranath Tagore …went on the explain the strong impact Western music had made on him. ‘It has an entirely different resonant richness that I am trying to catch and intertwine in a new music,’ he explained. Then to illustrate he sang the now famous ‘Ami Chinigo Chini’, which he explained was inspired by an Italian serenade.

Motilal Nehru seemed a person apart not just because of his political position but his superb bearing, of absolute self confidence, above all the unusually pleasant rapport he had with his arch opponents in the government who on occasions readily arrested and imprisoned him. Most English members in the Viceroy’s Council, confessed they found him delightful even though a formidable adversary in a political battle, and all of them characterized him as a clean fighter who commanded their respect.

However inance and formless the Salt Satyagraha may have sounded, the Dandi March, Gandhiji’s long journey on foot to the sea opened ….An old man with a large staff in his hand was accompanied by a struggling group of 71 of varied ages, indifferently clad ….As this motley crowd marched in disciplined silence, each foot fall seemed to echo and re-echo through the land. Each day the tempo kept rising. …was 240 miles, from Sabarmati where he started …..As the march progressed it were as though the millions of Indians were marching ….. I felt elated as part of one of the most spectacular dramas in India’s political history….

….to formally break the Salt Law in public in Bombay city …..we were filing out, taking the road to the sea…. Great sky-rending cries of ‘Jai’ filled the air. Heavy-scented flower garlands almost smothered us. From the balconies and roofs unseen hands showered rose-petals until the road became a carpet of flowers. Often our march was stopped and bright eyed women sprinkled rose water from silver sprays, tipped our palms with sandalwood paste and perfume and blessed us waving lights round our heads and faces for good omen…. The city seemed to have disgorged of almost its entire population onto the sands….breaking the Salt Law, …hundreds and thousands now filling the water’s edge….. The police who had looked onat this advancing avalanche of lawbreakers seemed almost stupefied…

…though Gandhiji himself was not a temple goer, he insisted on the right of every human being to have access to all public places, including temples

Gandhiji had on his delightful smile that lit up the air around… There was devastating charm about him and when he turned it on full, those around fell easy victims. Though loaded with problems and responsibilities, he was so jocular and hearty, many of his jokes being against himself. He thus radiated a light-heartedness, as though he had not a care in the world. None of his close colleagues had that gift, nay not many Indians.

They [Kasturba and Gandhiji] were up before the Ashram stirred. … I watched…the speed and deftness with which she got through her chores, showing a long experienced hand at them. It was a pleasant sight to see them busy together, an intimacy that is woven like a web, intricate yet simple, delicate but strong, pregnated with a personal warmth, like two halves of a single whole. The nights were truly romantic. Though they were out of my sight, they were within easy hearing. …I knew she was gently rubbing his feet. I was not sure whether she did it for her own comfort or his. It was obviously one of those intimacies they had adopted. From the words and phrases that penetrated my reading, I learnt she was recounting to him some of the events of the day to which he made some replies. The nights were their own, they were simple husband and wife like any other couple in the world. …..It was also known that they had had sharp differences. But somewhere down their arduous pilgrimage had been dawning on her slpwly but forcefully a conviction not only of his bonafides but also that he was a man of great destiny, he belonged to the world, to the larger humanity, her role was to strengthen and fortify him for this noble mission …..she rather reluctantly allowed herself to say: one may not always agree with a course he takes but one does finally find that it was the right one, in any event it was a straight one.

…Lord Mountbatten …was subtle, uncannily sleek and his one weapon to master the tangled scene was to convince everyone he was a sincere friend of India. He built up a phony façade with his handsome exterior and studied polished mannners, aided cannily, with furtive subtlety by his socialite wife Edwina…..

I have often wondered if anybody else had drawn as many foreign admirers as Tagore, except Gandhiji.

From ‘10 Billion’ by Stephen Emmott

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUON) – the world’s leading authority on biodiversity – estimates that, as of 2012, 41 per cent of all amphibians, 33 per cent of all reef-building corals,25 per cent of all mammals and 13 per cent of all birds are at imminent risk of extinction.

We are now almost certainly losing species at a rate up to one thousand times faster than we would expect from ordinary ‘background’ (natural) processes.
This means that human activity is almost certainly now set to cause the greatest mass extinction of life on Earth since the event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Since 1900, the percentage of the world’s oceans either fully exploited (no fish left) or over exploited (fully exploited without significant action) has risen from less than ten per cent, to 87 per cent. We are harvesting ocean ecosystems at a rate which is completely unsustainable.

Right now, over one billion people are living in conditions of extreme water shortage.

….demand for land for food is going to double – at least – by 2050, and triple – at least – by the end of this century.
This means that pressure to clear many of the world’s remaining tropical forests – rain forests – for human use is going to intensify every decade. Because this is predominantly the only available land that is left for expanding agriculture at scale. Unless Siberia thaws out before we finish deforestation….If Siberia does thaw out … would result in a vast amount of new land being available for agriculture, as well as opening up a very rich source of minerals, metals, oil and gas. In the process this would almost certainly completely change global geopolitics. Siberia thawing would turn Russia into a remarkable economic and political force this century…..

It is now very likely that we are looking at a future global average rise of 4 degrees – and we can’t rule out a rise of 6 degrees….will be absolutely catastrophic. It will lead to runaway climate change, capable of tipping the planet into an entirely different state, rapidly. Earth would become a hell hole…..
But even if we’re lucky enough to fall short of anything like a 4- to 6-degree rise in global temperature, there almost certainly won’t be a country called Bangladesh by the end of this century – it will be under water.
Large parts of Africa will become permanent disaster areas. The Amazon could be turned into savannah or even desert.

From ‘Don Quixote's Delusions. Travels in Castilian Spain’ by Miranda France

The owner of the brothel lived in a small flat over the business, with her son, Juanito, who had a lazy eye……He wore a strong pair of glasses that grossly magnified the disobedient eye, which seemed to have not only an independent trajectory, but a separate, sinister motivation. A conversation with the boy could be disconcerting, because while his right eye remained childishly attentive, the left one roamed about, appraising his interlocutor with lascivious knowingness. While the eight-year-old gabbled about homework, insects and machine guns, that pale, magnified eye was like a window into an older, cynical soul.

….the brothel owner….used to complain bitterly about the coming of ‘Europe’, as if it were a war, or some devastating plague…

Every evening, at about eight o’clock, a certain smell descends on Spain. At the moment when offices close and there is a collective recognition that the serious part of the day has ended, a marriage of hairspray and cologne breezes down the city streets. The aroma seems to be the same, give or take a floral note, everywhere in Spain. For all that they rail against the centre, the Basques smell like Castilians. The southern Andalusians’ character may be nothing like the north-eastern Galicians’, but they smell the same in the evening.

Spaniards love to go out, to be in the street and to talk, or rather to shout to one another in a way that makes other countries seem eerily quiet.
A government survey carried out in 1990 found that Spain had only slightly fewer bars than the rest of the European Union put together, Spaniards are the most social Europeans, spending at least two and a half hours with friends, usually in bars, every day. Even after a wedding, rather than drive to a private reception, sometimes the bridge and the groom will descend, in ruffles and tulle, on the bars and discos of their town. There are housewives who spend their day in a housecoat, then dress with meticulous care for the evening stroll, an institution that has its own name, el paseo.

They may be dying off but nuns still seem to be everywhere in Spain, so omnipresent that you can never take a bus, or a photograph without finding that a nun has slipped into it……nuns in Spain are always on the move.

The Mother Superior told me that they almost never went into the street, though they could hear the noise around them….
‘How long have you been here?’ I asked.
‘Much too long to remember,’ she said, with a sigh that seemed to slip under the heavy oak door and dash towards the street.

‘Are Spaniards quixotic by nature?’ I asked Don Gregorio.
‘Very much so, unfortunately.’…..
‘They’re stubborn like him. Its something to do with the determination to make the world fit your ideal. Spaniards don’t adapt themselves to the world, they try to force reality onto their own mould’….

….Pablo Neruda: ‘They can cut all the flowers, but they cannot detain the spring.’

The first time Rufus met Carmen he told her, ‘I would like to make love to you until we both catch fire and die asphyxiated by the flames.’
Carmen, fidding with her plaits, looked quite upset by the idea.

My friend and I took a course at one of the many language schools in Salamanca. In the mornings we learned how to use the subjunctive and in the evenings we roamed the town in packs of foreign students…..Once a polite Finn with neat hair came to visit us at the pension. Lars was much the quietest student on our course, but the excitement of being alone with two girls in a bedroom transformed him. He started romping around the room, giggling and proposing three-in-a-bed, misusing the subjunctive as he did so.

Spanish teenagers tend to be neater than their counterparts in northern Europe and a survey has shown them to be the latest in the world (after the Taiwanese) to lose their virginity. But things are changing. In recent years there have been dramatic rises in adolescent drinking and crime.

‘People in Spain don’t think enough, they don’t ask themselves about the reason for things, they don’t analyze,’ said Ana. ‘They opt for the easy route’…… ‘It’s a cliché to say that Spaniards work less and are more superficial, but its also true to a certain extent. The climate lends itself to an outside life, with lots of acquaintances, rather than close friends. Spaniards are good at social life, but the flip side of that is their relationships are not so profound. They see life in less tragic terms than northern Europeans. In the north there is more melancholy, more people living with a terrible sense of anguish.I spent a year studying in Germany and during that time several students threw themselves off the Faculty of Philosophy.’

…Spanish nuns and monks, who lived in closed orders – they account for two-thirds of the world’s cloistered men and women.

The bars served beer and spirits cheaply and in extravagant measures, but it was unusual to see scenes of drunkenness or violence.

Spaniards – and South Americans to a lesser degree – do not believe in beating around the bush. If they want something, in a shop, or at the dinner table, they ask plainly for it, dispensing with ‘please’ or ‘thank you’. Nicknames also go straight to the point. Fat people are called ‘fatty’, bald people ‘baldie’, with no offense meant or taken. Once I was on a bus with just one black passenger, who had asked the driver to let him know when the bus reached his stop. In due course, the driver called out: ‘This is your stop, negro.’

The idea of tempering truth with kindness is anathema to most Spaniards. They are not good with innuendo or euphemisms. Why waste time on platitudes? If you are fat or in need of psychiatric help, they will tell you so. Any woman who really wants to know if her bottom looks big can find out in Spain.

In the last line of Don Quixote, Cervantes says that the entire purpose of his book has been to do away with Spaniards’ fondness for chivalric literature.

Spain was once so densely wooded… Eightly per cent of Spain’s original forests have been destroyed since then.

One elderly man in a beret shouted to his embarrassed grandson…. His harangue was liberally dotted with swear words. The Spanish love to swear. Although ‘cono’ refers to the female genitals, it is not deemed offensive in Spain, in fact it seems favoured by the old, perhaps because it is relatively easy to say with few teeth.

At the beginning of the twentieth century about two-thirds of Spain’s population lived and worked in the country. In 1950 almost half the workforce was still engaged in agriculture. By 1990 the figure had fallen to twelve per cent….. although ninety per cent of the territory is rural, more than eighty per cent of the population live in cities. In the twentieth century the level of migration was such that several thousand Spanish villages have now been entirely abandoned by their inhabitants.

The weather of the great Castilian tableland is famously cruel: nine months of winter, three months of hell, they say….. today’s Castilians? They are reputed, especially among other Spaniards, to be closed, braced against emotion as they might be against sun or wind.

‘Life’, she [Saint Teresa of Avila] once complained, ‘is a night in a bad hotel.’

Spanish children are always beautifully dressed and seem well-loved, yet a report in that day’s newspaper suggested that the incidence of sexual abuse was high, though concealed in close-knit families.

As we waited, it occurred to me that one of the most pressing challenges facing Spaniards might be punctuality.

Spanish men are tediously loyal to their mothers..

It is hard not to fall in love in Spain, The climate, landscape and architecture connive at romance. Any visitor to Spain may be intrigued to see how much kissing goes on in the winding alleys of its ancient cities…..Cafes welcome lingerers and, after dusk, the parks rustle with fornicating youths

No nation is worse at queuing than Spain.

In 1567 Philip II prohibited all Muslim customs – ‘above all that most un-Christian, most peculiar oddity of taking a daily bath’

Spain is reputed to be the noisiest country in the world, after Japan. A report published while I was living in Madrid claimed that 20 per cent of Spanish adolescents suffered impaired hearing caused by excessive noise in discos and bars. Whereas Japan’s noise may be industrial, in Spain much of it is human; Spaniards love to shout.

If you observe any group of Spaniards talking, says Gibson, ‘you will notice how they switch off, or become intensely impatient, when anyone holds the conversational stage for too long.’

Spanish love routine, sameness. Perhaps one legacy of Franco’s long rule is a fear of change.

….that Spanish mothers could be domineering

No country rivals Spain for the variety and colour of its fiestas, of which there are about eight thousand a year. Every town holds some kind of annual celebration, to mark religious events, the harvest, the annual slaughter of animals or historic victories.

It occurred to me that Spaniards cannot get away from the drama of religion, from a love and hatred of it.

From ‘Bookless in Baghdad and other writings about reading’ by Shashi Tharoor

……..Gunther Grass, urging that ‘writers experience another view of history’ and that ‘literature must refresh memory’

A British friend, asked to explain to a foreigner what made England England, replied, ‘Cricket, Shakespeare, the BBC.’ Though so concise an answer would be difficult ffor an Indian, it is impossible to imagine any similar attempt to describe India that omits the Mahabharata. ……The Ramayana is cited generally when ethical ideals are expected; the Mahabharata is referred to when compromises are made, shady deals struck, promises dishonoured, battles fought, disasters lamented.’

….the French dramatist who wrote Peter Brooke’s ‘international’ version of the epic, Jean Clause Carriere …wrote…. ‘This immense poem which flows with the majesty of a great river, carries an inexhaustible richness, which defies all structural, thematic, historical or psychological analysis ….Layers of ramifications, sometimes contradictory, follow up on one another and are interwoven without losing the central theme. That theme is a threat; we live in a time of destruction – everything points in the same direction.’ (Emphasis added)

I spent the rest of the panel discussion looking (to echo a description of Bertie Wooster’s Uncle Tom) like a pterodactyl with a secret sorrow.

Wodehouse …..I felt like one who had ‘drained the four-ale of life and found a dead mouse at the bottom of the pewter’ (Sam the Sudden)

Much of [Malcolm] Muggeridge’s appeal, it must be said, lay in his irreverence. Visiting Tokyo after the Second World War, he attended a public appearance by Emperor Hirohito and described him as a ‘nervous, shy, stuttering, pathetic figure, formerly god.’

[Malcolm Muggeridge] ‘What words will endure no writer can know, but for those of us who have to struggle to find the time to write, that motto remains an inspiration’

…Churchill cheerfully said that history would judge him kindly because he intended to write it himself.

Pushkin….is not just immortal: he is recognized as the creator of the modern Russian language and literature, no less, and as the writer who has captured the Russian soul as no other writer has before or since.

In his poem ‘The poet’s obligation’ Neruda had declared, ‘To whoever is not listening to the sea / this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up / in house or office, factory or woman / or street or mine or dry prison cell, / to him I come, and without speaking or looking / I arrive and open the door of his prison.’

‘India,’ wrote the British historian E.P.Thompson, ‘is perhaps the most important country for the future of the world. All the convergent influences of the world run through this society …. There is not a thought that is being thought in the West or East that is not active in some Indian mind.’

Secularism in India does not mean irreligiousness, which even avowedly atheist parties like the communists or the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham have found unpopular among their voters; indeed, in Calcutta’s annual Durga Puja, the youth wings of the communist parties compete with each other to put up the most lavish Puja pandals or pavilions to the Goddess Durga. Rather, it means, in the Indian tradition, multi-religiousness.

….the Indian identity celebrates diversity: if America is a melting-pot, then to me India is a thali, a selection of sumptuous dishes in different bowls. Each tastes different, and does not necessarily mix with the next, but they belong together on the same plate, and they complement each other in making the meal a satisfying repast. Indian are used to multiple identities and multiple loyalties, all coming together in allegiance to a larger idea of India, an India which safeguards the common space available to each identity.

An astonishing 47 per cent of Detroiters, nearly one out of two adults in the predominantly black city, are functionally illiterate. (By way of comparison, the figure for Vietnam is 6.7 per cent.) Functional illiteracy relates to the inability of an individual to use reading, writing and computational skills in everyday life situations ….In the richest country on earth, 23 per cent of adult Americans – 44 million men and women – cannot do these things. Detroit is the worst case, but it’s only twice as bad as the rest of the country……….understand the instructions for an antidote on a ordinary can or cockroach poison  ….read a life insurance form… Nearly half of America’s adults cannot do these things. They are, in effect, unequipped for life in a modern society. ….unlike in the developing world, where illiteracy is predominantly a rural problem, in the US it occurs overwhelmingly in the inner cities, with a heavy concentration among the poor and those dependent on welfare.

‘To forgive time its sins,’ Tayyeb Mutanabi had written, ‘if it maintains friendships and safeguards books.’ …. ‘A home without a library is an arid desert.’

From ‘My Experiences in Astrology’ by B V Raman

….a palmist from Andhra …. Rama Sastry ….his ability to quote ancient authorities on hand reading ….
If the nails are of reddish hue, one is healthy and rich, courageous and fortunate ….if the nails are yellowish, one suffers from indigestion and windy complaints, entertains evil thoughts and is of immoral character ……

… stress the fact that the science of hand-reading was developed in India from the earliest times and carried on to the West, from where, thanks to the interest and zeal of our western friends, a flood of literature on palmistry, containing the same principles is being re-routed to our country.

After making a comparative study of the Hindu and western systems I came to the conclusion that the western system lacked depth and substance, the methods applied for timing events were not quite reliable and that the Hindu system alone could be considered the system par excellence.

Of all the Nadis and Bhrigu Samhitas – more than 50 – I have seen and examined so far, it is only the Markendeya Nadi that has proved fairly accurate.

Grandfather had often said that too much reliance on mathematics would atrophy one’s power of judgement. There were instances when by just looking at a horoscope he was able to say whether or not one was employed, married etc. This ability, he attributed, not only to some combinations in his own horoscope but also to vaksiddhi which, he said, could be developed by leading an ethical and disciplined life and practicing certain types of mantras.

When Prakash cried much he would get fits ….An elderly person suggested that the fits could be stopped once and for all if the child was given the ancient treatment of branding with a red hot glass bangle. This was done and Prakash had no more fits thereafter.