Thursday, December 13, 2007

Allah tero nam, Ishwar tero nam

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Not this, not this

Thanks to a rendition by Amit Paul in the recently concluded Indian Idol competition, I came to know about Rabbi Shergill's 'Bulla ki Jaana'.
The lyrics of the song (Suman Kashyap's translation is reproduced below) is written by eighteenth century Punjabi Sufi poet Bulleh Shah.
Bulleh Shah's amazingly powerful lyrics is an example of apophatic, or negative, theology. This attempt to describe the undescribable is found in the Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu traditions. My favorite is the ever-searching and ever-wanting mantra in Advaita Vedanta:
neti, neti or not this, not this.

In Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, Yajnavalkya is questioned by his students to describe God. He states "The Divine is not this and it is not that" (neti, neti).

Thus, the Divine is not real as we are real, nor is it unreal. The divine is not living in the sense humans live, nor is it dead. The Divine is not compassionate as we use the term, nor is it uncompassionate. And so on. We can never truly define God in words. All we can do is say, it isn't this, but also, it isn't that either". In the end, the student must transcend words to understand the nature of the Divine.

In this sense, neti-neti is not a denial. Rather, it is an assertion that whatever the Divine may be, when we attempt to capture it in human words, we must inevitably fall short, because we are limited in understanding, and words are limited in ability to express the transcendent. [Link]
Plotinus, the die-hard third century Platonist, took inspiration from these eastern ideas, and wrote the famous Enneads.
Generative of all, the unity is none of all, neither thing nor quality, nor intellect nor soul, not in motion, not at rest, not in place, not in time...

If any one were to demand of nature why it produces, it would answer, if it were willing to listen and speak: You should not ask questions, but understand keeping silence as I keep silence, for I am not in the habit of speaking.
(as quoted in Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's The Bhagavadgita)
Bulleh Shah, Yajnavalkya, or Plotinus's thoughts are a whiff of fresh air. They release us from our habits of thought.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

This weariness, forgive me, my lord

This weariness, forgive me, my lord!
If ever, I fall behind in my journey.
My heart trembles in a strange fear
Forgive me that agony, forgive me my lord!
This impoverishment, forgive me, my lord!
If ever, I look behind;
In the heat of the day, in the blaze of the sun,
Your garland withers on the worship tray;
Forgive me that dullness, forgive me my lord!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Captain of our souls

What more can we say about our country's darling son? In every way he has shown us the path, inspiring a nation by his ideal of sacrifice and service. More photos here, with descriptions.

Rabindranath said, "If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative".

"We perceive his influence still working gigantically, we know not well how, we know not well where, in something that is not yet formed, something leonine, grand, intuitive, upheaving that has entered the soul of India and we say, Behold, Vivekananda still lives in the soul of his Mother and in the souls of her children.",
wrote Aurobindo.

The monks of Ramakrishna Mission work tirelessly for the welfare of the needy. Their activities are carried out in various parts of our country on the basis of the principles of Shiva Jnane Jiva Seva ("Service to people as service to God") and work is worship.

powered by ODEO

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Santana - Soul Sacrifice (Woodstock 1969)

Mike Shrieve - Drums
José Chepitó Areas and Mike Carabello - Timbales and Conga
Gregg Rolie - Keyboards
David Brown - Bass
Carlos Santana - Guitar (Gibson SG Special)

Friday, June 8, 2007

Ustad Rashid Khan declines invitation

Ustad Rashid Khan has declined to participate in this year's North American Bengali Conference. Here's what he had to say:

Dear Debashish da,

I am sorry to inform you that, I shall not be able to perform for your Banga Sammelan Concert to be held this year in.

My experience this year in April, in the US, was a nerve wrecking one. We are Artists, who have been awarded and felicitated by the highest offices in India and abroad. We represent the Culture Heritage of India but I am sorry to say that my experience there was such that I don't think I would want to go there for a second time and face such humiliation.

Hence, I would ask to be pardoned, and an once again taking this opportunity to thank you for having invited me to your conference.

Lots of love & regards to my audience and best wishes to everyone.

You can read the letter on NABC website. Look under the left frame (International Performers).

Ustadji is one of the finest vocalists of Hindustani Classical. He comes from the Rampur Sahaswan Khayal Gharana,and was trained by the famous Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan. We spent whole nights waiting to buy tickets to his concerts at Nazrul Mancha, the Open Air Auditorium at Kolkata. I remember once we touched his feet after a concert. Ustadji is also a glaring example of the success of the Guru-Shishya parampara (which is a way of imparting tacit knowledge) in Indian Classical Music.
A whole day would be spent on practising just a single note. [Link]
Reminds me of a comment in Rock Street Journal: Santana (one of my favorite guitarists) can squeeze color out of one note. Malmsteen's unnecessary speed does not impress me much. Well said!

After hearing him, none other than Pandit Bhimsen Joshi (who comes from the mesmerizing Kirana Gharana) remarked,
"There is now at least one person in sight who is an assurance for the future of Indian vocal music."
Ustadji's rendition of the Yaman is one of the best I have heard till date. If you have napster, look it up. Also hear his Hamsadhwani, a very popular Carnatic raga known by the same name in Hindustani Classical. Here is a clip [10:10 - 7:20; there's a little conversation in between) of Hamsadhwani from Ritwick Ghatak's film 'Meghe Dhaka Tara' (The Cloud Strapped Star).

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Friday, June 1, 2007

Only six degrees (of separation)

The band got its name - Moheener Ghoraguli - from the poem Ghora (Horses) by Bengali poet Jibanananda Das.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Victory to thee

Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,
dispenser of India's destiny.
Thy name rouses the hearts of Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, the Maratha country,
in the Dravida country, Utkala (Orissa) and Bengal;
It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas,
it mingles in the rhapsodies of the pure waters of the Yamuna and the Ganges.
They chant only thy name,
they seek only thy blessings,
they sing only thy praise.
The saving of all people waits in thy hand,
thou dispenser of India's destiny.
Victory, Victory, Victory, Victory to thee.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The world's rhythm in my veins

I cannot translate this into English. You have to know the language. Words are not words. They have lives of their own.

[Update: The video has been changed. This one has subtitles in English.]
The rabindrasangeet is sung by Debabrata Biswas, the freebird on screen is Anil Chatterjee, and the clip is from Komal Gandhar (E-Flat) directed by Ritwick Ghatak. All his life, Ghatak had protested against the partition of Bengal.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Gayatri Spivak revisited

Arnab Ray has blogged about Radheshyam Rasia's bhojpuri singing, with a brief reference to Spivak's theory of the subaltern.

Two months ago, I had written about the popular and the subaltern, with an embed of the same Rasia Tailor video. But now, I think a more accurate analogy to Spivak's Can the subaltern Speak? is the last scene in Antarmahal, where Jashomati, the zamindar's younger wife played by Soha Ali Khan, commits suicide.

Antarmahal is based on Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay's short story Protima. It's not clear if Jashomati is menstruating (see the movie and read Spivak's paper to know why I ask this question), but the ending is pretty close to Spivak's theory of the subaltern. In her original essay, Spivak writes about the suicide of Bhuvaneshwari Bhaduri, a young woman in her teens in 1926, and tries to drive home the argument that the subaltern as female, cannot be heard or read. Spivak is sometimes difficult to grasp, and is known for her obscurity. The point is made, however, in the last scene and it aptly portrays the original title of Spivak's essay: Power, Desire, Interest.

I am not a student of literary criticism, nor am I driven by the romanticism of protest. Any wrong analogies drawn, I hope, will be forgiven by those who know better.

Didn't you enjoy Amar Pal's mellifluous voice? [starts at 3:00]

Sunday, April 29, 2007

I could be arguing in my spare time

One needs to agree on something to even present a contrary position. One needs spare time too. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bountiful blabber beckons bums

For unavoidable circumstances, this blog will remain dormant for many months to come. Regular service will resume if I get back my sanity from the continuous onslaught of information, arguments and opinions scattered all over the world of weblogs.

Till then, goodbye to the blogosphere. Thank you so much for your indulgence.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Nothing comes

This room has plastered white walls,
books, machines, pencils and erasers,
light from the windows, even darkness in the corners.

In the morning, the sun comes in an orange-yellow,
which is different from the yellow-orange of evening.

Sometimes, two pigeons come looking for food,
phone calls come, dhobi comes with the clean clothes.

Why don't you come in these lonely evenings?
Sometimes, I wish you too had come by mistake.
Don't you know, when nothing comes, what comes is pain?


Yes, nothing comes. Iron Maiden is going to Bangalore. And we are sucking thumb in this village of ours.

In our college days, we had grown up listening to IM, and cheering Chintu, Jose, Chandhok, RR Singh and Srini to their renditions of Where Eagles Dare, and Hallowed Be Thy Name. IM was different from the other noise-generating, body-building type heavy metal bands (e.g. Megadeth; British heavy metal bands are anyday better than American ones). Their lyrics was engrossing - Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Icarus from Greek Mythology, Fear of the Dark and Wasted Years - and they had those mesmerizing twin lead guitar riffs by Dave Murray and Adrian Smith.

Here's a video of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Do listen to the melody of the twin lead at 2:35 and 2:07.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


-- Donald Justice (1925 - 2004)

This poem is not addressed to you.
You may come into it briefly,
But no one will find you here, no one.
You will have changed before the poem will.

Even while you sit there, unmovable,
You have begun to vanish. And it does not matter.
This poem will go on without you.
It has the spurious glamour of certain voids.

It is not sad, really, only empty.
Once perhaps it was sad, no one knows why.
It prefers to remember nothing.
Nostalgias were peeled from it long ago.

Your type of beauty has no place here.
Night is the sky over this poem.
It is too black for stars.
And do not look for any illumination.

You neither can nor should understand what it means.
Listen, it comes without guitar,
Neither in rags nor any purple fashion.
And there is nothing in it to comfort you.

Close your eyes, yawn. It will be over soon.
You will forget the poem, but not before
It has forgotten you. And it does not matter.
It has been most beautiful in its erasures.

O bleached mirrors! Oceans of the drowned!
Nor is one silence equal to another.
And it does not matter what you think.
This poem is not addressed to you.

(Chandrabindoo's Tāke Khoob Kāchhe Jei Pāi)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Unvanquished

Thursday, March 8, 2007


i thank you God for most this amazing...
-- E. E. Cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

What moves you?

Thimakka has single-handedly planted more than 284 banyan trees... “For 25 years I could not conceive so we thought why not grow and nurture trees like our own children instead and thus started our campaign to grow trees. I used to work as a daily wage labourer and used the money from there to grow these trees. I would work in the morning and plant trees in the afternoon. Now they are all well grown,” says Thimakka. [Link]
Video here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

A day at IIMA*

The day starts at night. Almost everyday. I mean every night, that is. It started when Sneaky came one full minute late (as usual) for the marketing case of the Spam model and the shredded tuna fish. We are done with the fish case. But Sneaky is at sea. Still the OB reading needs to be done. And it's only two o' clock. The night is young.

In the next room, Guddi Singh is playing the same Dylan number for the nth time. “How many times must the same song play?” Sneaky wonders for the (n-1)th time. The frequency of dbabble notices is thinning out. Sneaky puts a stop to his fight and the learning experience.

Its morning. The snooze button is surely one of the greatest inventions by mankind. It gives Sneaky an option. Sneaky denies. Like a faithful friend the clock rings again. Sneaky keeps on denying till the time there’s no hope for the breakfast, puts a tener in the pocket and runs for class. To unlearn.

The attachment is not opening. And the whole class is waiting for his presentation on the Tuna Fish. The professor gives Sneaky an unnerving stare. Sneaky gathers enough courage to say that it was working fine in his room. Believe me, it was just working fine. Today is not his day.

At the last leg of the OB class Sneaky makes up his mind and raises his hand for a grand CP. But there are so many hands. And standing on the chair is not allowed. It is the fag end of the course and Sneaky has not made a single CP. There is emotional water in his eye.

But the worst was yet to come. In the OM class, Sneaky went to … to sleep. He was doing fine till the time the professor came and stood in front of him. The laughter woke Sneaky up. And the class had gone to the stage of thumping the tables. To top it all, a small piece of paper on the notice board, brought with it the option of skipping lunch. Today there’s a quiz. Sneaky will be tested. But he is not alone. From nooks and corners prospective I-schols are heading towards their dorms to learn OM, all skipping lunch. Sneaky is not alone.

The quiz is over. These are the times when Sneaky gets philosophical and thinks of writing poems and stuff. But the quiz performance has made him wordless. Words cling to the tip of his pen, refusing to drop down.
The canner can can
Anything others can can …
But couldn’t do kanban …

Sneaky keeps his words to himself. They are not obeying him today. Three o' clock, Sneaky goes to sleep, so that he can study ‘later’. Chaitime is at five at Rambhai’s. The tea is like ... like God. But what interests Sneaky is Rambhai’s working capital management. Sneaky gloats over the prospect of an IP on the subject.

The sun has gone down over the tower lawns. Clouds are covering clouds and there is darkness everywhere. At C.G. Road lovers are holding hands. At IIMA people are putting web CP on the Web-board. Sneaky puts in some words with a generous sprinkling of CRM, SCM and ERP. Nearby some dorm shouts le-lis, at an inviting tone. Sneaky knows his dorm is the target segment. What’s mankind without understanding? Event-management starts and with a baritone unheard of before, Sneaky leads the dorm to glory. The tenors are zigzagged.

In the mess, Harvard dinner is nearing the self-actualization stage. Today Sneaky had fruits, fruits and fruits.

Guddi Singh is playing “How many times...” for the (n+1)th time. And Sneaky wonders for the nth time.

Concentration came after lot of coaxing, after much trying. Almost immediately on the TV, the hero starts gyrating with his consort to the tune of a raunchy number and finance goes for a toss.

Its time for birthday bumps to Zaphod Beeblebrox. November isn’t that cold at Vastrapur. The Big Dipper hangs like a question mark in the anthracite sky. Sneaky stops for a while to figure out Betelgeuse. It is already one past midnight. As usual, Sneaky is late. And suddenly tomorrow has become today.

* Footnotes are nests for pedants. Thus spake McCloskey. I made you look down, but this piece needs you to have a campus glossary. That's all. Written many moons ago.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The popular and the subaltern

Conceptual clarity is essential to demarcate the popular and the subaltern. In her signature lucidity, Gayatri Spivak mentions in this symposium at UCSB that the popular and the subaltern do not inhabit a continuous space. I disagree. They might, in the mind of a person who does not know anything about the current state of affairs (Bhojpuri music, for example). I am that dork. Not only conceptual clarity, but contextual familiarity is essential too. Postmodern theorists/ literary critics/ armchair text-weavers, please take note. Chomsky said similar things too. And if you haven't, take a look at the mesmerizing postmodern generator. (scroll down to read the first line after the references)

On a different note, many problems, in my opinion, can be solved if we know how to break free from logical text into other forms of expression. That's why we have poems, alliterations, words that resemble sound, rhythms, rhymes, and limericks. And of course there's seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling -- all different ways to exit from text.

In that spirit, for wholesome entertainment, I present to you Rasia Tailor. Don't ask me whether it is popular or subaltern. I don't care anymore.

Please to note Rasia's move at 3:10 - 3:14.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Get (Assaf's) Rhythm

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Satyajit Ray's documentary on Rabindranath

In 1961, on the insistence of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Ray was commissioned to make a documentary on Rabindranath Tagore, on the occasion of the poet's birth centennial, a tribute to the person who probably influenced Ray most. Due to limited real footage of Tagore available, Ray faced the challenge of making a film out of mainly static material, and he remarked that it took as much work as three feature films. [Link]

The script, commentary and direction is by Satyajit Ray. In a word, a brilliant documentary. Ray himself has mentioned, “Ten or twelve minutes of it are among the most moving and powerful things that I have produced”. [Link]
On the 7th of August, 1941, in the city of Calcutta a man died. His mortal remains perished. But he left behind him a heritage, which no fire could consume. It is a heritage of words, and music, and poetry, of ideas, and of ideals. And it has the power to move us, to inspire us today, and in the days to come.

: Developing a historical consciousness is important. It frees us from the bondage to the present, and from a fanatical devotion to the practical. It restores in us the dignity of thought, and instills in us a sense of what-could-have-been.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hojoborolo: Mathematics from elsewhere

Harvard gazette reports:

Intricate decorative tilework found in medieval architecture across the Islamic world appears to exhibit advanced decagonal quasicrystal geometry - a concept discovered by Western mathematicians and physicists only in the 1970s and 1980s. If so, medieval Islamic application of this geometry would predate Western mastery by at least half a millennium.

From this excellent website on Indian Mathematics:
The later Sulba-sutras represent the 'traditional' material along with further related elaboration of Vedic mathematics. The Sulba-sutras have been dated from around 800-200 BC, and further to the expansion of topics in the Vedangas, contain a number of significant developments.
These include first 'use' of irrational numbers, quadratic equations of the form a x2 = c and ax2 + bx = c, unarguable evidence of the use of Pythagoras theorem and Pythagorean triples, predating Pythagoras (c 572 - 497 BC), and evidence of a number of geometrical proofs. This is of great interest as proof is a concept thought to be completely lacking in Indian mathematics.

Oh yes, I have read Meera Nanda's take on all this. I got little agitated when I read her sneer at Vivekananda and Aurobindo, but with some training, I know now not to lose my cool. Smile.

Here's a suggestion: Meera Nanda, astrologers, postmodern rants What about experiments, and quasi-experiments? What about getting back to the proof? I know it is a reductionist approach, compared to pramana, but wouldn't that instill in us some respect for data, and cause-effect relations? Indians don't do experiments, either in the social sciences (where economists chatter about 'structure' and 'self-interest', happily ignoring everything in between) or in the physical sciences (strings, knots and jellyfish).

It's all intellectual speculation. When the cursor follows the text, who needs data? Theory is everything.

For those interested, try this excellent postmodern generator. And read about Alan Sokal and the Social Text affair. Meera Nanda makes a brief appearance somewhere.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

España, España


This travelogue may I share with you all A
Although, I am just a novice in this form. B

So, first, please excuse me for any shortfall. A
I may betray the wrong tetrameter norm. B

I hope you wont laugh or scoff. C
As I just want to bounce it off C

the management students at IIM; D
It's not for money, nor for fame. D

Call it a poem, poetry , a verse or a sonnet, E
A hyphen, comma or a bullet point, as you deem fit; F
I am quite poor at nomenclature, I must admit. F

And yes, one more thing before I forget E
It will rhyme in a particular way e.g. G
AB AB CC DD, and then EFF EGG. G

Going Away

Listen then, lets begin from the beginning.
We sift through matrushka dolls, souvenirs & 'things'

While at Moscow airport we are kept waiting
Till, after a long 10-hour wait, finally we got wings.

Flying over the Volga and the Caspian Sea
Jit Rai and Tin Nash while sipping coffee,

Dreams of neon signs, Ferraris and the Mediterranean,
Sunkissed beaches, sex bombs and the pseude bohemian.

Midnight we touch base. Its Spain finally -
The country of FC and Real Madrid,
Picasso & Cassals, Velazquez & El Cid.

Its 1 a.m. Stranded at a Raval (old town) alley
We make some frantic phone calls for a place
To stay put for the night and untie the shoelace.


Life at ESADE was cool, assignments were few.
From India to Italy, from Mexico to Monaco -

Our mix was eclectic. We were a motley crew;
My group had a Peruvian from faraway Cuzco!

They are all covered in brands, from top to bottom.
Behold! The consumption patterns of all consumables -

Tissue paper, kisses and public displays of affection
Of the young and old, old and new, new and veteran.

The young blonde cozies up to a moneyed sphinx!
But then, whats in a number, silly, formed of digits?
When what matters is a boy with a #ick & a girl with *its?

In the middle of this merry-go-round, Jit Rai thinks
After this what? Poor Tin Nash thinks of a vegetarian course -
He is tired of "Hola, como esta?", muy bien and carnivores.

Travel in Spain

Years later, Jit Rai while thinking of the places traveled
Remembers tits and bits, smiling he puts pen to paper.

The sights and sounds came back soon. A friend said:
Though it’s been almost 2 years, better late than 'later'.

Oh! What a place was Montserrat, the mist and the colorful kids;
The ascent of the cable car and the walk down to the green fields.

Who can forget the run to catch the train to Nice?
And yes, Zulu's cooked rice and egg did suffice,

To start the Nice sojourn - jaywalking through its thin alleys -
Quiet reflection by the sea at Cannes and the lights of Monte Carlo.
At nighttime after a nice dinner and tiramisu we said bye, Ciao.

At night (while sleeping in a park), 2 guys ran away with Jit Rai's valise.
3 novels and a pair of jeans is all they got. The poor souls did come to know
Jit was poorer. They gave him a limp (from the chase) & a cut on the brow.

Feel the gas

Friends kept visiting us from all over Europe
Barcelona is quite a happening place, you know

While Paris was freezing and guys couldn’t cope
With the cold, they came down south to say "hello".

One fine November evening, A Sad Rain Moth and A Good Paji
Came knocking on the door, "Koi hai ghar pe? Haanji?”

We hired a car to drive down to Andorra and the Pyrennes
Four of us left Barcelona to come back after three days.

Adrian Thomas was driving, and his test of the left hand drive
Was carried out right in the middle of the traffic! Hearts
In our hands and seat belts firmly tied, we were going nuts.

It was a great trip. The golden sunset at Andorra at around five,
Next day the beautiful Pyrennes, the villages in the hills, a happy quiet,
And the rain drenched San Sebastian (not to mention the ice-creams we ate).

Last days

Assignments (in Spanish) at ESADE, which were due,
Which Jit Rai had shelved for the very last moment,

Made him learn preterito past perfecto at half past two.
But sincere Tin Nash did well. He got almost 93 %.

Soon after Marathon Dias and his friend Good Paji left Spain
The good word spread far and wide- the fun at Cobra Lane

People came pouring in, in the coming weeks
And put Louis, our Mexican roommate, in a fix

On a weekend, a team of five went sightseeing to nearby Tarragona.
Valdimir Uno, Lanka Guru Aryan, Mannish Theta, Jit Rai, Atyadi
Shaked legs at a local disco, with Valor Indium screaming I feel free.

Few days later, came in a cozy twosome from another corner.
Habitual Kim and his better half Mikhail Tabu joined in the mirth.
Btw, they threw us out of the bedroom, till we gave them a wide berth.

Coming Back

The journey's over. We are close to finishing
We sift through matrushka dolls, souvenirs and 'things'

(Repeat from Going Away)

While at Moscow airport we are kept waiting
Till, after a long 10-hour wait, finally we got wings.

All over the world, people are finding ways to return,
To someplace they can call their own under the sun.

All this travel, near and far,
Isn’t a waste, dear mother?

It is late into the night. What is it that I just wrote?
Just a rhyme, shorn of emotions, nothing at all?
Its not so, believe me, but then it is your call.

Dear reader, the one thing that I did note:
Whatever I do - going away or coming in
I am the future and the journey is within.



Tin Nash - Nishant
A sad rain moth - Mohit Sardana
Adrian Thomas - Mohit Sardana
Marathon Dias - Mohit Sardana
Good Paji - Pooja Gadi
Mannish Theta - Nishant Mehta
Vladimir Uno - Vinod Murali
Valor Indium - Vinod Murali
Barcelona – Cobra lane
Kalyan Nagaruru – Lanka Guru Aryan
Mikul Bhatia – Habitual Kim, Mikhail Tabu

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Mile sur mera tumhara

When in school, I remember watching this collage, of lovely images and vibrant sounds of a variety of languages, as it first travels from India's north to south, and then from the northeast to the west. Created by the Lok Sevā Sanchār Parishad, the video was promoted by Doordarshan and India's Ministry of Information. Enjoy!

If you can share a better quality video please do leave a comment.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Migratory birds

I often visit Sepia Mutiny to observe the dynamics of identity as it is revealed in the conversations. SM is a blog that brings together the South Asian diaspora for discussions on issues that are likely to elicit common interest. Sometimes there are discussions on interesting stories, and the importance of viewpoints in such communities cannot be exaggerated more. Indeed, migration is increasingly becoming an important issue to deal with. Families, governments, and multilateral institutions are waking up to this reality.

I was prompted to write this post after I listened to this ‘inspired speech’:

15 years ago India was just curries and cab drivers. Now you have uncles and babus out there in the media trying to tell you India is a superpower and has to have nuclear weapons. They are telling you that India’s economy is shining, and everyone should be investing in India. In fact, they are saying we should outsource everything to India because Indians are the smartest people on the world, right? They make it seem like it is great time to be proud to be Indian, and proud to be a desi. But do you really believe it? Well, you shouldn’t. It’s time for a reality check. If India disappears tomorrow, the global economy will not miss a beat. The city of Hong Kong exports more than all of India. India is by far, in fact, the poorest country in the entire world. There are more people scraping by next to nothing in India than the entire population of Africa. India’s bureaucracy is obscenely corrupt. There are no less than five members of the Indian cabinet who are under investigation for murder, extortion, racketeering, arms trafficking, cutting deals with Saddam Hussein. If you are from Pakistan or Bangladesh the situation is no better. In fact, it’s even worse. The whole region is just as likely to collapse, as it is to succeed. So here is the question: are you still going to be proud to be Indian, when India’s no longer shining? Are you going to be proud to be from Pakistan, when the country crumbles under civil war? Our job as desis is not to pretend that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are great. They pay people to do that. Our job is to find ways to take advantage of what we have here, and make what they say a reality, to make that hype come true.
When is the right time to be proud to be an Indian?
In fact what you should be proud of?
When is the right time to leave India?
When is the right time to come back, if that's an option?

I remember a conversation between a schoolgirl and her grandfather in the movie Naseem (Urdu for morning breeze). Mayuri Kango asks Kaifi Azmi (famous lyricist and poet; Shabhana Azmi’s father) why hid he stay back in India after the partition. He said that he stayed back because of a tree in his backyard. He loved the tree so much, and he couldn’t take it with him.

While some people are rooted in their destiny, others may think differently. In fact, it would be interesting to see any research on migration tendencies. Like the standing ovation problem, it might be that migration too follows non-linear dynamics. Once there is a trend-setter (in the family; among friends; the Guptas next door), others follow suit. As Indian doctors are facing this court ruling in UK, I am sure thousand of doctors in India are looking up the details of USMLE. And if the initiatives of Naresh Trehan are any indication, migration may provide win-win solutions (at least when measured in money flows).

Recorded remittance flows to developing countries are estimated to reach $199 billion in 2006. The true size including unrecorded flows through formal and informal channels is believed to be significantly larger. [Link]

and this joint Duke University - UC Berkeley study reports that Indians have founded more engineering and technology companies in the US in the past decade than immigrants from the UK, China, Taiwan and Japan combined. Of all immigrant-founded companies, 26% have Indian founders (p. 4).

Migration within India, however, isn't only about money flows. Our country is diverse on many different attributes other than income opportunities. Specification can make us see things more clearly. So next time when someone tells you a particular move has immense opportunity, follow up with opportunity of what? Such qualifiers bring out the essence - suddenly the colorful seem so boring, and the seemingly dull reveal interesting ideas. Obsession with the distant paradigm has many unintended consequences. For example, the ghastly killing of Bihari laborers by the ULFA terrorists in Assam was instigated by migration.

We know Karnataka and Maharashtra has taken some bold stands on this issue. With Kannada and Marathi made compulsory, birds of a single feather (of any hue - moving migrants, urban upstarts, slighted suburbanites, or poverty-stricken peasants) cannot flock together. May be they still will, but migratory birds have to know the birds of the local habitat. They cannot continue to hang out in their cozy little circle of similar others. For this possible consequence alone, both Karnataka and Maharashtra deserve congratulations.

If all this posturing comes across to you as fierce nationalism (or that wonderful phrase – ‘regional chauvinism’), let me hasten to add that I know I am sticking my neck out. But what isn’t so stark is the slow, gradual, almost innocent, 'blending in' - it is more difficult to deal with, because the process is gradual, as opposed to any radical venting of frustration. The gradual process is more oppressive (killing too?) because it works its ways slowly, treating anything other than the prevalent and expected moves as illegitimate. It is the same reason why we have got used to Bollywood worthies speaking in English in the award ceremonies of Hindi cinema. It is the same reason why - even in India - you have to justify your wearing a sari or a kurta. It also creates gulfs between generations, between people (we knew earlier; not the new found ones), between grandsons and grandparents, and between friends. Driven by economic reason, the migratory birds do not belong anywhere They genuflect to the only God they know, convenience that is, and are generally alert to survival.

When Rabindranath’s son-in-law Nagendranath Gangulee went to America to study agriculture, this is what Tagore wrote to him:
To get on familiar terms with the local people is a part of your education. To know only agriculture is not enough; you must know America too. Of course if in the process of knowing America, one begins to lose one’s identity and falls into the trap of becoming an Americanized person contemptuous of everything Indian, it is preferable to stay in a locked room. Those who are immature and weak-minded tend to lose their own identity when they go abroad and become spoilt - better for such people if they keep to their own home environment. From childhood all of you have displayed a Brahmo repugnance for other people's social customs and historical traditions. I know of no worse superstition or prejudice - unless you drive it from your mind, your foreign education will never benefit you fully.

The political leaders of India, as usual, are yet to discuss these issues. Till now we have not heard of any plans to deal with the twin problems of workforce mobility and offspring schooling. CNN-IBN had a shallow discussion on this issue and once again offered a twisted logic about the uselessness of keeping the languages alive 'artificially'. What is artificial and what is natural? When Steve Jobs dangles the ipod in his keynote, puts it on the shelf of a store and bombards us with the ads, is he not forcing, or creating a market artificially? Not only is this dichotomy misplaced, anarcaps should know that there are no market forces for languages. Money may be fungible (economists say that; i have doubts), but language isn't. The corner store that relies on its 'location' in the downtown has a captive audience that keeps coming back, regardless of boom or bust. Location matters (ask the Singur farmers) and languages are location specific. Choice-chasers need to understand that the answer lies in the ‘and/also’ solution: both Kannada and English. The market is speaking in English. When is the right time to jettison Telugu? Or Bengali? Riding on the market wave, if the nonchalant choice-chaser encroaches into others' way of living, and has an indifferent swagger for local customs, friction is inevitable and only a matter of time. Cause and effect is interdependent as the pratītyasamutpāda said long ago [recently some sociologists have started interdependent sampling].

This is not regionalism, but a larger tolerance for many universalities than the oppressively narrow opportunistic recipe of learning the shopkeeper's language only. English and Hindi are the lowest common denominators for communication in India. The lowest common thing need not rule the roost. As the market drives migration within the country, the LCDs will gradually flex their muscles and obliterate all regional identities. I think parents have a responsibility to teach their kids the mother tongue, the language of the state where he/she has started schooling, and English. If this is too much work, upward mobility seekers are free to make alternate arrangements (for them or for their kids - whichever works best) for 10 years (class 1 - class 10) in their career. The government can play parent-parent, if opportunistic parents do not see opportunities to learn local languages/ customs.

What about your choice of moving every year? Sure, Keep moving. Who is stopping you? But languages need not move with you. You adapt. Indeed, for birds who move every year, the forests need not offer any solution. The government has no burden to attend to choice obsessive disorders. The individual should decide what works best. I think the three language solution is easily manageable as several studies have shown that children pick up languages much faster than older people. It also forces migratory birds to get accustomed to the local birds, communicate with them, and learn and share their way of life. The 3LS also requires some awareness and initiative on the parents' part, a little less economic reason, and a little force from the government.

However, for those who do not put all eggs in the basket of survival, the question still remains. Why migrate? And like most hard questions, this one too gravitates to the debate between Krishna and Arjuna in the Mahābhārata, between consequentialist concerns and deontological ethics. Find your true calling.

This is also an occasion to celebrate this rabindrasangeet (Debabrata Biswas's voice), captured poignantly on celluloid by Ritwick Ghatak in his Jukti, Takko ar Golpo (Reason, Argument and Story):

The poem was generated from Somen Bhattacharjee's digital library.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

School in India, school in US

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Nothing like a good laugh

Friday, February 9, 2007


-- Sri Aurobindo

With wind and the weather beating round me
Up to the hill and the moorland I go.
Who will come with me? Who will climb with me?
Wade through the brook and tramp through the snow?

Not in the petty circle of cities
Cramped by your doors and your walls I dwell;
Over me God is blue in the welkin,
Against me the wind and the storm rebel.

I sport with solitude here in my regions,
Of misadventure have made me a friend.
Who would live largely? Who would live freely?
Here to the wind-swept uplands ascend.

I am the Lord of tempest and mountain,
I am the Spirit of freedom and pride.
Stark must he be and a kinsman to danger
Who shares my kingdom and walks at my side.

Nationalist, scholar, poet, yogi, newspaper editor, evolutionary philosopher. Aurobindo wrote this poem in 1908, when he was languishing as an undertrial prisoner in Kolkata's Alipur Jail. It was during this time he found his true calling.

You can read more about him here.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

What do you see?

ROME, Italy (AP) -- It could be humanity's oldest story of doomed love.
Archaeologists have unearthed two skeletons from the Neolithic period locked in a tender embrace and buried outside Mantua, just 25 miles south of Verona, the romantic city where Shakespeare set the star-crossed tale of "Romeo and Juliet."[Link]

Mantua, interestingly, is mentioned in Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet. But what makes us contemplative and melancholy? What flows from one to the other across thousands of years?

Probably the answer lies in Tagore’s profound observation – ‘Whatever we understand and enjoy in human products instantly becomes ours, wherever they might have their origin.’

Our aesthetic and sense of beauty is hard to destroy. We recognize it instantly, and make it our own. In this Rabindrasangeet, Kanika Banerjee celebrates the endlessness of this aesthetic, the persistence of its true form in the formless. The beauty of the alliteration - anuprās in Sanskrit - towards the end [2:00] is indeed captivating : angabihin ālingane sakal anga bhare.

The poem was generated from Somen Bhattacharjee's digital library.

Monday, February 5, 2007

The pretense of knowledge

In his Nobel lecture, Hayek called it "a mechanical and uncritical application of habits of thought".

At some point in their lives, these people develop a perspective. Then, for the rest of their lives they vigorously defend it (the perspective). Seeing is not believing, believing is seeing. Equipped with the twin tools of language and evidence-that-supports, they can steer gullible you into their make-believe dens. Argumentation is war, and two weapons are required to make headway. First, mastery of using words that portray a basic proof of grasp; this helps in gaining legitimacy. Second, practice of rhetorical reason - as Aristotle says, 'the faculty of observing, in any given case, the available means of persuasion' - or the selection of required evidence for any topic. Perhaps, to stem this perpetuation of confusion, Wittgenstein remarked ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent’. But bloggers will not listen. Opinions are a dime a dozen.

What can you do? When you have identified the dork, stop taking that person seriously. A lack of doubt, a nagging consistency in all judgments is suspect; methinks it is the first step towards fascism. Stay away from opinionated people masquerading as experts. Stay away from cock sure people. And by all means cling to those who nurture some ambivalence, who do not have all the answers. You will find their company comforting. To maintain your sanity you need spiritual fruits, not religious nuts.

The internet is a great repository. Look for poems, photographs, recipes, travelogues, movies, music. A picture is worth a thousand words, a good recipe a taste of joy, and music is the food of love. Stay foolish. Watch, listen, taste, laugh, work hard, enjoy!

Friday, February 2, 2007

And you feel laid back and your hands start clappin'

You don't need long hair to play the guitar. And you don't need to jump on the stage! In this video Chet Atkins plays the Yakety Axe, a version of Boots Randolph's Yakety Sax. In a more recent recording Mark Knopfler joined Chet in the picking. He sang too. Pure Joy!

Lyrics here.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Magic of Malkauns at Midnight

Like western classical music, the roots of Indian classical music are religious. But while western classical music emphasizes harmony, Indian Classical Music is based on melody and rhythm. A Rāga specifies a set of rules for building the melody, and the rules for constructing melodies are different in different rāgas.

Different rāgas activate different emotional states. Pandit Ravi Shankar refers to a Sanskrit saying ‘Ranjayathi iti Rāga’, which means ‘that which colors the mind is a rāga'. In addition, each rāga is associated with a particular time of the day or a season of the year.

Malkauns is a rāga to be played in the midnight hour. Listen to this rendition of the Malkauns by Ustad Bismillah Khan. His instrument is the shehnai. If you have attended Indian weddings, you must have heard the lilting sound of the shehnai wafting in the air.

[For uninterrupted listening: click on play, immediately click on pause, and let the music buffer for some time - till the grey line reaches the end]

Bismillah Khan was an epitome of simplicity. He lived a spartan life in the city of Varanasi, also known as the 'city of temples and learning'. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor. Read about his performances at Delhi’s Red Fort here.

A good way to remember rāgas is to identify them by the tune of film songs. Here is a song (from the famous movie Baiju Bawra) based on Malkauns, sung by Mohammad Rafi. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Rocking gypsies

Music, such music, is a sufficient gift. Why ask for happiness; why hope not to grieve? It is enough, it is to be blessed enough, to live from day to day and to hear such music--not too much, or the soul could not sustain it--from time to time.
-- Vikram Seth in An Equal Music.

Fandango nights is from Willie and Lobo's album Puerto Vallarta Squeeze, a novel of the same name by Robert James Waller. Yes he is the same guy who wrote The Bridges of Madison County. Both the novels have been made into movies.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Jatindra Nath Das

[A large number of revolutionaries were convicted in the Lahore conspiracy Case … many of them were sent to the Andamans. The revolutionary under-trials went on hunger strike protesting against the horrible conditions in jails. They demanded that they be treated as political prisoners and not as criminals. On 13th September, 1929, after 64 days of an epic hunger strike Jatin Das, the iron willed young man from Bengal died. The entire nation rallied behind the hunger strikers. Thousands came to pay homage at every station passed by the train carrying his body from Lahore to Calcutta. At Calcutta, a two-mile-long procession of more than half a million people carried his coffin to the cremation ground.] link (scroll down little)

To know more read this excellent article by Balbir K Punj.

Here is Bhagat Singh’s letter to The Home Member, Government of India.

Hearing Jatin Das’s painful death, on the night of 13th September, 1929, Tagore wrote this poem and put music to it. An attempt at translation will be futile. The poem is presented in Bengali script, the song is sung by Shantidev Ghosh (starts at 00:46).

The image of the poem was generated from this digital library prepared by Somen Bhattacharjee .

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ankhiyan Bhaili Lal

Beat of India is trying to save the rich folk songs of India from the onslaught of the big record labels. It is a fantastic effort. Once you become a member you get three songs free - like this bhojpuri song by Manoj Tiwari. It is about a couple's mischief during Holi. Enjoy!

[For uninterrupted listening: click on play, immediately click on pause, and let the music buffer for some time - till the grey line reaches the end]

Also, listen to the enchanting Music from Malwa.

The morning light

Nikhiler alo purba akashe jolilo punyodine
Ekshathe jara cholibe tahara shokolere nik chine।

His own translation:

The great morning appears in the East.
Let its light reveal us to each other
Who walk on the same path of pilgrimage.

-- Tagore, Baghdad, 1932

Monday, January 15, 2007


Clock, switch, mirror, brush
Soap, shower, shampoo, flush
Kitchen, sink, breakfast, bus
Traffic, red, green, class.

Ticket, people, stand, sit
School, faces, smile, meet
Recess, coffee, terrace, smoke
Inbox, reply, sent, joke.

Hector, Megan, Caroline, called
Met, discussed, argued, solved.
Group, meeting, venue, fix
Books, library, journals, six.

Grocery, queue, next, please
Home, cooking, washing, cease.
Mark, Carlos, Lee, Neil
Joy, sorrow, pour, fill.

Today, tomorrow, day, night
Traveling alone, traveling light.
Inside, outside, within, without
Mountain stream, solitary trout.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

This land is your land, this land is my land

-- from Maps of War.

Wait! Wait! Wait!

You see the whole country of the system is juxtapositioned by the haemoglobin in the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity !

-- Anthony Gonsalvez in Amar Akbar Anthony

Monday, January 8, 2007

The elements of style

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

- William Strunk, Jr. in The Little Book

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Take a look at sweet Madhava

How many do you know?

Saturday, January 6, 2007

This be the verse

New eyes each year
Find old books here,
And new books, too,
Old eyes renew;

So youth and age
Like ink and page
In this house join,
Minting new coin.

-- Philip Larkin