Tuesday, September 28, 2004


Often I search for two names in Google News. One is Khodorkovsky, and the other is Valerie Plame. If you ask me why I have been following these two names among all those names in the news, I have no answer. Strange fancying perhaps. Anyway here's Valerie Plame:

Photo from The Hill (via Daily Kos).

Monday, September 27, 2004

Poetry loses a major presence

Kitabkhana: "Back in college, we read Kolatkar in dhabas and cafes the way I imagine another generation elsewhere must have read Lorca and Neruda."

Ranjit Hoskote's article on Arun Kolatkar: "Arun Kolatkar sculpted poetry out of language with the chisels of surprise and epiphany."

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Arun Kolatkar

The poet Arun Kolatkar passed away last night. Only last week I read his books Jejuri, Kala Ghoda Poems, and Sarpa Satra. No other contemporary poet has impressed me this much. Kala Ghoda Poems and Sarpa Satra were released in book form very recently (on July 14, 2004). This 'reclusive' poet's name was pretty visible in the mainstream media thereafter (as I Googled and found out later). Here is a review of Kolatkar's books by Gowri Ramnarayan, which appeared in this month's Hindu Literary Review. Same issue also contains an interview of Kolatkar by her. Apparently this one is conducted six years ago. A more extensive, and more revealing, interview is the one by Eunice de Souza in her book Talking Poems.

I came to know about this extremely talented poet very late. I heard about him for the first time just a fortnight ago, on September 12. That sunday morning I was skimming through the Hindu Literary Review which was published the previous week. I casually read Gowri Ramnarayan's interview, and this did not attract me very much. I would have forgotten that interview, and perhaps his name too, if another curious coincidence did not occur that afternoon. While lazily browsing the shelves at the Oxford bookstall at Churchgate, I noticed Eunice de Souza's interview of Kolatkar. And then I really really wanted to read Kolatkar. Oxford did not have him, and does not have him. Ditto with Crossword. Among hundreds of good looking, beautifully displayed copies of Sheldons, Archers, and Dan Browns, Amitav Ghoshs and Naipauls, Samit Basus and Siddharth Shanghvis, Kolatkar was not to be seen. The pavements of Kala Ghoda too did not have space for the poet whose poems silently and eloquently spoke about Kala Ghoda. I should have enquired at the right place at the starting. The guy at the 'ancient' Strand book stall took just a couple of seconds, to locate Kolatkar, in its thickly packed almirahs, full of books-- dusty and not-so-dusty. Oxford is good to spend time glancing through the fashionable books, good and bad. Also to waste money on tea or coffee at the Cha Bar there, where I end up paying thirty ruppees for a cup of tea which otherwise costs me three ruppees!

I finished reading all the three books in one sitting, fully understanding that an understanding of the works will take many more readings, also may require readings at a slower pace. But you feel the strength of Kolatkar's voice, the shock of 'Sarpa Satra' or 'Breakfast Time at Kala Ghoda', the very first time you go through it. I was hoping that Kolatkar would publish more, as he published two books together after a gap of twenty five years. (Jejuri was first published in 1977). And now he is no more. I do not read many books. I do not read literary supplements very carefully. (I might not have noticed Kolatkar's name on the 12th September in the Hindu.) Nor do I frequent book stalls. Having a chance to look at Eunice de Souza's interview looks like a miracle now. Perhaps I was destined to get to know Kolatkar's poetry just before his death.

What saddens me is this. I wanted to write in detail about Kolatkar's poetry in this blog, especially about Sarpa Satra. I postponed it thinking that I would attempt it after understanding it a bit more. I thought I wouldn't write about Kolatkar before that. And now...

Thursday, September 23, 2004

In the name of science

``We were about to press the button, but there were too many cows about. If even one of them tripped on the cables, it could have spoiled the experiment. But we worship cows, and it jumped beautifully over the cables.'' (Raja Ramanna, in Anand Patwardhan's War and Peace).

Bloggers date things!

So it's not true. Bloggers date things.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Blogs date things

"... blogs date things, so putting ideas up can be like putting down a marker, making sure the world knows you came up with a particular idea first." (Guardian, September 23, 2004)

I'm just checking whether this is true!

Friday, September 17, 2004

Math blog

Here is a very interesting math blog by Peter Woit. This could fit into what Amardeep called "semi-serious academic blogging". There is a good post on the so called Poincare conjecture there. Contrast it with this "dumb" article that appeared in the Guardian.

Mathematical imagery

"Euclid would've loved it
- that rickety looking rattletrap,
that garbage trolley.

The honey cart,
that looks like a theorem picked
clean of a proof,

has all the starkness
and simplicity of a child's drawing
done in black crayon."

(Meera, Kala Ghoda Poems, Arun Kolatkar)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


On countless occasions, I have seen people showing their disgust about politics. "All are of the same breed", they say about politicians. Politics is an ugly word for them, being "the domain of corporate sleazeballs, greedy officials and lazy bureaucrats". What I have noticed is that the very same people have their own political prejudices, unreasonable loyalties, and more often than not, they do support greedy officials and lazy bureaucrats. Those who are openly 'political' are willing to discuss and debate on what they think, whereas these 'apolitical cynics' fanatically cling to their beliefs.

A few months back, I overheard a conversation between two co-passengers in a city bus. One was a political guy, in his fifties, slightly disabled with his underarm crutches, who looked as though he had infinite time with him. The apolitical one sitting opposite to him was also in his fifties, broad forehead, aquiline nose, penetrating gaze, the very soul of rectitude and goodness (too much of Llosa there!). The political one badly wanted to start a conversation. He asked the apolitical one: "So what's up with elections?". The apolitical one replied: "I do not understand them. Better not to pay any attention." The political guy went ahead, ignoring this show of disinterest, and mentioned Kerry's name at some point. This apparently provoked the apolitical guy.

"Pigs will fly", quipped he, "if Kerry generates the millions of jobs he promises now." According to him, Kerry is "wrong on taxes, wrong on defense". (He uttered the words as though he had patented those.) "And look, this is a guy who said he voted for that bill before voting against it". (What an effect these TV ads have! I'm happy that the Supreme Court of India banned election ads on the cable.) In the same breath, he continued: "They want to repeat Mogadishu in Fallujah. This time it just will not work." I was struck by the sheer power of his logic. In order to win the elections, Kerry instigated the Fallujah "insurgents"!

The political guy, it turned out, was not with Bush nor with Kerry. He wanted things to improve in his country, and he thinks everybody should take an interest in political matters. More importantly, he thought Bush and Kerry are two sides of the same coin. I guess that was wisdom on his part.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Other September 11ths

The Other September 11ths by Justin Felux.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

One sees what one wants to see

"I have kind of Friedman's rule of motor scooters, and that is when you go to a developing country and you see a lot of motorcycles around, that's like the best sign possible, because what it is a sign of is kind of young, lower middle class people who have left the countryside, come to the city and found jobs. And they found jobs enough to give up the bicycle and buy a motor scooter." Tom Friedman.

John Pilger sees what Friedman does not see, or does not want to see: "The conditions these people live under are barely describable: an extended family of 20 is packed into a packing case, the sewage ebbing and flowing in the monsoon; in the dry season it stays. The fat crows ride on people's skeletal umbrellas; pariah dogs chew at nothing. Yet glimpse inside this stricken Lilliput and there is new-pin neatness and clothes wrapped in plastic, and the children in vivid colours. It is both haunting and humbling, always, to see such dignity."

Monday, September 06, 2004

How old is Lucy?

After reading J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace, this seemed a natural question to ask. Lucy, protagonist David Lurie's daughter, is an important character in Disgrace. The question gets all the more interesting once you agree to believe that the author had a particular age in mind for Lucy, which he did not explicitly write down. And such a belief on the reader's part cannot be too much off the mark, since some of the other characters do have specific numbers attached to them, for instance David Lurie is fifty two (curiously page threes of the newspapers always have it as 53), Melanie Isaac is twenty etc.

I would like to believe that Lucy is twenty four. First the facts. Coetzee himself mentions that she is in her middle twenties. Twenty four is alright as a first candidate therefore. We also know from various parts of the story that:

  • David's last intimate memory of Lucy as a child is when she was six years old.
  • after David's divorce with Evelina, Lucy's mother, Lucy was with her mom in Holland until her return to South Africa much later.
  • David was married to Rosalind for ten years (after his divorce with Evelina), and it is eight years since they got separated, at the time of the narration.
Now grant yourself certain obvious simplifying assumptions, and Lucy's age adds up to twenty four.

There is another way, perhaps a better way, of arguing/asserting that Lucy is twenty four. Twenty four seems to be Coetzee's favourite number, a number that is full of meanings and possibilities for him. As a scholar/creative writer who has spent a whole lot of time on Robinson Crusoe, and his twenty four years' solitude on a deserted island, this affinity is only natural. In the context of Disgrace, the number twenty four acquires even more significance, as the Faust legend is in the background of the novel from the beginning to the end. Indeed, the first book that David Lurie authors is on this topic. As several reviewers have attempted, David Lurie can actually be thought of as a modern day Faustus. Marlowe's Faustus had to give up his soul to Lucifer at the end of the twenty fourth year of their deal; David Lurie has to give up his soul at the end of the twenty fourth (and final) chapter of Disgrace. Lurie's soul represented by the twenty fourth dog--the scholarly dog, the dog that could appreciate Byron, the dog with an ear to music--that gets a mercy killing on the last day in the narrative. Thus the number twenty four resonates throughout the book, and if an important character of this work is in her mid-twenties, then let her age better be twenty four!

Maybe one can stretch the parallels a bit more and conclude that Lucy is the Lucifer in Disgrace, and that David Lurie is giving up his soul to Lucy--in the sense that towards the end of the novel Lurie is able to comprehend Lucy's stand on the complex issues dealt with in this novel.

Random quotes

"I don't want to adjust to another language. This is the United States. I think they ought to adjust to us." (William Schaefer, former Maryland Governer, Democrat)

"I reject the idea of multiculturalism. Once you get into this multicultural crap, this bunk, you run into a problem." (Robert Ehrlich Jr., Maryland Governer, Republican)

"What do they call it? Multi-culti... .It's all absurd you know. I think if a man picks himself up and comes to another country he must meet it halfway... He can't say `I want the country, I want the laws and the protection, but I want to live in my own way'. It's wrong. It's become a kind of racket, this multiculturalism." (V.S. Naipaul)