'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Fragments, again


The Container Terminal, such a great looker especially when lit up with sodium lamps at dusk, has remained just that - a looker. Barely a ship berths, hardly a few containers change hands; and I am told the installation saw only 15 working days over the last two months due to labor unrest. Global players with stakes in competitor ports in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in India will continue to pay off the union leaders and their handlers and the workers at Vallarpadam will continue to get their salaries from the State for doing precious little. The Cochin Port Trust has been running up huge losses over the Terminal but the State Govt will keep it afloat with subsidies. There has been and of course will be plenty of wistful talk of how great it would be for Kochi if everyone plays fair and the terminal takes off - "Singapore became so rich just due to its port; same with Hong Kong. if only...". But no one will overly bother about distant prospects of great general prosperity as long as personal cash needs and greeds of the present - and the foreseeable future - are adequately met. And if the Government money goes down the drains,... it is our money but only in a very remote and round-about way so who really cares?

Am reminded of a bit of dialog from an Amar Chitra Katha. In the late 1920's. Some of our brave revolutionaries are planning armed attacks on the Brit imperialists (I quote from memory):

Azad: "Comrades, we need funds for our activities. What do we do?"

Roshan Singh: "There is only one way. Let's rob the rich!"

Bismil: "No, dacoity against the rich will make us unpopular with the masses. Instead, let's loot the government. No individual Indian will then feel a loss and.... So, on (date) we shall board the Lucknow mail at Kakori...."


Saw the somewhat controversial Kurosawa film 'Rhapsody in August' on an elderly 'Hibakusha' (a word that deserves a serious lookup at least at Wiki), constantly haunted by the memory of the Nuke attack on Nagasaki. I quote from Wiki:

Some critics made much of the fact that the film centered on the depiction of the atomic bombing as a war crime while omitting details of Japanese war crimes in the Pacific War. ... At the Tokyo Film Festival, critics of Japanese militarism said Kurosawa had ignored the historical facts leading up to the bomb. Japanese cultural critic Inuhiko Yomota commented:

"Many critics, myself included, thought Kurosawa chauvinistic in his portrayal of the Japanese as victims of the war, while ignoring the brutal actions of the Japanese and whitewashing them with cheap humanist sentiment. "

I think this criticism of the film has some serious substance. The near-perpetual sheepishly apologetic look on the face of Richard Gere, playing an American visitor, might have really rankled many (not only Americans) who saw the film - especially those who know that Japan's conduct during the Second World War often trumped even the Nazis' in unprovoked brutality.

But there is another matter that viewing 'Rhapsody' brought up, despite the film's silence about Japanese military's evil deeds. I have felt for long that Nagasaki - decoupled from its usual hyphenation with Hiroshima - was not an act of war but a colossal war crime perpetrated by the then American leadership; I even wrote here a post titled the 'Fat Man' indicating how Nagasaki matters in a way fundamentally different from how Hiroshima matters for precisely this reason. Some lines from tht old post

Nagasaki is very much a 'poorer cousin', remembered only in conjunction with Hiroshima. Every year, one sees photos of the nuked-out Townhall of Hiroshima in the papers; and most public acts remembering the tragedy happen on August 6th... Even if one were to admit that the nuclear attack indeed ... quickly ended the war (even this is not all clear since Japan had already been beaten hollow!), questions remain: Was the second nuke attack really essential? Was not the launch of the 'Fat Man', the bomb that killed a hundred thousand people in Nagasaki, an act independent of the Hiroshima bombing, one of (immensely large-scale) military terrorism, rather than merely a PART of a morally justified (however perversely so) attempt to bring peace??

Post-Rhapsody, I searched afresh and found an article by Greg Mitchell. He has provided just the kind of thorough and convincing (and very pugnacious) take on this issue that one wished for: See this page:

Over to Mitchell:

Few journalists bother to visit Nagasaki, even though it is one of only two cities in the world to "meet the atomic bomb," as some of the survivors of that experience, 68 years ago this week, put it. It remains the Second City, and "Fat Man" the forgotten bomb. No one in America ever wrote a bestselling book called Nagasaki, or made a film titled Nagasaki, Mon Amour. "We are an asterisk," Shinji Takahashi, a sociologist in Nagasaki, once told me, with a bitter smile. "The inferior A-Bomb city."

Yet, in many ways, Nagasaki is the modern A-Bomb city, the city with perhaps the most meaning for us today. For one thing, when the plutonium bomb exploded above Nagasaki it made the uranium-type bomb dropped on Hiroshima obsolete.

And then there's this. "The rights and wrongs of Hiroshima are debatable," Telford Taylor, the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, once observed, "but I have never heard a plausible justification of Nagasaki" -- which he labeled a war crime. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., who experienced the firebombing of Dresden at close hand, said much the same thing. "The most racist, nastiest act by this country, after human slavery, was the bombing of Nagasaki," he once said. "Not of Hiroshima, which might have had some military significance. But Nagasaki was purely blowing away yellow men, women, and children. I'm glad I'm not a scientist because I'd feel so guilty now."

About the cinematic merits of 'Rhapsody': it is nowhere near 'Throne of Blood' or other Kurosawa masterpieces, but some passages are poignant reminders of the terrible fate that befell a thriving city. And, let me note, the film never mentions the word 'Hiroshima'.

Note: In my 'Fat Man' post, I had vaguely recalled "a strangely haunting French movie on how the destinies of Neverre (a town in France) and Hiroshima get entwined". Thanks to Mitchell, one knows this film was 'Hiroshima mon amour' by Alain Resnais who also made the great documentary 'Night and Fog'. Sad coincidence: Resnais passed away only a few days ago.

Remembering the Bard at Kaviyur:

Last weekend I made a long bus journey to far away Kaviyur temple, intending to look again at the wood carvings there.

But what I want to record from that visit is a multi-tiered lamp pillar ('deepastambham') that stands in front of the temple. Made of bronze and about a dozen feet tall, the pillar did not look to be of more than acceptable workmanship; but it had the most striking coat of gloriously green patina I can remember seeing anywhere. And at its base is an inscription on its getting set up by a donor around 2 centuries ago. The lettering and spelling therein are in spectacularly bad Malayalam - eg: the word 'pratishtha' has been written 'pradishta'.

But the 'quality' of the language need not surprise us too much - Mal circa 1800 might well have been at the same stage of development as English was in queen Elizabeth's (the first, not the present) times. Let me quote a bit from Bill Bryson's biography of Shakespeare.

"(In those days) Spelling was luxuriantly variable, too. You could write “St Paul’s” or “St Powles” and no one seemed to notice or care. Gracechurch Street was sometimes “Gracious Steet,” sometimes “Grass Street”; Stratford-upon-Avon became at times “Stratford upon Haven.” People could be extraordinarily casual even with their own names. Christopher Marlowe signed himself “Cristofer Marley” in his one surviving autograph and was registered at Cambridge as “Christopher Marlen.” Elsewhere he is recorded as “Morley” and “Merlin,” among others. In like manner the impresario Philip Henslowe indifferently wrote “Henslowe” or “Hensley” when signing his name, and others made it Hinshley, Hinchlow, Hensclow, Hynchlowes, Inclow, Hinchloe, and a half dozen more. More than eighty spellings of Shakespeare’s name have been recorded, from “Shappere” to “Shaxberd.” (It is perhaps worth noting that the spelling we all use is not the one endorsed by the Oxford English Dictionary, which prefers “Shakspere.”) Perhaps nothing speaks more eloquently of the variability of spelling in the age than the fact that a dictionary published in 1604, A Table Alphabeticall of Hard Words, spelled “words” two ways on the title page."

Bryson also tells us, the Bard's 'marriage bond' (that has miraculously survived to the present) spells 'Anne Hathaway' correctly (whatever correct means!) but her husband's name has been given as 'Shagspere'.

Note: At the gates of the Jewish cemetery in Forth Cochin is another Malayalam inscription from around 1890. Its lettering is an improvement over the Kaviyur stambham but the text is littered with quaint colloquialisms. For example, the phrase "his late father" has been written 'angerude marichupoya appan' instead of the modern standard 'addehathinte yasasshareenaya pithavu'.


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