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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Anna, Bhaja, Stalin,...

Anna, Diamond and Dirac

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.".

This is the opening sentence from Anna Karenina. I first saw it long ago in an essay by critic M Krishnan Nair - who had held it up as an example of a simply worded statement that conceals great profundity, the expression of a higher Truth, accessible only to sages.

Not as long back, I heard this statement by Paul Dirac: "In science one tries to convey to people, in as simple a manner as possible, something complex. But in the case of poetry, it's the exact opposite!" - it sounded little more than a wisecrack from a super-smart 'arasikan' (can't translate that Mal word)...

....until I happened to read about the 'Anna Karenina principle'. Derived from the novel's opening and popularized by Jared Diamond, the principle describes how any complex endeavor (a family for instance) is doomed to failure if any one (or some, or all.. indeed, any subset) of a number of essential factors are not in place - iow, success can happen only if every single box from among a non-negotiable list is checked. As Diamond expatiates in his uniquely flabby style in 'Guns, Germs and Steel', if an endeavor needs N factors to progress well, there are 2^N -1 distinct ways (that is exponentially many ways) in which things can go wrong and exactly one way for it to achieve success.

That the power set of a set has exponentially many elements and that this directly implies that there are hugely many ways for things to fail is a very simple and elementary mathematical truth. Even viewed as such, it is both powerful and deeply satisfying. And by casting this truth as a mystical epigram, Tolstoy really has exemplified Dirac's definition of poetry.

Note: I recently was witness to a quiz competition where the conductor read a question about 'Paul Dirac, the great Mathematical Psychic(sic)'. I was shocked at that bit of 'incompetence' but today I saw a statement from Einstein, arguably, the only greater physicist of the 20th century: "I have trouble with Dirac. His balancing on the dizzying path between genius and madness is awful!"

Bhaja, again

Thanks to Fate, I revisited Pune last week and revisited the Buddhist caves at Bhaja. This was my first time there with a smart phone. In the Vihara cave, I noticed for the first time, a 'donor group' like this:

Typcially, donors in Buddhist caves are couples of full and proper humans shown riding beasts which could range from bulls to sphinxes. Donor and mount fused as above is very atypical indeed. The bestial half of the figure does not look equine enough to make it as a centaur.
A digression: Many years ago, I wrote from Sanchi about the immense variety of fantastic beings carved on those 'toranas' (the post titled 'A Gallery of Fantasies'). I had just mentioned 'a centaur' therein. Here it is, dug up from my humble pic collection:

I have to add a note within a note here: I don't ever recall seeing, in any work of art from anywhere else, anyone riding a centaur!

Note added on July 23rd 2017:

Rekesh has shown me this online picture of a 'kinnara (centaur) with female'.

The caption also says it is from Sanchi. Well, I certainly missed it during my visit there. The one I did see there has a female centaur and male rider and for this, the missed one, things are the other way round. Of course, no idea yet about Greek centaurs and their riders.
And let us see some more pictures from Bhaja.

An antelope looking back at a pursuer(?). A corner of the cave has been smartly used so that even the head could be executed in relief. Am reminded of a highly evocative (albeit terrible sounding) verse from Sakuntalam that begins with "Greevaabhangaabhiramam..."

Here is what has become of what was once the Ravi Varma Press at Malavli:


In Pune, I got to meet, over a few drinks, a certain Mr.Baljeet. It is to him that I owe my introduction to the Pakistani singer-actress Musarrat Nazir. Youtube has her rendering of the Punjabi folk song 'Mera Laung Gavacha'. Particularly remarkable is how she makes the simple syllable 'cha' sound so exquisitely seductive...

And the word 'laung', meaning the nose-pin is very interesting - it is a derivative of the Sanskrit 'lavanga' literally meaning 'clove'; ie 'laung' captures metaphorically, the physical resemblance of the usual kind of nose-pin to a clove.

A record, lost

In recent years, I often boasted to friends: "I began reading Shakespeare's plays at age 12 when Pop brought home his complete works. No, I am not claiming I was the youngest to read him or anything. But I actually stopped reading Shakespeare within a few months of starting. So, I probably am the youngest ever to have given up reading Shakespeare!"

I still know of nobody who gave up on the Bard at a younger age. But the other day, I actually sat down and read the 'Merchant of Venice' in its entirety. So, bye, bye, record!

Stalin Lives...

In my home town, an exhibition was organized by a party called SUCI to mark the centenary of the October Revolution. There were posters showing Lenin and Stalin strive as (more or less) equal partners to usher in the proletarian era in Russia. Along the roads leading to the venue, there were more posters with quotes on the revolution and Stalin in particular (few were on Lenin or anybody else). A selection (Note: my translation from Malayalam to English):

"No one has had a greater impact on our times as Marshall Stalin. He was a truly great man who stood, whether in power or otherwise, for peace. And when forced to fight, he proved a truly great soldier" - Jawaharlal Nehru

"Stalin has won the love and admiration of people all over the world for a simple reason - he possesses great human virtues in abundance" - Vinoba Bhave

"True freedom exists in only one country in the world - it is in Stalin's Soviet Union" - George Bernard Shaw

"When Lenin was seriously ill and dying, the only colleague he was confident of meeting was Stalin. That the two comrades ever had a falling out is pure fabrication!" - Maria Ulyanova, Lenin's sister

"I am convinced, after having met the man, that in Russia, no one fears Stalin; and everyone trusts him" -H G Wells

"Cry, O my beloved India, as your sister Russia weeps as a widow on Stalin's passing!" - from a Malayalam poem by Vallathol

"If Jesus were alive today, he would have shed tears over Stalin's death" - Hewlett Johnson

And here is a bit from a very different source - Pedro Ferreira's 'Perfect Theory', a very readable history of general relativity:

Two months after (future Nobel Laureate) Lev Landau published his celebrated paper "origin of Stellar Energy" in Nature, he was arrested by the NKVD for editing a pamphlet to be distributed at the 1938 May Day parade; the pamphlet accused Stalin of being a Fascist "with his rabid hatred of genuine socialism" and trying to "be like Hitler or Mussolini". Landau spent a year at the Lubyanka prison...

Here is an image from a different trip: Parvati in the guise of 'kirati', the huntress; the goddess bears a crude staff and the carcass of a mongoose or iguana. A wood carving of unclear antiquity from the Siva temple at Tiruvalur, near Aluva.