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

Sunday, October 28, 2018

An Oktoberfest

I conducted a survey a couple of weeks back among WhatsApp contacts.

The following picture was posted:

Numbering the faces 1 to 3, the respondents were asked to pick one of five options:
a - faces 1 and 2 represent the same girl and 3 shows someone else
b - faces 1 and 3 represent same girl and 2 shows someone else
c - faces 2 and 3 represent same girl and 1 shows someone else
d - all three faces represent the same girl
e - each face represents a different girl

I got almost a hundred responses. Exactly 2 respondents picked option a. The remainder were almost equally divided among options b, c, d and e - all within the 20% to 30% range. By a very thin margin, Option b (faces 1 and 3 same and 2 different) won the max number of votes.

Now, let me spill the beans... Face 1 belongs to Nadia Murad, Peace Nobel Laureate. Faces 2 and 3 are portraits of the desperately star-crossed artist Jeanne Hebuterne made over a period of a few months by her lover, the brilliant artist Amedeo Modigliani.

A bit from Richard Dawkins's 'God Delusion':

Here is a paradox: United States, founded in secularism is now the most religious country in the West and England, with an established church headed by its monarch, is among the least... I don't know why this is so.

A hypothesis is that the religiosity of the US stems - paradoxically - from the secularism of its constitution. Precisely because America is legally secular, religion has become free enterprise. Rival faiths compete for congregations - not least for the fat tithes they bring - and the competition is waged with all the aggressive hard-sell techniques of the marketplace. What works for soap flakes, works for god and the result is something approaching religious mania... In England, by contrast, religion under the aegis of the established church has become little more than a pleasant social pastime..."

Are there lessons therein for India?


A major agitation has built up in Kerala to maintain the status quo on Women's entry to the Sabarimala temple (tradition - some say centuries old and some say not more than a few decades old - does not permit women in the 10-50 age bracket to visit this temple). Along with passionate appeals to the religiosity of the 'masses' and bursts of street power, the agitators have also taken to vigorously circulating expository articles and videos featuring all kinds 'experts' and explaining the 'scientific' basis for the rule that bars women from Sabarimala.

To counter all that, our chief minister and his supporters have deployed a much simpler - but immensely more powerful - Indian social weapon, Caste. Here is an extract from one of the CM's facebook posts.

Let me translate it:

This agitation, spearheaded by caste-mad upper castes, aims to totally undermine the egalitarian ethos of Sabarimala. If they succeed, it will lead to the exclusion of those whom tradition branded as 'low caste'. The agitation needs to be seen for what it is - an attempt to reassert the long-gone hegemony of upper castes.
There is a serious attempt to smuggle in criminal gangs, even from outside the state, and to turn Sabarimala and its environs into a battlefield. The goal is to destroy the acceptance and popularity that Sabarimala enjoys among all sections of people and to turn it into a bastion of upper caste madness. Devotees should realize this fact.


'Ponmaan': It is well-known that the modern linguistic theory of compound nouns is borrowed from classical Indian grammar and directly uses desi technical terms such as 'tatpurusha' and 'bahuvrihi'. Among these, 'bahuvrihi' refers to situations where the compound noun is not exactly either of the words being compounded; for example, the bahuvrihi compound 'sabretooth' is neither a sabre nor a tooth but an extinct cat with sabre-like teeth. But as can be seen, the compound is 'defined' by the words being compounded. Bahuvrihi compounds abound in the highly inflected Sanskrit - a feature shared by other Indian languages as well.

Now, there is in Malayalam a peculiar compound noun - 'ponmaan'. It can be naturally broken into 'pon' (=gold) and 'maan'(=deer) but, almost shockingly, the compound means 'kingfisher', an entity that is neither golden nor deer-like in any of its defining attributes. Obviously, it simply cannot be dismissed as just another bahuvrihi!

Let me now try to trace a connection between a golden deer and ponmaan: There was a famous ship named 'golden hind' (hind = the female of a deer species) - it was captained by Francis Drake. Obviously golden hind translates to ponmaan in Malayalam. And now, recall the Greek myth that says: Every winter, Alkyone, in the guise of a kingfisher lays her eggs by the seaside and her father Aeolus, god of the winds, calms the storms for seven days so that she is not disturbed. This leads to the phrase 'halcyon days' a spell when the sea is calm and safe for sailing (this connects with a very old post here titled 'Alcyon - Greek or Latin?'). That completes the chain: golden hind (=pon maan) - ship - safe sailing - Alcyon =kingfisher =ponmaan. Done!

Note: I have not checked the etymology of ponmaan. Maybe one should!

Here are two double images:

1. A detail of El Greco's mystical 'View of Toledo' alongside a view of a Siva temple in Bangladesh.

2. And here is another.... the name is Ogilvie, Robert Ogilvie, who, for a brief spell, had actually upstaged the redoubtable Kim Kardashian...


A thought on the 'conclusion' of the Mahabharata:
Yudhishthira reaches heaven and sees Duryodhana (his lifelong tormentor who was killed off after great suffering and effort) having fun with his minions. Yudhishtira's own near and dear ones who predeceased him are nowhere to be seen. He asks for them and a trip is arranged. Shockingly, it is to hell and from its fiendish darkness, he hears his brothers and queen call out to him in great agony.

"I don't want to go back to the delights of heaven even if I deserve to. Let me stay right here!" says the anguished king. His tour-guide explains: "Your brothers led virtuous lives but also committed a few sins so they have to serve in hell for a short while as penance. Now that you have come and met them, their time here is over and all of you will presently be shifted to heaven.... On the other hand, those who do a few good things and lots of evil on earth will get a short sojourn in heaven followed by an eternity in hell"

Question: Was Duryodhana, who did a lot more evil things than the Pandavas, due for a transfer to hell sometime after he was seen in heaven? Or had he already finished his time in hell (indeed, he died 36 years before the Pandavas so he could have finished his hell-spell and gotten promoted to heaven before the latter arrived)? Mahabharata is silent on this. But then, Karna, who lived his entire life for Duryodhana (opposing the Pandavas) and arguably did a lot less evil and a lot more good than his friend and who was certainly killed a day before Duryo, was still frying in hell when Yudhishthira came calling. Too many loose ends, right?

Needless to say, having taken a hundred thousand stanzas to tell its story, the Mahabharata leaves itself somewhat unfinished and definitely unresolved - and one must say, very appropriately so!

A temple in Kochi during Navaratri. Little oil lamps flicker in all glory all around the enclosing wall. But the authorities seem less than impressed - they have hung up wires and wires with multicolored LED bulbs over and above them.

Walking past the rapidly crumbling 'oottupura'/'kalavara' building (it has featured a couple of times on this blog) the other day, I was pleasantly surprised when two mobike-riding gentlemen suddenly got down in front of the main entrance to photograph one another....

A Chamberpot named Emperor:

There was this silver chamber pot that belonged to Joseph Bonaparte; it was captured by the 14th Light Dragoons of the Brit army in 1813. Since the object was allegedly presented to Joseph by his brother, Emperor Napoleon, they mockingly christened it the‘Emperor’! To this day, it remains the regiment’s most treasured piece of silver and on special occasions, they (horror!) drink champagne off it.

This weird fact came my way just a couple of days back. That set me thinking: What then is the big deal about Dada Master Marcel Duchamp's 'Fountain' - which was just a pisspot rotated 90 degrees about its normal orientation and put on display as a work of art? Duchamp's alleged breakthrough happened in 1917, well over a century after Brit army men began drinking off the Emperor.


"We are the Beggars!"
There is an iconic episode from the Malayalam film 'Angadi' (1980): A rich and brash young couple in a car pick up a nasty argument with a group of laborers. A cop appears and asks the rich guy what is going on. He answers in English:"These beggars... they are blocking our way!" And suddenly, one among the laborers - played by Jayan - steps forward and barks at him - in English: "Did you say "beggars"? We are poor people - coolies, trolley pullers,...- but we are not BEGGARS! Say that again and I will pull out your bloody tongue!"

For generations, this line has been a favorite of Keralan stand-up comedians; in a gesture that is part tribute, part mockery, they imitate Jayan's very signature dialog delivery that makes 'beggars' sound very close to 'buggers'...

A few years ago, in this very blog, I lamented the near-total absence of Dutch surnames among Kerala's coastal folk thus: "We have no Burghers! We have parankees (Mal slang for those with Portuguese surnames), Anglo Indians... but we have no Burghers!".
(Note: Nearby Sri Lanka has many more people with Dutch surnames and they are known as Burghers there).

And then, the other day, I read this bit in a volume on medieval Netherlandish Master Peter Bruegel the Elder, with reference to his painting 'The Beggars' or 'The Cripples'(it shows a group of atrociously crippled beggars).

On close examination, the subject is highly subversive. During the years before Bruegel painted this masterpiece, a group of Flemish noblemen, agitating against Spanish dominance of the Low Countries, took the nickname "Beggars" from a haughty jeer flung at them by a Spanish sympathizer. Adopting the name quite literally, they carried beggar's bowls.... As popular support for their cause grew, the nobles' rebellion erupted into a full-scale war of independence against Spain. "Long live the Beggars!" became a national rallying cry"


A few days back, I had to go to the temple nearby on some business and there I ran into a relative who was on a visit here from Sydney where she is based. She tried to introduce her little daughter to 'uncle' but the kid was more interested in building palaces in the sand that had been spread inside the temple enclosure. I tried a wisecrack: "The sand bed must have reminded her of Bondi beach!"
Her mom corrected: "Chetta, they don't call it Bon-dee. It is Bond-eye!"
And I had to say: "I see!...But, oh yes, in Austr-eye-lia, it got to be 'Born-die! as in "I came here to die"".

A couple of weeks back, I made a short exploratory trip to Kuttanad and was struck by the utterly amazing quality of the light out there. Indeed, over much of Kerala, as I subsequently gathered, that was a day of freakish lucidity....


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