This is a short post to share a surprising discovery today while reading a Bengali essay by a Belgian Catholic priest (he may be French - I am not wholly certain but definitely a French speaker who reads and writes fluent Bengali; things are getting mixed up already).
Haven't played a game of cards for a long time except the solitary ones on the computer. It used to be a favorite pastime during the long hot summer vacations. We used the Bengali, Hindi/Urdu and English names for the suits of cards depending on the game and the company. At home, where my mother was very often a participant, we almost always used Benglai. I had always wondered about the Bengali card names because unlike their counterparts in English and Hindi / Urdu, they do not mean anything. Now I know why. They are distortions of foreign words. Three of the four names of the suits of playing cards in Bengali derive from Dutch! Ruhiton, Haroton and Ishkapon (diamonds, hearts and spades respectively) in Bengali correspond to Ruiten, Harten and Schoppen in Dutch. The exception is the suit of clubs which is Chiraton in Bengali and Klaveren in Dutch for clover. Chiraton is related to the Hindi / Urdu name, Chiri meaning bird. It seems that Bengalis learnt to play the western (French origin) 52 card game from sailors of the Dutch East India Company.
Prior to that card games with 96 card decks were popular in India. The cards were called Ganjifa (or Ganjipha) and they had been imported to India by the Persians employed by the Mughal courts. Ganjifa cards had some similarity with the French system in assigning value to each card but were otherwise distinct. Gradually they assumed regional flavor in different parts of India, often supplanting Persian iconography with Hindu religious mythology, such as the ten Avatars of the god Vishnu and other folklore. The production of the handmade Ganjifa cards became an art form. From the distinct Persian form of the Mughal court in the north, different versions of the card game became popular in Maharashtra and Gujarat in western India and Bengal and Orissa in the east, giving rise in the process to new artistic renditions and games with local rules.
(Mughal Ganjifa deck) (Ganjifa cards depicting Hindu gods)
(The title of my post refers to a popular Bengali dance drama written and composed by Rabindranath Tagore. Perhaps Sujatha can provide some good links to the music. Thanks to my sister Mandira for educating me on the history of Ganjifa.)
My Father: A Veteran's Story - The Battle of Graignes, Normandie June 6-13, 1944
My father, Frank P. Costa, Sr., died on August 26, 2010 at his nursing home in Catskill, NY. He was 93 years old. He was a combat veteran of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, France, June 6, 1944.
Dad was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. He was in the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. His first combat jump was on the night of June 5-6, 1944 into Normandy France - the allied invasion of Europe. He was positioned as the first soldier to exit the plane when the green light jump signal was given. On his training jumps he would always get faint and queasy. He couldn't wait to get out of the plane and into the fresh air. So the jump sergeant sat this eager jumper next to the door of the C-47. Thedesignated landing zone was the area around Ste. Maire Egliese. The triple A flak was so heavy, the pilot made a right turn to avoid the danger and gave the jump signal at a purely arbitrary moment. Many of the pilots in the following planes, with other 507th paratroopers, followed the lead pilot's right turn. As a result, they landed more than 30 km from the drop zone.
Dad landed in a flooded field, up to his shoulders in water around 1 AM. He cut himself out of the risers of his parachute with his trench knife, but he lost his M1-A carbine. At about 5 AM, with the arrival of dawn, he was able to spot high dry ground and made his way out of the water. He regrouped with his regiment, part of it anyway, in the tiny hamlet of Graignes, maybe 15 km from Carentan. The village church with a tall bell tower was the most recognizable feature and occupied the highest elevation in a generally flat terrain. One-hundred seventy-six (176) assembled, including a few from the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles. There was one Army Air Force fighter pilot. None of the surviving vets remembers where the fighter pilot came from nor what happened to him afterwards.
The 507th was a headquarters outfit. That meant they had mortars, 50 caliber 'light' machine guns, and lots of explosives. They also had a lot of communications equipment, but they were too far away to contact the main units of the Division. They had some great officers with them - a Colonel 'Pipp' Reed, a Captain, and number of Lieutenants. One was my father's Lieutenant, Frank Naughton. The first thing they did was ascertain where they were with the help of the locals. They were so far off the drop zone that it was off their combat map. After much deliberation and argument, the Colonel Reed decided to stay and set up a defense perimeter, rather than try to get back to the friendly lines through unfamiliar terrain and mostly flooded fields.
A Fishy analysis of The Hunger Games (yes, I know, that is So Last Month, but please bear with the professor, he is not quite upto speed with the 'passé'ness of some memes) ) vs. my own market-colored (and timelier, of course) take on the books.
"A century-old collection of photographs of India has been discovered in the RCAHMS archive.
The rare and fragile glass plate negatives, which date back to around 1912, show life on the subcontinent at the high point of the British Raj.
The 178 negatives were found in a shoebox for a pair of grey, size 9, Peter Lord slip-on shoes, and were stored in their original five-by-eight-inch plate boxes, wrapped in copies of TheStatesman newspaper dating from 1914. Founded in 1875, TheStatesman is one of India’s largest circulation English language newspapers, and is still published today."
My niece sent me the link to this interesting slide show featuring the now tiny and fast disappearing Armenian community of Kolkata (Calcutta), India.
Minorities everywhere, when sufficiently removed from mainstream cultures but otherwise unmolested, especially when they are also dwindling fast in numbers, make colorful subjects for news reports and curious tourists.
The Armenians of Calcutta arrived in the city from Iran in the 1600s and became prosperous businessmen. They preceded the mercantile community of Baghdadi Jews from Iraq and Iran who too at one time had a small but significant presence in Calcutta's business community. (Baghdadi Jews also lived in Mumbai and Pune in western India). Both the communities have now been reduced to a handful of living members, as also another group - the Anglo Indians -, losing their members to emigration.
I saw the Holy Nazareth Armenian Church featured in the slide show (#8 and #9) during a recent visit to Kolkata, but only from outside. When my sister and I arrived on a Sunday morning in the winter of 2010, the church was locked, scheduled to open at a time known only to its tiny congregation. Incidentally, the famous Baghdadi Jewish synagogue, theMagen David is located only a few streets away. We were denied entry into the synagogue also. Since the Nov 26, 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, access to non-congregants is granted only with a security clearance permit from the central government in New Delhi. The non-Jewish caretaker took pity on a pair of very curious, insistent and non-terrorist looking middle aged women and let us into the synagogue grounds to look around but wouldn’t unlock the doors to the interior. Thwarted at two places, my sister and I spent a leisurely couple of hours in Tagore's birthplace of Jorasanko, now a college and a museum, which too is located in the same neighborhood.
Not many people in India outside Kolkata know the history of the Armenian community of India. But the history of the once prosperous and active diasporic population is well known in modern day Armenia. Los Angeles has a fairly significant Armenian immigrant population. On a few occasions during my visits there, I have encountered Armenian-American cab drivers who upon discovering that I was born and grew up in India, invariably asked me about the Calcutta Armenians. They know about the community which maintained its religious and cultural heritage in a foreign land teeming with people of many different faiths and living habits. They had seen documentary films on the subject broadcast on the state television of Armenia. India enjoys a favorable reputation among Armenians as a place where a minor diasporic part of their community thrived without the fear of persecution.
As I said, minority communities of the past, especially if they were culturally distinct, prosperous and left behind visible architectural mementos, are remembered with a sense of colorful exotica. This article was in the NYT's India related blog, India Ink, published just yesterday is an example.
I recently made a short but pleasant trip to Lucknow, a north Indian city with a diverse and varied history of song, dance and political intrigue. Lucknow is also famous for its fine cuisine which developed to please the discerning palates of its luxury loving Nawabs. The rulers, appointed by the Mughal kings of Delhi and Agra were of Iranian origin and the royal chefs developed a class of food that is both rich as well as delicately balanced for high flavor. I wish to share some of the photos I took around the city with our readers. Rather than go into the complicated historical details of the place, I will instead share an essay by Sachin Kalbag about Lucknow's famous foods. The article was published in Mail Today, when the newspaper had been newly launched and its website was not quite user-friendly. It is only accessible to me in the PDF format, I can't therefore provide a link. I am reproducing it in its entirety with the permission of the author. Kalbag refers to some of Lucknow's famous landmarks which also appear in my photo montage.
The pictures here are of buildings commissioned by the Shi'a rulers of Lucknow, dating from the 18th century, designed by Iranian engineers and constructed by Indian laborers, masons and craftsmen. Clearly representing the Muslim architectural style, the beautiful edifices were heavily influenced by the artistic sensibilities of the Indian workers as well as existing local architecture of pre-Islamic era. In fact during that period, given the high traffic of Persian notables to the Mughal courts, the exchange of architectural design and aesthetics most probably flowed in both directions - from Iran to India and back. This notion is supported by the comment by an Iranian friend who saw the Lucknow photos on my Facebook. She doesn't claim any expertise in the area but noted the following from her observations.
These are fascinating, Ruchira! Except for the corridor of the Bhool Bhulaiya and some general impressions of that kind of blending of interior/exterior space like the doggie in the window picture, it's striking how different they are from architecture in Iran of that period, which I suppose says much for the influence of the Indian craftsmen and how the engineers must have been impressed by what they encountered in India. If anything, some of it reminds me more of Qajar period in Iran, slightly later. Perhaps they brought back some ideas from India?
(Click on the Wiki links for the history of the monuments featured below and on the images for enlargement)
Bada Imambada: The larger of the two famous Imambadas (The monument of the Imam) of Lucknow. Built in the mid 18th century by the Shia ruler of Lucknow as a tribute to Imam Hassan, the monument was designed by Iranian engineers and constructed by Indian laborers.
The main entrance to the Bada (large) Imambada
The view from inside the intricate structure around the deep well
The Bauli - the several stories deep well in the compound
The Tajia Hall
The beautifully carved ceiling of the Tajia Hall. The holy banners in the first alcove on the right
A passage within the Bhool Bhulaiya, the maze
A view of the Rumi Darwaza (The Roman Gate) outside
A building across the street with a fish motif (the elephant is live)
Chhota Imambada:The beautiful, delicately designed Chhota Imambara, a monument dedicated to Imam Hussain. It was built in the late 18th century by the ruling Shia dynasty of Lucknow. As with the its larger counterpart, this edifice too was designed by Iranian architects and built by local Indian laborers and masons.
A charming pair at the entrance. The metal female figure is a lightning conductor and the golden fish is the equivalent of a wind sock.
The Chhota Imambara
A jacuzzi bath for the women of the royal family on the premises.
The mausoleum of theNawab's daughter.
The lace like design and calligraphy on the front wall of the Imambada.
A scenic shot within the complex. Lucknow has a rich and varied assortment of botanical life.
The mosque at the Chhota Imambara.
The Residency at Lucknow (a major site of the Sepoy Mutiny, India's first war of independence against British occupation)
A memorial before the dining hall to commemorate British soldiers
Bullet holes on the walls of the Residency.
A memorial to Indian soldiers who sided with the British.
The boundary wall of a building in the compound
The burnt out quarters where Sir Henry Lawrence, the commander of the British forces died.
The remnants of the church of the Residency and the surrounding cemetery.
A British gun.
The mosque of the Residency. It is still in use.
The last Nawab of Oudh (Lucknow was its capital), Wajid Ali Shah. The hapless, pleasure loving, apathetic ruler was removed from power and exiled in Calcutta by the British just a year before the Mutiny, in preparation for the take over of Lucknow and the kingdom of Oudh.
Vaclav Havel: The good, they die young (Norman Costa)
Vaclav Havel Dies: Former Czech President Dead At 75. Read HERE.
by WILLIAM J. KOLE and KAREL JANICEK, 12/18/11 10:44 AM ET, in Huffington Post
PRAGUE — Vaclav Havel wove theater into revolution, leading the charge to peacefully bring down communism in a regime he ridiculed as "Absurdistan" and proving the power of the people to overcome totalitarian rule.
Shy and bookish, with a wispy mustache and unkempt hair, the dissident playwright was an unlikely hero of Czechoslovakia's 1989 "Velvet Revolution" after four decades of suffocating repression – and of the epic struggle that ended the wider Cold War.
He was his country's first democratically elected president, leading it through the early challenges of democracy and its peaceful 1993 breakup into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, though his image suffered as his people discovered the difficulties of transforming their society.
A former chain-smoker who had a history of chronic respiratory problems dating back to his years in communist jails, Havel died Sunday morning at his weekend home in the northern Czech Republic, his assistant Sabina Tancevova said. His wife Dagmar and a nun who had been caring for him the last few months of his life were by his side, she said. He was 75.
"A great fighter for the freedom of nations and for democracy has died," said Lech Walesa, his fellow anti-communist activist who founded neighboring Poland's Solidarity movement. "His outstanding voice of wisdom will be missed."
Among his many honors were Sweden's prestigious Olof Palme Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian award, bestowed on him by President George W. Bush for being "one of liberty's great heroes."
An avowed peacenik whose heroes included rockers such as Frank Zappa, he never quite shed his flower-child past and often signed his name with a small heart as a flourish.
"Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred," Havel famously said. It became his revolutionary motto which he said he always strove to live by.
"It's interesting that I had an adventurous life, even though I am not an adventurer by nature. It was fate and history that caused my life to be adventurous rather than me as someone who seeks adventure," he once told Czech radio, in a typically modest comment.
Havel first made a name for himself after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion that crushed the Prague Spring reforms of Alexander Dubcek and other liberally minded communists in what was then Czechoslovakia.
Havel's plays were banned as hard-liners installed by Moscow snuffed out every whiff of rebellion. But he continued to write, producing a series of underground essays that stand with the work of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov as the most incisive and eloquent analyses of what communism did to society and the individual.
One of his best-known essays, "The Power and the Powerless" written in 1978, borrowed slyly from the immortal opening line of the mid-19th century Communist Manifesto, writing: "A specter is haunting eastern Europe: the specter of what in the West is called 'dissent.'"
In the essay, he dissected what he called the "dictatorship of ritual" – the ossified Soviet bloc system under Leonid Brezhnev – and imagined what happens when an ordinary greengrocer stops displaying communist slogans and begins "living in truth," rediscovering "his suppressed identity and dignity."
Havel knew that suppression firsthand.
Born Oct. 5, 1936, in Prague, the child of a wealthy family which lost extensive property to communist nationalization in 1948, Havel was denied a formal education, eventually earning a degree at night school and starting out in theater as a stagehand. His political activism began in earnest in January 1977, when he co-authored the human rights manifesto Charter 77, and the cause drew widening attention in the West.
Havel was detained countless times and spent four years in communist jails. His letters from prison to his wife became one of his best-known works. "Letters to Olga" blended deep philosophy with a stream of stern advice to the spouse he saw as his mentor and best friend, and who tolerated his reputed philandering and other foibles.
The events of August 1988 – the 20th anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion – first suggested that Havel and his friends might one day replace the faceless apparatchiks who jailed them.
Thousands of mostly young people marched through central Prague, yelling Havel's name and that of the playwright's hero, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, the philosopher who was Czechoslovakia's first president after it was founded in 1918.
Havel's arrest in January 1989 at another street protest and his subsequent trial generated anger at home and abroad. Pressure for change was so strong that the communists released him again in May.
That fall, communism began to collapse across Eastern Europe, and in November the Berlin Wall fell. Eight days later, communist police brutally broke up a demonstration by thousands of Prague students.
It was the signal that Havel and his country had awaited. Within 48 hours, a broad new opposition movement was founded, and a day later, hundreds of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks took to the streets.
In three heady weeks, communist rule was broken. Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones arrived just as the Soviet army was leaving. Posters in Prague proclaimed: "The tanks are rolling out – the Stones are rolling in."
On Dec. 29, 1989, Havel was elected Czechoslovakia's president by the country's still-communist parliament. Three days later, he told the nation in a televised New Year's address: "Out of gifted and sovereign people, the regime made us little screws in a monstrously big, rattling and stinking machine."
Although he continued to be regarded a moral voice as he decried the shortcomings of his society under democracy, he eventually bent to the dictates of convention and power. His watchwords – "what the heart thinks, the tongue speaks" – had to be modified for day-to-day politics.
In July 1992, it became clear that the Czechoslovak federation was heading for a split. Considering it a personal failure, Havel resigned as president. But he remained popular and was elected president of the new Czech Republic uncontested. He was small, but his presence and wit could fill a room. Even late in life, he retained a certain impishness and boyish grin, shifting easily from philosophy to jokes or plain old Prague gossip.
In December 1996, just 11 months after his first wife, Olga Havlova, died of cancer, he lost a third of his right lung during surgery to remove a 15-millimeter (half-inch) malignant tumor.
He gave up smoking and married Dagmar Veskrnova, a dashing actress almost 20 years his junior.
Holding a post of immense prestige but little power, Havel's attempts to reconcile rival politicians were considered by many as unconstitutional intrusions, and his pleas for political leaders to build a "civic society" based on respect, tolerance and individual responsibility went largely unanswered.
Media criticism, once unthinkable, became unrelenting. Serious newspapers questioned his political visions; tabloids focused mainly on his private life and his flashy second wife.
Havel left office in 2003, 10 years after Czechoslovakia broke up and just months before both nations joined the European Union. He was credited with laying the groundwork that brought his Czech Republic into the 27-nation bloc in 2004, and was president when it joined NATO in 1999.
Even out of office, the diminutive Havel remained a world figure. He was part of the "new Europe" – in the coinage of then-U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld – of ex-communist countries that stood up for the U.S. when the democracies of "old Europe" opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion.
Havel was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and collected dozens of other accolades worldwide for his efforts as a global ambassador of conscience, defended the downtrodden from Darfur to Myanmar.
"He was among the hand full of true democratic champions, an artist more than a politician, but an ambassador of the human conscience above all," said former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. "Amid the turbulence of modern Europe, his voice was the most consistent and compelling – endlessly searching for the best in himself and in each of us."
"I never imagined that I would have had the privilege of being his friend," she said.
In an October 2008 interview with The Associated Press, Havel rebuked Russia for invading Georgia two months earlier, and warned EU leaders against appeasing Moscow.
"We should not turn a blind eye ... It's a big test for the West," he said.
Havel also said he saw the global and European economic crisis as a warning not to abandon basic human values in the scramble to prosper.
"It's a warning against the idea that we understand the world, that we know how everything works," he told the AP in his office in Prague. The cramped work space was packed with his books, plays and rock memorabilia.
Havel himself acknowledged that his handling of domestic issues never matched his flair for foreign affairs. But when the Czech Republic joined NATO and the EU his dreams came true.
"I can't stop rejoicing that I live in this time and can participate in it," Havel exulted.
Early in 2008, Havel returned to his first love: the stage. He published a new play, "Leaving," about the struggles of a leader on his way out of office, and the work gained critical acclaim.
Theater, he told the AP, was once again his major interest.
"My return to the stage was not easy," he said. "It's not a common thing for someone to be involved in theater, become a president, and then go back."
Here is yet another little known segment of India's 20th - 21st century colonial and post colonial history. The emigration of a tiny Indian community from Kerala that began more than two decades before the India-Pakistan divide has now acquired a new trajectory due to the recent political developments in the Indian subcontinent
The tiny Malayali community in Karachi has shrunk over the years. Those who remain wait in vain for a passage to India
The nondescript apartment looks like an average home in Karachi. It’s the bar of Chandrika herbal soap in the bathroom and the Mathrubhoomi calendar on the wall, ubiquitous to Malayali homes, that betrays the lineage of its occupants. The flat’s octogenarian owner, BM Kutty, came to Karachi from Kerala in search of greener pastures in 1949, a time when Karachi was just a train ride away from Mumbai. Since then, the political activist has spent six decades of his life as a Pakistani national.
Kutty is part of the shrinking community of Malayalis settled in Karachi. Unlike some Muslims of north India who migrated to Pakistan during Partition, the migration of Malayali Muslims had a different context. The first exodus from Kerala to Karachi took place in 1921, the year of the Mappila Revolt, when landless Malabar Muslims (Mappilas) of Malappuram district in north Kerala launched an armed rebellion against the British and upper-caste Hindus. The uprising was brutally crushed after the British proclaimed martial law, and the Karachi chapter of Mappilas was born.
“Many Mappilas fled to Mumbai or Karachi. Here, they started from scratch with nothing but a kettle and cups, delivering tea to offices. Soon, they were running paan shops and hotels,” says Kutty. Today, most Malayalis in Karachi are small-time owners of shops and restaurants. One can find an odd Malabari restaurant in the city, the masala dosa on the menus of many non-Malabari restaurants, and Malabar betel leaves from Kerala in Karachi’s paan stalls. But few of the city’s Mappilas speak Malayalam. At schools run by the Malabar Muslim Jamaat, established in 1920, a handful of students can speak Malayalam, but second-generation Malayalis are more fluent in Urdu than in their native tongue.
The Warburg Method teaches us that devotional art is not only not always beautiful, but rarely beautiful -- because it is deeply coded and the untutored eye doesn't always get it. Is not intended to get it. This is true across civilizations, not just true in the Western painting tradition.
As the blogger knows, his stock represents about 400 years of devotional painting, in the Byzantine as well as Western traditions. This is interesting not because it makes his blog title inaccurate but because it's a crash course in how observation-based painting changes things, and in how it doesn't.
Does it matter if the painter is going for naturalism? This is something no Byzantine painter ever heard of doing. A Virgin enthroned on a huge wall 30 feet up from where the viewer stands is not meant to look like a sweet British mom wondering at the miracle of her rosy child. The heavy dark lines describing the faces are meant to suggest modeling and somberness from a great distance, in candlelight. The wall painter of any era knows -- the image must read. If you look at what the painter has done up close, in a book or in a photo blog, you miss that point and see only a coarse, hirsute appearance, one that seems inexplicable and uglified. The somberness and linear quality of Byzantine images is present in hand held icons too, but these are more delicately painted. What you will never see is a Byzantine genre scene -- painting was for depicting holiness. To be holy is to be set apart, and to look it. If you notice, the Buddha is never represented as a conventionally handsome South Asian man -- other stuff is going on in those representations, as it is in the way Byzantine painters represented holy men, women and babies.
There are eras in painting where you would find only Madonna and Child images that speak of what an agonizing fate it is, to be the Son of God, and how grave and sorrowful His mother must be. There are other eras wherein the cult of the Holy Infant took a different turn, the art focusing on the deep joys of Christianity, on the life the Christian is given that is as new and as disburdened as an infant's life. Virgin and child are emblematic of perfect trust, even in the presence of great foreboding. If, as a painter, you mean The Awful never to be very far away, you will have your ways of demonstrating that. Christ is not "a guy like you," and the most strangely powerful images of Christ are intended to show the viewer the aspect of Christ that he can empathize with -- the Christ who is set apart, and bears about himself even in infancy the traces of an unendurable but splendidly meaningful life. What woman can be sadder than the Madonna, yet more convinced of her unique significance? Should she not occasionally look the part? A huge if not often explicated purpose of devotional art is to give courage to the devotee; images of extreme conventionality may fail in this aim.
Well, I am NOT an authority, only a lifelong student and reader, with a (very) distant degree in Art History. But! The observation of children _as_ children, not as trainee adults who need to be fit to enter the labor force ASAP, is a moder...n phenomenon, in art and in literature. With that shift in focus comes all kinds of romanticizing: the savage, the angel, the superb victim, the young hero, and so on, with many of these categories overlapping or morphing into one another. Restricting myself to art, I want to point out that observation based painting and drawing is modern, as in Renaissance and Post-Ren., the Greeks and Romans being another subject. It was against Church and other laws to learn anatomy via dissection, and even Michelangelo risked much when he learned anatomy from corpses, so this left the art of the Middle Ages, and Byzantine art, as well as the art of the Early Renaissance, at a certain powerful disadvantage, IF good art is supposed to look like what you see with your eyes, not your inner eye. An important part of learning about art, of having the full experience of art, is to allow your own inner eye to magnify what is deep and true in many forms of expression, over many stylistic conventions. I am not the world's biggest fan of Byzantine holy images, for instance, but not liking them on the grounds of their being stylized, static, and a failure at resembling human beings is like thinking Haiku might be better if it were longer. And, yes! In any era, if an artist needed to take a wife away from her labors to "sit in" for a missing Madonna, or to borrow a toddler for John the Baptist or an infant for Christ, you may be sure it was over very quickly!
(Elatia tried to write the above as a comment on my last post on this subject. But for some reason even after several attempts by her as well as me, TypePad failed to publish it. She conjectured that our blog wouldn't accept " such a blatant appeal for treasuring religious images" :-)
Believe it or not there is a blog devoted entirely to this unusual subject. The comments accompanying the images may be on the juvenile side but the paintings are real.
More than a decade ago, my sister and I suffered from paroxysms of hysterical laughter in front of a Biblical painting containing an incongruously mature looking Baby Jesus in Mary's lap. The infant reminded us of an adult of our acquaintance. Our faces red and tears running down our cheeks by the efforts to suppress the hilarity we attracted the attention of a museum guard nearby who looked askance at our unseemly behavior. We evaded eviction by quickly moving on to another gallery.
There may be a cultural / religious explanation for why indeed some of the babies in Madonna paintings were so homely. I do not know and neither does the blogger as is clear from the following comment on page 3.
chicagonorth asked: it's inaccurate to call this "ugly Renaissance babies," because most of the images are from Byzantine/Medieval/Proto-Renaissance periods...
This is very true! Though, in our defense, a blog called “Ugly Byzantine/Medieval/Proto-Renaissance Babies” doesn’t really have the same ring to it.
Regardless of the specifics, I think we can all agree that ugly babies are both timeless and hilarious.
Perhaps someone with knowledge of this artistic phenomenon will leave an explanation in the comments section. (link via Anna Levine)
A pleasant blast from the past for some WWII veterans. The story in the Houston Chronicle.
The postcard arrived in Ed Denzler's mailbox in Pearland last month, a mystery from his past nestled among the routine bills and coupons.
Addressed in neat block letters to Denzler, the handwritten note reads, in English: "It takes a strong man to save himself, a great man to save another. Thank you for 1944. From China."
On the front is a black-and-white photograph of U.S. and Chinese service members listening to an American with a fiddle accompany two Chinese soldiers on traditional stringed instruments called erhus
The card was mailed from China, postmarked Aug. 27, and had Chinese writing on the back that Denzler couldn't decipher.
The 88-year-old World War II veteran fought in Burma in 1944 with Merrill's Marauders, a famous volunteer unit, and served with the Chinese Combat Command in 1945. But he had no idea what would have prompted such a note more than 60 years later.
"I couldn't imagine where it came from," said Denzler.
The World's First Temple! Or ... Not? (Norman Costa)
October 13, 2011
by BARBARA J KING *
"In Turkey over 11,000 years ago, people created a massive structure at a hilltop site called Gobekli Tepe. After carving limestone pillars with all sorts of animal images, they hauled the 16-ton stones into multiple huge rings — without the help of wheeled vehicles or domesticated animals.
"I have been fascinated by this site for years. For one thing, Gobekli Tepe (the accepted story goes) was constructed by hunter-gatherers. When announced, this was major news. Ancient hunter-gatherers, who neither farmed nor lived in settled villages, had long been thought to be too simply organized to pull off anything on the scale of Gobekli Tepe.
"For another thing, the site is billed by German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt as the world's first temple. This provocative claim led to a National Geographic cover story last June. To pinpoint the dawn of religious ritual would, of course, be a fantastic accomplishment for anthropology."
The Better Angels of Steven Pinker's Nature (Norman Costa)
Relative angels and absolute demons
By Razib Khan
My post below defending Steve Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature elicited some responses on twitter. Robert Lee Hotz finds it odd that I defend a book I haven’t read. My logic here is simple: the outline of the argument in The Better Angels of Our Nature has been presented in shorter form. John Gray’s piece doesn’t even address this digest, so I am skeptical that it could address the data which is no doubt strewn across hundreds of pages. It is obviously theoretically possible that The Better Angels of Our Nature is thinner in results than the shorter essays and presentations I’ve seen over the years on the same topic from Pinker, but highly unlikely. If Gray does a disservice to the short form argument, I doubt he is being any fairer to a longer exposition.
Second, I already admitted that in many ways I’m more pessimistic than Steven Pinker when it comes to this issue. And from what I’ve seen I’m moderately skeptical of many of the rationales he presents for why violence has declined over time (though obviously I won’t be doing him justice if I come to any conclusion without reading the book with all its extended argumentation). But my issue with John Gray ultimately is not with his final assessment of Pinker’s argument on the net, but how he came by it. Steven Pinker is a serious thinker, who makes a good faith effort to arrive at the truth as he understands it. I don’t think he always succeeds, and I don’t always agree with his conclusions. But even if you disagree with him engaging someone like Steven Pinker can sharpen your own perspective, and refine your own models. Steven Pinker is not a fashionable intellectual whose aim in life is to receive adulation by the right people at the right time. He may be wrong, whether due to lack of background or faulty reasoning, but he’s a sincere person. I have friends and acquaintances who take great objection to his evolutionary psychology and representation of cognitive science, but even his false steps can serve as an opening to raise public awareness of your opposite perspective. Pinker’s stature, and the questions he shines the light upon, are opportunities to have a public discussion on the Big Ideas. If you’re going to criticize him, face his ideas full on, don’t just prance around preening so those with whom you already agree can see what a good and right person you are. That’s what John Gray did, and it disgusted me.
Mallory and Irvine: Should we solve Everest's mystery? (Norman Costa)
By Jon Kelly BBC News Magazine, 3 October 2011
As a tale of doomed, romantic endeavour, it has endured for decades.
It is also Everest's most persistent mystery - did George Mallory and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine make it to the top in 1924, almost 30 years before it was officially conquered?
The pair, equipped with primitive climbing gear, were last sighted a few hundred metres away from the summit before bad weather closed in around them.
Wearing Burberry gabardine jackets and hobnail boots, and carrying a rudimentary oxygen supply, their gear was a far cry from the hi-tech protective clothing worn by modern mountaineers.
And historians have long argued whether or not they made it to the peak before succumbing to the freezing conditions.
A forthcoming expedition to Everest aiming to establish what exactly happened is just the latest in a series of attempts to solve the puzzle. But despite the continued speculation, many of those with a stake in the mystery hope it will never be resolved, fearing the prosaic truth could never match the legend.
As a child growing up after India's partition, Kashmir to me was always a part of India. Only in middle school did I begin to realize that it was considered "disputed territory" by much of the world, the sentiment being especially fierce in neighboring Pakistan. The map of India that we studied in school showed Indian Kashmir as a larger territory than what was actually under Indian control. Parts of it in the north and the west were in reality, within China and Pakistan. The scenic northernmost state, a popular destination for summer tourism and the backdrop of many a puerile romantic song & dance number of made-in-Bombay movies, was not a very urgent topic of discussion for the general Indian public. Kashmir for most Indians, evoked benign, pretty images of apple, apricot and walnut orchards, chinar trees, shimmering lakes, snow capped mountains, houseboats, fine pashmina shawls, lacquered papier mache ornaments and the valley's light skinned aloof inhabitants.
Later in my teen years I began to understand that Kashmir was not the placid paradise we had imagined as children. Its politics were complicated and its population sharply divided on the state's rightful status - part of India, part of Pakistan or a wholly independent/ autonomous entity. The difference of opinion fell across religious lines. Kashmiri Hindus wished to remain with India and the majority Muslim population of the state did not. Even then, things were mostly quiet and free of turmoil. There were quite a few Kashmiri students in my school. Many had ancestral homes and relatives in Kashmir and they visited there regularly during summer breaks. Those friends were all Hindus. Come to think of it, I did not know a single Kashmiri Muslim on a personal level until I was in college. There were Muslim traders and merchants who came down to major Indian cities bearing expensive and much coveted Kashmiri merchandise such as saffron, dried fruit, nuts and embroidered woollens, but they did not reside in the plains permanently and their children did not attend our schools. The first Kashmiri Muslim I came to know well was Agha Shahid Ali, a graduate student a few years ahead of me in Delhi University who later became a lecturer of English at my college as also a poet of some renown. It was Ali who first revealed to me that most Kashmiri Muslims did not identify themselves as Indians and many felt a greater emotional and cultural allegiance with Pakistan. An equal number wanted an autonomous state with a very loose federation with India for economic reasons. The Indian government spent large sums of money to subsidize the state's economy and prohibited non-Kashmiris from buying land there while also meddling in local politics. Kashmiris became increasingly suspicious of the central government's motives and the rift with India widened both politically and culturally.
Despite tensions and uncertainties, Kashmir never experienced the sectarian violence that had racked the eastern and western wings of India around partition time. Even when India and Pakistan fought several wars over their disagreement surrounding the region, Kashmir itself remained relatively free of communal strife for many decades after India's independence. The uneasy calm ended in the late 1980s and early '90s when the Kashmir valley became a battle ground for armed insurgents trained in Pakistan and the Indian military forces. The conflict caused a communal rift among long time residents and resulted in a mass exodus (some say expulsion) of Kashmiri Hindus from their homes. Those tensions remain to this day laced with bitterness on both sides.
I had never visited Kashmir when I lived in India. By the time the political upheaval unfolded in the 1990s, I had already left and had been living abroad for a decade. Kashmir's troubles and deteriorating political situation were not something I paid close attention to until the Kargil War erupted in 1999. It became clear then that Kashmir had become an intractable problem for India. I am still not sure how I feel about the situation. What can India gain by holding on to a territory whose residents do not want to be a part of India? Can India protect regions like Ladakh and Jammu in the vicinity which identify firmly with the rest of India? What would happen if India does decide to vacate the valley and stops spending money to placate the population and maintain the large presence of its armed forces? Would Kashmir valley remain "independent" or will some other country like China or Pakistan march in and establish control even closer to other Indian states? How does one balance the interests of Kashmiris and the rest of India? Is peace ever possible when the citizenry perceives the government as an "occupying force?" Most confusing of all, will Kashmiri Hindus be permitted go back to the homes they abandoned out of fear and panic? And even if it was possible, would they ever want to return to a place that had cut all ties to India?
I visited Kashmir last month for the first time. The experience was charming and depressing at the same time. A beautiful but somewhat sad place, the political and emotional tensions there are palpable even though the awful and frequent violence has abated. The native population of Kashmir is now almost 100% Muslim, the Kashmiri Pandits having departed from the valley. The tourists are mostly non-Muslim Indians (foreign tourism in the politically unstable region has evaporated) as are the members of the very large contingent of Indian armed forces whose presence is ubiquitous and certainly unnerving for local Kashmiris.
I will not describe here the impressions of Kashmir that were gleaned from what I saw and heard. I discussed that a bit in a comments thread over at 3 Quarks Daily. Instead please see below the fold, some of the photos we took during our trip and click to enlarge the images.
(For how Kashmiris themselves feel, see a Muslim man's perspective here and the plight of the Hindu refugees here.)
The remembrance would have been uncomplicated and even calming if we could just recall and mourn the horrific events of the tragic Tuesday exactly ten years ago. But as we well know, the aftermath of the terror that struck at the heart of our collective psyche did not stop at righteous anger, sorrow, reflection, or a thoughtful response to the mindless violence that was wreaked upon thousands of innocent citizens, their families and the entire nation.
September 11, 2001 began as a quiet normal day for me in faraway Texas. My husband left for work earlier than usual, around 7:45 that morning. I sat with a cup of tea at the breakfast table reading the newspaper. Around 8am, my husband called from his car asking me to turn the TV on. He did not say why. I switched on the TV to CNN and saw a tall tower burning and smoking. Within a couple of minutes, I saw a second explosion "behind" the same tower but did not realize that it was a new explosion in a "different" tower which was obscured from view by the first structure. I don't recall whether I even saw the plane flying into the second tower when I was watching the scene in real time. Later of course, during numerous replays, I noticed the plane... again and again.
Soon afterwards, friends began calling. My aunt called from Florida and my sister from New Delhi. Everyone was shaken and stunned. Around mid-morning, I got an agitated call from my daughter in Connecticut. She asked me not to go out of the house and if I did, not to wear Indian clothing. She also suggested that her father should shave off his beard. Later in the afternoon a friend who worked at the local high school phoned me and said that all Muslim students had been taken out of the school early that day by their parents. Even in my confusion, anger and befuddlement I realized that we had the option to respond to the horror of that day with responsible and controlled measures or with misguided fury and/or manipulative power play. We know now which path our elected leaders chose and we are still paying the price.
P.S. I did go out to run some errands on September 11, 2001. Despite my daughter's warning I went out in Salwar-Kameez although trousers and t-shirts are usually my garments of choice on such occasions. And, my husband never considered shaving his professorial beard. I don't think we were being particularly brave or making a defiant point. It just felt so silly to succumb to fear and paranoia about something that is a natural part of how we look and behave.