Those Winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Amartya Sen is an intellectual of extraordinarily polymathic abilities. A 1998 Economics Nobel Laureate, Sen has engaged with issues that demonstrate an impressive breadth outside of his professional field of specialization. His autobiographical essay on the Nobel site is worth scanning to get both a glimpse of an awe-inspiring life and to sense the presence of a kind and decent human being. His recent book "Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny" is getting widely reviewed these days and this exchange of letters with Robert Kagan on Slate about the new book demonstrates Sen's serious engagement with ideas and the criticism of his work. Ultimately what makes the exchange unsatisfying is the lack of Kagan's knowledge and preparation on the subject.
I have never read any of Sen's larger works but "The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity" is on my current short list.
I always have difficulty expressing my political judgments in a clear, emphatic, and strong way—I feel pretentious, as if I'm saying things that are not quite true. This is because I know I cannot reduce my thoughts about life to the music of a single voice and a single point of view --- Living as I do in a world where, in a very short time, someone who has been a victim of tyranny and oppression can suddenly become one of the oppressors, I know also that holding strong beliefs about the nature of things and people is itself a difficult enterprise. I do also believe that most of us entertain these contradictory thoughts simultaneously, in a spirit of good will and with the best of intentions --- It is because our modern minds are so slippery that freedom of expression becomes so important: we need it to understand ourselves, our shady, contradictory, inner thoughts, and the pride and shame that I mentioned earlier.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia's greatest writer died on April 30th at the age of 81. This courageous writer spent 17 years of his life in prison during Suharto's long oppressive tenure. His great Buru Quartet (This Earth of Mankind, Child of All Nations, Footsteps, House of Glass) was written down years after he originally told the story of Indonesia's independence through the eyes of the Javanese woman Minke to his fellow prisoners night after night in captivity. His autobiography, "The Mute's Soliloquy" was published in English in 1999 and described the suffering in his prison on Buru island. Here's a tribute by Salil Tripathi in the New Statesman and an obit in The Guardian.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
There is no better example of his wizardry than his songs for the film Baiju Bawra. Rafi's masterpiece "man tarpat hari darshan ko aaj" in Raga Malkauns is legendary. As the story goes, Naushad wanted Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan to sing this song but he demanded a hefty amount. Naushad convinced the producer to pay this princely sum but when Naushad went back to the Ustad he doubled his original ask. At this point Naushad turned to Rafi and had him practice and rehearse diligently so he could sing this difficult song. The Ustad upon listening to Rafi's version of the song supposedly expressed admiration and acknowledged his surprise that someone outside the gharana tradition ("attai") could sing so well. There is also a great jugalbandhi on this soundtrack between Ustad Amir Khan singing as Tan Sen and Pandit D.V. Paluskar singing playback for the title character of Baiju.
Scanning the obituaries of Naushad in Indian newspapers was sadly disappointing. There was not one English newspaper that did any justice to the man's legacy or his charming, civilized personality which was reflective of old Lakhnavi tehzeeb. The Telegraph's obit had some personal reflections from people like Dilip Kumar but most pieces were a dry recitation of easily found facts. It would be heartening to see the day when great sub-continental artists finally get insightful evaluations of their lives and work, not the generic praise laced with platitudes.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
After coming to America in the late 80's, the new world overwhelmed the memory of mangoes along with much else. Imagine my disappointment when after spotting a mango in a supermarket in Pennsylvania and convincing myself that paying an arm and a leg was worth experiencing that little flavor of home, I tasted the insipidness of a fruit that bore no resemblance to the real thing. I gave up on mangoes in America that day but with the expected arrival of mangoes from the sub-continent, perhaps I will get to taste again a quintessential experience of my youth.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Ericsson and his colleagues have thus taken to studying expert performers in a wide range of pursuits, including soccer, golf, surgery, piano playing, Scrabble, writing, chess, software design, stock picking and darts. They gather all the data they can, not just performance statistics and biographical details but also the results of their own laboratory experiments with high achievers.
Their work, compiled in the "Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance," a 900-page academic book that will be published next month, makes a rather startling assertion: the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers — whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming — are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of clichés that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular clichés just happen to be true.