Archive for June 14th, 2010

Today morning I had a treat. I heard the intermezzo from cavalleria rusticana and remembered an anecdote that I had written down in my scrapbook. Here it is:
Pietro Mascagni(1863-1945)

An organ grinder one morning turned up in front of the house of Mascagni. Standing below the window he began to play his famous intermezzo. He played at such fast tempo the composer could not stand it. He rushed to the street telling the organ grinder how his music ought to be played. He adjusted the tempo till it was as he intended it.
Next morning the organ grinder appeared once again and there was a placard in front of his organ. The placard read,’Pupil of Mascagni’

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J. Robert Oppenheimer
The Father of Atom Bomb earned his doctorate at the age of 23, three weeks after enrolling in the Göttingen University. His thesis was a brilliant paper on quantum mechanics. Of the oral exam a colleague asked Physicist James Franck how he had fared. Replied Franck, ’I got out of there just in time. He was beginning to ask me questions.’

Hans Bethe
Nobel laureate, Physicist

For this 1967 Nobel Prize winner stamp collecting is a hobby. He indulged in it because ‘it is an orderly hobby. And my Album is the only place I know at the moment where the nations of the world stick together.’

Sigmund Freud
Psychoanalyst, author

Freud lecturing at a University once said that man becomes sexually mature biologically before society sanctions marriage. At the end of the lecture a student held up his hand and asked, ‘Professor Freud, you have told us about the problem, but you have not told us what to do about it.’
Freud answered,’ Be abstinent, -but under protest.’

Dr. Washington Carver

One of the scientist’s friends who was many times indebted to him for scientific advice used to send tokens of his esteem from time to time. Once he asked him, ‘What do you want most?’
Surprisingly Dr. Carver said, ‘I want a diamond.’ Soon a finely cut diamond set in a platinum ring was sent to him.
Later the friend found Dr. carver never wore it as he had expected. One day he asked if he liked the ring and Dr. carver replied, ‘Why of course, I use it all the time’.
He opened the geological specimen case, and there was his gift among the minerals.

T.H Huxley

Charles Darwin was well served by Huxley who was nicknamed ‘Darwin’s bulldog.’
It was during the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1860 that he had to tilt his lance against a sly and formidable opponent Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford. In that Anglican stronghold at Oxford the Bishop was in his element. The son of the great emancipator was a fluent speaker and an important churchman. Darwin’s mentor old Henslow was in the chair. Audience was mostly from the public evincing interest in current scientific thoughts local clergymen with their wives and undergraduates. The Bishop spoke effectively and with confidence, cheered on by those on his side. He ridiculed Darwin’s proofs, no doubt well primed by Prof. Richard Owen and then he turned to Huxley to ask whether it was through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed he descent from a monkey.
Huxley rose in his turn pale and serious. In his reply he seriously said that he would not be ashamed to have a ‘monkey’ for his ancestor. But he would be ashamed if it were a man ‘who prostituted the gifts of culture and eloquence to the service of prejudice and falsehood’. (Ack Appreciation-H.E.L Mellersh on the Voyage of the Beagle-Distr: Heron Books)
Either side came out of the meeting feeling it had presented the case better.
Darwin knew his theory was not yet watertight. So periodically there were questions asked but eventually with new supporting evidences unearthed by disciplines such as genetics, paleontology and atomic physics, Darwin’s evolutionary theory became all the more well established.

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The beginnings of human society in the Indian subcontinent for the lack of a writing system can only be restricted to archaeological evidences. What artifacts we have, predominantly deal with fertility symbols, which are not unique to this subcontinent: for example Mother or Earth Goddess is common to many other cultures. There were datable artifacts in Mesopotamia to cite one example prior to those of Indus Valley civilization. Given such similarities where man in primeval past conceived notions of a religious idea on the basis of manifestations of Nature, it is hardly surprising. Cults based on symbols, prayers and rituals, – religious ideas are often characteristic to a region. But these must also account for human migrations by which there are clear evidences of ideas that are pre-Aryan and Aryan sources. In such co-mingling the identity of Aryan or non Aryan elements are somewhat blurred.
The label Aryan means people whose original homeland may have been around Caspian Sea and have spoken Indo-European language. Is religion the sure basis for determining the identity?
If the supporters of Hindu identity settle for this Aryan source as the starting point are they not being arbitrary?
Indian subcontinent is awash with countless waves of human migration each an event in point of time as the continental drift is and when a piece of Eastern Africa became detached from the African continent and attached to the Asia. It happens gradually but in point of time. Tibetan plateau and Himalayas bear proof to it. India as part of the Asian subcontinent and not of Africa has also bearing on the make-up of our national identity. Indian subcontinent straddling between Europe and China is on the crossroads of migratory route, which later on would be known as the Silk route.
Human migrations have impacted original inhabitants as mighty torrents grind the riverbeds in course of time. This would change the shape of the existing terrain. Do they not also bring blessing to the land in their wake?
Civilizations as we see from history first sprung up around rivers. The steady stream of peoples has left their influences on the original inhabitants and such fusion of cultures has all added to give civilization in the Indian subcontinent its own special flavor. As a result we have drawn from mythological sources and traditions that existed in Iran, Greece and Rome. These are like yeast working into the whole lump of dough: it is a fool’s business to apportion contributions of any people apart from what is common in such a give and take. To sum Indian identity based on religious ideas or worship is an error.

This subcontinent has had the Moguls and later the British in power. Each has impressed its own stamp into the Indian consciousness that still reverberates for good or bad in our lives. The demolition of Babri Masjid (1992) is one and the outrage in Kandhammal village in Orissa(2007) against Christians is another example. Are these two strictly a reaction to the foreign rule or do these hide some agenda from some quarters to reimpose those hidebound caste politics of the middle ages? Given such rich diversity of impressions rendering Indian culture a movable palimpsest how shall one make a clear indisputable case for Hindu identity? Certain political parties playing religious card to achieve their own ends cannot be the expression of a national will.
Such a question of identity would not have risen as it is today but for two great momentous events. India came under the alien rule one after the other. But neither the Mogul invaders nor the British came with the sole aim of importing its religion. Wealth, – and power derived from it, is the stuff on which are empires are founded. Islam as well as Christianity owe their roots for other reasons. Of course the power wielded by Moguls and the British provided a climate for growth of the religion practiced by the ruling elite. It was not religion per se but in the manner the British administration worked with the existing caste system and the religion that has given ammunition to some mischief-makers to view national identity in terms of religion. As with any alien rule the British overlords used a divide and rule, the simplest trick, – and as old as shell game to achieve their ends, least concerned with its long-range consequences and it worked.
The Indians saw the secularism of the West as insidious move and their reaction to hold on to orthodoxy and their accustomed ways was natural. Dominant religions have always had their impact on others: Buddhism and later Sikhism were reaction to Hinduism. If Buddhism found the Brahminical hold over Hinduism as intolerable the Sikhs could not stomach the idolatry of Hinduism. Such reactions are natural as Reformation in Europe came as a rejection of corrupt practices in the Catholic Church. Nationalism that took roots was a reaction to the Colonial rule. Within this burgeoning Nationalist movement there were elements, which equated the British with their religion, and also within Hinduism and Islam were attempts at synthesis with Christianity. It is but a natural reaction in the face of a threat from outside but these do not create a national identity. What does then define Indian identity?
‘The peoples of this (Indus Valley) civilization whatever their caste or creed called themselves ‘Bharatvasis.’The word Hindu was used for them only by foreigners…It was the Greeks who used the word Indu for the river Sindhu and its people.’
The Indian identity that distinguishes peoples in the subcontinent must be seen as their shared experience irrespective of religions or faiths; the natural interaction where there is a common ground be it festivals, commerce or exchange of ideas to which none is excluded. Above all tolerance, which is cultivated when each individual has a common interest as the goal that keeps such harmony for the common good. Thus different cultures sharing a common history and goal must be seen as the touchstone for Indian identity say as different from that of Bangladesh or Pakistan. Their goal and our goals are not the same although we have a shared experience.
(Sources of Indian Tradition.volume-1/RN Dandekar-Penguin
Quote from SP Hindu-Our Hindu identity/The Hindu 1997).


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