Democracy or Free Press!!!

Growing up  I assumed that everybody knew the importance of a free press to a democracy . As I read about the horrors perpetrated by governments and those in power and the efforts by the free press to reel them in (Watergate , The Pentagon papers and the press in India during the Emergency readily come to mind ), I cannot help but believe that journalists are replaying the same role that Brutus played in ancient Rome when he assassinated Julius Caesar . Regardless of personal motivations , at the heart of the treachery was a love for Rome that overwhelmed his affection and loyalty to Caesar (the anti-Antigone behavior where the state comes before the self)  . To me this symbiosis of democracy and free press is as essential to democracy as oxygen to living creatures; even to a democracy as venerable as ours or especially to one as venerable as ours .

I love change.org and have support several of their initiatives including the brutal butchery of sharks for their fins , puppy mills , blood lions, human trafficking, dog fighting and even supported one initiative which recommended that we deport the lion killing dentist back to Zimbabwe to face trial (given the quick disappearance of that particular incident from the collective memory, I imagine life is back to normal for him). But the one that I remember the most is one that I did not vote for , it was so audacious that it has stuck with me. It was an initiative where they wanted  Facebook and Google to verify the authenticity of news that was being spread on their platforms . I love Facebook which I use to keep in touch with my family in India as well as friends in India and Ohio and it also serves as my online scrapbook for all the pictures that I take .But while Facebook is a luxury , Google is a necessity . I would starve to death without Google , every day I search for dozens and dozens of resolutions to issues that I cannot resolve and given the diversity of platforms , languages and libraries that software engineers have to deal with , Google is a life saver . So needless to say , I am grateful for both of them but I do not expect them to vet my news for me . Portals of free information on the internet cannot  be expected to be held to the same standards of reputable news papers.

Recently I listened in mute fascination to an associate who was reciting to me her total faith in the FDA.  Sometime back I was working for a giant pharmaceutical company in Philadelphia and I was part of the engineering team which comprised of mechanical , electronics , electrical , instrumentation and software engineers and on the pharmaceutical side was an army of PhDs . We had to document everything as was required by the FDA , my software was the glue that triggered the syringe to squirt the drug  , measure the volume of the drop , weigh the pill and send all this information to the central data repository that was a write once read many (WORM) database . Awesome stuff !! Great lengths to prevent tampering. Admirable except there was nobody who could audit what I had written , little to prevent a bug in my calculations (an implementation of Integration by parts; mention of calculus would have most software engineers in tears) , little to prevent an overestimation in the amount of drug in the drop and I certainly do not expect a FDA employee or even an army to go through the mechanical design, the electrical design , the software and the vagaries of organic chemistry to understand the drug . So we had to produce voluminous amount of documentation that they keep as part of their records .  What does this have to do with a free press ? a free press keeps everybody on their toes , some thing that is common to all Pharma companies is their fear of negative publicity , anybody remember Vioxx?  The FDA was bought into existence by Theodore Roosevelt who read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and was horrified to learn that it was not unusual for lard to have human remains .The vats were massive and it was extremely difficult and expensive to stop them . So if the odd Lithuanian immigrant happened to fall in , it was cheaper to pay money to his non English speaking family and if some nosy government agent started asking questions (as did happen after TR read “The Jungle” ), ship them back to Lithuania or Latvia . While the FDA is essential , it is the free press that keeps the Pharma companies in line . The particular process that I worked on was for a painkiller , the machine was first of its kind but once they found that the drug was causing cancer in rats , not only did they have to abandon the drug but also the machine , it was mandated as part of the FDA process which is overkill but it is due to the fact that they are seriously under equipped to deal with the technology and rapid innovation. At the other extreme are FDA agents who visit Joel Salatin’s grass farm in Virginia . They are hampered by his concepts like the open air abattoir which obviously do not require adherence to regulations that are in place to protect the McDonalds customer . If I buy a chicken from the Salatin farm , they slaughter the chicken in front of you if desired or the same day that you buy it alleviating the need to protect yourself from E-Coli or Salmonella. The McDonalds meat comes from some mystery farm in Kansas raised on a diet of who knows what . If interested ,read the Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan , a delightful book. In light of all this , it is easy to see that while we need the FDA , they are inundated and under equipped . Therefore our biggest defense is a free press that is not afraid to print and hold our businesses to high standards.

Cleveland ,OH is home to the Great lakes Brewery , the beer is delicious enough to almost claim it to be a micro brewery. I meet quite a few North East Ohio expats in the bay area and almost invariably the conversation becomes rueful once The Great Lakes brewery is mentioned because we don’t get it here. They have a delightful collection but the one that stands out for me is called Burning River. I wish it was just the amazing imagination of the brewer but unfortunately it is inspired by the Cuyahoga river which caught fire in June 1969 . I will let you digest that for a minute , the river caught fire!!! It was caused by the  chemicals that were being dumped by the companies who had nothing to stop them . President Nixon created the EPA to deal with issues like these . I have had zero dealings with the EPA but I imagine the same issues that plague the FDA plague the EPA as well and again it is only the free press which is our last defense against companies who would go to great lengths to avoid negative publicity and therefore try to hold themselves to higher standards.

I reserve my last argument for the financial regulations especially the Dodd-Frank Act. I have read almost all of Michael Lewis’s books where he details Wall Street’s antics  , the Wolf of Wall Street did little to assuage my growing anxiety and anger reserved at Wall Street. The Dodd-Frank act was created after the gigantic cluster f*#@ that was the 2008 financial crisis. The Big Short clearly details how many in Big Finance knew but did nothing to stop it quite the contrary.Around 2015 , one of my closest friends got a call from one of his drunk classmates who happens to work in Wall Street. This fellow had just received a huge bonus for creating a enticing financial product.  Being drunk , he could not help bragging about the fact that he had 7-8 $10000/hour hookers and proceeds to tell my friend that this product will be a poison pill in about 10 years but right now it is extremely profitable for his employer and hence the bonus. It was a scene right out of the Wolf of Wall Street. This is obviously after the Dodd-Frank act and under President Obama’s so called age of regulations . So the Wall Street analysts are still having a gala time . About 2 weeks ago another close friend and his wife go to their financial planner for advice , he was all agog with excitement because President Trump had promised to dismantle all of these regulations which was crippling the financial industry and he could offer them much better products . All I could think of was Bernie Madoff!!! The financial crisis caused trillions of dollars to vanish and yet nobody went to jail . Not too long after the rescue of Citibank in 2009, I remember reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about a Citi stock broker getting a bonus of $340 million. Here is another interesting article. All of this happened in spite of extensive news coverage so I am convinced that we need every weapon possible to protect us from them including government regulations and investigative reporters.

Growing up , I was of a libertarian bent of mind which believes in less government but the more I read of businesses that hire armies of lawyers and accountants to seek loopholes , engineer financial products that is engineered to swindle us out of our hard earned money, I am convinced that regulators are needed , they don’t exist to provide jobs to incompetent government bureaucrats but to protect us.I don’t know what is going to happen to these government regulatory bodies or regulations which are in place to protect us, the common man and woman . What I do know is that our only defense against big businesses or politicians running amuck at this point is a free press which is not afraid to print what they see . Regardless of  right or left leanings, Republican or Democrat or Libertarian beliefs, we need a free press to thrive in order to have a thriving democracy , to protect the land we love.

A free press cannot survive without its subscribers . I started my annual subscription to the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal . I urge every one of you to do the same , whether the subscription is to your local newspaper or a national one.

A Rev Evolutionary Edu Vacation

Shantiniketan is the home of a unique University Viswa-bharati , India (and Asia)’s first Nobel Laureate , Rabindranath Tagore used the money from the Nobel prize to further his father’s vision of a place of higher learning , one of the instances when the Nobel prize money was actually put to good use as was hoped for, by Alfred Nobel. Einstein actually used it to pay his alimony .

This is an open air school where each classroom has a tree and a podium for the teacher

Rabindranath Tagore as a child hated the traditional concept of a school and played truant on the banks of the river Kopai . I imagine the river looked more scenic in his day. Legend also has it that he wrote Gitanjali on the banks of this river

I found a vendor of date palm jaggery on the banks of the river

This is a date palm tree .

They use coconut shells to shape the jaggery.

The villagers use the dried leaves of the date palm tree as fuel. The sap is tapped and collected into buckets which is then heated on a fire . It reminded me of Maple syrup from Sugar Maple trees in Ohio and Canada. The process is very organic , natural , vastly different from the manufacture of any of our sweeteners . I don’t know but I am willing to bet that the Glycemic Index of this is substantially below industrially manufactured and bleached white sugar.

Viswa-Bharati has several different schools but the one that I could visit was called Kala Bhavan or the art school . Getting around in Shantiniketan is done via Tuk-tuks , an improvised contraption on wheels that runs on natural gas

Our guide told us that we could get to the school after classes were over at 1:30 PM so we ended up visiting a museum nearby which housed cultural artifacts and models of homes in several of the nearby states

The one that fascinated me most was the dwellings of the aborgine people of Andaman and Nicobar islands

These are supposed to be stilts and the house is built on a raised platform

The floor is made of bamboo and incredibly uncomfortable to walk on . I hear that they sleep on this . Mind boggling!!!

This was my first view of Shantiniketan

The grounds are immaculately maintained

These are works of the Sculptor Ramkinkar Baij

What is remarkable about these sculptures is that he created them by putting up a wireframe and then throwing gobs of concrete and plaster from a distance . I could not but draw parallels between this technique and Jackson Pollack

Walking in further lead to more amazing scenes like these murals

 

A painting in stone

Amazingly these murals were made with tiles

 

 

Watching this reminded me of Frank Wright LLoyds Fallingwater. A harmony of architecture with Nature !!!

Watching the Banyan vines made me nostalgic

 

This was an amazing artifact to me , the artist had created a bug with the gas tank of a Yamaha motorcycle , motorcycle mirror holders and other odd artifacts . In fact at the open air market outside the school were a variety of handicrafts , handloom textiles and curiosities as the above made beetle , all made from household materials . The artist had clearly seen regular every day items with a creative eye and produced something all of his own .

I loved the concept of this school , the idea of applying what you know while you are being taught . Unfortunately I could not quite see how the other schools in Viswa-Bharati were conducting their classes . It would be quite interesting to see the science schools

Education as a subject has always fascinated me . The current model of education all over the world which has pupils memorizing and regurgitate for the sake of the exam encourages a behavior where the student is rewarded for memorizing meaningless facts and promptly forgetting after the exam is over .

I have heard numerous arguments for allowing kids to drop subjects that they dislike . Math seems to be a popular choice for dropping . Plato had a quote outside his Academy that anybody ignorant of math should not enter  and if the ancient Greeks thought so highly of a well rounded education in those simpler times, this day and age simply demands it. I believe that not being exposed to the core ideas in all subjects is like going through life with your hands cuffed behind your back. I have learnt from personal experience as well as very interesting reading that exposure is what allows us to recognize patterns and exploit them .

Growing up in India and watching snow in movies made me believe that snow was white fluffy stuff that was good for skiing (which I thought was a risk less sport) and making snow balls and hitting your friends. I moved to Ohio in December and before the winter was out , I had recognized several kinds of snow , the fluffy ones , the heavy slushy ones . the ones that were overly slippery. I read that the Inuit living in the Arctic circle had 17 different words for snow . When your life depends on recognizing whether the snow / ice can handle your weight , I suppose it makes sense to be as specific as possible . It also makes sense to have specific words for it so you can hang your experiences on those words and thereby make it easy for recall.  Another  anecdote is about this tribe living deep in the Amazon rain forests who do not know the color blue . They know the color green and can discern minute difference in shades of green that most women would envy and yet when they were given a color wheel with shades of green and one blue and asked to point out to the color that stood out, none pointed at Blue. It is actually not too outlandish , first time I read Homer , I was baffled at his description of the wine dark sea . I could not imagine a sea that was the color of any wine that I had drunk . It made sense later on after I found out that the ancient Greeks had no word for blue . One could offer countless examples where one starts to recognize patterns only after one is taught to recognize the pattern or at least the principle behind the patterns .

The idea behind letting kids choose their future is an attractive one but to be able to do that , they need to be aware of all the choices and tools at their disposal. Paul Graham had an interesting essay , fair warning it is lengthy .

How to do what you love

In this playhouse of infinite forms I have had my play and here have I caught sight of him who is formless.
My whole body and my limbs have thrilled with his touch who is beyond touch; and if the end comes here, let it come—let this be my parting word.

This fragment from Gitanjali seems to refer to god but it could very well refer to that spark of creation that lies within each and every one of us , a spark that needs the tools that schools provide . This school is a testament to that spirit and to the vision of some great men who made it possible.

 

In praise of the City of Joy

The author  of Geography of Genius  makes a strong case for the fact that Genius tends to be clustered in space and time . Ancient Athens is the first known example when we had brilliant minds like Socrates , Aristotle , Plato , Herodotus , Aristophanes , Sophocles, Euripides,Euclid , Archimedes , Hippocrates  co exist within 200 years of each other . Moving forward , we can see the time of the Renaissance where we have Da Vinci , Michelangelo , Machiavelli live around the same time in Italy , fast forward a hundred years and we have the Enlightenment in Scotland that had Hume , Smith , Paris with Voltaire , Rousseau , Lavoisier, Montesquieu , Kant in Germany and our own Founding fathers in America , similarly between 1840 and 1920  Calcutta (Kolkata) experienced the Bengal Renaissance where we had Nobel laureates such as Rabindranath Tagore , Biologists / Physicists such as Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose . The book is very readable in spite of being only a subset of the different places and times (it skips Paris in 1920s).  So here I am in Kolkata , wondering if I can see what made the city so special in that time .

Kolkata had an interesting mix of populations during the British rule, while on the one hand , the most educated and Anglophilic existed here but co existing with them were the most fervent nationalists who were opposed to the British rule . The Indian national anthem comes from Rabindranath Tagore , there has been some rumblings that we should focus on”Vande Materam ” written by Bankim Chandra Bose (another Bengali) which is a fervently patriotic song that rouses one’s spirits even one such as myself who does not understand the language.

The people are reputed to be extremely friendly and helpful. I got my first taste of that when I was trying to get to the famous Kalighat temple. A rickshaw driver actually took a detour  to guide us through the narrow alleys to get us to Kalighat . I was touched. I had never ever experienced anything like it. Kalighat is an old Kali temple in Kolkata

Early morning street markets getting ready to open

The main temple dome

Inside the temple , I saw a streak of fresh blood across the floor and following the streak led me to the beheaded carcass of a baby goat. I suppose that was the sacrificial offering for the morning . I saw offerings of purple radishes  , I had never seen offerings of vegetables in temples before , asking the priest led to some incomprehensible mutterings in Bengali , after grilling him in Hindi , he responded curtly that I would not understand. I took the hint and moved on

A tram – relic of days bygone was certainly a sight to see . Though I see it routinely in San Francisco and find it mundane , somehow seeing it in Kolkata was different,  watching it amidst the crazy traffic is like watching a thriller .

This is a replica of the Big Ben in London.

These are the pictures of the famous Park street

I found some interesting fruits on Park street , I searched for them everywhere but could not find any

This fruit reminded me of starfruit, the texture is similar and just like starfruit , it is bland and juicy.

While this one was a total mystery

I learnt from Google that it was called a Rose Apple and apparently it is grown in Oregon and California but the ones in North America does not look anything like this. The texture is like a pear and it has a delightful rose fragrance. This particular variety grows in South East Asia

This is the iconic Howrah bridge on the Hoogly river

The Hoogly is a tributary of the Ganges , the holiest river for the Hindus . Hindu myths dictate that a dip in the Ganges washes away all of ones sins . Today the Ganges flows into Bangladesh where it meets the Indian ocean in the Bay of Bengal but every tributary is considered just as sacred so one finds a lot of Hindus bathing in the Hoogly

Kolkata is also the home of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa , an 18th century mystic highly revered in Bengal and also the home of Sri Vivekananda who travelled to America in 1890s and introduced a new spiritual movement in America . Sri Ramakrishna had his divine visions at the Dakshineshwar temple.

This is a view of the bridge from the temple

One has to take a ferry from the temple to get to Belur Math which is where the temples are dedicated to Ramakrishna, his wife  and his disciples and one gets to view where the old co-exists with the new

A fisherman in his canoe getting ready to launch his fishing tackle

As can be expected , the entrance from the water is quite scenic

The main temple

Feast for the eyes for Flora lovers

Dedicated to the wife of Sri Ramakrishna .

Just outside Belur Math was a street vendor selling something that looked like potatoes , and they call “Sweet Potato”, it turned out to be Jicama (Mexican Yam) my sister insisted on tasting it so we had the street vendor cut it up for us . He added some rock salt-spice mixture to the chopped pieces . The texture was more like  a pear and it did not taste at all like a raw potato or even the Jicama that I have eaten before. Just last month , I had encountered a book called the Botany of Desire which deals with 4 plants ; Apple , Potato , Cannabis and Tulip. The author reiterated was that these plants have been artificially moulded by our desires . Apples as sweet as a Red Delicious is an anomaly as is a Russet Burbank . We do not let these plants attain the vast potential that their genes are capable of . In the Andes is a purple potato that I have never heard about.  Kolkata showed me an apple that did not look or taste like any Apple that I had eaten before . A touching incident here was the interaction itself , my sister asked the vendor to add more of the salt spice mixture , he insisted that his concoction was the best but just to satisfy us , he gave us a packet of his precious spice mixture which he said we could add if we wanted but he assured us that we did not need to. I looked at him marveling at his torn clothes , extreme poverty had not affected his pride in his craft . His pride to me was touching and inspiring.

My tryst with history as I expected it did not materialize . There is a lot of history in this place including the Battle of Plassey which led to the first British stronghold on Indian soil in 1757 . Modern Kolkata owes a debt to Job Charnock who not only saved a young Indian woman from Sati , a dreadful practice of burning widows alive with their dead husbands but married her and sired 4 children and adopted Indian ways of smoking cheroots or Indian cigars and drinking arrack , a harsh palm brandy. I saw a hospital named after him and I presume that there are more memorials to the man .

RFD-Trunk-Road-Map3-tmagArticle

The Grand Trunk road connects Chittagong, Bangladesh to Kabul,Afghanistan via Kolkata , Delhi , Amritsar and Lahore. Reading about Sher Shah Suri who ruled India in 1540  , I had discovered the Grand Trunk road .However I was to learn later that Chandragupta Maurya  had built large sections of it.  This was my great opportunity to ride on the section of the Grand Trunk Road west of Kolkata and retracing the steps of those brave travelers so many centuries ago. While thrilling , most of it is slow progress . Like most highways in India , they tend to go through the hearts of small villages so one can expect a small crowd in the middle of the street drinking tea , a herd of buffaloes crossing the road and other interesting sights so dont speed , you never know what will show up in front of you on the road.

I found the culture to be charming and interesting , the city shuts down come 12:30 PM and does not re open until 3:30 – 4 PM . They take their time for lunch and a much needed siesta after the delicious meal . The sweets have been reputed to be the best in India as long as I can remember , I consumed them like a glutton who knows no tomorrow and I have to admit that just about everything that I tried there was delicious . The pale imitations that I had eaten earlier in other cities do not come close . They have an amazing variety of sweets that I did not know existed . On the flight there , several of my co passengers after learning that I had never been to Kolkata heartily recommended several sweetmeat shops and I fortunately took them up and indeed the sweets did not disappoint. The Bengalis love their meat and fish and indeed so much so that I was introduced to an amazing sight , one that I had never seen before . Vegetables , fruits , meat , fish , chicken all sold in the same market place with no separation .

Here one sees the goat carcasses alongside the fresh vegetables and moving further one sees a sea of fish . The Bengalis love their fish and call it the vegetable of the sea .

Bangur road is a tribute to their artistic capabilities

Here one sees a lawn sculpture of the famous Dandi march statue in Delhi

A horde of elephants

Bangur street is covered with street posts that have been created by artists , one finds a lifesize clown loitering around and a roadside snack vendor and only close inspection reveals that these are sculptures . The traffic is horrendous and parking is impossible so I could not get out of the car to take much needed pictures

Turned out that my trip to Kolkata was far shorter than what I should have planned for . Also turned out that there were far more sights to see including the Sunderbans which is the home of the Bengal tiger , Ganga Sagar which is where the Hoogly meets the Indian ocean .Time to plan a return trip!!

Ham Omelet

The title is not an indicator that I am hungry but just a funny misnomer for Hamlet that one of my online buddies Lily Von Valley had posted . Though it would be totally justified if I was hungry because sadly I am no connoisseur of gourmet airline food ( I was on a 15 hour non stop flight)  gourmet and airline !!! Is that not a contradiction in terms ? . So why am I reading Hamlet instead of sleeping ?? because the question of to be or not to be came to mind . What am I debating ? I was debating TO BE a capital A hole and tell the women that they need to get their babies to shut up !!! because I cannot sleep with at two (or was it twenty ) screaming babies . I planned for my jet lag by skipping sleep on my last night out but I forgot that every time I get on a long distance flight , it is infested with screaming babies . I am personally jinxed that way. Screaming babies (and people who fart a lot) are the kryptonite of my air travel but onto to more important things.

One finds oneself rooting for Hamlet as he grieves for his father , berates his mother for re marrying too soon ,sympathize with him as the son of an unjustly murdered king who is out to avenge his father ,  look on with complete apathy as Hamlet murders Polonius , chastises Ophelia and breaks her heart and almost look on in bemused amazement as Hamlet does not murder Claudius when he is praying , applaud Hamlet for his brilliant trick with the play where he depicts the murder of his father in front of the Claudius ,listen with his impassioned monologue with Yorick’s skull as he recounts the fragility of life and the shortness of mortal pursuits, weep as he is killed by Laertes’s poisoned sword. But that is looking at the proceedings exclusively through Hamlet’s view .

Hamlet’s soliloquy is a complete masterpiece , one has to read it several times because the layers that peel are rich in depth.

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there’s the rub,

To be or not to be has been an universal dilemma pertaining to various aspects of life . However in Hamlet , he is dealing with the ultimate dilemma , to exist or not to exist. He is actually contemplating suicide because the torture of contemplating the various options that he perceives are so agonizing that he is actually questioning if it makes any sense for him to even live. In eastern traditions , suicide is not forbidden or even threatened with everlasting doom as much as the western Judeo Christian traditions ( I wonder how much of it is due to Dante) and in fact, in Japan we have the proud Samurai traditions of Seppuku. Without that particular filter in place,  it is harder for somebody from eastern traditions to grasp the mental anguish that he seems to be going through . I am not suggesting that humans are thrilled about the prospect of suicide regardless of culture but in western traditions , an onerous burden is added . About 10 years ago , a friend had committed suicide in Ohio and many people did not think twice before telling his friends and family that he was going to burn in everlasting hell.

The play gets richer as we move our roving eye and look through Polonius eye’s who is being extremely loyal to the king or through the eyes of Ophelia whose tragedy seems to surpass that of Hamlet . Hamlet’s tragedy is a result of his choices , Ophelia’s tragedy is a direct result of her love for her father and Hamlet, she is truly helpless. Laertes’s revenge could be considered the sub plot of revenge that mirrors Hamlet’s own demons . The grave diggers are relatively minor and yet there is a monumental gem that comes down to us from them . When Hamlet queries as to who is being buried , they remark that it is not a man or a woman that they are burying and only after further interrogation that Hamlet finds out that it WAS a woman. It is a reminder that all our differences exist only for the living . The dead have no sex , no color , no religion or beliefs. Gertrude has so few lines that one can mistake her for being inconsequential and yet she tries throughout to reconcile Hamlet with Claudius and eventually she makes the ultimate sacrifice for Hamlet . The only person that seems to show up throughout and yet , I am not sure what the reason or import is the character of Fortenbras .

It is clear that women are second class citizens in this world but why is this important for us? Because Gertrude getting married had little to do with Gertrude’s wishes and yet Hamlet berates her continuously , she is an important figure but she is a puppet for her brother in law who turns into her husband , her son and in one case even Polonius. Marrying a brother in law is hardly incest and yet , Hamlet considers it incestuous and accuses her of incest every opportunity he gets . Poor Ophelia gets the shrift as well , everybody including Hamlet runs her life for her ,while she is torn helplessly between her love for her father and Hamlet.

I have added myself to the long list of Shakespeare admirers who believe that Hamlet is his greatest work. There is a long list of quotes that have made it into the common lingo “Frailty, thy name is woman.” , “This above all: to thine own self be true”,”There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”,”Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”,”Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”,”There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”,”One may smile, and smile, and be a villain. “, “Sorrows come not as single spies but in battalions”.

I think it is finally time for me to go get a Ham Omelet !!!

 

A Kolonos Cleansing by Oedipus

The title of this post is inspired by my friend Mike who can twist the most innocent of words into something teeming with profanity , a rare talent that has never failed to offend (or educate) innocent ears and therefore must not be taken lightly . I can presume that it probably took him the better part of six decades to hone and perfect . The title is but a pale imitation of what Mike would have come up with if he decided to turn his mind to it.

Oedipus at Kolonus is not nearly as dramatic as Oedipus Tyrannos (or Rex)  and starts off several years later after Oedipus leaves Thebes . Oedipus has taken to living by begging , his two sons are nowhere to be found and as is his daughter Ismene. Only Antigone accompanies him ,  Oedipus wanders into a sacred grove along with Antigone in Kolonus at the edge of Athens. The sacred grove is dedicated to the Eumenides (the Furies  or beings who are responsible for punishing humans who have committed heinous crimes such parricide or matricide) . Oedipus realizes that this is the place that Apollo has prophesied as his final resting place  however passers-by are aghast when they find out who he is and attempt to get him to leave , there is a genuine fear that he will curse their land because of his sins. Oedipus convinces them that he was merely a pawn of the gods and that he needs to talk to their King. Their king is Theseus of the Minotaur slaying fame .  At this point Ismene arrives and informs them that her brothers are fighting for the throne and Eteocles has overthrown Polynices and Polynices is preparing for retribution . Ismene leaves to perform rites since Oedipus has desecrated consecrated ground  and in comes  Creon . There is another prophecy that the side where Oedipus is buried will win so Creon wants to convince Oedipus to come back to Thebes so he can be buried in Thebes and thereby guarantee that Thebes will win. Here it is confusing because we remember Oedipus begging to be banished after he has blinded himself and Creon is compassionate but he also defers to the judgement of the Oracle . Here Oedipus is bitter and accuses him of exiling him . Keeping in mind that Oedipus is impetuous and very emotional , it is possible that he is just bitter but it is hard to understand. Creon is desperate and kidnaps Ismene  and tries to kidnap Antigone as well so that he can force Oedipus to follow him , Oedipus calls Theseus for help who rescues both girls and re unites them with their father. Oedipus is then informed that his son Polynices wants to see him , reluctantly and under pain of oath , Oedipus agrees to see him .Polynices begs his father to forgive him and accompany him.  What happens next is horrifying to me, Oedipus curses his son in the most vile language and tells him that he will kill his brother and his brother will kill him . A heartbroken Polynices leaves his father but stops by his sister Antigone and asks her to promise to bury his body . This will become the pivot of the play “Antigone” . Oedipus now proceeds to tell the king that his time has come and he is ready to go to his final resting place and he makes a strange request that nobody be told that location so that his sons or Creon would not attempt to move it and his final resting place will actually make the city a sacred place , a cleansing of sorts . Theseus does as he is bid . Antigone is heart broken and the two girls walk away , I can only presume that they are going back to Thebes.

Though the play is bleak , it provides critical information for the timeline between Oedipus Rex and Antigone . Watching Oedipus is a disturbing affair , what father curses his own sons in such a vile manner . We knew he was arrogant and impetuous from Oedipus Rex  but here we also see him a vituperic and bitter old man. I feel as though we are missing a big chunk  of what happened after Oedipus blinded himself . It shows the sad end of a man whose fate was designed to horrify one and all .

Another irritating aspect is the constant stream of prophecies , I cannot help but wonder if that is one of the reasons why the ancient Greeks revered Sophocles . He attributes everything to the gods , everything is known to the gods and we must follow blindly whatever they ordain for we as humans are powerless to do as we please , we can only do as we are bid. It does have the pseudo beneficent effect of providing a window into the unknown future thereby alleviating the worry that the unknown tomorrow brings.

 

 

 

 

Oedipal Tyrannies

In the hysterical 1999 classic “Analyze This” , Billy Crystal as a shrink asks the archetypal question that all shrinks presumably ask their male patients about the Oedipal complex to his patient , Robert De Niro about maternal fantasies . Instead of what a normal male would respond , Robert De Niro shocks us into befuddled laughter by stating “Have you even seen my mother? ” and makes a disgusted face . That was my inauspicious introduction to Oedipus followed by me promptly judging him to be a disgusting pervert.

The name seems to be keep changing but the one that I read was called Oedipus Tyrannous.  I instantly imagined that this meant a tyrant and since we know that he was not a tyrant in the traditional sense , I imagined that tyrant meant King. But eventually it comes to light that tyrant is somebody who deposed off the king and became the king .

The chronology looks like it was inspired by Christopher Nolan’s Memento . We start off in the present where Oedipus is the king of Thebes and trying to understand why the plague is  decimating his city , all he knows is that there is a foul corruption in the city and he needs to root it out. He has become the king fifteen years ago after solving the riddle of the Sphinx , a creature with a head of a human , body of a lion and wings of an eagle . Prior to Oedipus, travelers who failed to answer the riddle were killed by the Sphinx. After Oedipus answers the riddle correctly , the Sphinx jumps to its death . The grateful citizens made him the king and offered him Jocasta , the king’s widow whom he marries and has four children .But the plague stumps even the brilliant Oedipus and not having access to modern technology , Oedipus takes the advice of his brother in law Creon who brings in the blind seer Tiresias . The funny thing about Tiresias is that he shows up in so many Greek plays that I am beginning to wonder if he is like 300 years old by the time he is done making his appearances in all the plays. Tiresias reluctantly gives him a tidbit that Oedipus was the one who killed the original king of Thebes , his wife’s first husband . That is our first introduction to the fury and suspicion of Oedipus . As the play progresses , his fury seems to deepen yet his yearning for an explanation grows even as the strands seem to come together for him and the shades of the horrible truth come to light. The next piece is from Jocasta herself who recounts where her husband was murdered , followed by a confirmation for Oedipus that he is indeed the killer of the late king after she summons the lone survivor from the massacre of the king and his entourage many years ago , a shepherd. But the horrible climax is yet to come . That comes in the form of the Corinthian who comes to let him know that he has become the King of Corinth since his parents died . This is where we are introduced to the prophecy that Oedipus was told when he was a young man that he would kill his father and marry his mother which is also the reason why he left Corinth in the first place . While he is relieved that his father has died a natural death, he is still concerned about the part where he would stuph his mother. The Corinthian tries to put his fear to rest by assuring him that he was adopted but that opens a fresh can of worms.  The shepherd who was first tasked with killing the baby Oedipus confesses under pain of death that he had handed the baby to the Corinthian and that the baby was the child of Laius and Jocasta and at last Oedipus is face to face with the awful truth that he has committed patricide and worse committed the foul act of mating with his own mother . Jocasta has already killed herself by now after realizing that her husband is also her son . Oedipus in a fit of anger and disgust uses her brooch to blind himself , his reason being that his eyes have performed the abominable act of seeing his mother naked.

Oedipus has been dealt a terrible fate, the stuff of nightmares . Not only has he killed his father but he has defiled his fathers bed and has become father to his own half siblings, husband to his own mother . If I could understand music better , I would imagine that this is where the crescendo comes in , the point at which Oedipus finally realizes that he never could escape that terrible fate that was ordained for him . In the play , there is an amazing missing insight that comes from the Corinthian and the shepherd who is a far better device than the traditional Deux Ex machina that the Greek dramatists  liked to employ.

Something that I failed to realize until I talked to others was the impetuosity that Oedipus portrays throughout . He is quick to anger which is the reason why he ended up quarreling with his father’s party , he is quick to imagine Creon and then Tiresias plotting against him , he also jumps to conclusions when he hears the Oracle’s prophecy and runs away from his adopted home. Those turn out to be fatal flaws , his impetuosity and his intelligence which leads him to believe that he can escape his own fate .

So what does one take away from this awful tragedy ?? If it was written , it shall come to pass . Predestination or the concept that the Celestial watchmaker has already ordained everything that shall come to pass and we as humans are powerless against it . In India , this was a concept that seemed very familiar and something I grew up with and I hate it because it is contrary to the concept of free will, it implies that we humans are powerless . Taken to an extreme , it states that we are not responsible for our actions .

Henry Ford had a saying “Whether you believe that you can or you cannot , you are right” .

This is the riddle of the Sphinx .  Can you solve it?

“What animal walks on all fours in the morning , two in the afternoon and three in the evening ?”