Monday, October 24, 2005

The Pickwick Papers

What a book!

Why is a classic called a classic? Read this book and you'll see why. The 'plot' is free-wheeling, amazingly detailed, hilarious and unputdownable. The language used is rich and sophisticated.

There's Mr. Pickwick and his gentlemen friends going from place getting into all kinds of strange situations. One particular situation where a lady mistakenly assumes that Mr. Pickwick has proposed to her and thereafter files a breach-of-promise is pure genius. I strongly believe that PG Wodehouse borrowed his style from Charles Dickens. There are similarities that are just too close.

Pickwick Papers should be required reading in an abridged form in school and in an unabridged form in college.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Its All Greek

The Greek Philosophers, Aristotle, Plato and Socrates knew a thing or two about the value of music and how it relates to the functioning of society at large. Does that sound improbable? Read on.

Socrates (469-399 BC) was the 'original' philosopher who questioned the citizens of Athens on just about every possible matter. Ultimately he was accused of corrupting the youth by an insecure administration that did not appreciate dissent, and was forced to drink hemlock and die. Though he was not particularly fond of music all his life, he suddenly grew to appreciate it in his death cell. He spoke more than he wrote, so we rely on the transcriber for his comments in Phaedus

"In the course of my life I have often had intimations in dreams that I should make music. The same dream came to me sometimes in one form, and sometimes in another, but always saying the same or nearly the same words: Make and cultivate music, said the dream. And hitherto I had imagined that this was only intended to exhort and encourage me in the study of philosophy, which has always been the pursuit of my life, and is the noblest and best of music."

Plato (427-347 BC) had developed very strong views on the value of music, to the point where he urged rulers to consider traditional music to be the first fortress of the state. In his The Republic a series of fascinating dialogues between individuals, we find this gem

And what shall be their education? Can we find a better than the
traditional sort? --And this has two divisions, gymnastic for the body,
and music for the soul.


Shall we begin education with music, and go on to gymnastic afterwards?

By all means.

And when you speak of music, do you include literature or not?

I do.

And he condemns the reckless introduction of new kinds of music, fearing that the very foundation of the nation-state might be affected (he ascribed this to Socrates, incidentally)

...Then to sum up: This is the point to which, above all, the attention of our rulers should be directed, --_that *music* and gymnastic be preserved in their original form, and no innovation made_. They must do their utmost to maintain them intact. And when any one says that mankind most regard the newest song which the singers have, they will be afraid that he may be praising, not new songs, but a new /kind/ of song; and this ought not to be praised, or conceived to be the meaning of the poet; for any *musical *innovation is full of danger to the whole State, and ought to be prohibited. So Damon tells me, and I can quite believe him; -he says that when modes of *music* change, _of the State always change with them_.

Aristotle (384-322 BC), was a protégé of Plato and considered a teacher of Alexander the Great. Clearly influenced by Plator, he made several important observations.

In Book 8 of Politics, Aristotle dwells on music and how it ultimately relates to the formation of a higher quality of polity. He rhetorically questions the value of teaching music: "It is not easy to determine the nature of music, or why any one should have a knowledge of it....Or again, if music should be used to promote cheerfulness and refined intellectual enjoyment, the objection still remains- why should we learn ourselves instead of enjoying the performances of others?".

He then answers: "For innocent pleasures are not only in harmony with the perfect end of life, but they also provide relaxation. And whereas men rarely attain the end, but often rest by the way and amuse themselves, not only with a view to a further end, but also for the pleasure's sake, it may be well at times to let them find a refreshment in music.....Enough has been said to show that music has a power of forming the character, and should therefore be introduced into the education of the young. The study is suited to the stage of youth, for young persons will not, if they can help, endure anything which is not sweetened by pleasure, and music has a natural sweetness."

With these and additional arguments, he holds that:

..better the character (of the people, developed by the study of music), the better the government."

Friday, October 14, 2005


Well, I suddenly found a review of my book at the website of Sruti. One year after publication. OK, never mind, it at least showed up and it was not bad.

WHAT THE RAAGS TOLD ME. By Vasudev Murthy. [Rupa & Co. Pp. 128. Rs. 295].

Music affects listeners in different ways. But, to an extent, the effect on informed rasika-s can be said to be uniform or at least similar. However, most listeners do not stop to analyse the mental picture created by any particular raga. True, there are events where an artist puts on canvas the emotions apparently aroused by a concert in progress. But one can say with reasonable certainty that no two artists will present the same picture under identical conditions. There are differences in perception even within a broad spectrum of emotions that may be shared by most.

Vasudev Murthy, a management consultant by profession, is also a violinist trained under both the Carnatic and the Hindustani systems. In the latter, he has trained under no less an artist than the late V.G. Jog. The book shows the profound influence that music has had on Murthy. He has fantasized to the extent that he lets his spirit roam and fetch him the persona of this or that raga. The form the raga takes is the personification of the emotions created by it in the author. Thus, he likens Jaijaiwanti to a mature, beautiful, loving woman, a mother, in fact. Jogiya becomes a half-crazed, ill-clad, frenetic man, impatient to be absorbed by the absolute. Raga Bhairav is Lord Siva. Chandrakauns brings to the author his daughter as she was in her younger days. And so on, covering 20 raga-s in all. And each of the raga-s tells the author about itself, its swara-s and its relative importance.

To appreciate the pictures presented by the author would of course require that the reader have a basic knowledge of the raga-s discussed and their swara-s and sanchara-s. Given that, the reader will be able to evoke in his mind what the author has projected and perhaps agree with it. But there are bound to be differences in the feelings created in different minds but this does not matter. For instance, this reviewer would have thought of a somewhat different representation for Jogiya, one more given to a plaintive appeal and near despair. But Murthy's word pictures certainly make one think about what exactly one or the other raga does to him.

Not an 'easy' read but surely a thought provoking one.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

So what about Paul Brunton? He was the author of some pretty fascinating books including
The first book is truly wonderful to read. Today, in India, we are actively discouraged from referring to our ancestral spiritual and cultural heritage as it is politically incorrect to do so.

His journey and stay at Arunachala is really fascinating to read about. Arunachala is the area where a saint called Ramana Maharishi lived in the early-mid 20th century. I was there last year and found some great vibes there, and walked about witha huge lump in my throat for no obvious reason. Interestingly very similar experiences were reported by the much greater Paul Brunton and Mercedes De Acosta. The latter wrote (see
"At one of these dinners I met Paul Brunton who had written a book called A Search in Secret India. When I read this book it had a profound influence on me. In it I learned for the first time about Ramana Maharshi, a great Indian saint and sage. It was as though some emanation of this saint was projected out of the book to me. For days and nights after reading about him I could not think of anything else. I became, as it were, possessed by him. I could not even talk of anything else."

There's a Brunton Road in Bangalore - I wonder if there's any connection.

See (photo from there) and also

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Lobsang Rampa - True or False?

The multiple books (The Third Eye, The Thirteenth Candle etc.) of Lobsang Rampa are certainly interesting to read. They trace the experiences of a Tibetan monk - supposedly - in Tibet, China, the US and the UK. But many claim that there was no such person at all, and that, infact, the books were written by Cyril Henry Hoskins in the UK. One claim is that Rampa "borrowed" the body of Hoskins via transmigration.

Nevertheless, as I said, the books are interesting. There is a bit of tiresome stuff appearing often which usually reads like this "In the West, they do this .......(something ignorant or negative)". And then "In the East, we do this....(something great and extraordinary)". But the stories and storyline are intriguing and detailed. Tuesday Lobsang Rampa doesn't look Tibetan

This picture was taken from

Rampa followers even have a yahoogroup to themselves

Monday, October 03, 2005

Chinua Achebe

All Things Fall Apart is a fantastic book. To write like Achebe is very difficult.

The book is part of a Trilogy, but it stands on its own. It examines, quite brutally, the effect of Christian Missionary activity in Nigeria, and how it contributed to the destruction of traditional ways of life and culture. He does not paint the traditional ways as being superior or morally better and gives some moving examples of life as it was - for example, the killing of a boy by the hero, who was the son of a defeated enemy, and who grew up to consider the hero as his Father. But the insidious and racist scorn directed at the old ways by the Missionaries and then their proxies in the village are movingly described with an economy of words. The story ends in a jarring way, with the suicide of the hero. Very profound, for a slim book, and a must-read. The picture is from