Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

My previous post was about a photographic collection, 100 Photographs that captured important moments in our history. It was a captivating book but many of the photographs were necessarily about tragic events ; few of them were about joyful happenings. When I was going through the book I suddenly recollected The Family of Man, a memorable photographic exhibition from the mid-nineteen fifties.

The Family of Man exhibition was curated by Edward Steichen, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. First exhibited at MOMA in 1955, it was subsequently shown in thirty seven countries over the next eight years and is now permanently displayed at Clervaux Castle in Luxembourg. The 503 images in the exhibition were also assembled in a book that sold more than 4 million copies and is still in print. The photographs focused on the ties that bind people the world over and celebrated peace and brotherhood. Some critics felt that they were excessively sentimental  but I myself remember them as being a balanced depiction of the human condition, evoking as they do happiness and joy, horror and sadness in equal measure.

After so many years I remember only a few of those photographs. One that stands out is the image of a drum-major in full regalia, including his shako, practicing his parade moves. Back arched, face upturned to the sky, his front leg out thrust he struts across a yard as, unknown to him, a line of mischievous kids mimics his moves. The photo perfectly captures the moment, the impishness, the naughtiness and the carefree nature of childhood. Looking at it, the viewer cannot but recollect what it was to be a child. Another photo, I seem to remember, showed a Peace Corps worker and a turbaned Punjabi farmer sharing a meal, literally. They are both eating with their hands from the same metal plate, bent over , oblivious to the camera, intent only on the food. To me, that photo encapsulated the brotherhood of mankind, the feeling we are the same under the skin.

One photograph that also occurred in the 100 photographs book was ” Migrant Mother”,Dorothea Lange’s Depression era portrait of a desperate mother and her two children. The family had lost their farm in what had become the Dust Bowl and was journeying from Oklahoma to California. The woman in the photo had just sold the tires of her car to buy food, supplemented with birds killed by the children. Defeated,desperate, worried, resigned to their fate the woman stares past the camera at a future without hope. The photograph brought home to the nation the human cost of the Great Depression and put a face on suffering.

If you wish to see some of these photographs, you can google The Family of Man photos. It will give you some idea of why people like me remember it sixty years later.






Read Full Post »

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the book 100 Photographs : The Most Influential Images of Our Time is worth more than a hundred thousand. A Time publication, it offers readers a valuable retrospective of our lives and times. Many of the photographs we have seen before; I myself recall seeing at least 80 of them at one time or another and being deeply impressed by them. You too will remember many, if not most, of them.

The format of the book is simple. The photographs are on the right hand pages and opposite each, on the left hand page, is a description of the circumstances in which it was taken, its historical significance and its back story. While the photographs are rivetting, the stories behind them  are no less interesting. This is a book to be read, not merely looked at.

The photographs themselves are divided into three broad categories _ Icons, Evidence and Innovation. Under Icons, there are such memorable images as ” Lunch Atop a Skyscraper”. It shows 11 construction workers casually eating lunch or reading newspapers while perched on the narrow beam of a skyscraper under construction, their legs dangling over 800 feet of air. Just looking at the photo gives me vertigo. Other photos in this category include Winston Churchill’s portrait by Karsh of Ottawa, Betty Grable’s saucy pinup pose which gladdened the hearts of GIs during WWII, Flag Raising on Iwo Jima and Babe Ruth’s farewell appearance at Yankee Stadium. Under Evidence, we have searing images such as Burning Monk ( the self immolation of a Buddhist Monk protesting the Vietnam war), Jewish Boy surrenders in Warsaw, Saigon Execution and A Man on the Moon. Some of these in Somalia, Biafra, Iran, Vietnam and Iraq are so disturbing that I had to quickly turn the page. In the last category, Innovation, there are pictures of Salvador Dali’s hijinks, an X-Ray of the Hand of Mrs. William Rontgen, the First Cell Phone picture and the Oscars selfie. While I understand the iconic nature of the photographs in this section, I found them less compelling than the others.

All hundred photos though are ” important”, chronicling as they do important moments in the human experience. The photographers who took them constitute a virtual Who’s Who of photography. They include Margaret Bourke White, Robert Capa, Karsh of Ottawa, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Dorothea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, Richard Avedon and Edward Steichen.

The book is notable not only for the photographs but for their back stories and the feelings and emotions that they evoke. For instance, ” Country Doctor” shows Dr. Ernest Ceriani of Kremmling, CO walking home through a weed strewn lot after a hard day of home visits.  Looking at the stark photograph, you can see how bone-tired the doctor is, sense his dedication and innate goodness. You know that no matter how exhausted he is, he will be making his rounds again tomorrow. This is a man who loves what he does; he is not in it for the money.” VJ Day in Times Square” shows a sailor who has grabbed a nurse, bending her back and planting a passionate kiss on her lips. The moment captures perfectly the sense of exuberance and relief that the war was at long last over.

Sometimes the descriptions correct long held impressions. ” Saigon Execution” shows the South Vietnamese chief of police firing a bullet through the head of a bound prisoner. The photo symbolized the brutality of war and galvanized American public opinion against the Vietnam war. What I did not know, and what the book reveals, was that the prisoner was the leader of a terrorist squad that that had just killed the family of one of the police chief’s friends. This is not to excuse the chief’s action but it provides the context for it.

Sometimes, my feelings were at variance with widely held views. One such photograph is ” Muhammed Ali vs. Sonny Liston” It shows the 23-year old Ali towering over Liston whom he has just kayoed and taunting him ” Get up and fight, sucker”. As the write-up explains, the ” perfectly composed image captures Ali radiating the strength and poetic brashness that made him the nation’s most beloved and reviled athlete”. True enough, but what I also remember is that there have been persistent rumors that the fight was fixed, that Liston played dead after a phantom blow to the chin. To my mind, the photo also captures Ali’s arrogance and the cruelty he displayed particularly in a later fight with Ernie Terrell.

This book will evoke myriad emotions in its readers… nostalgia, exhilaration, pity, fear, awe, anger, loathing  and disgust. But above all, it will arouse  a feeling of wonder at the vagaries of human behavior.

You can see the entire project at http://www.TIME.com/100photos.



Read Full Post »

Going All In

( As poker players know, ” Going all in” means betting everything you have on a single pot. In the larger sense, it means giving it all you have and not holding anything back, of risking everything and not keeping anything in reserve).

A couple of Sundays ago, my wife and I went to the Villagers Theater in the Franklin Park Municipal complex to watch ” Altar Boyz”. It is an off-Broadway musical that ran for over 2,000 performances ending in 2010 and is now playing the small town circuit. It’s about a touring Catholic boy-band that is out to save the lost souls in the audience, one soul at a time, and has catchy music and spectacular dancing. We enjoyed it thoroughly.

But this post is not about the musical itself. It’s about the five dancer-actors who play the members of the band ( Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham). They are all young guys in their twenties or early thirties and it is apparent that acting is their life. While on stage, they show such verve and enthusiasm and are so fully in their roles that it is beautiful to watch. I looked at their bio-data and it was impressive. All of them have spent years honing their craft, singing, dancing and acting in a number of plays  at community theaters, Knights of Columbus Halls, YMCAs and other small town venues. Typically, such productions pay performers very little and , out of curiosity, I tried to figure out how much they could possibly be earning.

The Villagers Theater is larger than it appears from the outside. It seats about 240. For Sunday’s performance it was almost full. Say 220 viewers. The performance was to benefit charity, so tickets were only $ 15. Normally they are $ 22 apiece ( $ 20 for seniors).  At $ 15 per ticket, the total gate comes to about $ 3,300. In addition to the five actors, there were five musicians and three production staff… a total of 13 people to be paid. After deducting expenses, it is doubtful that each performer got much more than $ 150. Considering that these productions are limited engagements, I don’t think the actors could be earning more than $25,000 a year each. Even if they make it all the way to Broadway later in their careers ( very inlikely), they will never strike it rich. Yet, in spite of the meager pay, the  poor prospects, they persist in their craft, giving it everything they have.

I mentioned this to my wife as we were driving back and she had a different perspective. She felt that the actors were doing what they wanted to do, enjoying every moment they spent on the stage or even in rehearsals. She went on to say that they were living their lives fully, in a way that the rest of us cannot even imagine.

She has a point but I also know that I could not do what they are doing, even had I the talent. Most of us are like that, conditioned to think of  steady employment,  a good career, security. I am too but I respect those young men and I admire them. I admire them deeply.

Read Full Post »

Paying Paul

The well – known mystic G.I. Gurdjieff once led a spiritual community in France. Almost all of those  living there got on well together but there was one old man who was just impossible. He was easily irritated, picked fights with everyone and refused to help clean up or do any chores. Finally, after many frustrating months of trying to stay with  the group the old man decided to leave on his own and set off for Paris. The other community members were overjoyed. Not so Gurdjieff, who followed him and tried to convince him to return. The old man refused at first but finally agreed when Gudjieff offered him a very large monthly stipend. When Gurdjieff returned with the man in tow, everyone was aghast. And when they heard that the man was being paid, (at a time when they themselves were paying to live there), they were furious. They went to Gurdjieff en masse and demanded an explanation. Gurdjieff listened to their complaints , laughed and explained, ” This man is like yeast for bread. Without him living here, you would never really learn about anger, irritability, patience and compassion. That is why you pay me, and why I hire him.”

In the Active Adult community that I live in, there is a ping pong club of which I am an enthusiastic member. It’s a great bunch of fellows except for one sore-head,” Paul”. None of the others gets along with him. Paul is past 85, has been playing for over 50 years and still plays fairly well. He persists in trying to ‘coach’ others, even though they don’t want his advice. He also yells at others, accusing them of damaging the ping pong table or of coming close to injuring him with their swinging paddles, and cracks the same stupid ‘ jokes’ over and over again. In short, he is a pain in the you-know-what. We have lost at least ten potential members who were turned off by his antics.

The other day, Paul was absent and I was talking to some of my buddies at the club. I told them the story about Gurdjieff and posed the question, ” Should we be paying Paul?”

The answer was unanimous. ” Yes… to stay away and leave us in peace!”

Read Full Post »

My wife and I had a great Thanksgiving, a family re-union in Los Angeles which was attended by all her siblings ( three sisters and a brother) and their children. It was also an occasion to celebrate the marriage of our nephew, Ron. He had gotten married earlier in a civil ceremony and this was an opportunity to get to know his wife and witness the solemnization of their bond. The ceremonies were to take place at the beautiful house of a family  friend and they were to be held outdoors to take advantage of the sunny California weather .You can guess what happened. It almost NEVER rains in Los Angeles but… two days before the event the weatherman predicted an 80% chance of rain. A mad scramble ensued and somehow our hosts managed to get a tent erected in their backyard along with the requisite space heaters. They must have breathed a huge sigh of relief but it was a little premature…

The outdoor heaters kicked on and off because the circuits were overloaded and the ground turned marshy because of all the rain. Also, the dining tables within the tent were so closely packed that it was difficult to move about or to replenish your plate.

Luckily, the rain held off during the actual ceremony and a good time was held by all, not least the wedding couple who were untroubled by the inclement weather and the attendant problems. They whole-heartedly enjoyed every  bit  of the ceremony and, thanks to their equanimity and good nature, so did we all.

I should not have been surprised at their sunny demeanor…

At a pre-wedding party the previous day, Ron and his wife had given each of the attending families a gift bag containing  some of the things that brought them happiness and comfort: a favorite video ( upbeat, of course), a bar of chocolate, a card game, bags of  spicy, salty crunchy snacks, a bag of rice ( to heat in the microwave and use as a heating pad) and sundry other goodies. All very, very nice but most importantly they came in a bag bearing the words” Everything is as it should be“. These are the words Ron and his wife try to live by, the words that enabled them to have a good time that rainy evening when others might have been in a sulk.

Everything is as it should be“. What a wonderful thought! At first, it might seem the same as ” Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be” or ” It is what it is.” To my mind, it’s similar but not exactly the same. Where the other two have an element of fatalism, of bearing up under difficult circumstances, this is more positive. It carries a sense of ” God’s is in His heaven and all’s right with the world” and is something to bear in mind, good times and bad.

It is a mantra for living.



Read Full Post »

When we are very young, all our thoughts are about the present and the very near future. “When can I go out to play? What will we have for dinner? Will I be able to go to the movies this weekend?” As we grow into adulthood, our thoughts are still focused on the present and the future, though they are more long term. “Where will I go to college? Whom will I marry? My career? Where will I live?” In all this time, there is little thought of the past.

When we are working and raising a family, there is not enough time to think of anything but  the present. Juggling the demands of job, home, children, commuting, and money, we are just too caught up with getting through the next day, the next crisis. If we think at all about the past, it is to think how much easier life was ” back then”.

It is only after the halfway stage of life, when the past is longer than the future, that we begin to think more and more about the past. Some call this “nostalgia” which the dictionary defines as “ a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.”  A good definition, but what exactly is it that we long for?

It seems to me there are several components to this desire and they can be characterized as follows: ( Note that these are not arranged in any particular order. They vary from person to person and from time to time)

1.A yearning for a simpler time. No one can deny that the present provides more material gratifications … but it is also much more complicated. Our role in the order of things seems much diminished. To some extent, it may be that when we were young, our personal world was more circumscribed and this led to a feeling of security.

2. The way we were. It is a feeling that hits us particularly when we look at old photographs or videos. Did I ever really look  that young ? Did I really have that much hair?Was I really so slim?  The feeling also hits us when we see others doing what we once could do, but no longer can. Playing tennis for two hours without stopping. Eating and drinking whatever we want. Returning on an intercontinental flight late on Sunday evening, going to work the next morning and putting in a full days work. Sometimes, particularly among those who defined themselves by their jobs, by what they did, there is a wish for the days when they still felt relevant.

I remember a visit to  the military academy at West Point many years ago when I was not yet forty. A pack of cadets was running laps around the track and as I saw their lean yet  muscled hard bodies and I thought what it must be like to be so young and fit. I said it out aloud without conscious thought and my mother, then in her sixties, mused” If that is what you feel, imagine what I must feel like.”

3. Times when we were happy and carefree. Summer vacations. Playing with my cousins till dark. Picking out books at the school library. Coming home in the rain and getting soaked. Railway journeys with my parents. Those were happy times or were they? The mind remembers only the good things, the happy times in the past, and it chooses to forget unhappy events. No matter. What is real now are our memories; they are all that count.

4. Places where we were happy. I often think of my grandfather’s house. Constructed of reddish laterite blocks, the expansive verandah rubbed smooth and oh so cool even in the heat of summer, set in a garden with fruit trees: mango ( 17 0f them, all different strains), jackfruit,  almond , breadfruit,  cherry ,  sapota and many , many coconut palms. I loved everything about it.The upstairs room wherever no one ever went except myself and where I found a treasure trove of old bound copies of Readers Digests from the forties ; the sand pit; lying on the cool stone of the verandah listening to the patter of the summer rain on the Mangalore tiles and watching it drip from the eaves onto the crotons and form little puddles. The last time I visited , in 1997, there was no trace of my grandfather’s house… it had been demolished by developers and in its place were multi-story apartment buildings. Inevitable, I suppose, but wrenching .

5. People we used to know and whom we miss. Not just those who have passed on but those who have moved away and out of our lives. School mates, college mates, colleagues and old friends. Even those whom we still meet  fairly regularly are different. They have changed and so have we; there is less in common now.

It helps to accept that change is constant, that we cannot live in the past. With this understanding, the past can be a source of pleasure rather than melancholy as we relive the happy times. And, of course, we have to focus on the present and  build up a store of happy memories because they are what will sustain us in the future. Today’s happenings can be a source of our future nostalgia.


Read Full Post »

Several religions ascribe souls to all living things, not just humans but animals and plants as well. Shintoism ,the ethnic religion of Japan, believes that rocks, trees and places possess kami (spirit, essence), which I take to mean they have a soul. It is a view I somewhat empathize with. After all. who has not felt in awe looking at a majestic redwood tree or a towering sequoia or a spreading banyan tree? Or a magnificent monolith such as the colossal Ayers Rock in Alice Springs ( Australia)? I am not sure that is the same as thinking these things have a soul, but they definitely seem to have something above and beyond their physical reality.

I was taken aback, however, to read in a book* by Marie Mutsuki Mockett that some Japanese used to believe that even man-made objects such as chairs or tables acquired a soul if they had been around for a hundred years! Consequently, people often disposed of things that turned ninety-nine to avoid having to deal with them after they got a soul. This created a new problem because the discarded objects, indignant at having been deprived of their chance to get a soul, often became malignant spirits thirsting for revenge on their former owners. What a predicament! ( LOL). The author’s mother explained that this belief should not be taken too literally. The real message was that one should take care of things like umbrellas with respect because even an inanimate object deserves to be treated with dignity and that how you care for objects is an indicator of how you care for the people in your life. That I can understand.

I don’t for a minute think that man-made objects can acquire a soul but I started wondering about things I had that were a hundred years old or more. There are only two. One is a falling apart copy of The Parent’s Assistant by Maria Edgeworth. It is a book of moral tales intended teach young children the virtues of thrift, hard work, modesty etc. It used to belong to my maternal grandmother and dates back to the 19th century; I loved to read it as a kid. The other item is a gold medal that my paternal grandfather earned for standing first statewide in his medical exams. It is safely stowed away in a satin pouch. If it has a soul, it won’t be mad at me because it is as comfortable as can be. The book is another matter. It is shut away with other books in a cardboard box in the attic and is probably furious at me.

Old things may not have a soul but we treasure them for other reasons, usually for their connections with the people they used to belong to. In my case, these are usually books. For instance, there is a book of poetry that my mother studied in her college days, the flyleaf of which is inscribed in her bold hand with her (maiden) name. There are three bound volumes of recipes, dating back to the early seventies, from the long defunct Illustrated weekly of India which my parents lovingly collected and gave me when I first came to the U.S. I don’t often cook from those recipes( almost never, in fact) but I will always treasure those books. Then there is the copy of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables which my wife was awarded for being the best student in her class, circa 1967. And my son’s second grade essay on George Burns from 25 years ago, complete with his depiction of a smoking cigar, which earned him a ” Great job!” from Mrs. Reid.

All these things, except the gold medal, have no intrinsic value and do not mean anything except to me. The gold medal I will pass on to my son but the rest will be consigned to the trash by someone one day and that is the way it should be. They have been treasured in their time and that time is over.

* Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye. Marie Mutsuki Mockett. ( Norton 2015)

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Mr. & Mrs. 55 - Classic Bollywood Revisited!

Two Harvard students relive the magic, lyrics and songs of old Bollywood cinema

Golden Ripples

About Food, Travel, Sports , Books and other fun things

47 Japanese Farms: Japan Through The Eyes of Its Rural Communities -- 47日本の農園

A journey through 47 prefectures to capture the stories of Japan's farmers and rural communities


WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.

%d bloggers like this: