Archive for February, 2019

Saga of the Beloved Robin Hood …

Posted on February 27, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

Stealing from the rich to give to the poor, Robin Hood and his Merry Men are a permanent part of popular culture. 

Like the roots of Sherwood Forest, the origins of the Robin Hood story extend deep into English history.

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Subutai – Russian Role Model …

Posted on February 25, 2019. Filed under: From a Services Career, Personalities |

While talking of the Great Captains of War, we are always prone to limit ourselves to Alexander, Hannibal, Napoleon and the like – hardly ever mentioning the likes of Subutai or Khaled, who were far Greater re Battles Fought and Territores Conquered – as well as the Thought Processes applied.

Here is Subutai (1175 – 1248) who was the General – in – Chief of Genghis Khan and Ögedei Khan.

When he first entered the service of Temujin, the later Cinggis Qan, the realm of that minor Mongol chieftan comprised only a few families.

In his old age, Subotei saw a mighty dominion stretching from the borders of Hungary to the Sea of Japan, from the outskirts of Novgorod to the Persian Gulf and the Yangtze River. And he had a major part in creating it.

He directed more than 20 campaigns conquering 32 nations, winning 65 pitched battles – conquering more territory than any other commander in history. Indeed when his Armies marched, it was not in miles or kilometres that distances were measured, but in degrees of latitude and longitude.

He won victory by imaginative and sophisticated strategies, routinely coordinating armies that were hundreds of kilometers apart.

He is most famed for the campaign that destroyed the armies of Hungary and Poland within two days of each other – by forces over 500 kilometers apart.

Subutai was an innovator in the art of war. His later campaigns demonstrated unprecedented levels of complexity and strategy not seen again until World War II.

In the invasions of China, Russia, and Europe, Subutai routinely coordinated armies of 100,000 men across frontages separated by 500-1,000 km and between 3 and 5 separate armies.

These maneuvers were highly synchronized despite the enormous distances. Subutai’s maneuvers were designed to mislead his foes and strike them from unexpected directions.

The Mongol invasion of the Jin in 1232 continually pulled the hitherto successful Jin forces apart despite their highly advantageous terrain, as they could not determine which Mongol armies were the feints and which were the true threats until their main army became isolated and starved.

Strongly fortified locations would be bypassed and ignored until all organized resistance had been destroyed. Sieges would be limited to critical or vulnerable locations; in other situations, the Mongols either left a blockading force, or simply ignored fortified citadels and devastated the surrounded agriculture so that the remaining people would starve if they remained within fortified walls.

Subutai faced off against elite armies of all nations from west to east and emerged triumphant in every campaign.

The horse archers of other great steppe confederacies, the elite Jurchen cavalry of China in the 1230s, the seasoned Qangli Turk cavalry of the Khwarezm, fresh from conquering their own Empire, and the heavily armored knights of Georgia, Poland, and Hungary were all powerless against Subutai’s armies.

In contrast to the common perception of steppe horse archer armies slowly weakening their foes with arrows for many hours or even days, such as at the battle of Carrhae or the battle of Manzikert, Subutai fought in a much more decisive and fluid manner where heavy firepower was used to create openings for rapid cavalry charges with deep formations.

At the battle of the Kalka River in 1223, Subutai’s 20,000 man army routed the 80,000 man Russian army by stringing it out after a 9-day retreat, and then immediately turning and delivering a decisive charge without a prolonged missile bombardment. The vanguard of the Russian army was already put in flight before the second wave even reached the battlefield and began to deploy.

Subutai was one of the first Mongol generals, who realized the value of engineers in siege warfare. Even in field battles he made use of siege engines.

In the Battle of Mohi, the Hungarian crossbowmen repelled a night bridge crossing by the Mongols, and inflicted considerable casualties on the Mongols fighting to cross the river the following day. Subutai ordered huge stonethrowers to clear the bank of Hungarian crossbowmen and opened the way for his light cavalry to cross the river without further losses.

This use of siege weapons was one the first recorded use of artillery bombardments against the enemy army to disrupt their resistance while simultaneously attacking them.

In execution, his usage functioned more akin to the creeping barrage of World War I, used to soften and disrupt enemy lines right before an attack. While the stonethrowers were clearing the path to cross the main bridge, Subutai supervised construction of another temporary bridge downriver to outflank the Hungarians.

The Hungarians, focused on the attack at the bridge and knowing that the Sajo river was too deep to ford, did not expect the Mongols to be able to create a pontoon bridge, especially at night.

Subutai’s engineering ingenuity extended to the totally unique use of smokescreens to shroud key areas of the battlefield.

At the battle of the Kalka and the battle of Liegnitz, the Mongol armies drew portions of their foes armies away from their comrades, and used smoke to obscure the enemy vision and prevent them from seeing their isolated units encircled and destroyed.

After the battle, the Jin commander Wan-Yen Heda – the only general in history who was the victor in three different battles against the Imperial Mongol army, was captured. His last wish was to meet Subutai to pay his respects to the legendary general.

“No Mongol general played a greater role than Subotei Ba’atur in establishing and maintaining the early Mongol Empire. Trusted commander and retainer of Chengez, later highly respected servant of Ogodei and Guyuk, Subotei served with distinction in every phase of Mongolian national development during the first four decades of empire.

Subutai’s armies fought unlike any force in history until the Germans and Russians in World War II, seven hundred years later. They did not operate as one distinct mass, but instead moved along 3 – 5 axes of approach, often 500–1000 km apart, and threatened numerous objectives simultaneously.

Like Napoleon, Subutai (and Genghis Khan) would disperse their forces along a wide frontage and rapidly coalesce at decisive points to defeat the enemy in detail.

However, unlike Napoleon, the Mongols retained the flexibility to dispatch armies to widely separate fronts, through inhospitable terrain during most unexpected times, often using some armies purely as means of fixing enemy attention and fomenting division in their enemies.

Their methods were aligned to crush the enemy state’s will to fight – not merely to defeat their armies.

Russia derived the most use out of a careful study of the Mongol campaigns. Their closer proximity to the steppe gave them greater interest and access to the Mongolian campaigns, first analyzed by the Russian General Mikhail Ivanin in the 19th century, which became a recommended text in the Russian military academics up until the mid 20th century.

Ivanin’s work became used in the Deep Battle doctrine developed by Soviet Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Mikhail Frunze, and G.S. Isserson. 

Deep Battle doctrine bore a heavy resemblance to Mongol strategic methods, substituting tanks, motorized troop carriers, artillery, and airplanes for Mongol horse archers, lancers, and field artillery. 

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Pak n Bangladesh …

Posted on February 22, 2019. Filed under: Pakistan |

Once upon a time Pakistan was Every Thing n Bangla Desh was a Deciml Point …………….. But Now it is the Other Way Round!!!

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Mirza Ghalib -150th Death Anniversary …

Posted on February 18, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

Some 190 Yrs ago, Ghalib described the people of Calcutta as living a hundred years ahead and a hundred years behind – all at once.

On Ghalib's 150th Death Anniversary, a Visit to His Apartment in Kolkata

At the intersection between two unremarkable lanes, one Bengali – Ramdulal Sarkar Street, the other English – Bethune Row, is House Number 133, tall and red, its secrets, old and weary – shut, from view, by green, mask-like windows, shut to birds, sunlight and prying eyes.

As I stepped inside the door, slowly following my lover’s footsteps, the aroma of mutton greeted us unexpectedly. The magic of spices floated in air. It carried secrets of culinary pasts. I breathed in the heavy air of another time. A time one hundred ninety years ago, when Ghalib was here.

He travelled in a horse over dusty cities, for his pending pension. First Lucknow, the city that prided in speaking an Urdu different from the one in Delhi, and like all buffoons of cultural pride, mistreated Mir Taqi Mir.

Then Kashi, the place Ghalib called his Kaba-e-Hindustan, and Banaras, where his ode to the city paid tributes to courtesans with fiery hearts and tender waists.

‘The shadow of Banaras dances in the mirror of the sun’, he wrote in Chiragh-e-Dair (Temple Lamp), and blessed the city with his prayer: ‘May God almighty save Banaras, the grove of paradise, from the evil eye’ (translated by P.B. Rama Singh, On Banaras: Ghalib’s The Lamp of the Temple, 2004).

What furore Ghalib created in (then) Calcutta, over his lofty Persian. It was the February of 1828. Time in the city was spent between two trepidations. Of two swords that crossed over his head. His proud feathers ruffled by idiomatic birds of custom (or idiotic birds of idioms). His agony soothed, just a little, by Kifayat Khan, that envoy from Iran, but to no avail. The masnavi of a half-hearted apology did not endear the birds of small wings.

Nor did the whims of fate, ruling the lives of British Lords, help much. Or the Baad-e-Mukhalif (‘Opposing-Wind’), his apology served, no less, with sarcasm. His petition was gathering dust, beside the waters of the Ganga. Ironies chased his agony like rivers.

He wanted to meditate the Ganga, forever. But he returned, midway, to Delhi. Wish unrequited. His poems were loyal to his heartbeats. His melancholy was loyal to fate. His fate was loyal to his mastery in grief. And Ghalib could not escape ironies.A

The house where Ghalib lived. Credit: Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee

Two labourers, white towels of sweat hung softly on their shoulders, were slouched like two curious cats against a green door. They heard me, half considerate, half amused, on the building’s historic visitor. Their lives of labour had no time for history. Nor time for poetry.

But they knew the house had a dog. Why a dog? I wondered. Was the dog guarding the memory of aromas? I looked at the dark wooden stairs, flanked by iron balusters. I wondered how slowly Ghalib may have walked, up and down, balancing a hard life between penury and poetry, gulping down overflowing griefs with a bitter taste of his trusted alcohol.

“Triumphant we reached Calcutta” he wrote in a couplet, “and washed away the scar of distance with loved ones with wine” [quoted by Shaikh Muhammad Ikram in Ghalib-Nama, Bombay, 1945.]

As he left (in August 1829), Ghalib praised the city in a letter in Persian, “One should be grateful that such a city exists”.

A city where he met new adversaries amongst friends, and a peculiar people, who lived, as he said, a hundred years ahead, and a hundred years behind, all at once: the city where the future dreams the past. And the aroma returned, with a whiff of air, transporting me, a hungry dog of memory, to a time that Ghalib breathed.

Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee

M​a​​nash Firaq Bhattacharjee is the author of Looking for the Nation: Towards Another Idea of India, published by Speaking Tiger Books (August 2018).

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Evil Personified – Dick Cheney? …

Posted on February 17, 2019. Filed under: Personalities |

“Beware the quiet man – while others speak, he watches; while others act, he plans; and when they finally rest – he strikes”

Christian Bale in Vice (the Movie) is phenomenal as Cheney. Every mannerism, every silence as well as utterance, is an uncanny copy of the original.

At times, Bale succeeds in the near impossible – making the Dark Prince human.

As soon as he took office as vice president, Cheney sought an unfettered executive – beyond Congress, beyond the courts, beyond public opinion.

His quest was further propelled, not by personal gain but by fear: the attacks of September 11, followed by an autumn of anthrax in the post and snipers picking off random people near Washington.

Men would be “renditioned” to face torture and unending detention in Guantanamo, “black sites” in Eastern Europe and Muammar Gaddafi’s and Bashar al-Assad’s prisons.

Americans would be surveilled, without limit, on their phones and on their computers. Saddam Hussein would be overthrown.

McKay’s pursuit is a sprawl across 50 years – from Cheney’s entry in 1960s Washington to his retirement in Wyoming.

To trap his quarry, the director tries every gimmick. There is a mock-Shakespearean interlude between Cheney and his wife Lynne, excellently rendered by Amy Adams, reversing the Bard: Lynne is the updated Lady Macbeth urging her husband to refuse the vice presidential opportunity.

Dick is the manipulator, grasping for power. And, throughout, a narrator gives us a Big Short – style running commentary with added background information.

You can use every gimmick in the book but when you chase your man across such a vast expanse – especially a devious and no-holds-barred man like Cheney – he will outrun you.

McKay’s terrain has huge gaps. There is nothing on Cheney’s time as secretary of defense, including his lesson from the 1991 Gulf War that he was wrong to support the halt of operations before Saddam fell. ………. Halliburton gets only a couple of passing mentions, missing the late-1990s training it gave Cheney in the quest for control of oil and gas and how to distribute them.

Then there are the caricatures. Steve Carell is fine as the political street-fighter Donald Rumsfeld – even if the performance is more Carell than Rumsfeld.

But Sam Rockwell’s George W. Bush is the broad-stroke buffoon, putting his feet on the desk, thinking about baseball, and giving a “hot damn!” when Cheney completes the sharkish manoeuvre to become vice president – and, completing the caricature, the real man in the White House.

It may be a comforting portrayal, with power given the sheen of bumbling farce, but it erases the complexity of Bush and thus the relationship at the core of the power grab.T

How do you capture the essence of power? It lies not in the sprawl, but in the moment – that moment when the pursuit of the absolute is crystallised – or alternatively when the powerful is confronted with the folly of the quest.

McKay senses this. He opens the film with the moment when, with Bush flying across a stricken US on September 11, 2001, Cheney was in the situation room as acting president.

But even as Cheney was ordering American warplanes to shoot down passenger aircraft to prevent further attacks, this was a reactive moment – soon the vice president was far from powerful as the secret service rushed him to a protective bunker.

In reality, Cheney’s real moment came days later when he and his staff, along with Rumsfeld and his, built their “unitary power” on the ruins of the World Trade Center.

It came when they decided that no law, US or international – Geneva Convention be damned – bound them; that no punishment was too extreme to be used in “enhanced interrogation”.

It came when they decided that men, whether they are guilty, innocent, or in between, could be buried in Guantanamo Bay or a CIA facility halfway around the world.

These were the men who decided that privacy no longer existed in the US. McKay never gets us to that moment.

There is another defining scene, an episode not of the political but of the personal. When Cheney’s daughter Mary discloses as a teenager that she is a lesbian, Dick embraces her as her mother Lynne tries to process the disclosure.

But when Cheney’s other daughter Liz pursues a US senate seat in Wyoming in 2013, she is confronted by Mary’s support of same-sex marriage.

The family has to decide if Liz would publicly challenge, and effectively reject, her sister. She did, in a televised interview – and, since then, Mary Cheney has left unanswered whether she ever repaired the rift with her family.

Bale portrays Cheney in anguish over the problem – with Lynne resolutely behind Liz – before ultimately he tears down the last barrier between the decency of the personal and the betrayals of power. He sells out his daughter Mary.

The moment of anguish was fleeting. Instead, McKay’s blunt hammer falls in a closing soliloquy by Cheney, again riffing off Shakespeare: “I can feel your recriminations and your judgement. And I am fine with it”.

And thus Cheney – the survivor of Washington politics, the survivor of multiple heart attacks, the survivor of an Iraq war that cut a lasting wound across America – makes his final escape.

Scott Lucas, Professor of International Politics, University of Birmingham. This article was republished by The Wire from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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“I Started at the Top and slowly worked my way Down,” Orson Welles …

Posted on February 17, 2019. Filed under: Uncategorized |

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A Great Film …

Posted on February 15, 2019. Filed under: Movies |

Italy under the Borgias for thirty years, had War, Terror, Murder, Blood but produced Michel Angelo, Learnado, the Rennaisance. Switzwrland had Five Hundred Years of Peace and produced the Cuckoo Clock!

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The Rare Black Panther …

Posted on February 15, 2019. Filed under: Sports |

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A Photographers Genius …

Posted on February 13, 2019. Filed under: Books |

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Dostoyevsky …

Posted on February 9, 2019. Filed under: Books, From Russia with Love |

Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Bard of a City in Ferment

Excerpted from Anjan Basu’s Write up in the ‘Wire’

The museum is an apartment block where Dostoyevsky lived twice: briefly in 1846, when The Double, which has intrigued and charmed critics in equal measure, made its appearance; and for the last two-and-a-half years of his life (October 1878 to February 1881), when he wrote his last major work, The Brothers Karamazov, – one of the landmarks of 19th century fiction.

The third-floor apartment he lived in last, along with wife Anna Snitkina and two young children, forms the core of the museum which now has three other sections as well – a spacious exhibition hall dedicated to the writer’s life and work, a set of galleries displaying contemporary art, and a theatre that regularly features performances by the museum’s partners including a puppet theatre group.

An extensive library, boasting over 24,000 books and periodicals as well as some original manuscripts, has also been put together over the years. The museum was inaugurated in November, 1971 to mark the 150th anniversary of Dostoyevsky’s birth.

The living quarters were lovingly recreated on the basis of memoirs left behind by wife Anna and some of the writer’s friends and the items displayed here came both from the family heirloom as well as from donors.

An excellent audio guide, available in all major European languages including English, helps the visitor around the museum.

Every year in November, the museum complex hosts an international conference with ‘Dostoyevsky and World Culture’ as its central theme.

Thirty-two years were always going to be a long time in the life of a person who died at 59. But the 32 years that separated Dostoyevsky’s two stints on Kuznechny Lane were as truly transformative for him as they were for Russia.

In April 1849, Dostoyevsky had been arrested by the Tsar’s police for ‘sedition’, his and his friends’ crime being that they were members of some kind of a utopian fraternity that read and discussed the works of Vissarion Belinsky, the great Russian liberal intellectual whose passionate indictment of serfdom had made him persona non grata in his homeland.

Incarcerated in Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress for a while, Dostoyevsky faced an elaborate trial, was sentenced to death but was pardoned at literally the last minute when he was being marched out to be executed.

Four years of hard labour in Siberia followed, then a spell of compulsory military service. It was only in 1859 that he could return to Petersburg to pick up the threads of his literary career.

Life was hard, and the writer was often deep in debt, obliging him to move house often enough so as to steer clear of his creditors.

Indeed, Dostoyevsky is believed to have lived in as many as 20 apartments, all within a radius of two miles of Petersburg’s Sennaya Ploshchad (Hay Market Square) in the 30 years he lived in the city as an adult. The Kuznechny Perelouk apartment, close to the Griboedov Canal, is also no more than three kilometres from Sennaya.C

Even as Dostoyevsky resumed writing, and turned out, one after another, Notes from the House of the dead, The Injured and the Humiliated, Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment and The Gambler, momentous changes were sweeping across Russia.

In March, 1861, Tsar Alexander III passed the historic decree that finally emancipated Russian serfs from hereditary slavery. As the freed, but impoverished, villagers began to pour into the cities in search of a new life, Petersburg’s social structure was turned upside down.

Sennaya Ploshchad, once a sleepy town square, now swarmed with poor locals, petty thieves and prostitutes, ‘with derelicts, drunks and the destitute’ presenting a stark contrast with the elegant crowd promenading around the near-by Palace Square in Russia’s opulent capital city.

A copy of ‘Crime and Punishment’ in the museum gallery, with hand-written notes on the inside cover page.

This is how Dostoyevsky sketches for the reader of Crime and Punishment the locale of its protagonist, Rodion Raskolnikov:

Close to the Hay Market, thick with houses of ill repute, the neighbourhood crawled with a population of tradesmen and jacks-of-all-trades who clustered in those central streets and lanes of Petersburg, creating such a panorama of motley characters that almost nothing or nobody could cause surprise any more.

As the city’s population rose steeply, Sennaya Ploshchad grew steadily more chaotic, dirty and discordant while Dostoyevsky hopped from one rented apartment to another in the vicinity. Raskolnikov’s tortured existence so faithfully mirrors the travails of a life lived around Sennaya that Petersburg now has a walking tour built specifically around his narrative.

At 5, Stolyarny Perelouk, a five-story tenement building – Dostoyevsky himself lived in a building across the road when he wrote the novel – bears the following legend on a plaque:

Raskolnikov Building

Here is where Rodion Raskolnikov lived

The tragic fates of the people of this part of Petersburg served Dostoyevsky

As the basis for his pessimistic sermons on good for all humankind

A large bronze relief of the author, with a furrowed forehead and clenched hands, sits above this legend. Indeed, the walking tour is complete with: a peek into the tavern where Raskolnikov is supposed to have first conceived of the idea to kill Alyona Ivanovna, the elderly pawnbroker; a stop in front of the shop where he overheard the pawnbroker’s sister telling somebody that she would (conveniently for our hero) be away from Alyona’s apartment at the hour Raskolnikov had chosen for the murder; and of course a visit to the pawnbroker’s wretched and cramped apartment, the scene of the crime.

The yellow guardhouse, or the Police Bureau, where Raskolnikov is interrogated, exists and is functional till today. Dostoyevsky himself was held for two nights in the same Guardhouse after his arrest in 1849.A

The story of Dostoyevsky’s life bristles with many extraordinary episodes other than his return from death’s door.

For years, he was a compulsive gambler who often teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and yet, when both his (first) wife Maria and brother Mikhail died in 1864, he found himself as a single parent to stepson Pavel as well as the sole provider for his brother’s family.

He was perhaps the first major writer who engaged the services of a stenographer when he found it hard to meet deadlines on commitments made to publishers.

When Anna Snitkina, the able stenographer, became his wife in February, 1867, Dostoyevsky had no money with which to take her on a honeymoon. But eventually, when they did proceed on the honeymoon in Europe in April, they never returned to Russia till more than four years later, in July, 1871. 

The Idiot was published in 1869 when he was still in Europe while Demons (or, The Possessed), another major work, came out in 1872.

Dostoevsky had had epileptic seizures off and on since his youth, and Sigmund Freud later studied the writer’s symptoms in detail from extensive medical and other records.     

The writer’s desk, with the clock stopped at 8.36 pm on January 28 (February 9, by the Gregorian calendar), 1881, when Dostoyevsky died.

The roomy and comfortable apartment contains both usual domestic bric-a-brac and interesting period items such an attractive tea-service, framed photographs of prominent contemporaries, a miniature enamel portrait of Pushkin (in whose memory Dostoyevsky made his remarkable ‘Pushkin Oration’ only a few months before his own death) and some delightful toys which his little children (Lyubova was 11 and son Fyodor 9 when their father died) played with.

Part of the MS of The Brothers Karamazov are also on display here.

One particular detail is bound to stay with the visitor. When Dostoyevsky died in the evening of February 9 (January 28, by the Julian Calendar which was then in vogue in Russia), Lyubova scrawled the words ‘Papa died today’ on a matchbox.

The matchbox, with the child’s scrawl, is still preserved. Also on view is the wall-clock hanging in Dostoyevsky’s study when he died. 

Today, the clock can still be seen on a stool by the side of his writing desk, its hands frozen at 8.36 pm on January 28, the precise time of his passing.

Anjan Basu is a writer, translator and commentator living in Bangalore.

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